I had a pleasant surprise recently in Huntingdon. I was unexpectedly invited to an evening for authors at the Niche bookshop in the High Street on Thursday 7 April. The casual observer walking past the Niche might not venture inside unless he or she had an interest in comics and games, which are obviously the bookshop’s speciality, and which occupy most of the space in its charming Tudor building. But when I ventured in, I found space dedicated to more general books, including copies of each of those in my my Ben Schroeder series! Of course, I gladly accepted the invitation. It was a splendid evening, well organised and well attended, with seven or eight local authors present. A good crowd came and went throughout the evening, and were treated to wine and delicious home-made cakes. Although not originally planned, each of the authors was invited to give a reading either upstairs or in the garden (until the rain intervened) as a result of which a number of books were purchased and autographed. I was impressed that some of the authors were as yet unpublished, or self-published, from which it was clear that the Niche has a serious interest in developing local writing talent. The Niche is also, as it proudly claims, Huntingdon’s only independent bookshop. A town the size of Huntingdon deserves a good bookshop, and I wish the Niche well. Many thanks to Angela for organising the evening and for inviting me. I have volunteered to return as often as invited!
The library tour continued on Wednesday 30 March with a visit to Harpenden. This is always a special occasion, as Harpenden is the base of my publisher, No Exit Press. No Exit is hugely supportive of the Hertfordshire libraries, which, like those in my county, Cambridgeshire, have continued to flourish despite the savage government cuts, and to provide such a valuable public service. As usual on these occasions, I was with fellow-No Exit authors Leigh Russell and Howard Linskey, who as ever were on fine form, but on this occasion there was a successful innovation. Fellow-author Daniel Pembrey acted as moderator for our panel, which kept us focused on questions the audience would most be interested in and so reduced our propensity to ramble on too much! This turned out to be an excellent idea, and the audience certainly seemed to appreciate it. This was apparently Daniei’s first experience in the role of moderator, but you would never have known it. He seemed ready to take on his own talk show, and effortlessly posed exactly the right questions, having done considerable research on our work beforehand. Thanks to No Exit – Ion, Claire, CQ and Alex – for this great evening, which drew a sizeable crowd. It was obvious that they enjoyed interacting with the authors over a glass or two of wine. I’m already looking forward to the next one!
I have recently spoken and signed books at two great Cambridgeshire libraries, St Ives and Warboys, both at the invitation of Heather Galwas, who organised both brilliantly. Many thanks, Heather! Attendance was excellent at St Ives, and we had a very lively conversation, with some penetrating questions about the process of writing novels. There were fewer at Warboys, but the interest was high, and I was delighted to see Victor and Diane Lucas in the audience. Victor is coming to the end of his year of office as High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, an office he has filled with enormous distinction. I got to know Victor while I was Resident Judge at Peterborough, my last assignment before retiring from the bench last November. Victor sometimes came to court to sit with me as a symbol of the historic role of the High Sheriff as the protector of the Queen’s courts. On one such occasion, he drew the ceremonial sword and placed it on the bench as a symbol of his role. He certainly got the attention of everyone in court, and everyone was well behaved that day! But I was glad we had let security know in advance that a man would be attending with a sword. It’s the kind of thing that might have made them nervous otherwise!
On to Harpenden library on the evening of Wednesday 30 March. Harpenden is the home base of my publishers, No Exit Press, it is always well attended and great fun when we do this event. Wherever I go, it is always a privilege to be at one of our great libraries. They are such a national treasure, and they do a fantastic job in the face of horrific budget cuts. Long may they continue.
Just to let everyone know that I am speaking at an event at St Ives library on Tuesday 9 February, at 2 p.m. The afternoon time is a new thing for me, only possible since my retirement from the law! The library is in Library Row, Station Road, in St Ives, and I should just add, to avoid any chance of serious error, that this is St Ives, Cambridgeshire, not the celebrated town in the West Country! I am always glad to speak at libraries, which do such sterling work in the face of cuts and public apathy. I will be speaking and signing books, so if you’re free, I would love to see you.
As the year draws to a close, may I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Successful New Year!
I closed my author activities for 2015 at Heffers in Cambridge for the ‘Murder under the Mistletoe’ evening on 10 December. As ever, there were a good number of local authors in attendance to sign their books, and as ever Richard Reynolds and Kate Fleet put on an evening to remember. The remarkably miserable weather failed to dampen spirits, and there was a good crowd of readers tracking down clues in one of Richard’s now famous quizzes, and buying books in commendable quantities for Christmas. It was good to see some of the regulars again, and to welcome some new readers. Thanks again to Richard and Kate, and everyone at Heffers.
I look forward to being in touch again in the New Year!
Today I can announce that, after some 52 years in the law (counting my time as a student) I shall be retiring from the law on 27 November 2015. I shall NOT, of course, be retiring from anything else! Indeed, I am looking forward to having more time to write.
