Previous editions of the Journal pages

I was ‘mobbed’ by an online troll towards the end of 2022. I’ll not go into detail because

a) it isn’t worth it,
b) I immediately deleted the offensive comments on my Facebook Page and therefore,
c) I can’t really remember what the poor, lonely, sad person who obviously doesn’t have much of a life actually said.

I adhere strictly to the ‘don’t feed the trolls’ directive. All these people want is the sad and sorry attention of proving themselves right by being offensive or abusive, thus proving that they are, undeniably, wrong. I can’t be bothered to play their silly games. ‘Delete. Block.’

Telephone spamming is a different matter. Those phone calls informing you that your Amazon Prime is about to be renewed/deleted. The government grants for loft insulation / double glazing / tax refunds. Or the ones about your computer has been hacked and British Telecom is here to help you sort it … yeah right. You can’t even get a promised ‘we’ll call you back’ phone call from BT when you’re expecting one, let alone from one made out of the blue!

If I’m not busy I enjoy winding up these unsolicited calls. Mindful, I must stress, that I am fully aware these are probable scams and that I have no intention of giving my bank details or access to my computer. To keep a nuisance caller chatting for over 25 minutes is quite satisfying, knowing I’ve saved a good few other people from being pestered, and hearing that moment when the caller realises he or she’s been ‘had’. I do have to laugh, though, when the person shouts down the phone: "You are so wasting my time!" My reply? "Maybe you shouldn’t have called me then?"

Oddly enough, I haven’t had such a call for months now. I reckon I’ve been blacklisted.

Nasty comments on review sites are a different matter. What is it about remembering the negativity and not the positive? I am not alone in this. I know many authors who feel exactly the same.

Many years ago I was blasted by someone who emailed me on Boxing Day about one of my Arthurian Trilogy novels. I was ranted at because my Arthur is not a Goodly Godly Christian King. The fact that the ‘Christian’ King Arthur of the traditional tales is a totally fictitious character, probably invented as a rallying call to lure poor unsuspecting souls to go fight in the Crusades, had passed this rude emailer by. The fact that I can still recall this email more than twenty years later, however, is unsettling.

Comments left on Amazon are sometimes hurtful. Why leave a foul comment if you didn’t enjoy the book? Why pick it to pieces if it isn’t to your taste? Fair enough if you’re genuinely giving a balanced opinion, but even then … if you didn’t like it, why rate it!

The funniest comment I came across was written for "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe." Someone complained that the book was all about advertising candy (Turkish Delight) which is bad for children, so the book should be banned. I mean, honestly…!

The problem with hurtful comments is that they undermine an already fragile confidence – and for most indie writers, our confidence is already low. This is probably because we are on our own. Unlike mainstream authors we do not have an agent or our publishing editor to talk to. Most of us have a spouse or family to back us up, (though I don’t even have that – my family are all non-readers – dyslexics, and tend to ignore my books.) But families are not the same as professional editors or agents, they are not the ‘reading public’ and they are probably somewhat biased.

Awards are nice to get, but I rarely win awards for my books (because I rarely enter them for potential awards – too many cost too much!) But some are worthwhile: Indie BRAG and Chill With A Book (that one’s free!) for instance.

To get an award – a 5 Star review rating – helps to keep the gnawing doubts away and buoy up enough confidence to start on the NEXT book rather than give up and go and hide under the duvet.

So you see, supportive, ‘I really enjoyed this book’ comments on places like Amazon are a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the authors you like reading. And are so very, very much appreciated!

Stay Safe, and A HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
– – G.K. Chesterton
Here we are, sailing merrily into February. A twelfth of 2023 has already passed us by, rollers gone under the keel and all that.

I say ‘merrily’ – I hope this is so for you? January was a bit of a let down for me. Apart from the fact that I wasn’t well (recovering now), husband was still getting over a bout of pneumonia and Lexie, one of the horses, decided she hadn’t seen the vet for a long time, so had better do something about it… What the ‘something’ was neither we nor the vet ever discovered. Lexie was not herself, she wasn't eating, her face was a bit puffy on one side, and there was a strange ‘sore’ patch inside her cheek – along with dollops of saliva-gunk. Her teeth could do with being rasped, but not urgently (due for her dental check-up in the Spring.) The sore mouth was probably the cause – but what caused the sore mouth remains a mystery.

Talking of mysteries, (see what I did there?) episode 3 of my Jan Christopher Murder Mystery Series, A Mistake of Murder, is now published and available from an Amazon or bookstore near you.

I had great fun writing this one – hiding the red herrings and laying false trails. Next will be A Meadow Murder. I’ve been planning this one since 2021 while helping to bring in the newly cut and baled hay from our hay meadow. I must remember to be more careful when asking questions about a potential plot, though. Talking to our neighbour farmer and coming straight out with: ‘Would you spot a body in the uncut hay if one was hidden there?” possibly needs a little pre-explanation.

I already have the cover for this one (sorry, still a secret) so assuming that I can get the story written, I hope to publish in June. I’ll have another exciting announcement next month about some of my other books.

January 18th saw our TEN-year anniversary of moving to Devon. I truly cannot believe that it has been ten years though. Some days it seems that we only moved in last week, others, that we’ve been here forever.

