Monday, 19 December 2016

A New Beginning

A New Beginning…

which if you think about it is a bit of a silly phrase. Aren’t all beginnings new in one way or another? Am I guilty of an overuse of adjectives – not quite as bad as the dreaded adverb but coming close sometimes. Since I cannot find anywhere that new can be used as a noun I will explain rather than apologise.

New Friends

But first, the ending. The last three months of 2016 have been full of excitement and trauma, if not in equal measure then certainly in impact. We have been blessed with a beautiful grandson. We had a wonderful holiday where we made friendships that I hope will last even across the Atlantic. We celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary and two birthdays. And sadly we suffered two bereavements within the space of a fortnight.

December brought a change of direction in my writing life and in the past couple of days I have drawn up the outline of a completely new book and written part of the first chapter. Now here’s the thing. People who know me will be aware that I usually begin a story and carry on until it’s finished, bringing in sub-plots that occur to me as I go along, though the main plotline is always in my head from the moment I start. This time it’s going to be different! I think! Well, I’ve said that before haven’t I? But it’s a new book, a new year, a new frisson of excitement. My online dictionary defines frisson as  a sudden, passing sensation of excitement. I hope it doesn’t pass. One of the thrilling things about writing is the discovery of new things, things that before had no shape or substance. Things that become real as they appear before you on the page. That isn’t to say I don’t have my troughs. Those days when I think I’ll never have another idea; that I’ll never write again. But the frustration of typing lalalalala several times usually puts paid to that and leads to something a little more interesting. Well, anything would be, wouldn’t it?

My new strategy is to attempt a mixture of ‘as it has been’ and ‘how it will be in the future’. I don’t have it in me to chart meticulously before I begin a new novel. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that I lose the essence of what makes me a writer if I try too hard to follow a pattern. But not all patterns have to be complicated. Just a few jottings about each chapter will, I hope, keep me on track, prevent me falling headlong into those troughs or hitting a brick wall. It’s a sort of obstacle course. As a youngster I always loved taking part in sports and I’m a lifelong fan of quizzes. This obstacle course will be a metaphorical combination of both and I am ready to attack it with enthusiasm.

Thank you for being with me this year. 2017 is just over a week away. A New Beginning. Bring it on!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Stairway to Heaven

Welcome to Queen’s House. After a massive refurbishment Inigo Jones’s gem has reopened to the public. The Tulip Staircase is probably its most famous feature but there is such a lot to see here in the heart of Greenwich, home to so much history.

Join me on a short pictorial tour:

The Queen's House

The Old Royal Naval College
The Queen's House sits opposite the Old Royal Naval College. If you look carefully, in the background of the first picture you can see the Royal Observatory. And yes, that's the River Thames between to two iconic buildings in the one on the right.

The Tulip Stairs weren't the first in the Queen's House. The Greenwich Park side of the Queen's House was originally the front of the building and the South Stairs formed the main stairway. Its two half landings were resting places for ladies in their heavy dresses! Changes from the 1660s meant the side that faced the river became the main frontage. The South Stairs then became a discreet route to the Queen's private apartments.

The Tulip Stairs
seen from below

The Tulip Stairs were the first centrally unsupported stairs in the country. The stone treads lock so perfectly into each other and the wall that no central structure is required to support them, giving this unobstructed view to the sky. The wrought iron rail has been restored to a striking smalt blue and the designated tulips are more probably lilies.

The Grand Hall
Music practice
The Grand Hall is a perfect cube. During our visit a music group was practising. When we came back through the hall they had gone and it was being set up for a function, a dinner to celebrate the reopening of the house. We don’t know whether or not the two were connected but it was a bonus to have a short concert while we stood on the balcony.

Kings Charles II
Inigo Jones (honest)
While these images of Inigo Jones are almost impossible to see (the flash didn’t work on my camera) it seems disrespectful not to post them.

And here in the King’s Presence Chamber you might just be able to recognise the image of Charles II.

