A Year at Mulberry Cottage – out now!

It’s spring and that means I have a brand new book for you!

A Year at Mulberry Cottage by Victoria ConnellyA Year at Mulberry Cottage follows our adventures in rural Suffolk throughout a whole calendar year from rescuing more ex-battery hens to entering our first village show. The book follows on from Escape to Mulberry Cottage and is the perfect read for anyone who has ever dreamed of a life in the country.

Buy Now A Year at Mulberry Cottage by Victoria ConnellyIt was so much fun to write and I particularly enjoyed choosing the photographs (there are over thirty gorgeous pics!) which show life in the countryside at its very best.

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Secret Pyramid – now just 99p

Secret Pyramid Kindle new cover for blogI’m thrilled to tell you that Secret Pyramid has been chosen for Amazon’s February promotion and that – for this month only – is priced at just 99p for the ebook. And it’s been really amazing to see it climbing the charts. It’s currently Number 1 in ‘Mysteries and Detectives’ and is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore, James Patterson and Andy McNab in ‘Crime and Thrillers’.

So grab yourself a real bargain and lose yourself in the dark heart of Egypt…

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Virginia Woolf’s Writing Diary

I’ve just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. Now, I have to admit to never getting along too well with Ms Woolf’s fiction although I haven’t given up all hope of reading it but I’m a great admirer of any writer who has the nerve to push boundaries and to follow their heart and I found her diaries absolutely riveting.

I lost count of the times I laughed out loud at her revelations about the writing life and how little has changed since her time. Writers, I fear, will always be insecure creatures searching for approbation and fearing the critic! She talks of how ‘the worst of writing is that one depends so much upon praise’ and how she finds it difficult to write when a new book is first published, finding it hard to settle until the reviews came in.

But she can never stop writing for long. Writing, it seems is a bug and I love the way she describes this. She confesses to having ‘an intolerable fit of the fidgets to write away’ and how she’s often caught up in ‘that ardour and lust of creation’.

And she reassures herself of what is most important about the business of writing. ‘The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.’ And how ‘it’s the writing, not the being read, that excites me.’

The diaries show a woman working incredibly hard at her art; she didn’t shy away from going over and over a piece of work until it was right. In 1930, she writes ‘Much will have to be discarded: what is essential is to write fast and not break the mood – no holiday, no interval if possible, till it is done.’ And she leaps from one project to the next with alacrity. ‘I must hastily provide my mind with something else, or it will again become pecking and wretched’.

Inspiration comes and goes. One minute she writes, ‘Will another novel ever swim up?’ And then she can’t seem to write fast enough: ‘I get excited writing. Three hours pass like 10 minutes.’

Her diaries also detail what she is reading as well as what she is writing and I love this passage from 1933: ‘What a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me! I went in and found the table laden with books. I looked in and sniffed them all.’ Ah, yes! How many of us authors know what that’s like!

Like many of my favourite writers, Virginia Woolf gets great comfort and inspiration from walking especially in the countryside around her Sussex home. One diary entry from 1935 talks about how she and her husband Leonard went for ‘a walk this afternoon; and that seems to me an enormous balance at the Bank! solid happiness.’ I love that.

And, in a time long before the Amazon KDP self-publishing revolution, she talks about what it’s like to be a publisher. One diary entry in 1925 tells of how she refused to do a book for a traditional publisher, saying that she could ‘write a book, a better book, a book off my own bat, for the Press’ – referring to her own Hogarth Press which she ran with her husband, Leonard.

I’d love to know more about Virginia and Leonard and how their working relationship as publishers affected their lives. Leonard would often critique his wife’s work and, in a diary entry from 1940, she describes how ‘It was like being pecked by a very hard strong beak.’

What I love most about Virginia Woolf is that she realises how important it is to remain true to herself. ‘I am I: and I must follow that furrow, not copy another,’ she writes. I love her steadfastness to do exactly what she feels compelled to do. ‘I write what I like writing and there’s an end on it,’ she says. May all authors do the same.

 

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Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love

Last summer, I heard about the release of a brand new Miss Read book. Dora Saint’s daughter, Jill, had been helping to collate the articles and essays which her mother had written before her more famous Fairacre and Thrush Green novels were published. The result is Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love – a gorgeous anthology full of all the wit and charm we’ve come to expect from the pen of Miss Read.

