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Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

I have just come back from beautiful Pembrokeshire and the Narberth Book Fair, organised by fellow Honno Press Authors Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore.

Last year, the book fair was in Tenby, so it was exciting to meet in a new venue and a new location. Sadly, there was no sea, but Narberth turned out to be a vibrant place – and there’s even a ruined castle!

The fair itself was bustling, with such a varied selection of authors, including plenty of us representing Honno Press. I had great fun talking to readers and other writers, as well as helping Carol Lovekin celebrate the publication of Snow Sisters – and grabbing a signed copy into the bargain.

It was definitely inspirational to have a day buzzing with books, and to meet up with fellow authors afterwards for even more book talk! Writing is such a solitary business, it’s always great to have a get together and exchange ideas.

It’s a long drive from Snowdonia to Pembrokeshire, so my adventures did not end with the book fair. The following day I took refuge from the rain in the dome at the Botanical Gardens of Wales, with its fascinating collection of plants. Not a bad place to have a Greek Salad in Mediterranean surroundings, while the Welsh rain does its thing outside!

I couldn’t quite leave Pembrokeshire without going to Tenby. By the time I got to the B&B, the sun was shining, so I spent the evening wandering through the walled town and along the beach, watching the surfers as the tide came in and the harbour lights come up as the light faded.

The final morning was also clear and sunny, so I headed off to Colby Woodland Gardens, a little inland from Tenby, with its atmospheric walled garden and miles of woodland walks.

A book fair with good company, sea and gardens – I’m already looking forward to next year!

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It has been a cold spring this year, here in Snowdonia. I’ve been keeping my head down, getting on with the next book. Okay, wrestling with the dratted tome. It’s got to that point, just before it all falls into place, when it feels like nothing will ever make sense, and why did I start the thing in the first place, why did I ever think it was a good idea, but it’s too late to back out now. ARG!  Having been through this before, I should know this always happens, and you just keep plodding on until it works, but somehow, this point in the process  never seems to get easier!

Then, over the last few days, spring has burst into flower. It’s been so sudden and unexpected (I think we’d all given up), it’s been a magical experience. A real reminder of just what a miracle it is. The green of leaves has grown brighter and fresher, changing day by day, and my garden is growing more colourful every time I look. Finally, my baby beetroot and the broccoli, the peas, beans and salad leaves have been set out on their journey in my veg patch and the polytunnel, and the vine is showing signs of life.

Just before I did my back in with too much enthusiastic digging and weeding (okay, mega-procrastination), I snuck away from the computer and the dratted tome and went up to the coast with friends to visit one of my favourite places, Bondant Garden.

The last time I was there, it was autumn, when there were red and crimson maples and the final glory of the year. This time, it was all about the vibrant, wonderfully clashing colours of azaleas and camellias  – including some beautiful white camellias, to celebrate my rebellious Edwardian ladies’ tearooms of ‘The White Camellia’ , with Millicent Fawcett’s suffrage movement battling for equal pay for equal work, women’s right to education and financial independence, along the dignity of all men and women having the vote.

We were lucky, it was a clear day, with bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. In the end, we walked for miles, between the azaleas, and down to the dell, following the river and around the pond to the wilder part of the gardens, with banks of wild garlic, and then back past bluebells.

Finally, there was the trip to the garden centre, where I did my best to be restrained. (ahem)

My plan to spend the evening deep in wrestling my characters into submission didn’t quite work, I was far too relaxed to get the brain back into gear. But the next morning, I was fired up and raring to go. I hadn’t thought I’d been thinking about the tome while I was in Bodnant, I’d been too busy enjoying the sights and the scents and time relaxing with friends. But strangely, the bits that had been bothering me began to fall into place. The possible became possible. And that ginormous hole in the plot that had snuck up on me without me noticing (as they do) had a perfectly sensible solution, the facepalm, why didn’t I think of that before, kind of solution.

The trouble with wrestling, as I should know by now, is that the characters always win (it’s their story, after all), and you just end up going around in circles getting crosser and crosser until you can’t see a way out.