On a plinth outside on the park side, and nothing to do with Queen’s House, is the biggest ship in a bottle I have ever seen. In Royal Greenwich, so famous for its naval history, it seems a suitable final image.

I may have mentioned before that I live within two miles of this wonderful historical area. With the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, the Old Royal Naval College and others, it is a glorious architectural feast. And that’s only on the outside. Most if not all of these treasures are open to the public and what can be found within is equally spectacular. Visit if you can.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Summer isn't over yet!

Working on the premise that most of you will by now (in the nicest possible way) have ploughed your way through all those lovely books you bought for the holiday season, you'll be delighted to know that more fantastic deals are up for grabs. 

Throughout the Bank Holiday weekend both Safe Harbour and Honey Bun will be available at the knock-down price of 99p. I know it’s hard to believe that some of you still haven’t read either, or both ,so here’s your opportunity to get them at a bargain basement price.

What do you do when you discover your boyfriend of two years is married to someone else? Beth Walker seeks to escape her heartbreak by taking temporary work on a cruise ship. Instead, on the very first day she meets Ryan Donovan and is drawn to his soft Irish lilt and mischievous eyes. Her plan to forswear men recedes like the waves at the stern of the ship...but it isn't quite that simple. There are many obstacles that stand in the way of her happiness - and then she learns she is pregnant. It seems her problems may only just be beginning. Antagonism between Beth and Ryan abounds and there are misunderstandings aplenty. Can these two warring factions find a happy ever after?

When Guy Ffoulkes walks into Honeysuckle Bunting's teashop after an absence of fourteen years her world goes out of sync. Guy was her brother's best friend; she was Basil's scruffy younger sister. For Honey Bun though there had always been more...

Honey had been heartbroken as Guy, kissing the top of her head in brotherly fashion, left Rills Ford to go to university. So why was he back now, standing in her shop? When Honey learns the reason for his reappearance her excitement at seeing him again swiftly turns to dismay. 

It’s a strange thing, is writing. It’s been two years since each was published – hence the amazing offer – and almost as long since I read them myself. Because writing is a craft upon which we are continually building layers, I wondered how I would feel reading them again at this distance, for there is no doubt my writing has changed in that time. To tell you the truth, I was a bit nervous. Imagine my delight then in deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from the re-reads. Bear in mind that when you move on to the next project, and the next, you tend to forget what you wrote before. It was like diving into the pages of someone else’s book. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!

Here is a five star review for Safe Harbour:

I read this lovely story more or less in one sitting. It's a short novel, but manages to pack in all the necessary emotion, twists and turns, misunderstandings, exotic cruise ship setting and medical drama that a good romance needs. Natalie made me like her characters and care about what happened to them.  

Thank you, Writeread...and my thanks also to Sarah for this one on Honey Bun:

A terrific read. Couldn't put it down. Had to reschedule my life in order to read it through from start to finish, without stopping. The story and characters stayed with me for days. 

So I wouldn’t dream of saying ‘Please buy my book’. But if you do, here are the links and I hope you enjoy.

Safe Harbour:

Honey Bun:

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Country House Tour

Approaching Littlecote House
Somehow a house tour takes on an extra dimension when it’s a Grade I listed building and you’re staying there! The Littlecote House of today began life around 1250 as a Medieval manor owned by the de Calstone family, though the Roman mosaic in the grounds and iron-age artefacts are proof of much earlier settlement. The Pophams acquired the house in 1589 and the Elizabethan manor was added.

