Have a Holly Pond Hill Christmas!

I wanted to share a couple of Holly Pond Hill Christmas cards with you today – hmm not that many weeks to Christmas, have you made all your cards yet?

Of course the first thing you are going to do is say “Have you?” and of course the answer you knew was coming is… nope nothing like all of them yet!

One year I promise I will be a super organised Christmas person, I will plan in advance not only what we are eating, who is coming and when, but also make my cards months in advance. I’m not succeeding very well on that list this year. Currently I have no clue if my girls are with me on Christmas Day or whether as we have done in the past we postpone the big day to December 26th.

It’s so much harder when children are grown up, they acquire other families (their in-laws) that have just as much right to Christmas Day as you do and, shock horror, they even occasionally want to go away for Christmas! I do wonder what the reaction would be if Richard and I went away for Christmas, not sure they would think that was right! No stockings, no-one to cook and clear away on Christmas Day – noooo!

But back to the cards – Christmas in Holly Pond Hill is a fabulous CD. If you haven’t got it already, then it’s definitely on my top 5 list for making Christmas cards and I can recommend it. I love the little characters and there are also some amazing images without furry bits too!

Both the cards use the matching backing papers that come with the toppers on the CD (easy to find!) and the little parcel on the right uses the (SD553) Small Box Envelope die and again a paper from the CD.

Maybe aim to have half your Christmas cards done by the middle of November Joanna? Hmm … maybe!

 

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Drum roll… today sees the launch of the  final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries – ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’! 

Some of you sharp-eyed readers may notice that the cover is different to the one we showed you a few months ago. We just didn’t feel the initial design was quite right and, as this book is set in the winter, I really wanted to use one of Julia’s lovely atmospheric photos, so we managed to get it changed – phew! ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ is available now in paperback from my website for £6.99 and it is also on Kindle for £3.99.

Here’s what it says on the book cover: “Victoria West’s first Christmas in sleepy Swaddlecombe looks like being a traditional country affair… but then, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. A Christmas wreath making course, liberally lubricated by local wines, comes to a tragic conclusion. Farmer Albert Moreton has things on his mind and the Reverend Ruminant has been busy plotting…

The whole village is getting festive with a ‘Caroloke’ in the pub and, of course, there’s the infamous old folks’ Christmas party to navigate.

Handsome men abound but are they really what they seem? Is the Lord of the Manor a philanderer? Is the gardener safe with his axe? Why would Tipple the pug’s owner abandon him, and how far would anyone go to get their hands on a fortune? Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.”

I do so hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.

I will be on Create & Craft today (13th October) from 12 noon and throughout the weekend for lots of lovely demonstrations… and you can be sure I will be waving the new book about at every opportunity too! Remember, all dates are subject to change so please check the TV schedules on the day.

 

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Shelf life…

With the publication of our next novel imminent (next week!), I have been thinking rather a lot about books. It’s always so exciting when the courier delivers the batch of heavy boxes and I get to slit one open and actually take a copy of the paperback out and hold it. I find myself reading the cover (even though I obviously know EXACTLY what it says!) and flicking through the pages… then I take out another one and start reading that too – as if it’s going to be different – LOL! But there is just something so very tactile and wonderful about a printed book.

I love books and I have hundreds, actually, it’s possibly thousands. Looking at a bookcase with all the coloured spines and titles is, to me, like a visual memory bank. I remember where I was when I read a particular book, or can recall a specific character or event and remember why I enjoyed reading it so much.

All well and good, Joanna, but nowadays of course… we have the electronic book, most commonly, the Kindle. I probably have hundreds of Kindle books stored as well! It’s such a convenient way to read, especially if you are travelling and don’t want to lug heavy books about. But, somehow, it doesn’t have the same romance as reading a book and, of course, you lose the ‘visual’ delight.

If I walk into someone’s home and see a well-stocked bookcase, my heart does tend to lift and, given half a chance, I will take a sneaky peek and see what they read… and also how they store their books. Do they line them up alphabetically (that’s my co-author, Julia), group them by spine colour for visual effect (my designer friend Karen) or have a random selection with ‘current reads’ stashed closest to the sofa – me! How do you arrange your books, or do you now only have a Kindle so books no longer feature in your home?

I confess I find books comforting. When everything else in life might seem to be stressful or chaotic, my books will still be there, full of wonderful stories and characters just waiting for me to open one and restore order to my mind.

And so… as the copies of ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ the fourth and final book in our Swaddlecombe series, are in the process of being printed and bound, I am already planning where I will be storing my copy! I should add that it will also be available on Kindle, if you prefer! Happy reading.

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Tulip mania!

The humble tulip, so often seen wrapped up in cellophane on a garage forecourt, actually has a fascinating and exciting history that’s as good as any romantic novel!

It started life as a wild flower until it began being cultivated in Persia, probably in the 10th century. Rather sweetly, the name ‘tulip’ is thought to come from a Persian word for turban, which it may have been thought to resemble. It then carries on growing quietly, relatively unnoticed… but all that changed in the 1630s when the tulip became the ‘It girl’ of its era, an incredibly valuable commodity on which fortunes were made and lost.

Tulips finally came to the attention of the west in the sixteenth century, when diplomats to the Ottoman court observed and reported on them. Tulips were rapidly introduced into Europe and botanists started to hybridize the flower and they soon found ways of making even more decorative and tempting specimens. Hybrids and mutations of the flower were seen as rarities and a sign of high status – definitely the Burberry handbag of its day!

In the months of late 1636 to early 1637 there was a complete ‘Tulip mania’ in the Netherlands. The enthusiasm for the new tulips triggered a speculative frenzy and tulip bulbs became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency, or rather, as futures. Some examples of the flower could cost more than a house in Amsterdam at this time.

There was an inevitable crash in prices in 1637, when people came to their senses and stopped purchasing the bulbs at such high prices. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in the tulip remained, but the Dutch became the true connoisseurs and stockists. To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called ‘Dutch tulips.’ The Netherlands has the world’s largest permanent display of tulips at the Keukenhof.

In their natural state tulips are adapted to mountainous areas with temperate climates. Flowering in the spring, they become dormant in the summer once the flowers and leaves die back, emerging above ground as a shoot from the underground bulb in early spring.

Nowadays, there are many different tulip varieties to choose from and you can still buy some of the original ‘wild’ varieties, often called ‘species’ tulips.

Not everyone loves tulips and not everyone seems to have much success growing them, I certainly don’t! Is it one of your favourites, or would you rather be presented with a bunch of something else?

 

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A murmuration…

If you have ever been lucky enough to see a murmuration of starlings – where the birds swoop and swirl in amazing aerial ballet creating patterns in the sky – it’s not something you are likely to forget. But have you ever wondered why it is called a ‘murmuration’?

You were probably too enchanted by the magical sight to notice the ongoing background murmur – or murmuration – as caused by the beating of 10,000 pairs of wings at once. And that’s where the term comes from. Most of the collective nouns we use date back to the mid-15th century. But the origins of most collective bird and animal nouns are not always as straightforward as they first appear.

Some are named after specific habits, such as ‘a descent of woodpeckers’, possibly due to their penchant for dropping down from great heights onto ants or ‘a leap of leopards’ or ‘a busyness of ferrets’ while others focus on a personality trait that we believe them to possess.

For instance, the number of sinister sounding nouns for crows, such as murder, mob and horde, probably come from medieval peasants’ fears that the mean-looking birds had been sent by the Devil or were witches in disguise.

Similarly, ‘an unkindness of ravens’ could stem from an old misguided belief that the birds were not caring parents, sometimes expelling their young from their nests before they were ready.

Many bird species have more than one collective noun. As with crows, there are many terms to describe finches (charm, trembling and trimming) and geese, depending on whether they’re flying (skein, wedge, nide) or gathered on water (plump) or land (gaggle).

A book by Chloe Rhodes An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns is fascinating. In it she explains that, unlike proverbs, rhymes or homilies, many of these delightful names endure because they were recorded and published in ‘Books of Courtesy’ – handbooks designed to educate the nobility. So an early sort of ‘one upmanship’ to ensure you made it plain you belonged to the ‘right’ set, something like the Sloane Ranger speak of the 1980s perhaps!

Here are some of my favourite bird terms:

  • A wake of buzzards
  • A commotion of coots
  • A murder of crows
  • An asylum of cuckoos
  • A swatting of flycatchers
  • A prayer of godwits
  • A conspiracy of ravens
  • A parliament of rooks
  • An exultation of skylarks
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A chime of wrens
  • A booby of nuthatches
  • A quilt of eiders
  • A mischief of magpies
  • A wisdom of owls
  • A committee of terns
  • A descent of woodpeckers
  • A scold of jays
  • A charm of goldfinches
  • A fall of woodcock
  • A deceit of lapwings
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