Here’s a taster!

Here’s a short excerpt from my novel, ‘Homeward Bound’. It’s a story of family, ambition and ageing and recent Amazon reviews include, ‘Such a lovely book, highly recommend,’ ‘An excellent read concerning family, music and memory,’ and, ‘This books is brilliant and is well worth the journey.’ I didn’t write or pay for any of them, promise!!

Seventy-one year-old George is alone in the car with his teenage granddaughter Tara, while her parents have left them gone to inspect a retirement home for him as they think he’s not safe living on his own. George is not happy with the idea and is looking for support. But Tara has her own problems with them. . . . Now read on!

George watched until they were out of sight. “This is nice. Just like the old days, don’t you think?” There was no response from the back seat, so he kept going. “I’m sorry I’m not much company at the moment.” He hadn’t felt much like talking to anyone since the funeral.

Tara said nothing and kept reading. When she was younger and they were together for weekend visits or day trips, she’d always had an opinion and never shied from letting everyone hear it. How George missed those days.

“Come on, then. Tell me my future.” He twisted the rear-view mirror so he could see his granddaughter better without having to turn round. Her eyes fixed on her magazine, he analysed her. Elfin-like, auburn hair, newly cropped, she looked so grown up and not the grandchild he remembered playing in the garden, being pushed on the swings, building sandcastles on the beach, skimming pebbles across the sea, being treated to sweets and ice cream despite Bridget’s protests about healthy eating. “November 30th. St. Andrew’s Day. Sagittarius.”

Tara closed Teen Tips and slapped her hand on the cover. It was a gesture George recognised from when Bridget was a teenager and about to sound off. Like mother, like daughter.

“You’ve got to tell them.” She was looking straight into his reflection.

“Tell them what?”


“You know.”


“That your mum only buys Rich Tea biscuits and I like chocolate Hobnobs?”


“You know what I mean.”


“Or the only music I hear is on some local radio station, twittering away in the kitchen. And all there is to read is the free bloody Basingstoke Tribune and your mother’s gardening magazine.”

Tara tutted and repeated, “You know.”

“No. Tell me.”

“That you don’t want to move into one of these homes.”

“I should think that’s bleedin’ obvious, pardon my French.”

“Why? What’s wrong with them?”

“You’ve not been inside.”


“But if you’re living on your own, what will you do with yourself?”

“Things.”

“Things?”

“Things I still want to do.” George caught her expression of surprise. “Don’t pull that face. I may be old, but I haven’t given up just yet. Despite your mother saying I’ve retired. The fires still burn, you know. And don’t ask me what. You’ll know when I’ve done them.”

“So you’ve got to tell them.”

George folded his arms to show he was taking no notice. “Did you read that sign outside the last place?”

Tara nodded.

“You saw that it was sponsored by funeral directors and an estate agent.”

Tara nodded again.

“One to get shot of the body and another to sell off the house. What did your mother say about that?”

“I don’t think she saw it.”

“I don’t suppose your father missed it.” George grunted. “And do you know what passes as entertainment in there? I’ll tell you. Watching school Christmas pantomimes. I saw the evidence hanging in a corridor. Had ten years of them when your mother was a child. The memory still gives me nightmares. I’d rather die than spend the rest of what’s left of my life watching someone else’s little darlings.”

Tara shook her head. “Gramps. Tell. Them.”

“I can’t.” He was having second thoughts on missing hearing his granddaughter voicing her opinions.

“Why not?”

What could he answer? That he was scared they were right, that he needed to be cared for, that he really wasn’t safe to be left on his own? Or maybe this was a sign that his time was done. That he’d have to face up to the reality. That what he hadn’t achieved he was never going to achieve. “You tell them for me.”  

“Me?”

“Yes. They’ll listen to you.”


“Oh, no.” Tara shook her head decisively. “It’s not for me. Only you can speak for yourself.”

“You can help.”

