Category Archives: Books


Kimberly McCreight, 40, is the author of Reconstructing Amelia (Simon & Schuster), which has been compared (by The Sunday Times and Jodi Picault) to ‘Gone Girl’. She originally trained as a lawyer but realized she was in denial about being a writer, so left to pursue that career. Reconstructing Amelia is her fifth written novel, but the first to be published. Married with two daughters (6 and 9), she lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York.


I never travelled as a child. I was brought up in the Tri-State area around New York, my parents were divorced, and we just didn’t get away much. So, as an adult, I was determined to make travelling a part of my life. The first chance I had to go abroad was to Japan when I was at college, to a small town between Osaka and Kyoto. Talk about a baptism of fire. But it was a fabulous experience. I was studying, but also got to do some touristy things – I climbed Mount Fuji. What I didn’t realise was, it’s a proper mountain. It was in the guidebook as a ‘must-do’, so I thought: how hard can it be? Well, it’s a tough climb and there is snow at the top and you really shouldn’t do it in running sneakers. My feet ached for days. I was walking like a Geisha. Lesson one of travelling for me: always double-check whatever the guidebook recommends.
I lived in London for a year when my then fiancé and now husband came to study. What I loved about being in the UK was how you could zip off to other countries so easily. I don’t think you appreciate that here. So we went to France, Italy, even Russia. That’s another thing I learned: don’t try and do St Petersburg on a budget. It was beautiful and fascinating, but we definitely weren’t prepared for the expense.
I am also trying to give my kids the chance to travel, because I do feel I missed out on seeing other cultures when I was young. One of my daughters has a fear of flying, which I think she got from me – I have a mild form. When we were on honeymoon in South Africa, I realised how small the plane was going to be taking us up to the Kruger – you could wind the windows down, for goodness sake – and I had to go to the doctor and get tranquilizers to get onboard. It was worth it, though. I have never been to a place that made me feel so insignificant. Not just the animals, but also the scale of it – one tree standing on an enormous horizon beneath an even larger sky. I can’t wait to go back.
We’ve fortunate in that neither of the girls are ‘Princess’ types, so we don’t get Disney pressure. It’s not much talked about as school, which is just as well – it’s such an expensive vacation. I looked at how much and then said: you know, we can go to the South of France for the same number of dollars. So we’ve just come back from Provence, although it was a challenge persuading my daughter about the flight. But by the time we got there, she was ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ She is also a very picky eater and I think it’s great to get children out of their comfort zone and into eating different foods. I told her she couldn’t afford to be fussy in France. Neither my husband nor I speak very good French, so I said we’ll be lucky if we get something that isn’t snails, and it worked, she tucked in.
We also try and go skiing every year. My husband is a very good skier and I’m.. not. But I try and hide that from the kids when we are teaching them. ‘You follow, dad, I’ll be right behind’ kind of thing. Normally, we ski on the East Coast, but last year we went to Vail in Colorado. It’s better in a number of ways. It’s less icy than the in East and it’s much less crowded on the slopes. Which means I can look like I know what I am doing – it’s much easier to fool the kids on the wide, empty slopes.
We are lucky because we can leave the children with the in-laws and get away by ourselves for short breaks. Often, though, we just stay in the city and do a show and restaurants. But a few years back we went to Costa Rica, which I love – it’s so lush and both the animals and the people are wonderful. We didn’t make the coast, but stayed in the centre, around the volcano. It was actually my second time there. After college I had backpacked there down through Mexico with a friend. Two girls backpacking alone in Central America – what were we thinking? Nothing bad happened, but the hassle was constant and relentless. We definitely had hassle fatigue by the time we had finished the trip. And again I made the mistake of believing the guidebook, that climbing the Chichen Itza pyramid on the Yucatan was easy. That thing is steep. I got to the top and thought: there’s no way I am ever going to get down.
I’m not very good with beaches. My husband is OK. In St Thomas in the Caribbean I kept insisting we go into town for dinner. Which was usually disappointing for one reason or another – I simply didn’t realise, that’s not really what you do in the Caribbean. It’s a beach holiday. Just stay put at the hotel. But I like a little adventure. So the next big trip is probably Macchu Picchu or possibly Kilimanjaro. That’s more climbing iconic sites – but this time, I’ll check what footwear I need.

