Gerald Durrell – Writer, Conservationist and Friend

A few months ago Crimson Cats had the privilege of helping the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust on Jersey achieve a specific project – the production of a series of posters consisting of 1st edition front covers of all the books Gerald wrote. The Trust owns the copyright in the text, of course, but it doesn’t own the copyright in the artwork on the front covers. That copyright is held either by the original artist or the publisher.

Durrell Poster croppedThe Trust was keen to have these posters as they’re a wonderful summary of all the books but the task of tracking down each individual copyright holder and gaining permission to use the illustration was a daunting one. However, this is where we were able to help. Both Dee and I were once BBC radio producers and after that we ran our own production company before launching Crimson Cats Audio Books in 2005. In all those roles we were frequently involved in copyright clearance and we knew what had to be done. So we did it.

Even so, it took several months. Many of the original publishers had either ceased to exist or had amalgamated with others and at times it was a twisty trail to find the person who could give us the necessary permissions. But we got there in the end and 3 lovely posters are the result. They are A1 size and are available in the shop at the Durrell Wildlife Park.

CD CoverFor us, it means that we have a lovely companion to our audio book Stories From A Corfu Childhood, in which Gerry reads some of his own stories which I recorded with him in 1985. I am proud to have known him and very pleased we can still make a small contribution to his lifetime commitment to conservation.


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Crimson Cats 10th Anniversary Summer Sale

Summer SaleCrimson Cats is 10 years old this year so to celebrate we are holding a Summer Sale during August. Buy any of our titles, as MP3 downloads or as CDs, and we will give you 20% off the product price.

All you have to is to enter this code CC15SS into the voucher box on the Shopping Cart Summary page while placing your order on our web site and 20% will automatically be deducted. The offer will end on 31st August.

For a full list of our audio book titles go to our web site:

Enjoy your listening.


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Crimson Cats 10th Anniversary

Crimson Cats 10th Anniversary.pubIt’s hard to believe but Crimson Cats is 10 years old. We launched in the autumn of 2005 with our first 5 titles and immediately attracted some excellent reviews in the national press. When Dee and I first decided that we’d like to produce and publish audio books we discussed it with various business people, all of whom told us that it couldn’t be done. A small organisation couldn’t take on the might of the publishing giants, they said. We thought differently and with the help and support of many professional writers and readers we went ahead. 10 years on and we have 22 titles in our list and an even longer list of positive reviews. Perhaps one of the best came from Sue Arnold writing in The Guardian.

For a tiny publishing outfit, two adults and a cat with a recording studio in the basement of their Norfolk cottage, Crimson Cats produces some of the most sophisticated, original and genuinely interesting audios around. Most last about 80 minutes, but an hour listening to, say, the journal of the naval surgeon aboard HMS Victory at Trafalgar, or Katherine Mansfield’s letters as she lies dying of consumption is infinitely preferable to the eight hour autobiography of the latest celebrity sportsman/rockstar/chef.

Thank you to all those who have supported us in so many ways over the past 10 years. We wouldn’t be here without you.


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And what a good question that is – but that is exactly what they are doing. From the 1st January 2015 anyone selling any digital download products on-line to customers in EU member states has to register for VAT. At present a business or a sole trader only has to register for VAT if their annual turnover is over £81,000 a year. Now, for digital sales only, a single sale of £1 a year would force you to be VAT registered and, not only that, but you will be responsible for identifying which EU country that sale has come from and charging, and accounting for, VAT at the rate that is relevant in that country.

HM Revenue and Customs has put together a package that will do most of the calculations for you but the responsibility to register, make regular returns to HMRC, change your prices to include VAT and pay the relevant VAT to the authorities, remains yours. HMRC have confirmed that the changes will be enforced. The cost of this in time and money means that many small traders and on-line sellers will simply have to go out of business.

So who does it affect? It affects all sellers of digital items so in our case that means the MP3 version of our audio books. However, it includes any digital item that you might make and sell – be it E-books coming direct from authors or small presses, independently produced computer games, MP3s from musicians, technical items like WordPress themes or online learning courses – or even knitting patterns. If you currently sell anything like this on-line then you will have to register for VAT (a time consuming and tedious process in itself) and also store a vast amount of data on your customers in order to complete your returns and hang on to that information for many years to come. As someone said in the press, it’s effectively holding lemonade stands to the same tax standards as the Coca-Cola company.

