Wednesday, August 27, 2008

gearing up for the new term

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Nick Drake
Reading: Nell Dixon, Blue Remembered Heels (enjoyed it)

As of yesterday, we were pretty much ready for school, except for the sport stuff. I annexed DH to help there – I could sort out indoor and outdoor trainers, but football boots and shin pads are definitely a male preserve. (I think it took him back. I could see he was itching to start on the 'when I was a boy' tack.)

Today, I had the delightful task of naming everything. DH claimed to have sorted out the children's wardrobes (bearing in mind I specifically asked him NOT to touch the new school stuff until I'd named it). Er… so why were there a million too-small coathangers still in there, taking up the space? Why were there still clothes that were way too small? And why had he mixed up last year's school uniform with this year's? Sigh. So I went through it myself. A little bit of organisation makes life so much easier. And my goal this year is to teach my children how to be organised. (Youngest should get it pretty quickly. Eldest has ADHD and organisation will help him so much… but actually getting him to be organised in the first place, and remember it, is the tricky bit.)

Builder came this morning– he was very nice and made it painless for us. But my kitchen floor is now bare concrete again and the plinths are gone from the units. And it smells of damp. Ick, ick, ick. Wish me speedy drying time. Kleptodog is very unhappy with the situation and is sulking on his bed in my office, on top of a huge pile of shoes. (One from each pair. So we can't go out without him, in his eyes.)

Went to see Dad this afternoon. He's doing OK and was interested in all the family history stuff I'd printed out for him. His new room is bigger and lighter, and he has a lovely view - over the field next door from one window, and the church from the other. He's happy and settled, so fingers crossed the panel will do the right thing. (The hardest thing about this is having to wait on other people's schedules and having no control whatsoever over it. Patience, grasshopper.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

After the bank holiday...

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Nick Drake
Reading: Next on TBR pile

Been a busy few days.

Thursday: loss assessor broke the news that the floor definitely has to come up. So I need to call the insurer’s builder (they’re supposed to ring me, but I want this done before school starts). Also called in to see Dad and he's doing fine.

Friday: took the kids to see Mamma Mia! – great fun, didn’t matter that the plot was thin and the singing was ropey in place, as it was very much a feelgood, fun, frivolous film. (OK, enough of the alliteration.) Julie Walters stole the show for me: she was fabulous. (She always is. I’ve seen her playing serious stuff, too – she’s the best Lady Macbeth I’ve seen on stage.) If you haven’t seen it, go. It’s a good laugh. And stay for the credits. That’s the bit that will have you in hysterics. (Crunch decision has been made and now has to be ratified by a panel. Fingers crossed they see things the way everyone else does.)

Saturday: research day, so my pics are practically all work and it isn't appropriate to put them here. But I will share this one because the colour of the heather is so stunning. This is Dunwich Heath.

Also discovered that I'm still #1 on the Jarrolds local bestseller list (and I have another in the top 5). Hopefully people are enjoying my ruins book.

Sunday: rainy day at home, spent at my desk. Have also been fossicking about in my family tree - checked the net first and it's already been done, by someone who's my (we think) fourth cousin once removed, or something like that. In Australia. Anyway, I'm able to fill in my branch from my grandmother on, but it was amazing to see photographs of my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother. And even more amazing to discover that I come from a very long line of farmers. As in 400 years of them. I did have a summer job working for an agricultural merchant and I'm married to a farmer, so that sort of counts...

Monday: another research day, which ended up at the seaside (ick, ick, I had sand in my hair… though that’s given me a lightbulb moment for the current book, which is about to have a scene at the seaside). Two pics to share here:

firstly, the windfarm at Scroby Sands (taken from Caister beach).

And secondly, some glass from the church at Mautby (where Margaret Paston was buried, though her aisle has long since gone), which is thought to be among the oldest glass in Norfolk.

