Welcome to my blog !

Featured

Why Mysteries? Why Winchester? And why, for that matter, a blog at all?

I love mystery stories.  I also love history and historical novels, so it’s no surprise I now write Victorian mysteries.  Why Winchester? It’s a lovely place, the ancient capital of King Alfred’s Wessex – it’s a perfect setting for my books.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Street Sheep!

One of the stops on our latest Australian odyssey was Canberra and I blogged last month about our visit to the awe-inspiring Australian War Memorial there. On a lighter note, we were intrigued to find a cluster of statues not far from our hotel.

I love a good statue and my favourite is Sound II, the Anthony Gormley statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral.

Sound_II_revisited

In a wet year you’ll find him up to his knees in water but there are – occasionally – times when he’s standing on dry stones. It’s not always possible to do the tour of the crypt because of the risk of flooding, but you can go and look at the statue from just inside the crypt door. In ‘Murder Fortissimo’, the first of my Harriet Quigley mysteries, I had Harriet’s cousin (and sidekick) Sam Hathaway take a troubled soul to see the statue – something I often do myself because there’s a curious peace about it. (I usually go and chat to Jane Austen while I’m in the Cathedral too!)

Nothing soulful or spiritual about the Canberra statues though, although there were 20171005_084210some meaningful pieces – no idea what the pointy beak people are, sorry! Might be angels?

These are wild dogs20171004_185738

 

But these are my favourite! Canberra was built on a sheep station and has been unkindly described as ‘a good sheep paddock spoiled’ and these sheep are a reminder of the city’s past. 20171004_185927

  • 20171004_180343
  • I loved the laid-back ewe(I think it was a ewe!) lounging in a chair and decided she needed something good to read! In the photo above she’s clearly intent on the story and below you can see she’s blissed out after enjoying The House at Ladywell!20171004_180210
  • If the sheep could write she’d be reviewing The House at Ladywell to go with the fabulous four and five star reviews already up on Amazon UK – ‘A really beautiful book…’  Here’s the link to Amazon UK http://amzn.to/2yKDYdk

A Blog Tour – Terra Incognita!

bannerLadywellblogtourBlog Tours are a ‘thing’ nowadays, but I’ve never been involved in one before so it’s uncharted territory as far as I’m concerned. In case you didn’t know, this is how it works: a lot of avid readers review books on their blogs and many of these book bloggers will join a Blog Tour organised either by the author or, as in my case, someone who has excellent contacts and knows which reader will like which book. Debbie, of Brook Cottage Books is an expert and she’s arranged for The House at Ladywell to be read and reviewed by bloggers on her list. So here we go, a bit of blowing my own trumpet!
trumpet
The ebook of The House at Ladywell was published on 14th November, by Crooked Cat Books, and even in that short time people have been posting amazing and lovely reviews, but this one, by Nicola of the Short Books & Scribe blog, is my first ever review in a Blog Tour! And it made me cry because she loved it. http://shortbookandscribes.uk
This is her Amazon review:
Books where a house is a major part of the plot seem to have an invisible rope attaching them to me. They pull me in immediately and I’m rarely disappointed. So you can imagine that The House at Ladywell was a great draw for me. And I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint, in fact I loved it.
Freya Gibson is a woman who has been through a lot and had a really difficult time of it. She then finds herself working for bestselling author, Patrick Underwood. All is going well and then one day she hears that she has inherited a house from a relative she didn’t even know she had. And this is no ordinary house. The scent of flowers seems to linger there, despite there being no flowers in the house. There’s a feeling of belonging for Freya and she straightaway feels a connection and a desire to be there. Right at the beginning she is told she must make a wreath from the rowan tree in the garden and then say an incantation to ‘restore the balance’.

The house is a major character in this novel. We hear of its past through the tales of Freya’s long-gone ancestors. These sections are scattered throughout Freya’s narrative and I did wonder if it would have helped to have the relevant dates and a family tree, but in fact I could fairly easily work out an idea of the timeline and at the end there is some information about the characters and the years their stories are from. I think the dates weren’t provided so that the story could flow and the historical elements could intermingle with the present day ones and that certainly did work well.

The parts from the past were fascinating, so interesting, and they provided a background to the house but I did enjoy Freya’s story most of all as she was the one discovering things about the past, the house and her own life.

There is quite a bit of folklore in this story. Hares play a big part and are revered in fact. I love hares so I liked that they were so important. There’s also a well with water that heals and a real sense that the house and the land are important.

I liked Freya and Patrick as the main characters, but I thought the supporting characters were fabulous too. Mary Draper was just brilliant, and all the other people that Freya meets when she moves to Ladywell add something to the story, however large or small.

This really is such an appealing book. It has modern elements mixed with historical, a love story, and mysteries galore. It’s fabulous!

