Autumn – Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Last week we were away in Yorkshire. A fortunate week with fabulous sunshine after early morning mists and we avoided the fuel crisis which is this week. We were staying with a friend, so I bombarded him with home produce from our allotment together with the peaches I had taken from our tree and the first grapes. After a few days in the warm, the peaches ripened and I was stunned by how good they were, small but sweet. This after the previous owner told me that he had never had an edible one.

We drove over the moors, visited Filey and walked along the Brigg, met relatives and friends and ate well at great country pubs (still outside). On our last day we walked in gardens designed by the great Capability Brown and were in awe of his vision. To plant a tree which will delight future generations is providing a spectacular gift for for those who arrive long after we are dead.

Now we are home and daunted at what lies ahead. I have my book to finish. My editor is waiting and today, I received a possible invitation to apply for a speaking engagement at the Boston Book Festival next year, so I need to kickstart my writing again.

I fully intended to make a start. But last night’s torrential rain made the area we are setting aside for small fruit bushes easy to dig. Blueberry bushes are arriving this week and after a morning’s labour , the ground is ready. We finished digging up the potatoes two days ago (puny little things they are – very disappointing), so in a couple of weeks we can sew grass seed and create the new garden.

Today, I pulled out my sweet peas which have been amazing this year and kept the house smelling gorgeous for months. That area is ready for me to plant bulbs, polyanthus and wallflowers – all which sit waiting for me by the greenhouse. Emptying pots full of fuschias and geraniums to replant with bulbs, will keep me fully occupied for at least a week.

Next week, the men come to prune our fruit trees, all 35 of them. I thought there were only 27 but I created a spreadsheet to make notes on which did well or not, when the fruit is ready to pick and what kind of apples, pears they are. It seems we have more than I realised, not all fruited well but we did manage to send some of the poorer apples to be juiced. Apple wine, apple gin are brewing nicely along with pear vodka. The idea is to make Christmas presents, not drink them all ourselves – well, that’s the theory.

We have to make our allotment easy to manage. It needs rationalising and a growing plan. This year we planted too much on too big an area and didn’t replant when needed. We have rarely had to buy a vegetable all summer, other than carrots, and sold lots on our stall for a small donation. Next year will be better, easier. It has to be – I am too old for digging for hours. We’ll make better use of our raised beds which seem more adapt at growing weeds than veg’ and providing safe spaces for the cabbage white, even when covered by fleece. Watching a kale plant stripped over a couple of days is quite disheartening, although the younger granddaughter was fascinated. She has a pet butterfly that she rescued on a walk a few weeks ago. It appeared to have a damaged wing. It likes to sit on her face much to our astonishment. She keeps it fed and watered and so far it has not succumbed.

Last night we found a stash of photographs of the field after the previous owner bought it. It looks far bigger before all the trees were planted. My heart sank a little further. We must be mad taking on all this in our dotage. I hope that the next six months will see us sorting out a way to manage it better and allow my husband time to paint and me to write.

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Back on the Path

I have had a good week editing my WIP and also finalising the wording of the cover. I am hoping my dear friend and cover designer, Kate, will put up with my minor changes so I can soon show it off.

I need to reread the the manuscript and then send it back to my editor. I hope that I can then publish it within a few months. It has taken over two years to get this far but so many other things got in the way and it needed a complete rewrite from the time I last sent it to my editor. It took time to understand the focus of the story as strange as that may sound. I do now understand and it has helped enormously.

Since we moved, I have been delighted with the books I have found on my local library’s e-book site. This year, I have read so many excellent and excitingly unusual books, some of which I have shared on my blog. This one has the capacity to be up there in my all-time top ten favourites. I loved the author’s previous book, Boy Swallows Universe but this one, All the Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton is more than extraordinary. His characters are beyond idiosyncratic yet wholly empathetic and the setting changes from an old graveyard to the magnificence of the Northern Territory in 1942 after the bombing of Darwin. Molly, a twelve year old grave digger’s daughter, is a heroine beyond my wildest imaginings. I love the mysticism in Dalton’s stories. I compare them to those of the best Latin American authors, Marquez, Allende and Coelho.

All Our Shimmering Skies: Extraordinary fiction from the bestselling author of Boy Swallows Universe by [Trent Dalton]

I am still wanting to read some other Australian books Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar and The Survivors by Jane Harper are on my tbr pile. It looks like I shall have lots of exciting reading lined up for the winter.

