I’m very excited to share this gorgeous cover with you for Natural Born Readers – the first book in my Book Lovers series. It’s out on 26th September and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.
This has been the saddest of summers – we’ve lost four of our lovely hens since May.
And the loss of Hermia was a tough one. Like Beatrice, one of her flock sisters, she only had a year of retirement with us. The photo above shows the moment she was handed to us by a British Hen Welfare Trust volunteer last summer.
Hermia was incredibly shy and would dart into the borders, hiding from the rest of the flock. But she did like to sunbathe, stretching her wings out wide.
When she first arrived, she had a completely bare neck but, within a month, she had grown so many new feathers, and her neck was covered with beautiful chestnut feathers.
She became a real beauty and was very photogenic. Last autumn, I harvested some of our squashes and couldn’t resist popping Hermia up on the table. It’s one of my favourite ever hen photos. In fact, I had it turned into a mouse mat and it’s sitting next to me on my desk.
Hermia became a very vocal hen and would march up and down the garden complaining noisily about the lack of perfect places in the hedge to lay her eggs. She loved laying in the hedge but, the trouble was, she used to sneak through into next door’s garden so we were forced into putting chicken-wire up. Hermia, however, wasn’t put off by this and managed to jump over the fence, laying her eggs just where she wanted to. The problem came in getting back. She usually couldn’t which meant bending down behind the wire to scoop her up. In the photo below, you might be able to see some of her eggs in the hedge – it took us a few days to discover her latest secret place!
Then, one day, having laid her egg in the hedge and been scooped up by Roy, she stopped chatting to us, she stopped laying eggs and became very still. Hens can go downhill so quickly and, despite a procedure at the vets and a course of antibiotics, Hermia slowly slipped away from us.
Goodbye beautiful Hermia. We will miss you so much, but your gentle spirit will live with us forever.
Gertie came to Mulberry Cottage in September 2015 with her flock sisters, Celeste and Evie. I named them after the heroines in my novel The Rose Girls, who were – in turn – named after roses.
Gertie soon became tame enough to eat from my hand, but never liked to be picked up!
One of Gertie’s favourite things was the pond. I’ve never seen a hen spend so much time in the mud and water and she didn’t seem to mind when her legs and beak turned black.
She also loved jumping up onto the bin with Evie and peeping into the kitchen window. We used to call the two of them The Bin Twins and we’re going to miss seeing this funny duo marching around the garden together. They really were the best of pals. Here they are examining the wheelbarrow together earlier this summer.
Recently, Gertie took to laying her eggs behind the fig tree, her pretty face looking so picturesque among the leaves. But then she stopped laying and started to slow down, sleeping more and eating less.
Goodbye, pretty Gertie. We adored having you at Mulberry Cottage and will miss that beautiful face of yours looking into the kitchen window.
It’s always so sad when we lose one of our girls and it’s doubly sad when they go after only enjoying a short retirement with us.
Beatrice arrived at Mulberry Cottage in July 2016 with her flock sisters, all named after Shakespearean heroines as 2016 marked 400 years since the great man’s demise.
She was a lovely character with her cute little noises which always made me smile.
But Bea wasn’t a fan of our Hattie. On two occasions, our spaniel managed to knock Bea over whilst running through the hen garden and Bea rolled over like a football. Well, a hen never forgets and Bea had it in for Hattie after that and, when we brought Bea into the house for her medication and Hattie decided to say hello, Bea squared up to her, feathers puffed out!
When we realised Bea wasn’t well, we did all we could to make her comfortable but, although she was still enjoying all her favourite treats including fresh redcurrants from the garden, her condition meant that she wasn’t able to digest her food properly and the vet soon detected a tumour.
We were desperately sad to have to say goodbye to our lovely girl. She really deserved a longer retirement, but I hope she enjoyed her last year with us because we loved having her as part of our family.
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen and I’m celebrating her life and wonderful work with brand new covers for my Austen Addicts series. I hope you love them!
And, for this week only, UK readers can grab the ebook of Mr Darcy Forever for just 99p on Amazon.
That’s exactly what I did when I visited beautiful Bateman’s in East Sussex two years ago. It was that quiet time between Christmas and New Year, and the National Trust had decked the house with beautiful decorations.
I knew that Bateman’s, which was the former home of Rudyard Kipling, was the right setting my for novel, Love in an English Garden, and so it became Orley Court.
I wanted to set my book during the summer months, but my deadline meant that I had to imagine what it looked like in summer, and I didn’t get to visit it again until May this year – two months after the book was published. But how beautiful the garden looked. The wisteria I had imagined, and which features on the cover, was looking glorious and there was plenty going on in the walled garden – a scene which would gladden the hearts of Vanessa, Jonathan and their team.
And it was lovely to see the oast house again. It houses the National Trust shop these days, but readers of the book will recognise it as Jassy’s studio.
I was delighted to meet the custodian and I gave him a signed copy of the novel which is now part of the collection at Bateman’s. How exciting to see my book at Kipling’s home! I feel very honoured indeed.
The nearby village of Burwash became Elhurst in my book, and I have to admit that the one in my imagination has blurred with the real one so completely that, when we visited again, I half expected to see the shops and houses I’d invented!
The Sussex Weald is a very special place and this little corner – the Dudwell Valley (the Ridwell in my novel) is particularly beautiful. Do visit it if you can. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it too.
Opening from Chapter 1 of Love in an English Garden:
Orley Court sat in the Sussex landscape like a jewel. A sprawling Jacobean manor house built in the early seventeenth-century, it was made from pale gold Wealden sandstone which held a warmth even on the dullest days when the clouds hung heavy over the Downs.
