The Road Trip

The idea of taking road trip to Scotland was conceived one wet rainy weekend way back in February. With a holiday in Greece already booked to celebrate Mr T’s retirement in June, and another to the Canaries planned to soak up some winter sun, we felt September would be the ideal time to explore parts of the UK we’d never visited before.  

We ended up seeing a bit more than we originally bargained for. With Greece and the Canaries both off the cards, the road trip was the only holiday left on our calendar, and when daughter number 2 in Cardiff suggested we visit for a weekend at the end of the summer, it was a bit like, well, why don’t we just add Wales into the mix too because it’s on the way to Scotland, after all.

We’re fairly familiar with South Wales because not only is our daughter now based there permanently, but many moons ago Mr T worked in Pembrokeshire. The North however, was new territory.  The road trip was always going to be a whistle stop tour, one of those if it’s Tuesday, it must be Glasgow type of vacations, although Glasgow actually got crossed off the list when the second wave of Coronavirus hit.

After waving goodbye to the kiddo in Cardiff to clamber up and down waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons, we took a pitstop in the UK’s smallest city, St Davids, just because we could, before heading to the Snowdonia National Park for three days. We had a lot to squeeze in.

So many waterfalls, so little time…

Due to time constraints, we took the train up to Mount Snowdon rather than walk. The train no longer goes to the summit – it’s too crowded. Seriously, on the day we went, Snowdon was heaving with people, a steady stream of happy hikers, and no hope of social distancing. With overseas travel out of bounds, tourism in North Wales is booming.  From Portmeirion to Betws-y-Coed, the crowds were out in force.

Onwards to Scotland and our first stop was Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond, and our first task, to find a launderette for a week’s worth of washing, which was no problem, because Balloch has its own fully automated open air launderette situated in a corner of the local garage forecourt. Every town should have one.

Washing complete we then took a boat tour of the Loch, which was as damp and grey as expected. However that mist adds atmosphere and a certain eeriness.

Fifty shades of grey in the Lowlands

The next day was dry, and Mr T suggested that as we had foregone the whole climbing Mount Snowdon experience, we ought to attempt to conquer Ben Lomond, overlooking the shores of the Loch, just a mere 100 metres less than Snowdon in height, and an hour shorter round trip up and down. How could I say no? Quite easily because I have a fear of heights, and grazing cows, and Ben Lomond featured both – but I’m proud to say I did it. I climbed my first Munro (Scottish mountains over 3000 ft in height) and there was a serious sense of achievement as I stood on the top and looked down on the Loch a very long way below.

From Loch Lomond we travelled north to the Isle of Mull where sheep and solitude abound. We stayed in Tobermory, now a tourist mecca after becoming the location for the children’s TV show Balamory (the only reason we went there). Top tip for anyone thinking of travelling to Mull, if you’re driving anything bigger than a Ford Fiesta, forget it. The roads are treacherous.

Next stop Glencoe and my birthday present – thank you Scotland. Glorious sunshine, a comparatively low-level hike against a picturesque Sound of Music backdrop, and a lakeside hotel with an indoor heated swimming pool. Travel in the time of Covid did bring some challenges, but having more or less exclusive use of a hotel swimming pool was a wonderful treat.

We rounded off our 2000 mile trip with a couple of nights on the shores of Loch Ness – never expected to see that bathed in sunshine – and two days exploring the delights of Edinburgh before returning south via Northumberland and an overnight stop in Yorkshire – another place where social distancing didn’t seem to feature.

Sunshine on Loch Ness!

Discovering two freezers of fully de-frosted food wasn’t the best homecoming ever – apparently our street’s electricity supply had been switched off for maintenance during our three week absence and for a reason that will always remain one of life’s little mysteries, the supply to our house had clearly failed to come back on. And although I had done my best to avoid social media and the internet during our break, morale slumped slightly after two more rejections in my email inbox. One, a typical straightforward thanks but not for us, and the other, more crushing in many ways because this editor did give feedback – my writing was good, she liked my style, my author voice, but as far as she was concerned a storyline involving a golfing heroine was a commercial no-no. So much for diversity in publishing.  I always knew it was going to be a hard-sell, and a bit like driving around the island of Mull, I do sometimes feel I’m on the road to nowhere on my publishing journey. On the other hand, as Mr T said as he literally heaved me up the last couple of hundred metres of that mountain on the shores of Loch Lomond, I’ve made it this far, I can’t give up now.