This is madness. I imagine the idea was to attack the large international business who avoid paying tax but whichever one-brain-cell bureaucrat thought this up clearly has never come to terms with joined up thinking. The big international players will find a way round it – they have the money and the legal weasels to keep them out of trouble. It is the small on-line traders such as Crimson Cats which will go to the wall.

Except we won’t. Our strategy is simple. From the 1st January 2015 we will no longer sell any digital download products to anyone living in an EU country, apart from the UK. The one ray of light in this disgusting business is that the new rules do not apply to the country of origin if your turnover is below the VAT threshold.

We sell in the UK, we sell to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and will continue to do so. But we will no longer sell to the EU. We could ask what happened to the Open Market, we could ask what happened to unhindered Cross-Border Trading but, as we all know, trying to get a straight or honest answer out of any government or bureaucratic body is like trying to tap dance on a greasy high wire in a strong wind.

The really sad thing is that I am a great supporter of the EU but sometimes they make it very hard to continue that support.

Onwards and upwards, Crimson Cats, but goodbye EU. Have a nice – tax-impeded – life. We’re not going to play with you anymore.


EU Attack
Tough luck EU – you missed..!
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Eastward Ho…!

As we travel across America in the next few weeks, driving from San Francisco to South Carolina, there will be many literary echoes that come to mind. Far too many to list here but three stand out for me above all others. John Steinbeck mainly for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Travels With Charley” and Rebecca Wells for “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”.

My Life And Times - BookThe third author is someone not normally associated with this part of the world. Jerome K Jerome. A far cry from striped blazers rowing up the Thames you may say, but just over 100 years ago Jerome did several lecture tours to the United States, a country which initially he found very foreign. In his autobiography “My Life and Times” Jerome remembers an Italian shoe-black in Switzerland who put up a sign saying: “English spoken, American understood”, a sentiment which Jerome saw no reason to quarrel with. But he quartered the country that man, travelling by train from New York to Niagara, Chicago to Salt Lake City, San Francisco to New Orleans. Our trip will be very different and we’ll try and capture some of it on this Blog as we go.

My Life And TimesIn the meantime you can hear Jerome’s experiences of America on Track 10 of our audio version of “My Life and Times”, available as an MP3 download or as a CD.

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“If A Lady’s Garden Is Not Beautifully Neat, It Is Nothing”

I thought of that dictum the other day, when I was tidying up my garden in the wake of the winter storms. Would Louisa Johnson, with her firm views on tidiness, approve of my efforts, I wondered.

Every Lady A Gardener

I met her through the pages of her treatise on gardening Every Lady Her Own Flower Gardener, pocket-sized, 95 pages long and published in 1839. It was one of the pile of books which was delivered to my seat at The British Library when I was researching the Crimson Cats audio book Every Lady A Gardener (never waste a good title, is my motto). Our CD is a compilation of extracts from gardening books written by women – or rather ladies – in the nineteenth century.

Through the pages of their books I met other redoubtable lady gardeners. There was Maria Jacson, who advised her wealthy friends on how to create “a gay flower garden”.

Jane Loudon

Jane Loudon

And Mrs Jane Loudon whose weighty 1841 manual on gardening, aimed very much at women, was a runaway best seller. It includes step by step instructions on how to dig your garden, “so a lady with a small light spade, by repeatedly digging over the same line, and taking out only a little earth at a time, may succeed in doing all the digging that can be required in a small garden”.

I particularly enjoyed the brisk gardening advice of Mrs C W Earle whose Pot Pourri From A Surrey Garden also includes recipes and tips on flower arranging. She gives minute instructions on how to preserve runner beans by salting them. “I believe this is done everywhere abroad, but never in England, where the waste, both in the kitchen and the garden, is a national vice.”

There was so much in these early gardening books that wouldn’t be out of place in ones published today; how to trap slugs, the importance of collecting rain water, the opportunities offered by climbers. But there were some things that have changed. Louisa Johnson’s idea of neatness was to remove every leaf, every twig, every stone from the surface of the soil, every “decaying stem” from her plants. Like most gardeners these days I’m much more relaxed about such matters. I’m afraid that Louisa would not have approved.

