| I cannot believe that an entire year has gone!
15th January 2013 was the day the removal men came to start packing up our old home; the 17th January, we left London for the last time and drove to the hotel in what is now our Devon Village. That night, it snowed. and snowed. and snowed. On Friday the 18th, Ron and I woke up to find Devon had turned white.
The (then) hotel owners - the place has since been sold - invited us to their own dwelling for breakfast because the chef couldn't get in to work. I waited anxiously to hear from the removal men who were somewhere in Exeter with the contents of our home.
By 9 a.m Pickfords Removals had started transferring our contents from the big artic lorry to a smaller transit - essential because the lane to the house is narrow.
By 10 a.m we had started moving in, despite the cold and the snow.
A somewhat chaotic and tiring day followed, but most of the furniture was in by dusk. We had arranged to go back to the hotel that night though, just in case the beds hadn't been put in to our new home, or the food boxes had not been unpacked (they hadn't!).
And again we were kindly invited by the High Bullen owners to dine with them that evening. What a fantastic welcome to Chittlehamholt! Thank you Jane and Martin.
Saturday 19th January, the last of the furniture was in. We were the new owners of what I call online "Windfall Farm" - not its real name. The dream of a lifetime had come true.
Kathy and the horses, meanwhile, had been delayed in London. There was no way that a horsebox would have been safe to travel. By the time the snow cleared here in Devon - mid-week - it was thick snow in London, so Kathy and the horses didn't join us until the following weekend.
My main memories from those first few days?
Piles of cardboard boxes.
The darkness of that first night - we hadn't found the outdoor light switches!
The central heating going off because the switch operating the electric pump to the Range had been switched off - and how lovely and warm it soon got when we realised the error and turned it on again.
The moonlight on the snow.
The red deer in the field next door.
The owls calling.
Badgers fighting in the woods (a very scary sound!)
The first snowdrops appearing, and then the primroses and violets.
I still have not fully taken in that we live here, that this is our home, that it is all ours. Every so often I think that tomorrow we will have to pack up and go home. you know, like when you are on holiday and the week has almost gone.
And yes, I continue to have a few tears of joy when I walk down the lane of an evening with Baz and see out farmhouse lights twinkling through the hedges.
A lot has happened in the year that has just gone, and a lot will be happening in 2014. Kathy and Adam will be getting married, and I have numerous book-related conferences to attend. Hopefully there will be several good friends coming to stay at various times during the year and Ishi will be having her foal and I might actually get the next Sea Witch Voyage written - if I can tear myself away from looking out the windows, walking in the woods or generally enjoying my new home.
I love it here. I have waited so many, many years to live where my heart wanted to be, in the country. Living here has made me realise how very unhappy I was in London. There is a Devonian saying that when God threw Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he sent them to Devon instead. And Devon is Heaven.
What else is awaiting around the bend? Who knows? But I can verify that even if six out of seven dwarves are not happy - I certainly am!
Happy New Year everyone.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
"Well known fact: six out of seven dwarves are not happy!"
| The person who invents the 36 hour day will make a fortune. Or maybe someone who can really multi-task - like Hermione in one of the Harry Potter movies. She manages to manipulate time so that she can be in two places at once and therefore do two things at once. I could do with a magic gadget like that!
I am supposed to be getting on with the next Jesamiah novel. (titled On The Account) And I am well aware that I have been saying this for months now. The reason I have not written more than three chapters is because I am drowning in my somewhat extensive ‘to do’ list.
Has anyone any idea how such lists manage to double during the course of a week, even though you were positive you were managing to clear it?
Take the other day for example: Ron sets off for his annual jaunt to the huge Pigeon Show held in Blackpool. Everyone who is anyone in the pigeon racing world goes to Blackpool. This year Ron signed up to go by coach with the Pigeon People of Devon, which is nice because he wanted to meet more of the local Fanciers. I, meanwhile, was looking forward to a weekend of ‘me time’. A chance to get on with Jesamiah's next adventure as a priority, and catch-up with some missed Dr Who episodes on DVD as a second.
What a silly idea! First, take Baz for a walk. We actually had a lovely time wandering up through our woods, investigating all the new spring growth which is determined to think it is March, not January. Baz and I had a paddle in the raging torrent that is our stream, and we poked about at some debris clogging up the waterfall. Baz enjoyed chasing a squirrel, even though it cheated and ran up a tree, thus spoiling the fun. I very nearly lost a wellie in the mud - all very enjoyable, except it was raining. Again. Not ordinary get-you-wet rain. This was pouring like a hose turned on full. Soak-you-through-to-the-bone rain.
By the time we got back to the house we were one very soggy doggy and owner. So: Dry the dog. Hot shower. Elevenses. Get my breath back. Respond to e-mails. Write the last of the articles I was asked to do. Edit the one I had completed the day before. Answer the phone. Answer the door and sign for a parcel. Answer another phone call. Deal with more e-mails, suddenly urgent... Do you get the picture?
With all that eventually completed I settled down to write. The phone rang again. It was Kathy calling from the stable yard at the other end of the garden. Could I come up? Lexie has cut herself.
Several hours later, after the vet had been, after we arranged transport for Lexie to go to Vet Hospital (Ron not being here, and Adam at work so therefore no one to drive our horsebox) I was too tired and stressed to think of enough words to write a shopping list let alone my fifth pirate adventure!
The following weekend (25th/26th January) I was unable to write because I had the pleasure of an adventure in Bristol. Helen Hart of SilverWood Books Ltd had arranged for an Author's afternoon at Bristol Foyles in Cabot Circus, followed by a meal in a nearby restaurant.
