Friday, September 30, 2016

Dog Walk

One of the lovely things about having a dog is when I'm stuck at a point in my story I can always go for a walk. The other day I needed to mull over some plot points of my latest book, all while enjoying the lovely scenery of Vauxhall Field:

Here is a shot of the Monnow River, which runs near our house:

And here is a view of the fields with the Monmouth town centre in the distance. You can see the spire of the priory church:

Walking in such lovely surroundings is always restorative, but unfortunately I am still stuck on my story! Maybe I need to take another walk...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday Bake: Raspberry Yogurt Muffins

Today's recipe is a breakfast staple in our household. A few years ago I started cooking family breakfasts on school mornings, as the alternative was everyone eating at different times and me not even being aware of when children were leaving the house. Now we all sit down at 7:45 to a (somewhat) cooked breakfast, such as this one:

We have a chance to chat, go over our days, and hopefully pray. This has been a great step forward in family life, however it has required me to amass a few more breakfast recipes! And so I discovered this one, which we have about once a week.


120g flour
100g cornmeal/polenta
100g caster sugar (I use golden caster)
2 tsp baking powder
225g vanilla yogurt
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup frozen raspberries

The Method:

Mix the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl or jug mix the wet ingredients, and add to the dry. Stir until moistened/mixed and then add berries. Put into a greased muffin tin (or use paper muffin cups) and bake at 180 for 12-15 minutes. Enjoy!

Really, this recipe is so easy--it takes me about 5-10 minutes to whip up, and I can pop them in the oven and have a quick shower while they're baking! I wasn't sure about the cornmeal and yogurt when I first made them, but actually those ingredients help to make the muffins moist and delicious!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Book: The Vicar's Wife

Monday is Book Day on my blog, where I highlight a new or old release. Today, in honour of the new cover of my third Tales from Goswell series, The Second Bride, I thought I'd write about my first Tales of Goswell novel, The Vicar's Wife.

The Vicar's Wife in some ways feels like the first 'big book' I wrote. It isn't really; Far Horizons, Another Country, and Down Jasper Lane all were released in hardcover before I wrote it, and This Fragile Life came out at the same time. However, The Vicar's Wife was the first trade paperback I held in my hands, involved the first literary event in a bookshop I ever did, and was kind of a big deal as it came out when I was living in Cumbria, in the village Goswell is based on. The overwhelming support of my church and community still brings a smile to my face--there was a signup list in the church for copies. The local bookshop sold 200 copies in the first week.

The idea behind the book is of a woman who moves from New York City to rural Cumbria--exactly the move I made. In the book, however, the heroine Jane Hatton dislikes Cumbria; I loved it. She finds a shopping list from the 1930s stuck behind a pantry shelf--I only wish I did! And she discovers more about the vicar's wife of the title, Alice James, who lived in the 1930s and is entirely a product of my imagination.

Three years on from the release of The Vicar's Wife, I am working on the copy edits of the third book, and planning the fourth. I love this series even more now that I've sadly moved on from Cumbria. It always brings me back to the place I love, and the people who gave me such an amazing and unstinting welcome.

You can learn more about The Vicar's Wife and The Tales from Goswell series here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Bigger Village

After spending 4 years in a small, remote village, it has been interesting and actually rather pleasant to explore the benefits of a market town. Monmouth, the town where I live now, has a population of about 9,000 people as opposed to the Cumbrian village of St Bees where I used to live, which has a population of two thousand. It's amazing how much difference 7,000 people make! St Bees has four pubs, a restaurant, a village post office shop, a small library, and a café. Monmouth has a high street with dozens of shops, including several high street chains, coffee shops, and independent boutiques. It has a cinema, a theatre, several doctors' surgeries, a museum, a large library, a weekly market, a town hall...

Church Street in Monmouth

Well, I could go on and on but I won't. You get the picture! The funny thing is, Monmouth sometimes feels as much of a village as St Bees did. I generally see at least one person I know when I go into town, which is especially amazing considering how few people I know so far. I can walk into the countryside in less than ten minutes, which is especially handy when you have a dog.

Vauxhall Fields with a view of Monmouth

Of course there are some downsides. At night the town centre can feel... not dangerous, precisely, but less than savoury on occasion. There is traffic and traffic noise. And while I see people I know, there are a lot of people I don't know. You generally don't greet people you don't know on the street, something that was commonplace in St Bees (My husband seems yet to realize this). All in all, though, the size of a market town feels nice to me. Busy but not too busy. Neither too small nor too big. We'll see how I continue to adjust...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Bake: Banana Muffins with Orange Icing

In honour of The Great British Bakeoff, which is a firm favourite TV show in our house, I thought I'd make Wednesday Baking Day on my blog. I love baking, but I have to admit I'm nowhere near Bakeoff standards! Most of my bakes tend to be fairly delicious but rather messy looking. Royal icing and piecrust both defeat me. However I do manage to bake several times a week, usually for my children (and me!) or the boarding houses of the school where my husband works. Today's bake is Banana Muffins with Orange Icing, a great way to use up those browning bananas children refuse to touch! I made these yesterday and my children were a bit dubious--banana is not chocolate, after all. But they tried them and suffice it to say, they're all gone today.


1/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup caster sugar (I use golden)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (I use a few drops more because I love vanilla)
1 cup mashed ripe bananas ( about 3 good-sized ones)
1 tsp grated orange rind (I usually miss this out--too much faff)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup buttermilk (I mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice and top up to 1/2 cup with milk, leave for 5 mins)

For the orange icing:

1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt (I leave this out if I don't have it in the fridge)
1-2 tsps orange juice


Cream butter and sugar and then add eggs, vanilla, bananas, and orange rind if using. Mix flour, baking powder and soda and beat into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk.

Spray muffin pan with nonstick sunflower oil spray or otherwise grease or use paper muffin cups. Bake in 180 oven for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and then pour icing over the tops of muffins. Makes about 15 nice-sized muffins.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Doing Good

Last night at church our sermon was on the verse from Titus, "be ready to do whatever is good". The minister talked about volunteering even when you don't feel like it, looking out for opportunities to encourage, etc, but I must admit I felt a little bit flummoxed. My own life, especially in a new place where I don't know many people at all, feels as if it is very few opportunities to do good, at least outside my family. My average weekday has me ferrying children to and fro, making meals, doing laundry, and writing. My only interactions are the chitchat on the school run (and even that is limited--today it was raining, and I drove) and the occasional conversation in a shop or the library that rarely rises above the banal. Admittedly I am hoping this will change when I meet a few more people, whenever that happens. But how to do good in my wider community? How to make a difference?

That got me thinking about writing, and whether the stories I tell are 'doing good'. I like to think so, although part of me doubts whether one of my frothy romances really does much good in this world! But I have received emails and letters from readers who have been touched by my stories and in some cases encouraged to think deeply about certain issues, and for that I am grateful.

I suppose every one of us has to consider what good we are doing in the world. Our tendency is to default to ourselves--look at any two year old hoarding her toys--but we also desire to do good, to make a positive difference, in part, I think, because it makes us feel good. My children started to experience this when they began picking out presents for their siblings at Christmas. They were all far more excited to give than to receive. My husband and I continue to try to show them ways to serve rather than be served, but in all honesty it is increasingly hard in this self-sufficient world where people hoard their privacy and hide behind electronic devices. Still, we need to try.

So here I am on a rainy Monday morning, sitting at my kitchen table wondering how to make a difference in this world. I guess it's time to start writing!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Inspiration all around

Our moving truck in New York City

For those of you who follow my admittedly sporadic blog, you have probably noticed that my family moves a lot. We always hope we'll settle where we land, but so far that hasn't happened. Since I got married I've moved from Cambridge to Yorkshire to Connecticut to New York City to Cumbria to the Cotswolds to Wales. Whew!

Starting over isn't easy, even when you're used to it. My children have all been in school a week and that feels like a relief. They are starting to know their way around and have made a few friends. The worst, I hope, is over.

One nice thing about living in lots of places is the inspiration I've found in each one. Most of my books are set in places I've lived, whether it's my women's fiction such as This Fragile Life (set in New York), my Tales From Goswell series (set in Cumbria) or one of my Christmas novellas such as A Yorkshire Christmas (set--well I'm sure you can guess).

Next month I have a new series coming out set in the English Cotswolds. I only lived there for a year but I was inspired to write about the beautiful village and countryside where I lived, as well as the interesting mix of people--London transplants and old farming families, and how they all managed to get along. A Cotswold Christmas is the first book in what is The Willoughby Close series, set in the entirely-fictional-but-a-little-bit-based-on-reality village, Wychwood-on-Lea. You can preorder it here.

In the meantime, I am trying to get to know my new surroundings, a small, friendly market town in Wales, built between two rivers, with beautiful, hilly countryside all around. Will I become inspired? Watch this space...