Tea with Joan Matthews

One of the first authors to contact me when I began my business three years ago was a lady called Joan. She wanted me to write her memoirs and give them to her family when she died. No one had asked me to do that before, nor have they since, but as time went on I realised that it was a request that epitomised Joan. She was an independent lady who liked to have control. Not over anyone else, she would say, “Just my own life.”

We set to work, sitting at regular intervals in Joan’s conservatory at a little Formica table, where we ate Werther’s Originals and drank Robinson’s Pink Grapefruit squash – now a firm favourite in my own home. And we chatted away. Sometimes the sun burned through the window, we overheated and Joan would give me a Cornetto. Other times I could barely hear Joan for rain. Joan loved to feed the birds and occasionally a seagull would land on the plastic roof with a thud that sounded more like a Pterodactyl and I would jump out of my skin.

There at Joan’s table, I heard it all. How she’d been born a month premature and was so tiny that a neighbour told Joan’s mum she wouldn’t survive, how as a child she loved to the smell of the bread delivered by the local baker, about the family’s annual holiday which was a day trip to the Isle of Wight and why being evacuated during World War Two turned Joan into a hard nut. Back home at family gatherings, Joan’s song was I’ll Be Your Sweetheart by Foster and Allen.

As time went on we laughed at Joan’s teenage escapades. In the cinema, wandering hands were treated to a jab from a pin she carried. After school she became a shorthand typist working at a solicitor’s that had a department facilitating divorces for servicemen who came home from the war to find their wives had been unfaithful. “What’s a poxy cow?” Joan asked her beloved father one day. He took a sip of tea before answering.

In 1951, Joan signed the Official Secrets Act and joined the typing pool of Scotland Yard in the Norman Shaw building, retiring 36 years later as the most senior female member of the Met’s civil staff. During her ascent she was nicknamed The Pocket Venus of the Flying Squad as, in the days before woman police officers, she was occasionally taken on surveillance jobs and used as a decoy to make plain-clothed police officers appear as regular drinkers. I loved to look at pictures of Joan in her 50s dresses and hear about her crazy 300 calorie-a-day diets, Lancome make-up bought from Army and Navy, and Coty L’aimant perfume, which she was wearing once more having discovered it in her local pharmacy.

I always looked forward to seeing Joan. Once I arrived and she couldn’t hear me knock because Faith Of The Heart by Russell Watson was blaring from the CD player. “I’m choosing the music for my funeral,” she told me. I admired Joan’s pragmatic approach to death. She loved music, “I feel fortunate because there have been so many new things come about in my lifetime,” she told me. “I’ll never forget the day that Rock and Roll started with Bill Haley and Rock Around The Clock. That was the first bit of rock I ever heard and it was a revelation. It hit me. Crikey, this is great! No more schmaltz!”

There are parts of Joan’s story that are great fun but very personal and as is inevitable when confidences are shared, Joan and I became good friends. This year on her 82nd birthday I took her a cream tea, taking care to choose scones with as many cherries as possible. I admired how, after a 70th birthday gift of a computer from her family, she had embraced modern technology and was the happier for it. She loved Amazon, enjoyed spending, and as she was mainly housebound, ordered her shopping online. She wasn’t a big eater but her fridge and cupboards were full of treats. She adored eBay and liked to play naughty, bidding people up if a price had gone beyond what she was willing to pay. I tried to persuade her to join Twitter but failed. She played Patience. Her screensaver was Stonehenge and her only regret in life was that she had never seen it for herself. I offered to drive her there but she didn’t think she was well enough to travel that far.

Joan and I finished her memoir this summer and we were due to go to print. I had collected several of her photographs but there was one more that she wanted to include but couldn’t find even when we looked together. Every few weeks I would check in to see if she’d found it. Her short-term memory was driving her bonkers so sometimes she’d forget what she was looking for. I’d remind her, we’d chat, and I’d promise to call again soon.