Am I content here? Most definitely ‘Yes’. I do sometimes think, ‘I wish we had a river frontage’ (then it pours with rain for days so I change my mind.) Or ‘Maybe we should have looked for somewhere nearer a village?’ These ten years later, living a mile or so down a secluded country lane has its disadvantages now that I cannot walk far. (And I am absolutely certain that the lane was not as steep when we first moved in!)

My wonky eyesight is getting me down a bit, but thankfully I am very familiar with the view across the valley from our house, and fields and trees are big enough to see. It’s the detail I miss – and not being able to see any but the brightest stars now.

I can see the birds on the bird table outside my study window. The fat ball hanger is often chock-a-block with a variation of tits – great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits. Then the spotted woodpeckers have their turn. The nuthatches prefer to pick out the sunflower seeds and the sparrows (of various sub-species) come in like a rabble excited after their team has won the local football match. Two ponderous pigeons make their way slowly along the veranda rail, and we have a young blackbird who desperately wanted the fat balls but couldn’t work out how to cling onto the hanger… so we obliged by putting a few on the table itself. This has delighted him. My only concern, I have not seen our male pheasant for several days. Mind you, when one does come I have no idea whether it is always the same one.

Stop Press: 15 minutes after sending off this newsletter to Mr Webmaster, Mr Pheasant appeared on the bird table. He's as round and fat as a rugby ball, but appears to have lost half of his tail. The blackbird won't be too impressed, as the pheasant is greedily tucking into the fat balls.

We’ve been lucky enough to escape the Avian Bid Flu (so far at least). The hens and ducks have their wired-off area covered by polytunnels, and the geese are confined to the orchard.

Now all we want is for Spring to come and some warmer, longer days! Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds and explore. Dream. Discover.
– – Mark Twain
The third of my cosy murder mysteries – the Jan Christopher Mysteries - is now out, with episode four also well under way. I’m getting quite a bit of fun from writing these: sitting quietly of an afternoon, planning the next (fictional I must emphasise!) murder is quite enjoyable. What is the location and basic plot? What are the red herrings going to be? Who is going to be the murderer and who will be the victim? That last can be fairly easy to envisage when someone has just annoyed me. Currently, I’m wondering how I can work in the satisfying demise of the entire British Gas Board for claiming my monthly direct debit is not high enough – despite the rather large credit total attached to the account. (Warning: British Gas, expect a somewhat irate telephone complaint within the next few days.)

(Bills, I will not talk about. Last month, I didn’t get little Bills, but big Williams… Why do all the expensive things come at once?)

To promote #Jan3 I have organised an on-line tour hosted by a variety of lovely people (thank you everyone!) The tour is in two parts: first week I have a series of interesting (I hope!) articles, then a tour round the blogs ‘spotlighting’ the book. Hard work to organise, but are these tours worthwhile? Yes and no is the ambiguous answer.

As a means to reaching new potential readers such tours can be invaluable, but you need to rely on others to retweet, post on Facebook or other social media platforms in order to spread out and attract attention. Sharing is the key – the social media equivalent of ‘word of mouth’ . I must admit, I do occasionally despair when I’ve spent ages writing articles and then no one reads them. On the other hand, I’m delighted when I get some glowing feedback via email or new people sign up to receive my newsletter.

So, after you’ve read this, could you toddle over to my blog and peruse the list of tour stops? I’ve quite a variety of topics, from discussing whether fictional characters are real, to is it ‘coSy’ or ‘coZy’, via how much are Jan and I alike – are the murder mysteries at all autobiographical? The library settings that is, not the murders or police investigations!

I’m not going to answer most of those questions here, you’ll have to read the articles, but as far as my years of working in a public library are concerned, yes I’ve drawn on quite a bit of memory; I really did find a rasher of bacon used as a bookmark, and I did do a delivery service to the housebound, although all the characters are very much made up. (The character who likes his westerns on TV? He was inspired by my husband who loves his westerns. Apart from a good Clint Eastwood, they drive me mad…)

Positive reviews for my books – or any of your favourite authors, come to that – are a huge help. Apart from the obvious endorsements, Amazon picks up on ‘popular’ books which is a bit of a boost to us who are slaving over a hot keyboard.

Some reviews are hilarious though. Why on earth do people post negative comments that do nothing except show how ignorant they are? I’ve had a review complaining that my novel about the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 has too much about battles in it. I mean, the word ‘Battle of Hastings’ is somewhat a clue isn’t it? (Harold the King – UK edition / I Am the Chosen King US edition)

I spotted one review that had been shared to Facebook recently - no idea what book it was for, but I’m still chuckling. It was for a novel. A work of fiction. The wording went something like: "I didn’t enjoy this very much, it was written as if the author had simply made it all up."

Yes, well…

Stay Safe. The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.
– – Albert Einstein
On April 13th 1993 I was celebrating my 40th birthday in England's Lake District. It was a somewhat wet day, but we still walked up Coniston Old Man and had a picnic near the top. By ‘we’ I mean myself, husband Ron, daughter Kathy – our dog, Nesta – and our friends, Hazel, Derek (sadly both now deceased) and their sons Richard and Stewart.

(As an aside, there is only ONE lake in the Lake District, Bassenthwaite Lake, all the rest are known as ‘Water’ or ‘Mere’.)

