Thursday 16 October 2014


(That's me!)

'In this grave is deposited the remains of the twelve undermentioned sufferers, all of whom were killed ... by the snapping of the rope as they were on the point of descending into the pit.  the rope was generally supposed to have been maliciously cut.'

This is the inscription on a gravestone in the churchyard of St John's, Midsomer Norton, just a few miles from the Somerset mining town of Radstock where I was born and grew up, and where I now once again live. In these few words it tells the terrible story of how twelve men and boys, the youngest aged just 13, died on that November day, and it gave me inspiration for ALL THE DARK SECRETS, though I have taken the liberty of setting my story sixty years later, in 1895.

In those days the Somerset coalfield was a thriving industry, producing high quality coal, but the narrow, faulted seams were difficult to work and not high enough for pit ponies to be used, and so-called 'carting boys' were employed to drag the hewed coal from the face to the roadways by means of the infamous 'guss and crook' - a putt attached by a rope round the boy's waist which he then dragged on hands and knees.

My own father, who was middle-aged when I was born, had been one of the carting boys, and when I was young, I loved hearing him relate tales of those days, some funny, some tragic, and they were the inspiration for THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, the first of the Hillsbridge quartet (available now from Macmillan Bello) under my own name, Janet Tanner.

The tragic Wellsway accident that gave me my starting point for a new series of sagas which will follow the families who live in a terrace of mining cottages - The Ten Houses.   Several of these lost loved ones that terrible day, and each and every one was affected by it in some way.  Maggie, the central character of ALL THE DARK SECRETS is a strong young woman who loses both her father and her fiance in the tragedy - ALL THE DARK SECRETS tells her story.  And over all hangs the question - who was responsible for the cutting of the rope?

I've just delivered the second book in the series, most of which takes place 10 years later, and tells the story of two young sisters who lost their father in the 'accident' and whose lives were changed forever.
This one also has a background of the music halls of the time.

I hope I've given you a flavour of my new series of sagas - and that you will want to read them!  ALL THE DARK SECRETS is out now in hardback and as an e-book; the paperback is due in January.

Sunday 28 September 2014


A new book and a new name.

I am now also JENNIE FELTON

ALL THE DARK SECRETS is the first in a series of family sagas set in the Somerset coalfield around the turn of the last century.  In 1895 a tragedy at the pit changes forever the lives of the families who live in The Ten Houses.  Maggie Donovan loses both her father and fiancĂ©, and struggles to keep the family together while also struggling with an unexpected new love ...
But it is clear that the tragedy was no accident – but who could have been responsible for such a terrible thing?
ALL THE DARK SECRETS is out now in hardback and as an e-book.

Paperback will follow in January 2015.  My publishers are Headline.


Sunday 27 April 2014


Soon it was time for my first solo land-away.

Dunkeswell is a little airfield on the Somerset levels - very easy to find for someone who disliked navigation as much as I did. Take off from Bristol, turn out over Cheddar lake, head for the M5 motorway and follow it down until you spot the Wellington Monument, turn left, and look out for the airfield. The only likely mistake would be getting the wrong airstrip - there were two disused ones close by. Not even an idiot like me could mistake the correct one, though - look for other little aircraft and a clubhouse.

There's something incredibly peaceful about flying alone. Apart from the radio, relayed through your headset, there is no sound but the gentle hum of the engine and the occasional buffeting of the wind. And for most of the time out there over open countryside the radio is quiet - it's only when you need to talk to Air Traffic Control or they need to talk to you that it crackles into life. (Of course, if you have a passenger you hear them through the headset too, but on a solo flight nothing much interrupts the silence. And when I flew in Florida, they didn't use headsets at all, which I found most disconcerting, but that's another story)

Flying alone also really concentrates the mind. Quite apart from keeping a sharp eye out to make sure you're on course, and that there is no microlight - or jet plane! - in your sights, you have to remember to check the pitot heat every 10-15 mins to ensure the pitot tube doesn't freeze up - something else that was totally different in Florida, where it is rarely cold enough to have to worry about such things. At the same time as the peace, I felt truly alive.

Anyway, I made Dunkeswell safely, landed, locked up the plane and went into the clubhouse for a much needed coffee before flying back to Bristol. First land-away safely accomplished - but a bigger challenge still to come - a triangular land-away, . But for today I wasn't going to worry about that. I'd taken a plane away from the airfield on my own and brought it safely back.

Result! And another important step towards getting my licence!