The afternoon was superb, with the bookshop full of people - and not all of them SilverWood authors, although there were quite a few there. It was fabulous to be able to put real faces to on-line names: Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage, Harriet Grace, Peter St John, Paul Connolly, Ed Hancox, Mike Willis and many more.
My thanks to Helen Hart, Joanna and Emily for organising it all, and to Robb at Foyles for having the faith to agree to the event. Hopefully, as it was a great success there may be others - a huge boost to the respectability of quality Indie published books. It was the best thing I ever did, joining up with SilverWood.
I was also stunned by an amazing coincidence. Emily, who has recently started working for SilverWood, used to live in Devon. In a North Devon village. Yes, you've guessed it. My village!
So, after all that excitement, we have Lexie back home feeling sorry for herself with a deep puncture wound just above her knee. She has to stay in because our fields have a fantastic crop of Mud (it still hasn't stopped raining) and we are all going to be very busy in early March as we have a wedding in the family - but more of that in the next newsletter.
So, if I can possibly ignore all the things clamouring to be attended to, set off on the right path and follow the right track (preferably a dry, sunny one) I might be able to get a few more paragraphs written before the end of this month. My pirate is waiting so patiently for me...
Anyone know which way it is to the sea?
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I am writing this a few days before the end of the month because the beginning of March is going to be very busy - and very exciting. Kathy is getting married to Adam. And a nicer son-in-law I could not wish for!
I'm going to break with tradition, make this news journal short and add further information in a few days' time after the wedding, so I can share the (hopefully!) lovely day.
Addendum: Due to the demands of a certain pirate - and at last writing a few more chapters - the concluding part of this post will be featured in the April Newsletter. Suffice to say, a Good Time was had by All!
Adam met Kathy several years ago and asked her out. Because of circumstances, that initial date did not lead to others, and they moved on to different relationships.
Six years later, both of them on their own again, they re-met. Unfortunately we were about to move from London to Devon. That didn't bother Adam, who had made up his mind that he wasn't going to lose Kathy a second time.
Once we had moved he motored down from London every weekend, then almost a year ago in March 2013 he moved in with us, got a job in Exeter and proposed. Lovely.
Adam used to read this journal (not sure if he still does!) and I had included him in the November 2006 entry although at the time I did not know who the young man was. I remembered the entry, though - and so did Adam.
I had written and published Sea Witch, Pirate Code was being written, and Kathy was happy to dress as a pirate: Jack Sparrow and my Jesamiah Acorne were well and truly spreading their influence.
This is the relevant entry:
Now Adam knows that a fictional pirate resides in the house alongside us, albeit mainly in my study, and as part of the family, he has become part-pirate by entering into the spirit of Kathy's side saddle costume classes.
Click 'ere m' hearties t'see the fine lad in all 'is piratical paradin'!
And this month's quote is not correct. You will be hearing a lot about the hero after he has married my princess!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Phew! What a busy few weeks! I know I am always saying this recently, but March has been even more hectic than usual. I keep hoping for a quiet season, but I think the hope may be in vain.
Of course most of the hecticness (is that a word?) was due to Kathy and Adam's wedding. Which was a fabulous day. There are some unofficial photos from family and friends or a few of the official ones on my Devon Diary Blog.
We had a bit of a panic at home on the night before the wedding because our house guest, James, managed to get poked in the eye by a snooker cue while waiting to have dinner at a local pub. I was expecting a black eye the next morning, but he suffered a streaming eye instead. We did wonder about an eye patch and pirate outfit for him, but anxious that it might need medical attention we phoned the new 111 advice line. Fortunately the eye was quite a bit better than the evening before and was OK. I wasn't really looking forward to spending my daughter's wedding day in A&E!
A great treat for me, my good friend Mal (in fact my dearest friend) stayed on with us for an entire week after the wedding, in the official role of Keeper Of The Horses. I think he enjoyed playing ponies all day, and having the fun of running his own yard unmolested except by a bolshy Exmoor pony who always appears so cute at first glance!!
The most fortunate thing, for the wedding and the week after? It actually stopped raining!
March has also been taken up with finalising plans for an extension we're having built. The West Wing extension is to be further extended, so it will have four rooms instead of the present two (two up, two down) and should make a nice flat for Kathy and Adam, or Ron and I as we get older. Our wedding present to the happy couple!
Not looking forward to all the noise and disruption though, not when the loudest thing we hear at the moment is the cock pheasant squawking, or the owls hooting. I guess I'll have to find the charger for the laptop and disappear down into the woods to write come the Build. Fingers crossed the rain stays away.
Still, by Christmas 2014 all should be finished. She said with everything crossed.
I'm getting ready, as I write this, to gallivant off to Leicestershire for a self-publishing conference being organised by Matador Books.
They are not my publisher, which is SilverWood Books, but as I was asked to attend and do a talk about reviewing Historical Fiction, in my capacity as Managing Editor of the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and also as expenses are paid, I thought 'Why not?' It's always good to get out and about to meet fellow writers and readers, especially if I can simultaneously promote Indie publishing. I'll probably be doing the same sort of thing at the HNS London Conference in September this year - and, here's the really exciting bit, very possibly at the HNS 2015 conference in Denver Colorado USA.
I passed through Denver back in August 2008 when I visited the USA and went by train from San Francisco to Colonial Williamsburg via Chicago and Washington. The journey up through the Rockies was fabulous, and we spent about half an hour at Denver Station, so it would be nice to see more of that lovely city than just the platform.