But first the harvesting of apples and pears. The William pears have gone, I picked the last Comice pears off a new pear tree today and the first Conference pears. There are so many to pick. It looks like we have one quince so doubtful that I will be able to make quince jelly this year. The trees are all going to be pruned on October 6th so we have a lot of work ahead and I am still digging that potato patch.

I ate our first grapes this week and tried a tiny peach. Maybe tomorrow’s will be better. But to eat apples, pear, plum, strawberries, raspberries, peach and grape – all home gown in one day is a gift I never imagined a year ago.

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Summer has Arrived

August was busy as I continued with a substantial rewrite of my new book and worked with my cover designer and good friend on the paperback cover. I can’t see it being published this side of Christmas but maybe in the new year. It has had to vie with the damson and pear harvest plus an awful lot of digging in the cool weather. Now, with schools back, the summer has come for not one last gasp, but the only gasp this year and we are hit with 27 degrees. Not a time for wielding the spade through bone dry soil.

Yesterday was a different form of excitement as we both took it in turns to ride in a cherry picker above our roof. We are having two new fires fitted which required relining the enormous chimney. It took some effort to climb in but the view took away my fear of heights, The area on the right is part of our field.

I am planning a new garden on what is currently a potato patch. The main crop potatoes have been disappointing so we are abandoning them to create an area for a new greenhouse and garden next to the damson trees. All twenty-seven fruit trees are due to be pruned next month. Some have produced loads of fruit while other have produced next to nothing but all are in need of some tender loving care.

We are also going to use some of the vegetable are for a new soft fruit section. This year, I had to scramble through waist-high grass, fight bramble thorns and thistles to pick raspberries from the hedges. We brought some of our raspberry canes from our old garden so they are going to be transplanted together with new blueberry bushes and a Worcester berry (a cross between gooseberry and blackcurrant). I am not sure if I can move any of the redcurrants or blackcurrant bushes so I may be still fighting those thistles. The redcurrant jelly I made in July is quite delicious.

Soon it will be time to cut the grass back in the field, clear the bits of wood, paving slabs and general rubbish and decide whether to plough it or just attempt to flatten it out so we can walk on it without tripping.

Tonight we have been invited to attend the Parish Council to support a proposal to create a footpath from the bus stop to the end of the road (all of 50 yards). We will be delighted if it happens because it would make walking safer for everyone, especially the children dropped off the school bus and decrepit oldies like us. I may have to smarten myself up for the meeting. Then it will be home for a sample of our rhubarb gin, or maybe cherry gin or even damson gin. Next week pear vodka is on the cards. We are giving away our Christmas present ideas. Let’s hope we don’t drink it before December.

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Another Week of Surprises

Another week and two messages from Australia. One from yet another relative who’s found my books via Pinterest. Message to self, keep Pinterest up to date. I love that every relative adds a new element of the story. This one is a descendant of Jane, the Digger’s Daughter. I hope she enjoys reading the book.

The second message was from an academic at the University of Melbourne. I worked on a research project for her ten years ago when I was writing Search for the Light. She is now publishing a book The Vandemonians based on that research and wants to send me a copy and also says she is acknowledging my contribution. How cool is that?

It’s an anniversary this week. Eleven years since my breast cancer op. At the time, I wasn’t sure what the prognosis was because of the nature of the cancer, a kind that spreads. Each year is a bonus. I need to be reminded of that as I worry about Covid. I am conscious of the cancer only when I think about my books. Will I finish this one, will I get to see it out there, being read by others? The rest of the time, I park it. There’s no point in being pessimistic.

Well, I hope the Bluebird Brooch will be out there by this winter. The beginning works, the final third works so I am concentrating on the middle, taking out chunks, adding whole new chapters with characters from the backstory. I am back to living their lives, trying to understand them. One of them is really tricky. She can’t make up her mind whether she loves her children or resents them. She is torn, conflicted and I’m not sure how she resolves it or even if she can.

Plot walking is the best way to resolve issues with writing. Today, I walked along our newly harvested field, horrified that all the edges had been shorn of the wild flowers that bloomed there only a day ago. All the insects have disappeared. I know it needed to be cut at some point, but this early? A few hundred metres further, the lane was alive with the sound of buzzing and the flowering buddleias are a feast for butterflies. Across that field, I saw sailboats, the first I have noticed on the Broads so I took a detour.