Plan for today: depends on what the builder says. (I do hope they're as nice as the lovely guy who did our extension.) I also need to do some admin and the final check that the kids have everything for the start of term next week.

Am hoping for blue skies this week, because my pic of Thurne Mill (which is a contender for the front cover of the Breedon book) is against too pale and grey a sky. Dark stormy grey, for contrast - like my pic of Happisburgh lighthouse - would've been fine. But white sails and pale grey... nope, too close in colour. At least I know that it needs to be an afternoon pic to get the light right.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some good news to share

Lovely press release from the RNA today. It's great to see some good news, especially when the writer concerned is a friend. Three cheers for Nicola!


Historical romance author Nicola Cornick was stunned to discover the book cover of her latest American release"Unmasked" splashed in neon lights on a high-rise building in New York's Times Square. The novel was released in July under the HQN imprint of Harlequin books.

Nicola, a prominent member of the Romantic Novelists' Association who also writes historicals for Harlequin Mills and Boon in the UK, was delighted. "It was jolly exciting to see my name up in lights!"

"Unmasked" follows the adventures of the notorious gang of highwaywomen the Glory Girls, who ride over the wild hills and valleys of Yorkshire righting the injustices of society. Sent from London to unmask Glory, Major Nick Falconer finds instead widow Marina Osborne. Drawn irresistibly to her, Nick determines to possess her - body, soul and secrets - at any cost. But Mari's sinister past holds deeper and darker truths than Nick could ever imagine. Will trusting the one man she desperately wants lead her straight to the hangman’s noose?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brazil, damp floors and A Discovery

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Del Amitri
Reading: Next on TBR pile

I don’t speak Portuguese, but my (somewhat rusty) grasp of Spanish/French/Italian means I can work out the gist of things. Anyway. I was just checking which of my books were out in Brazil. (OK, so I was procrastinating a tad.) And then I noticed that there were reader comments and ratings. As in five-star ratings. Wow. The readers say my stories are warm and realistic; one in particular loved the ending of In The Gardener’s Bed (am v pleased as that was one of my own favourite endings – that’s The Pregnancy Ultimatum, for US readers). And they seriously loved Breakfast at Giovanni’s. I especially enjoyed the ‘PS – Gio is mine’ from one of the readers. This is the kind of thing that really warms a writer’s heart. To my readers in Brazil, I would like to say obrigada.

Today, the loss assessor is due to come and take moisture readings. He did say last week that he’s 99% sure the flooring will have to come up. I have a feeling that today is the day that decision will be made. The idea of my lovely kitchen looking and feeling like a building site again, for weeks and weeks and weeks… Aggravating, upsetting, but far from the worst that has been thrown at my family this summer.

Anyway. My Discovery.

I’ve always been a bookaholic. As a child, I read the entire children’s section in our village library (and it was quite a big space). Some of the authors I really loved were Alison Uttley (especially The Country Child), Philippa Pearce (who hasn’t bawled over A Dog So Small?) and Penelope Farmer. I loved Charlotte Sometimes. As Madam is almost at the end of the Jane Blonde series (and I’m looking for books for a 7-y-o with very advanced reading skills, but which are emotionally suitable for her age – oh, and she likes a fast-paced read) I was thinking about introducing her to some of my childhood favourites. So I Googled Penelope Farmer. Which is when I discovered that she has a blog. It’s a great read, and she sounds like a thoroughly lovely woman. The sort I’d like to meet in a cafĂ© for an afternoon and do what writers do – talk a lot, drink a lot of coffee and eat a lot of cake.

