Sunday, 14 October 2018

Come Visit My Garden

Summer Spendour (1)

As a writer, I’ve self-published two novels A Suitable Young Man and Bittersweet Flight (link below). a collection of short stories Entertaining Angels ( and am currently editing book three. I should probably be on book six or seven by now except that I share my love of writing with my other passion - gardening. Which is what this blog is about.

When we first moved into this bungalow in Derbyshire some 18 years ago the garden was, quite honestly, a mess. It’s a large corner plot bordered by a busy main road and slopes upwards. The previous owners had built an extension some three years previously and the land to the side of it had been left to a weed-infested wasteland. What’s more all the unused building materials had been left at the side of the garage. The path at the back of the house was horrendous and held three coal bunkers, (this is after all a former mining area) filled not with coal but accumulated rubbish.  My husband’s language when he discovered that wasn’t fit for anyone’s ears, let alone our neighbour who was at that moment putting some rubbish in the dustbin!
The mess that awaited us at the back of the house!

For the first three years, we concentrated on getting the house as we wanted it with me just about keeping the garden tidy though mowing the grass – I won’t dignify it by calling it a lawn – was a tricky procedure the grass being on a slope. Finally, in 2003 a start was made on the garden and for the next seven years, my lovely husband laboured in the garden, hard-landscaping and terracing it and, after a problem arose with a natural spring, prevalent in this area, installing drainage. I can’t remember how many waste skips we had in that time but it was a LOT. It’s been worth it though as it’s given us so much joy and pleasure over the years, not only us, but to passers-by who quite often tell me over the fence what a lovely garden it is.
Just a few of the cyclamen coum
This is particularly so when the cyclamen coum that we planted as five plants in the early days have naturalised all over the garden. It’s a glorious sight in late February/early Spring.

Summer Splendour (2)
Sadly, with an ageing body, I can no longer spend as much time in the garden as I used to. I do what I can when I can and manage to keep up with it, just about. Originally, we had a greenhouse which I loved pottering in but that’s had to go as it wasn’t being used as it should. The patio which housed that is now a bare paved area now and I have plans to make a courtyard garden there with lots of different sized containers over the next year or two. Fingers crossed I can do that!

A short blog this time but lots of photographs.

Summer Spendour 3

Friday, 21 September 2018

Wild and Wonderful Northumberland

Housesteads, Hadrian's Wall
Just over a week ago, we returned from a week’s holiday in Northumberland, our fourth holiday there in the space of the last decade. It’s a wonderful place to visit with the wide vistas of the Northumberland National Park and a glorious coastline. And, having been a major player in English history, there are castles, all well worth a visit. We felt we wanted a more relaxing holiday this time so we didn’t get around as much as we have done previously. So what follows is a summary of some of the wonderful places we’ve visited over the years.
Top of my list of favourite places to visit has to be Bamburgh Castle. Standing as it does on a headland and overlooking the North Sea, it dominates the coastline and can be seen for miles in either direction. Like any castle, it’s a mixture of styles and eras which can be seen from the photograph here.
To quote from their website 

‘Each year Bamburgh Castle thrills, enthralls and captivates many thousands of visitors from across the globe with its incredible history, dramatic views and treasure-trove collection of unique pieces which tell the story of Bamburgh’s many reincarnations over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon Royal palace to Victorian inventor and industrialist The First Lord Armstrong’s vision of a perfect castle.’

And it’s still owned by the Armstrong family rather than one of the national historic institutions.

The Grand Cascade at Alnwick Castle
We haven’t visited Warkworth Castle even though we’d intended to because we simply couldn’t find anywhere to park (I’m sure there must be a car park there somewhere but we must have missed it.) However, previously we did visit Alnwick Castle, the family seat of the Dukes of Northumberland. At the time we visited, it was at the height of the continuing success of the Harry Potter books and films and the castle had been used in many shots of Hogwarts School. Consequently, the castle grounds were heaving with children on their summer holidays so we chose not to look round the actual castle. We did visit the famous Alnwick Garden though with its famous Grand Cascade. Again, well worth a visit if you’re up that way, especially if you’re a keen gardener like me.
Yours Truly in the Alnwick Garden

