Easy to Distract

I need to get back into a daily routine of writing but the glorious ( quite worrying) weather distracts me. Now I am picking damsons by the kilo, courgettes, runner beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. Who knew courgette soup could be so delicious? I am distracted by thinking up new ways of using them. My favourite so far is a sort of pasta primavera with cream cheese and anything we have fresh from the garden. So simple but gorgeous flavours. Our builder has created a new roadside shop for us to sell surplus produce. The damsons, beans and courgettes at rock bottom prices flew off the stall. Our little bit for the local economy.

The feedback since we put our planning permission from the authorities is relatively positive so long as we don’t rent out our guest suite which we have never intended to do. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get the go-ahead in September. Then it will be all systems go. I can see more distraction from writing. I must do some before images in my next post.

Our new village book group meets today for the first time to discuss A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This is the third book I have read by this author, each very different but he has a unique style which certainly gets you thinking. I can thoroughly recommend his books. We’ll see what the other members think. I am looking forward to the film of the book with Tom Hanks playing Ove.

The Bluebird Brooch continues to garner positive reviews, still mostly 5* which is delightful. It’s only five weeks until the Boston Book Festival where I will be discussing it and my other books. I think I need to dip into them all to remind me what I wrote. I don’t want any tricky questions because I have forgotten some of the characters.

Last weekend we visited London for the first time since the advent of Covid in the UK. We met family which was delightful but we also met the granddaughter of Sadie. I was nervous. having written the fictional Sadie’s Wars, would her granddaughter be angry with the way I had written Sadie? No. We had a delightful chat about her memories of her warm and generous granny. I gave her the first world war medals that I believe were her grandfather’s. I wrote a chapter in the book around them. The following day, we took a canal trip down the Regent’s Canal and marvelled at the multi-million pound houses lining its banks before finishing at Camden Lock which was heaving with tourists.

My other distraction was being introduced to a local Ukranian refugee and realising that she had both a need and a thirst for learning English. A week later, we have a volunteer tutor to teach her and her husband, and I am joining with another neighbour for supplementary conversation sessions.

Next week, I promise myself, I will get back to writing.

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Happy News

Last week, I received the latest copy of Ingenue magazine with the review of my latest book which knocked me out. I was over the moon with the review and today, a reader emailed me to say how much she was enjoying the book. As an author that’s all I need to carry on writing.

With temperatures like these, the only thing to do is read and write. So this week, I settled down with Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. How did I not know that he had a new book out when his last one blew me away? It was a chance remark by someone on the Global Bookclub Facebook Page which drew me to it and with great good luck my local library’s Libby site owned it and I could borrow it immediately. All hail Norfolk Libraries. So here’s my review.

The story threads between an ancient fable, a public library in Idaho, the fall of Constantinople and a spaceship taking a group of people escaping from earth to a new planet 500 years away. The broad thrust is about the dreamers – people who seek that Cloud Cuckoo Land where their dreams will come true but which don’t turn out they way they expect, and it’s about the people who get caught up in other’s dreams only to discover nightmares. It’s about people who use others for their own purposes then cast them aside when they are no longer of use and it’s about the destruction of the Earth. What a Scenario!

This book reminds me somewhat of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. But, whereas with Cloud Atlas, I was left wondering what it was all about in the end, here Doerr ties it all together. Yes, it was difficult to get into it with so many threads, so many timescales and the oddity of original fable, but as I became more deeply involved in the story, I began to appreciate the breadth and intricacies of his storytelling. All the Light I cannot See is in my top five books, this one, not quite so high, but I have a suspicion that it will live with me. It’s an important book. I see similarities with the dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood, although only a fraction takes place in the future. If you have time, it’s a long book, and fortitude – read it.

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Summer Highs and Winter Blues

It’s cherry season. We have several cherry trees, sour cherries. Every day we have been picking and pitting. I am not jam making this year, I found that my jam last year was more skin than fruit. I have been freezing them for crumbles and my husband is experimenting with cherry gin and vodka.