The walk was lovely (despite the rain) and gave superb views out over Coniston Water and the campsite where we were staying. Those holidays bring back many happy memories. They were Swallows and Amazons experiences made real: we sailed, we rowed, we had bonfires on the ‘beach’ where we cooked sausages and marshmallows. We swam. (Yes, I’ve swam in Coniston. It was cold!) We only saw the children at lunch, dinner and bedtime, for they were off in the boats or on their bikes. We walked, talked, visited the local pub and laughed. A lot.

The only hiccup that year, I was anxious because a few days before we left London my agent had told me that the publishing house, William Heinemann, had enquired after my first foray into writing adult fiction - my Arthurian Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. I had to wait until a week after returning home to hear that they wanted all three books. I was ecstatic. I had taken over ten years to write the first two of the trilogy (The Kingmaking and Pendragon’s Banner). My mantra had been ‘When I write my bestseller...’ Few believed me. But I did it. In April 1993 I became a published author. I’ve been writing ever since – thirty years!

No, the Trilogy was not the bestseller I’d hoped for (although after all this while it is still selling well), but I did become a USA Today Bestselling Author with another novel, The Forever Queen (US edition of A Hollow Crown).

Back home in Walthamstow that April, word reached the media of my signed contract and our house was besieged by journalists who were convinced I'd landed a huge advance. (I hadn't.) The Evening Standard had arrived first, though, and took us out for the day: photographs and lunch in return for an exclusive interview.

Publicity for The Kingmaking was exciting, including an interview on early evening TV, several radio interviews (notably an entire evening on air with Derek Jameson on Radio 2). Unfortunately the marketing momentum was not pursued. (Moral: authors do not rely on your publisher to market your books!)

A lot of water has poured under several bridges since then. By 2005, having been let down by my agent (ex-agent!) Random House dropped me. I spent two weeks sobbing, picked myself up, got my rights back and went Indie… Best thing I have ever done. I made many errors at first, a steep learning curve, but along the way my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy has consistently sold well, was picked up by mainstream Sourcebooks Inc for US/Canada publication and is now also published in German by Sadwolf Verlag.

My trilogy was among the first to portray Arthur as a warrior ‘King’ of the fifth/sixth centuries. A man trying to hold back the chaos after the Roman administration had left Britannia’s shores, leaving the southern coast open to invasion by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. (English Channel boat migration by foreign settlers is nothing new! The next wave had been the Normans in 1066.)

To celebrate this 30 years' anniversary – and my 70th birthday – I decided to re-issue the Trilogy under my own press (Taw River) with wonderful new covers designed by Cathy Helms of www.avalongrahics.org. The only bad news, these beautiful new editions are not available in US/Canada. Such a shame. I offered the new covers for free to Sourcebooks Inc, but they turned the offer down. Their original editions are still available, though, and are just as good a read.

On April 13th I will be having an online celebration party in the form of a one-day spotlight book tour organised by the Coffee Pot Book Club and hosted by a library-load of wonderful authors. Do join me.


The Boy
Who became a Man
Who became a King
Who became a Legend


There is no Merlin, no sword in the stone, and no Lancelot. Instead, the man who became our most enduring hero.

All knew the oath of allegiance:
‘To you, lord, I give my sword and shield, my heart and soul. To you, my Lord Pendragon, I give my life, to command as you will.’

This is the tale of Arthur made flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man who became the legendary king; a man with dreams, ambitions and human flaws. A man, a warlord, who united the collapsing province of post-Roman Britain, who held the heart of the love of his life, Gwenhwyfar - and who emerged as the most enduring hero of all time.

A different telling of the later Medieval tales. This is the story of King Arthur as it might have really happened… (contains scenes of an adult nature)

Selected reviews

"If only all historical fiction could be this good."
 - Historical Novels Review

"…Juggles a large cast of characters and a bloody, tangled plot with great skill."
 - Publishers Weekly

"Hollick's writing is one of the best I've come across - her descriptions are so vivid it seems as if there's a movie screen in front of you, playing out the scenes."
 - Passages To The Past

"Hollick adds her own unique twists and turns to the familiar mythology"
 - Booklist

"Uniquely compelling… bound to have a lasting and resounding impact on Arthurian literature."
 - Books Magazine

Purchase links (not USA/Canada)

The Kingmaking    Book One
Pendragon’s Banner Book Two
Shadow of the King Book Three

USA Trilogy
Canada Trilogy
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.
– – Bill Nye
Thank you so much to all you lovely people who sent me cards and good wishes for my 70th birthday, and for my thirty years anniversary of becoming a published author. A lot has happened in those thirty years, mostly good things, but there are a few that are better forgotten because they do not deserve to be remembered.

I’ve been thinking of the song by Joan Baez lately, Diamonds And Rust. Apart from her wonderful voice, and it being a brilliant song, the title puts me in mind of my own memories. Some people or events are diamonds to be treasured, some have turned out to be nothing but worthless rust. I’m treasuring the diamonds and chucking away the rust.

We have had a few downs to spoil the ups here at home, big things that change the path life was supposedly taking us along, but we have faced the disappointments with a deep breath and set our steps onto new paths, determined not to look back at the shadows that crept too close.

