Come Take The Voyage On the Mayflower with the Pilgrims


What was it like to sail on the Mayflower in 1620? No picnic.

The Mayflower actually sailed three times, the first two times with a smaller sister ship called the Speedwell. Each time the Speedwell began to take on water, the second time 300 miles from England. So the Mayflower returned to port with the Speedwell twice, before the decision was made to proceed with just the Mayflower.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

The later Governor of the Plimoth Colony, William Bradford, wrote that “overmasting” strained the ship’s hull but attributed the main cause of her leaking to actions on the part of the crew. Bradford later assumed that Speedwell master Reynolds’s “cunning and deceit” (in causing what may have been man-made leaks in the ship) had been motivated by a fear of starving to death in America.

In any event, the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy and abandoned. Eleven people from the Speedwell joined the others on the Mayflower. Twenty of the Speedwell’s passengers, including Robert Cushman, who would be Mary Allerton’s father-in-law, remained in London. Isaac Allerton and his family were among the passengers on the Speedwell who transferred to the Mayflower.

Thus one hundred and two passengers sailed on the Mayflower for the third and final time, leaving Plymouth on September 6, 1620.

Why was sailing that late in September risky? The North Atlantic is stormy in the autumn – think of hurricane season. Many ships in the 1600s were damaged or shipwrecked by storms. Passengers sometimes fell overboard and drowned. Also, the winds blew from west to east, so the Mayflower was beating against the wind, tacking back and forth. Also, ships could be attacked and taken

A harrowing scene of the the Mayflower at Sea, by Mike Haywood provided by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

over by pirates. So the ship sailed on a northern path across the Atlantic to avoid the storms.

Now, imagine yourself living below deck in a dark, dank room 58’ by 28’ or 1624 square feet, with 101 other people. The ceiling (the main deck of the ship) is so low you have to stoop over to walk. That’s sixteen square feet per person, shared with chickens, maybe a pig, a disassembled 33-foot long boat called the shallop, and everyone’s worldly goods except for food stores, which were in the hold.

There was no fire allowed below deck, so food was eaten cold. People partitioned off their tiny allotted spaces with curtains or furniture, and they slept on the deck. Most of the passengers wore the same clothes for the entire trip. If they were lucky they had one or two changes of clothes. Some had none.






Crew galley for hot food                                                   Below deck

Imagine the noise of 101 other passengers: talking, coughing, snoring, groaning. Imagine the smells from dank clothing, moldy food, sweat, and later, scurvy, and the smell of vomit from seasickness. And don’t forget the pails that served as chamber pots. You would also have other ‘passengers’ traveling with you – fleas and lice. This is my vision of hell.

What would you have to eat?

Hard biscuits (hardtack), beer, salted (dried) beef, salted ling or cod fish, qats, peas and some ground wheat, butter and sweet oil, mustard seed, aqua vitae, pickled food, dried fruit, and cheese.

Much of this food grew moldy from the dank. The water for the children grew rancid and the children had to drink beer.  Hardtack is hard. It is made months ahead from flour, salt, and water and I made some for my critique group. The only way they could eat it was to dunk it in coffee, but it is tasteless. Onboard the Mayflower it became infested with maggots, and the sailors taught the passengers to dunk their hardtack in beer and wait until the maggots floated to the top. Actually, I think those maggots might have been more nourishing.


Remember, the passengers had to bring enough food to last until the women could plant and harvest a garden and the men could hunt or fish. And they had already eaten some of it during the previous two sailing with the Speedwell.

Heavy storms drenched everyone and everything above and below decks, as water poured in through the hatches and gunports. So clothing and bedding and food got wet. Then one of the storms cracked one of the massive wooden beams supporting the frame of the ship. There was a spare beam aboard, but no way to hold it in place so it could be nailed in.

Luckily, the Pilgrims remembered a “great screw” they had in the hold and it was used to hold the beam in place. This was a jackscrew and was assumed to be what the colonists would use to hold the beams of their house in place when they were building. But another thought is that it was designed for a printing press. The Pilgrims had printed and disseminated many religious tracts when they were in Holland and also in England.

It wasn’t long before both passengers and crew suffered from scurvy, what we now know as a deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy is a nasty disease with symptoms such as severe brittleness and massive decaying of the teeth and tooth loss, foul breath, ocular irritation, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, poor wound healing, and general weakness. A cure was not known, but the Mayflower passengers did not suffer from scurvy after their first years in the New World because of a healthy diet. Also, they may have learned from the Native Americans that pine needle tea is loaded with vitamin C.

One baby was born during the journey. Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to her first son, appropriately named Oceanus, on Mayflower. Another baby boy, Peregrine White, was born to Susanna White after Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod.Mary Allerton’s mother was also pregnant.

Land was first sighted on November 20, 1620, after a voyage of 66 days. Captain Jones determined it was Cape Cod, based on maps made by previous explorers. He turned the Mayflower south to reach the land for which the Pilgrims had been granted a patent – a part of ‘Virginia’ which was located north of the Hudson River.

This is an extant map from 1657, from the Library of Congress. You can clearly see Cape Cod.

But the Mayflower never got there, and I will tell you why in the next post.

PS. These posts are the background to my book, The Last Pilgrim, the Story of Mary Allerton Cushman, which I hope you will find interesting with this background information.



In response to a request from Barb Taub, I am reposting this article from 2015. 

I raised the insects for the Silence of the Lambs. How that happened is sort of interesting…    

I got a phone call one day in my lab from a colleague at the USDA in Maryland, where there was an active entomology group. The first thing I heard was “How would you like to get involved in a movie?”

Being the attention hog that I am, I replied, “Tell me more.”

“Well, it’s a horror movie.”

“A horror movie? I don’t think so. They’re so shlocky.”     Jodie Foster

“Even one with Jodie Foster starring?”


“How about Anthony Hopkins?”

“Okay, sign me up. What do I have to do?”

Manduca sexta

Manduca sexta

He explained to me that they needed Death’s Head Moths for the movie.

Deaths Head Moth

Deaths Head Moth

I wasn’t raising these moths, and besides, they were indigenous to Europe and Asia, and there was no question of the government allowing me to import them. However, the adult of moth I did work with, Manduca sexta (otherwise known as the tobacco hornworm), did look a great deal like the adult Death’s Head.

Soon after that, I received a call from the “insect wrangler” for the movie, who told me roughly how many of each stage they would need (larva, pupa and adult) and when. He also asked me a lot about how to get them to “act” – move around, be still, fly.

Here are my moths

Here are my moths

So I got to work. We bought a trunk to transport them in and separated it into three compartments for the three stages, equipped with lights and a self-contained fan. I beefed up my colony to fit their time line, and bit actors from the movie came twice to collect the trunk and the insects. The trunk flew back to Pittsburg first class. I don’t know about the actor.

The second time an actor visited, I pumped him about the movie. He told me the scene in which the policemen come into the room where Dr. Hannibal Lector is caged, only to find him gone but a dead detective mounted on the cage, was not

Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal's homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon

Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal’s homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon

rehearsed. In order to get a real reaction from the actors, they did one take. He said it was indeed horrifying. I also learned the pupa extracted from the young woman’s throat in the morgue scene was actually a Tootsie Roll.

The scene in the basement with all of my lovely Manduca flying or crawling around was wonderful, at least to my eye. The adults were made to look like a Death’s Head moths with the addition of clear false fingernails, painted with the skull, glued to their thoraces.

I didn’t see the picture when it was first released. As I said, I am not a fan of horror and dislike being scared to death. I did see it when it was released as a video. From the comfort of my living room, I realized it was a darned good movie.

One thing I should have done, though, is visit the set. I could have, although I would have had to pay my way. Opportunity missed…

Introducing Geoff Le Pard’s New Book, The Art of Spirit Capture


Today I’m interviewing Geoff Le Pard (shown here with his dog Dog), who has a new book out called The Art of Spirit Capture. Geoff, occasionally called His Geoffleship, has a wonderfully funny and entertaining blog, TanGental (, which is how I first got to know him. We met, finally, at a Blogger’s Bash in London a good many years ago, when he sported a pink beard.

Before writing, Geoff was a lawyer, ending up at the London Olympics. He started writing to entertain in 2006 and hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs.  He writes in a range of genres so there is something for everyone. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

Geoff has written ten books, not counting The Art of Spirit Capture, which are as eclectic as the workings of his mind.

Just check these out to confirm my opinion:

My Father and Other Liars, a thriller set in the near future

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, a coming of age story, the first in the Harry Spittle saga

The Last will of Sven Anderson is the secondi n the saga

 Booms and Busts,  the third. Not surprisingly, Harry Spittle is a lawyer, as Geoff was in his former life.

Life in a Grain of Sand, a 30 story anthology covering many genres

Salisbury Square, a dark thriller set in present day London

Buster & Moo about two couples and a dog whose ownership passes from one to the other

Life in a Flash, a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction

Apprenticed To My Mother, a descriptioin of the period in Geoff’s life  after his father died when he thought he was to play the role of dutiful son

Life in a Conversation, an anthology of short and super short fiction that explores connections through humour, speech and everything besides


A sort of long introduction, so let’s get on to his latest, The Art of Spirit Capture. Here’s the blurb.

Jason Hales is at his lowest ebb: his brother is in a coma; his long-term partner has left him; he’s been sacked, and Christmas is around the corner to remind him how bad his life has become.
After receiving an unexpected call telling him he’s a beneficiary of his Great Aunt Heather’s estate, he visits the town he vaguely recalls from his childhood, where his great aunt lived. Wanting to find out more, he’s soon sucked into local politics revolving around his great uncle’s extraordinary glass ornaments, his ‘Captures’, and their future.
While trying to piece his life back together, he’ll have to confront a number of questions: What actually are these Captures, and what is the mystery of the old wartime huts where his uncle fashioned them? Why is his surly neighbor so antagonistic? Can he trust anyone, especially the local doctor Owen Marsh and Charlotte Taylor, once a childhood adversary, but now the lawyer dealing with the estate? His worries pile up, with his ex in trouble, his flat rendered uninhabitable and his brother’s condition worsening. Will Christmas bring him any joy?
Set in the Sussex countryside, this is a modern novel with mystery, romance, and magic at its core, as well as a smattering of hope, redemption, and good cooking.


We agreed to have lunch together at Suffolk Barns in the real Mendlesham, on which he based his fictitious community for his book. A wonderfully renovated 400-year-old, dog-friendly barn, it is known for its barbecue.  He brought Dog with him, who stayed under the table but was rewarded for his good behavior with the occasional scrap of meat. The interview was remarkably short because of our devouring of the meal.

NG (between bites): How did you come to create the community for your new book?

GLP: Boy, do I struggle with settings. When I came to writing the novel I wanted to contrast my main protagonist, Jason’s London centric life with the rural isolation of where the spirit captures were made. I decided there was a better chance of creating a fictitious community in its relative isolation in this area – but based on Mendlesham, which sits a few miles to the east of the A23, where farmland becomes rolling in the lee of the South Downs. It was at the center of the affluent wool and wheat farms that surrounded the town for most of its history. The town comprises a mix of styles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which still lends it a rustic charm. It has remained a secluded idyll, in part because of the booming growth of nearby Lewes. All I will say is the town itself is as much a character in the book as the people.

NG: Your books are an eclectic bunch. Why do you write in different genres?

GLP: I like to have something for everyone. Hopefully, I’ve accomplished that.

NG: Where do you get the inspiration for your different books?

GLP: As you know from my blog, I like to take long walks, sometimes with Dog. Here he bent under the table, patted Dog’s head and gave him a piece of meat.  I’ve shared some of those walks on my blog, and things I see along the way can inspire me or give me an idea. I also take in a variety of sporting events. You never know what you might see. Tea or coffee?

NG: Coffee!


So there you have it, an intro to Geoff’s new book, The Art of Spirit Capture.

You can find the book on Amazon:

along with his other books.

What Research? Years for The Last Pilgrim


I am often asked how long it took me to write The Last Pilgrim. Counting the abortive attempts with first-person and third-person voice, then trying to figure out how to get a four-year-old’s voice (I didn’t – I used her father’s voice for the first part of the book), it took about seven years. Off and on, until I found my groove.

A lot of that time was spent on research, but I was lucky in that I had a timeline and a background for Mary Allerton’s life: the history of the Plimoth Colony.


Here are some of the various areas I had to research:

1. The Mayflower voyage and the first 2-3 years – of which there is a lot written, mainly by Bradford and an outstanding book by Nathaniel Philbrick

2. House construction – more on that later

3. Clothing – how did they make wool and linen cloth?

4. Food and food preparation

5. Native populations and their interaction with the Pilgrims – the Pilgrims made the first treaty with a Native American tribe, one which lasted 50 years

6. Farming – the Pilgrims were farmers, after all

7. Trade and trade goods – lumber, corn, sassafras, whale oil, dried fish, and furs

8. Child-rearing – did you know the Pilgrims thought children were born with a sinful nature?

9. Weather (hurricanes and earthquakes) – both Cat 5 hurricane and an earthquake hit the colony, so you have to read the book to find out about it.

