The Most Boring Blog Ever!

It’s 8am on Sunday and another week has rolled by so quickly I’m not sure where it went. I’ve been busy all week editing the first three books of the Blackwood family saga ready for republication soon, and my eyes are tired of wearing glasses and looking at a screen.

All day yesterday I kept thinking – “I must write my blog” – but the sun was shining so I pootled about the garden instead, I had breakfast out there with Miss F and I made six bookstack challenge posts for Instagram next week.

In short, I did everything but write my blog.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my blog, because I do. And I know there are people who read it religiously every Sunday and I certainly didn’t want to let them down – all six of them. It was more I was tired. Tired of looking at my glowing laptop screen and tired of words. So tired of words. In fact, after a whole week of moving words around, taking them out, putting them back in again, and looking for the bad words that I’ve used one too many times, and yes, I am looking at you – just, suddenly, really and only – there was a real reluctance to look at any more.

As any author will tell you, editing sucks. Oh, not in the beginning, it doesn’t. In the beginning when you’re still in love with your story and it’s all fresh and shiny and new, it’s great fun. Polishing and perfecting it. But. When you’ve gone through it a gazillion times and you’re still finding things to fix, then it’s not fun anymore. In fact, you are so sick of looking at your story that the temptation to just forget the whole thing is immense. And you know, no matter how many times it’s edited, no matter how many editors, beta readers and arc readers look at it, there will always be that one mistake that is missed by everyone. Like a cockroach behind the skirting board it will lurk, waiting until the book is published and you hold your beautiful paperback copy in your hands for the first time. You open it up to feast your eyes on this masterpiece you have created and wham – that’s when it hits you between the eyes – the error on page 56.

Usually it’s not a massive error, it’s a missing full stop or a too instead of a to, no one else will probably even notice it’s there. But you know it’s there, and yes, it is possible to change it and republish it, but is it worth all the hassle of having to get another pdf made simply for that?

So, that’s what I was doing all this week. And sorting out new covers with my cover designing team and trying to write blurbs – which as any author will tell you is the hardest thing about writing a book – an 80,000 word story which all ties together and has a beginning, a middle and an end – no problem. A succinct blurb of under 200 words that effectively sums up the story without giving away any spoilers, and that tempts the reader to buy the book without putting the entire plot on the back cover – impossible. I’ve seen many a writer reduced to tears by writing the blurb. And I’ve had three of them to do this week.

I was also rather stuck for what to write this week. After all, it’s not like I’ve gone anywhere or done anything exciting. I’m sure you don’t want to hear about my single trip to the post office where a man in front of me in the queue couldn’t stop coughing and everyone in the queue, as one entity, moved back to give him and his possibly germ infested breath, lots of room.

Or how I went shopping and did my usual forage of whatever I could find on the shelves before scuttling home again, so relieved to be able to close my front door on the world for another week.

Maybe you would be interested to hear that the previous week I spent a very long day deep cleaning my bathroom? I managed to remove the shower screen and propped it up into the bath and spent hours simply going at it again and again with some very powerful limescale remover I’d bought and some mould remover. ** note, do not mix these two together. Trust me on this one. Unless you want to be forced from the bathroom wheezing, with your eyes tearing and your lungs feeling like you’ve just inhaled acid, keep these two far apart! **

When I’d finally finished, Miss F came in for an inspection.

“The shower screen!”

“What about it?”

“You can see through it! I didn’t know it was supposed to do that!”

I told you it was powerful limescale remover. It took several applications and much scrubbing and even chipping at the layers, but I finally got off stuff that I think pre-dated the Jurassic period. Oh, the joys of living in a very hard water area.

On a depressing note, I think my dishwasher is finally kaput. It’s been getting more unreliable over the past few years. There are certain “dead zones” in there, that I know if I put things in that zone they won’t be cleaned, but now it’s like I forgot to switch the machine on at all. Stuff is coming out as dirty as it went in. So yesterday I once again took the filter apart and thoroughly cleaned it, I topped it up with salt and rinse aid, and I used an expensive dishwasher cleaner on it. Has it made a difference? I don’t know. We’ll find out when we next use it.

I hope it can be salvaged. Although it is seventeen years old it was a very expensive, top of the range model, and I have looked after it, to replace it is going to cost me a lot of money. As well, it’s one of those built into the cupboard ones so that limits the models I will be able to choose from. Once I’m allowed to, I will get Rob my trusty appliance man, to take a look at it. It’s possible there’s a problem that can be fixed and keep the machine going for a little while longer.

Miss F got her college results back for the year. Luckily, she and most of her class, had managed to complete the majority of their exams before lockdown. There were a couple of presentations she had to complete at home and submit via the internet, and one rather interesting practical demonstration she had to do via Skype involving our long-suffering cat and a towel which left the cat a bit traumatised. I am happy to say though, that pending additional points that will be awarded once her work placement report is finalised, she has passed this year’s exams with at least a merit and possibly a distinction.

It’s all she needs to be able to move up to the next level in September – if the colleges are all open again by then, that is. She has now completely finished with her college work for this school year, and even if schools reopen for the summer term, I don’t think she will be going back to college as there wouldn’t be much point. Although, who knows?

That seems to be the underlying theme at the moment. Nobody knows what is going to happen. We’re definitely in lockdown for another three weeks at least, which I must admit I’m relieved about. But all around me I can feel how frustrated and agitated people are becoming. On my weekly trip up town I have noticed there seem more people out each time. Most are obeying social distancing rules, but many are not.

My own neighbours in my road are all displaying signs of cabin fever and are clutching at any excuse to linger for chats in the street. They begin by religiously obeying the 2m apart rule, but as they gossip you can see them drifting closer and closer together. They are also in and out of each other’s gardens and again not adhering strictly to the rules of 2m apart and don’t share food from each other’s kitchens. I can understand it, I can, but at the same time it makes me uncomfortable.

It was VE Day on Friday and the Government sent out very mixed messages about coming together to celebrate but still obeying social distancing rules from your front garden. Well, I live in a Victorian street where the houses don’t have front gardens, not really. A short path and steps up to the front door, is all you get.

We hung out whatever flags and bunting we could get hold of, there was wartime music being played from someone’s house and people stood outside their houses with a drink of something and called out to each other, and that was nice. But then, after a while and as I expected, people began to drift up and down the street chatting to each other, and again, the 2m rule began to be bent, ever so slightly. At that point, I said goodnight and went indoors. They are lovely people, but at the end of day, I don’t know where they’ve been or who they’ve been in contact with.

The weather has been very changeable, after all those weeks of gorgeous sunny days and balmy evenings, it suddenly changed to cold, wet and windy, and the sheer weight of water knocked a piece of my guttering loose at the front of my house. This caused much consternation amongst my neighbours who all rushed to tell me that I must get it fixed or it would cause major problems. Yeah, no kidding? Easier said than done though in the middle of a lockdown. Luckily, the problem has been fixed without too much effort on my part. The neighbour opposite to me has had decorators re-painting all his exterior windows this week. They are a local firm who have carried on working but only on exterior jobs. They are a husband and wife team in isolation together and live in the town so can pop home whenever necessary for lunch and toilet breaks.

Anyway, I was in the garden on Friday collecting in the washing, when Miss F came running out to tell me that there was a man at the front door asking to speak to her mum. Curious, I went to see, and it was the painter from across the road asking if while he was there with his extra long ladder, would I like him to fix the gutter for me?

I was delighted and offered to pay him, but he refused to take anything, scuttled up his ladder and pushed the gutter back into position. But, I did ask him to give me a quote for sanding down and re-painting my fascia boards as they haven’t been done since about 1909 – certainly not in the thirty years I’ve been living her – and they look terrible and desperately need doing. So, they will be coming back next week, weather allowing, to get this job finally done.

Speaking of finally getting things done, we at last have a working doorbell. After at least twenty years of mine not working and having to stick a little note over it ordering people to KNOCK, Miss F ordered us a wireless one from Amazon. With brute force and ignorance, I managed to prise the old one off the front door – the screw had corroded into place – and screwed the new one on.

It’s really fancy – with two receivers that you can plug in anywhere in the house and about fifty different ring tones! It will be useful to be able to take one of the receivers outside and plug it into the outside socket in the garden. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been out there and heard the phone ringing indoors, so have come running in to answer it, only to find it’s someone standing on my front doorstep unable to make me hear their frantic knocking.

What will happen in three weeks-time, I don’t know. I work for a company selling beds and mattresses, which in the short term can in no way be considered essential. Indications are that lockdown will be eased gradually, with the more essential businesses opening up first. Like I said, beds aren’t immediately essential, so I don’t know if that means we’ll be left in lockdown for longer. I’ve heard nothing from my firm, other than the odd reassuring text from my manager checking that we’re all okay and still alive, so all I can do is wait to be given instructions.

