As a new member of the East Anglian Writers’ Group, I was so looking forward to their summer party which is held each year at the beautiful Norfolk home of Ann and Anthony Thwaite.
The garden borders the River Tas and it’s from this very spot that poet Philip Larkin took a punt with his editor, Anthony. Here I am, reading Larkin by the river!
And the lovely Alice Thwaite was punting guests up and down the river after a splendid buffet-style lunch in the garden so Roy and I climbed aboard.
There is something magical about being so close to the water. We saw damselflies galore and some beautiful plants and flowers and the gentle beauty of the Norfolk countryside.
No wonder Ratty in Wind in the Willows says that there is, ‘nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’
My favourite day of the year – bar none – is when we go to collect our new ex-commercial hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust and bring them home to enjoy a happy retirement. This July, we rehomed four gorgeous girls who we named after heroines from Shakespeare’s comedies in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the great man’s death. So let me introduce you to…
Hermia – who I hope is going to grow lots more feathers very soon.
Viola – who is very inquisitive and follows us around the garden.
Beatrice – the top hen of this little flock who keeps everyone in check.
And Rosalind – a very vocal hen who lays beautiful pale eggs.
Collectively known as The Shakespeare sisters!
Viola and Hermia are the little uns and have so many bare patches that I’ve been trying to pop a bit of sun cream on them as they are keen sun worshippers.
It’s wonderful to have the hen head count up to seven. The garden was looking a bit depleted with just three, but the old girls haven’t taken kindly to the new arrivals and I fear that further battles will be fought before the flock settles down!
I’m really excited to tell you that The Secret of You has been chosen by Amazon as part of their summer promotion in the UK so you can get the ebook for just 99p.
Set in the beautiful Cotswolds, The Secret of You is a novel about love, trust and antiques. So, if you’re missing your big country house fix from Downton Abbey and like a little bit of mystery with your romances, grab a bargain and get reading.
Some reader comments for The Secret of You:
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Limited time offer
Price correct at the time of posting (July 2016)
I seem to be writing a lot about gardens at the moment. First, there was The Rose Girls, then came Love in an English Garden which will be published next year, and now I’m planning a novel featuring a maze.
The great maze hunt started in May with a visit with my friend, Ellie, to the Bridge End Garden in Saffron Walden which we loved even though the sun was hiding and it was freezing cold!
Saffron Walden also boasts an incredible turf maze – the largest ancient labyrinth in the British Isles which features four corner protrusions known as bastions.
But it’s hedge mazes that I’m most interested in so, with that in mind, Roy and I headed to the beautiful Rococo Gardens at Painswick in the Cotswolds whose maze has two separate centres – one easy to reach and the other a little harder.
But I made it! And I’m so looking forward to my next maze. This could so easily become an addiction…
We recently had a little holiday on the Somerset coast but, with me navigating, we took a detour to the Cotswolds to visit a very special village – Slad, the setting of Laurie Lee’s wonderful book Cider with Rosie. It was tricky to find the village, but we knew we were getting close when we saw the sign at Bulls Cross – ‘that ragged wildness of wind-bent turves … a sort of island of nothing set high above the crowded valleys’ – the place Lee and his friends would frequent in the hopes of seeing a ghostly spectre.
Arriving at the village, we quickly spotted the school where the fabulously named Spadge Hopkins was taught alongside the young Laurie Lee. Lee describes him as ‘thick-legged, red-fisted, bursting with flesh, designed for the great outdoors … the sight of him squeezed into his tiny desk was worse than a bullock in ballet-shoes.’
We spotted the house Lee bought with the proceeds of the book, nice and handy for The Woolpack pub and with glorious views over his beloved valley, and how lucky we were to see it in all its summer glory with ‘all sights twice-brilliant and smells twice-sharp’.Being a writer who has stuffed many an envelope with a fat manuscript in her time, I couldn’t help wondering if Laurie Lee had ever posted any of his work in the letterbox near the pub and did he ever realise how many people would fall in love with his valley through his words?His grave in on a hill by the church and simply says, ‘He lies in the valley he loved.’Our journey then took us to Painswick which gets several mentions in Cider with Rosie. I wanted to visit the extraordinary churchyard which is famous for its ninety-nine yew trees and its beautiful table-top graves.
It was then on to our destination – Woodspring Priory on the Somerset coast, passing the pier at Weston super Mare – where Lee and his family and neighbours enjoyed a day out. He writes, ‘We saw a vast blue sky and an infinity of mud … rousing smells of an invisible ocean astonished our land-locked nostrils: salt, and wet weeds, and fishy oozes; a sharp difference in every breath … we had never seen such openness, the blue windy world seemed to have blown quite flat, bringing the sky to the level of our eyebrows.’
I love visiting the places which my favourite writers have written about so this was a very special journey for me and one I hope to repeat again.
Some birthdays are special and have to be celebrated in style which is why I booked The Landmark Trust’s Woodspring Priory in Somerset for a milestone birthday of Roy’s.
Founded in 1210 by the grandson of one of the knights who murdered Thomas a Becket, and added to in the fifteenth and eighteenth-centuries, the priory stands on a rural peninsula on the Somerset coast and has lovely walled gardens full of arches and well-placed benches where a writer can sit with a notebook and pen.