I have been privileged to have had a most interesting career, which has involved me in practice and teaching both in the UK and the United States; in almost a decade as counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague; and for the last eight years as a judge of the Crown Court. I leave all this behind with some sadness, but with great gratitude for having such varied experiences. My wife Chris, whom I met during my work in the US, has been my supporter, being willing to undertake adventures such as living in new countries, in a way I suspect few women would, and I owe her a debt I can never repay.
Now, to the future. I am about to deliver the next Ben Schroeder novel to No Exit Press. It is entitled The Heirs of Owen Glyndwr, and involves Ben in defending Arianwen Hughes, a woman accused of a terrorist act in connection with the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in Caernarfon Castle on 1July 1969. The key to her defence may be her husband Trevor. But he seems to have vanished from the face of the earth. The evidence against Arianwen is compelling, and Ben will have the fight of his life to save her. It is to be published next year, and I hope you will all give it a try.
With my new extra time, I am planning to expand my writing, and I hope to announce details of this in the New Year!
On Wednesday 21 October, I gave a talk and reading from And is there Honey still for Tea? at Malaprops book store in Asheville, North Carolina. My wife Chris and I were staying with our friends Joan and Mark, who have a magnificent house in this lively town. Asheville is something of a cultural centre, with many artists in residence – and a flourishing, nationally known micro-brewery scene! The downtown buildings have been wonderfully preserved to give it the feel of an older American town, and as Asheville nestles in the mountains, the fall leaves provided a beautiful range of colours. Malaprops is a marvel. It’s not a huge store, but it is very lively, with events going on all the time, and it is good to see an independent bookstore doing so well in the present climate. I was delighted to note the “banned books” section, presenting a defiant challenge to censorship, which remains a threat in so many places, not least America. The event was a great success, with about 40 people attending, and it was fun to see my book for sale in an American store again. Thanks to everyone at Malaprops, especially Cindy and Hannah, who made me feel so welcome, and a huge thank you to Joan and Mark, who went out of their way to organize a wine and cheese reception before the business of the evening got underway. Joan’s book club, who are loyal fans, attended in force, and we had an informal talk on the following evening. There should be some pictures, and I will post them as soon as I can!
Following the success of the literary dinner at Huntingdon’s famous Old Bridge Hotel on Friday 25 September, owner John Hoskins has said that it should become an annual event. Like the dinner last year, this one sold out within a few days of being advertised on the hotel’s website, and only limitations of space in the dining room prevented John from taking more bookings. This year, the dinner had the title of ‘Too Close to Home: the Cambridge Spies in Fact and Fiction’. My readers will guess from this that I focused on And is there Honey still for Tea? But this year, I was not alone. Miranda Carter, author of Anthony Blunt; his Lives, the definitive biography of Blunt, joined me, and we discussed the spies historically and as literary figures. For the first time, I also revealed the graphic I made for myself while researching my novel, which shows in the form of a chart for the period 1930-1965, how these men’s lives were intertwined, both professionally and socially. Miranda is a wonderful speaker, and in addition to her biographical and historical work, is writing detective novels set in the Victorian era. If you haven’t tried her work, please do. It’s fascinating. As ever, John’s selection of dishes and wine was fabulous, with the result that all the diners were in a good mood when we started speaking! John has asked me to think about another speaker for next year, and I may have ideas about that once I have finished the next in the Ben Schroeder series. Expect an announcement about that imminently!
On Thursday 17 September, I had the pleasure of visiting the library at Ramsey in rural Cambridgeshire. Whenever I speak at a library I am reminded of the amazing job the staff and volunteers do in keeping these essential public services open and flourishing, in the face of relentless cuts and the onward march of online technology. The library in this small community is an example to all. I spoke about my work, and particularly And is there Honey still for Tea? The enthusiastic audience – more than I had anticipated – included a lady who confided her age of 95 and a gentleman from Holland, who, needless to say, speaks perfect English. Enthusiasm was such that my publishers had not sent enough books, and we had to take orders for further autographed books to be supplied after the event. Just as satisfying were the penetrating questions thrown at me. Altogether a delightful evening. Thanks to Jean Chittim for organizing and inviting me, and for the staff who made me so welcome.
Tickets are now on sale for ‘A Bit Too Close to Home’, a literary supper at the Old Bridge Hotel in Huntingdon. Details from the Old Bridge’s website, see below. This promises to be a great evening. For those who don’t know it, the Old Bridge has a wonderful cuisine and boasts one of the finest wine cellars in England. Master of Wine John Hoskins is in charge of food and drink, and if you have been there before, you know you won’t be disappointed. Miranda Carter and I will be looking at the Cambridge Spies in fact (MIranda) and fiction (me) and signing copies of our books. Book now – John is expecting tickets to sell quickly!