Still smiling at (less than) half way up!
And an exhausted grimace at the top!

Out & About

Lockdown is all but over and we have entered a new era, not just globally but in our own cosy corner of the world. Mr T has officially retired, but as he has been working from home since March, it’s not such the huge lifestyle adjustment it could have been. We’d always promised ourselves that once he retired we’d ‘get out more’ and with grand plans for foreign travel curtailed for the foreseeable future,  a ‘staycation’ is the obvious answer.

Walking, like gardening, and knitting, and any form of exercise is good for the soul (although I see that even poor old Joe Wicks was finding his daily schedules too much and has given up – you really can have too much of a good thing and my leg is nearly better, thank you.)

A couple of years back Mr T received a copy of the AA Guide to 50 Walks in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in his Christmas stocking, a book which due it’s scant attention to detail and somewhat ambiguous directions, should really be entitled 50 Ways to Get Lost in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Last week we picked a gloomy day to complete the six mile trek along the River Itchen and back from St Cross to Winchester. It’s a walk we’ve done several times before and are pretty familiar with.  I could tell Mr T was still in work mode; while I paused to ‘smell the roses’  ie take numerous pics of flora and fauna, Mr T forged ahead as if he had to be somewhere by a certain time. Perhaps it was the lure of a pasty pit-stop in Winchester.

Winchester is wonderful, one of those select genteel British cities which is too posh for its own good, the sort of place where it’s perfectly normal to overhear a woman pointing out a medieval building in the cathedral grounds to her companion with a loud “and that’s where Titus went to prep school.”  I also realised Mr T hadn’t quite disengaged when he announced he’d spotted a dumper truck contravening all health and safety regulations by reversing for length and at speed on a construction site. I hadn’t even noticed the dumper truck, let alone that it was going backwards. Too busy looking at those bumble bees…

This week, we tackled new territory, part of Hampshire we’d never been before. Hampshire is a huge country and I’m only familiar with my native coastal region. Inland there are vast areas of unspoilt countryside, rolling fields, and chocolate box hamlets. We headed for Rockbourne, close to the Wiltshire border. Rockbourne is famous for its Roman villa, but as we discovered when we took the small detour as suggested in the guide book, the villa is currently closed. Undeterred we back-tracked and continued the planned circular five mile hike, and after scrambling up steep banks and clambering over numerous stiles, we arrived at the dreaded, yet inevitable, field of cows.  I have a thing about cows. I know it’s illogical but ever since I read of two Austrian women walkers who were trampled to death in an Alpine meadow, I’ve seen cows in a different light. If you don’t believe me, Google it. Don’t be fooled by those big brown eyes and that seemingly docile manner. On average four people a year in the UK are killed by cows, and I know from past experiences, if these evil creatures not waiting for you at the entrance to their field, they’ll be lurking at the other end, huddled around the exit stile. 

The cow pats were still steaming. I knew they were there somewhere. The guidebook said follow the path parallel to the edge of the field to reach a stile leading to a track and a wood. What did it mean by parallel? Was that straight on, then why not say straight on?  It must mean around the edge, so we skirted the edge of the field with no sign of those sly bovines, seeking our escape route. We saw the wood, but no stile so we climbed over a five bar gate instead only to realise we were now heading off through someone’s back garden…

Yes we had gone wrong. However, I felt totally vindicated when we found an alternative route to the path we should have been on because we’d outwitted those cows. There they were, in their field, waiting for us at the designated exit, but thanks to the map reading error, we were already safely on the right side of the fence.

After two and a half hours we returned to Rockbourne unscathed.

I have no news to report on the writing/publishing front, only that I received my feedback from the virtual RNA conference from industry professionals. Two contrasting opinions on my work, one which made me feel I should give up now, the second quite the opposite. So I’m sitting on things for a bit. Checking Amazon stats and putting yourself out there in front of agents and publishers is not good for mental well-being. My social media feeds are full of other authors plugging their books, or authors telling me how great they’re doing. I’m tired of living in my author bubble. I want to escape to the real world. Both daughters have now been able to visit and daughter number 2 (because she was born second, not because she’s second favourite) is training to be a clinical psychologist so you always have to watch what you say. We had a little chat about my writing. I realise I have to concentrate on the doing the things I enjoy.  

