Saturday, 8 October 2011

New Blog Link

My Blog continues on my new web site at

Friday, 16 September 2011

Talking about the Chronicles

I an working on a talk for Portland Rotary Club entitled Writing the Portland Chronicles, children’s stories set on Portland inspired by local myths, legends and history. So far I have found various maps and old dragon jokes. I think in some ways it will be more challenging than talking to children - at least you can guarantee that kids will ask lots of very searching questions (How much do you earn? etc). In fact, there are so many aspects of my books that are drawn from the local landscape and folklore that it is difficult to know where to begin.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Pirate Graves

Here is a preview of the cover artwork by Domini Deane for Portland Pirates. Inspired by the 'pirate graves' at Church Ope. Domini works in watercolour and it takes a few weeks to complete the cover. She is great at capturing the spirit of a place and character in her painting.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Autumn Ghosts

The Autumn evenings are drawing in and my thoughts turn inevitably to ghosts. Several places on Portland lend themselves to ghost stories. The Verne at the highest point of Portland deserves a legion of Roman soldiers tramping down the steep incline. There should be a headless horseman lurking somewhere near the windmills. And a group of lost Edwardian ladies with umbrellas walking around Wakeham in the rain.

I'm not sure why I am fascinated by ghosts. Perhaps something to do with watching a lot of Scooby-Doo shows in the early 1970s.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Venus, Ghosts and Frankenstein

We went to see the Venus Verticordia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the Russell Cotes art gallery in Bournemouth today Amazing colours. The twins liked the Victorian decor of the house and the cafe. We found ghosts in the churchyard at St Peter's Church, and saw the grave of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Nearby we also saw Domini's Frankenlion! ( Now I am looking over the typeset manuscript of Portland Pirates, in its final stages, with a sword and pirates hat by Domini inset as chapter breaks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Looking for Ancestors

Last week I went to the parish of St Feock in Cornwall to look at a church built by my ancestor William Gerrish, a stonemason born in 1800. The church is set deep in the Cornish countryside, in an area where a lot of my forebears lived, including Penroses as well as the Gerrish family. The only recorded twins in my family tree (until Jade and Jasmine) were William's sons, so I feel a sense of connection to his family. The Saxon church tower set apart from the church building seems oddly familiar too.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Final changes to Pirates

Made some drastic changes to the manuscript of Portland Pirates early yesterday morning and sent to Roving Press. I have changed the names of 3 main characters. The Pirates has quite a number of characters, including a pirate crew, Cap'n Red Pete, a cabin boy, not to mention a smuggler and the usual array of present day characters; Isabel, her naughty sister Suzie and Gregor the badly behaved dog from Groves Farm.

I am often asked if my characters are based on real people. Some characters are inspired more or less by people I have met, even briefly. Sometimes just a chance comment will also inspire a scene or help to rewrite an aspect of the plot. Not long ago I was talking to Wendy, who designs and creates peg dolls, and she described seeing an unusual cloud formation over Portland. The cloud was shaped like a dragon. Portland always seems to produce dragons. But it started me thinking about my time-travelling pirate ship and how the ship itself could appear in the clouds. It helped with a few plot difficulties, so thanks Wendy!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Radio Solent I enjoyed talking to Harry Crawford at the Big Dorset Brunch. Nice that he compared The Portland Chronicles to works by CS Lewis, Tolkien and JK Rowling!! But I guess its very true that youngsters like to read about fantasy, myth and legend. Even more so if the legends are drawn from a place they know well, or can visit. We discussed my pirate research and I mentioned Henry Strangways who hid his pirate loot at Portland Castle. I suppose the humour in some of my characters makes the Chronicles a little different. We also talked about how important young readers are at this stage of editing Portland Pirates. Their views are very important.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Real Portland Sea Dragon

A skull belonging to one of the largest sea monsters ever found has recently gone on show at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. The pliosaur lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and was a terrifyingly huge creature, like an enormous crocodile. Scientist can estimate from the size of the skull that the creature would have been 15 to 18 metres long. The skull was found near Weymouth, Dorset, a few years ago.

Palaeontologist Richard Forrest said of the skull: "This is an iconic specimen - one of the most exciting we have seen in years. It was probably the most fearsome predator that ever lived. Standing in front of the skull you can imagine this enormous beast staring straight back at you, fixing you with its binocular vision, and attacking. Just thinking about it raises the hairs on the back of your neck."