My biggest heartbreak was the very hard decision to sell one of the horses. We bred Franc, who was five this year but circumstances have sadly brought the inevitable. I hope he finds a lovely new home and does well, although I hate the thought of breaking up the herd and the family. It might sound silly, but the horses and the dogs are my family, not just animal friends. But what has to be, has to be.

However, life trundles on: I’m delighted by the new covers for my Pendragon’S Banner trilogy, my thanks and gratitude to my dear friend, Cathy Helms for designing them, although I am disappointed that my US traditional publisher turned down the offer to have the use of these covers for free.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say this as it is rather a bit of trumpet blowing (but if you can’t tootle away for yourself, who is going to do it for you?) Reading through the three books The Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King, which were originally written during the 1980s, I found them to still be, well, rather good. I am immensely proud of my trilogy, I do wish that sales could be a little higher, though. I’ve kept the price of the paperbacks as low as I can (Amazon is a tad restrictive) and ditto for the e-books. Shadow, in particular, is a very big book, and again I must thank Cathy Helms for her beautiful formatting and pre-publish production. (And for finding the gorgeous little dragon for use on the spine and marketing. You will also find him at the top of my blog)

I’m immersing myself in writing the next Jan Christopher cosy mystery – A Meadow Murder – set in the summer of 1972 down here in Devon. No spoilers, but the story evolves around a racehorse training yard, a village which is loosely based on my village, haymaking and the discovery of a body in a meadow. I’m hoping to publish it in June or July, but can’t promise. (I will try my best.)

Then I have the seventh Sea Witch Voyage to write. I’m torn between two different plots: It will be called Jamaica Gold, but my original plan was to write about the two female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read (which I will do at some stage!) but I’m also getting heavily nagged by my character Alicia Mereno who is insisting that I write her background story as a novella short read… Oh, what to do! Which one to write!

I guess I will decide when A Meadow Murder is finished, meanwhile I’ll keep the diamonds close to hand and brush away that cloying rust… Who knows, maybe I’ll write a book about love and loss, loyalty and betrayal… oh wait, I’ve already done that in the anthology of short stories, Betrayal. (Free on Amazon) We know what memories can bring. They bring diamonds and rust.
– –Joan Baez
May was a month of waiting. Waiting for a foal to be born. We waited and we waited. The due day came … and went. We waited.

Just before 2 a.m. on Friday 26th May my daughter went up to the stable yard to check the mare. And there he was, just born, our own little dragon. Well, chestnut colt foal, but we’re well into dragons so, of course, he has to have a dragonish name.

A grand name for such a little chap. You can see him here – only one day or so old.

Taw River Zaldrizes Vorsa, it means Dragon Fire in High Valyrian and Dothraki … which, of course, any Game of Thrones follower will know! (Say it zal-dree-zes vor-sa.) We have yet to think of an easy stable name, but given that he has a very distinctive dot and dash on his face - morse code for the letter ‘a’ - it’ll have to be something to do with that. Alphi maybe? (Though my daughter never agrees with anything I suggest so it’s just as likely to be Omega.)

Mum Lexie has taken an interest in the foals we’ve had in the past, and now she has one of her own. She’s proving to be an excellent, very proud mum.

So why dragons? I’ve always liked dragons, and have always thought they got a very rough time of it in stories, myths and legends. Why do they have to be the monstrous bad guys?

The 1963 song Puff the Magic Dragon probably started me thinking along these lines. He was a nice dragon who befriended a little boy in the land of Honah Lee.

Then came the wonderful Dragonriders of Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey – when those books came out, everyone wanted a pet dragon. Me included. We had cats, but they are not quite the same are they?

Game of Thrones topped the dragons stakes, with the follow-on series House of the Dragon a very close second. Those dragons are dragons to beat all dragons.

I have my own theory about where the myths about dragons came from:

~ ~ ~

We must go way, way back to the time when our ancestors lived in caves. One tribe lived on the coast by the sea, where they would fish for food and use seaweed to dry for bedding or weave into fibrous strands to use as thread to sew clothes or use to make the strings for bows or for fishing line.

One night there was a great storm. The wind howled, the rain lashed, and thunder and lightning crashed overhead. The people were afraid and cowered in the shadows of their cave, too scared to look out, for it was certain that great monsters had come from over the sea and were fighting to the death during the darkness of the night.

Come morning, when the sun arose, the storm had quite gone. The sun shone on a fresh-washed world and the people came, carefully, out into the daylight. In one area the rocks had tumbled down, leaving a great gash torn into the cliff. And there, on the sand of the beach below the rent, were the bones of a dragon that had crashed into the cliff and died.

His opponent, the victor of the battle, had burned the corpse to show his power, leaving nothing but blackened bones turned to stone.

The tale of the Battle of the Dragons was told at every meeting, at the time of Gather, when the long days and short nights of Mid Summer were celebrated, at the time of the Long Winter’s Darkness; on feast days to mark the coming together in marriage, the birth of new life and the finality of death – over and over was the tale told, through the passing of seasons, of years, of decades and centuries. Told and exaggerated until dragons became the fierce creatures of myth and legend that we know today.

~ ~ ~

Don’t believe my tale? Try looking for dinosaur bones… no early man would automatically think, "Ah, dinosaur remains from millions of years ago!"

No, the revealed bones were not there before the storm. Something had made all that noise. There were no footprints, so this creatures must have come from the air, must have flown. There had been fearful roaring and bright fire… a great battle in the sky.