Taking the positive feedback on board, I am going to finish writing my mystery series. I can’t get away from the fact I love writing. I’ve also picked up on a sequel to the Theatre of Dreams I started a while back and which is now coming on nicely, with the aim of self-publishing a novella in the autumn.  But I want to do things at my pace. I’m also going to buy some wool to knit another jumper, and there will also be a lot more visits to the countryside observing the butterflies and the bees. After all we’ve still got another forty walks to complete.  I may be gone for some time.

Holiday Reading

Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to indulge in a good book. My current reading habits amount to little more than a snatched five or ten minutes every night, so the thought of a week, on a beach, on a small island, seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge.

My Kindle was already fully loaded with some 99p reads, but then as I did that last minute supermarket shop a book cover caught my eye and I thought, why not? Obviously a Kindle is much lighter for travel, I can take hundreds of books as opposed to two or three…but on the other hand there’s nothing quite like the smell of a paperback, the feel of those pages flicking through my fingers as the sand trickles between my toes…

One paperback wasn’t going to be enough for seven days, but a friend had recently passed on a novel she’d enjoyed on her own holidays, and I’d also ordered a book on writing tips with the hope of solving the issues with my current WIP which has basically come to standstill (not so much a standstill as a directionless ramble. It wasn’t keeping me enthralled, let alone the likelihood of any reader.) I decided to forego the Kindle completely. With Mr T travelling light, there was plenty of room in his suitcase for all three paperbacks.

We’d chosen our destination – Lanzarote – purely because of its climate – basically 25oc all year round – and the fact that we could fly there in less than four hours from our local airport. Our hotel was located in a resort which was sort of Frankfurt-meets-Dublin-by-the-sea, directly opposite a vast soft dark sandy beach.  As we sunbathed alongside elderly Germans, Westlife lookalikes and their young families, the pages on those paperbacks began to fly.

The first book was The Familiars by Stacey Halls – a historical novel about the witch hunts of the 1600s, not my normal cup of tea at all. I was seduced by the intriguing cover. I remain convinced that if either of my books were ever to make it onto the supermarket shelves they would sell pretty well based on their beautiful covers alone….  Anyway, back to reality. I enjoyed this book immensely. A plucky young wife fights the injustices of her social position and the wrong-doings going on around her. Obviously very well researched, the story was interwoven with vivid descriptions of the characters, period, and the Lancashire locations.

My second book of the week was Forget My Name by J S Monroe – a psychological thriller. I’m generally not a fan of psychological thrillers. I’m a sensible, level-headed person and psychological thrillers are populated by characters – predominantly women – who seem to make a series of very bad choices in the most implausible or coincidental of situations.  I know ‘fiction’ is just that – it doesn’t have to reflect real life to be wonderful – plenty of people could point their fingers at my books at say – hey, (SPOILER ALERT) individuals don’t normally save historic buildings by stealth, or wrestle with drug smugglers in small coastal villages…BUT generally I like to read books with characters I can relate to and empathise with. Forget My Name kept me turning the pages, so it wasn’t all bad, but I did donate it to the hotel’s library where as The Familiars came home with me.

Moving hastily on to my third book of the week – Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Save the Cat is a very well respected guide to screenwriting that has been around for some time. Now there is a new version for writing the perfect novel. Did I find it helpful? Well yes I did. I now need a vast wall-planner and a whole stack of post-it notes. My WIP is going to amble aimlessly no more – it’s journey will be plotted with precision.

I have come back from my week away feeling invigorated – and it’s not just to do with a good dose of vitamin D and the wonderful Canarian cuisine. I’m very good at procrastination and very bad at time-management, but within 48 hours of being home, I’ve written my first blog-post in a month, started a new notebook to breakdown the plot of my WIP and set writing goals for the next six months. The holiday washing can wait – after all, sadly, I don’t think be needing my bikini again anytime soon…

Friends in the North

After my last post celebrating the highs and lows of my first year as published author, I promised myself I would tackle self-promotion with new gusto. I’d get on and finish my WIP. I’d spend more time being jolly on social media. Have I done that? No, once again that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way.

I only have room for so many worries and domestic/family niggles take precedence. All things ‘writerly’ have currently taken a backseat. There’s more important things in life than stressing about word counts and Facebook likes. However, last week we packed up our troubles and set off on a long promised trip to the north of England – which was to culminate in York, where I had been invited to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association Afternoon Tea to celebrate ‘graduation’ from the New Writers Scheme.

