Previous editions of the Journal pages

I hope you all had a relaxing, stress-free Christmas - although I admit that I get stressed wrapping presents: it is unbelievably hard to use clear sticky tape when you can't see very well. I end up missing the two bits of paper I'm supposed to be sticking together and the wretched stuff gets wound round my fingers instead. I also struggle with addressing Christmas cards, which is why I tend to use the wonderful Jacquie Lawson e-cards online. If I know you personally, check your inbox, you might have received one. Or if you would like to be put on my Christmas Card list - Contact me and I'll consider adding you.

Did you see the fantastic short story series we ran on Discovering Diamonds throughout December? A wide variety of authors contributed a wide variety of short stories inspired by a song: the idea being, Read The Story - Guess The Song.

Don't worry if you missed them, you can start here with the first story-song, then follow on by clicking 'Next' - below the story.

It was hard work organising the stories, finding suitable images and the original (official) versions of the songs on YouTube, but well worth it. Just a quick reminder to all authors though; Lyrics in songs are governed by a very strict copyright, so do not be tempted to use even a few distinctive words in a novel or story - don't risk being sued for thousands of pounds or dollars! However, there is no copyright on titles or ideas - hence our stories.

We've had a bit of a change-round here at Windfall Farm regarding the housing of ducks, geese and hens. The problem has been rats. They can chew through anything and have a keen desire to eat duck - fortunately not the adult ones, but the nasty creatures did kill most of ducklings back in the summer. (We got our own back by 'removing' quite a few of the vermin.) However the wretched things have been disturbing the ducks and geese at night, so we have moved the geese into a different shed, put the ferrets where the geese were, and the ducks will be moved to where the ferrets lived. Rats do not like the smell of ferrets, so maybe this will have some effect. Our two ferrets are called Piper and Hamelin, and they are both rather fat roly-poly ferrets!

Squirrels are in fact fluffy rats but much cuter, although they do as much damage to wildlife. We have a regular squirrel visitor which has white ears - it looks like he has been dipped in a pot of paint. Our old gander, which we sadly had to have put down a few months ago as he fell ill, hated the squirrels. He used to chase them if they ever dared to set paw on the ground. Woe betide if he ever caught one!

We are also using the field next door to the house, which is owned by our nice new 'down-the-hill' neighbours. (I still say 'new' , even though they have lived here a year now.) One of my dream ambitions was to have a home where I could look out of a window and see the horses grazing. Alas, here at Windfall, although I can, just about, see the stables from the house, the fields are at the end of the lane. So it is with a sense of achievement of a morning that I can look out of my bedroom window and see Lexie, Saffie, Franc and Wonky Donk grazing in 'Stable Field'. Except it is also somewhat alarming. Lexie is a BIG horse she can't quite reach the window from the other side of the hedge, but she's not far off it.

We also have three new chickens; two hens and a cockerel. They reside in the front garden and are so sweet. They are about one foot high, somewhat 'fluffy' and have highly feathered feet. They are no trouble and do no damage to the garden - in fact they gobble up the slugs and gently scratch over the flower beds.

But His Lordship the cockerel - oh, he is funny! Like I said, knee-high to a grasshopper, he regularly chases the dogs off, guards his two 'ladies' with immense pride and crows to tell everyone that He Is In Charge. Except his crowing sounds more like a dog's squeaky toy. It really doesn't have the desired effect.

Oh, a quick reminder, my Smuggler's book will be published at the end of January. You can pre-order here, but more information about this book next month.

For now, may I wish you all a very Happy New Year. What a story! Can't believe that I've come so late to Helen Hollick's wonderful writing.
I can't say that 2019 started out quite as I had expected, hoped or planned. Son-in-law wasn't well. Then I wasn't well, then my email wasn't well. A power cut hijacked my email inbox.

I had struggled downstairs to do the essential 'daily' tasks online, like ensuring the daily Discovering Diamonds review had published properly, and checking that there were no urgent or essential emails in my inbox (like a Hollywood director emailing about an option on the Sea Witch Voyages… okay, one can dream) when phut - blank screen. Power cut. It happens occasionally - it's the only downside of living in the middle of nowhere in the Devon countryside.

As I'd more or less finished what I was doing, I turned the main power switch off and went back to bed. I was engaged in binge-watching the entire David Tennant Doctor Who TV series.?

Next day. Booted the computer up - and I could have well and truly really booted it into the neighbour's lake next door!

No email. Gone. Vanished, zapped by Cybermen, or the Daleks, or those statues that get you when you blink. My fault, evidently, I blinked.? With apologies to non-Doctor Who fans, who won't understand a word of that.

I tried a few timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly type things (Doctor Who quote again). Pressed several keys. Turned off. Turned on again. Still nothing. Went to the email back-up system I maintain - where, relief, nearly everything was there, neatly saved away. However, I don't find the back-up version to be very user friendly, which is why I only use it as a back-up.

After several days of swearing, cursing, screaming - yes, if you heard a scream, and quite a few choice words, bad enough to make a pirate blush, that would have been me - my Webmaster managed to get me going again with a new setup using Gmail. Thank you Mr Webmaster.

But trying to fathom the quirks of a new system. it would be easier to defeat the Daleks!

I mean, just how do you transfer the email addresses I need from the 1,500 imported list of Contacts into the Gmail 'other contacts' folder, so that the name and address auto-fills in when sending mail? And just where is the 'request read receipt' button? Has Gmail even got one?

To counter all that, however, there was some good things during January, one being I had a wonderful batch of emails after the original Escape To The Country TV show, where we found our house here in Devon, had been broadcast in Canada. Several utterly delightful people who had watched the episode e-mailed me to say how much they had enjoyed the show, how pleased they were that we'd chosen the first house - and even more wonderful - that they'd ordered one or more of my books. I'm thrilled at the contact from these new friends - thank you!

