Paperback writers!

I promise this will be the last blog about the book for a while! Yesterday we launched the paperback version and, I am delighted to say, sales have been really good. Julia and I both have a touch of writers’ cramp this morning after signing hundreds of copies of the book last night!

We had a fun evening combining my birthday with a mini book launch party with partner in crime, Julia and her other half and members of my family all present. My daughter Emily produced a lovely sponge cake tribute to the book as had my stepmother who made a chocolate “inside” of the book! So we simply had to tuck into both to ensure they were as lovely as they looked! And they were…

I know it’s early days, but interestingly Kindle sales are almost double those of the paperback… but then the Kindle version has been around a few days longer, so we will watch with interest to see how this pans out over the next few months and report back!

I was so thrilled to wake up this morning to find we were number 1 in the British Detective section of Amazon and 152 on their bestsellers list …. which bearing in mind we were something like 56,000 only a week or so ago … is amazing!

Thank you to those of you that have read the Kindle version and seem to really like our characters and the idea that this will be the first in a series. It is very strange after tapping away on our various efforts over the years, usually in solitary isolation, to finally have your work ‘out there’ and being read by people! Julia has already been stopped in the street (admittedly, she lives in a village!) and asked by an enthusiastic reader of ‘A Sticky End’ where she got her inspiration from. It is also strange sitting here and seeing the paperbacks stacked up, waiting to be posted out today – it’s suddenly all so very ‘real’!

We each have our favourite characters in the book – mine would be Victoria, while Julia is very keen on the Reverend Ruminant – but it would be fun to know which ones you enjoyed most – no plot spoilers please!

 

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My first novel is about to be published…!

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this particular blog… as I can begin to tell you about my novel that’s being launched on 23rd September and here’s a sneaky peek at the cover!

Although I’ve published over 40 non–fiction books, this is my first foray into novel writing. It has always been a dream of mine to publish a work of fiction and I can hardly believe the dream is about to come true. 

Entitled ‘A Sticky End’, I have written the book jointly with my hen-pal Julia Wherrell, who lives near me down here in Devon. The novel is based in the fictional village of Swaddlecombe deep in the Devon countryside. Julia and I have had great fun inventing the characters and places that populate our book, although it would be untrue to say it has all been plain sailing…

The idea that writers sit gazing out of the window for inspiration and then knock out a few chapters by tea time is a very long way from the truth – well, it was for us anyway! Writing is actually very hard work and, while writing together has given us the much-needed momentum required to finish the project, (we both have previously unpublished and unfinished books) it also made it quite a complicated process – but in the end, it has worked for us. We also, of course, had to fit in writing alongside our ‘day’ jobs, so it’s been quite a busy time for both of us… and our long-suffering partners!

’A Sticky End’ is a light-hearted murder mystery revolving around a character, Victoria West, who has recently moved to Devon from London. I think there’s quite a bit of both Julia and myself in the novel and it reflects our love of the Devon countryside – and our combined sense of humour! The title is a direct reference to strange goings on at the jam company at the heart of the book.

After inheriting a cottage from her aunt, Victoria leaves her stressful London life behind and moves to the tranquil backwaters of rural Devon. Feeling fragile, but positive after a recent brush with cancer, she is looking forward to an independent, laid-back lifestyle doing all the things townies like her always do in the countryside–keeping chickens, growing veg and, well, chilling out!

But Victoria hadn’t reckoned with the locals of Swaddlecombe. After only a few days in her new home she’s investigating a suspicious death, is a victim of road rage and has a nasty incident with a sheep. And then of course, there’s tall handsome farmer, Albert Moreton…

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetites! Julia and I have all sorts of plans for book two – and even a whole series of Swaddlecombe mysteries, but we realise that will all depend on how much you like the book and the characters. Fingers crossed that you do and I wonder if you will guess whodunnit?

‘A Sticky End’ will be available on Kindle, priced £3.99 (on Amazon.co.uk) and as a paperback direct from Joanna Sheen Ltd, priced at £6.99. Both products will be available from 23rd September 2013. We will even sign the paperbacks if you fancy a first edition! 

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The Forager’s Kitchen

Hedgerows are always a source of fascination, they are so full of flora and fauna. At the moment, they are dotted with glossy blackberries, and I can never resist picking them as I pass. My mother, the queen of preserves in our family, is already making jam and there has been talk of a blackberry and apple crumble coming our way too…!

My level of hedgerow foraging is fairly basic, but there is lots of ‘free’ food out there if you only know what to look for. My friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is a great forager and it was through her excellent Facebook page that I came across ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’ a truly fascinating cookery book that contains over 100 easy recipes from savoury to sweet, written by a Scots lady called Fiona Bird.