I have been following this story with great interest - my story The Portland Sea Dragon was inspired by a local legend, the Chesil Beach sea monster (the Veasta, as it is often called), and also by the real archaeological evidence of the pliosaur found nearby.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Unicorns and Elidor

Writing about a unicorn this morning for Book 4 of The Portland Chronicles, The Island Giant, I have been thinking a great deal about Alan Garner and Elidor. I was very influenced by his stories, which I started reading when I was about 7 years old. I believe Elidor was published in the year that I was born, 1965. I loved the way that a fantasy world was juxtaposed against the real gritty life of a Northern city, and it felt very real to me. I remember the experience of being underground in the tunnels of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, as if I had been really there. For me, these stories marked a transition in reading, where I started to live in the world inhabited by characters and identified closely with them. The novel was a journey I took with these characters, turning the pages not just to find out what happened next, but also to stay in that world with them.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Local Authors' Day - Imagine Bookshop

I'm looking forward to the Local Authors' Day at Imagine Bookshop on Saturday. The shop has a very interesting collection of books and is a lovely environment to browse through classic novels as well as modern and illustrated stories; great for children and grown ups alike. Always good to see Gary Biltcliffe, author of Spirit of Portland, whose research on the history of Portland fascinates people. A great chance to meet other local authors too.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Beginning the Island Giant

While Portland Pirates is with Julie at Roving Press, I've been experimenting with writing in other genres, such as drama and poetry. Drafted the 1st scenes of a screenplay version of The Portland Sea Dragon, to see how it would work. The dragon deserves a starring role! Main difficulty is conveying time changes/shifts into the past within the present day sequence of events. I've enjoyed the challenge of writing as if I'm watching the story unfold in the cinema. Have also been working on a poem that explores why I write and what inspires me, especially a sense of place.

Last night, after several uneasy nights dreaming of a future Portland landscape, I started work on the 4th book of the Portland Chronicles, The Island Giant. I wrote the 1st draft of this over 4 years ago and it doesn't mesh with the 3 preceding stories, so I have decided to start afresh. Wrote about 3,000 words very late while a gale rattled the doors and shook the windows.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Stormy weather over Portland

There has been amazing weather over Portland this weekend. Huge storms, thunder and lightning, as well as an unusual 'roll cloud'. Very inspiring for writing. Real dragon weather.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Portland Pirates Cover Design

Met today with Julie from Roving Press, who's editing Portland Pirates at the moment, and Domini Deane, Bournemouth artist who's producing the artwork. We talked about the colour scheme for the cover, which characters will appear, and how they will be represented. Domini already has sketches for the front and back covers, and produces the final artwork in watercolour, beginning with a colour wash for the background and building up the picture in layers of colour. I love the way she captures personality in the expressions of the characters. Portland Pirates is the Summer book of the series (The Portland Sea Dragon is winter, the Enchantment of the Black Dog is spring), so we are concentrating on vivid summer colours this time. We also worked on the map of Portland. Each book has a slightly different 'take' on the map. This one will feature a rock climber and some older place names featured in the story.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Giant at Cerne

Starting to look for the Giant of Book 4 in the Portland Chronicles. I went to Cerne Abbas to look at one of our local Dorset giants; something very grand about his image on the hill. The village is quiet but atmospheric, and the coaching inn has a mysterious atmosphere. I expected a highwayman to ride under the arch on a black horse. Cerne has a timeless quality. I wonder why giants are so intriguing, whether the stories of a race of giants have any meaning other than the mythical. While writing about the Black Dog, I confronted aspects of this myth over several dark winter months; writing can be a journey on many invisible levels. I am wondering where the Island Giant will begin. The Silver Well has wonderful light under the bright Lime trees, ribbons tied to the twigs for wishes.

Magical Light

The light at Church Ope is sometimes v magical, esp on a sunny Spring day. This early 18th century grave stone was in direct sunlight. The 'pirate graves' lit by a sweep of lime green trees.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Map

I love looking at maps of Portland, especially old maps with place names now largely forgotten and specialist maps, such as those used for sailing and climbing. I spent some time recently looking at a map on display at Portland Museum, a copy from 1800 by Gilbert Steward that includes places called Thunderbolts Hole and Shepherds Dinner; fantastic names that evoke the history of Portland. I am currently working on the draft of a map to go with Portland Pirates. To my surprise, I find I've referred to 57 places/local features in the story and I am finding it difficult to work out which places to include and leave out.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

