Five Reasons A Writer should take up Gardening…

1. Ground-work is Essential!

When you’re planting a garden, preparation is vital! When we first moved into our current home, the soil condition was dire. The garden consisted of a patchy lawn, flanked by two strips of dried out, weed-filled earth. I wanted a pretty garden full of flowers. But it wasn’t going to happen overnight. First I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work. The temptation to skip this back-breaking process would have only cost me more time and money in the long run.

In the same way, writing any kind of story from start to finish takes a lot of ground-work. Inspiration is all well and good – but it’s only hard work that can take a great idea and turn it into a polished story. Different stories require different groundwork: but whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, most stories require the same ingredients – solid character formation, a decent, story arc, rising action, stakes, research. The more ground-work you do, the easier your story will be to write.

Photo by Binyamin Mellish on Pexels.com

2. A little thing called ‘Patience!’

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about gardening, it’s this: results do not appear instantly. I absolutely love going to the garden centre and picking up new plants. But often when I get home and place those new plants in the flower bed, the result can be…well slightly underwhelming.

Plants need time to grow, to spread, to fill the space around them. Flowers can seem slow to appear. On many an early June morning, you will find me taking my daily walk up the garden path to see what’s going on with the flowers. Is there any sign of growth? A new shoot on that shrub? An emerging bud on that geranium? Planting a garden requires patience. Progress can seem slow. But one thing’s for sure. It will surely come. If you’ve spent time digging, weeding, watering and mulching, then one fine day – pop! Blooms will appear. Everybody’s writing journey is unique. But most people would agree that learning the craft of writing requires commitment, dedication, and heaps of patience.

3. Community

My gardening efforts have been massively enriched by listening and learning from others. My amazing mum, has passed on heaps of knowledge from her own gardening experiences over the years. More than that, she’s been right alongside me on many occasions, helping me dig up weeds and move things around, giving me confidence and spurring me on. She’s taught me the difference between annuals, evergreens and perennials, shown me how to place things in groups of three, leant me books and shared with me clumps of labour-saving perrenials fresh from her own garden – geraniums and iris and sedums – some of which have come to be the mainstay of my garden.

Gardeners and writers have this in common: we thrive and flourish best in community. (Oh, and we like hot beverages). We love to pass on our passion, our know-how and to share what we have with others. If you’re a writer, make sure you have some writer friends to turn to for inspiration and encouragement. And wherever you can, share! Be prepared to pass on what you know. It goes a long way.

4. Trial and Error

Whilst groundwork is essential, there is still room for a little trial and error. If, when I had first set out to plant a garden, I had merely stared out the window at the cracked, stony earth, too afraid to begin, I wouldn’t have anything remotely close to a garden today. If I had spent years reading a million gardening books, but never actually picked up a spade or fork, I would have been full of theory, but have absolutely nothing to show for it.

My garden is not yet perfect. It’s a work in progress. There are still gaps in one of the flower beds. There are areas where I feel the colours slightly clash, or where a certain plant is not working. But wow! It’s come such a long way. I now have a place that’s pleasant to sit in, where flowers bloom in their season, and where bees and butterflies flit about. I started as a total novice. And I still am, compared to many people. But I would never have gained experience and increased my knowledge had I not made a start. After a few summers of gardening, suddenly you have something to work with. You can move plants around. You can take things out altogether. You can cut things back. You can spot what’s lacking. But you can only do that once you’ve actually begun. So, do your groundwork, but don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate. Go on – make a start, write something!

5. A Season for Everything

In gardening, there is a rhythm. Gardens don’t always have heaps of blooms and colour. Seasons come and seasons go. Things die back. Branches get stripped bare.

With writing, there are times when all seems to be flourishing and going well. We’ve got tons of ideas and we’re writing heaps, and we’re maybe seeing things come to fruition.

But there are also times when all seems barren and bare, where it seems that however much we labour, our efforts have produced absolutely zero fruit. Rejections. Knock-backs, the nearly-but-not-quites – stories we were once enthusiastic about now hidden away in a drawer, dry and forgotten. Plot holes and hopeless first drafts. Writing can be a hard and lonely journey. But, there is always the promise of spring. Don’t give up, don’t lose heart. You may be going through a winter. If so, be good to yourself. You may need to rest. You may need to wait until the weather improves. Make yourself a hearty bowl of soup and hibernate a while with a good book. Go out for a walks. Watch films that inspire you. Take time to stop and look at the world around you. Spend time with family and friends. And whatever you do, don’t compare your garden to anyone else’s. Your garden, and your writing journey is unique. Remember that in life, and in any creative pursuit worth pursuing, there are seasons, and every season can be both beautiful and have purpose.

Picture Books

Over the past few years, I have been working on several children’s Picture Books.

