Light Music
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Light Music

Spring Forward at Blenheim Palace

The swinging of the pendulum exactly marks the time:
Precise, intense, immaculate, he checks the hour’s chime.
A second out? Two minutes on? Then something must be done
To sharpen up the reckoning until the battle’s won.

Time and Tide

“I’m giving birth to triplets,” I told one of my dearest friends in November 2020. “At the age of eighty-one it’s not something I’d really recommend … Working twenty-four seven through that heatwave nearly finished me off. My ankles still look like tree trunks.”

A New Day Dawns

The finest view in England trembles before our eyes:
The lakes in Blenheim turn to marsh, blotting starry skies
Their edges creeping nearer to centres dry as dust –

The Call of Lark

After the knitted shades of larch
The open fields tell of parch
Although they spread their arms to hide…

The Sound of Silence

In 1953 we were both fourteen, sitting in the wonderful old library in North London Collegiate School, all oak panelling and wooden shelves, supposed to be writing essays.

No Ideas But In Things

“Tobias Mellwood ran as fast as the burning sand would allow, down the beach towards the lazy edges of the sea. Sweat poured into his eyes. The relentless noonday sun dominated the sweltering cloudless sky.”

Small Is Beautiful

One of my many nicknames – I’m eighty-one so there have been quite a few – is The Letter Writer. If you want something done, people say, ask Valerie. She’s The Letter Writer. I’ve always been proud of it. At school I was Vandy; at Reading University I was Sparrow.

On This Day

Today is the day. We have all waited for it, with patience and with hope, during four long years. We wish President Joe Biden and his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, health, peace and safety in their government of the USA.

The Magic of Wytham Woods

Although I am writing this feature on New Year’s Day 2021, I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. In 1976, forty-five years ago, I’d just left Oxford University Press in Walton Street, where I was working as an Editor, on my way to collect Sam from Magdalen College School.

The Bliss of Solitude

One of the problems of being a full-time novelist – which I have been for the past twenty years and more – is this: when I’m deeply immersed in my storyline, my characters and their problems, I can’t read fiction by anybody else. Of course, I have to read for research: history books…

Blenheim at Christmas 2020

I first came to live in Woodstock in the blazing summer of 1976.

London had become a furnace and I was heartily glad to leave it. The removal van drove off to its overnight warehouse. Sam was spending the weekend with his father…

After Restoration

It is a truth universally acknowledged by the writing community that an author struggling with problems in the middle of a novel can do one of the following things:

Take a walk for at least five hours and sleep for forty-eight…

The Eyes Have It

When I was a child, I used to march around with a book under my arm and, whenever possible, my head in it. I became skilled in finding a nook somewhere – an empty room, a large tree with a sturdy branch I could climb up to…

Being the Odd One Out

When I began my professional career as a journalist for Marshall Cavendish in London in the early 1970s, I was allowed to race out of the office at 3.00pm to collect Sam from his St John’s Wood nursery school. Norman Marshall was way ahead of his time. He recognised I was…

Hair Yesterday, More Tomorrow

I used to have lots of it.

Hair, I mean.

I was born with an enormous crop of dark brown hair. I don’t think the…

To Kill a Sparrowhawk

I’ve got a thing about birds.

The dead ones, I mean.

You can’t be a Cat owner for seventy-five years (I was given my first kitten…

Master Sloop, 2003 – 2020

My Tribute Master Sloop was the most intelligent Cat I ever owned. His mother lived up the road but they never spoke. He and I met one morning quite by chance. In 2006, I had just moved into Hobbit Cottage on Hensington Road in Woodstock. My then gardener, David Trim, and I were planning to…

Behind the Wheel

“All aboard!” Imperial Leather Daddy opened the door to his pride and joy.

As always, he had spent that Sunday morning washing, polishing and admiring his Armstrong Siddeley which now basked, gleaming and immaculate, in the early afternoon sun.

Digging for Victory

Ahead of me stretched an enormous green lawn, filled with funny brown lumps. A giant stood looking down on me. He had smiley blue eyes that glittered like sapphires and a gentle voice.

“What are those?” I asked, pointing.

Munch Munch Luncheon

The first proper formal lunch I remember eating was in 1946 at North London Collegiate School. Staff and students alike, we were recovering from the long-lasting effects of the Second World War. Miss Turpin, who ran the spotless kitchens with arms of experienced steel, stood…

The Man on the Train

Melanie Richards, wide awake at six that February morning, knew that today was either going to be spectacular or an absolute catastrophe. There’d be no half measures.

She’d spent the week preparing for a second interview for a job…

Nothing to Lose

The patisserie in the centre of Soho rang with the buzz of Saturday-lunch voices and the chink of cups.

“Delicious.” Laura Forbes wiped the froth from her lips. “This place serves the best coffee in London.”

It’s a Small World

Clare Davenport ran her leather-gloved fingers over the train’s window, trying to see through to something other than the surly night. The train had ground to a halt again in its attempt to conquer the wrong kind of snow.

Travelling from Exeter to London and now…

The Empty Room

Charles slept so heavily that by the time the December dawn broke, he seemed unable to open his eyes. He rolled them around his head but gum clamped the lids together. He tried to sit up without disturbing his wife in the other bed. Not that Irene ever stirred a false…

Belinda’s Lucky Day

Belinda sat opposite her lawyer in his highly polished office, bitterly aware she wore down-at-heels shoes and woollen gloves with a hole in the right thumb.

She started to pray.

Apples and Pears

At noon, a dusty sun high in an even dustier London sky, Ella Richardson emerged onto the Finchley Road from her meeting feeling battered and bruised.

A freelance editor and journalist, Ella often told herself she…