A New Book – About Life, Rationing, and Inconvenient Corpses!

This year is proving to be all about books! No surprise there – my Granny used to say, ‘That child always has her nose in a book,’ and so I did, and still do. However, 2018 is different in that six of my books are being republished and – drum roll, please – Crooked Cat Books have just taken on my NINTH BOOK! the very cosy mystery, The Convalescent Corpse. The ebook should come out around the end of the year, followed shortly afterwards by the paperback.

This is the publisher’s announcement, not the actual  cover for The Convalescent Corpse, it’s too soon for that. Set in 1918, in Ramalley, the same fictional version of Romsey as The House at Ladywell, this book charts the efforts of three young sisters to cope with WW1 wartime shortages, difficult parents, lack of money, a houseful of lodgers – and inconvenient corpses practically on their own doorstep!

I’ve always loved Romsey, ever since I spent all my summer holidays visiting my aunt who lived quite near. My cousins and I used to cycle to Romsey and I’d drag them into King John’s House and the Abbey, to make sure they were still there, so it was a particular delight to find myself living only about five miles from the town. It’s still one of my favourite haunts and I drop in to say Hello to the poignant relic of a young Saxon girl buried in the Abbey. How strange that the only acknowledgement of a life should be her hair in a glass case – who was she? Nobody knows, but I loved her at first sight when I was about seven (I was a weird child, I admit) These days I wander round town, conscious of Freya, from The House at Ladywell, talking in one ear, and now Christabel, whose diary forms The Convalescent Corpse, in the other ear. They’re good company though.

As if that isn’t enough excitement, I’ve also signed with Endeavour Media to republish my first-ever novel, Scuba Dancing, as an ebook, probably early in the New Year. The first book I set in ‘Ramalley’ – this was first published in 2005, followed in 2013 when I self-published  it as an ebook, slightly tweaking a few inconsistencies. I’m delighted now, to have a chance to introduce this very quirky novel to a new audience and was very touched recently, to receive a message from a reader, that Scuba Dancing had ‘helped her through a bout of serious illness.’ 

Earlier in the year I posted that Williams & Whiting were to reissue my first five mysteries – previously published by Robert Hale Ltd – and they’re now all available as ebooks and paperbacks: all three Charlotte Richmond Victorian mysteries, and the firstt two Harriet Quigley contemporary tales. (The third Harriet book was published by Endeavour Press in 2016) Amazon link – https://amzn.to/2uI7UEi

And finally, something non-book related. In January this year The Resident Engineer and I celebrated our Golden Wedding. Fifty years in which we’ve achieved three children, eight grandchildren, lots of travelling, and a great deal of (mostly) cheerful bickering! This is a typical photo, him beaming at the world and me watching to make sure there’s no catastrophe looming. It’s not hard to- guess who is the cautious Capricorn and who the optimistic Leo! (I must have been standing oddly, I’m not really that weird shape!)

I know I make jokes about him, and he winds me up all the time, but my heart still lifts when I hear his key in the door! He drives me mad, but he keeps me sane – which is a pretty good testimonial.

 

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Steam Engines, Romans and Four-Poster Beds

About time I did another blog post! My only excuse is that I’m still hibernating as the weather’s been so awful, but a trip to Wales did cheer me up. And it only rained once! As I may have mentioned, the Resident Engineer is keen on steam engines so it was no surprise when he suggested a long weekend in North Wales to take in a special trip on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway.mapFfestiniogRwy

It was a fundraising event and we were given a tour of the engine sheds, and dinner in Porthmadog at the station restaurant on the Friday, then it was up and about on Saturday morning to catch the train at 8.30. We went up hill and down dale, mountains, rivers, sea, lakes, trees, sheep –  you name it, we saw them, and in spectacular sunshine too. I love trains so I was happy, especially as I had my trusty Kindle with me and could disappear into a book now and then, and the Resident Engineer gave me helpful information at regular intervals eg about the engines (The Ladies: Linda & Blanche) and the bigger one (a Garrett) that we changed to when we returned to Porthmadog and set off for Caernarfon.

