Summer Treat

It’s August, the sun is shining, and I’m over in Kit’s Kitchen today, stirring up a deliciously cool summer drink to enjoy in the garden whilst reading a book or on holiday around the pool. Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again to make Sangria. Click here to pop into Kit Kitchen’s to see how it’s made.

Do you have a favourite summertime drink? What’s yours?

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Can Feng Shui Improve Creativity?

A conversation over lunch with a friend recently turned to the subject of Feng Shui and creativity in the workroom. Although I’ve heard of this Chinese pseudoscience, it’s not something I’ve ever delved into other than to understand it is all about the placement of things in the home to create good vibes, the ying and yang of life, complementary forces that flow between everything. When one considers the “art” has been around for centuries, I have to admit there must be something to it. And possessing an inquisitive mind, I’m always open to suggestions.

Apparently, to create the correct atmosphere in which to keep the creative juices flowing, be it art, writing, pastry making or building model aeroplanes, the idea is that your workstation should ideally face the door. If you sit with your back to it the energy spilling in through the doorway (whether it needs to be open or closed for it to work, is a matter for further investigation!), hits your back and bounces straight back out of the room.

This hypothesis resonated with me as my writing desk is in a corner of the room against a wall opposite the door, so when I sit there my back is to the door. Since making this move, I’ve never felt truly comfortable and my writing has taken a huge plummet: an observation I have mentioned to friends and fellow writers on numerous occasions. Before this necessary rearrangement of furniture, my desk faced the window, the door to my left and I was prolific in my writing and business there. Since the relocation, I’ve always maintained it was because I faced the wall and couldn’t see out of the window, invariably working with a lamp on that caused my problem. Such was my concern at the drop in my output, last year I purchased another computer which sits on my art table in front of the window. When working there, be it painting or writing, I am more relaxed and my work flows.

“So why don’t I move my desk back where it was?” I hear you ask. My office is also my art studio, which has to serve as my spare bedroom. Whenever I had guests, it was an absolute pain in the proverbial to reshuffle and rearrange the furniture every time, particularly when needing access to the tuck-under bed stored beneath the spare bed. My worktable had to be moved to the landing, cupboards and bedside table humped about the room in order for my guests to be comfortable, and items stashed away in boxes. All to be unpacked and restored after guests had left.  Moving the desk to the corner where the spare beds used to be was a much better option. So I thought.

It transpires in Feng Shui, if a mirror is placed on the wall or desk facing the door, this can elevate the negative energy by reflecting the positive back onto you. But it has to be a round mirror, it mustn’t have any corners. I remembered I had such a mirror stored away, so decided to put it use and see if this would work, such is my desperation to get back into the productive writing mode I used to have.

So the mirror is now in place. If it works, I shall buy a larger one and hang it on the wall in front of me.

Meanwhile, I shall be researching further into the world of Feng Shui to see what else I can achieve. After all, I’ve nothing to lose by giving it a try, and if the practice is to be believed, it could also bring me good fortune. I could certainly do with some of that!

Watch this space.

Spotlight On: JEAN PEEL

Today’s spotlight falls on a fellow artist and recently published children’s author Jean Peel. Born in Glasgow, she emigrated to Australia at the age of 24, choosing to fly rather than sail!

Being an avid reader all her life, Jean has always been a casual writer, and only recently finished her ninth Aunt Sally manuscript. At the request of her sons, and perhaps for the benefit of her grandchildren, Jean is currently documenting her own memories and those of her mother; at least the ones that she can remember.

Opening herself to the world of creativity, Jean has also become addicted to card making, and more recently painting with oils and acrylics. She continues to bring more of her Aunt Sally stories to life, whilst working on a novel she’s had sitting on her writing desk for some time; that is, when she’s not overcome with writer’s block.

Aunty Sally

Aunt Sally is a delightful cat who intends to live all nine lives to the fullest by exploring the world and creating mayhem on route. She’ll stop at nothing to have fun and find adventure. The stories are told in poetry form and are delighting children.

So, if you have young children or grandchildren, I’m sure they’ll find delight in these stories and with Christmas not so far away now, this might be the perfect time to start buying those gifts.

You can find out more about Jean and Aunt Sally by visiting her website: JeanPeel.com, where you will also find links to purchase her books, which are also available on Amazon.

 

 

 

In A Roundabout Way

Since becoming an artist, I’ve found myself observing the world through different eyes, eyes that are now wide open, seeing shade and shadow and colour contrast where I never had before. Every season, every building, tree or field takes on a new meaning, none more so than when I am driving. Take the humble roundabout, for instance. How many of us, when in a vehicle, whether driving or not, actually takes notice of what is there? Most of us see it as just a means of keeping traffic flowing, without ever taking in what’s in the middle. It took several trips abroad before I began to look at roundabouts in greater detail.

For example, coming out of Mahon airport on Menorca, is a well-kept one with several large boulders and gravel well placed, accentuated by planting. A sight that now says welcome home to me whenever I visit the island. Over in Barbados, there’s Freedom Roundabout, with a large bronze statue of a man lifting up broken chains around his wrists, celebrating the end of slavery.

In Benalmadena, Spain, a town I regularly visit, each roundabout has a different piece of street art, each one forming a landmark people use to find their way around. One has a lovely sculpture of lots of windmills that whirl around in the breeze, another a bronze hulk of a boat, another a gigantic copper ball… the list goes on.

But one there in particular piqued my interest, taking me several days to work out what it represented.

Near to my apartment, I had only seen it at night. Always lit up in changing colour colours, from red to green, to blue to white, it was a white structure I couldn’t make sense of. Located on the main road through the resort, the large roundabout is odd-shaped, with one road leading to marina, the other to the upper part of town. Occasionally, I saw cars drive up to it and then disappear, never coming around it. It had me perplexed. Several days later I had cause to walk by it, and finally it became obvious: it was a sailing ship! Of course, because the road off it led straight down to the marina. At night, the sails would light up. And the cars disappearing? It was also the entrance to an underground car park. It was the car-park domes to the left of the sails that changed colour. Ingenious.

Seeing all the wonderful street art and creations abroad prompted me to take a closer look at roundabouts in England. Here, it is often just a patch of long grass and weeds, perhaps some wild flowers. A few trees maybe. Shrubbery – often overgrown and obscuring views of what is coming around it. Admittedly, that isn’t true for all of them. Some are well manicured, neatly trimmed, pretty flowerbeds.

Near where I live, is a large, modern business park called Aztec, meaning A to Z Technology, the entrance to which is a roundabout. When first created, the roundabout was grassed and planted up with saplings and thousands of daffodils bulbs which when in flower spelt out A to Z – something which could only be seen from the air. The trees have since grown large and the bulbs multiplied so the meaning is lost.

Close by too is a large shopping mall and leisure complex with busy roads and several roundabouts. Each has a different “sculpture”, all meant to mean something. The first simply has a large upright standing stone, known locally as “Patchway Tombstone,” as the building of the mall meant death to our small local shops and loss of peace in the area for residents. Apparently, the stone is meant to represent Avebury and/or Stonehenge – neither of which is nearby, let alone in the county. Another is a large round grassy hillock chopped in half, a gorge going through it. Some say it represents Cheddar Gorge – again, nowhere near here or in the same county. Others say it’s meant to represent Brunel and the GWR railway network here. At a push it could be Avon Gorge. The next roundabout has a tall grass mound with a metal cap on the top, said to represent Silbury Hill – again not even in the county. Whoever designed these obviously didn’t know their geography or history!

It would have been far more in keeping and more meaningful to have a model of Concorde on one, considering the Rolls Royce factory where the plane was built and now houses the Concorde museum is right on the doorstep. Why didn’t they choose some other landmark relevant and local to the county rather than obscure or obtuse edifices? But still, I suppose grassy hillocks with bits cut out and an upright stone that is possibly man-made, is better than nothing. And they are a talking point. But it would be so much better if the designers took a look at how roundabouts are designed and built abroad, and used a little bit more imagination to make more of a feature of out of these necessary traffic management measures.

However, there is one small roundabout locally on a road I often travel which always makes me smile. The roundabout is small, in the middle of a housing development and consists of nothing more than grass, which is always well trimmed, in the middle of which is planted with lavender bushes. At its centre is a white beehive (I don’t think it’s a real one!) and, before they were stolen, had large ornamental bees on wires that twirled around. A simple concept yet pleasing to the eye. Well done to whoever thought of it!

Would love to hear about any good or bad ones near you!

FREE FOR 5 DAYS ONLY

EVERY STEP OF THE WAY – FREE FOR 5 DAYS ONLY ON KINDLE!!!!

In celebration of my new novel White Stones, my previous novel Every Step of the Way is for 5 days only available to download on Kindle for free.

This book was shortlisted in 2004 for the Harry Bowling Prize for a London novel. It tells the story of Beth, a young teenager whose world is thrown into darkness and chaos when London is hit by the 1952 Great Smog, leaving in its wake a trail of death and disruption, and changing her life in ways she never thought possible. In the emerging teenager culture of juke boxes and coffee bars, Teddy Boys and gang fights, Every Step of the Way envelops much of the social history of the 1950s.

 

In February 2019, Every Step of the Way was awarded a Chill with a Book Award, as recommended by its readers.

 

A few of the reviews for Every Step of the Way

“…brilliant depiction of early 50s culture, complete with quiffs, drainpipes and juke-boxes, set against the moral as well as economic austerity of the post-war years. The other is the spirited and engaging heroine who for much of the book is alone against the world. …I was rooting for Beth from page one and could not have left without knowing the outcome of her dramatic story. It’s no surprise that this book just missed the Harry Bowling Prize for a novel set in London and if you fancy a warm-hearted read and a touch of nostalgia this is for you.”

“This novel, set in London and Gloucestershire in the aftermath of WWII, gave me a real sense of what life was like in the 1950s, when rationing was still in place and the women who had kept the country going in the fields and in the factories during wartime, were all back at the kitchen sink. It must have been a difficult time for teenagers to grow up in and Kit Domino captures the essence of the 1950’s era exceptionally well. The depiction of the London smog and its effects on the population is particularly harrowing and poignant and this is where this story begins. We follow the life of Beth, a 16-year-old girl living in 1950’s London, who through experiencing love, life and loss, becomes a grown woman by the end of the novel. It’s a coming of age story that is beautifully written, expertly told, and one I simply couldn’t put down. Highly recommended.”