10. The law and the courts

11. Indentured servants – often mistreated

12. Seventeenth-century birthing practices – I found a book written by a 17th-century midwife13. Movement and genealogy of various families

14. Livestock – there weren’t any for several years

15. Gardens – what did the Pilgrim women grow in their gardens?

16. Medical practices

                                             A dental pelican for extracting teeth.

17. Lives of other First Comers – the Bradfords, Billingtons, Winslows, Warrens, Standishes, Fullers, Aldens and more

18. Family life and customs – the Pilgrims had some amazingly modern childrearing practices

19. Religion – were the Pilgrims really Puritans?

20. Pottery and utensils – wooden, then redware, and later Dutch ware

21. Social norms

22. Witchcraft – Were there any witches in the Plimoth Colony? You have to read the book!

23. British rule – the colonies were subject to the winds and whims of the English monarchy

24. Cloth making (wool and linen)

25. Candle making –tallow, bayberry, and beeswax

26. Pipes – a collection of pipes were available for smoking at taverns; the tavern owner would break off the stem after a use, but the stems often broke on their own (the pipes were clay), so they grew shorter and shorter as they were used.

27. Beer making- the women did it, of course

And a few others…

I merrily researched from about 50 books and thousands of online sources, some of which I came to recognize as fanciful tales. I might start the day looking at herbs and end up reading about dishware!

Next time: The voyage begins

How I Chose Mary Allerton Cushman as The Last Pilgrim


I promised I would reveal all about how I chose Mary Allerton Cushman as the subject for my novel The Last Pilgrim. Actually, the decision was not terribly difficult.

I happened to read that Mary Allerton Cushman was the oldest survivor of the First Comers, as those who had arrived on the Mayflower were called. That meant that she lived through the entire duration of the Plimoth Colony, which was subsumed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

There are not many facts about her.

She was the daughter of Isaac and Mary Norris Allerton, born in 1614.

Isaac Allerton was the assistant to John Carver, the Separatists’ first governor, then to William Bradford.

Mary Allerton married Thomas Cushman in 1635.

Thomas Cushman became the Elder of the Separatist church after Elder Brewster died and someone who was central to the colony.

Mary and Thomas had eight children who survived to adulthood. She died in 1699 at the age of 83.

Those who died during the first winter and spring were buried on Cole’s Hill, which faces Plymouth Rock, They were buried without markers and grass sown over the graves so that the Native American tribes in the area would not know how many of their numbers had died. At the southern end of the hill stands a granite sarcophagus erected by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in 1921. It contains skeletal remains accidentally disinterred from the hill in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The first rediscovery of Pilgrim remains occurred in 1735 following a heavy rain, which washed many of the bones down the hill and into the harbor. Remains found nearby during the digging of sewer lines in 1855 and 1883 were sent to Boston to determine if they were Europeans or Native. Pronounced European by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., four skeletons were returned to Plymouth and placed in a lead-lined casket in the top of the old Hammatt Billings canopy over Plymouth Rock in 1867. The casket was retrieved when the old canopy was torn down, and it was interred in the present memorial, erected by the Society of Mayflower Descendants on May 24, 1921.

The sarcophagus on   Cole’s Hill

                                                                Cole’s Hill

Mary and Thomas were buried on Burial Hill, the hill at the top of First (later Leyden) Street. The exact date as to when this ground became used as a cemetery is not known. There are no written records of the earliest burials. The earliest grave markers were made of wood, and none exist today. The site was used as a fort from 1621 until 1676. The earliest engraved headstone marks the grave of Edward Gray, who died in 1681. There are only 7 headstones that precede 1700.

                                                Burial Hill (originally Fort Hill)

Thus the exact site where Mary and Thomas were buried is not known. However, there is a 25 foot granite column, erected by Cushman descendants in 1858 that honors Robert Cushman and his sons, with a small mention of Mary on one of the plaques.

                                                   Cushman Memorial


                                          Isaac Allerton ——Mary Norris

                                           (1586-1639)          ( 1587-1621)


            Bartholomew           Remember         Mary   —- Thomas Cushman (m. 1635)

            (1613-1638)          (1615-1656?)       (1616-1699)    (1607-1691)


        Thomas     Mary     Sarah       Isaac       Elkanah      Lydia        Fear       Eleazar

         (b. 1637)   (b ?)    (b.1641)    (b.1648)   (b.1651)   (b.1652)   (b.1653)   (b.1656)

These bare facts about Mary told me that she would have been central to the development of the colony, which would form the backstory of my book. And I noted that she had survived eight childbirths, no doubt due to the skill of the colony’s midwife, Bridget Fuller. Only two of her children, Mary and Fear, predeceased her.

But with so little information, I could create Mary as I saw her, which is a gift to a writer.


A few words about other candidates for my main character:

Bridget Fuller: Bridget Fuller was the wife of the physician Samuel Fuller, who had basically taught himself medicine prior to the voyage to the New World. Shew arrived on the Anne in 1623, already with a reputation as a midwife and teacher. She figures prominently in my book.

Priscilla Mullins: Priscilla was 18 when she embarked with her family on the Mayflower. The entire family except for Priscilla died the first winter. In 1622 0r 1623, she married to John Alden, the Mayflower‘s cooper, who had decided to remain at Plymouth rather than return to England with the ship. John and Priscilla lived in Plymouth until the late 1630s, when they moved north to found the neighboring town of Duxbury. John and Priscilla had ten or eleven children, most of whom lived to adulthood and married. In my book, Priscilla and Mary share a life-long friendship.

Elisabeth Warren: Elizabeth Warren was the one Pilgrim woman who broke through the patriarchal conventions of 17th-century society. Nothing is known of her English background, apart from her marriage to Richard Warren, who sailed on the Mayflower without her. Warren was reunited with his wife and five daughters when the Anne arrived in 1623 but died in 1628, leaving Elizabeth a widow with 7 children (five young women, ranging from early teens to probably early twenties, and two small boys under the age of 5). She never remarried.

Her name appears regularly in the records of Plymouth Colony during the long period of her widowhood, first as paying the taxes owed by all heads of household and then as executor of her husband’s estate. She also became one of the ‘purchasers’ of the colony’s debts to the Merchant Adventurers who had financed the colony, since her husband had agreed to do this before his death. In 1635, Elizabeth Warren appears in the Records of Plymouth Colony as a totally independent agent, the only Pilgrim woman to be such.

When she died in 1673, this remarkable woman received the unprecedented but wellearned tribute of a eulogy in the Records of Plymouth Colony:

Mistress Elizabeth Warren, an aged widow, aged above 90 years, deceased
on the second of October, 1673. Who, having lived a godly life, came to her
grave as a shock of corn fully ripe.

While Elizabeth Warren would have been a good central character, her life did not span the life of the colony, and while she was a remarkable woman, she would not have been in a central position in Plymouth. She is mentioned several times in my book, however.

In my next post, I will tell you about some of the research I did for the book.

A Celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the First Thanksgiving


Many of you know that I recently released a book called The Last Pilgrim, the story of Mary Allerton Cushman, the oldest surviving passenger on the Mayflower. She died in 1699 at the age of 82, having seen the entire history of the Plymouth Colony, which was subsumed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692.

The book has received a ton of five-star reviews on Amazon and was long-listed for the Devon and Cornwall International Novel Prize.

Over the next few weeks, I will post on how and why I came to write the book (especially since many of you know me as a mystery writer), how I chose Mary Allerton as my main character and some interesting facts about the Pilgrims that are not generally known. I hope you enjoy this lead-up to the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving.

First, I grew up in Plymouth. As a child, I took classes in Pilgrim arts and crafts at the Harlow House (also called the Old Fort House because it was built with the beams of the original fort at the top of Leyden Street) and marched in the Pilgrim’s Progress on Saturdays several times, playing various women and children.

I was also one of the first tour guides at what was then called Plimoth Plantation but has been renamed Plimoth-Patuxet to recognize the contribution of the Wampanoag tribe of Patuxet to the survival of the Pilgrim. Plimoth-Patuxet is a living history museum that now depicts the colony as it was in 1623-1627. I took classes my senior year in high school, with the requisite testing, in order to be accepted as a tour guide.

Plimoth Plantation was built on the site of the old Hornblower estate on Warren Avenue, just three doors down from the house where I grew up. Henry Hornblower, the owner,  came from a fairly rich family, and the old mansion that stood at the top of the hill, where the fort is situated now, was a summer home. I used to play there in the summers after it was closed and rowed on the nearby pond. The topography of the estate was very similar to the site of the original Pilgrim village, so it made a perfect site for the re-creation. This site, and the property on which my old home stands, is land originally owned by Elizabeth Warren, who arrived on the Anne in 1623. More about this remarkable woman later.

Over time, I came to realize there were practically no books about Pilgrim women. But without women, the Plimoth colony would not have survived. So, many years later, after I had retired, I finally found the time and energy to write about those women, one in particular.

In my next post, I will tell you how I came to choose Mary Allerton.


Book Review: Dead Letters: A Claudia Rose Novel by Sheila Lowe (@Sheila_Lowe) #RBRT #cozy mystery


I was intrigued by the thought of a handwriting expert as the sleuth in a cozy mystery, so I purchased this book for review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Dead Letters is really two mysteries in one. It begins with Claudia Rose’s 18-year old niece Monica, who has been invited to join an archeological dig in Egypt, a lifelong dream. The excitement of the trip begins to fizz when she meets Colin Vine, a graduate student working on another dig. Colin, who has broken the hearts of several women on various digs, takes an interest in Monica.

Claudia Rose, a world away, is having a romantic dinner with her husband, when he gets a call from Claudia’s brother Pete. Pete has driven to Tucson, Arizona, for a reunion with some of his college buddies. Pete is being held at a detention center after his arrest for the murder of one of his college classmates following a confrontation in a bar called Dirtbags.  Claudia and her husband fly to Tucson to figure out what actually happened.

Claudia insisted on regular contact with Monica during her expedition to Egypt, but Monica’s recent messages are very brief and uninformative. Then Monica can no longer be reached. Finally Pete, out on bond, places a call to the head of Monica’s dig and discovers his daughter is missing.

Claudia flies to Egypt in search of Monica, then tracks her to Gibraltar and ultimately the UK, after discovering her new boyfriend and terrorists are involved in her abduction.

So the author has created two separate storylines which amp up the tension in a step-wise fashion, forcing the reader to keep on reading!  The story at first is somewhat slow-paced, and it took me a while to warm up to the characters, particularly since I hadn’t read any of the previous Claudia Rose mysteries. But the action really picks up with the search for Monica, spanning so many miles and different places, and the characters become very real and immediate. The author has done her research and each place Claudia visits is well-described and colorful. I think I need to visit Gibraltar!

Claudia’s handwriting expertise is brought in a few times – at first it seemed that this was forced, to keep to the fact that she was, in fact, and expert in this field, and not just a detective. Later it became a more natural part of the story.

I enjoyed the read and will certainly sample some of the earlier books in the series.

 About the author ( Amazon)

Sheila Lowe writes stories of psychological suspense that put ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances. Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting series, Sheila is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in court cases. She also writes the Beyond the Veil paranormal suspense series and nonfiction books about handwriting and personality.

You can find Sheila Lowe on:

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Twitter – @sheila_lowe



Book Review: The Grifter by Dean Campbell and Ali Gunn (@DCIMorton, @GunnCrime) #RBRT #modern fiction #financial thriller


I bought this book for review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I impressed even myself with this selection. The book is a cracking good story.

The Grifter’s storyline is not particularly fun at the beginning, where the authors introduce us to two characters at the opposite ends of the spectrum: Kent Bancroft, on a meteoric ride to be England’s newest billionaire and James, a begrimed homeless man, doing his best to survive on the streets of London. But they are linked. Inextricably.

Bancroft’s success has come from the investments of what he sees as “little people,” robbing them of their money to provide returns for those who matter to him – people with money and status – who bring him more investors with money and status. One of those little people was James, now a one-legged man as the result of an electrical accident at his work site. And a man with no retirement nest egg and who lost his wife and children when he couldn’t find any work to support them. James’ main goal in life is to get even. But how?

He begins by stalking Bancroft to determine the best place to confront him, then accosting him. In the kerfuffle, Bancroft loses his wallet, and the money in it allows James to design a path to revenge, but not without setbacks. There is also a microSD card hidden in the wallet which sits there in the reader’s memory until these interlocking stories reach a final confrontation.

The story of James’ life on the street is fascinating – how he gets around, where he sleeps, how he feeds himself. He’s also quite a character, not educated or intuitively smart but dogged in his pursuit of Bancroft. The scene where he uses Bancroft’s gym membership card to sneak into Musclebound Fitness to get a shower is hysterical. James’ world is populated by compelling characters such as Fat Baz, a grossly overweight homeless man who has a problem with gaseous emissions, but who knows people who know people.

Bancroft is a weasel, no doubt, and one who is heavily in debt. He has a rapacious second wife who serves as his eye candy, an equally greedy first wife who is determined to insult the second and wheedle more money from Bancroft, and a spoiled daughter for whom nothing is too expensive as long as her father pays for it. With her upcoming nuptials, she is determined to have the wedding of the year or perhaps the decade. In addition, he finds that he bought a painting of dubious provenance at a fund-raising auction for £25 million, something he was too drunk to remember. He restarts his mechanism for attracting lower-class investors to obtain money to pay his debts, but it’s not enough.

James’ struggle to deal with his feelings of impotent fury resonates well, since we all have been wronged at one time or other without the power to do anything about it. I even developed some feelings of sympathy for the hapless Bancroft who is unwilling or unable to stop the drain of money by reining in his wives and daughter. He has somehow managed to keep all this from his partner, who handles the digital part of the firm. But for how long?

The authors obviously did some real research of the homeless in London and their knowledge of high end finance is also clear.  This has resulted in some great story telling, relatively fast-paced. The chapters alternate between James and Bancroft, with James’ chapters being written in first person while Bancroft’s are in third person. This makes James’ character and motivation personal, while Bancroft seems to be at sea, buffeted by the people around him and his bankrupt company.

I couldn’t quite find a category for The Grifter.  It’s not a mystery, not spy story, not really a psychological turn nor a family story. Maybe a thriller? Nevertheless, I really recommend this book for someone looking for an unorthodox but fun read.

About the authors (Amazon)

Sean Campbell is the author of DCI Morton series (Dead on Demand, Cleaver Square, Ten Guilty Men, The Patient Killer, Missing Persons, The Evolution of a Serial Killer, and My Hands Are Tied). He spends his days working out how to kill people without being caught, and then flipping the switch to play detective. His non-writing interests vary from photography and cinema to rugby and hiking.

Ali Gunn kills people for a living. The characters in Ali’s books are the kind of strong, fearless women that every girl dreams of growing up to be. The first DCI Elsie Mabey novel, The Career Killer, is out now. Book two in the series, The Psychopath Within, is coming 2022

You can find the authors

On Twitter: (@DCIMorton, @GunnCrime

On Facebook: (Ali Gunn)

               (Sean Campbell)

On their official websites:


The Grifter is available on Amazon:

End of the Line: Moab, Arches National Park and the La Sal Mountains


Our second day on the train was short. We were served a good breakfast and a charcuterie board before disembarking in Moab. Both were delicious. Our first notable sight was the De Beque Canyon, named for Dr. Wallace De Beque, a Canadian and Civil War veteran who settled there in 1884 with his third wife. It is a narrow canyon on the Colorado River, approximately 15 miles long. Geologically the canyon walls are stair-step cliffs of shoreline sands deposited during the Cretaceous era, 145 million to 66 million years ago.

We then passed the town of Palisade, home to the famous Palisade peaches and the beginning of wine country for Colorado, and Mount Garfield, named after the 20th US President, James Garfield. It is 6765 feet high, part of the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs so named because they appear similar to a shelf of books.

The train then passed through Grand Junction, the second largest city in Colorado, at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, where fruit orchards and more vineyards are found. Then on to Ruby Canyon. Ruby Canyon gets its name from the fact it is lined with red sandstone cliffs. There is a painting on the side of the canyon indicating the Colorado/Utah state line.

We arrived outside of Maob, at the end of the line. This line does not connect with the major rail line running through Utah because of the ongoing clean-up work to remove uranium tailings on this side of the town, so we rode buses to our hotel destinations.

Downtown Moab

Main Street in Moab

Moab was a typical wild west town, a favorite hideout for many gangs of outlaws in the 1800s because of the surrounding deep canyons.The discovery of uranium in the 1950s put Moab on the map and it now attracts visitors, like us, to come to explore the five surrounding national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion.

The following day we visited Arches National Park. Originally a cattle ranch, it was established as a national monument in 1929 and a national park by President Nixon in 1970. It got its name from the over 2,000 rock arches found within its boundaries. Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement sculpted the rock scenery of the park over a hundred million years of erosion. While the arches are the main draw, towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks (rocks balancing on what look like precarious bases) are part of the vistas.  We went early in the morning when it is cool and the air is so clean and fresh, you want to spend time thinking about breathing!

I’m just going to show you some of my favorite rock formations.

The Three Gossips

Delicate Arch – you can see the La Sal Mountains through the arch

Marching Elephants (see the ears?)

A pocket arch – not all the way through


                                                                      The Windows

And one that seemed to be giving us the middle finger!

The next day, we headed to the La Sal Mountains, traveling down the Colorado River valley and then climbing to around 5000 feet. The view down the valley was spectacular and I could have sat there all day, enjoying the cool breeze, and the clean and fresh air, and absolute quiet, except for the wind in the pine trees!


I hope you enjoyed coming along on our trip as much as we enjoyed taking it!



For my birthday this year, Hubs decided we should take the Canadian Rocky Mountain Railway from Denver to Moab. Canadian Railways just opened this route this year and it’s proved to be enormously popular.

Spoiler: some of these a pictures not taken by me!

After flying from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta and then to Denver, we stayed in the mile-high city in a hotel that had been created from the old railway station. The rooms were commodious and comfortable and the original vast waiting room had been converted into a comfortable waiting room with sofas and chairs, with various restaurants and bars surrounding it. It was a fabulous place to people watch and when they came in to get a drink or coffee or just sit to talk.

We left by bus the next day from a remote railyard, where they laid out the red carpet for us. Our bags were sent ahead by truck to that night’s stopover in Glenwood Springs, so we just brought a small bag with things we thought we might need.

The view from our car was spectacular. While not completely glass-topped, it did have a partial glass roof, and our vantage point for everything was vista-like. And the food! They plied us with a breakfast and a lunch fit for a king, plus all the drinks we could possibly want.







The haze is the smoke from the CA wildfires

When gold and silver were discovered in the Rockies in the 1860s, railroad lines were built between canyons and over high passes to connect all the mining camps in the state. These lines connect and were the basis of the rail line we to. The first climb we made was up the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies and is an engineering marvel with the tight 10-degree radius of the switchback curves to keep the grade to 2%.

We discovered there are a lot (30) tunnels over a 13-mile segment of rail that were hand-blasted through solid rock on the way up to the Continental Divide. No pictures, just blackness!

We passed the beautiful Gross Reservoir that holds water piped from the western side of the Continental Divide and supplies Denver and the agricultural Great Plains to the east. The Continental Divide, which separates water flowing west into the Pacific from those flowing east into the Atlantic, runs from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. It runs through the heart of Colorado for 650 miles crossing many of the state’s mountains’ peaks.  I checked the direction of the water in the rivers/ streams we encountered just to make sure.

             My view  and the reservoir

A ten-mile-long tunnel, called the Moffat Tunnel, was built by David Moffat, a Denver banker, and cost him his entire fortune. It eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature, replacing the rail that looped dangerously over Rollins Peak. It is an incredible feat of engineering, ingenuity, and persistence.

Although the final cost of the tunnel was $23,972,843. The project excavated 3,000,000,000 pounds of rock over the five-year project, and construction was intensive with 800 men working around the clock for three and a half years.

The Colorado River began as a rather narrow stream that widened as we passed westward from the Continental Divide and followed on the left or right side of the railroad tracks. Byers Canyon, 13 miles long, is the first of many carved by this river on its march to the Pacific, and was followed by Gore Canyon, which is bordered by cliffs 1,000 feet high. We saw rafters and kayakers in the white water of the Colorado in this canyon. Then we saw Burn Canyon, sheathed by red sandstone, and then the Dotsero Cutoff where the Eagle River joins the Colorado.

Byers Canyon, top, and Gore Canyon, bottom

Towards the end of the first day, we traversed Glenwood Canyon, the largest of the Upper Colorado and one of the most scenic in the US. The canyon was formed relatively recently in the Pleistocene era by the rapid cutting of the Colorado down through layers of sedimentary rock. The canyon was hit with a devastating wildfire in 2020, which burned 30,000 acres and led to rock and mudslides the following winter that closed I 70 and the railroad tracks for about ten days. There was evidence all around: burned and charred trees and piles of boulders and mud.

We ended the day in Glenwood Springs, originally called Fort Defiance, but renamed by entrepreneur Isaac Cooper after his wife’s hometown. Frankly, I like the original name. Cooper and silver baron Walter Deveraux make the town into a world-class hot springs destination with the arrival there of the railroad in 1887.

It is still renowned for its hot springs and was a real Wild West town with visitors such a Buffalo Bill Cody and Doc Holliday. Holliday is buried in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery.  You will recall John Henry “Doc” Holliday (1851 – 1887) was a gambler, gunfighter, and dentist. He was a close friend and associate of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp and is best remembered for his role in the events leading up to and following the gunfight at the OK Corral.

We were booked into the Hotel Denver, built in 1914, and decided to walk to the cemetery. Little did we know it was about a mile uphill from the hotel with another half-mile straight up a mountainside (final altitude around 6000 feet). The walk, which would have been manageable by us at sea level, nearly flattened us.


Next:  On to Moab and the La Sal mountains!