I have very fond memories of that trip: meeting Connie in San Francisco and spending a wonderful week with her. Meeting Jansy and Susan and her family, and Joyce - and everyone else - at Salt Lake city, then on to Williamsburg where I stayed with John and Cathy Millar of Newport house B&B and where I might well stay again if I go on this 2015 trip. May as well do a bit of a tour round!
John and Cathy are lovely people and often help me out with information if I need it, from sailing detail to beekeeping! The latest help was in the form of advice about a suitable dance for the present Sea Witch voyage that I am writing - On The Account. John and Cathy host English Country Dancing, which is based around historical dance (Think sexy dance scene in the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice TV drama). I wanted a dance that was subtly erotic: Tiola is dancing with a rival for Jesamiah's affections. Hah! I will say no more, the rest is a secret!
Talking of dancing, Kathy and Adam had the most wonderful violinist playing for the wedding ceremony and afterwards. Finding the main room empty while the last of the photographs were being taken, Ron and I had a sneaky dance together. Somewhat ruined by me bursting into giggles and quoting the judges on Strictly Come Dancing: "Shoulders Dahling, and feet - feet!"
Which is where I shall end this April Newsletter, and repeat the current quote: You shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, say it often.
I am so proud of my beautiful daughter and her wonderful new husband.
I love you both.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I've had flu. Genuine, feels-like-I've-been-trampled-by-a-herd-of-stampeding-elephants-then- squished-by-a-steamroller type flu. The type where you crawl into bed and stay there for several days. In my case, about a week.
I missed the few days of beautiful weather that we had here in Devon. When I went to bed there were no leaves on the trees - now everything has burst into vibrant green life. The daffodils and primroses have finished; the bluebells, the tulips and unfortunately the weeds, have flourished instead. Weed-wise, if it has a pretty flower it can stay, but that sticky-stem stuff that chokes everything is starting to be the bane of my life. It gets everywhere. I do not advise pulling it up while wearing a fluffy jumper - I ended up covered in sticky stems!
The only nice thing about being poorly is being waited on with cups of tea and the occasional Tia Maria coffee, made with real Devon cream, which my son-in-law is a whizz at. He is also a fantastic cook, which is a bit of a godsend as I'm hopeless. I do try, but I always manage to mess up the art of getting food into and out of the cooker. While writing this, lamb shanks were supposed to be on the menu for the evening meal. I peeled the spuds, set them to cook, made sure the oven was on, and when they had boiled put them in to roast. Yum. Pity I forgot to put the meat in as well.
Being under the weather, I also missed out on a Blog Hop that I had organised for some of the SilverWood Books Ltd authors. I managed to put up my post, an article about Fictional Reality, but that was about all. Fortunately, author Debbie Young stepped into the breach and made sure the Hop hopped along efficiently. Read her excellent post about Chocolate and diabetes - most surprising. And my thanks to author and artist Peter St John who provided us with some colourful virtual Easter eggs to collect.
Peter writes the 'Gang' series of stories set during WWII about a boy who is evacuated to a small village near Ipswich; delightful stories that will bring pleasure to anyone who has memories of being evacuated, or for schoolchildren studying the Home Events of the war. Far more fun than dull history books.
I did manage to change my on-line photo image before I took to my bed. Visit the Home Page if you'd like to inspect it. The photo is a 'selfie' taken with my iPad whilst staying overnight at a hotel in Leicester, when I was attending a self-publishing conference as a guest speaker. (If you are interested, here is the gist of my talk.)
I always wear a hat these days - the brim helps to diffuse some of the light bouncing off my retina and therefore dazzling me. More often than not I now have a misty shadow over my vision. I describe it as "imagine entering a steamy bathroom." You can see quite clearly, except for all the steam in front of you. The only difference for me, I can't clear the mist away. So I thought I would make a feature out of my hats, and update my website image at the same time. I've used the same photograph on Facebook, Twitter etc - apparently it is a good idea to use such things as a 'brand'. Do let me know if you discover any live but out-of-date hatless photos anywhere, although I think I've tracked most of them down.
There has been another change to the website. Anyone spotted it?
H2U, which means 'Helen to you'. Originally this was an idea for hidden pages, exclusive to those followers who signed up for the 'secret' link. All well and good, but the content was too well hidden and too secret. Nice idea, but it didn't fully work, so Mr Webmaster has pulled the Special Zone to the fore, putting it on the menu bar - and added some extra items of interest.
In addition to a couple of exclusive excerpts from unpublished work, you will find an animation of the Ripples In The Sand cover complete with the sound of the sea; a slide-show of Rural Devon with birdsong accompaniment; an Adventure in the Woods (no bears were harmed) and the Olympeck Games. Don't forget to switch the sound on for all these - you will see the icon on the bottom menu bar - and read the accompanying captions that will pop up in the bottom right hand corner of the images.
As a corresponding Blog I have my H2U Newsletter where all my latest news and general information will be posted. You can subscribe to this page by email, so no more missing out on what I've been up to. As this month's quote says: they can't touch you if you are doing something interesting. I enjoy sharing my various interesting days with you, and hopefully you enjoy reading about them!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Whoever keeps hacking into my computer and surreptitiously adding to my already extensive 'to-do' file, please either stop or cross off a few of the entries as you browse the apparently endless list. Inexplicably, the darn thing seems to expand without me noticing, but it never seems to contract at all.
Part of the problem is that all the things on it are interesting; articles to write, blogs to update, newsletters to construct. That's in addition to the everyday tasks of responding to e-mails, Facebooking, Tweeting and gazing out the window at the view and/or rain. And I haven't mentioned actually writing the next Sea Witch Voyage - On the Account.