The temperature is due to drop next week, but still remain dry, so I’m thinking I should begin on the mammoth task of painting my garden fences. I know me. If I go back to work and I haven’t even started the job, then that paint will remain in the shed for another year or two. But, if I have at least made a good start, then the impetus will be there to finish the job. I’ve dusted off my old iPod which I can listen to the radio on, together with a pair of lightweight headphones. Painting fences is such a boring job that I’ll need something to stop me going insane. If I can do even just a couple of hours a day then perhaps over the next three weeks, I’ll make real inroads into the job, maybe even finish it. I will keep you all posted.

This is not the most exciting blog I’ve ever written, but at least I’ve written something. I was reluctant to break the habit as I’ve managed to produce a blog every single week (with the exception of Christmas) for almost a year now.

I hope you all enjoy your Sunday – as most of you know, it’s sofa Sunday for me and Miss F, when we slob on the sofa and binge watch films with snacks and drinks, and there’s pizza for dinner. We’re now watching our way through all the Marvel films in the correct viewing order. We’re up to Thor 1 and also Avengers Assemble, if there’s time. I enjoy these Sundays when we completely relax and do nothing but watch movies all afternoon, but I wouldn’t want to do it every day. That would very quickly become boring.

My tea is long gone and somehow, I’ve dredged up 2400 words. I’m now going to make coffee and breakfast and get this day started, so, stay home, safe safe, stay healthy.

Julia Blake

The Show Must Go On!

A couple of weeks ago I chatted about the inspiration behind my fantasy novel Erinsmore. How it was a trip to see The Lord of the Rings musical in the West End of London that sparked the idea that would sprout into my own epic fantasy tale. Since then, several of you have messaged me to say how much you enjoyed that memory, and did I have any more like it? Well, I do, so because I’m bored of talking about isolation and the current situation, I thought I’d take you all with me on a trip down memory lane.

Lord of the Rings

When did my love of musicals begin? Well, it must have been when I was about 14 and went on a fabulous school trip to London. This was in 1981 and we all piled onto a coach very early one morning and went to London Zoo for the day. It was a zoo so it was great, although I had stupidly decided to wear new summer sandals that day without breaking them in first and by the end of the first hour walking around looking at all the animals, I was in real trouble. What we did about food I have no recollection, probably we’d been ordered to take pack up so we would have been carrying that around with us as well.

In the evening, we went to see the brand-new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical “Cats” which had only been open a few weeks but already had received rave reviews. How our drama teacher had managed to get us tickets, I have no idea. I do remember our seats were quite high up, but it didn’t matter, because the whole stage was spread out below us. None of us had ever been to a West End show before, so had no idea what to expect. Back in the late seventies/early eighties travelling all the way up to London to see a show was almost unheard of and was something other people did.

Anyway, there we all were, about 60 of us and several teachers, spread over several rows, fidgeting and whispering with excitement as the lights went down and it crashed into those opening bars of that now iconic music.

I didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I’d begged to be allowed to go more for the zoo than for some strange show in the evening, and besides, by now my feet were just ten screaming blisters where my toes used to be and I had a strong suspicion when I took my socks off that night they’d be full of my own blood. But when that music started, I forgot everything and was instantly carried away to the back alleys and streets where the cats lived.

We were extremely fortunate, although we didn’t grasp it then, but the cast we saw were the original and the best, filled with stars and soon-to-be-stars, and it was extraordinary. How about this for a cast list – Elaine Paige, Brian Blessed, Wayne Sleep, Sarah Brightman, Paul Nichols and Bonnie Langford.

Cats

Totally spellbound, we all sat glued to our seats bursting into wild applause at the end and jumping to our feet with excitement when a very familiar figure walked onto the stage carrying that famous red book. Yes, it was Eamon Andrews from This is Your Life, come to take Wayne Sleep straight away to film the show. It was the cherry on the top of an amazing cake and that was it. I was bitten by the West End bug that night and it’s never really left me.

Being only 14, living in a small town and always being permanently broke, I didn’t have another chance to take in a West End show for several years. Although I did see various other productions performed locally. Shows such as Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver Twist that deepened my love of the grand musical.

It wasn’t until I had left home and was earning my own money that I entered into a “show” period in my life, when I was going up to London to see a show at least once a year and sometimes more often. A local coach company offered very good deals on theatre excursions where you’d pay one price and get designated coach seats right to the theatre and back again, plus excellent seats at a London show – they could buy in bulk in advance so the seats were generally extremely good. Not having to worry about driving to London or trying to park was also a huge advantage. It meant that I and whoever I’d gone with could find a fabulous restaurant to have an amazingly long and boozy lunch in, then fall into the show secure in the knowledge that at the end of it the bus would be waiting outside for us. We generally did the matinee as it meant not such a late homecoming, especially if it was a work night.

I remember going to see The Lion King with my favourite cousin on one of those coach trips. We fell into a Loch Finn restaurant both starving hungry and ordered smoked salmon for starters and their huge sharing seafood platter between us for the main course. This thing was astonishing. A large, three-tiered metal contraption was placed on the table between us. The bottom tier simply held an empty bowl, for the rubbish, we were informed. The middle tier was a massive platter of chipped ice containing tiger prawns, cockles, mussels, razor clams, crab, lobster, crayfish, and edible seaweed. The top tier was a bowl containing hot mussels in a white wine and garlicky creamy sauce. All served with hot, salty, thick cut chips plus tons of bread and butter to mop it all up with, it was easily the most delicious thing we’d ever had, and we ate it all.

We’d gone into the restaurant at eleven and the matinee didn’t start until three, so we had plenty of time. Unlike all the others on the bus who’d travelled up with us, we had no desire to fight our way to Oxford Street to go shopping. No, food was much more important and such food! We ordered another bottle of wine. They cleared our table and we just chatted and drank and relaxed for a good hour before deciding we didn’t want dessert, but we would have cheese. So, we split a cheeseboard.

Another hour passed, we’d had coffee, and both used their facilities a couple of times. We still had ample time bearing in mind the theatre was next door and our seats were obviously pre-booked.

I think the staff had grown quite fond of these two funny, happy people who kept ordering wine and sat there as all the other lunchtime diners came and went. We still had 30 minutes to go when we waved them over and said that yes, actually we would like dessert now and the bill please. Finally, at 2:55pm, we staggered out of there and found our seats – third row from the stage, if you please – and settled back not knowing what to expect and wondering how much like the Disney film it would be. The answer was, just like it, but a hundred times better.

Have you ever seen the show live? If you get a chance to, then I highly recommend you do. It is astonishing. As we sat in our seats, only a little bit blurry around the edges from all that lunch, the lights went out, a giant sun arose over the back of the stage, and that all too familiar African cry resounded over the theatre. Gradually the sun came up and there were animals all around us. Monkeys climbing down from the boxes, birds flying overhead, jaguars prowling onto the stage, an elephant parading down the aisle. Of course, we knew they were humans dressed up and operating puppets, but it’s so cleverly done and so beautiful that you simply forget that and believe in what you are seeing.

I have since seen The Lion King again, this was in 2007. Miss F was about three years old, certainly pre-school age. I’d always said I would take her to see it when she was old enough to appreciate it, but then a rumour went around that it was closing. I panicked, I really wanted to take her, so I booked tickets and I and my friend Becky went up on a coach trip to London.

We found a lovely friendly Italian restaurant right next to the theatre where they made such a fuss of Miss F and had a nice lunch. Pasta was and still is her favourite food. Poor Becky had a mishap though when a big dollop of red pasta sauce escaped her fork and landed straight on her chest. Unluckily she was wearing a white silk polo neck sweater and it was pretty obvious, but she just laughed and arranged her scarf to cover the stain.

The Lion King

Sadly, our seats were nowhere near as good as my original ones, and we were way up in the gods so the whole opening scenes with all the animals were almost completely lost on Miss F, in fact the whole experience is one she barely has any memory of except eating pasta in a smart restaurant and Auntie Becky spilling her lunch down her white top.

Literally a month later, I was taken to London by friends for the weekend to see Phantom of the Opera – for full details of that trip please look at my blog from three weeks ago “Should Old Acquaintance be Forgot” where Becky and I reminisce all about that trip.

I have seen Phantom of the Opera three times now. The first time was in 1997 when I was taken as a birthday treat by my then husband. Our seats weren’t great, in fact, if I’d had a tin of paint I could have painted the theatre’s ceiling for them while I was up there, and it was a little hard to follow what was going on. The second time was for my 40th birthday when I went with three friends and our seats were in the third row from the stage and that was a whole different experience. Sitting there, my heart in my mouth, as the orchestra crashed into that iconic music and that huge crystal chandelier swung up inches over our heads, we all looked at each other in thrilled awe.

A funny thing happened in the interview though. We had booked ourselves a bottle of rose wine to share between the four of us. We all liked rose wine, and it was a lot cheaper to buy a bottle than buy four individual drinks. They told us that the bottle and four glasses would be on table one ready for us in the interval. This is standard practice in pretty much every theatre in the UK. So, the interval was coming up. Our seats were right by the door that led to the bar and the toilet area. The curtain swished down, two of our party were desperate for the loo and two of us could wait. So, the cross-legged pair hurtled off to be first in the queue for the ladies and myself and another friend legged it into the bar.

