Posted in Reading, Writing

Me & My Mini #4: Alison Morton

In my last blog post of each month, I interview an author friend on a fun topic that’s currently caught my imagination.

photo of Alison at the wheel of her Mini
Take a spin in a much-loved Mini with Alison Morton

At the moment my topic is anecdotes about their Mini cars, in honour of the magical Mini that features in my recent novella Mrs Morris Changes Lanes. This month’s guest is Alison Morton, author of Anglo-French thrillers and the Roma Nova historical novels.

Regular readers will remember Alison’s previous interview here last year about Roma Nova, the alternative post-empire Roman nation in her historical novels.

I imagine the heroine of Alison’s new series of Anglo-French contemporary thrillers, Melisande des Pittones might be comfortable in the driving seat of a modern Mini, especially if it was a souped-up version!

Hello, Alison, and welcome back to my blog. I think you’ve owned more Minis than anyone I know! 

Yes, I’ve owned seven Minis – four originals, one ‘supermini’ and two new BMW ones. My first was Little Grey Min in 69 when I learnt to drive and my second (new!) was a purple Mini.

Alison with her first Mini
It looks as if Alison has changed far less than the Mini since 1976!

How much did it cost and how much did you sell it for?

Little Grey Min cost my mother £350. It was a beautiful car that had had ‘one careful lady owner’ for two years. The family friend who owned the dealership had sold it to her originally and knew the car.

Purple Min was brand new and cost £995! I bought it when I started work in the City of London. Yes, it was s possible to drive and park a car in London in the 1970s.

How long did you keep them and why did you sell them?

This is all a bit fuzzy, but when I wanted to upgrade. People did in those days, usually every two years. I had a red Mini Cooper at one stage and then ended up with a yellow ochre 1275 GT. That could really move. It had what we called ‘wellie.’ I think it was quite expensive, even though I bought it second hand.

I replaced the 1275 GT with a new red MG Metro – a ‘supermini’. That was a lovely car with a lot of flashy bits and pieces (It was sold as a sports model; 0–60 mph in 10.9 seconds, top speed 103 mph) but very comfortable.

Then I got married and a year later, all the paraphernalia of baby equipment became a challenge… There was an interlude with sensible cars such as Maestros, Allegros and Rovers.

Then BMW revived the Mini brand. Not the same, but lots of nostalgic features.

Yes, I queued up with all the other baby boomers with a printout from the online design tool on the first day that ordering opened in the local dealership.

My first new one in March 2002 was British Racing Green with a white roof (swoons at the memory), then a few years later a dark metallic blue one again with a white roof.

Please describe it in as much detail as you can remember.

Little Grey Min had dark red seats, sliding windows that stuck in the damp, a cable hanging in the door to open it and a floor button starter. It was my beloved first car, but it did need watching for rust.

The BMW Minis were at the other end of the scale, as the photo shows!

Alison with her last Mini in 2007
Alison’s most recent Mini in 2007

Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. Do they have a personality of their own? What was yours called?

They ALL had personalities, but I unimaginatively called them by colour plus Min.

What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?

They are cute, cuddly, easy to park, cheekily different and FUN. Also quite trendy…

What did you most love about your Mini? What drove you nuts about it?


Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

Little Grey Min went with me to Leeds then France and Germany and finally back to Leeds when I was a student. Purple Min went to the South of France with a couple of friends. The others went on several trips to the north of England.

What was your most exciting trip?

After I passed my driving test in Little Grey Min in 1970, I collected my mother from the test centre where she’d been waiting and dropped her off home. Then I had to drive back to school through the middle of Tunbridge Wells at lunchtime BY MYSELF!

What most surprised you about your Mini?

That I was allowed to have such a wonderful car!

Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?

Winter in Germany in minus 20C was ‘interesting’. Poor Little Grey Min had to wear snow chains for a few weeks. Boy, did they clank!

Accidents? Some fool bashed into the back of Little Grey Min when I was waiting at a roundabout. He was drunk. I had terrible whiplash later, but at the time, I jumped out of the car, stared at the huge dent in the boot door and burst into tears. Then I swore at the drunk driver, but his car was a worse mess.

Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?

The test examiner. No further explanation needed.

What car do you drive now?