Available on Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2Jg7ThD   https://amzn.to/2YgxVY1

Spotlight on: JO LAMBERT

Today I’m delighted to join in celebrating the publication of Jo Lambert’s new novel A Cornish Affair. Set in North Cornwall, this is Jo’s eighth novel, all superbly written and most enjoyable reads, but her first since signing with publishers Choc Lit under their Ruby imprint.

Having read all of Jo’s previous work, I know I’m in for a good read.

A CORNISH AFFAIR

Even in your hometown, you can feel like an outsider …

In the close-knit community of Carrenporth in Cornwall everyone knows everyone else’s business. Luke Carrack is only too aware of this. He’s been away for two years but nothing has changed – from the town gossips who can’t see past the scandal of his childhood, to the cold way he is treated by some of his so-called family.
The only person who seems to understand is local hotelier’s daughter Cat Trevelyan, although even Luke’s new friendship with her could set tongues wagging.
But Carrenporth is about to experience far bigger scandals than the return of Luke Carrack – and the secrets unearthed in the process will shake the sleepy seaside town to its core…

Available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Qe2vhS

BIO

Jo Lambert lives on the eastern edge of Bath with her husband, one small grey feline called Mollie and a green MGB GT. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors.  She has been writing since 2008. Her first five books, a set of linked romantic sagas following the lives of several families in West Somerset, was followed in 2015 by Summer Moved On, a contemporary romance set in South Devon. A sequel, Watercolours in the Rain, followed in 2017,

Jo is currently working on another coastal romance, this time set in South Cornwall.

When she isn’t writing she reads and reviews. She also has an active blog.  Jo loves travel, red wine and rock music and she often takes the odd photograph or two.

Links

Website: http://jolambertbooks.com
Blog: http://jolambertwriter.blog
Twitter: @jolambertwriter
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jolambert185
Linkedin: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/jo-lambert-6 4644530
Instagram: jolambertwriter185

Life Playlists Replayed

A few weeks ago author Jo Lambert invited me to talk about the music of my life, which I have to admit was a hard task to pick out 5 songs that had special meaning or memory for me and so thank you, Jo, for inviting me to take part on your blog, which I’ve reblogged here in case anyone missed it. (To read more about Jo Lambert and her books, click here.)

Music, as well as books, has always played a major part in my life: from growing up with German folk songs and classical music to marrying a part-time DJ. From Saturday mornings listening to Children’s Favourites and Sunday lunch over Family Favourites on the radio and teenage years those of the 1960s and 70s, to right up to this very day. Thus love, life, family and memories are sealed by music – the happy and the sad. So, where to begin? A German song or the first 45 single I bought (Adam Faith)? The Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Faces, or Keith Relf’s Renaissance? …The list is endless.

For my first choice, I’ve picked music from the late 1960s. What an era it that was with so many fantastic songs and bands out there. Living in London and having a music-mad boyfriend who became a part-time DJ, I was spoilt with shows, nightclubs and concerts and discos a constant happening. One big favourite was Fleetwood Mac. I’ve chosen the instrumental Albatross because it brings back happy, memories of warm summer days and sultry nights, of being allowed to stay out all night for the first time to attend a midnight concert at the Lyceum Ballroom, London where Fleetwood Mac, among many others were playing that night.

It was also back in the 1960s I came across folk singer Ralph McTell, a prolific and gifted songwriter whose style invites you into a unique world, weaving words that can tug on your heartstrings with songs and music that are significant, poignant and sometimes amusing. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite but this one, Let Me Down Easy, holds particular meaning from when my first marriage broke apart. However, Ralph’s music and songs have always been there for me, and always will be.

When I moved to Gloucestershire in the mid 1970s, I thought I would lose the concerts I habitually frequented in London. Thankfully, I was wrong. Bristol has two fantastic concert venues, the Colston Hall and the Hippodrome, and I was fortunate to attend both many times to see and hear Ralph McTell, Status Quo, Queen, Stevie Millar Band, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Mike Harding, Inspirational Choir and many, many more. It was at this time I also met (at a dance) the man who is my husband now for 40+ years, and no playlist would be complete without “Our Song”. For us, it’s Just the Way You Are by Barry White. I was never a great fan of Barry’s but this song says it all. It has to be his version, mind. The original and other covers don’t do it for us.

The 1970s and beyond has been filled with wonderful singers, bands and music. George Michael, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, ELO, Stevie Wonder, Abba and so much more. Amongst all of these the passion for classical music held strong, with many a summer evening enjoying what became a family tradition of open-air classical picnic concerts. Milton Keyes Bowl provided a regular location for music, song and fireworks. From Duxford airfield to the majestic grounds of Berkeley Castle, we much preferred listening to the Three Tenors than the Three Degrees. One piece in particular was a firm favourite of my family, one which we also played at my father’s funeral: the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni. From its melancholy start to the heart-tugging end, it took many years before I was able to listen to this again without the tears welling. But time heals.

Throughout all of the music world there is but one singer who can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. He came to the fore about 20 years ago with a voice often described as “The voice of an angel” and “If God could sing, he would sound like this.” Who? The one and only Andrea Bocelli, of course. His songs helped me through long convalescence when I was first struck down with a now life-long medical condition. His songs also bring back wonderful memories of holidays shared with my mother and two beloved sisters, of lying on sun-drenched Greek beaches with the beach bars close by playing his CDs. Utter bliss. Again, it difficult to choose which song from the many. Bocelli often duets with other singers, ie Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman, John Miles, his wife and even his son, but last year he duetted with another of my favourites: Ed Sheeran. A double whammy! Thus for my last shout I have included Perfect Symphony. Oh my, those hairs are on end again.

Music, in particular, classical music, is also at the heart of my recently released novel: White Stones, a haunting story of love and music transcending the barriers of time, featuring a relatively unknown real-life composer and one of his works rarely heard in the UK. In no way a frightening read, this novel may change your mind about the supernatural and how the world around us works. It’s not your average usual ghost story – it won’t give you nightmares, it won’t make you scared to sleep with the light off, but it is a thought-provoking romantic mystery full of music, intrigue and a few things that go “daa dee dee, dee da da” in the night!

Available worldwide on Kindle and soon to be released in paperback and other e-formats.

 

To obtain the book: White Stones

5.0 out of 5 stars “Loved the setting, the emotion, and the cadence of this story “…”I couldn’t put this book down…”

Spotlight on: GILLI ALLAN

I’m delighted today to announce the publication of Gilli Allan’s sixth novel: Buried Treasure.

There is an interesting and intriguing mystery in Gilli’s family that in part inspired this novel, one that gives extra life and credence to the plot.

 

BURIED TREASURE

Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems. 

https://amzn.to/2KOZX99

 

I’ve known Gilli for many years, having first met her through the RNA Bristol Chapter way back in what must have been circa 2000, and having read and enjoyed all her previous books, I know I am in for a great read, also because it has an extra interest for me in that it revolves around archaeology, a subject I love and a theme central in my own recently published novel White Stones.

Bio

Born in Kent, her hobby was writing, but her ambition was to be a commercial artist. After art school she found work as an advertising illustrator.

With marriage and the arrival of her son, a reassessment of priorities was needed. Gilli gave up the stressful world of advertising and although she’d not written since teenage, she decided to “write a novel”. Even though it was the first she had ever finished, the resulting book quickly found a publisher.  Gilli produced the cover artwork. Sadly, after publishing two of her books, the small independent publisher folded.

Now living in Gloucestershire, Gilli joined the RNA. She continued to write unconventional contemporary relationship fiction. Having failed to find a new publisher for her own idiosyncratic “take” on romance, and with the advent of the e-book revolution, she self-published three books. She was delighted when she was contracted to Accent Press and those books were republished.

Art remains an interest and in recent years, Gilli has taken on various illustration commissions.

The biggest joy and reward in the life of Gilli and her husband Geoff is that their historian son – Thomas Williams – has successfully taken up the writing baton.

You can discover more about Gilli Allan and her family backstory to this novel on her blog.

Links

https://accentpressbooks.com/collections/gilli-allan
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gilli-Allan/e/B004W7GG7I
http://twitter.com/gilliallan
https://www.facebook.com/GilliAllan.AUTHOR
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1027644.Gilli_Allan
https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org/rna_author/gilli-allan/

Spotlight on: FAYE AVALON

I was delighted to learn some months ago that one of my favourite authors, Faye Avalon, has been taken on by Harlequin Mills & Boon for their new Dare imprint. Writing for M&B had been a long-held dream for Faye, and finally her dream came to fruition with the recent publication of her exciting new novel Rescue Me. I love this story. Yes, like most of Faye’s books (she’s a prolific writer with at least 14 published books) it’s a steamy romp with an interesting plot line, hot sex that doesn’t stop at the bedroom door and also humour that Faye brings to her work. If erotica makes you blush then this isn’t for you, but read it if you dare (pun intended!).

RESCUE ME: Blurb

He knows her weaknesses… 
And he’s one of them!

Maddie Mallory never forgot the sizzlingly hot week she once shared with sexy, stone-cold businessman Gabe Harrington—or what it cost her. Now Gabe is “rescuing” Maddie before she marries the wrong man. All Gabe wants is a chance to prove himself. And all Maddie wants is one last lust-fueled week with Gabe…if she can keep from falling for him all over again.

https://amzn.to/2WiwmHk

Bio:

Faye enjoys writing sexy stories about strong men and the savvy women who rock their world. She has taken a roundabout journey toward her writing career, working as cabin crew, detouring into property development, public relations and education, before finally finding her passion: writing spicy romantic fiction.

You can learn more about Faye and all her books on her website.

White Stones – A Novel 20 Years in the Making!

At long last, the day arrived when my little baby matured and was finally published on 1st of June! And yes, it really has been 20+ years in the making. Out now on Kindle worldwide, and shortly to be in paperback and other ereader forms too.

The story began life in 1998, born with a different name, one which flitted between that and the published title. The first version went through the RNA New Writers Scheme, its reader recommending several agents to try. At a RNA conference, one agent asked to read the complete mss; but decided it wasn’t for her. I sent it to the book doctor, Hilary Johnson, who made suggestions, amended a few flaws and loved the story but not the then title, hence its change. She advised I would have trouble finding an agent or publisher because the book crosses several genres: romance/mystery/paranormal/timeslip/investigative/fantasy – something which at the time wasn’t readily accepted. It was also rather long, which didn’t help.

But White Stones wouldn’t die or go away. I liked the story too much, so over the course of the next few years kept tweaking and sending it out to agents and publishers. One in the USA showed interest but wanted me to change the location from England to somewhere, anywhere, in the States.