The Great Hall
Our tour began in the Great Hall of the Tudor mansion which was constructed by Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham. It was at Littlecote that Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour, though the Hall had not yet been built. Sir John commemorated their courtship in one of the stained glass windows in the hall, setting it with four roundels, the Tudor Rose; Henry VIII’s coat of arms; Jane Seymour’s coat of arms and a love knot for Henry and Jane, though Jane's initial appears as a Latin I. A long banqueting table, referred to as a board, lines one wall. It was on this that the popular game of shove ha’penny was played. The game was overseen by a ‘chairman’, thus the term Chairman of the Board! Some armoury still graces the walls though much was purchased in the 1990s and is now displayed in Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

The Chinese Room
Medieval House on right viewed from
Chinese Room - and what a view!
From the Great Hall we moved to the Chinese Room, named because the incumbent in 1810 considered the oak of the Tudor house too dark and transformed the room into Regency style. The panels are papered with handpainted Chinese wallpaper - there is a faint pencil drawing of a bird where the artist failed to paint it in - and valued today at £55k each. The wooden chandelier, valued at £35k, has been known to move when addressed: Good morning, Elizabeth. Yes, of course the house has a ghost. In fact there are said to be three. At the time this room was refurbished a wall was knocked through to create an Orangery. In the 1920s it was converted into the first ever indoor heated swimming pool to be installed in a private house. The pool, which is listed and cannot be demolished, is today boarded over. A new pool was added in the Stables Leisure Block when Warner Leisure built the hotel.

The Library
Mahogany doors lead from the Chinese Room to the Library. Many of Judge Popham’s law books were purchased by Oxford's Bodleian Library. During WWII the room was used as the headquarters of American Colonel Bob Sink, Commander in Chief of the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne.

The Dutch Parlour
Don Quixote

The Dutch Parlour was a gentlemen’s smoking room and its walls are covered in satirical paintings executed by Dutch prisoners of war in the 1660s. Most of one wall is occupied by scenes from Don Quixote. Small areas have been cleaned and restored, the rest much smoke-stained.

We moved through the Brick Hall and Diamond Hall to the Chapel which would in its day have been the Great Hall of the Medieval manor. On completion of the Tudor Great Hall it was converted into a chapel. The pews were so high we found ourselves reaching for the floor with our feet and trying not to slide off. They were designed that way to keep the congregation awake and today we still use the expressions ‘keeping you on your toes’ and ‘dropping off’. Amazing the things you find out isn’t it. I had no idea!

The Long Gallery
View from oriel window
From the haunted landing we peeped into the haunted bedroom from where
we made our way to the Long Gallery. Though the original ceiling frieze remains the panelled walls are more modern. It was in this room that ladies would take their exercise without dirtying their hems or harming their complexions. From the oriel window they could watch the men hunting. The view today is far different from the one they would have seen when forest still covered the land. The River Kennet runs along the back of the land though it is inaccessible to today’s visitors.

Entrepreneur Peter de Savary bought Littlecote House in 1986 and lived there for some years. Forced by bankruptcy to sell, it was acquired in 1996 by Warner Holidays who built the present hotel in 1997. The new buildings are sympathetically constructed. I can’t tell you how many bedrooms there are but the faux Tudor dining room holds four hundred people! Somehow the vast room seems very intimate and the floor to ceiling windows look out onto the beautiful gardens.

Littlecote House from the gardens
Part of the walled garden
I've left out as much as I've put in. If you want to see you'll have to visit yourselves. Littlecote House is set in beautiful grounds in a lovely part of the country and we were lucky enough to begin our stay the day summer arrived! Boy was it hot!!!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

My Hero

It is rare for me to post on a subject that doesn’t in some way involve writing but this time I’m hanging it on my hero – my real hero; my husband. He has for many years been one of that quiet band of self-effacing people who give of their time and energy, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, for the welfare of others. At The Mansion House on 4th July, along with twenty-eight others, he was recognised for his contribution at the annual ceremony of The League of Mercy.

Louis with Ellen Tumelty
It all started several years ago when Louis began volunteering at the Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice. It may be that I am biased but the people who work at the Hospice are most certainly not. On many occasions at fund-raising quizzes or summer fetes I have been told what a wonderful man he is (as if I didn’t already know). At the ceremony I was lucky enough to meet Ellen Tumelty, Modern Matron, who worked with my husband for many years and who speaks of him with great affection.