(Oh, all right. It’s what this one does, anyway. But I happen to know there are several people who read this blog who have done precisely that with me. Cake. Ice cream. Italian food. I am a woman of simple pleasures... which unfortunately involve lots of calories. Must Try Harder on the weight regime. After the school hols.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

pink stuff

I’m blogging over at the Pink Heart Society today. Come and say hello – because I bet you’ve had the feeling I describe there…

Spent yesterday baking with the kids. (Dear diet buddies – don’t read this paragraph. I was Bad Kate yesterday.) Madam’s godmother bought her this wonderful set of cookery cards for Christmas, and I’ve been promising the kids a baking session for a while. So they curled up on the sofa together, worked their way through the cards and discussed what they wanted to do, then presented me with a pile of the ones they wanted to make. We made a list of the extra ingredients we needed and hit the shops, starting with marzipan and red food colouring. The recipe card was for marzipan toadstools, but Son felt the texture and pronounced it ‘like clay’ – he went straight into animator mode. So they made a token toadstool, then did mice and pigs and cats and a Supermario thingy. And then we made choc chip muffins….

They are both desperate to make raspberry ice cream later in the week (continuing the pink theme…) Sure, we can do it by hand… but I would dearly love a proper ice cream maker. One of those posh Gaggia ones (this is the main reason why DH says I’m not allowed in Lakeland or any other decent kitchen shop without proper supervision and/or handing my credit card over to him first). Have also seen good reviews of the Cuisinart machine, too.

Yeah, yeah. It’s expensive. And DH and I are trying to break our ice cream habit. There was a stage where I was buying four litres of ice cream a week – two litres of vanilla and various pots of Haagen Dasz/Ben & Jerry’s. We have improved. Admittedly if I made my own it’d all be low fat and premium stuff, but… in terms of both calories and cash, I can’t justify this right now. Unless maybe I ask all the family (including DH) to club together for Christmas and my next birthday combined… (The Modern Heat girls are going for an ice cream in London next month. Guess whose suggestion that was? *g*)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: Next on TBR pile

We made it to the cinema yesterday. The Fox and the Child. The cinematography was wonderful - but if I'd known about a certain scene, I would've refused to see it.

My big issue with the film was that a 10-year-old girl would have been allowed to wander all day in the forest on her own - said forest being populated by lynx, wolves and big brown bears, not to mention the treacherous ravine and caves and potholes and... I'm sorry. While I thought the scenery was beautiful (and I particularly liked the filming of the fox cubs and the spider spinning a web), I couldn't get past that. Son was very vocal on the same subject after the film - and thought the same as I did about the awful scene (which upset Madam terribly).

Spoiler alert (i.e. if you want to read this you'll need to highlight it with the mouse):

basically, I believe that a child who grows up with a family dog would recognise the cries of distress uttered by said fox when she shut it in her bedroom. (And, as son said, why was she stupid enough to shut a wild animal into a room anyway?) The fox jumped through the (upstairs) window. She thought it was dead and carried it back to the den - now, WHY didn't she call her parents and/or a vet? Why didn't her parents hear the smashing glass and come to see what was going on? And then the vixen came back to life and didn't even have a fracture, and the lacerations from jumping through the window were healed. Not believable. And because you saw the fox jump through the glass... WAY too upsetting. End of spoiler.

Anyway. Lunch out, after that, and I have promised a baking session today. It's meant to rain all week except Thursday; you can guess which day the loss assessor is coming back...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Top of the bestsellers

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: Next on TBR pile

Am delighted to report that my latest local history book is at #1 in the Jarrolds bestseller chart. (I also have another in the top 5, so am very pleased.)
And there was a second lovely piece about the book in the Norwich Evening News – online, you can see it here (and there’s a fantastic pic of the cathedral).

Apologies for the trumpet-blowing. Not that I’m arrogant and enjoy boasting; I need some good news to cheer me up after the last three awful weeks. Things are starting to resolve, slowly (though some of it is unfixable and it’s a matter of drawing a line and moving on).

Had some more good news on Saturday – emailed my publisher to let him know about the book's position in the chart, and he emailed back to say they've made a decision on the pitch for the follow-up: all systems go!

