From mountains to seas: writing about different cultures

by Sonja Price

My debut novel The Giants Look Down will be published in April. It is about a Kashmiri girl’s struggle to become a doctor, much to the chagrin of her mother and the patriarchal society she lives in. The story takes place in both Kashmir and Scotland.

From Kashmir…

On the drive to work one day, I was listening to a report on the radio about the devastating 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, which killed 86,000 people. Besides the tragic details, it contained an evocative description of the Himalayas and the string of lakes stretching through the Vale of Kashmir. I later discovered that, with its mild climate and fertile landscape, the vale is the green heart of the region and could be a paradise on Earth if not for the natural disasters and political tensions that have blighted its development.

                                                      …to Scotland

I started to imagine the life of a girl who wanted to become a doctor and help her homeland. As the native population is mainly Muslim even though Kashmir belongs to India, which has fought three wars over it, I decided my protagonist would be Hindu. What problems would Jaya and her family encounter, and what would happen if a tragic event were to shatter her dream of a career in medicine and she were transported to the other side of the globe? The idea of the contrasting landscapes of Scotland and Kashmir appealed to me; I have often come across people who love either the mountains or the sea, depending on where they have grown up. What would Jaya make of the sea and the rugged landscape of Scotland? How would the rain and the cold winds that sweep its shores affect her? How would she navigate the differences in culture and religion, especially if she were to fall in love?

I allowed my imagination free rein long before I had a clear plot and my research was completed. I may not have pored over the histories of Kashmir before sitting down to write but I did keep two books of breath-taking photographs open next to my keyboard: for example, at the deep turquoise image of Sheshmag Lake, which is high up in the mountains, or the gondola-like shikaras gathering at dawn on Dal Lake when the vendors fix their prices for market day. John Isaac’s The Vale of Kashmir and Raghubir Singh’s Kashmir, Garden of the Himalayas were wonderful sources of inspiration.

I interviewed Indians about Kashmir and New Delhi, where Jaya spends some time with relatives, and talked to a German doctor who had practised in an Indian hospital. He recalled the rudimentary state of medical apparatus as well as the smell of iodine and coconut oil, and the presence of relatives, who slept in or outside the wards. It was relatively easy to switch to the more familiar Scotland, and a Scottish friend advised me on everything from the name and location of Jaya’s home in Scotland to the characters she meets there. I then placed all this in a 1980s context.

For me, writing about the unfamiliar is an adventure worth embarking on. My imaginary journey to Kashmir seems as real to me as if I had spent years there, and I have grown to love the region and to care about its fate.

The Giants Look Down will be published in April 2016.


Beryl Kingston on WW1, writing and upcoming book Great War, Little Peace

Beryl Kingston

by Beryl Kingston

Rosie Goodwin, like most working class children in 1909, is sent out to work as a nursemaid as soon as she is twelve years old, and from then on she sees her family only once a year, on Mothering Sunday. She must grow up fast. Intelligent and courageous, she vows to change her life as soon as she can. Life will interrupt, however, and soon she will have to face the horrors of World War One, followed by the crushing poverty of the twenties and thirties – there are hard times ahead of her.

Great War, Little Peace is about World War One and the terrible years of depression that followed. The original spark for it came from a distant but much loved relation of mine whom I called Dardy when I was too young to pronounce her name properly and who, like my heroine, was sent away to work in a great house on her 12th birthday and from then on, only saw her family on Mothering Sunday and Christmas. She accepted it phlegmatically as just something that happened but I thought it was absolutely appalling to do such a thing to such a young child and made a note of it in my diary.


Useful things, diaries. I kept a whole series of them from 1935 to 1950, so a lot of the details about the thirties in Great War, Little Peace, were recorded and therefore accurate. I revisited a lot of the places I knew as a child, like the Borough Market, Petticoat Lane, Cheney Walk, the Tate Gallery and the streets in Worthing where the fascists of the BUF strutted and roared,  just to be sure that my memory wasn’t playing tricks and was delighted to find that they were all reassuringly familiar.

