Thursday Thought: Fag!


My recent article about Oliver Sacks http://wp.me/p4LySx-jM took me back to my days at Oxford, and that took me further back to my days at boarding school. The result? A “Memoir While memory Lasts” about amazing experiences.

What was the point of the weird traditions, the regimentation, the hierarchies, the pettifogging rules, the code of privilege and punishment? We certainly enjoyed a magnificent education that enriched our lives to an extraordinary degree. But beyond the scholars and the academics and the scientists, the great public schools set out to train leaders, rulers of empire, explorers, statesmen, military officers, public servants, business executives, entertainers, sportsmen, community leaders. Before we became leaders we were taught to become followers and to serve; when we became leaders we had already learned to exercise authority with responsibility.

Read more on my blog: http://wp.me/P4LySx-lW


Thursday Thought: Porcelain Connection

As I work on the sequel to my historical novel I am delighted that more and more connections crop up. I will feature Boconnoc (one of the three great houses in The Miner & the Viscount), the Cornish seat of the Pitt family.

William Cookworthy Inventor and Quaker

William Cookworthy
Inventor and Quaker

It is Thomas Pitt, “the artistic one”, who inherits the estate, his cousin William Pitt the Younger who goes into politics and becomes one of the most brilliant first ministers in British history. Thomas Pitt meets William Cookworthy, who lives just over the border in Devon. He is an amazing man—a Quaker, a businessman, a pharmacist, and an inventor.

When John Smeaton (the brilliant engineer we met in “The Miner & the Viscount”) needed a cement that would work under sea water to construct the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, he turned to Cookworthy to develop it.

A visitor from America interested Cookworthy in porcelain and in penetrating the secrets that the Chinese manufacturers had guarded for hundreds of years. He had to obtain the special clays. Where did he find them? On Boconnoc land! And Thomas Pitt financed obtaining the patent and assisted in the early development.

There is more. Another early helper was Richard Champion, also a Quaker, who went on to form the Bristol porcelain company, and eventually moved to America. What an amazing character! And I have just received a beautiful new book about him from an old school friend (and my daughter Sarah’s goddaughter) who collected his ware.

Much more to come soon!




Thursday Thought: Spring

The beauty of the magnificent landscape of Cornwall is at its peak in the spring. _1rj3390Flowers are everywhere in variety and profusion, from the wild primroses and May blossom in the hedges to the magnificent daffodils and narcissi in the commercial fields, from the Tamar Valley in the east to the Scilly Isles in the west.

Spring is a time of enjoying the beauty of nature for some—and a time of work and preparation for many more. In Chapter 29 of The Miner & the Viscount, I describe the goings on at the great Port Eliot estate:

As winter turned to spring, the sparse snow that had dusted the little valleys around Port Eliot surrendered to the mild Cornish climate, and the melt seeped down the hillsides to swell the lazy currents of the River Tiddy, thence to feed the Lynher and the Tamar as they paid their modest tribute to the busy waters of the English Channel. The tenant farmers and their laborers stirred, sharpened the ploughshares, greased the harnesses, groomed and shod the great shire horses as they prepared to cultivate the rich red brown loam to embrace the new season’s seeds. Their labor would give rise to a flow of revenue that would swell the wealth of their squire even as he played his role in the busy doings of the English capital city.

The awakening of the new season at Port Eliot welcomed Edward Eliot home from London.



Thursday Thought: Cornish Dialect

It doesn’t take a Professor Higgins of Eliza Doolittle fame to tell where you are in Britain with your eyes shut. Just use your ears. Every region has its own distinctive dialect. Even natives find it hard to understand each other!


Being a good socialist, George Bernard Shaw saw class differences too.

Here’s Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:

Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse,

Hear a Cornishman converse.
I’d rather hear a choir singing flat.

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.

In my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount Catherine Eliot is the gracious lady of the manor. She takes under her wing Mary, the former serving maid now married to the rascally Willy Bunt, and recruits her to help in her grand project of starting a village school. But first Mary must improve her English grammar and manner of speech.  Catherine promises to teach her.

In this passage from Chapter 46 I read the amusing conversation between them.

Would you like to know the rest of the story in Chapter 46? Read more here.


Thursday Thought: Scenic Cornwall

Toll House Roseland pensinsula

Toll House
Roseland peninsula

Why did I choose Cornwall for the location of The Miner & the Viscount,

readers ask? Many reasons. Cornwall is where my family is from, where I was born and grew up. The history is fascinating. The people are unique.