The New Writers’ Scheme is a wonderful thing – aspiring writers can join the RNA and take advantage of all the benefits of the association. More importantly, they can have their potential book manuscripts assessed and critiqued by experienced authors. When I joined back in 2016, I already had one manuscript complete and a second under way. During my time in the NWS I was lucky enough to submit three different manuscripts for critique, two of which have now been published. Authors who become published during their time in the NWS are nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award, sponsored by Dr Hessayon of the gardening books fame. His wife Joan was a romantic novelist.

So our trip north already had a literary connection, but more by luck than design it turned into a literary feast! We arrived at our first stop Warwick Castle in record time; after a quick whizz around the ramparts (Mr T and I are seasoned speed-tourists) we realised the day was still young enough to pop over to Stratford on Avon for a peep at Anne Hathaway’s cottage and then on to William Shakespeare’s birth place.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s birthplace

It was all very inspiring – as was dinner at the Spanish restaurant I’d booked that evening in Warwick purely on the basis of its Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve bought books on Amazon purely because of their wonderful 5 star reviews and have seriously questioned whether I’m reading the same novel. Not in this case – the food at Tasca Dali was outstanding, as was the service – and the best bit, it was a set menu. Takes all the stress away from the what shall we eat tonight dilemma. If you’re ever in Warwick, check it out https://www.tascadali.com/

From Warwick we headed north west to Blackpool mainly because we’d never been and we thought it would be fun.  It lived up to all our expectations so we quickly moved on. Having taken the slight detour I realised we were now close to Morcambe – home to the Midland Hotel. I’d come across the Midland Hotel during my research into art deco restoration projects for The Theatre of Dreams – so it was quite exciting to see the building in the flesh.  A lot bigger than my fictional pavilion but it does have a prime spot on the seafront and is a very impressive tribute to 1930s architecture.

From Morcambe we headed to Bowness-on-Windermere, our base for the next four days. I’m a hardened southerner and love living on the sunny south coast, but I could see myself becoming a northern convert. The scenery is stunning. There’s drama around every corner – glass lakes, craggy fells shrouded in clouds, and lush green fields dotted with sheep. We visited Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top. We viewed the gloomy rooms where she wrote her books (no kitchen – Beatrix was too posh to cook and had her meals delivered to her by the farmer’s wife next door – every writer’s dream!) and strolled through the vegetable patch in search of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter’s Garden

We visited Grasmere, where the poet Wordsworth famously wandered as lonely as a cloud amongst the daffodils. It was a wrong time of year for daffodils and the clouds – and crowds – were out in force so not quite the tranquil spot of Wordsworth’s time, but easy to see why he felt so poetic.

With the Lake District sort of ticked off we headed across the Pennines into Yorkshire and Whitby. If you are a fan of vampires, you’ll know that this is where Bram Stoker’s Dracula first came ashore. From Whitby we headed down to the beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough before finally arriving in York – and the RNA Tea.

The York Tea was my first RNA event and I sincerely hope it won’t be my last. It was a pleasure to meet so many ‘friends’ I’d so far only encountered on Facebook, fellow new writer scheme graduates and also to catch up with Crooked Cat authors John Jackson (the event organiser), Sue Barnard and Lynn Forth.  

I didn’t win the ultimate prize of the Joan Hessayon Award, but as Alison May, the chairman of the RNA, pointed out, to become published in today’s fiction market is no mean feat and an achievement worth celebrating in itself.   It was the perfect end to our fabulous trip north.

We will be back!

A Postcard from 2018

Everybody is doing a big fat quiz of the year, but here’s my personal postcard from 2018 – edited highlights of what has been a rollercoaster ride.

January – The excitement of starting a year knowing I had just signed my first publishing contract is offset by panicking about packing for a six week trip to Australia and New Zealand. How many pairs of pants…

February – Visit Australia and New Zealand. Too many wow moments to mention and definitely too many pants in my suitcase, but fulfilling a childhood ambition of cuddling a koala pretty much tops the highlights list. I know it’s not ‘PC’ but the opportunity was there…

March – Coming home from Australia and discovering we had missed the Beast from the East and all the fuss about the snow. First steps into the magical world of publishing as I begin working with a professional editor on The Theatre of Dreams.

April – Discovering two short stories I’d submitted to Writing Magazine competitions had been shortlisted in the same month.  Another successful competition entry at Hampshire Writers Society for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel, is actually mushrooming into a commercial women’s fiction novel. Could this be Book Number Two? Yes it could. Change name of book from competition title of Marrying Mother to Your Secret’s Safe With Me after all sorts of plots twists infiltrate the original idea.

May –The rush is on to finish Your Secret’s Safe With Me so it’s out of the way before the launch of The Theatre of Dreams.