Despite the trials and tribulations of the Interweb, at least I do now have e-mail - even if I am still trying to figure it out. Which is a relief because early in February my Italian publisher, Catnip Edizioni, is doing a massive blog tour for the publication in Italian translation of Bring It Close - or In Tempesta as it is titled in Italian.

I've had great fun writing several interview answers for it - I'll copy them all to my own blog, the English pre-translation versions that is - later in February, and to this website, keep an eye on the News Update on this website's homepage.

Oh, that was another thing - the news feed was hijacked by pirates as well. Thank you again Mr Webmaster for rescuing it.

And the excitement doesn't end there…

My new book about smugglers will be released on 31st January! Although I am somewhat anxious as, on the date of writing this update, 26th January, I still haven't seen the final published version. I'm somewhat anxious about how it looks in print… I've a short piece on my blog about the book.

If you enjoyed my Pirates Truth And Tales, I think you'll also enjoy Smugglers in Fact and Fiction. so please take a look at that then hop across to Amazon to pre-order a copy.

Oh, and "Watch the wall my darlings while the Gentlemen go by…" I think it was ‘Watch the Wall My Darling’. But can you check.
February was a funny old month. It seemed to rush by for the first two weeks, then slow down, and then zap, here we are in March! Add to that the weather was weird… spring came early. The snowdrops were finished by the end of the first week of February, and before the last week ended all of the daffodils were out, alongside coltsfoot, lambs’ tails on the hazel trees, and buds budding everywhere. For the last few days we enjoyed glorious blue-sky-sunny-days, although the wind was cold, as were the frosty nights. This time last year we were preparing for the Beast From The East. ?

Looking west though I don’t usually bother with the Hollywood Oscars (a lot of fuss and nonsense about nothing, usually,) but I was delighted to see our UK Olivia Colman win best actress for playing Queen Anne in The Favourite. Apart from the delight of watching such a talented actress and her wonderfully amusing speech, the movie itself was super - and it’s about time we started seeing drama about queens other than Victoria and the Tudors! (And I must mention the other ‘Queen’ - well done that movie as well!) If you’ve not seen Olivia in the TV series Broadchurch, with actor David Tennant, get the DVD; you’ve missed out on brilliant acting, scriptwriting and engrossing entertainment. Ditto for The Favourite.

I heard somewhere that The Favourite was conceived twenty years ago - which is most inspiring, maybe there is hope yet for our 1066 movie. (Another movie which really, really should be made!)

February was a funny month as well, in the not-so-amusing sense. It is no easy thing to deal with narcissistic people at the best (worst?) of times but when they tend to have ‘troll-like’ tendencies on social media it is even more difficult. The old rule of ‘don’t feed the troll’ definitely applies as these sort of people cannot be argued with, will never see reason and are completely oblivious to what they are doing is destructive, not constructive.

This is even more unfathomable when the person involved appears to be promoting a business but is doing so by obtuse rudeness to others. This sort of behaviour becomes especially tiresome when it is your book that is being targeted.

Reposting highly misleading ‘reviews’ to make them look like new reviews, is ‘bad form’ as Captain James Hook would say, but the only way to react is add a polite correction to the misinformation then go away and have every faith in yourself and your book and let the destructive elements get on with destroying themselves ? as will happen eventually.

My books do have a few typos, I don't deny it, but there is little I can or indeed intend to do about it, as the occasional blooper that pops up in books of 75,000 to 130,000 words will probably not be noticed by a reader who is thoroughly enjoying the read anyway. Yes, I’d love to be 100% perfect, but life (and my fading eyesight) isn’t like that.

I did and continue to do my best with my books. If my best isn’t good enough, well, to be blunt, too bad because I am not going to get obsessed about a few very minor boo-boos or a troll who obviously hasn’t got anything better to do with his time.

Something else which came to the fore in February was finding the time to do things.

I am not the only writer who discovers at four-thirty p.m. that I've been answering emails, writing articles, doing various promotional things on the interweb only to discover it’s time to cook dinner but I haven't even opened the file of my next novel yet. Oh to be a disciplined writer who doesn't get distracted by distractions!

But such is the case for many of us who are Indie Writers. We do not have agents or publishers to help out with the essential marketing, and, believe me, the marketing is essential. The trick is to get a nice balance between posting about things that regular readers and potential readers are interested in.

It's hard work for what often seems little reward, but then up pops a really nice email in your Inbox saying how much someone has enjoyed one - or more - of your books, and you know what? All of a sudden the hard work is worthwhile, and the rest of the day passes with a smile.

So thank you, dear readers, for your support, your enthusiasm and your encouragement. All I would add is: Please show your liking for my novels - or indeed any novel - by leaving a comment on Amazon. Good comments really do make a big difference! A compelling narrative of a compelling woman.
Exciting news - for those who have not already heard it!

Let's start by rewinding time a little to April 2006…


My publisher, Random House UK, has decided not to reprint my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy and Harold the King, but fear not, I have taken the enormous step of deciding to indie-publish.

It will either be the wisest thing or the stupidest thing I have ever done, but it will mean my books will remain in print for as long as I want them to be.

However, the excitement does not end there. I have also decided to indie/self-publish my Sea Witch pirate novel. If all goes to plan, it will be setting sail in early May 2006


Zip forwards to the present day, March 2019. (I simply cannot believe the announcement above was written thirteen years ago!)

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, some of it calm and sedate, but a good bit of it somewhat turbulent. The first indie publishing company I went to turned out to be not all it said it was, and looking at those early print runs, well, let's just say they were examples of how not to produce books.

