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!

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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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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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