I enjoyed reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee this week. It follows several generations of a Korean family who migrate to Japan in the twentieth century, living through World War Two and facing both terrible hardship and racism from the Japanese. It worked better for the earlier generations but became less engaging for the later ones, I felt. However, I learnt so much that I would happily recommend it.

From March through to October, I am in with love my house and garden. It’s not just seeing everything creeping into bud and flower, it’s the light. This time of year, it scarcely gets dark. There are still vestiges of light at eleven o’clock and the sun is back up before five a.m. Downstairs in the garden room, I live the day glorying in the everchanging skies. Occasionally, I have to work in the garden or the kitchen, well, more than occasionally, but I skip back to the garden room to look at how the sun lights up the pansies, gorgeous faces of blue, yellow, red and white on the deck. I love how the tall white daisies are lit by the evening sun and how the sunset turns the whole of the kitchen into an orange glow. I can’t get enough of it. It’s like a drug. A sunset drug.

The sunsets of winter are lovely too but they are over by five o’clock and the night seems so long. In summer, I may be up at six to watch the birds on the feeder while I do the crossword. In winter, I don’t use the garden room because I worry about using more electricity to heat it. This coming winter will be a nightmare as prices rise to over three thousand pounds to heat and light our homes. I worry so much for the barely managing. At least we have solar panels to offset the cost and a log burner. But this house demands constant feeding with logs or pellets. I do hope we can escape to somewhere warm for part of of the winter, otherwise I am dreading the four months ahead. Reminder to self – renew passports.

Planning permission has gone in for our guest suite. Much later than I had hoped but things seem to have got very held up with the local planning authority and the pre-planning advice we paid for never happened. Now we wait and keep our fingers crossed. I also have in mind that if we super insulate it and make it all electric, we could live in it ourselves in winter and heat a much smaller space.

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How to Delight an Author

I had two great pieces of news last week. One, the editor and reviewer of an Arts Magazine, contacted me to say how much she enjoyed The Bluebird Brooch, so I can’t wait to read the review.

The second was that a piece which I wrote for my writing group, I also submitted to the Parish Magazine. Not only was it immediately accepted, they also had it professionally illustrated. Wow! I was blown over and as it was based on a true story, so were the family. There is a third page so it’s not the complete story. Contact me if you would like a copy.

Another piece of good news is that I have set up a local book group. We have 6 possibly 7 members and had our first meeting last week with a list of books in the pipeline for us to read. As much as I love my book group back in Sussex. It’s not always possible to zoom. Next month, however, they are going to read The Bluebird Brooch, so I hope they enjoy it.

The final piece of good news is that my husband has new bluetooth hearing aids and can hear again. It’s like having my husband back after years of increasing frustration that he misses so much. I am so thankful for our local NHS. They are amazing. Now I have to set up an iphone and he will be able to use the phone gain without swearing. Yay!

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Attempting a Wildflower Meadow and Books

We have had Melbourne weather. Thirty-two degrees one day and then down to sixteen the next. We were grateful that we were at home for the hot weather with nothing much to do other than clear up after visitors. I sat in the garden from six until nine because it was cooler than the house.

Yesterday, I attended at fascinating course in my village hall on flower identification and thought how lucky we were to attend a free course with expert and entertaining leaders – it made me determined to attend more workshops, learning about nature instead of wondering blind amidst nature.

This year, I tried making two wildflower patches. One out of the area where we had a bonfire last year. It was used several times as we burned a number of old sheds and other rubbish left by the previous owner. It was completely sterile at the end. I worried that it would take years to recover.

I used at Boston wildflower mix with loads of yellow rattle and annuals plus a packet of borage and a few gathered poppy seeds. The daisies, cornflowers and borage liked it and I can’t believe how well the land has recovered.

Compare this with some land I rotavated which had been covered in hogweed and was impenetrable. The ground was soft and rich in chicken droppings. I sowed the seed a month later, including some sunflower seeds and the moles loved it because my flat earth became hillocks, I kept raking and sowing more seed. There are some daisies and cornflowers coming up but the docks, nettles and thistles are overwhelming them.

