Author and Journalist
My interests divide between a fascination with the historical background to our everyday lives – the way we run our homes and bring up our children, and the food we eat - and a love of literary geography: exploring the settings that inspired writers classic and modern. I’ve written eleven books on these subjects. The best known are Dream Babies: Childcare Advice from John Locke to Gina Ford and Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint’s Trunk (which resulted in my becoming Executor of the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate). I have also written a biography, Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur’s Chronicler. Writing this led to a deepening interest in the fifteenth century, and I'm now working on the second volume of Alyce: The Book of the Duchess.
Writing The Thames, a survey of books and literary mentions of the river that has been a constant in my life for so many years, was published by the Bodleian Library in March. It seems to have gone down well, with fine reviews in the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph
The third of my literary anthologies for the British Library, Pleasures of Nature was published in February 2016. Pleasures of the Garden: A Literary Anthology was published by the British Library, in April 2014, and Pleasures of the Table in March 2015.
I am now working on a second book for the Bodleian Library, The Enigmatical History of the Bee, a cultural history that will show that what we think about bees says as much about our own society as about that of the hive. It will be published in 2019.
My second book about Arthur Ransome is The World of Arthur Ransome. part biography, part companion to all twelve books of the Swallows & Amazons saga, it was published by Frances Lincoln in October 2012. I have also had several audiobook anthologies published by Naxos, The Christmas Collection, Poetry for the Winter Season and The Pleasures of the Garden.
My books brought me a parallel career: that of being a journalist, and broadcaster, using their subject matter as a springboard to writing diary and opinion columns in such newspapers as the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Times, and documentaries for radio. I also review books for various publications, and write a monthly column on audiobooks for The Times Saturday Review.
This year I had a garden party to celebrate achieving three score years and ten, and age which gives me a wonderful sense of freedom and a determination to be mayself. My other excitement is the keeping of bees, under the direction of Dick Mayon-White, whose knowledge and calmness in handling these extraordinary little insects is an inspiration. He too loves the Thames, and his book Exploring the Thames Wilderness is a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide to the nature reserves along the river. In May, Tilly and her family moved to Oxford, so I now have seven of my nine grandchildren less than ten minutes away [yes, lots of baby-sitting]. Life is a wonderful balance between domesticity and venturing out and about. It's good to be able make time for them, and I'm lucky enough to have a wild garden and vast attic where they can let their imaginations run riot.
Three Score Years and Ten
The World of Arthur Ransome (published 4 October 2012)