* Kimberly McCraight talked to Robert Ryan


You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum, near Smithfield Market in London, but you might have to do some detective work to get inside it. Because, like Scotland Yard’s famous Black Museum, this repository of the weird, the wonderful and the medically morbid (which does have a connection to Holmes, of which more in a later blog) is not usually open to the public, unless you attend one of its regular evening seminars, which begin their new season on Wednesday, September 25th with Sarah Tobias talking about “Death & Mourning in Victorian England”.
However, no matter who is talking about what, the actual venue is a constant star of the show. Grade II listed, it dates from 1879 and is a stunningly dramatic Victorian room, an open space with three galleries or mezzanine levels, topped off with a vaulted glass roof. On the shelves that line this hall are endless jars of specimens, some five thousand in all, dating back to the 18th century, of everything from a ravaged scrotum (a cancer known as chimney sweep’s disease) to various foreign bodies pulled out of people (you’ll have to find out where the artillery shell was found and what it was doing there for yourself).
The museum’s original purpose was as a teaching aid for training doctors in the various pathologies of the human body, but as more hands-on techniques for training became fashionable, the collection fell into disrepair. It is now being re-catalogued and conserved by Carla Valentine, the Technical Assistant Curator, who has advised on TV shows such as Silent Witness and films like Resident Evil and is prone to utterances such as: ‘I’ve always been interested in death’ and ‘I’ve wanted a job in pathology since I was ten.’ Whatever her motives, the collection is looking decidedly healthy – if that’s not a strange term to apply – these days.
Here she picks some of her favourites from the collection:

I have been asked to give a talk about Watson and his medical career on 13th November, alongside a new short, silent film featuring the world’s most famous sidekick. So if you want to see the soaring inside of the building and those endlessly fascinating specimens, book in to one of the events, especially October 23rd when Carla Valentine herself with be discussing some of the stories behind the specimens that line the shelves. Who knows, she might even mention that artillery shell.

* St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum, 3rd Floor,
Robin Brook Centre,
West Smithfield,
EC1A 7BE. Not open to the public except for its seminars (tickets from £5.95, including glass of wine) and various workshops. Details on:

Filming and recording by Bella and Gina Ryan; edit by Bella Ryan.

Dead Man’s Land with Alison Balsom

Alison Balsom (above, picture by Maker) won the Gramophone Artist of the Year this week – a hugely prestigious prize, made all the more special by her being the first female recipient. There has been some odd press about her and her marketing (‘trumpet crumpet’ is the cliche most often trotted out) in the past few months, most of which misses the point that she plays like a dream. Anyone who saw and heard her tackling the tricky natural trumpet in Gabriel at the Globe this summer won’t need convincing of that. Anyway, more of Alison will follow in this blog, but for the moment below is a sneak preview of a trailer for Dead Man’s Land (to be released on The Dark Pages,, next month), which features her beautifully toned trumpet, recorded at Abbey Road. Thanks to Alison, Vicki Corley-Smith, Bella Ryan, Guy Barker and Warner Classics for this.


This is the first of several short trailers put together for Dead Man’s Land, the novel about Dr Watson’s medical career in WW1. Best played on full screen. The images are from Great War Photos (, used with permission. It was put together by Bella Ryan (relation). The paperback of Dead Man’s Land is out at the end of October, hardback available now.

Where Watson Met Holmes

I spent yesterday morning at Bart’s Pathology Museum, making a couple of short films with Technical Assistant Curator Carla Valentine, one of which will eventually make its way to this site. In discussing the relationship between Holmes and Barts (it is where Watson and Holmes encounter each other in a Study in Scarlet and where Benedict Cumberbatch plunged from the roof in BBC’s Sherlock) she mentioned the plaque below:


This was once to be found on the wall in her office, where ACD is rumoured to have penned a number of Holmes stories, but was moved to the main Bart’s Museum, so it could be seen by the general public. The phrase ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive’ happens to be the official greeting of the new John H Watson Society ( which was founded earlier this year. More on the museum follows later.


Last weekend I attended Sherlock Holmes Past & Present, two days of academic papers and sandwiches at Senate House. It included some very esoterically titled papers (“Biopolitical Sherlock: Information Technology and Liquid Modernity at Risk”), which inevitably turned out to be more accessible than their banners suggested. I enjoyed actor Richard Burnip on “Holmes and his Contemporaries” – looking at the other detectives who appeared in Strand Magazine -and Nathan Murray on Dorothy L Sayers and her Holmesian scholarship. Thanks to a misbehaving car, I missed Sarah Weaver on “How Smart is Watson?” and Jonathan Cranfield on “Sherlock Holmes, Sport and Masculinity”, but I will catch them in the anthology of papers. For my part I gave, inevitably,a talk on Dead Man’s Land (& Dr Watson), which featured some wonderful slides of nurses and VADs in World War One, loaned by Sue Light (, like the one below, which inspired the character of Miss Pippery in the novel.


