Wednesday 23 November 2022

Maggie Hope, MI-Five & Darts

I have always been a keen reader and, when I was little, worked my way through many of the traditional children’s fiction series: The Famous Five, Just William, Billy Bunter, The Three Investigators (American...) and also Enid Blyton’s slightly less known series of what she always called the “Barney” books featuring Diana, Roger and Snubby plus a dog called Loony who went off on “hols” and had adventures very much like the “Five”.

Into my early teens, I developed a penchant for the rather grimmer Sven Hassel  “SS Punishment Battalion on the Russian Front” type books and I also devoured all the Commando Picture Library stories that I could find.

Comic-wise at various points of my young life, I regularly read “The Topper”, “Tiger and Scorcher”, “Hotspur”, “The Beano”, “Warlord”, “Cheeky Weekly” and, later, “2000AD”  – plus a few less well known titles such as “Crunch” and “Speed” which quickly merged with other publications. I then got into music in a big way and moved on to Smash Hits magazine and later graduated to the more mature “Sounds” and “Melody Maker”.

So, while I have always read a little bit to help me relax before bedtime – as an adult just as likely to be some HE Bates or DH Lawrence as well as Len Deighton and John Le Carre – since a recent bout of ill health, my literary turnover has risen quite dramatically.

In the past 2 years, I have got through a huge number of Lynda La Plante’s books: The Jane Tennison (1970s) series, the Anna Travis books, the Lorraine Page (US detective) trilogy, the Legacy/ Talisman saga, the Widows trilogy and am now working through the new Jack Warr series as they come out.  The stand alone novels of hers that I have read so far – Bella Mafia, Twisted, Entwined, Sleeping Cruelty and Royal Flush have all been equally as good and I plan to work through the rest at some stage.

Other series that I have worked my way through to date include Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple books and her 4 Cornwall mysteries, Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton mysteries, LC Tyler’s Herring stories, Jacqueline Winspeare’s  Maisie Dobbs, Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels, Stella Rimington’s Liz Carlyle MI5 books, Louisa Young’s Riley Purefoy WW1 and aftermath trilogy and her Angelina Gower trilogy  – as well as all of Dirk Bogarde’s volumes of autobiography, and a few other novels I found out in the shed.

I am now making in-roads into Edward Marston’s Victorian era Railway Detective books, Stephen Done’s post-WW2 equivalent, the Inspector Vignoles stories and Elly Griffiths’ Brighton Mysteries.

BUT the topic I am actually working up to writing about today is another series of historical murder mystery espionage stories set in WW2 – the Maggie Hope series written by Susan Elia MacNeal.

I am enjoying these stories immensely and a huge amount of research has obviously gone into the background and a lot of thought put into the development of the main characters.  But I do have a couple of on-going niggles.

Now, I fully appreciate that MacNeal is an American author and is mainly writing for an American audience  – and I applaud the fact that she has chosen to write about an American character living in England for her series of books.  That being the case, I am perfectly happy to see all the usual “Americanisms” in her writing – different spellings such as “color” instead of “colour”, use of alternative words like “billfold” for “wallet” etc – but what does jar on me a bit is where she has British character from the 1940s using language which, to my mind, would never been used by somebody back in those days.

I’m not just being a bitchy whinging keyboard warrior here, by the way, I have actually written to the author and raised some of those points with her – but she hasn’t replied, yet. I do realise that famous authors receive sackloads and sackloads of unsolicited mail via their publishers all the time and it takes a long time receive them all and even longer to reply so in the absence of a meaningful dialogue  on a subject that I feel quite strongly about, I am setting my thoughts out here instead.

To give an initial example of the sort of thing that I am talking about – and one that most people might readily appreciate – there is a liberal sprinkling in her books of people saying “back in the day”.

According to some very brief research that I have just done on the internet,  that phrase only came into use in the US in the late 1980s through Hip Hop lyrics - so the likelihood of English people saying it in the 1940s is very remote.

There are quite a few other things that she has English people saying in the 1940s which they wouldn’t have said then – but I won’t dwell on those for now. 

Suffice it to say that mentions of the “London Fire Department” (we always say “Fire Brigade”) and the “British” Civil War (which was a purely English affair back in the day – no Scots involved ) merely deprive American readers of nuggets of basic factual information that they might otherwise find interesting  about British history and culture.

