Wendy on the beach at Antibes
Jul 2013

Breathless from finishing the editing on Gifted & Talented, my new novel, out in September. It’s a romantic comedy set on the campus of a top university – will the dewily-innocent Isabel, leaving home for the first time, find the dreaming spires all that she expects?

And will she be able to cope with her more challenging fellow students, especially Amber the manipulative It Girl and the handsome but dangerous Jasper, president of the university’s notorious Bullinger Club? Recently moved to the same university town is Diana. She is getting over a divorce and starting a new life with her daughter, as well as a new job as a gardener in one of the college gardens. This throws her into the path of the brooding Richard, brilliant scientist and college head and a man with his own painful secrets. I’ve got a new cover look too, which I attach for you to see.

Gifted & Talented has been great fun to write, not least because I was able to draw on my own experiences of Cambridge life and some of the funny and dramatic things that happened to me when I was a student there. As it happens, I am going back to my old college later this summer in order to give a lecture about restoring my historic garden. I’ll be unveiling my secret weapon as a gardener, which isn’t green fingers or a particularly posh compost or even fancy tools. More on that nearer the time!

It’s amazing to think that only a mere few weeks ago the snow was so thick we couldn’t even drive out of the gate in our Land Rover. But now it’s as if all that never happened. As the Song of Solomon has it, the flowers appear on the earth and the times of singing of birds is come – especially cuckoos in the morning and owls in the evening. Bloomwise, seasons are overlapping; the last of the daffodils have only just gone and there are still tulips about, as well as the magnolia, which took an age to flower this year.

We also had an amazing showing of snake’s head fritillary, usually eaten by rabbits long before those wonderful purple chequerboard bells see the light of day. The seed pods are still standing in a ring around the base of our big cherry tree along with some lady’s smock; it looks beautiful. On the downside, I fear my dahlias, of which I had massed magnificent ranks last year, died in the snow despite being in the greenhouse. I love dahlias, their brilliant colours and Spirograph flowerheads, all different in design. So I have planted some more seeds. I know it’s a bit late but the fact that, as Hamlet said, the time [horticulturally speaking] is out of joint, might count in my favour here.

Otherwise I’m getting on with my new book, a comedy about a summer festival called Carry On Glamping. It’s going like a dream so far. I only have the few weeks until the summer hols to work on it, so it’s heads down at every opportunity. My batteries are recharged by a recent trip to my beloved South of France, where we ate out way round the Riviera as usual, highlights being the reliably wonderful Colombe d’Or (link) in St Paul de Vence, the brilliant, colourful Brulot in Antibes and the central-casting Provencal-picturesque Restaurant des Arcades (link) in Biot, where we have been going for twenty years. That’s a lot of meals!

A bientot

Wendy

Apr 2013

The sun is here at last, winds are warm and skies are blue. The hard ground has become soft; the bird feeder no longer needs filling three times a day and in the field by the track to my house little lambs stare at us curiously and their mothers suspiciously. They are right to be suspicious, of course. Yellow heads of tete a tete nod happily in the borders by my front door and elsewhere in the garden primroses and hellebores nod happily back. Someone still needs to tell the magnolia that the crocuses are here, but the first green blades of tulips are pushing through and the beginnings of peonies and foxgloves can be spotted.

The earth stayed under that thick white blanket of snow like a teenager refusing to get up. But now it has finally flung it back and spring is no longer just coming, it is actually here.

You might guess from all the above that I really enjoy gardening and my own Derbyshire garden in particular. It’s become crucial to my writing. Find out why in my recent article for Top Sante. Perhaps I will work some of this into the speech I have been asked to give at Girton College, Cambridge this autumn on the subject of my historic garden – find out more about it in My Garden. Otherwise please do have a look at my latest book reviews and my most recent Country Life column. Find out about our weekend on the original Wonderwall – Hadrian’s one up in Northumberland, and our trip to fabulous Sicily.

Most excitingly of all, I have almost finished the final edits on my new novel Gifted & Talented, a university-set romcom out in September. We are just working on a cover now and I will have news of that soon.

Thank you so much for visiting and I hope you have fun looking round.