This I tried to do. I carried out a great deal of research as to where the story might work there, but it doesn’t’ allow itself to be transferred for reasons which become clear within the novel on two counts: the location is vital to the plot, as is the fact that a character (real, not fictional) within the story did not travel to America during their lifetime, and the fact this person is a crucial element of the storyline. What to do? There wasn’t a lot I could do unless I virtually rewrote the whole novel, so I put it back in the proverbial drawer and moved on to another.

That book, Every Step of the Way, proved a little more successful in that it went on to be shortlisted for the prestigious Harry Bowling Prize for a London novel in 2004, in turn leading to me being taken on by a top London agent who wanted synopses for two more similar books, hoping to secure a 3-book deal. I began writing the next, but every step of the way the agent tried, she couldn’t find a publisher for me and we eventually parted ways.

And still White Stones wouldn’t go away. It played in my head during the day. Kept me awake at nights as I tried to rework the story, tried to fathom out what was wrong with it, why no-one would take a chance on it. One night it dawned on me … no, actually it was my sister a few years later, who read the whole book in one sitting. At a certain point, she looked up and said, “At last, here’s where the action starts!” That’s when it hit me… the beginning of the novel, the entire first three chapters, was nothing but back story. No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere. So those chapters were scrapped, with any relevant information pertinent to the plot drip fed into the new version.

Life, work, family got in the way on many levels and again White Stones was shelved whilst I wrote two new novels. And still the Stones kept knocking at my head wanting to be let out. I picked it up again and read it through from the start. Many years had gone by and, consequently, White Stones was out of touch with modern technology. People now had mobile phones, computers, the Internet and the world-wide-web ­– all things that needed to be brought up to date as they are relevant and necessary for the story to work, as were events that had taken place in the real world – important things which impact on the plot.

A few more years came and went. Having received many rejections but also many encouraging comments and feedback from some, though not all, publishers to whom it was sent, the publishing world had also changed in those intervening years. Self-publishing came along, which for a while sounded the death knell for agents and conventional publishers but, in turn, that world has again altered because publishers seem to prefer authors who have a backlist, have self-published several novels and gained a readership and following, meaning many aren’t prepared to take a gamble on a “new author”, which is what I am to them. However, I was determined the Stones wouldn’t crumble and turn to dust in the drawer. I had to release them, set them free so that I could move on.

That day has finally arrived and my baby has grown up, reached adulthood and I have cut the strings binding it to my heart.  Whether it flounders or flies, it will always be with me. I will always love it. I hope you do too. Whether you are a sceptic or not, whether you believe in ghost or angels, or if you just like reading a good love story, White Stones might steal your heart away too and leave you with some lasting memories and thoughts. It might also make you change your mind about all that you or don’t believe in. That is my intention.

Available at Amazon.co.uk  and Amazon.com and Amazon worldwide On Kindle.

Paperback and other ereader forms soon.

Brief Extract from White Stones

He blew a kiss from the doorway. “Coffee in fifteen minutes.”

In her hand she caught the love token, lay back against the pillow and listened to his retreating footfalls as he took the stairs two at a time, jumping the last two as always.

If someone had told her life could change so rapidly, become so blissfully tranquil and perfect, she once wouldn’t have believed them. But it was true. As the days and weeks had slipped by, he had filled each waking moment with pleasure, each hour of darkness with such tender love she thought her heart would burst from so much devotion.

Hounslow seemed a thousand light years away instead of a hundred-odd miles. Ten years of married hell over. Almost over, she reminded herself with a jolt. There was still the matter of the divorce to deal with. But yes, Harry was right. Life was good. Apart from one black cloud forever lurking below the horizon, gripping on at its edge, always threatening to spoil things – Alex.

Like that annoying little tune still duelling with the other inside her head, Alex wouldn’t go away. Her thoughts returning to him at inopportune moments, always skulking there in the back of her mind, waiting to pounce.

Why won’t he let go of me and let us all get on with our lives?

With every ring of the telephone, each persistent knock on the door, she dreaded it would be him. Each day living in trepidation that he would turn up at the house. It could surely only be a matter of time before he found out where she was, and he would be here, thumping on the door, demanding she come home with him at once.

There had been no remorse in leaving Alex. No pangs of guilt or tinges of sorrow, only relief when she closed the door on the West London house for the last time. But there were tears. Tears of regret that she hadn’t had the courage to do it sooner. When Harry had rushed to her that day she’d arrived at Hill House and pulled her into his arms before she was even fully out of the car, she knew she had done the right thing. Harry would always take care of her. Keep her safe. Love her.

But she feared the repercussions. Revenge was the sort of thing Alex was capable of. He’d pick a fight with Harry, come in with arms flaying, blaming everyone but himself.

This looming threat worried her, not that she had spoken of these fears to Harry. He had his own past to deal with. Her physical wounds and bruises had healed; his were still sore. Emotional scars that would be with him for eternity, so why make him suffer any more than he already had by worrying over the baggage of her past.

If only he would talk about Lorna and little Sam and Elly more, speak about the accident instead of clamming up every time she tentatively broached the subject. They were a part of him she wanted to share yet she knew so little about them. She needed to understand, to know that part she hadn’t yet been able to reach….

A New Year And Reflections

SendScraps

It can’t be 2019 already, can it? Where’s 2018 gone? Gone far too quick, that’s for sure. Seems like only yesterday I was saying a Happy New Year to you all. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the recent festivities. Ours was quiet, just as we like it, with my mother, Dave and I together over the period. This year, for a change we opted for a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, including sprouts, followed by Christmas pudding, something Dave would never eat once upon a time. Now he asks for it and is hoping when we go shopping next the store will have some left. He even enjoyed the mince pies,  Lebkucken biscuits and Stollen –things he’s always turned his nose up to before. He’s also ventured into the pleasure of eating yoghurt, and curries. (Okay, who is this man and what have you done with the real Dave?) Click here to read more:

Another Rejection? Never Give Up!

Having your novel rejected by publishers is hard, especially when you are first starting out. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your book but it hurts when rejection follows rejection. You take it personally, although it isn’t—it all comes down to finance and whether a publisher is willing to take a gamble. So I can well understand why many writers today go down the self-published route, some not even bothering with even trying for a publisher, feeling it better to keep hold of the reins and control of their work, and of course, to keep all the profit their book may earn.

In today’s world of the ease and acceptance of self-publishing, it is also becoming more apparent publishers are unwilling to sign up a new author, instead preferring their writers to have proven themselves by having churned out and self-published at least five novels, regardless of actual sales attained by each. They prefer too for their authors to already have a large following on social media so that any new book the publisher releases will have a ready audience.

But I wonder how many of these self-published authors still want to find that elusive publishing deal? Become a “proper” contracted author along with the kudos that comes with it? Okay, so we all know even if you are lucky to find a publisher willing to pay you for your work, that tantalizing dream of earning mega bucks will probably never come true. But are authors being truly honest with themselves when they say they don’t that, it isn’t why they write, they have published and that’s all that matters?

Take me, for example. I’ve been writing for many years. I have several novels completed, others nearly so and several more started ready for when I have time to finish them. I’ve been short-listed for a major national writers’ award with one of my novels leading to a top London agent liking my book so much she signed me up. We agreed on a publishing name, talked about the cover…and there the fairytale ended. No one took it up. In the end I self-published through my own publishing business. The novel was well-received, sold a fair few copies and all the reviews were good ones. (Every Step of the Way available through Amazon).

The story with my second novel hasn’t even reached that far. I’ve lost count of the number of rejections I have received. All the publishers I’ve submitted it to like the story and my writing style, they say, and are intrigued by the plot and characters. Yet not one, so far, has contracted it. A major publishing house thought my book was worthy of publication but not enough to take a gamble on me as a new writer. Oh, they did offer me a contract—a partnership contract to publish if I paid them £2,500.00.  Yeah, right. If you like my story that much but are not prepared to take a gamble on me, why should I take a gamble on you doing everything you say you would do in the contract. And I would certainly have to make a lot of sales to even break even. I don’t think so. It enough to make this writer want to self-publish again.

Only there’s a little bookworm wriggling inside me telling me not to give up. I shall continue trying, and keep sending it out to publishers and agents. I have nothing to lose. And whilst I wait for the responses, I am concentrating on my other novels and completing those already started. So, a big sorry to all my fans and followers who were looking forward to reading the book soon.  I know you’ve waited a long time. But it is coming, in one form or another and I hope it will be worth the wait.

Meanwhile, I take heart from the authors listed below who fought hard to be recognized and accepted by a publisher. I won’t mention JK Rowling as we all know her story by now, but the rest are perhaps less well-known. They didn’t give up either. Neither shall I.

John Creasey MBE:  In 1986, he held the record for the most rejections, at a staggering 743 No Thank You’s before hitting the jackpot. His first books, westerns and thrillers, earned him another staggering figure: £10 each!

Fay Weldon: For 20 years everything she sent out was rejected until a publisher accepted her work.

Agatha Christie: Her first who-done-it, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected five times, but undaunted, she continued to write crime stories, and her play The Mousetrap still holds the record for the longest continuous stage-run in the world.

Alan Sillitoe: His novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was likewise rejected five times. Prior to writing this, he had churned out seven novels. He never gave up either.

Alistair McLean: His short stories never got anywhere until the day he won a short story competition and was asked by the publisher to write a novel. His first book, HMS Ulysses, became a hit, earning him £50,000.

Zane Grey: It took him six years of writing stories before finally being accepted. He went on to become the king of cowboy and western books.

Baroness Orcy: The Scarlet Pimpernel was rejected by 12 publishers.

Alex Haley: Before Roots hit the No.1 spot, Alex had received hundreds of rejections.

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit received six rejection letters before success came knocking out of the carrot patch.

George Orwell: Animal Farm amassed 23 rejections before the gates opened to success.

RD Blackmore: He never gave trying despite Lorna Doone being rejected by 18 publishers.

Frank Herbert: He received 13 rejections before Dune was accepted.

Thor Heyerdahl: Despite the story of his epic adventure on the high seas, his book Kon-Tiki was rejected 18 times before being published.

