Spiders (arachnophobes look away now)

It is November and the spiders making their annual autumn invasion of the house. Now you have to understand that our house is a spider’s heaven, having been built in stages from the 1500s onward to the late 1600s it has lots of beams, to make webs between and the ceiling, hundreds of nooks and crannies, nice places to sneak away into to hide, and a housekeeper (me) who, 1, quite likes spiders and doesn’t want to harm them and 2, likes important things to be clean (kitchen, bathroom) but is not overly anxious about a few cobwebs here and there – especially there.

Now when I say I like spiders I have to qualify that with I like some spiders more than others. I am not fond of the very dark short-legged varieties and on the infrequent occasions when they do arrive I arrange their safe and harmless transition to the great outdoors (clear plastic cup and sheet of paper work best for me)

My favourite house spider is the Tegenaria gigantea . (It maybe that the ones in my house are actually Tegenaria saeva which is very similar and found more often here in the SW of England) These are the large beasties with equally large legs and beautifully chevron marked abdomens. If it sat in a dessert-spoon its legs would reach or overlap the edges. It is often spotted as it makes a mad dash across the room, pauses, then runs on! The females are quite long lived and can live a number of years as adults and, as is usual in the spider-world are larger than the males. They make quite small webs (so not too much of a nuisance) We used to have one that lived behind a large larder cupboard, where the cupboard didn’t quite fit tight against the wall (not one of the walls in our house is straight). She would come out in the evenings, sitting boldly at the edge of her small web. The boys used to drop flies they’d swatted into this web during the day for her to find later. After about two years she just disappeared. tegenaria from my workshop
This one is fairly small and lives in the workshop, high up above the racks that hold the tools etc, for size reference the base of the jar she is sitting in is a good 3″ or 7cm across.

The next and the most prevalent spider in this house is a thin cylindrical bodied, long thin legged variety that I call the cobweb trembler. It makes annoying strandy cobwebs all over the place and hangs in this mess waiting, so while I tolerate these I am not keen on them.  If you disturb the cobwebs it trembles violently shaking back and forth over as much as ten centimetres, so that it is hard to catch (if I were a bird or something) If you touch the spider itself it drops, suddenly, to the ground…. and scurries off inefficiently on its spindly legs. These belong to the Pholcidae and are probably phalangioides but I am not sure. They manage to raise armies of young and so each year, twice a year, I brace myself and armed with the vacuum cleaner, try to remove as many as I can from the building.

I often wonder if they survive the vacuum treatment, I hope they do and immediately go and empty the cleaner out on the compost heap (it doesn’t have a bag so the dust and stuff doesn’t get compacted at all) – in the hope that if they have survived the suction and having landed in the body of the cleaner they have curled up and waited until release.

Along with many others I find beauty in the cobweb made by the orb spider and many orb spiders are beautiful in themselves with interesting colours (saw a bright lime green one this past Summer) and patterns. When these decide to make a web across an open window it is with great regret that I destroy the web just to close the window (making sure the spider is safely outside before closing) I really don’t like the thought of hurting them.. maybe growing up with the  ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive’ rhyme?

Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that I have a soft spot for. Many, many years ago when at teacher training college I did my biology thesis on Lepisma saccharina (the small primitive insect known as the silverfish) A harmless creature (except if they get into old libraries in numbers – they eat the sizing and glues on books) I had always seen them around but could find very little out about them. After eighteen months keeping them, studying their life cycle, behaviour patterns, preferences for diet, humidity, light, temperature conditions and nearly four hundred pages later, which included sheet after sheet of hand-drawn and coloured graphs (pre-computers!), I think I knew more about them that most entomologists back then, but not now . I was particularly curious as to what the ones that live in the bathroom ate, (as the only information available at the time suggested they ate carbohydrates and sugars – not often found in bathrooms) and discovered that among other things, they eat up all the shed scales of skin we leave behind as we dress and undress. In fact, if they did not get certain levels of protein from this or moulds then they lost their shine. I was awarded a high grade for my research and hence, in this house, these creatures are always rescued from the bath.

Enough of creepy crawlies for now….. I think these have to go under Other passions. Anyone else like spiders and other creepy crawlies?


Inspiration and Some Kind of Synchrony

So I find have omitted to say that the third of my completed novels is now available online from and Amazon. Some Kind of Synchrony offers double value for money in a way, as within the novel the main character, Faith, tells another complete story to her friend as they travel everyday from their un-named town suburb up the motorway to the centre of a midlands city  to go to work and back. The story is told to while away the time but this story is a bit special and is integral in the events that follow.

