The Knitting & Stitching Show

Shamefully I’ve been neglecting my blog in the past year. Blame it on house renovation, an ambitious gardening project, and my daughter’s GCSE exams. Excuses, excuses, I know

Anyway what better way to kick-start it than to talk about something I love, and which gives me a lot of pleasure: knitting.

At the weekend I went to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Kensington Olympia with friends Janet Gover and Jane Coulthard. Usually I visit Alexandra Palace for this event, but being a West London girl, Olympia is a great deal easier to get to.

This show is a cornucopia for those who knit and sew (although the wool stands were few and far between), but it’s also a showcase for some extraordinary work from various textile artists.

Here’s what I saw and experienced:

Knitted vegetables

These knitted vegetables look good enough to eat!

Tim Peake

Tim Peake’s spacewalk. A quilted wall hanging based on a still from BBC News as seen on an iPad.

 

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Zebra

This zebra is made entirely from sewing machine stitches, and it only took the artist 5 hours. Only…?!

Volcano

I’d love to have this quilted picture of a Hawaiian volcano on my wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knitted jumper

Remember the 1980s jacquard knitwear picturing idyllic country life? But look more closely, and it might not be so idyllic after all…

Leper's hands

Hands of a leper. This touching wall hanging makes something beautiful out of an ugly and scary disease.

Apart from loving my day out, getting inspired for my next knitting project(s) – with my credit card glowing red hot! – I was a little disappointed. As I mentioned above, there were fewer knitting-related stands this year, and these were quite spread out and therefore hard to find.

A woman on one of the concessions told us that although it was never a 50-50 balance between knitting and stitching stands, it was at least 30% knitting, and now it’s less than 20%.

So, is knitting becoming less popular, I wonder, or do the knitting concessions choose to exhibit at other shows? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

My stash

My “stash” (which was quite modest this year).

 

 

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Happy birthday to Choc Lit!

CL T-shirt
My wonderful publisher Choc Lit are celebrating their 7th birthday today on the 15th June, and I thought I’d blog about something 7-related. So, here are my 7 favourite places in London, and why.

1. The Victoria & Albert Museum
A treasure trove for anyone who loves to look at beautiful and interesting artefacts, some from far-flung corners of the Earth, others just very old. When I was doing research for my swashbuckling historical romance The Highwayman’s Daughter, I spent several hours there studying clothing, furniture, jewellery, and other items relating to the 18th century, the period I was writing in. One dress, worn by the hero’s cousin, is inspired by one in the V&A collection.

2. The British Film Institute
I love the cinema, but the BFI is a slightly different cinematic experience. The films showing aren’t the new releases, and the monthly programme is often thematically put together. In the last 6 months I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life, The Big Sleep, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Each of these different films have been a source of inspiration to me. Love the dialogue in The Big Sleep – the quips just keep coming!

3. Kew Gardens
Come rain or shine, each season has its own special beauty in Kew Gardens, and the many greenhouses their unique environments. The Palm House and the Temperate House are the 2 biggest and most famous, but there’s also the Waterlily House and the Princess of Wales House. The first is self-explanatory – it’s a big indoor pond with numerous varieties of waterlilies, but in contrast the Princess of Wales House has rooms for plants needing hot dry conditions and other rooms for moisture loving plants. Go and see the orchids growing on the bare walls!

4. Greenwich
A large compound with a lot to see, e.g. the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s Gallery, and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich and surroundings have been used in films many time, from Patriot Games and Four Weddings and a Funeral to Pirates of the Caribbean and Les Miserables. The park is the perfect place for a picnic, and if it’s overcast, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in Greenwich itself as well as the Trafalgar Tavern on the riverfront. And travelling to Greenwich on a Thames riverboat makes it an extra special day out.

5. Royal Albert Hall
I recently attended a concert here comprised of music from science fiction films, e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Space Odyssey 2001, just to mention a few, but also music with an astrological theme like The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst. The acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall isn’t perhaps the best, although experts have done a lot to improve it with weird shapes suspended from the ceiling (which incidentally look like flying saucers…) , but the stunning Victorian architecture makes up for it.

6. Heathrow Terminal 5
Am I mad, you might ask. An airport as a favourite place? Well, as airports go, it’s not too bad. There were some teething problems in the beginning (once had to wait 2 hours for my luggage), but these seem to have been ironed out. It’s used exclusively by British Airways and Iberia airlines, the building is sleek and stylish, it never feels too crowded, and they even keep you updated on how busy the security desks are. (And, no, they’re not paying me to say this!)

7. My house
2 years ago I bought a bijou 1930s cottage, and have been working at making it a home ever since. This hasn’t been too difficult – although the house was perhaps aesthetically challenged, as some might say :-), it was as if it put its arm around me the day I moved in (okay, houses don’t have arms, but go with me here…). Since then it has provided me with comfort and security, somewhere to think, to write, to be me.

