Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Spooky Reads for Halloween

I'm not a huge fan of autumn. Yes, the leaves look pretty but the weather turns distinctly chilly and the nights are growing longer. But cold, wet days and early dark evenings do lend themselves to reading spooky books...

There seems to be a trend at the moment for gothic historical novels, which I LOVE, and also super-scary ghost stories. Listed below are my recommended reads for this year's Halloween. There should be something for everyone: a Victorian ghost story, witches and changelings, a couple of classics retold, and a murder mystery with an 'appearance' by the king of the undead himself...Dracula (aka: Max Mephisto, star of Elly Griffiths' Brighton Mysteries).

Happy Halloween!

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley

Elspeth Swansome goes to work as a nanny on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea. Her charge, Mary, hasn't said a word since the unexpected death of her twin brother William, and the last nanny packed up and left in a hurry. No one will speak of what happened to William, just as no one can explain the sound of singing in empty corridors, strange dolls appearing in abandoned rooms, and the faint whistling that comes in the night...

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

In the 1600s, Patrick watches helplessly as those he loves are accused of witchcraft - the penalty is death; in the 1990s, Liv escapes her problems by fleeing to a remote Scottish island, Lon Haven, where the inhabitants are a superstitious lot, obsessed with witches and curses; and in the present day, Luna travels back to Lon Haven hoping to discover the truth about what happened to her family, twenty-two years previously.

Horseman by Christina Henry

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows of the legendary Horseman, but no one really believes in him until fourteen year old Ben stumbles upon the headless body of a child in the woods. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths

Brighton, 1965. When theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found poisoned, suspicion immediately falls on his much younger wife, ex-variety star Verity Malone. The evidence is stacked up against her; even her son thinks she did it. Exasperated by the police, Verity calls in two private detectives to clear her name: ex-police sergeant Emma Holmes and journalist Sam Collins. It soon becomes apparent that Bert had a very long list of enemies. In fact, it would be easier to find someone who 
didn't want to kill him...

The Tailor and the Three Dead King by Dan Jones

One winter, in the reign of King Richard II (ie: the late 1300s), a tailor is riding home when he is knocked off his horse by a huge raven, which then turns into a hideous dog. The dog tells the tailor he must go to the priest and ask for absolution, or there will be terrible consequences...

You can find more reviews on my book blog and you can also find me over on Goodreads. The books I read are a mix of those I've bought myself, or have requested from the publisher via NetGalley.

Something Wicked

Katrina Davenport has opened a coffee shop and bookstore in the notorious Raven’s Cottage, once the home of a 17th century witch known as Magik Meg. The locals have told Kat stories, of how the cottage is haunted by the witch and her demon lover, but Kat doesn’t believe in witches, or ghosts, or anything that goes bump in the dead of night. Every strange thing that happened since she moved in must have a perfectly logical explanation.

Unfortunately it doesn’t really matter what Kat believes, because something wicked has returned to Raven’s Cottage.

And this time it’s come for Kat.

Image of pumpkins © Shutterstock

Monday, 3 May 2021

Spring Update

One of the things I enjoy about my daily walk around my village, is watching the subtle changes in the seasons. Winter wasn't much fun. There were no flowers or wildlife to look at, and there was more than one occasion where we were caught in a snow flurry! When the weather is like that, it's tempting to stay home with a good book!

By the middle of January we could catch the occasional glimpse of snowdrops in the woods and buds forming on trees, and the blur of a rabbit shooting back into its burrow. (Not the one above, he seems to like posing for photos!)

As we moved into February, those solitary snowdrops multiplied into carpets of pretty white flowers and soon blossom was appearing everywhere, even in my garden!

We originally began our daily walks during the first Lockdown, a year ago, and have managed to keep it up. My Instagram feels like a diary, where I can look back and see what I've been doing, and it has proved a useful tool to work out when the first goslings will appear and when the local churchyard will be full of bluebells. Spring occurs a little later here in the frozen North, so we have a few more days to wait!

Sometimes it felt as though the local geese spent most of April nesting, but right on cue the goslings have now begun to appear.

They are so sweet, like little balls of yellow fluff, but it won't take long before they grow and will soon be indistinguishable from their parents.

My Instagram has also proved very useful for working out which plants are out at what time of the year, because the book I am working on at the moment is set during late spring/early summer and the characters are spending a lot of time outdoors to escape from their feuding families!

As the weather grows warmer, I've been working in my garden. When I moved into this house three years ago, it was a new build with a square of lawn. Now we have a 'proper' garden. As well as flowers, I'm trying to grow fruit and vegetables. My gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes already have tiny berries and my pear tree is now in blossom.

I'm also trying to grow strawberries! As both my Dad and my great-grandfather were strawberry growers in Hampshire, it seems strange to be carrying on with the tradition all these years later. Although if my Dad could see my 'suitable for beginners' plants in my hanging baskets, he would think it was a very strange way to grow strawberries!

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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

O Christmas Tree...

This is how I spent my weekend...

I think this is the earliest I've ever put up my Christmas decorations but, judging by my Facebook feed, I'm not the only one. There is something about a Christmas tree that is immediately cheering (never underestimate the power of glitter!) particularly after the year we've all had.

Our tree is an artificial one but when I was growing up my family had always had a real tree. Our house had a huge bay window at the front and my parents were determined to fill it with tree, so they would always buy the biggest one they could find - sometimes the top would end up being bent over to fit. My mother tried every method she could think of to keep the tree alive and the needles intact until Christmas. The best solution turned out to be just sticking the tree in a bucket of water like a bunch of flowers. Christmas trees don't much like the heat, but that was never much of a problem living in a Victorian house!

When I was a teenager I decided I wanted my own Christmas tree in my room. I think I must have been heavily influenced by old Hollywood movies because I bought a white one from Woolworths and, copying the Harrods shop window from the previous year, decorated it in baubles of just one colour. Some people loved it, some hated it! I still have the tree but my daughter has claimed it for herself - it's 'vintage'!

When I left home I tried to recreate my family's Christmas traditions (you can read more about that here) but I eventually learnt that the best thing is to continue the traditions that work for you but not be afraid to create 'new' ones. My mother gave me a few packs of baubles to start me off but over the years I began to collect individual ornaments, a couple each Christmas, mostly from garden centres and high street stores. I can pretty much tell you where each one came from and the story behind it.

For many years the most famous ornament on my tree was the 'Harrods' bauble, which (as you can probably tell!) I bought in about 1989. It was hugely expensive at the time and it was a complete pain to get it back to Hampshire without breaking it, but it's still on my tree all these years later!

Several of my ornaments were bought for me by my friend Trisha Ashley. We both share a love of traditional glass ornaments. One memorable year we both bought each other typewriter baubles (Trisha bought the red one, I bought the black one) - great minds think alike!

I love fairy toadstools and mice and nutcrackers, so there are several of those sprinkled over the tree. I also love the way light shines through glass, so there are lots of glass ornaments too. About five years ago I realised my tree was stuck in the 1980s, so I no longer use tinsel. The poor tree seemed a bit bare until I got used to it but I've realised you can now see the decorations properly!

Sadly, my mother died earlier this year. When my brother and sister-in-law were sorting through her things they found a mysterious cardboard box with a note attached to the top which said, "For Louise".

What was inside? 

The family box of Christmas decorations...

If you'd like to know more about my Christmas decorations, my daughter has challenged me to post a festive picture on my Instagram in the days leading up until Christmas.

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