On Sunday 2nd April I’ve been invited ‘into the spotlight’ on the “We Love Memoirs” Facebook page where I will be revealing for THE VERY FIRST TIME the title, cover and publication date for MY NEW BOOK!

If you are a reader and don’t already belong to that page you may like to join it, because whatever your taste you will find something to enjoy. There are hundreds of titles from authors like NYT best-seller Victoria Twead, Joe Cawley, Jacky Donovan, Frank Kusy and Beth Haslem (and me!) and many, many more.

There are memoirs that will lift you up, shake you up, take your breath away, make you laugh and make you cry as authors open the curtains on their lives of adventure, misadventure, survival, laughter and joy, from dog lovers in Dubai to a dominatrix with her own London dungeon.

With almost 4,000 members it is a fun and sometimes rowdy but always super-friendly group, offering frequent giveaways, competitions and opportunities to relate directly with the authors.

I’ll be on-line from 11.00 am local (French) time to chat and answer questions about my books, thermodynamics and the meaning of life.

Click on image to go to the We Love Memoirs Facebook group.



When is a sale not a sale?

When it’s a giveaway, that’s when!

Being asked which is your personal favourite of the books you’ve written is like being asked which is your favourite child or pet. Each is different and you  love them all in different ways.

Of my books, The Valley of Heaven and Hell was the most enjoyable to research. While planning a cycling trip through one of France’s less well-known areas, the Marne valley, I found that we would be cycling on the exact route taken by Marie-Antoinette, her husband and children, on their outward journey in their attempt to escape the French Revolution, and their return to their deaths.

Reading about the life and death of the unlucky queen was a real eye-opener and completely changed my opinion of her, as well as awakening my interest in French history.


Thus the book became a travelogue written in parallel with what certainly one of France’s most dramatic historical events.

As a New Year gift, Blackbird Books are offering a free download of the book. You can read the first chapter on-line, and help yourself to a copy, from here – the link is in the top right-hand corner.

If you are on Facebook, there is a competition running to win a free, signed paperback copy. Check in to the We Love Memoirs group to enter. You will probably have to scroll down the page, as it is a VERY active group with new offers and reviews coming in constantly. If you can’t find the thread, post a comment and one of the moderators will direct you to it. The competition runs until this Saturday, 9th January.

Do hope you’ll enjoy the read and the ride. 🙂





First draft

I’m just about to press the button to print out the first draft of my book on our Kenyan safari.
It’s rough, rough, rough. Even rougher than that, and it is unfinished. Putting it on paper means I should be able to start making some sense out of it.
There’s plenty of material. What was holding me back was the prologue. Done that now, so away we go!


My Final Big Fat Greek Holiday

After Samos, Kos and Crete, our next destination was the tiny island of Symi, which gets my vote as the most picturesque of all the Greek islands we visited.


Symi harbour

On the ferry from Rhodes a small man with a thick head of long, prematurely silver hair, a silver moustache and the brightest, saddest eyes the colour of chicory flowers came and sat beside us. His name was Nikolaos, he said, but he was known as Nick.

download (3).jpg

Blue chicory flowers

He made friendly conversation all the way to the beautiful harbour, and found somebody to help heave our luggage up the 500 stone steps to our accommodation. He would come by the following morning, he promised.

True to his word, he turned up on a phut-phutting scooter. And from then on, for the 14 days of our holiday, he was ever-present. Wherever we were, he was never far behind. He showed us the best beaches, organised a boat trip for us around the island with one of his friends, pointed out the best restaurants, the best bakery, the best places to buy cheese, the best wine, and introduced us to a British couple who owned a home on the island, who had an interesting story to tell.

The man was a television producer. After trying for a family for some years, his wife had been told it was physically impossible for her ever to conceive. When a neighbour on Symi heard that, she assured them that all they needed to do was to light a candle at the monastery at Panormitis and ask St Michael for a baby.

So they did, and nine months later they had a baby. A curious tale, but true. If you don’t believe it, then here’s the story from the horse’s television presenter’s mouth.