Garrett engine

We had a stop-off for lunch, followed by a cream tea served en route.

4poster

I don’t usually do plugs for hotels! but the upmarket B&B we stayed in was fabulous. Just outside Porthmadog, with amazing views of the town and the harbour, Plas Tan Yr Allt proved to be the perfect place for a relaxing break. Shelley thought so too when he stayed there in 1812/13.  If you’re looking for friendly and helpful hosts, excellent breakfasts and a massive room complete with an equally large four-poster bed, this is the place for you: http://www.plastanyrallt.co.uk/

After all the railway delights my special treat was a visit to the Roman town of Caerleon: this is a Roman-style garden. Roman garden Caerleon

In other news, my three historical Charlotte Richmond mysteries are now republished and looking wonderful in their smart new covers. If you’ve enjoyed them (or any of my books, actually!) it would be lovely to have a review on Amazon! drop off your old textbooks atthe OFFICE of the student counciluntil may 31, 2019

The first two Harriet Quigley contemporary mysteries are also being republished and will be out soon, so it’s all go round here!

As for my most recent book, The House at Ladywell, I’m so pleased that readers are enjoying my story of history, mystery, magic and hares! More great reviews including this lovely recent one: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed The House at Ladywell. It takes a lot of talent to write as Nicola Slade does, intertwining timelines; bringing historical characters and periods to life… not to mention the vast amount of research that must have gone into this novel! All of this while creating a story of beauty, emotion, folklore and mystery. I look forward to reading more from this author and her unique voice.’

It’s Cold Outside…

And while we have no snow, and the sun’s shining,  the Beast from the East cold weather front is making it pretty chilly even down here on the South Coast. In fact I ought to finish painting this polar bear while I’m feeling cold, just to get the right atmosphere. 

 

Bookish news: Cover reveals very soon for my three Charlotte Richmond mysteries which are being republished by Williams & Whiting, beginning the end of this month.

And The House at Ladywell now has 30 great reviews so far on Amazon.co.uk – here’s the Amazon link http://amzn.to/2o4PJ8C

As the weather’s been so horrible lately I think it’s time for some random frivololity: 1)This is one of those pictures that turn up on Facebook so I can’t attribute it, which is a pity because it’s a) amusing and b) true.

2) Some of my literary and historical heroes – I mean, of course, John Thornton, Col Brandon, and Richard Sharpe, not in any way the actors who played them. Oh dear no…  (all promotional images)

Always…

any excuse

 

Needs no introduction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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!)

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.

Christmas won’t be Christmas without…

…the Christmas Day Downton Abbey Special (to paraphrase Jo March in ‘Little Women’.) dabbeylogoI’ve been watching the entire story, plus Christmas Specials, over the last couple of months (for the umpteenth time) and I’m now half way through the last series, with the 2015 Christmas Finale saved for sometime on Sunday. I’ve loved every single minute of it, even when Mr Bates, the valet, morphed from a chubby but charming stranger with a secret, into a creepy misery with a line in emotional blackmail and a tendency to loom and menace in dark corners. The rest of the inhabitants of the fabulous Gothic palace were terrific and I miss them; I’m hoping there really will be a film – and I want to be the Dowager Countess when I grow up…   cousin-violet

Failing the miraculous return of my favourite tv programme on Christmas Day here are some more books you’d probably rather not find in your stocking – but might have if you’d been around in the early 1900s.  A couple of years ago I shared some of the more exciting blurbs from my collection of Victorian and Edwardian novels – similar vintage to these (Picture: a tea towel from the Bodleian shop)bodleian_tea_towel

The first three are advertised in the back of a book published in 1909 – you can tell they’re not going to end well…

WO2 by Maurice Drake  ~ A sensational and exciting story of present-day illicit sea-faring. To explain the character of the forbidden trade would be to tell too much; enough that international politics are concerned… An exciting yarn of the sea and its scoundrelism(sic)…

Led into the Wilderness by  ~ William E Bailey John Martin, the hero of this story, is a missionary in a rarely visited island in the East. Here he is ‘tempted of the devil’ and falls. First he yields to a craving for drink and then to allurements of another kind in the person of a beautiful island girl….

