Happy Easter!

Here we are in April – and it’s over a year since restrictions began and lockdowns were introduced. Far better words have been spoken about this than I’m able to conjure up, but the first social gathering – socially distanced, in the evening of the last week of March in a friend’s garden – was a joyous occasion and a forceful reminder of what we have been missing.

I had another book published during lockdown – The Secret Child, above, with publication day flowers – the second part of The Margate Maid trilogy.

Other than that, I did a lot of walking – daily, when I could manage it, even through the Beast from the East no. 2, which arrived in early February just three days after glorious sunshine and blue skies (above). Bitter winds and a high wind chill, plus ice and snow, guaranteed I had the sea front path to myself – or maybe my winterwear frightened everyone away.

As last year, it was a delight to see spring start to arrive. In March, there were lambs by the stream in Bishopsbourne.

Kingsdown Woods held violets, wood anemones, primroses and even clumps of late snowdrops.

In the garden, lime green euphorbia and pots of violas lifted the spirits even on the dull days, while the end of March brought my first tulips to life.

When the sun came through, it was glorious. The last week of March brought sunbathers in bikinis to the beach… Temperatures in the twenties all too quickly fell to something at least ten degrees lower – Easter snow is forecast! But after that unexpected taste of summer, and with the opening of ‘non-essential’ shops and outdoor eating and drinking to look forward to in April, spirits are rising at last.

Into 2021

I’ve failed to document the last couple of months in my usual fashion, so I’ve run them together with the usual focus on the photos. I can’t keep track of which tier we were in and when, but in December the shops around here were allowed to open, while pubs, cafés and restaurants stayed closed. I put my tree up at the start of the month and hung a Christmas wreath on the door in an attempt to lift the mood. My log burner was fitted – I was hugely grateful for it in the weeks to come.

I began to plan a new novel and alighted on a local street as the focus for part of it, intrigued by the narrowness of both roadway and houses (on one side) and the variety of the buildings on the other.

In common with the whole country, I was focused on the promised window for Christmas celebrations, since everything else in our area was banned. The plug was pulled on that just a few days before – the rainbow over the sea on 23rd December and the arrival of large print copies of The Margate Maid were a couple of moments of brightness at a tough time.

With my planned trip to London cancelled, I did at least manage to see friends who had recently recovered from the virus on Christmas Day. And the family gathered in London and India via Zoom. The period after Christmas, always a difficult one, was redeemed by walks, edits on Book 3 of The Margate Maid trilogy and the prospect of being able to spend a couple of days with family at last. When it wasn’t wet it was cold, but we got out to the beach all the same, and Ellis even had a picnic!

January continued cold and wet, along with gales and a couple of named storms. Publication day for the paperback of A Maid’s Ruin was windy but sunny – a good day for a bracing walk along the beach to Broadstairs. And a glass of something fizzy to celebrate the following evening.

Spring flowers and lovely publication day flowers from my publisher, along with noticeably lighter afternoons, held the hint of better days to come as January rolled on.

A truly spectacular sunrise on a frosty Sunday morning had me out of bed and on the beach by 7.30 am – it was hard to do justice to the subtleties of the ever-changing colour in the sky with my phone camera, but the feeling of witnessing an amazing event stayed with me throughout the day.

The sunny skies on a beach walk the next day hide the fact that the paths were still slippery with ice at 10.30am and the shingle was actually frozen solid on the shady sides of the holm oaks on the beach.

Other than a slight dusting, which vanished by breakfast time one day, we escaped the snow which blanketed other parts of the country. Ellis, though, was surprised and delighted by his first experience of the white stuff.

Paperback publication day

Storm Christoph was still blowing on the morning of publication day, the 21st day of the first month of the 21st year of the 21st century! Click for links to a couple of lovely publicity posts put out by bloggers – something to sit down to with a cup of tea, perhaps. There was a lot of book love on social media and a mention in My Weekly magazine, too. Plus a review for the Historical Novel Society.

I’ve finished writing the whole trilogy – the second book, The Secret Child – is published in March, so now the excitement is over it’s back to edits on book three. And I’m 10,000 words into a new story – I’m looking forward to seeing where these new characters will lead me.

A Maid’s Ruin paperback

A surprise courier delivery today – the paperback version of A Maid’s Ruin, available for pre-order now via your local bookshop (support them if you can in these difficult times), WH Smiths and Waterstones online as well as Amazon.

The second part of the trilogy, The Secret Child, comes out at the end of March so if you read the first book now you won’t have too long to wait to find out what happens next!

Cover reveal

Happy New Year to you all. I know everyone is hoping for better and brighter things as the year unfolds, so I thought I’d get off to a good start by revealing the cover for The Secret Child, the second book in The Margate Maid trilogy. I’m so pleased with it – a big thank you to my publishers, Piatkus Books. It comes out in March in hardback, ebook and audio, with the paperback to follow in the summer.

And speaking of paperbacks, there aren’t many days to wait until paperback publication of the first book in the trilogy, A Maid’s Ruin – out on 21st January. Support your local bookshop if you can – most of them are still taking orders for delivery or collection, even under Tier 4 restrictions. Then settle in for a bit of reading to take you through the long evenings ahead, until spring, lighter nights and – with a massive dose of luck – a return to life as we once knew it.

Happy Christmas

Sending best wishes for the festive season, in a year when so many plans have had to be revised. It may not be Christmas as usual but I hope it’s enjoyable, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

A little end of year update on the writing front. Large print versions of A Maid’s Ruin, under the original title of The Margate Maid, arrived just before Christmas. You should be able to get copies via your local library. And the paperback version of A Maid’s Ruin will be published on January 21st. In these difficult times, please support your local bookseller where you can – most of them will be offering collection or delivery.