Here’s a little bit about a few of them!

wild goose chase!

Slumber-Down Valley is a quiet peaceful place…until one night, a big, noisy stranger comes roaring into town!

The villagers all agree. This pesky goose has got to GO!

Then one dark night, when a robbery takes place, all the evidence seems to point in one direction.

But is Wild Goose really all he seems? Find out, in this stonking, honking tale!

hurry up, hugo!

Hugo is the slowest post-tortoise that ever plodded up your path. The trouble is, everyone around him seems to be in a hurry!

Hugo needs to find a way to get up to speed – and fast!  Perhaps his old friend Hare will be able to help him?

But after a series of disasters, Hugo discovers that there is always a place in this world for things that take their own sweet time.

squirreled away

Deep in the Ferny-Green Forest, a clever, young squirrel named Squidge, manages to bag herself a tasty treasure!

After a near miss with a pilfering thief, she buries her acorn stash beneath the ground. 

But when a snow-storm blows in, she cannot remember where she buried it!

Can Grandpa’s old diary help her?

Join Squidge, in this heart-warming tale about love, loss and ultimately new hope.

A Month Without Rain…

When the grass turned brown…
We all thought the rain, 
Was a bit of a pain,
Drumming on rooftop,
And down window-pane.
"This weather!"
We grumbled,
"Is always the same,
It's nothing but rain, rain rain,
Rain, rain, rain...
Rain."

"Go away rain!"
We began to complain,
"Get on your bike,
Adios! 
Take a hike!
Cos we've had it to here,
With your damp, soggy drear,
Just give us a break,
Go away, disappear!"

Then one July day,
The rain went away,
Just packed up its bags,
Whilst the sun came to play.
And the temperature soared,
To heights never known,
And the ponds and the rivers,
Were as dry as a bone,
And the sun grew so hot in the sky overhead,
That the grass wasn't green,
It was scorched brown instead.

And we struggled to sleep,
And we tossed and we turned,
And the fields set on fire,
And the forests they burned,
And we suddenly realised,
We now understood,
Why when God made the rain,
He declared "It is good!"

















Alum Bay & ‘The Needles’

“Let’s go and see the Needles!” they said!

“It’ll be fun!” they said.

My three daughters, two of their friends and my husband, all unanimously agreed that this was the one place they most wanted to visit during our recent trip to the Isle of Wight.

Hazy memories of our previous trip to Alum Bay, some twenty years earlier, began to surface… I recalled a nail-biting ride on an ancient chairlift, equipped with minimal safety features, over a steep cliff-side…legs dangling, shoes being lost forever…

The Hairy-Scary Chair Lift!

“Well…okay!” I gulped, not wanting to appear the party-pooper.

So, the next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, we jumped in the car and headed for Alum Bay.

Round about half-way there, it dawned on us that as a party of seven, and an odd number at that, one of us would have to ride the chairlift alone.

Emily, our youngest, had already decided she was going to ride with her daddy. And who could blame her?

Grace and Lydia, each had brought a friend with them.

And so that just left…

me.

Great!

I steeled myself, placing all my hope on the fact that my life was squarely in God’s hands and that if in His sovereign wisdom I was supposed to die plunging over a chasm…well that was His business, and not mine.

On, to the chair-lift I jumped, before I had time to bottle out.

Up, up, up cranked the chair. Boom, boom, boom went my heart. As we sailed over trees, I fixed my eyes on Grace and her boyfriend who were riding in the chair in front of me, and told myself over and over again: “it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay!

And, of course, although it was awfully high, it wasn’t quite as scary as I had remembered, provided you didn’t spend the duration of the journey trying to figure out just how the chair-lifts were attached.

In fact, I even managed to snap a little photo!

ALUM BAY

The descent into Alum Bay soon took my mind off things. The views were truly magnificent!

Jumping off that chair lift, and onto the shingly beach, I felt exhilarated, not only to stand on terra firma once again, but also to witness the vast sweep of the Bay, curving round towards the iconic ‘Needles’ – a crop of three chalk rocks that jut up dramatically out of the English Channel.

The Needles!

It was an unimaginably beautiful day – the bright blue sky dotted with wispy cotton-wool clouds, rays of sunlight glinting on the sea. And most importantly, I was surrounded by so many dear faces – all sharing this rare and wonderful moment with me.

The bluest of skies over the Bay…

NEEDLES BOAT TOUR

We took a fascinating boat tour out to the Needles, which afforded us a much closer look at them.

the missing needle!

The Needles got their name, due to an original fourth rock, known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ which had a very pointed needle-like shape. Even though this rock collapsed into the heart of the sea, during a storm in 1764, the name stuck.

the lighthouse

The Lighthouse, three-feet thick at its base, and rising some 80 feet above high water, was built to withstand wild waves of up to 20 feet high, sweeping in from the West. Up until 1944, when the lighthouse became fully automated, it was manned 24-7 by a Lighthouse Keeper and three assistants. This crop of rocks have always been perilous to sailors, and still to this day, the foghorn sounds every 15 seconds in periods of low visibility.