Link to buy – http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

Train Trip

The Engineer and I like trains, we’re known for it. ‘Another train journey?’ friends ask. And the answer is usually yes. This year’s epic marathon found us travelling from north to south in Australia, or as the locals say, from the Top End downwards. It’s about 2,000 miles and it took three nights and very nearly four days from departing from Darwin and arriving in Adelaide.

The Ghan Train was named after the cameleers who blazed the trail into the Red Centre of Australia in the 19th century. Many of them came from Pakistan although they were believed to be from Afghanistan and thus became known as (Af)Ghans.

 

The Ghan Expedition is really a cruise on wheels, with stops for excursions by coach, delicious meals, a well-stocked bar, and helpful, friendly staff. You do need to be ok about sleeping in bunks though, and I have no head for heights; luckily the Engineer has no nerves about anything and is fine about mountaineering to bed. (Pic – bedtime story)

20170928_205342

First stop was at Katherine, south of Darwin, where the temperature was 37C and rising so we were glad of a boat trip through the Nitmiluk Gorge, first walking through a grove of trees which had a sign saying: Don’t look up – can you guess why?

After that we stopped in Alice Springs which hadn’t seen a drop of rain since January – until the September evening when we went to an outdoor BBQ at the Telegraph Station there! Luckily it was just a shower. The final outing was to the underground city of Coober Pedy, famous for opal mines. A lot of the houses were a bit Hobbit-like, with chimneys sticking out of the rock and we went underground to check out an opal mine. Had lunch there too! For someone who is mildly claustrophobic I seem to have been down an awful lot of mines: a lead mine in Derbyshire, coal mine in France, silver mine in Austria, copper mine in Sweden and now an opal mine in Australia.nickydownanopalmine

It was a fabulous journey and I do it again only I’d have to mortgage the Engineer, and it wouldn’t be any fun without him! (Pic: Englishwoman abroad, complete with (M&S) pearls!)

~

The House at Ladywell is out now and I survived an online book launch on Facebook. There are some 5* reviews already!  – , available in ebook and paperback http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

The perfect novel to curl up and read with a glass of mulled wine and a cat on your lap during those dark winter months…

Brilliant – the past and present are entwined and Freya uncovers her own mystery whilst delving into the history of the house.’

A very, very readable story.’

A real feel-good romantic story about a house and its history, Nicola Slade writes characters you instantly warm to. I liked the use of elements in local history to provide background to the story of the house – it feels as though one could go and look for an actual house.

Armistice Day

A highlight – one of many – during our month-long Australian trip last month was a brief visit to Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. It’s an imposing building in extensive grounds and an amazing view into the city.

 We were there in the school holidays and it was very crowded; even so, it was very quiet indoors, a mixture of awe at the sheer volume of numbers killed, and reflection on their sacrifice. I was glad to see how many children were engrossed in the stories on display, people need to remember. Find out more:https://www.awm.gov.au/

I like sculpture and was impressed by this memorial to Private John Simpson who served at Gallipoli. Using one of the donkeys brought in for carrying water he transported wounded men under fire, day and night from the fighting in Monash Valley to the beach at Anzac Cove.  He was killed while carrying two wounded men on 19th May 1915 and buried on the beach at Hell Spit.

Here’s another animal memorial ‘Explosive Detection Dog and Handler Sculpture’ ‘In this sculpture I have sought to express the close bond that exists between dog and handler….’ (Artist Ewen Coats)

At the heart of the building is the Hall of Memory above the Pool of Reflection  and on either side, the lists of the fallen – endless lists you think at first, 102,000 names. One of the first names we saw as we slowly walked along and looked at the World War I memorials was a man called Slade and after that the Resident Engineer photographed them all. We found fourteen of them and wondered if they were relatives as we know at least one mid-19th century Slade went to Australia.

The Gallipoli Campaign was commemorated two years ago and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ part is well-documented, and rightly so.What I hadn’t really taken on board is that although the campaign is linked to the Anzacs in the public mind, just how many men died in total.

Gallipoli casualties (not including illness)
Dead Wounded Missing
or
POW
Total
Ottoman
Empire
56,643 97,007 11,178 164,828
United Kingdom 34,072 78,520 7,654 120,246
France 9,798 17,371 27,169
Australia 8,709 19,441 28,150
New Zealand 2,721 4,752 7,473
British India 1,358 3,421 4,779
Newfoundland 49 93 142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,95

When I was a child I was very much aware of WWI because I had great-aunts galore who remembered it vividly. The story that stays in my memory is of my favourite great-aunt who, in 1916, was lying awake at night with her very new fifth child when she looked up and saw her eldest son, Clive, standing at the end of the bed. He had lied about his age and enlisted when he was sixteen and when she saw him she knew what it meant. When the telegram arrived he was still not quite eighteen.