June – Choosing my book cover, writing blurb and dedications and then coming home from a week’s holiday in Spain and finding a paperback copy of The Theatre of Dreams waiting for me on the doorstep.

July – How do I launch a book? Surely if I just throw a few tweets out there, chat about it on Facebook, add a few Instagrams, tell a few friends…that’ll work, won’t it? The first Amazon reviews are in and they’re very good – but they are all written by people who know me.  Fulfil another personal ambition and visit Hampton Court Flower Show on the hottest day of the year.  We all wilt and have to be revived by large doses of Pimms. I do, however, gather ideas for a winter knitting project if the writing career plummets.

AugustThe Theatre of Dreams is officially launched into the world and the euphoria soon ends with a look at my sales figures.  How do you make one book stand out against so many millions of others? Maybe I should have done a bit more tweeting and making friends on social media. Maybe I should have just paid out big bucks for a professional book promotion service.  Maybe I need a much bigger family. It’s a steep learning curve but on the plus side more reviews are in and they are not written by people who know me…

September –  We set sail on a two-week cruise to the Baltics.  After traipsing through a mere smidgeon of the 22km of corridors at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg it’s easy to see why the Russians had a revolution.  It’s jaw-dropping opulence in the extreme. Publisher accepts Book Two.

October – Do what we we’ve been meaning to do since we returned from the Netherlands twelve months previously – put house on the market and plan an escape to the country. Yes we are that couple of empty-nesters looking to downsize to a house with sweeping views in rural isolation but close to all local amenities and obviously we still need something big enough for all our stuff, and our children’s stuff that didn’t leave the nest with them…

November – Onwards and upwards to conquer the Everest sized mountain of book marketing and self-promotion.  Meanwhile, start edits on Your Secret’s Safe With Me.

December – First author talk, nobody fell asleep which I take to be a good sign.  Continue to try and make self more alluring and interesting on social media. House sold – first challenge of 2019 will be to find a new one that ticks all our 101 boxes. Edits complete on Your Secret’s Safe With Me and launch date set for 18 February 2019.  Who’d have thought, this time last year…

Book Links:

The Theatre of Dreams

Your Secret’s Safe With Me

 

Many thanks to everyone who has supported my writing journey and also to my fellow authors who have guested on this blog during the year, either talking about their favourite comfort reads or their own magical books.

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.

 

 

 

Guest Post by Angela Wren – The Cévennes As A Setting

Location, location, location.  Despite having done a fair bit of travelling in my time, I set my novels in my native Hampshire.  Today  I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat author Angela Wren who talks about why she chose a French setting for the location of her novels.

Hi Rosie, and thanks very much for inviting me onto your blog.

I’ve been spending time in France since I was a teenager and I still find the country fascinating and I never seem to stop learning new things about the history and the culture.  But there’s also the geography too.

Today, I want to take you and your readers  to one of my favourite places, the Cévennes, an upland area in south central France.  Look at a modern map of France and you’ll see the Cévennes is now defined as a national park that covers parts of 4 départements – Ardèche, Gard, Hérault, and Lozère.  It spreads south and west below the route nationale RN88, a major thoroughfare that crosses this upland area from Lyon heading southwest.  It’s an area I’ve visited many times and there’s a wild ruggedness and a silence there I can’t seem to find anywhere else.

When I visit, I like to be in a tiny village that sits just north of the national park in col de la Pierre Plantée (planted rock).  So called because of that vast grey rocks strewn across the open pasture areas as though they are growing out of the landscape.  Apparently they warrant the technical term of ‘glacial erratics’, having been deposited millions of year ago as the ice sheets retreated.

At an altitude of 1263 metres (that’s 4,144 feet above sea-level), it’s a bit like living close to the summit of Ben Nevis (4,413 ft), but with better weather in summer.  Come here in June and the pastures are pear-green, the pines are inky-green in colour with the pale yellow pollen from the cones drifting on the gentle breeze.  The leaves of the chestnut trees are the same lush shade of green as shamrock, and, amidst the green expanse sit clumps of sunshine yellow genêt (botanical name Genista) almost competing for a right to grow amongst the planted rocks.