Dec 2012

Is this the most spooky ruin in Britain? We came across this classic, some-say-haunted Gothic scene on a recent walk in Derbyshire, where I live. While we all raved about it, and my small daughter set up her ghostbusting equipment (some string, a notebook, a Christmas cracker magnifying glass), my small son was in the grip of furious rage having been made to walk all that way ‘just to look at a pile of old stones’. And yet just a few days later he thought nothing of a three-hour walk which included a lengthy section of horrible bog – ‘wicked’, he proclaimed the latter, in fact. Moral: walking with children works if they can’t see the way ahead and how far they have to go. Twisty walks over varied terrain on lots of different levels are fine. Long stretches of road visible into the distance are a disaster.

We are having a sequence of radiant winter Sundays in Derbyshire which make stretching the legs irresistible. The light is piercingly rich and low at this time of year and washes everything a warm, thick gold. We shove a flask of tomato soup and bags of crisps into a rucksack and head for the hills. Our most recent walk was to Birchen Edge near Chatsworth where a great stone column in commemoration of Nelson stands proudly on a prow of rock overlooking waves of rolling green hills. Behind, on the moor, three huge neighbouring stones with vaguely hull-like shapes are carved with the names of three ships that fought at Trafalgar – Victory of course, Defiant and Sovereign (see pics). All very dramatic and moving, the more so for the struggle through the bog that preceded this uplifting sight! And the trip to the pub fifteen or so minutes afterwards, back at the car park.

photographs of Wendy walking in Derbyshire

What else have I been up to in the many months since I last invaded the peace of your inbox? Writing, for one thing. My new novel Gifted and Talented, will be out in the summer of next year, it’s been a long time coming but the results are worth it. It’s a romantic comedy set in one of our ancient universities. New girl Isabel is swept up in the slipstream of celebrity student Amber and knocked sideways by glamorous Bullinger Club member Jasper. While ex-banker’s wife Diana, working in the college garden, wants only a quiet life after divorce. But what sort of a story would that make?! Obviously she gets nothing of the sort. I hope to have extracts on the website nearer publication.

I’ve also been reviewing fiction for the Daily Mail – see tab if you want to see what – doing the odd short story and travel piece – see tabs – and judging the prestigious Costa Novel prize. I was excited to be asked, although slightly underestimated the amount of work – between us my two fellow judges – Sam Baker of Red magazine and Toby Clements, literary critic at the Daily Telegraph – and I read around 250 books! But as having my nose in a novel is my idea of heaven, it was hardly a hardship, especially with a couple of glamorous lunches with congenial people thrown in!

Among my very favourite of the entries was a graphic novel called Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart. Sue Bagnold is a middle-aged librarian; divorced, single, quietly despairing and facing the endless summer holidays with her unforthcoming teenage son Daniel. It’s funny, sad and brilliant and so it seemed natural to press for its shortlisting in the Novel category. Rather wonderfully, this unleashed a certain amount of press excitement because, by coincidence, there was a graphic novel, Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot, shortlisted in the Biography section too. And so I found myself helping to set the national cultural agenda (see links) and all from sitting on my backside in Matlock! The final judgement – and dinner! – is in January, so I’m looking forward to that.

Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone, and a very Happy New Year for 2013.

Sep 2012

A NEW term begins and I make the usual mistake of forgetting it's an inset day. As we approach the school gate I notice the eerie silence. No parents, no children clutching bookbags and PE kits. We cross an empty playground to a locked door; the school secretary appears shaking her head. Drat and double drat, as Dick Dastardly used to say.

I seem to forget everything these days. Actually, I forget that I forget, otherwise I would have checked the school dates months ago and written them all neatly down in the calendar. But, in the gay vacation spirit, I left September completely blank and as a consequence am now trying to piece together the children's routine in the way an archaeologist might reconstruct the habits of an ancient civilisation. What do they do on Wednesdays? Thursdays?

We had a great holiday anyway. The South of France again in the full blazing heat of August, at our favourite hotel. Camping in Wales at a fabulous site with peaceful fields and uninterrupted views of the sea (nantybig.co.uk). And no-one driving themselves to the loo block in their bathrobes, as at the place we went to last year. The Olympics (we saw the volleyball!) The Proms at the Albert Hall – we loved the Wallace and Gromit one especially, even if Wallace's 'Concerto in Ee Lad' didn't quite work out! And finally, a trip to Scotland (attadale.com) to spend a week among stunning scenery, not all visible all of the time, but impressive whatever the weather. Now it's back to the grind, not that it is one. I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do, especially on a sunny morning like this one as I wend my way (as it were) down the garden path with a vast mug of Earl Grey as my stirrup cup. Oh, and a nice biscuit or two, or three…

Jul 2012

In my Derbyshire garden the newly-erected badminton net sags invitingly as the midges circle whoever is brave enough to play. The poppies are blazing away in the borders, the rhododendron hangs like a purple mist elsewhere and the Delphiniums massacred by the rabbits last year have amazingly come back for more.

