Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category


I love Bodnant Garden, near Llandudno on the North Wales coast. It’s the kind of place you can spend all day, and never grow tired of revisiting. There are winding paths through different plantings, formal gardens, wilderness gardens, and a steep dell with a lake and a river below.




Living so near, it’s easy to not make a special time to visit, and so to miss the changing of the seasons. I’d been meaning to go with a couple of friends for weeks, but you know how it is, with three busy jobs, busy studying and busy lives. Then, this Monday we all happened to be able tobodnant-trees-5-small take the day off. So rain or shine, this was it.

At it turned out, we were incredibly lucky. The day dawned with perfect autumn sunshine, and stayed that way all day, while the late summer flowers were still going strong, and the trees were at their most spectacular. Because it was so unexpected, it was a truly magical day. We wandered around for hours, exploring this way and that, chatting and catching up with news and gossip, and pausing to talk to complete strangers who, like us, were marvelling at the vivid red of the leaves, and bodnant-trees-2-smallthe beauty brought out by the sunshine. And of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity of having a few author pictures taken in such lovely light and glorious surroundings.


It was only looking back at the photos afterwards that I realised just how relaxed we’d been, and how great it had been to take time out from our lives and have fun. I didn’t get a thing done on the next book that evening, the intentions didn’t last beyond a cup of tea and falling asleep in the chair, much to Phoebe the collie’s disgust (related to lack of squeaky duck action, rather bodnant-4than her human finishing the next chapter). But then the next morning, that particularly knotty bit in the middle of the soggy middle of the next book (ha!) that I’d been bashing away at for days, de-knotted itself without fuss and neatly fell into place as if it had always been there. Which just goes to show.

bodnant-2-smallI shall definitely be making my way back to Bodnant before long to enjoy another changing of the seasons, to return refreshed and invigorated, and ready to go. Here’s to precious autumn days, good friends, and the deep creative power of sharing the beauty of our world, and pure, unadulterated, fun.





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Bodnant Magnolia

Spring is in the air – let the sunshine and the publicity begin!

Over the past few days, I’ve emerged bleary-eyed from editing ‘The White Camellia’, blinking at bright sun that has suddenly appeared amidst the rain (don’t mention rain), with banks of primroses in my garden, and the frogs boldly chirruping in my pond.

Camellia 1

It was clearly time to get out from behind the desk, and back into the world again. Writing, and especially editing, is an all-consuming business, which I love, but I also always have to remind myself the importance of taking time off afterwards, and letting the jumbled, scrunched, and tumble-dried brain take in some much-needed stimulation that has nothing to do with words at all. Taking publicity photographs is a perfect way of coming down from the editing intensity without that empty feeling of having nothing to do (housework, however dire the post-editing house, doesn’t count).

White Camellia in Bodnant

My first mission was to hunt down as many camellias as I could find while it was still the blooming season –which given the oddities of this winter in the UK, was definitely urgent.

So on the first fine day, I twisted a friend’s arm, and away we headed to Bodnant Gardens in the Conwy Valley. It was the last few days of dogs being allowed in every day for a while, so Phoebe, and her elderly collie friend, Lucy, could come with us, on best behaviour, of course.

Bodnant gardens

I love Bodnant Gardens. There are formal bits, and a valley with a lake and a rushing stream, and whatever time of year, there’s always something to see. Being sheltered and near the sea, it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s north of Snowdonia, except for the snow capped mountains in the distance. I’d gone to photograph any camellias I could find, but there were also snowdrops, banks of daffodils about to flower, pretty irises and crocuses, and so many different varieties of hellebore it seemed there was another delight around every corner.


It was a wonderful surprise to be reminded of just how much life there is out there, even at this time of year, and, with the azaleas about to bloom, with a promise of more delights to come.

I love my own garden, but I could never grow the variety of plants, or the sweeps of snowdrops under the trees. It was an unforgettable day, wandering in the (sometimes) warm sunshine, watching new life begin to unfurl.