A dear friend of mine has just gained a first in English at the age of 74 and now wants to turn her hand to writing. She’s lived in wonderfully evocative places around the world and has so many experiences but knows writing a dissertation is different from writing fiction. I’m looking forward to her new venture. She can do it. Her father wrote an amazing book after he retired.

I am beginning to plan a new garden. At the moment potatoes grow there and are almost ready to be harvested. I want to turn it into a haven for insect loving plants and but also a place to hang out and relax. It already has poppies, euphorbia and wild coriander which I hope to keep. I have some plants waiting to go in but my next step is to go through a plant catalogue. Here is a before picture. I ordered £100 of bulbs last week sot there’ll be plenty to keep me busy over the next few weeks.

At the bottom are two large damson trees which I thought weren’t fruiting but now I can see glimmers of purple amidst the leaves, so there may yet be damson wine.

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Time to Unpick and Restitch

An interesting title for someone who came 52nd out of 52 in needlework. The most undomesticated of creatures, I was always bound for different pursuits. Who did I take after, I wonder? I look like my mother but we clashed. My opinions were not her opinions. I like to think I am more like my father who gave up his grammar school education to travel the world as a cabin boy/ steward at sixteen. He must have had dreams. Having visited Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Vancouver Island in the mid 1920s, I now wonder why he settled back in his home town until the second war. Later, after postings in post-war Germany, insurgent Egypt and troubled Malaya, was his wanderlust satisfied, somehow? I wish I could ask him.

No my unpicking and restitching comes from comments from beta readers and my reading of other books. I left too many questions unanswered, too many characters on the sidelines, too many hazy ghosts with stories of their own to tell. I was concerned that readers would dislike being pulled out of the main story, but how can someone know or guess the motivation of others when they are so far detached?

Amidst my gardening, baking, jam-making, rhubarb gin brewing,I have walked the country lanes. Enjoyed the wild flower strewn paths, the wild mallow and yarrow humming with the bright tiny wings of the Cinnabar Moth while new characters speak to me, tell me their stories, explain their motivations. I have gone home, written their tales and now it’s time to find a home for them and restitch the story together, taking out other sections which have become redundant. One day this book will surface.

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Back to Shielding

Oh well! Having moved to our new house, we have plenty to keep us occupied but with Covid cases in our local schools and the government throwing in the towel, it’s back to living in the bubble of home and garden. Forget visiting shops or taking the odd meal out, we can live without but I am disappointed for local businesses and those in retail who are struggling to survive.

I have begun work again on my WIP. It will be slow because I have to work around allotment jobs, however, I think I can see a way forward after feedback from beta readers and reading Girl, Woman Other. It may be a few months yet before I publish but one day I hope it will happen.

I am struggling to find a place to write in this house of many windows. The kitchen table is the only place where the screen is not wiped out with glare. I am going to experiment with a desk in the art room which we are just beginning to sort out. I need an opening window so that’s another job for our builder, once I have tried writing there a few times. The art room was once the staff toilets for the school with the tiny window extension added on. I’m not sure how working in an old ladies’ loo will help my imagination. It’s right next to the bird feeder so I can use it as a hide too. Will be up close and personal with wagtails, tits and finches. The jackdaws may send me into Daphne Du Maurier territory, though.

Art Room

We have just finished watching This is Us on Amazon Prime. I don’t normally like long series but if you enjoy complex family stories which have utterly likeable but flawed characters then I can recommend it. Sex and violence are avoided so my 11 year old granddaughter is also now lapping it up. The programme has great acting and music too.

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Tasks in a Heatwave

Today is too hot for anything other than reading so after weeding the veg plot, a never-ending task, I settled down to finish Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. I have read some cracking books this year and this is up there, will even enter my top ten books of all time. Don’t read it if you want a page-turning plot. There isn’t one. There’s no plot at all. There’s no full stops or capital letters either. I love books which stretch the boundaries. This book is all about the intertwining characters across four generations. I’ve been stuck with my latest WIP but I this has given me some ideas on how to get going again. I need to be braver, let the characters speak for themselves. When cooler weather and rain descends, I may pick my book up again with a fresh eye. I am grateful to have lots of readers this month, still with no marketing, so I ought to have a deadline for finishing this new book.

