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Monday, 14 December 2015

The Right Book at the Right Time

There are definitely books for different times in your life. I discovered this some years ago when I tried to re-read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I just couldn't do it. I tried and tried but in the end I gave up. I first read this book when I was in my teens but twenty years on I had outgrown it.

Recently two books have come into my life at just the time I need them. The first is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I saw it mentioned in a newspaper and in some way it spoke to me. I ordered it not knowing what to expect and not having read any of Elizabeth's previous work. I have not even seen the film Eat, Pray, Love although it is on my wish list. Anyway I loved this book. I really like her straightforward, no nonsense style. She mentions luck, something which you need your fair share of when you are a writer but the heart of this book is dedication and love. It is easy to become discouraged and I don't know of any writer who hasn't had their ups and downs, their frustrations, their moments of discouragement. When you are going through a difficult period with writing it is easy to forget how much you love it. Elizabeth puts the love and the dedication for writing at the forefront of this book. I wish I had read it when I first started out. It would have saved a good deal of heartache along the way.

The second book is actually in a similar vein and was lent to me only a couple of days ago by a writing friend. It is When a Writer isn't Writing by Jenny Alexander.

I often drop by Jenny's blog Writing In The House of Dreams so I knew that I would enjoy this book. Jenny always has something wise and profound to say. The sub-title of this book is 'How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow'. Surely those are words to entice any writer and Jenny doesn't disappoint. She talks about fear of getting started, building your world, inhabiting your characters; all things which established writers know about but still need to be reminded of from time to time. I am still reading this book and I know it still has plenty of jewels waiting to be revealed.

The interesting thing about both of these books coming into my life at this time is that I'm not particularly struggling with my writing. I'm forty thousand words into my YA novel and it's going well. But reading these books has enhanced my writing experience. It has reminded me that even if no-one wants this book when I have written it, it will not be wasted. So whether you're struggling to get started, you're trudging through those middle chapters or even if you feel that you are already in the flow I think that both of these books still have something to offer, a philosophy which will make you feel even better about your writing life.

I will end with some words from Jenny which have given me pause for thought and may help you too.

'I choose to see every piece of work as part of my development as a writer, and therefore of great value whether it finds a publisher or not. If I get rejections, they feel less important because I'm looking at them in this wider context.'

Thank-you for dropping by and have a good week.

Saturday, 28 November 2015


'There is the most extraordinary visual, structural and functional logic
to Stoneywell. Of course, there is the other structural and functional logic that says:
Build a house of brick on level ground - but that is the difference
between building and architecture.'
Nicholas Cooper, architectural historian.

Not far from where I live there is a tall, red brick house with an intriguing variety of windows. A path flanked by standard bay trees leads directly to the reassuringly solid front door which is painted a dark shade of green. I pass this house on my walks and although it could not be called pretty, due to its extreme cleanliness of line, I find it fascinating. This house was designed by the renowned Arts and Crafts architect, Ernest Gimson who also drew up plans for the latest National Trust property, Stoneywell.

As a long-time member of the National Trust I have always felt a little bit short-changed that Leicestershire didn't have one of their houses within its county boundary. However back in the spring that changed with the opening of Stoneywell. A friend and I have birthdays on consecutive days and we had promised ourselves a visit to Stoneywell as a birthday present to ourselves. A couple of weeks ago on a misty, atmospheric day we headed for Charnwood Forest and visited Stoneywell for the first time.

 After a welcome at the stables...

... we walked towards the house through the naturalistic gardens...

...with autumn leaves falling...

...and little cobwebby hammocks resting on the heather.

And oh the house! Ernest Gimson wanted it to emerge organically from the landscape and it does just that. Cradled by the mist it looked like something from a fairy tale and it rests so perfectly within the surroundings that it could have been there for several hundred years rather than a mere one hundred and sixteen.

As befits the Arts and Crafts Movement the house is simple and practical but it is also incredibly welcoming.

Walking under the stunning Swithland slate lintel and through the front door...

...we entered the dining room with an open fire to stand around whilst our excellent guide talked about the history of the house and of the Gimson family.

I loved the larder...

...the different levels...

...the deep, generous sills...

...and the window seats in so many of the rooms.

This is by no means a grand house. It was originally built only to be used in the summer months so that the family could escape from industrial Leicester, although later members of the family occupied the house all year round. Stoneywell definitely has the feel of a happy family home and everyone I know who has visited say they could imagine living there. It has now closed for the winter but will re-open in the spring. According to our guide, May is the best time to visit, when the gardens are ablaze with rhododendrons, but the day we went was pretty special too. I know one thing, I shall definitely be back in the spring for the second of hopefully many more visits.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Something Had to Give!