There’s nothing like a bit of perspective to make the impossible work, and beautiful gardens in springtime are the best way.

Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. And those rebellious characters of mine had better agree, or else …

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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.

 

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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.

Hellebore

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.

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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

 

 

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Mousehole 2

Mousehole

If you follow me on Facebook, you will know that I’ve just spent a week in Devon and Cornwall collecting photographs for the launch of my next book with Honno Press, out next year.

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Inspiration at Westwood Ho!

‘The White Camellia’ is based around a mansion with a tragic past on the North Cornwall coast, near St Ives. So when I was invited to be one of the panel of writers at the Exeter Short Story and Trisha Ashley Awards, it was a chance I couldn’t resist.

 

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A riot of colour at Lanhydrock

Of course, I couldn’t go straight from Exeter to St Ives without stopping off at St Austell and visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project. I’d regretfully decided I would have time for Lanhydrock, but my satnav had other ideas, and I’m so glad she did. The sun came out as I found myself passing by – so of course I had to go in.

The melon house

The melon house at Heligan

I didn’t have time to see the house (next time), but the grounds were a riot of colour, and the views spectacular. I could have gone back the next day, but I had a date with what will always be the highlight of my trips to Cornwall – the Lost Gardens of Heligan, whose flower gardens inspired ‘Eden’s Garden’, and whose greenhouses inspired Elin’s beloved kitchen garden of ‘We That are Left’.

 

Office Lost Gardens

The office at Heligan

PotsI loved every minute of my day in the Lost Gardens. Having lived through the First World War with my characters, it was very moving to see the offices and greenhouses that, with a way of life, were lost due to the ravages of the war.

I’ve been longing for ages to visit the Eden Project – and it definitely didn’t disappoint! I could have stayed much longer, but rain was forecast for the next day, and I wanted to get photographs of Mousehole and Limorna Cove while the sun was still shining. After a day in beautiful St Ives, I made my way up the wild north coast, ending up back in Devon, in Westwood Ho!, where I’ve spent several happy holidays, before making the drive back to Wales.

Wild seas at Perranporth

Perranporth

It was a blast of a week. I drove nearly 1,000 miles in all, and packed so much in, all I could do in the evenings was stagger back to the B&B and just about manage dinner and a bath before collapsing into bed. I had never been to Cornwall so late in the year, so it was a pleasure to see the late flowers and autumn colours. I was very lucky with the weather, with none of the promised rain arriving, and I’ve got all the photographs I could need.

Squash at the lost gardens

I’m still absorbing my week in Cornwall. This blog post has been a whirlwind tour, but there will be many more to come, exploring the sights and the sounds. I’m buzzing with ideas and feel energized and inspired and ready to go. And I shall most definitely be going down again. I saw so much – but I know there’s plenty more to see!

Giant's Head

The Giant’s Head at Heligan

 

 

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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

Overgrown!

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

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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Eden's Garden COVER

My first inspiration behind ‘Eden’s Garden’ is based on a family story – but I can’t tell you anything about that because it would give the game away – and then there would be no mystery at all!

My second inspiration was an ancient Welsh myth. It’s the story of Blodeuwedd, the woman made out of flowers to  a perfect wife. Blodeuwedd is beautiful and perfect – until she finds a mind of her own and is turned into an ugly old owl to be cast out and despised. As a woman, I’ve found myself growing more interesting and more human as I’ve grown older. So I have a feeling that, for Blodeuwedd, maybe that’s the point where the real story begins. And if you look at an owl – really look – it has a rare beauty all of its own…..

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My third inspiration was a garden. It’s a place I used to go to when I went to see my father during the last months of his life. It’s on my way home through the mountains of Snowdonia, and was a place for me to gather myself and absorb my own sadness and get back to facing everyday life again.  The gardens are Brondanw Gardens which are the home of Clough Williams Ellis the creator of Portmeirion. They are full of life and eccentricity and a mischievous kind of joy.

