PLENTY of people used lockdown to try their hand at a new skill or found the time they’d long yearned for to complete a precious pet project.

Eugene Barter was one of those people, using the downtime afforded her by the coronavirus pandemic to publish a book – aged 93.

Eugene has a strong background as a writer, having started her working life as a junior reporter for the Barry Herald. She has always been keen to embrace new challenges, with her life taking many amazing twists and turns – including moving to France and becoming private secretary to former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.

The Best of Times is Eugene’s second book for which, she says, she has lockdown to thank.

“I belong to Brecon WI and Probus and I was asked to write some pieces for their newsletters, which they were each circulating to members because they couldn’t meet,” she said.

“I began writing reminiscences of my early life in Penarth, and they seemed to go down well.”

At the age of 60, Eugene decided that retirement would be best spent going off to France with her sister and brother-in-law to run an auberge. Some years later, on returning to the UK, she decided to write about her experiences there, which became her first book, Blackbirds Baked in a Pie, published by Sunpenny Publishing, when she was in her 80s.

Her literary debut led to her giving many talks and attending book signings. “Whenever I gave a talk about my writing, people were particularly fascinated by my time with Edward Heath – which is barely mentioned in my first book,” Eugene said.

Her recollections of life with the former Conservative PM, who was in office from June 1970 to March 1974 and succeeded by Margaret Thatcher, combined with accounts of working for him seamlessly developed into The Best of Times.

“I certainly regard working for Mr Heath as one of the happiest times of my life, and our friendship continued for many years afterwards,” added Eugene.

Eugene's friendship with the former PM continued after her retirement, helped by the fact that he was a regular visitor to a music festival held not far from where she lived. She mentions this briefly in the first book but, subsequently, whenever she gave a talk about it, questions always deviated to her time with Mr Heath and what he was really like. Eventually she decided to write a biography about him, but by the time she had finished it, several books came out about him and she was unable to raise any interest in her manuscript.

Then Covid-19 hit, and her usual outlets of the WI and Probus clubs in Brecon came to a grinding halt, and she became very isolated, living with her son in Trallong, between Brecon and Sennybridge. As a way to keep spirits up and her fellow members entertained she was asked by both organisations to write some pieces for their newsletters, and the anecdotes about her early life were penned.

She was already in discussion with Saron Publishers about her Heath manuscript and she thought combining her anecdotes and memories of him with an account of her own adventurous life would make for a great book. And so, the idea for The Best of Times was born.

“Working on my book was certainly the one thing that I held on to during the pandemic and kept me busy and focused through a time that would otherwise have been unbearable,” added Eugene.

“Other than my son, I have no family near, and I don’t do social media – all my manuscripts are typewritten.

At 93, Eugene isn’t sure whether she has any more books in her, although she does still have masses of material that she put together for the original full-length book about Mr Heath, to include his parliamentary career and other aspects, so she is still considering a follow-up with Saron.

From her childhood in Penarth, through to the rigours of World War II and a variety of jobs here and abroad, The Best of Times sparkles with candour and wit. And Eugene’s passionate support for Edward Heath shows a different side of the man many regarded as difficult.

“A delightful book, laced with humour and funny anecdotes,” is how BBC correspondent John Osman described the book.

It is available now, priced at £9.99. Copies can be purchased directly from the publisher at by emailing, or via Amazon, in paperback or e-book format.