Friday, 24 March 2017

Random ramblings

Friday already and time for another blog post. I doubt that whatever I say is going to get as much attention as last week's on 'Historical Notes'. That was one of those that seemed to catch people's interest for some reason. It hardly "went viral" but it got far more views than most of my posts do. This week's post is, I think, going to be one of my occasional mild rambles.

It's odd what does and doesn't draw people in. I'm still trying to work out why a post on how we spent our Christmas holiday in 2013 is by now easily the most read item on my blog. I've asked if anyone knows why but no one seems to have any idea.

Claims or denials of expertise seem to be quite popular.  One of the most widely read posts here was by Kirsten McKenzie who wrote about how her experience in the antiques business provided her with the expertise she needed to write her historical/time slip novel, Fifteen Postcards. There was a lot of interest, too, in my own post about why, although I spend a lot of time researching my books, I don't feel I'm an expert at all. Two writers; two very different points of view – yet both pieces stand out for the number of people who read them. I think there's a lot of interest in what does or doesn't make an expert nowadays with books written  about the need for constant practice and motivational posters telling us that if we only work harder we can somehow excel in our chosen fields. As the person who wrote the piece denying my expertise, I'm a bit cynical about all this, but there's no doubt that the idea of immersing yourself in a subject and becoming a leading authority certainly fits with the zeitgeist whether you're Stephen Hawking writing about theoretical physics or Zoella, who is now a recognised authority on make up the teenage girls.

One thing I am definitely not an expert in is writing blog posts. Practised: yes.  I generally post about once a week  and nowadays I regularly get over 2,000 page views a month –  small beer by the standards of many of these things, but gratifying to me. I have been known to point out that if visitors to my blog bought 2,000 books a month that would do remarkable things my sales figures. If some of you would take the hint I'd appreciate that. What I write, though, attracts very different levels of interest week by week and when I post, I have very little idea what sort of response I'm going to get.

Of course it's gratifying to think that I'm reaching a lots of people through these posts but it's the responses that I really enjoy. Writing can be a very lonely business and it's always good to hear from people. Apparently there were technical issues with commenting on the blog, but I think these have been cleared up and anybody should now be able to type their response in the 'Comments' box below where everyone can see it. If you do  want to write to me but don't want to share your thoughts with the world you can reach me by e-mail at

I wrote a few weeks ago about the excitement of getting my first payment for Public Lending Rights. Since then, my local library has added The White Rajah to the books that it has available for loan electronically. By now, I think, most London libraries have at least some of my stuff  available online. I do recommend this service. The book is downloaded to your phone or tablet (you may have to install some free software, but it is easy to use) and then you have all of the advantages of Kindle but without having to pay anything. And, unlike the case when my boys are pirated (and, sadly, they all too often are) I get paid every time you download it. If your local library doesn't have my books, could you ask them to make them available? There's usually an online form to do this and it does make a real difference to me.

Speaking of excitement: it seems that I'm going to be giving a talk on James Brooke, the eponymous White Rajah, at Waterstones in Windsor on 25 May. There is a date for your diaries. I'll be writing much more about this once it's all officially confirmed.

That's about it for this week. (I told you I wasn't an expert at writing blog posts.) I have noticed that posts with photos of Tango dancers tend to be well received so, before I go, here's a picture of my amazing tango teacher, Alexandra Ward, with her partner, Guillermo Torrens.

Original photo: Tom Mason

Alex is currently touring in Tangomotion. If you can't make Waterstones in Windsor, see if she's playing near you. It will be an evening with less history but more music. And she's certainly much prettier than I am


  1. Ooh Tangomotion are at the RNCM! Must book!
    And I quite agree about PLR - every little helps.

  2. I've not seen that show but I've danced to Tango Siempre often and they are always a joy. I see Alex dancing all the time, though the only stage performance I've seen her in is 'Midnight Tango'(which you can buy on DVD - cheapest I think is at If you want to see what she and Guillermo look like dancing, there a few videos of them demonstrating in class at

  3. I like your blog posts - they're always quite interesting, and meanwhile, you're making me regret giving up the Tango, lol.