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17th February 2024

That Man Nero

The British Library has another Roman exhibition, this time Legion - Life In The Roman Army. Once again they have some interesting online events and during the week I sat in on the Curator's tour of the exhibition. Many of the letters home from soldiers were enlightening and amusing, especially from the Marine who really wasn't enjoying his life or his postings and then wrote to his father to urgently request "a sword and two of the finest spears money can buy"! Having to supply your own equipment put the poorer soldiers at a distinct disadvantage. I'd just invest in the tortoise shield and keep my head down! I'm really looking forward to the presentation in March on the Vindolanda letters.

Also during the week, one of the six classes I'm currently tutoring enjoyed a focus on screenwriting, which again put me in mind of Nero. I enjoyed digging out the screenplay and script edits and I think I might revisit it, to hone a stronger story. Being released from fact and truth was a huge help originally and I can be even more adventurous now that I'm at a greater distance from the factual book, published way back in 2001. I became very fond of Marcus Otho during the ten years of research and writing of the book, so his longer presence in the non-factual screenplay was a welcome bonus. The fact that it was a big budget LA production in the end scuppered it, but the fun is in the writing, not the filming.

For those of you more familiar with my horseracing thrillers, rest assured the Nero book contains horses and horseracing, two of his many great loves. He created pensions for retired racehorses, to enable farmers to offer them homes for life. If instead you preferred the detective crime novel Grey Motive, then you'll just have to wait for its follow-up, well underway. There were crimes aplenty in Nero the Last Caesar, but no detectives required. As with most things in ancient history, in the case of a suspicious death or murder, look no further than an ambitious wife or mother! They may not have held seats of power, but they held control over those that did. Nero's beautiful young mother had as her puppets three emperors, no less - a brother (Gaius, better known now as Caligula), a husband (Claudius, also her uncle!) and a son. All I can say is, she managed to live a lot longer in the screenplay than she did in life! Hollywood hates to lose such a dangerous and calculating villain!

But, for now, it's back to Reading and Windsor Racecourse for a few words further in the next Inspector de Freitas mystery. History tells me I'll speed up the writing process after Chapter Four, but I'm not quite there yet.

Nero bust Nero book

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

10th February 2024

Dancing!

At a recent wedding the realisation dawned of how much I enjoy dancing. It's great fun. It wasn't always the case. In my youth, I could match Marc Almond move-for-move in private, but out there in the public eye it was Death By Embarrassment. Then you get old and don't give a damn. The problem is, getting old isn't catered for on the local dancefloor. In these here parts, Old People Music is music for old people, like we had back in the day. When I was tempted out onto the parquet by Soft Cell or Siouxsie & The Banshees, the Old People had old-timey waltzes and Joe Dolan and Irish ballads. Now that we're old, Old People Music should be Soft Cell and Duran Duran and even, god forbid, Wham and Spandau Ballet. How come it's STILL bloody Joe Dolan and old-timey waltzes?! Is there a generic 60 that you have to transform into, like Abe Simpson?!

At the many weddings of childhood I once thought Hi Ho Silver Lining would be replaced by... frankly, anything! It got replaced by Come On Eileen, making me regret the change of guard. But at least I thought that eventually they'd be putting on a bit of Marilyn Manson "for the old ones". Instead we've still got Dexys, and not even their good stuff! Chelsea Dagger should be the new floor-filler, surely? Get me out there high kicking to The Fratellis and that's what you'll call a proper floor-clearer, akin to the 80s elbows! Bring it on!

Not giving a damn means I can whirl away all night to music I love. I even enjoy it so much I shuffle away to music I don't like, taking care not to display any rhythm that might lead the DJ to think I do like it and play more of the stuff. Not that I usually display much rhythm. I can only do three dances, none of which are actual dancing per se. Four, if you count the corkscrewing up and down with clasped hands and elbows flying about in all directions a la Marc Almond. That was deadly in the 80s... in more ways than one. My passion is the Pogo (jumping up and down to Punk), the Shuffle (stepping forward and back to Goth) and Skanking (skipping on the spot to Ska). At our age, you'd think bouncing like Tigger is tiring, but it's actually the opposite. You get a bounce going and it keeps you buoyant for a good 40-minute set. There are times during the latter part of the 40 minutes that I think I might not make it. I'm convinced my sudden death will be caused by Ranking Full Stop. "Are you ready to stop?" ask The Beat and if I had the breath to answer it would be "YES!", but I keep going until they declare "I'm dead." Me too.

At the conclusion of the wedding, driven off the dancefloor by those club anthems that force you to do line dancing, I decided I should go dancing more often. There are Alternative discos in Dublin, but they have a limited enough clientelle without reducing it still further to a local pub in the village. The further out from a major town, the further you are from Goth Punk Indie. Finding a disco for alternative tastes in the local region is just not going to happen. Pity.

Spellbound!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

6th February 2024

Some Thoughts On Tibet

OK, I haven't exactly been in Tibet, but I have just stepped out of a long spell "in" Tibet courtesy of Heinrich Harrer, who detailed it so well in his book "Seven Years In Tibet" that it did feel like being there with him. Sadly, the pastoral lifestyle he described was brought to an abrupt end in 1951 by the invasion of China and, having shared the upper-class tranquillity of a life devoid of technology and even the wheel, I felt sad to think of modern civilisation taking over. But he wrote purely from the upper-class perspective and I have to wonder if the peasants felt the same. The Tibet of that era was a feudal system of landowners and serfs. The serfs were allowed to work a piece of land for their own produce in return for working the owner's lands. With literally no wheel, only pack animals aided transportation and agricultural work was laborious. Harrer argued that Tibet was already a free country and its people did not need to be freed. I think, perhaps, they did.

But at what cost? A world without even basic technology supplanted by roads, vehicles and all the modern curses of our daily subjugation. Then again, also introduced to sanitation, education and medicine, too. Harrer had lived in fear of appendicitis, as the only medical treatment available were the herbs and laying on of hands by the monks. There was no surgery. No antibiotics, either, so child mortality was high. There are pros and cons to a modern technology-driven existence.

The cons being the huge shift in culture and lifestyle, even if the new lifestyle becomes easier and more comfortable for the general populace. What I felt most at home with throughout Harrer's accounts was the Buddhist doctrine. When digging the earth by hand, loss of any life could be better avoided. As one who picks up worms, slugs, snails, slow-moving bugs and other creatures from a pavement and carries them to a suitable place of safety, I identify with the ethos of harming no living thing. I catch any insect trapped against a window, stinging, biting or otherwise, and free them outside. Even on a bus or train, when it means hanging onto them carefully until the next stop. For the Buddhists, it's because of afterlife and reincarnation. That could be your granny you're about to step on! How can the Buddhists cope with the speed of modern transport and building?

For me it's simply about respect and kindness. I don't believe in any afterlife. We only get one shot at it and if this is to be our Heaven, it's up to us to make it so; not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. Any living creature that can survive its day, find food, find shelter, avoid predators, and reproduce is a sentient being and I think Mankind is deliberately too restrained in describing other fellow creatures as such. We don't want to think of our food sources as sentient or to think of an annoying insect as intelligent. Have you ever heard the change in tone of a fly caught in a spider's web and its panicked cries? Or the sudden silence of a wasp as it warns those around it of danger? It's a source of amazement to me that many who eat meat are somehow horrified at the thought of eating horses, donkeys or dogs, when those animals are farmed in just the same way as our own sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry. I have no gods or faith or religion, but a conscience and respect for life is more than enough.

nature nature

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

18th January 2024

A New Camera!

I think for this year I should go from News to Blog. Or at least No News, But Anyway... So in the Anyway category, I have got myself a new camera. My Nikon P100 served me well for the past 20 years and would have continued to serve me well for the next 20, too, no doubt. It has been heavily rained upon with frequency (on duty at The Curragh) and heavily dropped more than once. Robust and dependable are two good words to use as its eulogy. But, alas, it is slowly dying. The shutter is on its last legs and it takes an eternity to start up. Five seconds may not quite be an eternity, but on the racecourse a lot can happen in five seconds, such as the horse you were waiting for has appeared and gone past already. As a holiday camera, it was still perfect and at least got to see all the sites of Egypt with me.

Twenty years ago it was quite a pricey gift, a good old bridge camera, a bit better than a compact, but not a clumpy expensive high-end. Perfect. So off I go looking for the latest Nikon P-something. Online research showed the P900 to be the best I was looking for, but with everyone switching to phone cameras these days the mid-price bridge camera has become a high-end purchase! Just swap the P for a euro symbol, literally. Once in person in a camera shop, where only the P1000 is now an option, I discover the bridge camera has taken on ideas of grandure and fancies itself as a professional piece of kit. It has doubled in size (having already tripled in price) and has the weight of a couple of bricks. It's no point-and-click, you need two hands to hold it up. So I had now to switch from the Nikon I felt familiar with to a proper bridge camera that knows its place. My options were the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 or the Canon Powershot SX70, roughly half the price of the Nikon. In the end, online comparisons came out similar, the only big selling point for me being that great word durability - the Lumix is splashproof, the Canon is not. There was also something techie about higher light quality in the Lumix zoom, so I duly joined the Panasonic family.

I am not a professional. I have no interest in photography whatsoever. I point and I zoom in or out and then I click, all one-handed. So, the Lumix is perfect. The hefty manual told wondrous tales of singing, dancing and elaborate sorcery, but I found only one thing I needed to know - what standard setting to leave the dial on for the remainder of its life. I had to also follow instructions on connecting to WiFi, no less, and download an app to my phone. Two minutes later and my camera could be in one room while I sat in another, looking at the viewfinder from my phone, zooming in and out, and then actually taking the photo! What wondrous sorcery indeed! However, once that little novelty was tried out, I can safely say the app will never be opened again. It does bursts and videos and post-focus and heaven knows what, but so did my old Nikon, as far as I know from the superfluous buttons I never once used. I won't be using them on this one, either. The point is, if you want to point and click with ease, but not fiddle about on a compact or worse yet a phone, you have no option but to spend a fortune on a bridge camera and pay for novelties you're never going to use. It's a bit like finally replacing your Ford Fiesta for the once-weekly shopping trip and only being offered the choice between a Bugatti or a Maserati.

As you can see from below, there is a huge quality difference between a dying-breath 20yr-old Nikon, which snapped its replacement, and the Lumix, which took the pic of its predecessor. The Lumix has since excelled itself in capturing our local yellowhammers, with a sparrow and a chaffinch hopping in for good measure! Welcome to the family, Lumix, I hope you like horses...

Goodbye old friend The new camera Miss Yellowhammer Garden Birds

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

15th January 2024

Irish Stallion Trail

I was off on my travels again on Friday, a grand tour with no need for a guide. The Irish Stallion Trail is an annual highlight, I urge everyone to go visiting stud farms next January, if only to ooh and aah over horses or admire the beautiful grounds. Or even for the bountiful free food! Free to pick and choose myself who to visit (usually I'm commissioned and I'm given a list) I fetched the family first to our neighbours at Kildangan Stud, then on to the thoroughbred Hollywood that is Ballylinch Stud. Even though the guests receive the full red carpet treatment, it's really the superstar stallions who should be having it rolled out for them.

At Kildangan, the highlight for me was Night Of Thunder. I loved him as a racehorse and he is still a lovely quiet gentleman, with a hefty €100,000 covering fee highlighting what a great sire he has become. Ghaiyyath was impressive, too. At Ballylinch, the €125,000 fee of the imperious Lope De Vega says it all, New Bay giving him a run for his money and his son Bayside Boy looking to keep up the family reputation. Add in the classy Make Believe and Arc hero Waldgeist, who is such a personality, and we really didn't need to go further on the Trail! Waldgeist is so inquisitive, but also a bit pushy; he is still like a racehorse and knows full well he's the best!

I had got in the mood for racing once more when recording a show for Radio France Internationale with leading journalist Clémence Pénard, aired on 9th January. Clémence was investigating the business side of horseracing and the thoroughbred breeding industry and had been so looking forward to visiting Naas races. Sadly rain stopped play. It was a real pleasure to meet her.

Night Of Thunder Night Of Thunder Ghaiyyath Lope De Vega New Bay Make Believe Waldgeist Waldgeist Waldgeist

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

2nd January 2024

Wishing everyone a happy new year and a fresh new chapter to be written. Inspector de Freitas has that under control, a fresh new chapter four to be written. While he was on his seasonal break, I was happily reading the books Father Christmas fetched me, currently travelling Tibet from my sofa. Without an influx of news, I will revert to weekly rather than daily posts. Mild but very wet weather means I'm missing the sun and my new friends, but being at home has its perks. When I'm away I miss these guys, the Oliver Family, pictured below. Gary has his Herd Test next week, reminding me that in his youth he was a bit of a mischief-maker and I often had to pay for three call-outs, due to his and the late Patrick's determined avoidance of the vet! These days he presents himself for veterinary attention at the least "ow-ie" and knows the date of his Herd Test better than I do, always on best behaviour.

I will be on best behaviour on Thursday, when I meet with the lovely radio journalist Clémence Pénard to record for French radio. I have the face for radio, I'm told, but will be practising my best telephone voice. Clémence wanted to interview a "racing expert", but as we all know there is only one such bona fide expert in our family, pictured below, the one of mature years, grey hair, and four legs. Anything short of four legs within racing and we're all still learning, playing catch-up with the real experts. Leo is a lesson to us all. From the very best regal French thoroughbred aristocracy, born in America, a Champion brother in Uruguay, reared in England, fetching the mandatory six-figure sum for one of his pedigree and athleticism, racing for one of England's leading trainers for two years, selling for five-figures to one of Ireland's most successful trainers, and then finally retiring at four years old with a record of 18 races, one fifth place and zero prize money. He instantly found his true vocation in life, as a lawnmower and valued companion, but remember this - horseracing is a sport to love and enjoy watching, but keep your money in your pocket and after a day's racing treat yourself to something nice instead of treating the bookie to something nice!

Christmas Books Family

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

31st December 2023

Egypt Day 12 - Happy New Year!

I didn't plan it as I settled down one morning to type up my holiday journal, the first I've ever kept, but here we are on our final day in Egypt and the last day of the year. This day last year we didn't know we'd be taking the trip of a lifetime or making extreme DIY changes to our house; yet all the unforeseen events of the year are now behind us and once again we have no idea what's in store for us for the year ahead. I wish the same for us as I now do for all of you - may it be a happy one and a healthy one.

Meanwhile, in Hurghada, we were on our final day. Technically our final day was "tomorrow" and a 3am departure, but as it was 3am it was basically tonight! We were up early and breakfasted and down on the beach awaiting Oscar's arrival at 9am. Just time enough to make good use of a discarded bucket and spade and build a sand castle. Then along came Oscar. As well as being taller than a thoroughbred, camels are also wider (unless you compare them to my own Leo at home) and I hadn't quite dressed appropriately. Ah well, I'd be in a swimsuit shortly, so a quick flash of the tighty-whities on an empty beach was the least of my worries. The worst of my worries was the tipping back and forth as Oscar arose from his kneeling position, while I gripped the pommel for dear life. It wasn't actually that bad, Oscar was slow and calm (to the point of still asleep), but the ride itself was everything I had dreaded plus more. There was no way I was protecting my modesty, I didn't even have enough hands to cling as sufficiently as I would have liked onto the pommel, never mind a spare one to hold down the front of my skirt. We ambled at Oscar-pace along the beach (he has a set route, not a set time, so I realised this wasn't going to end soon) and my escort kept telling me to wave to Tony, who had the camera readied. Wave?! All of my fingers were cemented around the pommel. After 10 minutes I was badgered enough to briefly release one fnger tip to "wave" at the camera, and my escort then tried to badger me into taking the lead rope. Again, NOT ENOUGH FREE FINGERS! All of them were in use cemented to the pommel. I had visions of Father Ted and the airplane landing gear, I would be spending the next few weeks tightly gripping a camel saddle pommel everywhere I went. Not in the least concerned by his own height, Oscar took me UP to the marina and along the sheer drop of the pier edge. He obligingly stopped for photo shoots along the way. Being up on the marina meant that he had then to step DOWN onto the beach again. For many others it was a great value-for-money 15 minute ride, but for me it was possibly the worst three or four hours of my life. If Oscar could find a slope to walk down, he did. And all the while I knew, the only way to get off was for him to kneel DOWN. The thing with a camel is that his neck is arched downward and his head not even within reach. At least on a horse the neck is firmly between you and the foreground and you have a pair of ears blocking most of your view ahead.

After more insistences that I hold the lead rein and wave at the camera, my ordeal was finally over. I had worn indentations into the wooden pommel (now with convenient finger grooves for the next passenger) but the coming down bit wasn't as bad as I'd been dreading. Oscar is a laidback dude. He doesn't do anything at speed. We barely tilted forward and even less noticeably backward. I dismounted with neither grace nor modesty and at the fastest speed I'd travelled all morning. But thank you, Oscar, you were a gentleman and a friend. There is always a home for you in Ireland, whenever you want it.

It was Tony's turn to be brave next, as we headed off for a semi-submarine trip and the opportunity to try snorkelling. A short minibus trip through the main town of Hurghada was very pleasant, it was a typically seasidey place, with seasidey shops and a lot more to offer than back at the resort. The harbour was full of proper boats and even a wooden "Pirates!" ship, with the exact logo of my favourite movie and book series. I imagined I might see The Pirate Captain with his honest, open face, peering out from his cabin. Our own boat was a cheerful vessel with an open deck and a below deck someway beneath the sea, with a porthole and seat each. Being out on the open sea was pleasant, and we had great company; two of our own tour group, the Russian family and a couple of local holidaymakers. I have to say, for all the sightseeing and historic sites, this boat was probably our highlight. When we stepped below deck and sat ourselves at our window, the sight was just glorious. A multitude of fishes, little huddles of each species, going about their daily lives, some coming up to the glass and peering in at us. There were so many Zebra Fish, plus so many others whose varieties I don't know. Then, excitement, a few Puffer Fish! The coral reef was beautiful and the inhabitants more so. Wow. We were so privileged. Seeing captive creatures just doesn't compare to seeing wild creatures in their natural environment.

After an incredible 40 minutes below sea, we went back up on deck and the braver among us went snorkelling, including Tony and our two friends. There was no instruction, just jump off the side and cling onto a rubber ring if need be! Tony's snorkel filled with water and after he'd emptied it and refitted it, it separated again and overall I don't think he enjoyed the experience, but he did enjoy having the fish swimming through his fingers. Considering we hadn't really fancied the excursion and only signed up last minute, we so enjoyed it and it was the perfect final memory to take away with us.

We spent the afternoon on the beach and in the sea; attempted to get a couple of hours rest after dinner, and said goodbye to a wonderful country before the sun had risen on the next day. It truly had been the trip of a lifetime. A group of strangers had become friends, a new culture had become familiar, and we had experienced living, ancient history. The happy new year we'd been wished in 2022 really had come true.

Sandcastle Oscar Oscar Oscar Oscar At Sea At Sea At Sea Our Egypt Family

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

30th December 2023

Egypt Day 11

Eggy Bread for breakfast! Not very exotic, unless you call it French Toast! A good start to a lovely day. We found the piped music didn't start up until around 10am and then only for resort activities such as beach yoga and sea zumba, and we got ourselves nicely settled well away from all of it. We made the acquaintance of local playboy beachbum, Oscar, a wonderfully laidback boy with the most luscious eyelashes - a trait of all camels! Oscar is an eight-year-old white camel and not kept very busy, wandering up and down the beach, mainly with eyes closed and a contented smile, looking for customers. We only saw two, a young couple and a small child.

We ventured into the incredibly buoyant sea and spent most of the day contentedly bobbing around. It was impossible to sink, one deep breath and you float effortlessly. Tony swam and dived and had fun, while I simply bobbed around on my back, surrounded by shoals of little fish. Our lazy day was broken by lunch and a wander out along the boulevard, soon curtailed by pestering shopkeepers requesting our presence inside their shops. Mind you, the resort staff weren't much better, constantly trying to offer us spa treatments, massages, yoga, zumba (all refused) and free drinks and cocktails (gratefully received)! The music started back up again in the late afternoon and I was treated to the bizarre sight of Tony swimming in a sun-kissed turquoise sea as "Jingle Bells" blared out over the speakers. Apparently, somewhere in the outside world it's actually Tuesday 12th December.

