Saturday, 28 September 2013


     Living and working in the green boskyness of Wiltshire doesn't demand sartorial elegance; it encourages old cords and yesterday's shirt.  So The Suit hardly comes off its hanger.  A trip to London, however (see blog below) is a very different matter.  It calls for something rather sharper.

     Consequently, the little number that I bought some years ago in Cairo when I was researching "The Guns of El Kebir" was brought out to grace the 10.02 to Waterloo, then a lunch with old journalistic chums under the glass canopy at the Wallace Collection (Monty Court, once editor of Sporting Life, looked round our table and called us "The Wallies Collection"), and later the visit to Goldsboro Books in the evening.

     It now has a little trouble meeting in the midriff but no matter, for I feel it still retains its rakish charm if I leave it carelessly unbuttoned.  Drinking a drop of the dry white just off Shaftesbury Avenue and chatting to the delicious Chiara Priorelli from my publishers, The Suit and I, then, felt quite at ease, even, perhaps, a touch of the Noel Cowards coming on.  I even met a couple of fellow authors who had read my books.

     So it was that, after leaving the party and sauntering down Jermyn Street, I felt that it was far too early for us to retire.  Perhaps a dry martini to two at the Ritz?  Dammit, why not?  Now I hasten to add that I am no stranger to the place.  Years and years ago, when The Suit was certainly little more than a wrinkle on the back of a sweet young Merino ewe in New South Wales, I kept an account at the Ritz.  These were in the days when I was a Captain of Industry (oh, all right then, a lance corporal) and I very occasionally entertained the top men of Britain's textile and clothing industries.

     You will see, then, that the two of us were not over-awed as we swept into the Rivoli Bar.  Two stonking vodkatinies later we decided that the only way to finish an interesting, if slightly self-indulgent day was to dine round the corner at Wilton's.  I remembered it (after just one visit at roughly the time when Shirley Bassey was beginning her career) as a splendidly traditional restaurant.  It would now ideally suit our mood.

     The top hatted doorman outside was looking in disdain at two grockles who were studying the menu outside - what did they think the joint was, a cheap Italian? - but, of course, he lifted his hat and opened the door for the Suit and I as we tottered slightly mounting the steps.  Inside, the blonde receptionist insisted that it didn't matter that we had made no reservation and we followed her swinging hips as she led us to a table for two right at the end of the restaurant, ideally situated where we could see the comings and goings.

     And what comings and what goings!  The world, it seemed, had brought in his trophy wife, each looking alike with long, blonde streaked hair snaking down her back and legs stretching for ever down from a waist that you could encircle with one hand.  Not one of them, of course, would ever have cleaned behind the back of a fridge.

     To our delight, one couple took the table next to us.  They leaned to kiss each other, so proving of course that they were not married.  "Champagne cocktail, darling?' he enquired.  'Of course, darling.'

     I sipped my Chablis, not meaning to share it with The Suit but a little, I'm afraid, did manage to find its way down the left lapel.  We consumed, since you ask, a scrumptious lobster soup, a melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon omelette and, naturally, another glass of the golden nectar, before summoning the bill.  Together with the aforementioned dry martinis, it totalled roughly what Betty and I had paid for our first house.

     Only slightly daunted, the two of us wound our way back to where I was staying at me club, for, bien sur, one last Armagnac for the lift.

     On the train home the next morning, one side of The Suit was certainly not talking to the other and I sat whimpering, staring out of the window and wishing that God had never invented credit cards.  Once home, of course, I found that my trophy wife had not cleaned behind the fridge.  It will be the old Harris tweed and jeans the next time  I go to town. 


Friday, 27 September 2013


     So...bookshops all over Britain are having a rough time, battered by e-books and the cut-price, omnipotent Amazon.  Right?  Well, yes and no.

     Yes, because it is sadly true that the great names that used to dominate the High Street are now reduced to two: Waterstones and W.H.Smith (if, that is, you can find a book to buy among the greeting cards and games on the shelves of the latter).  No, because it is not true of all bookshops.

     The huge Heffers in Cambridge seems to flourish and, if, like me, you were among the 120 or so assorted authors, agents, publishers and buying punters who spilled out from the innards of Goldboro Books onto Cecil Court in the heart of London last night, you would surely have said, "depression - what depression?"

     The occasion was a party given by owner David Headley to mark what he called "History in the Court," a celebration of historical fiction, a genre in which yours truly can count himself a modest practitioner.  If such occasions are becoming a rare event on the literary scene, then no-one has told the ebullient David.

     It's true that his operation is not exactly typical of book-selling in Britain.  For one thing, Goldboro Books is a specialist operation, selling only first edition hard backs.  For another, seventy per cent of his trade is mail order, his books winging there way all over the world.  Only the remaining thirty per cent comes in "off the street."

     He broke off for a moment from pouring the booze last night to tell me that 2013 had become a record year, with turnover up by £130,000 on the previous year.  Why, when conventional bookselling is struggling?

     Because, he said, he and his staff knew their market and their customers.  Trust had grown up between seller and buyer that was paying off in terms of sales.

     He could have added, however, that flamboyant marketing and a flair for publicity had played their part.  He is always ready to support his authors, as he demonstrated last year when he happily gave a party in his newly expanded shop to launch my book "The War of the Dragon Lady."  Long may his example burn brightly in the bookselling gloom!


Wednesday, 11 September 2013


     I have spent much of this glorious summer researching the eleventh novel in the Simon Fonthill series.  It has been a rather desultory business, interrupted by the need to see how England were doing against the Aussies in this most fascinating of Ashes series and also agonising about whether I should try parting what's left of my hair on the other side.  The book will be set against the invasion of Tibet by the British - oh yes, it actually happened - in 1904.  No title yet but I am toying with 'THE HIGH ROAD TO LHASA.'

     My thoughts have also been straying, however, towards considering what to do with Fonthill after he, Alice and Jenkins, have brought the warmth back into their fingers after fighting the Tibetans (and, in the case of Simon and Alice, each other) on the high passes of the Himalayas.  In chronological terms, it ought to be the end of the trio's adventures.  After all, by the time of the beginning of the World War I, Fonthill will be 59.  A bit old for an adventure hero and, anyway, I didn't want to return to the Western Front so soon after 'STARSHINE.'

     Then, however, a reader wrote to suggest that the contemporaneous conflict in German East Africa, which in fact lasted longer than the war in Europe, would be ideal territory for Simon, whatever his age.  For more than four years the German, isolated from their homeland some four thousand miles away, conducted a remarkable campaign.  It was thrillingly related in William Boyd's novel, 'An Ice Cream War.'

     Fonthill, with his experience of campaigning in many different parts of Africa - Zululand,  the Mozambique border, and the homeland of the Boers - could, it was suggested, be of invaluable help to the British High Command in this conflict.  It's an idea.  What do you think?  Post me your views.