The monastery of Archangel Michael at Panormitis

Nick invited us to go on a picnic with his family at an idyllic little cove. It was a stressful afternoon because his wife, a rather large woman with a single angry eyebrow, was as sullen and silent as an Easter Island carving, their small boy kept throwing stones at me and smirking at his mother when his father wasn’t looking, and Nick spent the whole time sitting on a rock in the sea staring at the horizon.

So we were dismayed when Nick told us the following day that he had prepared a very special lamb stifado for us (this was before we stopped eating meat). The meat had been marinating in a mixture of wine and special herbs since yesterday, and we were to have dinner at his house that evening. He wouldn’t accept any refusal.

Like the picnic, it was a most uncomfortable interlude. His wife scowled all evening, and their small boy kicked me under the dining table. Nick had done all the cooking and did all the serving, while his wife sat, silently, and did nothing. We felt like actors in a play who hadn’t been allowed to read the script.

What had we done to invoke this friendship, we wondered. He was so kind, but why? The saying “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” was still ringing in my ears from our Kos experience. And why were his wife and small boy so hostile?

The following day, I found out. Nick was taking us to another one of his ‘special’ beaches, not far from our villa. Terry could walk, he explained, it was only half a mile down a stony track. I would ride on the scooter, which I did with extreme reluctance, because I had a fall from one many years previously and never forgot the humiliation and pain of lying on scorching tarmac, amidst dense traffic, with a red-hot exhaust pipe burning my leg and my mini-skirt up around my armpits.

Terry set off ahead of us, and after the scooter had bumped and phutted down the track for a couple of hundred yards, Nick stopped, turned off the engine and turned around to declare that he loved me. He had loved me from the first moment he saw me on the ferry.

Trying to make light of the moment, I said that we loved him too – he had become a dear brother and friend to us both.

No, he replied, not brother, not friend. Lover.

But, I said, we are married to other people. You can’t fall in love with somebody you have only met a few days ago.

You don’t love me? His eyes filled with tears.

Only as a friend, not in any other way. Come on, stop being silly. Let’s go!

Maybe you can love me more one day?

No! You are very special. We are friends, but I don’t love you any other way, and I never will.

But you are the same like her. You look like her. Like the woman I really love so much. Too much. His tears were threatening to overflow.

Tell me, I said.

And here is the story of a Greek drama that had unfolded eight years earlier.

As a merchant seaman, he had met a Greek girl in Durban, South Africa. They had fallen in love, and she had come to live with him in Symi. For nearly a year they had enjoyed a blissful existence in a small cottage overlooking the sea, with the smell of wild herbs on the air. They ate vegetables they grew themselves, fish they caught themselves, bread and cheese and wine from the friendly owners of the local shops. They were, he said, one soul.


Then they ran out of money, and Nick had to return to sea, leaving his lady in the small cottage. He was gone for 8 months, regularly sending money and letters, but never receiving a reply.

When he returned, she had gone.  She had left a  letter.

In it, she wrote of how, as soon as he had gone, the local people had turned against her, ostracised her, shouted at her, and the friendly owners of the local shops now refused to serve her. Go away, they had told her, you don’t belong here. Go back to your family. Leave our men alone. She had heard nothing from him in all the time he was away. Without news and money, friendless and isolated, she had been forced to contact her family in South Africa to ask for help. They had sent money for her to buy a ticket to return there.

He learned that his mother and sisters had arranged to have all his mail delivered to them so that his letters, and the money he sent had never reached the girl; the women of his family had led a campaign to drive away the woman he loved.

He flew to Durban and found out where her family lived. He went there and knocked on the door. Her mother answered the door. She told him that her daughter had brought shame upon the family by going to live with him; she was lucky that a decent man had been prepared to accept her. They had married two weeks ago. No, she would not tell him where they lived. She closed the door.

Poor Nick, tears were now running down his cheeks.

He had returned to Symi and married a local girl because his mother would give him no peace until he did. After they were married, his wife had opened a chest in which he kept all the mementos and souvenirs of his travels around the world, the whole history of his career in the navy. Carvings and postcards, seashells and stones, ethnic goods – small things worth nothing in terms of money, but for him irreplaceable treasures. And one photo of his lost love.


His wife had burned them all while he was out, and left a pile of ash on the steps. He had never forgiven her, and now he had a wife he did not care for, and who did not care for him, and a son who was under his mother’s influence and was rude and disobedient.