Before dinner, we sign up for a semi-submarine boat trip to see the coral reef the next morning and I vow to go for a ride on Oscar. I can hardly leave Egypt without having ridden a camel, after all, however terrifying the prospect. I'm not good at heights and never the most comfortable on horseback, and Oscar towers above most thoroughbreds! Word of my proposed ride quickly spread among our tour group, so there could be no chickening out the next day. We closed the evening at the entertainment stage by the pool, awaiting an "animation" show, which turned out to be karaoke. It was poorly attended, but the Russian family gave it socks, from traditional Russian folk songs to modern pop songs. It was due to end at 10.30pm each evening, but there being an obvious limit to Russian karaoke, the music came to an end at a merciful 9.30pm. The Swiss Inn Hurghada is not a place for quiet holidays, that's for sure.

Cocktails Sea Sea

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

29th December 2023

Egypt Day 10

Today we said goodbye to the Radamis II and its wonderful crew. It was a holiday of three parts, our stay in Cairo a world apart from the cruise and already but a distant memory. Now we were heading off across the Sahara to Hurghada, a Red Sea beach resort and a four-and-a-half hour coach ride away. It was good to drive through non-tourist towns and villages and see some real life, with donkey carts outnumbering cars by at least three-to-one. The donkeys looked happy and healthy and there were small working allotments in abundance, very green and lush. After a couple of hours we reached New Qena City and from there the sign said 140km to Hurghada. It also marked the end of civilisation and the start of nothing but desert either side of us for the next two hours. Far from mainly sandy, it's mainly rocky and in places almost mountainous. At one point the sea came into view on the horizon, but we continued on for another 45 minutes before finally reaching it.

Hurghada is a work in progress. One day it will be a luxury resort, but currently it has a luxurious main street, two high class hotels and other than that building sites. The Holiday Inn was expansive, large reception area with bars and restaurant, even larger outdoor area with pools, bars, variety of specialty restaurants and finally a small private beach front. First impressions? HORRIBLE!!! Oh god, it was Benidorm on a bigger budget! As in the TV series, not the place! It didn't help that there was piped pop music blaring out of all the speakers outside. We found an uninhabited beach spot, but a quiet spot was impossible. Then we paddled up to our knees in the Red Sea before dinner and bed. Fear not, dear reader, our second day will bring better tidings!

Day10 Day10 Day10 Day10 Day10

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

28th December 2023

Egypt Day 9

The hiatus between Christmas and new year is a great time to revisit Egypt, so let me transport you once again up the Nile. Or is it down the Nile, since technically we're going south... but upstream. Let's just say along the Nile, particularly as today's diary sees us returning north, downstream...

We had passed through the Esna Lock unnoticed during the evening en route to Aswan, but this time we arrived back during the morning, and a windy, cold overcast one it was. We joined the locals in our warm jackets, but even so it was hardly the December weather we'd be used to. We gathered on deck to watch the boats in front drop down to below our own level, only to then join them ourselves, while looking up at the next boat in the queue. retty much like any lock on a canal, just on a grander scale. And with enterprising boatmen continuing to hurl clothing and sheets up on deck to us, for our purchasing pleasure. Being in a tiny row boat in a lock gate with a three-storey passenger boat didn't seem to concern them at all.

The sun soon came back out from beneath the rare cloud and the weather returned to scorchio once more. We arrived back in Luxor after lunch, which was quite sad really; all over. We had really enjoyed the relaxation and tranquility of the cruise, broken by the constant excursions and early starts. It would have been bliss to just turn around and do it all again, this time just staying on deck to watch the world pass gently by.

But it wasn't quite over yet, two more trips out, back to the Valley of the Kings and this time the Karnak Temple, dedicated to Amun-Re, god of ignorance and creator of all things. We saved the best 'til last, this being the biggest temple in Egypt and 3,200 years old. It features a single obelisk, the missing twin presented to France and standing now in the Place de Concorde, where we've seen it many a time. The great hall is 5,000 square metres and home to a large scarab statue. If you walk around the statue seven times and make a wish, your wish will come true! The temple is linked to the Luxor temple by a three-kilometre road lined with 1,000 sphinxes, with the body of a lion and the head of a ram. At the Luxor Temple end, the sphinxes have the head of Muth. The road was only rediscovered in modern times and was unveiled for the first time at the traditional ancient Opet Festival in November 2021, in which Mina and his family took part. The festival recreates the ancient rites of Amun-Re's wife Muth being fetched from the Luxor Temple to be reunited with her husband at the Karnak Temple. After dinner we visited the Luxor Temple by night, beautifully lit and with the adjoining Abu'l-Hajjaj Mosque built above it, before centuries of sand was removed to reveal the ancient temple beneath it. The Christians had left their mark here as well, this time by painting the faces of the apostles onto part of the temple wall. What a lovely evening to conclude our last night on the beautiful Nile.

Day9 Day9 Day9 Day9 Day9 Sunset Cabin Esna Lock Karnak Karnak Karnak Scarab Karnak Luxor Temple Apostles Luxor Temple Luxor Temple

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

27th December 2023

Welcome back and I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas. Glittery blue nail varnish and a few books in my stocking reassured me that Father Christmas is definitely real and that I had indeed been a good girl all year. Currently I'm enjoying the very first Richmal Crompton "Just William", having read them avidly from the library in my youth and purchased copies I hadn't read when on holiday, with my spending money. Consequently there are several missing from my bookcase, the very first in the series now rectified. "Seven Years In Tibet" and the latest John Green offering next await my attention and the former will probably put my own travel writing to shame!

On the topic of travel, we sat and watched Death On The Nile for our Christmas Day viewing pleasure and relived our own trip. It seems the film company were sadly lacking a Mina Mahrous to guide them and had no idea where any of the sites actually were. Off screen they must have been whizzing back and forth up and down the Nile at wharp speed! On a literary note, if you've ever wondered what life as a novelist is like, then The Man Who Invented Christmas nailed it, with characters appearing and chatting away with Charles Dickens, only to vanish as family bash on the door for attention! If you pay attention it also explains the art of characterisation and the essential character Arc. For screenwriters, I simply recommend that episode of Teen Titans Go when they write a blockbuster movie - similarly nailed!

We did the traditional Boxing Day thing of thinking of holidays and The Travel Department might see us back yet, their Cuba offering looking tempting. I need only pack a few of my Che Guevara t-shirts for that, as I'm sure I'll be able to buy more over there! A girl can dream can't she?! We're more likely to do our own thing and get back to ancient Rome, via Naples; but any thought of future sun helps to brighten these short winter says.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

24th December 2023

Egypt Day 8

My last post for two days, and wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year. Meanwhile, in the 28 degrees of Egypt...

Day 8 found us still docked in Aswan, with the afternoon at leisure following a pleasant morning's sail in a traditional felucca, round the Elephantine Island and sailing gently past The Old Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death On The Nile. Some of our group had ventured in, and needless to say the prices are quite steep, to say the least. We also sailed right beneath the old Aga Khan's Mausoleum. My racing followers will be as excited by this as I was and won't need any details, just proceed to Q.8, as all the best forms say. But the non-racing brigade can now hear some history from me and not Mina! I was on my home turf, so to speak.

For the few among us who don't have two biographies of the old Aga Khan and his 1950s socialite son Prince Aly Khan, married to actress Rita Hayworth and sadly killed in a car crash in 1960; and who don't receive the annual Christmas card, chocolates and calendar from his grandson, the current HH Aga Khan, son of Aly (and yet I couldn't keep up with the gods and pharaohs' family tree!), I will explain that in the 1920s the old Aga Khan purchased the great racemare and foundation broodmare Mumtaz Mahal and is the founder of the Aga Khan Studs, so important to the thoroughbred industry. Aside from that, he is also a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad and the Imam of the Shia Muslims, a role now filled by our current HH Aga Khan. Not quite as important to some as the business he runs from Haras de Bonneval in Normandy! Add to this, I was delighted to find in his Irish home that he has a large picture of my own horse's dad in his hallway! It's good to have royalty in the family!

Back on board and on a sunbed I watched the world pass by on the Aswan streets, including a perfectly normal Ford pickup truck, not one of those American monstrosities, with three cows and a calf in the open back! It was followed later by another with four adult cows. One was piled high with bags of grain, plus a gentleman sitting cross-legged atop the sacks.

In the evening we had an Egyptian party into the wee hours. Our boat staff, it turned out, are very accomplished singers and dancers and I hope we didn't make a mockery of their national dress and customs by donning Egytian dresses and joining in. As it was the 60th birthday of one of our group, a very good night was had by all, with access to the playlists! Yes, of course we had Night Boat To Cairo! Did we ever think we'd be skanking on the Nile?! Some Undertones and Boomtown Rats for a bit of a pogo and not to mention the ubiquitous Egyptian party song Satalana. Of Abba and YMCA the least said the better...

Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8 Day8

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

23rd December 2023

Egypt Day 7

Remember the travel advice "don't touch the feral dogs and cats"? Seven days in and my resolve breaks! Imagine asking a Nana not to coo over babies!!! Of course, there have been cuddles with Maradona the horse, camels and crocodiles, but otherwise I had been very good. Today we were on our tour bus at 4am (yes, teens, there ARE actually two 4 o'clocks in a day) and pulled up mid-Sahara at 5am to watch the sun rise over the desert. Spectacular. Who knows what day in December it currently was, there we were in the Sahara watching a picture-postcard African sunrise. We then stopped to eat our packed breakfast, at which point a painfully thin bitch heavy with milk timidly aproached and requested my breakfast a lot more politely than Amber at home! By the time she'd finished it, she was happy to be hugged and my lap had been filled by a couple of young cats as well!

Our route to Abu Simbel, the most spectacular of the Egyptian temples, took us past reclaimed Sahara, now irrigated by canals dug to link the Nile and growing wheat. This was in response to the initial grain shortage caused by the Ukraine-Russian conflict. Once again might I compare this to Irish and UK government! Egypt gets immediate wheat fields, we get empty shelves! I'm not sure about the environmental impact of reclaiming desert for wheat fields, though. It can't be as bad as the continuing loss of the rainforests, though. I also noted the road. I guess it would be hard to set up a diversion for the only road across the Sahara, a 230km three-hour route from Aswan to Abu Simbel, however, as we at home suffer constant diversions and tailbacks for minor works, our tour bus simply slows down a bit and drives across the rubble as the road is repaired and replaced! Again, I'm liking the less-bubble-wrapped and more practical down-to-earth Egyptian approach!

Abu Simbel Temple, set beside the 500sq-km manmade Lake Nasser, is well worth the entire holiday price and 3am alarm call (there's another 3 o'clock in a day as well?!) and was built by Ramses II, over 3,000 years ago. He deserved an impressive temple, poor lad, as he had over 100 wives, 90 sons and 66 daughters, and died at the age of 96. The building of it must have kept him out of the house. Not only is the temple MASSIVE, it is also perfectly intact, we can go inside it just as the original worshippers did. Once again, glorious colours and carvings. Ramses II also built a second temple to his favourite wife, no.64, Queen Nefertari, to show his love for her, a very romantic gsture, as Mina said. The year after it was completed he married no.65! Nefertari means "the beautiful lady is coming" (oo-er missus). Both temples were carved out of a mountain near the border of Sudan and Ramses' feat or construction was repeated once more when the temples were moved to a new location to be preserved from the flooding created by the Aswan Dam. You can see the gridded chalked markings as they moved each piece, leaving Ramses II's head at his feet exactly as they had originally found it.

Mina told us that Ramses II won a great many battles, but pointed out it was very easy to enjoy victories back then, as there was no way of spreading news and if you said you'd won, then you'd won! He also pointed out the row of baboons carved onto the temple, their symbolism much like the scarab. What happens when the sunrises each day? The baboons go "boom boom boom!" bringing new life! This was such a wonderful morning, then it was back across the 230km of desert to our boat at Aswan for lunch. Something totally unexpected but so perfect during the drive back was a mirage - we actually saw a mirage. Tony pointed out the lake on the horizon to our right and we looked at it, coming and going, for a few miles before realising there was no lake. That was pretty cool. After lunch, when I just had soup and refused cake (aversion therapy actually works!) we spent the afternoon and evening on the sundeck, simply relaxing. This is bliss.

Vulture Sahara Sunrise Sahara Sunrise Sahara Sahara Wheatfields Abu Simbel Abu Simbel Abu Simbel Abu Simbel Abu Simbel Abu Simbel

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

22nd December 2023

Egypt Day 6

Today we arrived in Aswan, which means "Market", and has a population of 5m. The mooring is quite luxurious compared to our travels so far, I think Aswan actually means Up Market! Typically Egyptian, though, as we walk up our attractive marble-type steps, along the attractive marble-type promenade, step over the pipework and onto the crumbly pile of bricks, then continue on our fancy promenade! I say marble-type, as the stone work is attractive and glossy and while I can identify any horse by name at 100 yards, one rock looks much like another to me. (Flashback to being shown the cover of my new book: Me "That's Luxembourg!" Publisher "What about the face?" Me "What face?"!!!) Anyway, this was the biggest market town in Egypt, particularly for elephants, which are no longer available for sale.

Our morning was spent at the Philae Temple, Philae meaning "Sweet Heart". A Princess loved a poor man, so her father the King locked her on an island to prevent her from seeing her lover. A crocodile guided her lover across the water to her, for their happy ending (pardon that oo-er innuendo!) The Philae Temple is therefore dedicated to Isis, Goddess of Love. It was really good on a personal level to visit a temple to Isis, as my favourite of Nero's friends was Otho, the subsequent emperor and a devotee of Isis. Otho being Otho signed up for the orgies! In modern times, the island was part of the area flooded when the Aswan Dam was built, so UNESCO moved the Philae Temple to its new site, a project that took seven years. The lake is 500 square kilometres, with 60% in Egypt and 40% in Sudan to the south. The Sudanese now want to build a dam on the Nile, which is a huge concern to Egypt. The temple is probably the most impressive so far, we just found each one got better along the route. As well as Christian damage, there was Napoleonic graffiti! After conquering Egypt, Napolean sent an artist to record all the ancient sites and the artist, who of all people should have known better, carved his name in the stone! As did his comrades!

The Aswan Dam itself was funded by a one-billion-dollar loan from the USSR in 1973, since repaid, as the World Bank refused to help. An angular Soviet-style monument stands at the dam, "The Friendship Building", to mark the help and in appreciation of the friendship between the two nations. The dam is 100m high, 17-times taller than the Great Pyramid. As a tourist site there isn't a lot to see or much that is photogenic, but we were there and drove along it on the tour bus.

Then it was a traditional motorboat ride to Elephantine Island and the Nubian Village, first drifting around the bird sanctuary, with the engine turned off, to listen to the birds and watch them as they waded unconcerned among the reeds. Other than Ibis, we haven't seen many exotic birds, although there were our swallows, surprised to see us wintering in Africa as well! We did see a pied kingfisher, we even watched one dive and catch a fish as we watched from our cabin. We thought we'd spotted another 'Horus' but when it was joined by two others and circled overhead we realised they were vultures. Tony spotted an unknown blue bird, which turned out to be a Bluebird!

The Nubian Village was again of interest to me, as the love of Nero's life was the Nubian Acte. The Nubian language, Mina explained, is unusual as it is only spoken. There is no written language. Therefore, it was used in the war for secret words, as they couldn't be written down, and used again by Sadat. Having already researched, to my disappointment, that there were no crocodiles north of the Dam and we therefore wouldn't see a wild one along the banks, I was excited to hear there were captive ones in the Village. The crocodile has been around for 95 million years, 30 million years before dinosaurs went extinct, so to be here at the birthplace of civilisation and see such an ancient creature was actually very special. Plus I can't resist their cute grin, no matter what the song says! The Nubian Village was delightful in shape and colour, such vibrant blues and reds, very jolly. And as we were even being shown where to see the crocodiles, I was already asking if I could give one a cuddle, which I did. He was just two-years-old and as hard and bumpy on the upper surface as you might imagine, but soft and squishy underneath like a little hot water bottle! And he smelt of fish. Our Fact Sheet warned us not to touch the feral dogs and cats, but made no mention of crocodiles, so that was OK!

Mina told us of the strange marriage ritual of the Nubians, who are forbidden to marry outside of their own people. The man offers the woman 200kg of grain. If she accepts, she gives him a lamb, and then they're not allowed to see each other for three months. After the wedding they must stay in their house for three weeks and cannot go out. Nor are they alowed to use the toilet for three days!

Philae Temple Graffiti Friendship Building Aswan Ibis Nubian Village Nubian Camel My Crocodile

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

21st December 2023

Egypt Day 5

Yesterday we simply sailed gently down the Nile. We ended our first day on board watching the sunset from the sundeck as the call to prayer drifted from the far banks. Then we enjoyed an immense buffet dinner at 8pm, much the size and variety of lunch and now we've discovered it mirrors breakfast, too! We could be Hansel and Gretel in the Gingerbread House, or perhaps word of my sweet-tooth (dinners gladly skipped in exchange for desserts!) has spread. The chef is trying me on aversion therapy, with cakes for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Not working. Chef is charming and immediately got to know how we liked our omelettes in the morning (tossed, with glee), and would ask where Tony was if he wasn't immediately by my side, which is quite impressive as the rest of us are still struggling to remember names! It really is a lovely group of people, we all mix and change seats for meals to get to chat with everyone, it's the best possible company. In fact, come the end and our party night, a couple asked how long we'd all known each other and assumed we'd all come on the cruise together; they were amazed that we'd only just met on the trip. The Egyptian people, too, are very nice, other than the persistent salesmen, who are just plain grating! Nice about it, though! As Mina points out, it's better to always smile. Smiling makes you live longer and makes the world a better place, no matter how you might be feeling. It's a lovely culture. People wave to you as you sit on the bus and, of course, the international etiquette of waving to people on boats is alive and well in Egypt, too! Again, salesmen apart - they row alongside and toss their wares up to you on deck! The idea is to take what you want and put money in the plastic bag, to toss back down!

We docked in Edfu overnight (no night sailing on the Nile) and had a 7am start to visit Edfu Temple, one of the best preserved in Egypt, built between 237 and 57 BC. It's dedicated to Horus and the inscriptions provide important information on language, myth and religion, as Mina showed us. To get there, it was a chaotic horse carriage ride, two per carriage, pre-booked for the 37 of us, so Mina was popping us in and telling us to remember the number of our horse taxi! The jaunt took 15 minutes and we all felt a bit bemused as so many drivers yelled out instructions and called for customers. I have to say at this point, I was apprehensive about animal welfare before we arrived, having seen the horrors of donkeys and horses on the TV adverts, but I was pleasantly surprised. I gave body scores to all I saw and with just three exceptions at the pyramids, it must be said the equines are well-cared for. Good body scores and very good hoof care, which is so vital to donkeys. Away from the cities, we saw more donkeys than cars and none of them had sores from ill-fitting harnesses, and importantly they looked happy and content. They are people's livelihood, after all.

At the temple, Mina told us of the rivalry between Set and Osiris and Horus. The god Osiris, the son of Ra creator of the world (the god of ignorance, because no one knows how he created the world) and his wife Isis ruled Egypt, but jealous Set murders his brother Osiris and usurps his throne. However, the goddess Isis restores life to her husband Osiris and they have a son, Horus. Set devises a new plan to kill Osiris and builds an elaborate gold coffin. Not unlike Cinderella's slipper, Set challenges anyone to fit into the coffin! Funnily enough, no one is the right size and all fail, except Osiris! What do you know, it fits like a glove! But Set nails the coffin shut and kills Osiris, chopping him up into 15 pieces which he scatters across Egypt. As we know from earlier talks, Egypt was then called Copt, meaning Black Land, because of its rich fertile soil. This time, Isis gathered up all bar one piece of her husband (his penis. Whoops) and the 14 pieces make up the 14 counties or areas of Egypt. Set now becomes a rival with Horus and is jealous that the people worship Horus more, so he kills Horus and tears out his eye. Isis works her magic again, but that's where the Eye of Horus comes in, to guard off evil. Anyway, families, eh, what are they like!