In addition to 'work' there are household Devonian-type things to attend to. Like the Friday morning trip to the Barnstaple Pannier Market. I've known about the market for several years; it was introduced to me by Jo, my fabulous editor, on one of my visits to her abode. I had no idea, then, that one day I would be living here! Husband Ron and I have discovered the most wonderful pie stall there. Fruit pies, vegetable pies, meat pies - the yummiest being a mixed meat and fruit, consisting of pork, bacon, pheasant, apricot - and well, to be honest, I can't remember what else. It is absolutely delicious though, so has become a firm Friday Fixture. When we were there last Friday, I also bought a new hat - for £2.50 - and a suede skirt. Which isn't quite as wide as I am, so we now have an excuse to go back next week and change it. Mind you it is probably the pies that are affecting the waist size!
We have also had the excitement of sorting out the soakaway for our cess pit (oh joy) and erecting new gates across the entrance to the stable yard. I doubt these will keep the pony in as he is expert at opening, climbing over, wriggling under or squeezing through gates and fences. Houdini would be a very appropriate name for the cuddly little monster.
Early June will see the start of our extension being built. The existing not very attractive extension, consisting of my study on the ground floor and a bedroom upstairs, will be transformed over the next few months into a self-contained flat. The study will become the kitchen, the bedroom a bathroom, with entrance porch and stairs, a sitting room - with log fire and patio doors overlooking the garden - and a larger bedroom.
But 'What of your study?' I hear you all gasp! Never fear, I am not going to be forced into a secluded dark corner, or a spider-infested shed to complete On The Account. We are adding a lean-to beyond the dining room which will be on the edge of the orchard and catch the morning and evening sunshine. In future years this will make a comfortable conservatory-type room, but for now it will be my cosy writing space. She said hopefully. I am not including the frequent visits by the chickens when they roam the orchard, or the distractions of the birds, wildlife, weather, views, and various family requirements.
Also eagerly anticipated is the birth of our mare's first foal. Ishi is my son-in-law's ex-racehorse and she is a sweetheart. Fingers crossed all goes well. You can find a couple of photos of her on my daughter's Blog - scroll down the right-hand column, Ishi is thirteen and fourteen photos down. I expect when the foal comes I can persuade my webmaster to add a nice photo into the gallery.
I am on tenterhooks waiting the new arrival because the due date is any time between 6th June and 25th June. I am taking part in the Gedling Book Festival, Nottingham UK on the 20th June, so I will be away from home from the 20th to the 21st. If she has not foaled by then, I will apologise in advance to anyone in the audience who is brave enough (or who merely has time to kill) to come and listen to me yabbering on, for keeping my mobile phone switched on. It is the height of rudeness, of course, but there are circumstances where certain issues take precedence over giving a talk about "how to get good reviews for your Indie produced novel". Expecting a foal being one of them.
Which leads me into a superb link for my quote of the month above. At a recent conference someone paid me a compliment saying, 'You are so bubbly and chatty - just like you are on Twitter.' At least, I think it was a compliment.
Conferences, lectures, work-shops - any book-related events - are hard work. Being polite, making conversation with people you don't know and answering questions can all be extremely tiring. The smile and the interest has to be genuine, or people will notice. So yes, the quote above is somewhat useful on occasion!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Starting my July newsletter with bad news is not easy. Our little foal, a colt, was born in the early hours of June 10th 2014. Sadly, he passed away six days later. I'll not go into detail here, but if you would like to see some photos of the dear little chap you'll find them here.
Our grateful thanks to our vet, Jennifer, of Torch Equine at the Mullacott Centre who did all she could to save him - including sitting up all night.
On a brighter, but just as disruptive note, our Build has started - and stopped again as I write this. Good progress was made initially by Dan and the Gang, but everything has ground to a halt because delivery of the floor beams has been delayed. It seems that 2-3 weeks approximate delivery actually mean 'at the end of three weeks.'
Oh well, it has also started raining so maybe it's a good thing to not have builders with muddy boots tromping about the place.
Baz the dog loves the builders as they play with him during their tea and lunch breaks. He has learnt the sound of their van and goes potty of a morning waiting to be let out to scamper round to say hello. He knows the sound of most of the vehicles that use our lane and drive now. The neighbours' cars 'down the hill' he completely ignores. Our car, ditto. Adam's car, on the other hand, he goes barmy for, because it means "Adam's home - time for a romp!"
He also completely ignores the postman. Postie turns round at the bottom of our drive and pulls up by our gate. He comes in through the gate, puts the post in our box, then goes away again (unless there is something to be signed for). Baz has learnt that the Postie isn't going to play with him so there's no point in getting excited because there's no potential game in the offing. Clever dog, our Baz! The only problem with this is: I don't always know when the postman has been.
The front garden is looking like a jungle. There are plants that definitely were not there last year - and some that were there, but on the left side and are now on the right (or vice-versa). The lane seems to be hedged by Triffids - or at least, their nettly, brambly cousins that swipe at you as you walk past.
The fruit trees are laden, including the Damsons, so more Damson Gin this autumn, and I just might have a go at making jam. Given my somewhat erratic achievements with cooking, however, this plan may prove highly interesting.
I had the pleasure of announcing a new award for Independent and Self-Published authors at the end of June. As Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews I have been working for some time to organise an HNS Indie Award for self/indie published historical fiction writers, and I am pleased to announce that the first annual Award will be made at the HNS London 2014 Conference in September.
