Spirit of place is very important to me, and it was when I started volunteering at Gibside that I became possessed by the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes: it took two years of writing and research to produce My Name is Eleanor in 2016.
The same year, I got involved in the Land of Oak & Iron Landscape Partnership and started to learn more about the fascinating social and industrial history of the Derwent Valley, with Gibside at its heart. This all fed into Molly Bowes, published in 2018, in which the fictional heroine moves between the wealthy landowners to whom she is related, and the radical ironworkers, with whom she feels she belongs.
For the Land of Oak & Iron, I worked with another volunteer to bring back into print Men of Iron by M.W. Flinn. The valley is also rich in myths and legends, so the next book we produced was a reprint of Tales of Derwentdale, for which I researched and wrote a biography of the extraordinary J.W. Fawcett.
Since then, I've conceived and edited several A4, accessible and illustrated local history books for Land of Oak & Iron, and latterly helped local historian John Boothroyd of Ryton to bring back into print Addison: the Rise and Fall of a Pit Village and Clara Vale: the Story of a Pit Village.
In 2022, I explored the Underwoods' archives and wrote Path Head Water Mill in order to preserve the story of the restoration of the mill and grounds and raise funds for this special place, now a thriving community hub at the top of our street in Blaydon. I'm now working on a bit of a 'magnum opus': The Wheel of Time.
I still volunteer at Gibside, in the 'inner pleasure grounds' - which always sounds rather suggestive - and in the Research Group. There's another fascinating woman whose story is glittering on my mental horizon .... watch this space.
My first novel, Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree, is dedicated to Jane Nicholson (formerly Evans) who died in September 2013, just two months before publication. It was because of Jane that I stopped talking about writing a novel and went ahead and did it: as she memorably said, 'JFDI!' She was a real redhead, a great and much-loved friend, and I miss her.