Do have a look at the new pics of my parkland on the website, taken during the ten minutes or so when the sun was out. Still not quite at the end of my latest novel but the good news is that it's coming on well. The best yet, I think. Meanwhile in America my last book Marrying Up is getting wonderful reviews and the literary action in the Holden house hots up to boiling point as I'm asked to be a Costa novel judge. While this is fun for me it is probably less so for the postman who staggers in weekly under piles from the Daily Mail as it is.

May 2012

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bough – at last! It started to come out sometime in March but then retreated under the onslaught of the epic rainfall. It has been almost Biblical around here, how glad we are that we live on top of a hill. Fortunately the children's treehouse, newly-built in the garden, provided an extra option if the water levels got literally Noah-esque.

Not that the rain has been all bad – the wonderful waterfall in the woods near where I live, and which has been dry for a couple of years, is now gushing back over the stones in a swirl of foaming white. I go to sleep to the distant rush of the newly-thickened stream in the valley. And when I drive over the moors to Yorkshire to visit my parents, the famous Derwent Dams look nicely full again, Last summer they were distinctly arid round the edges and looked a bit sad.

The daffodils are still out and we have had a brilliant showing of tulips, but only in the bits of the garden where they are surrounded by box. The ever-more-rapacious rabbits have even taken to eating those this year. I wish I could call Wallace and Gromit to get rid of them; nothing seems to work. They sit on the lawns right by the house eating the grass and waving at us when we glare out at them. If we go outside to chase them off, they lope away with a resigned and weary air as if to convey it's hardly worth us bothering, they'll be back as soon as we turn our backs. The fields, when I drive up the lane home, are alive with the little white flashes of bunnies' bottoms. 'Ah! How sweet!' say guests from the city. I used to think that too. Now, when I survey the ravage that rodent-teeth can inflict on a garden I am amazed to remember how I loved my pet rabbit as a child.

The fields, when I drive up the lane home, are alive with the little white flashes of bunnies' bottoms.

The rains have come with winds, which has meant we have returned home from time to time to find the garden strewn with severed limbs. Of cedars, oaks and chestnuts, I hasten to add. This in its turn brings the tree surgeon, his chain-saw and his shredder so all in all it's been far from quiet in my part of the countryside for the last few weeks. Nonetheless I've been working away and hope to have my new book finished soon. More anon. In the meantime, keep your umbrellas handy, although this morning the sun is out, the birds are singing, the primroses on the bank are glowing and the sky is as blue as a Madonna's cloak. Can it last?

Apr 2012

My daughter Isabella did the seasonal picture on this page. As she is, already at the age of 7, a notoriously hard bargainer, I picked my moment when asking her if I could buy first world rights on the image. “I’ll give you a pound,” I told her when waking her up a few mornings ago.

She opened one sleepy eye. “Not enough!”

“Okay. Two pounds.”

“Still not enough.”

We settled on two pounds fifty; as you can see, I’ll stint at nothing in the interests of my readers.

Other delights new to the site this month include a completely amazing overhaul for my archive section, in which you will find stories, articles, travel pieces and book reviews all neatly organised under those headlines and designed to be read on everything from an iPad to a mobile phone. I think this is the first ever author site to offer this facility, which is incredibly exciting. Go to the link – mybackpages – and be part of the revolution!

I’m also adding lots of pictures of the garden in spring. It has been especially lovely recently with the amazingly warm weather, the slopes below the children’s play fort have had more nodding dancing daffodils than Wordsworth ever dreamt about and even though the wretched rabbits got some of my fritillaries, I was able to erect defences in time to save the last ones and they are out now with their peculiar, ancient-looking chequerboard-patterned petals, nodding wisely in the breeze as they circle the apple tree. Lots of primroses and hellebores too; I discovered this month that another name for hellebores is Lenten rose, which is so wonderfully romantic and infinitely preferable to hellebore, which sounds like someone you don’t want to be sitting next to at a dinner party.

