I was born in a small and fairly obscure English market town on the borders of the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire Fens in the summer of 1966. My mother, a poster girl for National Health Service nurses, remains a city girl at heart, despite having met and married my dad, a confirmed country boy. The fact that they still live in the house where I was born, serves as a reminder to me that my roots run deep in rural soil on both sides of the Atlantic.
My dad, a newsagent shopkeeper, served his friends and neighbors, fellow townsfolk, farmers and surrounding villagers a steady stream of national and international tabloid, broadsheet and magazine news scoop from the day he left grammar school ’til the day he retired. It’s not all that surprising that my three siblings and myself were raised with so much newsprint on our fingers, the value and importance of news journalism and the art of good storytelling seeped into our blood by some form of natural osmosis. By age eleven I was set to work in the family business grappling the art of small talk while dealing the daily news to the more loquacious as well as the not-so-chatty customers who came by during my after-school and weekend shifts in the shop. I soon honed in on how to glean the best gossip, the drama, comedy and tragedy and everyday general news of small town life itself.
Toward the end of my senior year of high school in what was one of those rare moments of random serendipity, I overheard another student in my A Level English class confiding to the girl sitting between us that she had recently applied to a regional newspaper group that was hiring prospective trainee reporters for the National Council of Journalists’ training program with vocational indenture on one of their local titles. I ran home (after a long, calculating bus ride) and made a hasty enquiry and application. After a nerve- racking interview the following week with one of the newspaper group’s polished senior editors and a surprise subsequent offer, I promptly ditched the university applications I had in the works. I was nineteen years old and jumping into the deep end of early-entry adulting in the world of indentured provincial English newspaper reporting. And, after a rigorous ten-month training course that was as much condensed fun as hard work, I was allocated my first posting, pounding the pavements as a cub reporter in search of the latest goings on in the genteel cathedral city of Ely, a few miles east of the university city of Cambridge.
After my first year of sink-or-swim journalistic induction on the bucolic beat for the Ely Standard, I was transferred in a routine move to the far north east of the county, where, at the Norfolk/Lincolnshire border I would complete my training on the Ely Standard’s sister newspaper, the Wisbech Standard. It was during my year working the Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire/Norfolk beat in this isolated, inland Georgian port town and surrounding hamlets and villages, that I managed to score myself a coveted annual award for best feature writing within the multi-title regional newspaper group. And, much as I was drawn to researching and writing the sorts of quirky and fascinating regional lifestyle stories I preferred, I would spend much of the second year of my vocational training driving around the Fens in the newspaper’s Mini Cooper door-knocking on investigative assignments and rookie court, county council and crime reporting duties in order to complete the disciplines required for final exams and qualification.
I decided I didn’t like the door-knocking part of the job as a reporter at all and so, credentials in hand, I switched for a brief, slightly better-paid but far less exciting eighteen-month stint as press and public relations officer with the East Anglian Regional Health Authority, headquartered in the city of Cambridge, in part fending off Fleet Street reporters fishing for information on celebrity heart operations at prestigious nearby Papworth and other such high-profile medical procedures taking place at the city’s equally renowned Addenbrookes University Teaching Hospital. The part of my job I enjoyed most was touring rural East Anglia in all weather, camera in hand, visiting coastal cottage hospitals and rambling Victorian mental health facilities, teaching hospitals and brand new urban emergency rooms writing press releases, taking pictures and reporting for National Health Service newsletters.
What happened next was I fell in love, not once, but twice, the first time, in my early twenties, which would ultimately send me in a somewhat clueless journey across the Atlantic and into what would turn out to be a new and previously unimagined life as a prospective British American. I had naively agreed to join my adventurous and intrepid young husband in a project he was involved in for a six-month stint in San Francisco. Although my kind and supportive boss back at the NHS in Cambridge had held my job open for my return, I soon found myself (after the first few months of daily sob sessions and semi-acute homesickness), thoroughly smitten by the Bay Area, its landscape, its diversity, its creative, sometimes zany, free-thinking people, interesting and intriguing new work opportunities and near-perfect climate. We made the decision to stay a while longer and we somehow managed, through a combination of sheer bloody determination, daring and plain hard work how to figure out the long and convoluted route of securing green cards and ultimately, citizenship.
I bagged up my favored herringbone skirt work suit, woolen tights and loafers and donated them to the nearest charity thrift store, devoting the first decade in my newfound California career to a bohemian wardrobe of sundresses, sandals and layers and on certain weekends of the year, I willingly decked myself out in full Elizabethan or Victorian wool garb, often with a similarly dressed baby boy in arms, employed in my dream job as press and public relations manager for the Living History Center, non-profit producer of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in San Bernardino and Marin Counties and the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco.
After the birth of my third son and the subsequent changing of guard within the ownership of the production company I’d so adored working with, I decided it was time to revisit my passion for lifestyle reporting, typing away at my keyboard at random hours amidst the family action at my kitchen table as a freelancer for wine, travel and women’s publications online and in print in Northern California, UK and Australia.
I found a bounty of delicious fodder for South County Notebook a popular lifestyle and culture column I wrote for my local newspaper, The Petaluma Argus Courier that ran every-other-week for five years while my sons were making their way through various extra curricular activities and the necessary grades of elementary, junior and high school. I published my first non-fiction book Fog Valley Crush — Love at First Bite, in 2014 with material and interviews largely gleaned from my reporter’s notebooks packed with farm-to-table stories of my beat — the “Tastiest Little Place on Earth“, the artisan farm-centric micro-region of southern Sonoma County and coastal West Marin. Two years later, in 2016 I published my second book in the series, Independent Publishers Book Award winning Fog Valley Winter, Pioneer Heritage, Backroad Rambles and Vintage Recipes. Both books received the annual Editor’s Award from the Sonoma County Historical Society in 2017.
I’ve written Big Green Country, my first novel, in part response to readers’ requests to fictionalize my prolific research and writing on Northern California’s rich farming culture and heritage. Though it would have been a lot easier and it was tempting to produce a classic cheesy, wine country Who Done It? style mystery, history’s latest and most controversial agricultural trend to hit the region inspired a far more important, gritty and pertinent suspense story set against the contemporary cannabis green-rush. It’s been a full-circle moment in time for me as I push on into revisiting the investigative crime reporting I’d shied away from in the early part of my career. I hope that by translating my work into a fact-to-fiction format the message of the issues I explore will ultimately reach a much wider audience. The riverfront city of Petaluma, Sonoma County is my ground zero for work and play and I live in a quintessential, light-filled, California sixties’ house with the same guy who talked me into this American adventure in the first place. We share the place with a motley crew of critters, domestic and otherwise, most especially, rescue dog Rosie who is my constant companion, my assistant location scout, research and daily walking partner. If I’m not at my desk, with Rosie by my feet, I spend lots of time in my kitchen cooking for, with and entertaining a rambunctious friend and family group, the most beloved of whom, whenever they’re home, are my three grown sons. I travel back to my native Britain to visit family and top up what’s left of my English accent as often as possible, though never quite enough given the geographic distance. And when I find myself between books, I love little more than getting lost exploring a maze of winding back roads leading to and from the scenic coastal highway of the Northern California region I’ve called home for more than half my life.