Tuesday, 10 April 2018


A young man I shall call Robert knocked on my door today. I could see through the window he had a large bag with him and he had the restless twitchy movements of someone who is beginning to rattle and needs a fix though he could just have been nervous, of course. He introduced himself, and shook my hand. I knew what was coming:

He was just out of prison, selling cleaning goods for a company and trying to make some money "to keep myself out of trouble." He was edgy, but smiling, and his sales pitch pulled out all the stops. There were a couple of things I did need, as it happened, an ironing-board cover and a long handled duster. I could have bought them more cheaply from Wilko or the market, but I didn't. I bought them from him, partly so he'd go away with something and partly because I feel sorry for young people with messed up lives, and he was bright, energetic and polite and didn't sell us a sob story. The drug story is something else (if he is a user) and his to deal with, but as he talked I thought that he was typical of many young men I've come across who are trying to grow up without basic literacy or numeracy skills, family support or any prospect of earning a decent living. Drug use, prison, homelessness, broken relationships, no father worth the name, physical and sexual abuse - these are all part of the mix for these young men.

Yet some survive, even do well. They know a lifeline when they see one, and if the time is right can grab it and hold on.

The point is, though, the lifeline has to be there, and offered at the right time.

My latest book, THE MARSH PEOPLE is about people who take that chance, risking everything to begin a new way of life.

In my book Child With No Name (Kindle e-book) a true story, an orphaned child is found after the Boxing Day Tsunami in Banda Aceh. No-one knows who she is and her parents are dead. She speaks no language local aid workers recognise. But one young aid worker discovers her name and attempts a daring rescue - but I won't tell you the ending. It involves risk-taking and initiative.

Friday, 12 January 2018



Northamptonshire County Library, in the county where Clare was born and recognised as a much-loved poet of the countryside, is considering how to manage his archives. Since the libraries have been forced to close and the surviving volunteer staff are untrained in conservation at this level, removal of the manuscripts to the British Library has been mooted - and resisted. Taking the essence of the man away from the land he loved and locking it up somewhere alien  - even when he was certifiably mad - was not something he would have welcomed.

Clare suffered from periods of insanity and imagined he was, at times, Lord Byron, or even Shakespeare

I tried to imagine what it would be like to think you were someone else, somebody important, perhaps, somebody special - and to write in their voice.  I wrote this using the metre Clare used:


Lord Byron call me, for I will confess
To being like a lord, and in my time
Days were when I would dress
In velvet breeches, thinking myself fine.

No ploughboy I, a poet through and through
Although the wound I bear is hard to heal
And men may call me mad, it isn’t true,
I know now who I am, and what I feel.

My wounded heart floods out upon the tide
As Mary Joyce still calls me to her arms.
Byron I am, and Shakespear as I ride
And I become a slave to all their charms.

They say that I’m insane and must abide
In the asylum. Patty waits at home
With all our children. Cried
When she last saw me, so I roam,

And can be anyone I choose.
Ha ha! You will not pin me down.
Ranting as poets will, my hair blown loose,
Mad as a box of frogs, I enter town.

Comfort me now with cider from the farm
Lull me to sleep with owl’s spawn in the rye.
I am but a little child. I mean no harm. Sirrah,
Lord Byron needs to sleep, so let him lie.

Clare was luckier than many other people deemed mad at that time. He was dealt with affectionately, allowed to write, and kept out of  the worst institutions housing the insane.
His poetry is, and should be, treasured.