Excellent news about the fab Proof Social but Kennington is NOT a SUBURB !


Excellent news but I object to my village being called a SUBURB by the Oxford Mail! Oxford would love it to be but Kennington has always resisted the take over. My whodunit, Current of Death is inspired by the VILLAGE  where I live. In my foreword I describe it thus,

‘It’s an independent sort of place somewhat dwarfed by its famous neighbours. To the north lies academic Oxford with its dreaming spires overshadowing the town with its multicultural east and Cowley car factory where Harry King, the protagonist of my novel Sculpting the Elephant, grew up. Abingdon, which claims to be the longest inhabited town in England, is a few miles south of Kennington. Being overlooked means that villagers have got on with their lives without obvious interference.’

Proof Social Bakery is a perfect fit for the independent culture of the VILLAGE of Kennington. That is why Proof Social appears in Current of Death and why I had a launch there.  Round and About magazine covered it and got it right!


Afterwards some of the kind people who attended went with me on a walk to some of the sites in the book .

Chris Patten – last night’s moving farewell Chancellor’s event and why I appreciate his generosity of spirit .

In February, Chris Patten announced that he will retire as Chancellor of Oxford University. https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2024-02-05-lord-patten-barnes-announces-his-retirement-chancellor-university-oxford So the Chancellor’s event last night was an interview with him. https://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2024/march-18/chancellors-lecture-from-china-to-the-middle-east-and-ukraine-a-world-in-turmoil

I was moved for many reasons by last night’s interview. He was asked to give advice to young people. I’m summarising it as .

The Three C’s

Be Curious

Be Courteous

Have Courage

He added, ‘Don’t do something just for the money.’ Chris Patten has lived by those values. I’m not a Conservative but remembering the likes of him and Rab Butler, who was Chris Patten’s inspiration, and John Major and Michael Heseltine, who gave tribute to him, I long to return to their example of good manners in political life. Rab Butler’s advice to Chris Patten was to place more value on ‘generosity than efficiency’.

Chris Patten showed generosity towards me, a freelance writer, by allowing me to cast him away on Oxtopia for The Oxford Times . He squeezed 30 minutes for me into a hectic schedule. I wrote up his early life to the point where he lost his seat in Bath and asked him to approve that, so in our 30 minutes we could concentrate on China and Oxford.

He said the years in Hong Kong were the best five years of his life. Last night he described how the city he loves is in handcuffs. I share his interest in China. When I interviewed him , I was writing Brushstrokes in Time . In 2014, China had been changing for the better but just as civility and rationality in British politics has gone down the pan , a dark cloud of oppression looms over China. Brushstrokes in Time was based on real events inspired by the life of the Stars Artist Qu Leilei who I interviewed every month for three years. My novel ended with hope. In these dark times, the chancellor has a refreshing quality – a sense of humour.

This quote is from my memoir Food of Love Cooking up a Life across Gender, Class and Race.

‘When I interviewed Chris Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University, I asked him, ‘What would he, when a student at Oxford, have said if told he’d one day become the Chancellor?’ He shrugged and said that he would’ve suggested the speaker was high on marijuana!

If middle-class Lord Patten of Barnes’s future was so unexpected, how much more so was mine? Women were second-class citizens and working-class women were at the bottom of the pile.

Here is his castaway feature : Chris patten

What does the world hold in store for us in 2025? Three quarters of the world’s population is now led by leaders who think of themselves as demi-gods. Who would have predicted that even the Netherlands would have joined that club? Global warming is the most important issue facing humanity but the likes of Putin, Trump and Netanyahu care not a jot about that issue. So the question is


Chris Patten says he will continue to write. I would love him to write on that issue because he has a grounding in history, unique in depth life experiences and the wisdom , generosity and open mindedness to make a fine job of it. He also has access to the world’s best brains.

Cosmic Cats: A World First for World Book Day? Connecting children across continents. Purrrfectly Pawsome

Cosmic Cats: A World First ? Charming feature on BBC South Today covering the school’s launch .

Click on the link below to see it.

