Some Boxing Day musings…

Well, it will be Boxing Day by the time you get to read this post, and I do hope you’ve all enjoyed a lovely Christmas Day and are looking forward to the New Year… resolutions or not!

We have been snuggled up with my girls and gorgeous granddaughter Grace, having a very ‘family’ Christmas, which has been super.

Partner in crime writing Julia, and myself, got together to pose for this daft Christmas shot a few days ago – so much for snowy scenes to go with our antlers, it’s been positively balmy down here in Devon with all sorts of things in bud in the garden. Who knows, a cold snap may yet come along and catch us all out! 

And so, to matters literary. Julia and I have made a start on Swaddlecombe book 3, but we’ve both had a few hiccups along the way with work, families and life in general getting in the way of fiction(!) – so we are really going to start writing in earnest in the New Year. We have our plot, we know ‘who dunnit’ and we also have a title, but we aren’t going to tell you just yet – we don’t want to tempt fate! Let’s just say some feathers might be about to get ruffled…! Watch this space… 

Health and happiness to you all and here’s to a peaceful 2015.




What’s in a name…?

Here’s a ‘Rose Cottage’ © Copyright John BrightleyAs you know, I am a bit of an old softy and tend to like old-fashioned, traditional things. It was great fun when we began creating the characters and places for our Swaddlecombe novels. Julia and I had many giggly hours coming up with characters’ names and inventing our own little world with the town of Westerly and the village of Swaddlecombe. We also managed to squeeze in an ‘April Cottage’, a ‘Primrose Cottage’ and a ‘Hill Farm’.

House names always interest me and I love quaint names like ‘Wisteria Cottage’ or ‘The Hollies’ or something grand like ‘The Rookery’. I think something with a peculiar name would actually put me off! A few years ago now, we used to exhibit at the NEC next to a company that made house signs and they always said ‘Rose Cottage’ was the most popular. Well, I had a bit of a search online and it seems that names change with the times and today ‘The Cottage’ is the most popular, with ‘Rose Cottage’ in second place.

A barn next to co-writer Julia’s house is called ‘The Shielings’, which was a bit of a puzzle. Apparently this means summer grazing place or hut in a wild and remote place, often in Scotland. So, one assumes it was chosen as a reminder of a previous home further north. 

An ‘Old School House. © TripAdvisorPeople quite often transfer place–names to houses, there’s a ‘Taplow Cottage’ not far from me and I am sure we have all seen examples of this. I have friends near Salisbury who live in a very old house called ‘Ilchester Cottage’… Ilchester being a village some 50 miles to the west, so someone was very ‘mobile’ a few centuries ago!

Names often reflect a nearby feature and trees are popular. ‘Orchard House’ is high up the list, as are ‘Yew Tree Cottage’, ‘The Beeches’ and ‘Pear Tree Cottage’. ‘The Elms’ used to be popular but, sadly, the decline of those lovely trees means the house name has died off in popularity too.

I like houses with wild animal names – imagine what fun it would be to live in ‘Fox Hollow’, ‘Deer’s Leap’ or ‘Badger’s Holt’! 

Changes in our society are reflected in house names and today many old schools, chapels and barns have been converted to residential use so you will probably have an ‘Old School House’ or ‘Old Chapel’ in the village. While on the one hand, it is nice to pay homage to a building’s origins, it is also sad that so many communities have lost important parts of their traditional make up. 

Do you live in a house with an interesting name? If it’s unusual, have you ever tried to look up its origins…?



Excitement in the hen house!

Top: The new girls arrive! Second down, left to right – Dahlia, Iris and Lavender. Third down, there’s safety in numbers…! Bottom – Edith, left, and Bunty on the right.There’s lots of activity in the chicken coop this week at my hen pal and partner in crime writing, Julia’s house. She takes up the story…

I’ve kept chickens for years, even though I don’t much like eggs – weird, I know! But I do love hens and their companionable cluckings and burblings add an extra dimension to working or sitting and relaxing in the garden with a cup of tea. Their eggs are lovely to cook with as the yolks are bright orange. They are also a great bartering tool in exchange for plants and vegetables, and they also make a popular gift when visiting someone who normally only gets supermarket eggs.

My flock had dwindled to two very old specimens – ‘Specky’ a six-year-old Speckled hen and ‘Dino’ a nine-year-old Barnevelder. The latter, poor thing, was christened ‘The Dinosaur bird’ by my cheeky godchildren as she does have a bit of the pterodactyl about her. 

When rebuilding the flock I specifically wanted Orpington hens, as they are big, fluffy and very docile. The three I’d had previously had all been delightful and laid well. I also wanted some more Cream Legbars. These attractive little hens lay blue eggs and have a very distinctive character. The last one I had was expert at screaming, slightly neurotic and bit of a bully, but she laid the most wonderful blue eggs, right up until she died, aged eight.