I am a Mini person through and through, and I’d buy an electric Mini tomorrow, but it would be a vanity at 35,000€.

I share a VW Touran with my husband. We really don’t need a car each now we both work from home. But it’s very big (and a little bit dull…)

What do you miss about your Mini?

The fun, the cheekiness of it. The French have a lovely word for it ­– espièglerie.

In Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of Mrs Morris’s Mini and of her adventure?

Ha! Minis always open up opportunities and alternatives. The adventure was before you and, of course, you had the wonderful Mini on your side. Go, Mrs Morris!

book cover with backdrop of country lane
Mrs Morris Changes Lanes is available in paperback and ebook for Kindle – click the image to buy it from Amazon, or ask your local bookshop to order in the paperback for you

All About Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the twenty-first century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue.

She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of the heroine of her latest two novels, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.

Connect with Alison:

On her thriller site:

On her Facebook author page:

On Twitter:    @alison_morton

Read Alison’s latest thriller, Double Pursuit, the sequel to Double Identity.

front cover of Double PursuitOne dead body, two badly injured operatives and five crates of hijacked rifles. 

In Rome, former French special forces intelligence analyst Mélisende des Pittones is frustrated by obnoxious local cops and ruthless thugs. Despite the backing of the powerful European Investigation and Regulation Service, her case is going nowhere. Then an unknown woman tries to blow her head off.

As Mel and fellow investigator Jeff McCracken attempt to get a grip on the criminal network as well as on their own unpredictable relationship, all roads point to the place she dreads – the arid and remote African Sahel – where she was once betrayed and nearly died. Can Mel conquer her fear as she races to smash the network and save her colleague’s life?

Buying link for ebook:

Previous Posts in this Series

Me & My Mini #1: Anita Davison

Me & My Mini #2: Amie McCracken

Me & My Mini #3: Audrey Harrison



Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Me & My Mini #2: Amie McCracken

cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes
Cover design by Rachel Lawston inspired by the single-track roads of the Cotswolds in spring

Although I’ve never owned or even driven a Mini car, it seemed the perfect choice for the heroine of my recently-published novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, in which an unusual loan car takes the heroine on a lifechanging journey.

Even prior to publication, as soon as I shared the wonderful cover design by Rachel Lawston, showing a purple Mini driving down a Cotswold lane, friends began to tell me how much they missed their Mini.

I couldn’t resist finding out more about the reason for their brand  loyalty to the iconic little car. I was sure it must be different from Mrs Morris’s. I invited them to share their experience in a new series of guest posts, which began just before Christmas, with historical novelist Anita Davison. (Click here to read it if you missed it.) 

My second guest is US author Amie McCracken, currently based in Germany. Like me, Amie enjoys a touch of magical realism. She is an editor, designer and author. Her latest novella is Leaning into the Abyss, set in the US and Mexico, which starts with the startling premise of Rhea’s fiancé falling off a cliff to his death on their wedding day.

The story of Amie and her Mini is less dramatic! Over to Amie to tell us all about it.

Hello, Amie! To start with, please tell us why and when you acquired your first Mini.

On Christmas Day 2013 in fact. I had been on the lookout for one and thought I would fly to the UK since they are cheaper there, but a friend found one near me in Germany that was pristine and I couldn’t pass it up.

How much did it cost and how much did you sell it for?

I bought it for 4,000 Euro in Germany and sold it in the US for 8,000 dollars.

They were never manufactured in the US, so they are a huge novelty.

And our buyer happened to be Austrian so she could read the German manuals and receipts!

How long did you keep it and why did you sell it?

I sold it in 2017 because it made sense. The plan had been to restore it, completely decked out in TARDIS style (the US plate we had on it said GALIFRY). I had even used it in a video announcement of my pregnancy and brought my son home from the hospital in it.

But we found an interested buyer and I knew it just wouldn’t work to bring the car back to Germany again. It was the right time, though I still miss her.

Please describe it in as much detail as you can remember.

A 1989 Mini Mark IV, none of that BMW crap. It had been repainted, so it was a glistening black. The interior was gray, and the driver’s seat dug into the middle of your back terribly. The heater never worked, so when it rained we had a sponge on the dash to wipe away the condensation. But the car ran when I needed it most. At least, most of the time.

Mini from the front

Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. (Do they have a personality of their own?!) What was yours called?