It’s a shame really because she has obviously put so much effort into all the other historical aspects of her books, but the person who is advising her on 1940s English dialogue has rather let her down.

As a writer and editor myself, I am often asked to read through other people’s work and my first question always is: “do you just want me to tell you how good it is - or do you want me to be picky?”   

I have read lots of espionage stories over the years – including Len Deighton’s “Game Set and Match”, “Hook Line and Sinker” and “Faith, Hope and Charity”  9-book Bernard Sampson series and,  as I mentioned earlier, Stella Rimington’s Liz Carlyle books –as well as wiring all the episode of BBC TVs “Spooks”. 

Now Stella Rimington is the former head of MI5 and spent 30 years working for the security service in various roles so, so without her actually giving away any classified information or state secrets, I would imagine that novels are fairly true to life and her description of who does what and what goes on are probably pretty reliable.

So, based on Deighton’s, Rimington’s and Spooks’ various depictions of life in the British security services, if I wanted to be “picky”, there are few details that I would take issue with in the “Maggie Hope universe”.

Firstly, MacNeal keeps referring to MI5 as “MI-Five”.  That, to me, comes across like when somebody uses capital letters in a text message, as if they are shouting at you, and I can safely say that I have never seen MI5 referred to as “MI-Five” anywhere else.

In fact – as far as I can tell, people within the intelligence world don’t actually call MI5  “MI5” at all and, instead, they tend to refer to it as the “Security Service” - and MI6 as SIS (Secret Intelligence Service).

Also, the fact that somebody may be an MI5 or MI6 operative is a highly guarded secret – for many patently obvious security reasons – and is not bandied about in public in the way that FBI and NCIS agents are portrayed stomping around the USA  brandishing official ID shields and shouting “Federal Agent!” any time they are pursuing suspects.

In Stella Rimington’s books – and she should know what she is talking about – her main protagonist  Liz Carlyle has a separate identity that she uses when dealing with members of the public or agencies outside the intelligence world.  She doesn’t go around telling all and sundry that she is from MI5 and, if introductions are necessary, she is merely described as being with the “Home Office.”

So, therefore, in the latest Maggie Hope story that I am reading – Book 6 in the series “The Queen’s Accomplice” (these really all are very good, despite my complaining about Americanisms) - the instance where one of her colleagues is introduced as “Special Agent Standish from MI-Five” to a suspect in a police interrogation room is completely unbelievable, even as a fictitious fact.

MI5 and MI6 agents are NOT referred to as “Agent Smith” or “Agent Jones” (MacNeal annoyingly does that quite a lot as well) and, being all part of the establishment’s “old boy” network - as everybody in the British civil services was in those days, they would be more likely to be called “Binkie” or “Carstairs”, as was normal between colleagues at the time.

Another minor fact that sticks out like a sore thumb in Book 6 which I feel the need to point out is where Maggie Hope is observing a game of darts in a London pub.

Now, I do appreciate that the game of darts may differ in various territories across the world and that some places in the US have a different version with a different type of board but we are talking about the traditional British pub game here – and this is something that I do know a little bit about.

A lot of non-English people – and this is perpetuated a lot in American films and TV - seem to think that the aim of the game is try and throw the dart and hit the bullseye, but there are numerous different games of darts that you can play and the bullseye is not always necessarily the most important bit to aim at.

And, for the benefit of anybody who doesn’t know about this – I will explain. 

A dart in the bullseye – the round dot in the centre of the board – gets you 50 points, and the outer ring of the bullseye gets you 25 points.  However, the highest value zone  on the dartboard is “treble  20” which  gets you 60 points and, if you are playing a points game like 501 or 301, then that is what most darts players aim for. 

In the traditional pub game like this, each player starts off with 501 or 301 points marked up on the blackboard and their score from each set of three darts thrown is subtracted from their total.  The winner is the first to get down to zero BUT you can only win by throwing a double or hitting the bullseye. 

Light hearted games with my friends in the pub in our younger days nearly always went down to all of us needing “double 1” to win and, if you are not a very good aim, that can take ages...!