Dee Palmer

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The House on an Irish Hillside

The House on an Irish Hillside

The House on an Irish Hillside

Back in 2004 Dee and I had a holiday in southwest Ireland. We started in County Cork and moved up the west coast to County Kerry where we spent a couple of days on the Dingle peninsula. It is very beautiful there, especially the last few miles beyond Dingle town, the westernmost point in mainland Europe, known locally as “back west”.

This is also an Irish speaking area – the peninsula’s name in Irish – is Corca Dhuibhne – though on that visit we had no idea of this. It was only a year or two ago when I read The House on an Irish Hillside by the Irish writer and actor, Felicity Hayes-McCoy about how she and her English husband, Wilf, made their home there that we learned about life “back west”.

Actually they haven’t made their home there, not permanently. Felicity is a writer, Wilf is a musician and opera director and both of them need to be in London quite often. So they live in both places, London for meetings, theatres and shows; Corca Dhuibhne to work in peace and to work their land. But because they live “back west”, it’s not just a holiday home, they have become part of the community there.

IH5-dingle-scones-webAnd that is what this beautiful book is about. How they found their “house on an Irish hillside”, rebuilt it, learned to live in a small community as well as in an anonymous city, and actually achieved the state described in that over-used phrase “a proper work/life balance”.

I know Felicity from the days we worked together at the BBC, she as an actress and me as a producer. Our relationship (a professional one, you understand) took another step forward when she adapted and read one of the first audio books we published when we launched Crimson Cats in 2005.  That was Gods and Fighting Men – The Fianna, the stories of the Irish hero Finn McCool.

IH1---Mountainside-and-cowsI enjoyed reading The House on an Irish Hillside and rang Felicity to tell her so. The book is proving to be a best seller, in America, in Ireland and in the UK so, chancing my arm, I asked if Crimson Cats could produce and publish the audio book version. She said ‘Yes’ and production is now well under way. We decided it had to be recorded unabridged so it will be a 6 CD pack as well as being available as an MP3 download. It will be published this spring with Felicity reading the text – no surprise there – and Wilf playing some of his own compositions and some traditional Irish music on the concertina.

Felicity has mixed the contemporary story with Irish myths and legends. This book is a joy to read and it’s also a joy to listen to in Felicity’s soft Irish voice. You’ll also learn how to pronounce Corca Dhuibhne. If you’ve had a stab at it already I can guarantee you’ll have got it wrong. Unless, like Felicity you speak Irish of course.


Follow The House on an Irish Hillside on their Facebook page.Facebook Logo Just click on the logo.


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Crocodiles and Gorillas

In the 1890s Mary Kingsley paddled up the rivers of the Congo in West Africa in a canoe to collect fish specimens for the British Museum and to study local religions. In 2013 Dee and I travelled round the hills and forests of Rwanda watching birds and other wildlife and sampling the local beer.

Mountain Gorilla - Rwanda

Mountain Gorilla – Rwanda

Mary Kingsley had an unplanned encounter with a crocodile which tried to join her inside her canoe. She biffed him on the snout with her paddle and he went away. Dee and I had a planned encounter with a troop of mountain gorillas which gave us a huge sense of privilege. (There was also an incident with a rather large male elephant which planted itself in the middle of a narrow track and refused to let us past – but, hey, we were on his territory so fair enough).

Mary Kingsley came into contact with various French officials (whose trousers kept falling down) as she tried to negotiate the various documents she needed to travel.  Dee and I met many Rwandans – jeep drivers, guides, managers and staff of the various lodges – all of whom were unfailing courteous and helpful. (Their trousers seemed to remain intact as far as we could see).

Hippos, Hairpins and High Button Boots

Hippos, Hairpins and High Button Boots

You can hear all about Mary Kingsley’s experiences in our audio book Hippos, Hairpins and High Button Boots which is also the February Book of the Month with the CD at a reduced price. If you want to hear about the experiences of Dee and myself then you’ll have to invite us to dinner or at least meet us down the pub.


This audio book is available as a CD or as an MP3 download from our web site:

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A Good Yarn

Michael - age 8

Michael – age 8

When I was 8 years old (in 1954 if you want to laugh – see photo) I joined the Cubs – in those days known as the Wolf Cubs. In the fullness of time when I was 11 (work it out for yourself) I moved on to the Scouts – in those days known as Boy Scouts. By then the Scouts had moved beyond the wide brimmed khaki hat which had been replaced with a beret but we did, scouts and leaders alike, still wear shorts.

