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Friday, 28 February 2014

Snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens

I've wanted to go to Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire for ages. Last Saturday, a beautiful, bright, sunny day, and as a treat following my husband's hernia operation, we finally made it. This is the garden which Franklin D. Roosevelt described thus:-

''A dream of Nirvana...almost too good to be true.'
 
He and Eleanor spent part of their honeymoon here but much has changed since that time. During the Second World War the grand house was requisitioned by the army and left in such a damaged state that in 1951 it was demolished. For the next fifty years the twelve acres of gardens were abandoned, until 2001 when Ursula Cholmeley, whose family has owned the estate for over 400 years, came to their rescue. And what a rescue it has been. Easton is renowned for its David Austin roses and sweet peas amongst other things but we were there for the snowdrops.

 
 
There was a short talk by a local Galanthophile, Jackie Murray, where we learned that the snowdrop which we consider to be English, Galanthus nivalis,  originates from the Eastern Mediterranean and  it is believed to be the spread of Christianity which brought them to Europe. This explains why some of the most beautiful displays of snowdrops are at religious sites such as Hodsock Priory or Anglesey Abbey and in small country churchyards. Snowdrops are also known as Candlemas bells and it is traditional to place snowdrops on the altar at Candlemas (February 2nd). Snowdrops are seen as symbols of hope and bringing some of the flowers into the house is thought to purify the home.
 
There are over 600 varieties of snowdrop and the Russian snowdrop is actually the Sochi snowdrop. Apparently when the snow melts the slopes will still be white, but covered with these beautiful white flowers. The bulbs for this particular variety travelled West with people returning from the Crimean War. Some snowdrop bulbs can fetch enormous amounts of money. Recently one bulb was reported to have sold for £700.

But back to Easton. The gardens nestle in a valley and the River Witham wends its way through the grounds.

 
 

And at the moment there are swathes of snowdrops around almost every corner.




There are sunny aconites too.

 
 
And plenty of space for children to kick a ball around, a lovely place to have some delicious, freshly prepared food and a swing attached to a big old tree. I can't resist a swing. If there's one around I have to go on it!
 
 
 
 
There are snowdrops in small, hidden places.
 
 
 
 
And beautiful, wide benches to sit on and reflect.
 
 
 

 


If you want to spend a little longer in contemplation there is this wonderful little retreat to hire.




It is light and airy but cosy inside.




I can just imagine sitting in here to do some writing. It would be so inspirational.

Hopefully we'll be able to go back to Easton in the summer to see the roses. The gardens open again for the spring/summer season on Sunday March 2nd if you would like to pay a visit.

In the meantime I shall enjoy the snowdrops in my own garden. They are mainly Galanthus nivalis but there are also some lovely double ones which I had from my mother. She would certainly have agreed with the following quote:-
 
'One can hardly picture an English garden without the snowdrop.'
 
E.A. Bowles (1914)
 

Thank-you so much for dropping by and reading this post. I hope you have a lovely week. 


Friday, 21 February 2014

Beetroot, Rocket and Pomegranate Salad

What shall we have to eat? It's something I ask several times a week. My husband and sons would  always opt for meat. My daughter would be a vegetarian if she was cooking for herself all of the time. Feeding a family is often a balancing act and, even though there are just two of us for most of the time these days, sometimes I just run out of ideas! Sometimes I am at a complete loss as to what to have for a change. Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying about what we are going to eat the following day, which is ridiculous!

Last week my husband was taken into hospital for a hernia operation. It all happened quite quickly and was quite stressful. When he came home I made a nutritious chicken soup to get him on the mend. The following day I just wanted something which didn't involve too much bother. I nipped into our local branch of Marks and Spencer with nothing particular in mind and emerged with the ingredients for this salad.



It comprised rocket, baby beetroot, cucumber, walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

I made a French dressing to drizzle over the top and served it with poached salmon and new potatoes. As well as being healthy, it was quick and it was easy which sometimes is just what you need.

Thank-you for reading. Have a good week.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Beautiful Tables and Cheerful Chicken Placemats...

I like visiting stately homes and one of my favourite rooms is always the dining room, especially if the table is beautifully laid. The dining room at Chartwell, Winston Churchill's house in Kent, is one that lingers in my memory. It has beautiful green coloured curtains draped around arched windows. The light is exquisite and the table and chairs are so inviting. Another lovely dining room is at Sandringham, the Queen's house in Norfolk. Again there are long windows letting in a lot of light and a cosy, convivial feeling.