Indie authors need the support of book-based societies like the HNS - I sincerely hope that other such eminent groups will soon follow our example. For more information go to my blog.
Also scheduled for July 2014, Kathy has a side-saddle demonstration to do at one of our local equestrian centres. The first one that she did last year was a success, so fingers crossed for this one. We have purchased two tailor's dummies to take along to display two of her costumes - one of which is a genuine Victorian garment made originally circa 1885. For it's age it is in remarkably good condition. The dummies will also be used as wings for a jump - yes Kathy jumps while riding aside. I've given them both names: they are Miss Martha and Mable Propps - quite demure ladies as they do not say much.
Finally, you will all raise a cheer (I hope) to hear that the fifth Sea Witch Voyage On The Account is rattling along at quite a pace now. I have several scenes set on Exmoor - we can see the rounded top of Dunkery Beacon (1,705 feet) from the end of our lane, therefore almost a local setting. I wanted to write a little more about Jesamiah's woman this time, and so she has the honour of opening this next adventure by scampering about in Exmoor. as you can read here.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I was sitting at my desk in my study a few afternoons ago, mid July, enjoying the coolness of rooms within a stone-built farmhouse. Outside it was like an oven. Our builders were working on the other side of the "North Window" but I have soon adapted to shutting out the sound of the cement mixer, the drill, the tap-tap-tap of putting breeze-blocks in place, and their radio - which is not very loud anyway. Concentrating on the section I was writing - chapter twenty-one of On The Account - I looked up and thought, "That's funny, it's getting very dark. Not another storm coming in surely?"
Then I laughed. I hadn't noticed that with the ground floor walls of the extension completed, the builders had moved to an upper floor; so we now have the joists of a ceiling constructed above my window. I will be moving my study to a lean-to-cum-conservatory once that bit is built, and the North Window will become open-plan between the old study - which will be turned into a new kitchen - and the new-built sitting room. I just hope my daughter and son-in-law like their home when it is finished in about four months' time. You can follow progress on my Devon Diary.
Ron is also having to do some building. Kathy and Adam went out to purchase three new ducks to add to our little flock. What is the collective noun for ducks I wonder? A paddle of ducks? A quack of ducks? A waddle of ducks? They came back with three ducks and a goose. Why do we want a goose? Apart from to eat at Christmas, that is, except we all know that will never happen, especially as they are trying - unsuccessfully, I wasn't born yesterday - to convince me that it is a special miniature goose.
So Ron is building a goose house. She's called Bernadette and is a funny little thing! When Kathy picks her up and brings her down to the house, she sees the dog, screams, "Help! Help! Help!" in goose language and hides her head under Kathy's arm or chin, where she feels warm and safe, and I assume thinks that as she cannot see the dog, the dog cannot see her. Does anyone know if geese are related to ostriches?
I can quite understand, now, the origin of the phrase "Oh you are a silly goose" when someone is being ridiculously daft!
Talking of miniatures, we also have a miniature side saddle made for a rocking horse. It is one of only three that were made here in Devon. One was created as a commission to present to Queen Elizabeth II, another we have for sale on eBay (it might be sold by the time you read this) and we are keeping the third.
All three saddles are perfect to every detail, with all the girths and balance-straps. Our one has a Pelham bridle, with a real bit, and is also absolutely perfect, even down to tiny martingale stops on the reins. It now lives at the top of our stairs perched on our elderly rocking horse, Mushroom, who has, sadly, seen better days but is very much loved.
Mushroom was found abandoned beside a dustbin (trashcan) to be thrown away with the rubbish. Ron was then a Refuse Collector and Kathy was an eight-year-old who desperately wanted a rocking horse for Christmas because she couldn't have a real pony. Unable to afford either, Ron pounced on this "find" and brought the poor bedraggled thing home. Parking (stabling?) the rocking horse with my neighbour to keep it a surprise for Christmas, I made a new mane and tail, painted his hooves and nostrils, patched up his bald spots to make him look like a piebald, and sewed a lovely red rug. Kathy's face on Christmas morning was an absolute picture. One of those lurch-your-tummy memorable moments that mums and dads experience when they know they have given their child an everlasting treasure.
All these years later (twenty-four!) Mushroom is in desperate need of another overhaul. He could do with the gaping wound in his foreleg patching up - a result of a tiger bite. Well okay, truth be told, the family cat uses him as a scratching post. However, he pretends to be the Queen's old side saddle horse, Burmese, and looks resplendent in a copy of a Royal Side Saddle. Even if it is far too big for him!
I have made a final decision this month: I am definitely going to the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, USA. My trip will include staying a few days with my cover and graphics designer, Cathy Helms, and spending the 4th of July 2015 in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. I am already getting excited!
I will leave you here to enjoy August and to remind you that within the pages of a book everything you can imagine is real.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| August, as it progressed, became a bit wet. Here we are on the 25th and it has been pouring all day. Mind you, it is a Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, so what can we expect? It always rains on Bank Holidays.
Fortunately on the day before we had only the occasional rain shower, which was lucky as Kathy's Devon Divas Side Saddle Display Team had been invited to entertain at a Country Fair in Cornwall. These are good fun, but tiring - especially for the Big Bad Wolf (Adam) who has to do a lot of chasing ponies and gets shot at each performance. Follow the link for some photos. At this particular show we had the honour of a large pen in the Rare Breeds Tent for Mister Mischief (also known as Squidgy), our Exmoor Pony.