I thought about Aunt Liz and Clive at the AWM when they played someone singing Waltzing Matilda and that got to me. It’s a song I love and I always cry when I hear it, remembering that it’s the theme music for ‘On The Beach’, the film of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel – still the best film in this genre. Here’s the original trailer – worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAwI5ONywME

 

Planes and trains – and jet lag!

Warning* This is one of those ‘What I did on my holidays’ posts!

Since our son and his family moved to Sydney almost seven years ago we’ve managed to visit them three times and they’ve been home once.

The three little English boys are now large Aussies!Our latest trip was a month, from mid-September to mid-October and taking in a stopover in Hong Kong – an evening boat trip here

We spent time with the family, catching up with news and revisiting favourite places around Sydney and then did a trip to Darwin to catch the fabulous Ghan Expedition – a three night/four day train ride from The Top End right down to Adelaide in South Australia. Think Downton Abbey on wheels!

We followed that with a road trip along the coast from Melbourne to Jervis Bay, three hours south of Sydney where we met up with the family for a long weekend in a holiday house five minutes’ walk from a perfect, unspoilt beach then back to Sydney for more time with the troops and home via another stopover in Vancouver. (Hence the jet lag; we ended up going right round the world and that made the tiredness worse than when we’ve gone back the way we came!)

I plan to blog and tweet about it all in instalments but I’m still zonking out mid-evening but wide awake at three a.m. It’s because we crossed an awful lot of time zones, apparently! A lot of the time I feel as though I’m moving very slowly through treacle!

I did wake up though, when I had a nice surprise at home in the shape of a box of paperbacks of The House at Ladywell – out now just in time for Christmas! The ebook launch date is 14th November – tell your friends!  Buy it here – http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

Rowans and Rocks

I’m delighted with the newly-revealed cover for ‘The House at Ladywell’ – a stunning image of a wreath of rowan leaves and berries, very simple and bold and very relevant to the story. 

‘The House at Ladywell’ will be published on 14th November by Crooked Cat Books.

This is what it’s about: ‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind?’

As you can see on the cover I’m lucky enough to have a great quote from Sally Zigmond, well-known historical author (‘Hope Against Hope‘), editor and reviewer. She says: ‘An enchanting blend of mystery, history, romance and folklore’ – which sums the book up pretty neatly!

~

In other news, my art exhibition ended today so the Engineer and I have dismantled it and brought the remaining paintings home. The framed books are marching back up the wall of the staircase and I’m finally relaxing. I sold three paintings on the night and another two during the month when two separate visitors to the cinema each spotted a painting the liked and contacted me. I met them in the gallery café and we did the deal! They both liked my landscapes, which is interesting and gratifying, because they’re my latest experiment in style. More of that, I think!

This is the most recent painting that sold – ‘Sea Pinks on the Rocks’ (The frame was white, not slightly pink as the photo suggests!)

Books & Pictures

When my first book, Scuba Dancing, was published, the Resident Engineer decided it would be nice to frame it and hang it in the hall – where it was much admired! Now there are seven framed books all ascending the staircase wall and room for more. Back in October, my youngest suggested I should have an exhibition at the Harbour Lights Cinema on the waterfront in Southampton’s Ocean Village. Her idea was to move the books from our hall and hang them in the cinema’s gallery cafe, adding some paintings as well.

Pictures of some of the lovely people who came to the ‘do’:

Olivia, whose idea it was

Our idea was that we’d have a bit of a ‘do’ on the Opening Night, which happened to be Wednesday, 2nd August so I duly invited family and friends – only to realise we’d chosen the wettest day and evening since Noah set out in the Ark.

Fellow Deadly Dame, lovely Charlie Cochrane, who swam in from Romsey

Daughter Amelia and my nice artist friends

It was fun and I’m so grateful to the people who braved the really awful weather to come!

Books, smells, castles and dead kings

A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2017 conference of the Romantic Novelists’ Association which was held at Harper Adams University, originally an agricultural college. The first thing you realise as you arrive by taxi is that there are pigs somewhere near! The Resident Engineer comes from farming folk and I loved everything about Harper Adams, including the fact that my sinuses have never been so thoroughly healthily scoured! The food – grown and raised on the farm – was absolutely delicious.

We weren’t there just to eat however and the talks I attended were varied and interesting, from a discussion on where the publishing industry is heading, to writing a screenplay (illustrated with shots of David Tennant in Broadchurch – not a hardship, that), to several talks on how to cope with Social Media. Something I’m pretty useless at and Must Try Harder. (Pic above, by John Jackson, shows the opening talk with me, bottom right, making notes.) And a photo of David Tennant – and why not?