More weed than wildflower

I will have to think again. The ground is too rich for a good wildflower meadow. We need more bonfire areas. I bought a bonfire bin so that we don’t create barren bits of land but perhaps that was a mistake. I think by Bonfire night, we will have a new super fire in the next bit of land for a meadow. It won’t be at the top end but somewhere nearer where we want our guest accommodation if we ever hear from the planners.

I read two books that are worth mentioning. Bear Town by Fredrik Backman. It took me a while to get into because it is set in a town which idolises ice hockey. Ice Hockey features large and centre. It is the raison d’étre almost for the town and its is pinning all its hopes on the school team winning the league.

Once you read through the Ice Hockey, this is a masterpiece, a book about society and culture and one that makes you think. Race, class, culture, misogyny, capitalism, how far people will go to defend their tribe and the status quo and what courage it takes to stand up and say, no, this is not right. This is a giant of a book.

The other book is one by Elizabeth Buchan, an author I enjoy. Daughters of the Storm is set during the French Revolution. It’s gives a sense of the history and is particularly graphic on the prison where some of the characters find themselves before facing the guillotine. However, I preferred A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel because it dealt with the the revolutionaries rather than the aristocrats and I learnt so much more. The interesting thing about the Buchan book is that is appeared not to have been proofread. Missing words, wrong words, misspelt words littered the text. Several sentences had to be reread to gain the sense. Other reviewers have commented on this but I wonder if action has been taken by the publishers. I borrowed it from my library e-book service.

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The Manningtree Witches

Do not read The Manningtree Witches if you want a fast-paced thrilling read. Do not read if you are a man who will be offended by a book which castigates men. Clue, there is not one positive male role model. If you loved Hamnet then read on.

I listened to the audiobook because it was easily obtained by my library, normally I do not choose audiobooks. In this case it was the right choice because it forced me to listen intently. A word about the narrator. She was brilliant, really got the book and each character had a different voice. One quibble, I don’t know who chose estuary English for the Essex cast of characters, I’m guessing at the time they would have spoken a softer more Suffolk-like accent. However, the chosen accent brought out the poverty and working-class nature of the characters.

This book is a first novel by someone who is a poet and to me the whole book was poetry, the Ancient Mariner elegy kind of poetry. A story, based on a true story with characters drawn from history. It moves at a glacial pace, where every word is considered, where every description is like a painting. A young girl, Rebecca West, going about her business, living with a widowed mother and an elderly, disable neighbour whom she helps with cleaning. But the Civil War rages, people are poor and food is short. Things happen and superstition and gossip are rife. Resentments amongst neighbours easily boil over.

Rebecca is enamoured of the educated, John Eade, from whom she takes reading and scripture lessons. Her nineteen-year-old self quietly, demurely lusts after him. Her first love. But she dare not speak of it. She smoulders and simmers and it becomes apparent he does the same.

Matthew Hopkins has lately come to Manningtree from the university of Cambridge to take an inn. His hidden library consists of a stash of books about witchcraft. He is a misogynist, a celibate, odd, intense, God driven and a cult figure who will, within the following year, become The Witch Finder General developing his own method in determining who are witches. He is also quietly fascinated and disturbed by Rebecca West. The scene is set.

There are criticisms you will need to get over, says me who can be pernickety. The language used by Rebecca as she tells her story has the vocabulary of an English graduate. This author does not intend for the reader to have an easy ride. There are some places where the topography is in doubt and I am surprised a visit to the scene did not pick this up. Maybe it was written in lockdown. That said, this is an author to watch out for. If I had a paperback copy, which I now ought to buy, it would be shot through with underlinings of metaphors and cunning phrases. I have rarely been so astonished by a book.

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My Author Inspiration

Today I have been guest author on a Facebook Site called Meet the Authors run by the brilliantly supportive, Helen Pryke – who also writes really good books set in Italy, where she lives.