The Edfu Temple is so impressive. The colours (pigment unknown, but not faded!) are so vivid and rich, the paintings are beautiful. Remember, they have not been retouched or restored in any way, the original 3,000-year-old colours. The size is so immense it's hard to take photos, it won't fit in! Those pesky Christians came in at some stage and defaced the gods, using the Temple as their own place of worship. These were the earliest Christians who were converted by St Mark, who walked all the way to Egypt. He had to stop in at a shoemaker to have his sandals mended, performed a miracle and the shoemaker told his friends and neighbours! (Then St Mark had a Basilica named after him and an even more famous horse...) The first Christians were known as Coptic Christians - as in, Egyptian Christians. Today, the Orthodox Church differs to Roman Catholic and Protestant Catholic only by the hierarchy. The Roman Catholic head is the Pope, the Protestant Catholic head is the Monarch and the Orthodox head is the Archdeacon. Importantly, when Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in 641, the ancient language was banned and Arabic adopted. Ancient Egyptian was still spoken in the Christian Mass, however, and much like Latin it is still spoken in Coptic Christian services today. If you want to hear ancient Egyptian spoken, simply attend an Orthodox Christian Mass.

It was panic stations again as we tried to find our correct drivers and horses (our horse was called Computer! I hope not because he keeps crashing!) but we were returned safely to our boat again by 9am, setting sail once more at 9.50am, watching Edfu drift away from the sundeck. Sunbathing in December! It doesn't feel like December at all, we're in full summer holiday mode, the world back home totally forgotten. After lunch, we dock at the Temple of Kom Ombo, "Mountain of Gold". It's lovely to have a temple right on our doorstep, just step off the boat and into it. A photo below shows it from our cabin window! If only we weren't continuing our cruise again after the visit, we could have spent longer in this most impressive temple. Every temple has really outdone the last, I can't believe we were in wonder of the Pyramids! We've become archaeological snobs! The maginificent Kom Ombo Temple uniquely is dedicated to two gods, split down the middle. Sobek, the Crocodile god, and Horus. Horus was jealous that Sobek had more followers and so he called up the dead to increase his own followers. This angered the gods, so they turned the land to gold and the people could no longer grow crops. The people then struck a deal with Horus and built a temple so that Horus and Sobek could be worshipped equally. Fertility was returned to the land. The temple also has a rare engraving of medical instruments for performing surgery, dating from the days of Roman Egypt and still in modern use. They belonged to Amenhotep, who was an architect who designed one of the great temples we saw in Luxor, the Temple of Amenhotep III (no relation), as well as a doctor and surgeon. We also saw a Nilometer, used to measure the level of the river waters. As the waters rise up against each mark, so the marks are counted and the taxes set. In a bad year of drought, taxes are low, but in a good year of floods, taxes are high. And finally, the museum of the crocodile mummies! Gosh, what a busy day!

Sunrise from our cabin Edfu Temple Sailing sailing Kom Ombo Kom Ombo Nilometer Crocodile Mummies

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

20th December 2023

Egypt Day 4

After our morning at the pyramids we boarded a flight to Luxor, a city from which you can see 30% of all the World Heritage sites. We boarded our boat, the Radamis II, and enjoyed a late dinner, ready for a 5.30am alarm and 7.30am start! We were moored at Luxor, a city with a population of just 1.5m, so a bit quieter and more relaxed than Cairo. It was a place we'd love to return to. We headed off to the Valley of the Kings, with passes to view inside three of the 63 tombs, plus Tut Ankh Amun, as he's known locally. They ranged in age from 3,000 to 3,500 years old. Our first tomb was that of Rameses IV. The colours inside are so rich and vibrant, incredible to think of them being over 3,000 years old. The carvings, too, are so detailed and life-like. I always thought of Egyptian art as quite flat and simplistic, but that is so not the case. The scale of everything is much bigger than the Roman archaeology I'd be used to, as well.

Our guide Mina is passionate about his subject and passionate about imparting his knowledge. Pretty soon he was asking us questions about the things he'd told us back on our first day in the museum - good job I'd taken notes! It really was like a school trip, with facts fired at us and questions afterwards, but all good for me, I loved all the history. Our next tomb was Rameses IX, then into the famous Tutankhamun tomb, in which he still lies in state. He is very tiny, just a boy, but also the people then were a good deal shorter than today, which makes the scale of everything so much more impressive. In his day, Tut Ankh Amun wasn't important, a boy king with a short reign. He therefore didn't have a grand tomb, just everything he'd need in his afterlife thrown into a quickly prepared chamber - and then he and his chamber were forgotten. Rameses VI built his tomb over the top and hence Tut was lost to the world; and crucially to tomb robbers. The least important of the kings has now found a pretty decent afterlife as the most famous!

Finally, Rameses I tomb, way, way down deep into the depths of the mountain. Back outside, two trees can be found, transported 3,300 years ago by Queen Hatshepsut. They don't look too impressive, but neither would I after 3,000 years! Not forgetting, of course (I very nearly did!) the Colossi of Memnon, two giant statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Already the pyramids are seeming quite insubstantial!

It was a beautiful morning, we really enjoyed the time spent wandering around this impressive site, very much at leisure. It was back to the boat for lunch and then, at 2.30pm, we set sail! Last boat along the River Nile! And we really were, for a while, as we followed two others floating leisurely down the Nile, but there was much over-taking and sounding of boat horns as we shuffled decks along the way! Our first time on a dread cruise, but a small boat is enjoyable and watching the world pass by, especially a very different world, was glorious. I noted in my journal "We're cruising down the Nile - bloody hell!!! This is the life!" and sitting up on the deck on sunbeds in 30 degrees heat, absolute bliss.

Tutankhamun Hatshepsut tree Memnon Tomb Tomb Valley of Kings

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

19th December 2023

Egypt Day 3

Already we're probably not the only members of our delightful small group who don't know what day of the week it is, never mind what month! It certainly isn't December! Temperatures are between 27 and 30 each day, although as it's winter, the locals are in coats and jumpers! The little kids are in their Christmas jumpers, with snowmen on, it really doesn't seem right to be looking at Christmas decorations through sunglasses!

This morning there was a misty haze slow to clear, so our trip to the pyramids was deferred until after some mandatory shopping in a cotton shop. I don't shop. I had even refused point blank to shop for holiday clothes. I already HAVE clothes, they'll outlast me at this stage in my life! Then it was on to the papyrus shop, where our host was very interesting in telling us the history and demonstrating the making of papyrus. He also showed us the original horoscope, from Horus, which is unchanged to this day. The seasons and calendar year are also as we know them today. Europeans have a nice habit of airbrushing out non-European history, such as the Greeks claim to fame for being the fathers of mathematics and geometry many millenia after the Egyptians worked it all out. And, of course, the 8th Century Muslims who transcribed the Christian Bible alongside the monks they outnumbered. Mina pointed out that the pyramids are built at a 52 degree angle, allowing them to stand up against any force of nature without toppling. The height, or sides combined, he lost me here, measure the exact distance from the Earth to the Sun (149km I have noted. You do the maths.) I know nothing of maths, but there was method in their madness!

Mina also told us a little of Egyptian politics as we waited for the sky to clear, as we have arrived in time for an election. Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi has been President since 2014 and Mina reports the people are generally happy, so he is expected to win through again. His posters are everywhere, the most familiar face you'll see in Egypt. I saw some dodgy alternatives, the right-wing colours and imagery clear even in Arabic. I'd vote for el-Sisi myself, it seems a very well-organised and go-ahead government. The economy has been brought down by the building of 200,000 new homes, free to the homeless, with 500,000 the final aim. Income tax is high, but the people are benefiting. We later saw the new wheat fields on reclaimed Sahara land, a very prompt response to the grain shortage caused by the war in Ukraine! From one who lives in a town where the bypass has only just been completed, after 40 years, I'm more impressed by Egyptian government than Irish! We were also filled in on the haphazard building site that is Cairo. Prior to the new government, builders paid 50% tax on completed properties. So, they simply didn't complete them! The apartment blocks with the top layer missing, or one side still to be done, are fully-fitted out inside and inhabited. Piles of rubble and sacks of cement outside every entrance way add to the deception! In addition, during the Rising when Egypt was without government new homes went up without planning permission, so those are being taken down! Every building is either to be finished or bulldozed, either way it's not the world's most prettiest city!

At 11.20am we finally arrived at the Pyramids in Giza. Wow. It was quite moving, to actually be there, touching, walking on, climbing over these ancient Wonders of the World. Each building block weighs 3 tonnes and there are 3 million used for the Great Pyramid alone. Of course, they weren't built by slaves, but by skilled craftsmen. During the three months of the year when the Nile flooded and people couldn't work on their farms, they worked on the pyramid in exchange for food. It took around 20 years, of seasonal work, to complete the Great Pyramid. Thanks to a million-dollar Japanese scanner, a new chamber has been discovered within the Great Pyramid, just two months ago, and they are in the process of opening it up. It's empty, as the tombs have all been robbed, the 4,600-tonne golden tip of the pyramids long gone. The tombs had been respected, but the 18th dynasty was weak, the pyramids by then ancient, the buried forgotten and eventually robbed. This was why the later kings built their tombs UNDER the ground, in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor.

So there we were at the Pyramids. Again - wow. Mina recommended a trip by camel or horse and carriage out into the Sahara behind the pyramids, the only view point where you can see all nine pyramids at once. Not being brave enough to ride a camel (very cuddly, but too, too tall!) we opted for the carriage. Maybe a camel would have been less terrifying! Maradona, as our horse was called, could shift a bit, regardless of the camber and gradient of the sand dunes we lurched across, up and down. Nevertheless, once Maradona's driver, Basil, had finished taking our photos, unnecessarily and like trained chimps, the view was indeed worth the hair-raising ride. We were in the Sahara, looking out over the pyramids and camel trains. Pretty amazing.

The downside of an escorted holiday is that we weren't free to wander at leisure. That was a very immediate negative when we had just five minutes to see the Sphinx. But for a fully-escorted tour we wouldn't have come, so it's swings and roundabouts, but escorted tours, we realised, are not our thing. We may only have had five minutes, but here we were in Giza, near Cairo, looking at the Sphinx! Yes, pretty amazing indeed.

Horus scope Basil_Maradona Pyramids Pyramids Pyramids Sphinx

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

18th December 2023

You may have noticed my lengthy absence from the News pages. When Flat racing and literary tours stop for the winter, a young girl's thoughts turn to travel. And so did mine! To celebrate our 60th birthdays, Tony & I embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Egypt. Some have suggested that Inspector de Freitas' next adventure might be in Egypt, but I think Poirot has that sewn up. Plus Mrs de Freitas prefers Devon, of course. However, I could see me getting used to foreign climes and settling into the role of travel writer! Certainly for Egypt it was made very easy for me by our guide Mina Mahrous. A Doctor of Egyptology, "King" Mina imparted a wealth of fascinating information, all of which I eagerly noted down. It brought our trip to life and transported us back in time some 6,000 years. Therefore, I will use my News-come-diary to relive those magical moments, seeing as I have no news until March, when the first-sighting of the Ballydoyle Classic hopefuls herald Spring!

And so, Day 1, our first impression of Cairo, driving at night from the airport, was - amazing, love it! I noted that if I were a god I'd turn my nose up at a plain old brick shed, give me giant wedding cakes lit up in bright neon colours all the way! Tony likened it, disparagingly, to Disneyland, but then again he isn't one for the shiny tinsel of Christmas, either. My hands are usually bedecked in large bright stones, of the Pound Shop variety (more bling for your money) so it's safe to say I like neon-lit towers and tinsel!

Day 2 gave us Cairo in daylight, a busy, bustling, noisy city with a population of 20 million. That's not a typo. All 20 million were out on the streets, tooting their horns. There are no road rules, no road rage and no traffic jams. Everyone just pulls out where they can and pedestrians cross impervious to peril. Families, including young children and babies, ride on motorbikes, outnumbering the cars, and not a crash helmet in sight. Having never travelled much further than wherever the punk scene takes us, we knew for sure we were in a foreign land.

Our first stop was the Museum. A whistle-stop tour for which really you'd need a day. Mina taught us all so much. The hieroglyphics depict the sound each picture makes, such as "moo" for a cow, "hee" for a hawk, etc. So, if you spoke ancient Egyptian, which they still do in Coptic Christian Mass, you would be able to read this phonetic language quite comfortably. The vivid colours on artefacts and sculptures some 4,000 years old are original, too. Unfaded by time and weather. No one knows the pigments used to result in such a lifespan, but we are looking at the objects as their creators once viewed them. Incredible. The Northern Egyptians are paler-skinned in comparison to the Southern Egyptians, so the likenesses of people are very accurate, ranging from near-white to near-black. And yes, they did wear all that eyeliner! I recognised Marc Almond, there among the ancients, but it turned out to be Cleopatra. Papyrus, too, is indestructible and many examples six-thousand years old. That secret is known, so if you buy a papyrus picture it will survive forever (although the modern colours won't, of course!) Also, the artwork in the museum was so lifelike and emotions were depicted, such as the cow shedding a tear for her calf, as humans took her milk. We need that made as a t-shirt, the band Cress would appreciate it.

The land was rich in gold, a common substance dug up like stones. Silver was much rarer and wood very rare indeed, so wooden artefacts were the height of wealth. Mina explained The Book Of The Dead, a cheat-sheet to eternal life! When they died, they would face Judgement Day and if they had led good lives, their good deeds outweighing their bad deeds, they would come back. And so, rich and poor alike (as long as they could afford a good embalmist!) were entombed with everything they needed for the next life. The Book Of The Dead showed the answers to be given to the jurors, and if they failed to convince them, Sobek would eat their heart. If it was a hung jury, the heart was weighed against a feather. Good people have a light heart, while hearts are weighed down by bad deeds. If Sobek ate your heart, that was it, The End. Otherwise, Osiris granted you perpetual life. Another great symbol we learned about was the Scarab beetle, which appeared each day at first light and therefore symbolised New Life, a new day. That was why they were included in the tombs. Not to eat you alive, silly old Mummy movies!

An enforced stop in a perfume shop and lunch on a Nile-moored boat, then it was off to the Khan el Khalili bazaar, past the impressive walled Citadel of Saladin, 900 years old. That would have been nice to go into, simply for the views over Cairo. Cairo is quite small, but you pass by everything up to three times due to the one-way systems! Mina led us through the bazaar at breakneck pace to evade the salesmen, although the Mo Salah shirt had to be bought, of course. Didn't the commentators refer to it as "Mo Salah's Egypt" throughout the World Cup?! Not by us, of course, and we couldn't find the much better Mohamed Elneny shirt! The highlight of the bazaar was Al-Muizz street, a UNESCO World Heritage monument dating to the 11th Century and the first street of the then new city of Cairo. It was lined by mosques, as each new ruler tried to outdo the last, and Mina showed us the step that led to his PhD, Mina having discovered that it had come from the outer layer of the Pyramids and used in the building of Al-Muizz street. Thus ended our first full day in Cairo.

Hover over image for title to appear

Crying Cow Mina explains Book Of The Dead Museum Museum Museum Al Muizz Street Mina's Step

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

31st October 2023

The ETB Creative Writing classes are over for the year and I miss the great stories and poetry I was treated to each week. Roll on next term! I especially enjoyed the work of a group of young people in Kilkenny, such talent. The future is indeed bright. There should be at least two books, a graphic novel and a movie franchise coming out from their collective efforts.

My time has moved instead to work here at home, currently woodland management, and my own novel in progress, the next adventure of Inspector de Freitas. It's taking shape nicely, lots of mulling over until one of those wonderful eureka moments strike, but they are igniting the story now and only go to show how important the mulling over process is. Writers often worry about procrastination, but actually we're vey much hard at work as we sit staring into space!

I'm delighted to be able to share more useful tips like that, with readers and any fellow writers, at the Lunchtime in the Library Series in Carlow Town Library on Friday 17th November, from 1pm until 1.45pm. Feel free to come along and say hello, although I can't guarantee the horse will be there!

Library

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

30th September 2023

Before I settle down to a cracking weekend of racing, I have just scraped into my 16th consecutive nomination for The Derby Awards! Clive Graham Writer of the Year Trophy, but a very slim chance of winning, I'm afraid. I am trying hard to retire from journalism and my body of work is much like my body itself - not what it used to be!!! One piece I particularly enjoyed, but will be published after the judging process, was for the European Trainer magazine winter October-December issue.

I posed the question of who dictates the Rules of Racing, since it increasingly seems to me it is in the hands of the betting industry. The British Jockey Club was formed in 1750 specifically to create and apply the Rules of Racing in the wake of a decade of Parliamentary opposition to the sport. Below is Prof Hasan Bahar with his discovery of 2000-yr-old Roman Racing Rules. Mine is not to write opinion pieces, strictly factual backed up by quotes and figures, but in digging around for facts and figures I came across a fantastic resource, Hansard Parliament co.uk. Not only are all current House of Lords and House of Commons debates transcribed, but also those going back decades.

So it was that I found a debate on pretty much the same thing, by the newly-formed gambling commission in 1976. Such accurate observations as "horseracing is organised purely to generate taxes" and "large number of otherwise non-viable racecourses kept open to ensure sufficient races being run, even as the financial rewards to the owners and trainers declined to the point where most could barely cover their expenses" (and this in 1976! Things have only got worse since), together with "the income from betting is believed to reach optimum level with two meetings a day. After this, the same money apparently chases after more horses."

All of which makes me yearn for the days when we didn't care about who bet on what. Owners paid to have horses in training and their entry fees paid for the prize money. A pool that didn't rely on bookmakers and therefore denied them the right to dictate the programme. Other Rules framed from public opinion are another matter and, in my opinion, not altogether wrong. But at what point did we allow bookies to control our sport?

Rules

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30th September 2023

I had the recent pleasure of joining my local Larries Book Club at St Laurence's GAA. A lovely group of ladies (don't men also like to gather to discuss books?) and a group that put me in mind of Lois joining a book club in Malcolm In The Middle! We enjoy our tipple and socialising, but unlike Lois' group, we do also read the book and discuss it! And the first book up for discussion - none other than Grey Motive! What a coincidence! I was so glad to return to the next meeting to hear everyone's thoughts, and to explain a little of the process of writing, creating characters and "winging it" through a whodunnit without always knowing Whodunnit! Thank goodness Inspector de Freitas was on the case! Authors so rarely meet their readers, so I feel very privileged, and honoured by their choice and feedback.

Grey Motive

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

29th September 2023

Off the racecourse, I was also happily busy. I had a wonderful weekend in Horsham for my cousin's 80th birthday, it was so nice to be reunited with all my family again. We hadn't spent a day in Horsham, so that made a beautiful break, too, with so much to see in the park. I especially loved the little dragon hidden at the centre of the maze.

The school year re-started after summer break and it has been a pleasure to welcome back my adult creative writers, my personal "audio book"! Even better, I started a new group of young people in Kilkenny and what a joy they have been. They don't need my help and I'm looking forward to entertaining horror, fantasy, RPG novels and even a movie in the near future! There is some real talent out there and I'm blessed to hear their work before they become famous.

Dragon Dragon Bandstand

28th September 2023

And continuing with Excuse No.1, it wasn't only the horses who captured my interest over the Champions Weekend. Aidan saddled his 4000th winner and Frankie Dettori rode what were, at the time, his last races in Ireland. He has since popped back over, but they were my own last sightings of him in silks, first on Onesto then finally Porta Fortuna. The end of another era, although I also saw the last rides of Geoff Lewis, Pat Eddery and my adored Joe Mercer! There have been some Golden Greats to retire on my watch, not least Steve Cauthen and Philippe Paquet.