Recent treats for me have included The Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic. I loved this great, visceral Jacobean tragedy in which a feisty aristo marries below her station and all hell breaks loose (quite literally). But I was unsurprised to see it was not getting the great reviews it deserved because everything I go to suffers the same fate. Last month I arranged to take a group of friends to the much-maligned ‘whorehouse’ opera Rusalka at Covent Garden (actually it was brilliant and they loved it). However, when I booked, it had been neither whorehouse or maligned, those were the direct results of me having bought tickets. Similarly, if I arrange to go and see a ballet, it is ten to one that the leading dancer – male or female – suffers an injury and has to be replaced. Although even I was surprised when, a few weeks ago, after I had booked to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden, I read in the papers that wunderkind-new-Nureyev dancer Sergei Polunin was not only not performing, he had actually left the Royal Ballet altogether. Not everyone realises that is entirely because of me. Personally, if I was running one of the famous ballet, opera or theatre companies I would pay me to stay away. Although some people might have made the connection – I am keen to see The Tempest at Stratford this summer but am unable to find a hotel room anywhere in the city.

Work progresses apace on the children’s new treehouse and my own latest novel. It is a race against time as to which will finish first – I’m aiming for the end of April – and from which the view is the most dazzling, glorious and enjoyable! There are probably more metaphors there about structure, solidity and longevity but you get the idea.

Have a wonderful Easter and I’ll write again next month. Oh to be in Matlock now that April’s there… it was something like that, wasn’t it?

Mar 2012

Hello!

Daffodils are dancing all around my writing hut and the milky layer of frost that used to cover the field below every morning now no longer appears. The birds are singing madly, at at amazing volume. That something so small can make so much noise is a constant source of amazement to me, although as I have two small and noisy children, I'm not sure why!'

The most fun I've had recently was on half term holiday at the end of Feb. I wrote about it for Country Life and here it is again, so you can see what I've been up to!

'Fortune favours the brave' is our family motto. So we ignored severe weather warnings and headed to the north Yorkshire coast for Extreme Half Term. I'm Yorkshire born and bred, incurably sentimental about my native county and we'd booked a National Trust cottage at no small expense. It was Whitby or bust.

Next morning at 8am I was out on a 45% slope digging out the Defender whilst being happy-slapped by icy gales. But below me stretched the arc of Robin Hood's Bay and beyond it the open sea. The cliffs of the headland were flushed pink with a winter dawn. Who would want to be anywhere else?

Whitby is famous for its connections with Captain Cook and Dracula, although it doesn't exactly cash in on either. One of the few bits of Dracula marketing is a B&B called 'Bats & Broomsticks'. Standing by the front door is a familiar figure, be-fanged grey polystyrene face just visible above the Nissan Micras of the guests. Apart from a distant cliff-top statue with a seagull permanently fixed to its head, Captain Cook is similarly unobtrusive. But if you, like us, visit the small museum by the harbour you begin to form a picture of just how extraordinary a man he was. The son of poor moorland farming folk, he had to plot his career path as carefully as he later plotted his voyages. He went to work in a grocer's at Staithes specifically to meet the Whitby ship-owner to whom he later became apprenticed, and whom he left to join the Navy, the rest being history. It's striking that a man to whom social position was no limit spent his career fixing positions on the surface of the globe.

Whitby is the home of the original jet set, those who fashioned into elaborate jewellery and ornaments the shiny black stuff found in the local cliffs. The Whitby Museum, one of my favourites anywhere, has some wonderfully hideous examples, but its most hideous artefact of all is 'The Hand of Glory'. This perfectly horrible and 'lucky' glass-cased relic is reputedly the dried and pickled hand of a hanged man whose withered fingers held a candle made of another hanged man's fat. When lit, it supposedly put everyone in a house to sleep so the place could be burgled at will.

The museum also has some fossilised dinosaur sick and 'The Truant's Clog', a heavy lump of wood with a chain and shackle attached. This early form of tagging was used by the truant officer on children skiving off school. The juvenile thus apprehended had to drag themselves to the headmaster, who had the key. My favourite item in the Whitby collection is none of these, however. It is 'The Tempest Prognosticator', possibly the world's craziest and most complicated barometer. Twelve large glass jars are arranged in a circle with a network of hammers and bells on top. The jars each contained one sensitive leech, which rose up and down according to atmospheric pressure hitting the hammers which set off the bells which warned of a forthcoming storm. It's the British obsession with weather gone mad.