A Summer of Firsts

This summer has certainly been sweltering so far, and I love it. But it has its downside too, for keeping the garden thriving has been a major task. Thankfully we’re not on a water meter or a hosepipe ban so the new flower border is more colourful than ever. But despite our best efforts our vegetables have been a failure – a first for Dave read on

Billy One Mate

Meet Billy One Mate. He (I say “he” but it could well be a “she”) is a young starling that thinks he’s a sparrow. I first became aware of him few weeks ago when the local starling flock of descended into my garden with all their noisy fledglings to feast on the birdseed dropped by the sparrows. The fledglings were able to fly reasonable well and most could feed themselves but preferred like most youngsters to let mum (or dad) feed them…

Click here to read full story Over The Backyard Fence.

Cool As A Cucumber

Some interesting facts and uses for cucumber you may not know which I have recently come across and wanted to share.

And of course there are numerous ways to enjoy eating them so why not pop over to Kit’s Kitchen after for some delicious, simple recipes.

  1. Cucumbers originate from South East Asia.
  2. Cucumbers are fruits, not vegetables, as are tomatoes.
  3. There are several types of cucumbers, some of which can grow over 2 foot long.
  4. China produces 76% of cucumber and gherkin production in the world.
  5. Cucumbers can be grown in soil or by hydroponic cultivation.
  6. The large leaves on a cucumber plant provide shading for the developing fruits.
  7. It takes just 12 weeks from sowing cucumber seed to harvesting the fruits.
  8. Some supermarket-bought cucumbers can be at least 2 weeks’ old.
  9. A raw cucumber is 95% water.
  10. A whole cucumber is just 16 calories, depending on length.
  11. They contain most of the vitamins you need every day. Each one has vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6, as well as vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
  12. Because they are a good source of B vitamins and carbohydrates they can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours and even curb that mid-afternoon food craving.
  13. Cucumbers have been used for centuries by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.
  14. Cucumbers were first pickled as way to preserve their shelf life.
  15. Small cucumbers are often referred to as gherkins.
  16. In Northern England, pickled cucumbers are sometimes called “wallies”.
  17. In Roman times, Emperor Tiberius had cucumber on his table daily all year round.
  18. Christopher Columbus is said to have taken cucumbers to Haiti in 1494.
  19. During the 17th century, hygiene prejudices meant uncooked foods, such as cucumber, fell out of favour.
  20. Cucumbers can cool the body and the blood, which gave rise to the phrase “as cool as a cucumber”.
  21. A slice of cucumber on the eyes can ease puffiness.
  22. The cooling effects of cucumber can soothe sunburn. Mix up a puree and apply it to affected areas.
  23. A slice of cucumber pressed to the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds can kill bacteria and freshen the breath.
  24. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool? Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumber along your problem area for a few minutes. The phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite. Works great on wrinkles too.
  25. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache? Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free. Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache.
  26. Stressed out and don’t have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa? Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water. The chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber will react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.
  27. Just finished a business lunch and realize you don’t have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemicals will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath. (Hopefully there are a few sandwiches left that have a slice or two of cucumber in the filling, as one isn’t inclined to carry a cucumber in one’s briefcase!)
  28. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don’t have enough time to polish your shoes? Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe – its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.
  29. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
  30. Out of WD40 or oil, and no olive oil either to fix a squeaky hinge? Rub a cucumber slice along the problematic hinge, and the squeak is gone.
  31. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds? Place a few slices in an aluminium tin or plate and place in your garden. The chemicals in cucumber react with the aluminium to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drives garden pests crazy, making them flee the area.
  32. Looking for a “green” way to clean your taps, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won’t leave streaks and won’t harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean.
  33. Using a pen and made a mistake? Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls.

And of course there are numerous ways to enjoy eating them. Why not pop over to Kit’s Kitchen for some delicious, simple cucumber recipes.

Late for a Date in the Garden

I had hoped to bring you the finished garden by now but the weather here in the UK has been dreadful. Two hot days in April, which meant I could finally make a start on bringing the back garden back to some semblance of prettiness. Two days! The rest of the month has been cold, wet, blowing a hoolie and even colder still – we even had to put the central heating back on.

Today the sky is cloudless, the sun shining and joy of joys, we have been promised good weekend’s weather, which is something of a miracle as it is a bank holiday weekend here. So …. Click here to read the garden so far

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

At last April is here. Spring! Except here, spring is rather slow to get going, thanks to all the rain and wind and snow. Even this past weekend, Easter (I hope you all had an enjoyable one), parts of the UK experienced a white Easter, though not for the first time. Here where I am I the West Country, we didn’t have snow but it rained like it was never going to stop. Which means… (click here to read on)

 

THE BABYSITTER – SHERYL BROWNE’S DEBUT PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER FOR BOOKOUTURE…

Delighted to bring this excellent thriller to your attention courtesy of Jo Lambert:

JO LAMBERT - A WRITER'S JOURNEY

As a huge fan of Sheryl’s I’m super excited to be joining this blog blitz…

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The Babysitter: A gripping psychological thriller with edge of your seat suspense
myBook.to/TBSSocial

You trust her with your family. Would you trust her with your life?

Mark and Melissa Cain are thrilled to have found Jade, a babysitter who is brilliant with their young children. Having seen her own house burn to the ground, Jade needs them as much as they need her. Moving Jade into the family home can only be a good thing, can’t it?

As Mark works long hours as a police officer and Melissa struggles with running a business, the family become ever more reliant on their babysitter, who is only too happy to help. And as Melissa begins to slip into depression, it’s Jade who is left picking up the pieces.

But Mark soon notices things aren’t quite as they…

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I’m Addicted To…

Having previously admitted to being a book junkie, I also have another addiction, so thought it time I ‘fessed up. It started out innocently. Something I thought I’d try, and as it was free saw no harm in dipping in once a week, but this soon turned into daily indulgences, sometimes several times a day.

It certainly isn’t snow I’m addicted to

 Click here to find out.

A Daffodil for a Dreary Day

So, that’s dark and dreary January over. Thank goodness. February here may still be dreary but at least the days are getting longer in soggy England. February hasn’t gone well so far for us. Only three days old and already three bad things have happened. First, a close family member on my husband’s side has passed on. The next we heard some other bad news which upset us both. And this morning,… click to read more

Spotlight on Faye Avalon

I was delighted to learn a little while back that fellow writer FAYE AVALON had been signed by Carina Press for their “The Dirty Bits” imprint, and can announce her first story with them was published on 1st January this year.

Sharing His Bride is a short, steamy, erotic romp which, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, is proving to be a darn good read.

Faye is an excellent writer of erotica, always hot and spicy, with a great sense of fun and always with lots of romance. For some reason, erotica sells well Stateside but the English reader seems rather coy to enter this realm; I don’t know why, considering how well Fifty Shades of Grey sold and one back in the 1970s called The Story of O.  I believe she is a far writer than these two authors and urge you to give her a try.

A prolific storyteller, Faye Avalon enjoys writing sexy stories about strong men and the savvy women who rock their world. She has had several novels published previously in the erotic genre by Samhain Publishing, among others, as well as writing excellent Shape Shifter novels, the latest being her Beast of Bodmin Moor series published by Evernight Publishing. Beast Untamed, the third in this excellent paranormal series tells of a hot panther shifter who sets his sights on an unsuspecting human female running from her past. You might of heard of the Beast of Bodmin roaming the moors. Faye puts an exciting and unusual take on this legend.

I was more than thrilled to discover the cover of the second book of the series, Beast Denied, has been  nominated in the Paranormal category of the Evernight Readers’ Choice Awards.  (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HNL62PL)

 

All Faye’s books are available as ebooks on Amazon, as well as her fabulous Beast series on Nook/Barnes& Noble and Smashwords.

Website: https://fayeavalon.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/faye.avalon.1

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Faye_Avalon

 

Book Junkie

As a writer and avid book reader, I’m often asked who my favourite author is, or whose work influences me the most, or what my favourite book is. All are difficult to answer as I read many genres, many authors, and many books have stayed with me throughout my life. I grew up in a household where books and reading were encouraged at an early age, indeed our mother taught us to read long before we first went to school. She read us exciting bedtime stories, fairytales told German and herself read all kinds of novels. With six of us in the family, the choice and quantity was large and books passed around as we grew older … Read on Over the Backyard Fence.

I’m Back!

Hello Blog Readers

I’m back after a long break despite good intentions earlier this year to blog more frequently. Life has been chaotic in the Domino household since March with many setbacks, medical issues and other matters of which I shan’t bore you about, suffice to say we are now back to normal. I think. Well, as least as normal as it can be here.

Sadly, a brief summer seems to have passed us by and autumn is well and truly on the wind. The leaves are turning and dropping already and most of the garden flowers spent although a few are maintaining a colourful display. To be honest, it’s been looking quite good these past few months thanks to the extra effort put in by the other half now he’s retired. At the moment he’s busy putting up new soffits and guttering around the man-cave before winter exerts another toll upon the tools and man toys.

As for me, I’ve had a few setbacks and disappointments but none that cannot be overcome and move forward from. I’ve even managed to create some artwork this summer and can boast three on public display in a nearby town venue.

I’ve also had a few shocks this summer, the biggest being when one day the other half requested curry and rice for dinner. Curry? Is he serious? Oh, and can I put apple and sultanas in it too? In all of our 42 years together he’s never once asked for a curry, let alone eaten one. He’s always moaned and grumbled and groaned whenever I’ve had one out, even if simply chips with curry sauce! Okay, so who is this man and what have you done with the real Dave? So a mild chicken curry I made. Well, I say made, it was made using a Korma curry sauce curtesy of Aldi. And golly good it was too. And now a regular on the Friday lunch menu. Talking of menus…

As you are probably aware, or not, I am a great lover of Greek food. Greek anything, in fact. And sadly, I haven’t been able to get to Greece now for several years, the past two years with no holiday at all! (Can hear the violins playing already.) I love the dips, especially tzatziki and hummus but those ready-made ones from supermarkets are just not the same. I had a deep craving for hummus one balmy week in June but didn’t dare make one as Dave is allergic to garlic. The smell, the taste and the thought. He goes ape. He can’t stand it. What to do…? How to curb such a want. Dare I attempt to make one?

Yup. I picked up a couple of tins of chickpeas, opened one, read the instructions how to make – easy enough and blitzed away minus the garlic. It tasted bland, it tasted dull, it tasted … of nothing. Then came a lightbulb moment. Now, it might seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me until that moment. I added a dollop of roasted onion chutney to the mixture and voilà. Wonderful roast onion hummus I could eat until the cows came home, well… until it was all gone, without him moaning and groaning about it. It would have been even better with some garlic, but hey ho, this little beggar can’t have it all ways and this was better than none at all. So here’s the recipe.