Tara shook her head again. “I can’t. I really can’t.” She opened Teen Tips and resumed reading.

George twisted the mirror back round and stared out the front of the car. It was starting to drizzle. She was right of course. How could he expect an eighteen-year-old to argue the case for a seventy-nine-year-old? The fact that he was asking for her help almost proved the case for the prosecution. He couldn’t cope with the real world anymore.

They sat in silence for a while, Tara flicking through her magazine, George staring through the windscreen that was beginning to steam up.

“What are you reading?”

Tara reached forward and showed him the magazine, twisting it as she handed it to him so as to reveal only the opposite page to the one she’d been looking at. ‘Vegan needn’t mean unhealthy,’ the headline read. “You’re not one of those, are you?” He looked worried.

“Why shouldn’t I be? Lots of people are. It is the twenty-first century.”

“It’s not natural. We’re meant to eat meat.”

“I don’t think it’s natural to keep animals cooped up in tiny spaces, now you’re asking.”

“Well I just don’t like fads. Never have. Never will.” He turned the page over impatiently. There, in bold, was a different heading: ‘Should I have sex with my boyfriend?’ Tara stretched to reclaim the magazine but he shifted it just too far from her. He’d read the first line, ‘My boyfriend and I have been going out together for almost nine months and have only reached third base’, before she was able to snatch it back.

“Thanks,” she said as she turned it over again and clasped it in her lap.

“Can anyone read that?”

“Why?”

“When I was a boy, I was reading about fighter pilots, not that kind of stuff.”


“It’s different today.”


“And at your age it was National Service, not ‘third base’.”

“Did you talk to your parents about, you know what?”

“Certainly not. Do you?”

She took a deep breath, then shuffled across the car seat and leaned forward. George turned and they were almost nose-to- nose. “If you won’t talk to my parents about you, will you talk to them about me?”

To buy Homeward Bound on line, click here. If you like it, please leave a review. Many thanks.

Homeward Bound – new review (and interview with me)

“Homeward Bound” made me smile from page 1 … it is a funny yet poignant novel centred around a grandfather who has a passion for music and his teenage granddaughter who moves in with him to keep an eye on him as he is getting frail, and also to give her some space from mum and dad. George (grandfather) has a massive record collection that has become his “comfort blanket” since his wife died – and as he plays his vinyls, he still tinkers along on his piano hoping to revive his musical ambitions. George’s son in law thinks he should be put in a home & sets out to find George a place. George’s daughter is the go between. George’s granddaughter wants space away from her parents and isn’t sure about her musical teenage boyfriend, who has his own idea of what music should sound like although he is fascinated by George’s collection. Then there are the homes George visits & the residents he meets, the notorious cousin, the impromptu musical recital, the seaside trip and the unexpected job offer. This novel has twists and turns, ups and downs, and plenty of musical innuendo. I loved it and it is a great light hearted read perfect for winter nights, holidays, lockdowns….

Review from Linda Hobden http://bootsshoesandfashion.com/

Full review and interview with me here

Homeward Bound is available from bookshops and online.

My thanks to Linda Hobden with her Books, Interview, Music/Entertainment, Reviews on http://bootsshoesandfashion.com/

Every home needs two dishwashers

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”
That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me.
It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer.

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”

That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me. It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer. But I could tell from the way she was staring at me, she was waiting for an answer.

“You take plates from cupboards, cutlery from drawers and glasses from shelves and use them for a meal,” I patiently explained.

“Yes.”

“When you’ve finished, you put them in the dishwasher.”

“Yes.”

My wife was rolling her eyes as she knew where I was going with this. Our designer manifestly did not.

“You wait until it’s full, then turn it on and when it’s finished, you take out the plates and put them back in the cupboards, the cutlery back in the drawers and the glasses on the shelves.”

“So?”

I think I hoped for a sign of recognition. Instead there was a blank expression with a soupçon of impatience. My wife just stared daggers at me.