I had never before met Lord Lingfield, President of the League and a truly charming man. As each recipient was called to receive his or her Badge, he spent several moments chatting, with no diminishing of enthusiasm even by the time he had reached the last. 

The ceremony was held in the Egyptian Room at Mansion House and took place with all the pomp one could wish in those beautiful surroundings. If you would like further information about the League you will find it here.
The Egyptian Room
The Egyptian Room

At the close of the ceremony the recipients were held back in the Egyptian Room 
for the taking of formal photos, a copy of which they will receive in due course.

The Salon

Insignia from the Past
The rest of the assembled company, a personal guest and a representative of the nominating organisation, were all invited to take tea in the salon, a magnificent room where we were joined by the participants after the photo shoot. The trustees somehow managed to talk to everyone present.

It was for me a day filled with pride and humility. We all have our heroes, don’t we. They may appear in books, in films, on our television screens or in the news. I have my own at home. Congratulations, Louis Kleinman, on the public recognition of work undertaken so discreetly but with such far-reaching effect.

The Badge of
The Order of Mercy

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Retreat to Advance

The title of this blog is not to suggest I am a military tactician but to establish how much progress a writer can make by removing her/himself from the ‘normal’ world.

For this year’s annual writing retreat, Elaine Everest, Elaine Roberts, Francesca Capaldi Burgess and I chose Ramsgate on the Kent coast. For one week we lived and worked in a delightful house overlooking the beach and the harbour. We all had different aims but the ambition of each was to focus on our work away from the distractions of everyday life. There was a level of concentration that was impossible to maintain every waking hour so I make no apology for admitting that we sampled many of the diversions on offer – and the ice-cream was delicious.

I asked each of my companions to tell me about their week.

Elaine Everest
I like to plan what I'll be working on while on a writing retreat. Clear the decks so I'm not working on admin or blogging if at all possible and stick to my writing. This year the sun has been out most days and our lovely four-bedroomed house overlooks the sea. There's a buzz from cafes and the harbour nearby which can make it extremely hard to concentrate on words. Worse still was waiting on news from my publisher with the Nielsen Bookscan results for The Woolworths Girls. Tuesday started with much chewing of fingernails and ended with ice cream and bubbly when I learned The Woolworths Girls was number 15 in the Sunday Times Bestsellers chart. Apart from that I wrote around 2.000 words before moving onto edits for my second book The Butlins Girls. With a fair wind behind me and not too much sun to distract me I should have cleared the track changes and possibly even written another short scene before we head for home on Saturday.

Elaine Roberts
Left to Right
Elaine R, Francesca, Natalie and Elaine E
in Corby's Tearooms
The week before the writing retreat, I made a plan and chapter breakdown of my new novel. In my mind, I thought I’d write around 10,000 words; the final figure was 6,335. No, I am not disappointed; tiredness got the better of me. I lost two days writing, one travelling to the RNA Summer Party, which was great, and the following day. Wine, travelling and lack of sleep did play its part for me.

The week did bring lots of writerly discussions. We celebrated Elaine Everest’s success with excessive ice cream and champagne, not at the same time. An afternoon coming up with book titles caused a lot of laughter as we sat near the marina; we got some funny looks from people sitting close by.

It was a good week of sea and sun, with lots of food and wine, even if my word count was down.

Francesca Capaldi Burgess
View from our balcony
A week away to write, research and edit the second part of my serial for People's Friend was what I was hoping to achieve during our week in Ramsgate. Happily, I can report I managed it. I'm sure I'll do a couple more edits, but it's more or less ready to send off. A retreat is a good way to escape the everyday stresses and have some dedicated writing time. It's also valuable having other writers to hand as you can throw ideas around and get feedback. Not all the ideas are sensible but they are fun! I find that our down time, sharing meals etc, is an important component of the week as it refreshes us and sets us up for the next bout of work.

Natalie Kleinman
For a while there I felt as if I was in no man’s land. I had not yet engaged with my new novel and I was waiting for track changes to arrive from my agent, Lisa Eveleigh. Arrive they did and I set to with a will.