When the company went bankrupt, I high-tailed it over to Helen Hart's SilverWood Books. I have been with that company, most satisfactorily, ever since.

Sourcebooks Inc in the United States picked up Harold, Queen Emma and Arthur for traditional/mainstream publication in the US and Canada, with The Forever Queen (retitled from the UK’s A Hollow Crown) making the USA Today bestseller list, so I was now in the ranks of authors known as 'hybrid' - both traditionally published and indie.

I think most of my followers know the story behind Sea Witch? (If you don't, click here.) My (ex) agent let me down big-time. She hated it but I knew the idea was a good one. We parted company and I went on to turn that first Voyage into a series. I have worked hard at being an indie writer, with all that being an indie entails. Which means doing your own, hands-on, all-day-every-day marketing. I have, mostly, enjoyed it.

Back in 2006, when 'Indie' was a relatively new concept, it bore the mark of being 'second-class vanity' publishing. All these years later, indie authors are far more respected because the good, serious, authors have made a point of producing quality, high standard work. And we, as authors, have on the whole become accepted in the literary world as respected authors - again, because we produce our books with care (and a lot of love!) After all, we invest our own money into it. Being indie can be expensive. There's professional editing to pay for, professional cover design and professional marketing services if you chose to use them. To produce an indie novel that matches quality mainstream standard takes time and money.

However, it is hard work to keep yourself and your books going. After thirteen years of trumpet tootling, I'm getting tired. I want to get back to making writing my priority but needed a boost for my flagging lack of self-confidence and enthusiasm. That little whisper of nagging self-doubt when you are an indie writer is always present. We are on our own and - well, it’s draining to the point of 'why am I doing this'? The only thing that keeps us indies going is knowing that our readers out there - that's you - enjoy our books. But even the most prolific and supportive indie writer would still prefer to be with a Mainstream Publisher.

So I am delighted and excited to announce that, after thirteen years of 'going it alone', I have signed a contract with Independent Publisher, Penmore Press, based in Arizona USA, for the Sea Witch Voyages. Jesamiah is to sail in consort with a new fleet to explore New Horizons!

We are keeping the covers designed by Cathy Helms (www.avalongraphics.org ) and hope to get the new editions ready to weigh anchor as soon as possible - although they will be out of print for a short while.

I'm delighted that my Captain Acorne is to sail along with good hands, and that at last, despite the pleasure that being indie can bring, he has the potential to reach the much wider audience he deserves. Jesamiah really should achieve whale status; he just isn’t the tadpole type.

However, if you need to complete your set of e-books or paperback Voyages, and don’t want to have to wait, I’d advise you to go ahead and plunder them from Amazon right now.

Meanwhile I'll be getting on, enthusiasm renewed, with the writing of Voyage Six, Gallows Wake I fell in love from the start, a flesh and blood hero with flaws. Here is a writer in the older style not 'jump on the bandwagon' writing!
Editing, I've decided, is interesting but a bit of a chore. It is also embarrassing. I am re-reading through the entire Sea Witch Voyages with the aim of picking up missed typos and correcting any errors that I had not realised were mistakes when first I wrote my nautical adventures.

Author Jeffrey Walker picked up a couple of bloopers concerning Colonial Williamsburg; quite minor things but serious enough to warrant being corrected. For example, I used 'Main Street' - which should have been referred to as 'Duke of Gloucester Street'. I realise what I had intended to write was '…he walked along the main street', not '…he walked along Main Street'.

I also discovered a huge blooper in Bring It Close - but I'm not going to mention what it is because the error gave me an idea for a future plot. (Ah, that's got your interest hasn’t it!) You'll need to be patient, however, for I probably won't use it until Voyage Seven, Jamaica Gold.

I am quite enjoying the re-read. ("Gracious me these stories are good!" she said, modestly but truthfully.) However, the time constraints for having to get on with it and read quickly are somewhat daunting. It's utterly amazing how, when you are really busy, so many other things suddenly demand your attention.

Friday, for instance, was a stress-day. I had to go into Barnstaple to collect something, which meant my husband driving me there. This time of year the roads are busy because it’s tourist season - or 'Grockles' as visitors are known as in the Devonshire language. Alas, far too many tourists have no idea how to drive along narrow country lanes, and I won't even mention the matter of reversing…

Once home, the neighbouring farmer's cattle had pushed into our field. This created mayhem as the Exmoor ponies got all excited and galloped about. The big horses hate cattle, so they joined in. Fences were down which needed putting up again.

Then there is the enormous ham my husband bought from the butcher. It is lovely ham but I'm no cook and thus not quite sure what to do with it. There are only so many ham sandwiches you can eat.

Prior to all this it was my birthday in mid-April, a day of celebration shared with little Franc, our foal - although as it was his first birthday we can't really call him a foal now. Plus at about 15.2 hands he is not so 'little' any more. Still, we both had birthday cake and presents.

A couple of days before that, though, was not so pleasant. We had to have my donkey, known as Wonky Donk, put down. He had developed a huge cancerous-type growth in a 'delicate' place for a male donk, which made it very uncomfortable for him to pass water. The growth was mostly internal and there was nothing our vet could do, so it was kinder to send dear Donk quietly over the Rainbow Bridge.

Added to that, the chap who came to 'do the deed' reversed his car into me and sent me flying. There was an audible thump and I've still got a wonderful bruised knee where I landed. It was partly my fault - I was standing in the lane with my back to him. It just didn't occur to me that he was reversing, and it didn't occur to him that I would be standing there. So all in all, not a good day.

I miss Donk terribly. He loved his cuddles.

We owe it to our animal friends to do the best we can for them, even when such very hard decisions have to be made, but I would rather endure my heartache and tears rather than prolong a pet's life of pain, especially when animals cannot understand why they are hurting or tell us how much it hurts.