We need to go, Nick, I said gently. Terry will wonder what has happened to us. Come on.

Silently we rode down to the beach, and ate ice cream and tossed pebbles into the water, and learned that during the tourist season there were many people kept locked away by their families, because they were ‘not normal’ and would frighten visitors. Because Symi people must always marry other Symi people, said Nick, bitterly. No people from other places. So now too many people with things wrong with them.

As beautiful as the island was, with the scent of herbs and coffee and fresh-baked bread and moussaka, and the blue waters of the Aegean sparkling in the sun, the simmering emotion began to feel oppressive. Every day, Nick found us, wherever we went, and sat brooding, gazing out to sea and saying that one day he would go and find the lady he still loved.

On our last evening we took him to eat with us at a nearby taverna, to thank him for all his kindness and hospitality. We dined on succulent ‘lombster’ and drank a little too much fresh white wine. Then we said a final farewell to our friend, waving as he zig-zagged away on his scooter.

Our ferry left early the next morning, and as we were boarding, the engines clonking, there was a lot of shouting and hooting from the harbour side.

A small figure ran towards us, shouting. Clutched to his chest was a very large can. download (1).jpg“Honey! Best Symi honey,” he smiled. He had bought it that morning from his friend, whose bees feasted on the wild thyme that smothers the island, and then he had taken it to a factory to have it canned, so that it wouldn’t spill. So you will remember Nick, and Symi, he said.

As we shook hands, he pressed a piece of paper into my palm.

On it he had written his address, and ‘Please write to me. I love you.’

Once we were out of sight of the island, I let the piece of paper fly into the air and twirl into the sea.

We never returned to Symi, but whenever I see or taste honey scented with thyme, I think of Nick and wonder if he ever did go and find the lady he had loved and lost. I’d like to think he did. But with a Greek tragedy, you can never tell how it will end.


All images Creative Commons


An interview

The English Informer in France magazine kindly invited me to do an interview with them.

And here it is. 🙂  The magazine is crammed with interesting articles on every topic you could name. Well worth having a look.

Starting this Friday, over the next few weeks they will be publishing extracts from my travel books and memoir, on their

Café Pause page.

Don’t forget to have a look. 🙂

Meet Mama Elephant


Photo credit: Jeffrey C Sink

I mentioned a while ago that we were going on a Kenyan safari later this year, organised by a lady I have known for decades.  Our friendship dates back to when we were both horse-mad 14-year-olds, living in Nairobi.

Our paths and lives diverged ten years later, when we both married. I went to live in England, she stayed in Kenya for some time, and it was about then that we lost touch, too many moves, too many changes of address. I heard Vivien was living in the United States with her new husband, but couldn’t find any way to contact her.

It was thanks to the Internet that we eventually made contact again in 2002. I was reading something about Kenya horse racing, and lo! there was Vivien’s name as a committee member of the Jockey Club of Kenya. She had had a long history as a successful show jumper and winning lady jockey, and thanks to the article I was able to get in touch with her and rekindle our friendship. She was living back in Kenya by then.

In 2004, when we set off with our dogs on a round-France trip which I wrote about in my third book, Travels with Tinkerbelle, it was Vivien who came to look after our animals and house here in France. During the time we spent together, she set me on fire with tales of the Kenyan safaris she was running, but I doubted we’d ever be able to afford to go on one. However, the unexpected happens sometimes, and when we were lucky enough to benefit from a windfall we decided to ‘live for the day’ and treat ourselves.

I asked Vivien how and why she set up her safari business, AsYouLikeItSafaris.

Susie: What first gave you the idea of starting a safari business?

Vivien: Born, raised and educated in Kenya, I love the country, and I love the animals. I was married, with children and living in Connecticut, USA., having emigrated there in 1977. There came a time in 1989 when my then husband suggested I go back to Kenya and get it “out of my system” for a year, on the condition that I worked. Being an airline pilot, he was able to commute. I had a friend who had often asked me to run safaris, so that is the path I chose and have followed for the last 26 years.

Susie: How did you come up with the name of your company?