A reminder of why I love to go racing and prefer to miss seeing a race in order to see the next runners before they're saddled is provided by the photo I captured, walking back in to the saddling boxes. What a glorious sight! The Group One juvenile fillies in a line, prior to the Moyglare Stud Stakes. First to last are She's Quality, Ornellaia, Porta Fortuna, Ylang Ylang, Pearls And Rubies, and Brilliant.

Moyglare fillies Aidan Onesto Porta Fortuna Joe Mercer

27th September 2023

Well, my lack of updates come with good excuses as I was so busy, away from my laptop, and here is the first excuse! It was, of course, Champions Weekend and we had such an array of champions on view, not least a once touted Triple Crown hope, Auguste Rodin, and a possible Triple Crown hope for next year, City Of Troy, who didn't actually run but certainly graced the day. His very good stablemate Henry Longfellow ably deputised for him to win and provide Aidan O'Brien with his 4000th win. It was two "lucky 7"s, as the very backward Diego Velazquez also managed a fine win, when there'll be better to come from him at four and five. As usual, hover over the images to see the names. It was nice to see Fallen Angel and Danny Tudhope interviewed on their way past me, by Katie Walsh on Chacun Pour Soi, as well.

Auguste Rodin Auguste Rodin City Of Troy City Of Troy Henry Longfellow Diego Velazquez Fallen Angel

29th August 2023

No sooner do I emerge from a festival tent to return to the Curragh, than I'm back on the hallowed turf yet again! This time it was the wonderful Cancer Trials Day in memory of Pat Smullen and congratulations to all involved. We were also treated to the first of the one-mile maidens, attracting very good debutants with Classics beckoning next year. It's lovely to see these big two-year-olds with scope to improve at three, in contrast to the precocious two-year-olds for whom this is their year. That said, the speedier types were impressive, too, with winner Letsbefrankaboutit, also pictured sheltering from the downpour, and runner-up Mansa Musa impressing in the Round Tower Stakes.

The opening maiden was hugely impressive, with quality horses in winner Tamrat (12), third Starliner (11) and fourth Taraj (13). However, my pick is the runner-up Ortelius, another son of Justify, and one with a big future next year. Don't forget to hover your cursor over the images for their names to appear, in order of mention above.

Letsbefrankaboutit Letsbefrankaboutit Mansa Musa Tamrat Starliner Taraj Ortelius Ortelius Ortelius Ortelius

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

25th August 2023

It was lovely to hear from the county libraries this week and to be able to let you know that Grey Motive will be joining my other books in a library near you! It was also in display in Woodbine Books, Kilcullen, so I'm never that far from its presence at the moment!

Meanwhile, on the racecourse, the smart two-year-olds with Classic prospects for next year are starting to emerge and a lot have one thing in common - their dad! Justify is definitely stamping his stock beautifully, with great physiques. And speaking of Grey Motive, I absolutely adore London City, a big rangy grey colt by Justify out of Winter, with a great attitude. He was by far the highlight of the Curragh last weekend and one to watch out for next season. Might he even be the Grey Motive Triple Crown contender?!

London City London City London City
21st August 2023

It was great to be back at the races at the weekend and in the open at the Curragh, instead of in a tent at a festival! My highlights will follow, as I'm working away and haven't even checked my photos yet. My two-year-old highlights were to be found in the maiden race and not the Group races, but time will tell!

Meanwhile, I was asked about a couple of leading stallions and realised I was last at Coolmore way back in January 2020. It's worth sharing those pictures now, as I enjoyed looking back through them, even if poor old Galileo was resting in his box and Gleneagles was in full winter coat (I don't blame him, it was chilly!) In order below, Australia, Camelot, Churchill, Gleneagles, Magna Grecia, Saxon Warrior and Galileo. If you'd like to visit them in person, keep an eye open for the Stallion Trail and register, with visitors attending in late-January. A great experience, and don't forget to drop in on Sea The Stars, too!

Australia Camelot Churchill Gleneagles Magna Grecia Saxon Warrior Galileo

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10th August 2023

It's probably fair to say music is my first love, given that I missed most of Goodwood for Rebellion and am once again forsaking the Curragh for a local all-day punk festival! Had I not already been familiar with the horses running, the choice might have been harder, but it's the familiarity of Rebellion that makes it so joyous. I enjoy catching new bands, but seeing old favourites is just as fun and meeting up with our punk family and community is really very special. To spend time in the company of so many like-minded people is therapeutic to say the least. We also met some new friends and even non-punks! Des and Maureen were great company for dinner and I must get Des to write his anecdotes one day.

For those following Grey Motive, it will shortly be appearing in libraries, and paperbacks are still available on Amazon. I even have a couple here at home for signing, should anyone run into difficulty getting a copy. Please remember to leave a few stars and a review on Amazon or Goodreads, if you can. Even the shortest review is a huge help to authors and we so appreciate the time taken. You'll be a friend for life!

Lissa at Rebellion

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

26th July 2023

Rain didn't quite stop play, as it did at The Curragh, and I have returned from a very enjoyable, though wet, weekend in Emo. The highlight for me was a breath of fresh air seeing Paranoid Visions, having been mostly bored by the bands up to then. OK, so we've seen Paranoid Visions more than a few times (more than a few times a month, in many instances!) but not at a mainstream festival with mainly bland pop or, worse, country, and they gave it socks! However, they won't mind me saying not as much as Brett Anderson and Suede, who gave it socks and wellies and utterly rocked it. Well worth a weekend of camping in the rain to see Suede close the festival. And to see Brett cavorting about in jeggings! Next stop now is Rebellion, where Paranoid Visions will again be playing, but this time in a more suitable environment, where needless to say I won't be wandering around feeling bored for four days!

Racing-wise, we are going to see someone special at Goodwood as Paddington takes in the Sussex Stakes, he's a class act. Hopefully Auguste Rodin will get a chance to show his worth in the King George on Saturday, but King Of Steel, the grey pictured below, is a very good-looking colt who will take a bit of beating, too. Standing tall right now is the exciting two-year-old City Of Troy, below, who already looks to have the Guineas and Derby at his mercy next year. You wouldn't know it to look at him, small, modest, with none of that Classic aura about him. But, wow, when he stretches out for a race he looks something very special indeed. He'll have one more race this year and I hope I'm there for it.

City Of Troy King Of Steel

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

11th July 2023

Well, as you may have read in the previous entry, June was incredibly hectic, but enjoyable. I've since enjoyed the three days of the Irish Derby Festival and at this stage Auguste Rodin, Paddington, River Tiber and Unquestionable are highlights. Hover over each image for the name to appear, if you're not sure which horse is which.

It hasn't all been racing festivals, though. We spent last weekend at a local ska and reggae festival organised by Boss Reggae Train. It was great to catch up with old friends, favourite bands, absolute legends and music royalty and, of course, discover new bands. I so enjoy the traditional old ska performed by the brilliant Skazz and we were impressed by Brighton band Dakka Skanks. Our favourite new band (to us!) had to be Rough Kutz, we came away with a couple of their albums. Hats off to legends in their own right The Bionic Rats, who provided the band for legend Roy Ellis. Imagine, Roy Ellis playing in our own back-of-beyond local!!! In case you don't know, I was born into a house with two teenage sisters, one of whom was fetching home Jamaican ska at the time. I'm reliably informed my first words were "CAPONE - C A P O N E" thanks to the Prince Buster song! Who would have imagined, back in 1964, that I'd be living here and seeing Roy Ellis here too!

Next stop are three more music festivals, the Emo Forest Fest, when I can't wait to see Suede, James, Ash and Peter Hook again, then our annual pilgrimage to Rebellion, the four-day punk festival, where I'm looking forward to seeing Crisis and Virus again and to seeing Eater for the very first time. Then it's back to our local venue once more for an all-night punk and grunge event, a busy few weekends!

I should mention the new novel Grey Motive and ask you very nicely if you might spare the time to give it a few stars and maybe even a review on Amazon. The current times are tough on publishers and I would love to see Maverick House rewarded for its continuing faith in me. Grey Motive is my fourth title with Maverick House and our relatonship now spans over 10 years.

Auguste Rodin Auguste Rodin Paddington Paddington River Tiber Unquestionable

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12th June 2023

Grey Motive has been flying out of shops, I'm so grateful to all those now reading it and especially to those who have taken the trouble to message me or comment. It's so nice to hear your thoughts and to see the characters living out there in the real world, brought to life in so many imaginatons. Thank you so much. And please, if you've read it, would you rate with a star on Amazon and Goodreads? It helps enormously.

Next week sees my busiest year of the season, so DI de Freitas might take a short holiday from his new adventure! People pay a small fortune to attend Royal Ascot, and the quality of racing makes it a bargain, so I can hardly call it work! Yet work it is, as enjoyable as it also is. The dress code can be a bit "so not me", but a small price to pay! What do I actually do at Ascot? Well, it's all go, but I'll try to explain.

It's our "olympics", with horses arriving from all over the world. If I've been trying to arrange interviews, at this time of year I'm usually told "sure, I'll see you at Ascot!" So a lot of time is spent scrambling around trying to catch people. We all overestimate the actual free time we have during the week! The day begins for the media at 8am, while the gates open to the public at 10.30am. For me, the press room is a quiet working space up until 1pm, at which point I decamp and head off to the saddling boxes to look at the first of the day's runners. No more quiet time!

A normal race day has maybe two big races to study, but all seven races on all five days of Royal Ascot are big races, going off 35 minutes apart. The greatest excitement is always in seeing the visiting international superstars. I first look at the horses at the saddling boxes, then follow them through to the parade ring. The 30 minutes viewing seems like enough, but in reality there are 12 to 30 runners, so I have around three minutes to take notes of each horse if I'm lucky. I'm noting their conformation, physique, fitness, demeanour. For the older horses, my notes are for today, for the young two-year-olds the notes are for next year. Will they train on, will they improve, what distance will suit them best with maturity, are they potential Classic horses? I've no interest in betting, but need to know who the top players are going to be in the coming months and year. Their trainers will be my focus for publication, hopefully putting the right name on the right cover, relevant to the racing when the magazines are published and delivered.

Walking back and forth with the horses, and dashing back to the media centre when necessary for interviews, means I cover around 24 miles per day at a fairly brisk walk! No strolling and definitely no fancy high heels! I also take a lot of photos, not for any professional use, but purely for reference and pleasure. So my evenings are usually spent putting names to around 200 images! To some, a horse is a horse, but thankfully for me they all look very different and recognisable, otherwise I'd be in real trouble looking through the camera reel for the week! By Saturday, the 8am start to 10pm finish is taking its toll, but I'm always a little sad that it's the last day and all over for another year.

Lissa Ascot

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15th May 2023

Well, Grey Motive has now been launched! What a wonderful evening it was and may I thank everyone who came out to support me at RACE and for the many kind things said. Special thanks to poet and radio presenter Helen Dwyer for introducing everyone and to Dermot Weld for officially launching the book. Now Grey Motive is out there in the world and must stand on its own feet, so to speak. Leaving me to relax and write DI de Freitas' next adventure.

Dermot Weld said some very lovely things about the book, describing it as "a very exciting thriller, very exciting indeed", and said, "A lot of you here might think you know a lot about racing, but after you've read this book you'll realise you knew less than you thought. The detail is so accurate, down to the horses' names, and every little detail is exact."

Maverick House CEO John Mooney is also Sunday Times Crime Editor and said, "Most crime fiction I read is wildly inaccurate, that would never happen, they would never do that, but what I love about Grey Motive is that Lissa has everything dead right. Her dedication to making sure every smallest detail is correct is what sets her books apart."

What can I say? Such words were amazing and I feel truly honoured.

Launch Launch Leimotif

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8th May 2023

Just two days now until the official launch of Grey Motive and my outfit is planned, the running order has been decided and I am surprisingly calm. The first of the reviews have been published and I could not be happier! I can't believe the positivity of John Scanlon's wonderful review in this month's Kingsley Klarion and if there's a cloud higher than Nine, then I'm floating on it!

Klarion

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1st May 2023

Today is the day! I'm so excited to see Grey Motive finally arriving in public. Although I haven't seen a copy yet, Maverick House were kind enough to send me a photo from their warehouse and seeing boxes of several hundred copies of your book is pretty special. No matter it's the fifth book, that feeling never goes. Some posts on social media have shown copies being ordered as far afield as Australia already! The first reader to post up a photo of their copy was pretty staggered to learn they had theirs before the author, but I'm waiting until the official launch at RACE next week. Now the nerves are setting in as the launch party looms!

Warehouse

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23 April 2023

Happy World Book Day everyone! To celebrate, here I am taking part in the wonderful European Writers Council initiative, Behind Every Book. Sadly, it is too soon to be behind the covers of Grey Motive, so we'll save those images for next year's event. I'm planning to let the real "Grey Motive" in behind the covers, if he promises not to eat them! Instead, this is where it all began and my first book with Maverick House, the No.1 Bestseller Chantilly Dawns.

Lissa Lissa

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18th April 2023

So, all the big news at once! The final proofs are signed off, the full cover is signed off and Grey Motive will be in the shops in every format, including paperback, digital and audio book, on 1st May! An exclusive launch by Dermot Weld will be held at RACE Academy for invited guests! Stay tuned for photos.

Grey Motive

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13th April 2023

No update on Grey Motive. The cover heralded the final proof copy, which has been amended and now awaits a final final proof copy! There are two options for spelling horseracing, either as one word or two. But never as a single hyphenated word, which was what the editor had inexplicably settled on! As I reference the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) throughout, I had opted for my own preferred one word version. Our own ruling body, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) would agree. On the other hand, our administrative body Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) would beg to differ. Many hyphen deletions later, the BHA and IHRB win!

Grey Motive

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

24th March 2023

The news is stepping up pace, this morning I received the cover design! Amazing, I love it! I'm pretty sure that horse is Luxembourg! So much so, I nearly missed the face in the shadows! That is just how I pictured DI de Freitas and certainly how I'll picture him now. His next adventure is already underway.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

23rd March 2023

I'm still following the News at Maverick House for updates! Not long now, I suspect...

News

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13th March 2023

'I love the Cheltenham Festival,' Terry said, raising the eyebrows of those around him who knew him better. He smiled wryly. 'It means The Flat becomes the headline news, now it's over!' That was a quote from my new novel "Grey Motive", which should be hitting the bookshops any day now. Some say they meet the true author within that author's books, which isn't really the case, authors have wonderful imaginations, but Terry has certainly echoed my own sentiments there! Your hearts might be in Gloucestireshire this week, but my thoughts are on Saturday 25th March at The Curragh, and seeing Auguste Rodin, Hans Anderson, Victoria Road, Cairo, The Antarctic,Statuette and Meditate again. Such an exciting time, looking at how the Classic horses have matured over the winter. If you have never stayed after racing to watch horses exercise on the track, you don't know what you're missing.

Of course, there are those who aren't really interested in looking at horses they can't bet on. Again, they don't know what they're missing. To quote from "Grey Motive" again: De Freitas had been given a choice of horse, as they'd watched totally dissimilar horses gallop by; their hooves pounding out a rhythmic tattoo, the loud equally rhythmic breaths forming the harmonious backing track. It was easy to see why all those present shared such a passion, and how difficult such a choice could be. He had been unhesitating in his choice. He knew Mrs de Freitas would think the horse pretty, resembling as it did a rocking horse, the grey coat conspicuous in an otherwise sea of brown. And de Freitas knew confidence and honesty when he saw it, though he was surprised to see it shining from an equine eye. He'd looked into the eyes of some of the other horses, later on in the yard, finding the usual number of dubious characters and innocence and arrogance he was accustomed to seeing among his human contacts.

Inspector de Freitas will be on hand to introduce you to the behind-scenes world of racing very soon, Maverick House tell me the book will be available in shops this month and the book launch, a real red carpet affair, or should I say All-Weather woodchip, is imminent. I will, of course, keep you updated. Meanwhile, tune into Dublin South FM 93.9fm at 7pm on Friday 24th March and Friday 31st March, when I will be reading extracts from "Grey Motive" and my other novels on Helen Dwyer's lovely Rhyme & Reason show. The best part, as always, will be choosing some favourite songs to share!

Lissa

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

22nd February 2023

You were promised news and news you shall have! Maverick House Publishers has caused great excitement in the Oliver household with confirmation of a release date for the cosy crime detective mystery "Grey Motive"! "Grey Motive" will be on your shelves and Amazon in paperback format in mid-March. For those in and around Kildare, stay tuned - a launch is in the planning stage and I am incredibly thrilled and honoured to announce a Very Special Guest to launch it. In the ranks of top Irish trainers they don't come much higher or more successful, but for me he is very special because the theme of "Grey Motive" is nurturing, both horse and person. I don't believe there's anyone in racing more fitting to launch "Grey Motive" than... well, just watch this space!

And if that's not incentive enough to plough on with the second Inspector de Freitas mystery then I don't know what is! Currently he and Sergeant McCulloch (guess my favourite band, folks!) are stepping up their latest enquiries, involving skullduggery at Royal Windsor Racecourse. Chapter One complete, Chapter Two in progress. My next excitement will be seeing the cover design, hopefully soon. There was a blip when I was shown a striking B&W image of horses in flight over a Grand National fence, for the cover of "Chantilly Dawns". About a French Flat race jockey. Luckily I got to veto that one! Otherwise, Maverick House has been excellent in creating covers to match the story, so I really can't wait to see what "Grey Motive" will be wearing to the launch!

Lissa

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

6th February 2023

There is nothing more helpful than a network of supportive writing friends. We may not get in touch often, but when we do it's to pick brains and share knowledge and experiences. Regardless of whether you are receiving or giving advice, you come away richer. I had just such a conversation last week, with a screenwriter and script editor. I have the luxury of telling my story within 65,000 to 100,000 words, while she has the discipline to tell it within 90 pages. Two different mediums but one common thread - Story. As she pointed out, Story with a capital S.

Every Story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Look it up on Sesame Street, it couldn't be simpler. While you're perusing YouTube, look up Teen Titans Go and their take on writing a movie script. They've nailed it! But back here in the blended world of reality and creativity, in discussing Story, I realised that with my current New Book In Progress I have done the very thing I warn other writers not to do - embark on my journey without knowing where I'm going! How do you Begin without knowing how you'll End? Without direction, you'll get lost and wander. No reader, or movie-goer, wants that.

And yet, there I was, chatting away and realising I had already reached Chapter Two before having a vague idea of the conclusion. "I guess by now you have the experience to trust your characters and know they'll get you out of trouble," said my sage friend. Maybe she's right. By chance, a character had turned up in my head and resolved the End for me. Whether or not 'They Dunnit' is irrelevant, I do in fact trust them all to know they'll sort it out between them. But without that fortuitous arrival of the fictitious stranger, now literary companion, I would have been straying into the unknown.

Lissa

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

16th January 2023

No news as yet on a publication date for the crime novel "Grey Motive", but I have the second in the Inspector de Freitas mysteries already started, with the first chapter finished! I set myself a very easy target of 300-words a day, so if I can stick to that regime at the very least the next novel should be finished by September.

I was recently asked, "how do you start a novel?" and of course the thing about writing is that there are no rules, no right or wrong way - just your way. My own way is that I begin with a character, my invisible friend who badgers me into becoming the main protagonist. I think about their strengths and weaknesses, and fears, which then present a plot idea.

I use their weaknesses for the hurdles they will encounter, their biggest fear to overcome and away I go. Or should I say, away they go! Once you breathe life into a character, they pretty much write their own story for you. I just follow along in their wake, writing down what they do.

Lissa

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

3rd December 2022

The month has flown by in a whirl of football, football, football! Whatever is said of Qatar, the World Cup itself has been as enjoyable as always, with so many exciting matches in the Group stages, particularly in last-minute attacks. Edge of the seat stuff and great games from the perceived smaller nations.

There is still no news from Maverick House on the forthcoming "Grey Motive", but I'm quite relaxed and already developing the next book, a second in the "DI de Freitas series". Keep watching this space and check in on the Maverick House website for any special offers and release date, you'll find it on my Useful Links page.