I have dedicated this book to ‘my friends who inspire me’. One of those was a friend who, in passing, told me about a long journey she undertook with another friend and to while away the time they took it in turns to add to a crazy story in a Mills and Boon vein….I can’t even remember the details now, but the idea of telling stories on a car journey did stick in my mind. This, combined with some unusual co-incidences between characters that I had pinned my first (never to be published apprentice piece) novel on and what happened to the real life counterparts or how they went on to achieve in real life, somehow collided and became the germ of an idea for this book.

The story of ‘Some Kind of Synchrony’ borrows nothing from either of these true life scenarios but the ignition of the idea can be traced back to these inspirations, and the rest developed within my subconscious over a number of years, patiently waiting for me to write it all out.

You can read the first three chapters of Some Kind of Synchrony FREE at

where it will appear as a PDF file if you click on the orange line that says ‘click here to read the first 3 chapters’


Some Kind of Synchrony is available in three eformats, for your kindle, for your Nook or Sony ereader and as aPDF.


What’s in a Name? Naming characters….

I was recently browsing a forum that asked how authors gave their characters names. There were a few great ideas there; choosing names from an atlas, from the census for the historical time your book is set in, ditto gravestones, even asking friends to nominate names.

I had used the atlas approach once, only to be asked by someone I knew whether I had manipulated their name to make a character’s name. I could see where he was coming from, but it hadn’t crossed my mind, it’s the one thing I would never do – use the name of someone I actually knew.

However, as an author you have to name your characters and it’s something that I have taken a mixture of great care and random luck over. My main characters, the lead characters and often other pivotal characters, I think long and hard over their names. Often I have a theme linking them, nothing too overt (I hope) but there may be literary or historical meaning attached to the names, or they may be suggestive of a type when you hear them. In my first, never to be published apprentice piece, my characters names had links to characters from Greek myths. In the book I am currently writing the names are basically biblical, though not all.

I kept a couple of babies’ name books from when we were selecting names for our own children. Thank goodness as an author I don’t have to compromise and agree with someone else. The process of choosing each of our own children’s names went something like this. We’d each choose 10 names we liked. Then compare lists. None would match, not one. Then we’d have to each make a second list of 10 names having none of our original ones on the second list. We would compare lists again. By this time we usually matched on two or three. These combined, we would then individually rank for favourites, and take the one with the highest score. Then do it all again for their second name. FOUR times, and each time for a girl or a boy!! That was time consuming I can tell you!

Anyway, it did result in me having this collection of ‘a name for your baby’ type books that I dip into on occasion – especially when I want the name to have a meaning behind it – to check the origin of the name. Similarly I have a dictionary of surnames which I occasionally use, however my most common way of finding names for my other characters, the odd people that pop up to interact with my main protagonists in their everyday life, well these are the random ones, often chosen from glancing along the books that line the places where I write and picking one first name from one author and the surname from another, avoiding names that are too recognisable as a stand alone name – like Dahl or Binchy. So I might take the first name of a female character of a certain age from Philippa Gregory and the second name from Richard North Patterson (could have easily been the other one James Patterson) and end up with a character called Philippa Patterson – and somehow instantly I feel I know what she’d look like and how she’d speak and behave. So it is a matter of matching name and character.

The male counterpart of this bookish pairing, of course, would be Richard Gregory, another good name for a character – or Gregory Richards… its quite fun too, as for me, each name combination calls up a slightly different face, age, colouring and behaviour.

So that, random or not, I am quite choosy about the actual name I end up with.


ps  Sorry the email alert doesn’t seem to be working at the moment…


Making Jam and writing this blog at the same time!

I am making Jam! Right now… while the bowl of fruit and sugar bubbles safely in the microwave I am using the eight minutes, until it is ready for a stir and to reset microwave time and power to simmer, to start this blog.

Jam making is one of my ‘other passions’, it takes hold of me when I find beautiful free or cheap fruit and I have a bit of time. I have my regular jams to make, the blackcurrant which is the staple jam on our table is made from fruit harvested from our garden and frozen, so this is often made as required, five jars at a time (this being the maximum quantity I can make in the microwave in the largest Pyrex bowl I have). I cannot resist making apricot jam when in France in the summer and boxes are being sold cheap in the markets and supermarkets, we eat apricots, make desserts out of apricots and then make jam from the rest – enough to take back to use at home for the rest of the year, each spoonful crammed full of the flavour of summer.

Right now, hang on… ok stirred and set to simmer for another 8mins…right now, I am making Bullace jam. This year the small semi-wild trees in our orchard hedge that bear these slightly smaller, slightly sharper, damson like fruit have been heavy with their glossy bloomed and black fruit, so I mused that I might try making some jam with them, perhaps just one batch of 5 jars as I haven’t made jam with these before and as I adapt my WI preserves book recipes (WI recipes are the best!) to make them suitable for the microwave as I go, I usually do a smaller sample first, however, M immediately went out and picked a box full – about 7lbs (yes I still work in imperial when cooking) which was enough for 15 jars!