THE COLOURED ROCKS

Alum Bay is also famous for its colourful rock face, caused by geological folding, which over time, pushed the horizontal layers of rock strata to a vertical position,

ALUM BAY SANDS

Because of these colourful rocks, Alum Bay is unique in having 21 possible shades of sand. Ever since Victorian Times, it has been a tradition to collect and layer these colourful sands in pretty glass jars to take home as a souvenir. Apparently, Queen Victoria herself had a glass jar filled with Alum Bay sand in her home at Osborne House!

Many a child, including our Emily, has fond memories of the Alum Bay Sand Shop, in which you can experience choosing a glass (or plastic bottle) and carefully tipping in varying layers of pink, yellow, beige, brown and white sand!

Carefully does it!
Emily’s cute jar of Alum Bay sands – which she aptly named ‘Clifford’

Alum Bay is more than worth a visit if you’re ever on the Isle of Wight! And, I’ll let you into a little secret…you don’t even have to take the chair lift! There are steps, albeit a fair few of them, if you’d rather!) But, however you decide to get down to the Bay, I promise you, you won’t regret it!

What a wonderful, unforgettable day was had by all!

‘Grandad’s Island’

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide,
Is a wild call and a clear call that cannot be denied,
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying!

From the Poem, 'Sea Fever', by John Masefield

Our kids are fortunate enough to have a grandfather who lives on an Island. Going to visit him is always an exciting adventure that begins…with a trip on a car ferry!

THE ISLE OF WIGHT

The Isle of Wight is a diamond shaped Island, situated just four miles off the South Coast of England. It’s famous for its beautiful scenery and beaches, for boating events such as Cowes Week and for Osborne House, the historic holiday home to Queen Victoria.

There are several ways to get to the Isle of Wight. We use the Wightlink Ferry Service, from Portsmouth to Fishbourne, a 40-minute crossing. But there are other ferry routes from the mainland, namely Southampton to Cowes and Lymington to Yarmouth.

Cottage & garden

Grandad lives in a stone cottage, with the loveliest of gardens, not far from the villages of Nettlestone and Seaview.

Flowers abound!

The Isle of Wight, boasts a temperate maritime climate, with warm summers and cool to cold winters. The weather is rarely extreme and so things seem to grow like Billy-o! In fact, Henry Higgins might well have been correct when he taught Eliza Doolittle to say:

In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen!

From the 1965 Musical Film, ‘My Fair Lady’

Grandad’s garden in full bloom is quite a sight, with pots full of Geraniums, not to mention his Begonias, which I’m convinced could win prizes. As you can see, it’s also been a very good year for the Roses!

Seagrove Bay & seaview

Grandad’s cottage is a short walk, down a winding stony lane, from Seagrove Bay, a very special beach.

Seagrove Bay has somehow managed to move with the times, whilst retaining all of its old-fashioned charm. With a mix of Victorian houses and modern holiday cottages, the seafront has a very smart facade. A short walk around the next curve, and you reach Priory Bay – another lovely beach, with rocks to clamber over. When the tide goes out, it leaves the most gorgeous crop of sea-weedy rock-pools, which look like something out of an Enid Blyton Novel.

A short walk away from Seagrove Bay, is the lovely village of Seaview. It has a handful of charming shops, and eateries, including a pharmacy, a Deli, and an ice cream shop, plus a great pub, serving delicious home-cooked food, such as Fish and Chips and Prawn Linguine; the perfect spot to sit and sip a long, cold drink, whilst watching the boats bobbing about on the Solent.

My favourite Interiors Shop

A stroll around Seaview
The pub!
Outside the ‘The Old Fort’ pub – a great place to watch the world go by…

I’m sure you’ll agree, Grandad lives in a very special place! The more years that pass by, the more our family have come to appreciate having a seaside home to escape to, especially in light of the recent pandemic, which has made travelling abroad more difficult.

I really hope that you’ve enjoyed this little tour around our home from home! I hope you can hear the surf and the Seagulls squawking and imagine the breeze tugging at your hair!

How very blessed we are to be able to enjoy this place!

Keep an eye out for future posts, featuring trips to Yarmouth, and Alum Bay.

A Visit to Hever Castle

As part of the Jubilee Celebrations this weekend, we spent a glorious day at Hever Castle!