But, apart for the Maggie Hope’s fixation on the bullseye on the dartboard - which I do appreciate may go on to inspire her to solve the case she is working on, even if it is not what 1940s guys in an English pub would necessarily be aiming at - the story on the whole is very good so far and, like the other books in the series, I am thoroughly enjoying reading it.

You can find out more about the Maggie Hope series here

Saturday 5 November 2022

Planet Ice Widnes Christmas Show - 12th December 2022

This season, Planet Ice present a fun filled version of A Christmas Carol adapted by the Show & Skate class of amateur skaters and supported by their Professional On Tour Cast. 

This is the ultimate Christmas Classic for the entire family to enjoy. You will journey with Ebenezer Scrooge and much-loved characters through a story of how your community can be transformed for the better through generosity, kindness, and compassion. 

Let us get you in to the Christmas spirit with some of your favourite Christmas songs, amazing lighting production and beautiful on ice skate performances. This show has something for everyone and will leave you with that warm Christmas feeling.

Will Scrooge be transformed into a kinder, gentler man? Will it be a BAH HUMBUG! or "GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE"? 

Guaranteed to fill the hearts of young and old with the spirit of Christmas.

This show features amateur local skaters who have learnt their craft through Planet Ice’s Learn to Skate and Show & Skate lessons, giving the skaters a real moment to remember under the spotlight.

Tickets are on sale now and are selling fast, so don’t wait too long to secure your seat to the Christmassy of Christmas shows in town!

The show will be taking place on: Monday 12th December at 19:00 start time, doors will open at 18:00, but full details can be found on the Planet Ice website.

Tickets can be booked in advance from

Saturday 15 October 2022

The Smokey Project - Support For Rescue Dogs And Shelters

North-west based photographer Lauren Hagan has set up a new dog-related initiative called “The Smokey Project”  in memory of her rescued Staffordshire Bull Terrier of that name who died earlier this year.

The aim of The Smokey Project is to raise awareness of the plight of rescue dogs and to support various dog rescue charities or shelters each year across the north west and beyond.

This year Lauren is organising a "Shoeboxes for Shelter Dogs" appeal and is collecting donations that will be given to the Cheshire and Manchester Dogs' Home in Harpurhey, Manchester, in the run up to Christmas.

She has set up a “wishlist” on Amazon where people can donate by selecting items from the page and they will sent straight to Lauren for inclusion in her Shoebox packages: 

There is also a Twitter account that can be used to follow the progress of the project and to make contact about direct donations:  

Here Lauren tells the story about Smokey the Staffy in her own words:

My Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Smokey, passed away on the 25th July this year unexpectedly (the day before my birthday). It left our family completely blindsided, and we're still trying to come to terms with losing him.

I rescued him in December 2009. He was a former bait dog (a dog used to train other dogs in dog fighting), and had numerous scars from it, and was left with nerve damage that would make his leg shake when he sat. He also had had his fur burnt on his left shoulder. He was scared of other dogs, going in the car and had never been on a walk before. It took him five years just to go for a wee on a walk.

It took him a little while to settle in, but when he did he became bold, bossy and extremely affectionate. He loved nothing more than cuddles, especially with my dad and they had a very special bond - he trusted my dad implicitly.

He seemed to know that my mum couldn't hear without her hearing aids, so if he thought she couldn't hear when the phone rang or there was someone at the door he would go get her. It sounds untrue, but it is true. I couldn't be bothered to root around in my bag one day for my keys and knocked on the door, and I heard him go get my mum who was drying her hair.

I'm trying to do something positive, so I've started The Smokey Project. In its first year, we hope to collect donations of toys, treats and food to give to a local dogs' home. This year it's Cheshire and Manchester Dogs' Home. I've called it "Shoeboxes for Shelter Dogs", the idea being that people fill a shoebox with items and donate that, but people can also pick something from the Amazon Wishlist if they so choose.

We've made a good start collecting donations, and in order to try and gain more exposure I've enlisted the help of the para ice hockey team that my husband coaches - the Manchester Mayhem. They're helping to promote "Shoeboxes for Shelter Dogs" on their social media accounts.

One of the players, Darren who plays in goal, is planning a sky dive to raise funds for the club and has so very generously said that he will donate some of the funds raised to The Smokey Project.

