August – 2010

I’m so sorry I’ve let my website lapse since January 2009. It is too awful but I’ve been so frantically writing and thank goodness, finishing my novel, Village Horse which is now re-titled JUMP! This is because it is about jump racing and other frolics and will be published on 16th September. I do so hope you will all enjoy it.

One of the great excitements since I last wrote to you, however, was that a beautiful new sculpture of our Greyhound, Feather and our cat, Feral by the wonderful Caroline Nunneley was put on the front of our house in February 2009. This brought us much joy and is intended to illustrate what wonderful pets Greyhounds are and how brilliant with other animals.

In the summer 2009, Felix my son and I had a thrilling experience, while I was researching JUMP!, of visiting Darley Stud at Newmarket. In this beautiful place we saw gorgeous little foals, incredibly tame from talking to all the visitors; wonderful brood mares and amazing stallions.

I stroked New Approach, who won I the Derby, who is worth, I think, £50 million and for a stud fee, charges £50,000. Each of the great stallions has one stable lad to look after him. Mares come from all over the country to be covered and it was fascinating to learn about the whole process.

Afterwards we were given baseball caps and wonderfully coloured and well-produced literature, particularly aimed at teaching children about racehorses. A marvellous place. Then Felix and I went back to Newmarket and joined Richard Dunwoody for a lap on his ‘Walk’, in which he was completing a thousand miles in a thousand hours without any sleep. This incredible achievement raised a huge amount of money for charity. So it was a very exciting day. We also had joyful christenings in 2009, in May for my grandson Acer William and in August for our grand-daughter Scarlett.

As part of my research I also visited some wonderful yards: Venetia Williams’ in Herefordshire, which has the most ravishing view and where it was wonderful to meet Mon Mome, the Grand National winner, who was very quiet and sweet. Success clearly hasn’t gone to his head. I also visited Bob Buckler’s yard in Dorset- again ravishing country, and was delighted to pat. Niche Market, the winner of the Irish Grand National, who ran so brilliantly to be third in the Hennessy Gold Cup.

In November, our new friend Jim Lewis, former owner of Best Mate, and his new wife Jennifer Harrison, took me and my son Felix to spend a day with the trainer Paul Nicholls. It was thrilling to see the great Denman and Kauto Star jumping I over huge fences round a tiny school. One understood so much of` Paul’s success, because at speed in such a small space, a horse has to jump really precisely.

We later moved on to Wincanton races where we met our old friend Harry Skelton and trainer Sally Mullins.

We’ve only had one lunch party at home in 2009. The guests included my friends Peter and Liz Prowting, who breed and own marvellous horses; handsome trainer Richard Phillips; Richard and Mandy Pitman and Charlie Brooks who brought the beautiful girl he was going to marry; Rebecca Wade, who now seems to be running Mr Murdoch’s newspapers single-handed in this country. She is very beautiful with long, flowing red hair, and great fun and we all fell in love with her. It was a very happy day.

Later in the year we went over to Liz Prowting’s for her birthday party and I was absolutely thrilled to sit next to a very, very famous showjumping icon, Peter Robeson, who was a colossal star in the fifties and always wore a pale beige hard hat, which singled him out. Fascinatingly, he told me, that showjumping was so popular in those days that the Football Association actually paid him an official visit and begged him to help them make football as popular a sport. How things have changed!

On November 11th 2009 I went on my only trip to London to the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane. Here for the first time a lovely remembrance service was held for all the animals, and organised by Angela Yardley, late of Greyhound Rescue West of England. We all observed a two-minute silence. There were lovely readings about brave animals to commemorate the millions that served and died so heroically in war. Horses from the Household Cavalry, the Canadian Mounted regiments and lots of heavenly dogs were present. Many charities were represented, including the Blue Cross; Dogs’ Trust; and Battersea Dogs Home. We hope this will become an annual event and in 2010 I hope as many as possible will turn up on November llth. I can see camels and mules and donkeys queuing I up to join the party.

And while on the subject of animals, please help save the badgers from any cruel unjust cull. I know my indefatigable friend Joanna Lumley is on the case. Anyone anxious to help should go to the website of badger saviour and expert, Martin Hancox on

At the end of 2009 I was utterly knocked out when Gloucestershire University conferred on me an honorary doctorate for both services to literature and to Gloucestershire itself. I was particularly delighted because since moving here in 1982 I’ve been inspired by this ravishingly beautiful county, and it is wonderful to be singled out for the books themselves.

The ceremony was held in Gloucester Cathedral, and I was given my doctorate by the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who is a darling man and very keen on animals! I was so over-excited by the whole thing that I left my Certificate behind, which was a scroll in a lovely dark blue cardboard cylinder and I had visions of the squirrel pinching it in Gloucester Cathedral close grounds and pinning it up in their holes in the trees. But fortunately it was found and retumed to me and is one of my proudest possessions.

Another proudest possession is this lovely congratulatory card designed and sent me by my wonderful publishers, Transworld.

As I’ve already said the first seven months of 2010 were spent battling to finish JUMP! In the beginning of June, however, Felix and I escaped to Epsom for an, utterly blissful day at the Derby. We were the guests of the sponsors Investec who’d festooned the entire dining room with bright purple orchids. The view over the course, with the coloured hats of the ladies merging like a great herbaceous border and the gypsy jollity ofthe crowds merging into summer green woods was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We had a really whizzie table, which included Jeremy Kyle his wife Carla, who are both terrific fun and it was lovely to catch up with Trirmy Weatherall, looking absolutely sensational and wildly happy with a gorgeous new man. Gloucestershire University conferred on me an honorary doctorate for both services to literature and to Gloucestershire itself.

To top it I backed the Derby winner, Workforce. After buckets of delicious champagne I had to be restrained from nicking one of the huge Investec Zebras, situated all round the course which would have looked so at home in our garden in Gloucestershire.

And talking of gardens, we had a hilarious day in June when the One Show came down to make a brief film about our garden, to accompany an interview to go out later in the year when JUMP! is published. The presenter, Christine Walkden, who was huge fun, brought with her, her gorgeous, very bouncy chocolate Labrador bitch, who raced round the garden and won the hearts of both Feather our Greyhound and William the mongrel rescued from Battersea by Felix and his wife Edwina.

During the interview Christine asked me from where I get the raunchy ideas for my books. Suddenly I realised I’d lost the attention of her, the producer, the cameraman and the sound man, who all had glazed expressions on their faces. Glancing round, I saw William the mongrel making his own blue movie, and was briskly humping Christine’s chocolate Labrador.

Afterwards, exhausted by his labours, William collapsed on the grass, his head propped on Christine’s ankle, punctuating our interview with the most deafening snores. To prove to the viewers this wasn’t me or Christine falling asleep, the gallant cameraman lay down on the lawn to film William snoring, whereupon he woke up and started rolling his eyes in a captivating fashion. He is a complete tart. To illustrate this, here is a recent picture of William by my brilliant photographer friend Judy Zatonski.

In June, I judged a marvellous dog show at Richard Phillips’ yard in Adlestrop I and Richard’s PA., Jo Saunders gave Feather this lovely rosette and took this terrific picture of him so he can upstage William.

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