“So next time you have a meal, you go back to the cupboard for the plates . .”

My wife interrupted. “I think we’ve got that.”

I needed to complete the cycle. “But with two dishwashers, next to each other, of course, you cut out all that unloading, putting away, fetching out again. You leave the clean stuff in one dishwasher until it’s needed, then take it out, use it and . .”

“. . .  put the dirties back into the second dishwasher. I get it now.”

“Exactly. And when dishwasher two is full, you turn it on and dishwasher one becomes the place where the dirties go.” I was pleased she didn’t pick up on the one flaw in my plan; what happens when you’re mixing dirties with unused cleans.

“What a good idea.”

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

Photo: Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

What has fascinated me is that no-one else seems to have cottoned on to this idea. I did a quick Google check and could find no manufactures that have created a double dishwasher, though surely there’s need for a new products with a unique design in a crowded market. Nor have retailers seized the moment to sell two instead of one to every customer. I offer them the concept. It could be my small contribution to helping the UK out of recession.

Inevitably this has led to me to re-evaluate other ‘givens’ of domestic life.

A full plate and plentiful supply of a good red is one not to change. And somewhere warm and safe to sleep is essential. The sofa with the TV on or music playing is as good a place as any.

But if we must have beds, why do we need to ‘make’ them?

If it’s straightened sheets and pillows you’re after, why not do it before you go to bed rather than waste time and energy in the morning, especially when there’s already the tedious routine of shaving for men and make-up for women. Though I’d go one further and say why bother make the bed at all. The sheets will be crumpled up within minutes of getting in anyway.  When the reaper comes calling, how much of your life will have been wasted making beds – smoothing sheets, hospital corners, plumping pillows and all? And if you really feel the need for crisp, cold sheets, tightly tucked down, then make it a treat to look forward to every couple of months when you change the bed or go on holiday and have hotel staff do it for you.  

And don’t get me on duvets and duvet covers. I had an eiderdown as a child. It needed no constant wrestling with a cover, just pulled up over me at night. No-one admits to inventing the duvet but its popularity in the UK seems to have arisen as some sort of fashion statement, when we were in the thrall of Habitat and Laura Ashley on every High Street. And where are they now, though we persist with the duvet?

And then there are cushions. What are they for? Show me a house with cushions and I’ll show you the influence of a woman. No male that I know would even consider buying a cushion, let alone festoon sofas and – worse still – beds with them.

But back to my genius dishwasher idea. I’d put it out of my mind to concentrate on writing Homeward Bound,  though I did get the occasional twinge about whether it would work and was I being a mite extravagant, decadent even.

I needn’t have worried. There was a late change. When the old kitchen was just a shell, I was informed that there was insufficient space in the new one for two dishwashers. And anyway, the plumbing couldn’t be adjusted to accommodate them both. I might have protested, but my wife and the designer presented the news as a fait accompli.

So we have a new kitchen but just one dishwasher, and I spend probably twice as long a week in the cycle of dishwasher-storage-dishwasher-storage as I do making the bed and plumping up cushions (though luckily I’ve never mastered the duvet, so that’s a task avoided).

But if you like the dual dishwasher idea, feel free to use it.

As for me, my disappointment was mitigated somewhat by an unexpected addition to the kitchen, one that required minimal space and no extra pipework; a wine chiller. And I couldn’t argue against that.

Richard Smith’s novel ‘Homeward Bound’ is out now and available from bookshops and Amazon (paperback and e-book).

A version of this blog first appeared during Rachel’s Random Books Tour

Dido changed my life

Dido changed my life.

Dido – Thank You, White Flag, Life For Rent, Stan (with Eminen) – yes, that Dido. She has changed my life.

I don’t suppose anyone – not least Dido herself – would have expected her music to be behind such an epiphany. How did it happen?

