Hallowe’en story

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Ten-minute story from our Hallowe’en writing class:

Josie pulled up outside the cottage, switched off the headlights and sat for a moment, engine idling, looking around. She’d found herself at the end of long winding lane, lined with trees and with no sign of any other properties close by. The owners hadn’t mentioned how remote it was when she’d signed up to house sit for two weeks while they went off to Caribbean.

She made a mental note to update the house-sitting agency then, with dusk falling, she switched the headlights back on to give herself enough light to find her way into the cottage. She’d have packed her torch in her handbag if she’d known it was going to be like this.

From what she could see the cottage looked picture-postcard perfect; roses still tumbled over the front of it and the honeysuckle climbing up and over the porch had kept its fragrant flowers despite autumn fast approaching. It would be cosy inside with the fire lit to take off the slight chill of the approaching evening, Josie thought, using the key that the agent had sent to open the door.

With the car unloaded and locked she set about settling in, unpacking her few belongings, putting food in the fridge and switching on the lamps throughout the ground floor. The owners had thoughtfully left the log burner laid, matches at the side, so she lit it and sat back. The cats must have gone into hiding from the stranger in the house. Three of them, the information sheet said. They’d no doubt appear as the evening progressed.

Two hours later she was settled on the sofa, glass of wine in hand and one cat on her knee, the other two snuggled in beside her. The fire was glowing and Josie smiled to herself. Doing this and getting paid for it was the best job in her life so far.

The lights flickered once, twice and then died. Josie sat on for a minute or two, hoping they might come back to life, the room dimly lit by the glow of the fire. Just as she was wondering whether to go in search of a torch and hunt out the fuse box the cat on her lap sat up and looked around the room, ears pricked. It made a low, growling sound, a sound echoed by the two cats at her side. They were all on their feet now, backs arched and fur on end, staring at the curtained window.

‘Sssh,’ Josie soothed, trying to stroke them back into settling down. But they were having none of it. There must be a dog outside, or maybe a fox, she thought. Were cats frightened of foxes? She stood up and went over to the window, drawing back the curtain. The wind had got up and the rambling rose around the window was tapping at the glass, as if trying to get in. Perhaps it was this that had startled the cats?

Then she saw something. Two eyes, glowing red like the embers of the fire, staring right at her. For a moment she thought she was seeing the reflection of the fire but the eyes moved. They were getting closer, coming towards the window. The cats yowled and fled as one into the dark hallway. Josie heard their paws scrabbling on the stairs as they fought each other to be first to escape.

She flung the curtain back across the window and stepped back. She stood rigid then, as realisation dawned that it was somehow worse not knowing what was out there, she stretched out her trembling fingers to take hold of the fabric. As she did so, she heard the shriek of a terrified animal from upstairs, punctuated by a low growl somewhere out in the dark of the night.

To be continued…

 

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October ramblings

The first week of the month brought the much-anticipated launch of ‘Ella’s Journey’. It was a steep learning curve – mainly because I wasn’t sure quite what to expect! After a lovely review – thank you gingerbookgeek – and a couple of online Q & A features, I realized that I needed to set up author pages, work on my author Facebook page and – biggest challenge – try to get to grips with Twitter. (I’m still working on that one…) Then it was over to me to attempt to drum up reviews and publicity. The newspaper in the town where I went to school did a big feature, the Kent Mercury included me in their book pages and the village magazine featured me too. Otherwise, a lot of time has been spent checking the Amazon and Kobo charts at least twice a day, particularly the position in the saga charts. There was elation when it got into the low twenties and mid-thirties, anxiety as it slipped back towards the seventies.

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I did have a few people over for drinks on launch night, though, and that was a lot of fun! And I made my first-ever batch of quince jelly, and a second batch of quince cheese – much more successful than the first, which one bemused recipient described as resembling pigs liver…

The garden has been much neglected, although I began to get to grips with it towards the end of the month. It’s hard to put it to bed for the winter just yet, with so much still in flower – or am I just making excuses?

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The neighbours’ cat has decided she wants to adopt me and, as soon as I open the back door, has become skilled at shooting straight into the house, up the stairs and onto her favourite duvet in the spare bedroom. She knows I’m a soft touch…

Book publicity and related matters all rather took over the month, but I did manage to send book three in the Mill Valley Girls series, ‘Sarah’s Story’ to my agent for a first read and, at the end of the month, following a research trip to Margate on a glorious day, I got stuck into a new story I have been wanting to get on with. Over 6,000 words after less than a week – not too bad!

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The morning of Hallowe’en found a beautifully carved pumpkin sitting on my doormat! Some interesting things find their way to me in the countryside… It was put to good use that night at writing group, where we wrote ghost stories and read them out by pumpkin lantern light (with the aid of a torch).

‘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.

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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 …

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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

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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

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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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