I have a feeling that I shall have to go back on the next fine day, to see how it has all progressed. For the purposes of publicity, of course. Or, with the next book brewing, a little research…

Stop press: ‘We That are Left’ is currently on Amazon UK for £0.98! 

Amazon US at $1.36



WW1 Seed Cake small

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Polytunnel one It was most definitely worth asking for help with my garden this year.

I can’t believe the difference it has made, having someone to clear away the endless weeds and brambles, and rescuing the wildlife pond so overgrowth with yellow iris there was no pond left. The thing I hadn’t expected, and which I’m appreciating most, is help with the organising and the planting, so now I can (with a bit of weeding and watering) watch as the new growth spreads in a way that nothing squashes out anything else, and soon (I’m hoping next year) will become low maintenance.

Garden 3Having the worst done for me gave me courage to tackle the rest, so although it’s still a bit wild, it’s on its way to being a fairly respectable cottage garden. So now, for the first time since I stepped through the gate and fell in love with the overgrowth wilderness that came with a cottage on a Welsh hillside, I can leave my computer for half an hour or so to tackle a few weeds, without getting stuck into a whole day clearing brambles. (Although half an hour does tend to creep into an hour or so. I’m saying it’s good for my eyes, and anyhow I’m thinking about the current book and plotting the next). Garden 1

Best of all, I’ve had my first official afternoon tea (which someone went on until midnight) where I could relax in the garden and enjoy the view. In fact, being relaxed about the garden made me relaxed about the tea, without my usual anxious rushing around to make sure I had wonderful things for my guests. Strawberries, meringue (to be home made next time, ahem) and cream are wonderful all by themselves, with sunshine and good company.

Iris One

As if in celebration, this year, for the first time ever, my grape vine in the polytunnel has tiny little grapes. A bit of Hampton Court has arrived in Snowdonia. That definitely calls for a party!

Grapes one

Best of all, I can now sit by my pond, watching the wildlife, and the rescued waterlily come back to life, with a book, or my research, and relax about the state of my garden, and focus. In fact, get very excited about my work, which is the very best feeling of all. Even though the characters in the new book have just developed a mind of their own and are up to all sorts of disgraceful antics, including changing sex a number of times without so much as a moment’s warning, and the hero has decided to stop talking to me, despite being warned of the Dire Consequences of his actions.

In fact, I’d better go and give him an ultimatum (‘Remember Matthew from Downton?’) this very minute… 🙂

News 1

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Garden 1

There’s a pond in there somewhere…

I’ve always been independent. I’m that sort of curmudgeonly so-and-so who will never ask for help.

Garden 2


But last autumn I admitted defeat. Keeping together a large garden (technically two as my cottage is two cottages knocked into one) while promoting one book and writing the next, not to mention keeping up with the day job, and that thing called life, can leave a girl frazzled (and one dog seriously narked at the lack of collie-sized long walks in interesting places).

So I took a deep breath, lost my preciousness over my beloved garden being touched by any other hands than mine, and called in the gardeners. It was the best thing I’ve done. Some expertise, assisted by a bit of young muscle, and a miracle has happened.

Garden 3

Why I needed help to remove the stranglehold of montbretia!

Garden 4

The new lining for the overgrown pond goes in.

Because I work from home with my day job as a proofreader, as well as my real job as a writer, my garden is not just a luxury. It’s where I escape from my desk for a cup of tea and a lunch break, however huddled up I might be in the bit out of the wind that’s a suntrap. It’s where I catch up with my reading and any research that doesn’t need the Internet. It’s where I meet up with friends, and in the summer months it’s the most wonderful place to have laid-back parties, enjoying the evening light and the night-time darkness with very little light pollution and just my solar fairy lights. It’s the place to be when there’s a meteor shower expected. And it’s the place I can work out my plots without passersby worrying about me staring into space for apparently no reason at all, accompanied by occasional mutterings.


Spinach flourishing in my polytunnel

With a bit of help with the bits that would have half-killed me, I’ve managed to do the rest. Well, not all of it. That’s been the other lesson. I can’t do it all in one go, and the rest will keep until next year. Meanwhile, I’ve got my spinach and lettuce and sweet peas in on time and I’m loving doing bits and pieces when the sun comes out.

