Time flies…

…when you’re having fun – or so the saying goes.

I was more than just a little surprised this week to find that my first novel (the third is due for release in the next few days) was released upon an unexpecting and largely indifferent literary world a little more than a year ago. Truth be told, it feels one hell of a lot longer. Over this short period, FATAL TEARS and ERRANT ANGELS (shortly to be joined by FEELINGS OF GUILT and by THE GERHSOM SCROLL in February, 2015) have continued to make their way through the minefield of publishing. Hardly surprising that I should use such a metaphor, as there are so many new titles around these days – not to mention the plethora of older, established works cunningly disguised behind newly-designed covers – that a new author has a daunting task to climb the mountain towards the point of recognition in some form or other.

Thanks to Kieran of The Book Guild art and design department - another great cover that captures the essence of the novel !
Thanks to Kieran of The Book Guild art and design department – another great cover that captures the essence of the novel !

When I first read of the idea of filling the moat of the Tower of London with a sea of ceramic poppies, I have to confess to thinking it all sounded more than just a little tacky and symptomatic of what, to me, seems the directionless morass of 21st century British Society. Having recently enjoyed a very successful band tour to Belgium (more on that in a moment), and mindful of the significance of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I, like nearly one million other people, made the journey to go and have a look. It seemed to me that most of these other million people decided to go and see the poppies all on the same day that I had chosen: the tube to Tower Hill Station just about coped; how anyone wasn’t run over at the pedestrian crossing outside the Tower itself and how so many people squeezed into the area adjacent to the moat without some fatal crushing incident resulting, I do not know!

The field of ceramic poppies that fills the moat of the Tower of London. An appropriate memorial to the dead of World War 1.
The field of ceramic poppies that fills the moat of the Tower of London. An appropriate memorial to the dead of World War 1.

Even before I managed to get a reasonable view of the poppies, I had drastically changed my mind about the whole thing. It seemed to radiate a sea of red and black calm amidst the heaving mass of humanity that had assembled to view it, largely in a respectful silence. That was surprising, considering the numbers of visitors. The moat was filled with 888,246 poppies, each one representing one British military fatality from the war. There was a moving sombreness to it all.

The ceramic poppies "pour" out of the Tower and fill the entire moat.
The ceramic poppies “pour” out of the Tower and fill the entire moat.

All will be dismantled after Remembrance Day (11th November) and each poppy will then be sent to whoever has purchased it, at a cost of £25 each (I’ll leave you to do the maths!). The good news is that they have all been sold and the funds raised will be shared amongst Service charities.

The whole experience raised two thoughts: firstly, one hundred years on and we are still inhabiting a world torn apart in one form or another – possibly not quite to the same extent as in 1914, although these days dissent can often be far more subtle and often does necessarily involve the use of guns; secondly, each one of those poppies is an anonymous reminder of service and duty. Who knows who poppy 102,345 represents, any more than we do number 94,368? Surely the most important thing is that we do remember and – despite the enormous scale and extent of the poppy field – that we do so in a typically British understated way: no glitz, no razzmatazz, no fanfare. Just Remembrance.

And that bring me back to where I started – almost. Whilst climbing my author’s mountain I have had to persevere to pass through and to eventually emerge from the clouds of anonymity that surround just about all of us. I used to think that this was a daunting task in extremis, but then I stood and gazed at the 888,246. How many of them, when they marched off enthusiastically to what was believed to be a short-term chance at glory – at least at the beginning of the war – ever thought that, instead of a triumphant return, they would become an unnamed ceramic creation in the centre of London and, by so becoming, would for ever be remembered in the soul of a nation still scarred by the cataclysmic events, of which they were a miniscule part, all those years ago?

East Grinstead Concert Band performing in the Market Square of Brugges, Belgium.
East Grinstead Concert Band performing in the Market Square of Bruges (Brugge), Belgium.
East Grinstead Concert Band getting read to play under the Menin Gate in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium.
East Grinstead Concert Band getting read to play under the Menin Gate in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. Every evening at 8pm sharp, local firemen sound the Last Post, a short ceremony follows and then reveille is sounded. On October 11th we played music for the wreath lying, which was the 29,727th time the ceremony was performed since its inception in 1928.