For proof behind my theory, Mary Anning was a 19th century fossil collector and palaeontologist, whose discoveries from the Jurassic marine fossil beds, in the cliffs along the coast of Dorset in Southwest England, changed the scientific thinking about prehistoric life.

She searched for fossils in Charmouth’s mudstone cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils. Her discoveries included the first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton when she was twelve years old.

Does it not seem obvious that people from much older times would also discover such fossils, even complete skeletons? And that they would assume these old bones were the remains of dragons?

What else could they have been? It is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet one.
I had a proper ‘country living’ month last month: the veg in my veg boxes in the garden are shooting up and look promising for eventual harvesting. Peas, carrots, onions. Spring onions, runner beans, spuds, lettuce, tomatoes… The damson trees are laden with damsons, so a good year for making Damson Gin by the look of it. Last year I only managed one bottle. (And no I haven’t been tempted, it is still ‘maturing’ in my secret cupboard. It’ll be ready for Christmas.)

We’ve gone for plants and flowers that don’t need much water this year, though. Much of the garden is shrubs and ferns anyway, but on the front patio I like to have colourful pots of plants, so we’ve a lovely display of geraniums and fuchsias, with several hanging baskets of petunias. I’m hoping that we will have some decent flowers and produce to enter for the village show at the end of the month. So far, the hanging baskets are looking like winners…

The roses in the back garden are in full bloom, and my ferns, to quote from the musical Oklahoma, are ‘as high as an elephant’s eye’ – although maybe this should be a dinosaur’s eye? Ferns are one of our oldest plants, they were growing abundantly even before the dinosaurs roamed the early prairies. They are amazing plants - they die back in autumn and disappear, then come spring a small knobbly knob appears and gradually the stem uncurls and grows, looking very much like a bishop’s crozier or shepherd’s crook.

I have a theory about the earth, plants and dinosaurs. (For readers who recall my last month’s dragon theory, please don’t groan!)

There were lots of dinosaurs, different kinds at different times, but they were around for thousands of years before they died out because of a massive asteroid impact in the vicinity of what is now the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, most dinosaurs (although not all) were huge creatures. Judging by the amount of ‘poo’ our horses leave behind … imagine the amount of dung those dinosaurs produced! Tons and tons and tons of it. (And no fur-clad cave men to shovel it up to use on the roses!) So all this organic manure was spread across the land, layer upon layer, mulching down through years and years to make acres and acres of first class manure – which is why so much of the Earth today has vast areas of incredibly fertile soil. And why my Dinosaur Ferns grow, year after year, as if by magic, in my garden!

The difference between a fern and bracken? Fern ‘leaves’ are opposite each other in pairs. Bracken ‘leaves’ are in ‘threes’ two one side of the stem, one the other.

The other part of a farming life is my daughter, who is thoroughly enjoying helping her new boyfriend*, our up-the-lane neighbour Farmer Andrew, with work around his farm. Sheep shearing, feeding cattle, driving the tractor, and for us, cutting and baling the hay in Top Meadow. 400+ bales this year. My arthritis meant I sat on a bale and ‘supervised’ (well OK, watched). Several bees from the hives up in the meadow came to see who I was, decided I wasn’t important and buzzed off again.

Two years ago, when planning ahead, I decided on using a hay meadow as a background location for one of my cosy Jan Christopher Mystery series. This I have now written, and I’m awaiting my cover designer and formatter to return from a summer break to finalise the publishing process for me – I’m hoping to publish mid-to-end July.

Meanwhile if you’d like to see the new cover – which is actually my own hay meadow – you’ll find it on my Facebook page or on Taw River Press.

About A Meadow Murder

Make hay while the sun shines? But what happens when a murder is discovered, and country life is disrupted?

Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.

But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout…

* I haven’t said much publicly, but Kathy’s husband ended their marriage of nine years in early March this year. She has bravely moved on and he isn’t particularly missed. Kathy has filed for divorce.

Stay Safe.
Farming looks easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.
– – USA President Dwight D. Eisenhower
July was a ‘mense horribilis’ for us, as we lost two of our horses, Saffy and her son, Franc. Saffy was in her early twenties and had breathing difficulties, made worse by the high pollen count, humidity and hot days. She came in from the field one evening and couldn’t breathe. Alas, horses do not have ventilators. When the emergency vet came she could hardly hear any air getting into Saffy’s lungs, so we had to make a decision there and then. Our beloved mare was in distress, so a no choice decision really. She’s buried in what is now known as ‘Saffy’s Field’.

Less than two weeks later, Franc was in trouble. He’d had an accident a year ago - almost to the day - but we thought the damage was minimal. However, the long-term results were making themselves known. The spinal cord in his neck was severely damaged with arthritis already setting in, which was causing him discomfort and instability. The condition was getting worse and there was nothing that could be done. A difficult decision.

I honestly do not want another month like July 2023.