Garden arch

A cosy place to write

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My Top Five Reads of 2015

As per usual, I’d like to share my favourite reads of the previous year, and here they are:

Chateau on the Lake - Charlotte BettsThe Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts

Imagine traveling to France at the height of the Revolution… That is exactly what Madeleine Moreau does when after a personal tragedy she goes in search of the French side of her family. This takes her to the heart of France in 1792, right when the country is in the grip of the terrifying Reign of Terror.

Foolhardy, yes, and the very idea of it had my toes curling in horror, but the author weaves a beautiful tale of a different side to Revolutionary France. Even so, the strong political undercurrents are undoubtedly there in everything which occurs, and it seems that no one is safe – the authorities react with merciless swiftness to anonymous tipoffs, cutting down innocents rather than letting people not sharing the required revolutionary zeal “get away”.

This novel packs a punch with romance, intrigue, and mystery, the pastoral charm interspersed with horrific scenes, and the author’s research is impeccable.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia HogdsonDevil in the Marshalsea - Antonia Hodgson

Set in the notorious debtor’s prison in London in 1727, this is a gripping murder mystery. The author hooked me from the start with that classic thriller structure, a Prologue detailing the brutal murder itself, and then the main story. Here this is divided into 3 parts: Robbery, Murder, Life and Death, with the Murder section occurring over five days. It may sound contrived but this structure really works because it highlights how much action actually takes place in the span of a very short time.

The wastrel Tom Hawkins lands himself in debtor’s prison shortly after a murder has been committed there and soon becomes embroiled in an investigation. The Marshalsea is vividly described, with emphasis on the segregation of the prison into the paupers’ section, which for many inmates spelled certain death due to the appalling conditions, and the section for the more privileged debtors like gentlemen such as Tom.

Even so, this is no walk in the park for Tom, with violence and betrayal lurking around every corner. It’s a page-turning read from start to finish and even includes a budding romance, a little light in the darkness.

Fatherland - Robert HarrisFatherland by Robert Harris

I’ve always wanted to read this seminal novel, or indeed anything by Robert Harris, but never got around to it. As the author recently published another novel, I decided to start from the beginning, as it were.

Fatherland is an intense political thriller set in Berlin in 1961 against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which Hitler and the Nazis won World War II. The discovery of a body near the house of a high-ranking official days before the Führer’s 75th birthday takes homicide investigator Xavier March right into the corridors of power where he unearths a cover-up on a grand scale: the murder of six million Jews.

With the knowledge of history we have today, including the knowledge of this genocide, it’s hard to imagine a nation of people as isolated and indoctrinated as the German population in this book. Some obviously suspect that something has happened but dare not question the status quo, but most are just ordinary people who simply want to go about their business and survive in this totalitarian regime.

I read this very quickly because it was so gripping, right from the moment inspector March steps out of his car to inspect the dead body, but also because of the spine-tingling premise. A modern classic in my opinion.

A Cruel Necessity by L C TylerA Cruel Necessity - L C Tyler

This is a classic whodunnit set during the time of the English Republic. John Grey, a young lawyer, literally stumbles upon the body of a murdered man, and the local magistrate, a retired colonel from Cromwell’s army, reluctantly accepts that John now has the task of finding the killer. It soon appears that the murder could be linked to a Royalist conspiracy to restore Charles II to the throne.

It was refreshing to read a novel where the majority of the characters’ loyalties lie with the republic and not the monarchy like so many other novels, presumably because Royalists are perceived to be more “dashing and romantic”.

John Grey is neither. He’s young and inexperienced and fumbles his way through the investigation, landing himself in political hot waters on more than one occasion. This makes for a very endearing hero and the plot so much more realistic because in real life nobody is perfect. At the same time it doesn’t pay to underestimate him, nor his mother who constantly exasperates her son but has a very sharp mind. The final denouement is not quite what I expected, but all the more rewarding for it.

Wedding Cake Tree - Melanie HudsonThe Wedding Cake Tree by Melanie Hudson

Celebrity photographer Grace Buchanan doesn’t expect to lose her mother Rosamund so soon in life, but even so Rosamund has the ability to reach far into her daughter’s life beyond death. The terms of her will state that for Grace to inherit her mother’s peaceful Devonshire cottage she has to drop everything for two weeks and go on a journey around the country with world-weary ex-soldier Alasdair Finn.

This isn’t quite what Grace had in mind, but she goes along with it because she realises that she didn’t know her mother as well as she thought she did. It turns out to be the journey of a life-time for both Grace and Alasdair, who are the quintessential odd couple.I loved the way Alasdair was in charge of each letter from Rosamund to Grace as well as the various items to be revealed at each stage of the journey. It gave him an important role in Grace’s life, one she didn’t particularly welcome, as well as setting the scene for love to blossom. Otherwise, as a character, he could so easily have been a bystander to the plot.

