New entry - March 2007
Find out what progress I'm making with new books, and hear about my plans
stocks last, the Joslin de Lay Mysteries,
the Hare Trilogy and Out of the Mouths of
Babes are sold as new, signed by the author and
personally dedicated to the buyer if specified
! Click here
If you want to see want you can buy
that is currently in print, there is an
update to this section here.
For links to buy books secondhand through Amazon Marketplace, see
the complete works here.
You can purchase all my current books at Amazon, and you can even get the older ones from Amazon marketplace.
Now available from OUP
The paperback edition of Mystery Stories
- click on the picture. From creepy school computers to bungling bank robbers; from lost villages to
deadly Christmas presents :
Writing Ellen’s People/Without Warning
For many years I wanted to write a novel about the
First World War. I don’t think there has ever
been such a cataclysmic conflict over virtually nothing.
But it marked the proper beginning
of the twentieth century, just as the fall of the Berlin
Wall in 1989 marked its real ending. It’s always
had a firm hold on my imagination – and I think that
of most people in Great Britain and Europe, in a way
which I don’t think is quite the same for people in
the USA, though I would be very happy indeed to be shown
that I’m wrong. It first began to live for
me through the poets – Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon,
Isaac Rosenberg, Edward Thomas, then through the great
memoir writers - Robert Graves in Goodbye to All That,
Edmund Blunden in Undertones of War, Vera Brittain’s
Testament of Youth.
The works of scholarly historians followed, notably
Barbara Tuchman with The Guns of August (later retitled,
for some reason I can’t comprehend, August 1914) and
The Zimmermann Telegram. The books I note
in the acknowledgments were read specifically for this
Then I read the great novels – Remarque’s All Quiet
on the Western Front and then, in our generation, Sebastian
Faulks’s Birdsong and Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy.
These really cowed me: how could I possibly
write anything to even approach their power and sense
of actuality, especially as I was aiming for a young
adult audience? I’d written a book set in 1914
already – Very Far From Here, about two boys in a south
coast village thinking they’ve found spies. The
war here is always present but seen at second or even
third hand. Later, I wrote Billy Warren: the Diary
of a World War 1 Soldier for schools and even a history
of it for children. But none of them satisfied
my ambition to write a long and serious story trying
to capture that long-ago experience of so many people.
But the seeds for Ellen’s Children/Without Warning
had been planted many years before, though I didn’t
know it at the time. In 1981, when I was County
English Adviser for Hertfordshire, the lady who ran
the local Women’s Royal Voluntary Service asked me if
I would judge a writing competition for old people who
received the Meals-on-Wheels service. I
set the subject “Sweet Sixteen”, so they could write
about their experiences at that age. Many
of them were in their 80s and so they were sixteen during
the war. I received two accounts which stuck in
my mind and wouldn’t go away.
The first was from a woman who was taken by her boyfriend
to the Watford Palace Theatre to see the last performance
on stage of Charlie Chaplin before he left for America
and films. He left for France next day and she
never saw him again. I wondered how many thousands
of times that happened and it brought home to me that
the war led to the loss of almost a whole generation.
Another told how she was a servant in a
great house. The mistress of the house refused
to let them have a dance for the soldiers, and so they
went on strike.
When I read that, I realised that this was the beginning
of the break-up of the English class system: after this
nothing could ever be the same again. I
went on thinking about them for years, knowing that
one day I would use them, but it was many years before
the character of Ellen swam into my mind and I knew
these same things were going to happen to her.
War fascinates me. I hate and detest
the very thought of it. Colonel Cripps’s estimate
of it – that it’s cause by the vanity of those who don’t
have to fight it – is mine as well. Yet
also I’m deeply interested in its technology and its
tactics – I read a lot of military history. The
greatest piece of luck in my life was to be born when
I was, so that I didn’t have to fight in any war (though
when I was doing National Service in the RAF in the
50s there was a nasty rumour that we would all be sent
to Suez, that ridiculous fiasco which illustrates Colonel
Cripps’s opinion perfectly.) At the same
time I take great pride in the achievements of the British
in two world wars – and not just the British but all
allied forces - and also in the way that Germany and
Japan conducted themselves after defeat. Humanity
is seen at both its best and its worst in war. Issues
seem straightforward and emotions run high, which makes
war fertile ground for any novelist.
But it’s not just the soldiers who experience the
war. That’s why Ellen seemed such a natural character
to follow: a girl who learns who she is, who grows half
a lifetime in four years and lives at a higher level
that she otherwise would, always surveying and thinking
on what happens to her, a girl who is made by and almost
defined by the war. A reviewer said that Ellen
had an “anachronistically modern” viewpoint. I
dispute this strongly. She has a natural, questioning,
reasoning intelligence: she is not afraid to act bravely
though inwardly she is fearful. I found her growing
under my hand into someone far more complex and satisfying
than I had even contemplated when I started writing.
I hope I don’t sound foolish when I say
that I was half in love with my own character by the
time the book was finished.
Extract from Ellen's People/Without Warning
The first extract takes place in 1916, shortly before
the Battle of the Somme. Ellen is now seventeen.
Last year, at a dance in the big house where
she worked as a servant, to which soldiers from the
nearby camp who were shortly of to France, she met Archie
from Yorkshire and they liked each other very much.
Now Archie is on home leave before the big push
and has invited Ellen to spend a day with him in London
before he returns to the front. This will
be her first visit to London with her first ever boyfriend.
But her brother Jack is home from the war wounded
and in a very bad state.
Download extract 1 here
The second extract is set in 1918. Ellen is
a nurse in an army hospital in Abbeville, northern France,
just behind the lines. On this night, something
very important happens to her, important not only for
the experience but for what it comes to mean for her.
Download extract 2 here
You can buy ELLEN’S PEOPLE here
Watch out next year for the sequel, ELLEN’S CHILDREN,
which takes us to the end of the Second World War.
Watch out for Very Far From Here
Coming soon on Print-on-Demand
This was the second novel I wrote and
it was first published in 1976. I’ve
always had a soft spot for it. For
the first time I wrote about the First World
War, something I’ve returned to in three
later books. Find out more about
Very Far From Here here.
The War and Freddy out soon !
Great news! THE WAR AND FREDDY will
be republished in September 2007 in the Happy Cat imprint
of Catnip Books.
Here's the new cover :
THE WAR AND FREDDY is one of my favourite books.
It was shortlisted for the Smarties Prize
in 1991. Find out more about the book here.
including a close-up of the new cover.
Pageants of Despair out now !
Pageants of Despair, my first novel, has
been reissued by Paul
Dry Books. Click here
or on the cover to buy the book from Amazon UK, and click here
to see the superb cover in full.