By the end of the month, things had settled a bit and we started looking forward to the annual village Flower and Vegetable show, where there’s quite a bit of friendly rivalry to win the classes for such things as the best onions, peas, marmalade, various fruit and flowers, as well as cookery, crafts and photography. There are dozens of classes and once all the entries are set out on the tables in Chittlehamholt’s village hall, the exhibitors leave to allow the judges to ‘do their bit’. There’s quite an air of excitement drifting through the village. Come the afternoon, after the fun dog show and children’s sports in the playing field, we eagerly pour back into the hall for a cup of tea and home-made cake – and to see who has been awarded prizes. I won a trophy last year for my ‘Queen’s Jubilee’ and ‘Pandemic’ displays, whilst the year before I’d won ‘film title’ display with my Pirates Of The Caribbean entry.

This year the theme for that class is ‘Wimbledon’. I can divulge my entry as this newsletter will go out after the show: I’m deviating from the expected ‘tennis’ idea, because technically Wimbledon is the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Croquet? Ah, there has to be only one choice for that: Alice In Wonderland.

I’ll hopefully have a picture of my (winning?) entry up on the village blog, but you might need to give me a couple of days to post something. Previous annual show photos are also on the same blog page.

As with last year the weather tried its best to scupper entries for the event. 2022 was too hot for too long, this year, following the drought of June we’ve had pouring rain. Never mind, the villagers have done their best; what has survived being sun-baked or drowned has been entered.

My husband Ron managed to perk up our hanging baskets, Kathy had some suitable photographs to enter, my fuchsia and pansy heads looked promising … and then there was my gin. Ah, my gin. My two entries: Damson Gin and Apple & Blackberry Gin. I thought they tasted rather nice. Difficult though, because after one small sip everything suddenly became really nice… hic.

So, here’s how the Hollick family did

Class Topic Exhibitor Result
21 A weird & wonderful vegetable Ron 1st
37 3 Dahlias any variety Ron 2nd
41 4 Pansies displayed on a board Helen 2nd
44 4 Fuchsia blooms single, displayed on a board Helen 1st
45 4 Fuchsia blooms double, displayed on a board Helen 1st
48 1 Pelargonium Ron 1st
52 A hanging basket Ron 1st
plus The Gardening Club Trophy (2nd year running)
52 A hanging basket Ron 2nd
60 An exhibit depicting the Coronation Helen 1st (BiS)
plus The Rose Bowl Challenge Trophy (2nd year running)
62 An exhibit depicting 'Wimbledon' Helen 1st
71 A bottle of fruit gin (damson) Helen 1st (BiS)
71 A bottle of fruit gin (apple & blackberry) Helen 2nd
88 Photograph 'bees' Kathy 1st
100 A paper plane Ron 3rd

Some pictures of the event and various exhibits can be found here.

The sixth Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery, A Mischief Of Murder, will be set around the village show, where there are to be some shenanigans at the annual gathering – and a murder! Expected publication: late 2024.

That episode follows book five, A Memory of Murder, which will be set in the environs of Chingford library. Meanwhile, episode four in the series, A Meadow Murder, is very new. The cover uses a photograph of my own hay meadow, and the book is now available in paperback or e-book from Amazon, or can be ordered from any good bookstore.

About A Meadow Murder

Make hay while the sun shines? But what happens when a murder is discovered, and country life is disrupted?

Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.

But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout…

Stay Safe. A true friend reaches for your hand … and puts a glass of gin in it.
For reasons which I shall now outline, this month's update from Taw River has been put on hold.

It is with great sadness that we are to lose the third of our beloved horses in the space of just a few weeks. Lexie became ill a short while ago, and there is nothing the vets can do. She is to be buried alongside her best friend, Saffie, in a sunny corner of our field.

Lexie is fifteen. She became ours when she was just six months old and has been very, very special to us.

We are devastated by her loss.
And the god took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it and created the horse.
Autumn seemed to come early this year – like, some time in mid-June! Since July we’ve only had the occasional day when it hasn’t rained, although it’s usually been fairly warm. (A couple of chilly nights, mind you.) I’m not sure if the scientists have got things right; it seems to be Global Wetting, not Global Warming here in Devon. Or is someone ‘Upstairs’ rehearsing for the next forty days and nights flood alert? (Does anyone know how many cubits are in an ark?)

Very annoyingly, many of my flowers all burst into glorious bloom a couple of days after the village show. I still won the best fuchsias, but I had a job finding good specimens to enter, now the flower pots are bursting with absolute beauties. And as for the hanging baskets… we have to fight our way past them as they have somewhat ‘bushed out’.

We are harvesting some of the veg we’ve grown and freezing it: carrots (odd shapes, but still tasty), beetroots (ditto the carrots), onions (eye-wateringly tasty). Apple crumble on the menu a couple of times each week, although these are windfalls - there are still quite a few to be picked.

We have a very old Devon variety in the orchard, which are sort-of star-shaped. These are almost ready to be picked and will go into the Kilner jars* to be brewed as fruit gin – along with the blackberries which are already abundant in the hedgerows. The damsons (also headed for the gin jars) are not quite ripe as I write this; another week to ten days though and they’ll be picked, pricked and put into the jars with the gin. Come Christmas the fruit gins will be bottled in the fancy empty bottles I keep especially for this purpose. Officially, they then sit and ‘mature’ for at least a year. (I did say ‘officially’.)

*A Kilner jar is a rubber-sealed, glass jar used for preserving (bottling) food. It was first produced in 1900 by John Kilner & Co., Yorkshire, England.