I read this debut novel with a strong sense that this was an author who was going places, and lo and behold, Melanie Hudson has just won a RoNA prize for the best contemporary romance of the year!

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The Festive Season 2015

Bath

 

The Royal Crescent in Bath

 

I’m back!

 

2015 turned out to be a rather hectic year; I settled into my new house, my son completed his A-levels then started university, and my daughter started the first year of her GCSEs. I also did a lot of traveling in the UK to some of the beautiful cities including Lincoln, Bath and York. Despite all odds, I managed to have a relaxing warm-up to Christmas and New Year, which is a first because normally I find it very stressful.

 

IHS Xmas - fairy lights

 

Love these fairy lights!

 

On the 25th of November I went to the Ideal Homeshow at Christmas with my good friend Jane. Olympia Exhibition Centre was just brimming with inspiration for gifts, home decoration, and interesting food and drink to sample, as well as talks etc.

IHS Xmas - Jane

 

Jane with some chocolate red wine

 

IHS Xmas - Laurence LB

 

Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen holding forth

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas itself I celebrated in Copenhagen with my family. Teenagers can be grumpy, and Christmas is no exception, but it’s a joy to see that they’re not too old (and too cool!) to feel the excitement of decorating the tree. Long may it last.

Decorating Xmas tree

 

Decorating the tree without moaning!

 

 

 

 

 

Xmas tree

Playing roulette

 

Playing roulette

 

New Year’s Eve was a Casino Royale party at the house of an old college friend, and everyone were dressed to the nines in 007 glamour style. Great fun, great food and company, and I even got to hang on the arm of the roulette high roller. If only it were real money…

 

Saturday the 2nd of January I went ice skating at the indoor ice rink at

Ice skating

 

Looking pained because I just fell over!

 

Westfield shopping centre. It’s been at least two years since I last was on the ice, and predictably I fell flat on my front and had the wind knocked out of me.

 

The holidays ended with a real treat: seeing Jersey Boys at Piccadilly Theatre. This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their roller-coaster journey to fame. The music is both sad and uplifting at the same time, but always life-affirming.

Now it’s back to the grind. Which means doing what I enjoy most – writing – so I’m not complaining!

Jersey Boys

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Fall in love with London – with Nikki Moore

As a Londoner I get particular excited when I see books set on my own turf, and Nikki Moore’s #LoveLondon series is right up my street. Today is the release day for Picnics in Hyde Park, the last in the series, and I’m helping her celebrate.

Picnics in Hyde Park - cover

Blurb
A summer to remember… or forget?

When Zoe Harper returns to the UK after five long years in New York, the last thing she expects is to find her younger sister Melody jobless, homeless, broke and dumped. Unfortunately, life has a way of delivering the unexpected. She should know that, given her ex-fiancé Greg’s faithless behaviour.

Filled with rage and determined to get revenge on the infamous Reilly brothers for her sister’s heartbreak, as well as get some answers, Zoe hatches plan Nannygate. Unfortunately that means moving in with the gorgeous but uncaring music producer Matt Reilly to be nanny to his two adorable, complicated children. But something isn’t adding up, and over the course of the hot London summer, she starts to think that perhaps Matt isn’t so bad after all.

Let down by his last nanny and weighed down with guilt about his wife’s death three years before, wealthy but camera-shy Matt has spent a long time pushing people away, including his own kids. His stunning new nanny challenges him every single day in completely different ways, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

But what happens when you open your heart, and someone isn’t who you thought they were? And can it really be true love when it’s on the rebound, and starts off with a plan for revenge?

Available as an ebook from:
Amazon UK
Kobo
Nook

A bit about Nikki
A Dorset girl and social media addict, Nikki Moore has a HR day job, two kids and a lovely Nikki Moore new author photoboyfriend to keep her busy alongside the writing. She was in the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme for four years and is now a full RNA member. Nikki was a finalist in several writing competitions from 2010 including the Elizabeth Goudge trophy and Novelicious Undiscovered, before being offered a publishing contract, and her debut novel Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015 (for new writing). She is a strong supporter of aspiring authors.

Good luck, Nikki!

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Midsummer Dreams

Midsummer Dream - Alison MayIn celebration of the e-launch day for Alison May’s brand new romantic comedy, Midsummer Dreams, I’m posting today on the theme of all things dream-related. Be sure to check Alison’s blog today where there’ll be links to other people’s dreams and nightmares.

I had a dream… that romance is not dead (still have that dream regularly!). Recently someone hung a banner at the car park of my local Lidl supermarket with the words “Stace, will you marry me? x”. After the initial “Awww” moment I noticed it had been beautifully, even professionally produced, the letters cut out from flower-patterned paper and then laminated so as to withstand the elements. There was only one kiss (x) after the question, which perhaps seemed a little, uhm, sparse for a proposal, but it reminded me that all relationships need work. This is where the true romance lies; you work at it because you treasure it.