Remembrance took on a whole new dimension when we played under the Menin Gate in Ypres during our recent Belgian tour. Words cannot really express the feelings generated by directing 37 talented musicians in Elgar’s Nimrod, Purcell’s When I Am Laid in Earth and David of the White Rock. The music echoed amidst the 55,000 names of the missing that are engraved on the panels of the gate: men from all over the then British Empire, who simply disappeared in the mud and chaos of the battles that flattened the ancient city (now restored to its former glory).

So what is a year, when time for the poppies in the moat and for the names on the imposing edifice of the Gate simply stopped a century ago?



…can take many forms. Birthdays, weddings and graduations are the obvious choices, but there are also other occasions to celebrate. On the one hand, for example, the life of a departed and much-missed loved one, passing your driver’s licence test or getting into that new item of clothing without cutting off the oxygen supply; on the other hand, achieving that which you thought unattainable and beyond your levels of endurance.

Private Sydney Godley VC, born in East Grinstead.

It was with regard to this latter option that the East Grinstead Concert Band (EGCB) assembled in East Grinstead’s High Street yesterday to celebrate the bravery, devotion to duty and plain tenacity of Private Sydney Godley of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. On August 23rd 1914, during the Battle of Mons, the 4th Battalion were ordered to defend the Nimy Bridge over the Mons-Condé Canal. Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Godley manned a machine gun after the previous crews were either killed or wounded. Dease was killed and Godley continued to man the gun for two hours, holding off the advance of the German army and allowing the rest of his section to retreat. Godley was severely wounded before being taken prisoner. The two men were awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery under fire. They were the first to receive this honour in a war that what was to drag on for over 4 years of senseless slaughter on all sides. The event was also a salutary reminder that words such as “duty”, “commitment” and – sad to say – “loyalty” often come off very badly in our modern society.

The flagstone set into the foot of East Grinstead's war memorial honouring Godley's bravery and his commitment to his duty and to his comrades.
The flagstone set into the foot of East Grinstead’s war memorial honouring Godley’s bravery and his commitment to his duty and to his comrades.

The concert was also an occasion to mark an important event from our own times. The EGCB is a very talented and dedicated group of amateur musicians (several with a musical or military background), many of whom play more than one instrument. Some of us are also competent arrangers of music (within the copyright laws) and conductors. Yesterday’s concert marked the conducting debut of our Assistant Musical Director, Phil Stewart-Johns. To conduct one or two items on the programme can be harrowing enough; to direct the entire programme – particularly in gusty, cold and overcast weather conditions – can be positively terrifying! Phil and the Band came through with flying colours, so that was another reason for celebration. I also had the opportunity to play clarinet, which was a pleasant change from waving the baton out front !

With Phil during the interval in our concert. Smiles all round !

Last Wednesday was also the day on which I had a meeting with my publisher, The Book Guild, in order to finalize the programme of publicity for the second novel in the “AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA” series, “Feelings of Guilt”. Publication date is set for mid-November and you can read a sample on my website, www.stuartfifield.com. We also finalized the contract for the second in the “JOURNEYS OF RUPERT WINFIELD” series, “The Gershom Scroll”, which is due for release in March of 2015. There will be a sample available on my website from mid-September. We are also planning an event via www.goodreads.com , which will give you the chance to win a copy of Rupert Winfield’s first Journey, “FATAL TEARS”. I’ll post more information on that as and when it becomes available.


For me, these are all quite big events to celebrate, but perhaps we should also not lose sight of the simpler things in life, such as celebrating the ripening of home-grown tomatoes (no mean feat in our often miserable, sun- and heat-less climate), a glowing sunset or the affection we share with our pets. Life doesn’t always have to be complicated; simplicity also has an intrinsic value.


