A tale of tulips, Monty Don & my Dad!

Tulip Black Parrot.While Joanna is at the Hobby Craft Exhibition at the NEC, she’s let me, Julia Wherrell, her hen pal and partner in crime (writing), loose on her blog – very exciting!

Joanna was very strict and said I’m not allowed to write about making things out of willow (already done that), or my chickens (ditto), so I thought I’d tell you about my bulb planting scheme for pots, partly inspired by my 89-year old Father, and the lovely TV gardener, Monty Don. 

I know Joanna talked about spring bulbs last week, but I’m afraid you’ve got them again as, if we don’t get them planted out now, it is going to be too late.

While I love the idea of tulips I am always disappointed as they seem to collapse easily and get rather messy but, when I was visiting a garden in Cornwall earlier this year, I saw them in a different light. The garden featured same-coloured tulips closely planted in urns and other pots – and they looked stunning. 

The marvellous Monty Don… and my Dad!While Joanna gets all swoony over Pierce Brosnan, I go weak at knees over Monty Don, so I am always glued to Gardeners’ World every week. Recently, Monty was showing us how to plant up containers with tulips. Not only was he planting them much deeper than I had done (probably why mine fell over – poor things!) but he also layered them, so you get a succession of blooms coming up through each other. Jolly clever, I thought.

I was recounting this to my Father on Skype (he may be 89, but he’s no slouch!) and he said “Ah yes, I used to plant tulips deep in tubs like that, but then I’d also plant a layer of daffodils at the top. So the daffodils flowered first, then when they were over, up came the tulips.” Thanks Dad – another brilliant idea!

So, last weekend, I got into the garden and planted up various tubs – some with two layers of tulips, other with tulips and then daffs. Provided you check which bulbs will flower when, so you get a progression over the months, I am sure you could ‘layer’ other bulbs in this way too.

Tulip Burgundy.I love the parrot-type tulips you see now with their pretty frilled edges, and I also like the more pointed petal varieties. As for colours, I adore the darker shades, such as Black Parrot or Tulip Burgundy. I don’t care for the variegated ones and I rarely have yellow or orange in my garden, it is always a very pink and purple palette as I find it more relaxing – a riot of colour can be rather exhausting!

And so, I will trot off now to chat to my chickens and plan another willow sculpture, but don’t tell Joanna…!

 

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Jean’s Very Berry Jam

Here’s another basic jam, surely a popular choice for keen jam maker Jean – another character from our novel ‘A Sticky End’!

This is fun to try with different ratios of berries – try more raspberry than strawberry for example – and you could always add blueberries too. You can also make a far larger batch if you have the fruit available, I just used a fairly small collection as I wanted to try all sorts of different variations.

  • 600g mixed berries (Redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries and raspberries)
  • 500g preserving sugar

Makes about 6 small jars

  1. Wash all fruit
  2. Put fruit and sugar into a large pan and boil for about 15mins
  3. Test for set
  4. Pass through a muslin and sieve
  5. Boil again for 5mins
  6. Pot up and seal at once.

 

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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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A behind the scenes look at printing our book…

Proud author!I am bouncing around like Tigger at the moment waiting to take delivery of the paperback version of our book ‘A Sticky End’!

You can imagine how I reacted when, last week, our printer said, “Would you like to come and see it on the press?” I was out the door and sitting in the car before poor Richard had even had time to pick up the car keys! My writing partner, Julia Wherrell, was away and sadly couldn’t make the trip with us.

Maslands, our book printers, are in Tiverton, about an hour up the M5 motorway and Richard, my daughter Emily, and I were soon standing in the print room, boggle eyed and gazing at all the huge printing presses and computer gubbins. Emily said it was … “Just like being on Come Outside with Pippin the dog,” a favourite TV show when she was little!

Watching our lovely colour cover whizzing through the press and stacking up at the end was really gratifying – a dream come true for me to see my novel actually appearing before my eyes.

The cover actually on the press…The work that goes into the print process was really interesting and we were shown around the print works by Andy Jackson, one of the directors, and Ted Moore, who works in the studio, and who laid out the book. Of course, printing today is very different from the old printing press days as everything is generated digitally, but I was still surprised by how ‘big’ a process it still is. After printing, it goes off to be cut and then bound into the cover before arriving on Monday afternoon when you can buy a copy on the website.

Meanwhile… the Kindle copy has already come out! We had to get it loaded up in advance, but didn’t realise people would find it on Amazon quite so quickly. So far, feedback has been very positive and we have sold quite a few copies, so Julia and I are really pleased… if slightly terrified too!

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Primrose Cottage Cherry Jam

Primrose Cottage is the name of the jam company that features in my novel ‘A Sticky End’ that I am hoping you will all enjoy when it launches on Monday!

This is a very straightforward recipe and I am sure you could add some secret ingredients and make it your own. I have had some lovely cherry jams with added touches of brandy and kirsch in the past, so I would suggest it is worth experimenting. However, I think Grace, a character from the book, would not approve of anything as frivolous as putting alcohol in her jams!

Makes about 5 pots of jam

  • 1kg cherries
  • 600g sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  1. Wash and remove stones from cherries
  2. Put cherries and lemon juice into a large pan and simmer until the fruit is soft
  3. Add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved
  4. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10mins, until the jam sets when tested
  5. Remove any scum
  6. Pot up and seal at once
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