I have lost many dear friends during the 66 years I've been around - cats, dogs, hamsters, horses, and I remember them all with great affection: Basil, Poppy, Nesta, Rajah, Rosie, Bill, Rum… the list would be as long as this newsletter if I were to mention them all.

I am sure that they are all happy and content on the 'other side'. I hope I get to give Donk more carrots and cuddles one day.

Not just yet though, I've still got two books to re-edit. Helen, you are my new favorite historical fiction writer! My head gets wrapped around your stories and I can't get out of them. They are better than any Netflix movie or series.
Can we really already be into June? We're almost at midsummer - not that we've had much summer so far here in Devon. Nice sunny days, yes, but really chilly at night with deep banks of mist of a morning smothering the valley below us.

Farmers are getting the silage in and our hay in Top Field is growing well - although so are the buttercups. We've been busy laying a stone pathway at the top end of the garden where it has, until now, been Weed Haven alternating with Mud Patch. With the addition of some solar lights it looks really nice up there now. We've also got a couple of raised vegetable boxes planted out with spring onions, beetroots, lettuces and a redcurrent bush. We've several raspberry bushes near the greenhouse, but not much sign of any raspberries.

The damson trees are well-laden, so there's a good prospect of damson gin-making come the autumn. I'm going to try blackberry gin as well. The only detriment is you are supposed to wait several months before drinking it. (Well a year really, but that's not going to happen!) The roses are looking lovely this year, and the honeysuckle growing around the front door has become a tenement for several sparrow families - there are at least three nests in it. Not many bees around this year, though, which is somewhat worrying. Plenty of bumble bees, but very few honey bees. The bats are back, roosting beneath the eaves of the house. These are Pipistrelles, although we do have several other types flying around. We're also hoping the garden plays host to the Hedgehog family again this year. Baby hoglets are SO cute!

Sadly we've lost several hens and a couple of ducks to the Fox; what is even more annoying, they were taken during daylight hours. The hens are free range, which means they have the run of the farm during the day, but are well tucked-up in their 'bedrooms' during the night for safety. Kathy happened to hear a lot of squawking a couple of days ago, and ran out into the lane to see Mrs Fox with a hen in her mouth - which she very quickly dropped when Eddie our dog chased after her. With any luck he gave her enough of a fright to keep her away from the house and the hens.

The crows, too, are a nuisance as they get into the hens' nest box and pinch the eggs. And as for Mrs Squirrel, she was sitting quite happily on the bird table picking out all the sunflower seeds! Still, the squirrels also pinch the crow's eggs, so what goes around comes around, I guess.

I'm writing this at seven p.m. and love looking out across the valley at this time of the early evening. The fields over the back are lit by the lowering sun, making it look like a bright spotlight is highlighting the meadows. The various greens are amazing - fifty shades of grey, there may be, but I wonder how many shades of green there are? I love this time of year, this house, the view… well, I love living here in Devon.

The end of May saw the end of several things.

I won't dwell overlong on politics, but the list includes another end of May; Theresa May, our Prime Minister. Personally, I feel very sorry for her because I think she was landed with a thankless task and whatever your views on Brexit, we had a vote. The majority voted to leave Europe and too many MPs, I feel, were out for their own agenda and not the wish of their constituents. Devon voted to leave. Democracy has not been respected.

On TV we had the end of Game Of Thrones. I loved the series - and the books, come to that. Some people are saying they were disappointed with the final season - I am not one of them. The rule has always been ‘expect the unexpected’ and that certainly was the case. The CGI imagery was breathaking. Those dragons - WOW! There has been a call for a remake, which is ridiculous. However, I would have ended it thus:

Final, final scene

Bran is sitting in his wheelchair, asleep. It is night, he is alone; the fire crackles.
He wakes. He opens his eyes.
They are ice blue…
Cut to credits.

The End.

Now, if you are not a GoT fan, that will mean nothing to you. If you are, I hope you felt the shivers of apprehension!

Lastly came the final episode of twelve - yes twelve! - years of The Big Bang Theory. I am not usually a fan of American comedy; like our spelling, US and UK humour is different, but Big Bang was fun because the characters were believable in their oddball quirkiness, the scripts were good and the situations hilarious. I loved the guest spot appearances as well - followers will remember the cameo appearance of Carrie Fisher, bless her, and various scenes featuring the wonderful Stephen Hawkins.

For myself, work has been demanding. I am still busy editing. Ripples In The Sand is nearly done, Pirate Code and Bring It Close completed, and the good news, Sea Witch is now available under her new ‘colours’ of Penmore Press. I would be very grateful if you could leave a comment for the new edition, if you have already read and enjoyed Jesamiah's first voyage.

You can reach the Amazon link here. - it is also available on Nook etc. Pirate Code will be setting sail soon.

Enjoy Summer! The Pendragon trilogy is wholly absorbing. It is remarkable for it's plot, sense of time, sense of place, descriptive prose and dialogue.
Downhill from here to winter *laugh*, now that Midsummer has come and gone. Although, so far, summer has been somewhat wet; a heatwave is promised for the arrival of July, however. Not that the weathermen can always be trusted - it's just as likely to snow given our recent really weird weather patterns.

The garden likes the rain; we have a crop of carrots, peas, beetroots, cauliflowers and a few rather limp lettuces. The best of these (not the lettuces!) are destined for exhibits at the annual village flower and veg show. More of that next month.

