Saturday, December 10, 2016

Somewhere There's A Book Club Where We Belong... Win Some Paperbacks!

Under my desk, there is a box.  It is about half full of early printings of Up, Back, and Away - Version 1.0, before I made a few corrections and commissioned a genius to illustrate the cover.  These early paperbacks look like this:

The way we were...

Despite being put in the shade by Juan's brilliant cover illustration,  these books still have a little piece of my heart.  I hate to think of them languishing like Jessie in Toy Story in a dark box. So, in this holiday season, what I would like to do is send them to you and your bookclub.

I will send up to ten copies to the club/club(s) representatives making a request.  If more than one group writes in (leave a comment here with some form of contact information or email me at, I will put names in a hat and draw them out.  I will sign all the books so you'll want to hold onto your copy for that day when Sotheby's comes calling.  I think there are about fifteen in the box...  Say how many you would like, give me an address in the U.S. (sorry, too expensive to ship over borders - but see note below re: ebook), and hey presto.  First come, first served.

If your group gets around to actually reading the book and you want me to come via Skype to the meeting when you chat about it - just come back here and say so.  Or send me an email at the aforementioned I'd be honored.

For those of you who have moved on from paper or who are in England, starting Dec. 16, 2016, you can get the e-version (with lovely cover and corrections) for 99 cents in the US and 99p across the pond on Amazon for one week.

But don't let that stop you asking for these copies.  I live to serve and to send paperbacks.

Leave a comment.  Email me. Tell your friends.  Thanks for stopping by.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ready, Steady, WRAP!

"Tandembaum" by Juan Wijngaard, brilliant artist and cover illustrator of Up, Back, and Away
You-Know-What is coming.  I'm no where near ready - but, friends, I am making plans.  I'll have a little something for everybody - and that means YOU too - later this month.

In the meantime, just to say Happy Hols and thanks for stopping by, here's a link to one of my new favorite BBC Radio programmes: Choral Evensong on Radio 3.  This is, "A Service for Advent with Carols" recently recorded live at the Chapel of St. John's Cathedral in Cambridge.

If you have been around here before you know that since I discovered the iPlayer app (q.v.- the app works brilliantly to dial up the whole universe of BBC radio - and it is a vast universe).  British public radio puts ours in the shade. Choral Evensong is one of many long-running programmes (I always mentally pronounce the "e" there, being American) that I have come to love.  The only down-side is that all that fabulous radio has cut down on my reading.  If you have a tip for a book I should check out, leave it here or over on Goodreads.

More later. Best wishes for a bright season.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Origin Story

When the cover was a work in progress,,, by Juan Wijngaard

I was asked not long ago by a bookseller to contribute an essay about what inspired me to write Up, Back, and Away. Here's the answer, if you're also curious.

How'd You Get the Idea In the First Place?

As it happens, I can tell you!

I was listening to my iPod, Adele’s first album,one spring morning in 2007 as I was walking along the Stowe, Vermont Recreation Path. 

It’s a beautiful path that follows a rocky stream through woods and fields with the Green Mountains in the long view.  I had recently left full time work for a half-time job (I’m a government lawyer by day) and I had two kids in school.  This meant I had a little mental space and time with which to work for the first time in years.  I had been a writer before law school, for local newspapers and in a college PR office, and I had continued writing (for fun) on a blog that I have kept since 2006.  I mention this because I was in the writing habit, which helped, I think, to keep ideas coming.  The walking part is important too.  I walk every day if I can.  I got to thinking that day as I listened to Adele sing about how important it was for gifted people to arrive at the right place and time if their gifts are to be realized.

When this thought flitted across my mind, I immediately thought of Thomas Gray’s famous, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.’  It contemplates, among other things, those whose talents never stood a chance: circumstances were arrayed against them from birth. For most in that churchyard, it was the time and place in which they were deposited that was fatal.  I wondered what if some exceptional people weren't constrained by the circumstances of their birth?  What if the Universe had a way of, very occasionally, correcting these mistakes?  Of shifting people born in the wrong time and place to the place in time where they and their talents could flourish?