What does change…

…mean to you? How do you view the difference between change and improvement?Are you someone who accepts the inevitability of change, or are you someone who blanches at the thought of changing something that is well-known and rather comfortably understood for something that is often one great, confusing mystery – when does change not become an improvement to the status quo of living? Consider the monumental changes during the 20th century, many of which can hardly be considered to have improved people’s existence; contemplate the modern world of electronics and instant communication.

If I had shown my grandfather a telephone the size of a playing card, he would have scoffed. If I had taken a picture with it, placed it next to a computer the size and thickness of little more than one of the upper-end glossy magazines, he would have scratched his head. If I had told him that something called e-mail would move it from ‘phone to computer, he have thought me totally daft. If he had known that the instant message had travelled those few inches from phone to laptop via Miami, Ulan Bator or goodness knows where else, he would probably have dialled 999 and asked for help!

Not as daft as it seems – who else amongst you can remember a ‘mobile’ telephone the size of a house brick?

Credibility is another thing often subject to change – what was once an unquestioned truth is now subject to a scrutiny that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. So, all things considered, what does change actually mean to any of us?

HRH Princess Anne in East Grinstead to unveil the memorial to Sir Archibald McIndoe, 9th June, 2014.

Recently, I conducted the East Grinstead Concert Band during the ceremony in which HRH Princess Anne unveiled a statue of the pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. The advances he and his team brought to the practise of plastic surgery, through the reconstruction of severely disfigured Allied airmen at the town’s Queen Victoria Hospital during the Second World War, changed and continues to change countless lives for the better.

The McIndoe memorial surrounded by some of McIndoe’s “Guineapigs”. East Grinstead Concert Band can be seen in the top right hand corner of the picture.

McIndoe_102 McIndoe_AM_3_me

A century ago to the day, August 4th 1914, who would have thought that the conflict, which was predicted to be over by Christmas, would have such devastating and long-ranging effects on the entire planet? In our own time, there is the question of the change in our climate…

Being an Italophile and having one eye on retirement, I recently visited Bagni di Lucca. Enthused with that same spirit of exploration that sent armies of my fellow Anglo-Saxons to all corners of the globe, I set off from Lucca station with the anticipation of viewing the sites, especially the historic Royal Casino, Nottolini’s splendidly imposing Chain Bridge over the River Lima, the famous Ponte a Serraglio, and also of paying my respects at the English Cemetry.

River Lima
Looking up stream towards the Royal Casino and Ponte a Serraglio from the middle of the Chain Bridge.

At the end of a tiring day, sitting back on the platform of Bagni di Lucca railway station, I started to ponder the question of change in this peaceful part of the world. The River Lima, as it winds its way through the towns that make up what I now understand to be the larger Bagni di Lucca area, must have seen many changes over the years. Sitting on the platform of the attractively maintained station, it seemed clear that there had once been a garden area attached, presumably for the enjoyment of the flood of important, wealthy visitors who once frequented the famous thermal springs in the nearby towns. Sadly now somewhat overgrown, the outlines of the garden are still there, as are the well-established trees, but any sense of grandure has now gone: another instance of the fortunes of change? As I sat in the late afternoon warmth, I pondered how a return to the brighter lights of an earlier era might change the peaceful tranquillity of the area – would an increased flow of tourists be for better or worse? Perhaps in our instantaneous world, where so many seem to expect everything at the push of a button and to have it in their hand the day before yesterday, finding places such as those of the Bagni di Lucca area is one of the more rewarding aspects of change – or should that be reversion to a less hectic, more measured way of life?

As the train for Lucca came to a stop and I climbed aboard, it seemed to me that the towns of this particularly appealing area of a beautiful country really are something of jewels in the crown: perhaps not being in the mainstream of change is not such a bad thing after all. For my part, I’ll be back again at the end of this year to do the whole thing all over again.