Went out to do some location research on Saturday with DH and the kids. Despite the threat of bad weather, we went to the beach (where Madam managed to trap her hand in the car door - not broken, luckily, but is bruised - and this is despite the fact that all day I'd been doing the "mind your fingers" nag).

This is at Hunstanton, where the sky was grey but the sea was silver from the sun.

Hunstanton is the only east-coast resort that actually faces west, so the sunsets here are gorgeous. It's also famous for the stripy cliffs (and yes, this is a very blue sky, and this pic was taken about 5 minutes later than the one above). Top layer is chalk, middle (red) layer is clay, and bottom layer is carrstone (aka 'gingerbread stone', named for its colour - about the only stone local to Norfolk).

Obviously the research involved some churches. We went to Burnham Deepdale, where they have this incredible Norman font carved with the labours of the months. And this piece of 15th-century glass also took my eye. Just gorgeous.

I also rather liked this one of St Ursula (though Simon Knott, on his wonderful site about Norfolk churches, says she's the Queen of Heaven, so I need to double-check - he's usually spot on). In this particular window there's also a merchant's mark, clearly one of the donors of the window.

Sunday was a day of chilling out at home. DH's brother popped round, as did my sister on the way back from visiting Dad. This week is a crunch decision week on that particular crisis, so am keeping my fingers crossed we get the one that's right for everyone.

Plan for today: it's pouring, and I think the kids need a bit of cossetting, so we're going to the cinema.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nice reviews and octopi

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: Next on TBR pile

Yesterday was a day of media stuff. Starting with the BBC – my mate and fellow Mod Heat author Heidi Rice was interviewed this week re writing for M&B. See it here. And at 1:40ish you may recognise a book cover… (Actually, that reminds me – did I ever post a link to my own feature on the BBC? If not, it’s here.)

And the lovely Norwich Evening News published a really nice piece yesterday about my latest book on Norfolk - fittingly, my 13th nonfic book is about ghosts... (And I didn't realise that! Thank you, Derek James and Rowan Mantell. Oh, and you can read the online edition of it here.)

And I discovered a stellar review of How To Research Local History from The Bookbag – thank you very much to the reviewer (especially as it helped take the sting from someone else’s comments about a different book, yesterday - I'm probably too thin-skinned right now as real life is a tad testing). I quote:

For any historian, and not just in the field of purely local studies, this volume is probably as near to indispensable as they come… as far as this book is concerned, one would have to trawl many many websites to gather all this information. In its field, I think it would be extremely hard to surpass.

That’s exactly what I intended the book to be – an easy read, full of useful information – so I’m absolutely delighted that the reader reacted this way. The full review is here.

I’ve also been truly blessed with my friends and their kind, supportive emails, not to mention flowers and parcels of books and chocolate. You know who you are - thank you. It's been really appreciated.

As for the octopi… How many legs does an octopus have? If you think it’s eight, check out this news story. Fascinating stuff. Yup, I’m procrastinating. It helps me deal with the disaster zone formerly known as my nice quiet life. Which I would rather like to have back.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

D is for...

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: Kathryn Williams
Reading: Next on TBR pile

Disaster. Which is the zone my life appears to have entered for the last three weeks.

It's also for something else scary. Dentist. Yup... there was I, keeping all fingers and toes crossed that all the disasters had gone. But at 3.30 am on Wednesday morning, I was hunting through the medicine cabinet for painkillers.

8.30, lovely receptionist answered the phone and booked me in for lunchtime. Arrive with kids and timidly ask who's going to see me. To my relief, NOT the dentist who hurt me last year. To my even bigger relief, a female dentist.

She did the usual tapping things. Teeth refused to react. Then: 'Oh, you've got a loose bit in your filling.' Out comes enormous needle. Two children sitting in the corner look horrified. This is a Good Opportunity, to be seized immediately. 'This is what will happen to you if you don't clean your teeth properly without me having to nag you...'

Into the waiting room. 'How loud is a drill?' asks littlest. I explain that she can hear a drill going right now. 'Can we stay here?'

Actually, am glad they did because the decayed bit (just like last year) was nasty. The words 'root canal' and 'extraction' were suggested as possibilities, countered by 'you'll need to sedate me first'.

Right, back to nice things. Remember there are still books to be won. A copy of The Spanish Doctor's Love Child at Love is the Best Medicine - where I'm talking about the lure of the Mediterranean; and at The Writing Playground, a copy of One Night, One Baby is up for grabs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: various piano stuff
Reading: Next on TBR pile

I forgot to mention our trip out on Friday (needed to escape for a bit). Went to Orford Castle, which was built by Henry II as one of his defences to keep the Bigods in check. There's also a fascinating story about a merman.

And there's a very strange opening just outside the constable's chamber.

According to the audio guide, this is a rare urinal. (Sorry. I know it's not exactly a salubrious topic. But I was fascinated. It didn't even occur to me: I'd thought garderobes and possibly chamber pots.)

We also visited Framlingham Castle, which is pretty (but practically empty - inside there's a newer building which was formerly a workhouse and a school). Mary Queen of Scots was pronounced queen from here.

You can walk right round the castle walls, at the top - fabulous view. But it's only when you walk round the outside of the castle as well that you notice something about the walk... (That rickety-looking bridge isn't rickety. The real thing is much less scarier than from this viewpoint.)

The loss assessors came yesterday and were really, really nice and helpful. Am shocked by how bad the damage is, though. Three rooms' worth of flooring to be redone... all from one little leak. Not sure how much damage on the cabinets. I did squeak when it turned out our garage wall is damp - because on the other side of that wall are 2,000 books, some of which are antiquarian (think colour, mid 19th-century, i.e. expensive). But my office floor readings are OK so hopefully all is well.

They're coming back next week to do more readings; in the meantime, we have a dehumidifier and fans in. And weeks of disruption to the kitchen!

So now for nice stuff. You can still go into the draw to win a copy of The Spanish Doctor's Love Child at Love is the Best Medicine - where I'm talking about the lure of the Mediterranean.

And I'm also blogging today at The Writing Playground, where a copy of One Night, One Baby is up for grabs. Come and say hello - I'm talking about heroes!

(Yeah, yeah. We all know who that means...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lovely review -and still in the Waldies

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: various piano stuff
Reading: India Grey, Mistress: Hired for the Buisnessman’s Pleasure (lovely read – and I’m not biased just because I suggested the Chopin *g* - Orlando is wonderfully drawn, as is Rachel)

Had a lovely review from Cataromance for The Spanish Doctor’s Love-Child:

“a wonderfully poignant tale rich in feeling, emotion and romance by a wonderful romantic novelist who never fails to captivate, enthral and move her audience. Featuring a gorgeous hero, a lovely heroine and lots of tender romance, pathos, drama and passion, The Spanish Doctor’s Love Child is a spellbinding tale about moving forward, new beginnings and the redeeming power of love by an extraordinary writer whose books I just cannot get enough of!”

Thank you, Julie Bonello, for making my day.

And a special thank you to those readers who've kept One Night, One Baby on the Waldenbooks' Top Ten list for the third week running.

These sort of things really are helping me get through a personal rough patch. (Did I mention DH ended up being called out to work on Sunday night at stupid o'clock? Bang went my sleep. Couldn't sleep last night, either. Probably because I'm worrying too much.)

Dad wasn’t too bad yesterday, so am keeping fingers crossed that he continues to do well and that particular crisis will resolve. Really pleased that we got some smiles and laughs out of him yesterday.

It's pouring with rain today – but we have to stay in anyway for the insurance loss assessor. Keeping my fingers crossed that that goes without a hiccup. Might take the kids bowling afterwards.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New week, and please let it be better than last

Current work: nonfic; MH duo book 2
Listening to: various piano stuff
Reading: Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin (just finished it – superb and this series is going to be autobuy – loved the characters, and particularly enjoyed the historical note)

Thank you to everyone who’s left a note here or emailed me privately about the catalogue of disasters. Appreciated.

Had a nice weekend – spent Saturday with DH’s best friend (barbecue in the rain) and yesterday with bestest family (another barbecue, plus Madam and I made the infamous choc chip cookies. Kleptodog stuck with me as the Person Most Likely To Feed Dog Surreptitious Bits Of Chicken – well, he must be missing his usual weekday lunch with me, which involves him getting surreptitious bits of chicken). Was nice just to try and forget all the other stuff and chill out a bit. Plus one of my friends sent me a replacement chocolate stash, which was very much appreciated. (Dog grabbed the parcel as it came through the letter-box and brought it over to me, bless him.)

There’s a chance to win a copy of The Spanish Doctor’s Love Child this week over at Love is the Best Medicine, so do drop over and talk to me about the lure of the Mediterranean. (Guess who I’m talking about?) I’m also talking about heroes in a couple of other places later this week – will post the links when they’re up.

Plan for today: errands in the morning, maybe some shots for the book (depends on the weather), then going to visit Dad. And I want to stick to my work schedule, which is sensible and doable and will keep me sane.

Friday, August 08, 2008

last straws

A dear friend sent me some flowers on Thursday to cheer me up, which was much appreciated. (She knows who she is. And I’m sending her a big hug.)

But then disaster struck. Our lovely builder came to redo the door in our utility room… but unfortunately he couldn’t do it because he discovered we had a problem. As in a burst pipe. Which at one point we thought was under the screed, but luckily turned out not to be that (the idea of having all the units taken out, the floor hacked out and then rescreeded – nightmare).

Dealing with the insurance claim was fairly horrible – and I speak as someone who has insurance qualifications. (How do they treat people who are less used to dealing with legalese?) It was all ‘no no no, you’re not covered’. Er, I paid for all the extras. Why am I not covered? ‘It’s an exclusion.’ Doesn’t say that in the policy…

Luckily the assessor’s office was really switched on and explained to the insurance company that I was covered for the leak detection and fixing it as well as for the damage caused by the burst pipe, and made them do what they should’ve done in the first place.

Given the ongoing family crises, I could really have done without the hassle. I ended up bawling my eyes out yesterday because I have had ENOUGH. All I want is my nice, happy, quiet life back. No serious illnesses, no deaths, no plumbing hassles. (That’s as much as I’ll say here.)

The assessor is coming on Tuesday. In the meantime I have a huge hole in my utility room floor. If someone knows how to bottle patience, please send me some. (Madam scoffed my chocolate stash so I couldn't even use that!)

At least we have my best aunt and uncle visiting us on Sunday. I'm planning a barbecue, but it'll be one that can be cooked indoors if need be. The way this week is panning out, it'll pour. (Did I mention that it started on Monday morning when, with my arms full of laundry, I opened the door and stepped straight into a pile of vomit, courtesy of Kleptodog? And it hasn't really improved since...)

Derbyshire, part 5

On the Friday (i.e. a week ago today) it was DH’s and my 16th wedding anniversary. We both had a yen to go to the seaside, but as we were smack in the middle of England (about as far as you can get from the sea), it wasn’t possible. The sky was full of louring cloud

and according to country lore when the cows lie down it’s going to rain. (These were the bulls who, um, lurked around the driveway to the cottage.)

So we went to Derby and had a wander round the museum (the bronze age log boat was fascinating) and the shops. Then back to the cottage for a lazy afternoon and another lovely sunset.

Read Judith Lennox's Before the Storm, which was her usual excellent standard - good story and brilliant twists.

Saturday: home. This will give you some idea of our journey…

Thursday, August 07, 2008

some good news, for once

Reading: Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin (superb storytelling – unsurprisingly, as she’s written one of my all-time top ten novels under another name. Recommended.)

Righty. Real life is still difficult, so here are some nice things that are happening in my life.

Firstly, I have a book out on the shelves in the UK this week (it’s out next month in Aus and US, and in October as a Presents Extra in the US). And I just LOVE the cover.

Secondly… I have a new nonfiction out, which went straight into the Jarrolds' top 5 local books chart on its week of release, and was there again on Saturday (with another of my books).

And thirdly (saving the best until last) - guess what’s #2 on the Waldies list, this week?

Thank you very much to the readers who put me there. And if you want the chance to win a copy of One Night, One Baby, drop by at Book Talk with J&J.

Derbyshire, part 4

Wednesday started with a stunning sunrise. The weather forecast was grim, so we had a lazy day and a trip to the cinema to see Wall-E. (Son needed an animation fix.) Read Lindsey Davies' Saturnalia - enjoyed it, though Falco seems to be becoming much more cynical.

Thursday was a day of dodging showers, starting with another ‘red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’ sunrises.

First we went to Dovedale for a walk.

The water in the river was incredibly clear, and you could even see the ducks' feet as they paddled along. Crossed over the Stepping Stones

(this is the setting for the end of my book The Firefighter's Fiance). Saw some sheep right on the edge of the rocks above (this pic is zoomed in).

DH and the kids instantly dubbed them Rocky and Captain Snort (don't ask). Then to Bakewell for some of the famous pudding; and then to lovely Haddon Hall . which was used as the setting for the BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre (the one with Toby Stephens as Rochester) and also in the film The Other Boleyn Girl.

My favourite room was the long gallery, with its odd windows - the glass is set at different angles to make the most of the light.

I was also impressed with the wall paintings in the chapel, especially the St Christopher, and the Tudor kitchens. The gardens were beautiful - and I particularly liked this blue flower. (Can anyone tell me what it is?)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

a bit of research (and win a book)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve done an interview at Book Talk with J&J, so do drop by and take the chance to win a copy of One Night, One Baby.

Spent yesterday doing some research with the troops. Part of this involved a trip to Morston Quay.

And from there we went out on a boat to Blakeney Point. This was a trip I've wanted to take for absolutely ages. It qualifies as research, because part of my book for Breedon involves flora and fauna: and there was something in particular I wanted to photograph.

Blakeney Point is basically a spit of sand heading out into the North Sea - and it's a rarity because it's one of the few places in the UK where shingle bank, saltmarsh and sand dunes are found together. The old lifeboat station used to be situated at the tip, but the spit has grown another ¾ of a mile since then. The Point has been a nature reserve since 1912 and is under the care of the National Trust; the old lifeboat station is used by the wardens and as an information point.

And what’s on the Point?

One of the largest colonies of seals in the world. In Norfolk, we have both Grey Seals and Common Seals. They spend about 90% of their time out of the water, but sometimes you'll see them going for a swim; they can reach speeds of up to 25mph in the water and can stay submerged for up to 10 minutes. Their whiskers are very sensitive - that's how come they know where to swim for the fish.

But basically they like being in their little family group. The Common Seals have their babies from June-August, and the Greys from Nov-Jan. The babies put on between 1 and 1.5kg per day in the three weeks between birth and weaning.

For the ornithologists among you - this is also a prime spot for tern (Sandwich, Common, Little and Arctic), oyster catchers and ringed plover.

After the boat trip, we switched books and did some more church pics. This is Blakeney. The little tower to the right (I've taken this from the east end) used to be the lighthouse tower. And note the group of 7 lancet windows (albeit with modern glass). There are only two other places in England where there is a group of more than 5 lancet windows - one is in Ockham and the other is Lincoln Cathedral.

And this window is at Briningham. A nice piece of Decorated tracery... though obviously the glass is much newer. And very purple, so I couldn't resist the shot.

Derbyshire, part 3

On Tuesday, we started at the Blue John mines, near Castleton. This is the view outside.

Inside, there were 244 steps each way – and they were very slippery (son and I slipped a couple of times). Very pretty, though.

Some of the flowstone is known as Old Man's Snot...

Despite the description, the kids insisted on touching it… and it felt smooth, like an ice sculpture.

I was in charge of mapreading, so we went the pretty way to Castleton, through the pass.

Then to Peveril Castle. Very steep on the way up (made us realise how unfit we are), but what a view.

Then we visited Hathersage and the church of St Michael and All Angels. Little John's grave is here. The gravestone says: ‘Here lies buried Little John, the friend and lieutenant of Robin Hood. He died in a cottage (now destroyed) to the east of the churchyard. The grave is marked by this old headstone and footstone and is underneath this old yew tree.'
Many of the Eyre family were buried here; the curate was a man called Henry Nussey, whose sister Ellen was best friend to a certain Charlotte Bronte.

Then to Eyam, the plague village. It's a desperately sad story; tailor George Viccars ordered some cloth from London in 1665, when the plague was rampant in London. The cloth seemed damp, so he dried it in front of the fire, not realising that the virus was dormant in the cloth. He died in this cottage a few days later of a strange virus; then other people in the house started dying, and eventually the villagers realised it was the plague. Squire Mompesson, with the consent of the village, sealed off the village; food and medicine and rents etc could be left at the well or the boundary stonebut nobody was allowed in or out. Most people in Eyam died, but their bravery meant that the plague didn't spread to the surrounding villages. One particularly sad story is a girl who met her sweetheart from the next village in secret until her family started dying, when she begged him to stay away. When the village opened its borders again, he discovered that she'd died of the plague; he lived to a very old age but never married because he couldn't forget his sweetheart.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Derbyshire, part 2

Sunday, went to Sudbury Hall, a National Trust property which was used as the location for the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

They also have the Museum of Childhood, which was excellent - 'Mr John' herded us all into the Victorian classroom and told us about what it was like - backstretchers for those who fell asleep (board placed behind your back; your arms hooked back over two thin projections), the cane for boys, a metal rulefor back of girl's hand (thin end used - rendered hand useless for rest of life) and fidgetfingers (board with fingerholes, one for each hand and then tied together behind your back). Unbelievably harsh. We then had a go at writing a copperplate alphabet on a slate. All the adults were lambasted for being hopeless!

Sudbury Hall itself was pretty, and small enough that you could imagine living there. I particularly liked the overflow library, with its narrow wrought iron spiral staircase.

From there, we went to Tutbury Castle, which is Norman in origin. (This is the Great Tower.)

The castle belonged to John of Gaunt in the 14th century; he introduced the Minstrels' Fair which carried on to the 17th century. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here several times. The castle was slighted after the Civil War and fell into ruin.

The view from the great tower is pretty spectacular (this is the rest of the castle grounds)

and we were delighted to see a reenactment group there - we watched a medieval sword fight and son had a go at archery. I was especially pleased to talk to one lady about 15th century costume. (OK, so I sneaked in a tiny bit of work while on holiday, but I happen to be interested in the subject and this was too good an opportunity to pass up.)

Then dinner out in Burton. We came home to another gorgeous sunset; the sun was actually blood red, but sadly the camera shows it as white.

On Monday, we went to the Heights of Abraham, in Matlock. The cable car ride is 1/3 of a mile and climbs over four towers to 169m. (This is a pic of the cable cars from the top.)

We went into the Masson show cave, with a light show ranging from a single miners' candle to a multi-coloured show. Then we had lunch and saw a very funny Punch and Judy show.

Then we went into the Great Rutland Cavern Nestus mine - a 17th century lead mine, though it's thought that the Romans worked the mine.

The cable car ride down was scarier - it's on a continuous loop and stops halfway so people at the ends can get on and off. And the wind was stronger on the way back...