The Hares of Ladywell

My last blog post was entitled: Licet esse beatis It is permitted to be joyful. Well, I think we all know that joy is in considerable demand at the moment, so this post tells how the hares came to be such a vital – and joyful – part of The House at Ladywell and the seasonal sequel, Christmas at Ladywell.

The House at Ladywell combines my passion for history and for mystery. Back in the mid-1990s I wrote a book about a young woman who inherited a very old house in Hampshire and although it got some excellent rejections! I ended up shelving it. Every now and then I would think about it until, in 2015, I realised that the story was incomplete. Instead of a purely contemporary novel, I needed to tell the story of the very old house I’d dreamed up, which is how The House at Ladywell became a multi-timeline novel, combining a modern love story with several glimpses of the history of the house, as well as a few mysteries (because I can’t resist them).

I still had the twenty-year old early version of the story but I only used it as a reference while I re-wrote it completely. About a third of the way into the book, I decided I wasn’t happy with the viewpoint, so I tried writing in the first person, something I’d never done, but luckily the story came alive. So far so good. A month or so later it was clear that something else was lacking. I needed a running theme, something to connect past and present, and that’s when the hares of Ladywell turned up.

Harvest Hare by Nicky

Tentatively, I introduced a hare into the Roman story and felt pleased with it, so from then on the hares of Ladywell became completely real to me and added new depths to the history of the ancient and modern aspects of the old house and its family. I explored the connection again in the follow-up novella, Christmas at Ladywell, and was pleased to expand the story of the hares.

This one’s a tad chubby for a hare but I’m fond of him!

But why hares in the first place? Because I’ve belonged to a local art workshop for years and one day, for no particular reason, decided to paint a hare! It worked so I painted more and sold them – including one at an open exhibition at the Southampton Art Gallery! Now, if I can’t think what to paint, I default to painting a hare, and the more I discovered about these strange and mystical animals the more I was hooked.

It’s been a delight to learn that readers also love the hares, as well as the hints of magic and myth that they bring to the story – and several kind readers have even given me ornamental hares, among them a  sweet little metal hare who sits on my mantelpiece and a tiny silver hare in the shape of a lapel pin! Sadly, I’ve never seen a hare close up, only running rapidly in the opposite direction, but I do have my magical hares at Ladywell!

Tiny hares, 2″x 2″ canvas

I hope everyone is coping with lockdown and isolation. We’re lucky enough to have a garden with a wood at the bottom so we have plenty to do and to see. Here’s hoping we all get through this testing time, and remember, even at times like this, it is still permitted (as often as possible) to be joyful! xx

mybook.to/TheHouseatLadywell

mybook.to/ChristmasatLadywell

 

Spring Has Sprung!

What a shockingly idle blogger I am! Still, the sun’s shining now and spring has sprung, after a fashion, so let’s have some Springy things, starting with this year’s tenant in the nest box that hangs on one of our oak trees. It’s been there for about 15 years and the occupants have been mostly blue tits apart from the year we had nuthatches and last year’s coal tits. Hours of procrastination while you watch the monitor!  Only one egg so far and not easy to make it out in this photo, but there could be up to fifteen in total!oneeggmar2019

We usually have a visiting pheasant every year, dating from the time when the farm down the road used to hold shoots and we’d see dozens of pheasants sitting just outside our fence till it was safe to go home! A few years ago one visiting pheasant was so tame he’d let me feed him peanuts by hand, though I always wore thick leather gloves – that beak looks vicious! Here’s last year’s gentleman visitor with one of his wives, alongside a couple of our other regular visitors, a pair of roe deer:

 

Do you remember the Inspector Wexford series? It was filmed in Romsey, not far away, and this whole area was once described as ‘rural suburbia’ which is pretty accurate, really.

Not far away from us there’s a nature reserve – quite low-key and not very big, but interesting as it’s ancient wetland and in the past the scrub was kept down by grazing cattle (not in the wet bits!) For the last few years a local farmer has been allowed to graze his cattle there so life goes on as it has for centuries and the cows pay little attention to anyone ambling along the stream. At the moment it’s a mass of wild garlic, primroses, celandines and violets, not to mention blackthorn, catkins and evidence of rabbits!    20190326_135621 20190326_135112         So there we are – Spring in Hampshire, and very nice too.

Also very nice are these two beauties, one with its Blue Semi-finalist’s badge for the upcoming Chatelaine Awards at a banquet in Bellingham, in the Pacific North West – I’m hoping to be there! And the other with its shiny new gold Amazon Best Seller sticker. My two most recent book babies are doing well!

Best Seller Sticker!

Reviews & Recipes, Life in 1918 Part 2

Here we are, it’s out and it’s getting some lovely reviews already: I couldn’t put it down. Not sure what I liked best, but I really liked the way you tell your story, even when the themes were most serious, with a touch of humour which somehow lightens the atmosphere all round, although we never underestimate the hardships either – I found myself laughing out loud at times. I saw a resemblance to the Cazalet series, but even more, I saw many shades of Angela Thirkell there. A lovely read.’
And while I’m about it, here’s another one: Another excellent cosy mystery by Nicola Slade. Not only is this a jolly good story with a cliffhanger ending it portrays life on the Home Front in 1918 without being mawkish or sensationalist. I love the details of the food; the struggle was real!