When is an Improvement…


…not an improvement ? Quite possibly when the new version seems to be inferior to the older one. I refer to the miraculous world of IT or Information Technology or, to put it in plainspeak, computers. Although a firm believer in the old Chinese proverb about the reed that does not bend in the wind snapping off at the base, I sit and scratch my head to the point of splinters when faced with the illogical (to me at least) “progress” foisted upon us by the market leaders in world computing. Looking at the screen as this “progress” pops across it (even seemingly unbidden), I am inclined to ask the simple, but oh-so-powerful question, why ??

But I digress…following a recent trip to Lucca, as reported in a previous blog, the video that was partly the reason for going is now finished and viewable on YouTube.

Something else that produced a tingle of excitement in the bones was to see that libraries in Australia have copies of ERRANT ANGELS on their shelves and that a bookshop in Mumbai (Bombay to those of us who can remember back that far !) is also advertising it. The Contessa’s first foray into the printed word also seems to have made its mark on the world of e-books. Whoops, back to computers again !

That’s it for now.







Do you believe in…

…circles or, put more specifically, in the concept that things are circular in occurrence – sicut erat in principio sort of thing? Yesterday certainly was. This is the week of the London Book Fair [LBF], an international gathering of the book industry at the huge Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London and, as The Book Guild has a stand amidst the sea of others, we decided to pay our ticket price and go. Having parked the car at our local railway station, we were greeted with a cheery blast from Suzanne, who was on her way to the coast to meet a friend for lunch – go for it, girl; it’s never too late to party!

Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on - logically enough - the bass !
Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on – logically enough – the bass !

Suzanne is a school teacher of the deaf and is also an accomplished musician, as are her brother and sister, the trio almost forming a backbone of the musical life of Wadhurst. Anyway, meeting Bubbles started the day of on a grand note and – this is my point – when we returned to Wadhurst some seven hours later, travelled-out and weary, we met her again, all lunched-out. So the day went in a pleasant circle – sicut erat in principio: as it was in the beginning…so it ended!

The LBF was something else, with exhibitors from all around the globe. Proof of the growing importance of China was to be seen in the number of Chinese publishers promoting the work of Chinese authors in their own language, as well as the number of English educational publishers now offering “Teach Yourself” type books on how to learn Chinese/Mandarin. My publisher’s stand did not disappoint and I was somewhat excited (by my usually restrained standards) to see a poster advertising my sequel novels to the two already published (see the top of the photo below).

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild's stand at this year's London Book Fair.
With Graham Robson on the Book Guild’s stand at this year’s London Book Fair.

A totally unexpected bonus was to meet fellow author Ian McFadyen, creator of the Inspector Steve Carmichael novels; the next one is due out early in 2015.

With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.
With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.

Follow Ian at this address:


Well done to Carol, Louise, Graham and all the rest of the Book Guild team for all their input towards this year’s LBF.

As if LBF was not enough excitement for one week, the musical airwaves were also alive with the sound of…those little black dots on the five lines!

Wadhurst Brass Band held their annual Spring concert in Wadhurst on Saturday evening and the event was, as usual, very well supported with an audience not that far short of 200. I’m now playing the baritone, which is about ⅔ the size of a euphonium and only about half the weight, but I’ll get used to it. What I found exciting and very rewarding was to see Suzanne’s brother, David (an extremely proficient trombonist), take his first full step down the conductor’s route. He has been given the direction of the training band and Saturday saw his first full directorship of the group’s contribution to the concert. I have encouraged David to conduct a single item with my East Grinstead Concert Band before, but not an entire mini-programme. Back to circles again – at some time or other I taught both David and Suzanne music at high school; on Saturday David left the nest, so to speak, and that made me feel very proud. It’s a long journey to the podium, but at least it’s started. One generation handing over to the next one!

The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor's batton on Saurday.
The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor’s baton on Saturday.

On Sunday I was asked to review a concert by the Kent Chorus (with a few guests from the London Orpheus Choir) and Meridian Sinfonia in the rather splendid setting of the Pamoja Hall at Sevenoaks School. The acoustics in the wood-lined auditorium are extremely good, as was the performance of both the Chorus and the Sinfonia. It was an all-Brahms programme, beginning with the St Anthony Chorale Variations, followed by the German Requiem. Great Stuff.