Foxy. My plate in Stuttgart was FX 1989.

What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?

I think it comes down to the history.

They are a classic, and most classics come with the history of their entire model.

A Mustang is more than the metal and rubber it is made of, but is the smell of burning tires and speeding down a straight track.

A Mini is an everyday car that putts along with personality and carries a twinge of cheekiness.

I know mine liked to break down at the most inopportune moments, but when I was really in a pinch she stepped up and did the job.

What did you most love about your Mini? 

I loved feeling so tiny yet safe. She handled like a Formula 1 car.

What drove you nuts about it?

But without the heater working rainy days and cold days were the absolute worst.

Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

The car moved with us across the ocean from Germany to the US.

But the most memorable trip was from Coburg to Berlin to catch a flight, stuck in European summer traffic, with plenty of time to spare and yet still needing to reach speeds beyond the 140 km/h the speedometer could read. We reached the airport with seconds to spare, but as we watched the plane board from the other side of the empty security line, and had the security officer tell us that digital tickets were not accepted, we gave up and got back in the Mini to drive home.

What was your most exciting trip?

See above…

What most surprised you about your Mini?

How well a car seat fit in the back!

Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?

No. Even when we drove next to American semis and SUVs, I felt safe.

Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?

My son on all counts. He was never a fan of riding in the car when he was a baby, so it was always an adventure! Plus, trying to maneuver him into the back seat with a rear-facing infant car seat while he was asleep and without waking him—that was a true challenge. Part of the restoration plans involved adding a third door.

Was your Mini a one-off buy or did you stay brand loyal and buy more Minis later?

I have not bought more Minis, though I believe I will one day. Always the classic versions. Never a BMW.

What car do you drive now?

Now it’s a 1973 VW Type 2 camper! (Also called a Bulli here in Germany.)

What do you miss about your Mini?

The novelty of owning a fun and classic car.

What would be your dream car if money were no object?

A Koenigsegg. Or maybe a Lamborghini Diablo. I like to go fast. Which, admittedly, the Mini does not satisfy.

In Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?

I loved it. The Mini is certainly a magical car, and the perfect one to bring someone back to their roots. It is a mischievous car, one that I could see yanking a person out of their intended path to create a little bit of chaos and stir things up.

Thank you, Amie, for sharing your fond memories, anecdotes and photos of your beautiful Mini!

Extract from

Leaning into the Abyss

by Amie McCracken

cover of Leaning into the Abyss by Amie McCrackenThe world was in chaos around me. I sat in the eye of the storm, glass of water growing heavy in my hand, every now and then feeling a kiss on my cheek or the pat of a hand on my shoulder. Dad sat in his own separate world in the far corner, ensconced in his wingback chair, waiting for the rest of us to leave. His house was the closest to the hotel, and the largest, so we had convened here to understand what was going on.

“Rhea.” The drone of a voice burrowed through my headache and fog. “Rhea.” There was nothing to be done other than to sit here and let the planet circle the sun. “Rhea.” Phoebe’s voice broke through the barrier and clanged in my ear. I turned to face her. “The police are here. They want to speak with you and Andrew’s parents.”
“Please don’t leave me alone,” I whispered. I squeezed her hand with the force of a woman in labor. She still wore her navy bridesmaid’s dress, long and elegant and curving delicately over her hips. Her dark hair had fallen loose and she tucked a wisp behind her ear. I had not noticed before that her face was heart-shaped, giving her a child-like sweetness. My gaze darted in the direction of The Parents. They seemed to be enveloped in a whirlwind of anger and frustration and shame. It was blue and crackling, menacing, terrifying. I didn’t want to be swallowed by that.

To find out more about Amie and her books and services, please visit her website:

Have you ever owned or driven a Mini? Amie and I would love to hear about yours! 

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Lane Discipline: the Inspiration for my New Novella

Cover design by Rachel Lawston inspired by the single-track roads of the Cotswolds in spring

When I first moved to Hawkesbury Upton, I didn’t realise that three of the four roads into the village were partly single track with passing places. Learning to drive in suburban London, my lessons had been exclusively in built-up areas. In my company car, I was clocking up most of my miles on motorways. Negotiating rural lanes required a recalibration of my driving skills.