Vivien: I wanted it to be “classy”, and say exactly who and what we are.  A company which customizes safaris for our clients with the emphasis on comfort, quality, safety, adventure and fun. One morning my lawyer called and said, “I am in a company-forming mood.  What name do you want?”  Without hesitating, it just came to me, “As You Like It…and you better add (Safaris) Ltd”.  He asked, “And second choice?”  “None, it has to be As You Like It.  Shakespeare, class, and specific!”

Susie: What about your staff and back-up team?

Vivien: We started small, and remain small; it is the only way you can give personal attention to each and every person, each and every safari.  The core team is Ernest Kamara, my driver guide, who was with Brian Nicholson for 14 years, before I “inherited” him when I bought Brian’s camp;  and of course myself, who also learned so much from Brian.


Ernest Kamara

Backing us up on the ground are AYLIS representatives Herman Shadeya and Philemon Ochieng.


Herman Shadeya


Philemon Ochieng with some of the Hope Stream Academy children

Herman is very experienced marketing professional who has travelled widely throughout Africa, the USA and Europe. A trained airline business specialist,he joined the AYLIS team as CEO at a time of intensive restructuring to achieve maximum efficiency in service delivery, as focus shifts to the customer as the employer in our business.

Philemon Ochieng was born, raised and educated in Kenya and has a degree in Tourism Management. Before bringing his expertise in the tourism and wildlife sector to AYLIS he worked in the Kenya National Museums, Kisite Mpunguti Marine reserve and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Here’s the whole team at work:

the team at work

Susie: What are the essentials to ensure a successful safari?

Vivien: Above all, driver/guides who can co-ordinate their team work to find the animals. Safety and comfort are paramount, and your driver/guide will make or break your safari. It upsets me to see ignorant drivers, clueless regarding animal behaviour, or operators just in it for the money. I am in this business to share the wonders of this magnificent country and its wildlife with those who dream of a safari, who need to get it right first time and be able to send money to someone they can trust to come through with what is promised.

Susie: When I used to go camping as a child, it was with a huge heavy canvas tent held down with ropes and wooden pegs. The lavatory was a hole dug behind a bush. I think it’s somewhat different now?

Vivien: Very different!  Clients demand a high level of hygiene, including flushing loos, comfortable beds, excellent cuisine, plenty of ice, guaranteed security, hot showers, and that is what we provide.  You are going to love your 4-day stay at the Little Mara Bush Camp!


Susie: Kenya has had bad press regarding security. What are your views?

Vivien: Political and tribal squabbling is not unique to Kenya. Look at the USA, the Mid-East, Asia.  Kenya is the most stable Third World Country in Africa. The people are hard-working, friendly, and just wish to get on with their lives; educating children, feeding families, milking cows, and growing crops. Most of the trouble reported by the media came from Somalia, and was confined to territories far from the “safari circuit.”  Somalia has recently confirmed the death of the Al-Shabaab commander, Yusuf Dheeq, in a US drone strike south of Mogadishu. This has helped to return peace and stability to the region.

Susie: Where are you based?

Vivien: At the moment I operate between the United States and a small office in Langata. I go to Kenya to make all bookings personally, organise vehicles and drivers, talk to the lodges, check on road conditions and set up a team to handle ground work while I’m back in the USA. And of course I lead all the safari groups myself.

Susie: Bearing in mind that groups are made up of people from different backgrounds and different countries, what do you think makes a successful blend on safari?

Vivien: A mutual sense of adventure; the patience to observe, and a sensitive tour operator who can shift people around to create a good social mix, so that in the evenings everybody can relax and enjoy the camaraderie of discussing their day while enjoying dinner together.

Susie: Have you any funny stories to share about things that have happened on safari?

Vivien: Many!  In about 1992 I was drawn into the late Brian Nicholson’s camp as a caterer. Brian was one of the legendary “White Hunters,” who was Chief Game Warden in Tanzania for 26 years.  He always said that no one ever came to his camp and did not see a lion.

One weekend a couple came, and after two days of game drives with Brian had not seen any lions.  On their last afternoon, Brian was confident they would find a lion.