We were the first people in there. We spotted our bottle of rose and four glasses on table one, plonked ourselves down and dumped coats and bags on the other two seats to hold them for our friends. The plan being when they got back, we would then visit the ladies ourselves. We were sitting there chatting, when a very annoyed looking elderly lady approached us.

“Excuse me!”

“Yes?” I said.

“I think you’ll find that’s ours!”

“I’m sorry? What?”

My friend and I looked at each other in horrified confusion. In our haste to get a drink, had we inadvertently grabbed somebody else’s? No, I pulled the slip of paper out from under the bottle.

“No, look, it definitely says Blake, this is definitely our bottle of wine.”

“Not the wine! The table!”

Now we really were confused.

“The table? What do you mean the table is yours?”

“Well, when we ordered our drinks, they told us they’d leave them on table one for us, and look…” she gestured to a collection of drinks that were also standing on the table. “There are our drinks, on our table, that you are sitting at, So, move please!”

I stared at her, unable to believe her arrogant rudeness. Normally, in a situation like this, I would have been polite. But what the hell? I smiled, patronisingly.

“Oh dear,” I purred. “First time at a theatre is it? They merely meant your drinks would be left on the table, not that the table was reserved for you. There simply aren’t enough tables for everyone in the theatre so it really is a case of first come, first served.”

I paused and took a sip of my wine.

“And in this case, we’re younger and had quicker legs, so the table is ours.”

“Yeah,” drawled my friend. “Nice try, love.”

The woman turned a very unattractive shade of puce and hastily gathered up her drinks and scuttled off back to her friends, who then proceeded to spend the rest of the interval staring daggers at us.

The Phantom of the Opera

My third visit to the show was much later in about 2013/2014 when my mother gave myself and my then sister-in-law tickets to take Miss F and my niece to see the show, plus enough lunch vouchers for a slap up meal at Bella Italia. Again, we had brilliant seats and a great time was had by everyone.

You’d think that Phantom of the Opera would be my favourite musical, you’d think wrong. My absolute favourite is Les Miserables. I don’t know why, but something about that musical reduces me to tears and stirs my heart. I first went to see it in 1996 with my new boyfriend who would later become my husband. My favourite cousin had bought tickets to see the show, together with an early bird dinner at a nearby restaurant to treat her then boyfriend for his birthday. Only, he somehow became not her boyfriend a couple of weeks before the birthday, so she was stuck with the tickets. I offered to buy them off her, not making the connection with the date. I was at college at the time taking two A’Levels and one of my exams was on the same day. The exam finished at 4:00pm in Suffolk. The table was booked for 6:00pm in the West End. Could it be done? My boyfriend was waiting outside the college with his engine running by 3:50pm. I’d explained to the examiner what was happening, and she’d said I could leave as soon as I’d completed the exam, so long as I turned my paper over on my desk and left as quietly as possible.

By 3:50pm I was in the car and we were on our way to London. Managing to struggle out of jeans and a jumper and into a smart dress, and tights, in the front of a fast moving car is no mean feat, but I managed it, and freshened up my make-up and redid my hair. We made it with two minutes to spare and had a lovely dinner before hurrying to the theatre to find our seats. Again, I had no idea what to expect. I’d bought the tickets off my cousin to help her out of a financial sticky situation, so this was very much unplanned and “off map”.

I loved the show. Anyone who’s seen it will know how breathtakingly good, it is, the scenery, the music, the singing are all stunning, and the story of course is rip your heart out and stomp on it sad from beginning to end.

Since then, I have seen it again with my then sister-in-law back in probably 2008, or something like that. She loved it as well, and I know in turn took her mother to see it at least once.

Les Miserables

Then there is Chicago. Now this I’ve seen three times in all. Once in my little local theatre, once in the much bigger Norwich Theatre Royal and once in the West End. But do you know, the version that is my favourite is believe it or not, the version I saw in my local theatre. One of my friends was a student and was registered with the student saver scheme at the theatre. This is where students can phone up the theatre literally an hour before that evening’s performance and if there are any tickets left, can buy them at half price so long as they are registered on the scheme and can produce a valid student card.

Chicago

She’d been round mine for lunch and was talking about this scheme and the things she’d seen, and how great it was that she sometimes went to see things you would never in a million years have normally watched, but had thoroughly enjoyed. Well, by this point we’d had a bottle of wine and it was decided that she’d call the theatre and see what was on that evening and if she could get a pair of tickets, Duly she called them, something called Chicago was on. She looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. I’d never heard of it, but I was up for anything – this was obviously long before the arrival of Miss F when spontaneous evenings out were still something I could do.

She reserved the tickets and we went. It was amazing. They were a professional touring theatre company who were all incredibly talented. They could all act, sing, dance and play a multiple of instruments – all at the same time. Our seats were in a box right in front of the stage and we loved it. There was something about being right there, almost in the middle of the show, that made it intensely exciting.

Some years later I bought tickets to go and see the show in the West End as a surprise birthday present for my husband. He had no idea we were going to London that day when I handed him an envelope with his birthday breakfast, and an hour later we were on our way to the capital. The show was marvellous, of course it was, it’s a great extravaganza and the music is memorable, but… I must be honest here, it wasn’t as good as the production I’d seen at my local theatre five years earlier.

The last occasion I saw Chicago was about 2010 when I went to Norwich to see it with my sister-in-law. Again, a great performance which we both really enjoyed, but again, it still wasn’t as good as the first time I’d seen it performed.

Chess

Another musical I really enjoyed was Chess, although I never got to see that in the West End, but instead saw it in the Theatre Royal in York where I was on a weekend jolly with my favourite cousin. We hadn’t particularly wanted to see Chess, but it happened to be on the weekend we were in York, so we bought tickets and went to see it. It’s a good fun musical, if a little confusing, and I defy anyone to listen to One Night in Bangkok without wanting to sing along.

During this same period, I went to see Riverdance twice. Originally taking a friend to see it as a birthday treat, we loved it so much we then arranged for a large party of us to go back a few months later and see it. Looking back, I wonder that we all had the time not to mention the money, to take such regular trips to London for shows. Even back then you would still expect to pay £50 or even more for the coach and theatre ticket. But then, we were young so had boundless energy and could laugh at the thought of late to bed on a work night, none of us were married or had children so could go where we wanted without worrying about babysitters or getting back for school runs.

Riverdance

Also, life wasn’t so expensive back then. Utilities and food were cheaper and as these were the days before mobile phones, WiFi and things like Netflix and Amazon Prime, we did seem to have more money to spend on ourselves. We were a big group of friends who really enjoyed spending time together and having fun. Anyone who has read my novel Becoming Lili may be thinking that this sounds familiar and you’d be right. Lili and her gang of friends are very much based on the wonderful group I used to hang with back then.

As a birthday treat for me one year, my then husband bought tickets to take me to see Mamma Mia which had just opened in the West End. We went with one of his work colleagues and his wife, who was a real pain in the bum. Now, as you’ve probably gathered by now, a nice lunch or dinner somewhere is always part of a trip to London. ALWAYS. And it was my birthday, so, surely, my wishes should have been considered. Oh no, turns out his wife had this peculiar eating thing where she took dislikes to the look of a restaurant and flatly refused to even consider eating in it. Okay, fine, if she’d done it to just one or two restaurants. But she did it to every single restaurant we saw! Every. Fricking. One.

I was getting annoyed and somewhat desperate. I was starving hungry. It was my birthday and time was ticking on. We had one hour left before curtain-up, we were on the opposite side of London from the theatre so still had to get there. I’d been promised champagne with my lunch, but that was looking less and less likely to happen.

I shot my husband a look that quite plainly let him know what I thought of the situation, which I think his colleague saw, because he suddenly told his wife they were going to go to the theatre and she’d bloody well eat at the first restaurant we saw close by. But of course, it took us ages to get there leaving us no time to eat in a proper restaurant, so we ended up having a hasty meal in a McDonalds. A McDonalds? For my birthday. Took me a while to forgive my husband for that one, although to be fair to him he had no idea the wife was going to be like that.

Mamma Mia!

I don’t know whether this experience coloured my opinion of the show, after all, sitting there still hungry, no champagne, stone cold sober on my birthday, suffering from indigestion and not particularly keen on the company I was with, would have left me justifiably in a bad mood. But I really didn’t rate the stage show that much. Since then, of course, the film has been made and that I really did enjoy.

Other shows I’ve seen in London include Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and The Woman in White. All very enjoyable shows, but The Woman in White was a strange one. Now, I’ve read the classic novel by Wilkie Collins several times, and have seen various TV adaptations so I know the story really well, which is just as well. My then sister-in-law was also a big fan of the story, so when we saw our local coach company were doing an excursion to see the newly opened West End version of it, we were both very keen to go.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

I remember it was a gorgeous sunny day, we found a beautiful Italian restaurant a short walk from the theatre that had large windows open onto the street. We were there just on midday so had the pick of the tables and chose a lovely one in the window where we could chill, drink wine, enjoy a wonderful lunch and watch London saunter by in the hot sun.