Jill was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book:

How did the idea for Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love come about ?

I’d thought for a long time that a collection of Dora’s earlier, more journalistic, work would be interesting to publish, as it gives a wider insight into her writing career before she became well known as Miss Read.  A great deal of it is from the 1950s and 60s, so is almost social history.

How did you choose the pieces included in the collection?

The publisher, Juliet Ewers from Orion Books, skimmed through the material first and picked the ones she particularly liked. Then Jenny Dereham, Dora’s long-time editor, and I added more that we thought should be used, once the length of the book was agreed.  On the whole, we didn’t argue much!

Was it hard coming up with the title?

That was Jenny again, trawling through the individual titles for something a bit unusual, and this one appealed to me since Mrs Griffin was the mother of my oldest friend, Caroline.  She too is delighted that our mothers have been linked in this way, as the two families were very close.

Do you have a favourite piece from the book?

The title piece, of course, for sentimental reasons, and The Lucky Hole, which started Dora’s career as Miss Read.  I also enjoy the classroom ones – Unstable Element and Night and Day in particular.

Your mother was a very versatile writer. Was there anything she would have liked to have written but didn’t get around to?

She would say The Importance of Being Earnest!  She did say she would have liked to write a play but felt she hadn’t the experience of theatre to know how best to construct it.  She enjoyed reading detective novels but, as a writer, she thought she wouldn’t be able to work out that type of plot.  The two Caxley books (The Market Square and The Howards of Caxley) were originally planned as a trilogy, but she never did the third one; I’m not sure why.

There are many wonderful insights into Dora Saint’s experiences as a teacher in the book. Which do you think your mother enjoyed most: writing or teaching? Or perhaps writing about teaching!

Almost certainly writing, which was her first choice of career, although, of course, the teaching fed most of her writing, and she was a very good and conscientious teacher.

Can we expect any more compilation books from the Miss Read archives in future?

No, because there are only a few pieces left, and we felt those were no longer relevant, which is why they weren’t included in Mrs Griffin.  She wrote a great deal for the BBC, but I don’t have all the scripts and they wouldn’t, in any case, reproduce well as straightforward reading.  She also reviewed many books for the TES, and those reviews wouldn’t be particularly interesting now, even if we could find copies!

Do you feel any pressure about becoming the guardian of Miss Read’s work?

Up to a point, but I have the enormous support of Jenny with her knowledge of the past work, and how best to look after it, and the current publishers, Orion, who have now reissued almost all the novels.  In due course the archive will go to the University of Reading, which already has the manuscripts and proofs.  Their literary archive is housed with the Museum of Rural Life, which seems most appropriate for the Miss Read material.

Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love is available now.

Thanks so much, Jill! And thanks to Jenny and Orion who are keeping the wonderful books of Miss Read very much in the public eye.

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Our Primrose

Just six weeks after losing our beloved ex-bat hen, Dotty, we lost dear Primrose. She had been slowing down at an alarming rate since the summer, nodding off in the borders and snoozing in a favourite sunny spot near the fig tree.

Primrose came home to Mulberry Cottage in April 2012 along with her ex-bat sisters Mariette and Little Flo and what a scruffy little flock they were with barely enough feathers between them to cover one hen!

But Primrose had such a spirit. She was the first of the new flock to discover the great indoors – sneaking into the conservatory because – as any clever hen knows – that’s where the food is kept.

She was also wonderfully docile and didn’t mind being handled which is always a plus for me because, well, I do like to have a hen cuddle!

In fact, she became a bit too friendly at times and would leap upon you if you so much as bent over in the garden – a habit which would often startle visitors!

And she loved a good book. She was the world’s first Kindle-reading chicken and was particularly fond of the Austen Addicts series and Escape to Mulberry Cottage because they featured hens.

I’m so going to miss our special, sparky girl who would stick her head in the bag of corn whenever she managed to get into the conservatory. I’m going to miss those hen cuddles and stroking that soft pale gold back of hers as she’d sit on my lap in the sunshine.

Goodnight, darling Primrose. We loved you so much and Mulberry Cottage just isn’t the same without your cheeky face.

 

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