I’m delighted to introduce our new flock of gorgeous hens: Portia, Phoebe and Perdita. Named after Shakespearean heroines, they are four-month-old pure breeds and are the gentle giants of the hen world.
Portia is a Buff Orpinton – the breed made famous by the late Queen Mother. She’s the most timid in the flock at the moment and is very vocal whenever I pick her up!
Phoebe is a Black Orpington. She likes jumping up on things and was the first to discover the back door into our house!And Perdita is a Blue Partridge Brahma. She’s the most dominant of the little flock and was the first to climb up and down the ladder into the coop and the first to eat from my hand. She’s very curious and alert.The girls are enjoying free-ranging in the autumn garden, but are sticking closely together at the moment as they get to know their new environment! They’re such gorgeous girls and I can’t wait to get to know their personalities and enjoy plenty of hen cuddles with them.
I’m thrilled to be launching my Christmas novella today – The Christmas Rose.
It’s a seasonal sequel to The Rose Girls and I hope readers will love venturing back to Little Eleigh Manor in time for all the festivities and finding out what happened next to Celeste and Julian, Evie and baby Alba and – reader favourites – Esther and Frinton the terrier!
To each and every reader who has bought a copy of The Rose Girls – whether in ebook, paperback or audio – in English, German, French, Italian or Spanish – thank you! We’ve sold over 200,000 copies and I am absolutely delighted!
Sometimes, a hen comes into your life and can’t help but make an impact. Dear Viola was one of those hens. She came to us in the summer of 2016, with her flock sisters. The Shakespeare Sisters, we called them, and Viola was named after my favourite Shakespeare heroine from Twelfth Night.
But what a state she was in! We’ve never seen a hen look quite as rough. Her comb was overlarge, floppy and pale, her wings looked like chopsticks and she was missing so many feathers that she looked almost oven-ready.
However, appearances can be deceptive and she soon proved to be a feisty little girl, marching up and down the run of the coop, asking to be let out to free-range for the first time.
And how she loved to free-range! So much so that she was soon laying eggs in the hedge and venturing through the hedge into our neighbours’ gardens! She also loved sneaking into the house whenever the door was open, leaping onto our chair in the conservatory and sticking her head in any bags of food around. She really was an adventurer!
Winter weather didn’t faze her even though she was a sun-worshipper at heart. In fact, I’ve never seen a hen enjoy sunbathing so much and, in the early days of her release, we had to put sun lotion on all those bare bits of hers!
I loved looking out of the kitchen window to see her leaping on to pots and bins and sneaking around the oil tank. One never quite knew where she’d appear next.Darling Vi. You were such a special girl and I hope you loved your retirement with us as much as we loved having you as a part of our family. You’ll be missed so much.
I have a treat for UK readers this September – the third book in my Country House and Garden trilogy – The Heart of the Garden – is just 99p for the ebook on Amazon.
And here’s one of my author copies surrounded by beautiful blooms gathered at the Floral Abundance course I attended yesterday at a wonderful walled garden here in Suffolk.
What a joy it was to spend the last day of August surrounded by flowers – all grown within the walls of this Victorian kitchen garden.
We learnt some flower theory in the morning and then we were set lose with a pair of secateurs in the afternoon, filling an enormous bucket with blooms to arrange at home. It was the loveliest day and I felt like one of my own characters from the garden trilogy!
A huge thank you to Anne-Marie who made us all feel so at home in her special world. Do follow her wonderful Instagram account and treat yourself to a course if you can.
This summer, we had a rather special holiday – in a castle!
We’ve had the great pleasure of staying in a few properties owned by The Landmark Trust, but this was our first castle and what a fabulous experience it was. Situated in the heart of Thomas Hardy country with local walks along the beautiful River Frome, Woodsford Castle lived up to all our expectations.
Of course, it would have been selfish to keep such a special place to ourselves and so we invited some of our writer and artists friends to stay with us and enjoyed good food, good conversation and plenty of country walks.
A highlight of the holiday for me was a visit to Thomas Hardy’s birthplace at Little Bockhampton. I’d first visited as an undergraduate studying his novels, and it was a delight to return to this very special cottage set deep in the Dorset woods.It had the perfect cottage garden, filled with roses and herbs, and one could easily imagine the young Hardy enthralled by the natural world that surrounded him and which he wrote about so beautifully.
