Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cornish Holiday September 2010

Just back from a holiday in Cornwall and thought I'd better blog about it before it becomes ancient history, like the Carn Euny fogou near St Just!

On the way down, we stopped for lunch near the Cobb at Lyme Regis in Dorset, and I managed to get this photo of the Georgian cottages on the promenade just before the rain came down.

Fortunately the weather had improved by the time we visited Lamorran Garden the following day. It's located above St Mawes, and is the most lovely I've visited in Cornwall. It's all terraces and winding paths, and grottos with ponds and statuary. The photo I've chosen to post is of a waterfall. Aren't those reflections just fantastic?

Last year in Cornwall I drove the rugged coast from St Ives to St Just without seeing a blasted thing because the mist was so heavy. This time the weather was more than kind - it was glorious. This is the coastline looking north from Pendeen Lighthouse towards Zennor.

The St Just area was tin mining country and it is dotted with derelict buildings and old chimneys. Copper and tin have been mined here for thousands of years, since long before the Romans came. The focus at the Levant Mine were the rugged coastal inlets called zawns, where ore could be seen in the rock at the surface. The mining evventually followed the seams miles under the sea. One of the zawns is shown below.

This is an ancient landscape with neolithic and Iron Age sites. Two stone villages have survived - Chysauster and Carn Euny. At its heart, the latter has a partly buried circular stone chamber and passageway called a fogou. The passageway is pictured below.

I was staying in Porthleven so perhaps I should finish with a couple of photos from there. Here's one of fishing boats in the inner harbour.

And I can't miss out this sunset. It was taken from the Atlantic Inn. The view is over Porthleven Harbour towards Penzance and Newlyn.

If you look more closely you'll see people walking out along the breakwater.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Five Star Reviews for Pure Silk

I'm rather pleased. I've had two glowing reviews for 'Pure Silk', my first published work of fiction. I gleaned 5 Hearts from the Romance Studio, and 5 Cherries from Whipped Cream.

I feel I should celebrate so I'm going put the kettle on and have a cup of tea, and while I'm drinking it I'll try to figure out how to insert the links into this blog and on my website! The reviews are on my page at Total-e-Bound's website which you can access by clicking on the cover of 'Pure Silk'.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Quarry Bank Mill, Haworth, East Riddlesden Hall

We were in Cheshire but wouldn't leave the area without a visit to Quarry Bank Mill. Founded in 1784 by Samuel Greg, it was built beside the River Bollin, which powered the mill's machines. The profits however, were powered by cheap cotton (picked by slaves in America's Southern states) and cheap labour (much of it provided by pauper children as young as nine who were sent to the mill from workhouses in Liverpool, Manchester and London). The mill building is huge and has many levels. Below is the Apprentice House which Samuel Greg built as the number of child workers increased. The apprentice system lasted well into the Victorian period (1847).

There is one place in Britain to which I have returned again and again - Haworth in Yorkshire. Here Charlotte (Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) lived.

The Parsonage (above) was their home and is now a museum. Nowhere has a stronger sense of the lives of its former famous inhabitants than Haworth. Below is the alleyway linking the Parsonage to the top of the town.

The moorland around Haworth has atmosphere in spades, and several local houses are believed to be represented in the sisters' novels. Ruined Wycoller Hall is the inspiration for Ferndean Manor to which the maimed Rochester retreats in Jane Eyre.
Below is the wonky bridge at Wycoller.

Haworth is on the edge of a conurbaton centred around Keighley, on the outskirts of which - an oasis of calm - is 17th Century East Riddlesden Hall. I wasn't that pleased with the photos I took of the hall itself, but I rather like this one - those are dog kennels framed by the blossom.

Later that day we visited the the remains of the Roman town of Aldborough in East Yorkshire, but there's a very little to see above the ground. The area, in early Roman times, was the territory of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes tribe.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Plas Nwydd and Little Moreton Hall

At the beginning of May we took our Spring holiday, and got into the car for a tour up through Wales to Chester and Knutsford. My brother has recently moved to a farm just above Aberfan, and this is the view down the Merthyr valley towards the Brecon Beacons.

There was no way I was going to miss out Llangollen. I had heard about the Ladies who once lived there in a house called Plas Nwydd (below).