We went to see the show, our seats were two rows back in the dress circle, so not bad. An elderly couple I recognised from the coach sat beside us, and as soon as the lights went down, they proceeded to unpack an entire lunch from lots of plastic bags and Tupperware boxes. I’m not kidding, and we are not talking about a couple of sandwiches consumed stealthily here, we’re talking boiled eggs and ham, crunchy celery and egg salad, tomatoes – which spluttered onto my bare arm when she tried to slice them. Even packets of crisps which they noisily crunched their way through. All topped off with a thermos of tea.

Completely oblivious to the incredulous stares of everyone around them, they merrily chomped down their lunch, while the rest of us tried to focus on the show. Lunch finally over, she packed it all away into the bags with much clicking back on of lids, then decided that all that food had made her hot and fished one of those mini, handheld, battery operated fans out of her bag.

By now, I was engrossed in the show and only vaguely aware of the annoying old couple next to me, until she decided I looked hot and shoved the fan in my face. Shocked, I jerked back, and the bloody thing tangled in my hair.

The Woman in White

After the interval, when I’d had a stiff drink to fortify me against whatever shenanigans they’d get up to in the second half – pudding, maybe a hot and steaming apple pie and custard would come out of those bottomless bags – but I needn’t have worried. After all, they were elderly and had had a lovely big lunch so were a bit sleepy. They fell asleep as soon as the curtain went up on the second half and gently snored their way through the rest of the show until the sounds of applause awoke them from their slumber. With the coach and show tickets coming in at £50 each, that was a very expensive nap!

I’ve just noticed from the word count at the bottom of the page that I’ve been rambling on for over 4000 words. Oops, but once I get started down memory lane it’s kind of hard for me to stop. I really hope you’ve enjoyed coming with me and that you’ll join me again next week on A Little Bit of Blake. In the meantime – stay home, stay safe, stay well.

Julia Blake

How Are You?

Hi there and how are you all? It’s another Sunday, and another week has simply flown by. I thought these days in isolation would drag, but instead they are slipping by so fast it doesn’t seem possible it’s seven days since I last spoke to you. What have I been up to this week? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear I completely spring cleaned my lounge, thankfully – there were still mounds of pine needles behind the sofa and coffee table from our Christmas tree. I’d been meaning to get around to moving the furniture and clearing them up, but somehow, I never had the time. Well, now I have the time, so furniture was duly moved from one side of the room to the other, the carpet was thoroughly swept by hand and then shampooed. Once it was dry, I heaved the furniture back and did the other side.

I found a couple of old tins of Brasso at the back of the cleaning cupboard, with just enough left in them to clean the brass on my fireplace fenders – now this Miss F DID notice had been done, and that they were all “lovely and shiny” but she still refuses to see the difference in all the freshly shampooed carpets and rugs. It doesn’t matter. I saw the colour of the water that came off them, was properly ashamed of my slovenly housewife skills, and know how much cleaner and fresher they are. I also located a tube of Zeebo which still had a tiny amount left in it. For those of you who don’t know, Zeebo is a very old-fashioned product that you blacken your fire grates with. I had just enough to re-blacken the grate in the lounge fire. What with that, cleaning the brass fenders and sweeping my carpets by hand with a stiff bristled brush, I felt like a Victorian scullery maid.

I managed this week as well to get my repeat prescription of hayfever meds, which was a huge relief. I was down to my last two and trust me, you really don’t want to see me not on my meds, especially in the middle of high pollen season. Hayfever affects people in different ways. I don’t sneeze and, apart from a slight irritation, I barely feel it in my nose at all. No, it’s my eyes and to a lesser extent, my throat where I suffer the most. Without the meds (even with them on some particularly bad days) I have a dry, annoying tickle in the back of my throat that makes me cough, a lot. So, don’t want to be doing that in the middle of Waitrose on my weekly shopping trip! But worse is my eyes. This time of year, without the powerfully strong medication I’m on, my eyes are an oozy, swollen, itchy mess and I’m constantly worrying at them with my fingers. Again, not what you want to be doing at the moment.

I had picked up a month’s worth of pills just before we all went into lockdown, so I hadn’t needed to try and navigate the minefield that was getting a repeat prescription until now. Last time I was in town doing my essential shopping, I’d asked at Boots the Chemist if they could fill the prescription. No, they couldn’t, apparently my doctor had to. Try their website, they advised. I went onto my surgery website. No mention of the corona virus at all, other than to tell me to call the NHS helpline if I was concerned about anything. Okay. Thanks.

Then I found a tab labelled ordering online. Brilliant. I went to it. I needed a password and a log in name. Huh? Apparently, I had to be already registered to be able to order a repeat prescription online. Great. How do I get registered? Phone the surgery, the website helpfully informed me. I phoned the surgery. Got a very long-winded telephone message basically telling me not to waste their time but stay at home and either get better or die. And certainly, DO NOT waste valuable staff member’s time answering the phone about repeat prescriptions. They MUST be done online. I went back online, wondering if I’d missed something. Nope. I definitely had to be registered to use the online ordering service and the only way I can register is to call the surgery. I called again. Waited through the whole sermon again and then left a tentative and very apologetic message that I was very sorry I was disobeying orders, but that I really, really, needed my hayfever meds and unfortunately, wasn’t registered to order them online.

I then waited three days. Heard nothing. Had no idea what was going on. Had my desperate plea for drugs been heard by anyone? Had they all rolled their eyes in disgust at the inconsiderate sod wasting valuable staff time by phoning for a repeat prescription?

By this time, I’m completely out of meds so things are a bit desperate. I telephone again. This time I’m almost in tears when I leave my message. I’ve also spotted a couple of email addresses in the small print at the bottom of their website. One to general enquiries and one to the practice manager. Sod it, they both get an impassioned plea.

Finally, after about the sixth time of calling, someone in the dispensary answered the phone. Yes, they’d got my message. Yes, my meds were there waiting for me. And yes, I am now registered to order online. I jump in my car and drive around to the surgery. The carpark is deserted except for a large marquee thing that has been erected, with a rather terse notice on the side telling me NOT to park inside the tent unless I have an urgent, pre-arranged appointment with a doctor. I don’t park inside the tent.

I wander over to the surgery building. It’s all locked up but there’s a window open into the pharmacy with a very homemade barrier erected a good 2m between me and the open window through which, by standing on tiptoe, I can see the dark head of one of the dispensing clerks.

“Hello?”

The head turned and peered out at me suspiciously.

“Yes?”

“Umm, I’ve come to pick up my hayfever meds?”

“Name?”

“Julia Blake.”

“One moment.”

The head disappeared. A long few minutes later it was back.

“Address?”

I gave my address.

“Date of birth?”

I gave my date of birth.

“Very good. Now, catch!”

And she threw the packet of pills out of the window. Luckily, I caught them, but was relieved it wasn’t a bottle of cough syrup or something like that, because I know I would have butterfingered that onto the tarmac! But I have another’s months supply, thank heavens, and who knows what the situation will be like in a month’s time. Will we be out? Or will we be even tighter into lockdown due to all those idiots who refuse to take it seriously and keep insisting on having picnics on Brighton Beach? Either way, at least now I am registered and know the system for ordering a repeat prescription.

After last week’s blog where I mentioned the difficulties of finding flour, any flour, I had a fantastic isolation emergency rations pack left on our doorstep by the fabulous Nicky. She is my daughter’s godmother and an old friend of many years standing. This amazing human being had not only managed to find flour from somewhere – I suspect the Black Market, but maybe she has contacts in the mafia – but also a salted caramel and chocolate cake mix, a net of fresh lemons, bags for making ice cubes in and a beautiful bottle of strawberry and lime gin, which is hands down the nicest gin I’ve ever tried. Now, I know Nicky reads “A Little Bit of Blake” every week so I want to say a massive “thank you” to her. You are a star my love, and there will be a signed set of the first three books in the Blackwood Family Saga that are being released next month, ready for you when we meet up after this weird situation is over.

Along with the carpet shampooer, I’ve also had the loan of my dad’s stepladder for the past three weeks so have been doing all those “up high” jobs whilst I had it. The pergola roof has been patched up where the cat fell through it. My light fittings have been cleaned and bulbs replaced where necessary – we have thirteen-foot-high ceilings in our bedrooms, and it makes it a little hazardous doing anything ceiling connected. I’ve cobwebbed all the high up places, washed all the windows inside and taken down the curtains and washed them. We only have muslin hanging in the windows on the street side of the house, so I took those down, washed them and then re-hung them. Even Miss F noticed that they were now white and not the rather sickly yellow they’d been before. Luckily, it’s been a week of absolutely gorgeous weather here in the UK, so perfect for drying heavy things such as curtains and sofa covers.