You can read the full review here:






Right now the days are…

…just not long enough to get through everything! You know the feeling – no sooner have you started working than it’s the end of the day with a lot still to do.

Just back from a very pleasant and successful promotional trip to Lucca. I felt it would be a good idea to stay in an apartment in the Roman Amphitheatre, just to see how the Contessa manages in her luxury apartment a little further on.  It was quite something – very high ceilings with exposed beams, large exposed sections of the original stonework and a fabulous view into the arena. It was also the centre of culture galore: a dance festival; performances by very talented music students from the Istituto Musicale Luigi Boccherini, so the Contessa would have been quite at home with that; some odd statuary and the Lucca flag-throwers, all kitted out in Renaissance outfits. And that was over just one weekend.

Flag throwers
Flag Throwers in the Amphitheatre. Hours of practice made it look oh so easy.

One of the projects during the trip was to explore the area around the town of Bagni di Lucca, a collection of picturesque and historic villages forming a region to the north of Lucca. The area has been famous for its mineral waters since Etruscan and Roman times. It also boasts Europe’s very first licensed casino. The fifth in the An Eccentric in Lucca series is planned to involve the Contessa and COGOL – not to mention the attractive Arthur Crowe and his Banda Inghiltalia – in planning an arts festival there. Who could want a more beautiful location for making great music ?

Ponte a Seraglio spans the River Lima in the Bagni di Lucca region
Ponte a Seraglio spans the River Lima, the main tributary of the River Serchio. The Casino, which still awaits the granting of a license to resume its former role, is in the immediate vicinity. Napoleon’s sister, as Grand Duchess of Tuscany, spent the summers here in the early nineteenth century.


Built in 1837, this was the first licensed casino in Europe. Puccini and Strauss, as well as anyone who was anyone, frequented the casino. Others visited the numerous establishments in the area offering the benefits of the area’s mineral-rich water – these are the Baths of Lucca.


This medieval, high-arch bridge, the Ponte della Maddellena, is in Borgo a Mozzano and spans the River Serchio. the bridge is known as "the Devil's Bridge".
This medieval, high-arch bridge, the Ponte della Maddellena, is in Borgo a Mozzano, a couple of kilometres below Ponte a Seraglio. It spans the River Serchio and is known as “the Devil’s Bridge”.

A highlight of the trip was a meeting with Norma Bishop, the editor of the Grapevine magazine. The March issue contains an extensive review of ERRANT ANGELS, and was on sale at two of Lucca’s literary outlets.

Great excitement at finding he book advertised through the pages of Grapevine !
Great excitement at finding ERRANT ANGELS advertised through the pages of Grapevine !

We enjoyed an early evening spremuta di arancio in the amphitheatre, almost where the flags had been hurled up into the air and caught again the previous Saturday. I’m currently drafting an article for Norma on a foreigner’s discovery of the cultural promise of Bagni di Lucca.

Meeting with the editor of Tuscany's GRAPEVINE English-language magazine. Thanks for your time, Norma.
Meeting with the editor of Tuscany’s GRAPEVINE English-language magazine. Thanks for your time, Norma.

Visit the GRAPEVINE’s website and check out the magazine – it’s full of very useful and informative information on Lucca and environs.   http://www.luccagrapevine.com

The results of the trip will shortly be available on YouTube. It’s called “The Contessa’s Lucca” and will hopefully whet your appetite to visit this beautiful city.

The other big surprise recently was an e-mail informing me that I have a distant relative about whom I knew absolutely nothing. Talk about a bolt from the blue! My grandfather Harry Rolfe had a brother, who had a family of his own – you learn something new every day. I’ve also been able to add this great photograph to the two I already have of him and the Mauritius Police Band. I’m also excited to learn that there are plans afoot to open a museum to the band – another good reason to visit the Island and do some research. Thanks for all of that, Pam.

Inspector Harry Rolfe and his Mauritius Police Band somewhere during the 1930s.
Inspector Harry Rolfe and his Mauritius Police Band somewhere during the 1930s.