After many emails and phone calls, I tracked down some young Orpingtons about 30 miles away. I set off, intent on buying two. These beautiful birds had been bred from a buff coloured cockerel and a red coloured hen, resulting in a vivid apricot colour. Somehow, I came home with three – how did that happen…?

Next, I found some Cream Legbars, 40 miles in the opposite direction… Devon is a big county! This time I had my Other Half with me, so sneaking in an extra hen was never on the cards. We picked two very lively girls, of slightly different colouring and, after a bit of a tussle, put them in the carry crate in the car. While there, the poultry breeders showed us some of their more ‘fancy’ fowl –  Frizzle Polands and Silkies. We had never seen the like! They looked like creations from the Muppets! 

The Cream Legbars squawked, shrieked and trilled all the way home (the Orpingtons had been silent!), but now they are all in the run together and seem to be getting along quite well. There is always a degree of bullying – people are often surprised at how savage chickens can be towards each other – but so far, all is going well. Dino is definitely keeping her ‘top bird’ status and keeping the young pretenders in their place.

I have decided to name the new hens after characters from our novels. The Orpingtons are named after the Drew triplets, so we have Dahlia, Iris and Lavender, while the Cream Legbars are called Edith (the dark one) and Bunty (the pale one).

Although chickens tend not to lay much in winter, we are hopeful of a few eggs before it turns really cold and dark. I’ll keep you posted… and if we get some eggs, I’ll pass them over to Joanna so she can use them to produce an amazing cake or two!

Aren’t these the most amazingly exotic little beauties…?


Yesterday’s junk is tomorrow’s collectable!

What makes things go in and out of fashion? Why do we hate lava lamps one decade, and regard them as retro and hip the next? Why did I once decorate a wall with cork floor tiles? And whatever possessed any of us to wear loon pants?! Yesterday’s junk so often becomes tomorrow’s most collectable ‘must have’ and if only we could predict these trends we’d all be very rich!

A current fad, and one that I must admit I rather like, is ‘kitchenalia’ – basically our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchen gadgets, crockery and utensils. Who would have thought chipped enamel colanders would be highly prized, or that old pieces of blue and white striped Cornishwear would sell for small fortunes? 

I have found myself in various retro shops recently, all selling things that I binned years ago – and selling them for far more than they originally cost. It’s enough to make you weep! Joking aside, it’s rather lovely seeing such things again as they instantly bring back memories. An old metal flour dredger – my Mother rolling out pastry. A set of pastry forks – afternoon tea at my Grandmother’s. A ‘vintage retro shabby metal baking tray’ – hang on, I’ve still got one of those! If you have a look on ebay, there are some lovely old items, but there are also some hilarious ones where people think they really can sell anything. I have to tell you that at the time of writing this, the ‘vintage retro shabby metal baking tray’ (battered, grubby and not that old!) was on sale for £7.50!

Old-fashioned kitchen scales are rather lovely – they look great and are still perfectly serviceable. Stoneware jars make lovely ornaments, we were lucky enough to find some in our loft when we moved here and I like their colour and solidity, but useful – they are not! I think it will take me a while to come round to wanting a stainless steel tea service, but you never know… You might yet see me in a pair of loon pants again one day!

I wonder what it is that brings things back into fashion, or how old they have to be to become ‘antique’? What do you think? What do you predict will be the next ‘big thing’? What old bits of junk have you got that you are hanging onto in case they become highly-prized?

PS. My latest novel ‘A Violet Death’ features quite a bit of kitchenalia – now there’s a coincidence!



Putting on a bit of a show…

July and August are busy times down here in Devon. Of course, the tourism industry is huge in this area – we are blessed with beautiful countryside and a dramatic coastline – but it’s the strong sense of community and tradition in the countryside that also come to the fore at this time of year.

The rural community is still closely aligned with the farming world and country shows, town carnivals and village fetes are all still important (and popular) events on the social calendar.

Growing giant vegetables, showing your best breeding ram or entering your dog in the agility class are all part of the fun,­ although some people take it very seriously indeed! People go to enormous lengths to build carnival floats, groom and polish their ponies and traps and produce flower arrangements of great ingenuity. It is heartening to see such ‘traditional’ ways of life still carrying on so strongly in this technological age.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, took the afternoon off to wander around a show local to her up on Dartmoor, the Chagford Show, and took some fun photos to give you a real feel for what goes on. She spent quite a lot of her afternoon in the produce and craft tents and when not in there, she was admiring the prize sheep and cattle, oh, and chickens of course. She says she most definitely did not go near the beer tent(!), but might have swung by the cream teas!

They always say ‘write about what you know’, so if you happen to be a fan of our Swaddlecome Mysteries series, this sort of rural entertainment will be well known to you!