Finally, before the Christmas tree and natural garlands go up for a traditional winter festival, I'm both looking back on the great horses I've been lucky enough to see this year and looking forward to what they'll be achieving next year. Luxembourg and Baaeed are just two of the older stars, while there's lots to come next year from the Classic prospects Al Riffa, Auguste Rodin, Victoria Road, The Foxes, Meditate and Statuette. I like Yosemite Valley as well, although I keep calling him Yosemite Sam! Here are some pics I took of them...

Al Riffa Auguste Rodin The Foxes Yosemite Valley Statuette Meditate Baaeed Baaeed

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

16th October 2022

Other than a brief patch of ill health and a short spell in hospital, not to mention a ride in an ambulance, it has been pretty much slow news month. I have a clean bill of health, nothing apparently wrong with me. Possibly an epileptic seizure, although I have no history of epilepsy. One of those great mysteries we authors thrive on, when in fiction and not reality! And, speaking of which, while the next DI de Freitas adventure is slowly coming to life, there is no current update on "Grey Motive".

However, I am again put in mind of reality versus fiction as the real world of the Flat racing season draws to a close. For me it ends at Longchamp, with Champions Day never quite living up to a finale billing, but this year we had a Derby winner taking on a champion and all the players took to the stage. The biggest problem with Champions Day is the going, which sadly did for Baaeed. I think back to Brigadier Gerard, who also failed to cope with soft ground, but came through it anyway. That's what separates the truly great horses from the very good ones we often call champions. But I digress. Some excellent results for Ballylinch Stud and Lanwades Stud bring me back to the fiction of a Triple Crown attempt within "Grey Motive" and the reality of the Triple Crown getting ever further from the reach of the modern racehorse.

As "Grey Motive" will be my fourth book with Maverick House, there will be no official launch, but I would like to do something to celebrate its arrival into the wider world. So I'm thinking of an online panel, posing the question 'is the Triple Crown still attainable?' With Lanwades Stud and Ballylinch Stud still championing the middle-distance stallion and broodmare, there remains hope. Obviously Coolmore aim for that dream, but with breeding beyond the reach of most. Commercial breeders, alas, would take a great Lanwades mare and send her straight to a sprint sire to "add some speed"! As the modern racehorse gets faster, the hope of a Triple Crown attempt diminishes. I can't wait to see which experts might like to join the panel and find out whether my fictional dream might become a reality!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

12th September 2022

Just a quick update here on the "Grey Motive" front. For some authors, the editing process is the longest part, but in fairness they get their first draft written a lot quicker than I do. Fortunately for me my first draft is, painstakingly, also my final draft and I'm relieved to say it has already passed the editing stage. A couple of minor changes to teenage Mandy's insults to her younger brother, deemed too un-'PC', which I think is fair enough. For me, she's her own entity, but I appreciate how her actions might reflect on me as an author. Censorship? I don't know. But while Mandy might not mind upsetting Jack, maybe I do mind upsetting readers. And so with a minor change to Mandy's vocabulary, "Grey Motive" is already signed off and ready for the final stage of publication. It never ceases to be exciting, whether a first book or a fifth (as in this instance) or a tenth or twentieth. Every new book is a new journey and we wouldn't be writers if we didn't still get a massive thrill out of it.

I'm also back teaching again for the new term and new writers are asking, "what's the process of writing?" The process differs from one author to the next. Many, like myself, begin with a character, an imaginary friend who moves in and lodges in the head for a while. Once I know their strengths and weaknesses, I set them on their journey and simply chase along behind them, trying to write down what unfolds. They lead, I follow, and they often surprise me. Other authors are precise planners, not starting a project until they have every detail of the plot listed and each chapter mapped out. Then there are the scene writers, who write ideas as they come into their head, this scene and that scene, in no particular order, until finally they have a jigsaw to assemble into a complete story. Some crime writers even leave it until the very end to decide who did it, then go back and drop in the clues. For me, stories are real and move forward, I couldn't imagine going back and altering the past. Characters lead, I follow. Whatever way you choose to write is the right way for you, there are no rules, no boundaries (Mandy might beg to differ...) and definitely no wrong way. Just go ahead and write.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

31st August 2022

Thank you for your considerable patience in 'staying tuned for news'! It has no more gone unnoticed than the actual lack of news! Not that there isn't any. The novel, the cosy crime genre "Grey Motive", is actually finished! More than that, it is with Maverick House and they hope to have it out by the end of October. It will be my first title as an audio book, too.

What happened between completion and now is that I got sick. Being the times we live in, it might have been covid. Or not. When I didn't get better, the "or not" option became the more likely and antibioics are now doing their valuable work. At last, I am indeed getting better.

So, how did "Grey Motive" end? Wouldn't you like to know, you'll just have to buy a copy and find out! From my point of view it ended wonderfully, I had trusted the characters and had faith they knew what they were doing and where they were going. Better yet, I fired it off to Maverick House and received an almost immediate phone call that evening. "I can't tell you how happy receiving your book made me." Wow. As writers, we receive so many rejections that we forget that we are on the same hymn sheet as publishers. They also want to make a living from selling books. They do need us as much as we need them and it's so nice to be appreciated. Of course, it was a mutual grovelling gratitude conversation - I think we need them just slightly more than they need us! There's less of them to go round! But for my part, I count my blessings I'm with Maverick House and I hope I can repay their faith with a fourth success.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

21st July 2022

So I last spoke to you in June... In my defence, I have put two magazines to bed, with hefty contributions of articles that required research and writing, plus a couple of fantastic meetings at the Curragh, including the Irish Derby weekend and Irish Oaks weekend! None of which truly held my full undivided attention. What has been keeping me from these updates is my nearly-finished novel "Grey Motive"!

Completing a novel is like completing a very long journey. Having spent hours on a motorway you suddenly pull off onto the familiar little road home. You can see the front door. It might have been tempting to stop for a break en route, but there's no way anyone stops in sight of home! So, "Grey Motive" is very near the finish line, stay tuned for news!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

25th June 2022

Well, Royal Ascot is over and, as usual, it's difficult to reflect on the highlights. A normal day's racing might see me busy for two or three races, in which maybe three or four horses might be my focus. Royal Ascot is our Olympics, I am busy for five of the seven races, with a focus on EVERY runner in those races. And, of course, a spectator's interest in the other two races. At the end of each day, I can't remember a single result and by the end of the five days I can recall which horses I loved, but not where they finished or in which race! Quite simply, brain frazzling! This year we crept up to the hottest day of the year on Friday at 34 degrees celcius, when my feet and ankles swelled up like tree trunks, to the coldest day on Saturday at just 19 degrees celcius, when I bought an Ascot hoodie from the gift shop just to keep warm. The Dubai press shrugged off the hot day, describing it as "Dubai winter". I shrugged off the cold day - "Irish summer"!

Baaeed and Nature Strip were the obvious day one highlights, Nature Strip unusually tall for a sprinter and full of quality. To see the imposing Coroebus in the flesh was another treat. Seeing the Japanese horses during the week was a rare treat and they were striking colts, but Wednesday's highlight was the German filly Novemba, so sweet. The Norfolk field was surprisingly good in terms of potential three-year-olds and I liked Knebworth, unplaced in the Windsor Castle. Stradivarius coming in to a round of applause was probably the high of the week. The unseemly and unnecessary furore after the race from connections was the low. No matter the profession, employers should never publicly criticise employees. Moving on to Friday, Ottoman Fleet was an imposing gelding of Charlie Appleby's, and by Saturday it was the filly Lakota Sioux who caught the eye in the paddock, together with Crypto Force, neither of whom could match the debutant Holloway Boy in the race. Though disappointing, Hurricane Lane was a definite highlight, such an imposing horse. Naval Crown was no surprise, he's built like a sprinter with a backside like a bus!

But the week's number one highlight? Meeting lovely new people in the Media Centre and crossing the hallowed course to get there, that could figure. The prize, however, goes to the delightful German colt Rocchigiani, fifth in the Jersey Stakes but first in endearing himself to me! He took a keen interest in the solitary spectator at the spot on the saddling box rail known as "Ballydoyle Corner" and continued to chat me up thereafter! In all, a wonderful week spent with very nice people and utterly gorgeous horses.

Lissa My boy Rocchigiani Rocchigiani still with eyes for me! Stradivarius

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

7th June 2022

With just a week to go, all the glamour of Ascot is currently unglamorously festooned over every radiator in the house. As usual, the same mix'n'match dresses (warm or cold weather options) have been stored for the year in vacuum bags and have now been through the wash. Good practice, as the long-term forecast suggests we'll be going through the wash during a wet Ascot as well! My signature Doc Martens may get an Ascot airing after all…

It promises to be a fantastic meeting, with runners from Japan, America and Australia taking on the very best of the Europeans. Last weekend wasn't bad either, Desert Crown proving himself in The Derby, Emily Upjohn likewise in The Oaks, if by a gallant second to another star in Tuesday, and then Vadeni scooting up in the Prix du Jockey Club. As a first-crop son of Churchill, his ability to see out the 2400m of the Arc remains in question. That will please the legion of Australians hoping to see their prize mare Verry Elleegant romp home in Paris! I shall be decked out in all my Aussie racing badges next week in support of their sprinters - fingers crossed!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

17th May 2022

A lot has happened in my absence! I was in hospital for a week, all good now. I had the great honour of representing the Libyan Horseracing Authority at the European & Mediterranean Horseracing Federations General Assembly here in Ireland. HRI and the IHRB really did us proud, thank you to all involved as hosts and to our wonderful hosts at Naas Racecourse and the Irish National Stud. What a lovely group of people in attendance, so knowledgeable and willing to share and support.

I am also very excited and relieved to announce that Grey Motive, still "in progress" will be published later this year by Maverick House. I pinch myself daily at how lucky I am to be working in the racing industry, but a second pinch for how blessed I am to have the loyal support of Maverick House.

And, of course, excitement grows as we find out who's left in The Derby. If I don't know who will win by the previous October then it's a sure fire guess it will be the Dante winner. This year got a little skewed by the setbacks to absentees Luxembourg and Reach For The Moon, but the Dante winner has stepped up in impressive style. I'm not worried by Desert Crown's lack of experience as he has a great temperament and is so professional. The same can't be said of the imposing Walk Of Stars', who was so green at Lingfield, although he showed he'd handle Epsom. He still needs the penny to drop, but you can rely on Charlie Appleby to get him there in the right frame of mind for the day. Stone Age speaks for himself, but that trial hasn't been for the better horses for many a year and the winner often impresses because there's not much behind him. Still, he looked good, even if his juvenile form isn't up to Derby standard. Having been privileged to see the Ballydoyle three-year-olds, including Luxembourg, for me Ivy League was the standout. There's a lot to come from him. Eydon's a very classy horse, but looks to me like a 10f horse, I can't see him lasting home. So...

My one-two-three? 1 Desert Crown, 2 Stone Age, 3 Walk Of Stars, 4 Ivy League, 5 Eydon!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

23rd April 2022

Happy World Book Day! As part of the annual celebrations I take part in the Behind Every Book social media postings, where we get to see who our favourite authors are, as well as meet their cats and dogs in many cases! So, here I am!

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A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

16th April 2022

We are beginning to lose many of the people who were important to me in my formative years in horseracing. Some I had the good fortune to meet, others leaving their mark from a distance. Although I did eventually meet Desmond Stoneham, only in recent years, he must fall under the latter category, making an indelible mark from across the Channel when there were no other lines of communication from France.

I didn't realise he only started writing for The Sporting Life in 1977, but by 1978 he was already an icon for me. That's when I first became an avid 'Life reader, by a happy coincidence its price of 25p the same price as the school dinner I thenceforward forewent. With Philippe Paquet and Jean-Luc Kessas among my riding heroes, with no internet or TV coverage, the reports by Des Stoneham were my lifeblood. They didn't need to be well-written, but the fact that they were such a perfect example of writing was just an added bonus to be savoured.

Des had such a wonderful dry wit and a way of subtly hiding his pearls among the Woolworths beads. As a reader, you felt like you were in a private club, the inner circle, there at the racecourse alongside him. It was writing to savour and aspire to. Always such humour rippling beneath the surface; the sharp but subtle jibe against a miscreant, usually a bad loser or immodest winner. I can't recall now which owner dropped their cut-crystal trophy in the car park, but I still remember Des' well-chosen words describing the fragments as cuttingly as he described the earlier poor sportsmanship. He was as careful with his praise where it was due and even when 'Mon' Thierry (Jarnet) was out of fashion for a while, Des never wrote his name without a compliment included beside it.

While I was at school in London he was relaying on-the-spot reports of the Chantilly gallops and he always spotted a class horse or rider long before ever they stepped out on a racecourse. He told his readers of Pasquier and Soumillon long before their first ride, convincing Fabre to give the latter a second chance when tardiness saw him dismissed after his first few weeks. That's all it took Des to recognise talent on the gallops, equine and human.

As a writer, he was second to none. My abiding memory is of an article in the much-missed "Courses et Elevage", which I was translating word-by-word with my trustee French/English Dictionary, as it detailed a winning ride by 'Mon' Thierry. The jockeys, Des wrote, were more competitive than usual, due to the unique prize at stake. The winning jockey would get to take home the attractive and popular partner of Christophe Soumillon, coveted by all in the weighing room. Obviously, I checked and re-checked my dictionary. I must surely have got that wrong somewhere. I ploughed on and eventually hit the Stoneham motherload of punchlines. Soumillon's partner finished eighth in what was his last race and went home with Jarnet, assured of a paddock for life. That calculated ambiguity throughout a lengthy half-page was the epitome of Des' style and wit and masterful prose.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

27th March 2022

We had glorious spring sunshine and even warmth for the new Flat season at the Curragh yesterday, which also fell on my birthday. So, a very wonderful day. As to the new season, Aidan fetched his string along after racing, but it was very much reduced in numbers to other years, as well as in quality. On the day, the absolute pick out star, oozing quality, was actually Ivy League, who ran for the first time in the 7f maiden. He looks like a middle-distance horse and really needed the run, he was fat to say the least. Such presence. He's entered in the Gladness Stakes Sunday week and holds Derby entries. Interestingly, not Guineas, even though his first two races chosen are 7f.

Of the horses fetched to gallop, Wembley and High Definition looked really good, the only two older horses present. Wembley is a smallish compact type, lots to like about him and a nice attitude. High Definition is a lovely horse, a taller more elegant type with a real bouncy temperament, taking in everything and just on that point of exploding into mischievousness, but for having good manners. Exuberant.

Tenebrism really looks like a Classic filly. She might be sprint-bred, but her physique says otherwise. She's a muscular boxy type and very strong, very quiet and confident. You might say masculine in build, but she's also very feminine, not at all tomboyish.

Luxembourg I'm not excited about. He's a lovely quiet horse with a bright outlook, but he has no quality about him. Plain is not a plain enough word for him! He's a tall angular type, but totally lacking in class. HOWEVER! When he cantered to post he was a different animal, I only picked him out because of Ryan Moore. And he simply cruised back up the 7f gallop, absolutely effortless. He didn't have Point Lonsdale upsides, as reported, it was Kyprios and Waterville. The three had about two lengths over King Of Bavaria and Star Of India, and three more back to Cougar and Wordsworth, then Point Lonsdale, not that a racecourse gallop means very much.

None of the three-year-olds really jumped out at me as stunning or classy, Waterville and, to a lesser degree Martinstown, were the paddock picks and did have a lot of quality, where Luxembourg had none. Waterville was a standout, Cougar looked a nice sort too, as did Aikhal.

An interesting season ahead!

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A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

25th March 2022

It was very sad to lose Jimmy Lindley. I only knew him as a pundit, other than old videos of his riding days, but he was always spoken of with such reverence as a jockey by all. As a pundit, he was the best. It wasn't until Francesca Cumani and Luke Harvey did I get a paddock judge I could trust. I'd come home from the races as a schoolgirl and my Mum would tell me which horses Jimmy had picked out and his comments, while I would show her my racecard notes, and we nearly always matched. I learnt such a lot about conformation and physique through listening to him. On days I couldn't go racing, I knew I could safely watch on TV and trust Jimmy's opinion.

11th March 2022

If you're tuning in for an update on Pete Allen's progress, he being the hero of Gala Day and participating in a character challenge, then I've bad news. You could say that Pete's progress was "arrested". As the challenges grew in length, so too is my next novel "Grey Motive" and I found it better to devote my writing time to the two detectives featured in "Grey Motive" than to Pete's challenge. While Pete's rivals were brandishing magic powers and wands and pretty impressive swords, he was reducing them to jelly with a mere lowering of the designer shades and more than holding his own, it must be said. But each challenge was like writing a short story and my limited time forced him to lay down the sunglasses and withdraw from battle.

All of which was good news for DI de Freitas and DS McCulloch. Yes, Sergeant McCulloch. If that rings a bell, you're a friend of mine! You'll usually find a splattering of music references within my books and "Grey Motive" is no exception. In fact, main character Jack has a passion for LPs, although his taste in music is at great odds with my own. I have to say this book was a very slow starter in terms of progress, but now I'm settling into the flow it's going along at a more normal rate of progress and very nearly finished, in fact. I'm juggling with timelines and trying to prevent de Freitas and McCulloch from solving the crime before the end, but otherwise in a very happy writing place right now. So stay tuned once more!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

28th February 2022

Pete from the thriller Gala Day is holding his own in a character challenge that largely includes fantasy fiction characters. In fact, he may be the only human among them and is certainly the only human without mystical powers, unless you include the shades, of course. It has yet to conclude, so we'll see how he fairs next month, perhaps.

Meanwhile, my challenge for the day was to tutor a creative writing class while simultaneously hosting my vet for a "Herd" Test. It is still a Herd, even when it consists only of Gary the Dexter bullock! One a year for all of his 19 years, come June, so he's a pretty dab hoof at this. I am not such a dab hand at hosting Zoom classes via a mobile phone, but in the end it worked OK and the weather was kind, as I conducted a live broadcast from The Field. At one point I had to set my class down, while attending to the vet, and on my return I discovered that Leo the horse had taken over as host, peering with great interest at the little people within my phone. Luckily he deduced their pockets would be way too small for Polos, otherwise I might never have seen my unattended phone ever again. Creative Writing is all about inspiration and hopefully the class gained plenty of that, with the blue skies of an open-air classroom, background sounds of a vet chatting with Gary, a horse appearing in ultra zoom mode on their screen and the sight of me losing a welly in the mud and toppling over backwards. All in day's work!

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12th February 2022

Well, Pete Allen from the thriller Gala Day has embarked on his Challenge, which you can follow on Twitter, my Facebook page and on Goodreads. So far, he has responded to most challenges with "my shades"! His designer sunglasses have turned out to be his favourite wardrobe item, his distinctive physical appearance, his most treasured item and his "Magic Power" and "Weapon of Choice", albeit a tad facetiously! There have been some more closer-to-home challenges that couldn't be brushed off with a witty answer and they have certainly made Pete think a lot harder about who he is.

Which is interesting, from an author's perspective. We create characters, who then take on a life of their own. If you are a writer and one of your characters is unable to answer the challenges, then you haven't finished creating that character yet. Their favourite colour, book, school subject, their family life, childhood, career, friends and interests should have been shared with you as their creator. None of it might ever get used in the story, but you need to know these people intimately in order for them to become fully-rounded people populating your stories. Otherwise they are just paper-thin characters who sit within a story, rather than living inhabitants of a fictional world.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

18th January 2022

I received an interesting invitation this week, to enter one of my characters into a "challenge". Twelve authors (so far) will nominate a character from one of their novels to enter the challenge. The characters will face a series of tests and a winner will eventually be named. Your guess is as good as mine, but seemingly this is the third year of the challenge and I'm intrigued!

I know nothing of the challenge, so the first challenge for me was who to nominate? Marcel was never going to be a contender. He failed to cope with the challenges I threw at him in Chantilly Dawns, which was the whole point of the story. Serge would have coped better, but he'd go at this like a bull in a china shop, act first, think later if at all! Within Sainte Bastien I could choose Dominic, who I know wouldn't be interested and wouldn't bother himself to compete, or his father Nick, who wouldn't have the time or patience. Loss of temper would surely ensue.

