Sunday 24 July 2022

Two Poems

I wrote these two poems last year, during lock-down. I think they are two of my best  - or is that just because they are the most recent?
Since then I have been writing The Ancestor Series - but soon perhaps will return to this very different form.
8th August 2021
 The breeze blows fallen leaves into a circle dance.
It is August: cardigans and raincoats,
trudging round castles in Wales,
longing for the beach.
 An empty Perla can rolls towards me
silver green silver green silver.
My hair still damp from the shower
whips across my face.
"It's all the same" you said,
putting down the Fairy Liquid bottle,
squeezing the rinsing water through a sponge
as I leaned over the kitchen sink;
"It's all the same"
adding Stergene to the bath against the scum.
A hundred years ago there was no you,
not yet born, two months to go.
Was it the same?
Behind me, in the distance,
the wind-blown can
rattles away.


12/13th August 2021

You got off before me.
It had been a bumpy road
through a town, a village, mountains, and a garden.
The sun had shone;
the rain had smeared the view - a glimpse of the sea.
There had been stops and starts,
 people had got off and on, and then
you were gone.
Beside me all your things, just left. 
How could you have so many things? and on a bus?
And somewhere - where? -  was the dog.
I dashed to the top, your pack heavy on my back,
and under the seats he was snaffling treats among the litter.
Scooping him up, I rattled down the stairs and off -
but you weren’t there
just a hungry dog and piles of things.

Waking, in my sliver of the bed,
I watch your chest rise and fall.
Not got off yet then.
The dog, curled at my feet,


Thursday 21 July 2022

Vindicating “the most corrupt man of his age”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term ‘reputation’ as ‘the opinion that people in general have about someone or something, or how much respect or admiration someone or something receives, based on past behaviour or character’.  

According to the fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, the reputation of a person, social group, organisation, or place results from social evaluation based on a set of criteria, such as behaviour or performance. 

Think for a moment of the current (July 2022) political scene in the UK. Boris Johnson has lost his position as leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister: his reputation became so sullied by his evasions and lies that to continue was no longer tenable or acceptable.

Boris Johnson’s Parting Advice to Next PM: ‘Stay Close to The Americans ...

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are the two remaining choices to succeed him. Both were members of Johnson’s cabinet. Sunak, who, like Johnson, was issued with a fixed penalty notice for breaching COVID-19 regulations during lockdowns, served most recently as Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he resigned – the first of many leaving the Johnson government, culminating with Johnson’s own resignation – his letter cited the economic policy differences between himself and the PM. Liz Truss currently serves as Foreign Secretary. Both are strong candidates, but will the Conservative party decide between them purely on the basis of their policy statements? Or will their reputations play a part, the opinions held about them based on their behaviour and performance? Reputation can 'make or break' an individual, and is what has been described as a 'highly efficient mechanism of social control', that is, it can be one of the ways in which individuals are influenced to adhere to certain values, principles, and behaviours within a given society.

 Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss - VG


The term 'reputation' itself derives from re- and putare (from the Proto-Indo-European root pau-, to cut, strike, or stamp) together meaning 'to judge repeatedly', but by the 16th century it was understood to relate to the established opinion of someone's character. And of course, we must not forget that characters can be blackened and reputations harmed by the words and actions of others, not just the person themselves.

This is what I believe to have been the case regarding my 10th-great-grandfather, James Balfour, who was born around the year 1530 at Montquhanny, Cupar, Fife.

  Mountquhanie Castle (Cupar) - 2021 All You Need to Know Before You Go ...

 (The ruins of Montquhanny Castle)

 When I first discovered that he was part of my family tree, I researched various online accounts of his life - and was amazed by what I found. It is said:

  • that he was involved in the murder of Cardinal Beaton in 1546 and the subsequent Siege of St. Andrrews Castle, after which he was condemned to be a galley slave with John Knox and other Protestant opponents of the Catholic Queen Mary. (The captives were allowed by the French to 'escape' after 3 years);
  • that he then denounced Protestantism, entered the service of the Queen's mother, Mary of Guise, and was rewarded with significant legal and court appointments;
  • that he subsequently joined the 'Lairds 'o the Congregation' (Protestant nobels who opposed Queen Mary's marriage to the Catholic Dauphin of France) but betrayed their plans;
  • that he drew up the Craigmillar Bond (a pledge to murder Queen Mary's second husband Lord Darnley) and arranged for Darnly to be lodged at his brother Robert Balfour's house, Kirk o'Field, where the murder took place;
  • that having drawn up the contract for Mary's marriage to Lord Bothwell, he then (when Mary and Bothwell were defeated at Carberry Hill) changed sides and surrendered Edinburgh Castle (of which he was Governor) to Moray (Mary's half-brother and Regent for her son James) in return for a pardon, a priory, and a pension;
  • that he betrayed Queen Mary to her enemies by giving them the Casket Letters (supposed proof that she and Bothwell conspired in the murder of Darnley) and intercepted money sent from France for her aid;
  • that by 1573 he was so distrusted by all parties that he fled to France until 1580, when he returned to Scotland, now governed by King James VI himself.
There is more - but that's perhaps enough! On the plus side, James Balfour is described as the greatest lawyer of his day and author of various seminal works on contemporary Scots law.