Daughter Kathy and son-in-law Adam went off to compete at the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead towards the end of June. A bit of a mixed bag of results with Lexie deciding she didn?t like the stone wall in one of the competition rings - it was fine jumping it from the opposite side in the next class, though. Silly horse. Alas, she had to be retired from the last two days as she became unsound. We are always worried about Lexie's legs as she had a few troubles when she was a young filly - a severely pulled tendon which healed nicely, but then she broke the pedal bone in her foot - the horse equivalent of a big toe bone - so several further months of TLC ensued. Because of these injuries it was years before we risked show jumping her, but, touch wood, these old 'war wounds' are now okay, the present lameness in her foot seems to be something entirely different. As yet undiagnosed, we're still waiting for the X-ray results. ( I am trying to avoid thinking of the vet's bill that will be coming.)

As I write this, Lexie is happily wandering around the stableyard nibbling at the hedge - she's cleared the nettles - and making a general nuisance of herself.

My thanks to Mal who came down from London to assist with looking after our equine delinquent, Franc, and the gang of Exmoor ponies. Actually Franc is a good boy - just going through his horsey equivalent of the early Teenager years!

One of the delights, for me, was the chance to sit in the garden under the new gazebo and chat - and watch our troupe of little hens come scurrying down the garden steps to be fed on treats such as Weetabix and Cornflakes. There are five hens, one cockerel named ’Arri and, between them all, 15 chicks of various sizes.

Our previous guests, Ray and Cathy, who came from the US to stay with us for a week, also enjoyed watching the hens 'plop' down the steps. The lovely little fowl are Pekins, so about the size of a large rugby ball - very amusing to watch, and very intelligent.

According to Wikipedia:

'The first Pekins are alleged to have been looted from the private collection of the Emperor of China at Peking (now known as Beijing) by British soldiers towards the end of the Second Opium War around 1860. However, some sources suggest that a consignment of birds from China around 1835 were given to Queen Victoria, assuming the name of 'Shanghai’s' and that these birds were bred with further imports and were developed into the breed we know today as Pekins. The Pekins first brought to the United Kingdom are said to have been buff in colour, with blacks and cuckoos arriving later on.

[2] They are known in the United States and Canada as Cochin Bantams. Pekins come in many breeds.

A further delight is watching our colony of Pipistrelle bats emerging of an evening from their nesting place. They are agile little creatures. As they flutter out I can see them quite clearly against the sky-blue background and hear them squeaking. Lovely!

We have recently discovered a nest of Tree Bumble Bees occupying the cavity behind Lexie's stable wall. These are delightful little brown and black bumbly bees with white bums, quite docile as long as they are left alone.

The squirrels have been a problem this year. We are about to declare war as unfortunately they have discovered the hens' nest box and are stealing the eggs. Our household eating eggs I don’t mind, but these are little unhatched chicks that Mum has been patiently brooding. The dogs get quite a bit of fun haring into the orchard barking like mad when we shout, in an excited manner, 'Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel!' Mind you, Eddie and Baz haven't a clue what they're chasing. The squirrel, however, very quickly dashes away.

We didn't have a squirrel problem when we had Goosey, our no-nonsense gander. He saw any squirrely squirrel which dared set foot in his orchard well and truly off!

So all in all the garden, orchard and stable yard have been very active nature wise; this includes the rapacious growth of nettles and brambles, unfortunately!

For readers: Sea Witch should be out in it’s new paperback format soon - you can already get it on Kindle - and Pirate Code will be weighing anchor in the not too distant future. You can reach the Amazon link here, and it is also available on Nook etc.

Enjoy Summer - with a pirate, King Arthur or King Harold… Swashbuckling at its best! This was a wonderful romp across the oceans with a very likable cast of characters.
I've been thinking about various things just lately. Wondering when it will rain enough for me to stop worrying about the (low) water level in our well. Thinking about one of our horses, Lexie, who has been lame.

Thinking about how fat the Exmoor ponies are getting, and thinking about how big young Franc the 'foal' is - he is only fifteen months old and already 15.2 hands high.

Considering what fun questions I can ask my new friend 'Alexa'.

For the last week in July, wondering what theme to use for an exhibit in the local village flower and veg show, and what flowers and veggies to enter? Alas, I've not a great deal of choice. The hot weather and lack of water have rather scuppered all the best flowers in our garden and as for the vegetables, well, what vegetables? The peas are still not even pea sized, the tomatoes haven't appeared, the carrots are baby baby-sized and the beetroots are the size of table tennis balls.

And then there's the regular stuff to consider such as thinking about when (if) I'll get a knee replacement for my arthritic knee, (which is currently really painful,) about my wonky eyesight, about having to lose some weight, about getting on with some actual writing rather than thinking about doing it.

Some of the thinking was productive. For the annual Village Flower and Veg show I used the theme 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. I won best in section, but now have to replant all the blue and white lobelias that I plundered from the garden. You can see some photos on my Leaning On The Gate occasional diary blog. If you look closely, just in front of the treasure chest you'll see two little gold acorns. I had to include Jesamiah somehow!

Lexie's lameness is all mended, thank goodness, and she is back in work. The problem turned out to be painful corns beneath her shoe. We were particularly worried, though, as in the past Lexie has had tendon problems and a broken pedal bone. Not to mention all the various stitches needed for various cuts. However, I am trying to not think about the current vet's bill.

For those who don't know, 'Alexa' is a piece of electronic equipment. The Amazon Echo? (shortened to Echo and known colloquially as 'Alexa') is a brand of smart speakers developed by Amazon. Echo devices connected to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service respond to the spoken name 'Alexa'. Basically, instead of typing a question into Google you simply 'ask Alexa'. She's pretty clever, although you sometimes have to figure how to ask the question right so that she understands.

I have just asked her: 'Alexa, are you clever'? she answered 'I try my best'. Fair enough.