I am rather pleased with myself: I finally got fed up with the notices to upgrade to Windows 11. Remembering past incidents where upgrades have messed everything up, I checked with my graphics designer, Cathy, who I knew had already upgraded. She hadn’t experienced problems, apart from the time the thing took to upload… so I took the plunge and pressed the ‘Upgrade Now’ button.

Several hours later (I sat in the garden and read a very good book) it was somewhat of a relief to find all seemed fine with the new version. To be honest, I can’t really see what’s different! Some of the icons have slightly changed, and the pinned icons on my toolbar are now in a different order. (I do wish they’d let me put things in what order I want them,) So, so far, so good…

Unlike Twitter. I love Twitter. I hate ‘X’ as a name and as a media site. Bring back Larry the bluebird I say! Finding my way round Twitter now (sorry I will NOT call it ‘X’, the most I’ll run to is XTweet.) I used to have TweetDeck, which was wonderful as you could organise separate columns for things you used regularly (best friends’ tweets, for instance). Now you have to subscribe to use it.

Err… don’t think so! No way am I paying to keep ‘him’ rich. So it was back to the original layout, which being visually impaired is really difficult to figure out, so now instead of a neat panel of organised columns, I have a row of six bookmarks on my menu bar for six different Twitter pages. Best friends’ tweets, my tweets, followers, scheduled tweets, a particular # column… There must be – as in, there was – an easier way. Please, someone sensible buy Twitter and restore normality.

At home, I got stung the other night. Yes, night. I was asleep and was woken by a sharp pain in my arm. I thought I’d pinged a muscle or something. Rubbed it, turned over and promptly got stabbed again, along with an angry buzzing sound. Turned out to be a wasp. Good tip for stings – smother with honey. It works!

I make a note of these sort of incidents as they are useful for future scenes in books. Talking of which, episode 4 in the Jan Christopher cosy mystery series A Meadow Murder is doing well. At least Jan, back in 1972, had a better summer than we’re having now.

I would very much appreciate some more reviews though… The more reviews, the higher the Amazon ranking.

Until next time.


The last couple of months have been not far off a nightmare. Losing our beloved Saffie and then Franc was so hard, then Lexie our special, special horse became ill. With Rafael, her three-month-old colt foal, at foot - the prospect looked unbearable.

The problem: bacteria of some sort was attacking her jaw bone beneath her eye. Infection had set in resulting in a swelling the size of a small tennis ball. X-rays and scanners showed the damage. The bacteria was unidentifiable, the result - nothing the vets could do. Our only choice, use the strongest antibiotics possible, use Bute painkiller and make that final, heartbreaking decision.

Everything was organised, but Raf was so young still… The day before 'the end' came and Lexie looked better. The swelling had gone down a little. So we decided to quietly wait for a few days… which turned into a week, then another week. She was eating (soft mushy food) didn't look to be in any discomfort, so every day gained meant another day older for young Raf.

So here we are, a month later. Lexie is still on antibiotics, the vets still don't know exactly what this bacteria is - which means we don't know if it has cleared up, will clear up or will not come back again. All we can do now is finish this round of antibiotics, hope for the latter and take each day as it comes…
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
To quote Game of Thrones, "winter is coming", although this one looks like it will be wet rather than cold. I believe the forecast is something like this: Light rain in the early morning, interspersed by heavier showers in-between occasional drizzle. By mid-afternoon, downpours are expected to precipitate a deluge, which will give way to fine rain by nightfall…

Update on Lexie: I am pleased to say that Lexie seems, miraculously, to be back to full health. The foal, Rafael, is now weaned and Kathy hopes to start jumping again soon. All we need is a regular, experienced, driver for the horsebox. (I’m reluctant for Kathy to drive it until she has a bit more experience.) Ideally someone local who would love to showjump but hasn’t their own transport! Any takers?

For myself, I am disappointed that the planned writers’ retreats at a nearby Eggesford hotel will now not be going ahead because of lack of interest. Such a shame, but I think affordability was the main setback.

I also recently offered a proposal to an equine publisher to write a book about famous horses – prompted by my enjoyment of quiz nights, but the idea was a no-go.

Quite often at quiz nights there’s a question about one or other famous equines: Bucephalus, Incitatus, Pegasus, Red Rum, Shergar… This led me to wondering whether a book about the more well-known horses would be a good idea. Who they were, who owned them, why they became famous etc. Unfortunately the publisher wasn’t interested, but I’m toying with opening a new blog and posting something once a month. The title? Heard Of Horses. (Yes ‘heard’ is deliberate!) If I do this I’ll start it off in January.

However, more positive and exciting, I have been commissioned to write another nonfiction book by Amberley Press. This one is to be called ‘Benign Ghosts of North Devon’. I approached Amberley because of personal frustration – and my enjoyment of BBC TV’s sitcom ‘Ghosts’. (Not seen it? It’s funny!)

The outline of ‘Ghosts’ is that a young couple inherit an old house, only to discover that it’s haunted – but only the wife, Alison, can see and hear the ghosts. They remind me of our ‘guests’ who ‘live’ with us at Windfall Farm. Because of the TV series I’m convinced that when my husband (frequently) forgets to turn the TV off, they all gather round to watch what’s on.