 

Having said that, the weather can be extreme and it can change in a moment.  When I was there a couple of years ago, it last snowed on May 31st.  In July and August the weather can be hot and dry and the grass turns a straw yellow under the baking sun.  In September the balmy breeze returns but so can the rain, bringing with it vast storms and floods.  I remember watching the sky in 1992 as a storm devastated the whole area and forced a national emergency to be declared.  That year it was rain, but sometimes it can be snow if the wind is coming from the right direction – as it was overnight on September 27th in 2007.  I woke up the next morning to a silent and white mountainous landscape and, after taking in the view, my thoughts turned to murder and how easy it would be to use snow in a place like the Cévennes to cover someone’s misdeeds.

From that single thought my stories for my hero, Jacques Forêt, were born and the location?  Well, that was a given.

Blurb

A clear-cut case?

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Links

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

Angela’s Books

MontbelJacques Forêt Mystery #03
MerleJacques Forêt Mystery #02
MessandrierreJacques Forêt Mystery #01
Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings An anthology of feel-good stories

Thank you Angela for giving us an insight into the corner of France that turned your mind to murder!

 

All At Sea

I’ve learned over the last few months that writing a book is the easy bit.  Launching, marketing, that’s the hard, stressful stuff and I’ll admit I am feeling slightly out of my depth.  When I first started ‘writing’, I wrote travel blogs. So in an attempt to get my mojo back, here’s a little piece about our recent Baltic cruise.

Although travel is my thing, cruising isn’t. I like to think I’m a feisty, independent explorer, but sometimes a bargain is too good to miss and cruising is a good way to see a lot of places in a short space of time. Our first port of call was Copenhagen, a beautiful city we’d always intended to visit while we were living nearby in the Netherlands but never quite got round to.

After Denmark, it was onwards to Finland – fulfilling a childhood dream to see the home of the Moomins. I learned to read on the Tove Jansson books so discovering the existence of Moomin Cafés was a bit of a personal treat. It was very bleak in Helsinki the day we visited and very easy to see why Moomintroll and his family hibernated every winter.

After Helsinki the weather picked up again and we travelled on to the highlight of the cruise – St Petersburg. St Petersburg in Russia has long been on my list of must-see destinations.  Home of the Russian royals, my imagination was captured as a teenager by the story of the Romanovs and their tragic demise. And now that I’ve visited just one of their many palaces, it’s really not that hard to see why the last Tzar and his family lost their lives. I’ve read a little bit about the Russian revolution, but nothing prepared me for the complete OTT opulence of The Winter Palace in St Petersburg. If you like your gold bling, and over 22 km of corridors to keep all your knick-knacks in, then this is the palace for you. No wonder the starving peasants were a bit upset by the extravagance.  The Russian Tzars like to collect things, from ancient Egyptian artefacts to Rembrandt paintings.  It’s all a bit much to take in, to be honest, and someone has now worked out that if you spent just sixty seconds looking at every exhibit in the Hermitage museum, you’d need eight years to complete your tour. We had just over two hours on our whistle stop expedition and it was exhausting.

From Russia to Estonia and Tallin – a charming medieval town of cobbled streets, castles and gabled houses.  

And after Tallin, Riga in Latvia, an unexpected gem. Riga was a revelation with its art nouveau architecture and massive indoor food market housed in former Zeppelin sheds.

After Riga it was onwards to Kiel in Germany, a stopping off point for shore excursions to Hamburg. Kiel itself was wet and uninspiring and as we didn’t want to go to Hamburg we took a local bus to view the workings of the Kiel canal – the world’s first man-made waterway which connects to the Baltic to the North Sea. If you’re into industrial-sized lock gates you’d be in industrial-sized-lock gate heaven in Kiel. If you’re not, enough said.

Our final stop was tiny port of Skagen at the very northern tip of Denmark. It’s the Danish equivalent of  John O’Groats and the country’s top tourist attraction. Here you can stand with one foot in the chilly North sea and the other in the equally freezing waters of the Baltic; the tides collide with some ferocity and its quite spectacular to see. Skagen was an attractive little town with arty boutiques and shops selling puffer-jacket style onesies.  Like the Moomins, the population of Skagen hibernate in winter – or at least move south.

And so the cruise came to an end and we returned to Southampton – and the scales. There’s nothing like a cruise to provide inspiration for a huge menagerie of new characters, or to make you appreciate your relative youth, and your good health. Just because the food is available 24/7 you don’t have to eat it – but plenty of people do. The diet begins tomorrow.

 

GUEST POST – ISABELLA MAY

Today, I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat Author Isabella May.  I thoroughly enjoyed Isabella’s first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar and I am very much looking forward to hearing all about her next novel. Who wouldn’t be tempted by this gorgeous cover?