What about, a time travel story? One with a cosseted but basically good American rich kid at its center?
What's on the other side? I didn't know. I went through.

Sending  my young hero to England in the 1920s would give me a chance to write about many of my favorite things: : English language and literature, social history, the differences between English and American culture, as well as their similarities, and about how we all must meet the challenges that life throws at us.   I could also write about fun stuff (for me) Staffordshire pottery, London in the twenties, the English countryside and English country living at its last gasp between the wars. I could include three-speed bicycles and manual typewriters and dogs and old buildings and old songs and new music and stranger-in-a-strange land and all of that! The revolution in the place in the world of the western woman is the great story of the last 100 years.  With time travel I could explore this, as well as the timeless story of the struggle to find courage and to come of age. How about a rescue mission – where our hero has to find a girl born out of her time and a secret not meant to be and then get home with them both so that she has a chance to fulfill her artistic destiny?

It was my own small “J.K. Rowling moment” –  the one we’ve all heard about, when Ms. Rowling was riding on a train and suddenly had an idea for a story about a school for young wizards?  I know I’m no J.K. Rowling, but I think I experienced something of the same thrill.
The book unfolded itself right there.

Well, sort of.  I then had to spend the next five years working it all out.

It wasn’t all joy, working on the book.  But it did a great deal for me personally.  I enjoyed the research, writing the characters into being, and working out the plot lines.  Mostly I was trying to write the book I wished was out there for me to read when I was growing up.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Not So Illicit Affair with Staffordshire Wares

Transferware in the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Certain near relations give me a hard time about the number of plates I have hanging on my walls. (You know who you are).   My collection of Staffordshire transferware is modest compared to those  serious collectors and scholars whom I encounter in the Internet - but my love for it is real and enduring.  

I love to think of the people who worked so hard to make these things out of the earth around Staffordshire (which is a county in the English midlands): the skill, the effort, the quest to make things as pretty  as possible.  The wares were designed to appeal to the sweet tooth of the common man: they were shown off on dressers and cherished as family treasures in modest homes around England, the empire, and the USA.  (Those of you who have read Laura Ingalls Wilder must recall the China Shepherdess that accompanied the Ingalls family on their travels).  The actual creation of these pretty things was, however, a gritty, industrial business.  The towns of the potteries are not and never have been elegant vacation spots, which endears them to me - a native of the similarly-regarded Schenectady, New York.

The output of the potteries in the 19th century was colossal, and much of it destined for the American market.  I often wonder that the whole county of Staffordshire wasn't swallowed by an enormous pot hole. (That phrase, BTW, comes from the practice of digging good clay out of any old place in Staffordshire).
No China Shepherdess in this collection but you get the idea - Shelburne Museum
In Up, Back, and Away I cast Lady Fisher in the role of a Potteries Heiress.  Her industrial-based fortune made her and her brother, who redoubled the family fortune, into earthenware aristocrats - not so good as the old-time gentry but whose money bought grudging entry to the upper class.  There were many self-made men with a genius for pottery production - Josiah Wedgwood being the most famous example.

Whenever I'm out in an antique store, or even a modern kitchen goods store (they are still making pottery in Staffordshire, thank goodness) my eye always goes to the transfer-printed wares.  If you have any interest in the history of the English Potteries, here is a can't miss web site.  I'll venture a suggestion: next time you find yourself presented with a pretty old plate or cup, flip it over and have a look at the mark.  You might then enter that information at that website, or just plain old Google, and find there is story to that pattern and to the history of the manufacturer waiting for you. 

Enourmous Staffordshire jugs - also at Shelburne Museum.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Brilliant Animation Brings 1931 Back to Life

I'm hoping to convince this genius, who's doing WONDERFUL things with his computer in Russia, to do a book trailer for me.  (I think he's actually famous and in demand so don't hold your breath).  In the meantime, you can marvel with me at what he has already accomplished.

Click and enjoy. Be sure to switch to full screen.

Alexey Zakharov animation - YouTube

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Remembering the Somme - 100 Years Since...