I’m almost finished with the spring cleaning. One more push next week and it’ll be done. Monday I will make a start on the bathroom, and then it’s the turn of Miss F’s room. Initially very unenthusiastic about the whole notion, she’s now a bit more interested after we cleared a really high shelf in her room – the stepladder went back Saturday afternoon so all “high up” jobs had to be done by then – and she unearthed a lot of things she’d forgotten she had. She had several of those creepy ornamental dolls that her father had given her up on this shelf, and not only were they draped in thick cobwebs, but she’d decided she really didn’t want them looking at her anymore – which I completely understood. So down they came, had a good clean, and went into a spare suitcase under her bed. Her old childhood books all then moved up a couple of shelves, which left her with a spare shelf.

She was been buying a few bits and pieces for her accommodation at university before lockdown, so decided to keep them on this now empty shelf. There was also room for the pet carrier that Napoleon Tortoise goes into when his little house is being cleaned out, instead of it being on the floor. Miss F’s room isn’t the largest in the world, so any floor space we can clear for her is handy. Just these few little improvements to her room have made her keener to do the rest, so that’s what next week will be dedicated to – the bathroom and Miss F’s room. And then indoors will be done and the week after, weather allowing and if we’re still in lockdown, I will start painting the garden fences.

This will be a mammoth task and is not one I am looking forward to. Although I have quite a small garden, there is a lot of fence – a 20’ length at least down one side, a 15’ length down the other, plus several bits of trellis – all needing at least two coats of paint. The job is made harder by the fact the man who owns the house next door to me is a very unpleasant and unfriendly man. He has warned me that if any of my paint drips through to his side – ANY – I can expect a solicitor’s letter suing me for damages to his property. So that means I have to be really, really, careful and not overload my brush but have to paint practically dry, which takes twice the time. And I certainly can’t use a paint spray gun which would get the job done in hours, rather than the weeks it is going to take. Oh well, it needs to be done, so I might as well do it now when I have the time.

I am pleased at the amount I am getting done during this enforced time of being at home. I know a lot of people are complaining about being bored and stressed, and I would imagine it really depends on what kind of conditions you are isolated in and the company you are forced to keep. Cramped in a small flat with no outdoor space and small children that need to be either home-schooled or kept entertained 24/7, I can only imagine how difficult that must be. I am so aware and thankful how lucky I am that I am living in a lovely home, that is large enough for Miss F and I to lose each other in throughout the day. That we have a pretty and safe garden to get fresh air and exercise in, and that I’ve found enough projects in my home and garden to keep me occupied and happy. I’m also lucky that my daughter is 16, for the most part is self-sufficient and wants to be left alone to talk to her friends and play virtual games online with them during the day, but is still good company in the evening, when every night we sit down at 6pm to have dinner together then an evening of Netflix, films and chat – in front of a fire if the evening turns chilly. I know many are not so fortunate and my heart goes out to those trapped in frustrating, lonely or maybe even dangerous situations.

I know everyone is different and everyone reacts to stressful situations differently. But, and this is just me personally, I know if I simply sat on my backside all day, comfort eating and obsessively watching the news and worrying about what is happening in the world outside and the worst case scenarios of what might happen, then I would go a little bit crazy and I’d be depressed and probably piling on the pounds. I have accepted that there is absolutely nothing I can do about what is happening on the other side of my own front door, but, and it’s a very big but, I do have total control about what is happening on this side of it. So, I choose not to constantly be listening to the news and worrying. Instead, I have made a list of all those jobs I have been wanting to get done for years and I’m doing them! Okay, maybe it won’t make a blind bit of difference in the long run, but at the end of it all, I will have a totally ticked off to-do list and a sparkling clean house. Furthermore, will look back on isolation as a busy and productive time. Whereas all those stressy, sat on their arses doing nothing people, will look back on isolation as merely empty days full of wasted time and will have nothing to show for it. Again, this is only my personal belief, but I think my way is the healthier and saner option.

These are very strange times we are living in, and it seems odd to think that we are part of history in the making. That future generations will look back at this time and maybe even study it in school. I wonder what they will say about our behaviour. Did the human race react to the threat in a sane and sensible manner, doing the right thing not only for ourselves and our families, but also considering the needs of others and restricting our trips outside our homes? And yes, I am looking at you, all those people who crowd onto the beaches and into the parks.

As you know, by the time you read this it will be Sofa Sunday, the one day of the week I allow myself some time off to veg out. I go shopping first thing in the morning as I’ve found there are less people out at that time. I do a few essential chores. Then at midday we both stop whatever we’re doing, meet in the lounge and relax on the sofa with snacks and binge watch films. I chose first and over the past few weeks we’ve watched all of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, then Miss F chose and we’re now working our way through all of the Harry Potter films. Nothing else happens that Sunday except films and relaxing and pizza for tea. We both look forward to it all week and it’s fun, because it is a once a week treat, but if I did it all day and every day then it wouldn’t be fun, it would be boring.

Finally, the book fairs I had planned for later in the year have been cancelled so I have a few copies of some of my books left over. I’ve been selling them on social media so have less now than shown in the picture, but if anyone would like a paperback copy of either Chaining Daisy, The Forest or Eclairs for Tea then please let me know. I will of course sign them and include a bookmark with each purchase. The books are available at cost price plus postage and packaging. The price for Chaining Daisy and The Forest is £10 each and Eclairs for Tea are £6 each. Second class UK postage will be £3.50. Although I am prepared to post abroad, be aware that overseas postage is a lot higher. Payment is by PayPal, it’s on a first come, first served basis, and once they are gone, they are gone.

Right, it’s getting late on Saturday evening and there is laundry to bring in off the line and dinner to sort, I’m also out of things to tell you so will wrap it up for the week. Hope you will all join me again next week for “A Little Bit of Blake” but in the meantime,

Stay safe and stay well.

Julia Blake

Launch Week!

Another week has flown by in isolation. Is it just me? Or is anyone else finding that the days are flashing by and you’re beginning to wonder how you ever managed to fit in going to work, what with all the other things you have to do about the house and garden?

What have you all been up to this week? On the home front, I took my dining room apart and gave it a thorough spring clean, including shampooing the carpet and the large rug I have in there. Now, I’ve had this rug for over twenty years, and I don’t think it’s ever been properly shampooed. Needless to say, what came off it was disgusting, and I am properly ashamed of myself.

When I put the room all back together and re-laid the rug, I called Miss F in to take a look. Smugly proud of how bright and clean and sparkling everything was, I waited for the gasps and wows. They didn’t come. Instead she just looked around, grunted, and left. Bit crushed, must admit, that she couldn’t see the difference. But I can see how much better everything looks, even if she can’t, and at least I know how much cleaner it is, so I suppose that’s all that matters.

We continue to stay very close to home. My routine now is to go out just once a week on a Saturday morning, when I scuttle up town avoiding contact with anyone I see, wait to get into my local Tesco Express or Marks & Spencer – I haven’t dared go near one of the bigger stores – and then forage for whatever is available. This week Miss F requested I try and get flour so she can make some cakes. I came back empty handed though because the home baking section had been picked clean – no flour to be had for love nor money.

It makes me a big cross though, when I’m on these brief, necessary excursions, to see elderly and frail looking people tottering about the shops. I even spoke to one lady whilst waiting in the queue for Marks & Spencer – at a safe 2m distance of course – and asked her why she was out. She confirmed what I already knew that there are no delivery slots to be had. Now, I know of several perfectly able people who are still getting their food delivered when they really could go to the shop and leave their slot for someone who really needs it, but I guess their argument would be that even if they did give up their slot there’s no guarantee it would go to the needy. No, some other perfectly able person would probably grab it. It seems a shame that the supermarkets who are delivering still aren’t giving priority to the most vulnerable people, those who really should be at home, not risking their lives tottering up to the shops every day because they can’t carry very much back in one trip.

This crisis has certainly brought out the best and the worst in people.

Although I have been busy all week and have had happy and productive days, Miss F hasn’t. She’s basically completed all the college work she’d been given and is now wallowing about in her PJ’s and watching mindless videos on YouTube. All my suggestions for things she could do are met with eyerolls, so I now leave her alone to get on with it. Although, I have put my foot down and insisted she must go into the garden for at least twenty minutes a day. It’s been almost three weeks since she has set foot outside the house and she’s beginning to look like Wednesday Adams.

One other thing that happened this week was of course the re-launch of my fantasy novel Erinsmore. This happened Thursday and I was initially unsure how it would go. These are strange and difficult times and most authors I know are complaining that book sales are down, not up, which on reflection is not what you would have expected. Forced to stay home with no work or social events to go to, it would seem logical that people would be reading more, not less, yet many of my author friends are finding the opposite to be true.

Beautiful new cover

Bizarrely my sales don’t seem too affected, not yet anyway, so despite being told it might not be a good idea to relaunch now, I went ahead and published the new edition of Erinsmore.

I had prepared as much as I could with some lovely promo posts and ten second teasers. I’d enlisted help from all my friends and followers on social media, and I even had a minute-long amazing video trailer that I hoped would pique people’s interest.