Last week I rang Joan and her ‘phone didn’t ring. There were three pips and silence. My stomach lurched. There was no way Joan’s ‘phone would be off. She spoke regularly to family and friends and if she had changed her number she would have let me know. I got in the car. Twenty minutes later I turned into Joan’s road. In front of her house some way down I could see the distinctive tree in her front garden and in front of that, something white. Please don’t be a For Sale sign, I thought. As I got closer, I could see that it was a Sold sign. Still I hoped – selfishly, as it wouldn’t have been what Joan wanted – that she was ‘just’ in hospital and had sold the house to go into a care home. A nice care home where I could go and see my friend, tell her to sod the last picture, and press her memoir into her hands.

I tapped her dragonfly door knocker but I didn’t wait for an answer. I ran to the back garden. And there I saw the sight that made me dissolve. Joan’s conservatory was empty. Her clutter, her ornaments, her ironing board with cover in the pattern of a Butler’s uniform, the cat food, even the dust had disappeared. Our little table was gone.The place where Joan had sat and told her stories was no more.

I looked to my right. Joan’s garden ornaments were still there, but none of the mountains of bird seed that I sometimes helped her scatter. The hundreds of spoiled birds would be dining elsewhere. The seagull/Pterodactyl would be startling someone else. The fox that Joan fed crossed my mind. She’d gone to the vets and got mange medicine for him, slipping it into his food. She’d loved watching him blossom from decrepit to beautiful and he, of course, had no idea of this act of loving care.

The neighbours were very kind to me. Joan had died a few weeks earlier. She hadn’t suffered. Sophie, Joan’s terribly shy rescue cat was in a new home. Joan had hoped to out live her. She said she wouldn’t mind dying when Sophie was gone. The note Joan had left asking that I be informed of her funeral had obviously not been found. I guessed she’d written it in the shorthand that was familiar to her but no one else. The neighbours told me about Joan’s service, that it had been as she wanted and that her song, Faith Of The Heart, had rung out. I was glad.

I felt desperately sad that Joan had died without holding her book in her hand. I beat myself up emotionally but eventually I decided to take Joan’s advice and have no regrets. I realised that I could still carry out her wishes and get her memoirs to her family. The neighbours gave me a number for Joan’s niece and I rang her. She knew that Joan was writing her memoirs but not that they were finished. She was delighted and a few days after hearing those terrible pips, I emailed her Joan’s story – Reminiscences of a Maiden Aunt.

Joan’s memoir finishes with her words, “I’m enjoying life but I am not dreading death, apart from how I will die. I believe in the old ways. I believe that death is a part of life and that when I die I’ll be going home where I’ll meet all my loved ones who have already died. Then at some stage after that, I’ll be reincarnated, and my spirit will be re-born on earth. Who knows what my story will be next time?”

Joan, I absolutely loved helping you tell your story. If you are right and we are reincarnated, I think I’d like to come back as a memoir writer please. I’d also like to help you tell your next story. I hope we find a nice conservatory to sit in. Make mine a Pink Grapefruit squash.

Farewell friend, lots of love x



On July 9, I launched the memoir of nonangenarian authors, Peggie and Mollie Bensaid – The Bensaid Twins. Their book, All The World’s A Stage, demanded such an event not least because of their extraordinary collection of theatrical memorabilia spanning a career of 70 years. They are pictured above with one of their original costumes. This blog post about the event is by my friend Beth Tolson, a student of Creative and Professional Writing, at the University of South Wales. She was very helpful to me with this event not least because like me, she is a seasoned performer, and was fascinated by the life and treasures of these adorable ladies. Here’s Beth’s lovely post, below, with a picture of her interviewing Mollie Bensaid.

You can read Beth’s lifestyle blog Toasty here and follow Beth on Twitter here. Thanks for all your help, Beth.