Oh dear! It's four months since I wrote the blog and I didn't intend to take a break.
It just happened. Life got incredibly busy and something had to give. Sometimes you can carry on and find that you aren't doing anything particularly well. It was one of those times!

I'm at that age when I just want life to become a bit simpler and I'm always thinking that if I just organised myself a little bit better then things would be easier and I would have more time - but it never quite works that way. Like everyone else I do the best I can and muddle through but sometimes you just have to admit defeat and let something drop for a while.

Summer was busy with work as well as a gorgeous, happy family wedding in Somerset. I had to do  a bit of a battle with the garden as the weather in the U.K. wasn't very helpful to my vegetable patch. There also seemed to be a myriad of other demands on my time, some just run of the mill things and other more exciting ones. I went to Norwich for the weekend with my daughter, edited an adult novel and finally got back to my latest YA novel. In September my husband and I took a long-planned trip to California, driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco with stops along the way. I loved all of it, especially some of the fantastic people we met who added such joy to our trip. Complete strangers made us feel so welcome in their country and one lady even gave me her lottery ticket. We didn't win but that act of generosity will never be forgotten.

As a writer I really value peace and quiet, time to think. One of my favourite parts of our trip was a visit to Yosemite National Park. Sitting on our balcony in the evening we gazed up at a sky full of stars. Beneath us the River Merced rumbled gently over and around giant rocks. In the distance a coyote barked. It was such a privilege to be there.

But now it's back home, back to family, back to writing. I also plan to pick up my yoga again and of course that ever present desire to organise myself a little better so that I have more time for others and for myself!

I have recently started following the Quiet Revolution blog
It seems apt that this quote was on the first page today.

'Talents are best nurtured in solitude'
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Solitude in Yosemite

Have a brilliant week and thank-you for reading.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Companion Planting

Gardening is like writing - there's always something new to learn. I have to admit that in the past the things which have worked well in this garden have been more a result of a happy accident rather than a lot of forethought. When we moved here the garden was very formally laid out and consisted mainly of fuchsias and Michaelmas daisies planted in rows although the person who originally designed the garden obviously knew exactly what they were doing when it came to placing these magnificent rhododendrons. They flower in succession, firstly these mid pink ones, followed by a delicate pale pink, then a small flowered mauve one and finally a burst of cerise right at the back.

All those years ago we had three young children and a house which needed fairly major renovation so when given cuttings and plants by family and friends we stuck them in, crossed our fingers and hoped! However in recent years we have begun to think more about shape and form and colour combinations.

I'm particularly fond of the effect of this Chaerophyllum against the tiny silvery green leaves of the Hebe.

Last autumn we planted some leftover tulip bulbs by the pond. They are Negrita and Angelique and I think they work really well together.

A couple of years ago I bought a book for my son, who is a garden designer, and I am dipping into that to try and improve my expertise on companion planting. It's a beautiful book by Anna Pavord.

I was also recently given a sheet of information about vegetable planting which is fascinating. Just like people, some vegetables prefer the company of others.

Plants may be good companions because:-

They like the same soil and weather conditions.

One helps the other by loosening the soil for its roots.

One fives welcome shade and protection to its companion.

One attracts an insect that is beneficial to the other.

One deters a pest that habitually attacks the other - (i.e. sage, rosemary and thyme repel the cabbage butterfly; onions and leeks repel the carrot fly).

One may leave a residue in the soil that benefits its companion.

Here is a brief list of some vegetables, their companions and antagonists:-

Plant                                       Companions                                Antagonist

Beetroot                                  dwarf beans, onion                      runner beans

Dwarf Beans                           aubergine, beetroot,                     onion family
                                                celery, potatoes, sweetcorn,

Runner Beans                          marigold, marjoram,                   cabbage, onions
                                                 sweetcorn                                    sunflowers

Carrots                                     broad beans, lettuce, onion         dill
                                                 family, peas rosemary, sage,

Courgette                                 borage, fennel, nasturtium          potatoes

Lettuce                                    carrots, celery, garlic, radish       fennel, rue

I could go on but I won't. It's fascinating stuff though and I do wonder if my courgettes have not done well in the past because they were planted near to the potatoes.

My vegetable plot is not really big enough to adopt this on a grand scale but I'm off to plant my runner beans now and will make sure not to put them anywhere near the two sunflowers we are growing for our grand-daughter. We haven't grown potatoes this year due to lack of space so I'm even tempted to have a go at courgettes again. I hate to be defeated!