My 1918 heroine writing!

Even though the War opened up the prospect of many hitherto male-only jobs for women, middle-class girls with no particular training were still hampered by expectations of what was ‘suitable’. Christabel, the narrator of The Convalescent Corpse, contributes to the family income by writing Boys’ Own-style books aimed at young men in the army,with exciting titles such as ‘Prefects on Picket Duty’ – but she manages this by using a male pseudonym.

I’m glad that the reviewer above loved the details of the food and the shortages and rationing that made shopping for groceries a test of endurance and hope.Hampshire Pie is an example of shameless misrepresentation! on the part of the Home Chat editor who produced their March 1918 supplement: Plain Puddings & Cakes. It has no visible link with Hampshire and it’s not a pie! I had to include it, of course, considering the book is set in Hampshire – in Ramalley, a small market town halfway between Winchester and Southampton, that bears a surprising resemblance to Romsey!

Hampshire Pie – 1918

Hampshire Pie (Hot, Baked)

Apple is the nicest fruit to use for this but it is very good with rhubarb or any other fresh fruit

1 lb apples or soaked dried apple rings

1 pint water

2 ounces custard powder

1 tbs golden/amber/or ginger syrup, or other sweetener

Saltspoonful powdered cinnamon or nutmeg

Peel, core and slice apples. Boil the cores and peel in the water till quite soft, then drain off water, and save it.
Cover apples in a pan with water to half cover them. Simmer till soft, beat free from lumps with a fork. Add cinnamon and syrup and spread the pulp in a piedish.
Meanwhile, boil up the apple water. Mix the custard powder smoothly and thinly with a little cold water, pour it into the boiling apple liquid and stir for about five minutes, or according to directions on the packet.
Sweeten this mixture if necessary; a drop of vanilla is generally an improvement. Pour it over the apple pulp and bake in a moderate oven for about half and hour or until browned.
NB Ground rice or cornflour and just a little custard powder can be used if you like, instead of all custard powder. A scrap of margarine improves the flavour and increases the food value of the pudding.

Verdict – I love stewed apple so I was happy with this, though I made custard with skimmed milk instead of the apple water suggested – I felt that was a step too far towards authenticity! It’s a cheek to call it a pie, though I suppose it is cooked in a pie dish!

You can find The Convalescent Corpse in ebook and paperback all across Amazon. This is the UK link:https://amzn.to/2OskEpV
Please tell your friends – and if you enjoy this story of family struggles in wartime, a review on Amazon would be fabulous.

An intriguing French detective – and some shiny new covers!

The snow’s gone, and even if it comes back – not that likely down here in the Deep South aka Hampshire – there are daffodils and primroses in the garden, the random pheasant sits outside and shouts for his dinner, and the roe deer family peer over the garden fence almost daily. Spring is on its way so it’s time I stopped hibernating so I’m happy to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author, Angela Wren, to answer my 8 Quick Questions and tell us about her fascinating mysteries set in rural France.

  1. When you finish a new writing project, who is the first person you share it with?

My editor. I run a Writing Group and the various drafts of my stories are shared with the group and I get plenty of comment throughout the writing process.

  1. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?

My stories are set in France and the absolutely best comments are those from people who have said they felt as though they were in France itself whilst reading my work.

  1. Everyone has bad writing days (or weeks, or months). What do you do when you start to hate everything that you’ve written?

I chuck whatever I’m writing in a drawer and leave it there for a week or two, or possibly longer.  I have one manuscript that has been in the drawer for two years!  Perhaps it will never come out.

  1. We all cast our characters for that hypothetical film or tv deal. Which actor/s would you choose to play your main character/s?

Actually, I haven’t even thought of that.  My central character, Jacques, would have to be French and whoever plays him would have to fit his physical description.  So, Gerard Depardieu is completely out of the running.  There was a gorgeous French tenor I saw in a production of the Pearl Fishers – now he would be perfect, except I can’t remember his name!

  1. What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?

I absolutely love stringing the words together once I know what my story is. I can just disappear into my fictional world and stay there for days on end. I find editing particularly difficult and very tiring. I don’t exactly dislike it, because I know how essential a task it is. But if there was any part of the writing process that I could ditch, it would definitely be editing.

  1. Research is a vital part of writing. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?

Discovering the Cévennes in south central France for the very first time. It’s the part of France where my stories are set and there’s a silence and loneliness there that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. It’s also an upland area, the scenery is spectacular, the villages are small and sparse and the weather can change in a moment.  A perfect place for murder, I think!

  1. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up – if the story wants to be written it will be.

  1. Finally, in one sentence, tell us about your current project.

I’m in the final stages of completing book 3 (Montbel) in my Jacques Forêt series of stories which will be out later this year.

Thank you for visiting, Angela, I’m looking forward to meeting Jacques again!

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

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And here are the shiny new covers of my Charlotte Richmond Mysteries, re-issued now by Williams & Whiting!