I am contributing six posts about my life, my memories and becoming an author. It has been fun putting the posts together with photographs, I thought I would share this one with you as it led to me becoming an author decades after it appeared in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph one Christmas in the early seventies. The younger members of the family sat around the table and joked about it, none of us knowing the story, because none of us really talked to my husband’s grandfather. Even his wife and yet she had lived part of the story.

He was a quiet man, living out his life of disappointment on sufferance. His wife had never forgiven him for leaving her twice for years, two decades in total – but having researched the family, I totally understand him and wish I had spent time talking to him.

He was born to riches, born to follow in his father’s footsteps and succeed. Maybe, he was arrogant. One story I found was when he was pulled up for speeding in Geelong and said those awful words, “Don’t you know who I am?” He mixed with the cream of Australian society, The Murdochs, Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Sydney Kidman and other racehorse owners – then everything that he had known disappeared and he spent years trying to recoup and failing. His wife refused to return to Australia, why should she? She hated it, hated the outback where they had lived on a sheep station, hated the drought and the snakes and the spiders. She blamed him for abandoning them but he refused to abandon his country and his dream.

He loved his family although the arrogance surfaced again when he returned to England to try and stop his daughter marrying a police constable – not good enough for the child who had been driven to school in a Rolls Royce. His daughter would not talk to her father after that. I wonder, did he know that his terrifying grandmother was the daughter of convicts? That his antecedents trekked England as itinerant workers or pedlars. He once walked from Melbourne to Adelaide, 700 miles, looking for work. His father drove a covered wagon across the Nullarbor Desert to seek work building railways, How we are destined to repeat the lives of our forebears. Yet doesn’t this show grit, determination and a refusal to lie down and take what comes? He may have had his faults but I admire him. And he was my inspiration.

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Audiobook or E-books?

I listened to my first complete audiobook last week. It’s not my preferred choice but was the only way I could obtain the latest Hannah Kent from the library. Will I change my mind about audiobooks? I don’t think so. It requires complete immersion and concentration and you listen at the pace of the narrator. You can’t skip or skim, of that I am guilty. For many that may be an advantage but for me I wanted to race ahead if I am loving the book. The language of an audiobook becomes almost a living thing. In the case of Devotion, this was the best aspect. I do love Hannah Kent’s writing and it makes me want to read Good People, having read Burial Rites a few years ago with my book group.

This book follows a group of Old Lutherans from Germany to a place where they will have freedom to practice their religion. In Germany they have been hounded and abused. Hanne, a young girl, around fifteen when the book begins is different from other girls. She seeks solace in nature, in the way the ancient trees speak to her. She believes her mother doesn’t love her and wishes to spend more time with her twin, Mathias, her only friend – until Thea arrives and an instant connection forms.

There is so much I loved about the book. The reader is immersed in the way of life in this village where every aspect is ruled by the beliefs and customs of the Lutherans while they wait for permission to leave. The second part follows them on a brutal journey in a cramped ship where typhus rages, to South Australia, not long after the founding of Adelaide. It’s on the ship when the author throws a huge curve ball which left me at sea – pun intended. Had she really done that? Had she ruined the book for me? I listened in disbelief as the book turns into something else, a new genre. I listened on, disbelief eventually subsiding and I came to understand a possible reason. Where, at the start, we are cocooned in a tiny village in old Europe, we are thrown into a continent of settlers as they battle to survive and are helped at first by the original owners of the land until their inevitable displacement. The author needed a third eye, perhaps.

I was left wandering / wondering (both are correct). Did the author plan this story or did she, a third of the way through think a) how do I solve this huge problem I have set myself or b) think my readers could do with being shaken up. Whatever – how brave. You have to decide.

Will I borrow another audiobook? I have one on order – The Manningtree Witches. I absolutely love the service provided through Norfolk Libraries and Libby. While I will always prefer and e-book, I will order an audiobook if necessary. I just know that it will take longer to get through and make me pay more attention to the words.

What is your choice?

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A Week of Reading

Having injured my knee a couple of weeks ago, I have spent a few days doing little but reading. And what a great crop of books! If you want holiday page-turners, I can recommend the following.

