Ten things I’d like my readers to know

Woke up this morning to find myself featured, complete with photo, on the homepage of celebrity gossip website Female First! So, if you want to know ten things about me, click the link and have a read!

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‘Ella’s Journey’ by Lynne Francis (Part 1)

Such a lovely review today from gingerbookgeek! My first proper review and I was so nervous to read it, but so delighted!

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The post for this blog tour is slightly different in that it comes in two parts.  The first part, (this part) contains my review of the book and the second part contains an exclusive extract from the book for you all to read.

Ella is trying to put the past behind her, but the past won’t always stay hidden.

The truth is, Ella is hiding from a scandal. A scandal that drove her family out of their beloved Lane End Cottage in the tiny Yorkshire village they had lived in all their lives. A scandal that her sister Alice was blamed for.

But Alice is no longer here. So it’s up to Ella to pick up the pieces and do the best she can for the family she loves so dearly.

Ella’s luck finally changes when she gains work in service at Grange House, a gentleman’s residence on the outskirts…

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Publication day!

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Thursday 5th October brought publication day for Ella’s Journey! For those who had pre-ordered, it arrived on their e-readers at a few minutes past midnight (the hardback version above is a work of fiction…). It’s been a week of 5am starts and high anxiety, with the dawning realisation that having friends and family read your book is one thing, having the public read it is quite another!
Friends and neighbours, and Alfie the dog next door, popped in for drinks that evening and helped me get it all in perspective with the aid of a few glasses of prosecco…
Thank you to Short books and Scribes and Cheekypee for featuring extracts from the book – more to come on the blog tour over the next few days. I’ve just tweeted for the first time ever and now  I’m obsessively watching the Amazon charts – and waiting for my first review!

September ramblings

The month started and finished with family visits. First of all Quex House with the youngest, recently arrived after being in China, Sri Lanka and Indonesia and struggling with the coolness of an English September. She was horrified by the dioramas so we took refuge in the café and gardens, then headed to Margate to see Antony Gormley’s solitary sculpture, facing out to sea.

A trip up to Yorkshire for a school reunion of an impossible number of decades was fun – it would have worked even better if we had all worn badges showing how we looked in our school days! The following weekend saw me at the dahlia festival at the Salutations, being grudgingly appreciative of the stunning range of flower shapes and colours. I still can’t quite bring myself to plant any…

Sandwich Arts week featured, amongst other things, some great art from local schools and artists as well as some strikingly intricate stone carving. A visit to Deal Braderie the following day found me exclaiming over the china that we used when I was a teenager – proudly purchased using books of Green Shield stamps.

Deal had become a Regency seaside town on the day when I came across the filming for ‘Vanity Fair’. There were splendid costumes and top hats, a market in full swing, regency beach umbrellas and a handsome coach and horses.

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Back at home, I had my first stab at making membrillo (quince cheese). My version is definitely more like jam than cheese but there are so many quinces on the tree that I’ll be having another go very soon – and attempting quince jelly, too.

Quince paste

Writing was not forgotten – I finished the first draft of Book Three, the final edits of Book Two and my publishers, Avon Books UK, invited me to their 10th anniversary party in London. I didn’t know a soul apart from my agent but it was lovely to meet some of their other authors and hear stories of all their successes over the last decade. Now I’m nervously waiting for publication day of Book One on 5th October!

The last day of the month found me in Canterbury, celebrating the eldest one’s birthday and enjoying exploring the lovely old streets. The youngest one was still finding it cold, but she’s heading back to the sunny skies and palm trees of India in 10 days time …

Canterbury

Blog Tour

Ella's Journey blog tour

I’ve spent the day crafting answers to Q & A’s for the blog tour and writing a feature on ’10 things I’d like my readers to know about me’ for a website. There were some challenging questions! Check back for links here after my publication date – just eleven days away now – to see how I got on.

My first published book!

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So proud and excited to announce the cover reveal and pre-order details of the first book I have ever had published! Ella’s Journey is available here as an ebook from Avon Books UK, an imprint of HarperCollins, on October 5th. It’s the first book to appear in the Mill Valley Girls series, set in Yorkshire, and follows a young servant girl in the early 1900s as she attempts to escape the scandal that has followed her since the tragic death of her sister. Can Ella save her family and overcome her destiny?

If you’d like to find out, don’t miss the very special offer price!

The cover was revealed at 12 midday Friday 8th September on Avon Books Twitter account – there was only one way to wait…

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August ramblings

Montresor

August started with ramblings further afield –  a few days in the Loire Valley in France. Lots of delicious food and wine, lazing – and lunching – by the pool; exploring a medieval building, once a priory and then a tannery, now being converted into a house; buying wine for a wedding at a vineyard high on the hill; visiting a painted, collaged glass exhibition, replicating famous paintings, in Montresor and walking by the river there; finally, a massive thunderstorm and a 4-hour flight delay on the way home (thanks Ryanair – and for the food parcel).