Hever, an incredibly romantic 13th Century Castle

kent, the garden of england

Hever Castle is situated in the English County of Kent, near Edenbridge, around 30 miles South-East of London. Kent itself, is a beautifully verdant County, often nick-named ‘The Garden of England.’ When driving through the pleasant leafy lanes and pretty villages, it’s not hard to see why. Kent is home to acres and acres of ancient woodland and is choc-full of beautiful gardens, both public and private. It’s generously peppered with historic places of interest to visit, such as Chartwell (home of Wiston Churchill), Sissinghurst and Canterbury Cathedral originally founded in the year 597!

Views over Kent, from Toy’s Hill, Westerham Chart, Kent.
Emily & Winston Churchill, on Westerham Green, Kent

hever’s history

Hever Castle may not be quite as old as Canterbury Cathedral, but its history does span back some 700 years! Originally built in 1270, Hever was a typical medieval defensive castle with gatehouse and walled bailey (a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall). During the 15th and 16th Centuries, it became the home to the Boleyn’s, one of the most powerful families in the country.

Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the tragically ill-fated second wife of King Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn, Queen for 1000 days, was the mother of Elizabeth I, and played a huge role in England’s departure from Catholicism and the establishment of the Church of England at the start of the Reformation.

rESTORATION

As the centuries passed, the Castle gradually fell into decline. In 1903, it was bought by William Waldorf Aster, a wealthy American man with a passion for History.

He poured much money and time into restoring the castle and its extensive grounds, commissioning a Tudor Village, and creating the huge lake that was dug out by hand!

Side view of the castle with Aster’s Tudor Village’

Today, the castle is still privately owned, but it has become a much-loved place for the public to visit, attracting visitors from all over the world, all year round.

There is always something interesting going on at Hever, including jousting, open air theatre showings, fireworks displays, concerts and all sorts of other events. In fact, you can even get married at Hever – Can you imagine?

Without further ado, I really hope you enjoy some of the photos of the Castle and gardens from our visit. Apparently, we didn’t manage to see everything – which is always the perfect excuse to go back!

Hever is famous for its stunning topiary displays
The Castle entrance, suitably adorned for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee

As you can see, some of the Queen’s Corgi’s were missing in the Castle Grounds as part of the Jubilee Celebrations!

The Italian Garden with huge Trellis of Wisteria
The roses were out in force!
What a wonderful day out!

Trip To The Cotswolds

When my husband announced last month, that we were going to the Cotswolds, images of Lilliput Lane style cottages, trickling rivers and stone bridges instantly sprang to mind.

Turned out I was right about those things. But as the trip loomed, and we began planning our route, I soon realised that my knowledge of the area was extremely limited.

I had no idea that the Cotswolds was such a vast area, spanning almost 800 square miles, and five different English Counties – namely: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire!

Lechlade on Thames

I had no idea either that the River Thames flowed as far away from London as Gloucestershire – and that the village we would be staying in, Lechlade-on-Thames, was situated on the highest navigational point along the River.

St. Lawrence’s Church spire, standing tall over Lechlade-on-Thames
It was fun to meet Little Jen, the donkey, outside the church on Palm Sunday!

Lechlade is a lovely little town with a friendly feel. It’s full of charming shops, inviting looking pubs and restaurants, and its fair share of stone cottages!

It’s also a wonderful place for walkers – St John’s Lock is situated nearby, and we spent a lovely morning ambling along the canal path.

cirencester

The County of Gloucestershire has so much to offer. We so enjoyed driving past fields of green, with plenty of wide-open space – a welcome change from the congested London suburb we live in. The Spring flowers were out in full force, and many of the Cotswold villages looked even more beautiful with an abundance of daffodils and tulips.

Gloucestershire also boasts plenty of towns and cities to explore, including Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Cirencester – a handsome and historic Market Town, dating back to the Roman era. Cirencester is a wonderful place to browse, with interesting, high-end shops, selling anything from household furnishings to artisan cakes and pastries.

BIBURY

Our trip to the Cotswolds would not have been complete without a visit to at least one of the quintessential villages that make this area so famous.

Bibury is arguably the most photographed village in the Cotswolds.

As soon as we got out of the car, it wasn’t difficult to see why. From the old water mill, recently transformed into a working trout farm, to the lovely hotel and fast flowing river, Bibury is an utterly idyllic place!

It’s famous for Arlington Row, a row of weaver’s cottages dating back to the 14th Century. and recorded in the Doomsday Book.

It’s hard to fully describe or photograph the curving sweep of stone cottages, situated alongside the gurgling River Coln. Pictures really do not do this place justice. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and so rich in history – it’s hard not to imagine the generations of people who may have lived and worked in these cottages.

Arlington Row

We left the Cotswolds feeling revitalised and rested and as though our senses had been soothed by all the beautiful scenery. We also had the strong feeling that we had only just scratched the surface of all the wonderful places to explore! Not a bad place to end a trip I suppose…

It gives you the perfect excuse to return some day.