Boston Book Festival

Barely a week to go until we travel north, first for the Boston Book Festival where I will be talking mainly about my Lincolnshire based novels and the stories that made it into the books. It will be so good to get back to speaking to an audience of book lovers again. My slot is on Sunay Sept 18th at 11.00 a.m.

We have booked tickets to hear the Reverend Richard Coles on the Saturday evening. That will be a great treat. I used to love his radio programmes – and I must try his new crime novel.

Then it’s off to Lincoln for a couple of nights. At long last we will be visiting Lincoln Castle. How come we never had a school trip there, or even a trip with the family? It took Professor Alice Roberts to tell me the amazing story of the castle in one of her TV programmes a couple of years ago. A trip to the Cathedral may also be on the cards.

Photo by Mike B on

The following day we will visit the Bomber Command Museum, somewhere I have wanted to visit for a while. I am sure it would have been useful when I was writing Sadie’s Wars.

Then back to my hometown of Cleethorpes for a couple of nights. We’ll walk along the prom, have fish and chips on the pier, revisit the courting places of our youth like the Boating Lake. I may drop into the library and offer them my latest books.

It will be many years since we have spent so much time in our native county. I wonder if it will spark some more stories.

I am getting to grips with our new air fryer. Today, I am dehydrating pears, later, for dessert, I am going to try baked peaches. Our glut of fruit is making me find lots of ways of using them up. When will I ever get time to write?

Tonight’s dinner, aubergines and mozzarella. Yes, we have an aubergine harvest.

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Norwich – Unesco City of Culture

I have been busy writing and added to my planning for my new book and worked out that I need to visit various places in Norwich, not too far away and a Caribbean Island, much further. That would be nice, of course. Very little of my plot takes place in the Caribbean but smell sounds, nature and food all add to the setting. It’s something to dream of.

I have visited Norwich twice this month, the first as explained in my last post and the second this week when I took my grandchildren to watch the new production of Les Misérables. Wow! What a fantastic production and the singing was just sublime. My eldest granddaughter loved it, they younger one enjoyed it too, I think.

Norwich still doesn’t feel like my city as yet. I first visited when I was seventeen and looking to be a student myself there. Leap ahead twenty-five years and my next visit was when my daughter became a student there in the 90s, I don’t know Norwich though. To really know a city, you have to work or live in it, I think. I need to walk the streets on my own, understand the lay-out, take stime to study the buildings, learn more about its history, sit in cafes and imbibe the atmosphere. An autumn project for me. I have a booklet, Walking Norwich, the real and the imagined city. In the preface, I learnt that Norwich was the first city to implement the 1850 Public Library Act and the first place in the country to offer an MA in Creative Writing. Norwich should become my city,

Photo by Kristupas Kemeu017ea on

This week, we had a bat survey done – not something I would ever have thought I would write two years ago. Luckily our bat survey was negative. Bats are great, of course, but not in a building we want to convert. We hope that is the last hurdle before planning permission is granted. We will hear this month.

This week, I have made Mirabelle plum jam, tomato kasoundi and my husband has made Mirabelle gin and is about to start peach gin. The apple and Conference pear harvest has yet to get underway but won’t be long. The potato harvest is half-done and all of this with a far better crop than last year.

I have bought an air fryer to save on electricity costs, but then I discovered that you can use it to dehydrate fruit and veg. Sun-dried tomatoes are first on my list. Wish me luck.

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An Interesting Week

The National Centre for Writing is not only a beautiful medieval building in Norwich but also has some amazing courses and meetings for writers. Rather bravely, my granddaughter agreed to attend one of their workshops for children aged 11-14 and gave me an excuse to visit when I dropped her off there. I am very proud of her. She has always loved writing, was the inspiration and driver for my children’s book and in her first year at secondary school came top in her year for English. Her first article is about to be published in our local parish magazine about her experience at the Women’s Euro Finals, not bad for a twelve year-old.

Having dropped her off, I took the time to find out about meetings for writers and found that there is one called the Wrinklies Writers Group. There are also some courses run by the renowned UEA creative writing tutors and open evening meetings once a month. I look forward to discovering and visiting more.

Last night we had to attend our local Parish Meeting where they were discussing our planning application. More keeping fingers crossed as it goes onto the next stage and full planning committee. I hope that I managed to give a good account of our plans.

This book was recommended to me. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It’s a whopping book, nearly 600 pages, but I couldn’t put it down so read it in one day. Yes, I felt guilty because there’s so much that needs doing on the allotment, but still I read. It’s the story of growing up a homosexual in Ireland. Born in 1945 to an unmarried mother and adopted by rich parents who then ignored him, Cyril becomes obsessed by Justin from the age of seven. Running through the story, threads connect him to his real mother as they meet without realising. So much happens, violence and fear, prejudice and bigotry run through the decades. It is the story of Ireland as it begins to throw off the yoke and culture of the Catholic Church and the priests who instill fear into every walk of life. It’s going to be one of my favourite books of this year.

It’s our village fete on Saturday, the first for two or three years. I have been assigned to the book stall, There’s a surprise! I hope that means that I can pick up some goodies. Meanwhile, I had better make some more damson jam for the tombola.

People seem to have liked the prologue for my new book, which I submitted to my writing group in West Sussex. As I told them it’s early days. There’s a lot more to write, but it has given me an idea that I was lacking for the plot. I will get back to it soon. Watch this space.

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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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