It was a gentle landscape of deep wooded valleys, verdant fields dotted with sheep and horses, and villages full of tile-hung homes, cosy pubs and antique shops full of curios…
Love in an English Garden is available now from Amazon, or order from your favourite local bookshop.
I’m delighted to be raising money for one of my favourite charities throughout the summer. The British Hen Welfare Trust is very dear to me – they’ve introduced me to the wonderful world of rehoming ex-battery hens. These are such special creatures – full of fun and personality. We’ve been rehoming them for 6 years now and can’t imagine our lives without them.
I’m donating 100% of my royalties from the ebook Escape to Mulberry Cottage, and 50% of my royalties from the other two books in the series: A Year at Mulberry Cottage and Summer at Mulberry Cottage from sales from the beginning of June to the end of August. So, if you want an inspirational read about our lives in a 200-year old cottage in rural Suffolk and you’d like to support this marvellous charity, hop along to Amazon and buy the ebooks today. Thank you!
Links to Amazon:
Peggy came to Mulberry Cottage as a point of lay hen in April 2013 along with her flock sister, Nancy. Named after the “Amazon” sister heroines from the Arthur Ransome books, Peggy was a beautiful Sussex Star and Nancy a Heritage Skyline.
Sadly, we lost our Nancy way too young and Peggy became a bit of a loner. She never really got along well with our ex-battery hens, although she did seem to make friends with Celeste. But then Celeste passed and Peggy, once again, kept to her own company. Peggy’s great passion was standing on things. She loved the bin by the kitchen window and anything that had been stacked to give a bit of height such as these round paving slabs.But, most of all, Peggy loved a pot – especially a pot in the sun. This one here was an absolute favourite and she would jump on it in order to greet the sun as it entered the garden. Then, she would preen those beautiful white feathers and lord it over the scruffy ex-bats down below!
Peggy always took our breath away because she was our only white hen in a flock of red girls. I nicknamed her ‘Peggy the Magnificent’ and I have to say that four years just wasn’t long enough to look at her. She was such a beauty.
Goodbye, darling Peggy. Mulberry Cottage won’t be the same without your beautiful presence.
I’m delighted to have two books in summer promotions throughout June – Love in an English Garden is just £1 in the UK and is on offer in the US and Australia too. And The Book Lovers is just 99p in the UK. Two gorgeously romantic reads to grab in time for the summer!
Earlier this month, we visited beautiful Kent and stopped off at a very special place – Chelsfield.
This is the village that the seven-year old Dora Saint – ‘Miss Read’ as she became known to readers – moved to after her mother became ill.
Those with the Michael Joseph hardback edition of Dora’s autobiography, Time Remembered, will recognise the distinctive white clapperboard building and peep of red-brick school from the cover. In the introduction, Dora writes: ‘I had suddenly exchanged the pressure of London life for the slower ways of the country, and it suited me… At Chelsfield, I came into my own and have never ceased to be thankful.’
The heart of the village with its pub, school and village hall, is packed with pretty cottages. Here’s Dora’s description of her first sighting of the school: ‘I could not believe my eyes. Where was the great three-storey building of red brick? Where was the vast expanse of playground? Here before me was a one-storey building with a slate roof. Steps led up to the small playground, and a row of pollarded lime trees towered above the railings.’
But I wonder how much of it Dora would recognise today. The train station felt very suburban but, when Dora arrived, she described it like this: ‘once the train had pulled away, everything was still and quiet… The peace of a spring morning enveloped us as we climbed the gentle slope, the wood on our right, and the deep railway cutting on our left … The larks were in joyous frenzy above. The sky was blue, the now distant wood misty with early buds, and the air was heady to a London child. A great surge of happiness engulfed me… This is where I was going to live… This is where I belonged. This was the country, and I was home there.’
Across the fields, you can distinctly see the soaring towers of Canary Wharf and glimpse the impressive curve of The Shard, reminding us that London is so close but, to the seven-year Dora, it must have felt a million miles away.
Time Remembered by Miss Read is available as an audio book, narrated by the author.
We’ve just returned from a very special holiday – staying at the farm where they filmed ITV’s The Darling Buds of May.
I’m a huge fan of the TV series and of the gorgeous quintet of books written by one of my favourite authors – H E Bates. They are my go-to viewing and reading if I ever need cheering up.
The ‘Darling Buds Farm’ near Bethersden in Kent was recently bought and renovated, enabling guests to stay in the main house, the oast house and the cart lodge as well as shepherds’ huts and annexes with names fans of the show will recognise like Edith and Angela Snow.
There are also many acres of beautiful Kent countryside to explore and we were thrilled to find the very buttercup meadow where a young Catherine Zeta Jones who played Mariette Larkin was chased by Philip Franks’s Mr Charlton, shouting, “Yes, yes, yes!”
As you can imagine, there was an awful lot of quoting during our stay and my beloved H E Bates books were never far away.
As Pop Larkin might say, it was the “perfick” little break.
Suddenly, everything is blooming, blossoming and bursting here in Suffolk.
The blackthorn has come and gone, replaced by the hawthorn.
The cherry blossom and the crab apple have dazzled us with their purity. And the first roses are opening in the front garden.
It truly is a magical time of year and I’ve been enjoying capturing as much of it as I can on camera. I’ve always loved photography so I guess it was only a matter of time before I took the plunge and joined Instagram and I’m loving it. It’s a really inspirational community full of creative people and the photographs are stunning. I’m loving exploring and sharing my pictures with a wider audience. Please do join me there. I’d love to see you!