We went on our last game drive and towards the end, still no lions. We were heading to the last area where we might find them, near bushes and a ditch.  Who the patron saint of “lost things” is I am not sure, but St. Stephen has always answered my prayers.  If ever I lose something, it is to him I pray. I said to Brian, “Shall I pray to St. Stephen?”  And he nodded sceptically, “Well. If you think it will help.”

So I prayed, “Please, please St Stephen, please let there be a lion when we get round that bush.”

We bumped slowly around the corner, and standing there in all his glory was the biggest, most handsome elephant you could ever see!

Brian, wagged his chin with its rather soft, loose jowls, just like a wildebeest.  “I think St Stephen is confused!” he said.

Susie: If you had to choose only one place to visit in Kenya, where would it be?

Vivien: The Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  The richest reserve for wildlife in the world. No two game drives are ever alike.  You will always see something different, no matter how many times you go out.

Susie: Can you promise me I’ll get to cuddle a real baby elephant?

Vivien: As well as a visit to the Hope Streams Academy, an educational project for deprived children that we promote and support, we will be going to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage. You should have plenty of opportunity to cuddle one or more of the resident elephants like this one.

Susie: I can’t wait!


Photo credit: Jeffrey C Sink

Susie: What are your other interests when you’re not leading a safari?

Vivien: I love my Welsh Corgi, Pippa and going for walks with her. I love dancing, enjoy cooking, travelling, writing, riding and swimming. I follow the progress of several elephant orphans I “adopt” at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, and am an active supporter of animal rights issues.

Susie: Thank you, Vivien, for your time. I am SO looking forward to our forthcoming safari!

Carpe diem. Kenya, here we come.

Once you’ve lived in Africa, it stays in your heart and blood. It implants itself in your soul like a magnet that is forever pulling you back, and wherever you may be, there is always a part of you longing for the vast horizons, the unforgettable smell of the rains breaking, the smiles of the people, the beauty of the flora and landscape and the wealth of wildlife. This yearning is what the Italians call “il mal d’Africa” – the African sickness.

It’s something I’ve lived with for more than 40 years, since leaving Kenya in 1972.


Mount Kilimanjaro – image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

A few months ago I received an unexpected windfall. Having briefly considered putting it away for a rainy day that may never come, I decided instead to seize the day and return to visit the magical country that is Kenya. TOH has never been there, and I so much want him to experience the warmth and friendliness of the Kenyan people, and the thrill of seeing Africa’s greatest mountains and wild animals in their natural habitat.


As it is going to be the experience of a lifetime – I very much doubt we’ll ever be able to do anything similar again – it has to be perfect.

I have a friend of long-standing – I mean really long-standing, Vivien and I have known each other since we were 14 – who organises bespoke safaris in Kenya where she was brought up and has lived for most of her life. She is, above all, a perfectionist in everything she does. Nothing less than excellence is her motto. However, as all her safaris are customised according to clients’ wishes, there was no price list to consult and I expected my requested itinerary would be far more than we can afford. I cautiously enquired “on behalf of a friend.” Oh dear, how awkward we English are when discussing finance with friends!



The price she has given me is less than half of an almost identical safari by other companies, and within our budget. We’ve spent the last month working together to finalise the itinerary and confirm availability of all the accommodation. Vivien has performed miracles in organising this, and it is now done!


Vivien and hitch-hiker

Kenya is famed for the warmth of its hospitality, the luxury of its hotels and game lodges, and the quality of its cuisine. Our 17-day full-board itinerary includes stays in Amboseli, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, Maasai Mara (of which 4 whole days in the unbelievably romantic Little Mara Bush Camp), and a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and a local school for under-privileged children.

We are linking up with members of the 95th Bomb Group Memorials Foundation of the 8th Air Force. If you fancy a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in one of the world’s most beautiful countries, seeing nature at its grandest, full details including itinerary and sign-up forms are available here. The group is limited to a maximum of 20 people. Should you be interested in joining, and wish to discuss anything not mentioned on the site, you’re welcome to email me at doolally dot tap at gmail dot com.

I am nearly paralysed with excitement, because in August next year we will be on our way to Kenya for 17 days of pampering and wonderment, camera and notebook packed – I can feel a new book coming on!

PS  Did I mention that our itinerary will include standing on the Equator? 🙂