Which leaves Pete Allen, and no better man for the job. That was, after all, what he was born to do - to take the bull by the horns in Gala Day and become a hero, even though he's far from heroic and not afraid to admit to being scared. He doesn't let that put him off, though. Level-headed, proven in combat and with a secret enjoyment of acting a hero, if truth be told. Pete, I don't know what I'm letting you in for, but I know I can depend upon you to win! Let battle commence!

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

7th January 2022

My new year's resolution, of course, is to keep my website News up to date! Father Christmas was particularly kind to me with books and I'm pretty much nearing the completion of my own next novel "Grey Motive", so we'll see how that particular resolve pans out, shall we?! The big question now is, which of the books will I begin first? Actually, the one already missing from the pile pictured - Gideon Defoe's excellent "An Atlas Of Extinct Countries"! Last Christmas I received all of his brilliantly funny "Pirates!" books.

It looks like another year ahead the same as the two just gone, but I'm perfectly happy at home with my family, pets, my writing, my books and my records. Zoom gets me "out of the house" and I love my ETB Creative Writing Classes, sitting in the company of excellent writers in their home and listening to fantastic poetry, prose, novel extracts and short stories. Many are heading into their second year of classes and although they were totally new to writing this time last year, we have seen publication for some and simply enjoyed fantastic work from all. What a joy the classes have been. If you would like to join Creative Writing classes online, free to all courtesy of the ETB, simply drop me an email.

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A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

26th November 2021

I see I've had a bit of a gap in updating my news, which is not to say nothing has been happening. Mainly I've been tutoring Creative Writing classes and they have been rather like listening to an exclusive audio book, the quality of stories has been so high and so enjoyable. As they come to a close for the autumn term I'm really going to miss everyone and their work. It's a reminder to anyone reading this who might like to dabble in writing but lacks the courage that, yes, you can do it! We all have a story to tell and the ability to tell it. Pick up a pen and a notebook, remember it's private to you alone and don't give a thought to spelling or grammar, just write.

Of course, I do have a story to tell and have been telling it now for uh-hum years and largely updating you all on the lack of progress! I signed up to NaNoWriMo, an incentive to write a novel throughout November, and I have to say it has worked really well. I have felt compelled to sit down with my cosy crime novel "Grey Motive" each day, even if only to get 50 words written, and as a result there have been days where 1,500 or 500 words have been added, which is all a step nearer to the 80,000 needed. It also keeps the characters right there with me every day, where they had in the past often been neglected, so to have a daily target is a huge benefit.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

19th October 2021

I am very honoured, as well as feeling a little unworthy, to announce that I have been appointed Consultant to the Libyan Horseracing Authority. Many years ago, I heard about a Libyan breeder buying broodmares at Newmarket to replenish an entire stud farm destroyed by war. As horse lovers, we are all horrified by the devastating loss of our beloved companions and my heart went out to the brothers Amad and Rashwan as they attempted not only to rebuild their family business and livelihood, but restore equine harmony to their life and that of their young children. I met them at Newmarket and a friendship was formed. I met the mares they had purchased and my heart travelled with my extended equine and human family back home to Libya.

Life for them all hasn't always been easy. For the horses, it has been one of incredible luxury, the stables and care received from the brothers and their children and staff would make the Coolmore inhabitants feel they were roughing it! But there has also been danger, threat and kidnap, with some lives lost and others requiring expert TLC to see them through.

Now that period of uncertainty has passed, we can only hope for good, the new government has invested heavily in the thoroughbred industry, to restore stability and employment to what will become a thriving economic boon to the country. Dr Amad has become President of the Libyan Horseracing Authority and is establishing racing as he established his stud farm - thinking big, on a lavish and luxurious scale. When international runners eventually arrive to compete, they will be pleasantly astonished.

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A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony here.

9th October 2021

Although we had a "shock" result to the Arc last weekend, it was only in terms of betting. The winner was a worthy horse with Group One form and the better fancied horses who had given this year's Arc its status of being one of the highest class renewals finished right up there with Torquator Tasso. Full credit to the horse and his lovely connections, for whom it was a fairytale win.

Meanwhile, my other passions include an admiration of the Emperor Nero and the British Museum exhibition reflecting those views, Nero - The Man Behind The Myth, draws to a close this month. Your last chance to see the exhibition is 24th October, but for those like me who have been unable to attend in person there have been plenty of online events, virtual tours and webinars, all of which remain on YouTube. If you agree with the views presented by the British Museum you will definitely enjoy my own book, Nero - The Last Caesar, which puts those facts into context, rather than looking back through modern eyes. If you don't, then you might like to re-read Suetonius and Tacitus back-to-back and reconsider! It was their many contradictions that led me into my own research and writing.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony! here.

3rd October 2021

My favourite race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe! At the risk of sounding contrary, I don't enjoy The Derby if I don't know who's going to win. If a generation of horses have reached June of their third year wthout one shining through as a standout horse, it's usually not a good generation. This year I was convinced Hurricane Lane was the shining star, and he pretty much is; but it's a vintage year and Adayar is even better! With the Arc, however, I love it because I never know what the outcome might be, any horse could win. There's that great thrill of excitement and anticipation that one unknown horse, of any sex, nationality and age group, can establish his or herself as a world class champion. You could make a case for all of the runners, which makes the Arc such a special race. Today will be the rematch between Hurricane Lane and Adayar, and it could at long last be Japan's day with Chrono Genesis. Being the 100th running of the Arc makes it extra special.

That thrill of anticipation has always meant that Arc Trial day at Longchamp is my favourite day's racing, although in recent times it has clashed with Irish Champions Weekend. At Longchamp in September you get to see most of the Arc contenders, and three of them will win, with others running so well their chances are also enhanced, but the bubble still floats brightly. The expectations and hopes are alive. Only one will walk back into the winner's enclosure on the first Sunday of October and that's the season over. Yes, we have British Champions Day and the Breeders Cup still to come, but neither really excite me. Today marks the close of my racing year and what a way to end it! In tribute, of all my Arc photos, here's one from 1982, when it was run late and too dark for my cheap little instamatic, but I captured the filly who would become my own horse's grandmother, Air Distingue, with Cash Asmussen!

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A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony! here.

15th September 2021

Here we are on my 35th Wedding Anniversary, a Coral one, so our goldfish are likely to be gifted some plastic coral whenever we manage to find some! How blessed I am to have shared most of my life with my best friend Tony. I also shared the weekend with him and our wonderful Ska family at Tramore racecourse, for the annual International Ska and Reggae Festival. It was my first time at Tramore racecourse (you should know me by now, no starting stalls, no interest!)and I was delighted by the little course and facilities. When I say little, I mean it! I've never been at such a tiny track before, and I've been at Bath and Windsor! The 50m marker was only just off the home turn, so I'm judging the sraight to be around 100m. From the winning post, we were looking straight across at the 4f (800m) marker on the back stretch! A Flat horse would get dizzy going round it a couple of times, so how those jump horses manage I don't know! It must take them four circuits! And the back stretch is so high above the home straight of the oval that the runners get lost from sight in the home turn dip! You have to love the wonderful variants of the British Isles racecourses, the flat and standardised tracks of the rest of the world just don't compare.

Meanwhile, the novel "Grey Motive" continues to progress and hopefully there will be a few more novels progressing elsewhere, as I welcome back my ETB students to Creative Writing via Zoom, with four classes per week starting next week for the autumn term. It's so exciting and inspirational and a real treat for me to hear their work.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony! here.

31st August 2021

I hope any fans of my book "Nero - The Last Caesar" are following the many online events at The British Museum, they really are excellent. I finished researching and then published the book way back in 2001, so for me it has been great to reacquaint myself with some old friends.

Anyhow, as my other old friend Karl Marx was apt to begin paragraphs (I've been dipping back into my well-read volumes of Capital!), 20 years later and my new novel "Grey Motive" looks set to be completed by October. I had some really exciting revelations last week that have tied up all the loose threads and helped me (and the reader!) stay one step ahead of the fictional detectives. Frustratingly, I can't share them, as they will be massive plot-spoilers! But as I have always said, you must trust your characters, follow their lead, and not try to push them into your own ideas - they create plots all by themselves. This is what has happened, cogs falling into place and almost without my input. When you create 'real' characters they gain their own voice and the wise author should always listen.

A free sliding puzzle of Leitmotif (AKA Leo) for you to try, created by my husband Tony! here.

10th August 2021

My last entry showed the arrival of summer, but it has already passed. We managed to get away to Cork for a couple of days, walking the forests of the Beara Peninsula. Not before my horse Leo had an emergency trip to the equine hospital, having knocked out a front tooth! Thanks to the superb vets and nurses at Troytown, he is back home and not a bother on him. I also received a wonderful package from the British Museum, the bust of Nero and the coffee table book to accompany the exhibition now my pride and joy. There's great reading in the book and, thankfully, no contradictions to my own book on Nero!

Meanwhile, four works of reference on equine welfare have kept me busy (two down, two to go), but I have made inroads on my novel "Grey Motive". I had been struggling to get going, as the characters were telling me one thing, while my instinct battled against them. As it's their book, I of course lost and hit a wall. I have now realised, thanks to a most enlightening chat with fellow novelist Roy Hunt, that I'm writing 'Cosy Crime' and the menace I wanted to introduce isn't nearly as good as the more mundane but equally threatening elements my characters were creating. Always trust your characters and bow to their better judgement! Non-writers might think the author has more control, but every writer will tell you otherwise. We record what they do, not tell them what to do.

And so I am now safely on the best part of the novel's journey, at full stretch and aiming to finish by October. A mere 300-word a day target will see me across that deadline, so far being comfortably surpassed. Setting a low target really boosts both morale and energy when you surpass it; I personally prefer that to the challenge of a higher target.

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20th July 2021

Summer has finally arrived in Ireland and the weather is scorchio! Not to everyone's taste and my heart goes out to my boys, Leo Horse and Gary bullock, but I LOVE the heat! The boys have become nocturnal and spend their day standing in the stream, under the shade of the trees. A pity the flies bother them, but otherwise idyllic.

I have been so enjoying the Nero exhibition tie-ins at the British Museum, so don't forget to contact me if you'd like a signed copy of "Nero - The Last Caesar"! I'm glad I finally took the fiction route with that particular book. I know very few people are aware of the non-fiction academic biographies available, but I had nothing new to add to those anyway and my own biography of Nero, which was the framework for my novel, simply repeated the same facts. By breathing life into Nero and his peers, I hope I fetched something new to the way his story is told - by him, instead of by biographers. The Museum is doing this, too, and providing artefacts as well to really bring the man and his era to life.

As regards new fiction, in particular that work-ever-in-progress "Grey Motive", I decided to learn from my creative writing students and attempt something I've never done before - plot the story! I thought it might help to get my head around the story to layout a structure and sequence of events. No! It doesn't help! I can no more plot the lives of my characters as I can my own! The future hasn't happened yet and I can only list the final target. How they reach it is entirely up to them. I guess every writer has their own way of going about things, but I'm a One Draft Only author. I can only sit back and watch the characters tell their own story, writing it down for them as I follow in their wake, no more than an observer. So yes, it is a slow process, but at least I don't have an editing stage or a second or third draft.

20th June 2021

Well, it isn't lack of news that has kept me silent here for a little while. There was Royal Ascot, followed via ITV and the Zoom facility in the press room. Great to see so many first-time winners there, most notably Gary Carroll. Well done to all. Our main news was adopting five more hens rescued from a battery farm, and what characters they are! The two we rescued last year are a little put out about sharing treats, but all are such fun to have around. We had to rebuild the luxury dwelling to allow the two ducks their own space, as they were getting bullied by the new hens. All is sorted now.

Also taking up some time has been the Nero Exhibition at the British Museum. For those who don't realise, we owe an awful lot of enduring misconceptions to the movies. For example, me hearties, did you know that pirates only talk in that amusing pirate way because of actor Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in the 1950 film Treasure Island? Newton went on to play Blackbeard in a 1952 movie and his portrayal of pirates has endured to this day. Then there are those frightfully upper-class First World War pilots, originally brought to our screens by RADA graduate actors. The genuine pilots had been working-class conscripts and the only link to aristocracy was the accent of the actors who later portrayed them. Literature is just as guilty, most famously American author Washington Irving creating the fallacy that people once thought the world was flat, by adding drama to his 1828 story about Christopher Columbus by suggesting his fear of dropping off the edge of the world! Seafarers had been navigating by the stars from the earliest Egyptians to Columbus himself, but the idea that people once thought the world flat has stuck in popular myth ever since.

Every Easter or Christmas you might see on your screens the classic 1951 movie Quo Vadis, in which Peter Ustinov portrayed the madman, Emperor Nero. I grew up with his imagery, so I was astonished to later learn it was all false. Nero was a young man of just 16 when he became Emperor, a well-respected statesman and a man of the people, driven to suicide at the age of 30 without once having murdered a wife, mother or fiddled while Rome burnt! He was blonde and blue-eyed and, as the title of my book indicates, the last of the Caesar family. The title of Emperor was hereditary, so a new line had to be found and the Flavian dynasty fought against the popularity of the Caesars, not least the idealist Nero who had been so adored by the people. Their answer was to perpetuate negative propaganda, written some 50 years after Nero's death and fabricating many of the events he is now famous for. Now, running until October, the British Museum is hosting an exhibition of the real Nero, The Man Behind The Myth, which replicates the 10-years of research I worked on for my novel Nero - The Last Caesar. For those of us who can't travel over, a Virtual Tour can be found on the Facebook and YouTube pages of the British Museum #NeroExhibition.

And back to the horses, try the sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

4th June 2021

I should have been discussing The Derby winner here from at least last October, but not having seen any horse in the flesh it no longer comes down to recognising his class and superiority. Now I'm in the guessing game of form, which is a lot less reliable than physical appearance. The only Group 1 winners are Mac Swiney, who is already a Classic winner, and Gear Up. It's never wise to stray far from a proven Group 1 horse or a Classic winner with stamina for 12f, since The Derby winner is going to be the best horse of his generation. Bolshoi Ballet has not trodden the traditional path of a first string Derby colt and flashy Gr3 winners have been found out at Gr1 level often enough in the past. My maxim is that if I haven't seen The Derby winner by the Dante Stakes, then it will be the Dante winner, Golden Horn being the most recent example. When a Derby horse isn't forward enough at two to take the traditional route, he tends to wait for the Dante. Trainers know when they have a Derby horse and nearly everyone in the profession knows when someone has THE Derby horse! So, the Gear Up team are bullish he'll improve for the race and extra 2f after a disappointing Dante run, but The Derby winner rarely brings excuses into the race. Mac Swiney is the Classic colt who should relish the step up to 12f, but I think I'll stay with the Dante winner in Hurricane Lane.

Bigger news is the four-year ban handed to trainer Stephen Mahon for neglect of horses. I'm sorry, but as disgusted as I am with Mahon, I am even more disgusted by our ruling body. I feel that anything less than a lifetime ban is a real kick in the teeth to our industry by the IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board). Mahon had already been convicted of cruelty and banned, so how was he ever granted a licence again and allowed to commit repeated offences? Once bitten, twice shy, but here is the IHRB giving the man a THIRD chance! Theoretically he can re-apply for his licence after his derisory four-year ban. Whether it's in racing or a national court of law, a conviction for animal cruelty should result in a lifetime ban of ever keeping an animal again. We would expect the IHRB to protect the animals at the centre of our sport and the image and reputation of our industry, not meter out such derisory penalties. It's an insult to everyone in the profession.

Less taxing, the sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

22nd May 2021

It has been a very sad week, with the sudden loss of Joe Mercer. He was known as "Uncle Joe" to my friends and me and we couldn't have wished for a better mentor. I first met him on my first day at the races, introduced to him by Brough Scott who knew Joe and Brigadier Gerard were my heroes. Below is the signed photo Joe gave me, alongside Joe on board Brigadier Gerard, and Light Cavalry, a son of Brigadier Gerard. I could have cropped and tidied, but there they are as they have always been, in my treasured 40-yr-old photo album. They say never meet your heroes, but I count myself blessed to have not only met such heroes, but counted them as friends. My musical heroes, too, have never let me down, for that matter.

Joe was always patient and kind, and we learnt so much from him. When we were broken hearted upon the retirement of Kris, Joe cheered us up with details of Kris's younger brothers at home. But for me, he will always be the perfect jockey above all else. It was a golden era of jockeys and he shone the brightest. I learnt about jockeyship from him and it has stood me in good stead ever since. RIP, Joe.

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Back to the horses now and a fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

15th May 2021

It has been a very eventful week or two, culminating in getting my first dose of Pfizer vaccine this morning. So far so good! Having not been anywhere other than a supermarket, my last trip out having been to Gilltown Stud in February 2020, I also managed a day trip yesterday. My thanks to Ger Lyons and the wonderful team at Glenburnie Stables. Such a tranquil place, with beautiful horses and wonderful people. I've been a fan of Ger's horses for 20 years and his work riders are top quality, too. A real feast for the eyes watching a couple of lots, stalls training (ably assisted by the large canine welcoming committee!) and just shadowing Ger to see how things are done. It will make a great cover feature for the next Trainer Magazine. Elsewhere, I have also been asked to be involved in an exciting project, as chief writer and consultant, although as it's pre-production I'm not free to discuss it at present. It will keep me busy, but very happy.

Why not try a fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

29th April 2021

I don't stray too far from horses, music or writing and if I appear to stray now to first century Rome and the Emperor Nero, it's really just a variant of the same path! Like myself, Nero loved his pets, was a keen horseman, loved racing, loved music and was a good musician, and he was a respected writer and strong supporter of the Arts. He was also a man of the people and a socialist in his politics, a Marxist 1800 years before Marx! Why do I mention this? Because so few people have read any academic works on Nero and most know him only as the deranged despot portrayed by Peter Ustinov in the movie Quo Vadis. So whenever I say I've written a book about Nero because he was such a good guy and great leader, I am treated much like the madman populist history would have him to be!

At last - the British Museum has come to our rescue, saving the reputation of Nero and the slur on my sanity! If you follow the #NeroExhibition on social media you will find links and informaton of a forthcoming exhibition on Nero, running from May to November, introducing us to the real Nero, the man behind the myth. In her blog,Francesca Bologna, Nero Project Curator, provides a wonderful summary of my book as she explains why Nero came to be the victim of such a smear campaign fifty years after his death. The public loved him, but not the new Imperial family which followed. About two thousand years too late, between the British Museum and my own one woman crusade we will restore Nero's good name and reputation. He is a man to be admired and if you doubt the facts in my own book, go along to the British Museum in the coming year and prepare to be amazed! Thank you Francesca Bologna, Nero and I are very grateful!

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Back to the horses now and a fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

18th April 2021

Another couch potato day and a far cry from being on my feet all day at the races! At Newbury the best race for the future looks to be the 8f maiden won by Snow Lantern, by Frankel out of Sky Lantern, beating Derab, a Sea The Stars half-brother to Enable, and Fantastic Fox, a Frankel half-brother to Dream Of Dreams. We tend to only see pedigrees like that in Irish maidens! Wordsworth won at the Curragh yesterday, a full-brother to Kew Gardens. He was beaten three-parts of a length by High Definition on his only start at two over a mile and this was a nice win over 10f.

The John Porter Stakes was a very nice one-two for paddock picks, Al Aasy looks very classy, a nice older Gr1 12f colt. Without A Fight is full of quality and will hopefully improve on last year's consistent form to remain in Group company. In the Fred Darling, Alcohol Free will come on for her run, but didn't look convincing enough for a Guineas filly. Breeding, size and staying on at the finish suggests runner-up Statement needs more than 7f and even The Oaks.

At Longchamp, the Prix de la Grotte threw up no Classic clues, all finishing in a heap, and no standout in the paddock. The same might be said of the Greenham Stakes, Chindit really doesn't look like a Classic colt. Connections say he'll improve for the mile, but he's a compact type and his build suggests the 7f was his optimum.