Cosmic Cats brings together stories written by children in my village and in Mumias. Reading and telling stories, creates empathy and understanding. New residents of Kennington may not realise that for fifty years, through KOA, Kennington was the only village in the UK, possibly in the world, which fundraised every year for overseas projects. It was done through events that villagers loved, like the fete, fun run, pop -up shop and children’s concert. Well here’s another FIRST for our village.  St Swithun’s CE Primary School and Mumias  Primary School in west Kenya have come together to produce this anthology of stories written by pupils. St Swithun’s  Cof E Primary School, Kennington (Oxon) and the Nasio Trust are proud to announce the launch of ‘Cosmic Cats’, an anthology of stories written by children from Kennington, Oxfordshire and Mumias, Kenya. The book celebrates the collaboration between the two communities to help set-up the first community library in the west Kenya district of Mumias/Musanda.

Cosmic Cats was launched at St Swithun’s School on the 6th of March, 2024 and  included a virtual interaction with the children from Kenya. The internationally loved children’s illustrator Korky Paul gave a presentation and well known children’s author, Julia Golding,  thanked the authors individually. The public launch and book sales will be from 11-12 am on 9th of March in Kennington Village Centre.OX15PG.

Winnie’s cat ,Wilbur, has endorsed Cosmic Cats as  Purrrr-fectly pawsome! 

Cosmic Cats Nasio Trust: Feature on BBC South Today

The library will be built by  the Nasio Trust led by, Nancy Mudenyo Hunt, the co-author of Not so Black and White .Cosmic Cats will be the first  book to be put on display in the Musanda library when it opens in 2025. This has been possible thanks to our long term association with the Nasio Trust. In Musanda, there is a spirulina factory built thanks to KOA. St Swithun’s School took part in the Spirulina Cookbook too. All proceeds from sales £8 will go towards the Nasio library. Cosmic Cats will be the first book in the library so the children will know their library, like Kennington library, welcomes them.

Feel the force of fifty children’s voices. Recognise the bravery of turning an empty page into a living story and celebrate how art and story-telling brings together young people who live continents apart. Cosmic Cats connects Mumias Township Primary School (Kenya) and St Swithuns CofE Primary School (England). 

Aged seven, I discovered libraries and a love of reading and writing but the idea that a working-class girl from Luton could become an author was as crazy as eating the straw boater with which my birthplace was associated. Middle class parents can afford to buy books for their children. Lack of access to books for children without them, is a handicap for upward mobility. That is why I asked the illustrator Korky Paul to lead our 400 yard Pied Procession to save our library from closure and it changed the leader of the County Councils mind.  Our library is still open and supported by  the County Council but it is a community library so the Friends( FOKL)  have to raise £4,000 per annum to keep it open. Please support your library . You may not need it but lots of people young and old do.



March 6 School’s launch: Mumias authors


St Swithun’s Authors


Head Teacher Mrs Knighton talking to  Mumias School authors 

Korky Paul with Mrs Knighton and I and his rendering of  Cosmic Cat!  The children had a purrrfectly pawsome time!


Current of Death -not imagined?



I took a walk to some locations in my whodunit Current of Death. Unlike in London, in my novel,there are only two bodies in the Thames near my village in Oxfordshire where Current of Death is set.  When I took this picture on Feb 15 Sandford Lane was still flooded.

To reach the lock, I crossed the Pooh Sticks Bridge where the World Championship now takes place.  Some trees think it’s spring.

Three Cormorants had left the cormorant tree to guard Sandford lock.

One character lives on a houseboat .

I couldn’t get to Sandford Lasher with its the memorial to drowned students as the path was flooded. Not far away blossom and a brush of green are appearing on the trees.

How does somewhere so peaceful and beautiful have a dark side?

Alex and Kate meet in the Kings Arms and have a useful conversation with the lock keeper.

I finished my walk at Proof Social Bakery which appears in  Current of Death and where I had a book signing.


How does somewhere so peaceful and beautiful have a dark side?

 Lovely feature in Round and About Magazine

The launch of Current of Death was fun –  discussion on Oxford Murder Capital of the World  with the help prolific crime writer Peter Tickler and Chris Andrews who has photographed Oxford for  forty years .




WOW! Michael Rosen has endorsed  Cosmic Cats –  a project of love in a hate filled time  .


The former children ’s laureate , Michael Rosen  has endorsed Cosmic Cats on his Facebook and Twitter accounts . Feel the force of fifty children’s voices. Recognise the bravery of turning an empty page into a living story and celebrate how art and story-telling brings together young people who live continents apart.

Cosmic Cats is live on Amazon Kindle now.