This was a bit alarming at first because said pony, after taking a few mouthfuls of grass, decided he wanted the grass outside the pen instead. And anyone who knows Exmoor Ponies knows that what they want they usually get. In the end one of us stood On Guard by the pen's metal fencing to a) Prop it up, b) Stop him knocking it over, and c) Stop him attempting to climb over it (I am not joking!)
We also distracted him by tossing in apples, liquorice sweets (he loves them) and pony nuts which he had to forage for. It worked for about five minutes. Soon after, though, he discovered that it was profitable to have lots of people come up to pat him. Especially the children - who often had sweeties.
The actual side saddle display went well, and our Red Riding Hood Routine was well received. Lots of people came up afterwards to say how much they had enjoyed it.
We had given a similar display a short while before at the Exmoor Pony Breed Show up on Exmoor itself. There is a Facebook Page to "like", if you are registered with FB, here, which currently, as of September 2014, has our Mister Mischief as a header photo.
What a fabulous day that was. The Moors are beautiful this time of year with the heather and gorse in flower. It was also fantastic to see so many Exmoor ponies together - and we saw some wild ones on the journey there. We soon discovered that it is very easy to tell which ponies were moorland or "domestic" bred. The wild-bred ones do not stand still or stay tied up, prefer to eat grass rather than do anything else, and go where they want to go.
Talking of which; Pony got expelled from the Ridden Mountain and Moorland show class at the National Side Saddle Show. Initially called in second, he didn't do too bad a "show", but the two Welsh ponies did better - Welshies always do, they are the pretty ponies as compared to the scruffy working-class ones - so he was placed third. The judge was handing out the rosettes, there were only three in the class, when Squidge suddenly decided that he'd got an itch on his back which must, under all circumstances, be scratched now. Which meant he wanted to roll. It is not a very nice feeling to have your pony unexpectedly sinking beneath you. Kathy hopped off, sensibly, but we were rather miffed that the judge then asked her to leave the arena. Why couldn't she have quickly given Kathy her rosette and laughed about it? After all the class had been judged and he wasn't being a danger to any other competitor. A different matter if he had been rearing, bucking or kicking, but I suppose the judge took it as bad manners. Not to an Exmoor pony of course. If you've got a scratch, you itch it. Too bad if you happen to have a rider on board.
Another judge at the next show, the North Devon at Umberleigh, declared "He is divine - but naughty". Yep. Sums him up spot on.
Must say a quick welcome to Matt who, by the time this newsletter goes live, will have moved from London to our village of Chittlehamholt. One of Adam's friends he has visited a couple of times, discovered he really likes it down here, found himself a job, rented a flat and become a Devonian! Wishing you the best of luck Matt!
Matt's moving is almost suitable for my quote - don't let the things you fear (i.e. making the enormous step of changing your lifestyle) interfere with what you want to do, but actually it refers to something else that happened recently here at our home in Devon.
I dislike spiders. I don't kill them, but I am not a big fan of them. I used to be terrified of the wretched things, but I made myself get over that when Kathy was three when I realised that if I screamed because I saw a spider that was smaller than a 1p piece then so would she. Living in the country has made me realise that I also have to "get over" spiders that are as large as the top of a teacup. We have a lot of them. Before I put them on I automatically shake coats that are hung up in the porch. Ditto any hats or shoes. I've learnt that it is quite easy to catch a spider in an old beer glass, pop a bit of card over the top and evict it - along with the stern words: "I live indoors, you live outdoors, now clear off!"
I very nearly didn't have a shower the other day though. The enormous spider was very big, very hairy and was squatting just above the showerhead. Glowering at me.
So it was remove the spider - bearing in mind I didn't have a stitch on as I had been about to get in the shower - or stay dirty for the day.
I caught the spider via the method outlined above but forgot that the builders were in the garden when I evicted the squatter by giving the beer glass a hefty jerk which sent the occupant sailing through the air into the nearest shrub.
I just hope the towel that I had hastily draped around myself hadn't slipped too much.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
"Never let your fears decide your fate."
| October can be a beautiful or a sad month. The autumn colours here in the UK are glorious, and we have been having a bit of an Indian Summer in Devon. But the prospect of winter approaching is not always a good one, and for me, the annual Battle of Hastings is always one of muted remembrance for the last English King who gave his life defending his kingdom against foreign invasion.
Yes I know Harold Godwinesson was not pure English - technically, he was half-Danish, his mother, Gytha being from Denmark. But he was born in England, lived in England, spoke English (well, Olde English). He was crowned as King in Westminster Abbey on 6th January 1066, and died on the battlefield at what is now the site of Battle Abbey, Sussex on 14th October 1066.
There has been a flurry of novels about the Norman Conquest recently, although the majority are from the Norman point of view: I would recommend James Aitcheson for these, a really nice young man whom I met a few years ago at the English Heritage Battle re-enactment - and I will be meeting again this year at the same event. He was also at the Historical Novel Conference in London last month. I don't agree with his supporting the Normans of course (everyone knows how I feel about Duke William!) but I do recommend his books.
However, I write quite a bit about the Matter of the Conquest and Harold on my blog www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com (hop across on October 14th for a post or two) so I'll leave chatting about 1066 to that link, and move on to a different subject.
What is it, I was wondering a few days ago, that is so addictive about novels? Why do we, as avid readers, become so engrossed in the text that is printed on pages, or our e-readers?
Surely, it is not just the fascination of following a well-written story? Prepare for a shock revelation: fiction is made up. It is not true. Most historical fiction is based on fact, the actual events and people of the past forming the skeleton framework of the story, and those researched facts being - well, factual. The story part is the author's interpretation of what, and who, made those facts become facts. That is why I like writing historical fiction, I enjoy the challenge of filling in the blank spaces between the known bits.