COSTA DEL CHURROS

Muchas gracias for hosting me on your blog today to talk about my brand new novel with Crooked Cat Books! COSTA DEL CHURROS will launch on September 19th and is another romantic comedy which fuses all things foodie, travel and spirituality. I’m keeping my fingers (and paws!) crossed that it’ll have as good a reception as its predecessors…

Why write about Spain?
My first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar centred much of their activity around the quirky and mystical town of Glastonbury, UK.  But in actual fact I live in Spain nowadays and much as I relished the opportunity to write about the place where I spent my childhood through to late twenties, it was high time for a change of scene – as well as to prove to myself that I am not a One Trick Pony. Or should that be Cat?

Is Costa del Churros based on a fictional or real part of Spain?
Yes, Costa del Churros refers to the Costa del Sol, here in the gigantic province of Andalusia, where I live. I have traveled all over the country, but nowhere seems to make, eat or embrace churros (fried donut strips, often eaten dipped in a thick, velvety chocolate sauce and/or sprinkled liberally with sugar) with the aplomb of the people in this region. The churros play a central role throughout the book, used as a code word that brings four – very different – women together for flamenco lessons with their highly exuberant teacher, Carmen.

Here’s the blurb:

The rain in Spain doesn’t mainly fall on the plain…

Brits abroad Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina need more than the sweetness of churros with chocolate dipping sauce to save them from their unsavoury states of affairs.

Cue Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera, the town’s flamboyant flamenco teacher! But can she really be the answer to their prayers?

One thing’s for sure: the Costa del Sol will never be the same again.

Are these four women based on people you know?
Not per se!
But Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina are definitely a beautiful fusion of some of the kaleidoscopically colourful characters I have met here over the past seven years. I wanted to paint a truthful picture of expat life in Spain (and quite possibly this will extend to other areas of The Mediterranean too). It’s all too easy to assume that a life in the sun is all soaking up its rays, sand, sea and sangria, but in actual fact, we take ourselves wherever we go! There’s absolutely no running away from your problems when you are home from home, be they romantic, financial, self-esteem based, or all of the above. Often, as soon as the novelty of the new lifestyle wears off, those issues are only exacerbated…
I thought it would make for an interesting (and comical) read to throw four women from four completely different backgrounds together, to add a little magic (a la Carmen) and to watch the fireworks – from a very safe distance.

Tell us a bit about Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera…
Well, she was a joy to write.
And I think all of us could do with a Carmen in our lives. Not only is she a talented flamenco teacher, but she has watched the way Franco’s repression of the female has gnawed away at her mother, and at the lives of countless women around her. So Carmen’s mission is one of empowerment. And she’s particularly passionate about encouraging women to have their cake and eat it. Truly, I’d love for nothing more than to click my fingers and magic her up every time I witness a female friend or family member declare in a café/restaurant/gelateria ‘Oh! I really shouldn’t indulge… I’ll start the diet again next week!’
For Carmen is the antidote to any and all of that prescribed female behaviour, an advocate for positive body image on beaches and sun-loungers the length of the coast. She’s a breath of fresh air injecting a much-needed confidence boost to all four of the main characters in the story.

If your tummy has started to rumble… here’s that all important Universal Amazon buying link:

mybook.to/costadelchurros

You can find out about Isabella May’s other books, and follow her quirky cake and cocktail posts at these places:

www.isabellamayauthor.com

Twitter – @IsabellaMayBks

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IsabellaMayAuthor/

Instagram – @isabella_may_author

Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic.

Cake, cocktail, and travel obsessed, she also loves nothing more than to (quietly) break life’s ‘rules’.

Costa del Churros is her third novel.

 

 

The Garden of Dreams

A family day out is real rarity in our household. We are currently all living on the same continent, which is a bonus, but that hasn’t always been the case.  They always say you should feel proud as a parent that you’ve given your fledglings the confidence to flap their wings and fly away – but I do sometimes wish they hadn’t flown quite so far  (although to be fair to our children we  have done our own fair share of flying in the past). With our elder daughter on sabbatical from her job in Budapest and working in London for three weeks, we took the opportunity to meet up for some quality time together, plans which  included a visit Hampton Court Flower Show on one of the hottest days of the year.

My house in the UK has a fairly compact garden, but after spending a large part of the last nine years or so living in rented apartments overseas, I value my own personal outdoor space. I’d like more, but  that’s because I look back through my rose tinted spectacles to the days when we had a third of an acre plot, complete with our own bluebell wood and children who needed trampolines, pop-up pools and wendy houses. Those days are gone – and so has the industrial-sized lawnmower. It’s not a question of quantity, but quality.