An ending

It's always difficult to say when a story is finished. I guess if I'm just constantly changing the to a and back again, then there's not a lot going on. But every now and then (usually when miles from a pen and paper) I suddenly realise that something has to be rewritten. However I think an ending is in sight for Portland Pirates.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Portland Climbers

As part of my research for Portland Pirates, I talked to a local climber about what it's like to climb the many cliffs around Portland. Rich and Sarah at New Heights Climbing take out groups of new and experienced climbers, often climbing by the Cuttings, a popular area on the east coast. I was very interested in the type of rope and equipment used to traverse the various cliff faces. Many of the nearly 900 climbs around Portland are already bolted so climbers can clip into the rocks, although some areas have seasonal restrictions to protect birds such as peregrines and puffins.

I was also intrigued by the unusual names given to the various routes, such as Yikes Shaggy! and Reptile Smile. When I lived on the West Cliffs, I often saw climbers heading out to tackle the sheer cliff faces. This inspired me to create 2 characters who would represent another aspect of the island's life.

Climbing is another unique facet of Portland, which brings people to the Isle from all over the world. Rich from New Heights helped me to piece together how my main character Isabel would experience climbing, and what kind of safety equipment would be used. to bring these chapters to life.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Portland Connections

Church Ope today, always fascinates me... I was studying a map of Portland at the museum today, a copy made of an original c. 1800. The place names are different, intriguing. With all my family coming from the north of England (or so I believed), I am still trying to find out about my grandmother's grandfather George Harris, who said (in the 1881 census) that he came from Portland, Dorset, born here in 1847. Such a coincidence.

The Phoenician

Saw the Phoenician statue today at Portland Museum. He has a presence of his own, contemplative but aware of the changing world around him. Benevolent too. With the high point of Phoenician culture around 1200BC, I wonder whether this statue could possibly be so old. There were trade links between Dorset and the Mediterranean in this era.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

More Pirates

I have nearly finished writing the Portland Pirates now. The story is a little more complex as the relationships between the characters are intertwined, and Isabel my main character is heading towards that awkward age of 13. Church Ope features a lot in the story, as well as Chesil and Portland Bill. The atmosphere of Church Ope lends itself well to pirates, not to mention the intriguing graves at St Andrews. Vikings landed here in the 8th century. I've read that Portland itself was named for the Saxon pirate Porth. Pirates everywhere... if you look hard enough...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Portland Pirates!

Writing about pirates for Book 3... Looking at the history of piracy, it fascinates me to find just how much the pirate legend owes to fiction. Even some 18th century pirates took up the profession after reading a romanticised account of the pirate lifestyle! (Rather like Heat magazine today.)Blackbeard played to his own legend, lighting tapers in his beard. Writing about pirates is referencing a whole literary genre, from the mysterious Captain Charles Johnson who wrote about Pyrates in 1724 to Treasure Island onwards. Even the movie of Peter Pan has influenced how we perceive pirates, with the invention of 'walking the plank'. Not to mention Pirates of the Caribbean! It's a challenge to come up with something different enough to be worth reading! Though of course these will be Portland Pirates which sets them apart anyway...

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Lovely to see these gentle creatures early this morning... a peaceful start to a busy Sunday. Portland Pirates is taking shape. Is there enough swashbuckling... ?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Church Ope Cove

I spent some time at Church Ope today, thinking about pirates! Many of the graves still standing there are worn and difficult to decipher, most of them dating from the early to mid 1700s. I was speculating at the origins of the word Ope with a friend, we believe that it's possibly a Scandinavian word originally, meaning opening or inlet, and there are several 'Ope' places on Portland. Looking across the bay from Church Ope, it's easy to see why the Vikings found this approach attractive when they visited Portland many centuries ago. I remember visiting the so called 'pirate graves' as a teenager and finding the words and images on them far more legible than now. The hourglasses on some of the stones fascinate me; an image that I don't associate with gravestones nowadays, yet clearly significant in the past, showing the inevitable passing of time, perhaps also the finite aspect of life. It's a powerful image and it shows how differently time and death were seen in the past. We also spent quite a while wondering who would have been buried in the raised stone graves marked with skull and crossbones. These stones still stand fast and look well constructed. The image of skull/crossbones that we now associate with piracy was once, like the hourglass, an image for death, so may not in fact show a pirate burial. And would a pirate warrant an expensive, respectable burial in the island graveyard? Perhaps not. These ancient graves are nonetheless intriguing and mysterious...