1 400g tin of cooked chickpeas – drained and rinsed.
2 teaspoons of tahini
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz to desired consistency.
Then add 1 tablespoon of onion chutney and blitz for a few seconds, add more lemon juice/oil/chutney to taste.

It even freezes well too.

Shame I can’t get Dave to try it. Perhaps one day he’ll surprise me again.

Everything in Threes

Why does everything seem to come in threes? Is it magic number? We have the Three Stooges; plants should be grouped in threes; the Holy Trinity; the three wise men, traffic lights – red, amber, green; clothes, especially for babies: one on, one off and one in the wash; pre-packed meat in supermarkets, chops always seem to be in threes, not one or two or even four …   Click here to read  on 

The Garden In November

2016-10-21-12-08-34Slowly, imperceptibly, Earth has tilted towards winter again, and as the clocks are forced backwards an hour, daylight increasingly less and less, my garden is still proving to be a delight. The start of this month in the UK has been dismal and grey, however, this morning the sun is out and before my backyard is plunged into shadow for the remainder of the day and the year, I ventured outside with the camera to capture the garden’s last flush before tonight’s frost plunges it into hibernation… Read the full story at Over The BackYard Fence.

Astrogem Reading: The Outcome

A little over a year ago, some of you may recall I had a “reading” using an astrogem geomancy prediction by Les Cross for the forthcoming 12 months (2015), which I discussed on another site I contribute to called Over the Backyard Fence. Now we are in 2016, I thought it time to look back at those predictions and see what has happened in my life in comparison.

Semi Precious Gem Stones

The reading was done for several reasons; not that I believe in fortune-telling or horoscopes but for fun, for interest, and for research, particularly for my forthcoming paranormal novel Whitestones, to be released in 2016. I like to investigate all forms in my search for “the truth”, having a fascination with stories of ghosts, hauntings and the paranormal, and have attended several clairvoyance and clairaudience evenings. They are enjoyable but I don’t believe in life after death, at least not until I get an undisputed message from someone who’s passed over, or until I move to the other side and find out for myself. There are several “mediums” I watch with interest who are very well known on TV, such as Sally Morgan and a wonderful American lady who’s over the top in her dress style and presentation but totally absorbing to watch whose name I cannot remember. And I had always wanted to have a one-to-one reading with my favourite, Colin Fry, who sadly passed away last year, so that’s now out of the equation.

Often, we can fit our life or current situation into horoscopes given in the newspapers, believing what we want to be true and dismissing the rest. Many such things can be self-fulfilling. But, then again, my birth sign is Aries and my character is in many ways that of an Aries person, so one does sometimes wonder…  So, back to the predictions and outcomes of the reading given to me.

To think through the issues, don’t just throw time and money at it.  This was very pertinent at the time as I was in the middle of a dilemma with a publishing business venture, unsure of the way forward I should take. I could have easily invested a lot more of my time and money in it but to the detriment of other projects I was involved with and other avenues I wanted to pursue. I did think the issues through carefully, didn’t act on impulse as I am apt to do, and reached my decision. As it turned out, the right one.

If I get the opportunity to work with or teach youngsters, especially with a short journey involved, I should do it.  No opportunity has arisen.

That I will be travelling abroad, not for leisure purposes but to learn or something involved with learning. I travelled abroad twice last year, to Spain and Greece but these were very much holidays, although I have been and still am considering taking a painting holiday abroad.

That there would be a major opportunity to grow my career/public visibility and that I should make myself available when this opportunity arises. Interesting. As you may be aware, as well as being an author, I am also an artist. Late in 2015, resulting from several painting commissions, I was elevated to professional status with a national art society I belong to,  which has given me my own personal website on their site. This also means I can now teach my craft using the society to advertise my services and my paintings, with a resultant sale the first day the site went live! Also, the commissions undertaken have, in turn, led to further commissions being offered. Onwards and upwards!

That I should make myself less available to the female “friend” who calls a lot on my time as she is exceedingly jealous of me and will use any occasion to make mischief or cause trouble – to regard this as a warning. This was so true. In fact, it wasn’t just one “friend” causing me grief, there were two, although I don’t think either realised quite how much of my time and attention they were demanding or the angst they were causing me. One lady I dropped immediately. She was the main reason I was in a dilemma with my business venture. It was a painless extraction, one I should have listened to my intuition at the time before I became involved with her. With the second “friend”, I put a lot of space between myself and her, distancing myself as much as was practical, and although we are still in contact I am very much on my guard. And life is better. Calmer.

Lastly, that I will be asked to for advice on a legal matter concerning a will by a distinguished gentleman and should listen to his advice but be cautious, to follow any intuitive warnings and act on them. Now this really does get the grey matter thinking. Twice during the summer I was approached by a neighbour seeking legal advice on two different matters, neither involving a will, but he does have some very distinguishable looks, certainly someone you would notice. Then, in October, I was called for Jury Service. Was the elderly judge dressed in his red robes and grey wig the distinguished gentleman of the prediction? He certainly gave the jury much legal advice in summing up, asking us to use our intuition but to also be cautious in reaching a decision. And was the “will” in question the free will of the defendant, one that if found guilty he would lose? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?

100_6578So, where have all the sparrows gone? There’s plenty in my garden, a flock of at least thirty. There always have been lots here, mainly because I feed them all year round and they know I chase the cats away. However, if you wonder where all there rest are, I think I’ve found them, some of them anyway.

Rui Monica NerjaThey’re all over in Spain, at least the ones with any sense are, well, in Nerja anyway. I recently holidayed there, in a lovely hotel, the Rui Monica, on the beachfront. The hotel is Y shaped and within its form is an enclosed patio, only accessed from the basement, 3 floors down from ground level. The patio is surrounded by high walls. Growing within are several tall trees including palms, there is a constant supply of water from the dripping air-conditioning units hanging on these walls and, because of its location, is impervious to the many cats, mostly feral, that roam the resort. Thus, a perfect, safe haven for these delightful birds.

It was at dusk, on our first evening at the hotel, we noticed from our balcony, four floors up from the basement and just above the treetops in this area, hundreds and hundreds of sparrows flying in to take roost for the night here. Once they were perched on the various trees, you could not see them, such was the dense leaf cover. For a good half-hour flocks and flocks of them flew in. Once they had all settled, silence ruled.

Until dawn. The cacophony of these little birds was tremendous as they came awake, chatted and chirped to each other before, in twos and threes, they took off to spend the day wherever they spent the day (many stayed around the hotel gardens and outdoor snack bar). We didn’t mind the noise; we enjoyed the spectacle and it ensured during our ten days there we were never late for breakfast or missed the coach on the few day trips out we took.

I had hoped to take a small movie of their dusk decent on my tablet, but after that first evening, we were never there at the right time to capture it. Always a good reason to go back there, of course, as Nerja is lovely.

To read more of my adventures in Nerja, click here

George’s First Steps: Update

It’s been well over 2 years since our little George had his SDR operation in America so I thought it about time I brought you an update on his progress.

For those not aware of the history of this story, George is my nephew’s 7-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and for whom in 2012 a massive fundraising bid took place in order to pay for this life-changing operation (full story at: http://wp.me/p1q0nb-iH  and on Facebook at Georges First Steps). Since that operation life has been so much better for him and his parents: he goes to a normal school, gets… Click here to read on

Watch The Birdie

Whilst my husband would say I’ve wasted most of this morning, it’s his fault — he bought me the bird feeding station. This morning especially, it’s brought me and the birds a lot of pleasure. I am a bird watcher (not a twitcher), I just love watching them. They are fascinating.

This is the first winter I’ve had the station and the amount of birds drawn into the garden has been wonderful. I’ve always fed the birds — they need help in all seasons — and I’ve always had a flock of sparrows here along with a dunnock, blackbird, wren and blue tits year round. Winter always brings in a blackcap or two, the familiar robin, and occasional thrush and redwings depending on how cold the weather is. This season hasn’t been particularly cold, certainly no snow here (thankfully), yet the birdlife is booming.100_6322

This morning I’ve spent over an hour watching two wrens ­whereas normally only see one darting in and out of the shrubbery. This morning they are gorging themselves on insects and grubs they find in the various flower troughs of bulbs and pansies around the koi pond. It’s such a pity the zoom on my camera isn’t good enough to capture them. One of them has been singing his heart out most of the morning, a gloriously loud song from such a tiny bird.

The robin sees off the blackcap but ignores all the other birds, while the blackcap will see off the sparrows, who generally ignore everyone else. Meanwhile, the dunnock will mind his own business and quite happy to rummage about the undergrowth in search of his fill. At first glance he is very much like a sparrow to look at, but has different coloured legs and behaviour and is always on his own. I’ve never seen him feed off the station, but always pecking on the ground beneath it.

Four blue tits are frequently flitting to and from the peanut feeder and occasionally feasting on the crumbs and bits on the plate feeder; three great tits are also flying in every so often to feed.

Then there’s Waggy, a pied wagtail that struts his stuff around the garden as if he owns it, ignoring the other birds but he’s very nervous and will fly off at any sudden noise or movement.

Instead of just one blackbird, there are four males in the garden this year, two in particular are always together. Despite this, they maintain a distance from each other where the food is concerned, one chasing off the other from his favourite feeding spot. So far, all the bulbs poking through— the hyacinths and bluebells, have been left alone by the slugs and snails, although I’m finding lots of empty snails shells. Thank you, blackbirds. I hope you stay during the rest of the year and keep these pesky pests in control. The snails decimated my hostas last summer despite an all out attack by me. Believe me, eggs shells, grit, coffee don’t work!

A short while ago, a noisy flock of seven long-tailed tits flew in, pecked and fed on the feeder and in the shrubbery before flying off again.

Other rare visitors today were a pair of goldfinches who munched at the seed feeder for several minutes before moving on. Beautiful birds which rarely come into the garden. Wished they’d call more often.

I’ve observed some interesting behaviour from the magpies too today. I know they like shiny things and will steal and hoard them but one here this morning has been taking large beakfulls of food (crumbs and bacon rind) and burying it elsewhere in the garden. I’ve watched him drop the food into various holes on the bare veg patch, then pick up a large stone and drop it in the hole before placing a large twig across the hole, like some sort of marker. I never knew they did this, and am interested to see if and when he comes back to claim his treasure. I don’t mind the magpies as they see off the pigeons, of which we are plagued with here.

So, maybe to some it was a wasted few hours when I should have been doing other more productive things but I don’t care, for what is life if for several minutes we cannot stand and stare and enjoy the beauty in nature around us.