Garden Avatar

And so that’s where the mystery began to form in my head, of Carys rediscovering the mysterious statues of her childhood and embarking on a journey to find a mysterious woman from the past who holds the keys to the future. A woman who was once bred to be a perfect Victorian beauty, and who has the longest journey of all to make – the journey to becoming truly human.

Brondanw Statue for video

Eden’s garden is on promotion today

In the UK 1.69p click HERE

In the US $2.10 click HERE

 

 Click HERE to join Carys as she unravels the past – finding some unexpected secrets along the way. 

You can watch the trailer for ‘Eden’s Garden’ here

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Bodnant Pool 2013

On May 1st I shall be starting my three month Writers’ Bursary from Literature Wales. Three months in which I will be paid to write. I still have to pinch myself.

Now, I love what I do in my day job. I’ve written before on this blog about  ways my work can inspire and add to my writing. In fact, it was reading an unpublished diary of a young doctor from a local village, as part of  an oral history project on the First World War, that was one of the inspirations for my current book.

It wasn’t the work of a poet, or even meant to be read outside the family. It didn’t even describe the horrors of the trenches. The immediacy came from the entries made as a young man who had never been outside his locality, let alone Wales, setting off to England for his training, and then over to France. There’s the excitement of new places and new experiences, of people cheering them on and of crossing the English Channel for the first time. Then on a summer’s day, walking through French fields, the grenades begin to fall. As part of the project we were working on, we recorded the diary for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind. The descriptions are factual, restrained. There is no attempt to create a picture or create an atmosphere, or even to comment on the horror. By the time my colleague had finished reading, we were in tears.

I don’t want to shut myself in an ivory tower (or ‘crog’ loft, in my case), but I am so looking forward to a few months of not having to fight myself for the time – and most importantly of all –  the headspace in which to write.

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The Bursary is such an extraordinary privilege, I’ve been busily planning everything I’m going to get done in the time. Sitting by my pond last night, watching the newts and the tadpoles and things that looked like wood lice having a right old tussle, I remembered that there was one thing I’d forgotten in all that scheduling. A few things, actually. Meeting up with friends.Tending my poor struggling veg patch (a brain needs spinach, and a heart does nicely on garlic, after all). Getting out and absorbing all the life going on around me. And sitting in any sun going to read. For pleasure. For being so totally absorbed in a story I don’t want it to end. That thing called life. The bit I so often forget about, or feel guilty about doing, or simply put off until another day – and then wonder if my inspiration and enthusiasm flags.

So here’s to life and fiction and inspiration and everything I am going to learn over the next three months.

Let it begin!

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I’ve been tagged in The Next Big Thing by Emily Harvale, author of ‘Highland Fling’ http://www.emilyharvale.com/blog, and Choclit author Henriette Wulf Gyland http://henriettegyland.wordpress.com/ Thank you, lovely writerly ladies!

 I’m instructed to tell you all about my next book by answering these questions and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing. So here I go!

 What is the working title of your next book?

‘Hiram Hall’

Where did the idea come from for the book?

 Partly from family history and partly from an oral history project I’m working on about ordinary people’s lives in WW1. 

 What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Fiction. With a touch of timeshift – maybe? Still hanging in the balance at the moment!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Rupert Perry-Jones for the hero, and Claire Foy (who played Little Dorrit) for the heroine. And Honeysuckle Weeks (from Foyle’s War) might be in there too. (Only that would be telling)

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Three women in a world faced with an unthinkable war – three lives changed forever.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully (says she with first draft jitters) it will be published by the publisher of ‘Eden’s Garden’, Honno Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

There were lots of false starts, and a few bits of jitters, but once I got going properly about six months. Nearly there!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  

I was inspired  by Margaret James’ ‘The Silver Locket’  and Judith Barrow’s ‘Pattern of Shadows‘ 

 Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Finding out more about the roles women played in WW1, both at home and on the front line during an oral history project. I knew bits about the trenches from books and war poets, but I was inspired by  women’s part in the war. As well as winning the war at home, many were amazingly heroic, not only as nurses, but have been largely forgotten.

