At Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival

Tunbridge Wells now boasts a literary festival. Over four days this year it hosts talks from well-known writers such as Michael Rosen, Michael Parkinson and Sheila Hancock. But not just the big names.

Yesterday was the day local writers could book a table and hawk their wares. It’s been some time since I’ve taken part in one of these, in fact, I’ve only done it once before, I think. When I used to regularly have paintings in exhibitions, I spent a lot of time essentially doing the same thing – chatting to other painters, talking to members of the public who might buy a painting and generally ‘networking’ (I still find that a slightly silly word). Although talking about Making Friends with the Crocodile did have another effect – it reminded me again that I’m beginning to feel I ought to take one final trip to India, sometime.

Anyway, I think I should probably do one of these more often. Did I sell armfuls of books? No, but I sold a few. I had some good conversations with members of the public and other writers, It also seems to have the effect of energising my commitment to writing, which is something that happened to my painting at exhibitions, too. Talking about my books and projects encourages me to focus afresh on them and, basically, get my finger out and get on with it, which can’t be a bad thing.

So, I’d better get on with it.

Jazz – Delicious Hot

…as the Bonzo’s said, many years ago.

I’ve told you before about Paul Gunn. And just in case you’ve forgotten, he and his band, the Paul Gunn Collective, play superb contemporary jazz, described as featuring an edgy vintage piano, classical cello solos with Latin and Rock rhythms. You can listen to – and purchase – Paul’s album here. But now Covid restrictions are all but gone, live gigs in pubs are back. And we went to see the band playing in a pub in Tunbridge Wells yesterday.

The quality of the music, it must be said, was far superior to the quality of my photographs, but it was a very wet, gloomy, day, and the light wasn’t ideal for photography. In fact, it was much better suited to drinking lots of beer and listening to damned good music. That part worked perfectly.

Must do it again soon.

Unfest at Tunbridge Wells and Books

Last weekend, Bank Holiday weekend, saw the annual UNFEST fringe music festival held in Tunbridge Wells.

It describes itself as Showcasing local and regional music, spoken word, food and drink,  the emphasis is on involving local, independent businesses.

Our writing group had a stand there on the Saturday afternoon, where we hassled unsuspecting passers-by in the hope they would buy our books or, should they be interested in writing, come along to one of our meetings to see what we are up to.

unfest 3

We sold a few books and had a pleasant time.

unfest 2

And later on another of our members, Paul Gunn, played with his band. Their splendid music is described as Featuring an edgy vintage piano, classical cello solos with Latin and Rock rhythms.

Should you be fortunate enough to reside in the Tunbridge Wells area you can find out about our writing group, Irregular Writers, here.

And wherever you live, you can find out more about Paul Gunn’s music here.

What on Earth are you waiting for?

A Christmas Carol – 2

Another attempt at perverting rewriting a Christmas carol for 2017:

(Bob has a lot to answer for!)


Once in Royal Tunbridge Wells

Stood a lowly shopping mall.

Where a horde of frenzied shoppers

moved like locusts through it all.

Searching for their Christmas loot,

Trampling others underfoot.


Finding bargains at the poundshop,

Cheap old tat that falls to bits.

Plastic toys all made of poison,

Tiny parts to choke their kids.

And the Christmas Trip will be,

An ambulance to A & E.


Spending fortunes on their own folk,

Presents that could sink a ship.

One month’s food to last just two days

Enough booze to float that ship!

Heed the message of our song,

Selfish greed just can’t be wrong!



Launch of ‘The Happy Bus’ by Louisa Campbell

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a great evening of performance poetry at The Java Bean cafe in Tunbridge Wells, for the launch of the new pamphlet by Louisa Campbell, a member of my local writing group.

Supported by published poets Ira Lightman and John McCullough, both of whom gave great performances, Louisa’s was easily the standout set for me.

A natural performer, she read a selection of poems from The Happy Bus, Published by Picaroon Poetry, which is a collection she describes as ‘charting the journey through anxiety and depression and on to peace and joy’.


This is not to suggest that her poetry is all dark, for that is certainly not the case. Each one bristles with hope and determination, and frequently humour – for Louisa does humour very well – and had the audience frequently chortling (we chortle a lot in Tunbridge Wells. We also chunter about stuff, but there was none of that last night).

And, let’s face it, how often do you get to see a poet declaiming a couple of their poems in a wolf onesie?, or getting an audience in Tunbridge Wells to yell out a chorus of ‘Bugger!’?

Below, an extract from the pamphlet:


To get your copy, click on either of the links below.

Amazon UK



The Past is Another Country…

…they do things differently there (L.P.Hartley )

Almost 20 years ago I was a care-worker, paying visits to support elderly folk who were, for various reasons, unable to cope on their own. I would provide support in a number of ways – cooking, washing and dressing,and cleaning, for example.