The precipitating event, or one of them in Up, Back, and Away was the Battle of the Somme. I studied it for quite awhile before writing the Somme scenes. Just reading about WW 1, especially the personal stories of the soldiers (I recommend Robert Graves' memoir Good-bye to All That and Siegfied Sasoon's fictionalized life story, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man ) was very moving, but this commemoration is the most brilliant memorial I've seen - making the loss tangible and for reminding the rest of us of what their sacrifice (among so many others) made possible.  

Something to keep in mind over here during our Independence Day celebrations this weekend.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Midsummer Eve

Hello Gentle Reader. Welcome to summmer. Officially it begins tomorrow, which means we are right on the cusp of that magic moment - for those of us in the northern hemisphere - the longest day - the shortest night. I researched a lot of the traditions around midsummer's eve for the book. Daphne's advice to Dr. Slade to wet his face in the dew caught in flowers on the morning after is real. I mean that people used to recommend that. I'm a little ashamed of the druidical kink in my thoughts. I am one of those people who toss salt over my (left) shoulder when I've gone and spilled some. I don't even like to look at the number 13 (true confession - I turn away from my microwave as it gets to the last seconds to avoid spotting it). I once drove around the block when a black cat crossed in front of my car to avoid path crossing. I mean, why take a chance, right? This is the silly, low-end thinking that is part of something grander I think: mysteries of nature that baffle and terrify and also awe us. Here's hoping your summer is magic and not scary.

London's Famous Clubs And Cabarets No. 3 (1926)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Thank You!

Is there a reader who recognizes this scene?
If you're one of the thousands of people (wow!) who bought the book in the recent kindle sale - thanks so much.  At the risk of sounding smarmy,  I am truly honored by your time and your attention.  I hope you will like - or have already enjoyed- the book.  If not, I'm sorry to have disappointed.  At least you haven't lost much money.

If you liked the story, feel free to say so.  The book opens, as you will have noticed, with a quotation from Somerset Maugham.  Another of my favorite Maugham quotations is, "People ask for criticism but they only want praise."  I don't know who those strange creatures are, asking for criticism.  (We'll get it anyway, won't we?)  I'm along for the praise, though.

In other news, the Prize Pack (see the sidebar) has been awarded to a lady in Virginia.  She's sent me her details and I'll be packing up her goods this week.

I'm always pleased to hear from you, the nice class of people who constitute my readers.  Feel free to stop in for a chat anytime.  Thank you again.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Summer Sale Time

It's here again!   So all you Britishes with 99p and a kindle (or a kindle app) and perhaps vacation plans that will include some reading - click away and Mr. Bezos will be happy to assist you.  

And, of course, on this Memorial Day Weekend I would not neglect my countrymen.  Here's the link for 99 cent copies for all of you.  Also, go ahead and enter for the the Anglophile Prize Pack.  (See the sidebar at the top).  A winner will be picked by Raffflecopter next week.  (US address only for this, sorry).

The photo above is of Erddig Hall in Wrexham, Wales.  The place that inspired "Quarter Sessions," the estate you'll be visiting in the book.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Some of My Favorite Things - A Giveaway

I have a big summer book promotion coming up and feel like celebrating.  In that party spirit I'm giving away some favors.  See the link in the sidebar to enter to win the Literary Anglophile's Prize Pack.

Included are a signed copy of Up, Back, and Away - of course - AND (are you sitting down?) all the other stuff in the foreground as well.

The gem is probably the Copeland Spode pottery jug of Winston Churchill.  It dates from 1941 and was meant to inspire his countrymen and mine in those early days of the war. It's printed in black with the symbols of the three Armed Services, beneath 'All I can offer is blood, toil, tears and sweat', reverse with crossed flags of Great Britain and the USA, 'We stand for democracy'.  (This very jug sold at a specialist Churchill auction last year for 120 pounds so... ) 

Also included is the cottageware teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl - genuine English made sometime in the first half of the last century and so adorable.  For planning your next trip across the pond you'll also get a guide to  Secret London and the book and DVDs for the PBS series on Iconic British Estates in its slipcover. The little white teapot  honors Edward VII, who was King of England from 1901-1910.   