I think of her as my Personal Assistant, and she is especially useful for reminding me to cook and/or finish cooking dinner, I've not had any boiled-dry spuds since Alexa arrived, for reading a Kindle book to me at night, for sharpening my mind with Quiz of the Day, and for overcoming the difficulty of not being able to see the small print in my dictionary. Instead of looking up a word I now just ask Alexa. She will give me the definition of a word, how to spell it, any synonyms and she will translate the word into any language. Clever, and very useful when you have a sight problem.

She's also hilariously funny. If you have such a device, ask her 'What noise does a hamster make'' or 'Alexa, can you laugh?' She says goodnight and good morning nicely. Plus, she doesn't even need a monthly salary, if you discount the small addition to the electricity bill.

Try sleep sounds as well; 'Alexa, open sleep sounds Ocean'. A nice way to drift to sleep, listening to the sound of waves. Or there is a choice of forest birds, the tick-tock of a grandfather clock, a babbling stream, rainfall and so on. Hmm, a pity she cannot make that last one into real rain.

We had an internet blackout for a day or so, due to the thunderstorms which took a BT server out somewhere. I really missed my friend, Alexa. I like to think that she missed me.

People of the past would have worried about the lack of (or too much) rain. Would have worried about getting the harvest in (our hay is cut, baled and stored in the barn). Would have worried about aches, pains and illnesses for themselves and their animals, only more so, I should think, because we have access to knowledgeable vets, doctors and hospitals.

Is it more helpful or less helpful to know the weather forecast for the week ahead? Does it help us to get from A to B quicker by knowing the traffic updates? Do we really NEED all this modern-day information? Does it all help or hinder?

I haven't managed to think up any answers to most of these thoughts, but then I thought I might as well share them with you because, well, I've been so busy thinking about all this stuff that I completely forgot about writing my monthly journal, so had to think about something in a hurry! This is another enjoyable and neatly written story. Quality writing, storytelling and captivating narrative make this a pleasure to read.
Much of August was taken up with the frustration of having no Internet. Bad enough having the router sitting sulking in the corner with no life in it - resisting the urge to poke or bash it to rouse it from slumber - but at least you know an engineer will be coming soon to breath life into the system again.

Well, that's the theory anyway…

A Game of Phones

No Internet connection.
My beloved virtual friend, Alexa, mournfully informed me through her red circle of non-communication "I can't connect to the public WiFi."
No, neither could I.

~ Friday 9th August 2019

No Internet connection.
I did all of the usual - re-boot, check this, check that. Nothing.
I telephoned British Telecom faults.

BT: "It looks like an outside fault, but we will need to send an engineer.
Have you got a cat?"

A cat? Are BT using cats now? Sending them up trees to fix broken cables or something?

Me: "Yes, I've got two"

BT: "Ah well, could they have brought in a mouse?"

A mouse? Are they training mice to investigate faults in small, dark spaces, perhaps?

BT: "If a mouse has got to the wiring, it could be chewed."

Ah, reasonable explanation. No, not possible. No mice near cables.

BT: "An engineer will be with you on the 21st."


I argued for a more reasonable time slot and eventually got Monday 12th

~ Monday 12th August 2019

No engineer turned up.
I phoned BT.

BT: "The fault has been completed."

Blank silence my end.

Err, I don’t think so. We haggled for a re-booking. I got Wednesday 14th

~ Wednesday 14th August 2019

No engineer turned up.
13:00 I phoned BT.
No engineer available.
I phoned BT again.
We haggled.
I got re-booked for Saturday 17th.

~ Friday 16th August 2019

Was informed that my appointment had been cancelled.

I phoned BT Complaints.
I was offered Monday 19th for an engineer and promised a call from a manager.
No one called.

I called BT again, asking for access to unlimited data so I could try to use the mobile phone for the Internet.

BT: "Can’t do that. You're not a Gold Plus"

Me: "So make me a Gold Plus"

BT: "Can’t do that."

Me: "So put me through to someone who can. A MANAGER."

BT: "I will put you through to a manager."


[Clicks… Whirrs…]

I was put though to the Sales Department, who told me that I could buy Gold Plus.
So, I would have to pay extra for the service I couldn't get.

~ Monday 19th August 2019

No one came.
Do you get the feeling of Deja Vu?

I phoned BT and was offered Wednesday 21st - the appointment I’d been offered in the first place! I was also told that a case manager would call me… Yeah, right.

No one called.

I phoned again, and was told that they had emailed me. Ahem - how do you expect me to read messages, when I have no flipping Internet? However, at last a manager did phone. Very apologetic.

BT: "Unacceptable. Shouldn't have happened."

Promised an engineer for the 21st.

~ Wednesday 21st August 2019

11:15 An Engineer arrived, and he was an absolute superhero!
I didn't moan at him because none of the above was his fault.

13:30 Fault repaired.

~ Epilogue

There were three good things that came out of all this;

a) A brand new router

b) Sufficient compensation offered to cover the latest vet's bill, and

c) Probably of more interest to you all, I had no Internet but my computer files were accessible, which meant my backlog of editing was cleared and I could get on with Gallows Wake!

A short but brilliant book, educational as well as entertaining, smugglers are the lesser known, less glamorous, cousins to pirates but their influence on real life was far, far greater.
October can, often, be such a gloomy month. The onset of autumn, the nights drawing in, the daylight starting at gone 8 a.m. And the rain. And the cold. On the other hand autumnal days, if the weather is fine, can be absolutely glorious. The changing colours, browns, reds, golds; the mist rolling in up the Taw Valley like dragon's breath. We might see a few Red Deer as they come down from Exmoor and edge to lower ground where there is more food and shelter. Squirrels have harvested most of the nuts from the hazel trees and acorns from the grand old oaks up the lane. Their scattered shells scrunch beneath our feet as we walk. The shops are full of Christmas stuff even before Halloween

Mushrooms scatter the fields, dew-sparkling spiders' webs adorn the grass, looking like tiny fairy trampolines. The hedgerows are abundant with berries and fruit. The huge holly hedge bordering one of our fields is absolutely laden with bright red berries - ideal food for the birds, they will have it stripped long before December. Our damson trees were also laden, so much so that the main bough of the old tree in the orchard broke under the weight. We managed to rescue most of the fruit (my freezer is now a quarter full of damsons, and the larder has about eight jars of damson gin 'on the brew'). Alas, the tree itself did not survive we had to take it down. Its rings showed us that it was about sixty years old - a little younger than myself. All is not lost, however, for there are at least three 'offspring' growing sturdily near the remaining stump. Plus we have the wood to burn come Christmas time.