It started when I woke up in the middle of a BBC televised Radio 2 Live concert late one night. I’d fallen asleep during a particularly dull Match of the Day and was woken by Dido in full flow. I often fall asleep watching television. I close my eyes, with the intention of simply resting them and listening for a few moments . . . then it’s an hour later. I know it happens but I still do it. More than a few times, I’ve started watching a film, drifted off and woken up and continued watching, not realising until the end it’s a different film with different cast and plot.

Back to Dido. She was singing a song I know now to be called Friends. Dido’s usual gentle, mournful but appealing (to me) delivery was suddenly interrupted by a wild guitar break and even wilder drumming. I was hooked. And that’s always a cue for me to want to go buy it.

Trouble is, in these digital times, it’s been increasingly hard to buy new music. I like it on a physical medium, something I can touch, hold, read and smell – and possess. I’ve bought high-end equipment and so I can hear it at its best. Not for me Alexa or my laptop’s squawky speakers. 

This, some might say, obsession began in my childhood. I have assembled an array of vinyl (it’s too random to be called a ‘collection’) since my first singles at the start of the 1960s, gradually embracing LPs (albums as they became known).

No particular genre, just if it takes my fancy. And it’s probably as diverse as you can get. Sharing shelf space, Jimi Hendrix sits cheek by jowl with Heron Oblivion, Henry Cow, the Herd, Herman’s Hermits and Woody Herman. I also assembled CDs in the Dark Ages when records were few and far between. But in recent times, with the growth of mp3, I’ve missed out. And it’s left me feeling disenfranchised, as there’s a lot of good music out there, even to these ageing ears.

And Dido’s Friends, had taken my fancy. The worry I had was that it would only be available on mp3. So I was relieved to find that it was on a traditional vinyl album and, what’s more, on the shelf of my nearest surviving record shop.

Back home, on the turntable, I went straight to that track. But while sounding smooth and rounded, there was none of the drive from guitars and percussion that I’d imagined on the live show. Perhaps it was the way the record was pressed.

I have noticed that digital recordings sometimes don’t sound so good on analogue vinyl. So back I went and bought a CD version. No go. A little crisper, sharper, but none of what had first drawn me to the song in the Radio 2 session.

Desperate, I turned to YouTube and checked the performance online. The answer stared me in the face. The guitars were additional to the recorded version and the drumming came from a person not a synthesiser.

At first, dismay. And then, the epiphany.

I found I could plug my computer into my hifi’s pre-amp and, wow! The track came to life for me. With a couple of tweaks on the graphic equaliser, it sounded even better.

It was just a small step before I was Googling other live performances and listening to artists with an online presence only. What’s more, I started discovering tracks I don’t own or haven’t the space for. A new world of music previously unavailable to me. At my fingertips. In a decent quality. Online.

So late in the day, I have entered music’s digital age. And I’m excited at the discovery.

Dido, Thank You.

Friends is on Dido’s album Still On My Mind. (And the other tracks have hooked me too and are well worth a listen, I should add!)

Richard Smith’s first novel, Homeward Bound, is available on lone and from bookshops.

The tyranny of the pen

We weren’t allowed to use ball point pens at my school. The very word, Biro, was never mentioned. All writing had to be with a fountain pen, preferably using Quink blue-black. We also had lessons in how to form capital letters, and no essay would be accepted if the wrong form of ‘F’, ‘G’ or ‘T’ was used, or words were not joined up correctly.

I was sitting with my feet in a pool a while back, reflecting on life, and this early ‘60s memory flashed back to me. Having published my first novel, Homeward Bound, I’m often asked how I write; longhand or straight into a computer. My first response is it’s a wonder I write at all after that induction and suffering the tyranny of the fountain pen.  But the answer is that once I’d been given a Parker for my 18th birthday, I never looked back and now I compose entirely using its cheaper successors – a Biro, Bic, or one of those freebies you collect at exhibitions.

