"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge."


We survived the bird flu, although for the last few weeks we have had some very grumpy hens and geese here at Windfall Farm. Trying to tell them that they wouldnít have liked the cold, wet, miserable days didnít seem to make any difference. Still, with the bursting-out of daffodils, snowdrops and violets all along the lane, spring is definitely springing and our flock is back in the orchard happily dabbling in the wet grass, thereby churning it to mud. Oh well, itís nice to see them enjoying themselves.

The ponies are doing fine, although the reproachful looks on the Exmoorsí faces of an evening is hard to ignore. They live out. Exmoors have thick coats, they come from the moors, they are perfectly OK to live in the fields 24/7. They try their best to indicate theyíd rather be stabled overnight though, especially when itís very wet. We do, actually, take pity on them when it has been pouring all day and the wind is cold. On those occasions we succumb to their pleading wide eyes and bring them in. Talk about spoilt! Mr Mischief deserves a bit of pampering as he had a claim to fame mid-month when he was featured in an edition of Horse & Hound about Exmoors Ė complete with a photo of Kathy riding him aside.

I happened to post a Caption Contest photo of the Exmoors on my Facebook page the following weekend, and had an exclaimed comment left from a very excited visitor: ďOMG is that THE Mr Mischief?Ē The lady concerned is an author and a Yorkshire farmer, and had no idea that in addition to writing my books and living in Devon, I was the proud owner of said pony. Hmm, given that Mr M has managed to break down the fences in the field three days running, Iím not sure if Ďproudí is the right word to use.

March sees the wedding anniversary for Kathy and Adam Ė has it really been three years now? Goodness! It only seems like yesterday. Add to that, Iíll be sixty-four next month. How many of us automatically start singing that (somewhat awful) Beatles song when reaching this age I wonder? (Now itís in my head itíll linger for several hours.)

Some good news is that following a minor medical procedure for my knee, the arthritic pain has eased a little. I can now walk up the lane again. It would be good to have some decent weather to enjoy these perambulations though. My next step - excuse the pun - is to walk up the next bit of the lane and back, gradually building up to the whole half-mile, so a mile, there and back. A good part of it up hill. The coming-back-down bit is even better!

Iíve also been celebrating the release of my latest book, the non-fiction Pirates: Truth and Tales, with some fabulous reviews coming in. Read them here.

For example:

ĎHollick chronicles a well-informed history of piracy imagined in fiction and real life in fresh, breezy proseí


ĎInterspersed throughout the book is the author's impressive knowledge of historical detail and it is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into bringing this piratical guide to life. Skilfully blending historical facts with literary fiction, sometimes, the book reads as lightly as a novel, but then, at other times, we come sharply back to reality with daring tales of mischance and menace, of lives ruined by too much grog and too many loose women, and which ended, all too often, dangled at the end of a hangman's rope.í

To say "Iím chuffed," is an understatement I think. If you would like to leave your own review, and thus not be threatened by a pirate to do so, hereís the direct Amazon link. Thank you in advance.

Also, for Jesamiah fans, I have nearly finished a short e-book novelette adventure set as a prequel to Sea Witch; Jesamiahís early days of how he became a pirate. So keep a sharp eye in a couple of monthsí time, for "When The Mermaid Sings" will be sailing into a harbour near you.

Lege feliciter (read happily).




The transition from 2016 to 2017 has not gone smoothly here in the UK for many of us who keep poultry as pets. Bird Flu flew in (excuse the pun) from Europe before Christmas. Thanks EU, that was not a wanted Christmas present. Annoyingly it is also one of the things that is entirely unaffected whether you favour Brexit or Bremain. Disease has no care for boundaries or the English Channel.

The big problem is that our birds are used to living entirely free range in our orchard, apart from at night when they are safely housed away from the foxes. They have had to be shut away all these weeks, ongoing through to the end of February with the probable addition of until the end of March. Bird Flu is a problem, but in my opinion it is not the enormous epidemic that it is said to be, and the protection is purely for the large meat/egg producersí purse, not for the benefit of the birds themselves. Out of the thousands of geese and swans at Abbotsbury - the enormous swan sanctuary in Dorset - nine were diagnosed with bird flu. Others have died, but could this have been through other causes?

Our hens are doing OK as they are scratching around in an enclosed space under our rather large, if low for people, veranda. They have sweetcorn, peas and such to enjoy. The ducks arenít too bad, although we are going to have to split them up because it is now approaching mating season: the females canít get away from the drakes, and the drakes are squabbling.

Itís our two geese Goosey and Boo that I am worried about. Goosey stands forlorn at the wire door pleading to be let out. The Goose equivalent of Colditz, and I hate it as much as he does. What we are going to do about the situation, though, I donít know. Nor, I suspect, does the government. If most of the government are even aware of the distress this is causing, that is.

Still, on to brighter things. I had an eye consultant appointment the other day; the good news is that the Glaucoma seems to have stabilised, so I still canít see clearly, but it is looking hopeful that it wonít degenerate much further, providing I keep using the prescribed medications. Iím also going to try steroid injections for the arthritic old knees. Maybe I will then be able to walk up the lane again without grimacing.