In the meantime, I sorted my vastly culled library this morning. There are lots of spaces since I moved in with what I thought was still an excess of books and found I had room for a lot more. Living in an old school means I have inherited an actual library, small but perfectly formed. All the art books are held separately in the as yet unsorted art room. How grand it all sounds, but everything is in miniature apart from the field. The cherry tree is laden with fruit. Will we get any or will the myriad of loud, jostling starlings beat us to it? I suspect the latter.

I also had a phone call today inviting me to attend the next village book club meeting. This means I will get to meet neighbours too and they have outings to plays etc. One day life may get back to normal but the prospect is enough for the moment.

Stay safe everyone.

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When Once I Travelled

 

As people begin to take holidays again, I watched a thought-provoking programme on the culture of travel and tourism, hosted by Professor Mary Beard. As one who loved to travel since retirement allowed me time and multiple chances, last year destroyed plans to travel around Scotland and Ireland and then inter-rail around Europe. Instead, we had four days in Devon in October staying with a friend. Since moving to Norfolk, we have travelled no more than ten miles in any one direction for the last four months, and, where before I might be going stir crazy, this year has taught me the value of staying local.

For the time being, my area of discovery is around 4 square miles, my garden, field and the local lanes – an immense wealth of riches. From the sweet scent of horse parsley to the patch of borage, from the abundance of asparagus to the promise of currants, will they be red or black? Every week a new surprise as a bush begins to flower, yellow potentilla, red salvia, peonies – so many varieties about to unfurl their petals. Trees in our drive – a mountain ash, wild cherry, a rare and beautiful whitebeam, hawthorn and an acer – all fill me with delight. I took no notice when we viewed the house. It was November and all were bare branched, sleeping, other than the pines. Now, I sit in my lounge in the early evening and the leaves shimmer in the fading light.

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How long will it be before I want to travel again, I wonder? I have plans. We have so much land, too much allotment to manage. I want to turn a large potato patch into another garden area, replace the ancient greenhouse with a new one in a sunnier position. Then there are all the outbuildings and the old toilet block, euphemistically called the garage, although no car could ever be house there, unless it can climb steps.

Almost every week, a reminder comes up on Facebook for a May holiday once taken, in Italy, France and Norway. What do I miss about those holidays? The scenery, yes. The food – yes, the people you meet, yes, and the unexpected or serendipitous. Chancing upon a medieval village, or yet another gem of an Italian hill-top town, finding a restaurant where the locals go because the food is outstanding and also cheap, an outdoor concert or firework display. It’s not organised travel, it’s local immersion and that can happen in this country too if you look for it. My best memories of travel are those small chance encounters – an old Italian woman who offered us a whole branch of cherries she was harvesting, A Chinese, Australian marvelling at the colour of blue glacial water in South Island, New Zealand, a group of Methodists who welcomed us to a teetotal country dance one New Year’s Eve in Yorkshire, a young girl with corkscrew curls dancing to the music inside her head in an airport terminal.

Hopefully, one day, there will be more memories, but they may be local ones. Stay safe.

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The Good Life – Baker, Gardener, Bird watcher – Breathe

Six weeks since we moved house and a day of non-stop rain which allows me to abandon the gardening and write, albeit a blog. I have still to get back to the next stage of editing. My new book needs further work, maybe a lot more work.

What I love about our new house are the different views from every room. It’s unusual for a house to have great views in every direction and there are so many windows in this house. What I suspect used to be a village green, but is now a field, surrounded by old and new cottages lies to the west; our nearest neighbour’s garden with it’s pristine, weed free veg’ plot to the north, then our own large, unkempt field beyond, The towering trees and bank of honesty and primroses to the south, the old school well at the back door, while the front looks out onto a hot rather tropical area.

I have become a twitcher, spending hours watching the birds at our bird feeder with my binoculars and bird guide beside me. Today, we drove to the farm shop for extra supplies and the starlings descended as soon as the feeders were topped up. It was like a scene from The Birds as they fought each other, with the sparrows, blue tits and blackbirds pecking at the food the starlings were tossing around the feeder in their haste to devour the food. I haven’t mentioned the pied wagtails and gold finches. These are my favourite visitors.

I am researching Asparagus recipes we hope to begin plucking our crop this week. There are extensive options thank goodness. I am struggling more with the rhubarb. So far I have made rhubarb fool, rhubarb crumble and rhubarb sponge which turned out more like rhubarb bread. I need a larger freezer to store stewed rhubarb (which my husband hates) but which I am learning to love and all the other produce we hope to harvest.