And the scenery is magnificent! The cover of the book is the iconic St.Michael’s Mount. Here is another view of the monastery and castle surmounting the peak of the island.

This view is from a new website with 100 great photos of Cornwall’s varied scenery

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael’s Mount

Do these pictures make you want to visit? You can get  lots of ideas on this site, or see the Visit Cornwall site for a great variety of ideas.

Readers have also asked to be shown the locations in the book, the great houses, the mines, the the moors, the fishing villages, the picturesque towns. Could be a great idea!



Thursday Thought: St. Piran’s day

This Saturday, March 5th, I’ve been invited to a St. Piran’s Day party. It’ll be a rollicking good time! Unfortunately it is in Australia, which is a bit far.

St. Piran

St. Piran

Piran is the patron saint of tinners and of Cornwall.  I tell his legend in the Prologue to The Miner & the Viscount. You can read it here.

The story speaks to Cornwall’s mystical origins rooted in the Celtic culture and language. Piran, or Pyran (Cornish: Peran) was an early 6th-century Irish Christian missionary who became a Cornish abbot and saint. It was Piran’s demise and miraculous escape from martyrdom that gives him legendary status.

Druid priests in Ireland tied Piran spread-eagled to a mill-stone and rolled it over the edge of a high cliff into the stormy Irish sea. Miraculously, the storm immediately calmed and Piran floated safely over the water to land upon a sandy beach on the Cornish coast. It became known as Perranporth.

St. Piran's Oratory

St. Piran’s Oratory

My daughter Sarah and I visited St. Piran’s Oratory when we were in Cornwall on our book tour last summer. We expertly guided by Eileen Carter, who led the restoration effort, and by Colin Retallick, who plays the role of the saint in the annual reenactment of his arrival in Cornwall.

Happy St. Piran’s Day!







Thursday Thought: Cornish Creativity

Here’s a new song from Bert Biscoe, Cornish poet, songwriter, entertainer and radio personality who lives in Truro — “When I Played a Red Guitar”.

With Bert Biscoe

Photo with Bert Biscoe

Bert is also a politician, an independent. He is a member of both the Cornwall Council and the Truro City Council. I met him when he starred (and I spoke) at the International Gathering of the Cornish American Heritage Society in Milwaukee in 2014.

Bert is an amazing facilitator and connector with energy and vision. He was the key champion in bringing about our book tour of Cornwall last summer, sparked by an insightful review he wrote of The Miner & the Viscount. Bert introduced us to the people with whom we arranged book talks and media interviews. And as a result we are now having to arrange a reprint in England!

This photo is of my daughter Sarah with Bert and his daughter Molly and me at dinner in Truro. Food in Cornwall these days is delicious!

Amazing comment from Cornish poet and story teller!

Read Bert’s review.



Thursday Thought: Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, the extraordinary neurologist who became famous through his detailed narrative writing about odd case histories for a lay audience, published an autobiography On the Move shortly before he died in August 2015. His best known book was Awakenings that was made into a movie with Robin Williams and Robert de Niro.

Oliver Sacks (Wikipedia)

Oliver Sacks

I knew him when we lived in neighboring rooms at Oxford. He left his home in London to live in America.

I have been invited to join a panel of physicians for a discussion on Dr. Sacks’ life and work.

It is at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, February 13, 2016, at the Cincinnati Center For Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis, 3001 Highland Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219-2315.


Thursday Thought: Rabbiting

Questions that always come up when I talk to book groups are where did you get your stories and why did you put them in?

Before I started writing historical fiction I wrote stories about my own life in Cornwall. I called them Memoirs While Memory Lasts. This stimulated remembering so many experiences and these stories have been a rich source of material for my novel writing.

I don’t want to give away too much if you are still looking forward to reading The Miner & the Viscount, but anyway you would quickly learn that the Honorable James Trenance is a bit of a rotter. In my early drafts the feedback from my writing group was that I needed to set up the psychological cause of his nasty nature and to explain his conflict with the miner. So I used a story of my own childhood.

In Our Gang and other Warfare I told about life as a boy in World War II. 15e169There were food shortages and stringent rationing. Proteins were in short supply. Each week we were allowed 4 ozs. of bacon or ham, about 8ozs. of other meat, one fresh egg and one packet of dried eggs. In Cornwall we were fortunate to get fresh fish and could also hunt wild game. I went into the fields to catch a rabbit or two to feed my family. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a successful hunter.