photoA few weeks ago I helped Marnie plan the book launch for All the World’s a Stage, the memoir of Mollie and Peggie Bensaid.
Mollie and Peggie are 91 year old twins and spent 70 years in showbusiness, becoming known as ‘Britain’s finest twin act’. Fittingly, the launch took place in the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, where Mollie and Peggie performed in a pantomime at the age of 14.
We put together a display of costumes and theatre memorabilia, not to mention a range of beautiful black and white photographs showing the sisters on stage. My favourite item from the display would have to be the 20-inch clown shoes, made especially for the twins by Freed, which Mollie would use to go en pointe! No stranger to the perils of pointework myself, I asked her how she did it.
“I just took a deep breath and then… up! Getting up was fine, it was staying there that was the challenge.”
But stay there she did and the Three Buffoons, Britain’s only girl clowns, toured the country with their act.
What really struck me was just how many people turned out to support the twins at the launch. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise – they are adorable and, I’ve noticed, inspire affection in everyone they meet. One party had even come all the way up from the Isle of Wight for the occasion, armed with flowers and gifts.
“It’s nice to see so many people,” Peggie told me. “I didn’t know we had so many friends!”
Everyone I spoke to had a story to tell – how they’d met the twins, the fun they’d had, how they’d always kept in touch – and I found it heartwarming how willing the guests were to take time out of their day for the event.
The Kentones, a smartly-dressed local choir, entertained the crowd with a medley of songs sung in the Barbershop style, ending with a rendition of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’. Afterwards, they gave their thanks to the Bensaid twins, who have supported them for many years, and queued up for signed copies of the book.
“We’re thrilled they’ve got their wonderful life in print,” said one singer.
As the launch began to wind down, Mollie and Peggie started to reflect on the time they spent as performers. Was there, I wondered, a secret to their success?
“We worked hard and really enjoyed it. It was a great life.”

photo 3

A display of theatrical memorabilia spanning 70 years in showbusiness

photo 2photo 1

11 Britain's leading twin act is born

10 Mollie's backbend

5 Peggie, ready for ballet

19 Before applying our bespoke Max Factor clown make-up


Marnie Summerfield Smith with memoir authors The Bensaid Twins.

Call Marnie on 07710 721389 or email marnie at yourmemoir dot co dot uk for a copy of the book (£6 plus postage) and/or to inquire about having her write your memoir.


As you may know, I am the Memoir Director of WhitLit, a new literary festival coming to Whitstable from May 8-11, 2014.

Here’s a full programme of events. During WhitLit our authors will be telling us some great stories. But we know that Whitstable has its own stories to tell. And that’s why I’ve launched the Whitstable MemMaps project.

Below you will find a simple map of our town. Please print the map and embellish it with your memories and stories of the town in any medium you like. You can use words, poetry, lyrics, art, photographs, doodles, and collage – there are no limits! You may wish to contribute memories of special occasions, relationships, significant moments in your life relating to family, friends, work, love and fun. We would like your stories about good and bad times in Whitstable in as much or as little detail as you wish, whether you are a local or a visitor and whether they are your own stories or ones you’ve been told. Your memories might match places on the map, or not. You can add your name or remain anonymous. You can contribute more than one MemMap.


Please scan and email your map to or take it to:

The Whitstable Shop (WIT), 34 Harbour Street, Whitstable, CT5 1AJ
Whitstable Library, 32 Oxford Street, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 1DD
Harbour Books, 21 Harbour Street, Whitstable, CT5 1AQ
Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre, 11 Horsebridge Road, Whitstable, CT5 1AF

More maps can also be collected from the above venues.

The completed maps will be seen
and examples displayed throughout town during the festival

I am hugely excited about the Whitstable MemMap project, which came about after I read an amazing book called Mapping Manhattan by Becky Cooper. Becky distributed blank maps of the Big Apple and the stories they unearthed were incredible from the simple and complex to the funny and the touching. I immediately thought that I would love to do the same for Whitstable and when I got involved with WhitLit, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. There are great stories everywhere and I’m expecting gems – tiny delicate gems and great, big flashy ones – from Whitstable. Do email me or call me on 07710 721389 if you or someone you know needs assistance to complete a MemMap. You can tweet me @MarnieMemoirs. Please use the hashtags #MemMaps and #WhitLit.

On Saturday, April 12, WhitLit founder Victoria Falconer and I will be in town distributing MemMaps and WhitLit programmes. Do come and see us for a chat. We will be at the WIT in Harbour Street, outside Barclays in the High Street, and the library in Oxford Street throughout the day.

As part of WhitLit, on Friday, May 9, I am running a Write Your Own Memoir workshop. It’s at the library from 11am until 12.30pm and costs £5. To find out more about my company, Your Memoir, through which I help people write and print their memoirs, please visit my website. The Your Memoir Facebook page is here.