I’m happy to report that launch day went with a bang. I had far more support than I ever expected to get, and even people I’d never really had any interaction with before stepped up to the mark and shared my posts and even bought the book. On the flip side though, there were a few people whom I’ve been close to on social media for many years who sat back and did absolutely nothing to support me, not a like, not a share and not even so much as a congratulation. That did surprise me, but those people will be remembered when they are launching a new book and look to me for support. It may sound harsh, but I’m afraid mutual reciprocal support is really what it’s all about.

It was a long and exhausting day, monitoring posts and shares, trying to respond to each and any gesture of support. As I hopped from Facebook to Instagram and back again, I thought how impossible this would have been ten or even five years ago. I know social media has its faults, but it also has its perks, and it does make it possible for me to be a published author.

I finally stepped back from my tablet at about 6pm, drained and exhausted. Miss F had cooked dinner and I took a five-minute breather to go and sit in the garden – my eyes tend to go a bit buggy if I’ve been looking at a screen for a long time. It’s traditional to have a bottle of something sparkly to celebrate the successful launch of another book, but in the circumstances I didn’t have any, so instead I made myself a gin and tonic and put some frozen berries in it to make up for not having any fresh lemon or ice. I also didn’t have a perfect copy of Erinsmore, only the proof copy, but it didn’t matter. The book was launched and it had been an amazing day.

I’m hopeful that Erinsmore will do well. It’s a fun and engrossing fantasy read which seems to be the most popular genre in these trying times, when people want to lose themselves in a book, but don’t want to read anything too ‘real’.

Since it’s relaunch on Thursday, I’ve had a couple of followers ask me for some background on the story. Where did the idea first come from? What was the inspiration behind the characters?

Well, I guess you could say that Erinsmore has its roots way back in my childhood, when I first discovered the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. To say I was blown away by them is an understatement. I was a lonely child. I didn’t really have any friends and wasn’t one of those children who wanted to wander around outside by myself. Books were my only refuge – don’t forget this is long before the internet was a thing and also way before all day kid’s TV – so books really were the only way to escape life in a small and confining village.

I think I must have read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” first. I’m pretty sure it was, because I remember being so excited when I discovered that there was a book that came before it, explaining the origins of Narnia, and that there were more books that came after it. I must have read those books a dozen times each over the years of my childhood. Each time completely losing myself in the fantastical world within its pages. I dreamed of Narnia, and although I knew it would never happen, couldn’t help wishing that I could find a way to get into it.

As the years passed, I explored other children’s fantasy, especially the books of Alan Garner – “The Owl Service” and “The Weirdstone of Brislingham” – in particular, stick in my mind. I also loved the “Dark is Rising” series by Susan Cooper, and from this gained a love of old British myth and folklore which I’ve never lost and which can be seen in “Erinsmore” and more particularly in “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ also available from Amazon.

In my teens I discovered sci-fi and for a while strayed away from pure fantasy, but then in my twenties I drifted back. Discovering the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, then later the “Shannara Chronicles” by Terry Brooks and then the superb epic fantasy series by Robin Hobb, truly the queen of high fantasy. All these books were busy laying the foundations for what was to come in later life.

In about 2007 I went up to London for the day with my favourite cousin. We both had a deep and abiding love for West End Musicals and once or twice a year would save up our money and buy tickets to travel to London with a local coach excursion company to have a meal and see a show.

This time we’d got tickets to go and see “The Lord of the Rings”. An epic blockbuster show, with a reputed huge budget, it flopped mere months after we’d been to see it, but I honestly don’t know why, we absolutely loved it and thought it was amazing. Anyway, we travelled up early in the morning very excited to be having a day away from our usual humdrum lives.

There was some kind of parade happening in London that day and the whole of the city centre was closed to traffic, so instead of dropping us off outside the theatre as was normal with these coach trips, we were dropped off on the embankment and had to walk to the West End.

It was very strange, walking down the middle of London streets with no traffic, and after getting lost a few times we finally found the theatre, orientated ourselves as to where it was and then went to have a good lunch.

Now, as I said, normally we’d be dropped off right outside the theatre and would always find a wonderful restaurant mere minutes away to have a long and wine-soaked lunch in. Knowing our seats were pre-booked and the theatre was only a couple of minutes away, we would stay in the restaurant for as long as possible, then use their facilities (queues for the ladies in West End theatres being almost as long as a performance of The Lord of the Rings) before rocking up at the theatre with just enough time to place our interval drinks order and fall into our seats.

This was what we were used to doing, but neither of us had a watch on so we hadn’t appreciated just how long we’d taken to walk to the restaurant. Seeing a wonderful three-course lunch option on the menu, we both chose that and settled back with a bottle of wine to have a lovely chat and generally relax and enjoy ourselves.

Our starters were brought to us, and, as we started to eat, I happened to notice the time on the clock on the restaurant wall. There was 25 minutes to curtain up. We had 25 minutes to eat a three-course meal, pay, use the facilities, get out of the restaurant, place our interval drinks order and find our seats.

We looked at each other. Mild hysteria ensued. We calmed down. When the waitress came to collect our starter plates, we explained our dilemma. She promised to get our mains out to us as soon as possible, along with our desserts at the same time. In the meantime, she’d bring us the bill and while my cousin sorted out paying it and leaving a tip, I slipped out of the restaurant and ran to the theatre next door.

Hurtling up the stairs, I think I barged through a few people who’d been more organised than us and allowed plenty of time to get there, I then pushed my way to the front of the queue in the bar – I’m sorry, but this was an emergency – placed our interval drinks orders and paid for them, then charged back out, making a mental note of where we had to go to reach our seats. Downstairs, third row from the stage – result!

Getting back, our mains of steak, fries and all the trimmings had just been delivered, alone with two large bowls of raspberry cheesecake. Normally, over the course of a couple of hours, this would not have been a problem. But, stuffing our faces with three courses in less than thirty minutes, well, I really don’t recommend it. We made it to our seats with seconds to spare, still taking our jackets off as the lights were dimmed and it began.

And it was wonderful. Like I said, this show was critically slated and closed after just one year, I don’t know why. Maybe we weren’t as clever as professional critics, but we loved it. It was wild and extravagant, and the orcs were truly terrifying. They wore those curved stilt things on their feet and jumped onto the arms of of seats and ran along the whole row right over the top of the mesmerised and slightly terrified, audience.

Despite having chronic indigestion caused by eating too much, too fast, we had a wonderful time, and rolled out of the theatre at the end in a blissed-out state of good food, good wine and good entertainment. Luckily by now traffic was once again allowed into the city centre and so our coach was waiting for us right outside. Falling into our seats, we exchanged greetings with the guys sitting in the seats behind us who were so cliché nerdy it was funny.

Heading home, they were chatting to each other and to us about the show, Tolkien and fantasy in general, and my cousin happened to comment what a shame it was that fantasy was so male centric. That it was always the guys who got to go on quests and fulfil prophecies and fight in epic battles, never the girls. Don’t forget, this was long before The Hunger Games, Divergent and all the other books and films with kick ass heroines saving the day.

An idea stirred. A story niggled at my mind in which it was a girl who got to do all the things that the guys usually did. No, make that two girls. A pair of sisters. Both very different, but both normal London teenagers who were completely unprepared for suddenly finding themselves in a strange, fantasy medieval type world. I started to get excited. I imagined their dismay at no indoor sanitation, no internet, no coffee! Yes! And they’d be at the heart of a prophecy and go on a quest or two, oh and there had to be dragons. By the time we got home, I’d borrowed some paper and a pen from the obliging nerds behind us and had written the prophecy, drafted up some character notes, and even thought of the name of both this fantasy world and the novel – Erinsmore.

I then spent the next three months writing it, falling in love with this fantastical world and in my head plotting out the next two books in the series. Yes, it is going to be a series when I eventually get round to it. Then I sat on it for eleven years, occasionally digging it out and reading it. It was read by a few family and friends, who all loved it. I even read it to Miss F when she was ten and she has since read it to herself several times. It’s funny though, I’d always envisaged her as Ruby the younger sister, but in Miss F’s view she was definitely Cassie – the feisty, warrior older sister.

In 2018 I finally published it as an independent author and it was very well received, but I always felt it could be so much more. Over the next two years I developed as an author. I grew and learnt and became more skilled at my craft. I found out what could be done with a book and discovered how to use illustrations and graphics to really make a novel stand out in the readers mind. Finally, I put all my ideas together and went to see one of my best friends, Becky Wright.

An author herself, she had recently started a formatting and promotional company for writers, Platform House Publishing, and I knew I would need her help to make Erinsmore the book I was sure it could be. It took many months. For good measure, I had it professionally edited and changed the book size from 5×8 to 6×9. I was planning on adding a lot of pages of illustrations and I also wanted to enlarge the font to make it more striking and reader friendly. Trying to cram all that into a 5×8 just wouldn’t work. Besides, I wanted the book to have heft. I wanted it to feel special in the readers hands. Once the font was enlarged and all the illustrations were entered, it actually came out to be the same size as “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~” so it sits nicely beside it on the shelf now.