Right, off to make coffee and wile away another half-hour watching the birds.

A Touch of Nostalgia Part 3

Recently, my husband and I have gone in for some 1970s’ retro culture. Well, why not. The 1970s were fun times, colourful times, although I drew the line at flared trousers, fringed jackets and jumpsuits (which, according to the fashion slot on Lorraine this week, are all back in fashion). We’ve bought a lava lamp! And we love it. I had one years ago, back in the 1970s when they were all the rage, only to have it broken some years later when someone picked it up, not realising the lamp was in two parts. The glass fell to the floor and broke. I was sad at the time and couldn’t afford to replace it, nor could the culprit find another to take its place, so I hadn’t really thought much more about it in the ensuing years.

100_6773So here sits our new lamp. Slightly different from the original I owned; that had a copper base and cap, and red glass. The new one has a multi-coloured base and a red, blue and green glass, creating bubbles and bits in all colours. As hypnotic as watching flames in a fire, we spend ages watching it work, the shapes and movement reminding me of the background images that used to be played behind performers at all the concerts I went to during the early 1970s – Quo and Queen, Fat Mattress, Renaissance, Fleetwood Mac – the list is endless and full of happy memories.

It got me thinking of other things from the 1970s I loved, and miss. I remembered I used to have a kinetic ball and wire table decoration. It was black wire with golden balls, the base filled with sand. A simple ornament that swayed and moved in the slightest of breezes as you walked past. I can’t remember what happened to mine; probably got broken at some stage and thrown away without a second thought.

ball ornament

Then there was the dark green pottery vase, almost 3 feet high, from which sprouted a mass of tissue paper flowers, the size of dinner plates. Mine were made by a friend. Big, blousy blooms standing nearly as tall as me that matched my red, orange and yellow geometric lounge curtains and similarly coloured psychedelic rug. The “in thing” to decorate the home at that time, along with tall feathery stems of white pampas grass, which eventually dropped their fine dandelion-like hairy seed heads; a right pain to keep clearing up.paperflowers2

There were real houseplants as well – pink busy lizzies with pale green leaves and stems that grew to humongous proportions – every home seemed to have one. And not forgetting the spider plants, and a cactus or two – cuttings from my mother’s lanky monster called Fred. Whilst you can still get spider plants and cacti, the indoor busy lizzie is no more, thanks to being killed off by a virus or mildew, rather like our outdoor ones have been.

cactus

No doubt, I shall suddenly think of other homey things I had around the house, long forgotten or lost. It’s good to remember these things now and again; they bring a sense of continuance and comfort, spark happy, and sometimes sad, memories and who knows, if I search hard enough I might find them again. Thank goodness for the Internet!

What, if anything, do you miss around the home from that era? I’d love to know.

Tip of the Day:  When boiling potatoes, a few drops of olive oil or a small knob of butter will help prevent the saucepan from boiling over.

Painting Outside My Comfort Zone

100_6752As you probably are aware, I like to paint. It’s a wonderful hobby and given me a lot of fulfilment, but also a lot frustration. This is apparent when a painting doesn’t work out quite as envisaged. Or when my husband, my harshest critic, doesn’t like something I’ve created. His opinion of art is that a painting should be photographic in its image, especially when observed up close. Read more Over the Backyard Fence:  http://wp.me/11di9

Romancing the Stones

Along with two friends, I recently attended a Mind, Body & Spirit show that offered everything from scented candles to palmistry, chakra dancing to eyebrow waxing. Perfectly happy with my eyebrows, I went because I’ve always had a longing to have my palm read or a tarot reading, having an interest in the world of spirit (and not just the alcoholic sort!). That frisson of curiosity… read more 

 

October Morning

It’s hard believing October is nearly at an end, that the clocks went back an hour last weekend and that it’s only some eight weeks to Christmas, especially when this morning I found myself sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and enjoying the birds and the sunshine, and most of all the unseasonally warm temperature here at 9 o’clock this morning. Unheard of for this time of year in England! The garden borders are still looking good, with cosmos (I’ve never known it grow so tall – over 5ft) and dahlias, coreopsis and fuchsias still in a profusion of bloom, even a carnation poking its scarlet head through the flowering oestospermums and the rudebekias are still going strong. Not a breath of wind either, which is most unusual for this garden as we’re high up and invariably there’s always a wind blowing.100_6741

With a second cup of coffee in hand, I watched the robin who’s claimed the garden as his home flit from seed feeder to bird bathe to flowerbeds in his busy hunt for food. He’s getting quite tame now, and even before I’ve turned away from filling up bird tray on the stand each morning, he’s there picking out his favourite morsels from the oats, suet and mealworms before the greedy starlings flock in. A quick drink and he’s up in the holly tree chirping his heart out in competition with the two wrens sitting in the ivy – such little birds with loud voices and beautiful songs. Anyone would think it was spring instead of approaching winter. A pleasant two hours spent listening to the birds chattering, the sparrows vying for a place on the perch of the seed feeder.

But two hours was all I could spend there today, not because of the things indoors I had to do but because at this time of year, the sun has left the patio by 10 o’clock, thrusting the garden into shade for the rest of the day. Another week or so and there will be no sun at all in my back garden until March, so I made the most of it before going back inside and sorting the washing, find the vacuum and the duster. I found them, but then couldn’t be arsed to do any housework. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps it will be too cold to sit outside. Perhaps it will be cold enough to turn on the central heating, put on an extra layer of clothing and think of the glorious days we’ve had this summer. On the other hand…

A Gardener’s Delight

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We might now be in August, but you certainly wouldn’t believe it with the weather the last few days; there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air early mornings and not warm enough (for me) to sit outside, but the forecasters say it is only a blip. Meanwhile, thanks to the wonderful invention of photography, I can at least sit back and admire the garden as it’s been these past few months – it’s been glorious!

100_6648It’s been one of our best for colour. Dave and I love colour; not for us the subtle tones and pastels as we love big and bold and bright and the unusual. We happily plant pink and yellow flowers together – they look great and, let’s be honest here, nature doesn’t pick and choose and colour co-ordinate. And the yellow rudbeckia planted next to a pink phlox and overhung with a blue clematis works for me!

100_6599This year we have planted the hanging baskets and pots with begonias, the showy, blousy sort I never used to like but I have been converted. It is a pity the winds and heavy rains of recent days have knocked them about a bit but they should recover. The dahlias, many of which have been grown from last year’s seeds, have not failed us. The bees love them and so do we.

Other plant100_6603100_6456s in pots include pelargoniums (or geraniums as they used to be called), particularly pink ones, and complimented by black pansies. These have proved a lovely foil for many plants and ones we will grow next year.

Also we’ve included lots of white nicotianias in the borders. Not by design, more by luck. These have all germinated from those we grew in planters last year – plants for free and, again, a perfect backdrop to bring the colours of other plants particularly in the shadier parts of the garden.

Best of all has been the wild flowers. A couple of packets of seeds strewn in the bare patches where I have removed unwanted or thug plants and bingo! A plethora of flowers have been growing non-stop for weeks.

100_6356100_6541100_6608Many of these wild flowers I do not recognise, others I’ve not seen for many a year, and I shall let them all set seed and fling themselves around the garden in the hope they will come again next year. Plants such as corn cockles, marigolds, love-in-a-mist (white, pink and various shades of blue), candy tufts and violas, snapdragons (although I know them as bunny rabbits!), cornflowers in blue and pink, poppies and many, many more I do not know and need to find out. I just hope I can buy the same seed mix next year.

The bees and insects have been loving all this although what is missing is the numbers of butterflies seen, way down from last year. Just a few red admirals and painted ladies, the odd comma, spotted wood, a holly blue, and very few cabbage whites – a good thing as it’s meant there’s been few eggs laid on the nasturtiums and thus no caterpillars to destroy the leaves, that’s been left for me to cut back to allow the flowers to be seen. I wonder if the lack of butterflies after last year’s plethora has been caused by the wet spring we had. There must have been lots eggs, chrysalises and caterpillars about. Did most get washed away, drowned or destroyed in the floods and rain?

100_6542On the plus side, I’ve had many birds visiting, thanks in part to the new feeding station, but also I think because of the extra insects thanks to the wild flowers. Apart from my resident sparrow flock, now numbering over 30 that congregate and sleep in my firethorn, along with the usual robin, blackbirds, wren and tits always flitting about, I’ve had goldfinc100_6485hes and chiff chaffs as regular visitors this year.

Yes, it’s been a good summer so far and there’s much still to come. It’ll soon be time to gather stock and decide what add, what to move or to change for next year. I’m hoping the sun will come back soon so I can put my feet up sitting in the shade on the patio, enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of my little patch of heaven.

101 Things to do with Cucumbers…

…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.

This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!

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Today’s crop

I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.

My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!

These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.

Cucumber Salad

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Cucumber Salad

Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.

Cucumber Soup

100_6528Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.

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Add  enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10­ to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.

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Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.

This is one I will definitely be making again.

Making a Comeback

SURPRISE! Have you missed me? Where has the time gone? Actually, it’s gone so blooming quickly I can’t believe my last blog post was September 2013. So much has happened and gone on it’s difficult to know where to begin. I won’t bother you too much with details, suffice to say if you really want to catch up with what’s been happening in my world these past months, you are more than welcome to pop your head Over The Backyard Fence and read my monthly missives there.

It’s been a chaotic and difficult time, I have to admit, a few health issues, a major project that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps, as well as a few problems and incidents plus a major, milestone birthday earlier this year, all of which left me feeling very depleted and down. I’m not by nature a person to succumb to depression but I did hit a low point, only to bounce slowly back. The warm weather now has certainly helped, and as I sit in the garden typing this, I can honestly say, “I’m back!”

Pink FlowersIt’s not been all doom and gloom – my life’s not like that. On the plus side, I’ve sold several paintings and, fingers and paint brushes crossed, hopefully secured a coCreek Cottagemmission for a large landscape, so watch this space. I’ve created a new blog/website for my art, due to go live in the next few weeks, and meanwhile have been working hard finishing a novel or two –  “Finishing”, being the operative word. The past few months have been a time for reflection, evaluation and redefining the path my life is taking and I am now at the point where I am moving forward, taking a different route, and getting back to enjoying life to the full.