By this time Robert Baden-Powell – the founder of scouting – was long since dead but Scouting wasn’t and still isn’t. It is very easy to look at pictures of Baden Powell today and see him as representing a “King and Empire” world that is almost as remote to my grandchildren as the Tudor era. And yet, so much of the underlying messages and skills that I took from Scouting remain with me today. Basic ideas like courtesy, honesty, tidiness, reliability, keeping your word – things, to give them their due, my parents also taught me but Scouting provided an additional emphasis. Then there are many basic skills that have stayed with me: first aid, how to tie a reliable knot, how to estimate distance and height, how to recognise different birds and trees and to have respect for the countryside. Perhaps the most important lesson was to make a decision and then take responsibility for it.

My Adventures As A SpyAn interesting man, Robert Baden Powell. Our audio book, My Adventures As A Spy, (the October Book of the Month) is taken from his book of the same name which was published in 1915. I am sure it is based on fact (mostly) but the accounts of his spying exploits may have been, shall we say, polished a little in the telling. It doesn’t matter – they are good yarns.

I like good yarns.


My Adventures As A Spy is available at a discount price until 31st October 2013

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From A to E – Crimson Cats Launches Its E-Book List

Out of the Blue - FB



For some time now we have been thinking that Crimson Cats, as a small publisher of unusual and individual titles, should move into the world of E-Books but, as can sometimes happen, the gap between thought and action was a long one. However, we finally made it and the first Crimson Cats E-Book has been published this week.



We decided to launch with a book written by me – a true story – which is called Out Of The Blue. Here is the blurb from the Amazon Kindle page:

Your wife might not live until Christmas. 
You need to prepare yourself for the worst.”

Those words were spoken to Michael Bartlett in November 2002 by one of the doctors at his local hospital. His wife, the journalist Dee Palmer, had been taken ill very suddenly in October and had been diagnosed with endocarditis, a bacterial growth on one of her heart valves which was gradually causing the valve to fail. Initially she responded to treatment but suddenly the infection flared up again and she had to be rushed to a specialist heart hospital. Michael, who is a professional writer, began to share his fears and anxieties with family and friends by email. Those emails were answered and they spread. More friends joined in, and friends of their friends, and Michael soon realised that this was not a battle he and Dee were fighting alone. By the time Dee was finally discharged from hospital just before Christmas the emails were going to around 150 addresses.

This book tells the story of those two months, the lows, the highs, the humour that emerged out of the most serious events. Above all it is a story of the power of friendship, the strength both Michael and Dee took from the huge outpouring of love and support from friends and acquaintances from all over the world. This book is a tribute to all those who emailed, visited, wrote and were there when they were needed.

Bits of it are quite funny too.

For those of you who may be interested, Out Of The Blue is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store by following this link:

Alternatively if you do not have (or want) a Kindle but would still like to read the book then it is also available as a PDF download from the Crimson Cats web site:

We plan to go on and publish many more E-Books (not all written by me, I hastily add). This does not mean we will stop publishing audio books, we feel that the two can easily co-exist. We will however, continue to concentrate on unusual material, either out-of-print books that we feel deserve a new outing, material of our own or ideas which are brought to us by other authors. If we feel it is right for Crimson Cats then we will publish it.

I don’t know what took us so long really. At first we told ourselves we were doing research, talking to various writer friends who had taken the first step, reading all the instructions on the Amazon Kindle page, buying a Kindle and downloading books (mostly by friends) so we could see how it worked at the consumer end. It is now 2 or 3 months since we concluded that exercise but still the first book didn’t appear. Why?  Good question.

A rush of visitors, some building and decorating work on the house, a series of meetings that needed careful preparation, all valid reasons but at the same time all were excuses. The real reason, I think, was a fear of the unknown.

Never mind, we have finally done it and, of course, the perceived mountain was in fact a molehill (as everyone told me it would be).

Just a couple more thoughts with which to end. I called this first book Out Of The Blue as the illness which overturned our lives back in 2002 came right out of the blue. When I came to publish it however, I discovered that this is a title which has been used many times before. I also discovered that there are a lot of “Michael Bartletts” who are authors. Fortunately none of those other Michael Bartletts have written a book called Out Of The Blue so that’s something.

Next time I’ll give much more thought about the title – can’t do much about my name though.


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