Vintage inspiration

Coffee set

Vintage china is an important part of the scene-setting when Alys transforms the café in Alice’s Secret, and the inspiration came from my own collection. I started to buy individual coffee cups in my twenties, mainly designs from the 1920s and 30s, as well as plates, dishes and even a whole coffee set. With a pattern of boughs of cherry blossom, this became the basis of tea set that Ella uses to serve tea to Grace Ward and Esther Weatherall in Chapter 12, overhearing them discussing her sister Alice as she does so. Apart from being inexpensive, the attraction was the beautiful designs painted on the cups and saucers and also their individuality – I rarely found more than one of the same pattern or even of the same shape.

The blue patterned cup and saucer with the design of dragonflies, flowers and foliage that Alys finds in the Nortonstall charity shop, which starts her collection (Part One, Chapter 9), is also my first one, although sadly the cup is now broken and I only have the saucer – I’ve matched it with a different cup. The daisy-bordered sandwich plate in the same chapter is in my collection, too, along with the gold daisy cup and saucer (Part Nine, Chapter 3).

My collection grew quickly, soon filling the shelves of the kitchen dresser that I had at the time. I also picked up a couple of beautiful water jugs or ewers, which would have been used in bedrooms for washing in Victorian times, and these found their way into Chapter 10 of my first published book, Ella’s Journey.
Other vintage and antique items in my possession appear in Alice’s Secret. A locket passed down from my grandmother is the inspiration for the one given to Alice by Richard, and rediscovered years later by Alys in an embroidered bag (Part Five, Chapter 5). The date is different but the back has scrolls of ivy leaves. The embroidery on the bag was inspired by a hand-embroidered vintage lingerie bag once owned by my aunt.

Even the baubles that Alys hangs in the window of the cafés in Nortonstall and Northwaite at Christmas (Part Nine, Chapter 3) are based on ones that once belonged to the same aunt. They come out each year to hang on my tree but they are made of glass and very fragile; over the years their wire hangers have failed and they have fallen and smashed but the ones that remain are very precious to me.

I had to stop collecting the coffee cups ago when I ran out of space and they spent many years stored in a box but I’m still always tempted whenever I see a particularly lovely example in a shop or on a stall. The cups, and the jugs, are now on display again, but I do have a collection of vintage china plates sitting in a box under my bed…

Jug cupboard



March ramblings

Walmer beach

It was a rather chilly month, with brief glimpses of spring but an awful lot of rain, wind and gloom – and even another late month snow flurry. When the sun came out, it made for a lovely photo over the shingle towards the sea near Walmer – what’s missing from the photo is the biting wind!

I had a very productive spell during the horrid weather and made the patchwork quilt for new baby Ellis within a week, in time for (new) Mothers Day. On my occasional walks, I saw the blackthorn flowering bravely, along with cherry plum, brightening up the grey days.

It was quite something to see my first paperback shelved in The Deal Bookshop, and to pop in to sign a few copies for them.

Then it was time for another trip to London, for a baby visit and to go to a private view where one of the pictures on display had been painted on our trip to Goa earlier this year. (It feels like much longer than that!) London by night had a certain magic that went some way to making up for the horrors of getting around it in rush hour on public transport.

A planned weekend walk to have Sunday lunch at The Zetland Arms ended up taking place with a wind chill of -5 and driving snow! Surprisingly, the walk over the top at Hawksdown, along the edge of the old First World War airfield, was more protected than I’d expected. My slice of meat pie was the perfect reward, as well as good preparation for the walk back.

The following weekend found me in Bluewater, for the first time ever, meeting friends for a four-hour lunch – we hadn’t met in 15 years so there was a lot of catching up to do! The next week began with a glorious day when spring truly was in the air – a good chance to get some serious gardening done.

Back door

Sadly the weather didn’t last and it was back to a chill wind and rather grey skies, followed by heavy rain, for a trip to Chatham Dockyard for research purposes. One of the most interesting discoveries (for said research) was in the first stop, the café! A three-panel reproduction of an engraving from the Georgian era, (excuse the wonky photos), was filled with fascinating detail. A sneak peak at the amazing building where the ropes were made was another highlight, as was the submarine tour, if only to confirm that I could never, ever be a submariner! It was an eye-opener in so many ways – not only the amount of nuts, bolts and hardware visible inside, but also how little room there was for the crew, under the waves for ten weeks at a time.

The start of the Easter Bank Holiday brought more rain with it. An orchid from last year bravely decided to flower, despite the cold weather we’ve had and the fact that it has found itself in the home of someone useless with houseplants! With brownies baked ready for another trip up to London, the month drew to a close with a pizza lunch at The Taphouse in Deal, busy with visitors determined to make the most of it as the sun came out for a few hours – before the next band of rain moved in…