Why I like a ballpoint is it’s so easy to write quickly and even easier to make changes, ideal if thoughts are spilling out of your head at a rate of knots. And if there’s an inspiration for later, a word that’s just come to me to improve a previous sentence, or a paragraph that needs moving, I scribble it down and add an asterisk, a box, or an arrow to signal something to come back to later.

It takes just a second and  – more importantly – it doesn’t interrupt the flow of ideas. Add to the fact that I write on scrap paper – the reverse of single-sided photocopies or envelopes that held today’s consignment of bills and begging letters and I can add feeling virtuous about my recycling into the argument for longhand.

I’ve tried starting on a computer but, for me, it’s a slow, laborious and stultifying experience. I’m quite fast – a self taught two fingered style serves me quite well – but the plethora of red underlines and strange line spacings distract me, making me want to correct as I go, and the practicalities swamp and submerge the original inspiration. Using a ballpoint, the ideas can just flow.

There is a downside to paper. A puff of wind and the pages scatter across the room, a disaster when I’ve not numbered them. And worse, the speed that the ballpoint allows me invariably comes to the detriment of legibility. I’ve invented my own form of shorthand, with vowels omitted and words often just a squiggle between first and last letters. Their meaning is all so obvious as I write, but when it comes to reading back, it’s often impossible to decipher.

The answer? I don’t read it back! For the next stage is to transcribe my manuscript into my laptop and as often as not, I make it all up again. This is partly because I can’t make head nor tail of my longhand, but also because, having created a sense and the structure, I can recompose it straight into my laptop from memory. A second draft, as it were.

Once the page is on the laptop and saved (how many times did I use to lose a day’s work because I hadn’t saved my manuscript – and pardon me while I save this one, it’s still Document 29. Done it), the next question is proof reading and revising for a next draft. My preference would be to do it by printing out the pages. I find reading for content easier on paper, and making amendments using my ballpoint brings all the advantages of being able to scratch out words, move paragraphs and make comments to myself along the margins. But this is very wasteful of paper, even if the reverse does provide new scrap for the next handwritten manuscript.

My solution is to use an iPad with one of those electronic pencils. That way I have all the advantages of longhand and the sheaves don’t blow away. Then it has to be transposed on to the master laptop, but that’s OK as it’s yet another drafting and improving stage. By the end, I may have dozens of fragments of manuscripts on paper, laptop and iPad, not to mention bits I thought were good but left out, in case they should come in handy for something else.

It was one of these I was searching for just the other day. While working on my second novel, I thought I might be able to incorporate a section I’d written and left out of a first draft of Homeward Bound. I rummaged through a box stuffed with papers.

They’d been hidden there, away from my wife’s perfectly reasonable wish not to have every surface in the house awash with scrap paper and old envelopes. It didn’t take long to find the very manuscript I was seeking. Except I couldn’t read a word of it. Completely inscrutable.

But also in the box, an old school exercise book, with my handwritten notes on Shakespeare in blue-black ink, clear and legible.

Perhaps my school had a point

Cheering people up!

I’m really pleased with this review/blog, saying that, ‘After struggling at times during lockdown to have a desire to read, this book was exactly what I needed to remind me why the world of books is so wonderful.’

With more COVID restrictions, maybe this will cheer a few more people up!



Homeward Bound on tour!

All these reviewers will be feasting their eyes (or sharpening their pens!) on my novel Homeward Bound in the next couple of weeks. I’ll post their comments here.

As they say on the BBC News before Match Of The Day, ‘If you don’t want to know the results, look away now!’

‘Oi’ll give it foive.’ Juke Box Jury or Thank Your Lucky Stars?

Janice Nicholls. Remember the name from the 1960s? A teenager who gave her verdict on new record releases. Her ratings were out of five, and if she liked one, she’d say enthusiastically, ‘Oi’ll give it foive’. Her weekly appearances were on ATV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars, hosted by Brian Matthew. Her catchphrase was immortalised in song. I don’t know if she ever reviewed it herself, and it was completely ignored by the record buying public. But here’s your chance to give it a score!