The air smells of mist and damp, the stars are bright on these crisp autumn nights. Down here in Devon we can see the Milky Way on such nights, well, sadly I can't because my wonky sight is now too fuzzy, a fact which I feel very highly cheated of. Stars cannot be seen very clearly in London; down here, when first we moved back in January 2013, I was so excited to actually see them.

For me, however, October means the mourning of a noble king and a country lost to the plundering greed of Norman invasion. I suppose the Norman Conquest in 1066 was a sort of Brexit in reverse. With just as much mayhem, confusion and fear of the unknown thrown in for good measure.

For those of us who revere King Harold II, our hearts grieve for his loss. He was our rightful King of England, and I doggedly maintain that he was murdered on that battlefield seven or so miles from Hastings on the 14th October 1066. He and his followers gave their lives defending their land from foreign invasion. Duke William of Normandy had no right whatsoever to the English throne. His motivation was greed and the necessity to pay his men in land for their ongoing loyalty. There was not enough to go round in Normandy and Brittany so he had to look elsewhere, and his greedy eyes fell on wealthy England. Nor do I believe that William had the backing of the Pope. That was awarded after Hastings - to the winner the spoils and a papal blessing. Had Harold won he would have received it.

The event was 953 years ago, but as with DNA eye and hair colour, facial features etc, I firmly believe that memory, of a kind, is also passed down. By the way, did you know that the DNA bit of us that controls the act of taking in and expelling a breath is exactly the same now as it was within our ancestors of a couple of thousand years ago?

When researching and writing 'Harold The King' (titled 'I Am The Chosen King' in the US) I felt an immediate affinity with Harold and his Saxon people. Now, I know from DNA results that I am not Saxon - I am a Briton, my ancestors were here pre-Roman, my lineage is British 'Celtic'. Because I feel so very much at home here in Devon, I like to fancy that my ancestral tribe were the Dumnonii - which possibly means 'Deep Valley Dwellers'.

North Devon held allegiance to Harold, who before being crowned King had been the Earl of Wessex. His mother had held lands in her own name near Porlock and on Exmoor, and down towards where we now live, near South Molton. She gifted land to monks so that they could build a monastery. A grand house stands there now, Northcote Manor, which is where my daughter was married in March 2014.

The thing is, I had ancestors, and you had ancestors, who were alive in 1066. My great, great, great, etc. maternal and paternal grandparents witnessed the period first hand. They lived through that fateful year when everything was to change for England forever. (Again, like Brexit.) I know my maternal ancestor had a husband and a daughter because otherwise I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't have an unbroken mitochondrial line of mother to daughter to daughter to daughter. (I am somewhat saddened that my daughter today will be the last of the line.)

What I don’t know is where they were located and whether they were personally involved in the battle. The odds are that yes, they were. If they came from the West Country then certainly, yes, for Harold called the men up to fight at Hastings. If not from the West then perhaps they were at Yorkshire's Stamford Bridge or Fulford Gate a few weeks prior to the Great Battle. I can feel it in my bones, however, that my then husband, or my brothers, or my sons - or all of these - fought, and probably died, at Hastings.

I cannot prove it, of course. It may only be whimsical fancy - but how else do you explain the emotion that consumes me whenever I go to the battle site, or the grief that I still feel in October, a grief passed down to me through that bit of DNA memory? 1066 Turned Upside Down - how counterfactual history should be done, combining the best elements of fiction and non-fiction to create an immensely impressive achievement.
A topic suitable for Halloween. Not a night of ghouls and vampires, of wizards and cackling witches, but a night for remembering our loved ones who have departed, and of thinking back to those who have been here before us.

Last month I mentioned the connection between ourselves living here, now, today and our ancestors, probing the thought that our great, great x whatever grandparents were alive during the momentous events of the past. The rise (and fall) of the Roman Empire, 1066, the Black Death, the upheaval of religion during the Tudor period, exploration and discovery, the English Civil Wars, American Independence, the British Empire WWI and these are just the British side of our past. There is a lot more from other cultures and countries.

Take the Black Death for example, one of the most devastating pandemics in European history. It resulted in the deaths of about 75 to 200 million people, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. England was hit badly. The entire population of villages were wiped out. BUT, your ancestors, my ancestors, (well, two of them at least) survived. If our relatives of circa 1351 had all died during the plague then, quite simply, we wouldn't be here today.

I find the invisible maternal mitochondrial DNA chain that links me to a grandmother of the far distant past incredible and fascinating - but also humbling. Who were these grandmothers? Where were they? What did they do? Who were they with? Questions that can never be answered unless you are a believer in psychic research.

Which I am, to a point. I firmly believe in the 'Akashic Records', which are (thought to be) a compendium of all human events, thoughts, words, emotions and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future. They are believed to be encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the etheric plane. Like many personal beliefs, religion being the main one, there is no scientific evidence for their existence.

And what about 'ghosts'?