The anthology contains stories by 24 children from Mumias school in west Kenya & 24 from St Swithun’s Primary School in my village of Kennington in Oxfordshire. Cosmic Cats celebrates the collaboration between the two communities to create the first community library in the west Kenya district in Musanda next to the Nasio Trust’s Health Centre.

Cosmic Cats will be its first book so the children will know they belong there. We’re launching it with a zoom connecting the schools for World Book Day. African born illustrator, Korky Paul, designed it for me and I’ve paid the publishing costs so the sales will go to   https://www.thenasiotrust.org/towards the library.


I was privileged to interview Michael, when I wrote for The Oxford Times. I cast him away on Oxtopia so his story is in Oxford Castaways 2.  Click here to read Michael’s story written by me. Michael Rosen

I  also quoted him in a chapter about saving libraries on Food of Love Cooking up a Life across Gender Class and Race – my memoir endorsed by  journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown,  Professor of History Rana Mitter and the poet, Sudeep Sen.

Michael Rosen, the famous children’s author, was the curator of stories at the Story Museum when I cast him away on Oxtopia. He told me that the evidence from everywhere in the world is that children who read for pleasure, do well academically. They find a lifelong friend in books. My story is evidence of the role they play in social mobility for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy books.

I wouldn’t have passed my 11+ and enjoyed the life I’ve had without access to Luton Central Library.  That’s why I’m passionate about libraries and so are Michael and Korky!   The role of libraries in upward mobility is much under estimated #worldbookday #libraries


Oxford: Murder Capital of the World?

Avert Your Eyes….


At the Oxford Indie Book Fair on November 26, I have the delightful opportunity to discuss Oxford-murder capital of the world? 

Odd to link ‘delight’ to ‘murder’? Crime fiction is the most popular genre so,unless the reading public is masochistic, we must get pleasure out of reading it. One of the appeals is that it enables readers to confront their fears knowing that justice will be done. In real life that rarely happens. Chris Andrews Publications has produced Oxford guidebooks, postcards and gargoyle photography for forty years. He knows this city inside out and from above and below. Chris will chair the discussion between me and prolific Oxford crime writer, Peter Tickler. I feel like an interloper because Current of Death is my first whodunit but other life experiences mean I can bring something unique to the table.  In Oxford, I’m best known for the ten years I sent inspirational people from Town, Gown and County to my mythical island of Oxtopia.  The Oxford Castaway life stories were first published in The Oxford Times before being turned onto three books. One of those castaways was the crime writer Colin Dexter, who invented Inspector Morse.  Colin holds most responsibility for public awareness of carnage in our city. His Morse books were turned into an internationally successful TV series followed by Lewis and Endeavour. I hope to tell the audience how he managed to write most of the Morse books while working fulltime at the Oxford Delegacy-at least what he told me.

There’d often be four bodies per episode in Morse books . In Current of Death, I fail miserably because there are only two bodies.  The number of recorded murders in Oxford, in 2022 ,was TWO – hardly the murder capital of the world!  We are not talking FACT but FICTION.  Conan Doyle set the ball rolling with Sherlock Holmes based in Baker Street in London .  Dorothy Sayers was born in 1893.  Her father was headmaster of Christchurch School (Oxford).  Her mystery novel Gaudy Nights locations include Christ Church and St Cross Church and Balliol was her sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey’s alma mater. That mystery crime book didn’t, however, include a murder, so Dorothy is not responsible for the death count but, before long, the list of deadly crime mysteries set in Oxford grew and grew.

The outstanding crime writer , PD James, was born in Oxford and although she didn’t set her books in the city, she transplanted some buildings such as St Barnabas Church into her novels.  In a different life, she was my customer at the Jam Factory. When her success grew, she bought a house in St John Street and furnished much of it at the Jam Factory ( 1987-1998). One of the things she bought from me was this watercolour set in Teignmouth with Edwardian ladies in bustles and bathing machines.

The Jam Factory was a place people came to browse and chat at leisure so Phyllis and I enjoyed many interesting conversations – one in particular was not about her murder mysteries but about her dystopian novel  Children of Men – but that’s for another  day

Colin Dexter was a patron of the Oxford Writers Group. He generously read our short stories including mine.

I hope you can make it to the Oxford  Indie Book Fair: and our discussion, The Midnight Press and other Oxford stories







To buy copies of Oxford Castaways 2
Go to
and click on the cover image.