We took a day out to get the train to London for the RNA Summer Party, arriving back at the house in Ramsgate close to midnight. We walked each day, on the promenade, on the beach, inland, exploring this lovely seaside town which I had never before visited. We ate a lot. We drank…some. And we worked!

Edits were resumed. They are time-consuming and require much concentration, but are very rewarding. I still have a lot to do but at least I can now foresee the time (I hope) when my book will be ready to submit to publishers. So let’s return to the title of this post. Retreat to Advance. It is unlikely that I would have achieved as much had I remained at home. Every writing retreat I’ve been to has pushed my work forward, given me the time and space to focus on the job in hand. Though the edits are not finished they are well in advance of where they would have been. So, here’s to next year’s retreat. To more eating, drinking, walking and exploration. And above all, to more writing.

My thanks to Elaine E, Elaine R and Francesca for their contributions. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Wonder of Woolies - with Elaine Everest

Today I am delighted to welcome Elaine Everest. This was such an enjoyable interview to do – like taking a trip down memory lane.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Natalie.

Many of us will remember the iconic fascia that was Woolworths, sadly no longer a part of our high streets. What prompted you to choose them as one of your major characters?
I knew that my WW2 saga would be set in the town of Erith, Kent – Erith was situated in Kent at that time and true locals still think of it that way and not as part of Greater London. I knew that my main character, Sarah, would be starting work in the town and there she would make new friends and meet the love of her life. So where should I bring young men and women together in a place that would be recognised by readers? There were plenty of armament factories at that time but Erith was a thriving town with lots of busy shops. Coming from the area I recalled with fondness shopping trips to Woolworths in the sixties. We still had the original store with high counters and polished floors that had survived WW2 although it succumbed to a fire in the seventies. I’d been a Saturday girl at another Woolies store in nearby Dartford and the ideas started to form…

I appreciate that you wrote about an area in which you lived and were raised but you aren’t old enough to remember the events you describe, in fact you weren’t even born when they occurred. How did you undertake your research?
I grew up listening to stories of the area told by my family. In fact there is still a strong connection between ‘old locals’ of the town who meet on forums to chat and share memories of the good old days. To a writer this is a gift. Although we were never taught the history of WW2 whilst at school in the sixties, I’ve devoured history books to find out what happened. It fascinated me that the house I lived in when first married had survived both wars. Where better for the Caselton family to live than my old home? Local history archives held at The London Borough of Bexley were a great help, as was Erith Historical Society and the wonderful Woolworths Museum who came up with some gems about the Erith store that I was able to include in my story.

The Woolworths Girls tells the story of three friends, though one stands out as your main protagonist. Is this a theme you plan to carry through to your next book?
Yes. You will find this theme in many WW2 sagas. Three, four, even five friends who are thrown together in wartime sharing good times and bad.

Speaking of your next book, is it in the pipeline and what can your readers expect?
In The Butlins Girls, due for publication in Spring 2017, there are three girls thrown together at Butlins Skegness in 1946 just after WW2 ends as Billy Butlin reopens his well-known holiday camps. Molly Missons has fled Erith because of a family problem, aided by another friend who appeared in The Woolworths Girls. Each girl has her own reasons for being at Butlins which we find out as the story unfolds.

It’s been a long while since acceptance of your manuscript by your publisher, Pan Macmillan, to today’s publication. Can you tell us something about the process of assembling all the ingredients together to getting them onto the table?
These days authors seem to expect their novels to be published much quicker due to E-books and digital first. In truth it has always been the norm that traditional publishers contract books for the following year or even the year after that. Copy for The Woolworths Girls was filed at the beginning of last year and then the hard work began. Structural edits came first with the book being passed through each editing stage until Pan Macmillan and myself were happy with the book. Along the way I wrote the ‘end bits’ and I was included in the design of the cover – isn’t it lovely? My input was encouraged as models were chosen and the uniforms discussed. Then the PR team took over and that alone has been – and still is – another part of an exciting journey. As publication day draws near I’m already working on the edits for The Butlins Girls and planning my book for 2018.