Becky and her husband James worked tirelessly to make an amazing new cover for the book, a whole range of promotional pictures, three ten second video teasers and a magnificent, minute long video trailer which has stunned all who have seen it, and has been likened to Game of Thrones – but the PG version. She also took all the wonderful drawings I’d found for the book and inserted them in their correct places. I have tried to put the link to the video on YouTube below. I’m not very technically minded, so apologies if it hasn’t worked.

Like I said, a lot of hard work and expense, but it was totally worth it. The book is a thing of beauty and if fantasy is your thing, and even if it’s not, why not give it a try? Suitable for ages 12 and upwards, it is in no way a childish book and many adults have already read and loved it. I think it is what we all need right now, pure escapism. If like me you loved Narnia when you were a child, then this book will call to you in exactly the same way.

Link to book on Amazon UK (I hope)

Then link to Amazon US

And now it’s another Sunday morning and again “A Little Bit of Blake” is late coming your way. Isn’t it funny how now I have so much time in the week to get this written and saved, I’m tending to leave it later and later until it’s too late on a Saturday evening? My gran always used to say, “you fill the time you have” and I think that’s very true.

So, what’s next? Well, book wise I will start working on my romantic suspense short novel “Lost & Found” ready for its re-release. It’s currently with my editor but will be back next week so I can make all her amendments. I will also be busy with Becky Wright working on a new cover and the interior formatting. After that, I will need to do the same with the next book in the series “Fixtures & Fittings” and then the new, as yet unpublished, third book in the series will have to be prepared for publication. I’m planning a big, extravagant publication of all three titles at the same time so a lot of work to do.

Home wise, on Monday morning I’m going to tackle the lounge. It needs a thorough spring clean and the carpet shampooing, so I’m hoping the nice warm weather comes back so I can get sofa covers and curtains dry outside – I daren’t risk them in the tumble drier, I know they’d shrink! The lounge should only take a couple of days and then I’m going to start on the bathroom – and that really does need a deep clean!

As you can see, plenty to keep me occupied next week but I will try to write the blog a little earlier so you’re not waiting for it again.

Hope you have a great Sunday. If anyone is interested, I’ve put the Amazon listing links to Erinsmore below.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Happy Easter from Julia Blake

I know it’s late for my blog to be going out, for which I’m sorry. But this week has been so full on busy that by the time I stopped to even consider what I could write about, it was gone 6pm last night and I was tired, so I’m afraid I shrugged my shoulders, said “meh” and made myself a gin and tonic.

So, what has filled this third week of isolation, I hear all six of you who regularly read my blog, cry. Well, Monday I began on my mucky kitchen. Like most busy, working mothers I cruise by with a lick and a promise. I clean the bits that show and promise myself that one day I’ll have a real thorough deep clean. Now, I used to religiously do this either once a year or between lodgers, whichever came first, but, the last three years have been ones of ill health, hospital stays and upheavals in my working life, and I’m afraid spring cleaning got pushed further and further down the list.

I now had no excuse. No work to go to, no social gatherings or events to keep me occupied, this was really it. I had to prove that all those times I’d claimed not to have the time to clean were justified, because now I had the time, lots of it, so if I didn’t clean then it would show I’d simply been lazy, not busy.

So, Monday, everything removable came out of my kitchen and was piled up in the dining room. Then it began. Now, as every women (and the odd man, maybe) knows, in order to clean properly first you have to make a big mess, as I tried to explain to Miss F when she wandered downstairs later and stared in disbelief at a stripped bare kitchen and a trashed dining room.

“Thought you were tidying?” she muttered.

“I am,” I replied through clenched teeth. “But to do it properly you first have to make it worse.”

It took me two and a half days to deep clean my kitchen, and it’s not even a particularly big one, but taking every single thing out of a cupboard, scrubbing inside the cupboard, and then cleaning and putting everything back before moving onto the next one, takes time. I also didn’t push myself. There was no need, after all, I had no deadline other than wanting it all done before the weekend, so there was no urgency to start at daybreak and keep going until I dropped. I started at a sensible time and had lots of breaks.

I finished midday on Wednesday. Took a deep breath, then started on the painting. Now, I can tell you exactly when my kitchen was last painted – June 2010. I know this, because Miss F had gone away with her grandparents to Disneyland Paris for five days. I had taken the week off and everyone assumed I’d go away myself, or at the very least enjoy a much-needed rest. Don’t be silly, that’s not how we roll in my shire.

Monday morning, I did the weekly shop as usual, then went to visit my parents and then went to my goddaughter’s birthday party. Tuesday the new bed and mattress I’d ordered for Miss F arrived and my dad came in and helped me relocate her old bed into the spare room and assemble the new bed, all ready for when she came home. Wednesday, I cleaned the house from top to bottom, all except the kitchen. Thursday, everything came out of the kitchen into the dining room and I deep cleaned the whole kitchen as I’ve been doing this week. It took a single day back then. Well, it was ten years ago, I was ten years less tired, it was pre-surgery and illness days and I started at 7am and didn’t stop for anything until it was done.

I went out with a friend for dinner in the evening, enjoying a rare opportunity of not being stuck at home with a young child every night. Whilst at dinner, Miss F phoned me in a state of sugar induced excitement – yeah, thanks grandma – to happily inform me she was having a great time, and no, she didn’t think at 9pm she should be in bed yet, oh, and she now loved French food, Really? I asked. What sort of French food? French fries and chicken nuggets, she shrieked. Ah yes, those well-known French culinary delights.

Friday, I made a ridiculously early start and gave the kitchen two coats of paint and got every back in place before a sleepy, sweaty and distinctly smelly Miss F was delivered back to me at 11pm. Barely noticing her new bed, she was tumbled into it as she was and slept until almost midday on Saturday. When she woke, she scrambled into my bed and that’s where we spent most of the day and I read practically the whole of “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” to her.

So, it’s been ten years since the kitchen was last painted and although it didn’t look too bad, the opportunity was there, the kitchen was clean to its bones and all possessions were piled up in the dining room, so I decided to go for it. I got the first coat done on Wednesday and the second on Thursday. Giving it a day to dry before piling everything back in. Miss F walked in to inspect and pass judgement.

“Well, it certainly looks a lot cleaner and fresher, but the colour…” she wrinkled her nose in thought. “Isn’t it exactly…”

“The same colour as it was before? Yep.”

Somehow, even though ten years separated the purchases, I’d managed to buy exactly the same colour. Well, what can I say? I’m obviously someone who sticks to what she likes. I liked Happy Sunshine yellow back then and I still like it today.

I’ve also, between working on the kitchen, been busy with last minute preparations for the re-launch of Erinsmore next week. I am beyond thrilled with how it’s turned out, the book looks amazing and the wonderful Becky and James Wright over at Platform House Publishing have made a simply awesome video trailer to help launch day go with a bang. If anyone is reading this who follows me on social media, I would be extremely grateful for any help with the release of the book. Any shares of the video or other promo posts would be amazing. I spent all my spare pennies on the actual book and the video so there’s not really any money for advertising, so anything anyone can do to help will be very much appreciated.

I’ve been out of the house precisely twice in the whole week. Both times to top up with essential items. Being very reluctant to drive to one of the bigger supermarkets, I’ve confined myself to a quick scuttle up town and foraging for what I could carry home. Shopping now really has turned into a game of PacMan. Avoid all contact, grab the food, take any route to avoid touching others. Sometimes, in the stores though, it’s so hard to stay 2m away from people in the aisles. They are not designed for social distancing and some people don’t seem to care that they’ve crowded into you. All you can do is wear the horrible latex gloves, hold your breath, make yourself as small as possible and scurry past.

On the whole I think I am handling isolation incredibly well. In fact, I’ve been so busy I seriously don’t know how I ever managed to find time to go to work, or how I’m going to be able to go back. The key for me is having a routine and structure to my days. I get up at a sensible time, before 8am every day. I face each day washed, dressed, teeth cleaned, and hair brushed – I simply couldn’t be one of those people who slob about unwashed in their PJs for days on end. To me, PJs = sleepy time.

Over my morning cup of tea, I plan my day. For years, I’ve had a to-do list as long as my arm of things I meant to do when I had the time. Well, I have that time now, so I’m working my way through that list. When and if I reach the end of that list, if we are still in lockdown, then will be the time to relax, kick back and tackle my to be read pile and catch up on all those Netflix shows I never have time to watch. Until then, I will and must work.

We are all handling this in our own way, but for me, personally, I simply don’t see the point of sitting at home whimpering about how stressed and bored I am. Whatever awfulness is going on outside my own front door, other than obeying isolation and social distancing rules, there is nothing I can do about it. And sure, maybe spring cleaning and painting my kitchen won’t do anything to change the global situation, but it will keep me busy and active and at the end of it all, I’ll have a clean and freshly painted kitchen. What will all those coach potatoes in their PJs have? Apart from extra weight to lose and a feeling that they wasted the precious gift of time they were given.