Look out for exciting news about The Secret Child, Book 2 in trilogy, in early January. In the meantime, stay safe and warm – and I hope you get lots of books for Christmas!

Starting a story

It was back on a glorious day in October 2017, just after my first book Ella’s Journey had been published, that I began thinking about the story that would be published in March 2020 as The Margate Maid (and now A Maid’s Ruin). Following up on a bit of my own family research, and with the help of a map from the early 1800s on my phone, I started to explore the area in Margate where my ancestors once lived.

The cow barn in Church Street, which I’d discovered on the 1811 census, had long gone, but I found Princes Crescent and a pub nearby that had been there in the early 1800s, when it was known as The Liverpool Arms. (I preferred its later name The Spread Eagle, so kept that).

I had a wander around Margate, taking photos of the harbour from outside the Turner Contemporary and along the harbour arm, little knowing at that point that both Turner and the harbour would come to play a part in my story. A visit to the Foundling Museum in London just after Christmas led me to another part of my story – all I had to do now was write it! The title went through many revisions – my working title was Molly, then The Pomegranate Tree, then The Apothecaries’ Garden, then The Girl with the Chestnut Hair, before we arrived at The Margate Maid and, finally, A Maid’s Ruin for publication. If you’ve read the book, which title do you like best?

November ramblings

November came in, along with Lockdown 2. There was little to be done except make the most of the sunny skies and get out on some walks. This time we were encouraged to exercise as much as possible, so the first lockdown weekend found me walking out from Sandwich quay on the Saturday, and along the beach to Kingsdown then back via the church and Hawksdown on the Sunday.

Reading through the page proofs of The Secret Child, Book 2 of my latest trilogy, saw me through several more days, interspersed with more walks with friends. The sun shone and late autumn light illuminated a circular walk from Ramsgate to Dumpton Gap and back. And we had some spectacular sunsets, too.

November evenings are long, though, with darkness creeping in from about 4pm. I embarked on some cooking, using the Quick Roasting Tin book I recently received as a gift – Keralan prawn curry, nigella-spiced dhal and baked gnocchi – not all on the same day, I hasten to add! I freestyled a bit with the gnocchi, using vegetables I had in and making it in the style of macaroni cheese. All delicious, all satisfyingly quick and easy to make.

I had window sashes replaced during the last week of the month, while I hid in the basement for the duration as the house was very chilly! But on the last day the sun came out and the job I’d intended to do in the garden – pruning the climbing roses – was forestalled by the amount of blooms. So it earned a reprieve for another week or two.

October ramblings

I didn’t take as many photos as usual in October. Maybe the weather wasn’t so good for some of it, or maybe I was focused on unpacking some of the remaining boxes from my move. Anyway, the month got off to a lovely start with a family visit. We managed a bike ride along the front (well, some of us did…), and celebrated a birthday, before the weather the following day kept us trapped inside. We braved the grey skies the following day to throw a few stones into the sea before paying a repeat visit to Wingham Wildlife Park (and the dinosaurs).

The film I’d made the previous month for Libraries Week had its premier! And mid month some glorious autumn sunshine showed up, in time for a trip to Goodnestone park and gardens (top and below).

I had two weekends away – the first since March. One to Sussex, where we walked a lot and ate a lot, and the second to help out at half term, and to say farewell to my daughter, before she headed back to Goa. She got out just in time – Hallowe’en brought with it the unwelcome news of another lockdown, in the lead up to Christmas. Luckily, I’ve got an editing deadline to keep me busy, as well as the germ of an idea for a new book to explore in the coming month.

September ramblings

There was much activity on Walmer beach at the start of the month – diggers and dumpers, transporting the shingle from one end of the beach to the other (apparently). The men at work must have wondered why I was videoing them – for the grandson, obviously…

I took my first train trip since lockdown, up to London and back in a day, excited to see my daughter, Julia, after over a year. It was probably the longest time I’d had to wear a mask at any one time and, apart from the usual hazard of my glasses steaming up whilst trying to read, the whole trip was very straightforward. The Kings Cross area, where I met Julia for lunch, felt rather sad and desolate. Very few cafés and shops were open in Coal Drops Yard, normally vibrant and busy, and hand sanitising stations had popped up every few yards.

Back home, the grey skies vanished after a day or so and the temperatures crept back up again in time for some visitors and more fizz on the beach, plus a wander around Walmer Castle gardens where the late summer and early autumn borders still had plenty of colour.

Julia arrived to stay for a few days and the temperature soared, enticing us back into the water for a swim, followed by the last Pimms of summer (on the beach, of course).

We spent a very hot day in Margate, making a film about the inspiration behind my latest book (The Margate Maid/A Maid’s Ruin), in which Turner’s very early works played a part (below left). The excellent creative services of a filmmaker friend, and Julia’s assistance, made the whole process surprisingly straightforward. We popped into Haeckels, a shop in Cliftonville featuring all things seaweed. It was quite an experience, making a purchase via their socially distanced vending machine (below right), housed in a ‘hall of mirrors’.

We had a day out in Folkestone, checking out the shops in the High Street and beyond, including Moda, which has to be my favourite shop for gift buying.

Then we wandered along the harbour arm and along the boardwalk, taking in a few of the artworks on the art trail. It all looks very tranquil in the photos but it was actually blowing a gale (which the weather forecast defined as a moderate breeze…).

After Julia left, I worked on the edits of Book Three in the latest trilogy, and pondered some ideas for a new book (or new series, perhaps), while also helping to make some tweaks to the film, ready for its debut as part of Libraries Week in October.

Back in London, Julia celebrated her birthday, ably assisted by Ellis, while I lit the first fire in the new house on a gusty weekend. Turned out to be a bit smoky – the house smelt as though I’d had an indoor bonfire!