However, I soon learned to love the local lanes all year round, enjoying seeing the seasons change in the hedgerows and verges – from snowdrops to primroses, from wild garlic to cow parsley.

A few months after moving to the village, with the smugness of the newly-converted, I laughed at a visiting townie friend perplexed by the etiquette of country driving. “Do you really know everybody round here?” he asked, having seen me exchange the usual waves of thanks with drivers who pulled over for me, or to whom I gave way.

When another driver refused to give way despite being closer to a passing place than we were, my friend was about to express his feelings in the international sign language of the angry motorist. “Best not to do that so close to home,” I advised, “as actually it is quite likely that I will know the other driver.”

He said that if he had to live in my house, he’d never leave the village at the wheel of a car.

Three decades later, meeting traffic on single-track roads doesn’t bother me, but I do prefer to have the lanes to myself, not for road rage reasons, but because when they’re deserted, there’s something other-worldly about them.

Not always in a good way: on dark, moonless nights without the familiar markers of urban streets – no streetlights or road signs, no road markings or kerbs – the lanes can be disorienting. Add thick fog, snow or torrential rain, and it can feel as if you’re heading for a Hammer Horror film set, where the undead are waiting to greet you.

But in the right light and weather, these narrow lanes can feel perfectly magical.

Earlier this year, a pleasant drive in the spring sunshine with cow parsley brushing the sides of my car gave me the idea for my new novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, in which a rural journey transforms the heroine’s life by taking her to a surprising destination – and I don’t mean Chipping Sodbury Waitrose.

Click here to find out more about Mrs Morris’s Cotswold adventure.

For More Information & to Order

cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes

Click here to order the ebook online

Click here to order paperback online

Order from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223818

Email me to buy a copy direct from me


This post originally appeared in the September 2021 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Posted in Personal life

What’s in a Car Name?

Photo of my car on a road
Bye bye, Ka

Last month, the law of unintended consequences dictated that I should acquire a new car. Dropping in to a local garage to chivvy progress on my dad’s car’s MOT, I found myself wandering around its used car lot and falling in love at first sight with a Fiat Panda. If only actual pandas had the same impact on each other, there’d be a lot more pandas in this world.

For some time, I’d been meaning to replace my aging Ford Ka. It had a lot in common with the proverbial spade that the old man claims was his grandfather’s before him – except the handle and the metal part have each been replaced several times.

Pandas on show float
Laura on our Edinburgh Zoo themed float at last year’s village show

Sublime & Ridiculous

Although I loved my Ford Ka, I’d been constantly irritated by its name. I could never decide whether to pronounce it to rhyme with “car” or as the initials K A. The only redeeming feature was the suffix “Sublime”, in honour of its leather seats and air-conditioning.

In the same way that you get “Friday afternoon cars”, haphazardly assembled by demob-happy workers, the Ford Ka brand name must be a Friday afternoon marketing job. It’s about as sensible as Mr Kipling launching a new product called “Kayke”, hard to differentiate from the rest of his exceedingly good cakes. (He hasn’t done this yet, by the way – but, Mr Kipling, if you’re reading this, please don’t go there.)

But what’s not to love about a car named after an iconic and lovable animal? Not to mention its endless potential for jokes.

“There’s a panda in my front garden,” I’m able to say to anyone gullible enough to listen to me speculating as to whether Waitrose stocks bamboo. Or “I’m thinking of taking my panda to the zoo at the weekend.” You get the picture.

Edinburgh Zoo panda eating bamboo
Breakfast with a panda at Edinburgh Zoo last autumn

Faster than a Speeding Panda

Other cars named after animals are usually associated with speed: Jaguar, Cougar, Impala. Even a beetle moves fast in relation to its size.  Pandas are famously inert, as our visit to Edinburgh Zoo two summers ago hammered home: the crowd jumped the first time Tian Tian moved.

Optimistically, the Zoo has installed a “panda cam” so you can watch live action footage around the clock. Most of the time, there’s not much difference between the video and the still photo at the top of the webpage. If it’s action you’re after, click on “penguin cam” or “squirrel monkey cam”. It must have been a close call in Fiat’s marketing department one Friday between the Fiat Panda and the Fiat Sloth.