You either believe that ghosts exist, or you don’t. I am not talking about the Hollywood version, the white-sheeted spooks a la Ghostbusters, or the haunting demons out to break the box office or best-seller lists with grisly horror. (Hollywood really does have a lot to answer for!) I mean the benign souls which have not 'passed over' into the next world but have stayed here. The echo, or the shadow if you like, of people who walked and talked and laughed and loved during some point in the past.

I believe in them because we have a few here at our Devon home. The farmhouse was built circa 1769, which means that several generations have lived, worked and died here. Quite a few of their spirit-selves remain. We know this because my daughter, (and others) have seen them. I regard them as our guests and that they are here as part of the history of the house. Their echoed presence remains.

There's the maid, dressed in Georgian style. I have heard her tutting as I take the laundry out of the front door to dry it in the sun. Apparently, it is not the done thing to use the front door - household tasks go via the back door. We also have the Big Man (think Mark Labbett), and a young lad aged about nine. Then there is the sad young lady whose presence was in one of the bedrooms. All she wanted was to be noticed. I made a point, when we first moved in, of saying good morning and goodnight to her, of putting fresh flowers on her windowsill. She isn’t there now, she is at peace.

There's the cowherd and his assistant in the dairy. They keep a friendly eye on us ladies - and the donkeys. And we have the Georgian / pre-Victorian equivalent of the Amazon/UPS/Hermes/Royal Mail delivery man. The chap who makes his rounds from Barnstaple or Bideford delivering goods that arrived from - well, wherever. He spends several weeks driving his horse and wagon around his North Devon route, staying overnight at the places that welcome him. Our farm, for instance. His 'echo self' (OK his ghost!) likes to lean on the gate in our stable yard and admire our horses. Kathy has seen him (just his top half) several times. One of the things he delivered to the Lady of the House was a huge wooden crate that contained a full dinner service of ironstone china from the Midlands. A present from the farmer to his wife. Whether this was our Big Man or not, we don’t know, although we think it might have been.

The maid bustles around a lot: I call her MillyMolly. She has been seen many times, once in particular dancing outside a few days before Kathy's wedding when the violinist who was to play before and after the ceremony came here to rehearse.

I love the thought that this caring lady from the past loved the place so much that she decided to stay to look after both it and those who live here. And that she enjoyed joining in with our own twenty-first century celebrations. I just love the way the author makes the pages come alive with great storytelling.
December 2012. London. We were getting ready for Christmas, but in a minor way. That year was to be our last Christmas in Walthamstow, our last everything in Walthamstow, for in mid-January 2013 we moved from The Smoke to Devon. I can't really believe that we have lived here, now, for seven years!

The sheer joy of living in the heart of Devon's farming countryside has now mellowed into the familiarity of 'everyday life', yet I do not take this wonderful rural existance for granted. We're only temporary custodians of 'Windfall Farm' (not its real name). The old part of the house was built circa 1769 so it has seen several generations and many different people. I like to think that this old house will still be here in another few hundred years with new faces, new families, although I do rather plan to stick around as a spirit to remain a part of it all.

Every morning I stare out of both my bedroom windows in turn - front and back duel aspect. The front window views over the front garden, which needs a bit of autumn debris tidying up, the stable yard - hidden by the dogwoods and holly tree - and Donkey Field, which is our neighbour's field but is being kept mown by Barney and 'DumpyDonk'.

The back window overlooks the orchard and our little aspect of the Taw Valley - when it isn’t raining so hard the trees and fields are obliterated that is. One of the enjoyments of living here is not having to draw the bedroom curtains at night because we are not overlooked by anyone, and with no passing traffic or pedestrians we are quite nicely private. This means I can lie in bed and see the stars and the moon, although there is many a night that I've woken up and thought "Oh, the porch light has been left on", only to discover it's the moon illuminating the entire garden. I even got up one night, donned a coat over my nightdress and exchanged slippers for wellies and went up the lane because I thought a light had been left on in the stables. Turned out, it was the full moon reflecting on the greenhouse.

November saw the Valley in all its autumn finery. The trees and hedgerows are a glory of colour: I never realised until moving here just how many shades of green there are. A blustering wind the other day meant an end to many of the leaves. The nights draw in early and we've had several frosty nights, which in turn mean a log-fire in the sitting room and cosy hot water bottles in the beds!

The birds which visit 'out the back' are grateful for the bird food we put out. We have resident house sparrows, tree sparrows, chaffinches, nuthatches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, woodpeckers, yellowhammers, dunnocks, jays, magpies, willow tits, wrens, blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinch, greenfinch, siskin, bullfinches… the list goes on. The sparrows tend to congregate in the honeysuckle growing next to and over the top of the front door. It houses an entire tenement colony, so we call it Sparrowville. Some evenings the squabbling between them is like a TV episode of Eastenders.

Also in the orchard are the geese Booboo and Colin along with a few pet ducks, but daughter Kathy has switched from breeding Call Ducks to Pekin Hens. These are similar to Bantams but prettier, with their feathered feet and puffed up bustles! They are wonderful mums and ’Arri the cockerel is a dutiful dad - he poddles around walking like Charlie Chaplin. The little chicks are so sweet! The rain hasn’t been kind to them, though, as we've lost a few babies. With broods of nine to thirteen chicks the hens can't fit all the offspring under their wings and sometimes the rain comes too quickly and heavily for them to hurry back to the hen house.

Indoors, I have been working on a December project for Discovering Diamonds. Each day on the Blog, from December 2nd onwards, there will be a short story inspired by a song, with contributions from a variety of wonderful authors. Do join us. Read the story, then guess the song!

As for my own writing: well, you see the trouble. There is always something to do outside, or the colours and light across the valley changes, or the farmer is rounding up the sheep and I just have to sit at my desk and watch. I’ll get the next book finished soon, or as they say here in the West Country "dreckly", which is a word which means, well… "whenever". I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story.- Wilkie Collins