Don’t be put off by the title – this book is absolutely fascinating just to sit and read even if you have no intention of going and collecting any of the ingredients yourself. Not only does Fiona provide lovely (and easy) recipes, she gives lots of additional information about wildflowers, herbs, fruits and berries and more. Should you feel inspired, she also tells you how to forage, essential ground rules (how to avoid misidentification!) and a range of lovely little ‘wild notes’ with really useful hints and tips.

The book is divided up into sections – Flowers & Blossom, Woodland & Hedgerow, Fruits & Berries, Herbs and Sea & Shore. There’s a huge range of recipes – from Christmas Tree Cookies (using Douglas fir needs) through Carrot & Clover Cake to the most gorgeous looking Violet Macarons with Primrose Cream. Fiona writes very well and, whether you live in a city, the countryside or by the coast, if you follow her advice, you will find more ingredients growing in the wild than you could imagine!

Our ancestors knew what to pick and I do think it’s a shame that most people today are so ‘disconnected’ from the countryside and, indeed, wary of it. There is so much beauty in nature and such bounty out there if we only know what to do with it.

Fiona Bird is a mother of six children. She is a self-taught cook and past Masterchef finalist who has always had a passion for cooking and her approach to food is based on her knowledge of tight budgets and limited time. You can follow Fiona on her Facebook page. 

 

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Rare breeds are a rare treat!

A lot of you will already know that I am a bit of an old softie when it comes to baby animals and fluffy things in general… so you can image how incredibly soppy I get when surrounded by a farm full of gorgeous creatures that I am allowed to stroke and pet!

Totnes Rare Breeds Farm is a really rather special place. It was founded by Jacquie and Barrie Tolley in 2001, who were concerned about the decline of traditional British breeds. A scythe, a digger, and a lot of hard work later, they’d built a rare breeds farm, which opened in June 2002. Since then, the farm has been expanded and is still being improved.

What began as a collection of farmyard rare breeds has gradually grown. The smallest pygmy goats, and very inquisitive pigs! I am a big fan of pigs and can assure you, theirs are the sweetest!

You can also get close to the endangered wildlife of the English countryside, making this much more than just a petting farm. You can touch a hedgehog’s prickly spines or admire the gripping pads on a red squirrel’s foot.

Wizard the eagle owl – who is very large and actually a little bit scary – really seems to enjoy affection and he, and his eight feathered friends, can be seen up close and stroked. It’s amazing to be so close to these beautiful creatures and to be able to look right into their eyes.

What sets Totnes Rare Breeds apart is the opportunity it gives to really get close to the animals. The majority of pens can be entered, and almost all their inhabitants stroked, patted and cuddled. They will even give you a free pot of special food to take round to ensure you are the centre of attention!

The Farm is a non-profit-making organisation and relies on the work of volunteers and the support of its customers. You can sponsor the animals with all funds going towards vets’ bills.  And the final icing on the cake…? You can visit the Rare Breeds Farm in conjunction with the South Devon Steam Railway and there are joint ticket deals available. Heaven!

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Devon violets: a symbol of modesty or a little flirt?

I was peering in a junk shop window the other day – it was closed so no time for a rummage sadly – when I spotted a little pottery perfume bottle with ‘Sweet Devon Violets’ on it… and I remembered an elderly aunt (who was probably not that elderly at all) who always had handkerchiefs scented with sweet Devon violets.

Devon is a wonderful place for wildflowers and violets seem to grow particularly well in the climate here and are usually plentiful in the springtime. Beautiful and delicate, the pungent perfume of the variety Viola Odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

Violet is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone (a chemical substance) is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time – isn’t that clever?

The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially and there are records showing they were for sale in Athens 400BC and being grown in specialist nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume that scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities that are still being researched today.

Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market on a daily basis. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years, the land was requisitioned for growing much needed food, and violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return.

As a result, nowadays we tend to associate the perfume with elderly ladies and as being rather old-fashioned. As a flower, the violet represents modesty–hence the phrase ‘a shrinking violet’–so perhaps that has something to do with it being regarded as rather shy and retiring and old hat! Yet the sweet violet is really the true flower of Valentine’s Day as legend has it that, while in prison, St Valentine wrote a letter to his lover with ink made from violets.

Sweet Devon Violet products are still popular today with Devon violet soaps, bath bombs, perfume, essential oils, candles and much more, all being widely available on line. Look into any Devon gift shop and you are sure to find some products too! So perhaps the popularity of this lovely fragrance won’t fade away like our aged aunts and does still have a place in modern life, albeit a slightly shy and retiring one!

 

 

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