You haven’t always written novels. What came before?
I’d always wanted to be a novelist but first, whilst honing my skills, I was earning a living with other forms of writing. I sold over sixty short stories to Women’s magazines and wrote prolifically for newspapers and magazines with features – my specialism was the canine world as it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been commissioned for, and written, three non-fiction books for dog owners and do continue to write for some of the publications. I’m called upon to broadcast about aspect of the dog world although I’ve given up my columns to focus more on my novels. Whilst promoting The Woolworths Girls it has been good to have the support of many publications and radio stations that I’ve worked for in the past. I also won, or was placed, in a few prominent writing competitions that not only helped me along the way to being a novelist but still look good on my writing CV. One was the BBC Radio Kent short story writer of the year and to this day the company have supported all my work, be it The Write Place creative writing school, charity anthologies such as Diamonds and Pearls which celebrated my thirty year remission from breast cancer or my books.

As a journalist and someone who runs a creative writing school, as well as being a novelist, how do you prioritise your time?
I have no idea! At times it can be hard to juggle everything. All I can do is make a list and try not to panic. However, my priority has to be my novels as that is my career. Everything else has to wait.

Finally, what do you do for relaxation – that is, if you have the time!
My relaxation is my dogs, or dog at the moment. Although I no longer sit on committees or write so much about the dog world I still like to get to dog shows and exhibit my Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry. I’ve been involved in dogs since the early seventies and like to promote the image of pedigree dogs as much as I can. These day we try to go away for the weekend and take in a championship show. It is so much more relaxed than the days we would drive to Wales, show a couple of dogs and then drive home all in one day – there again it's not always possible to do this on our motorways anymore. I’m hoping to have another puppy soon but not sure if it will be another Polish Lowland or my one true love – the Old English Sheepdog. I miss having them in the house.

Twitter: @ElaineEverest

Thank you, Elaine. Happy publication day and good luck with The Woolworths Girls.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

When is enough enough?

Can one ever do too much? Can one ever do enough?

It’s been a while since you heard from me here on the blog. Several weeks in fact, at which time I had just taken my courage in both hands and sent my Regency novel to my agent, Lisa Eveleigh, for a ‘first look’. I had very positive feedback from Lisa but obviously there was still a lot to do. Her advice was invaluable and I have spent the time since editing, re-editing then editing some more. I am very fortunate in having beta readers whom I’ve known for a long time and who have no hesitation in telling it like it is. This honesty is as important as any other factor in producing the best finished article possible and they don’t seem to mind reading it over and over again. At least, that’s what they tell me. A week ago I came to the point where I felt I’d done as much as I could and I set it aside. I will leave it to sit for another week or so before going through it once more. Then it’ll go back to Lisa for track changes.

So what have I been doing for the past several days? Well, while my fingers have been idle my brain hasn’t. Somewhere in there the seed of an idea for the next book has been formulating for some time. I don’t yet have a fully established plot but my heroine has become very real to me. Physically she is completely different from the last but we’re getting along very well and I’m looking forward to knowing her better. My hero is much hazier – I haven’t got to grips with him yet but he’s definitely there, building himself quietly in the background.

Today I put pen to paper – well, fingers to keyboard – and I’ve written the opening page. It’s only 405 words but it has a feel. This too will now be left for a few days, after which time I will return to see if it works for me. The hardest thing has been getting out of Charlotte’s head and into Phoebe’s. I think I’ve done that now. Heaven knows how confused I’ll be when Lisa gets back to me with those track changes and I have to change heads again. Who’d be a writer? I can answer that one without hesitation. I would.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Journey Travelled

It's always an adventure writing a new book

St James's Palace
I began writing my latest book on 24th August last year, wrote 896 words then waited a fortnight to continue. Why, you might ask? Was I on holiday? Incapacitated in any way? Neither of those, nor any other impediment. I had changed genre and needed those two weeks to ‘bed in’. Could I write in the Regency language I so love to read? It was certainly a change from my usual contemporary romantic fiction. By 7th September I was burning to continue and after an amazing five months – almost to the day – I completed the first draft, and what a journey it was.