However - and it's a big however - 'A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen' (1857) edited by Robert Chambers and Thomas Napier Thomson, describes Balfour rather differently.
Index:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 5.djvu ...

This is what they say. 
'Balfour was one of those servants of the state, who, being advanced rather on account of merit than birth, used at all times to give great offence to the Scottish nobility. It seems to have never been supposed by this haughty class, that there was the least necessity for ingenious or faithful service in the officials employed by majesty; birth and following were the only qualifications allowed by them to be of any value. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find that the same conspiracy which overthrew the “kinless” adventurer Rizzio, contemplated the destruction of Balfour…’ 
Chambers and Thomson use the word ‘destruction’ to mean the intended murder of Balfour (from which he fortunately escaped, otherwise I would not exist!) but what was achieved over the years since then was the destruction of Balfour’s reputation. 
In the course of my further research, I have identified at least some of James Balfour's detractors. They include:
  • John Knox, who denounced Balfour in his ‘History’ (written for the Protestant Lords) for abandoning his ‘former friends’, for denying he was at St. Andrews or in the galleys, and for supporting Mary of Guise against the Lairds o’ the Congregation. 
 From Rev John Knox , the Reformer of Scotland to the Declaration of ...
 (John Knox) 
  •  James MacGill (Lord Rankeillor of Nether Rankeillour) whom Balfour replaced in 1566 as Lord Clerk Register, a position which MacGill had held for the previous 12 years. (In 1568 it was MacGill, not Balfour, who was one of those who produced the ‘Casket Letters’ at York, which implicated both Queen Mary and Bothwell in Darnley’s murder. Perhaps co-incidentally, MacGill’s wife Janet Adamson was a noted Protestant who was in correspondence with John Knox while he was in Geneva in 1557, and in 1584 she supported William Ruthven, Lord Gowrie, in the failed plot to kidnap James VI, for which she was banished from Edinburgh.
 Today in Tudor History... | Xvie, Histoire
  (Bothwell and Queen Mary) 
  • Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox (father of Darnley and Regent 1570-1571) who had supported Cardinal Beaton for the regency for Queen Mary, and who acted against James Balfour with regard to Darnley’s murder.  
 On this day in Edinburgh's history: 1567 Lord Darnley, second husband ...
 (Lord Darnley) 
  • James Douglas, 4th Earl Morton (Regent 1572- 1581) who was one of the murderers of Rizzio in 1556, and thus an intended murderer of James Balfour. As a matter of interest, the title ‘Lord Pittendreich’, given to Balfour by Queen Mary, was originally a title belonging to the Douglas family – yet another reason for sour grapes?  
 James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, d. 1581. Regent of Scotland ...
 (James Douglas, 4th Earl Morton)
Piecing his life together, this is what I believe to be the nearest to the truth about James Balfour that can, at a distance of five centuries, be achieved:
  • He grew up as a loyal Catholic, who was drawn in to the rebellion at St. Andrews through one or more of his brothers; 
  • As a loyal Catholic, it was natural for him to serve Mary of Guise and her daughter Queen Mary; 
  • He was the scapegoat over the murder of Darnley, for the sake of one or both of his brothers, Robert and Gilbert; 
  • He supported Bothwell (a Scotsman) over Darnley (an Englishman) because he was a Scottish loyalist first, and a Catholic second; 
  • He loathed the conflicts between Catholics & Protestants, hence negotiating the Pacification of Perth, putting Scotland’s needs before his own preferences; 
  • He could not support Morton’s regency and therefore temporarily removed himself to France (although returning to Scotland often enough to beget at least two children); 
  • His reputation for duplicity was false, contrived by his detractors, and was in any case invalidated not least by the restoration of his titles and lands, and being received at court by King James VI.  

King James VI of Scotland and I of England was born in Edinburgh Castle ...