One man I visited quite often would talk a lot about his younger days – as is natural. He had a wealth of stories, and I always told him he should get someone to write them down. It is the ordinary person’s stories that are frequently the most interesting, and the ones that we usually don’t hear. Famous politicians, sports stars, movie stars…well, they write autobiographies, or have them written for them, and we hear all about the other famous people they knew and the hotels they stayed in…yawn, yawn, yawn.

But we hear far less about the family in the village 80 years ago, their day to day life and how the outside world impacted upon them.

Below, there is a photo of London Road, just outside of Tunbridge Wells, taken earlier today.


My client told me that during his youth, he would walk back along this road after an evening out in town, describing how there was nothing but open fields on both sides for much of the walk. Looking at it now, it is hard to picture that, since I have never known it any way other than how it looks now.

But prior to this, in his childhood, he lived in the village of Groombridge, on the other side of Tunbridge Wells, and he told me how, as a schoolboy during the First World War, he and his classmates ran out of the class one day and across a field, to see a German Zeppelin airship that had just been shot down.

It is stories like this, that are the genuinely interesting stories that come out of the past.

And for my large Work In Progress, the past really is a foreign country. Much of it is set in Persia and India, in a time frame that covers some 300 years up until the late 19th century.

Now, I was about to write that if it is difficult for me to picture the main road near where I live as it was some 50 to 75 years ago, then it is far more difficult for me to picture the places in India and Persia where and when I have set my novel, but then I realised that this is not actually true.

And so this post is now taking a turn that I had not expected when I sat down to write it.

The Indian capital at the time was at Fatehpur Sikri, which today is just the remains of those buildings – it was only occupied for some 22 years, and then abandoned. I have visited the site and walked around it, and it is quite easy to imagine it occupied by Akhbar, his court, and the general population.

I have never been to Persia (modern day Iran), so my impressions are formed only at second hand. And much of what I have read consists of works about the 1500’s, and I am familiar with many of the paintings of the period, so again it seems almost natural to imagine it as it was then.

And then when I have travelled in India, as well as in the Middle East, I have spent a lot of time visiting the old parts of the towns and cities, and many rural areas where life follows the same patterns that it has for hundreds of years, and so, again, it seems more natural to picture the settings for my book in those time periods that concern me.

Finally, researching these areas, I often come across old black and white photos of places of interest to me, and since I have not been there, they are the only impression of these places that I have.

Of course, Tunbridge Wells in the Victorian era is much harder for me to visualise. All of the modern buildings get in the way of my imagination. All of the roads are surfaced with tarmac, the open spaces have largely gone, and many parts of the common that used to be open and windswept are now covered in trees.

On a slightly different note….

As a project, I occasionally take photos in sepia of the area around where I live, as though they might have been taken about 80 years ago – around the time that my elderly client was walking along the London Road, winds blowing across the fields either side of him, and the only light from the moon. Each photo that I take has something in it to show that it was taken recently though, rather than a long time ago, such as a modern vehicle, a modern street lamp, road markings, or modern windows. The shot below is an example.

Holden Pond

Easy to feel that it might be taken in 1930.

The Expedition Report

As promised in my last post, I attach here a report of my expedition.

On Saturday 30th January 2016, the morning sky cleared and the sun came out. It would be a good walking day.


I had thought long and hard over the various logistical challenges of this expedition, and decided eventually, albeit reluctantly, that it would be wise not to attempt it alone. As much as I was loathe to share the glory of this journey, the sensible traveller realises his or her own limitations, and assesses the difficulties and dangers that they are likely to meet. And so I decided that I would take a companion; not only to make the journey more amenable, but also to help with the navigating, act as a safety back-up, and who could act in need as a porter.

We decided to split the tasks. ‘You’re leader,’ my companion Bob said, ‘so you take the big pack with the emergency stuff, and I’ll navigate. It will make life easier for both of us.’ Somehow, that wasn’t quite what I’d planned.

We picked up our packs, said our goodbyes, and set off down the path to the road. ‘We go left here.’ Bob said, turning right. I hesitated. ‘What are you waiting for?’ He asked irritably, turning round.

‘You said left.’

‘Yes. Are you going to stand there all day?’ I shrugged, and then followed him. The first part of our journey presented few difficulties. We turned left at the next junction (‘I said right!’) and followed the road until we had left the town far behind and were surrounded by a sparsely inhabited landscape. Now we needed to find our way down the hill on the other side of the road.

‘It’s not safe to cross here.’ opined Bob.

‘There’s hardly any traffic!’

‘It comes round the corner really quickly. Let’s go on a bit further and find somewhere better.’

‘The corner’s half a mile away! I’m crossing here!’

‘You cross then.’ He sounded sulky. ‘I’ll catch you up.’ He turned away and stomped slowly along the pavement.

I crossed the road, found a bench, and settled down to wait. Minutes passed, and I took out a chocolate bar and ate it. I had a drink of water. I pulled out the guidebook and went over our route again, and then got side tracked and began reading about the dreadful earthquake of 1734 that destroyed so much of Tunbridge Wells. I had another drink of water. I found a newspaper in the side pocket of my pack and did the crossword. As I finished, I looked up, and my companion arrived.

