Tuesday 5 December 2023

Did you know that...

... perhaps one of the most well-known Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, was pirated?  Read on…

A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843.  But it was pirated.  It seems that even in 19th century Britain there were any number of fraudsters who were only too willing to rip off authors!
Realising that Dickens was a well-known writer and hoping to make a significant profit for little effort, Richard Egan Lee, John Haddock and Henry Hewitt pirated Dickens' story and published a first instalment in their own weekly rag called ‘Parley’s Illuminated Library’.  The intention was to continue with instalments of the story.
But Dickens decided enough was enough.  This wasn’t the first time his work had been plagiarised, but it was the first time that he took legal action.  Dickens sued the pirates in court with the case beginning on January 9th, 1844.  The case was heard in the Court of Chancery, which was a court of equity rather than a criminal court.  Dickens' lawyer pleaded that his reputation as a writer had been tarnished by the piracy, that his income from the book would be reduced, and that his intellectual property had been stolen.  Not that that particular term was used back then.
Interestingly, Lee, Haddock and Hewitt argued that they had ‘re-originated’ and ‘condensed’ the story, thereby ‘improving’ it for the general reader.  They were determined to fight the case and had the temerity to suggest to the court that their version of the story was far superior to Dickens' original!  Therefore, Mr Dickens should be pleased with their work and not seek redress in court.
When comparisons were made between Dickens' story and the ‘improved’ version of Lee, Haddock and Hewitt it became clear that the story had not been materially changed despite the use of the new title of ‘A Christmas Ghost Story’.  Indeed, the central characters and the overall plot were barely disguised.  The case was settled in Dickens' favour and Lee, Haddock and Hewitt were ordered to surrender any remaining copies of their work for destruction, to pay compensation, and to pay all court costs.
Unfortunately, Dickens did not get the outcome he was hoping for.  On February 19th, 1844 Lee and Haddock declared themselves bankrupt.  As such there were no funds to pay anything to Dickens despite the court ruling.
However, Dickens did get some solace from the case.  He got his story back, and his personal experience of the Court of Chancery would undoubtedly have provided the necessary insight to write Bleak House which he published in 1852.  He also worked hard to get the Court of Chancery reformed.

If you enjoyed reading this post you might also be interested in a related post about Dickens which you can see Here

The illustrations are all taken from my 1930 Odhams Press illustrated edition.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

I'm reviewing No Way Home ...

... by Elisabeth Dunleavy.  Read on ...

I was approached by the author of this book and asked for a review.  I am so glad that she plucked up the courage to do that.  It has been a privilege to read this memoir.
The story is one of family and war.  In some respects, it is very much a private and personal history of two lives.  In other respects, it is a direct historical record of events seen from an individual point of view.
The central characters are two sisters who are separated by the 1939/45 conflict in Europe.  They are sent to work camps, they suffer the privations of being made homeless, they witness the destruction of towns and cities by the Allies during the blanket bombing raids of 1944, and they eventually find each other – but neither of them is the person they were before hostilities started in 1939.
As the base documents for this book are diaries and letters, the style of writing is very much that of the owners of the words.  Any reader who picks up this book expecting a modern novel narrative will be disappointed.  What I found fascinating about the two voices in this memoir is that they are both distinct and very strong.  Following their individual lives through war, each taking their own route was as page-turning as an enthralling novel.
The sister's personalities are often put to the test as they recount their experiences, wishes, hopes and needs against the background of Nazism and the devastating upheaval of war.
Because of the subject matter, some passages are difficult to read – the direct eye-witness description of the level of destruction in Dresden is just one example.  It resonates particularly with events in Europe and the Middle East today.  But the most telling aspect of the whole of this book is that you know from the outset that what is recorded are individuals' actual thoughts, feelings, experiences, and encounters in their own real time.  As such, that makes this tome a significant piece of social history.  These are two stories that had to be told, and the telling has been exceptionally well done.

You can get the book on Amazon or from Elisabeth's Website where you will find lots more information.