Still, it could have been worse: I could have opted for a Vauxhall Nova, which may sound fine and shiny-new till you drive to Spain, when it morphs into the Vauxhall Doesn’t Go. Which is where I came in with my Ford Ka.

(As the BBC likes to say, in the interests of fairness, other makes of car and cake are available.)

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, June 2015.

Posted in Travel

What Size is Your Jersey?

This exaggerated-colour image of Jersey was ta...
Satellite view of Jersey (Image via Wikipedia)

Collecting our hire car at the airport, I wonder whether fuel will be cheaper on this island, renowned for its lenient taxation.  I don’t have the chance to find out.

“The tank’s half full but don’t bother replenishing it before you return the car,” says the chirpy young man at the Hertz desk.

“But we’re here for five days – will that be enough?”

He smiles kindly, as one might at a child who’s just asked a sweetly naive question.

“Jersey is a small island, you know.  Half a tank will last you more than twice five days.”

I accept his advice.  I’m never one to rush to the petrol pump, the red zone on my fuel gauge being a familiar friend of mine – as is the area just below the letter “E” for “Empty”.  This approach always makes for a more interesting journey.

Prior to our trip, I’ve read in the guide book that the roads in Jersey are very narrow.  This does not worry me.  Where I live in rural Gloucestershire, there are plenty of single-track roads.  Provided you make a mental note of the passing places as you drive, the worst that can happen is that you have to reverse more often than you’d choose.

What I hadn’t expected was the island’s low speed limit.  It’s just 40mph at its fastest, 30 or less in built-up areas and down to 15 in “Green Lanes” (whatever they are).  As most of the roads are barely the width of our hired Ford Ka, I’m not sure how the road network can accommodate the cars of affluent residents.  (I spot more Rolls Royces in our five days on the island than I’ve seen in Gloucestershire all year.) The few roads that are multi-laned are always packed bumper-to-bumper with slow-moving traffic.

But it doesn’t matter that every journey is slow, because the distance to be travelled is tiny. Looking at the map, you assume a trip to the other side of the island will be a pleasant day out, so it comes as a shock when you arrive at your destination in less than half an hour.

We are staying in St Helier on the south coast. The drive to the zoo, near the north coast, takes about five minutes.  So although we are forced to drive slowly, it still feels as if we’re driving at great speed because we reach our destinations so quickly.  Sometimes it’s not even possible to map read as fast as we travel. I feel like I’m queen of the island, I’m mistress of the entire Jersey road network.

The low speed limit also makes the island seem bigger than it really is.  If we applied normal British speed restrictions, it would seem even tinier.  Any small state despot should follow suit: it will make him feel much more important.

If we were using at a road map that included the European mainland visible from Jersey’s east coast, we’d soon gain a true sense  of perspective.  But as the only land mass on our tourist map is the island itself, it’s easy to forget  how small it is – especially when the brochures are constantly boasting that we’re on the largest Channel Island.

I’m reminded of the long-suffering Miss Hardy, who had the misfortune to be my Geography teacher before the subject became cool.  The environmental movement must be a gift to Geography teachers everywhere, making the subject  relevant to pupils’ every day lives. I still struggle to find a practical use for my intimate knowledge of the jute production cycle. No wonder we got bored enough to play pranks, one by one hiding under the desks whenever her back was turned until the classroom seemed empty.

Despite our bad behaviour, Miss Hardy’s face would light up whenever she talked about a year she’d spent on an exchange in  an Australian school.  She told us once “I said to my hosts ‘You are so lucky to live on an island!’ and they said to me ‘But you do!'”  What a delightfully colonial mistake to make.  And if a Geography teacher can get confused about scale, I’ll not be too harsh on myself for my own misconception of Jersey.

I’m less sympathetic to the couple in front of me at the admissions desk to Jersey Museum.

“The island’s so much bigger than we thought it would be,” the woman was saying in a plaintive voice.  “In one episode of Bergerac, we saw John Nettles  on the north west coast, and the next minute he was in St Helier.  It took us half an hour to make the same journey!”

The lady behind the desk gave a wry smile.  I don’t think it was the first time she’d fielded this complaint.

“That’s just the editing,” she said patiently.  “It’s what television people do.”

Good old Bergerac, he must really have boosted tourism to the island – no wonder the museum attendant rushed to his defence. But I don’t think I’d choose him as my tour guide.