I am very grateful to Hope Fitzgerald, an artist and photographer from Faversham who kindly gave her time and expertise to create the Whitstable MemMap. You can tweet @HopeFitzgerald2.

We are also very grateful to the WIT for sponsoring the Whitstable MemMap project.

The Whitstable MemMap project was inspired by Mapping Manhattan by Becky Cooper.


I’ve been thinking recently about how we choose which memories to remember. Why we remember what we do, what we don’t forget and how these choices lead us to create the memoirs we write. I’m sure it’s not a conscious choice, so maybe choice is the wrong word. After all, plenty of us remember things that we would like to forget. But we certainly, at least in the stories we tell, prefer to recall the stories that fit with the identity we portray to the world.

I know this because my authors sometimes repeat certain stories to me. Occasionally they do this because they have forgotten they have already told me and I let them speak in hopes that a previously forgotten nugget of detail will be unearthed. It often is. But more often, they tell me the same story several times because they relish telling it. Happy or sad, the story says something about them that they want me, and therefore their reading audience to know. Their memories are their identity.

I have also been thinking how the stuff we keep reflects these memories and therefore our identities. This I have been pondering because I am helping a truly precious friend downsize and declutter ahead of moving into residential care. How do we choose to keep what is needed and what can we not bear to part with because it is loved? My friend must relinquish what he doesn’t have room for. In doing so, does he lose a little of himself? It’s easy to deride materialism but there is a difference between a wardrobe full of shoes and a drawer full of spare fuses we have kept because they might come in handy and being practical and useful is who we are.

Material things are also on my mind because my beloved uncle has died and my mother and I have had to close up his home this past week. My uncle Jimbo encouraged me to become a writer and I will possibly blog about him another time, after the funeral – since I am in the midst of writing the tribute. But looking at his things, some everyday items, some precious artefacts he cherished because he was a sentimental and sensitive man who loved the past, has made me think about how our stuff holds our memories and how our memories hold our identity.

A best friend of mine had an accident on Saturday and was concussed. She remembers nothing of what happened and when the paramedic asked her if she knew where she was, she cried because she didn’t know and feared she had a head injury and had lost her memory. The thought made my blood run cold. Who would my friend be to herself without her memory? Could we rebuild her with stories and by showing her her stuff? Luckily she is okay. But all these things together have given me a great deal to think about, to be sad about and to be grateful for.

It’s only five weeks until Christmas and although I wanted to write a more upbeat blog to remind people about the Your Memoir gift voucher, these are the things that are on my mind as I live and go about my work. So, if the memories of your parents or grandparents are too precious to lose, contact me about giving a Your Memoir gift voucher this Christmas. When those dear to you are gone and you are left with their stuff, a book about their lives will certainly be a possession you will want to keep forever.

YM voucher frontYM voucher back


HAPPY 2nd ANNIVERSARY (and a very jolly video!)


Hard as it is for me to believe, Your Memoir is two years old this month, August 2013. Yay!

You can never be complacent when you run your own business but *touches wood* I couldn’t be happier. I am busy, people are finding me. I seem to be offering something that people want and need.

I am currently working on 15 memoirs over varying time frames from five months to two years. The subjects range from bereavement, adoption – negative and positive experiences, life in children’s homes – good and bad experiences, life as a Playboy bunny, self help, divorce, careers in entertainment, family adventure, the good life, false imprisonment, culture clashes, the hippie trail, lives in medicine, music, regrets, secret lives, love, passion, religion, grief and several books that don’t have themes but are instead life stories from the cradle to the rocking chair.

I am loving it. I get to spend quality time with people, listening to them, getting to know them, asking the questions I think readers (be they family or public) will want to know, developing relationships and gaining cherished friendships. I am always learning, serious things like how to survive when life throws you its absolute worst and fun stuff like how Frank Sinatra slept post coitus (hands behind his head to keep his wig straight, since you were wondering).

I am crying one minute and honking with laughter the next. I am constantly surprised. And then, at the end of the process I hand over something really precious – a person’s life story, their memoir that will live forever.