You may also be interested in my review of The Vanished Collection, Clouds over Paris, The Light of Days, The Betrayal of Anne Frank, or The French Baker's War

Tuesday 21 November 2023

I'm Off My Beaten Track...

... in Deir-El-Bahri today.  This post will be my last post from my notes in my Egypt Journal for this year.  There will be more posts in the New Year.  But for the moment come and meet Sen Ned Jem ...


A 5.00 a.m. call and a 6.00 a.m. start from the plank that takes us from the boat. We're moored at Luxor, a place that was once the centre of the Ancients' world. Nefertari is tied to a boat, that is moored to another boat, that is roped to yet another boat, that is secured to the bank. I guess triple parking is acceptable here!
This bank of the river has a purpose-built promenade and is lined with new buildings of no character whatsoever. As we walked along the promenade to the tourist ferry I noticed a local pizzeria. MacDonald's seems to be all that is missing!
It's not the temples and monuments of Kings and Queens that we will be visiting today. We're headed to Deir-El-Bahri. This is the remains of an Egyptian village between the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens where the workers who decorated and built the tombs were housed.
What remains of the houses indicates that they were made of mud bricks and the interiors were plastered and painted. If you look closely, you can see small traces of the artwork. Each house had its own cellar - a hole in the ground in the floor of the main room which was covered with a large flat stone - to store grain, perishables, and wine. An early refrigerator then!
Above the village are the tombs of some of the notable workers. The most impressive is that of Sen NedJem. The tomb is accessed by a steep narrow stairway cut into the bedrock which leads to the entrance to the burial chamber. At 5 feet 2 tall, it's not often that I can claim to be too tall for a doorway. But I can here - the entrance is so low even I have to bend double. I spare a thought for our fellow 6-footers waiting for their opportunity to visit the tomb.
As I step into the burial chamber and stand upright again, I am confronted with a mass of bright colours. Shaped like a huge sarcophagus, the room is decorated with as much care and attention as that lavished on a Pharaoh. The atmosphere is humid, the air warm and stale, but the extravagance of the paintings in the tomb are well worth the effort.
Gazing around the walls I can see the full preparations for the afterlife. It's as though I've stepped into the ceremony itself. As the sun sets the body of the Sen Ned Jem is shown being prepared for burial by Anubis. Then he is carried in a solar boat to the court of Osiris. The god of the underworld sits in judgment with the help of the goddess of truth, Ma'at, and the god of wisdom, the ibis-headed Thoth. Finally, after judgment, we see Sen Ned Jem in heaven surrounded by his family and forebears.
I'm left wondering how long it took for Sen Ned Jem's to be prepared for him.  I'm also curious to understand how work allocation was done all those millennia ago.  If the primary reason for the existence of the village is to build tombs and decorate them for each successive Pharoah, who did the work for Sen Ned Jem?
Eventually, I have to leave the stunning artwork behind.  Our guide reminds us that there are other people waiting outside the tomb.  Reluctantly I make my way along the low corridor and out into the blistering heat of the morning.  It might only be just after ten, but it feels like I'm in a vast oven that has been left on.  Even the slight breeze is hot and there's not a scrap of shade anywhere.
Back on the boat, and I'm able to do a bit of research.  Sen Ned Jem was an official or artisan who lived in the 19th Dynasty during the reigns of Seti 1 and Rameses 2.  He may have been a scribe but as his mummy has not been x-rayed there is very little other information known about him other than the fact that he was a member of the community of tomb-builders...

It is possible, of course, that Sen Ned Jem's mummified body has now been examined. The above notes in my travel journal were made at the time of my actual visit.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy my earlier posts about Cairo Giza Solar Sailing Tell-el-Amarna Assiut  Abu Simbel and Egypt generally - just click the links.





Tuesday 14 November 2023

Come stroll with me through Pont de l’Arche…

… a sleepy little town just south of the city of Rouen.  Read on…

I’m camped here in Pont de l’Arche right by the river.  The town sits on the left bank of the Seine where it meets the river Eure.  A bridge spans the confluence of the two rivers and provides the main route way into town.  With a population of around 4,000 inhabitants, it is a quiet and peaceful little place.  However, that’s not so for the history of this town.
It’s a ten-minute walk from the campsite to the centre of town.  I’m taking rue Alphonse Samain from the quay by the river for about two hundred metres and then I’m taking a right onto rue André Antoine.  Don’t miss the plaque on the wall on the right at the entrance to the street.  There’s important information there.
This street leads down to the magnificent church of Notre-Dame-des-Arts, and I will take you there in another post.  But today, I want to introduce you to the owner of the name of this street.
Lieutenant-Colonel Antoine was born on March 29th (also my birthday!), 1920 in St Dizier, a city on the far eastern side of the country.  He studied at the École Centrale de TSF and worked as a radio engineer.  He came to Les Damps, a small village just 1.5 kilometres west of Pont de l’Arche, to live and work.  He joined the 8th Engineering Regiment in Versailles and fought for France until the armistice with the occupying forces was signed.  He was demobilised in February 1941 and he immediately put his skills and knowledge to work on behalf of the resistance movement.
André quickly realised that there was an opportunity for him to take control.  He created and organised small groups of resistance workers across the whole département of Eure.  He masterminded and was involved in many incidents – intelligence gathering, recruitment of maquisards, sabotage, rescue of allied pilots are some examples – across the Eure and in neighbouring areas.  He was eventually co-opted onto the Resistance Steering Committee in Paris and, working at this level, meant that he was frequently away from Les Damps.
Returning to northwestern France in January 1944, André found himself caught up in a large raid by the occupiers during which 75 known members of the maquis were captured.  He was seriously injured by machine gun fire on January 16th in Beaumesnil and transported to the hospital in Rouen.  Apparently, he was interrogated between operations and from the very first day he was arrested.  He eventually died of his wounds on February 27th.
He was posthumously appointed to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and his body is buried in the small graveyard in Les Damps.  The plaque above on the wall – which was erected on May 8th, 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of hostilities – provides some context rather than the usual blue street sign that just gives a name.  

There will be more from this interesting little town in the New Year.
If you enjoyed reading this post you might also like to take a stroll with me through Joinville or  Pontivy  or perhaps the little hilltown of Cordes-sur-Ciel

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Ridings Centre Christmas Book Fare

... I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that I will be at the Promoting Yorkshire Authors Christmas Book Fair on Saturday, December 2nd…

Promoting Yorkshire Authors will be running a Book Fair on Saturday, December 2nd. All perfectly timed to enable you to stock up on books for your reading over the Christmas and New Year holidays or as presents for your nearest and dearest!

There will be lots of Yorkshire authors there with loads of books. You will be able to browse the stalls and chat with the writers – me included!

There will be a broad spectrum of genres to choose from, including mystery, adventure, cosy crime, historical romance, and plenty more besides. I will have my Jacques Forêt Mysteries with me along with the Miss Moonshine feel-good and heart-warming collections of stories, and the multi-genre Seasonal Paths anthologies, too. There will be plenty to choose from!

Entry to the Book Fair is absolutely free, and you can stay as long as you like between 10.00 am and 4.30 pm.

You can find the Book Fair, and plenty of parking, at

The Ridings Shopping Centre,



It will be really great to see you there ... 

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Come stroll with me ...

... through the streets of Argentan, a small town in Normandy with a big history.  You may be surprised by what we find…

I’m camped here in Argentan.  The campsite is small and very well tended.  It is situated in a discreet corner of the grounds that surround the Lace Museum.  There is also a plan d’eau which is fed by the river Orne which flows along the western edge of the town.  With a population of a little over 13,000, it is the third largest municipality by population in Orne, which is one of the five départements that comprise the region of Normandie.
I’m here to visit places I’ve only previously driven past or through on my way elsewhere.  But I’m also here because of some research that I’ve been doing about the history of this region. As is always the case when I’m strolling through France, lunch will be on the hoof and I’ve already found a number of pâtisseries in town. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I have a passion for tarte-au-citron, and that’s today’s choice for lunch.
The campsite is a ten-minute walk from the centre of town but I’ve taken the long way around and here I am at La Désirée, a fabulous shop that sits at one side of place du Général Leclerc.  With my cake bought it’s a steady meander from here along rue E Panthou into the city centre.
As we stroll you will see both old and new buildings.  But the new significantly outnumber the old.  And that’s why I’m here.  Like the whole of the northern and western seaboard of France, Argentan was occupied between 1940 and 1944.  Back then the town showed the character of its very long history.
There has been habitation in this area since Gallo-Roman times.  Those pesky Romans began their incursions between 58 and 51 BC, that’s more than 2,000 years ago.  However, Argentan doesn’t warrant any specific mentions in records until about 1025 and from that period on, initially at least, the town thrived.  The name Argentan comes from the Gaulish words for ‘silver’ and ‘market’ which was probably one reason for the subsequent prosperity.
But, as has been shown in many past histories fortunes can change, and Argentan’s did quite dramatically.  Throughout the Middle Ages, the town was fought over with us Brits occupying the area and being routed several times.  But the town survived and gained in religious and traditional industrial importance.  During the 1914/18 conflict, it became a garrison town for the French 14th Infantry Brigade.
In 1940 the town was occupied until the D-Day landings in June 1944.  It was during the battle for Normandy and the Argentan-Falaise pocket that this place suffered the most.  If you take a right off place Henri 4 – please note the stunning medieval portico that is now the frame for a shoeshop on your right – you will come onto rue E. Denis which takes you into the market place which is dominated by the stunning Église St. Germain.  And that’s where I’m taking you next.
In here, away from the general bustle of the streets, you have a vast haven of peace exerting its dominance over the town and the many past centuries or so it seems.  But take a look at the photos displayed on a wall at the back.  They show the absolute destruction of the town that took place between June and August 1944.  There are information sheets, too.  As I stand here reading the details and looking at the photos I can't take in the extent of the devastation and destruction.  The town was practically flattened.  It took 40 years for the town to recover and for the church to be rebuilt to reflect its original gothic splendour.

Little did I realise, when I wrote these notes in my travel journal, that I would be seeing the same level of devastation happening again in another part of the world.


Tuesday 24 October 2023

I'm reviewing Someone's Always Watching ...

... by JR Lancaster.  Read on ...

Author J R Lancaster visited the blog on July 4th, and she supplied an exclusive excerpt from her novel, Someone's Always Watching. You can read that post Here.

Having read the extract, I was intrigued and couldn't wait to start reading the whole book for myself.  What a great story it is, too.

Set in a small English village somewhere towards the south coast and Brighton, it has everything it needs to fit into the Cosy Crime genre.  The author prefers to think of her book as a classic mystery and this story also lives up to that description, too.  But, give it a try and make up your own mind.

The central character, Basil, has some personal issues which he is trying to cope with, and one solution is to remain indoors as much as possible.  He has been a recluse for around ten years at the opening of the story.  

But the death of Basil's next-door neighbour comes as a great shock, and it is sufficient to galvanise Basil into some action.  When Dowden Thornhill, the detective in charge of the case, turns up on Basil's doorstep, it becomes even more important for Basil to rejoin society.  There are some striking similarities between the death of Basil's neighbour and that of his mother some ten years previously.

An unusual alliance is formed between Thornhill, Basil and an old school friend, Poppy, that carries the rest of the action forward and the investigation to a satisfying conclusion.

I found the narrative flowed well, and the characters were well-drawn, if a little eccentric at times!  The story has pace and humour, and the twists and turns in the plot kept me guessing.  If you like a classic murder mystery, I would not hesitate to recommend this story to you.  I shall keep a look out for the next in the series because it seems quite clear to me that Basil and Thornhill will be back!