22.10.16

A Canadian Cruise

We’ve just enjoyed a wonderful cruise from New York to Canada on Queen Mary 2.


It began with Newport on Rhode Island, a pretty town founded in 1639 that is rich in history.



We enjoyed a lovely walk around admiring beautiful houses, and a Quaker meeting house. It was apparently once a most popular town for well-off families including the Astors, Vanderbilts and Wideners, where they owned summer homes. Would love to have explored it a little more.


Sydney in Novia Scotia was our next port of call where we were free to explore, the waterfront most delightful. You can take a bus tour to explore further afield but we were happy to walk around a part of the town as it was most fascinating, having a connection with Scotland, many immigrants coming from there in the nineteenth century. Jost House and Cossit House were also interesting, dating from the eighteenth century. Cape Breton Island very Celtic.


We particularly enjoyed Quebec, which yes, is very much French but a lovely and interesting walled city. We walked and walked, explored the harbour, visited museums, the ruins beneath the chateau, the Citadel, shops and enjoyed lovely lunches.





Boston was a part of the trip, but as we’d already spent some days there we took a rest day. But it is a fascinating and lovely city.


Next came Saguenay, a small rural town that very much welcomed Queen Mary 2 with a band and celebrations. Many locals were in costumes, Indians with their wigwams and children dancing. Great fun!



Finally, we called at Gaspé and Halifax. Gaspé is quite small and rural; Halifax large and commercial but we enjoyed a visit to the Citadel army museum and then an ancient boat.


It was a most enjoyable cruise. Excellent food and most entertaining.

11.10.16

A String of Pearls - Cantoria

They call Cantoria the pearl of the Almanzora but in my view it is only one of a whole string of pearls. Here you will find a scattering of tucked-away, white-washed villages in which time seems to stand still.

Situated 7km north-west of Albox, Cantoria seems a world away from its more commercial neighbour. Protected by the Sierras de Filabres to the west and Oria to the north, the village lies in a tranquil valley, dominated by its fine church. According to Donna González Linnitt from Rural Cantoria Estate Agency, some of the more adventurous British are indeed falling for its charms, enchanted by the cortijo life-style. The Spanish tend to work in the village during the week and move to their farmhouses at week-ends and fiestas.

The marble industry is its greatest source of wealth yet we saw no eye-sore quarries to spoil the view, these being well hidden at the far end of the village. British children now settle happily in the village school, retired couples can enjoy a healthy, outdoor life, with good walking, sports and fiestas. Best of all, for less than 200,000€ you can buy a fully restored, four-bedroomed, two bathroomed farmhouse, together with a plot of land, terraces and outbuildings, and perhaps even with an orange grove.

In Cantoria we enjoyed a coffee in the Plaza de Constitucion while senior citizens played cards in the morning sunshine. Evidently a favourite pursuit. The small town was buzzing with morning traffic although hardly a rush-hour; people chatting; old ladies doing their shopping, mothers and children sitting on doorsteps enjoying the sun.

We took a short detour to Albanchez, a delightful village clinging to the hillside overlooking the rich Almanzora valley. I am told it boasts a fine restaurant but we didn’t have time to linger today to taste its delights, as we were keen to move on to our next pearl.

If you love Spain, you might enjoy my latest book Forgotten Women.


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

Amazon UK

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Blogs about Forgotten Women and the Spanish Civil War


4.10.16

Volunteers of the Spanish Civil War

‘The aim of volunteers was not to establish communism in Spain, but to help the people hang on democracy.’ 


The characters in my book were inspired to go to Spain for personal reasons and as a result of what they saw on the British Pathe news. Crowds of refugees escaping the bombing of their town, children crying and bodies lying everywhere. This was why many local Scots volunteered to join the International Brigade. Of course some young men were seeking adventure, or felt the need to escape from some problem back home. But hundreds of brave men and even women volunteered to help the Spanish people, believing in humanity and democracy. These comprised ordinary working and middle-class folk, students, artists, photographers and many others, both British and Scottish. They also feared that if fascism was not stopped in Spain, it would spread to a wider conflict across Europe and maybe to England. And with no support from the British government they would make their own way to Spain.

Many Scottish Nurses went to help too. As Orwell states in his personal account of the Spanish Civil War - Homage to Catalonia, ‘Apparently there was no supply of trained nurses in Spain, perhaps because before the war this work was done chiefly by nuns.’ Possibly for that reason their assistance was greatly appreciated, as foreign medical volunteers were much better trained. The Scottish Ambulance Unit made a vowed commitment to neutrality, pledging to treat the injured of both sides even if this sometimes proved difficult. The nurses too remained neutral.

Spanish women took on their husbands jobs once they’d joined up to fight. The government recommended families did this, thus enabling industry to continue, women having been granted more rights during the war. But as we know, the Fascists did not always approve of them working close to the Front, even when they were supporting the men by providing food and clean clothes. However, many brave women paid no attention to this attitude, some even fought alongside the men and were in need of volunteer nurses if they suffered injury.

Around 2,400 British nationals fought in the International Brigade in Spain and about 550 were Scottish. Very few had had training and ammunition was not easily available at first. There were some volunteers who had naively imagined the war would last only a few months, and when they realised that wasn’t going to happen, would escape and return home. Later, that was disallowed, although most volunteers fought hard to the end, many of whom never returned.

The moment finally came when Franco declared he’d won and all foreigners must leave. Those who did return home were often assumed to be communists, as a consequence of their support in the Civil War, and had problems finding a job. Some men went to join up and fight in World War II, many believing that if the British and French government had done more to help Spain fight for their democracy, Hitler might never have started that war. Mussolini too might have thought twice about what he did. Yet many Spanish lives had been saved thanks to the International Brigade, including evacuated children. But sadly, Spain’s problems continued for some time.

Published by Lake Union


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

You can buy here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US
Other blogs about Forgotten Women