Passions of Straw by Evelyn F Heywood  ~ The poignant tragedy of a young woman who, proud, beautiful, ambitious, finds herself wedded to a cynic and a roué. Her husband, having shattered her happiness, finally succeeds in drawing their only child into the whirlpool of his idle, vicious life…

And finally, a cheerful little book advertised in the back of a book published in 1912 – possibly not a forerunner for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Thankfully things have moved along – a bit – since then. (Below: A diagnostic tool of the era)phrenologyhead

The White Thread by Robert Halifax  ~ A book which is practically certain to arrest a serious consideration, both lay and medical. Tilly Westaway herself – the lovable, human little heroine with her secret maternal longings and her desire to ‘put everything right for everybody’ – makes a curiously moving appeal all the way. But it is the vast shadow in the background – the menace of the ever-absorbing, ever-expanding lunatic asylum ward – which will remain in one’s mind long after the book is laid down…(I bet they’re right about that last sentence, it sounds a morbid little tome…)

holly

On the other hand, here’s a book that would cheer anyone up, containing as it does a stalker, a vandalised Porsche, lots of dead insects, a blood-filled fish pond, and a host of other seasonal delights… the-art-of-murder-final-image

Have a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year (hopefully, in my case, without further adventures involving patios, broken bones and broken heads…)

The Happiest Days…?

Look at that! Nearly three months since I last threw some words at this blog. There’s no excuse except that I’ve been busy writing. The trouble is, though, I’ve been writing TWO books at once – admittedly for the past couple of years – and although they’re nearly done, they’re not quite done. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve started a third book which is something I sneak off and play with, just for fun, but it all tends to put a stop to serious thoughts about actually getting something published.

I must say that the third book is fun to write. My younger daughter calls it my doll’s house and the friend who has read it complained loudly when she reached the end of the pitiful fifteen thousand word total. I hope to finish it sometime but there’s no hurry; it’s set in 1918 and there are three girls, one still at school; a dead (they hope) father; a distant mother who is a suffragette who writes racy novels under a pseudonym; a grandmother who failed dismally as a debutante by being sick all over Queen Victoria’s satin-clad feet, and a houseful of wounded officers in the small stately home next-door.Red Cross Hospital

Recently, I was having a discussion with some other writers about what, if any, encouragement we were given at school. The answer seems to have been, Not Much, for most of them, and school was often a barely-tolerated cross to bear. Not for me though. I loved school. When my mother put my name down at the small primary school down the road – the one that was built from Nissen huts left over from the First World War and were so fragile that a boy once punched a hole through the cardboard wall – she was told in no uncertain terms that she Must Not Teach Me To Read. So she didn’t and as the annual intake happened in the September after your fifth birthday I turned up on my first day aged 5 years and 9 months, unable to read (though not bothered about it). Alone out of the other forty-nine wailing children, I, (horribly precocious), informed the harassed teacher that I wasn’t supposed to be at her school. ‘Oh? Where should you be then?’ ‘I’m going to the grammar school,’ I announced. To which she replied, ‘I’m sure you will, eventually, Nicola. Now you’re here though, perhaps you’d help me with some of these children who are crying?’

I don’t remember learning to read but by my sixth birthday, on Christmas Eve, I could read fluently and was put up a year – the  downside of that being that I was too shy to ask where the girls’ loos were with the inevitable puddle as a result. (The answer was out in the arctic playground, with no glass in the windows, and a long way to walk (run) if it was raining.)