Hattie met her first stone spiral staircase and soon got the hang of going up and down, and up and down, and up and down…
Now, a surprise party is a lot of fun to organise, but it’s not easy! I booked the priory a good six months ago, making sure that Roy’s artist friends kept the date free in their diaries. With emails flying back and forth and Facebook messages being exchanged, I had to make sure that nothing was left open on my computer and all my own personal notes were written in shorthand! Oh, how many times I nearly slipped up, desperate to share each stage of the planning with my husband!
But it was so worth keeping the secret and how wonderful it was to share such a magical setting with our talented artist friends including John Dobbs, Karl Terry, Peter Brown (aka “Pete the Street”) and Liam O’Farrell. And I sneaked in a couple of writer pals too – Victoria Eveleigh and Ruth Saberton.
There are so many fabulous moments to remember like drinking champagne and singing Happy Birthday under a fan vaulted ceiling, being the curators of our very own museum for the week and sitting in the sunny walled garden with gargoyles watching over us. It’s a holiday we’ll never ever forget!
On our recent holiday to Devon and Dorset, I wanted to try and find a special, secret place I’d read about in Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful book Holloway. Macfarlane visited Dorset’s ancient sunken paths after hearing about a 1939 thriller by Geoffrey Household called Rogue Male in which the protagonist, who is being hunted down by the authorities, hides out in the wilds of the Dorset countryside.
Household mentions Lyme Regis, Beaminster and the Marshwood Vale in his novel and Macfarlane first headed to North Chideock. We bought an OS map and studied the area, but we weren’t sure where this holloway was until a local told us about a track ominously called Hell Lane. “It’s always wet there,” he told us. “The sun never gets through.”
Well, it certainly was wet and muddy and Hattie couldn’t wait to make a start.
And what a magical place it was with its twisting, leaning trees, its bluebells, its prehistoric ammonite-like ferns just beginning to unfurl and, everywhere, the pungent smell of wild garlic.
It occurred to me that I was a writer following a writer who had been following another writer. It’s curious how a landscape can inspire and link us together and I’m thankful that books encourage us to go out and explore the wonderful world we live in.
We’ve just returned from our first holiday in two years and, even though it rained every single day, it was still pretty special because it was Hattie’s very first holiday. So we took her to a favourite place of ours – the Devon/Dorset border near Lyme Regis.
We walked through ancient woods filled with prehistoric ferns, sat on isolated beaches and gazed out to sea, and caught up with good friends. The lovely Ruth Saberton joined us for a couple of days and we posed in our purple wellies whilst talking about our two new series ‘The Book Lovers‘ and ‘Polwenna Bay‘.
There was also some exploring to do. I’ve recently read Robert Macfarlane’s Holloway and wanted to find one of Dorset’s secret sunken paths. The one we chose was called Hell Lane – an apt description for the copious mud there. Hattie revelled in it, of course, becoming the dirtiest dog in Dorset in record time! But what a magical place it was with its banks of wild garlic scenting the air and its trees curving across the path.
We also revisited a favourite place of mine: River Cottage! This is the original cottage from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV series – a programme that kept me dreaming about my own escape to the country when I was living in the London suburbs.
Now it’s back to the desk and the big print out of Love in an English Garden. I can’t wait to dive back into this story before sending it to my publisher later this month.
We had to say goodbye to our dear Celeste yesterday. Losing a hen never gets any easier even though we’ve been through it many times since starting to rehome ex-bats five years ago.
Celeste came to us via the wonderful British Hen Welfare Trust back in September with her flock sisters Gertie and Evie – all named after heroines from my novel The Rose Girls which had been published that summer.On her first day in the garden, she went up against the formidable Peggy and soon realised that, although she’d never be top hen, she’d make a pretty good deputy.
Peggy and Celeste soon became the best of friends, often sharing a nest box together and dust-bathing in the garden cheek by jowl.
Celeste was one of the most docile hens I’ve ever known and never protested when I asked for a cuddle.
Her time with us was all too brief, but I sincerely hope she enjoyed it. We loved having her as part of the Mulberry Cottage flock and will miss her gentle presence.
I’ve just heard some really amazing news from my publisher – The Rose Girls has sold over 100,000 copies since being published last May. I’m thrilled to reach this very special milestone and I have you – dear readers – to thank!
I’ve just had a really exciting experience – seeing the cover of my book, The Rose Girls, all lit up on the Amazon Publishing stand at the London Book Fair.
My husband and I spotted the paperback first, proudly displayed on their counter here:
But I definitely did a double-take when I saw it at the top of their amazing banner!
The book fair is a huge, noisy, exciting event at Olympia. Just a few years ago, it was a pretty daunting place for a writer to be but, these days, there’s an Author HQ and numerous talks and events such as this fabulous panel featuring Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson. Do check out their excellent podcasts for indie authors. I’ve learned so much from both of them.
And it was a lot of fun to meet up with some of my Notting Hill Press pals at the Amazon Publishing party in the evening. Here I am with Talli Roland, Nick Spalding and Matt Dunn.
Now, it’s back to my desk and my deadline for Love in an English Garden. There’s an editor champing at the bit to read it!
I’m delighted that the second novel in my Book Lovers series – Rules for a Successful Book Club – has been chosen by Amazon for its Spring Sale ebook promotion and is just 99p in the UK.
Grab a copy today and catch up with the Nightingale family and find out what happens when Polly meets a guitar-playing biker called Jago…