  (King James VI of Scotland)
James Balfour lived during turbulent times, when religion and politics were inseparable. He achieved positions of power and authority, and was respected as a judge and juridical writer.  
He died sometime between 1581 and 1584, and was survived by his wife, Margaret (who subsequently married Robert Melville, Sheriff of Mearns), four sons, and four daughters, all of whom married well – which is unlikely to have happened had he been a duplicitous traitor.
His eldest son, Michael, became a member of the Scottish Privy Council, served as Scottish Ambassador to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Duke of Lorraine, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Balfour of Burleigh. 
His second son (named James like his father) was feuar of Pitcullo, and then became one of the chief undertakers in the Plantation of Ulster and was created Baron Balfour of Glenawley. 
I have no such claims to fame, power, or position, but I am proud that James Balfour, Lord Pittendreich, was my 10th great grandfather, and it was because of him that I began to write what is now 'The Ancestor Series' - stories losely based around the lives of my forebears.
To those who remain unconvinced by my argument on James Balfour's behalf, I simply say: honi soit qui mal y pense!

(The Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland bearing the mottoes
'In defence' and 'No-one will attack me with impunity'.
Hear, hear!)


Monday 18 July 2022

Why The Ancestor Series?


Transparent Spiral Clipart - Tree With Dna Roots, HD Png Download ...


Two of my maternal uncles were both interested in family history and over the years they put together a family tree of the Andersons, stretching back to the late 1700s. They did it the hard way - tracing documents and parish records, as well as gleaning information from members of the family. I remember seeing a copy of the tree when I was a young teenager, and I was intrigued by the fact that one of my ancestors shared my name, Margaret Williams. She married an Irishman, Sampson Moore, which I thought sounded very romantic, but there was no further information about her and, with my own life to get on with, I pretty much forgot about her and all the others.

Many years later, after the deaths of both my parents and my brother, my interest in the family history revived, and I now had both more leisure to pursue it and the invaluable resource of the internet, especially the marvellous

 I delved deep, and was amazed to discover lines going back to the 1500s. I also researched my father's side, the Williams' of Flintshire. The more I learnt about the individuals, the more real they became to me. I began to rejoice when they survived to marry and have children, to feel bereft when they died, to learn about the places they lived in, the occupations that supported them, and the scandals that followed some of them. Of them all, the stand-out character was my 10th-great-grandfather, James Balfour, Lord Pittendreich (1530-1583), castigated as 'the most corrupt man of his generation'. 

Of course, I had to find out more, and, over several months, I pieced his life together as well as I could. I will write more about him in due course, but suffice it for now to say that it was that research which prompted me to base my first attempt at writing a novel about him. In fact, the novel evolved into one about Pittendreich's son Hendrie. One day I will return to the man himself, and vindicate his reputation, which was largely created by his rivals at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots, including the reformist preacher John Knox. As a former Presbyterian myself, it was fun to uncover another, darker side of the founder of the denomination! 

The statue of Knox, shown below, was designed by the Scottish sculptor Pittendrigh MacGillivray. It is sited in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. Ironically, it was unveiled in November 1906 by the then Lord Balfour of Burleigh - a title created for Pittendreich's eldest son, Michael.

Statue of John Knox by Pittendrigh MacGillivray at St. Giles Cathedral ...


As you may by now have guessed, as well as being fascinated by the lives of the great-greats, I began to enjoy undertaking all the research necessary for the settings of my stories, and I have become a very temporary expert on all sorts of esoteric and bizarre facts about life from the 16th to the early 19th centuries! But it's the people who are the focus, along with the timeless issues of their - and our - lives: power, politics, religion, rivalry, love, betrayal, and personal integrity... somewhat relevant in these days following the downfall of PM Johnson?

Saturday 9 July 2022


Welcome to my new web site, which is specifically to do with my writing.

Ever since my childhood, I have written stories, poems, and songs, although until I retired these became submerged beneath academic and professional pieces.

More recently, the coincidence of our return to the UK from France and the imposition of national lock-down prompted me to take various online courses, including one on  on writing a first novel.

I had a go, and benefited from lots of support from fellow students, a great online writers' group, and an Arts' Council/National Centre for Writing (Norwich) award for a 'free read' and feedback on my work by the author and critic Lesley McDowell, who is one of the readers for The Literary Consultancy 

 Eventually, after many revisions, I was pleased enough with the result to submit it for publication. The wonderful team at novum publishing accepted it and later this year 'Costly Truths' will be hitting the shelves.

Set in Midlothian, Scotland, in 1603, 'Costly Truths' tells the story of Geillis Jamesoun, my ninth-great-grandmother. When her husband returns home from fighting with the Army of the Dutch Republic against Spain, Geillis' life begins to unravel and the deceptions that lie at its foundation are revealed.


I love this cover illustration, which really sets the scene. And I hope that very soon I shall be able to confirm the publication date. Exciting times!

Christmas shopping? Read on...

    A big THANK YOU to my wonderful publishing house, Steggr, for getting the paperback edition of 'Present in the Past' out in plen...