Finding Fairacre

Earlier this month, my husband and I spent a day in the beautiful countryside of West Berkshire, meeting up with Jill Saint – the daughter of Dora Saint who wrote as ‘Miss Read’. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Miss Read fan and this visit promised to be something very special indeed.

We met Jill in Chieveley – the village where Dora lived after the war – and, after a fine lunch at the local pub, the dark sky that had been glowering at us on our journey from Suffolk cleared to become a perfect Miss Read ‘blue and white day’.

IMG_2708There is a very pretty churchyard at Chieveley and the blossom was out and there were cowslips and buttercups everywhere. The village gardens were all bursting with bluebells and wisteria, and Jill pointed out the pretty cottage where she lived with her parents for many happy years.

Dora Saint's cottageA short car ride took us down the country lanes leading between Chieveley and Peasemore, the exact route Dora Saint would have ridden on her bicycle when supply teaching at the primary school.

Countryside around ChieveleyApproaching PeasemoreWe parked by the village church which looked like something out of a J S Goodall illustration with its proud tower and steeple.

St Barnabas, PeasemoreAnd the village school where Dora Saint taught was just behind it. It’s a private home now, but you can still see the school bell and imagine the children laughing and playing ‘splash ’em’ in the playground just as they did in the Fairacre novels.

IMG_2753It was then a short walk to a very special place: a long brick and flint wall…

The brick and flint wallBut it wasn’t just any wall. This was the wall which readers might remember from a story called The Lucky Hole. Published in The Observer in 1953 and included in the collection Tales from a Village School and the recently published Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love, The Lucky Hole tells of the custom to leave small items like a coin or a sweet in a hole in the long flint wall for the local children to find. It was this story which caught the eye of publisher Robert Lusty at Michael Joseph Ltd, and he was the one who encouraged Dora to write her very first novel, Village School.

With Jill Saint at the lucky holeI love how this humble hole in the wall inspired a short story that then led to a book deal and one of the loveliest series ever written. I adore the Fairacre series and I feel truly thankful to this wall for leading to its creation.

Unlike Miss Read’s ‘Thrush Green’ which was based on Wood Green near Witney in Oxfordshire, Fairacre isn’t based on one particular village. However, I felt as if I’d found a little piece of Fairacre in Peasemore that day.

The lucky holeAnd, of course, you can’t visit the lucky hole without leaving a little something inside it. I wonder how long it will be before the next visitor finds it …

Missing Mariette

Mariette came to Mulberry Cottage in April 2012. Rehomed with the help of the British Hen Welfare Trust, she arrived with her two sisters Primrose and Little Flo, all named after characters from my favourite novel – H E Bates’s The Darling Buds of May. And what a little darling she was with an oversized pale comb and huge bare patches all over her body.

Arriving homeBut, with the gentle passage of time, she grew all her feathers back and grew in confidence too, becoming one of the best cuddling hens I’ve ever had.

HoldingShe also became one of the plumpest with a well-rounded body and fabulous full tail, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in the garden with her falling asleep on my lap in the sunshine.

Shed doorMariette was also one of the most photogenic hens we’ve ever had which made her an absolute natural when the East Anglian Daily Times came to interview me about my books. Mariette took pride of place in each of the photos taken!

EADT shootShe also had her presence requested at Assington Mill’s hen-keeping course and was an absolute star, allowing each of the participants to handle her.

Hen courseAnd how proud I was when she reached three years of happy retirement with us this April – a record for one of our ex-bats. She celebrated with a bowl of warm mash and grated cheese, shared with the flock.

Third birthday 2I am so going to miss my large, docile girl. No more will her cheeky face peer in at the kitchen window from the top of the dustbin which she’d often jump onto. No more will she sneak into the conservatory and stick her head in the bag of corn, gobbling it so fast that it would make her sneeze.

In conservatoryGoodbye darling Mariette. Thank you for making our lives so much brighter with your presence.

The Rose Girls reaches number two!

Thank you to my lovely readers who were quick to buy The Rose Girls when it was released as a ‘Kindle First’ title on 1st May. It’s been in Amazon’s Top 100 for 10 days now and spent a week of that time in the Top 10, reaching number 2 at its height!

The Rose Girls cover - web 350I really hope you’re enjoying the story of the three Hamilton sisters and how they come together to save their family’s home and rose business. I loved writing this book so much!

Ebook available now from Amazon UK

The Rose Girls – out now as a Kindle First title!