You might have noticed I’ve dropped off the radar on Twitter too. I think I got bored with it, plus it takes up sooo much time and nothing achieved or gained. I mean, doesn’t anyone “talk” on Twitter any more? All I see is a constant bombardment of “Buy my book”, or words to that effect. What’s happened to all the jokes and fun and light hearted banter that used to go on? – which was why I joined in the first place. Okay, I’m a writer too and a book person, but I don’t want books, books, books 24/7. The same with Facebook. Okay, most of the changes there are FB’s own doing. They keep changing it, moving things around and, well, ruining what was a good thing. Not much I can do about that.

So, what do I have planned for my blog? A promise (to myself) to blog more often, to get back to writing about the things that are important to me and articles on any subject which I hope will be of interest to my readers. I’ve some recipes to put up, gardening features and, well, back to what it was when I first began.

100_6381I mentioned I’m in my garden. It’s had a bit of sorting out year, with many shrubs pulled out, plants divided and moved and it’s beginning to come into its summer glory thanks to a packet of wild flower seeds costing £1 from Lidl, and scattered all around the garden. I think every seed has come up and with a promise of much more to come. Will certainly buy that again. I haven’t done as much to it as I’d planned though – lousy weather and lousy joints have put 100_6380paid to a lot of that, and the cost of shrubs in the garden centres – extortionate this year! Still, there’s always next and I already have a lot mapped out for spring 2015. I’ve also got a new bird feeder which the birds are loving and I love because it brings them much closer to the patio and means in winter I won’t have to venture across muddy, wet, frozen grass to get to.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Hope you all come back soon.

Talking about Tricia Jones….

tricia jonesOne of the most popular genres in reading matter for women is Contemporary Romance, and one author whose work I always enjoy is multi-published Tricia Jones.If you’ve never read her books, you are missing a real treat, for she writes with flair, style and plenty of dry humour in characters that will hold you captive to the end – by which time you can’t help but want to fall into bed with … click here to read on…9781909734043

Through the Garden Gate

It’s been ages since I last blogged here but life and business have been hectic with little free time despite the virtual holiday I had last month (you can read all about that here!) Summer is now heading towards autumn (boo hoo) but what a glorious one it’s turned out to be here in the UK and the garden has certainly rewarded us with its glory.

To think we went from this:

Garden snow small

to this:

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Last year’s weather was a washout and this year was forecast to be the same yet Mother Nature has a way of recovering and boy, did she! From a superb display of daffodils and stupendous tulips:

100_5817100_5830to being eventually entertained, if about a month late, with the most wonderful array of poppies, peonies and foxgloves leading into a hot, colourful display all round. One foxglove grew to over 6 foot tall.

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pruned foxgloves

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But not everything faired well. The fuchsias haven’t been good, the columbines peaked all at once and were over within a week and my two tall, all-summer-long varieties were blown over in the strong winds we have here. As the plants flourished, so did the snails to decimate my hostas – their leaves are like lace curtains although the flower spikes survived. We aren’t plagued with slugs, thankfully. We have an army of frogs that keeps them in check. The roses have re-bloomed three times now, and we have never had such a glorious or long display of sweet peas. I’m still picking them.

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The rear garden is still dazzling splash of colour with many pots and hanging baskets,

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and the new lilies we found, in red, yellow and white, were exotic but each flower only lasted a day.

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The good weather enabled me to get in the garden more, enjoy my early 7:00 am coffee out there and it’s been wonderful being able to sit outside all day and work whilst enjoying the sights, sounds and perfumes.

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Along with the glorious flowers we have taken much pleasure this year in the wildlife that’s come back to the garden. We came across our first slow worm for many a year, although he nearly got chopped up by the lawnmower!

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Dragonflies have been in abundance, as have the butterflies (read more about the butterflies in Over the Backyard Fence), moths including the fascinating humming bird hawk moth, crickets and bees – I never realised there were so many different sizes and varieties of bumble bees, from tiny “baby” ones to huge fat, long haired ginger ones. Certainly no shortage in my garden.

What we haven’t had this year is the plague of flying ants we normally get in July, nor wasps.

Soon it will be time to put it all to bed and dream of next summer. I’ve great plans for the garden. Much has to come out as it has become crowded, many larger plants need dividing, ie the astilbe and hosta, most of the irises and crocosmia will be thinned out so I can put in a wider variety of perennials and shrubs, and several larger shrubs must come out altogether as they are taking up too much room and creating far too much shade, apart from which they are not the colour they were supposed to be when purchased, but they have served their purpose and given the birds handy perches whilst waiting to feed.

Ooops, spoke too soon. A wasp has just landed in my glass of wine. Oh well, at least he’s died happy and merry. Best go and get rid of him and refill my glass.

So cheers, here’s to a wonderful summer. Thank you, garden, for giving me such a good one this year.

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George’s First Steps: A Special Message

Wanted share this is a special message from George:

Thank you Dr TS Park and Dr Matthew Dobbs for giving me the chance to stand on my feet and be like my friends xxx

Enjoy the video people: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgXU_sjw7Z8

George has only just learnt to push his walker himself after 6.5 months of hard, hard work so what he will achieve in this next 6 months is too exciting to think about. To think that when he was born his parents found out he had quadriplegic cerebral palsy doctors said he would never walk, talk or know who anyone was…….well hasn’t he proved them wrong!!!

 

GEORGE’S FIRST STEPS: UPDATE

As promised, here is an update on the progress of our little George since his life-changing SDR operation to help him cope with cerebral palsy that took place in America six months ago.

Six months? Yes, it’s really been that long and what a difference to his and his parents lives. He still needs help when using his walker as it is heavy for him, but each day he gets stronger with the physio and exercises that must continue daily. Each day there is improvement, and like all children, he gets his off days but he comes bouncing back. To think, six months ago he couldn’t sit unaided, spent a lot of his time on the floor, shuffling on his stomach to get anyway, and struggled to do the simplest of tasks we take for granted. Not any more. He’s gained so much independence, even having friends from school in to play and taking part in the school nativity play at Christmas; his speech is improving, and his cheekiness and sense of fun is as wonderful as ever, if not more so.

Rather than go on listing his achievements, his proud parents have put together a video which I hope you’ll take a few minutes of day to look at here. I’ve watched it several times and still my eyes fill with tears at what has been made possible by each and every one of you who donated and helped to make this possible. The closing statement on the video says it all…

An Amazing Lady

Many may recall how last year, I set about losing weight in a sponsored slim to help send my little great-nephew, George, to America for a life-changing operation to help him cope with cerebral palsy. The operation was a major success and I will bring you an update on his progress very soon. I managed to lose 2 stones. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, particularly as there are many food groups I cannot eat a lot of, and some I have to avoid altogether. I’m still very much overweight. I never used to be, I was a skinny child, as my family can testify; I only had issues with my weight following the birth of my daughter some 40+ years ago. But this post isn’t about me; it’s about someone I wish I had met twelve months ago, if not before.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Four years ago she was morbidly obese, barely able to walk a few yards, and experienced many indignities only us big people can. She’s happily married with three lovely children, two of whom have serious medical conditions. It was her love and concern about them that finally persuaded her to do something about her weight once and for all, otherwise she wouldn’t be about much longer to care for them.

So she devised an eating plan, something that was easy to follow, didn’t cost a fortune in expensive or special foods, with recipes which provided nourishing home-cooked meals that all the family can enjoy. And the weight started to fall away. It was only after having lost a considerable amount of weight that Justine could start to exercise, mainly walking the family dog regularly. But what a difference now – Justine now does regular exercise and with her husband runs marathons, fundraising to support the two charities that have helped her in the care of her children, and are running in the London Marathon this April. I certainly will be supporting and sponsoring them.

Justine loves to cook and bake cakes, something that doesn’t help when trying to lose weight. As the weigh fell, her confidence and courage grew, so much so she applied to appear on one of the reality cookery shows on TV, taking part in and going on to win Michael Winner’s Dining Stars in 2010, culminating in cooking a dinner party in Michael Winner’s home for guests Sir Roger Moore and Lady Moore, Andrew Neil, Giorgio Locatelli, Christine Bleakley and Kym Marsh. Wow! This led to several further TV appearances on Harry Hill’s TV Burp and on GMTV.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Spurred on by this and praise for her chocolate brownies, Justine set up her own bakery business online (Brownies by Justine Forrest)and supplying outlets and restaurants in her region. Having tasted these brownies, I can assure you they are heaven. My husband’s comment after eating one was, “Tell her she should sell them online, they’re fantastic. Best I’ve ever eaten!”  They are. You simply must try them! Justine now gives regular talks at food shows and on radio and demonstrates regularly – just this week appearing at the Ideal Home Show in London. She also appears regularly at the Wellbeing Farm in her home region.

Justine is so full of enthusiasum for what she does, it rubs off; it certainly has on me, with a JJ Final Cover Smallzest for life she wants to help others in the position she was in. In her own words (no ghost writer for Justine!) she has written an honest, moving and heart-warming account – Justine’s Journey – of how and why she achieved such a weight loss, as well as telling what goes on behind the scenes of a reality TV show. She tells of the many heartbreaking moments in her life, told with such open passion and raw emotion, it made me cry in places, along with many ups and the downs along the way. In the book shares her “Plan”.

Hear why Justine wrote her book

This isn’t just another diet book, it’s a way of life full of tasty, easy to follow recipes, lots of tips and hints, and so full motivation and inspiration it can help anyone achieve a complete change in their life. It’s certainly encouragement enough for me to lose some more weight. If Justine can do it, so can I.

But you know what is even more encouraging in all this, Justine’s Plan allows for cake. Yes, cake! What’s not to like about following her Plan? Give it a try. I’m on it now!
Buy Justine’s Journey (available at all Amazon sites)

Website: www.justineforrest.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/justine.b.forrest

Twitter https://twitter.com/JustineForrest

Introducing Author Gina Rossi and Her New Novel

Gina Rossi 3

Over on ShowCase today, I’m delighted to introduce the lovely Gina Rossi, and talk about her fabulous new novel published recently on Kindle by ThornBerry Publishing. First, a few words from Gina herself.

“Originally from South Africa, I am lucky now to live and write full-time on the French Riviera – not as glamorous as it sounds in the rain-lashed, gale-thrashed month of March.  Read more…

Final Cover LA6R with frame

English Flapjacks

Today, a beautiful sunny morning,  put me in the mood not for spring cleaning but for baking a cake. But what?  Inspiration! Suddenly the thought of flapjacks sprung to mind. Haven’t made them for years. Uses only one pan or bowl, takes minutes to make.  So here goes.