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Apologies for the bizarre layout!!!
From the exhilaration of that first trial lesson the hard work began - but it was so exciting.  I learned to read what had looked like a mesmerising array of dials, how to put on flaps and keep the plane 'in trim' and so much more.  We did 'steep turns' with the wing at seventy degrees angle to the ground, we did the drill for emergency landings - look for a suitable field, check wind  direction by observing smoke from chimneys etc, don't forget to put in a radio call to alert air traffic control, and so on.  We did stalling practice, which was really scary.  'Stall' is wing stall, not engine stall, and is usually caused by climbing too steeply, so of course, I had to do just that.  We'd climb to 3000 ft and then lift the nose again, more, more, more until we stalled - those minutes  (or seconds, most probably!) I found really nerve wracking. Once I was able to do something to correct that horrible plunge downward I felt much better!
And then of course there were the take-offs and landings.  'Touch and goes' we called them. I'd take off, fly a circuit of the airfield, land, and immediately put on power to take off again.  We'd do five or six of these circuits in succession.  Sometimes we'd pop over to the BAe runway at Filton, cheaper and less busy than Bristol Airport, sometimes we'd fly down to the grass strip at Compton Abbas in Dorset and practise there.  But I have to confess I liked Bristol Airport best, with its lovely long runway and familiar surroundings.  And it was there that I did my first solo.
I knew the time for it was approaching fast, and tried to prepare myself.  But my tummy churned all the same when, after three or four 'touch-and-goes' one afternoon, my instructor asked: 'OK, do you want to go round on your own?'   My first thought was No!  No!  I don't!   Once I'd taken off there could be no going back - I'd just have to land all by myself.   But I knew if I showed the slightest hesitation he would think I wasn't ready and I'd have to wait for another day. Terry had done his first solo a few days before - I couldn't get left behind!  'Yes, all right,' I said.  'Pull over then,' he said.  I duly pulled over to the nearest holding point.  My instructor spoke to the control tower, telling them he was sending a pupil on first solo, and got out, leaving me alone in the plane.  And the funny thing was I was suddenly quite calm and confident, as if I was in my car.  Take-off came easily to me now.  I flew a perfect circuit, turned and called in 'Finals' and concentrated on the heavy workload that is landing.  I came in at just the right height and speed over the A38 and touched down with only the smallest of bounces.  I'd done it!  Been in the air all alone and got back in one piece to tell the tale!  It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life - and the certificate I was given to prove I'd done it became one of my most prized possessions. 
But of course there was still a long way to go to get my licence.  In reality, the adventure had only just begun ....

Thursday 9 January 2014

First, an apology - I have been very busy finishing a new book, a family saga - and so haven't blogged for a while.  More exciting news about this later, on my home page. 
But at last, here I am again.  I'm taking a break from my stories of life as a real-life Heartbeat Wife to tell how I came to learn to fly and gain my Private Pilot's licence.  I'm calling it:

 Me in the left-hand seat.

I'd always wanted to learn to fly.  I'd gone on a 'Pleasure Flight' as they used to be called when on holiday in Scarborough with my sister when I was in my late teens and absolutely loved it.  Before going I was pretty nervous, especially when we got to the airfield and I saw the size of the plane - so tiny! with the wings just about the height of my chest.  But the moment we took off I was hooked, loving the sensation of freedom and the fields cartwheeling under that little tilted wing.
It was an unfulfilled ambition, though.  Until my 50th birthday.  Terry, my husband, kept me in suspense about a "surprise present" until the day came.  We were 'going somewhere', and perhaps he'd better explain as I might want 'to wear something suitable'.  When he told me he had booked me a trial flying lesson at Bristol airport I was so excited, and even wondered briefly if the 'something suitable' should be a leather helmet and long scarf ... well, it was late November ...   I settled, however, for trousers and flatties. 
At Bristol & Wessex Flying Club I was shown the plane I would be flying - a PA28 - and then given a briefing in a very official looking office.  I must confess I was quite bemused by all the technical terms, explanations of how a plane actually flies, and so much more.  Then my breezy and cheerful instructor took me on a 'walk round', checking fuselage, flaps, etc, and installed me in the 'left-hand seat' - in a plane the captain sits on the left hand side of the cockpit.  He climbed in beside me.  Terry, I should mention, was already installed in one of the two seats behind us.  And then we were on the runway and taking off, the ground gently dropping away beneath us, looking down on treetops, bouncing a little in the turbulence over the wooded area, then turning towards the Somerset levels with Cheddar lake sparkling in the bright sunlight and Glastonbury Tor rising ahead.
My instructor, Mike, took off, of course, but once we were over open countryside he invited me to take over.   All he wanted me to do was fly 'straight and level' - which is easier said than done when you've never flown before.  The most magical and scariest words I'd ever heard were 'You have control' .... I had control!  Jeepers!  (Of course, his helping hand was never far away, otherwise I doubt I'd be here to tell the tale).
It lasted a bit less than an hour, that first flight, but I was hooked.  And so was my passenger, Terry ....   He'd recently retired from the police force, and so we made the momentous decision .. we were both going to take the lessons we needed to get our private pilot's licences.  And what a decision that was!   It took over our lives, cost us a lot of money, meant we had to spend hours and hours poring over the manuals that taught us about everything from air technical to meteorology, navigation and air law and the etiquette and jargon needed to use the radio to talk to air traffic control, and know it all well enough to pass seven written exams.  There were plenty of times when I wondered what on earth I was doing - such as when I had to set off for my first solo land-away, or when I thought I was lost over the wilds of Wales (I wasn't).  But we never for one moment regretted it.  And I think gaining my licence is the achievement I am most proud of.  Often I was scared to death, but I did it.  (Conversely, Terry relished every moment).  And there were so many adventures along the way!
I'll tell you about some of them soon ....