I will have to "endure" thirty-six hours of bed rest after the injection though. Oh the hardship! *laugh*. Iím all set with a book to listen to, though. Yes listen. I have joined the Royal National Institute for the Blindís Talking Books programme, and signed up for Audible. Which I am loving!

I am steadily working my way through the brilliant Alison Mortonís Roma Nova series on Audible, and I am absolutely hooked. Imagine if Romeís administration, through the female line, had survived until the 21st century. Add in the Praetorian Guard as the modern equivalent of the SAS/FBI/Spooks/Special Branch, include a murder or two, silver smuggling, rebellions, a dash of romance… and you get a classy thriller read. Well, thriller listen!

Having plugged Alisonís books, my own Pirates: Truth and Tales is out this month. The quote at the top of this journal entry, although spoken by Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, is somewhat appropriate for my own pirate Jesamiah Acorne, donít you think?

Lege feliciter (read happily).




So goodbye 2016, hello 2017.

I canít believe that on January 18th we would have completed four entire years of living here in glorious, if somewhat wet, Devon. We have made some wonderful new friends and have a relaxed and (usually) cheerful household, enhanced by the atmosphere of our old farmhouse - and the lingering laughter of those who lived here before us from circa 1769 - and the loving and loyal pets who share our life. And yes, that includes the Grumpy Gander and WonkyDonk the donkey, who I am certain dwells in his own time zone. He certainly walks at a different pace to everyone else!

I still feel, occasionally that this is all a dream and Iíll wake up tomorrow back in Walthamstow with the neighbour screaming obscenities, the sound of sirens and traffic and very few stars in the sky because of the light pollution.

Although I must confess, when the owls have a ding-dong over territory the language gets pretty hot Ė even if it is in Twit-Twoo, and I heard a police car siren filtering up from the distant A377 the other night. I had to laugh as I was reminded of a classic Morecambe and Wise Sketch Ė this one.

Kathy, who is Ďsensitiveí to these things, met a new spirit from the past the other day. He appeared briefly in the stable yard, a dapper gentleman wearing late 1800s style clothing. My present day contact, a good friend, confirmed that he was a horse dealer from around 1870 Ė but that he was also (ssh keep this under your hat) a smuggler. It seems there used to be a contraband cache somewhere on the farm. (No wonder my Jesamiah likes it here!) With the River Taw so close I guess they brought the brandy for the parson and the baccy for the clerk up river, then unloaded to the four-and-twenty ponies trotting through the darkÖ Exmoor ponies of course. It seems, also, that our new(ish) visitor is fond of Lexie. For his period she would be a very tall horse, and quite stunning. I hope he realises she is not for sale!

We also have a Ďresident guestí in the dairy and our Ďmaidí Milly-Molly. Iím not sure if she still tuts when I take the laundry out the front door: apparently in her period, early 1800s (?) I should use the back door. The nicest moment was when Kathy saw her and another lady dancing outside when we had a rehearsal of the music going to be played at Kathy and Adamís wedding. Iím glad our friends like remaining here, and adding to the happiness of the household Ė and they think it worth staying.

Talking of Lexie: Kathy jumped her in her first Foxhunter Class in mid-December, and came second. The jumps were about 1.20 Ė 1.25 metres. (thatís high) but Lexie took them in her stride (literally!) Considering that technically at the time, Lexie was still in the British Novice level of show jumping Ė the lowest level, thatís not bad going. The second-place points and prize money has pushed her out of British Novice now though. Still, technically she is still at amateur level! The thing is, at 17.3 Lexie is so tall, and these lower level jumps (90cm or so) are too small…

With the fifth Sea Witch Voyage On the Account published last year and a non-fiction book Pirates: Truth and Tales scheduled for next month, February, 2016 has been a busy writing year.

For 2017 I might have a book about smuggling to do, the sixth Sea Witch Voyage Gallows Wake will need to be written, and I have a novelette planned of Jesamiahís early days as a pirate: When the Mermaid Sings… Exciting eh?

This month sees the launch proper of my own Historical Fiction Review Blog Ė Discovering Diamonds. Even before the official opening there were enough reviews scheduled to fill the whole of January; there will be a new review published every day except Sundays. The aim is to review all historical fiction on a level playing field basis, be they mainstream or indie published. To my mind readers do not care who publishes a book - the prime interest being Ďis it a good book?í So a good book is a good book, however it is produced.

I hope the site will become popular, even very popular, and my thanks to the splendid and enthusiastic team of reviewers and admin helpers who are eager to be a part of this project. The fact that we must all be completely mad is neither here nor there.

The subtitle beneath Cathy Helmís fabulous Home Page Graphic this month reads:

A new place to discover good books Ė and a diamond or two!

Probably the closest many of us will get to being given a diamond or two… Happy New Year Everyone!

Lege feliciter (read happily).