Who were they? Lady Eleanor Butler and Lady Sarah Ponsonby - Anglo-Irish aristocrats who in 1778 fled Ireland for Wales, Lady Eleanor to avoid being sent to a convent, and Lady Sarah to escape the unwanted attentions of her guardian. They wanted to live the 18th Century ideal of a romantic friendship, and with begrudging financial support from their families, succeeded in doing so for over fifty years. Their friendship intrigued their contemporaries and their many visitors included Josiah Wedgewood, Wordsworth, Scott, Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington and Lady Caroline Lamb, who was a kinswoman of Sarah Ponsonby.

Plas Nwydd is on the outskirts of Llangollen. It is on the River Dee (see above), which flows through North Wales to Chester (below).

Chester was once a large walled Roman town. The walls have survived, and the amphitheatre has only recently been excavated. The timbered merchants' houses in the main streets, although they look medieval are in fact later, the model for them being Little Moreton Hall, an absolutely fantastic timbered manor house a few miles south of Knutsford in Cheshire (see below).

What is so special about it? It is almost wholly Tudor. Building work started in about 1500, with wings being added over the next 100 years. No part of it is later than 1600. It belonged to the same family for centuries and has been preserved intact, if not exactly straight - you can see the wobbly bit in the photo. The inner courtyard is below. Nice tearoom too!

Knutsford itself is, of course, Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. Shown below is a cobbled courtyard which is off the High Street where many period buildings have survived.

Knutsford is quite a bustling place, especially in the evening with so many places to eat. Quarrybank Mill and the Brontes' Haworth were the next places on the itinerary but I'll save those for the next post.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

River Police Museum, Wapping

The RNA Conference is where like minds meet, and with so many people travelling from all over the country, and indeed abroad, to attend, it is an opportunity for them to extend their stay for sightseeing. This year, delegates who arrived the day before had a chance to go on a 'school trip' to the River Police Museum at Wapping, organised by Jean Fullerton. Jean was born and lives not so very far from Wapping and, as an historical novelist, she not only sets her stories in this part of London but also virtually recreates the area as it might have been in the Victorian period. In her second novel Glimpse of Happiness, the 'Town of Ramsgate' (below) features, and it is in that pub that fifteen of us romantic novelists congregated at lunchtime on Thursday 8 July.

The 'Town of Ramsgate', situated beside an alleyway leading to a part of the river front called Wapping Old Stairs, is over 300 years old. Another riverside pub, just along the road and just as old, is the 'Captain Kidd'. You can see it mid-picture in the photo below. The building at the far end to the left, the one with the angled bays, is the River Police Museum. This was our ultimate destination, but not, of course, until we had had lunch and a good old natter!

The London River Police have a remarkable history. The unit was formed in 1798 by magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and Master Mariner John Harriott to counter major thefts from ships anchored in the Thames. The museum has a collection of uniforms, equipment, illustrations and documentation. It is open to the public only by special request so it was a real privilege to get a chance to visit. So thank you Jean, and thanks to to our informative guide.

Monday, 12 July 2010

RNA Conference Greenwich

The venue for the Romantic Novelists' Association 50th Anniversary Conference could not have been better - the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. What a privilege to be able to spend three days in such a fabulous location, especially in almost unbelievably sunny weather. Just look at that blue sky!

The gala dinner was held on the Friday night in the Trafalgar Tavern, next door to Queen Anne Court. This is the sight which greeted latecomers as they approached along the path by the Thames - a host of romantic novelists perched precariously on the 'deck'!

Saturday night's meal was a barbecue in the courtyard. It was more informal and there were opportunities not just for people to circulate, but air! It had been steamily hot in the Trafalgar Tavern, and there had been talk of breaking into the nearby Fan Museum and borrowing their collection for the evening.

At the conference itself there was something for everybody. Lucy Inglis' talk about working women in 18th century London, and Steve Wade's on the best sources to use if you are researching crime, appealed to the historian in me. And after listening to Rosemary Laurey's entertaining description of the finned, fanged and furry things she writes about, that's me off to hunt down some paranormal romances to read.

Here's one last photo - of the old Naval College, taken on Saturday morning before the sun got into its scorching stride.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Weald and Downland Museum, Sussex

I've been gadding about again, this time to the Weald and Downland Museum just north of Chichester. Amazingly the charity and its museum this year celebrates its 40th birthday. It was created to help preserve historic buildings in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and Hampshire, which were being threatened with destruction because of major construction projects. The buildings were dismantled brick by brick, each piece labelled, and then reconstructed at the Museum. The Longport Farmhouse, from Newington, Kent, which represents periods of construction from 1500 to 1900, was moved from the site of the Eurotunnel entrance and in now the museum's ticket office and shop!

On the left of the picture below is the Market Hall from Titchfield, Hampshire, which dates from 1620. To the right, the black and white timber-framed building is a 15th Century Medieval shop from Horsham in Sussex. The brown and white timber-framed building, which dates from 1500, is an Upper Hall from Crawley.

The most impressive building, which has been placed in its own little mini estate is the 'Bayleaf Farmstead'. A Wealden House from Chiddingstone in Kent, it is early Tudor.

This is an example of an open-halled farmhouse. Below is a photo of the interior, which has been period 'dressed'.

The pair of white farm labourers cottages in the photo below are mid-Victorian and come from Ashtead in Surrey, which is barely two miles from where I live. They were removed from the village when the railway line was extended.
There are still many examples of these timber-framed and timber-clad houses in situ in mid-Surrey.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fallout from Icelandic volcano

It really is quite extraordinary. I live midway between Heathrow and Gatwick Airports therefore aeroplanes in the skies above are not exactly a rare sight. But they have been for the past three days. Not so much rare as non-existent. And with sunny days and cloudless skies, there has been no escaping the fact. No planes means no vapour trails. It's eerie I tell you, really eerie, and surprisingly peaceful. Why has this happened? All aeroplanes in UK airports have been grounded because of the danger from the cloud of ash drifting over Britain and other parts of Europe from the volcano which is still erupting in Iceland.

Of course, with all those particles in the air, it makes for some colourful sunsets so, yesterday evening, I popped up to Epsom Downs, the highest spot for miles around, and took this photo on the little road which runs across the course. The grandstand is on the right and the sun is setting over Surrey, looking towards Stoke d'Abernon and Cobham.

For two mornings, the fallout of ash has been evident as a thin film of dust, noticeable on cars left out overnight. The air yesterday was not at all pleasant. After taking a walk into town, I developed a tickle at the back of my throat. The air seem cleaner today so perhaps the prevailing wind has changed. But there are still no planes in the sky, and there are unlikely to be for the rest of today.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Heritage Britain 2009, Part 4

Apart from a jaunt to Penrith for the RNA Conference, my trips out in July and August were short ones and usually a lot closer to home. I went mudlarking in the Thames at the Tower of London. Normally to do this, you have to get a permit, but this particular event was part of the annual Festival of British Archaeology Week. Necessary equipment on this occasion was a pair of plastic gloves and a plastic bag to put your finds in which, at the end of your stint on the shoreline, you could have examined and explained by an expert. The stems and bowls of clay pipes were common, as were pieces of bellamine jugs and other pottery, some of it several centuries old. Fascinating. I wonder if mudlarking will be on the menu this July?

Coombe Conduit is open to the public just once a month and in August I managed to get there on the right day! These structures, of which only two survive, used to collect water from the springs on Coombe Hill, near Kingston upon Thames (where I was born) and carry it under the Thames near Kingston Bridge to Hampton Court. This was during the reign of Henry VIII. Interestingly, some of the stone used in their construction probably came from Merton Priory, which had only recently been dissolved by Henry VIII.

August also saw me making a trip into Dorset where we used to live. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Dorset was smuggling country and Osmington Mills, near Weymouth, was and still is home to an old inn called, not surprisingly, the Smugglers' Inn. This view is looking towards Weymouth at sunset.

Next stop - Cornwall!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference, July 2009

In July, I was back in the north of England, at Penrith in Cumbria. Not for sightseeing this time, but something just as enjoyable and even more exciting - the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. My third, after Leicester in 2007 and Chichester in 2008. Three splendid days of talks, workshops, and chatting with other writers, published and unpublished.

My companion for the journey was Monica Fairview, a fine author of Regency romance (An Improper Suitor, The Other Mr Darcy, The Darcy Cousins). Our accommodation was at the University, and our lively housemates included Elizabeth Hawksley (multi-published in historical romance), Janet Gover (contemporary romance with Little Black Dress) and Jean Fullerton, a finalist in this year's Romantic Novel of the Year Award with her London-based historical romance, A Glimpse of Happiness. Both Jean and Janet are 'graduates' of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme, of which I am a member.

'Love in the Library' was a pre-conference event in Penrith Library, with a panel of RNA members, led by Katie Fforde. The library is beside St Andrew's Church, designed in 1720 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. My tourist gene got the getter of me and I sneaked away to get a good look at it. I took this photo of the beautiful interior. Jean, Janet and Elizabeth were on the afternoon panel at the Library and as we had arrived in town before the morning session had finished, it gave us a good excuse to have a cup of tea in the cafe beside the church. On the left is Angela who, like me, is on the NWS.

One of the many good things about the conference is the opportunity for new writers to have one-to-one meetings with editors and agents. A refinement this year was that those with editor appointments were advised to send samples of their work prior to the conference. Mills and Boon editors Jenny Hutton and Meg Lewis also talked to the delegates about 'Digging Deeper - finding new twists to knowing your characters'. Anita Burgh discussed 'Publishers, Presentation and Synopses', Victoria Connelly about 'Surviving Rejection', Rachel Natanson on Pocket Novels, and Melinda Hammond gave advice on how to juggle a job with penning prose.

American writer Jodi Thomas, who had been at the Leicester conference, made a welcome return visit and advised us how to 'Romance the American Markets' There were many other talks and workshops, my biggest disappointment being that, as some ran parallel, I couldn't attend them all! A most enjoyable conference it was, made all the more memorable by the fact that my appointment with Claire Siemaszkiewicz of Total-e-Bound, led to a contract for my novella 'Pure Silk'.

The next conference is just three months away and is to be held at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, now a World Heritage site. You know what that means, don't you? I'm going to have the devil's own job keeping my tourist gene in check!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Pure Silk

This is an important day. My first work of romantic fiction to be published is released today as an e-book by Total-e-Bound. There is a link to the book on the sidebar to the right of this post. I must thank April Martinez for doing such a wonderful job on the cover. It's striking. It was just what I wanted, and I love the warm colours.

'Pure Silk' was accepted for publication in July last year. The learning curve since has been steep. I knew nothing then about blogs or websites, but look at me now Ma!

'Pure Silk' is a brisk contemporary novella relating animal cop Greg Hudson’s imaginative efforts to turn his friends-with-benefits relationship with commitment-shy Ellie Tobin into something more permanent. I adore Greg because he is alpha in a quiet way. If you like reading about such men then this story may be just right for you.

For the past few years I've been writing historical romance, and you'll understand why if you glance down at some of my previous posts. I have a passion for history, and yet it is in contemporary romance that I have found my ‘voice’. It was quite a revelation I can tell you, and so strong is my conversion that I'm currently putting the finishing touches to another two contemporary stories. One is a full-length novel with the working title 'Falconer's Masquerade'. If you read and like 'Pure Silk', keep an eye on this blog for updates on the progress to publication of the relationship between Evie Westlake and Will Falconer.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Heritage Britain 2009, Part 3

My goodness, what a wanderer I was last year! Even after I came back from holiday in the north of England, there was no holding me. In June I was off for a day out into Hampshire. The first stop was the Devil's Punchbowl at Hindhead, but the main destination was Butser Iron Age Farm, near Petersfield (see photos above and below). If my memory serves me well, we even managed lunch at Uppark House, the former home of Regency rake Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh, a lover of Emma Hamilton who later in life married his young dairymaid.

On the way back home we decided to take in the wooded area around Farnham, hoping to visit a Rural Museum, not far from where the opening scenes of 'Gladiator' were filmed. Unfortunately, the museum was closed. But our journey wasn't wasted because it took us through the lovely village of Tilford, with its medieval bridge, which spans the River Wey (see below).
The weather that day was absolutely fantastic, as it was later in the month at Mottisfont Abbey, near Romsey in Hampshire. This picture was taken in the gardens. And no, that isn't me on the bridge.
Before the month was out I managed also to visit Quebec House in Westerham, Kent (the home of General James Wolfe who died at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham), and St John of Jerusalem, a surviving Knights Hospitallers' Chapel which now forms the end of this house at Sutton-in-Hone in Kent. Just look at that blue sky in the photo below! And that was June. July took me mudlarking on the Thames at the Tower of London and to the Coombe Conduit which once supplied water to Hampton Court, but more of those visits later.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

RNA Awards Lunch

The Romantic Novelists' Association Award Luncheon took place today at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. I have attended only one previous Awards lunch and that was at the Savoy three years ago, and I can honestly say that both the food and service today were far superior. It was an excellent lunch, and for the foodies among you who were unable to attend, this was the menu:

Trio of Sweet Melon with a Pineapple, Chilli and Corianda Salsa. Pot Roasted Guinea Fowl, Port Wine Jus, Confit Cabbage Cake and Fondant Potato. The vegetarian option was Basil Gnocchi, Aubergine Cheese Beignet and Vine Tomato Sauce. The pud was Pure Chocolate Passion, and my goodness was it good!

And the Awards?
The Romantic Novel of 2010 - 'Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts' by Lucy Dillon.
The Romantic Comedy Novel - 'The Nearly Weds' by Jane Costello.
The People's Choice - 'Missing You' by Louise Douglas
The Love Story was 'Animal Instinct' by Nell Dixon,
The Romantic Film - 'An Education' by Lynn Barber,
and the Harry Bowling Prize went to Debbie Johnson.

Two Lifetime Achievement Awards were awarded to Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, and to the RNA for organising a smashing dinner and a splendid occasion.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Heritage Britain Part 2

In April we took a tour around Britain and by May we had reached Scotland. We bypassed Edinburgh, drove across to Glasgow where we took in an antiques centre, and then set off down the west side of England towards Blackpool. By now the weather had turned glorious, and finding ourselves midway between the Pennines and the Lake District, we decided to make the most of it. We headed for Dufton, a village on the Pennine Way, which is a stopover point for hikers. This photo was taken from the garden of the Stag Inn, a beautiful spot.

A full day's drive in the Lake District took us along Ullswater to Keswick and then along a road which ended on a footpath which would takes the hardy traveller towards Scafell Pike.

We are great fans of 'Strictly Come Dancing' so we just had to get to Blackpool to see the famed Tower Ballroom. It did not disappoint. Its opulence was beyond anything I could imagine. Wonderful atmosphere. The organist was playing and a few couples danced. I think we could have happily lounged around the dancefloor all afternoon. The staff in the complex were so easy-going and friendly.

Being in the area, we couldn't miss out Holmfirth in Yorkshire, where 'Last of the Summer Wine' is filmed. 'Ivy's cafe' is just out of sight, tucked away in the corner on the right hand side of this little square.

We like antiques so we went to Derby to an auction at Bamfords to discover that an episode of 'Bargain Hunt' was being filmed. We then toodled off to Stanway House where an Antiques Roadshow was also being filmed. Then it was home. But that wasn't the end of my travels last year. Well it was only May after all, and I already had a holiday in Cornwall booked!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Heritage Britain 2009, Part 1

I am currently constructing a website, and needing a visual for the header I started going through our digitised collection of photographs. Some of those I took last year were a strong reminder not just of me being a gadabout, but of what an enjoyable year 2009 was. I've heard the opinion expressed that the weather in the UK last summer was naff, but it seems that every time I went out for the day, the sun shone effortlessly!

In January, I kicked off with a visit to Polesden Lacey. This is my local National Trust House and rarely does a month go by without me trotting up there, if only for a cup of tea and a cake in the cafe. The Regency house was extensively remodelled at the beginning of the 20th Century by the Edwardian hostess, Lady Greville.

In February it snowed heavily, in Epsom to a depth of 18 inches, which is exceptional for Surrey. This is the photo we took at dawn the next morning. As you can see, it was still snowing.

Most of the NT houses open at the beginning of April, so on 1 April, The Vyne in Hampshire was the target. This house was well known to Jane Austen who socialised with the Chute family. There she played cards and danced. At the time her father was Rector of Steventon, just a few miles away.

The bluebells were out in late April and as there is a bluebell wood at Hatchlands in Surrey, that is where I went. I was probably a week too early, but it was still a beautiful display.

A week later, I set off on a touring holiday around the north of Britain, visiting the Elizabethan Bess of Hardwick's Hardwick Hall, also NT. Equally impressive, although on a much smaller scale, is Washington Old Hall, a modest Jacobean house, south of Newcastle. It is pictured below. Here the ancestors of George Washington once lived.

A visit to the North has to include Hadrian's Wall. Vindolanda is the Roman fort where the written tablets dating to the first century AD were found beneath the layers of later building. And it wasn't just the tablets which were preserved. This makes Vindolanda Museum as absolute gem to visit. Housesteads Fort occupies a more romantic location right on the Wall, as you can see below. What you cannot see is the fact that while we were there it was blowing a hoolie!

Our tour of Britain took me up the east side of the country so we also took in Durham and its Cathedral, Holy Island. Lindisfarne and Dustanbrugh Castle, then it was over the border into Scotland to see the Wemyss collection of pottery in Kirkcaldy Museum.