So, problem… not enough sugar, in fact not enough even for the first batch (I was only musing remember) and it is Saturday afternoon. So, I hear you think, just go and buy some. Well, I always buy my sugar from my village post office and stores and that is closed on a Saturday afternoon – it’s part of my effort to support this shop in the hope that it will stay viable, so I don’t want to buy it elsewhere and elsewhere would also mean a drive into the nearest town, when I would prefer not to take a car journey for just one thing, part of an effort for the environment.

So the fruit goes into the cold room until Sunday morning, when I can pick up the sugar at the shop and take it into church with me (opposite the shop) and bring back after the service.

Ok…I’ve just put a small spoonful on a plate in the fridge to see if its ready to set and poured boiling water into recycled jam jars and put them in the microwave to boil away happily for a few minutes.

Already… the jars are done, I’ve put the jam back in the microwave to bring it to the boil again, the test shows a decent set…bullace are high in pectin and so I was on to a winner there.


Continued 2 days later…. it didn’t take 2 days to make… just 2 days to get back to my blog!

Fifteen jars of gorgeous looking jam now stand on the shelf in the cold room, alongside this year’s apricot. Yum!


My Microwave Recipe: makes about 5lb of jam.

2 ¼ lbs damsons or bullace – washed, stalks removed

3 tablespoons of water   (this is the main ingredient difference in using a microwave)

3lb sugar.

Butter – walnut sized piece (it really makes a difference to the finished product)

1, Place bullace and water in large* Pyrex or similarly heat proof microwave safe bowl, covered, 10 mins high power to soften fruit. (*large enough to hold at least twice the amount of fruit you are putting in it)

2, Stir and squash fruit to help release the stones, further 6 – 8 mins until stones come free of the flesh.

3, Using a slotted  spoon lift out as many of the stones as possible and drop into large-hole colander to squash off as much of fruit and skin as possible to return to the fruit pulp – discard the stones ( a few stones remaining in the pulp do not matter and adds to the home made feel of the jam)

4, Re-heat for about 3 mins to bring back up to simmer.

5, Add sugar and stir in well, add butter and make sure it melts.

6, Lid off, bring up to the boil again in MW – about 8 – 10 mins.

7, Stir well and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins

8, Stir well, and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins and check for set (place a teaspoon of jam mix on a cold plate – pop back in fridge – will show a set if the jam skin forms wrinkles and feels thick when finger is pushed though it when cool)

9, Into well washed jars pour about 1 cm (half an inch) of boiling water, place in microwave on full power for 3 – 4 mins until the water boils in the jars. Take care and tip them out well and stand to evaporate the last bit of water while you re-heat the jam mix

10, If a set is demonstrated by your test – return jam mix to microwave and heat until bubble appear then remove from microwave and ladle into hot jars. (if no set then simmer for another 3 mins and retest, continue until a set is demonstrated)

11, Cover with clear jam-covers as per instructions with the packet, and label.

12, Enjoy!



The Second Novel is now available on!

Divining the Line was actually written before Nothing Ever Happens Here but is the second novel up on It really doesn’t sit happily in the romance genre but I can’t find a genre that describes ‘divining’ without sounding too weird altogether – ‘paranormal’ and ‘supernatural’ have overtones (or is that undertones) of superheroes or vampires (or both) However, the aspect of Divining is quite strong in this novel, as Perran is a water diviner by trade. Sounds odd? Not when you can look up ‘Water Diviner’ in the yellow pages and find them… usually associated with borehole drilling water services. One of the most famous, certainly in the West Country, was Don the Diviner. His business was* based (if you can believe it) in Chacewater. [* still is though Don himself has passed away] They boasted that if they didn’t find significant water supply for you then you didn’t have to pay for the drilling. Watching him and his wife (who I was later told by another water diviner was actually a better diviner that Don) was so interesting, and yes, like Perran in the book, they offered to show us how it was done and it worked for us too and continues to work for us, the best amongst us being our eldest son who had a real flair for it.

In the book, however, it is not water that Perran sets out to find… there is a new and different power line that he has to follow….

Read the first three chapters free in PDF form here

Here’s the blurb…

Divining the Line

The first time it happened it felt like stumbling across another avenue to an ancient monument, but this one pulled at more than just his head, there was a tightness in his chest, the lights twinkled and flashed inside his mind, the intensity giving Perran a firework of a headache.

Following the line – years later in the early nineties – leads him into Liz Hawkey’s ordered life, and together they discover the source of the line.

A story of family, love and loss, Divining the Line brings the ordinary and the extraordinary together into everyday life.


(84,000 words in 20 chapters)




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