I really can’t believe my luck and I would like to thank my husband, Dyfed Edwards, whose idea Your Memoir was. An idea that could only have come from someone who believes in me and knows me so well – knows that I love people and that I am yet to meet someone I find boring.

And I want to thank my authors who put their trust in me and tell me everything including secrets that will never be printed but which I will take to the grave. Thank you all for your stories. It really is an honour to be your ghost.

I hope you can take ten minutes now to watch a celebratory video of Molly and Peggy Bensaid, the Bensaid Twins, who were morale-boosting entertainers during the Second World War and went on to have a fabulous career in variety, performing with Bruce Forsyth, Shirley Bassey, Tessie O’Shea, Tommy Trinder, Laurel and Hardy and Tommy Cooper, among others.

In the 1950s, the Bensaid Twins were two-thirds of the UK’s only female clown act – the Three Buffoons. They had special clown shoes made by Freed of London, which they recently brought down from their loft. Here they are, enjoying clowning about once more and belying their age, which is considerable…

The Bensaid Twins’ memoir will be out later this year. I hope it will be nearly as adorable as they are and I hope Your Memoir will be as enduring.


In my last post I mentioned that I was to have a role in WhitLit, Whitstable’s first literary festival, taking place in 2014…

I can now reveal that, thrillingly, I am the festival’s Memoir Director!

To say I am excited is an understatement. I am working with founder and co-director Victoria Falconer (formerly Annable), a passionate and energetic book lover with an amazing track record in event organisation and campaign management. Together with our team, we’ll be putting something really special together. And what could be more special as a starting point for inspiration than our delightful hometown Whitstable – home of the free, the quirky and the creative.

We want to hear from you about what you’d enjoy at our festival, so please tweet us @WhitstableLit, find us on Facebook, or email with your thoughts. We have a survey that we’d LOVE you to complete. And we’re super keen to hear from book club members. Apparently there are 65 book clubs in Whitstable and we’re planning a special event for bookclubbers, so do get in touch if you fancy a bit of a book bash!

I am awash with ideas for memoir events but I’d love your input. So if there’s a memoirist you’d love me to bring to the seaside, please let me know. My work as a ghostwriter and editor continues, I am currently working on 12 projects with some truly fascinating authors, some of whom may even launch their books at the first ever WhitLit. Exciting!

WhitLit will be a wonderful opportunity to gather the stories of those who live in and love our town, so keep your eyes peeled for the Whitstable MemMaps, coming soon (we want your secrets and stories – anonymous if you prefer) and a blog of Whitstable Faces – the town’s characters revealed…

More news soon, so watch this space. Oh, and by the way, do you like our snazzy logo?




I am currently ghostwriting for nine authors and this week, I worked with three of them. On Tuesday, I met a woman in her 30s. We’ve just started on her memoir – a life full of secrets. Her book will be 60,000-80,000 words and everyone of them jaw-dropping…

On Wednesday I met a chap in his 60s. He’s writing about his childhood in Dr Barnardos’ homes, which is going to be about 15,000 words.  This part of his life has been largely a secret to his nearest and dearest until now.

The author had recently been into his loft and found remnants of homeworking that his mother did in the 1950s to try and make ends meet. Homeworking was popular with working class women at the time although it didn’t pay much. One of this lady’s jobs (her son always helped her) was sticking jewels onto costume jewellery. Here’s a picture and there are more on the Your Memoir Facebook page. It was fantastic to see these items in the flesh, as well as this author’s first ever suit! The treasures and memories he has in that loft! I look forward to exploring further…


Costume Jewellery
Then yesterday, Thursday, I met with a lady in her 80s, who is writing a book about her whole life, in about 30,000 words. This book will be kept a secret until she dies. Sadly, because I’m really going to miss spending time with her – though I’ll keep in touch – we are nearly finished her memoir. And yesterday I asked what life had taught her, what pearls of wisdom she could pass on, “Decide what you want and go for it,” she said. “Then be prepared for it to not always work out exactly as planned and get on with it.”