Then there was the great uncle who spent the Great War cycling around Wales on the run from the police ….. (You’ll have to wait!)

 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

 Food is definitely a weapon of war – if you love Mary Berry or ‘Wartime Farm’, with a bit of mystery thrown in – then watch this space.

I hope this has whetted your appetite …. 

Here are some lovely authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing!

Judith Barrow, author of one of my favourite books of all time ‘Pattern of Shadows’  http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk/category/blog/

Louise Marley, author of best selling romantic suspense novels including ‘A Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’. http://www.louisemarley.co.uk/index.html

Thorne Moore , author the gripping read I’m enjoying now:  ‘A Time for Silence’  http://thornemoore.blogspot.co.uk/

Carole Hedges author of the thought-provoking ‘Jigsaw Pieces’ http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

MaryLynn Bast, author of the spine-tingling ‘Heart of a Wolf’ series. http://heartofawolfseries.blogspot.co.uk/

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After all the excitement and whirlwind of promotion of Eden’s Garden, I’m now deep in the next book. (Hurrah!)

It was strange at first, having wrestled so long for Eden’s Garden to see the light of day to go back to the beginning again, with a first draft and new characters. Oh and that familiar lurking feeling that perhaps that first book was a fluke. And why is this one so dire, and will I ever be able to get there again? To which the answer is: First draft syndrome. First drafts are always rubbish. That’s what they are there for. The trouble is, by the time you get to the refined end of a book, you’ve totally forgotten (or is that blanked out?) just what garbage you started with.

So now I’ve settled down a bit and my characters have taken on lives of their own  – and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble I’m far too nice to have even considered for them – I’m trying to abandon the computer once a week to do a bit of practical research. Oh, okay: visit lovely gardens. Since gardens seem to appear in everything I write as me, and as my alter ego Heather Pardoe, it’s no secret that a garden appears in the next book. How or why is a secret. But you may be able to guess as my forays into the garden world progresses.

Last week, I took off with a friend to Glynllifon, a magnificent Regency Mansion surrounded by a stunningly beautiful 700 estate. The grounds are now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the richness of the wildlife and the rare and endangered species it contains. Walking through is a slightly surreal experience. The park has been carefully crafted as a wilderness playground. There are streams and rustic bridges and romantic ruins that clearly weren’t ever anything but a romantic ruin. There’s even a cave that looks suspiciously hand-crafted, and a pretty little hermitage that would send any self-respecting hermit heading for the hills.

The slate amphitheatre

Glynllifon is pretty and charming, but slightly odd, given that the real wilderness of Snowdonia is a few hours away by horse-drawn carriage. It’s wilderness tamed, with the real wilderness beating at the door.

I loved every minute of it, and I shall certainly be going back when the autumn colours are at their best, but the most poignant moment came at the end. We were looking around the exhibition showing some of the workers who kept the estate going, and there amongst the photographs was this one.

They are the agricultural workers, but they could also be the gardeners, the servants, the men from the villages nearby. It’s a glimpse into a lost world. A truly lost world, and a lost generation. Why? Because the date on the photograph is 1913.

It’s harvest time, so it’s summer. Within a year, how many of those men and boys would be facing horrors beyond imagination in the trenches of the First Word War? And the little girls facing the struggle, deprivation and uncertainty of life at home, with the fear of invasion and the telegram appearing at the door.

In the Work in Progress, some of my characters have just headed off to the front in The Great War. Young men and women, full of idealism and a sense of adventure, off to see the world and escape the path their rigid society had laid out for them. And, like the men in the photograph in Glynllifon, with no possible way of knowing what lies in front of them.

The peace and beauty and the safely-contained world of Glynllifon is one that will haunt me for a long time. And I hope that at least some of those young men made it back, however scarred, to pick up their lives again, and forge a new world.

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