Thank-you for reading and have a good week whether in or out of the garden.                                              

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Paradise on Earth

It's been a busy few weeks and sometimes I've felt like a hamster on a wheel. But the week before last we got away for a few days to Seville and Granada. It was blissful. Seville is beautiful, friendly and full of life. I would go back in a heartbeat.

The trip to Granada was to visit The Alhambra, a long-held dream. It was constructed by The Nasrid kings to represent their idea of paradise on earth and just to the North of it is the Generalife, a country estate of the Nasrid where they could be a little closer to heaven and enjoy tranquillity away from the city.

This was the view from our hotel window

Granada was a Moorish stronghold until falling to the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. They were the parents of Katherine of Aragon and it was at The Alhambra that she spent her later childhood before leaving for England in 1501 to marry Prince Arthur, the older brother of Henry XVIII.

Here is a taste of what we found when arriving at the top of the hill - a place brimming with history, exquisite carvings and colourful tiles but also somewhere overflowing with light and shade, vistas and views, the scent of flowers and fruit, and water's melody at every turn. A truly magical place.

Nothing about The Alhambra and The Generalife disappointed. In fact it surpassed expectations. If you have never been I would urge you to put it on your list of places to visit.

Thank- you for dropping by. Have a wonderful week.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Falling in Love

Love is a funny thing. It can strike when you are least expecting it. You can have seen something loads of times before, you can even own something similar, but have never really appreciated its beauty. Maybe it was the sunshine that did it, or the bright blue sky or the fact that it was our first trip out this year to visit some gardens. Maybe it was the planting plan, the way the garden sloped upwards from the pretty, low, redbrick cottage nestling in a Northamptonshire village. This garden was created from scratch a mere eighteen years ago and it was a joy to walk around, especially because, for virtually the first time in months, we could discard our coats, gloves and scarves.

The garden comprised a stream leading to a small pond, borders bursting with pink and lemony yellow primroses, a shrubbery interspersed with little winding paths which my granddaughter would have loved. The greenhouse was filled with the delicate scent of pink blossom from the peach tree and at every turn were pots planted up with clematis. It is too early for the clematis to flower and although I have one clematis in a pot I hadn't considered planting any more but I am inspired to do so.

But what I really fell in love with on that day were the hellebores, their delicacy, their modesty, their variety. I had deliberately left my camera behind so that I could concentrate totally on the garden itself rather than looking at it through a lense. Maybe this is what made the difference. There were dark chocolate coloured hellebores with single star- shaped petals, lush, exotic double petalled deep purple ones and the most beautiful pale pink and cream one with the lightest tracery of green veining on its bell shape. This was a double hellebore and, when you lifted it up, the underside was like a  froth of petticoats.

Hellebores like to grow in rich, well-drained soil in dappled shade. Depending upon the variety they flower from late winter to early spring and prefer a North or east facing aspect. I love the fact that to discover their true beauty you have to pause, to bend down and gently upturn the flowers. Wait, they seem to be saying, take your time, look properly, the most beautiful things are not always on the surface. That is what we need to do as writers too, to look properly, to take time, to absorb. I already have a couple of hellebores in my garden and although they are not as spectacular as the ones on our Easter Monday visit, I am seeing them in a new light and planning to buy a couple more.

Thank-you for dropping by and have a good week.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Every Word Counts

I've always loved words, ever since I was tiny. I learned to talk early and I was taught the value of words from an early age, that words are important, that they have weight and power. We can all recount words which have hurt us. They linger long in our memories. Kind words too can make all the difference to our day.

When writing for children, often with the imposition of a limited word count, every word really does count. In picture books especially, every single word must earn its place. People often think that writing a picture book must be easy and a good place to begin with a writing career but it can actually be the hardest place to start and there is a definite art to it. I have tried for years to get a picture book published and I've had a few near misses. One particular picture book text was received with great enthusiasm by three different publishers. They all said they wanted it at different times. With one major publisher we even got as far as discussing who would illustrate it but before contracts were issued they all changed their minds. I was so disappointed and this picture book text waits in a file. I still have hopes for it and believe that one day, its time will come.

It's strange how things work out and having waited for so long I had two picture book texts accepted at the same time, not by a U.K. company but by some lovely publishers in South Korea of all places! The fact that these books are being published so far away doesn't make it any less special but I am still a little bit surprised by it all. You sort of begin to anticipate rejection.

This month the first book, Sheep Can't Sleep, will be published as part of a reading scheme and it even has a little song to go with it which is a delightful and unexpected added bonus.