‘Where have you been?’ He looked sheepish.

‘I turned left by accident. Never mind that, I’m here now.’ He sat down beside me. ‘Sorry, I need a drink.’ He took out a flask and poured a little of the contents into the cup.

‘What’s that?’

‘Oh, just a drop of whisky.’

‘That was meant to be for emergencies only!’

‘This is an emergency!’

When we set off again, we were fortunate to find a track that seemed to be going in the right direction. It was no more than twenty foot wide in places, surfaced with a smooth, black layer, and showing occasional white markings roughly in the middle, as if left to guide travellers. Following this, we worked our way down from the ridge and found ourselves in a fairly steep-sided valley. The road bent around to the right and ran along the bottom the valley, following a stream on one side of the road, and an old railway track on the other. There was a signpost beside us, a pub on the left, and a farm on the right. In front of us a church tower showed clearly above the trees.

Bob took out the map and compass, handed me the map and then carefully lined up the edge of the compass with the side of the map. For a moment or two his eyes flickered between the map and route ahead of us, and then he clicked his tongue irritably.

‘I think we’re lost.’

‘Er, the compass needle isn’t pointing north.’

‘Eh? What…’ he fiddled with the compass for a moment. ‘Oh, you had the map upside down, you fool. No wonder!’ He snatched it from my hands, looked at it suspiciously, glanced up at the signpost quickly when he thought I wasn’t looking, and then handed the map back to me. ‘This way. Come on!’

Half a mile along the road, a track turned off to the left and ran under the railway and into a little wood.

‘This way,’ I said.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’ I went under the bridge and into the woods, to find that the path was a morass of mud. This area is renowned for enjoying (or otherwise) what can be regarded as fiercely localised weather. Even though it was pouring with rain today in the Lake District and in Southern Hungary, the sun stubbornly shone throughout the afternoon on our little expedition. But it seemed as though that hadn’t always been the case recently. This part of our journey should only have taken us about ten minutes, but it was almost half an hour before we crossed the stile in the fence that marked the boundary between where we were at the time and somewhere else.

The next section of the trail took us down a steep and uncertain track, ankle deep in autumn leaves and with little sections of mud here and there underfoot. It proved necessary to watch our footing carefully, and now and again we had no choice but to hold onto the guard rail for a moment. After a minute or two, however, we reached the foot of the slope safely and paused to catch our breath and have a snack.

We checked the map, noticing that we would have to navigate the next section very carefully.

‘I’ll lead this.’ Bob said, starting to take the map from my hands. I slapped him.

‘No, you won’t.’

We passed under the old railway bridge, which incorporates parts of a still older construction. All that remains now is one end of a medieval banqueting hall, complete with shields. In places it is still possible to glimpse traces of what appear to be the original wall paintings. Judging by what remains of the inscriptions, they possibly depict Saint Darren, patron saint of nearby Tonbridge.


It is a glorious place in the spring, when the wild marsupial trees are in blossom, but now it was a gloomy place. But still it was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from this important historical site, and tramped onwards through the woods.

For the next leg of our journey, the path took a great, sweeping loop around a mysterious and secretive area of pipes and tanks and low buildings. The trees creaked ominously overhead. Was it just the wind? Yes, of course it was. It has always had an evil reputation, though. In medieval times, it was a place of alchemy, and rumours still persist that it was in some dark chamber beneath the ground, at this exact location, that an evil sorcerer discovered a magical substance that turned real beer into lager, or false beer as it is properly called, threatening to plunge the whole kingdom into a new dark age.

And at times the traveller of today can almost fancy that a whiff of sulphur or some such odour still overhangs this dreadful place. Several years ago someone tripped over a protruding tree root nearby and hurt themselves, and the rooks call their depressing calls overhead in the gloomy trees.

We were glad indeed to get away from such a terrible place.

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Now, on almost the last leg of our journey, our path ran along south-facing hillsides, through one of the small tea gardens that produce our famous Sussex tea, and then dropped down lower to meet the overgrown and largely clogged up remnants of the Bristol to Tunbridge Wells canal. It was still being used to transport coal and gin from Bristol to Tunbridge Wells, with a return cargo of young slaves, as recently as sixty years ago, after which it fell into disrepair as demand for these products fell off.

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Care has to be taken along this stretch, as the old towpath along the edge of the canal is quite obvious, but on the other side lies the Great Groombridge Swamp, which has been known to swallow up unwary travellers. Bob was leading at this point, and we were both keen to reach the end, now. I noticed him straying slightly towards the swamp so I called out ‘Just go right, a bit.’


A quarter of an hour later I was enjoying a pint of Black Cat Ale, before catching the bus back home to write up my notes and then make a tricky phone call to Bob’s wife.

Still, all expeditions, like life itself, throw up challenges that have to be faced up to.


Please note that an expedition of this nature is not one to be undertaken lightly. Should you wish to follow in my footsteps, you are strongly advised to ensure that you have adequate training and suitable equipment for the journey.