But the most beautiful dining room has to be at The Mount, Edith Wharton's house in Massachusetts.



The whole house is light, airy and beautiful. You can really feel how much Edith loved this place, even though her life here was not happy and there is a tinge of sadness in the air.

The dining room has French doors opening on to a broad terrace which overlooks the gardens. At the centre of this elegant room is a beautifully laid table.




Closer to home, my mother-in-law always lays her table with care. This is how it looked on New Year's Eve - warm and celebratory.



 With a really pretty centrepiece.


 
 
This week I have bought some new table mats and I am so thrilled with them. I've been looking for ages and most table mats are too big for our narrow table but these are perfect. An added bonus is the chicken design. I do love chickens (but that is another story!).
 
 
They are from Lady Clare and the design is by Annabel Fairfax. These are the coasters which show the whole range of chickens.
 
 
 
So whilst my dining table might not be as smart as at Chartwell or The Mount, it will look bright and cheerful which is just what you need in the middle of February. 
 
Also I'm thrilled that Last Chance Angel has been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards. You can find details of all the other nominated authors and their books here.
 
Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a good week, wherever you are in the world.
 
 
 


Friday, 7 February 2014

Tips for Getting Started with Writing your Book

'The Beginning is the Most Important Part of the Work'
Plato

In the garden there are signs of new beginnings all around.
 
 
 
My back garden faces north and also has to contend with an unkind westerly wind for much of the time, so plants can be a little slow to get going. This means I have to be patient. And so it is with beginnings of stories. Sometimes the process of starting is so scary that we delay or even dismiss attempting to write anything. Sometimes, when we think of the long task ahead, especially in the case of a novel, we think 'is it worth it?' Sometimes we can get so hung up on getting that perfect first line, or first few pages, that we stall ourselves and get frustrated because we aren't making progress. We live in a world which is obsessed with perfection and getting things done quickly. The underlying message is that if you don't do everything well, straight away, then you are lacking in something, even a failure.
 
But that is NOT the case. It is worth taking your time and being patient.  I met a writer last week, Nigel McDowell, who took 9 years to complete his first novel. From beginning Last Chance Angel to its publication must have taken approximately the same amount of time. There's a lovely post by Malachy Doyle on The Picture Book Den (dated 20th January) about the twists and turns of creating a picture book story. It is an inspirational lesson in the value of remaining open, fluid and patient.
 
 
First lines ARE crucial, especially when writing for children. If young readers don't engage with the story within the first few pages, they are not going to persevere. But that doesn't mean that you should get totally hung up on the beginning at the beginning, if you see what I mean. My first drafts are often complete rubbish. My beginnings are clumsy and make me cringe when I go back to them but eventually, if you follow your intuition, the right sentences will reveal themselves. So my first piece of advice is not to wait around for that fantastic, captivating beginning. Instead:-
 
JUST WRITE!

It is more than probable that your first line will come at the start of chapter two or three. When re-reading it will jump out at you and you will know instinctively that this is where your story should begin. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to completely lose those first couple of chapters, it just means that the information contained there needs to be woven into the story at a different place.

Begin at a point of change
 

With children's books especially, the story should begin at a point of change for the main character. Something has happened which has upset the equilibrium, is throwing them off balance and causing a problem which needs to be solved.

Introduce us to the main character straight away


In Finding Fortune, Pippa Goodhart begins with this:-
Ida looked at the stone slab under her feet. She read the twirly writing that listed names and dates of her dead Berringer ancestors. Soon Mama's name would be added to that  list.


Create an atmosphere
 
In Deborah White's Wickedness the first line immediately conjures up a vivid scene.
It was the funeral that afternoon.
 
 
Pose a question in the mind of the reader

Here is the beginning to Jenny Nimmo's Dog Star:-

To Marty, the dog star had always looked much the same as any other star. It had given no hint of the amazing part it would play in her life.


Tug at our heartstrings

Create a sympathetic angle for the main character. Ida has lost her mother. Maybe in another book someone is being bullied or feeling left out. Find something which children will identify with, a difficulty to overcome, and if your character has depth and appeal, we will immediately want to know how they deal with their difficulties.

I hope those few tips have helped any of you just beginning your writing journey. Above all, don't be too hard on yourself, (must remember that one myself!), give yourself and your story some space to breath and have faith that it will all come together eventually.

Thank-you for reading. I hope you have a happy week.




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