So the moral of this little tale is not to give up. Things happen when you least expect them and not always in the way you envisage. Never throw any writing away either. Sheep Can't Sleep emerged from a manuscript which I had written some time ago and had been sent out and rejected several times by U.K. publishers. I stripped it down to the bones, took the best bits, (which are so much easier to spot when something has been put away for a while), and re-wrote it.

I love the thought that children in South Korea will be learning English with the help of one of my stories. I hope they enjoy it.

Thank-you for dropping by and have a lovely Easter.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Days Out

Days out can seem like such an indulgence. Ever since I first started writing there has been this constant conflict - when I'm writing I always think of all of the other things which need doing and when I'm not placing words on the page I feel that I should be!

BUT as writers it is so important to put down our pens or close up our keyboards and make a conscious effort to get out and do the other things we love. It can only broaden our horizons and ultimately enhance our creativity. A day out can bring you back buzzing with ideas; it can add a richness and freshness to writing which may have been becoming a bit laboured from an overdose of attention.

On Wednesday I went to London. To be honest I often find London a bit stressful, too many people, too much noise and it takes too long to get anywhere. But this day was different. My daughter and I left home under gloomy cloud heading for the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery but by the time we emerged from the tube station at Leicester Square a lemony spring sunshine was brightening the buildings and lifting our spirits.

The exhibition focuses on Sargent's non-commissioned work so there is a freedom to his interpretation, an intimacy not bound by the constraints of fulfilling his sitters' expectations. One of the best known works in the exhibition is perhaps Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose. Words cannot describe it; the romantic fairy-tale quality, the way the light falls from the paper lanterns, the lushness of the grass around the girls' feet.

At the entry point to the exhibition there is a stunning portrait of Madame Ramon Subercaseaux, the wife of a Chilean diplomat. The lace on her dress is so exquisitely painted that you feel you could almost touch it and her hand rests lightly on a piano. Sargent was an expert at painting hands, depicting the skin tone, the light veining, the slenderness of fingers, the sheen of nails with breath-taking skill.

I have to admit that when I was much younger portraits didn't do much for me. I much preferred landscapes or paintings with something going on. But now I find the stillness of a portrait captivating. I am fascinated by the people immortalised on canvas, not just by what they want to project to the world but also by what they are keeping back. They stay with me and feed my curiosity.

Afterwards we took a stroll around the corner to the National Gallery to take a look at a few famous paintings; Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne with it's spectacular azure sky; The Arnolfini Portrait with it's fascinating detail, the luminous Bathers at Asnieres by Seurat and Sandro Botticelli's Venus and Mars. In front of Constable's Haywain a group of schoolchildren were talking about reflections and clustered around The Wilton Diptych a group of foreign teenagers were learning about Nativity Plays which they had never heard of. That National Gallery was buzzing! We are so lucky that we have all of this great art available to view for free.

So it was a great day out, not too stressful at all and we both returned home feeling that it was well worth taking the time out. If you love art and are able to get to London before 25th May do take a trip to the John Singer Sargent exhibition. It's an absolute gem.

Thanks for dropping by. If you have a favourite artist I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Don't forget the Detail

"Don't forget the detail," I always say when taking a writing workshop. A tree is not just a tree. It could be an oak or a willow or a flowering cherry. All are different. All immediately conjure up a vivid picture in the mind. That is what you are doing when writing a book; painting a picture with words.

In my next door neighbour's garden stands a large beech tree. It was present as a fully grown tree on a map of the area from 1912. This tree is probably about 130 years old, maybe more. But soon it will be cut down. The tree has been unwell for a couple of years, having developed a fungus which is eating away at it from the inside. If it is not cut down soon it may fall down.

I have looked at this tree every day for twenty-five years. As I sit up in bed with my morning cup of tea I watch squirrels scampering amongst its branches, pigeons courting in the spring and, right at the top are two precarious crow's nests.

Beech trees are stately and sinuous. Their bark is silky and smooth to the touch.When the sun sets the bark takes on a golden hue. In the winter with the driving westerly rain it is grey/green. I have sat in the garden and listened to the swish of its leaves, absorbed the creak of its limbs. In springtime its sticky brown bud casings fall to the ground and stick to your shoes. They are followed by unfurling pointed oval leaves of the freshest limiest green. Not much will grow under the dense mantle of a fully clothed beech in summer time. They are the ideal trees for seeking shade on a hot day.