I think a garden might just have to appear in the next book …..

New Garden 1

The garden today – waiting for the grass to grow.

New Garden 2

The new pond. Many a book will be read here!

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I love making plum jam. It’s the simplest to make, and the most delicious.


Even though I’ve stone sheep field walls round my garden, I’m quite high up on a mountain where fruit doesn’t do too well, but a friend further down in the valley has a lovely plum tree in her garden. I don’t know what variety they are, but they are tart and very tasty. In previous years I’ve made a spiced chutney with them, which is delicious, but this year, after such a glorious summer, they were unusually sweet. So plum jam it was. I gathered the fruit with the help of Phoebe, who has a sweet tooth and hoovered up any that fell to the ground with great efficiency.  (Never question a dog about what they do with the stones)


After half an hour or so of cooking

The recipe is wonderfully simple. Weigh out the plums, weigh out the same amount of sugar, add the juice of a lemon or so if desired (but no water), and away you go.

There are two methods of stoning plums. When I’ve made jam with big juicy Victoria plums I’ve stoned them before cooking. Because these ones are small with tight flesh even this year (they are almost a damson on years when the sun barely shines) I cooked them whole, then scooped out the stones (which conveniently rise to the surface) before adding the sugar.


Nearly there ….

The cooking method is also simple. I’ve got a thermometer, but for this jam it wasn’t necessary. It’s just a case of boiling, stirring tomake sure nothing burns. After a bit I experimented to see it had reached the setting point by putting a bit on a saucer and letting it cool. If it wrinkles when you push it, it’s done. I wiggle it around a bit as well (and taste it, of course). It was still a bit thin, so kept on for another ten minutes or so. This time I could see it had darkened and grown more translucent and I was pretty sure it was ready. Another test (and taste), and I let it cool a little before spooning it into sterilised jars, sealing them, and leaving it all to set.


Looking good!

There was, of course, a little over that didn’t fill a complete jar. So what was a girl to do? There’s nothing quite like fresh sourdough bread, brought straight back from the baker just down the hill and still warm, spread with real butter and a dollop of fresh, still slightly warm, plum jam. Actually, I cheat and put slightly less sugar when I’m making jam. Well, it’s not going to last long enough to go mouldy, and that tart edge to the taste is utterly and totally and zingingly delicious.


Jam. Did someone mention jam? Any stray plums required to be hoovered up?

Bread and butter and jam for tea. The best.

Elin, my heroine in ‘We That Are Left’, turns her hand, as so many women did,  to making jams and preserves from the produce of a kitchen garden during the Great War. By 1914 new imports of jars of jam and tins of fruit had made preserving seem old fashioned to many. But like in the Second World War, when the imports didn’t make it through, and food became expensive, there was a return to the old country ways. I used to make jams years ago, before that thing called life took over. Making them again has been a reminder that there’s nothing quite like capturing the goodness of a summer’s day and hiding it away to be rediscovered in the winter months.

So hurrah for plum jam!

Right, so I’ve got the gin for the next experiment. Those sloes had better be ready soon ….



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So what does a girl do after finishing the draft of a novel? My garden needed weeding, my house needed hovering and my office need sorting. So I painted the outside of my house.

This is not quite a daunting as it sounds. I live in a stone cottage that has only one upstairs room, which is a tiny ‘crog’ loft under the eaves where I do my writing, so most of it can be reached without even the help of my little stepladder. But I’m still a woman in my mid-fifties, who’s not supposed to embark on such a thing.


My cottage as it was

Says who?

The thing about writers is that we are creative, used to thinking outside the box, forever coming up with solutions, and as bone-headedly, do-or-die stubborn as they come, or we’d have given up years ago. Besides, there was a cheap offer of masonary paint in a local store, and the existing colour was too dark and doing my head in. Anyhow, it wouldn’t look good in publicity photos, so it was really to do with writing. Unlike cleaning the bathroom and tackling the filing, of course.