Also on TV are various haunted-house or paranormal-type programmes all of which dwell on fear, terrifying encounters, hostile poltergeists and such. There’s never anything about benign spirits who are probably no more aware of us as most of us are unaware of them. This set me thinking. Isn’t about time that the balance was addressed? How about a book about sightings of friendly – or at least indifferent – spirits? So I drafted a proposal, and have been accepted. Don’t get too excited though, I have until November 2024 to write it, so a publication date won’t be until 2025.

Meanwhile I have Jan Christopher 5 (‘A Memory of Murder’) and Sea Witch 7 (‘Jamaica Gold’) to write… I’m going to be busy!

Just out, however, is an anthology of 'Historical Stories of Exile' by thirteen (non-superstitious) well known authors:

Cryssa Bazos,
Cathie Dunn,
Loretta Livingstone,
Charlene Newcomb,
Annie Whitehead,
Anna Belfrage,
J.G. Harlond,
Amy Maroney,
Elizabeth St.John,
Elizabeth Chadwick,
Helen Hollick,
Alison Morton,
Marian L Thorpe and

with an introduction by Deborah Swift.

It amazes me how one theme (exile) can generate so many different ideas! For my story I write about the Doones of Exmoor, who appear in my ‘Sea Witch Voyages’. I wondered how this supposed Scots family ended up on Exmoor… read the story and you'll find out.

Exile is available now for pre-order in e-format, and will also be published in paperback on November 12th.

Until next time: Stay Safe. A welcome, friendly spirit is forever, not just for Hallowe’en.
"Gin: pairs well with mince pies and difficult relatives…"

Not that gin is a heavy hint to anyone wondering what to get me for Christmas, but I do like a bit of a tipple. I bottled my own home-made a couple of weeks ago, Damson Gin, Apple and Blackberry Gin and one bottle of just Blackberry. The hard thing about home-made is that it is supposed to be left to mature. I might be able to keep it shut away, untouched, until Christmas... Although I must keep a couple of bottles back for the village show next summer. My gin came first and was selected for ‘Best in Section’ at the last show, so I have a reputation to keep up.

I have always loved Christmas. Tinsel, fairy lights, a sparkly tree. Toasting cold toes in front of the log fire, singing carols (alas, played badly by me on the piano).Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, then turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day. (Oh, I love cold turkey sandwiches…) Dear friends to share it all with. (Well, maybe not the sandwiches.) I enjoy having guests at Christmas, sitting together round the fire, sharing pleasant talk and happy laughter.

I remember Christmases as a child: when relatives from Manchester came to stay us kids all slept on cushions on the floor.I especially remember unwrapping a toy farm which I played with for hours. (I named the sheepdog ’Tempo’ because that was the name on the box. The toy maker’s name of course, though at the age of about six, I didn’t realise that.)

My earliest memory – I must have been three – I vividly recall waking up and looking across at a single small window in the corner of the room. It was just growing light. I wriggled down to the bottom of the bed and felt a heavy pillowcase there. I doubt there was much in it because back then, sixty-seven years ago, we didn’t have the vast amount of piled-high presents that kids seem to get today.

We always went to my aunt’s on one of the evenings, possibly Christmas Eve or Boxing Day? As children we got packed off to bed after supper. I recall snuggling there in a strange bed listening to the adults downstairs. Much later, being wrapped in a blanket and carried downstairs to the car and home. As I grew older I was allowed to stay up. We played games, Charades or cards. Gin Rummy, and I vaguely remember playing PIT: Bull and Bear. No idea how to play it now. Does it still exist, I wonder?

Auntie Elsie and Uncle Harry, Auntie Ethel and Uncle Stan. Aunt Frances and Uncle Bernard. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Harry, Auntie Marion and Uncle Geoff. All passed on now. I won’t bore you with all the cousins, most of whom, sadly, I’ve now lost touch with.

I’m not sure that my dad enjoyed these ‘Keeping Up Appearances’/Hyacinth Bucket-type soirees, as the relatives always seemed to be on Mum’s side of the family, I don’t think Dad got on with all of them. I miss him. I wish we’d had more time together as adults. He would have loved it here in Devon.

Mum too, I suppose, although we were never close. I think us girls were a disappointment to her for she wanted a son – alas, for that ‘keep up with the Joneses’ reason, (literally, Mum really was a ‘Jones’!) Everyone else in her family had boys.

Mum passed away in the early hours of Christmas morning 2009. It is quite sad that I don’t miss her like I do my dad.

When much older, I had the enjoyment of the Christmas Day horse ride – usually to the pub. Christmas parties with my friends… best of all these, though, are our Christmases here at ‘Windfall Farm’. I can’t believe that our first one was in 2013.

This year’s Christmas will be different for it will be with new friends and family, and without our dear Saffie safe in her stable at the far end of the garden – but then we have Rafale this year, our fine young colt; he’ll be seven months old in December. (I believe carrots and Polo Mints are on his wish list to Santa.)

I must admit that last Christmas wasn’t so good for one reason and another, all of which came to a head in early March, but we’re moving on now to better times ahead.

Just a reminder – and a hint for an ideal Christmas present: ‘Historical Stories of Exile’, an anthology of historical short stories written by thirteen wonderful authors, is available now in paperback and as an e-book on Kindle. I’m delighted that it’s been in the Amazon top 50 ranking list ever since publication in mid-November.

Until next time and Season’s Greetings to all!
Stay Safe. Gin: pairs well with mince pies and difficult relatives…