I’ve received the edited proofs for the second in the An Eccentric in Lucca series, FEELINGS OF GUILT. It should be out in August or September.

The other important diary entry is the London Book Fair. The Book Guild is featuring ERRANT ANGELS on their stand, which is very exciting.  I’ll tell you more about that after the event.


Luigi di Capezzani-Batelli …

… seems to have been persuaded to do his bit to promote his mother’s first book, even if it was a little unexpected, to judge from his reaction.


As he’s the Senior State Pathologist in Lucca, I’ll leave it to your imagination to work out just exactly what the “case” he is expecting could be !

Rain, rain go away…

…if only ! Still, despite the gloom of an excessively unsettled and wet winter, the new year has sprinted off to an energetic start with two new titles lined up for publication during 2014.

The second title in the JOURNEYS OF RUPERT WINFIELD series is scheduled for release early in the second half of the year. THE GERSHOM SCROLL deals with the situation in the Middle East in the 1930s. Historical interest concerns the situation in Palestine (seemingly unresolved almost a century later !) as well as the demand for oil from the new fields in the British mandated Kingdom of Iraq. Judging from the [unsolicited] feedback to Rupert Winfield’s first Journey through Egypt (FATAL TEARS), the itch to travel there and see for yourself has taken hold. The traveller in you will also not be disappointed with the next book, as much of the story is based around the rose-pink city of Petra. Words hardly do either the splendor or the scale of the place justice, so I’ll offer you this photo I took as a means of whetting your appetite.

The Treasury, as seen from the Siq. This setting features in the Gershom Scroll.
The Treasury, as seen from the Siq. This setting features in the Gershom Scroll.

Not to be left behind, La Contessa di Capezzani-Batelli has also embarked on the publication of her second appearance with her beloved chamber opera Group of Lucca, or COGOL for short. In Book 2 of the AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA series – FEELINGS OF GUILT – this unwelcome emotion is explored from several of the character’s perspectives and the Contessa, being a good listener and a keen observer of human frailty – including her own – becomes even more involved in the lives of several of her “angels”, as she calls her artistes. The bass Amilcare Luchetti meets a young man from Puglia, but remains unaware of the consequences of that meeting; why is the highly repected accountant Riccardo Fossi discretely meeting the man from Sicily ?; where will the Contessa’s establishing Lucca’s first hospice lead them all ? The Contessa’s faithful maid seems to have become even more cantankerous than before and Carlo Quinto is still muttering and growling at just about everything ! In adition to all of that, why has the eccentric Englishwoman chosen to put on one of her COGOL concerts to raise funds for a charity that looks after working horses and donkeys ?

Well, there is a link…in fact, the link extends across both new books.

The Contessa’s latest concert is to raise funds for a charity that was started by a woman in whom the spirit of caring humanity burned as brightly as it does in the Contessa herself.

In 1934 Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British Army officer in Egypt, founded the OLD WAR HORSE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL in Cairo and the Brooke Hospital for Animals was born.

Dorothy Brooke (1884-1955). Her compassion for the plight of horses and donkeys led her to establish The Brook equine charity.
Dorothy Brooke (1884-1955). Her compassion for the plight of horses and donkeys led her to establish the Brook equine charity.

She had been so moved by the plight of thousands of horses abandoned by the British Army in Egypt at the end of World War I, that she raised money and opened the hospital with the promise of free veterinary care for all of the city’s working horses and donkeys. Today, her original hospital is still there, doing what it was established to do 80 years ago. Since then, the Brooke’s work has also extended well beyond the borders of Egypt :

The Brook Hospital for Animals at Petra, founded by the Brooke's patron in Jordan, HRH Princess Alia bint Al Hussein.
The Brook Hospital for Animals at Petra, founded by the Brooke’s patron in Jordan, HRH Princess Alia bint Al Hussein.

Visit the Brooke and read about their work for yourself:


There will be more information about these two new releases on my website over the next few days. Please visit me there.