Imagine, you have just moved in and are having an extension built, but the builders find a body in the garden. What a promising start! This book keeps on getting better and better as the mystery begins to unfold. I read it in one sitting because I could not put it down. The Couple at No. 9 by Claire Douglas.

Next up – one of the only books by Charity Norman that I hadn’t yet read.

A family moves to an idyllic spot in New Zealand, craving a new start. The opening is when one of their twin boys falls from a balcony in the middle of the night and ends up in a coma in hospital. How did it happen? Who was responsible? This is a terrifying account of a family in crisis. What happens could happen to anyone with teenage children. How would you cope? My heart was in my mouth.

Other books I read, Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks. It’s taken him years to write a sequel to Human Traces, which I thought needed some hard editing. It’s a slow, thoughtful read about a young girl/woman finding her way in the world after a somewhat neglectful upbringing and an older man, although we follow him from a young boy – both live in Austria. The culmination comes prior to the German invasion of Austria. He is a journalist, affected by WW1. She is a maid in a Sanitorium which he visits to write an article and then stays in for counselling. They have met before, although he does not remember, while she remembers vividly. The ending has a single sentence which troubled me enormously. I am going to have to wait years for the third book, unfortunately.

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan Two head traumas in one week! Liz, a pediatric doctor is suspicious when a good friend, Jess, arrives at the hospital with her baby girl. I found it compelling and sensitively written. There’s more to it than just one possible accident/ non-accidental injury, so it has elements of thriller. I was a little troubled because the ending to me seemed somewhat contrived.

What made me most happy this week, apart from the release of my new paperback – was that my local library put all of my books on display and then they all went out before I could take a selfie with them.

Books by Rosemary Noble

I hope the readers enjoy them. My new one, The Bluebird Brooch will join them on the shelves shortly.

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Paperback Countdown

Only one more day until the paperback of The Bluebird Brooch hits the shops and Amazon. It’s been quite an effort to get there but now I can’t wait. This week, I have been writing press releases for newspapers in Sussex, Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The wonderfully supportive, Phil Hewitt, hopes to write an article for the Sussex papers and online version, so I hope an extra little publicity works to spread the word.

Meanwhile, my life is increasingly taken up with gardening. My daughter’s new Grain barn opened for business a week ago, so I have been taking cuttings, and visited a garden centre to stock up. We planted it over the last few days and I hope it will look brilliant in a few weeks. We need to reseed the lawn too, but guests are delighted so far. It’s hard to imagine what this looked like a year ago, a run-down ex agricultural/industrial building covered in ivy and Russian vine, the windows and walls falling apart. Now it’s a bright, airy. beautiful holiday let with stunning views of the sea, less than a mile away, and glorious sunsets over farmland.

The other garden I am working on is the one on our field. It’s very early stages but I have sewn some grass and planted a border. Why! Well we hope that this is the garden for our proposed guest suite, not for renting out, just for family and friends. It is in the pre-planning application stage. One complicating factor is that the plans have to go through two planning authorities, because the planning line goes through the middle of the building. You can’t make that up. It’s not a done deal that we will get permission. If we do, it will have a large bedroom, large ensuite, kitchen/living area and a patio, with views east onto our field and vegetable plot. The change from a Victorian school toilet is, at the moment, a leap of faith and difficult to visualise but I have had it in mind from day one of moving in. Our builder is in place, we just need the go ahead. Ideas for names – Wild Meadow Cottage / Wildflower Cottage / Wren Cottage / Wagtail Cottage – which one do you prefer?

Cherry Blossom

It’s my favourite time of year. The lilac is coming out as is the blossom on the fruit trees. The apples and pears have been heavily pruned so let’s hope we get a bumper crop. I can now identify the two quince trees, both need pruning badly, but I am looking forward to seeing them flower. I can already see pink buds. The plums have already flowered, as has the peach and almond. I have sewn wildflower seed but we need rain so I’m not sure it’s going to work. This week I have been planting summer raspberries from my daughter’s allotment. We already have autumn raspberries. We picked out first asparagus and rhubarb and can look forward to months of home produce. Happy days.

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