However, I had a story to tell that I used in my book in Chapter 9, entitled VillainyGo to The Story Behind the Story to read it. And here is an extract from my memoir  that tells of the real life experience that I drew on for the story that enriches the character of James Trenance. (If you would like to read the whole story, read more here.

Our Gang and Other Warfare

I did have quite an adventure with Raymond Hocking. He was allowed to go even beyond the fourth field, and he had a pet ferret that he had trained and carried in a burlap sack. He could ride a bicycle, and he knew lots of swear words. He took me rabbiting. We used to eat quite a lot of wild rabbit, because with all the rationing there were only about eight ounces of meat a week, and that didn’t go very far. Rabbit pie with parsley and pastry was my favorite. Once I made a pair of mittens with fur I had skinned off two rabbits, nailing them stretched out on a board and rubbing alum on them to cure them and olive oil to make them soft. I had meant to make fur gloves, but they were too difficult, and actually my mother had to help me finish making the mittens.

Anyway, I went off rabbiting with Raymond Hocking. He said that you had to find a rabbit burrow and put a snare or a net at all the holes except one. The snares were like a lasso made of thin flexible wire with a noose. The nets had pegs to fasten them around the openings to the burrows. Then you put the ferret into the remaining hole, and it would chase the rabbits into the snares or nets. Raymond tied a piece of string around the ferret’s muzzle in case it decided to eat the rabbit itself. Pretty soon we would have rabbit pie! Or several!

When most of the holes had snares or nets over them, he put the ferret into the remaining open hole. It quickly disappeared and we waited. We waited, and we waited. No rabbit. Actually, no ferret. Raymond Hocking began to look a bit anxious. He said he had spent a lot of time training that ferret and it was the only one he had. He didn’t know if his father would buy him another.

We went on waiting. Still no rabbit. Still no ferret. At least it meant we didn’t have to kill the rabbits that we caught. After a long while, probably at least five or six minutes, we gave up and walked home rather dejected. Raymond Hocking never took me rabbiting again.



Thursday Thought: Rebellion & Reform

This week I attended an excellent lecture at the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute of the University of Cincinnati. It was about The New Jersey Campaign in the Revolutionary War when, after many setbacks, General George Washington defeated the British army sent to bring the colonials to heel. It was presented in fascinating detail by my friend Steve Appel, an enthusiastic student of American history.

General Charles Cornwallis

General Charles Cornwallis

I was interested. I am working on the sequel to my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount. The working title is Rebellion & Reform. It is set in my native Cornwall at the time of the ministry of the great William Pitt the Younger, whose family’s country seat was at Boconnoc in Cornwall.

The first part of the title refers to the rebellion of the American Colonies against George III and his British government. The second part refers to the early efforts to reform the corrupt British electoral system of “rotten boroughs”, where seats in parliament were owned by landowners who controlled the few voters – including my protagonist Edward Eliot of St. Germans. Little remote Cornwall had 44 Members of Parliament – about the same as all of Scotland!

One of the delights of doing my research is coming across connections. Charles Cornwallis was one of the abler English generals. He was an aristocrat. He was the first Marquess Cornwallis and became the 2nd Earl of Cornwallis when his father died. He is remembered by American historians mainly for his inglorious defeat at Yorktown, although in fairness he was hampered by poor management from his superiors. Prior to that he had voted in the House of Lords against the Stamp Act in sympathy for the American colonists.

However, defeat did not end his career. Lord Cornwallis went on to fill important government posts, including serving as Governor-General of India, where he initiated important reforms; Master of the Ordnance in England; Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, where he facilitated the Act of Union; and negotiator of the peace with Napoleon.

Cornwallis house St. Germans

Cornwallis house
St. Germans

The connection to Cornwall? William Eliot, Member of Parliament for my hometown Liskeard and the 2nd Earl of St. Germans, married Cornwallis’ granddaughter Jemima. She became the Countess of St. Germans.

Cornwallis inscription in St. Germans

Cornwallis inscription in St. Germans

There is a Cornwallis house in the village, with a tablet dedicated to their descendant John Granville Cornwallis, who became the 6th Earl of St. Germans. So many connections. Cannot imagine why the writers of the American constitution were convinced of the separation of powers!