News and Beehive reviews

beyond-the-beehive-banner-with-ew-2-2Preparing for the Beehive bash* on Saturday evening.  We have the banner! Getting the books, the posters and the 60s quiz all ready to go.

*Chelmsford Ideas Hub, 6.30 (Hub 1 1-4 Market Square High Chelmer Chelmsford CM1 1XF)

And so here are a few recent reviews.  I know –  all these three people are people I know, and one is even a relative, but I think their views deserve to be heard!

‘Buy the book everyone I am on chapter three and it is good!’ Sue

‘On chapter 8 – it’s a great read so far.’ Christine

‘I’m half way through and can’t put it down.’ Billie


‘I am a slow reader but now on chapter four and it is still good.’ Sue

What more can I say? The book is available and will be on sale on Saturday evening, when you can get yourself a signed copy AND listen to the magical sounds of Mark Shelley and the Deans.


You can also buy it here.

In the meantime – listen to the sounds that mark that start of the book – Green Onions, by Booker T and the MGs.


Reading Rhys

Voyage in the DarkWhen I am asked who my favourite authors are, the person who comes top of the list is Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea, Voyage in the Dark, Good Morning Midnight, and more (Find some of my other favourite authors below).

So imagine my delight when by chance I saw a tweet saying there was to be a Jean Rhys Reading Week, organised by JacquiWine and Eric Karl Anderson reading and re-reading her books, discussions, blogs, starting on 12 September.

My voyage with Jean Rhys began in about 1969 – I was at Birmingham University, I was 18 and on my occasional trips into Birmingham Town Centre I would drop into Hudson’s Bookshop and browse the novels.  What took me to the R section I can’t remember, but I was intrigued by the description on the cover of Wide Sargasso Sea.  Jane Eyre was my mum’s favourite book and there were several copies in our house. I had been reading and re-reading of Jane’s doomed affair with Mr Rochester for as long as I could remember.


I wasn’t a feminist in 1969 but did have a strong sense of justice and injustice and I was very pleased to find a book that gave Mrs Rochester’s side of the story.  Her life in that bleak bare room at the top of Thornfield Hall was awful (as was Grace Poole’s – surely a novel waiting to be written). I was glad someone was rooting for her. I bought the book, took it back to Mason Hall (the hall of residence I was living in), read it and loved it.  I took the 63 bus back down the Bristol Road into town and once more made my way to the R section in Hudsons.  I bought Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning Midnight. Although Voyage in the Dark was written after After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, it tells the beginning of Jean Rhys’ story.  In it she describes leaving the West Indies and coming to the cold grey world of England.  She is something of a dancer, she becomes a chorus girl, travelling around the country, and begins a doomed affair.  She mentions Chelmsford.

Jacqui Wine suggested it might have been quite a frightening book to read at that age, but I liked that tragedy, I liked her life, being on the stage, staying in dreadful boarding houses, meeting and charming new people, having periods of despair.  I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to have affairs, I told myself I knew what despair was.  And I loved her humour, her dry way with words. She had supreme confidence in herself when she spoke to people coupled with a sense of uncertainty about her place in the world – which is how I felt most of the time.

I was also writing my own stories (earlier work to be found in the recycling bins of history) and reading Jean Rhys’ own story I was fascinated by the way her work was criticised by those fancy schmanzy boys she hung about with who said it was too easy to read, too accessible. I think it was Ford Madox Ford who said something about her sentences or her words not being long enough.  And I thought, that’s how I write, short easy sentences, very few long words.  Jean Rhys is my kind of writer!

In the 70s there was an article in the Guardian about her and I wrote to her via the Guardian.  I never had a reply.  It was probably not the best way to contact her.  I kick myself for not pursuing it – I wanted her to know she had written the lives of many of us.  And a few years later she died.  There was a more recent, lovely article in the Guardian about her by Linda Grant.

I haven’t read Voyage in the Dark for a long time.  This is the book I have chosen to read this week as part of #ReadingRhys. I’m really looking forward to it.


The other writers in my top three are Rosamond Lehmann (especially The Echoing Grove) and Barbara Pymm (especially Excellent Women). More on them later.

Opening the Beehive

Beyond the Beehive front cover

What a great evening at Waterstones Covent Garden on Friday night.  This was an event organised by Novel London and it was standing room only.  There were three authors, Christopher Bowden (the Purple Stain), Laxmi Hariharan (Taken) and me (Beyond the Beehive), each reading the first chapter of our latest novels.

The Covent Garden branch of Waterstones is in Garrick Street, in the middle of  busy Covent Garden.  It also has an entrance in New Row.  It is a place of nooks and crannies, layers and stairs, and shelves packed with enticing books. As I arrived, as the chairs were being arrranged and the wine glasses set out on the table, Norma Cohen who compered the show, gave the readers some last minute professional advice (only project).  Then the cameras were focussed, the mics were attached and, standing in front of a shelf with the title Smart Thinking, the evening began.

All three books were very different, mine about working-class girls in the 60s, Christopher’s about crime in Paris and London and Laxmi’s many-lives novel.  The evening was compered with enormous charm and humour by Norma Cohen.

Eizabeth Woodcraft & Norma Cohen at Waterstones Covent Garden

It was a great birthday party for me.  Several of my Christine-friends were there (people whose names are Christine) including my oldest friend Christine who is the inspiration for Sandra. Apart from arguing that she would never have worn caramel flavoured lipstick, I think she liked it (of course she hasn’t read the whole book yet) (Don’t sue me, I’m a lawyer).  There were people from my French class (merci!), writing pals, my relatives, barristerial colleagues and chums we see in Paris. I didn’t have copies of my book to sell, but I did have postcards! and there were a few copies A Sense of Occasion.  Afterwards, a few of us went to Carluccio’s across the road for a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine and I went home with roses and gifts and cards.

So a huge vote of thanks to Waterstone’s Covent Garden and to Cameron Publicity for supporting such a great event, and of course to Novel London for setting it all up.

Beyond the Beehive front cover