Until the next time…


Only Another Eleven Days…

… before the Contessa di Capezzani-Batelli appears in hardback. She’s been getting to know people in e-book form for the past couple of weeks, but 28th November is her big day – not to mention the Angels of her Chamber Opera Group of Lucca, who will be on the shelves alongside her. This is what has already been written about her first appearance on the shelves (or should that be amongst the gigabytes?) :

This is what some are saying about the first appearance of the ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA.

All of which makes me spare more than just a thought for the people behind the scenes, who make all of this happen.

I might be the one who has thought all of this up, but having had the baby – possibly the simplest part of the process – it’s been the hard work of the editors to apply the gloss, the art department to come up with yet another brilliant jacket design (go Kieran !) and the small army of other people, whose job it is to get the Contessa out there in whatever format you choose to indulge yourself with. Well done Louise and all of your team. This week I’ve been told that the Book Guild have already selected ERRANT ANGELS as one of the 8 new books they will be presenting to the Reading Agency before Christmas. I’m sure Pen (a.k.a. La Contessa) would approve !

East Grinstead Concert Band organized our second annual Poppy Appeal concert recently in St Swithun’s church, East Grinstead. Unfortunately, it was on the eve of the worst storm for many, many years. In response to the comment, ‘At least it’s not an outdoors concert,’ one informed soul in the upper woodwind section was heard to reply, ‘It will be if the wind blows the roof off!’

The Masks of musical comedy and tragedy ? Not really, just trying to squeeze everyone into the available space in the church. With Clive, our librarian.

Despite that, we raised over £300. Disappointing, considering the widespread coverage several of our members managed to obtain through various local media and their own hard work and dedication to the cause. Still, every pound helps the Legion with their work of caring for ex-servicemen and women.

Most of EGCB in full blow with Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. Very appropriate, considering the tempest that was brewing outside! Thanks to Justin for the photo.

Meet the Contessa…

Cover Contessa 1

Introducing the Eccentric of Lucca, her singing “Angels”, her Maltese poodle and her irrascible maid…

…di Capezzani-Batelli, or simply plain Pen to her friends. She is also regarded as something of an eccentric by her army of admirers.

ERRANT ANGELS is the first in a series of novels about Penelope Strachan, the Contessa, and her group of dedicated opera singers in the picturesque city of Lucca in Tuscany. Just how a gifted English pianist studying at the Royal Academy of Music before the Second World War came to end up bearing an ancient and much respected Italian title is all part of the journey of discovery as you wander through the pages.

Now in her later 70s, the Contessa is the doyenne of the music circle in Lucca and, together with her Chamber Opera Group of Lucca – COGOL for short – is a major fundraiser for a whole host of charitable causes. She regards her singers as her “Angels”, but she has no illusions about their flaws, some of which could be considered as rather serious. Perhaps one of the most flawed characters, but for only the very best, well meaning of reasons, is Elizabeth McGraunch, her faithful maid of nearly half a century.

The character of the Contessa is based on two very real women, both of whom were instrumental in the establishment of an operatic tradition in South Africa during the 20th century: Désirée Talbot, my singing professor at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town (and her pet Maltese poodle, who had a much better relationship with people than does the Contessa’s Carlo Quinto)

Désirée Talbot

Désirée Talbot, Emeritus Professor of Voice at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town.
Albina Bini, founder of the Florence Chamber Opera Group.

Albina Bini, founder of the Florence Chamber Opera Group.

and Albina Bini, an early giant in the establishment of opera in South Africa and founder of the Florence Chamber Opera Group in Cape Town.

Visit my website for a full biography of both of these remarkable musicians.

What can one say about the assortment of characters who go to make up COGOL – not to mention the others characters who cross the pages at reasonably regular intervals ? When you get to know them I’m sure that you’ll recognize characteristics of people you have met over the course of time.

After all … it’s all really just observation, isn’t it ?

ERRANT ANGELS is published by the Book Guild in hardback and is also available in e-book formats and through Barnes & Noble in the United States. The next novel in this series – FEELINGS OF GUILT– is due for publication in 2014.