In contrast with Whitby's thirst for knowledge and self-improvement, Scarborough has a mildly villainous air. Perhaps something of King John, who enlarged its now-ruined castle, and Piers Gaveston, seized at said castle to meet a grisly end, still hangs about the place. Just down from the gatehouse is the graveyard where Anne Bronte is buried (between two Holdens, as it happens) although the main Scarborough graveyard action of the moment concerns the recently-interred remains of Jimmy Savile. According to the local paper he is already receiving up to 30 visitors a day plus the occasional coach party. Howsaboutthatthen?

Scarborough's amusement arcades flash invitingly along the seafront promising 'Family 2p Fun'. In practice this is Parent £10 Misery, as the children squander their inheritance on machines with mountains of two pences teetering at the edge apparently requiring just one coin to send the whole lot spilling over, like some miniature brown eurozone collapse that never quite happens. We bribe the apprentice currency dealers out with a visit to the Harbour Bar, a Fifties ice-cream parlour with a curved counter, knickerbocker glories and chocolate sundaes dispensed by stern ladies in yellow overalls.

We took ourselves inland to visit Castle Howard. The house is shut at this time of year but walking round the building's outside I noticed that the famously lavish baroque detail included the Order of the Garter on the drainpipes. This astonishing example of unashamed one-upmanship made us wonder what insignia we could put on our own drainpipes to advertise our achievements in life. Our daughter's Brownie badges are probably the best bet.

In York's Castle Museum I took the children to view the first thing I can ever remember seeing in my whole life. This is (weirdly I know) the iron bed in the Condemned Cell of the Castle Museum. In the Minster, we inspected the grave of little Prince William, son of Edward III and kid brother of The Black Prince. His father and sibling fought at Crecy and his mother pleaded for the lives of the Burghers of Calais. Had he lived, the pressure would have been on.

Our homeward trip took in Rievaulx Terraces – more epic showing-off by monied Yorkshire folk this time in landscape garden form – and also Rievaulx Abbey. Here I discovered the answer to a question that has long puzzled me. Who, exactly, buys those enormous facsimile tapestries you see in English Heritage shops? No less august a personage than Archbishop Sentamu, it seems. 'He said it was for his windy Minster', the lady behind the desk canonically explained.

Have a great March!

Wendy xxx

Feb 2012

Hello everyone, happy March. Am keeping warm by typing like the wind, drinking buckets of coffee and hoovering up the carbs in the shape of piles of toast. It can be a depressing time of year, this long march between the last of the Christmas chocolates (even the liqueurs) and the Easter holidays and spring. But there is plenty to be pleased about even so. Outside my hut the snowdrops have their white heads cast demurely down and the earliest daffodils are sending green knife-blades up through the frozen soil. But the rabbits have already cut the first fritillaria off at the pass, their shoots are nibbled to nothing, so none of those again for another year.

As I write, it is a beautiful winter morning with sun glittering on the rhododendron leaves and a milky mist filling the valley below the frosted fields. The bright chill has an exhilarating glass-of-champagne quality, it tightens your nose, burns your fingers and settles coldly on your hair. The birds are singing bravely and rustling distractingly about in the dry leaves by my hut door. Every now and then I hear the thud of a squirrel above me, running along my hut roof.

The other great thing about winter is the darkness and the clear skies of the frozen nights. I’m regularly almost colliding with the trees in the drive as I swerve to point out to the children spectacular Orion striding across the heavens with his diagonal belt of diamonds and the supergiant stars at his shoulder and heel. I’d love to know more about astronomy but I can’t stay out for more than five minutes in these temperatures. It’s cold enough for two hairnets, as we say in Yorkshire. I hang about just long enough to spot what I think of as my own personal constellation, Cassiopeia, who looks like a huge ‘W’ in the sky. I hope my initial is the only thing I have in common with Cassiopeia, one of several pushy mothers in Greek myth who made the mistake of boasting about her offspring.

What have I been doing recently? Working on my new book mostly – more news of that anon – and as usual rattling off a few things on the side as well. Book reviewing, short story writing, and also a travel piece about my local area in which I explore Matlock’s unexpected links with Florence Nightingale and Mary Queen of Scots, and how a local hairdresser started the Industrial Revolution. This weekend we are taking the children to see a comic crime mystery called ‘Murdered To Death’ at our local Chesterfield Theatre. Whether it will be any good I don’t know but I loved the title.

