Monday, 25 October 2010

Northern Lasses - Catherine King and Leah Fleming

Catherine King is from Rotherham. She lives mostly in Hampshire which is very posh, children spend weekends riding ponies and people own houses with thatched roofs and have thick glossy lawns in their gardens. Leah Fleming lives in an idyllic village in the Yorkshire dales, the kind of place where people have labradors in matching pairs and roses around the doors. So meeting them at The Boar's Head at Ripley seemed fitting, Ripley being one of those villages which has a castle and a deli, and hens roam the village green.
We met there for lunch last week and spent the afternoon in the pub. Catherine had only been there once before, Leah and I go back years to when we started RNA North and have had many happy days at The Boar's Head.
They are both successful writers, they both write historical novels, they both have books about to be published so there was lots to talk about.

Winter's Children is published on November 11th by AvonChristmas on a farm in the dales will never be the same again for the Snowdens after foot and mouth has destroyed their herd but the resident spirit of the house has other ideas. The coming of a child and her mother will change everything as it has done in the past.  This book is perfect for when you are sitting around the fire on a winter's night with a glass of mulled wine, listening to Sting.
This is Catherine's fifth Victorian saga set in Yorkshire and is about a foundling who does everything she can to escape her lowly life as a scullery maid only to end up in the dreaded workhouse.  The hardback is out on December 2nd and the paperback will be published on March 17th 2011 by Sphere.

And yes, the hens. We gave them apples from the back of Catherine's car. She grows them in her beautiful southern garden. It has been a very good year for apples, and for the best selling Northern Lasses.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

My Northumbrian Birthday

I got a tour of my favourite places for my birthday at the weekend. This is me on the beach at Alnmouth mid morning, drinking Moet.  The sun  shone, people exercised their dogs and my kid walked me up the sand.

We went to Barter Books in Alnwick. Everybody should go there, it's based in the old railway station, has its own private carpark on the edge of Alnwick, there are open fires, good food and thousands of secondhand books. Little trains run on the tops of the bookcases. You can take your kids and your dogs. We had coffee and biscuits over an open wood fire. There is the old buffet where they serve soup and hot food. There are lovely seats. The staff are knowledgeable and encouraging. You can stay all day if you like. It's bliss. My very favourite bookshop.

My last surprise was a visit to Alnwick Gardens where Sunday lunch had been booked in the treehouse.

Squidgy cheese hot, with salad, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, hot chocolate brownie with ice cream. When you go to the loo you have to go up winding stairs to the tower. There is a big fire in the middle of the main room and fantastic views on all sides and the best thing of all on my birthday, the company of my lovely daughter.


Friday, 15 October 2010

Giving Talks

Houghton le Spring library, librarians and friends

Being a natural show off I love giving talks. When writers first get published people assume that they are good at this. Most writers are absolutely terrified of gettng up in public and talking to an audience and not just writers, apparently it's one of the things that bothers people most.

I was nervous at first and then one evening I decided to go for broke and talk without notes or cards and it worked much better. I made eye contact with the audience right from the beginning and they are there because they want to be there so they urge you on to do your best.

 When I first went to private school my dad decided that I ought to try and cultivate a  better way of talking, being brought up in a pit village I had a thick accent. So he decided to pay for elocution lessons at school. That brought into my life a wonderful teacher by the name of Margaret Marshall.  It was quite funny really but when I came to take the exams along with a lot of very middle class girls some of whom had been 'taught to talk proper' from birth  I got several distinctions. I think we had all imagined that I wouldn't be very good at this but then nobody had thought about my grandmother.

My grandma, Elizabeth Gill had a very clear speaking voice. Thank you again, Grandma, for giving me something so useful. I'm the woman who never needs a microphone. When I speak at a library in Durham you can hear me in Newcastle. There isn't a hall so big that I can't be heard good and loud at the back.

 My daughter is the same, she doesn't fear getting up in public because I too encouraged her to have lessons on how to do such things and more and more people are required in their jobs to get up and give presentations so I always thought it was a useful thing to learn. You can go on courses for it now. My dad had to pay for elocution lessons all the time I was at school because I enjoyed it so much and I also got good parts in the school plays. I never did lose my Tow Law accent, I'm pleased to say and I'm proud of where I come from.

Writing is one of these solitary things that it's lovely to get away from.  I really like meeting people, librarians are amongst my favourite people of all, they read the books I read and will happily spend hours discussing them, they are enthusiastic and wonderful and organised.

I used to give lots of talks at W.I.s and all kinds of groups and this year I've done several talks. I spoke at my local soroptimists dinner the other night, then yesterday I went to Houghton le Spring library. If you haven't been do go. The library is ten years old and is gorgeous!! It's very like the one in central Sunderland  ( where I spoke earlier in the year ), with lots of light, huge windows, a cafe, different rooms all over the place and the library itself is spacious and bright. The librarians of course are fantastic.

This is me, wearing my new Monsoon dress at Houghton yesterday. I had such a good time.  It's Houghton Feast where they do up the town with decorations and have all manner of events and invite lucky people like me to give talks.

I am giving talks at other libraries soon, so in case anybody is nearby and wants to go to one I'll list them. The Crook group is having a history event this autumn.

I'm at Langley Park at 2.30p.m.  on Friday October 29th
Esh Winning at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday November 2nd
Shildon at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday November 16th
Cornforth at 4p.m. on Tuesday November 23rd

Friday, 8 October 2010

Saltholme - Not Just for the Birds

I once set part of a book in Seaton Carew, the little seaside town which became a popular bathing place for the Darlington Quakers early in the nineteenth century. I sent my family - a middle aged woman, her son, lodger and two smaller children away from the pit village where they ran a pub, The Golden Lion and gave them a week on the coast. This the book that my daughter and her friends read and liked when they were teenagers because it starts when the four main characters are about thirteen. I didn't know I had written a teenage novel until then.

Yesterday I went back to Seaton Carew and what a pretty place it is with its different pastel coloured houses and hotels on the front, its green, its arcades and fish and chip restaurants. We ate at a wonderful place called  The Almighty Cod.  We had cod, chips, mushy peas, white bread and butter and a big pot of tea for £4.99 each and the fish was as fresh as you would expect it to be, wonderfully flaky, the chips were thick and well cooked, the tea was strong - who could resist the smell of fish and chips freshly made?

And then we went to Saltholme Wildlife reserve and discovery park and I am going to go many many times, it is the perfect place to write. It's run by the  RSPB and their staff and volunteers.  There is a big play ground for children, a cafe for those who have been out in the fresh air. All the windows are huge and look out over the lakes and the hides, the land is flat, there are wonderful walks laid out to the hides and around the lakes. It exudes a feeling of complete calm. Kate Humble, RSPB President, officially opened Saltholme in March 2009.

Above,the famous transporter bridge from one of the hides.
You get into Saltholme free if you arrive on foot or by bicycle. If you come by car it's only £3 and members get in free.
Lapwings in flight.

Designed to resemble a kingfisher this is the main building at Saltholme with its glorious views.

People sitting upstairs outside. It was the perfect day, warmer than most of the summer has been, with barely a breeze.  We spoke to two volunteers who had been in a hide all day, I can't think of a better way to spend time, with a flask and a sarnie, and one of those big binocular type telescopes or whatever they are. One gentleman let me look through and see a redshank, I was really pleased! There were coots and ducks and we could see way over flocks of noisy geese. It's a paradise on earth for birds and other wildlife and for people too.

The shop where you can buy everything you need for the birds in your garden and a lot more besides!