I am somewhat alarmed, however, to hear at least one top agent saying that only historical fiction about kings and queens are wanted in the mainstream publishing world. Where do these so called 'experts' get their information? We want to read about the ordinary people as well; the men and women, the poor people, the merchants, the middle-classes; the everyday lives of everyday folk who lived and loved. laughed and cried.
But there is more to fiction than the historical novel. Thrillers, science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, adventure, nautical, westerns, contemporary - the list goes on. Short novels - the novelette - or epic tomes. The stories that grab you from the opening line, and the ones you have to plod through the first couple of chapters to 'get into'. (I haven't met anyone yet who was hooked by Lord of the Rings until a few chapters in.)
So what is it that pulls us into a novel? That "I'll read just one more page" feeling - and then several hours later, we are still engrossed, completely lost in that fictional world? Why do the characters interest us so much that we must find out what happens next? Or is it the plot, the excitement of what is happening that hooks us?
For me, as a child, I read because I so wanted a pony of my own, but we couldn't afford one so the pony stories I devoured were the next best thing. I became the protagonist character - I was Jill Crewe in Jill's Gymkhana, I was Jackie in Jackie Won A Pony.
In early adulthood I discovered the fascination of fantasy. Is this genre the adult version of children's make-believe? Adult fairy tales? Perhaps the lure of a good book is escapism? But why the need to escape? Depression, loneliness? A general disappointment with the reality of the everyday? I was very shy as a child, had few friends and no confidence, but you don't need friends or confidence with fictional characters. They don't care that you never know what to say or that you feel awkward because of your short sight and those awful glasses with bottle-bottom lens. Characters are your friends - and they become even bigger friends when you meet them as your own creations when the pleasure of reading expands into the joy of writing.
For me, a good book, then, is one that absorbs my attention, one that sticks with me while reading, wondering what is to happen next, living hour by hour with the characters and their lives.
And then there are the very special novels that grip your emotions. Those books that you want to read quickly because you cannot restrain yourself from reading another chapter, then another. Books that, even when you've finished the last page, remain with you for days, weeks, months, years. Books that bring the characters and events so alive that when you read that last page and close the book, you feel grief because you must part company with the adventure you have shared with a close friend.
The greatest compliment you can give an author? "I cried so much at the end".
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| November. Nearly Christmas. Whatever happened to the rest of the year? I have a suspicion we have all been sucked into a time warp and somehow we've skipped from spring to autumn and missed out summer.
Except that I do have the proof that the year has been turning because our build is nearing completion. We're on the last leg now. Kitchen and bathroom delivered and to be assembled and fitted, interior walls to be painted, exterior walls to be finished (if it stops raining for long enough) wood and slate floors to be laid and a log fire to be fitted. Then it's the final nit-pick things like light fittings, hanging curtains, moving the furniture from The Big House to the Little House etc. And I might, if I am very lucky, then have my kitchen and sitting room back as a kitchen and sitting room, not a subsidiary tack room. Who am I kidding? Kathy keep her tack in her part of the house? Nah.
She came off the other day. Lexie shied and went one way, Kathy went the other, and at almost 17.3 Lexie is a big horse to come off. Kathy said it was a bit like skydiving. Fortunately our ménage has a fibre and rubber surface so it's a soft(ish) landing; a few bruises, but otherwise Kathy is OK. Why did Lexie shy I hear you ask? Because a pheasant decided to run through the long grass on the other side of the fence. Honestly that horse belongs in an episode of T.O.W.I.E. (The Only Way Is Essex) as she is a typical Essex Girl. It's about time that horse started learning Country Ways. Fields have sheep in them. Cows go 'moo', the wind blows and pheasants are stupid.
I have also managed to hurt my knee. That's the non-arthritic one, so now I have great fun creaking up the stairs as both knees hurt. Still, a glass of last year's Damson Gin works wonders as a painkiller.
I have several jars of this year's brew fermenting in one of the kitchen cupboards. Damson gin and damson brandy, and blackberry gin and blackberry brandy. The nice thing about the Blackberry Vintage is it can be drunk within a couple of months - so it should be just right for Christmas. The Damson takes a year to mature. Just as well I made some last autumn then!
I have also achieved a first - I made jam, for the first time ever! I made damson jam (we have several Damson trees, in case you haven't guessed that) and it is gorgeous. I wish I'd made more than four jars now though. It is lovely on Kathy's homemade scones with Devon butter and clotted cream. No wonder I can't lose weight.
I also spent the last Sunday in October crying for a couple of hours in the kitchen. Before everyone starts e-mailing to ask if I am OK, there's no panic. I was preparing onions for pickling. The amount of pickling-onions I peeled and left for twenty-four hours in salt to bring out the flavour filled several large pickle jars. Just as well I also like pickled onions! They will go smashing with cold turkey sandwiches and a selection of Devon Cheese for Christmas Day tea.
Changing the subject: Those of you who know us and our dog, Baz, will remember that he is a rescue dog from the Ilfracombe Dog's Trust Centre. He was found wandering the streets of Ilfracombe, and since no-one claimed him, he was put up for rehoming. We are so lucky to have Baz as he is a gorgeous dog - and I think he knows he is lucky to have come to us. What? A two hour walk with Ron every morning, out in the garden, or up the stable yard with me or Kathy during the day, his own settee to sleep on, his own thirteen acres to run around in...
The Big Problem: Baz was afraid of getting in the car - which meant trips to the beach or up on to the moors was at best very difficult. But note the word 'was'. Very patiently we have helped him become used to the car, not forcing him to jump in, but gently encouraging with a titbit or two. Then the next stage - invite him in and drive up the lane to Top Field, let him out and walk back with him through the fields. It all became an enjoyable game and now he jumps in quite happily. Next step is to try the beach! Watch this Journal for an update.
I also have an additional slight problem to my wonky knees. My sight is not so good. It has gradually been getting worse - I have a retina problem so bright lights dazzle me and make my sight seem misty (I can only describe it as imagine walking into a steamed-up bathroom and you are trying to peer through the steam. ) Which is why I wear hats now - the brim has the same effect as putting your hand over your eyes in bright sunlight.
My major difficulty, though, apart from not seeing steps, kerbs, potholes, slopes, doors or stairs, is I can no longer recognise unfamiliar faces. Once I know someone's voice well and I have got to know a name and a face I am OK, but people I only meet occasionally, or rarely, are a tad embarrassing. As I cannot see the face I cannot put a name to it, so I am either ignoring someone because I haven't a clue who they are, or I am floundering around trying to think of a name - and invariably get it wrong. So please, if you see me around and I am looking particularly vague do come up and say "Hi, I'm <name>." Just so I know who I am talking to!
Still, I suppose all these odd quirks of mine add to a rather good 'eccentric author' image!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I am sitting here at my new desk in my new study looking out of the new window at the old orchard and the fields opposite. What I especially love are the trees sky-lined along the top of the gently rounded hill. The sky is a bluish-grey with several differing layers of cloud, but behind the trees the sky is pale and clear, silhouetting the almost bare branches of the trees. There is a little copse, a gap, a couple of trees, another gap, some more trees. absolutely beautiful! You will find some of the views and pictures of my study on my diary of The Build.
A Chinook helicopter has just flown over - quite low - but then, we are quite high. They are magnificent machines. I waved, but I'm not sure if anyone waved back.
And you wonder why I am taking so long to write On The Account, the next Sea Witch Voyage?
December looks like it is going to be another busy month: I am aiming to celebrate my Jesamiah Acorne's birthday (his fictional birthday, of course) on the 4th of the month by offering Sea Witch on Kindle - UK and US - at a special low price of about £1.99 for a limited period of a few days. Corresponding with that I will be releasing the brand new Avalon Graphics (www.avalongraphics.org) designed book trailer for the Sea Witch Series. With the fabulous talent of Bronwen Harrison providing the background music and some fantastic graphics I'm hoping we'll get lots of appreciative viewings (and maybe some sales!)
And then I am a guest on with Alison Morton's blog, with a blog tour of my own that I am organising on 20th December, when I will be joined by a variety of lovely authors for a Christmas Party Blog Hop.
In addition, did I mention we have a new pony? She is a six- or seven-month-old Exmoor, and came straight off the Moor (well via the farm - we didn't go and get her from the actual Moor!) In late October and November the farmers who own the various herds of ponies have a great Gather, where the livestock is rounded up, checked over and either kept for sale or released back to roam semi-feral on Exmoor. Most of the colts are sold, but a few of the fillies as well, as Exmoor cannot sustain too much over-grazing. So, our little Siren comes from the Farleywater Herd - the same as our other Exmoor, Mr Mischief. For those of you interested in by-the-way facts: the Farleywater Herd mostly grazes near the Doone Valley. I quite like the thought that Lorna Doone might have ridden one of our ponies' ancestors. (OK before I get floods of e-mails - I know, Lorna Doone was a fictional character. Allow me a bit of make-believe here.)
Siren is an absolute Sweetheart, although having been sent flying by Mr Mischief (also known as Squidgy) the other day - because I didn't close the gate quick enough and he decided he didn't want to be shut in - I am wondering why on earth we have now got TWO Exmoor Monsters?
Don't be fooled by that 'Butter Wouldn't Melt' look - Exmoors have a mind of their own, and too bad if your idea is somewhat different.
In between the pouring rain I have managed to tidy up some of the front garden. The back orchard is still a mess, but until The Build is finished there isn't a lot of point in tidying. Not long for that now though - a couple more weeks and Kathy and Adam will be moving to the other side of the connecting door and I might get my kitchen, bathroom, sitting room and guest bedrooms back.
Note the word might.
The geraniums are all tucked away for the winter up in the greenhouse - I grew some superb cucumbers and peppers this year. I also made damson jam, gin, brandy and rum. The jam you can eat straight away. The others have to mature. For a year. I cannot guarantee that though.
So how is my writing going? Well, I have written a plethora of articles for various blogs and my own Tuesday Talk slot. I attend my Facebook and Twitter accounts every day; I answer all emails as soon as I can. Then Everyday Life has to receive some attention (I really must get round to giving the Electricity Company that meter reading they have been asking for). I usually get distracted by a Feather of Chickens peering in through my study doors. (No idea what a group of chickens is called - a nest? An egg? A cackle? A Scratch?)
Then it's lunchtime, and often Kathy wants me to help out with something up at the yard. A bit of gardening if it isn't raining; a quick pop 'next door' to see how the builders are doing. Cup of tea, shoo the hens out of the study; see why the goose is making such a noise. More often than not it's because she has managed to get herself stuck somewhere.
Then, finally, a chance to write. And yes. On The Account, the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage, will have everything you want in a grand pirate adventure!
Season's Greetings and a Happy New Year everyone!
Lege feliciter (read happily).