One of the quieter places to visit, but well worth it, is Belsay Castle, Hall and Quarry Gardens. The castle itself is a ruin now but the Hall was built in the early 19th century, the stone for which was quarried on the estate. The owner, Sir Charles Monck, then turned the quarry into the picturesque Quarry Gardens, which I loved.The estate is now in the hands of English Heritage.
Quarry Gardens, Belsay Hall

For stunning scenery, the Northumberland National Park takes some beating. It covers about a quarter of the county, and lies between the Scottish border in the north to just south of Hadrian’s Wall. From watching various house programmes on the TV, I know that it’s one of the least populated areas of England. Included in the National Park is the mighty Keilder Water and Forest Park with any number of outdoor pursuits – if you’re that way inclined (personally I’m not!)

For the second time, we stayed at Annstead Farm, a working farm with several holiday cottages as well as camping/caravanning facilities. It’s located between the fishing town of Seahouses and the village of Beadnell. They do allow dogs and just across the main road from the farm is the beach, just a short walk through the dunes, ideal for those essential walks.

I hope that’s given you a yearning to visit the wonderful county that is Northumberland. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The RNA Conference 2018 and A Reluctant Decision

All Indie authors of the Romantic Novelists Association
A couple of weekends ago, I went to my fourth Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference. I hadn’t been to one for about four years and found, to my surprise, that I was quite apprehensive beforehand. As I’ve got older, I’d found that I’ve become less confident about going to such events. This one was in Leeds, a city I know well, having lived there for over 20 years, although I knew little about Leeds Trinity University, the Conference venue. The first problem I encountered was that it was located on a hill so consequently there were steps – a lot of them – not just outside but in the venue itself. For someone who’s ‘getting on a bit’ this was a bit of a drawback. But I coped. Fortunately, the accommodation was located quite close to the venue unlike the last one I attended where our accommodation was quite a distance from the venue. And at Leeds, the air conditioning worked! A distinct advantage in this heatwave. Unlike the Conference held at Sheffield in 2013 where the air conditioning broke down and the architect had designed windows that didn’t open! We nearly melted at that one, didn’t we, Sally Quilford?

The best thing about these events is meeting up with one’s writing buddies and meeting new one and this was no exception. With my ankle surgery last year and the extremely long recuperation period, I hadn’t been to any of the local chapter meetings so it was great catching up with friends from both Birmingham and Leicester. One of the highlights was meeting up with my fellow Indie members and celebrating with the inevitable glass of fizz – and goodies – as you can see from the photo. That get-together was so encouraging for me as a writer, especially as one of them, Anna Belfrage, known only previously from Twitter, said to me, ‘Oh, you’ve just published a new book, Entertaining Angels, haven’t you?’ (That’s now available as a paperback at And the advice from the lovely – and prolific – writer Freda Lightfoot, to get my earlier novels, presently gathering dust on a shelf, revised, edited and OUT THERE!
Part of my goodie bag haul plus one I bought

The worst thing for me was not being to participate in group situations because I couldn’t hear what people furthest away from me were saying. One of the drawbacks with hearing aids – and I wear two of them – is not being able to hear what people across the able from you are talking about. I found the celebratory Gala Dinner on the Saturday night particularly trying. With 250+ women all trying to talk at once, the background noise was horrendous. One of my table companions was making people laugh with some of her comments but of course I couldn’t join in because I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. As a result, I felt isolated and quite lonely. Not the fault of my immediate neighbours who did their best to include me. It was the same at one of the workshops I attended, an absolutely hilarious one about how to write Sensual Love Scenes Without Stuffing The Turkey led by Liam Livings and Virginia Heath, where we were asked to get together in groups of three or four to ‘rewrite’ the mock sex scene they had just relayed to us. It just wasn’t possible for me and I had to excuse myself. And at another couple of workshops I attended, I couldn’t hear the speakers because they didn’t have microphones.

So reluctantly, I’ve decided that the Leeds Conference will be the last one I will attend. I’m still hoping to attend smaller get-togethers like the chapter meetings and I’m definitely going to be going to the RNA Afternoon Tea in York in September because that’s a smaller event too. After all, I must have been one of the oldest delegates. If not the eldest! As Bette Davis, the American film star, famously quoted, ‘Old Age Ain’t For Cissies!’