A bit of a swagger!

As I think many of you know, I have spent a great many hours of my life cutting, drying and arranging flowers both for work projects and also for my own personal pleasure, especially at Christmas. It’s a hobby I love and never tire of. Those of you who have read my latest novel ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will know that this keen interest of mine has even crept into a murder mystery!

But anything I have ever produced as a Christmas decoration pales into insignificance next the utterly extraordinary giant swag that, every Christmas, graces the Great Hall in Cotehele in Cornwall. Although this National Trust property dates back to Tudor times, the yuletide tradition of decking the Great Hall with a garland is a relatively recent one. Begun in the 1950s, the Christmas flower garland is now firmly established as one of Cotehele’s annual highlights.

Every November, gardeners and volunteers at Cotehele create the 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season and, if you are anywhere near Saltash on the Cornwall/Devon border between now and 6th January 2018… I urge you to go! You will need to book, so do have a look on the website before you set off.

Preparations for the garland begin almost a year earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown and planted in early spring in the Cut Flower Garden. The gardeners pick them daily during the summer, strip their leaves and carefully hang them in the potting shed to dry. Stripping the leaves from each individual stem is one of the most time-consuming elements in the garland-preparation process. Typically, the gardeners would like about 30,000 flowers in the garland – yes THIRTY THOUSAND!!

One of the things I love about this magical project is that, rather than following a standard design, each year the garland is different and depends on which of the specially grown flowers have done well. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.

Creating the garland is a task that involves Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers using scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display. The results are spectacular, not only because of the stunning visual impact the garland makes but also because of the months of work, skill and care that has gone into creating it.

Photo:  The Christmas swag at Cotehele – photo copyright National Trust, go to their website for more information and photos

 

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A window of opportunity

The other day (over yet more book signing – yippee!!) I was discussing houses and décor with my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has recently moved house and is blessed with wonderful views of Dartmoor. Not wanting to obscure the views behind blinds or net curtains, she was telling me about the ‘window art’ she has discovered… hmm, interesting I thought, tell me more!

After living in a very old and dark farmhouse for the past 20 years, Julia wants to ensure she gets lots of light (and the gorgeous views) in her new house. She has opted for clear glass in her front and back doors, as well as patio doors and even her bathroom window! But to ensure privacy and to deter people, dogs and birds from colliding with the glass she has bought several designs of decorative window stickers.

I guess we’ve all seen the bird silhouettes you can stick on your patio doors to try and stop bird strikes, but if you look online there are a huge range of really lovely designs that transform glass to look as if it is etched.

All these images are from Metal Monkey, they have a huge range!

You can either buy frosted and decorative window film where there is a pattern or image cut out of the frosting (offers the most privacy), or you can go for the reverse, where you add a frosted design onto plain glass. While rummaging around on the internet, Julia came across some wonderful designs from Metal Monkey, the most expensive about £18 while the majority were under £10. It’s a very reasonable way to add a lovely design touch to what used to be a rather ‘utilitarian’ look and often involved buying whole new panes of glass and the expense of having them fitted.

Photo: Brume.

Julia has opted for modern designs to reflect the style of her house, but also kept them very ‘natural’ to compliment her lovely countryside surroundings. She has bees and birds for her patio doors, mostly to stop her dog Moss from squashing her nose on the glass when she forgets they are closed, and some lovely allium-inspired designs for her main doors. Oh, and some lovely Japanese leaping carp for her bathroom window! Can’t wait to see the finished results!

Jewel-like stained glass film from Brume. Photo: Brume.

One of the suppliers Julia came across is called Brume, and they are actually based just down the road from me here in Devon! They have some lovely contemporary designs as well as more traditional ones. As well as the frosted stickies, they also make the most gorgeous stained glass colours. Their coloured transparent window film can give you the sophisticated look of traditional stained glass without the costs and installation problems. And of course, if you decide to have a re-design, you can easily remove your stained glass window sticker and replace it with a different colour that reflects your home’s new look.

I must say I do fancy having a bit of a play with the stained glass idea… Have any of you already tried something Like this, I’d be interested to hear how you got on!

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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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The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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