I had a fun trip to Salford (not many sentences start like that) when I appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with Dame Jenni to talk about the trend for men to propose in embarrassing, over-the-top ways. The specific examples were the ghastly ‘marry me’ fireworks set off in front of Hollies Branson and Valance by their ‘beaux’ (as Hello magazine always calls them). But I think Prince William probably started it all with that oh-so-simple Kenyan hut on a friend’s estate that could only be reached by private plane. I may be wrong, but I suspect Kate would have said yes in the Slug and Lettuce.

On the self-improvement front, I bash on with Pilates and my piano lessons and have recently re-read two favourite books, The Great Gatsby and David Copperfield (the tiny print of the latter volume forcing me to push my specs right to the end of my nose and finally recognise I am even more shortsighted than I was before). I also stirred my first ever batch of marmalade, made by my husband, the preserves king. It was worth making for the fabulous citrus smell with which it filled the kitchen alone. Like a hundred very expensive scented candles all being lit at once.

This month I am looking forward to a half term holiday in wonderful Whitby, north Yorkshire. It is always bracing at this time of year but hopefully not quite to the extent it was in 2010 when we had to be dragged out of the snow by tractor. We have a great time mooching about the frozen wastes of Scarborough Castle and Whitby Abbey (scene of the opening of Dracula), followed by a warming Knickerbocker Glory or chocolate sundae at Scarborough’s wonderful, authentically Fifties ice-cream parlour, the Harbour Bar with its half-moon sweep of bar top, red-padded circular stools, coffee in glass cups and ladies in pale lemon uniforms.

Happy Valentine’s Day and a heartwarming February in general!

Jan 2012

Hope you had a good one. Personally, I just managed to keep my vertical hold on New Year's Day after a night carousing with friends in Paris. I don't want to think about the number of New Year's Days I have spent groaning in various Parisian bedrooms (not as exciting as it sounds). But this one, I am happy to report saw me up on my feet and walking the dog before 11am.

We had a wonderful holiday and even managed to visit the Louvre, which I haven't been in since it was built, practically, owing to the truly vast queues you see waiting outside to go in, Turns out that if you buy something called a Museum Pass and go in a certain side door you can dodge the lines. We were at the Mona Lisa almost before anyone else as a result and so got a great view of all the Louvre staff laughing at the tourists herding in. The view of the ML not so great – she's behind more bulletproof plastic than Barack Obama. But I can recommend the Angelina hot chocolate served at the Café de Richelieu. Rich was the word; I could feel my arteries seizing up just looking at it.

We went to see The Sound of Music at the Theatre de Chatelet, which was wonderful too. Seeing Cliff Richard outside afterwards was a dollop of extra fun – he'd obviously been to the show as well. Otherwise my holiday has been spent largely looking at the bones of various vast and extinct creatures (there should be a joke here but I can't think of one). My son is a dino obsessive and so we went to the Natural History Museum (twice) and its counterpart in Paris too. I should be an expert by now but they just don't do it for me. They're not very glamorous and had no amusing aspirational tendencies, so useless as a source of writing inspiration.

I write swathed in one of the many Christmas jumpers bought for me by family and friends who fear I am freezing to death in my writing hut. Most are brown and one has a hood, so I'm currently working a monastic look. I am bracing myself to take the children to school in a storm of wind and rain straight out of King Lear. I am not expecting to meet a mad naked man covered in mud and flowers, but you never know. There might be a stray Morris dancer left over from the summer got stuck among the hills somewhere.

Speaking of our local hills, I just read the most wonderful book, called A Traveller In Time by Alison Uttley. It's a children's book, set on a Tudor farm just outside Matlock and concerns the adventures of a girl who, staying with her relatives, finds herself travelling back four hundred years and getting caught up in a thrilling plot to free Mary Queen of Scots. I originally bought it for my daughter but ended up reading it myself. It's soaked in wonderful atmosphere and I'm dying to see the local place om which it is based. Turns out the farm is now a bed and breakfast run by former Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom, so I might have to book myself in for a couple of full Englishes. That sort of brings me back to where I started this letter, and also I have to do the school run in the storm now! Blow wind and crack your cheeks!

All the best for the New Year. I'm straight back to work this morning, so stand by for news of the new book!