I've been inspired for years by the great old pottery industry in England.  The winner will get this vintage Royal Doulton Dickens plate, featuring many of his greatest creations.  The value of all this stuff in terms of dirty money is in the neighborhood of $200.  In terms of inspiration, priceless.

US Residents only for this one, I'm afraid.  It will be carefully packed and shipped within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway.  Enter by June 3, 2016.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Books are in the Mail

Thanks to all who entered the Goodreads Giveaway.  If one of you three lucky winners is stopping in for a status report, all the books have gone out.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Radio 4, Where Have You Been All My Life?



Radio 4 is one of the nine radio stations run by the BBC.  There's Radio 1 (pop hits), Radio 2 (adult contemporary), and on like that.  Radio 4 is mostly talking and its where I spend most of my time - at least so far.  There's so much BBC radio that I haven't had time to venture deep into the other stations - yet.

And may I just say, we have crappy talking radio here in the US, if you ask me, which you didn't but it's my blog.

I'm not even talking about the Saharas of sportstalk and  know-it-all political blowhards and the religious folk on our dial.  I have zero interest in that.  I listen to music and occasionally NPR.  NPR is the closest thing we have to BBC-style radio in this country and it is a poor, sad, pushy, begging enterprise. Plus NPR is irritating.  Aside from Cokie Roberts and Ira Glass (once in a while), and Terry Gross (most of the time) it is middle-brow forced-jollity earnest superior blah beige boring.

When I was a kid, WGY in Schenectady played Mystery Theater, hosted by E.G. Marshall each weeknight.  I would "work" cleaning the kitchen for the whole hour of Mystery Theater.  Thinking of that sole survivor of radio drama (in my day) I  am reminded of the remains of those dwarf mammoths they found somewhere - physically shrunken holders-on - last of their species, dying out on some island .  That was what Mystery Theater was back in the 70s.  It wasn't genius but it was fun and it exploited one of the things that radio is good at - telling stories.  When I stumbled into Radio 4 I realized how starved I was for programming that takes full advantage of Radio's (note capital "R") potential to be fun, informative, interesting, creative.

I'm not looking for a radio revival to suit me here in the States anytime soon.  Our airwaves follow the money.  They must.  I understand that. The Beeb is publicly funded and even if Bernie Sanders gets elected no one in the States is going want to throw tax money at radio.  Podcasting has filled the void, largely, that's true. But Radio is still a special thing.  We don't have to hunt it out. It flows. It's a friend.  Thankfully, we now have the internet.  And the British taxpayer.

So here, for your listening pleasure are links to my favorite shows Radio 4 shows, with a nod to Radio 3.  (Actually this is the tip of the iceberg my favorite shows but it's bedtime).

Desert Island Discs
Are you interested in any famous people? They have probably been interviewed on this show.  There is an archive stretching back to 1942.  Famous people, including Bill Gates, the late Princess Margaret and all kinds of movie stars, musicians, writers and other achievers - the kind that would only get radio time in England (e.g., a landscape designer, a nonagenerian allergist, a supermarket magnate) discuss which  eight records they would take if marooned on a desert island.  It turns out that this is a great way to get biography.  I am addicted.  The theme music sounds like a Monty Python joke - at first I thought it must be.  I quickly understood, however, that they were playing it straight. The theme is a holdover from the show's 1940s origins. I love it now: living strings, squawking seagulls. Please Aunt Beeb, never change it.

Desert Island Discs was my entree to Radio 4.  I have since become enamored of Book at Bedtime - so many great adaptations there.  And lately I've been dipping into the venerable Woman's Hour, which is as old or older than DID.  There's comedy. There's all kinds of drama.  On that point, I have to give shout out for dRadio 3, I listened to a brilliant creepy adaptation of the famous play The Skriker there recently. Give that a listen if you can. You will never hear the like on the radio in the US.

Really, there's too much to detail here.  Just go poking around the BBC Radio website.  If you don't find much to love, check you pulse.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Happy Easter!

A few photos from the archives for the holiday.  May your Easter be sweet.