I had a nightmare… that someone broke down the door to my house, entered with a Fahrenheit 451flame-thrower, and began burning all my books. I’m aware this sound very much like that modern classic novel Fahrenheit 451, and this is because the premise of that book is my worst nightmare ever. Imagine a world without books, without stories to share, to make you think, laugh, or even cry. No books to enrich our lives, to teach us about humanity – across all genres – to hold, stroke, and smell, to treasure and keep so you can look at them again and again and say, “I remember you”. It would be a miserable society indeed.

My dream for the future… would be a world where people live in peace and harmony, regardless of race, religion, or politics. Where no one would be punished for having a different opinion or for believing in a different God etc. Where we celebrate our differences and share our common history and goals: our happiness and survival and that of our loved ones. Idealistic perhaps, but can it really be so difficult? After all, charity begins at home, as they say…

You can download the kindle edition of Midsummer Dreams here: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00XJOEJTM

About Midsummer Dreams

Four people. Four messy lives. One party that changes everything …
Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect.
Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself.
Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers.
Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach.
At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

 

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My Top 4 Reads of 2014

Okay, so it’s a little late since we’re now at the beginning of May 2015, but as they say, better late than never 😉 Anyway here they are:

Burial Rites Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Iceland, 1829. This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, found guilty of murder and condemned to death by decapitation. While the authorities await the arrival of a quality axe from Denmark, Agnes is forced to spend the winter with the family of a low-ranking official, who have no choice but to take her in.

From the outset it was clear that there was only going to be one outcome for the main character, and I’m aware that this unhappy end is not everyone’s cup of tea – you don’t have to be a hopeless romantic to want some sort of happy or at least upbeat ending with justice being served etc. However, Burial Rites isn’t about justice, it’s about sacrifice. Agnes is a Christ-like figure, and this beautifully written and well-researched story deals with how she touches people’s lives in the short time she has left.

A page-turning, slow build towards an inevitable and powerful ending which had me in tears, this book will stay with me for a long time.

The Moment by Douglas Kennedy
A heart-wrenching love story set in Berlin in the 80s towards the end of the Cold War, and The Momentat a time when many countries in the former Eastern Block were beginning to relax their borders, with Honecker-controlled East Germany being the last bastion of Stalinism.

Petra Dussmann escapes to West Berlin from the East, where she meets and falls in love with American writer Thomas Nesbitt. However, the reach of the STASIs (the East German State Security) is long and threatens their fragile relationship in a convoluted story of betrayal, retribution, and forgiveness. The book debunks the myth of a totally repressed East German population and paints a picture of a vibrant, colourful society – and, to a degree, free-thinking – behind the cold concrete monuments.

The novel was particularly poignant for me because I lived in West Berlin briefly, in the mid-1980s, shortly before the Wall came down. I’ve walked the streets the author refers to and been through the border control at Checkpoint Charlie just like the author describes it. It brought back memories of an exciting time for me.

The Martian by Andy Weir
The MartianLast autumn I faced a long wait in A&E because of a minor injury. Not having brought anything to read, I grabbed what looked interesting from the hospital newsagents, with no expectations whatsoever. The Martian gripped me from the start, so much so I almost missed the nurse calling me…

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, abandoned by his colleagues who think he’s dead. Thus begins one man’s struggle for survival in an incredibly hostile environment, much like Robinson Crusoe in space. Occasionally the story was more fiction than science, but I don’t think it’ll be many years before science catches up with author imagination. There’s already talk of a manned mission to Mars which with our currently technology sadly means certain death for those brave/fool-hardy individuals.

The book celebrates how the human spirit will rally in the face of disaster, and Mark’s battle with the elements makes for a fantastic story of ingenuity, logic, and an ability to overcome gut-wrenching fear. And he has a great sense of humour!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is a very unusual romantic comedy, mainly because it’s told entirely from Don The Rosie ProjectTillman’s perspective and his rather unique take on the world. Don is classed as having Asperger’s, but as a character he’s refreshing, and it’s hard not to warm to him despite his oddities. There was a lot of Sheldon Cooper in him (from the Big Bang Theory)!

On the downside, there were times when the book stretched the credulity a bit, and Don’s personality seemed a little too “superhuman”. The story only scratches the surface of Asperger’s Syndrome, neither showing the complete aspects nor the depths of someone with this condition, and it does nothing to dispel any myths either.

However, I didn’t pick up the book hoping to be educated – I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be – but simply because it was a different take on the romantic comedy. I found it touching, occasionally painfully so, and very funny too. Cheered me up no end.

 

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