We said a sad goodbye to our darling ex-bat Evie this week after almost three years of retirement with us. Only Mariette and Dotty have hit the golden three years with us, so Evie did very well and never had a day’s illness either.
Evie came to us in September 2015 along with her flock sisters Celeste and Gertie – named after the heroines in my novel The Rose Girls which had been published that summer.
Evie was a brave soul who quickly revelled in her new free-range life and struck up a strong friendship with Gertie. They could usually be found together and would often leap up onto the bin to peep into the kitchen window!
A little bit of a scruff on arrival, Evie soon grew all her feathers back and became a really beautiful hen although, in a recent moult, she lost all her tail feathers and looked very scruffy indeed! But her feathers made a splendid comeback and she looked bonnier than ever!
Always a gentle hen, she quickly teamed up with the younger Viola once she’d lost her long-term pal Gertie. Here’s Evie with Viola enjoying a yoghurty treat together.We feel so lucky that Evie’s retirement was a long and healthy one with just a gentle slide into old age. But how we shall miss that cheeky face looking in at the kitchen window!
In case you haven’t yet noticed, I have a thing about walled gardens. So much so that I’ve written three novels about them and, this summer, I’ve been visiting a few around the country. In May, we went to Attingham Park in Shropshire which was a delightful mix of flowers, fruit and vegetables.
In June, I discovered the very beautiful Beeleigh Abbey in Essex. What a stunner! My Rose Girls would have adored it!And it had the sweetest kitchen garden too.
In July, we took a trip to Forde Abbey In Dorset and the kitchen garden there quite took my breath away. I could easily imagine Jonathan, Vanessa and the team from Love in an English Garden happily working there together.
And, just this week, we visited Marks Hall in Essex which has a fabulous walled garden overlooking a lake.
There’s something so special about walled gardens. Perhaps it comes from that feeling of being enclosed in a safe and beautiful space or maybe it’s the promise they hold with the produce grown in them. I never tire of visiting them and it’s a great dream of mine to have one of my very own one day. And I kind of wished that I hadn’t already written a trilogy about walled gardens so that I could have the pleasure of researching and writing them all over again!
There’s a special offer for UK readers over on Amazon – Natural Born Readers is just 99p. The third in my Book Lovers series, it tells Bryony Nightingale’s story and how Ben – the love of her life – walked out on her six years ago. But what really happened? And will Bryony and Ben ever get a chance to love again? Treat yourself to a copy now and find out – but hurry – it’s only 99p for a few more days!
I do love finding film locations especially when those films are adapted from books. So, it was with great anticipation that we set out for the Suffolk village of Hoo this week.
This rural village near Woodbridge was made famous through the 1974 film adaptation of Akenfield from the book by Ronald Blythe. Directed by Peter Hall, it starred a cast of locals and was a deeply moving account of life in an English village, focussing on the fortunes of three generations of men.
The church of St Andrew and St Eustachius was used in the film and it has a wonderful setting. During shooting, the churchyard was full of cow parsley and, whilst this was growing in abundance in the hedgerows when we visited, the churchyard itself was neatly mown.
The interior of the church is plain and simple, with a very moving roll of honour on the wall which features in the film, reminding us of the sacrifice made by even the smallest communities during the Great War.
This is a beautifully remote corner of Suffolk, dotted with farms and thatched cottages and it looked glorious in the May sunshine.
If you’d like to read my 2012 interview with Ronald Blythe where he talks about his books and the film adaptation of Akenfield, click here.
For the last few years, my husband and I have been attending the London Book Fair at Olympia, and what a fabulously exciting event it is! Much more author-friendly than a few years ago when it used to be a trade fair just for publishers and agents, there is now an Author HQ with talks all day and plenty of opportunities for writers to meet up and exchange news. Here I am at the KDP stand with indie bestseller and all-round lovely person, L J Ross.
I was thrilled to meet up with my new Czech publisher who has just published A Weekend with Mr Darcy and is going to translate Dreaming of Mr Darcy next. And it was wonderful to meet some fellow Lake Union authors too. Here I am with Julianne MacLean, Freda Lightfoot, Imogen Clark and Jo Furniss.
It was then on to the Amazon Publishing party at the Bluebird in Chelsea where I met up with Matt Dunn and Marius Gabriel…
and chatted about the joys of being a hybrid author with Mark Dawson and Freda.
Now it’s back to the desk. I’m currently planning a brand new series of books set on the Sussex Downs and I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ve been thinking about these books for years and I’m thrilled to be making a start on them.