The paint was delivered, mixed with a darker colour to give it a bit more warmth, and I began. A bit at a time, pausing for dog walks and lots of cups of tea and the odd piece of cake, naturally. I brushed down the walls but didn’t do masses of preparation. I was aiming for the overall effect, not perfection. You see, my cottage doesn’t do perfection. As the brush swept over the rendering, I thought quite a bit about the people who built my cottage in the 1840s or so. It was originally a row of quarrymen’s houses. Six of them in all, along a slate-paved little street. One has been knocked down, and of the five remaining, three have made one house, and my cottage is two knocked into one. My living room (large but not huge) is one entire cottage. As late as the 1960s, there were no bathrooms, not even running water, but a standpipe for each cottage and a toilet at the bottom of the garden. The gardens were long strips, not for pleasure but to grow as much as the families could on the thin soil to supplement their earnings. True subsistence.

The thick walls of my cottage are built of stone because it was the material at hand. And free. The fact that I could reach to the eaves from the ground is down to that being just enough height for a room. No scaffolding. So in the same spirit, when it came to the one bit I couldn’t reach, I tied two brooms together with a paintbrush on the end. Not perfect, but it worked.


Finished! (well, almost)

I had a whale of a time painting my house. I proved to myself I could do it and the colour sets off my beloved garden to perfection. My house will never be picture-postcard pretty, but I like it like that. The best thing about it was seeing the transformation in front of my eyes. It’s so hard to see the finished product when writing a book. You go over it again and again, and then again, trying to achieve something that you are never quite sure is there, and your readers are going to see in quite a different light in any case. By the time you finish the edits and the copy edits you never want to see the wretched again, and are already thinking of the next book. Of course you fall in love with it all over again when it appears gleaming and new in your hot little hands. But if you are like me, the first thought is – blimey, did I do that? Can I ever do it again? Supposing they all hate it? Can I run away now?


My new little party area, all ready for good company!

When I’d finished painting my house, I just sat and looked at it. It wasn’t perfect, there are still bits to be done, but it looked wonderful. All ready for garden parties. And that huge boost of satisfaction sent me back with renewed enthusiasm to the next lot of edits.

So here’s to everyone who built and lived in my little cottage over the past 150 years or so, creatively making the most of what little they had. You’ve given me my mojo back, my friends.

Mind you, if you don’t mind, Wisteria might be a bit grand, but I am considering planting Virginia Creeper any time now…. 🙂


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Thank you to Lucinda Rose of  Rose Reads  for nominating me for this beautiful blog award. Lucinda nominated me a few months ago – I’ve finally got there!

The RULES for this award ares:

Thank the person nominating your for the award: THANK YOU LUCINDA, and for being bright and beautiful and sunny each time, come rain or shine. You can read all about Lucinda here


List ten things about yourself


Nominate SIX blogs you think deserve the Kreativ Blogger Award.

So here goes! The ten things about me are:

1. My favourite place to visit is Portmeirion

2. My best holiday was a week in Venice with a pass for all the boats, sailing the canals and visiting the islands.

3. My cats are brother and sister and called Mitzi and Maxwell. They kind of get along. In a sibling sort of a way.

4. I love autumn, for its richness and touch of fragility

5. I learnt to swim in a mountain stream. Very cold.

6. When the mountain rescue helicopter comes over my cottage it could be Prince William at the controls!

7. I have two wildlife ponds in my garden. One was supposed to have fish, but the frogs got there first.

8. I hate housework

9. I love gardening and all gardens, large or small

10. I studied photography at Hounslow College. A long time ago. We had chemicals then.

And my six nominees for their stunningly creative, inspirational, colourful and beautiful blogs are:

Claire McAlpine ‘Word by Word’ http://clairemca.wordpress.com/

Susan Jones  http://susanjanejones.wordpress.com/

Cosy mystery author Nancy Jill Thames  http://nancy-jill.blogspot.co.uk/

Carol Hedges author of ‘Jigsaw Pieces’ http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

Kat Ward http://keepingsane.com/

Brynne http://www.presenceofmagic.blogspot.co.uk/

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