I also had two other relations who unwittingly gave me information which I recorded in my diaries and used in this book. Dardy’s husband had served in the trenches in World War One for four years and told me a lot about that. My aunt was a Suffragette and she was a wonderful source of information, too; a lovely, determined, intelligent lady who chained herself to the railings in Parliament Square and was proud to have been part of the movement.

The only ingredient in this story that was entirely new to me was the very tiny hamlet of Binderton, just north of Chichester, where I wanted my heroine to be born and bred. In her time it was simply a hamlet, consisting of a farm, half a dozen farm labourers’ cottages and a rather grand manor house. When my granddaughter/amanuensis and I drove off to discover it, it was so small, we’d driven through it and out the other side before we were aware of it! But it was exactly what I wanted as a launch pad for my Rosie and she grew in my mind from that moment on.

Writers are such magpies. We gather gossip wherever we go, picking up unconsidered trifles like Autolycus, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, always a jolly sight too quizzy for our own good. But this is the first time I’ve used information from my family, usually I’m listening in to strangers.

While I was writing this book, I was very aware that national and international history intermeshes with family history. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” John Donne said, “it tolls for thee.” If we live in the UK, we are children of our time and our class, whether we are aware of it or not.

Great War, Little Peace will be published in February 2016.


New non-fiction: Vaughan Williams by Keith Alldritt

9780719809378Vaughan Williams

This ground-breaking biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams reveals more than any other the man behind the music.

The author examines the considerable range of Vaughan Williams’s work, from the English pastoral tradition to Modernism, and shows how Vaughan Williams was influenced by the Boer War, the economic depression after the First World War, the deprivations of the Blitz, and the austerity of the Cold War. He also reveals how the greatest influence on Vaughan Williams’s music and creative development was his personal life, involving his seemingly secure marriage and an equally enduring love affair. The author shows how these reflected both the stability and cutting-edge aspects of his music.

Like a great symphony, this book ranges from doubt to inspiration. It is the most complete biography of one of Britain’s greatest composers.

Keith Alldritt was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. He has taught at universities in Europe and North America. His books include studies of Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Orwell, W.D. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, and the music of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Buy your copy of Vaughan Williams here.

New non-fiction: Wealth or Poverty: Jane Austen’s Novels Explored by Stephen Mahony

9780719814396Wealth or Poverty: Jane Austen’s Novels Explored

Money is significant in Jane Austen’s novels. Her characters worry about it, scheme for it and, of course, spend it. Money is not simply a way of placing people: it propels plots, adds drama and tells us much about an individual’s nature and morals.

Taking the novels as his starting point, Stephen Mahony looks at the wealth and social standing of Austen’s characters in relation to the economic background of the day, giving us real insight into their aspirations and motivations. What did a servant earn? Just how poor was Miss Bates? What were the pay and conditions of a midshipman like William Price? What would it cost to house, clothe and feed the entire Bennet family? And how much would Elizabeth Bennet need to live comfortably if she hadn’t married Darcy?

The result is a revealing account of Austen, her characters and the England in which they lived.

Stephen Mahony read Modern History at Oxford before a thirty-year career in finance.  Besides writing six books on financial subjects, he has written for the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society (UK) and for Regency World magazine. He lives in Dorset.

Buy your copy of Wealth or Poverty: Jane Austen’s Novels Explored here.

New fiction

9780719818141Constable on Trial by Nicholas Rhea

Whilst serving as an aide to the CID, Detective Constable Rhea is kept busy in the seaside resort of Strensford as he endeavours to trace a stolen garden spade, the thief of a makeshift hearse with a corpse on board, and the phantom knicker-pincher of Harbour Rise. Throughout his early days Nick, like many other detectives, nurses an ambition to arrest a murderer, but no opportunities come his way – until a killer on the run seeks refuge in Strensford and an elderly lady is found dead at home.

Nicholas Rhea is the pen name for Peter N. Walker, formerly an inspector with the North Yorkshire Police and the creator of the Constable series of novels, the inspiration for the long-running and critically acclaimed ITV drama series Heartbeat. As Peter N. Walker he is the author of Portrait of the North York Moors. He lives in his beloved North Yorkshire.

Buy your copy of Constable on Trial here.

9780719817618The Naked Soul by Alexander Lindsay

Reverend Jack Mallund knows his SAS regimental
reunion party won’t be for the faint-hearted. When a
pornographic movie is played, he turns away, but
before doing so, the face of one jumps out at him with
a familiarity that makes him sick: it is his teenage
daughter, missing, presumed dead. That night turns Jack’s life upside down all over again. With police reluctant to reopen the case, Jack must go it alone. His faith is pushed to the extreme and his
conscience to the precipice of insanity as he fights to find his daughter.

Alexander Lindsay was born in Ayrshire, Scotland. As a
journalist he has lived and worked in the Middle East,
New York, Paris, the UK, Ireland and the Greek Islands.
Based in Belfast, he covered the Northern Ireland conflict
as staff correspondent for the Sunday Express. He has been newspaper proprietor,
newspaper and magazine editor, columnist and national
newspaper theatre critic. His previous book Dollar
was published by Robert Hale in 2012. Find out more
about the author at his website:

Buy your copy of The Naked Soul here.

Not My Affair by Pam Fudge

Just as Fay Ryan is about to break the news to her husband
Jack that they are to become parents, he gives her a gift
intended for the mistress Fay knew nothing about – a
mistress who is also Jack’s boss, Iona. Jack ends the affair, but odd things start to happen –complaints about Fay at work, a stolen item placed in her
bag in a shop. It is only when Iona confronts Fay in person
that they realize she has started a frightening campaign of
harassment in her determination to win Jack back.

Pamela Fudge is now a full-time writer after working as an administrator
at Bournemouth University for many years. She has written poetry since
she was a child and has had short stories published in most of the
national women’s magazines. Her previous books, also published by
Robert Hale, include High Infidelity, A Blessing in Disguise, Second
Best, A Change for the Better, Never be Lonely, Turn Back Time, Not
What It Seems and It’s in the Cards. You can find out more about her at

Buy your copy of Not My Affair here.

Back to the beat: Constable Nick returns

Nicholas Rheaby Peter Walker

When ITV’s Heartbeat ended in 2009, I decided to bring a close to my series of Constable books upon which the TV drama was based. They chronicled the work of a village bobby in the North York Moors during the 1960s and the TV series became hugely popular in the UK and overseas – with repeats still being screened.

The first book was Constable on the Hill (1979); the last was, appropriately, Constable Over the Hill (2011) with 35 others in between. In transferring these to the small screen, I became the Heartbeat script consultant, attending planning meetings and production both on location and in the studio. What impressed me was the dedication of the cast and production teams and their attention to detail, which produced a response from a serving policeman who told me he had no idea that ITV made documentaries about the police (I had to tell him it was a drama, not a true story) and another policeman commented, “I wish we had a sergeant like Blaketon.”

This indicated the efforts made to produce a realistic police series. One surprising outcome was that applications to join the North Yorkshire Police soared, including some from urban officers who thought a transfer to such a rural spot would be most enjoyable.

After the series concluded, several viewers and readers told me how much they missed the exploits of Constable Nick, Sergeant Blaketon, PC Alf Ventress and a certain rustic rogue called Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. It seems they also enjoyed the countryside and rural atmosphere. After a time, I decided I could relate more tales, setting them several years before Nick became the village bobby at Aidensfield.

The new series of Constable stories begins with Constable on Trial. As it was the ambition of many young constables to work in the Criminal Investigation Department, I decided to transfer Nick into civilian clothes and have him working as an aide to CID. It transpired Nick had been selected as a potential aide after arresting a thief whom he had noticed wearing a raincoat that had been stolen two years earlier (this was a true tale, it was my own coat!).

In those days – the late 1950s/early 1960s, suitable young constables were offered a short attachment to their local CID, being perhaps a period of three or six months. They were known as aides to CID but their attachment was really a test to determine whether or not they were suitable for non-uniform duties. This provided me with the title of the first in this new series – Constable on Trial. The “trial” was Constable Nick’s test period as an aide.

However, working as a police officer in plain clothes differed greatly from patrolling in uniform. Constable Nick was investigating crimes, not only those occurring in Strensford, but others in the entire Strensford Division which included a large rural area with lots of villages, a coastline and some busy market towns.

Among the crimes Nick had to investigate as an aide were break-ins on an estate near the town centre; car crime which was becoming more prevalent as people regularly parked their vehicles overnight on the streets, often with valuables on display; a thief taking cash from collection plates in a church; a murder in far-off Leeds and the many vehicles that were taken without consent. There were secret files, too, most dating to World War II when traitors were operating in Strensford, and a serious complaint from a householder who claimed that one of his garden gnomes had been stolen. It was all in a day’s work for Detective Constable Nick.

9780719818141I hope to write more tales about Constable Nick’s work as an aide to CID as I enjoy producing them, but whether the yarns will attract interest from TV is not something I can answer. I know my agent will be offering the books to a range of markets in the UK and overseas, but like a detective keeping observations on a suspect criminal, all I can do is wait and see what happens….

Buy your copy of Constable on Trial here.

Another outing for Inspector James Antrobus

Norman Russellby Norman Russell

Next April will see the publication by Robert Hale of my second Inspector Antrobus novel, An Oxford Anomaly. Set in late Victorian Oxford, it centres around Jeremy Oakshott, Fellow of Jerusalem Hall, and an authority on the Crusades, who is urged by the renowned archaeologist Mrs Herbert Lestrange to join her expedition to Syria. His wealthy uncle, Ambrose Littlemore, refuses to help him financially, and is murdered soon afterwards. Detective Inspector Antrobus, who has already investigated the savage murder of one of Oakshott’s old friends, believes Oakshott to be the killer, but the scholar’s alibis are completely watertight. Assisted by his doctor friend Sophia Jex-Blake (of whom more later) Antrobus looks further afield, visiting two criminal lunatic asylums, a remote nunnery, and a quiet country village, where at last they uncover the truth about five savage murders, and bring their perpetrator to justice.

I have always had a deep interest in the late Victorian period, its works and its ways, so it was not surprising that for my PhD thesis at London University I chose to examine literary responses to capitalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. I turned my thesis into a book, The Novelist and Mammon, published by Oxford University Press in 1986.

Over the last fifteen years, Robert Hale have published nine of my Inspector Jackson novels, set in the Warwickshire countryside in the 1890s, and seven thrillers set in the same era, featuring Inspector Arnold Box, who works out of the old Scotland Yard buildings near Whitehall Place. This year saw the first appearance of Detective Inspector James Antrobus, another nineteenth century police officer, this time operating from the headquarters of the Oxford City Police. I spent four very enjoyable years studying at Oxford, and when I conceived the character of Antrobus, it seemed natural that I should place him in that ancient university city, where he can tackle the many sinister criminals thrown up by both Town and Gown. As a further tribute to my alma mater, I decided that all the Antrobus novels should feature the name “Oxford” in their titles.

An Oxford Tragedy (2015) showed James Antrobus, and his petulant but fiercely 9780719816086protective sergeant, Joseph Maxwell, investigating the death of Sir Montague Fowler, Warden of St Michael’s College. He crosses swords with a number of secretive and eccentric dons, uncovers a long-hidden academic fraud, and has deep dealings with the late Sir Montague’s devious family before he brings the truth of this particular Oxford tragedy to light.

However, it is not only the criminal world that Antrobus has to contend with. James Antrobus is a man coping as well as he is able with chronic consumption of the lungs. Throughout the Oxford stories we see him seized with haemorrhages of the lungs and appalling coughing fits, together with periods of hospitalization, where he has to submit to some of the stern and rather terrifying treatments of the day.  Countless thousands of people lived with the many crippling variants of tuberculosis rampant in that era, including a number of prominent police officers, men like Antrobus, who fought valiantly to carry out their duties, often with complete success before an inevitably early death.

Inspector Antrobus is lucky to have a friend and fellow-sleuth in the person of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, who becomes both his ally and, when necessary, his physician. Jex-Blake was, of course, a real person, one of a group of remarkable women who laboured for the right of their sex to become doctors. Given the medical context of these stories, I think the alliance of the fictional Antrobus and the real-life Sophia Jex-Blake works well.

Will we see more of Antrobus and Sophia Jex-Blake? Well, nineteenth century Oxford was a place concealing many dark mysteries, festering professional jealousies, murderous desires, and other sinister proclivities common to the human condition. So if Dr Jex-Blake can keep Antrobus in the land of the living – and I rather think that she can – then there will be plenty of work to keep him busy.

An Oxford Anomaly will be published by Robert Hale in April 2016

New non fiction: English Cathedrals by Andrew Sanders

9780719816598English Cathedrals

England is blessed with many beautiful cathedrals, including the world-renowned Durham, with its geometrically carved pillars, Wells, with its astonishingly graceful scissor arch, and  the gloriously uplifting Ely and its octagonal tower. For a millennia and more, these and similar buildings have welcomed and inspired generations of believers with their beauty and grandeur.

This book is a highly readable account of the history of England’s  cathedrals, from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. The author discusses their significance, from a time when faith was an integral part of everyday life to the present, more secular society. The author also discusses the developments in cathedral architecture  over the centuries and the English cathedral city.

The English Cathedrals is an accessible and handy guide to the greatest architectural and religious buildings in England.

Andrew Sanders is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Durham. His books include The Victorian Historical Novel (1978), Charles Dickens: Resurrectionist (1982), Dickens and the Spirit of the Age (1999), and The Short Oxford History of English Literature (1994). In 2011 Robert Hale Ltd published Andrew Sanders’ book Charles Dickens’s London.

Buy your copy of English Cathedrals here.

New fiction titles

9780719818004Deadly Zeal by Jean Chapman

Ex-Met Inspector John Cannon and his partner Liz have a hectic life running a Lincolnshire pub. When a punter is murdered after a particularly raucous quiz night, a wealthy businessman is driven to seek Cannon’s help. Their life is turned upside down, and they embark on a precarious sea voyage to the frozen wastelands of northern Norway where they must evade the murderers and icy waters.

Jean Chapman began her writing career as a freelance journalist before going on to write fiction. Her books have been shortlisted for both the Scottish Book Trust Award and the RNA Major Award, and she is the three-time President of the Leicester Writer’s Club. Her previous books, including Both Sides of the Fence, A Watery Grave, and Deadly Serious, were all published by Robert Hale.

Buy your copy of Deadly Zeal here.

Kicking Over the Traces by Elizabeth Jackson9780719817588

When her mother dies in a wagon accident, Florence is left at the mercy of her mother’s husband. At the funeral, he reveals he is not her real father and abandons her. Left with nothing but the clothes she stands in and her mother’s red coat, Florence takes on farm work to make ends meet, but her fortunes change when she discovers money hidden in the coat’s lining. As she navigates across the North Yorkshire moors alone after being forced to leave the farm she had called home, Florence encounters friends and enemies, often disguised as each other.

Elizabeth Jackson is a writer and psychotherapist. She is married with two sons and has lived in North Yorkshire all her life. Her previous book Language of Thieves was published by Robert Hale in 2011.

Buy your copy of Kicking Over the Traces here.

9780719816000Living Dangerously by Dan Latus

When old friends Anne and Josh Steele ask Frank Doy to look after their son, Tom, Frank can’t say no. After a drink-driving incident that took the life of his friend, the victim’s gangster father wants Tom dead. Frank takes Tom to an isolated cottage in wintry Northumberland, but trouble follows. As the lonely village is held siege during a blizzard, Frank fights to keep his charge alive. In the process he unravels a story at odds with the Steeles’ version of events – of a business partnership turned sour, and a young man placed in jeopardy by family loyalty.

Dan Latus lives in Northumberland with his wife. He grew up in Teesside which has been the inspiration for many of his novels. His previous books include Never Look Back, Risky Mission, Out of the Night, and Death at South Gare.

Buy your copy of Living Dangerously here.

The Murder List by Roger Silverwood

The women of Bromersley live in fear that their names are on the murder list. Bodies keep turning up – women in their sixties, always in the same disturbing pose, with a cauliflower in their laps and rice in their mouths. Inspector Angel discovers a list with the murdered women’s names on, but clues and forensics lead nowhere, and although witnesses report an odd-looking woman wearing a sheepskin coat, no one can find her.
Then, in the middle of the night, Angel receives a phone call…

Son of a Yorkshire businessman, Roger Silverwood was educated in Gloucestershire before National Service. He later worked in the toy trade and as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Roger went into business with his wife as an antiques dealer before retiring in 1997.

Praise for the author

‘Solid plotting, unpretentious writing, thoroughly reliable entertainment’ – Morning Star

‘Silverwood combines a classic mystery plot with well-developed characters’ – Publishers Weekly

Buy your copy of The Murder List here.

The Winding Stair by Millie Vigor

A single red rose on her doorstep and anonymous calls have made Ginny a nervous wreck. Seeking peace and telling no one, she runs away, but a rose is delivered to the hideaway. She’s at breaking point when suddenly contact stops. Returning home, she befriends quiet librarian Curtis, but realizes too late that her trust is misplaced. At Curtis’s mercy, she’s reminded of the poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’. She has walked up the winding stair, but will she walk free, or will she perish like the fly?

Millie Vigor was born in Dorset and was educated at Ludwell village school. At fourteen she left to start work and she considers this the beginning of her real education. Throughout her many jobs; kitchenmaid, farm-worker, glove-maker, canteen cook and B&B landlady, she took note of what made people tick and of sights and sounds, and stored this all away to use in her writing. In addition to articles and short stories sold to various magazines, her autobiographical book Kippers for Breakfast was published in 2003. Her recent books No Skylarks Sing and Paying Davy Jones were published by Robert Hale. She lives in Taunton, Somerset with her constant companion, a cat called Harriet.

Praise for the author

‘If the definition of a good book is being well-written, easy to read and hard to put down then Catherine of Deepdale is very good indeed’ – Shetland Times

‘The author evokes the wild, desolate landscape of the islands so vividly that it made me want to visit’ – Historical Novels Review

Buy your copy of The Winding Stair here.

New non-fiction: Smithfield: Past, Present and Future by Alec Forshaw

9780719816581Smithfield: Past, Present and Future

Famed throughout the world for its meat market, the Smithfield area of London has a long and turbulent history. Originally a ‘smooth field’ lying just beyond the City wall, over the years Smithfield has seen riots, public executions and healing. From medieval times it became a centre of industry where tanners, slaughterers, glue-makers and dyers assembled. Largely untouched by either the Great Fire of 1666 or the 1940s Blitz, its streets preserve some of London’s most ancient institutions.

In Smithfield: Past and Present, over one hundred illustrations and photographs trace the development of the area from Roman times to the present. The book records the growth of the notorious cattle market, the gaiety of the Bartholomew Fair, the history of the palace of the Bishops of Ely, medieval tournaments, crime and punishment, and the bawdy life of Cock Lane, one of London’s earliest ‘red-light’ districts.

Written by an architect and former town planner, this third edition looks at the people, history and buildings in this vibrant part of London, and considers the inevitable impact of Crossrail.

Alec Forshaw has always been interested by buildings and places. His fascination for the history and character of London life has led to him writing a number of books on the subject. As a former Conservation Officer for the Borough of Islington, he is especially well qualified to produce this third edition of Smithfield: Past and Present.

Buy your copy of Smithfield: Past, Present and Future here.