So – school was fine and I had no problems – apart from the entirely ludicrous requirement that had nine-year old girls (don’t know what the boys did) knitting. Not simple knitting though. I was presented with needles and wool and presumably a pattern and told to knit a pair of gloves. With fingers. After a month of hideous nights rent with screams and nightmares – and more puddles – I was a nervous wreck and my mother demanded that they set me to knit a plain scarf.

The grammar school was fine too – Parkstone Girls’ Grammar School – which, after I left school, was transferred to a modern building. (I bet it wasn’t as much fun as when we poked about in one of the old the attics and found a tiger skin rug complete with glass eyes and fearsome teeth!) We weren’t actively encouraged to write fiction as essays on dull topics were the order of the day but there was always an expectation that you could do anything you set your mind to and I did get a couple of poems in the school magazine. It was only after O Levels that I disliked school: not the lessons but the wasted hours doing games and PE, civics, music (which seems, at this distance, to have consisted of learning to sing ‘Who is Sylvia?’ for a whole term!) I should mention games, something I loathed with a passion and to this day the only sport I follow is tennis. (That’s probably because of the Australians of the day, with their long bronzed legs and tiny shorts – step forward John Newcome. Sigh…) My school consisted of several large Victorian and Edwardian houses scattered around a couple of acres. img783The art department was in another house, Torvaine, about half a mile up the road and the hockey field was just beyond that. To my eternal gratitude this field was low-lying and often flooded but we didn’t get away that easily. A little farther down the road was Poole Park with its football and hockey pitches. That was all right, the walk took time out of the lesson, but best of all were the times when our school field was flooded and the pitches in the park were already booked. That meant we had to walk towards Sandbanks (the millionaire’s paradise where, incidentally, my grandfather was offered the chance to buy an acre of land in about 1900 for the princely sum of £5! He couldn’t afford it and as my mother was the fifth child, I doubt if I’d have benefited even if he had.) Once we arrived at the Whitecliff playing field we had to pick up for teams. Naturally I’d made sure nobody ever picked me, though I could run pretty fast if I wanted to. The leftovers were told to play a scratch game out of the way and this is where it was fun. It takes a perverted kind of skill to hit a hockey ball on to the shore just far enough so you all have to clamber down to the beach to retrieve it, and not so far that the ball gets lost in the sea. Much more fun than running up and down after a ball with the hockey mistress (short hair held back by a Kirby grip, aertex shirt, and shorts that were known as ‘divided skirts’) shouting, ‘Where’s the left-wing? Oh – it’s you, Nicola.’

Enjoying school as I did it’s no wonder that I was an avid reader of stories of boarding schools, many of them dating back to the late nineteenth century – these, of course, are the inspiration for my pet project, the WW1 book. I have an awful lot of them, some ludicrous and some so beloved that I read them annually and sometimes more often. There are also modern stories set in schools I’d have given my eye-teeth to attend: Diana Wynne Jones’s ‘Witch Week’ school; Terry Pratchett’s ‘Assassin’s Guild’; Miss Cackle’s Academy and, of course, Hogwarts.

To this catalogue I can now add, ‘The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School’ by Kim Newman. Set in a gloomy boarding-school not long after World War I, this is a school story written by a writer of horror stories! He’s certainly done his research into the genre and it’s great fun to spot all the usual situations but the horrors creep in and it gets extremely scary!drearcliff

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, the fabulous series written by Jodi Taylor, isn’t on the face of it, a school story, featuring as it does time travel, history, death, murder, mystery, comedy and lashings and lashings of margaritas, beer and head-banging sex. However, the setting is an historic stately home, everyone lives-in at their workplace, discipline is strict (most of the time) and when summoned to the Director’s office, the historians are as nervous as any third-former at the Chalet School.one damned thing

Size matters – when it comes to Sicily

The thing you have to remember about Sicily is that it’s BIG. Much, much bigger than you imagine. When we first went there in 2002 I found a farm that had been converted into a hotel/holiday accommodation. It was bang in the middle and with breath-taking ignorance I decided we’d be able to visit the rest of the island in day trips. This was based on my mistaken belief that Sicily is about the size of the Isle of Wight.  It isn’t, it really, really isn’t.