I’m really excited to be part of a very special promotion this month – my new novel, The Rose Girls, is part of Amazon’s Kindle First offer where you can buy it for just 99p as an ebook a whole month ahead of its official publication. Just sign up to the Kindle First programme and get reading in time for the Bank Holiday weekend!

The Rose Girls cover - web 350

I hope you all enjoy the new book. Set in Suffolk’s beautiful Stour Valley and full of moated manor houses and stunning rose gardens, it truly is the book of my heart!

Ebook available now from Amazon UK

Escape to Mulberry Cottage – out now in audio

I’m delighted to announce the release of the audio book version of Escape to Mulberry Cottage – the first in my Mulberry Cottage series. Read by the wonderful Jan Cramer, it tells of our move from the London suburbs to rural Suffolk with ex-bat hens in tow! I do hope you enjoy it.

Escape to MC Audiobook cover

Audiobook available from: Amazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

And, if you’re signed up to Kindle Unlimited, you can read the ebook of Escape to Mulberry Cottage for free!

London Book Fair 2015

This week, the London Book Fair opened at Olympia and I was there on the first day. For the past few years, the fair has been held at Earl’s Court, but the very first book fair I ever attended – all the way back in 2001 – was at Olympia so it was great to be back at this fabulous venue although the great glass roof acted like a massive greenhouse on the hottest day of the year so far! IMG_2463IMG_2467A few years ago, the fair wasn’t a great place for an author to visit unless you had arranged to meet a publisher or agent, but now there are lots of interesting talks and panels and I managed to catch the end of a talk by writer Deborah Moggach.

IMG_2469In fact, authors are so welcome at the fair these days that we have our very own HQ!

IMG_2472But the main reason I visited was to meet my new editor at Amazon Publishing and I took a very special ‘limited edition’ box of chocolates in for the team to thank them for all their hard work on my new book, The Rose Girls, which comes out in a few weeks.

IMG_2460I was especially excited to meet team members who’d flown in from Luxembourg and Seattle to attend the fair. It made my little trip in from rural Suffolk seem very tame.

IMG_2476Of course, no author goes to the book fair without catching up with a few author pals and here I am with fellow Amazon Publishing authors Mel Sherratt and Freda Lightfoot beside a fabulous poster of Mel.

It was then on to a lovely pub in Notting Hill for Amazon’s author party where I met thriller writers Mark Edwards and Casey Kelleher, and chatted to my wonderful pals from Notting Hill Press, Matt Dunn and Talli Roland.

Now, it’s back to the keyboard and Chapter 4 of the new novel …

Summer at Mulberry Cottage – out now!

I’m really excited to launch Summer at Mulberry Cottage, the third book in the Mulberry Cottage series, and isn’t the cover just perfect for summer? Featuring our dear spaniel, Molly, and our entire flock of hens, it’s the first cover to feature a certain writer too!

SAMC cover 600It’s been lovely to record the long, warm months of summer in this little book and over thirty photographs capture just some of the beauty that the Suffolk countryside has to offer. I really hope you enjoy the latest installment in the series.

Mulberry Cottage series banner webYou can read more about the Mulberry Cottage series on this page.


Recording an audio book

I’m delighted to welcome Jan Cramer to my blog today. I’ve been working with Jan on several audio books over the last few months including The Secret of You, Christmas at the Cove and A Dog Called Hope, and I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly what goes into making one.

Jan trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked mainly in the theatre, but finds herself nowadays in and out of studios doing voice overs and reading books. All of which she loves doing.

What job description do you give to yourself: voice-over artist, narrator…?

I’m an actress who does voice overs and narrates audiobooks.

Are there genres you most enjoy narrating and are there any that you’d sooner avoid?

I’ve found that narrating books that I don’t usually read become the more interesting ones, as they’ll take me on a journey that I wouldn’t normally go on. For example, I read a lot of fiction. I don’t really read non-fiction. But narrating a journalist’s memoir of her travels in Indonesia was fascinating.

A Dog Called Hope Cover Audiobook webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

Describe a typical working day.

I’m quite disciplined when recording a book. I’m very aware of diet as it really affects the way you sound. We are working with very sensitive (very expensive) microphones that pick up everything. And I mean every lip smack, every tummy rumble, every breath… to try and minimise this, a lot of voice artists will eat a Granny Smiths apple first thing. The pectin helps reduce mouth noise. Coffee and tea are out as they dry the mouth. Water is best. No yoghurt for breakfast either.

I often walk before a recording. If I’m in London, I have a pair of walking shoes and get to the studio on foot and out of breath. It clears all your sinuses and gets you breathing. If I’m nearer home, I have the Sussex Downs on my doorstep and will walk at a terrifying pace (according to my husband) before recording.