The following week found me watching the members of my NCT group (of 30 years standing) feed sheep on a farm in Hampshire, followed by a communal lunch in the sunshine supervised by the house cat, and a swim for those not too full to drown. Got back just in time for my first-ever village show, to marvel at the precise displays of produce and flowers.

By mid-August, the orchards were bursting with fruit and looked as though they were ripe for picking and ornamental berries had turned brilliant orange while the swallows were gathering on the wires outside. Could it be autumn already? (But the apples stayed on the trees a while longer and the swallows were just feeding up over the fields and practicing for their journey home).

A journey to Richborough by boat from Sandwich led to the spotting of four kingfishers, one sitting in the reeds so close that I could have touched it as the boat went by. That total, in one hour, is more than I have seen in my entire life! The flash of turquoise and orange as they darted ahead of the boat was just too fast for a photo, sadly, and I also failed to capture good images of some of the huge Dutch barges moored there, tucked away in privacy among the reeds with only boatloads of tourists to disturb their peace.

A hot day later in the month found me at a writing workshop at Quex House, a totally inspirational place with galleries of the eeriest dioramas and fascinating facts everywhere you looked. Too much to take in during one or even two visits and the walled garden was still a delight even as the month waned.

The end of the month meant another festival in Sandwich and a whole array of classic cars down on the green by the Quay, followed by a trip to sit on the shingle at Seasalter and time spent time hurling a stick into the sea for Meg.

July ramblings

Botany Bay

July started with a beach – Botany Bay at Broadstairs, very busy with families on a warm Saturday. A lovely stretch of sand with the surprise of a naturist section at one end for those so inclined and prepared to trek from the steps, or scramble down the well-used track! One to go back to on a crisp autumn day, I feel, to appreciate the chalk cliffs and natural structures at the other end.

July visitors were treated to Goodnestone Gardens, where the blue hydrangeas, cosmos and agapanthus were doing particularly well. The Magnolia grandiflora was having a second flush of flowers, too. And on my third visit, a friend pointed out the mulberry tree, laden with fruit, so I tried mulberries for the first time in my life. Very delicious they were, too! I wish I could have taken some home but it seems they don’t travel well.

The Salutation gardens weren’t forgotten this month, either. The borders were full of lush growth and the dahlias were getting ready to be at their best for their show in September. I have a love-hate relationship with dahlias – they remind me of the gardens of my childhood, but not in a good way. I think I prefer them as cut flowers…

Venturing further afield with friends to Dungeness on a very blustery day, we lunched at the fish shack (not the one in the picture…) and had to hang onto our food to prevent it blowing away! My local fish flatbread with salad, chilli sauce and crème fraiche was fabulous for a fiver. It felt a little odd and intrusive being among coach loads of tourists staring at the houses though. Perhaps somewhere to visit on a (less windy) summer’s evening, or on a bleak winter’s day.

I did manage to squeeze in a few artistic pursuits amongst the outdoor trips. A (very) local artist, Jo Aylward, held an open studio and I bought a couple of her lovely nature-inspired prints and was very taken by her printing onto fabric, too. She’d produced beautiful bags and cushions and a quite stunning linen curtain which she was using in her studio – check out its lovely interior, and her work, on her Instagram account.

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I also took a trip to the Turner Contemporary at Margate, with work by Phyllida Barlow and the British-Kenyan artist Michael Armitage on show – one particularly powerful work by the latter. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of work from local Kentish schoolchildren, and from Africa. Lunched outside at The Greedy Cow (Beetroot houmous and rose harissa flatbread) before wandering around the galleries and vintage shops and walking the seafront, the beach packed with daytrippers enjoying huge family picnics and BBQs.

I made my first trip to the fabulously named Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize show, with fascinating information about each piece. Another place to go back to, to explore the permanent collections. Then lunch at one of The Goods Shed cafés – not flatbread this time…

To celebrate the first week of the school summer holidays the rains came. Gardening went on hold, writing became serious against a self-imposed deadline, but I did take a trip to St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, again, and marvelled that this huge site is hidden away beside a busy road – and has escaped being built over. Dating back to the sixth century and home to a succession of ecclesiastical buildings of increasing grandeur, it’s another place that demands a second visit to take it all in.

I went to see the very popular ‘summer blockbuster’ Dunkirk and discovered it was not for me… I found the story and the coincidences a bit laboured and, not being very good at identifying WW11 planes, got rather lost in the crucial aerial dog fights. There’s no denying it’s a high-tension movie, though, and there’s probably someone for everyone in terms of the male casting!

In between showers, there was a chance to do some walking, and to discover autumn approaching – in the third week of July? The brambles were ripening nicely, the apple and pear trees were heavily laden, plums, damson and sloes were nearly ready for picking and the hawthorn berries were profuse and beginning to show their first hint of colour. The garden shrubs demanded pruning and the endless dead-heading of the roses went on between the showers, worthwhile because the bushes have benefitted from the rain and are producing a second flush. The self-seeded buddleia and pink flowering plant (so prolific it must be a weed…) are both butterfly-and-bee magnets.

July finished with a private view. Dennis’s exuberant images, mainly from a trip to Spain, are guaranteed to uplift the spirits. I wasn’t able capture a photo over the heads of everyone crammed into the wine bar, but here’s one from his previous show to give a feel for the kind of thing.

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June ramblings

Goodenstone

It was a great time for gardens, even if mine was parched from the lack of rain by mid-month. Goodnestone Gardens looked splendid at the beginning of June, then the weather was more uncertain by the time my birthday (and election day) dawned. The sun came out, though, in time for a birthday tea organised by my book group. More birthdays followed – a good excuse to make a cake.

Early in the month it was good to see the Little Gardens of Sandwich on their public open days and marvel at the variety of styles tucked away behind properties large and small, then be tempted by the specialist plant stalls. A couple of visits to the Salutation garden found the borders packed with interesting plants along with some fabulous seedheads – and a rather lovely secret door. I found myself deadheading roses everyday at home but the bright pink (sadly unscented) roses that bloomed in profusion out at the front might prove too much of a challenge for me. The white hydrangeas are now looking spectacular to make up for the fading of the roses, while sweet peas bought from the local post office filled jugs until the middle of the month.

It wasn’t all about gardens –  I made a visit to London and satisfied my wish for a masala dosa, went to the Marlowe in Canterbury to see the fabulous performance of Jane Eyre by Bristol Old Vic and spotted poppies and hollyhocks growing on the beach in Deal. I also spent a puzzling few hours at Dover Castle. Glorious on the outside, a lack of information boards inside meant detective work was required to work out the significance of the refurbished rooms. Best bits – the lit fire in the King’s bedroom, illustrating that the fires really could heat a big, draughty room (in midsummer…), the (reproduction) Mappa Mundi and the atmospheric galleries – unadorned with uneven floors and ventilation shafts/spy holes into the main castle giving, in my view, the best glimpse of what castle life might have been like in the 1400s.

A visit to the Pines Calyx museum, tea room and garden in St. Margaret’s proved more successful. A beautiful garden featuring stunning views and an unusual flower bed formed from the ancient façade of a London house, it made the perfect way to round off the month. Apart from completing the re-painting of my summerhouse inside and out – a new writing space, maybe?

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May ramblings

Barley

If April was all about tulips, then May was all about roses (although that will no doubt apply to June as well). It was time to get stuck into some serious gardening and to worry about the lack of rain, which eventually arrived towards the end of the month in the form of a couple of deluges, in one case accompanied by a two-hour electrical storm in the early hours, the like of which I’d never seen, or heard, before. Amazingly, it didn’t flatten the barley field out front or the roses, foxgloves and alliums etc out back.

May brought visitors, who struck lucky with the weather at the beginning and end of the month. There was a Food Festival in Sandwich, which saw the streets closed and filled with food stalls, with tables for outdoor eating set up on the cobbles in front of the Guildhall. A downpour gave me the opportunity to get a glimpse of the display of the new museum and Sandwich’s Magna Carta, along with the Custumal and Charter of the Forest – an indication of Sandwich’s prominence as one of the four top towns in England back in the 13th century.

Two visits to Goodnestone Gardens, a week apart, saw the gardens in quite different weather, but how they had changed since April. So much had come into bloom in the walled garden and even that changed over the course of the week. The clematis vanished and surely I hadn’t overlooked the foxtail lilies before – they were immense! A raptor (Sparrowhawk? Kestrel?) was feeding its chick, precariously balanced on top of a conifer in front of the church tower and I spotted a blue tit feeding young well-hidden in the trunk of a dead tree in front of the house. Tea and cake afterwards, both times, always a treat.

Things were not so joyous on the bird front at home. A baby blackbird, barely fledged and spending most of its time scuttling along the ground, hid in my garden waste bag and was nearly smothered when I dumped grass cuttings on top of it. It survived, only to meet a worse fate two days later when a magpie took it. The three sets of sparrows nesting in my eaves have been driving me mad with their chirruping, the sparrowhawk chick(s) have fledged and the adults are circling , causing general consternation amongst the local bird population (this may put paid to some of the chirruping, I suppose…) and I realise, on writing, that I haven’t seen my garden robin for some time. I hope he’s just too busy feeding young to put in an appearance and that he’ll reappear, looking a bit bedraggled having moulted his red breast, before too long.

A trip to garden centres near Ashford gave me a chance to see something of the beautiful Kent Downs, new to me, with delightful village names – Monks Horton, Stowting, Rhodes Minnis. And a subsequent trip to Beech Court Gardens, with a wonderfull arboretum which felt like Kew Gardens on a more manageable scale, introduced me to lots of places beginning with ‘C’ which will require further visits – Challock among them.

Butterly

Locally, I discovered a walk through a Miller’s Woodland Trust site, most notable (to me) for its butterflies and beautiful meadow, filled with grasses and vetches including a single-flowered magenta one that I had never seen before, later identified as Grass Vetchling, courtesy of my favourite book from childhood, The Concise British Flora in Colour. This was finally unpacked, along with all my other books, after 10 months in boxes. As I filled up the new bookshelves it was like meeting lots of old friends again.