Although I'm starting small with The Smokey Project, I hope I can grow it year on year. The aim is to help raise awareness that rescue dogs are worthy of a second chance, and they can be amazing given time and patience. Of course, I'm also hoping that I can help to change the perception of Staffys too (even if only a little bit) - we did on occasion, have to listen to other dog walkers throw snide comments our way while walking Smokey, and all because he was a Staffy.

We hope to give all the donations to Cheshire and Manchester Dogs’ Home on the 17th December.

Monday 11 July 2022

Book Review: The History Of Alloa Athletic by Stuart Latham and John Glencross

Book Review:  The History Of Alloa Athletic by Stuart Latham and John Glencross (ISBN: 978-1838460990)

I have never watched any football in Scotland, although I have seen a few Scottish teams play in the past -  namely Hibernian in a pre-season friendly at Blackpool and also Arbroath and Inverness Caledonian  Thistle at Fleetwood.

The nearest I have actually got to Scottish football IN Scotland is parking in the car park at Berwick Rangers ground during a summer holiday in Berwick Upon Tweed a few years ago (although that is, technically, not in Scotland)  and driving past St Johnstone’s ground in Perth one day when I was on the way to a meeting with the famous travel writer Katie Wood.

Interestingly enough, although unbeknown to me at the time, I passed very close to Alloa on that journey as it is not very far from Stirling, which my route took me through.

Now unless you are actually Scottish – or, at least, travel there a lot, Alloa is one of those places that you will probably only have heard of from listening to the football results on a Saturday tea time - along with other such places as Forfar, East Fife, Stenhousemuir, Cowdenbeath, Brechin and Hamilton Academicals.  And I hold my hand up here and freely admit that, like most average English people, I haven’t got a clue where any of these places are.

But Stuart Latham certainly knows where Alloa is – because he used to live there – and it is due to his long term attachment to the local football club, Alloa Athletic, that this book has come about.  

Now this book is massive, as in big.  Huge, in fact, and rather heavy. I regularly - and often somewhat blithely - bandy about the term “weighty tome”, but this really is one.  It is 665 pages long and covers the whole history of the club from its original founding in 1878 to its joining the Scottish League for the 1921/22 season – and the 100 years of competition since then.  

There are league tables, player stats and list of results for each season and, where possible, team line-ups for each game as well.

There are also all sorts of other interesting things - such as the history of the team’s colours and various kit designs over the years, different club badges, who produced the match programmes – plus interesting pen pictures about the key players from various eras. 

The book is packed throughout with great photos and there are also reminiscences from  people who have been involved with the club over the years.

And the really good thing about it is that all profits from sales of this book are going straight to the Alloa club so there’s another reason to buy yourself a copy!

For more information, or to order your copy, drop Stuart a line at

Saturday 21 May 2022

Book Review: Tracing your Irish Ancestors through Land Records: A Guide for Family Historians” by Chris Paton (Pen & Sword Famly History, Yorkshire, 2021)

Genealogist and writer Chris Paton, originally from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, who now  lives in Scotland and runs the Scotland’s Greatest Story research service, has put together a fantastic book.   With a look at the turbulent history of the Emerald Isle, as well as details of the availability of records, plus where and how to find them, this book is an absolute must for anyone who has, or thinks they may have, Irish ancestors.  There are photographs, a detailed bibliography and an index.  

Some years ago, my husband and I met an elderly gentleman who had lost a leg at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in the Second World War.   He told us that when war was declared in 1939, he had wanted to join the Royal Tank Corps. I don’t remember the exact details, but apparently the recruiting officer asked him to run round the block and dig up a Welsh relative. That would definitely be possible these days, due to a wonderful selection of books published by Pen and Sword – “Tracing your Welsh Ancestors”.  Facing the title page inside “Tracing your Irish Ancestors through Land Records: A Guide for Family Historians” is the awesome full list of those books, which is what made me think of that story.

Initially known as the Tank Corps, then the Royal Tank Corps, The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) is the oldest tank unit in the world. It was formed by the British Army in 1916 during the First World War. Today, it is the armoured regiment of the British Army's 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade and is part of the Royal Armoured Corps.   Incidentally, there is also a “Tracing your Tank Ancestors” on that list of Pen & Sword Family History books...