I shared a platform (all right, a room) with writer Jonathan Barnes who creates high-quality audio drama for a company called Big Finish. His take on Holmes is to find the gaps in the chronology, the ‘interstices’ in Conan Doyle’s timeline, and to insert new tales in there. There is, he said, plenty of these gaps to play with. Last year he wrote The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner for Big Finish, which assumes that Dr Watson’s second wife died on the Titanic (having presumably survived the plane crash I arranged for her). The tale features the haunting of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, by a waterlogged female spectre (Ismay is notorious for having left the sinking ship in a half-empty lifeboat) who is out for revenge. The tale has a genuine Conan Doyle feel, suitably fruity dialogue, familiar and welcome Holmesian tropes, an ingenious method of murder and a cliffhanging ending – what terrible mistake did Holmes make that drove him to retirement and bees on the South Downs? All will be revealed in the four-part The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes, due out later this year. I’ll be downloading it. See



The sequel to DEAD MAN’S LAND won’t be out until January 2014, but this is a short article about Elveden/Thetford Forest in Suffolk, where much of the action takes place. It might seem a long way from the trenches of Flanders, but there is a definite connection.


What links the Koh-i-noor diamond, Ireland’s black gold, the first armoured tanks, onions, and one of the most extensive and well-used forest parks in England? The answer is the Elveden Hall Estate – currently owned by Lord Iveagh of the Guinness family – which is made up of 10,000 acres of farmland as well as 12,500 acres of heathland and woods (plus a well-hidden Center Parcs) which sits right next to Thetford Forest Park recreational area, where you can walk, ride or even Segway the trails (or zip wire through the canopy). Whether you like the great outdoors, locally grown produce with minimum food miles under its belt or fascinating local history, it’s a great spot for a weekend.

WHERE WILL I BE SLEEPING? The Elveden Inn (01842-890876,, which is owned by the estate, was once a dark, poky country pub, but has recently been sympathetically expanded, adding a conservatory and a large outside terrace. It has just four rooms (with two more planned), which follow a familiar boutique-ish vernacular– oversized leather bedheads, dark wooden furniture, crisp white bed linen, and clean simple lines. Nothing innovative, but streets ahead of the fusty décor that most pubs and hotels in the area offer. The staff is young, friendly and efficient, children and dogs are welcome and, for obvious reasons, it pours an excellent pint of Guinness.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? Superior pub grub, from home-made pasty with seasonal farm vegetables from the estate (£11.95), local venison with rabbit rosti and cabbage (£13.95), Haddock in Guinness (of course) batter (£11.95), plus good filling ploughman’s at lunchtime (£10.50). Although vegetarians might struggle a little (only two choices on the mains), under-tens are very well catered for, with a main course (pasta, Suffolk ham and egg, mini-burger etc, with chips or jacket potato and baked beans or veg or salad), a fruit drink and ice cream for £6.95. There’s a Beer & Bands Festival 14-16th June, with guest ales and ciders and live music.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: Get out into the forest. For riders, Forest Park Riding and Livery Centre (01842-815517) at Santon Downham in nearby Brandon offers hacks along lovely bridle paths, taking in the pine trees, but also stands of sycamore, chestnut and oak, as well as crossing heather-rich heathland, from £20 per hour. At High Lodge Forest Centre (01842 815434,, parking charges £1.90 per hour to £10 for five hours plus) there are activity trails for kids (giant swinging tyres, ropeways etc.), orienteering trails, you can hire mountain bikes (£7.50 first hour, £3.50 subsequent hours, includes helmets; kids £6/£2.50), over-10s can take out an all-terrain Segway (£25 per hour), or swing or zip-wire through the canopy, all with Go Ape (, 10-17 years olds £20, 18 and over £30 for 2-3 hours in the tree tops; there is a new junior course for 6-12s, £15).

Unknown-1   History buffs might want to explore why nearby Thetford and the Eleveden church are pilgrimage sites for Sikhs – in 1860 the British wrested control of the Punjab from the young Maharajah Duleep Singh, who was just eleven. As part of the war booty, he had to hand over the legendary Koh-i-noor diamond (now part of the crown jewels and valued at £80m). He was also exiled from India and given Elveden Hall, which he converted into an astonishing Maharaja’s palace. It became one of the great shooting estates of the country, frequented by royalty and nobility. Now empty, it is currently being (slowly) restored by Lord Iveagh, whose family bought the estate after Singh’s death (and allowed the land to be used for secret testing of the first tanks in 1916). You can glimpse the house from the churchyard of St Andrew and St Patrick Church on the A11, which is where Duleep Singh is buried (along with his wife and his son Albert). A walking trail and driving route around Thetford (see takes in the Ancient House Museum (a 15th century merchant’s dwelling), a dramatic statue of the Maharajah on peaceful Butten island, as well as sites further afield associated with the man.