Moving here is like moving to a new life. I wonder what will remain of the old one. There are new people to meet, with everyone in lockdown, this has been impossible. However, our builder has found a lady nearby who is could be a walking buddy. Husbands with dicky hips and legs have constrained us both. It’s like being set up on a blind date. I am resisting my granddaughters’ heartfelt pleas for a dog. I am a fair weather walker. Somehow I don’t think I am going to win the argument.

Friday is my busy day, My job is to keep our daughter’s barn gardens in trim ready for new guests, change over plant pots, pick up the children from school and feed them. This requires an afternoon of baking. They demand cakes as well as both meaty food and vegetarian food before their swimming lessons. Thank goodness for two slow cookers to deal with different meal times as well. Children eat at 3.45, their mother grabs a bite before heading off with first child at 4.15, father arrives for food at 5.45 before heading off with second child at 6.00. It makes my head spin. By 6.30, I am exhausted but so pleased I can help out.

Moving to an old school made me realise that it was probably also a polling station (I must research this) until it closed in the 1980s. Now the village hall, a green tin hut, does the job. Somehow I doubt they got many voters last Thursday, the village is tiny, many people like us will have opted for a postal vote in the pandemic, and the turn-out was low. I was disappointed not to be able to vote for my daughter who was standing in the next village for the Greens. She did well, coming second. Returning to the school, if it was a polling station, I think back to just after the first world war when so many men and women could vote for the first time. I wonder how they felt. Being such a rural area, I’m guessing they tended to follow tradition and vote for those who controlled their wages. The last great rebellion in Norfolk, Kett’s Rebellion in the reign of Edward VI, did not end well.

Next week, the sun is due to shine. I wonder when I will get back to editing?

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A Place to Call Home

We finally moved in ten days ago. Still without curtains and blinds, I tend to rise with the sun, so I am writing this with a pink glow in the east and the sound of cooing pigeons but without traffic on the road outside. We are mostly unpacked but have pictures and paintings strewn against walls waiting to be put in position.

The house being old but with modern touches has quirks and intricacies which we are discovering daily. Four days ago, I plucked up courage to make a cup of tea using the quooker hot tap. My only experience with a hot top previously had been pretty much disastrous as I handed out cups of luke warm tea to my writing group following a kitchen refurb by our lovely, long-suffering host. Two days ago, I abandoned my kettle, completely sold on the quooker. This morning it blinks at me. A red warning light can’t be good and the water no longer steams from the tap. Have I killed it, I ask myself? My kettle has returned to its usual place but I want my quooker back. I can see another whatsapp question to the previous owner who has all the answers about biomass boilers, solar power feed-in tarrifs, cess pits and well water. It’s a whole new language we have to learn.

Along with the unpacking, rearranging, I have spent hours on the internet and phone to water, electricity, wood pellet companies etc. It’s always a relief to speak to a human as somehow the questions you need answering do not appear in FAQs on websites. I have decided to give up not speaking to humans – it’s really not worth the hours of endlessly trailing around in circles, the mounting frustration and the shouting at screens.

The rest of my time has been spent in the garden. I should have taken a before and after picture of the mess at the bottom. The remains of the concrete school yard containing the cess pit access was covered in mud and debris and two compost bins full of fairly unrotted compost. It’s almost clear, maybe two more barrow loads of mud to shift to the field. It’s going to become the pot hospital. I thought about pot nursery but that sounds like we are nurturing cannabis which is not on the cards. This garden and our daughter’s gardens need plenty of pots and ones that change with the seasons, so this is the ideal place and it will brighten a dreary area.

With the weather suddenly warming up, yesterday we took time out for a walk and, although getting lost and being too long without anywhere to sit, it was glorious to discover what is on our doorstep. I had heard about the hidden beach but to find this was something else.

I have more to add to my shopping list list, a good pair of binoculars, not the WW2 ones which I have to say are very poor and heavy too, a couple of lightweight portable chairs. Seats for crumblies are few and far between (or even non existant) around here and an OS map of the area. I keep trying not to buy from Amazon but fail. I bought what I thought I needed to make a TV work from Argos a couple of weeks ago but bought a Freeview recorder rather than a Freesat box. New, unused but because some sellophane is missing, Argos refused to take it back. Guess who will never shop at Argos again? £170 wasted unless I can sell it second hand.

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