Anyway, as you can imagine, there were bits of Sicily (quite a few, actually) that we didn’t see, as well as some we wanted to revisit, so this year, Sicily was the place to go. As I’ve said before, everyone assumes that our predilection for railway trips is based on the Engineer’s passion for preserved railways, but it’s not. I like trains too so I came up with the bright idea of going to Sicily by train – all the way. (You can even stay in the train when it goes on to the ferry across to Messina.) WP_000286The original plan was to fly home but while we were planning the trip there was a particularly nasty plane crash (yes, I know they all are, but that one was wicked). I’m more a resigned air passenger than a frightened one but when I cunningly suggested we should travel both ways, the idea went down very well.

Not everyone would imagine their trip from London to Sicily would include stops in Paris and Milan, as well as a return journey via Rome, Milan, Switzerland, Amsterdam and Harwich, but then, not everyone would have crossed the Alps in the scenic Bernina Express, but it was a fabulous trip.

We stayed in Catania on the east coast and concentrated our six night visit on the south-eastern corner of Sicily. On our first visit we went to the astonishing Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, (this is the famous mosaic of female athletes in leather bikinis)

WP_000300a place I really wanted to revisit. It was just as fabulous the second time around and as a Unesco World Heritage site, it’s beautifully looked after. The other reason for choosing that area was none other than Il Commissario Montalbano, who lives there in the fictitious town of Vigata. We both love the tv series although I get fed up with the cavalier way they treat evidence and the way that Inspector Montalbano gets his kit off in every episode and sleeps with suspects, murderers, mourners, anything with a pulse really. (I like his sidekick Augello, though and Fazio who does all the work).

You can do Montalbano tours and visit the locations, either the ones Camilleri used in the books, or the television locations. With this in mind we headed for Montalbano’s house, which turns out to be a B&B. We had lunch nearby, though not overlooking the beach where he found a dead horse.WP_000306 The town of Ragusa doubles on TV as Vigata and looks amazing from the opposite hill, where you get the full impact of the old town.WP_000443

I thought about this Literary Tourism last week when a friend asked me to show her where I murdered somebody in Winchester. Cue startled shop assistant nearby. I fantasise about readers pottering round the cathedral looking for the exact seat in the side chapel where one of my characters is murdered in ‘A Crowded Coffin’, and standing in the Crypt (as did Sam Hathaway in ‘Murder Fortissimo’, while another man stared at the statue by Antony Gormley.)Presentation4a One day…

And the Winner is…

 

 

ED, TRYING TO WORK OUT WHAT HE’S SUPPOSED TO DO

In fact, Ed lost interest until I hit on the idea of hiding a piece of ham under all the names. He was so enthusiastic about this that he managed to drag out TWO slips of paper at once, so – since the Oracle has spoken – I’m happy to announce that we have two winners. Congratulations, Old Kitty and Dina(*see note), you will shortly be receiving a copy of Murder Fortissimo (or at least you will when you email me a postal address).

Thanks to everyone who joined in – there will be more giveaways in future but Ed has resigned as Winner Picker so I’ll see if the squirrels at the bottom of the garden would like a go next time. (It’s not a cat blog, we’re open to offers from blue tits, wood mice, voles and shrews, in fact any creature who displays more interest and aptitude than Ed).

If you didn’t win this time you can still buy a copy of Murder Fortissimo from the Worldwide Mystery Library  Even with postage from the US it’s still only about £7.50.

Next post coming soon – the mysterious circumstance of the dog with no head!

 OOPS! I seem to have put Dina’s name into the draw by accident, daft ha’porth that I am. Have just redrawn and the second winner is Mary! Mind you, if Dina does turn up and claim her prize, I have a spare copy!  Sorry – I’m blaming it on the weather!