Sealiway was the real paddock pick for the Fontainebleau, in fact I'd picked him when I didn't know who he was, walking round the stabling area prior to the earlier race, so it was lovely to see him stepping out under the No.4 cloth later! Policy Of Truth looked nothing special in the paddock, but proved the winner. Hopefully a fitter Sealiway will reverse that form comfortably in the future.

The Prix Lord Seymour saw the return of In Swoop, who looked well, along with paddock picks Influx and Sheraz. Sublimis certainly wasn't a paddock pick, but got up to beat In Swoop, with Sheraz third and Influx only 5th. Again, there will be better to come from In Swoop, and hopefully of Sheraz and particularly the handsome Influx.

A fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

11th April 2021

What a treat for me watching live racing from Longchamp on the France Galop website, where coverage is now on continuous livestream, as with Deutscher Galop. So we can view the stable area and paddocks, then the parade ring, see the horses as they first enter, assess them walking round and going out onto the track, then see them led back in and led away. All of which tells you as much, if not more, than the race itself.

The neatly-made and extremely attractive Adhamo won the Prix La Force for Freddy Head and Maxime Guyon and looks a serious Prix du Jockey Club horse. The fillies didn't look of such quality in their trial, Rumi's win was more workmanlike than exciting. On TV, it was the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. The strongly built Poetic Flare was the standout paddock pick in a below-par bunch and so it proved in the race. Not sure if it's Classic form, but he won nicely and he's a good-looking muscular horse. HMS Seahorse had earlier run second in the maiden and has a lovely eye and could be one to note. Again, the fillies weren't so striking.

On to the Prix D'Harcourt, where Skalleti is a class horse and looked really well, but wow what a beauty Mare Australis is, a great big strong filly with such a good head and eye. I love her! The pair ran out a convincing one-two, with Skalleti laying his claims of being one of the better older horses this year. Back on TV and it was good to see Real Appeal winning the 7f handicap. He was such an imposing two-year-old and I was delighted to see him arrive at Jim Bolger's from France, having been taken with him at Ascot. However, I lost last season and here he is now with Jessie Harrington. Hopefully his winning ways will continue, he's better than handicap class.

Back to Longchamp for the Prix Noailles and Media Stream and Pretty Tiger looked good, but it was Cheshire Academy who really stood out as the paddock pick, full of quality. I liked Baha Mar, too. Pretty Tiger "won" and not understanding French I was unaware that the narrowly beaten Cheshire Academy then claimed the race in the stewards' room! A good day for paddock picks, even via a screen.

The Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown never really draws the true Derby types, but Bolshoi Ballet and Isle Of Sark look to have some quality, with Fernando Vichi a nice type, too. We're not talking Classic standard, though. Taipan ran really well, but on TV at least looked a little plain.

I lost last season, with the exception of ITV racing, but with TG4 now providing coverage of the horses (where RTÉ failed) and France Galop also allowing full streaming, I'm back in the swing! I can even share the press room of the major meetings via Zoom, so now Classic Trial season is upon us, happy days!

A fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

6th April 2021

As you may have guessed by now, I'm a devotee of Flat racing, but not a great follower of National Hunt. I like only two sports, though technically it's one and a half - football and Flat racing. The size and physique of the NH horses are totally different, it's like comparing football to rugby. The pedigrees are alien to me as well. Even though generally the NH horses are unscathed after a fall and fall less frequently than my own Leo does when he's having a fun old race around the field, something he likes to do at dusk on a daily basis, I still don't like to see them jumping fences, it's always a worry. That said, there are horses who absolutely love it, so I won't allow my own angst to stand in the way of their pleasure.

While you might be used to finding the name of next year's Derby winner listed here with certainty, you have never found mention of the Grand National. Until now! On Saturday we will have a family runner, or very nearly! The biggest member of our family is Leo, and his family extends to numerous equine relatives in South America and France and a host of human 'family' acquired prior to his arrival with us in 2009. Leo's former trainer, John McConnell, is therefore some form of adopted great uncle in-law and we will therefore be cheering on ecstatically John's very first Grand National runner, Some Neck. Jockey Simon Torrens will also be getting his first ride in the race aboard, appropriately enough, a grey. Six years Leo's junior, Some Neck also boasts Machiavellian on his dam's side, so in a distant cousin several times removed kind of way they are related and genuine family! Let's just hope Some Neck jumps better than our Leo who, as racehorse Leitmotif, could never remember to pick his feet up when attempting to step over a pole!

A fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

22nd March 2021

This week is bookended between the First Day of The Flat Ireland and the First Day of The Flat Britain and for the second season in a row I will be at neither. Other than my own, the last thoroughbred I met in person was Sea The Stars, so I can die happy, at least! He is, and always will be, "my young man"! I just can't believe I've gone a whole year without seeing him again; although he never forgets any of his admirers, so it will eventually be friendship as usual. Below you'll find a photo I took of him at home at Currabeg when he was a mere three-year-old. Happy days.

Of course, I do get to see another racehorse daily and the markedly slower, tubbier and lovelier Leitmotif, Leo to us, is usually to be found within peering-in distance of our windows. So he will be the subject of this season's horse discussions, in the absence of paddock judging at the races. Today he had his feet done and decided flatly he did not require a lead rein. We pirouetted a few times until I accepted the lead rein was a no-no. Despite which, we walked together anyway, side by side, across the field and out through the gate to the farrier. I suppose he was simply allowing himself the option to flee should the need have arisen. After 13 years here, such a need never has, but it never hurts to take precautions once in a while! The moral is, if you're planning on having a flutter during the racing year, do use this as an example of why you probably shouldn't! You never know what goes through a horse's mind! Actually, when I'm attempting the slider puzzle below, it's usually his rump or a hoof! Try it for yourself!

A fiendish sliding puzzle of Leitmotif created by my husband Tony! here.

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5th March 2021

It has been a difficult time for racing professionals. It's very sad to see disrespect within our own circle, but even sadder should that turn to wider disrespect of all of us by the public and sections of the media. I have been in a yard when a hose has been lost and the sorrow is palpable. Grooms and riders work with that horse for at least eight hours a day, seven days a week. Others also spend just as much time with the horses in the yard. Even if you are lucky enough to have your own horse, you probably don't get to hang out with him or her for much more than an hour or so each day. For professionals, our life revolves around them, all day, every day. To make little of a death is hard for anyone who had an emotional attachment and that's the cruellest aspect of events.

Have you tried to assemble my own horse Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

9th February 2021

What a difference a week makes! I now have five groups of Creative Writers, including one of 10-14-year-olds, and it's so invigorating and inspiring to hear so much fresh new work each week. Imagination is an incredible thing and the right choice of word has such an impact. We laugh, we debate, we stop and think, and we cry. I am back in my happy creative zone as a result and my next novel, "Grey Motive", has my full attention once more. It helps that "Racing Certainty" has been tucked in safely to bed at the printers! It's a lovely magazine and a real pleasure to be involved with - but, gosh, what a drain and how stressful!

Speaking of stressful, have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

28th January 2021

I have so enjoyed welcoming new writers to the current term of Creative Writing, run by my local Community Education team. I am facilitating four groups each week and their work is always inspiring. Taking the first steps to becoming a writer and making your voice heard is always much easier in a like-minded group, which provides encouragement and support. It isn't about learning to write stories, because we all have the ability already, it's about gaining confidence and belief in our work.

If you would like to start writing, I have a lot of advice and tips on my About / FAQs page here on my website, but you can always drop me an email for help.

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

18th January 2021

The spring term of Creative Writing classes are getting underway and it's always such a pleasure to welcome new and aspiring writers. Our groups are privileged to be the first to hear a story and to be able to share creative ideas. It's always inspiring, and I'm no exception. I am duly inspired to knuckle down and get that novel finished!

Yesterday I did more reading through than writing, but gained 50 words anyway. I have set a target of 500 words a day, although I won't beat myself up if I don't reach it. I regularly write 3,000 words a day for magazines, so the novel can't always be top priority. Having a target is great, though, when I exceed the figure and can go to bed with a real sense of achievement. So, here's to Grey Motive, may it be on the shelves sooner than you think!

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

31st December 2020

It's time to wish everyone a happy new year, may it be a safe and enjoyable one, and to thank you all for your support over the year. It's hard to imagine, but there are so many of you reading this who I don't even know. Through the website and Facebook I've become acquainted with readers and other authors and it's amazing to think of the lives my books and characters have once they get out into the world. When I'm reading one of my favourite authors, I think of their characters as my own personal friends and of their creators as superstar celebrities; yet we're all just fellow-writers sitting at home tapping away in our spare time and suffering angst over whether the latest work is as good as others. I always love the knowledge that the more people read a character and develop a friendship with that character, the more real that character becomes. I breathe life into them, but readers supply the daily oxygen to keep them alive. Thank you readers!

And speaking of readers, if any of you were among the 800 or so who bought a copy of "Nero - The Last Caesar" in May, or the further 900 or so who bought a copy in August, I would dearly love to know why! It's one of life's great mysteries that you all rushed out over a two-day period to purchase a copy of a title that would ordinarily sell ten copies a year! Many of you are in the USA and Japan, so please do get in touch with any feedback, I'd be delighted to hear from readers.

The horseracing thrillers, of course, are what I'm better known for and an equal thank you to all those who continue to support the trilogy. I did base Sainte Bastien on a great deal of personal experience, but nevertheless it has been saddening to see elements of the plot played out increasingly for real over the past year. This has been a hard year for many, but in the racing industry it is always a tough time for many and it's hard to see any resolution to the problems.

This is why my novel in progress, "Grey Motive", is much lighter and taking a slightly different tack. I may not be writing about the real problems of others, but it is throwing up some real problems for me personally as a writer! For example, how do you keep very clever detectives from solving the crime by page two?! And where is the conflict? Conflict is at the heart of every story, but I'm finding it difficult to put all these nice people in peril and prevent the detectives from adding to it and/or rescuing them! Nevertheless, this coming year I resolve to finish it and see it published. Fingers crossed!

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

16th December 2020

As Christmas approaches, I may share a gift with you, an exclusive peep into the novel-in-progress Grey Motive! Christmas has just passed in Jack's world and the New Year is looking grim:

It was as well he and Mandy had had a fair idea of the trouble ahead, when Mum had finally sat them down and told them she'd been accused of stealing a stack of money. Enough to change their lives, like winning the lottery, but instead it had had the opposite effect. Mum had been so upset, convinced she was destined for prison, despite being innocent. He knew she was no thief, but the police were taking their time catching the real culprit.

Which left Mum doing her utmost to avoid pointing fingers. Christmas had been a total washout, the usual treats and extravagance given a wide berth to avoid any further suspicion. The much-anticipated annual family trip to the supermarket had seen her throwing out of the trolley everything he, Dad and Mandy put in. 'Wha'd'yer think'll happen when they see us buying that lot?' she'd warned. The present wish-list had been cruelly assaulted by the same frugality, the credit card and pay-later catalogue options declared out of bounds in case the police questioned how the debts got paid off.

The police hadn't seemed to be doing any questioning and here they were nearly three months later still in limbo and prison still a real threat. At the rate Mum was saving money they'd nearly have the forty-grand saved up. It wouldn't surprise him if she simply handed it over, just to get them off her back and have a normal life back.

Still, having her at home every day wasn't all bad. A bit of a nuisance and he missed the ready meals, but he secretly quite liked them all having a proper breakfast together and trying Mum's new recipes for dinner. Her cakes and puddings were better than the shop-bought ones they used to get and weren't rationed, either; there seemed to be a limitless supply. He figured the police only watched the shopping receipts for brand names and ignored stuff like flour. But he hated to see her so worried all the time. Even Mandy was being sympathetic, which was creeping him out.

9th December 2020

Our Christmas decorations are up and I'm enjoying the familiarity of old Christmas songs, with Blink 189 and Bowling For Soup sitting comfortably with Frank Sinatra and The Chipmunks! The fact that my Chipmunks copy is a 78 (and if you don't know what a 78 is, ask your grandparents...) is a big part of the season for me. It's about recapturing the magic of childhood, the times shared with family, many of whom no longer with us, and holding those moments dear. The traditional decorations, that even pre-dating christianity were designed to lift spirits in the darkest, shortest of days, still serve that purpose, with fairy lights and baubles turning the world into a wondrous sparkling land of dreams and hope and excitement.

I'm reminded of the stages of life: first you believe in Father Christmas; then you don't believe; then you ARE Father Christmas; and then you believe again!

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

13th November 2020

It has been such a lovely week, getting to chat on the phone with racing professionals I'd usually meet up with on the racecourse. It's odd now to think that I haven't been on a racecourse since the season finale at Naas last year. I have enjoyed my year of isolation, though, and could comfortably look forward to another. Contrary to what I've believed since early teens, not going racing or seeing a horse hasn't actually proved fatal! But at least I have been able to talk shop with the superstars of the sport and as the publications shortly begin to filter out onto the shop shelves, you'll be able to share the stories of the year that I've so enjoyed relating.

Now I had better settle back to work on a story of a different nature, as my two detectives home in on the stolen betting shop money in Grey Motive!

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A fiendish sliding puzzle created by my husband Tony! here.

18th October 2020

With Champions Day done and dusted and just the Futurity Stakes to go, my racing year is almost over now until next March. Despite not getting on track, it was a good one, but I have no Classic clues. Without seeing a horse in the flesh you cannot assess their ability to progress at three or optimum distance. It's a pity the television coverage doesn't give experts like Francesca Cumani and Luke Harvey as much time providing physical analysis as it does giving the form gurus their say. How often does the form horse get turned over by the paddock pick? Not to mention saving ante-post bettors wasted investment in the Pinatubo-types. A very good horse, but not quite the same star once everyone else had caught up with him physically. That's something pretty obvious when looking at a two-year-old horse in the flesh.

And so to writing. I had the great honour of being included in a panel of authors on a Writers Masterclass as part of the Letterkenny Cathedral Quarter Festival yesterday. We held the Masterclass online via Zoom and a podcast is now available on the Festival's social media pages. I was joined by historical fiction author Rose Servitova and contemporary thriller author Declan Gallagher, whose path to publication of The Poisoned Glen was quite extraordinary and well worth tuning in for. In a nutshell, stop studying writing and how-to's and just write! Write what you enjoy, what you want to read, and have faith in yourself, patience and perseverance. Never give up!

Have you tried to assemble Leitmotif yet? A sliding puzzle created by my fiendish husband Tony! here.

13th October 2020

The racing season draws to a close and even though I'm busy writing a novel and surrounded by fictional racing, I find myself drawn yet again to the real racetrack and its stories - one in particular. I began writing a jockey's biography, in his own words, but the project petered out. I need to kickstart it again. Sometimes stories haunt you and insist upon being told, regardless of how busy you happen to be.

Until such time, it's onwards with Grey Motive, trying to stay one step ahead of my fictional detectives and not allow them to solve anything until the last page! Their path is shared by the titular horse of the novel in his bid for the Triple Crown. I hope he has more success than my beloved Camelot. The fact that his name is a nod to my own horse, Leitmotif (a grey), might be a hindrance! Leitmotif was spectacularly slow in his racing days!

Have a go at the sliding puzzle game created by my husband and assemble Leitmotif here.

25th September 2020

I won't apologise for my lengthy absence from this space, as my time has been well used on my novel-in-progress. Grey Motive gains momentum and I'm managing to stay one step ahead of my detectives, de Freitas and McCulloch, as intrigue grows around the missing betting office takings. When not writing, I also managed to squeeze in an excellent webinar by the ITBA on preparing foals for the sales, as well as completing features for my usual magazines. As to the horseracing, it's very disconnected, not seeing horses in the flesh, and a bit of a non-season, but wonderful to see Kameko back to his best today.

Why not try the devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

10th August 2020

Here we are in August, back in a vague type of lockdown in Kildare, where we're free to travel around the country if for work, and the last stables I visited were Coolmore Stud and Gilltown Stud back in January. If Sea The Stars becomes the last horse I saw this year, other than my own Leo, I won't complain! Usually I'd have a notebook filled with conformation notes on next year's Classic generation; but I've yet to see one in the flesh.

I would also be flying home from my annual pilgrimage to the Rebellion Festival today, having spent four days in the company of our punk community in Blackpool. Although cancelled, many of the bands still contributed footage of performances from their living room to ours,on the Rebellion Facebook page, which was nice. We were all there together, in spirit, and physically commenting away on Facebook! Hats off to Gimp Fist and The Mistakes for excellent acoustic performances, and to The Restarts for reassuring me there are like-minded people who care, but the overall highlight was definitely The Bar Stool Preachers, who gave it their all. Thank you to all the bands and organisers for keeping us cheerful while confined to home.

Why not try the devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

17th July 2020

I'm getting used to life away from racehorses, unless you count the rather obese one on lawmower duty in the garden! Writing has taken over and I've been fairly busy on behalf of the Writers' Union and Writers' Centre. Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar on copyright law and hopefully I'm not the only one who felt it went well. The feedback was very positive, anyway. It's a great initiative by the Writers' Centre to hold free webinars for professional members and I feel proud to be involved, as both presenter and Board member.

As you are viewing this online, the main point you should know is that everything published online, as with work set down on paper or memory device, has automatic copyright. So we cannot share or copy the work of others, even if we did find it openly online. Permission must always be sought from the creator of the work, be it image, text or music. As regards my own website, I happily grant you permission to share any text or images, providing I am acknowledged as the author.

And don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

4th July 2020

Eclipse day! Except it's actually Derby day. And Oaks day. And the Eclipse is tomorrow. And if your weather in the south of England isn't hot, that's another anomaly to add to the list. Never mind, The Derby has come around at last and the only colts lining up that I've actually seen are Amhran Na Bhfiann, who was ordinary; Gold Maze, an imposing strong middle-distance type; and Mogul, very plain and ordinary. As Sir Dragonet proved last year, it's too difficult to judge horses from the TV, which adds several kilos to their physique and gives no accurate impression of size, but at least I was able to look at Kameko alongside Innisfree, so I'm fairly confident Kameko is a strong, classy colt. He has the physique to be a middle-distance colt and stay 12f, even though his pedigree suggests 10f is his maximum. But he's a Classic winner and Gr1 winner and class will always out. Against less than top-class rivals his class will see him over the extra furlongs. Going down the Sir Dragonet route, English King looked the part, but without physically seeing these horses in person, it's a tough call.

What is much easier is the dismissal of ludicrous statements such as "bad draw" or "previous trends". There is no bad draw in a Group 1 race and the only trend is that the best horse wins! 53 Derby winners have departed from a randomly-drawn stall to date. If they'd all been randomly drawn Stall 1, it doesn't give Stall 1 an advantage. I suppose the same pundits could write an article about the probability of throwing a six with a single die, if six had just been consecutively thrown five times (it's still one in six, by the way).

If The Derby and Oaks are too tricky for you, try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

29th June 2020

It was disappointing not to be at the Curragh for the Irish Derby festival, especially as I hadn't seen most of the field. Of those I know, Iberia I'm not keen on, Gold Maze I liked at two and looked as though he'd make a nice middle-distance colt and, of course, Chiricahua I love. Sadly, for whatever reason, the RTE coverage failed to show the horses ahead of the race, so I could only view them as they circled at the start. Chiricahua was badly sweated up and looked too anxious. He ran badly, while Santiago stamped his Ascot form impressively.

This Saturday it will be The Derby and it's an open race so far, with the final entries due out later. English Prince looked impressive in his trial and I'd love to see Kameko win. He may not quite see out the trip, but class will out. Good horses don't need excuses, their class gets them over any difficulty. Military March has advertised his Derby credentials well and I'd be overjoyed to see Saeed bin Suroor gain another Derby. Of the Ballydoyle entries, I love Persia and Nobel Prize, but the latter looks in need of a turn of foot for Classic company and Persia is untried this season. So is my Derby colt, Innisfree. You have to go back to 1996 and 1995 to find a rare example of a horse winning The Derby on his seasonal debut, by coincidence Shaamit managing the feat the year after Lammtarra did so. Lammtarra was Saeed's last Derby winner and it was also the last Derby I attended, in the hope of seeing Thierry Jarnet win on Pennekamp. It was a fairytale ending, but not for the Fabre camp. Pennekamp picked up an injury in the race and was eased down before the straight. Winning jockey Walter Swinburn said when he came in that only Pennekamp was travelling better than him at Tattenham Corner. Never mind, I got to see Thierry win two Arcs on Treve and even have his lucky wristband from the day!

Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

22nd June 2020

Well, that was a very entertaining but difficult Ascot week. The first difference was not being there, so to balance the fourteen-plus miles a day of walking it would normally involve, I viewed it on TV from an exercise bike instead of a couch! Not having to dress up was a big plus! Getting used to watching the Derby consolation races as Derby trials was also a bit disconcerting. With over 300 years of Royal Ascot history embedded in my system, the peculiar calendar of this season is hard to adjust to.

Pinatubo again ran with great credit. It has to be remembered he has lost the advantage of physique he held over his immature rivals last year, but not his ability. Trying to assess two-year-olds (and, when I remembered, the prospective Derby colts!) was hit and miss, reliant on TV coverage and camera angles. The Chesham Stakes was one of the more successful viewings and Battleground and March Law were the standouts in the paddock from the whole meeting, both big strong muscular colts with plenty of scope for next season. Stradivarius was an obvious highlight and a true star. Below are my photos of him from last year.

My Ascot week was also enhanced by the addition of two new family members. We adopted two ex-battery hens, who have spent their first fifteen months of life caged in a factory, but are now very happy as free range birds. Little Miss No Feathers gave us quite a scare yesterday when she went missing for over three hours, but was found safely, turning a very sad household into one of joy.

Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

Stradivarius1 Stradivarius2 Stradivarius3
13th June 2020

Horseracing is back and I was thrilled to see the gorgeous Kameko win the Guineas. He looks like a Derby horse, but his pedigree suggests 10f is his maximum and not having seen him in person I can't judge by eye. Military March ran a good Derby trial and even Pinatubo ran above my expectations with a fine third. Onwards to the Curragh and a great pity Siskin couldn't have a normal season and take in the St James's Palace Stakes, but the Sussex Stakes beckons instead. He is a beautiful neat little colt, oozing class, and I'm so pleased for Ger Lyons and his team in securing their first Classic.

It was odd to be watching the Curragh on TV, something I've not done in about 25 years, but I will also be watching Royal Ascot on TV for the first time in 15 years. Royal Ascot is the week I get to view the UK and international horses and, crucially, the two-year-olds; but this year that will not be the case. The importance of judging by eye, and not form or times, was highlighted by Pinatubo being sent off favourite for a race he was never going to win. My missing the racing this year will have a big impact next year.

Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

Siskin
3rd June 2020

It's good to have the Classic generation back and even better to see another example of such infectious enthusiasm and utter confidence from Mickael Barzalona, who was once again already standing in the irons punching the air before Victor Ludorum had reached the winning post! His similar action in what to others appeared a tight photo-finish on Pour Moi in The Derby remains one of my all-time racing highlights. The funny thing is, the photos of the finish never show his celebrations, as photographers wait until the actual finish to click! Thank you, Mickael, you are a ray of sunshine.

The UK Classics are the coming highlight and it would be lovely to see a champion emerge in the expected style of Pinatubo, but from what I've twice seen of him I suspect he will find it hard to beat Kameko or Military March. A pity Innisfree won't be there, or my suspicion would be certainty.

While back to work with magazines and teaching, I am also returning to my youthful creative roots and keeping a handwritten journal for the Kildare Arts Project. Alongside other journals, it will form a digital art display for the future, to reflect back on the covid lockdown. My novels see me writing about my creations, my magazines see me writing the thoughts of others, so it has been quite an interesting pastime to consider my own thoughts and reflections and set them to paper. Unlike fictional characters, however, my own thoughts are not of that much interest! I'm pretty grateful for my contented life and wouldn't swap it for the perils of my creations!

Don't forget to try out this devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.

21st May 2020

I have been busy all week with various literary committees, as well as some interesting articles to write, which have involved a lot of research. Progress on "Grey Motive" has inevitably slowed, but I have found a minute or two to complete Leitmotif's pictorial pedigree. Many of his relations I was lucky enough to see race and I have been able to use my own photos, never dreaming at the time I took them that I would one day own one of their grandchildren! Here are his parents, First Melody and Linamix, and First Melody's slightly more successful son, El Ventisquero.

First Melody Linamix El Ventisquero

Tony's also been keeping busy, check out his sliding puzzle game here.

15th May 2020

I have been enjoying the racing from France and Germany, shown live on their governing body's websites, but the return of racing in Britain and Ireland isn't quite so accessible, which is disappointing. It will be strange to watch the champions emerge without the usual historic route to stardom we're used to.

I've been progressing quite well on the novel-in-progress, Grey Motive, but have taken a break to work on the forthcoming issues of Irish Trainer and European Trainer magazines, involving fascinating research and the opportunity to chat with trainer Takashi Kodama, which was so enjoyable. What a lovely man and so very insightful.

I also discovered a very successful half-brother to my own horse, Leitmotif, a champion in Uruguay called El Ventisquero. It's exciting to have such a good horse in the family! I'm compiling a pictorial pedigree of Leitmotif, as I have been lucky enough to see in person many of his famous relations. It's a lovely link to history and every name brings back wonderful memories.

1st May 2020

French racing returns 11th May, which is good news, but we may need to wait a little longer for racing in Ireland and the UK. The French Guineas will be held 1st June and the Prix du Jockey Club and Diane will be run 5th July. We would have been enjoying the first Guineas tomorrow and what a match awaits us when it's finally run, with Kameko and Innisfree. The distance should suit Kameko, while a good performance over a trip a bit too short will see Innisfree and Military March bang on for The Derby. What of Pinatubo? Will he have progressed as strongly as his peers over the winter? I have my doubts.

I'm not really missing going racing, or going out. We have enjoyed live concerts beamed to our sofa and there's plenty of writing to be done, so all is well here, at least.

18th April 2020

There remains hope I'll be able to report in person on the spring Classics, but they will probably be summer Classics! Hopefully the season can be shuffled, but my heart goes out to the trainers and their team who are struggling to keep horses ticking over, with no fixed target. The fillies and two-year-olds must be posing quite a challenge. The two-year-olds are still being taught their trade and have no idea what a racecourse is yet. If they are nearer three than two by the time their chance comes, the precocious ones will be unable to compete and the tougher ones will be a proper handful. The late-maturers should be better suited to a later season, but will have experience so against them.

Trainers are losing horses, too, as horses return to stud farms to save on fees. Hopefully pre-trainers are gaining from this, but it's a horrible time for every profession. Remembering better days, I've been busy posting up very old (and poor!) photos from my earliest days' racing, with lots of happy memories. Check them out on Facebook @80sHorseracringScrapbook if you're old enough to remember today's names when they were FIRST used!

Glint Of Gold
5th April 2020

Virtual Classic Trials Day at Leopardstown! If Aintree can go ahead, then I'm damn sure the Ballylinch Stud Classic Trials can still go ahead, too. I'm a fiction author as well as a journalist, so welcome to sunny Leopardstown on this fine spring day, with an equally sunny smile from Carol Cusack as I collect my first pass of the season. Welcome back! Smells Like Teen Spirit is playing over the tannoy as I enter (if it isn't, then I already miss Pat Keogh!) and I meet manager Tim Husbands for the first time. Then it's up to the pre-parade ring to see the 3yos for the quality one-mile maiden. Springbank has done well over the winter for Johnny Murtagh, but is no match for Jim Bolger's Agitare at the line.

The Ballylinch Stud 2000 Guineas Trial over 7f is next up and Aesop is looking well for Jessie Harrington, but it's Siskin who strides out a clear winner, a very nice return to keep his unbeaten record intact. I think this trip may be his limit, though. In comparison, So Wonderful looks like she'll relish the step up to a mile when springing a surprise in the 1000 Guineas Trial. Runner-up Cayenne Pepper is another who needs further.

The handicap passes unnoticed, as I'm up at the saddling boxes looking at the Derby colts ahead of the 10f Ballysax Stakes. Justifier really fills the eye (and I'm wondering anxiously why he's not listed still by Ger Lyons!), and Geometrical looks well but better suited to a mile. Of the Ballydoyle trio, eventual winner Monument Valley looks full of quality, as does Sherpa, but it's the favourite, third home Cabot Hills, who looks the more relaxed Derby-type. Of course, the better Derby horses are yet to appear and the Guineas will prove the best trial. Let's hope I won't be reporting on it virtually!

Agitare Cabot Hills So Wonderful
28th March 2020

A strange first day of the Flat in the UK, as it's a non-starter and unlikely to be back until May. Our own first day back was behind closed doors and now even that has ended. As much as I couldn't wait to be over the cold turkey of the winter break, my first day back at Doncaster was always a bit subdued. As much as I fought it, the last day, at the same track, was always quite joyful and celebratory. I wrote a short story about it, The Last Post.

I'm managing to survive without seeing racehorses and very much enjoying having the family home and all safely working from our laptops here for the past two weeks. We're looking forward to another three weeks of it and will be sorry to return to normal service. It also means more time to devote to the novel-in-progress, "Grey Motive", as I have no actual work to distract me! Happy days, in fact, despite that dreaded Lurgy!

15th March 2020

So much for looking forward to The Flat. Racing is taking place behind closed doors, although other sports have ceased completely, so we should be grateful for small mercies. The pre-season look at Aidan O'Brien's Classic hopefuls is now seriously at risk as well, but I know my top four there and I'm confident in how they would have progressed this winter. Saeed bin Suroor sends good reports of Military March, as well, back in serious work.

Slightly more upsetting is the cancellation of a lot of great music gigs. Even the International Ska Festival at Easter in Tramore has been postponed. With no racing and no gigs, I really will be able to get that book written!

11th March 2020

While all around me are soaking up Cheltenham, I'm getting excited about the first day of The Flat at Naas 29th March! I have The Derby and the Guineas entries to keep me occupied until then and, of the 139 Derby hopes, Innisfree is The One. Nobel Prize is in there too, Persia may prefer the St Leger and Shoshone Warrior needs to step up at three. A notable absentee is Military March, who will need to be supplemented but will look every inch the part come the Guineas. Roll on June!

I'm pleased to say March is also a good month for Sainte Bastien, which is in the running for Cover of the Month. It was selected for the shortlist and is now through to the final 50. Here's hoping! Cast your votes via links on my social media.

25th February 2020

As you can see from the dates, all in a day's work turns out to be nearer a fortnight's! Still, all clear now, so I may start to make a dent on that 'this year' deadline I've set myself for my next novel, "Grey Motive". I'm happy with the storyline so far and I'm enjoying the characters involved, so no excuse but time to progress.

I'm still reeling a little from some of the features I worked on, particularly the research into substance abuse within the horseracing industry. Even now, it's only just sinking in that such abuse was at the root of the early demise of the friends I've lost to illness and suicide. We took so much for granted in our youth and saw nothing unusual in champagne diets and diuretics. That has now been recognised as a problem and support networks are in place. But sadly it's not the problem, merely the symptom, and the bigger problem is never going away.

14th February 2020

No sooner did Racing Certainty magazine go safely to print, other deadlines loomed! This week I've been busy interviewing vets about common procedures faced by racehorses and the great facility at the Irish Equine Centre. I've also researched substance abuse within the racing industry, which is truly heart-rending, and professional development options for the racing community. Just left now with the minor problem of attracting the next generation to the sport! All in a day's work!

6th February 2020

My good news of this week is that the magazine I edit and write for, Racing Certainty, was signed off and sent to print. It should be with you by the end of the month. It can also be read online if you follow the link on my USEFUL LINKS page. You may need to search for the 2020 issue. It was a real pleasure meeting with and interviewing those featured. It did limit the progress of Grey Motive, though, so it's now time to crack on with that.

1st February 2020

Gina Rarick has been having a successful Cagnes-sur-Mer campaign and it's fun to watch the horses racing past the beach. I don't often get to see a blue sky and blue sea! At the moment I'm pinned to my laptop, producing the Racing Certainty magazine, but I did get to complete a further 1,000 words of my next novel, Grey Motive. My work on the novel also included deleting about 1,200 previously completed words, so it's a bit of a case of one step forward, two steps back! Still, when it is finally finished it will be all the better for my fussiness.

19th January 2020

I spent a very productive and enjoyable day yesterday at the Writers' Centre, discussing with other professional writers the current issues facing Irish writers and those worldwide. I spoke about the many functions of the Writers' Union and must now set a goal of increased awareness of Public Lending Right. Few people realise the purpose is to compensate authors for the multiple loans of single copies and a specific budget funded by copyright licensing ensures this small remuneration does not come out of library budgets or Arts funding. Ireland has the lowest rate in Europe at 0.04ct, which means ten loans result in 4ct! It is 7p in the UK and the job now of the Union is to work on this discrepancy. Meanwhile, my personal goal to write at least 1,500 words a week of my novel "Grey Motive" has again been put off until next week!

For anyone following the stable of Gina Rarick, we had a good day yesterday, all five runners finishing in the money and one winner. No wonder Cagnes has been one of my favourite meetings since my teens.

14th January 2020

It has been a quiet time for Flat racing, so I enjoyed a visit to Coolmore Stud, catching up with old heroes. I will never forget Camelot's heroic St Leger defeat, standing watching in silence, breath held. He is one of the most professional horses I've been privileged to meet and he still is; that magnificent blend of playful interest and utter professionalism when called upon. Australia remains a sweet-natured, unflappable horse and, wow, what a looker Magna Grecia is! He and Churchill are so impressive. I also stopped in to see my young man, Sea The Stars!

This week saw the opening of the Cagnes-Sur-Mer Flat meeting and what a joy to watch horses racing past a pretty promenade and beach, especially from a cold, grey and thoroughly wet Ireland! I am following the stable of Gina Rarick and having lots of fun cheering home her horses.

I have also been busy with various interviews, about my books and writing in general. My advice, as always, to would-be writers is don't waste time analysing or learning theory, just sit down and write the book you want to read. If you enjoy writing it, and will enjoy reading it, then so will others.

Australia Camelot Sea The Stars
4th January 2020

Happy new year to everyone, may it be enjoyable and healthy. I'm busy working on a new, improved website, so hopefully there will be more photos and stories to share in the coming weeks. Plenty of Innisfree - the horse, not the place! I'm also determined to get Grey Motive, the novel-in-progress that hasn't been, back underway and finished! But first my new year kicks off with the first of my regular slots on the UK's Chat And Spin radio on Tuesday (7th) at 5.20pm, when I will be chatting about one of my books. Friday will then find me on hallowed ground, viewing stallions at Coolmore Stud. I can't wait to catch up with some equine friends and heroes. Lots to look forward to for 2020!

3rd November 2019

Last day of the Flat today at Naas and I had thought the biggest draw would be Nobel Prize. As it was, a very close second, both in the parade ring beforehand and in the race, was Chiricahua. A lovely colt and a lot to look forward to next year. A definite Classic prospect, but 10f could be his maximum on paper. Nobel Prize remains a Derby colt, but I think his stablemate Innisfree is the better prospect. I haven't seen Kameko in the flesh, but he has always looked a lovely colt and if he could get more than 10f he has already proved himself superior to Innisfree. However, that's a big if. My Derby dreams will be with Innisfree.

Nobel Prize Chiricahua Innisfree
20th October 2019

How can I be disappointed by Stradivarius, when he ran another great race to go down so narrowly to my beloved Kew Gardens? Stradivarius thought he'd won, so no disappointment for him! He came in yelling his delight! I know my Kew doesn't like soft ground, so I'm very proud of him. A great run from two of my favourites, followed by a third favourite, the adorable Star Catcher, who then gave Frankie his 250th Group One winner and will remain in training next season. Fantastic! Then Magical left Aidan O'Brien with only two elusive British Gr1s to obtain (King's Stand & Sprint Cup), giving him his first Champion Stakes. Japanese heroine Deirdre ran well for third. Not such an anti-climax after all, but we've only the Futurity Stakes left now. Only Cagnes-Sur-Mer to look forward to thereafter!

19th October 2019

For me, the racing season ends on Arc day. We are building toward The Derby and Classics all winter, but the Arc is always the holy grail on the horizon, the one race that separates the season's champion from the good ones. This year we may have seen the champion on the wrong side of the separating line, but all credit to the wonderful Waldgeist for having the finishing turn of foot to defeat the mighty Enable.

After the Arc, all else is an anti-climax. We have our champion and are merely sorting out the minor medals. I'm a great one for tradition and remembering winners of old, so while the Champion Stakes still excites me, the Breeders Cup has a long, long way yet to go. If I were ever an owner, I'd have no interest in having a runner there. A top-class horse should end its season at Longchamp or Ascot (grudgingly), the Champion Stakes will always be at Newmarket in my heart! A top-class horse should be racing, so to see Enable return to race as a six-year-old is the highlight of this season and there is no reason why she won't get her third Arc in the end.

Looking back on the season so far, once again the sprinters haven't established a true champion, and the three-year-olds haven't been outstanding, but for the first time in many years we have a true champion stayer and I will settling down now to cheer on Stradivarius. I hope the ground doesn't get him, but he hates to lose and will fight to the finish. It will take a brave horse to pass him!

1st October 2019

Ireland's Future Champions Day at the Curragh didn't disappoint and seeing Innisfree could be my highlight of the season. Definitely a future Classic horse, if not a champion. He reminds me very much in build and expression of a past champion, often overlooked, High Chaparral. He has shot to the top of my Derby list and is my idea of the winner. Persia, Nobel Prize and Shoshone Warrior are three other very nice Derby prospects and I haven't lost faith in the Guineas prospects of Lope Y Fernandez, but Earthlight definitely looks the one to beat if everyone catches up with, and overtakes, Pinatubo at three.

26th September 2019

Irish Champions Weekend never disappoints and I had the added treat of meeting the Japanese filly, Deirdre, following her excellent run in the big race itself. We are honoured to have hosted the first Japanese-trained runner in Ireland and I hope more follow in her hoof steps. I'm so excited about the all-two-year-old card at the Curragh this Sunday, where we will be on one of our final watches for next year's champions! Last year was an easy one, but frustrating, spent looking for a Derby horse rather than assessing any. I liked Magna Grecia, Quorto, Advertise (milers) and Anthony Van Dyck, our only Derby colt, but I thought the UK or France must surely have a better one. I didn't think Madhmoon looked to have scope, but he grew in muscle more than height over the winter and pleasantly surprised me. The fillies, in stark contrast to the colts, were a lovely bunch. The really good Classic types start to emerge September and October, and yet already I have a nice list and a lot to be assessing. It really has been a busy season and no day more so than a Curragh card with four juvenile races, two of which were Group class, from which no fewer than 22 horses went into the notebook! Considering 21 got noted over the whole of Royal Ascot, it shows the strength of card. Six more got added at a later meeting and another at Champions Weekend. I note only the better-quality horses who may be Classic contenders next year. The ordinary ones, or precocious 2yos, aren't part of my job description, so often you'll find on my list the 5th or 8th in a race but not the winner. Today's result is rarely a factor in next year's predictions. Stay tuned to The Diary for an end-of-season update as the 2020 Classic horses get finalised on my list! How high will Persia, Nobel Prize and Lope Y Fernandez be, or will Earthlight set the scene for the Year of the French?

3rd September 2019

It was a hectic evening's work at the Curragh two meetings ago, with a great many really promising 2yos on view, several who could be Classic prospects next season. Things got even more exciting at the next meeting and last Friday evening the stars really came out! The rather ordinary Mogul might have won, but it was those behind him who set the heart pounding. Shoshone Warrior looks a very good Derby prospect, while Nobel Prize could be The Derby winner himself. And look no further than Lope Y Fernandez for the Guineas. Pinatubo is the better 2yo, but tables will turn next year at three.