In autumn many of the beech's leaves float like golden brown petals on to our lawn, clutter up the pond, drift under the hedges. Over the years we have must have cleared tens of thousands of leaves belonging to this tree. Then there are the beech nuts, shiny, hard and three cornered, the pointed hairy cases splitting open to release them and being surprisingly heavy when it comes to raking up and clearing away. Beech nuts were once much used for feeding pigs. We could have done with a couple of those to help us over the years!

Maybe this beech will feature in a book in the future. Maybe it will just stay in my memory. Either way it is a reminder to me not to forget the detail. It is also a reminder not to forget the love. For I have grown to love this beech, for all its hard work and inconveniences.

Trees are symbols of physical and spiritual nourishment. When you write, nourish your readers with detail. Your work will be all the stronger for it.

These are three of my favourite writers who are masters of detail, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields and Adriana Trigiani. At the moment I am reading The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston which also contains beautiful details of Africa and animals.  Of course there are many, many more examples and I'd love to hear of some of your favourites.

In the meantime thank-you for dropping by.

Monday, 2 March 2015

What Are Writers Like?

I've read three things about writers over the last couple of weeks.

1. "Writers are like fleas, they get very little nourishment from each other."
    So said John Dos Passos, the Chicago born, radical American novelist.                  
    This quote was repeated in an article by Tim Lott about the loneliness of
     being a writer and given a staunch rebuttal by children's writers Helen Grant
     and Lydia Syson.

2.  "All writers are vain, selfish and lazy..."
     This one is from George Orwell and was  also discussed in The Guardian by Julian

3.   60% of people in Britain picked author as their dream job. This was the result
      of a YouGov poll of 15,000 people.

So two negatives and one positive.

What a sad indictment of my profession the first quote is - if it is true. But in my experience it is just not the case. Up until now I have written mainly for children and the authors I have met over the years have been friendly, generous, encouraging and yes, nourishing. It is their words, their stories, their example which has kept me going when times got tough. We are not forever looking over our shoulders worrying that there is someone else ready to steal our ideas or our story. Given the same title we would all write something different. We recognise that. We recognise that there is room for all of us to succeed, maybe not at the same time or in the same way, but that is when the nourishment is needed and maybe I am luckier than most but it has been readily given.

A couple of years ago I could have thought that it was just children's writers who exist in this lucky environment. But then I started writing an adult novel and began to attend local meetings of the Romantic Novelists' Association. I was welcomed with open arms and again have found warmth and generosity.

As for vanity, that may be the case in some instances and I have met a few writers who were a bit 'up themselves'! But for most of us I suspect it is less vanity more insecurity which leads us to chase publication. We crave recognition because it justifies the time we have spent at the keyboard. Writing just for yourself sounds self-indulgent in a world where we are programmed to do rather than to be. For me as a writer there is also the hope that I will give someone pleasure, a space in their day to shut out the pressures of daily life and immerse themselves in a story. Is that vanity? Maybe it is but most writers will tell you that they are constantly on the see saw with their inner critic, trying to find that balance between being happy with what they have written and judging it to be complete rubbish, hand hovering over the delete button.

So, to the dream job. In The Guardian last year it was reported that 54% of traditionally published writers and 80% of authors going it alone earned less than £600 per year. When people state being an author as their dream job I suspect they have been swayed by newspaper reports of huge advances given to some authors. I suspect they do not include within that dream, the job insecurity and increasing difficulty of being able to earn a living. But I also suspect what appeals about the job of being an author is the freedom to choose your own working hours and the ability to work from home rather than struggling with traffic, public transport and untenable working hours. The reality is however that most authors will have other jobs or a partner who can support them financially as they chase their dream. This is not to be discouraging. I think it's fantastic that there are so many people out there who want to be writers. There is absolutely nothing else I would rather do.

To quote Colin Powell;-

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work."

Maybe it takes a little vanity too but whatever our dreams we need to nourish ourselves and others. That way we don't just get to celebrate when our own dreams come true but when the dreams of others do too.

Thank-you for dropping by. Have a great week.

p.s. I've had some dream news in the last few weeks. Last Chance Angel has been short-listed for the Kernow Youth Book Awards in Cornwall and No Going Back has been short-listed for the Northamptonshire Children's Choice Book Awards and The Sheffield Book Awards.


Friday, 20 February 2015

Fairy Tales

When my daughter and I go for a walk we always have to stop after a few yards while she gets a stone out of her boot. Then, often, we stop a few yards later as she can still feel something else digging into her sole.

"You're like the princess and the pea," I said to her on Tuesday when we had stopped three times within sight of our front gate!

Actually this fairy tale was one of my favourites when I was small. I still have the original, rather dog eared but much loved copy of the book it came from complete with wonderful Edmund Dulac illustrations.

The Princess and the Pea was first published in 1835 alongside two other stories. And although Andersen was Danish it is believed this particular story had its origins in Swedish folklore. Apparently it was unpopular with the critics when first published as they disliked Andersen's casual, chatty style and the story's apparent lack of morals. It just goes to show - what do critics know!

Of course I love The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, (I think every child loves that one!) and The Snow Queen too.

Andersen was an only child. His mother was a washerwoman and it was his father who introduced him to literature, (although there are theories that Andersen may actually have been an illegitimate son of King Christian VIII). He received a basic education and said that his school years were the unhappiest of his life. While there he was actually discouraged from writing and became depressed.

On February 26th it's Tell A Fairy Tale Day. Storytellers will be going into schools and children will be dressing up. But you're never too old for a fairy tale so this week I'm going to re-read The Princess and The Pea as well as a few other favourites.

On Thursday we had a new grand-daughter, a beautiful little redhead. One day I hope to be reading fairy tales to her as well. Here she is at one day old.

Thank-you for reading. Have a lovely week.

Friday, 13 February 2015

All Change Again!

We have an exciting week ahead. By the time I write my next post we will have a new addition to our family. My son and his wife are having their second child next week. Unbelievably my grand-daughter is two years old and about to have a brother or sister. As an only child how I envy her.

We do not know whether this baby will be a boy or girl. I wonder whether he/she will have soft auburn curls like my granddaughter. Will this new arrival be like her? Will he or she possess her energy, her attention to detail. Will our new grandchild also grow to adore strawberries, Peppa Pig and a fascination for the moon? Will the two of them get on? I know of siblings who adore each other but also those who become estranged. I do realise that having a brother or sister is no guarantee of companionship but I hope that my grandchildren become firm friends, ones who will not let life come  between them.

We are lucky that my son and daughter-in-law live nearby. We get to see them nearly every week. I never take this for granted and I know that in a way these early years are the easy bit. It can be when children grow up that it is harder to keep in touch, to keep that grandparent/grandchild relationship going. A few years ago my husband and I were visiting some gardens and we sat at a courtyard table for coffee. Nearby were another couple and we got talking. The gentleman was texting on his phone. He was contacting his grandson who was at university, telling him what they were doing, sending pictures of the garden. I knew there and then that was the sort of grandparent I wanted to be.

So, little person, about to enter the big wide world with a mountain of opportunities and experiences ahead of you, we can't wait to meet you, to find out what you are like in looks and character. We can't wait to hold you and to show you how much we love you.

Thank-you for dropping by and have a good week whatever you are doing.

Friday, 6 February 2015

All Saints, Stamford

'Lincolnshire churches cannot be bettered...above all they are a pleasure to visit'
Simon Jenkins

In the centre of Stamford, overlooking  Red Lion Square, rises the parish church of All Saints. It's an imposing sight.

Again I had spent the morning writing in the library and set off, in a chill wind, to stretch my legs. I've always loved churches and churchyards. In the U.K. these days churches are often not open during the week, but All Saints was. I stepped away from the traffic, through the doors and inside into a space brimming with Faith.

This church was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is one of Stamford's oldest. By the thirteenth century Stamford was one of the ten largest towns in England, having prospered under the Normans with a trade mainly based on wool. The town was particularly known for its woven cloth called haberget. The main wool trade relocated to East Anglia in the fifteenth century, the remaining trade being with a few merchants such as William and John Browne who were responsible for the re-building of the crocketed spire and the windows. Between 1730 and 1747 the antiquarian William Stukeley was the vicar of this church. It was during his time in Stamford that he published some of his most famous work including his book on the origins of Stonehenge.

The atmosphere inside All Saints is beautiful, so peaceful. The pews possess little doors so you are cocooned in your own private space. For a brief time I was all alone, a whole church to myself, sun shining through the stained glass...

...gentle music floating in the air and a sense of timelessness. Bliss. I could have stayed there for ages but I had to be content with a few minutes.

It was as I was leaving that I spotted this lovely message, just inside the doors;-

If you are curious and have come to see,
If you are weary and have come to rest,
If you are grateful and have come to share,
If you are hurt and have come for solace,
If you are listening and have come to pray,
If you are seeking and have come for answers,


If you get the chance to visit Stamford and this beautiful church, please do. You will not be disappointed.

Thank-you so much for joining me this week and take care.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Two Beautiful English Towns

This week I have been lucky enough to visit two beautiful English towns on consecutive days. On Thursday morning, in blinding sunshine, I drove my daughter to Stamford in Lincolnshire.

The town has been used as a backdrop for period costume dramas such as Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice.

For a time my friend Carol used to live in Stamford and we would meet up for lunch and a catch-up. My daughter had a day's work experience arranged at the local auctioneer's and, in an effort to get down to some uninterrupted work, I opted to take her, pick up the clocks we had dropped off earlier in January and then settle in at the local library. It worked a treat, much better than I expected. Despite there being a story-telling session in the children's space directly behind me I plunged into my story and got loads done. I'm actually thinking of taking myself to the local library so that I can avoid all of those domestic distractions which crop up when you work from home.

By lunchtime the weather had changed dramatically and as I browsed the shops looking for a birthday present, fat flakes of snow tumbled from the sky. It was the kind of snow which clings to your eyelashes and blankets your clothes as you walk. But, whatever the weather, Stamford is a gem, beautiful buildings, the renowned George Hotel, little cobbled streets...

...the graceful river Welland and lots of charming, independent shops. In 2013 a survey in the Sunday Times rated Stamford as the best place to live and it's easy to see why.

On Friday, the snow fortunately melting, I took a trip to Royal Leamington Spa. It was one of my oldest friend's birthdays. We hadn't seen each for months and it was time to put work aside and celebrate. Cathy and I have known each other for over forty years. We met as bewildered eleven year olds on our first day at boarding school and, bar a brief gap when our lives went in different directions, we have remained in touch ever since. We had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant and caught up on each other's news. Leamington too is beautiful but in a very different way. Its roads are wider, straighter, airier and tree lined, its architecture a delight of Georgian sophistication.

I have visited Stamford and Leamington many times over the years. But what adds to my love of them both is the fact that I can't think of Leamington without Cathy or Stamford without Carol; of  laughter shared and tears dried, of children growing, difficulties weathered and triumphs toasted. Two lovely towns, two amazing friends inextricably linked.

Thank-you for reading, have a lovely week and here is one last photograph of Stamford with the snow beginning to fall.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A Creative Challenge

I'm a firm believer in the restorative power of creative ventures. I believe that everyone possesses creative flair, although it can often be stamped out during our school years and take a lifetime to re-discover. When I was growing up, one of my favourite things was to draw. In my teens, when time seemed to stretch in every direction, I spent hours drawing and painting. It helped me to see the world in a different way. It helps you to marvel at the ordinary - a little like that feeling when you are first in love. Even when my children were young I found time to go to a watercolour class or to pick up my paints from time to time. Over the last few years I have promised myself repeatedly that I'll return to sketching but it hasn't happened. It's partly fear I think, that feeling that I won't be any good, that any small skill I possessed will have disappeared.

Last week we had one of our monthly reading group meetings. We are all children's writers except for Sue, who is a talented artist. On her walls are stunning, colourful pictures of daffodils, lilies and poppies. She got out her sketchbooks which contained studies of snails, sea shells and delicate traceries of leaves. It's all beautiful and inspiring. No wonder that we all marvelled at her skills.

Sometimes it's possible for one creative venture to take over to the exclusion of others. My writing fulfils a creative need but there should still be room for other, old creative friends. Sue has set us a task before the next reading group meeting. We are all to produce something artistic to take along and share with the group.

So yesterday, with a combination of misgiving and excitement, I bought a large sheet of paper for drawing. The next stage is to take out the brand new pencils and chalk pastels which my daughter bought for me a whole year ago. I have to accept that it's going to be a bit frustrating, that I'm probably not going to be at all happy with what I produce. But at least I'm going to do it. I've got to now. I can't turn up to our next meeting empty handed. Sometimes it takes a good friend to recognise what we need and give us a nudge. Hopefully this challenge will re-kindle my love affair with drawing and hopefully it will, once again, help me to see things in a slightly different way, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Who knows, maybe there'll be a knock-on effect and my writing will benefit too.

Have a good week and I hope you find time for something creative too. Thank-you for reading.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Cluster of Clocks

"What's that noise?" my two year old granddaughter asked the other day as she played in our bedroom.
"It's a clock," I replied.
In fact it's a travel alarm clock which my husband had at boarding school. We have recently ditched our radio clock alarm and brought the old wind-up clock out of retirement. Despite years of not being used it still works perfectly well and it has a medium sounding, quite fast tick which is probably why it tends to gain a little.