Recipe

100_5768Grease tray bake tin (mine’s 9×13″ but you can use any tin, even two sandwich tins or a small roasting dish). I line the tin to avoid scratching it when I slice the cooked flapjacks.

Oven set to 170C fan or 180C normal/350F or Reg 4.

Into large saucepan melt 6 or 7 tbsp of Golden Syrup   (recipe called for 6 but as it always sticks to the spoon, I add an extra one) and 200g butter (any sort). This could be done in a microwave using large bowl. When butter melted, stir in 340g  porridge oats plus a pinch of salt. Mix well.  This is the basic, standard plain recipe. But you know me, I like to be different. I also stirred in a handful of chocolate chips, 1 tbsp of cocoa powder and 2 tbsp of luxury mixed fruit.

Pour mixture in to tin and spread evenly. Push any exposed fruit into mixture to avoid burning. Pop in oven for 20-25 mins until golden. It will still feel soft when it comes out of oven but it’s supposed to, as it firms up on cooling.

Place tin on cooling rack (I use the metal grid from my grill pan) and cut flapjacks into portions but do not remove from tin. Allow to cool completely before removing. These keep well in an airtight tin, and one (all right, two) mid morning with my coffee (in the garden today!) went down a treat. I have to say, they were delicious!

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Hard luck, Dave, I’ll make you a chocolate cake next week.

Showcase: Simon Hacker

Simon HackerToday on Showcase, I am delighted to introduce fellow Thornberry author Simon Hacker with his recently released debut novel, an exciting thriller set in Scotland.  Polar Nights.

Simon cut his teeth as a cub reporter with the Gloucestershire Gazette but soon sped off at full throttle for a life as a motoring and travel writer, working for the Sunday Times, the Guardian and a broad spread of magazines. Read more…

I Hate Winter!

Garden snow small

January 2013

It’s official. I hate winter. Always have. Always will. I hate always being cold – but I’m that during the summer too, even my husband will tell you I’m the only one he knows who can be  under a tropical sun on a beach in Barbados and still have goosebumps! I hate wearing layers and layers of clothes which, in turn, means there’s far more washing in the winter, and how the hell are you supposed to get it all dry? Thank goodness for the tumble drier. No, I much prefer to feel the sun on my skin, only happy when I can wander about all day in a floaty cotton kaftan, when I’m not hungry all the time, and when don’t have to rush to the loo every five minutes to spend a penny.

Winter Wonderland

Here’s one I did earlier

And pretty as it might look, I absolutely hate snow. We’ve had our fill here yet more is forecast this weekend. The only good thing about snow is that it makes for some nice landscapes to paint.

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By the gate 1 February 2013

So, thank goodness January is over, always the worst month of the year, and we are now into February. On the first of this month, the snow had melted, the sun was out and it was mild, so I took a walk around the country estate garden, to see what  was happening. And joy of joys, the snowdrops were out, as were some crocus. Last year, these were in flower on New Year’s Day, so they are only one month late.

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1 February 2013

The daffodils by the hedge stood a foot high and buds showing that first tinge of yellow. The hellebores were nodding their pretty mauve, red, white and two-tone heads and the primroses were out. The hyacinths were up, as were the first leaves of the bluebells.

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My favourite hellebore in flower 1Feb 2013

In few weeks the forsythia hedge will be blossoming, and I see as I look through the gap between the houses opposite to the wood, the trees are showing hints of green. Yes, spring is definitely edging in. Yippee. And in a few more weeks’ time, hopefully, I can enjoy breakfast and morning coffee in the garden again. Bring it on, I say!

I Believe I Can Fly…

I believe I fly, I believe I can…  Well, I used to be able to fly, without wings, without an aeroplane. Honest! I used to fly around our sitting room back at my childhood home. I’d stand on the back of the settee, hold my arms out and whoosh… I’d be off, gliding around the room at little below ceiling height. And a few years later, I began to fly outside. Free as a bird. Up over the treetops, over the ocean, higher than the mountains.  Weeeeee – it was fun. No, I’m not a bird.

And, no, I’m not mad.

This habit continued for many years. It was a nice feeling. A sense of freedom. Escape. And oh so remember doing it, so I couldn’t have been dreaming. You don’t remember dreams, least not as far back as forty to fifty years, do you? Come on, hands up. Who amongst you can seriously say they can remember their dreams? Okay, may be the odd one or two; perhaps last night’s or that particularly weird one you had last month, after all that turkey and port.  Dreams are normally gone and forgotten by morning.

So, what was it that caused me to be able to fly? Fairy dust, like Rudolf? Magic mushrooms, like the hippies in the Swinging Sixties? Waccy baccy? Well, no, none of these things, although close. And it only occurred to me not so very long ago why I could fly. Why it was real. Why it happened.

You see, I was always a sickly child. Had chronic asthma since a baby and plagued with tonsillitis for years until they were removed, suffered with a grumbling appendix until that was whipped out – I won’t continue the list or else I’ll sound like that loony old biddy next door, always rattling on about aches and pains to Mrs Miggins over the fence.

dreamstimefree_226342Now, where was I? … oh yes, flying.

The secret to being able to perform such acrobatic aerodynamics was that for all those years I was on a cocktail of drugs. On such a mixture of medicines and steroids it’s a wonder I am anywhere near as sane as I am.  Least, I think I’m sane. If you’re reading this you’ll probably be convinced by now I’m not. No, being able to soar like an eagle and flying without wings were certainly not dreams. They were out-and-out hallucinations. Not so much loop-de-loop as loop-de-flipping loopy.

I think it was all the stuff they were giving me to treat the asthma. Back then, back in the 1950s, Ventolin didn’t exist. That didn’t come on the scene until 1968, so goodness knows what they pumped into me. Mine is caused by physical activity, even walking can bring it on. My condition got so bad I readily volunteered to became a willing guinea pig, anxious to try anything to be rid of it. Nothing worked. Never did, never has. If my mother realised at the time that these fanciful excursions around the living room I was enjoying were happening, I know she would have banned any further drug testing on me. And there came a time in the mid 1970s when we did finally call a halt to any more trials.  I still suffer with it, that and several other conditions I have to live with, with but it is controlled. I know my limits, and flying isn’t one of them. The sad thing is, now I know I can’t really fly, I’ve never had that experience again.

A shame really. I would dearly love to fly away from cold, rain and snow sodden England. Now, where would I go, I wonder…?

Great Cover Reveal

Stephanie KeyesToday over on Showcase, I have pleasure in being able to reveal the new cover for Stephanie’s Keyes’s new novel, the second in her Star Child series, The Fallen Stars, along with a great giveaway and a chance to win copies of her novels. Stephanie’s debut novel was a wonderful YA fantasy, receiving great reviews… more

Looking Back at 2012

Well, here we are again, another full year at home since being made redundant two years ago. And what a difference a year has made.

That first year I achieved exceedingly little, spending most of my time feeling guilty and unsettled, uncertain and unsure what to do with my life, knowing I was too old to find a good job again and, thanks to the Government, my pension pushed back even further to when I’m 65, which I’m not, not yet, I’m still in my fifties, all be it late.

So what has happened during 2012? Lots. Mega lots. The year started with my husband having his hip replaced, a long 14-week recovery at home with me wearing my matron’s hat. He’s made a complete and full recovery – a new man! Then there was the birth of another great niece, little Evie, such a cheerful, cute little soul and an absolute delight to her parents and grandparents.

I suppose the biggest change has been that I have set up a small business, working from home dealing with books, editing and publishing and creating book covers. It keeps me busy, and although I’m not showing any profit yet, that will hopefully come in time. I don’t want it too big anyway; my days as the dynamic business woman are long gone – I’ve been down that route before in a past life and much prefer to keep things small. At least for the moment.

What didn’t help was the dreadful, bad blip, when we were defrauded out of almost £10,000 in a car buying scam. Oh, the police and fraud squad were very helpful and supportive but I will never get my money back, the fraud squad deeming it was too little a sum to warrant them spending further resources on. Still, once bitten… and we have moved on from it, can even laugh about it now, at how my husband had been so gullible, and at how I should have done all the checks I normally do before handing over money. What it did mean was that I couldn’t invest more in my new business, unable to do all the advertising I’d intended, but hey ho, that will rectify itself as the business progresses and grows, which it is doing. And more to the point, I’m loving every moment of it.

April saw the publication of my novel, Every Step of the Way, both in paperback and on Kindle, and a booksigning in our local Waterstones. Not sure I would do it again, though. I plan to see at least another published this year, if not two. They are written, complete, it’s now a matter of finding time to work on them, what with the business.

The Bridge (1)In June, I took part in the Loveahappyending.com Summer Audience held in Tetbury, where I hosted two writing workshops and held my first “public” art exhibition, selling two paintings (surprise!). Everyone who came enjoyed the day and hopefully another will be planned. I’ve not done a lot of paintings this year, time is in short supply but I’ve managed a few, including this one, completed over the Christmas break.

view from villaAugust saw me take my last villa holiday with my sisters and our mum, going to Corfu. Mum has decided she won’t come away again due to her age (87 coming up) and the fact that both my sisters have retired (well, one has, the other twin finishes in this July), so our finances will no longer stretch to the expense of hiring a private villa abroad, although us three sisters do hope we will get away again sometime, whether to a hotel or descend upon my brother and sister-in-law in Spain. Who knows? Of course, if we win the lottery, then it’s a different matter … (Hope, Pray, Beg). Of course, nothing can match the beautiful view we had from the villa this year at Kassiopi. Pure Bliss

The King (1)Of course, there was one thing that virtually dominated all of last year­ – that was the massive George’s First Steps campaign to raise funds to send my great nephew to America for a lifechanging operation to treat his cerebral palsy to get him walking. We succeeded, and some, the £55,000 needed surpassed to the sum of £80,000, enough to look after his needs for many years and to allow his parents time now to enjoy life doing normal things a family does now the worry and pressure has gone. The operation was sucessful and George is progressing daily. One highlight this Christmas was George being a king in his school’s nativity play. He loved every moment!

So, all in all, it’s been a good year. A wet one, yes, but a good one nonetheless. Quite how 2013 will pan out is anyone’s guess but I think it’s safe to say I have moved on from the woman I was back at the beginning of 2011.

Late Autumn in the Garden

And in blows November. Chilly winds, dark mornings, dark earlier of an evening. And frosts.

Here in my little part of the UK we’ve had several hard frosts.

The garden survived the first few, but succumbed to the last one. The worst hit was the dahlias. They are shrivelled, flowers and bud squidgy and bedraggled and look sad … Read on: