Monday, November 2, 2015

Misty Morning

Yesterday was one of those gorgeous, golden autumn days of warm weather and blue skies and leaves drifting lazily down. Today was the complete opposite: a melancholy mist obscuring just about everything, and the only sound on my walk the raucous cry of a rook or the mournful bleat of a sheep. Yet there is something beautiful about a day like today, and it suited my mood…

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Silence is Broken

Forgive me, readers, for the long silence on this blog. Life is starting to settle down just a little bit, after much turmoil, tumult, and tiredness! We moved from St Bees, Cumbria, on July 29, and then promptly went to Canada for three weeks to visit my family. Then back to our new house, new village, new life, all of us blinking in stunned surprise at where we'd landed. A few weeks on the boxes are mostly unpacked save for those pesky few that we'll probably cart, unpacked, to our next house. They're filled with a variety of odds and ends--spare batteries, paint brushes, an old scarf--that there seems to be no place or use for but I am reluctant to throw them out.

It's been hard to move this time, and we are, alas, Champion Movers. But we didn't want to move here; we didn't want to leave Cumbria. And so 'settling in' has taken on a whole new meaning.

The village we landed in is lovely, though, like something out of a Miss Marple adaptation. Roses round every cottage door, lovely footpaths through rolling fields, and we are living right next to the church (again!) so every Wednesday night we hear the peal of bells as the bell ringers practice their craft.

People, for the most part, have been friendly, although it can be tiring to have the same conversations over and over again. And while acquaintances are made in a day, friends take a little longer.  But we persevere. Every so often I pause, breathless with surprise that we are actually here. That we actually left Cumbria. And then I try to move on.

So prepare yourself for a new village life! I'm not the vicar's wife but merely an ordinary resident (as if I wasn't before!!) and I am still writing, still trying to mother five children and keep my head above water. Stay tuned for my further adventures in the Cotswolds…

Monday, August 31, 2015

News and a Guest Post from Author Cathy Lamb!

I apologise for the silence on this blog; we moved house in August, as many of you know, and it has been quite overwhelming. I will be posting photos of our new village life in the Cotswolds, but first I want to turn this post over to Cathy Lamb, who is a wonderful author and new friend--she read my book Rainy Day Sisters and provided a lovely excerpt. I've loved Cathy's books, but I never got to know her (in a cyber way, for now!) until recently. So please do welcome Cathy to my humble blog :)

I'm posting a bit about her, links to her social media, and a wonderful excerpt of her latest novel, My Very Best Friend, which is set in Scotland, not too far from where I used to live.

About Cathy: I live in Oregon. I'm married,with  three kids, and a cat that meows at me and I meow back.  I also have one parakeet that never stops talking. I write as much as I can on my back patio so I can look at my flowers.  I’m a terrible cook and also terrible at skiing. I have a wild imagination and spend hours daydreaming.  This is my ninth novel.

An intriguing snapshot of My Very Best Friend

An old stone cottage in Scotland
An overgrown garden. A man in a kilt.
Lingerie bike riding at midnight. Tea and Crumpets
Two best friends.
One is missing.

An Excerpt: 

My name is Charlotte Mackintosh. I am thirty-five. I love science. I have degrees in physics and biology. One would think I would work in a lab or teach at a university. I don’t. I write time travel romance novels. My ninth book was released four months ago.
My pen name is Georgia Chandler. My mother was from Georgia, a southern belle, and Chandler was her maiden name.
For me to be a romance writer is a perplexing joke. What romance? I don’t have any in my life, haven’t for years, since The Unfortunate Marriage. I have named my vibrator Dan The Vibrator. That should tell you about the sexual action I get. Which is, so we’re all clear, none.
My late father, Quinn, was Scottish, hence my last name, and his mother had the Scottish Second Sight. She saw the future, all mottled up, but she saw it. Sometimes she didn’t understand it herself. I remember her predictions, one in particular when I was seven and we were making an apple butterscotch pie with a dash of cinnamon.
“You will travel through many time periods, Charlotte,” my grandma said, rolling out the pie dough with a heavy rolling pin, her gray curls escaping her bun like springs. “All over the world.”
“What do you mean?” I rolled out my dough, too. We were bringing the pies to the Scottish games up in the highlands the next day, where my father was competing in the athletic contests and playing his bagpipes.
“I don’t know, luv. Damn this seeing into the future business. Cockamamie. It will drive me to an early grave.”
“I want to travel to other planets and inspect them for aliens.”
She placed her pie crust into the buttered glass baking dish. “You will live different lives, child. You will love deeply. And yet…” She paused, her brow furrowed. “It’s not you.”
“I don’t think so, Grandma. I love science. Specifically our cells. Mutations. Sick cells, healthy cells. Toran and I pricked our fingers yesterday so we could study our blood under my microscope.”
She eyed me through her glasses. “You are an odd child.”
“Yes,” I told her, gravely, “I am.”
My grandma was right about time travel. She simply dove into the fictional realm of my life without realizing it. McKenzie Rae Dean, my heroine, travels through time, lives different lives, and loves deeply. But McKenzie Rae is not me. See how my grandma got things jumbled up and yet dead right, too?
Many of her other second sight predictions have come true, too. A few haven’t yet. I’m a little worried about the few that haven’t. Several in particular, as they’re decidedly alarming.
I live on a quiet island, called Whale Island, off the coast of Washington. I have a long white house on five acres. I rarely ever have to leave my view of the ocean and various whales, my books, garden, and cats. I have had enough of the world and of people. Some people call me a recluse. I call them annoying.
My publisher wants me to travel to promote my books. I went on book tours with the first book, hated it, and have refused to go again. They whine. I ignore them. What do they know? I stay home.
I walk my four cats in a specially designed pink cat stroller twice every day. They each have their own compartment with their name on a label in front.
I read gardening books for entertainment, but they are only second to my love of all things physics and biology. I have a pile of exciting books and articles in my house on both subjects, including astrophysics, string theory, the human genome project, and cellular and molecular biology. Seeing them waiting for me, like friends filled with enthralling knowledge, flutters my heart.
I might drink a tad too much alcohol. Wine is my vice. I drink only the finest wine, but that is a poor excuse for the nights the wine makes me skinny-dip in a calm bay by my house and belt out the Scottish drinking songs my father taught me while cart wheeling
I am going to Scotland because I must. My mother asked me to go and check on my father’s house, fix it up, and sell it. “I can finally close the door to the past,” she told me. “Without cracking down the middle, but I need you to go and do this, because if I go, I’ll crack.”
I told her, “That doesn’t make sense, Ms. Feminist.”
She waved a hand, “I know. Go anyhow. My burning bra and I can’t do it.”
I have not been back to Scotland in twenty years, partly because I am petrified of flying and partly because it’s too painful, which is why my mother, usually a ball breaker, refuses to go.
I’m nervous to leave my cats, Teddy J, Daffodil, Dr. Jekyll, and Princess Marie. Teddy J, in particular, suffers from anxiety, and Dr. Jekyll has a mood disorder, I’m sure of it. Princess Marie is snippy.
But it must be done.
My best friend, Bridget Ramsay, is still living there. Or, she was living there. We write letters all the time to each other; we have for twenty years.
Until last year, that is. I haven’t heard from her in months.
I don’t know what’s going on.
I have an idea, but I don’t like the idea.
It scares me to death.
Truth often does that to us.

And her social media links, and list of her wonderful books:


My Very Best Friend
What I Remember Most
If You Could See What I See
A Different Kind Of Normal
The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life
Such A Pretty Face
Henry’s Sisters
The Last Time I Was Me
Julia’s Chocolates


Tall Poppy Writers:

I hope you enjoy Cathy's books, as I do! And I'll be back shortly to update you on my very different village life!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beautiful Places

Today started with storms and rain and wind but by midday it had cleared to balmy gorgeousness, and so I decided to take a walk with the dog. Recently my daughter's boyfriend told us about a circular beach walk that we hadn't known about it in 4 years of living here. It's called:

 It starts by walking up the aptly named Rottington Road, which involves a very steep hill:

The views, however, were well worth it. When you finally emerge from between the high hedgerows, the world spreads out before you like a living map: sea on one side and rolling pasture on the other, the sky high and blue above.

Have you ever seen something so beautiful you feel frustrated because you don't know if you can appreciate it enough? You look and look but it's as if you can't take it in; your heart hurts. I felt that way today and I recalled one of the first time I felt that way, when I was twelve and my parents took me on a trip to the Cotswolds. The memory was poignant as we are sad to leave Cumbria, but in moving to the Cotswolds we are going to another beautiful, heart-hurting place--I mean that in a good way, of course.

From the Rottington Road I turned onto the footpath that led to the sea, down grassy slopes dotted with sheep, a scene that was perfectly pastoral.

With lovely summer flowers along the way:

And helpful gates across the stiles:

And finally the sea emerged in the distance, like a promise:

And I finished with a lovely walk across the beach at low tide!

I will miss this place so much when we leave, but I was encouraged that beautiful places can be found just about anywhere, if you have the heart to look for them. I'll leave you with a last photo of the beck I passed. Can you see the mother duck with her ducklings? Rebirth is always happening.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hope Amidst Uncertainty

It has been a hard few months for our family, our church, our school, and our whole village as things end, people move away, and life moves into a new and uncertain phase. We will be leaving our Cumbrian village in a month's time, and I will start blogging about a different sort of village life, down in the sunnier Cotswolds.

But for now, amidst all the uncertainty, stress, chaos, and pain, I cling to hope that things can get better, that God has a plan, that children will adjust, and life will even out.

This is a photo taken the other day when we are having dinner with some parishioners. It is the most complete rainbow I've ever seen; you almost want to start looking for the pot of gold! It cheered me up, and I hope it does you as well, if you need cheering!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Walk

We had a week of glorious weather but it's gone cold and grey now, as it does. Still I thought I'd share some snaps from a walk on one of the sunny days:

I love bluebells. The trouble is I always try to pick them and they only last a day, if that, once picked.

The green of the grass here never fails to stun me. It's so vibrant, verdant, overwhelming, and lush. It almost makes all the rain worth it. Almost.

The hazy sunlight makes this photograph hard to make out, but if you can imagine a warm(ish) afternoon, and the sunlight giving everything a softened, almost sepia kind of glow, like one of Instagram's special effects, but for real.

If trees could talk, I would love to know this one's story. It looks like its trunk is having middle aged spread. It must be hundreds of years old.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Reflections on the Pub

The other night I went to our local with a friend and as usual came across several people I know inside, making it a bit of a cheerful gauntlet to run as you chat to everyone before you get to sit down with your drink. The pub in our village is somewhat of a community centre; people gather for meals, for drinks, even for school meetings. The Village School Association has long held its meetings for parents and teachers in the pub, most people with a pint in hand. Very civilised, I say.

I don't go to the pub very often; at most every three months or so. The last time I went I was waiting outside for my friend when a dear lady walked by with her dogs and, eyes twinkling, said "The vicar's wife standing outside the pub! That's one for the books!"

Another time I managed to go to the pub without seeing anyone I knew inside; my friend and I had a nice chat and the next morning, on the school run, a different friend came toward me, finger wagging. "You were seen in the pub last night!" I stared at her, flummoxed. "Who saw me?" I demanded. It turned out I'd missed the person who knew me sitting in the corner. News travels amazingly fast in a village like ours. I've barely thought something myself before someone else seems to know.

In my novel Rainy Day Sisters, set in the fictional village of Hartley-by-the-Sea, I've named the pub The Hangman's Noose and it is modelled on the pub in our village, but with a more atmospheric name! I did an Internet search of some of the most interesting pubs in England and here is a selection:

The Signal Box in Cleethorpes, which is in an actual signal box, and at 8' by 8' is the smallest pub in England:

Then there's The Crooked House in Dudley, which is indeed quite crooked:

Some other pubs with interesting names are: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, The Blind Beggar, Dirty Dick's, Bag O'Nails, The Bird and Baby (also known as The Eagle and Child, in Oxford), The Dirty Habit and, here's an oxymoron, The Jolly Taxpayer.

In the village where we're moving to, our local will be called The Shaven Crown, which is a reference to a monk's tonsure from days of old. It looks quite spacious and comfy (we've been there for lunch) with vaulted ceilings and open fires. But I'll miss the cozy, crazy warmth of our current local, and the fact that when I go in everyone (almost) knows my name.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Books! And More Books!

Last Saturday my lovely friend Marian invited me to sign copies of my latest release, The Lost Garden, at her bookshop in Whitehaven. My husband came and helpfully took this photo:

It was a fun afternoon as I always like chatting about books and writing, and there was homemade gingerbread and chocolate cake to boot!

The Lost Garden takes place in the fictional village of Goswell, which bears a not-so-startling resemblance to St Bees. I do find a lot of inspiration here!

In other news, May soldiers on, grim and grey, but I am trying to find the silver lining in that if the weather was gorgeous it would be even harder to leave in two months' time!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Another village life

As I mentioned in my last post, it has been a very tumultuous month, with many ups and downs, and much (too much!) emotion. But at least one thing is settled; my husband has found a job and we will be exchanging a Cumbrian life for a Cotswoldian (is that even a word?) one.

It feels very odd and unsettling to contemplate moving. We came here four years ago intending to stay for decades, hopefully until my husband's retirement. It felt wonderful, like sinking into a hot bubble bath, to know you didn't have to move. To consider the next few years and be able to build into people, places, institutions and ideas, knowing you would be there to see things through.

In what felt like a moment all that comfort and security was gone, which I suppose shows me how fleeting and temporal this life really is. That notion has been brought home to me by my father's illness as well. How is it that one moment you can feel as if life stretches before you in an endless golden line of days, and in the next it feels as if it has been all snatched and scattered?

Well, back to the good news, or goodish news. We are moving to the Cotswolds, near Oxford. I'm not exactly sure what village we'll be living in, as we are still looking for a house to rent. But I suspect it will look something like this:

And yet I shall miss our village's steeply winding street, the glorious view of the fells and sea, even the bitter wind! I shall miss everything here, because I came here expecting to stay and now have discovered I can't.

But life is funny that way. Our ways are not God's ways, and I trust that He knows what He is doing in this as in all things. But it still feels hard and disappointing now, even though I am grateful that we have somewhere to go. And so my Cumbrian life will become my Cotswold life. I don't think I shall change the name of my blog, but watch this space for the further adventures of a village life!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The comfort of a village life

It's been a long time since I've written, and that's because a lot has happened. A lot of not-so-good things. In mid-March the school where my husband works and children attend announced quite suddenly that it is closing in July due to dwindling pupil numbers. This came as a big shock to everyone, because from the outside the school looked like it was doing well. It certainly came as a shock to us!

What has happened over the following few weeks demonstrates the power of a village community. Over 700 people came to a meeting immediately following the announcement to find ways to keep the school was open. A 'Rescue Team' was formed and has been campaigning tirelessly to keep it open, and many, many people have volunteered to help. You can learn more about it here.

However, two days ago the Governors of the school announced they would not rescind the closure notice, and so the school is, in fact, closing. What this means for us is that we will lose our lovely village life, and move elsewhere--watch this space!

The other very hard thing that happened was last week my dear father was diagnosed with leukaemia, with a prognosis varying from a few months to a year or possibly more. This also came out of the blue, and was (and is) very hard to bear. My father is the most wonderful person, so funny and wise and loving. My children adore him. I flew out to be with him and my mother last week:

While I was away my village community rallied around to help my family, taking care of children, making meals, and writing us cards of care and support. I am so thankful for everyone here. They have proved stalwart friends in both good times and bad.

Meanwhile spring has burst upon us at last, and the sunshine and warm(ish) weather is a balm to my wounded soul. Plus I have lots of new books out, which is always exciting. My romance set in a small town in Vermont is out now:

You can buy it on any ebook platform. I also received ARCs of my novel for Penguin/NAL, Rainy Day Sisters, which I am very excited about. Coming to a bookshop near you in August!

Meanwhile I am enjoying the sunshine and treasuring the days, because I am realising how precious and fleeting time is.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beach Walk

The other day it was cold and brisk but also sunny, and I took advantage of the rare bout of rays to take a few photos on my usual walk with the dog to the beach and back:

The tide was out which leaves a lovely stretch of flat, damp sand, scattered with tide pools and rocks. The dog loves wading into the pool, even in subzero temperatures! I do not.

I'm not actually much of a beach person, although my limited childhood experience of the beach was the Jersey Shore, which might explain why I never took to it. An empty beach in winter, though, is something else entirely.

The dog surveys her domain and I enjoy a moment of solitude in an all too busy day, before heading home as the light starts to fade.

That is my house in the distance, by the church, looking, to my mind, very Wuthering Heights-ish alone in its little moor!

And so ends another walk. I'm looking forward to spring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Harbingers of Spring

Today the air was cold and sharp with the promise of snow, at least another dusting, but in our garden I found this lovely promise of spring--even if it doesn't arrive here for awhile yet!

I've never seen snowdrops in the US, and I do enjoy this little reminder that spring will come eventually, even if it is cold and only early February. I'm looking forward to getting out in the garden and working on my vegetable plot. I am a mediocre gardener at best; I don't have a good instinct for plants and growing things and my weeding and pruning are rather slipshod but I do enjoy it. And last year we ate green beans, lettuce, onions, potatoes and a few knobbly carrots from my efforts outside, and I was very pleased.

And meanwhile I'll enjoy these:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snow... or not

Last week it snowed here in the village. Not a lot of snow, mind you. Living as we do on the coast, we rarely get more than a generous dusting. People are still talking about the winter of 2010-2011, before we moved here, when it snowed an entire FOUR INCHES. Roads were closed, and food had to be shipped into the village by sea from Whitehaven. I kid you not.

As a former New Englander, I scoff a bit at this, I admit. When we lived in Connecticut we had several major snowstorms each winter, and by major I mean anywhere from 18 inches to 2 and a half feet of snow. But New England is prepared for that kind of snow. Within hours of the snow stopping, the ploughs are out and the streets are mainly clear.

My husband and I were reminiscing about the snowstorms in New England. There is something very serene and beautiful about a world blanketed in snow. I think the thing I miss most of all is the sense of peaceful silence. Everything is muted by snow; no one is out. The world is covered in softness. Of course, in a few days or weeks, that softness is grimy, grey, and making life generally difficult with puddles of icy slush--when we lived in New York City, there were absolutely treacherous puddles on the curbs of certain intersections, and the worst part was, they didn't look that deep. So you'd step into one only to find yourself sinking into icy, dirty water halfway up to your knee. Yuck.

So I don't miss that.

But snow can be magical, and when it snowed here last week (maybe a quarter of an inch, gone within an hour) my six-year-old daughter was absolutely entranced. She doesn't remember the snows in New York, and she gazed around in rapture at the snow still coming down and said, 'This is the best day EVER. There is so much to SEE!'

I'd like a little of her youthful wonder and exuberance, myself.

It was supposed to snow last night but there is nary a flake on the ground this morning. However, the distant fells look like this:

So really, I can't complain.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fire at the Vicarage

Please forgive my absence from this blog; Christmas and all its attending brouhaha (a word I love to use) overwhelmed me. And then of course there was the fire.

On December 27th my husband put on a fire in the guest room to air the room out in preparation for our au pair coming back. Unfortunately, while he was out of the room, a spark leapt out (we think) and possibly lit the kindling stacked near the fireplace, or some other highly flammable substance, because a few minutes later the smoke alarm (thankfully!) went off and when he went upstairs the whole room was ablaze.

I am very grateful for my husband's clear, cool thinking, because I have to admit I am a panicker. Worse, I am a wring-my-hands-and-do-nothing kind of panicker. I've managed to improve slightly since having children--when my son, who was two at the time, choked on a plum pit, I possessed enough sangfroid to first give him the Heimlich and then when that didn't work, to fish the pit out with my finger while he sank his teeth deep into my knuckle. But back to the fire.

My husband told our two oldest daughters, who were oblivious to the fire in the room adjacent to them, to go downstairs and he put the contents of not one but two fire extinguishers on the blaze while we waited outside, shivering. At that point I thought maybe the mat in front of the fireplace would be a bit damaged, the room a bit smoky.


The fire reignited and my husband called the fire brigade--all volunteers, who were superb. They put out the fire and pried up the floorboards, using cameras to make sure there was no fire underneath. They also threw all the smoke and fire damaged furniture out the window.

So the room was a little more damaged than I thought. In fact, it was a burned out shell, and my daughter's room next door was covered in soot and grime.

But the good news is we have insurance. And the reason this relates to my village life? Within five minutes of the whole thing happening, people were calling, leaving messages on Facebook, offering to have us sleep at their house or borrow anything we needed. We hadn't even told anyone, but people could see the fire brigade (not to mention the smoke) at our house and so they called. They came to help fill a skip (or Dumpster, in American) with all the rubbish (trash). They offered to help clean and paint, and the girls slept in the living room for a week on a pile of a friend's duvets. I know things like this would happen even if I didn't live in a village. Friends would call round, offering help once they'd heard. I suppose the difference is how quickly the help came. How many people reached out, because they could actually *see* the smoke billowing up in the middle of the village! And despite the fire's damage, I'm grateful for how it made me count my blessings. The children had been bickering all week but the fire sobered them up a bit, drew us all together. Made us see how many friends we had, people who were willing and eager to help us. And of course we are very thankful that it wasn't any worse--if the smoke alarm hadn't gone off, if the fire had moved into the hallway and blocked the stairs... the whole house could have burned down. Children could have been hurt or worse. So yes, I am thankful.