A highlight was meeting up with fellow authors from my new publisher, Crooked Cat Books. Here: John Jackson, Sue Barnard, me looking scruffy, and Lynn Forth. (Another of John’s photos)The last talk, on the Sunday afternoon, was me talking about changing from writing romantic comedy to writing cosy mysteries. The audience laughed in the right places, made notes, and clapped at the end – result! and that was it for another conference. Always good fun and well worth attending.

The Resident Engineer picked me up and we set off for Ludlow which is where we saw the castle in the title of this post:And on the way home we dropped in to say hello to my favourite dead king of all – and here he is:

Writing and talking, what else?

First of all – the book. ‘The House at Ladywell’ now has a date, Tuesday, 14th November – which is when Crooked Cat Books will publish it simultaneously as an ebook and a paperback. This really, really exciting! It’s a contemporary romantic novel with historical interludes, quite a change for me! Here’s a taster…

‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind


And no, the house in the photo has nothing to do with my fictitious house apart from being a Tudor house in Hampshire (this one’s a pub that’s being revamped). My ‘real’ Tudor house is, like my characters, a patchwork of reality and fiction. And set in a different version of Romsey! Below is the Old Manor House in Romsey which is now a restaurant but which is about the right age for ‘my’ house.

Details of the cover and more info about the book and – most important of all – how to buy it! will be forthcoming in the early autumn. There are several running themes in this book: rowan trees, sacred springs, the scent of flowers, and hares – which have always fascinated me and which I paint occasionally. Here’s one I did earlier!

Secondly – the talk. Sunday, 16th July at the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2017 Conference at Harper Adams University, Telford, Shropshire.

The talk – From Kissing to Killing – is about changing over from writing romantic novels to writing murder mysteries and this is what the programme says about me! ‘Why do romantic novelists so often shine at writing mysteries? Having made the leap (more of a sidle) herself, Nicola Slade discusses what a cosy mystery actually is, some statistics about real-life murders and examples of fictional ones, and she also talks about other romantic novelists who’ve gone over to the dark side…’          One very well-known crime writer also wrote romantic novels under the name of Mary Westmacott – and if it’s good enough for Agatha, it’s certainly good enough for me!

 

 

Victorian Sewage Works & Other Romantic Rendevous

I’ve posted before about the Resident Engineer’s idea of a romantic weekend – Liverpool in January last year, anyone? Our recent trip at the beginning of May, however, has had people rolling their eyes even more wildly. (They were deluded, Liverpool was great and so was the pumping station!)

So, here goes: I was treated to a visit to Crossness, a Victorian sewage pumping station on the Thames. Why? You might well ask… but of course it was in steam that Sunday and the volunteers were literally all hands to the pumps. Being at least as nerdy as the Engineer I already knew about The Great Stink of the summer of 1858 when London was overwhelmed by the combination of heat, millions of people, and effluent with nowhere to go and I knew about Joseph Bazalguette who was brought in to do something about it. What he did was to design a network of sewers and a pumping station that would empty into the Thames. Not great by our standards, but far better than just chucking a bucket out somewhere.I know I laugh at the Engineer’s hobbies though he has to put up with mine – for instance trying to find out how long/if at all it would take a few pigs to devour a complete corpse. (Always a jolly topic at tea time in our house.) However, the Victorian pumping stations that survive are the most wonderful feats of engineering and in some cases are temples to the skill and ambitions of their builders. They’re also not all for sewage!

Best I’ve seen so far is Papplewick in Northamptonshire, which is magnificent. Although it wasn’t in steam when we saw it, I was in awe of the design – an Egyptian temple with lotus flowers all done in wrought iron and painted brightly. (This is their website) Picturehttp://www.papplewickpumpingstation.co.uk/index.htm (Not sewage, this one!)

The recent visit to Crossness revealed a massive site being slowly restored by dedicated volunteers. The only downside is that the modern sewage works is right next door and it’s a bit smelly, but the upside is that it scours your sinuses clean and you walk through a nature reserve to reach the Victorian buildings.  You find yourself on the south bank of the Thames about five miles east of Woolwich, which is where we stayed for a couple of nights. If we had a few million to spare, and wanted to live in London anyway, we’d have a flat in the old Woolwich Arsenal area. That’s where we spotted these fabulous Anthony Gormley statues :

Our local pumping station at Twyford, outside Winchester, is where the Engineer volunteers on a Sunday, and is nowhere near as spectacular as the Temples to Effluvia pictured above and – in fact – has nothing to do with sewage anyway, but the site is interesting as it has a multitude of birds, fish and creatures, as well as a 2′ gauge railway once used to carry coal and chalk. It dates from 1905 but they’re working towards getting the boiler in steam and meanwhile they have regular open days which are quite fun. https://www.twyfordwaterworks.co.uk/

~

This not-very-good photo is of the three tiny seascapes I sold on Bank Holiday Monday when our Art Workshop held our annual exhibition. The couple who bought them own a flat on the Isle of Wight and thought the little pictures would go well there.