In a slight departure for me, I’ve been reading biography rather than memoir this week. The book was Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne. More secrets! I was attracted to this because Brideshead Revisited is one of my top ten favourite novels. Wanting to know more about its author and if Brideshead was in any way autobiographical, I Googled about until I came across Paula’s book. Mad World refers to Madresfield Court, the home of the Lygon family. Brideshead was largely and affectionately inspired by this family who took Waugh into their bosom and their ancestral home. I had no idea and it was gripping! I’ve now bought Waugh’s diaries, letters and the first volume of his autobiography. Sadly he died before he could finish the second volume.

But before I continue delving into Waugh’s world, I’m on a bit of a Somerset Maugham mission. This has been brought about by the birth of Whitstable’s very first literary festival WhitLit, coming to our town in 2014! Somerset Maugham is a writer I’ve always been aware of and since he lived in Whitstable as a child and there will be a Maugham element to the festival, I thought I better find out more. I have ordered Of Human Bondage, one of his novels, which was free on Kindle,  inwhich Maugham calls Whitstable Blackstable. And The Secret Lives Of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings.

Will I be having a role in WhitLit? Yes, I am delighted to say I shall be on the management committee, putting something very special together.

What is it? That’s a secret but when I can tell, you’ll be the first to know…




You can! It’s true!

In February I was the memoirist-in-residence at GEEK2013, a gaming event in marvellous Margate, Kent. I spent three days there digging for memoirs and here are some I found.

Where there are people, there are memoirs…


“In 1978 I used to bunk off school to play Space Invaders at my mate’s house. He was well off you see, and the rest of us had holes in our shoes. Other days we would cycle to the coast, Littlestone, which was 15 miles from where we lived in Ashford and play on the arcades there. We never got caught, that was in the days when the school was glad to get rid of you. Defender was one of my favourite games. It was made by Williams, so I’m delighted to find Satellite, another game made by him at GEEK 2013.”

Martin, Ashford

“I’ve come today with my grandson. He’s into all these games. The last time I was here was to see Danny La Rue in the 50s. That was fun and games I can tell you.”

Bet, Sittingbourne

“I’ve come to GEEK 2013 dressed as Tiny Tina from Borderlands II. I’m with my friends Helena who’s come as Midna from The Legend Of Zelda and Emma, dressed as Eleanor Lamb from Bioshock II. I was brought up with gaming. As a family we all played together. My first gaming memory is playing Mario Kart on Game Cube. I’d be sat on my Mum’s shoulders. She was controlling the movement and I was firing the weapons. I want to be an animator one day.”

Hayley, Ramsgate

“My Dad runs the Pinball Parlour in Ramsgate, so games have always been in my house and a part of my life. I’ve come to GEEK 2013 dressed as Midna from Legends Of Zelda for Wii because she’s the least annoying companion. When I’m older, I’d like to write stories for games and my friend Emma who’s come as Eleanor Lamb from Bioshock II wants to be a designer.”

Emma, Ramsgate

“My first consol was my Sega Mega Drive. My parents bought it for me in the late 90s. I thought it was magical, so colourful and realistic. It became a big hobby for me and my friends. We played after school, at weekends, all the time. In sixth form I studied ICT, Product Design and Physics, then I did a degree in computer gaming at Essex. I entered the Virgin Media 100 Day Game Project and together with my team Surface Tension Project, we won with our game Superfluid. It’s available for iOS and Android. I’ve been working for a small games company and am now looking for another job designing games.”

Daniel, Brighton

“I’ve come to GEEK 2013 from Hertfordshire because I’m hoping to bump into someone I met at Eurogamer 2012 at Earl’s Court. He was playing Guns Of Icarus and I never plucked up the courage to speak to him. I hope he’s here. He’s tall and had personalised Converse and purple chunks in his hair. Fingers crossed and this time I will definitely be brave.”

Britney, Hertforshire

“My first game was Donkey Kong, I was obsessed with it, the brown one. My parents brought me here to the Winter Gardens in the late 80s to see some Christmas show. I’d just got my game and I wanted to stay home playing it. As a compromise, they let me bring it and said I could play it in the interval, which I did. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the second half of the show so much that I walked out and left my game under the chair – never to be seen again. I haven’t come here looking for it exactly, I’m into gaming and so are my kids, but I do feel a bit sad about it.”

Sasha, Canterbury

“I’ve come to GEEK 2013 to see if Operation Wolf was here, which it is. I love this game, it inspired me to join to Territorial Army and eventually the regular army. Of course shooting a gun for real is nothing like a game or rather, playing a game is nothing like shooting for real – except both ways you have to be steady and a good shot. I’m trying not to hog the game. I’ll have a go on Daytona USA next. It’s a driving game. What a find! There isn’t an arcade near where I live.”

Mark, Scotland – currently based in Canterbury

“At the end of the 80s, my parents bought me a Spectrum 48K for Christmas. It was so new, so inventive. I used to go to Boots to buy my games. That seems strange now. I started writing small, basic games myself and now I’m a website designer. It’s all connected. I’ve brought my sons along, they’re seven and nine. I’m getting them into computers. They can do it all at their age, even writing basic HTML.”

Les, Westgate

“We’re really into games, so much that we’ve been separated at school as all we did was talk about games. We live quite far apart and our parents won’t drive us to see each other so we’ve come to GEEK 2013 on the train and bus so we can be together and play games. I don’t think our parents or our teachers know that we’re both here but they can’t stop us anyway.”

Anonymous, Sarre and Cliftonville

“Jason and I met when we were kids after my dad bought me a Spectrum in 1982. We played together all the time only stopping to go to the corner shop to buy junk food and Coke. We’re still playing now, 30 years later. The only game we don’t play together is Street Fighter as it causes arguments.”

Chris from Romsey and Jason from Portsmouth

“I’ve been into gaming all my life and came here to see if I could find Pacman. The reason I like it is because when I was little, my Mum played it a lot and it was the sound I heard as I went to sleep because our flat was tiny.”

Bex, Margate

“My best gaming memory is playing Crash Bandicoot under the covers after my parents told me to go to bed. Their room is right next door but for some reason I thought my duvet would stop them hearing me. It didn’t.”

Dan, Herne Bay

“My Mum was a cleaner at the Flamingo arcade in Margate and she sometimes had to take me with her to work. The games weren’t switched on when she was busy, so I just had to wander round, wondering what they did and hoping to find loose change. Sometimes I feel I was like that kid out of the film Big, with all the games switched off but somehow still alive. It was a bit eerie to be honest with the hum of the Hoover. I now work delivering games and parts across Kent. My girlfriend is into gaming so we’ve come to GEEK 2013 for a bit of nostalgia. I love it.”

Brian, Ashford

“I think all gamers have stories or memories from a time when they were playing. I think my worst one was the time when I nearly burnt the house down. I was playing Pokemon Gold and put one of those cook in the microwave burgers in. I think it was supposed to be in for three minutes but I did it for 30 and the house filled with green smoke as it burned away. I was so engrossed in the game that I didn’t hear the smoke alarm. Luckily my big brother did but he burned his hand throwing the burger out the window.”

Katie, Broadstairs


Happy New Year to you all!

I made a few resolutions and one of them was to blog once a month, so here we go for January with news of a very exciting event…


From January 12 to 27, 2013, Whitstable’s Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre is being turned into a Time Travel Tourist Information Exhibition with opportunities for you to enjoy the Whitstable memories of others and contribute your own special memories and stories about our wonderful town. The project invites locals to donate family photos, objects, pieces of creative writing, or stories documented on film. There are time travel guides explaining the history of the town, a pop-up theatre with moveable 2D cast and paintings and photographs focusing on Whitstable’s maritime history.

The project would especially like to hear from you if you have relatives or knowledge related to local Oyster, fishing, diving & maritime trades, or memories of seaside adventures from the 1950s to the present day.

I am a native of Whitstable having been born in St Helier’s Nursing Home in Castle Road (in 1975), now a private residence. I might contribute my story of returning there to work. I was a home help for the elderly when I was at Uni (1998) and the couple I cared for there were very interested to hear that I was born in their living room!

Or maybe I’ll speak about my memories of 1982. This was when an old church in Whitstable High Street was being refurbished and turned into our lovely theatre, the Whitstable Playhouse. Oh the dust! My Mum, Maureen Smith MBE, was on the original fundraising committee and the jumble sales that took place in what would become known as the Lindley Room (the bar) were magical to me. They gave me a lifelong love of rummaging! I am now a vintage collector and love the stories that come with some of my pieces.


Above is Lindley, a toy I bought at one of those jumbles! Named after The Lindley Players who own the theatre…

I had some of my very happiest times at the Playhouse from watching every play and pantomime from the night of opening (A Voyage Round My Father, attended by its writer Sir John Mortimer CBE) to performing there myself countless times. A highlight was playing Snow White in the annual pantomime. 1992 I think? I’ll have to look it up. I now produce an annual event at the Playhouse. Called Dance For Peace it raises money for my small fundraising organisation, Trust Sulha, educating Afghan refugee children in Pakistan.


One of the performers rehearsing for Dance For Peace…

Or maybe I’ll contribute a memory of my childhood home in Station Road, one of the first council houses to be built in the world. My brother is now converting this house into flats and my husband and I are moving into the garden flat this spring. I’m going home! Recently I typed up the diaries of a 92-year-old Whitstable lady. As a child she and her friends would visit the builders there in Station Road as they constructed those council houses. They took potatoes and cooked them in the builders’ fires. What a coincidence that she should do this on a place that eventually became my beloved front garden, where my mother grew my favourite Blue Moon roses (the scent!) and I played with my Flower Fairies.

Here’s a picture of me in the back garden with my beloved swing, Sad Sam toy (remember those?) and security blanket…


I have so many happy memories of Whitstable. How will I choose?

And what about you? Have a think and I hope to see you there!


P.S. Don’t forget! The Horsebridge is a charity and our town needs it. If you visit the exhibition, please leave a donation.


The opposite of what I am trying to do…

Some of my authors are starting their books from scratch and I am the ghostwriter.

Others have already started writing, or have written the whole thing, and are looking for me to tidy-up or ‘edit’ their work.

This can be tough.

Memoir could not be more personal and when I come along, asking what this means and what that means, authors occasionally feel affronted – either that I am criticising them or worse, that I have not understood their world and never will.

I had one author back away completely when I started poking about. I was very sad because the book, an adventure, had the potential to be amazing. It was very well-written, full of great anecdotes and valuable information. It could have sold well. It just needed a polish. But my duster was too much. It’s still a great book, but it’s not as great as it could be. The book was big and the author was paying me a reasonable sum of money. I don’t know what he thought he was paying me for. What would have happened if I had given it back, after some months, untouched? He might have been delighted. I would have been paid. It would not have been ethical and the book would be (and for all I know, still is) the poorer for it.

I don’t seek stuff to change for the sake of it. I’m thrilled if I come across a whole chunk that doesn’t need me. There are so many great storytellers and capable writers out there. And I always read the memoirs I’m going to be working on in advance and give the author an idea of just how much twiddling there will be.

But it’s tough. And I get it. When I was a journalist I was quite sensitive about people editing my work. More so about them asking questions…

“ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?!!!” I’d ask myself when the queries came back. Well, no, obviously not.

I once spent ten minutes trying to get a soldier to explain to me what a ‘treeline’ was. He couldn’t or wouldn’t say ‘woods’. Had he forgotten what he called them as a child? I doubt it. To him it was obvious and he was annoyed that it wasn’t to me, because it was part of his special world. It’s not that I replace military terms with civilian ones, I just need to write it in a way that moves the story along and doesn’t lead the reader to having to pause her reading while she has a quick Google.

Sometimes I need more feeling from an author. Recently, I was working with an author who’d had an affair with someone else’s wife. In a scene where he came face to face with the husband, I added in brackets: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU MET HIM?

GUILTY!!!!! Wrote the author in frantic pencil and told me that that one question alone had made him consider telling me he couldn’t go on.

I was aghast. I hadn’t meant to question the author’s morals. I just knew that for the reader, that was quite a dramatic scene and they’d want to know how our hero felt.

I now explain that I’ll be asking questions in capital letters to differentiate them from the original copy, but that I am NOT SHOUTING.

Apparently that wasn’t obvious.