‘I love Elvis and his pelvis . . . Mantovani drives me barmy . . . The Everly Brothers and the others . . .’
Oi’ll give it foive – Janice Nicholls – my copy on a pre-release demo whirring away on my Dansette.

Out of five – how many?

Oddly, many people confuse her with being on Juke Box Jury, another record review show, but on BBC and hosted by David Jacobs. (It’s a raging debate on Facebook‘s London in the ’60s and ’70s!) But on that show, four panelists would assess whether a record would be a hit or a miss. Its theme tune, by the John Barry Seven plus four, was aptly named . . . Hit & Miss. And unlike Ms Nicholl’s offering, this record was a hit (No. 10 in 1960).

Hit & Miss – John Barry Seven plus four, this one spinning on my Rock-Ola Tempo jukebox. This is the model originally used on Juke Box Jury – but with the letters ROCK-OLA covered over because of the BBC’s rules on adverstising.

John Barry went on to write the Bond theme (amongst many other film tunes). Janice Nicholls apparently went on to a life of podiatry.

If you’ve not had enough nostalgia, there’s loads online about the programmes, though not much about Janice.

And if you like music and a story that, according to one reader is ‘a gorgeous hug of a book,’ my novel, Homeward Bound goes on a blog tour in July. Catch it with these bloggers.

NATURE RAW IN BEAK AND CLAW

I watched in awe as two blackbirds set about a magpie in our back garden in Highbury Hill. Pecking and grabbing at its feathers, I was amazed at their ferocity and sorry for the magpie. My view was soon to change.

I’ve been observing the throngs of birds visiting our feeders, tiny garden pond and containers of water more than I used to, through a combination of ‘lockdown’ and new patio doors. From wrens, sparrows, blue tits and robins, through thrushes and blackbirds, to crows, magpies, blue jays and even the occasional woodpecker and sparrow hawk, they have established a literal pecking order of the seeds, fat pellets and dried worms on offer.

Bath time for sparrows. Keep a count!

The smaller birds enter the squirrel proof cages and hurl the food across the grass, a gift to the larger ones waiting in anticipation on the ground where there’s a literal pecking order.

Our tiny pond. Newts and frogs seem to be attracted to a fountain to rival Vegas!

The magpies, crows and pigeons get first picks, the rest waiting their chance of what’s missed. But there must be enough to go round as most of these birds seem to have built nests nearby, and we’ve already seen newly fledged robins and sparrows negotiating the feeders and bathing in our containers and pond.

Which brings me back to the altercation between the magpie and the blackbirds.

The squabble showed no sign of abating, with the magpie seemingly coming off worst.  Yet rather than escaping, it briefly touched down in the garden. Here, it stretched its neck and pulled from the undergrowth a tiny, helpless blackbird chick, pink mouth wide open in expectation of being fed. What happened next was a brief blur of feathers and squawking – then all the combatants flew away. But what of the chick? I went to investigate. No sign. Just a few small feathers. Had it escaped or had the magpie taken it? I fear the latter.

I was set up to take a picture of magpies and blackbirds, but this little fellow arrived to ruin it!

So my view of battered magpie changed from victim to offender. Yet, in retrospect, maybe there are hungry magpie chicks that needed something more substantial than slim pickings of seeds dropped by the sparrows. It’s nature’s way. But the possible loss of a blackbird chick is so disheartening.

Next day, they were all back in the garden, sparrows, blue tits, robin, blackbirds, magpie, following the same feeding routines – until, that is, they were all interrupted by the arrival first of a squirrel, then cats.

It’s tough being a bird.

PS – since I’ve written this, I’ve noticed a blackbird devouring a newt from the pond. The circle of life and death . . . . !

Richard Smith’s novel, Homeward Bound, is available as an ebook and paperback from Amazon and bookshops like Ink@84 and Waterstones