I still watch Gardeners World, I grow my own herbs and salad veg, albeit in high-rise containers to defy the slugs. I have a choice of seating areas, where I can chill out with a book in dappled shade or full-sun;  we even have a pint-sized pond. I’ve crammed my borders full of plants to attract butterflies and ungrateful bees (I was recently stung), and we have visiting hedgehogs. It’s a little oasis.

Hampton Court was packed, and parched, and all around us elderly ladies were collapsing from the heat, but we viewed the show gardens and marvelled not just at the seemingly effortless planting, but at sunken seating areas and outdoor entertaining spaces, wondering if we too could find room in our postage stamp plot for that leather-look hot tub complete with wooden surround (surely we could?) as well as a circular shed to house a fully stocked cocktail bar…

While our young ladies revived themselves with Pimms, Mr T and I wandered around looking for further inspiration. I’ve now found the perfect solution to keeping occupied during long winter evenings when the great outdoors is out of bounds.  We don’t need a bigger garden – we can create horticultural masterpieces from the comfort of our own settee. A knitting project for me, and a lego one for him.

But of course the best part of the day was being together – so that the kids could squabble just like they did when we all lived under one roof. To be fair my girls get on a lot better when they live apart, there is some truth in that old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A day out anywhere provides inspiration for a writer, characters, settings, planting schemes, I soaked it all up. Even if I can’t recreate those show gardens in my own backyard, I can certainly transplant the ideas into my next book – The Garden of (My) Dreams….watch this space!

Guest Post by Jane Bwye

This week fellow author Jane Bwye joins me to discuss her favourite ‘comfort reads’.

 

Thank you for having me, Rosie.

I don’t know if I’d call them “comfort reads”, and I’ve had to think a bit before making my final choices, based roughly on the number of times I can sort-of remember reading them. The truth is, it’s several years since I’ve opened the pages of any of them. But your invitation has reminded me.

I am an utter romantic at heart, and although I’ve never been to Russia, Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago has been my favourite read for as long as I can remember. As a sixteen-year-old, I read it a few times, then in 1965 I saw the film, and because in this rare case the film is every bit as good as the book, I now think of both, when re-visiting either. And that haunting music never fails to stir my soul.

 

You definitely cannot class Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty as a comfort read. I first read it way back before my teens and could never resist the temptation to repeat the exquisite torture again and again, barely able to see the words on the page through my tears. I have always been crazy about horses, which doesn’t help. I picked it up again about six years ago, as I’d come to live in Sussex where the book is set. To my shame, even in later life, the tears spoiled the pages and I was devastated that it could still affect me so much.

 

My mother introduced me to Nevil Shute at an early age, and Australia has been part of my dreams ever since. When I came across The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCulloch, I was in seventh heaven. I remember first reading it from cover to cover twice through without a pause, and a copy still graces my book shelves, ready for whenever I feel like a bit of self-indulgence.

 

 

I discovered Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese at a mature age. This classic story of twins, hardship and professionalism set against the exotic background of Ethiopia is surely a must-read for all reflective souls. Beautifully written, full of philosophy and ageless, it has made a deep impression on me, and I keep telling myself to read his other books…

 

 

There’s one more book, which I just cannot leave out. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. I am not blessed with a good memory for stories, and whenever I pick it out, remembering the totally satisfying and tingly feelings it gives me, it is as if I’m reading it again for the very first time.

 

 

I could go on and on – I’m finding more and more good books and have forgotten hundreds, which leaves the way open for me to read them again and have pleasant surprises. I don’t want to bore you, and I must show you my African novels, which were inspired by the “Tribe” books by Nicholas Monserrat. However, that’s another story…

 

 

…And on 15th August 2018 I’ll be launching something entirely different. A Guide to starting your own business. Even authors need to show some business acumen these days.

https://bookgoodies.com/a/B00352B44Q

If you pre-order from Amazon now, you’ll get the special price of £/$.99!

 

 

 

Jane Bwye lived for 55 years in Kenya. She has been an intermittent free-lance journalist most of her life and has written several books. Her large family, scattered over three continents, are a good excuse for her to indulge in travelling. A former teacher, and owner of several small businesses, she works as a business mentor for small business start-ups.

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Bwye/e/B00BOK0NN4/

Website: http://janebwye.com/