It's interesting how you can know someone for ages and not know certain things about them. A couple of days ago I discovered that one of my friends doesn't like ticking clocks. We have two old clocks which need repairing and mentioned that we were taking them to a clock repairer in Stamford. My friend's husband asked us to take a clock of his. Once mended he is going to place it in his office where she can't hear the ticking!

I actually love the tick tock of a clock. When small I spent a lot of time at my grandparent's house and halfway along the long, narrow hall, which ran front to back right through the centre of the house, stood a stately, longcase clock. It's steady, reassuring tick was like a welcome as soon as you crossed the threshold. If I remember correctly it's chimes sang out on the quarter and were like a joyful 'hello' reverberating through the house. My grandfather, (not a fanciful man by any stretch of the imagination), once saw a ghost standing next to this clock.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "You don't belong here."
And the ghost disappeared, never to be spotted again.

At Stamford the front room contained quite a cluster of clocks. There were three longcase clocks, one whose face was decorated with pretty Norfolk scenes, an ormolu clock underneath a glass dome and several clocks on the walls. I have heard that when a collection of clocks are all together their ticking becomes synchronised. I can tell you it is not true! These clocks ticked away happily and individually, forming their own mellow melody.

"You've always got company with a ticking clock," another friend's mother used to say. And I think that's true. I'm missing my clocks and looking forward to bringing them home very soon.

Thank-you for reading and have a wonderful week.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Broccoli Soup

Sometimes you just need some comfort and one of the most comforting things for me is making soup. I try to make a big batch with whatever catches my eye or is on offer that week. The intention is always to freeze some so that we have home-made soup to hand on those days when everything is rushed or it has turned very cold and you really need something warm and nourishing. More often than not we eat all of the soup before it gets to the freezer stage!

I'd never made broccoli soup until about three years ago. For some reason it had never occurred to me and then I saw a programme with the lovely Rachel Allen and she was making this soup. I don't think there were any measurements and I have to admit that when I make soup I just use my judgement. We like thick soup, a meal in a bowl, so I always use a fair bit of potato, but if you prefer yours to be thinner you could just use less. I bought two large stalks of broccoli which cost the grand total of £1.20 and the resulting soup was enough to provide six large bowlfuls but if I'd thinned it down it could have made more.

This is all you need:-

Broccoli (or calabrese as it really should be known. This is not soup made from the purple or white headed variety of broccoli)
Vegetable or chicken stock
(Single cream/milk is optional)

Remove the florets from the broccoli and put on one side.

Chop the broccoli stalks, an onion or two depending on how much broccoli you are using and one or two medium sized potatoes.

Heat some oil in a heavy based pan and sweat all of this gently until it is beginning to soften. Rachel Allen placed some butter paper over hers which helps to intesify the flavours. My daughter is dairy free so I put some damp grease-proof over mine. When the vegetable are ready, remove the paper and add about one and half pints of hot stock. As I said this isn't an exact science so you could add more or less if you choose. Bring to the boil, add the broccoli florets and reduce to a simmer until they are tender which won't take very long. Blitz to a puree and season to taste. If you fancy a creamy soup you could add a little cream or milk at this stage.

There it is - incredibly easy and speedy, unbelievably economical and not only comforting to make but comforting to eat too. It will keep for several days in the fridge and freezes well.

Thank-you for reading and I wishing you a happy and peaceful week.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions

To be honest I'm not sorry to have said goodbye to 2014. It wasn't a bad year but at times it wasn't particularly easy so I'm hoping that 2015 will be better and good for you too.

Just after Christmas we went for a walk in the country. It was a cold, sunny day and although the canal surface glistened with ice, the towpath was, in parts, churned up and deeply muddy. We had to watch where we put our feet at every step and by not looking ahead we almost missed a beautiful heron skimming the waterway.

There is much symbolism attached to the heron, including going with the flow and being present in the moment, both desirable goals, but I also need to plan for the future. Last year was a case of feeling as if I was chasing my tail all the time and I hate that. So this year my main resolution is to plan ahead more instead of rushing around doing things at the last minute. Birthday presents will be bought in plenty of time, food for the week will be thought about in advance and I shall look at the map more than two minutes before setting off on a journey to somewhere new!

My son has a good resolution too. Where possible he's going to deal with things as they arise, especially answering e-mails, making appointments etc., instead of putting them off to do later. I'm going to try this one too.

Will I manage to keep these resolutions? I hope so. I'll do my best. I'm sure that I'll get caught out occasionally but the key is not to give up if I fail occasionally. Hopefully the thought of time being freed up and life being calmer will be enough to help me stick to my resolutions.

Thank-you for dropping by. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.