I stand (rather than sit) in my vocal booth when reading, as it helps the vocal energy. (that’s a personal choice not everyone does) and I take breaks so that I’m not rooted to the spot for hours on end. My vocal booth is connected to the main studio and is a completely insulated, isolated environment, built as a room within a room, to let in no sound whatsoever.

I do a lot of preparation for each book. I would have read it a few times before recording. I also check pronunciation constantly when it comes to names, places, etc. I have a few pronunciation dictionaries at my fingertips and check them all the time.

Christmas_at_the_Cove_Audiobook_webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

What are the most common misconceptions about what you do or how you work?

Everyone likes to read out loud, and lots of people are used to reading to their children. But try reading a complete novel out loud and it’s a different story. Literally. And lots of people are told they have lovely voices, which they do. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to use them.

You have to be very aware of what’s going on technically. For example: if a character is required to shout or scream, you can’t actually do that (if you do, your engineer will have words in no uncertain terms) but you have to be able to convey the drama of the situation without hurting the listeners’ ears. The same applies to whispering and quiet intimate moments – you can’t have the listener suddenly wanting to turn the volume up.

All acting disciplines have their technical requirements whether its theatre, film television, radio. Narration is no different and you learn your craft.

How can an author make life easier for you?

The Secret of You is the first time that I’ve worked directly with an author. I know that my voice has been asked for by authors via their publishers, but I know that they don’t listen until it’s a fait accompli.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s been a joy to work with Victoria, as she has gently nudged or suggested slight changes in perhaps the nuance of a line, or the thought process of a character, just as a director would do in the theatre.

I think an author needs to give the narrator a bit of artistic licence with the characters and rein them in gently when we get too carried away.

I love the variety of voices you’ve conveyed in The Secret of You from young Toby to old Meg. How do you go about finding the right voice for a character and is this a long process?

I see an audio book as a radio play where I get to play all the characters. But one has to be careful not to confuse the listener with too many accents or voices. It can sound messy. The age of a character can be portrayed by the timbre of the voice (an older voice slightly lower in the register) and also by the pace of the voice and, of course, an accent or dialect. So each character can be identified easily with subtleties. I usually have a visual image of each character too.

If the author is precise about a particular dialect then I do the research to be as accurate as possible.

When I read my first science fiction book, I gave all the aliens (and there were lots of them) different voices and accents. This was a big mistake as I had to keep referring to the voices that I already recorded to make sure I was accurate. It slowed me down and taught me to be more nuanced with my characters in future.

The_Secret_of_You audiobook webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

The finished time of The Secret of You is just over eight hours but I’m sure the audio book took you much longer to produce. Just take us through what the job entailed.

If a chapter is 30 minutes in length it will probably take an hour to record. However fluent you are, you stop occasionally to make sure it makes sense, to check on the pronunciation of a name, to think about the character relationships as they progress. Then the engineer will “clean up” the chapter. Which means going through the recording and taking out all the mouth noises, large breaths, tummy rumbles, extra long pauses, in fact anything that shouldn’t be there. That’s another hour. Then the chapter is produced, which entails a whole sequence of technical feats to make sure it adheres to the very precise technical specifications for Audible and that the sound is a pleasing one for the listener. That’s another half hour.

So our 30 minute chapter has taken 2 and half hours. Translate that into an 8 hour book and you have about 40 hours work.

I would always recommend working with a professional actor as a narrator and one that uses a professional studio. The experience of a sound engineer who knows how to work with the voice as well as produce the technical quality required, is something that can’t be replicated with a laptop and a simple microphone.

Thanks so much, Jan! I really enjoy working on my audio books with you and can highly recommend the process to other authors keen to produce their own.

You can get in touch with Jan here.


An Amazing 2014!

As this year draws to a close, I have to say that it’s been one of the saddest on the pet front. We lost three beautiful hens and had to say goodbye to our darling spaniel, Molly. But we’re looking ahead to next year when we can rehome some more hens and have the experience of our very first puppy!

2014 has also been my busiest yet on the writing front with 6 books published! And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of my lovely readers for being there to support these titles. I’ve loved getting your messages and seeing what you think about my new stories.

2014 Releases Banner longAnd there’ll be plenty more stories for 2015 too. Watch out for my second children’s book and the third ‘Mulberry Cottage’ title in the spring, a brand new novel called The Rose Girls in May, and the first three books in an exciting new series in the autumn.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas. Eat lots of lovely food and read lots of fabulous books!

Merry Christmas from all at Mulberry Cottage