Even if you can’t see Singh’s country seat, you can buy the estate’s produce (especially its onions, pickled and otherwise, of which it produces a great deal, and locally reared and wild meats) from the excellent farm shop, which come with a decent if pricey café attached. It also puts on events in the nearby walled gardens – a mini-crufts Dog Day on Saturday July 14 and outdoor theatre on August 17th & 18th and, on September 7th, the return of the Big Onion food festival (where there’s more to eat than onions – cookery demos, food stalls/stands and live music). There is also free spectating of cycling events through the estate, a sort of Tour de Thetford (Saturday Jun 8 & 29th). See for all details. Rooms at Elveden Inn (01842-890876, cost from £105 B&B.


I first met the vivacious Carla Valentine at a crime event at the British Library. The ever-lovely Laura Wilson (A Capital Crime, Stratton’s War) aside, she was by far the brightest thing on a stage of mostly dressed-down middle-aged men (me, Mark Billingham, Barry Forshaw) and also managed to captivate the audience with statements such as: ‘I’ve always been interested in death’.
This utterance was in response to a question from Barry, asking how she had come to advise on TV shows such as Silent Witness and films like Resident Evil.
Fascinating though that is, her day job is equally intriguing. She is the Technical Assistant Curator at St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum. Her domain is a stunningly dramatic Victorian room, an open space with three galleries or mezzanine levels, topped off with a vaulted glass roof. On the shelves that line this hall are endless jars of specimens, dating back to the 18th century, of everything from a ravaged scrotum (a cancer known as chimney sweep’s disease) to various foreign bodies pulled out of people (you’ll have to find out where the artillery shell was found and what it was doing there for yourself). The museum’s original purpose was as a teaching aid for training doctors in the various pathologies of the human body; Carla’s role is to conserve and re-catalogue the collection, which had been sorely neglected over the years.


Her crowded office was believed to be where Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote and as any Sherlock Holes fan knows, St Bart’s is where Watson and Holmes first meet (in the disused Path building next door to the museum) in A Study in Scarlet. When I visited, Dr Lucy Worsley, she of the cardigans and hairclips and troublesome Rs (which she winningly talks about on her blog – was filming a BBC documentary in the main room, so Carla took me up to her work space, which some might think a Little Workshop of Horrors, full of glass and plastic jars housing organs in various stages of repair and conservation.

Personally, I loved it –I used to be a biologist back when DNA was still an exciting new discovery – but there was one item that fascinated me more even than that Sherlock Holmes link. In one cylindrical jar stood a homunculus, just shy of a foot high, which appeared to be Not Of This Earth. In fact, it looked like the sort of model WETA Studios might make for an orc-like being in Lord of the Rings – imagine the Creature from the Black Lagoon shrunk to a seventh of its size. Carla has no idea who ‘he’ is or where he came from or how he was created, as the label has long gone (and yes, it has crossed my mind that it was a hoax to humiliate gullible people like me). He has a nickname, “Troll Boy”, and, although I would love to show you a picture, the Human Tissue Authority (yes, really) might take a dim view if it is a humanoid less than 100 years old.

Sadly, Troll Boy isn’t on display in the main gallery, but even if he was, the museum isn’t open to the public. However, Carla curates a variety of events, including taxidermy courses, lectures on surgery, pathology and medicine and ‘skull art’ workshops a la Damien Hirst – see She is also running a blog with more information on the collection, its past, present and future: So if you want to see the soaring inside of the building and those endlessly fascinating specimens, book in to one of the events – there is one featuring Dr Watson (and me) coming up in November, details follow – but plenty before that, too.


UnknownI met the Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds, who died in his sleep this morning at the age of 81, a couple of years ago. I had written a novel about the robbery called Signal Red and he had gone through the manuscript and had a ‘few corrections’. I suggested we meet at the Groucho Club and we had a four-hour lunch (he was on spritzers, I was on red wine). He was very generous about the novel but suggested I tone down the ‘heavier’ side of Charlie Wilson’s character (he insisted he was hilarious, which I am sure he was.. to his friends) and agreeing that I had pretty much nailed Roy James, the racing and getaway driver. He was also quite happy with my portrayal of him. ‘Although it seems all that happened to a different person now,’ he said. ‘I suppose I was a bit of a fantasist.’
As we were leaving the club a statuesque blonde burst through the doors – small diamond choker round her neck, tiny black dress and a cleavage that would put Jordan to shame. As she cruised by Bruce whispered in my ear: ‘They’re not real’. What? I asked. Her breasts? ‘Naaah,’ he replied. ‘The diamonds.’