But I digress!  For further information about this and any of the Family History books from Pen & Sword, please visit their website 

Lucy London, May 2022

Friday 17 December 2021

Book Review: The Hitler Conspirator by Eberhard Schmidt

Book Review: The Hitler Conspirator - The Story of Kurt Freiherr von Plettenberg and Stauffenberg’s Valkyrie Plot To Kill The Fuhrer, by Eberhard Schmidt

Published in 2016 by Frontline Books, Barnsley

ISBN: 9871473856912

I have read quite widely on all things Second World War, particularly the German side, and the most fascinating thing about this book is that I have never heard of Kurt Freiherr von Plettenberg - ever.

Despite his relative anonymity, if you read the whole book, you will discover that he was a really important figure – both in the circles of the German nobility and in the eventual plan to get rid of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t want to give too much away as you really need to read the book to fully understand the man himself and his motives for how he acted.  Suffice it to say that he was a highly valued civil servant, a respected officer and soldier in the First World War and a friend of the former German royal family.

The book is very interesting all the way through and tells of all sorts of other things that I didn’t know about  – such as an earlier plot  to oust Hitler that almost came about in 1938 but was abandoned once the Munich Agreement had apparently brought the infamous “Peace in our time…”.

It has been written with the help and support of von Plettenberg’s son and daughter so there are references to family diaries and also lots  of great photos -  so it is a really charming book, even if the final subject matter is a little unfortunate.

One thing needs saying, however.  This English version has been translated from Eberhard Schmidt’s original German version and some of the tenses in the English text are a bit, erm, shall we say -  “inexact”.

I don’t want to get too technical here but, as I have studied degree level German, I can fully understand why the narrative tenses meander in certain places and it doesn’t actually bother me - but a pure English speaker might find it a bit off putting.

Pretty much in a similar way to when you watch a historical documentary on TV and the expert analyst uses phrases such as “He is…” or “They are…” when they are clearly describing something that happened over 100 years ago, it’s a bit niggly, but you can still understand it. 

That said, the book is still a fascinating and enjoyable read and it serves to shine a spotlight on a hitherto unacknowledged - yet highly important - player in the Germany of the early 20th century.

If you are interested in World War 2 and inter-war German history, this book is definitely one for you!

To order this and lots more great military titles, check out

Saturday 2 October 2021

Book Review: An Alternative View Of The World Of Cricket by Stuart Latham

Having just finished binge-reading all of Lynda La Plante’s Anna Travis detective novels in the correct order (and been a bit annoyed at some unnecessary continuity inconsistencies in the last one when it referred back to an earlier case…)  I thought I’d have a change of subject and read about the slightly less corpse-ridden world of cricket for a while.

And the right thing came along at exactly the right time as Stuart Latham has just published the most delightful book about that fascinating sport called:

“An Alternative View Of The World Of Cricket”

Now, I ought to flag up here that I may be a little biased as I am friends with Stuart and we share a lot of sporting interest and we have collaborated on a few projects together in the past - but this book has really grabbed my attention and I am very much enjoying reading it.

It is written from a personal point of view – by which I don’t mean it’s all “me, me, me...!”  all the way through – but the subject matter IS based around Stuart’s own involvement in cricket at various levels and he writes about the clubs that he has been associated with, some of the famous players he has met and others who he has admired over the years - including Jack Russell, Bob Willis, Farokh Engineer, Chris Broad and Hansie Cronje, among others.

A good example of this is the somewhat humorous “Ian Botham sanitary bin” story which, in fact, reminded me that I once saw Botham playing league football for Scunthorpe United – which is a story which will have to wait until I produce my own, admittedly shorter, cricketing memoir at some time in the future...

Stuart also has some interesting family connections within cricket and is directly related - via a migrating ancestor - to the former New Zealand test and ODI player Rod Latham and his son Tom, who is the current international wicket keeper for the “Black Caps”.

There is also an interesting section on the Hearne family from Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, from whom Stuart is descended and who produced a number of fine County and “All England” players in the Victorian era and beyond.

Stuart has written numerous books on many different and fascinating subjects, including ice hockey, rugby, motor racing and military history and you can find a complete list with order links on his sales website at: