In last week’s post, I shared a summary of my writing year in 2022. This week, I’m declaring my writing goals for 2023, on the basis that publicly declaring intentions makes them more likely to turn into reality.
Me & My Mini #5: Lizzie Lamb
Although I’ve never driven a Mini, as a child of the Sixties, I can’t help but be charmed by this iconic car design, with its distinctive personality. That’s why I chose it to take Juliet Morris on her life-changing journey in my romantic comedy novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes.
Writing that story also made me curious about why so many of my author friends have chosen to drive a Mini, hence this occasional guest post series in which one of them tells the story behind their Mini.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Lizzie Lamb, whose romantic novels are based in the Scottish Highlands, a setting close to my heart too. Over to Lizzie…
Hello Lizzie and welcome! Please tell us, why and when did you buy your first Mini?
My/our first Mini wasn’t a Mini at all. It was a Wolseley Hornet (posh Mini) which my husband’s family bought him when he went to teacher training college in 1969. The reason I was attracted to him was because he was one of the few students who had a car. (Just kidding). I stayed with him long after the car went to the scrap yard and spent most of my grant keeping it on the road. So, it must have been love. LOL.
Our second mini we saw advertised in a newsagent’s window. Its elderly owner had passed away and it was free to a good home. We took it home, looked after it and then sold it on to an enthusiast years later.
My car then was a Golf VR6 Automatic – a rare beast, and went like a rocket.
Our third Mini is mine, all mine.
We bought it from a dealership in the Fens and it cost £2,500. I wanted a Mini Cooper with all the bells and whistles but couldn’t afford a Cooper-S. This fitted the bill.
Please describe it in as much detail as possible.
The only extras were Mini mats and a shoulder strap to stop the seat belt from rubbing on my collar bone. It came with two electric sunroofs, CD player, climate control, CD stacker and somewhere to plug in our cool box when we go off for picnics. My husband likes tinkering with cars so he got the climate control, door locks and reversing sensors working properly.
Due to the massive hike in petrol prices, we now go everywhere in my Mini and keep his Nissan El Grande for towing the caravan and his Triumph Stag for high days and holiday when the sun comes out.
Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. What was yours called?
As a writer of romantic fiction, I felt compelled to name mine: Jilly Cooper.
I met Jilly in 2018 at an RNA awards ceremony and she was everything I hoped she would be, she signed my book and wished me well. #fangirl
What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?
I think because they are iconic, steeped in history and great to nip about it. They are reminiscent of The Italian Job, the Swinging Sixties and models learning to get out of them without showing their lingerie to all and sundry.
Mine is an automatic and, should I win the Lottery, I would probably upgrade to a Mini Cooper-S or a Countryman.
What do you most love about your Mini?
- How ‘nippy’ and economical it is
- Our original one could turn on a sixpence
- The fact that you can park it just about anywhere
- It fits on our very short drive
Oddly enough, two of our neighbours have almost identical Minis to mine and we kept saying that we’re going for a burn up on the A6 before we get too old.
What drives you nuts about it?
- It’s a very ‘hard’ ride, the side impact doors are heavy and difficult to close, and there is no handle above the front passenger or driver seats to help me in and out of the vehicle.
- Every time I push the front seat forward a warning light comes on and has to be reset or it’ll fail its MOT.
- The sunshade is pathetically small and I have to wear my ‘Bill and Ben’ hat to shade my eyes from the sun.
Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?
It was in our Wolsey Hornet, actually. As students, we drove from Grantham to Fort William, stacked to the gunwales with camping equipment and two passengers in the back. Happy days.
What was your most exciting trip?
Our trip round Scotland, because of how far we travelled each day and the sights we saw: Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Inverness etc. I love history and the fact that we were able to visit Marston Moor, the site of a Civil War battle, en route to Scotland made the trip for me.
Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?
We bought my Mini from a dealership on the Fens. When we took it for a test drive, we pulled into a layby to check out the controls etc.
A blacked-out Range Rover pulled alongside, a man lowered the window and offered us drugs. That’s what being in a Mini will lead to . . .
Once, when we travelling along a dual carriageway and yanked on the handbrake, it came off in our hands, and we hurriedly had to pull in to a layby.
Also, I have a huge phobia about wasps and that’s why I can’t drive a convertible. Even so, a queen flew in through the open sun roof and I nearly crashed the Mini in my panic to escape from it.
Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?
My most interesting passenger was our parrot who went everywhere with us in a large ‘cat box’. He would chatter away nineteen to the dozen and join in with the music I played on the CD stacker. Not real words, naturally, although he did sing along with ‘What you gonna look like with a chimney on you’. I don’t know why that song appealed to him but it did.
My most difficult passenger is someone I used to give lifts to. However, she was never on time and was often horrendously late, making me late in the process. In the end I stopped giving her lifts because, as a very punctual person, I found her behaviour disrespectful and highly irritating.
What car do you drive now?
I still drive my Mini Cooper. I bought personalised number plates when I had my VW Golf and I’ve put those on my Mini. LI7 VWG almost looks like Liz, right?
What would be your dream car if money were no object?
- For towing our 25 ft caravan, probably a Kia Sorrento or VW Tuareg.
- For everyday travelling, probably a Range Rover.
- As for Minis, a top of the range one with all the bells and whistle in either British Racing Green with go-faster stripes or purple like Mrs Morris’s.
If you’ve read Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?
I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read Magical Realism before. I preferred her magic Mini’s sat nav to mine (I use Google Maps on my iPhone).
Her Mini was a dream and I’d quite like one of those.
I also fancy a purple mini as it would match my novel covers. My favourite part was at the end of the novella. I love second-chance love stories.
What most surprised you about your Mini?
The fact that most people seem to have a soft spot for Issigonis’s classic and are keen to share their Mini stories with me.
Lizzie, thank you for sharing YOUR story of many Minis with me!
For anyone interested in sampling Lizzie’s romantic fiction, all set in Scotland (perhaps inspired by her favourite trip in her Mini!), Scotch on the Rocks is a great starting point.
Ishabel Stuart is at the crossroads of her life. Her wealthy industrialist father has died unexpectedly, leaving her a half-share in a ruined whisky distillery and the task of scattering his ashes on a Munro. After discovering her fiancé playing away from home, she cancels their lavish Christmas wedding at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and heads for the only place she feels safe – Eilean na Sgairbh, a windswept island on Scotland’s west coast. When she arrives at her family home – now a bed and breakfast managed by her left-wing, firebrand Aunt Esme, she finds a guest in situ – Brodie.
Issy longs for peace and the chance to lick her wounds, but gorgeous, sexy American, Brodie, turns her world upside down. In spite of her vow to steer clear of men, she grows to rely on Brodie. However, she suspects him of having an ulterior motive for staying at her aunt’s Bed and Breakfast on remote Cormorant Island. Having been let down by the men in her life, will it be third time lucky for Issy? Is she wise to trust a man she knows nothing about – a man who presents her with more questions than answers? As for Aunt Esme, she has secrets of her own . . .
To order your copy of Scotch on the Rocks, click here.
Find out more about Lizzie Lamb and her books, click here.
To order your copy of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, click here.
Previous Posts in this Series
All Fall Down
Preparing to visit Berlin for the first time a few weeks ago, I was unsure what I might find there.
My expectations had been partly shaped by a blend of fiction (Isherwood), film (Cabaret), and song, (Bowie’s “We Can Be Heroes”).
At school I studied twentieth century history to A Level. In those days, the Berlin Wall was an impenetrable barrier between East and West, and I was living in Frankfurt with a postal address in West Germany.
Packing for our city break, I discarded the book I’d been saving to read on the trip: a historical novel set in Berlin during the Second World War. Might it be offensive to be seen reading a story about an era Berliners would prefer to forget?
I need not have worried.
The city turned out to be full of reminders of both World Wars and the Cold War, now serving as incitements to peace.
Even parts of the hated Berlin Wall have been left standing. When the Wall fell in 1989, Berliners resisted their initial impulse to destroy the whole of this brutal divider of East and West. Instead, they kept parts of it intact as a reminder of the importance of the freedom and democracy which the Wall once denied them.
The rest of it was to be painted by local artists, then broken up for sale as souvenirs. The Wall was so huge that there are still plenty of pieces to meet tourists’ demands, and they must be a healthy source of revenue for the city’s coffers.
Berlin is now an upbeat, creative and cosmopolitan place, full of green spaces, wide tree-lined boulevards and light.
Standing outside our hotel on the Kurfürstendamm (Berlin’s answer to London’s Bond Street), we could hear not the roar of traffic, but copious birdsong.
There are very few motorists, because Berlin’s public transport system is so efficient and affordable that you don’t need a car to get around. Their trams, trains, U-bahns and buses are also very easy to use. There are no ticket barriers anywhere, as it’s assumed all travellers will be honest and buy tickets. This trust may not be misplaced, according to Lenin, who joked, “If Germans ever stormed a railway station, they’d first buy a platform ticket.”
As in British towns, electric scooters are rife. The abundance of cycle paths in this flat city allows them to operate relatively safely. I wish I’d been quick enough with my phone camera to capture a sight that seemed to epitomise twenty-first century Berlin: a stream of electric scooters gliding freely past Checkpoint Charlie, still maintained as a landmark, into what used to be East Berlin.
I had an unfortunate encounter with an electric scooter near the Brandenburg Gate, when I tripped over one left lying on the pavement. The scar on my left knee was an unwanted souvenir. But I also brought back a much better souvenir: a piece of the Berlin Wall, which now sits on my desk as a permanent reminder to myself that no obstacle is truly insurmountable. Except that electric scooter by the Brandenburg Gate, obviously.
This post was originally written for the July 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy this short story I wrote a couple of Christmases ago as a guest post for Helen Hollick’s blog, in which a souvenir of the Berlin Wall plays a crucial part: Christmas Ginger. It was later selected for L J Ross’s Everyday Kindness anthology in aid of Shelter, the charity for those without homes or in poor housing, and in the audiobook edition it was read by the distinguished actress and novelist Celia Imrie.
The Silver and the Gold
In the wake of our national preoccupation with platinum, my thoughts have turned to silver and gold.
When I was eight years old, my family moved to the USA for a year to be with my father in his new job. I boarded the plane with Tiny Tears and Teddy in my arms, ready to embrace my new home and school with enthusiasm and an open mind.
While my older brother and sister refused to take part in the classroom flag salute with which every school day began, I got stuck in, hand on heart:
I pledge allegiance to the flag, and the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
A strange substitute for our comfortable daily religious assembly back home, sandwiching a quick prayer between two familiar hymns, but I wanted to fit in.
Before long, I’d made my Girl Scout Promise: “On my honor (sic), I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Girl Scout laws.” Although I had to recite it only once, I remember the words far better, maybe because they chimed better with the gentle, apolitical hymns I was used to in assembly. Our school birthday hymn ended, “We hope you will be healthy and strong all the way; Strong to do right, slow to do wrong; and helpful to others all the day long.”
Another thing I learned as a Girl Scout was to sing this simple song in a round:
Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver and the other gold.
I rated my Girl Scout friends as silver, while my classmates back in England, at the school I rejoined a year later, were very much gold.
Six years later, we moved for four years to Germany, where I attended the Frankfurt International School with students from over sixty countries. It was time again to make silver friends. I kept in touch with the golden ones at home via numerous twenty-page letters handwritten on lurid stationery. Well, this was the 1970s.
In those days, long-distance friendships relied on such old-fashioned methods of communication. As we progressed through life, it was too easy to lose touch. Then along came the internet. Whatever else you think of social media, it’s a great means of tracing old friends. Thanks to Facebook, around the time of the Platinum Jubilee, I was able to welcome to my home here in the Cotswolds my old Canadian friend Debra, a classmate from Frankfurt International School.
We hadn’t seen each other in real life since the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
What the Girl Scout song neglects to mention is that the alchemy of time eventually transforms silver friends into gold, and that meanwhile your hair may turn silver. But that’s a price I’m happy to have paid.
This post was originally written for the July/August edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.
The Most Relaxing Holiday Destination
This post was first published in the May 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, prompted by news headlines about numerous flight cancellations, but sadly a month later chaotic travel is still very much in the news!
Every year at the start of the holiday season, there is a sudden outburst of news reports of chaos at airports and ferry ports and on roads. This year, the disruption seems worse than ever as the travel industry struggles to scale up its operations after two long years in which venturing beyond the village seemed like a major excursion.
These scaremongering reports are enough to put anyone off travelling this spring, especially when so many people are returning from crowded travel hubs with the unwanted souvenir of Covid.
So here’s an alternative approach. This holiday season, why not spend your vacation in a delightful Cotswold location of which I’m very fond?
With a fresh climate nurtured by its relative elevation, it offers stunning views across rolling hills and vales. Situated on a famous national trail and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it provides a range of invigorating or gentle walks to suit all levels of physical fitness. Anyone seeking more strenuous physical activity may hire the local tennis courts at a very reasonable rate or, as a useful alternative in inclement weather, the village hall for badminton.
Two local pubs and a well-stocked village shop give you the choice of dining out or self-catering. And what could be more relaxing than a summer afternoon picnicking on local produce at the village cricket ground, to the sound of leather on willow?
For younger visitors, the newly upgraded and expanded playpark, complete with zipwire, provides ample entertainment, while the skatepark and basketball court will please teens.
Those who prefer to relax in a more sedentary manner may pick up as many books as they care to read, completely free of charge, from the Books on the Bus box in the bus shelter, or from the Post Cottage Little Free Library on France Lane. Available to buy from the village shop are new books by the many local authors – it’s a famously creative village. These books make great souvenirs, as do the local crafts, honey, attractively packaged sweets and home-made baked goods on sale there.
All these appealing holiday facilities are available to you right now, without fear of queues or cancellations, and with zero environmental impact. The closest you are likely to find to a traffic jam is having to slow down for tractors or horses.
Welcome to Hawkesbury Upton. Just open your door and you’re there. We wish you a very happy holiday.
IN OTHER NEWS…
HULF Talk on Holiday Reads
Whether or not you are travelling abroad yourself this summer, if you live in or near the Cotswolds, you might like to come along to join me at the HULF Talk on Holiday Reads – the occasional series of Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival talks featuring three guest authors speaking on a particular topic.
This time we’ll be talking about novels set all over the world by:
- Carol Cooper, a medical doctor and journalist whose touching family mystery The Girls from Alexandria is set in the Egyptian city in which she grew up
- Kate Frost, whose latest romantic escape novel One Greek Summer is currently #25 in the Kindle UK chart, with An Italian Dream launching in July
- Helena Halme, a Finnish author of Nordic thrillers and romantic sagas such as The Red King of Helsinki and her Love on the Island series
Chairing the discussion, I will also be flying the flag for the Cotswolds, although I’ll also talk a bit about my sixth Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Your Darlings, set on a tiny fictitious island off the coast of Ithaca.
We’ll talk about what makes a great holiday read, the joy of travelling through the pages of a good book, and the challenges of creating an effective sense of place in fiction. The authors will also share the stories behind their novels, offer glimpses into their writing lives, and give readings.
As always, tickets will cost just £5 each, and for that you get all the tea, coffee and cake you can consume, plus a £2 book voucher redeemable on the day. Refreshments this time will be on a holiday theme – we will have fun!
Book Your Tickets Here
Due to limited space at our delightful venue, the Bethesda Chapel in Park Street, Hawkesbury Upton GL9 1BA, please book your ticket in advance via Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hulf-talk-holiday-reads-tickets-335988690217