Of necessity a historical novel requires a considerable amount of research, far more than I have previously needed when writing in a time period I inhabit and am familiar with. Armed with Google and a wonderful guide to Regency London, I walked the streets virtually and in reality. What an amazing experience that was. Far more distracting than social media and I kind of got lost in what I was doing. I shared some of my experiences with you on this blog here.

Blue Ball Yard
A mews where stables from the 18th century
survive to this day
So, how was the journey and did the goal achieve my expectations? The journey was great. Compelling to the extent that I almost lost touch with my other (what some would call normal) life. Were expectations realised? I can only say I have never enjoyed writing anything as much before and I made myself cry at the end. I’ve been through the manuscript so many times with a fine tooth comb. No longer can I procrastinate. This week I have sent my ‘baby’ to my agent, Lisa Eveleigh, founder of the Richford Becklow Literary Agency. Would that she will like it. I hope so.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

I've heard of a Dog's Dinner but...a Dog's Diary!!

I am delighted to welcome Dougal Stephenson to the blog today following the launch on Thursday of his book, Dougal’s Diary.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that you are ever anything less than beautifully turned out, but some are saying this is the ultimate in shaggy stories. Are you offended by these comments?
I am quite delighted by the expression. It’s good to know someone gets my dress sense. Now, the perfect season for what I call ‘my dinner and dance’ or ‘booted and suited-look’; black mud stuck to face, neck, feet and legs.

What prompted you to write your diary? Don’t tell me you were bored because the boss wouldn’t take you for a walk!
Boredom no! Desperation, yes! No satin cushions to sleep on, no Xmas stocking filled with sugar mice. Thin as a whistle and not one single fry-up in a transport café. Writing my diary saved my sanity.

Speaking of the boss, can you tell us, discreetly of course, something about your relationship with her?
Oh you mean the forgotten meal times. The hours enduring London transport.  Even baths without aromatherapy oils or hair dryer, so the smell of wet fur lingers for days.  Despite all, we are one, each other’s constant companion. I can read her mind. I often wish I couldn’t. Have I become more human? Has she turned more dog?

Do you feel you landed on your paws when you moved from Margate to London?
On good day yes. On bad days, such as having the snip, or going to puppy classes. No with a capital N.

Truly, and you know you can be honest with me, how did you feel when you had another four-legged friend foisted upon you?
That green-eyed monster struck. I hit rock bottom, tried contacting the Queen to see if she had space on her bed for another. Never heard a dickie bird. Perhaps I got the post code wrong. Maybe the Corgis ate my letter.

And, finally, do you plan to continue with your diary or are you moving on to other things?
Dogs are creatures of habit, so I shall do it privately. I considered moving to poetry. But after
“To jump or not to jump.”
I wandered lonesome as a lemming
fearful dreams of clifftops stemming
I realised my talents lay in prose, not verse.
Right now I'm in communication with the One Show. Since Chris Evan's departure they've  been searching for a charismatic presenter. Paws crossed

It may be tactful if you could supply some information here about the boss – just so she doesn’t feel left out
Okay, if I have to…

Sarah Stephenson joined the Bristol School of Dancing aged seven. She spent much of her childhood performing in prisons, theatres, old people’s homes and the Grand Palais, in Paris. Later she trained as an actress, working with Mike Leigh and other distinguished directors. When the children arrived she trained as a Chef, and when they’d finally flown the nest, catered in Europe, Britain and the United States, giving private dinner parties. When she’s not writing, Sarah still works as a cook.

She looks perfectly normal to me. Guess you didn’t do so badly after all.


Twitter: @SvsStephenson

Twitter: @DougalDiary