Looking forward in 2014…

I always love the first few days of any New Year as there’s so much promise in what could happen in the next twelve months. If I look back over the past year many things have happened that I didn’t have a clue about this time last year, so there is always the excitement of what could be round the corner.

I know we have to take the bad times  as well as the good but I am going to try harder this year to make more good things happen. So often it’s the little things that make me feel good rather than the big things – I tidied my craft room over the Christmas holiday and that’s making me feel really good.

I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time regularly this year, and I invested in some more scented candles and I’m going to enjoy nice perfume and maybe a book, a game or just some time cuddled up on the sofa with Wellington, whose days I know are numbered but while he is here, he is lovely to cuddle!

I’m also looking forward to finishing my second novel with my ‘partner in crime writing’, Julia. It should be finished in April or May, we are about a third of the way through at the moment. Although there’s a lot of head-scratching and plotting, it’s also exciting as the plots starts to unfold as you are never 100% sure how it is going to turn out!

Sometimes the things that make you feel good can take you by surprise, doing something that benefits someone else can be really uplifting.

On a more down to earth note I am aiming to declutter a room in my house each month this year, I don’t have twelve rooms that need decluttering but I am building in a ‘fail’ for some of the months when work gets too busy or other things grab my time and attention.

I would love to tell you that I intend to succeed spectacularly with my diet this year, but all I can do is try and be kind to myself if I falter and then fail as I have so many times before – but the trying is always the thing that counts. So my resolution for this year and the thing uppermost in my mind is going to be just that saying – the trying is always the thing that counts and who knows what will have happened by January 2015!


My top five festive reads

One day, I will have more time in my life to read. But at the moment my hectic lifestyle means that there is rarely time for me to sit down and get immersed in a book – despite it being one of my greatest loves! However, this Christmas, Richard and I are having a relatively quiet time, so I am optimistic that I will get a chance to get my nose in a book… but it’s just as likely that book might be the second novel I am busy writing with my partner in crime Julia!

But anyway, let’s suppose I do get a chance to read – here are my top five recommended reads for this festive season:

Recipe for Life – Mary Berry

Gosh, I do admire Mary Berry! She built a successful career and raised a family at a time when it was still a very unusual thing for a woman to do. She’s suffered tragedy and ill-health and come through it all with the support of her husband and family. Now, aged 78, when most people are putting their feet up, she’s possibly more famous than ever through her part in the ‘Great British Bake Off’! I’m really looking forward to reading all about her

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling!)

Like many people, I hadn’t heard of this book until it emerged that the author was J K Rowling, so I decided to give it a go – and very good it was! Rowling is a wonderfully talented author and, although this is a million miles away from Harry Potter, all her dash, style and storytelling skills are in evidence. It’s quite gritty, a bit quirky but the lead characters are endearing. As a bit of a detective fiction fan, I hope she writes more novels featuring Cormoran Strike… which, surely is a bit of a Potterish-name for a character!

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – Sebastian Faulks

I have always been a Bertie Wooster fan (I adored the TV series with Fry & Laurie too!) and I just love the gentle and utterly ‘silly’ old-fashioned humour. So I was somewhat shocked when I read that Sebastian Faulks had been commissioned to write a ‘new’ Jeeves and Wooster story. But the reviews of this book have all been so positive that I have hinted (unsubtly – how unlike me!) to Richard that I would really like a copy for Christmas! 

Preserves: River Cottage Handbook no. 2 – Pam Corbin

As you know, I love preserving and I really liked this little book. It has a lovely ‘feel to it’ (yes I know I like Kindles, but there is something very tactile about books!) and the recipes are straightforward and delicious. There’s also lots of really useful practical advice like sterilising, filling and sealing tables. If you’ve never preserved anything before – this book will give you an excellent grounding. Pam Corbin is a friend of Julia’s and used to run a jam company. Hmmm… jam company now I wonder why that sounds familiar…?

A Sticky End – Joanna Sheen & Julia Wherrell

Oh come on! You didn’t really think I would leave my own novel off the list, did you? It’s the perfect Christmas read, light and funny and, we have been told, hard to put down! The reviews on Kindle, and the lovely emails and letters we have received from readers of the paperback have been truly heartening. If you haven’t already bought a copy… go on!

It’s available on Kindle or through the website.

Happy reading!

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Festive decorations

I don’t have many decorations around the house – the main focus is always my huge Christmas tree. I have an eight-foot high Nordic spruce and we love covering it with happy family memories and decorations made by both the girls over the past 30-plus years. This year there’s going to be a small angel on the top with ‘Grace’ embroidered on her skirt – thank you John Lewis website!

The other items I concentrate on are a lovely wreath for the front door and, lastly, a table centre for the big meal itself. This year I decided I wanted a combination of the lovely country look of oranges and cinnamon with the elegance of orchids and roses – and it looks amazing! I am not blowing my own trumpet – this year my wreath has been made by Karen at 2020 Flowers who is an outstanding florist based here in the village. She delivered the wreath this morning and it really is fantastic. It must have been hard to incorporate everything I asked for and to get it just right, not that I am a demanding customer or anything!

I hang a wreath outside on my front door as I am lucky enough to live in rural Devon where the crime rate is pretty minimal, so I never worry about people stealing it from the door, which I realise might not be the case in a more urban setting. There are good things and bad things about having a wreath outside. It’s great because the cool air keeps it fresher longer and, as it is made on an oasis ring, it’s really easy to water. However, if we are unlucky enough to have a frost over the next couple of weeks, the orchids will get more than a little grumpy. Being near the coast, we often escape really bad frosts and it has worked pretty well most years – but then of course I haven’t had orchids most years!

I’ll keep you posted on how well it’s lasting!


Festive balls!

The hanging basket with its chicken wire ‘dome’.This week, my partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, has come up with a lovely idea to brighten up the outside of your house in a festive yet very natural way.

I do not claim to have one tenth of Joanna’s skills when it comes to flower arrangement or plant knowledge and most of my gardening ideas are somewhat ‘freestyle’. I work with what’s around and what inspires me and sometimes ideas work out really well and other times… well, let’s just say my compost heap gets a boost.

As December dawned I decide my hanging baskets were beyond saving and took them down, leaving my house looking very plain. Something green and festive, that’s what’s needed, I thought. But what? I vaguely remembered something about making ivy balls using two hanging basket frames wired together to make the ball structure. After excavating my garden shed I could only find two hanging baskets and not the four I would need to produce two arrangements – one either side of my front door. My first bit of improvisation was to wrestle two bits of chicken wire into rough dome shapes to form the top half of the ball. This actually turned out to be a very good idea, as you will see…

Next I set off round the farm, with the dog, a large carrier bag and my secateurs. Half an hour later, I was back with lots of ivy, some holly, someStarting to wrap ivy around the ball…old dried cow parsley heads and a surprising quantity of rosehips. Being a good forager I only took a few pieces from any one place, leaving plenty of cover and food for the birds and not disturbing the habitat too much. The dog was quite bored by all this and stumped round the walk carrying a large piece of wood as I was too preoccupied to throw her ball. Don’t worry if you don’t live on a farm, you could find plenty of material in areas of woodland or hedgerow.

Back in the garden, I spread out my haul on a tarpaulin and started to cover the balls. I began with lengths of ivy and wound them around. The chicken wire worked really well as it was easy to poke the ends of the ivy through and get them to stay put. I worked on the balls alternately to ensure they were looking fairly equal. I paused briefly to spray the dried cow parsley heads silver – and most of my hand at the same time – and left them to dry. 

Next, I added holly and more ivy, trying to cover as much of the ball structure possible. I soon realised I didn’t have enough, so started raiding the garden, adding some variegated ivy and holly and finding quite a bit of ivy in bloom on the back wall. The design I had envisaged was starting to come together, but lacked a bit of oomph. It suddenly dawned on me that the enormous pieris that I kept squeezing past where it had overgrown the I worked on the balls alternately to try and ensure they looked balanced.steps (I think it’s Forest Flame) was looking rather fine at the moment. A bit of judicious pruning later and I had the final part of the design. The pieris added some lovely red colouring and the flower spikes softened the shape really well.

The final touch involved me wiring up the various bunches of rose hips and dotting them around the two spheres. And absolutely finally, I added the silver cow parsley heads for a bit of subtle glamour.

And there you have it, two festive balls outside my front door! You could obviously use pretty much anything that you think will last and, even if it The finished festive ball!wilts a bit before Christmas, take out the wilting bits and add something else. If you could find mistletoe, that would be lovely and if you want more glitz, you could wire up some small silver or gold baubles and add those as well.






Fond memories of the radio…

I thought I might ramble on a little this week about the happy memories I have of listening to the radio as a child. Spending time with my little two-week old granddaughter Grace, I realise the radio may never be a part of her life as pop music and just about everything else can be listened to online or on an iPod. If they still exist, I’d like to think she might progress when she is older to radio plays or ‘Woman’s Hour’ but I think the odds are against that!

When I was a child, the television was a new and limited thing. I saw ‘Watch with Mother’ and adored such things as ‘Tales of the Riverbank’ and the ‘Woodentops’, but my TV watching time was restricted not by strict parents but by the small available hours of children’s programming. On the other hand, the radio was a very big deal for me. ‘Children’s Favourites’ was a great favourite of mine – with Uncle Mac – and I have a happy memory of bouncing on my bed with my sister while my mother was doing housework and her telling us to be quiet and listen when our names were mentioned and a request for ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ was played. She had sent in a postcard with a request and we very nearly missed it!

Radio played a big part in my childhood – Sunday lunch would not have been the same without ‘Family Favourites’ as we ate lamb or beef (never chicken as it was far too expensive) and listened to requests, sometimes for people we knew, as we had been stationed in Bielefeld in Germany for several of my very early years.

Now I listen to the radio for maybe two hours a day at the most, but I still find it a fascinating medium. I have actually written a couple of radio plays which I found really interesting, as it lets the listener ‘paint the picture’ in their mind with your words. Ask anyone what a famous character from ‘The Archers’ looks like and they will all have totally different ideas – and each will be sure their view is right!

It’s a shame that children are sometimes sat in front of the TV for so long as I do feel that imagination and ideas are really important parts of development – but I am sure many would say the lovely animal programmes we see now and informative children’s TV is every bit as good as my old radio experiences!