Miss F isn’t faring so well. Like most teenagers, her life revolves around education and her friends, and although she was given a couple of projects to complete, she is more or less done with college for the year so has nothing academic wise to occupy her days. Sure, she can and does interact with her friends virtually, but as she constantly informs me, it’s not the same. She also has a real reluctance to leave the house, so doesn’t even accompany me on my once a week shopping trips. She’s even loath to venture out into our private garden unless I actively force or bribe her to go out there – and yes, I do bribe my child, frequently and without compunction.

I’m a little bit at a loss as to how to help her. All my suggestions such as read a book, tidy her room, start a project of her own based on her studies, are met with derision and scorn, so I’m afraid I’ve given up and am letting her stew in her own juices. I had thought my example of keeping busy and improving our environment would encourage her, but no, so what can I do. Hopefully, she’ll get bored of endless Minecraft sessions and will do something a little more productive with her days, but, she’s a teenager, so maybe channelling her inner sloth is her way of coping. Hey, to quote Miss F herself, you do you babe.

And so here we are on another Sunday. It’s now 9:30am, I am sitting at my little desk in my very pleasant lounge where the morning sun is streaming through dirty windows – yes, spring cleaning the lounge is on my list for the coming week. I have coffee and I’m talking to you, and it’s also sofa and snack Sunday. Every Sunday, I do essential chores until midday, then stop and put a part-baked baguette in the oven and grill lots of bacon. I then rendezvous with Miss F on the sofa in the lounge and we binge watch films all afternoon, interspersed with frequent snacking. This week I managed to source some Pringles and sweet’n’salty popcorn. And as the afternoon turns into evening, I open a bottle of wine and we have pizza, wedges and dip for dinner.

I look forward to Sunday all week, but know, if this was something we did every single day it would quickly grow monotonous and boring, but because it is a once a week treat, it’s become something special for us. We’ve been working our way through all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and have the big finale film today. After that, it will be Miss F’s turn to choose the films we’ll binge, she was talking about doing all the Marvel movies in order and I’m up for that.

And it’s not just any old Sunday, it’s Easter. I know a lot of people are upset that the churches won’t be open, and although I’m not religious myself, I can understand why they are upset. But it is to protect the weak and vulnerable and I’m sure Jesus would be up for that, after all, isn’t that what he and Easter are all about? Whilst working in my kitchen I had the radio on all day so listened to a lot of news, and discussions were plentiful about whether churches should be open today for private reflection or not. It was decided to keep them closed, and personally I think that’s a good call. After all, if people can’t be trusted not to keep congregating in large groups all over the place, I think if people knew the churches were open, even those who never normally set foot in them would suddenly come over all pious and crowd into them.

One minister in an interview on the radio, said this might be a pivotal moment for Christianity. Attendances at church have been steadily dropping, yet now, during these difficult times, many are turning to religion for comfort and companionship and are finding new ways to congregate and worship. There is a world of connectivity out there now, and this seems to have forced the church to catch up with all the possibilities available. Who knows, maybe virtual worship is now here to stay.

For non-Christians and those who are not religious, Easter can still be celebrated for its more pagan, ancient meaning. It is believed that the early church did its usual trick of poaching existing pagan celebrations to make this new religion more palatable to the masses. Easter probably derives from the worship of the pagan goddess Eostre. This lady was all about Spring, rebirth, renewal and fertility – where did you think all the bunnies and eggs came from – so that’s why she is venerated at this time of year.

It’s a neat theory, and one that makes sense and that I like. In the Western hemisphere this time of year is all about survival and rebuilding. In ancient times Winter was a very dangerous affair, it was cold, and the nights were long and dark, food was scarce and the sheer act of staying warm took incredible amounts of energy and time. To have emerged alive on the other side into Spring would have been a massive accomplishment, one worthy of giving thanks for.

Anyone else see the parallels with today’s situation? We are going through a long, tough and dark time, hopefully, the first small shoots of recovery are there though. We just need to hang on a little longer, stay strong and give thanks that it wasn’t worse than it was. Yes, the death rates are scary and heart-breaking, but, compared to previous pandemics (anyone doesn’t believe me, look up the numbers for the 1919 Spanish Flu outbreak) we got off lightly.

Also, there are some silver linings. People are learning a new appreciation of the small things in life, and perhaps are realising that at the end of the day what matters are your family and having shelter, food and drink, and that’s basically it. We have also gained a massive appreciation for all those amazing people working in the medical field and all other essential areas. The NHS, in particular, heard the call and answered wholeheartedly. When this is all over, they should and must receive pay rises to reflect their status in our society. After all, during the crisis, who you gonna call? Your accountant? Your banker? No, a doctor or a nurse. So, let’s stop paying them pittances and afford them the respect they truly deserve.

Also, nature is taking a long, deep breath and is attempting to renew itself without the ever-constant presence of us polluting the air, land and sea. Anyone else feel it’s almost as if the Earth threw its hands up in despair and said – “right, I will bloody make you all stop for a while”. Small things maybe, but hopefully enough to make us take a long hard look at our lives, the way we live them and the impact we are having on the planet.

Anyway, that all went a little preachy there didn’t it, the Gospel according to Julia, sorry, totally didn’t mean to go down that avenue, but then this blog is simply an outpouring of me onto the page. No filter, no editing, no read through and no pre-planning or thinking. It’s just me, now, talking to you all on a beautiful Easter Sunday morning.

It’s now 10am and my blog is really, really late being posted, but I trust you will all understand and forgive me – all six of my regular readers.

Take care of yourself and your family.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

On today’s “A Little Bit of Blake” I’m trying something a bit different. One of the hardest things for me during this time of isolation and social distancing, is not being able to meet up with friends for a coffee and a chat, especially my fellow author Becky Wright. As some of you probably know, Becky and I have been friends forever and both being writers it means that when we meet up – as we do at least once a month – we always have plenty to talk about and know exactly where the other one is coming from. Sadly, we’ve had to miss this month’s get together but, through the wonders of modern technology, we were able to have a virtual coffee and chat instead.

As I know this must be one of the hardest aspects of the current situation for others out there, we thought it would be nice to post our chat here. So, why not grab yourself the beverage of your choice, and curl up and have coffee with a pair of friends, mums and authors as they chat about their past, their present and their future.

Hi Becky, do you have coffee?

I have coffee.

Cool, let’s do this then. Okay, so I’ve been trying to think about when we first met. Was it 2004 or 2005? I know it was before Miss F started school.

I think it was 2005, yes, I think it must have been.

I think so too. We met at an evening course at our local college for creative writing. I was there because a friend has asked me to go with her. Her request made me remember how much I’d used to love writing, you know, before life, marriage and having a baby took over. That’s why I went, why did you?

It was at a time when life was very much full-on with work and kids. I didn’t realise at the time how much I needed something for myself, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever did. I’d been writing my first book for while, but up until then I hadn’t connected with anyone else who had the same passion for words and writing.

It was the same for me. It wasn’t until I was sitting in that classroom on that first evening with a bunch of strangers, that I suddenly realised how much I missed writing. As you know, I was going through the divorce from hell at that time. I’d been left with a very young child to raise completely on my own. Like you, I needed something that was mine and when my friend asked me to accompany her on the course, it sparked that desire to such an extent that I begged my mother to babysit for a couple of hours each week so I could go.

I remember that first evening. Initially I was so worried that I’d be out of my depth and would feel out of place. Back then, the feeling of not being good enough was at its height. I remember that I gave myself a good talking to on the way in… then I realised most of us felt the same way.

Yes, we did, well I certainly did. Now, I don’t know what your first impressions were of me, but I remember mine of you – a lovely, happy, beautiful lady with a big beaming smile and what seemed tons of confidence.

Blimey, confidence? Ha, that’s not what I was feeling. I remember looking at you and thinking you could be a kindred spirit. And boy, was I right.

So, there we sat. A group of about twenty, mostly women, but I think there were a couple of men there as well, looking a bit out of place.

Yes, I think there were a couple of men, I seem to remember a few drifted after a week or so.

I think there were a few went MIA, I don’t know why, maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting. Was it what you were expecting and hoping for?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I’d never attended anything of the like since leaving school, of course. And with teenage children my brain cells had dried up a little… but, I think what I got most from that course was a connection with other people with the same passion for words. The only thing on that course that I really struggled with, and still do for that matter, was reading aloud. You know how much I hate that, I seem to stumble over every word, even though I wrote them.

Whereas I’ve never had a problem with reading aloud or performing in front of strangers. I guess all those years doing amateur dramatics turned out to be good for something.

Yes, see you’re so lucky to have that skill. Unlike me, I’d always rather try to fade into the wallpaper.

I do remember that first evening though, the instructor, Emma, gave us a list of words such as mobile phone, P45, tin of baked beans and various others that I can’t remember now, and gave us 30 minutes to write a short story containing all those words.

Ah yes, I remember that now. I have no idea what I came up with but think it probably wouldn’t be worth reading today.

I’m sure it wasn’t, I’m sure I remember yours being very good. Anyway, at the end of the thirty minutes Emma asked for someone to read theirs out loud. Everyone stared at the desk and kept their hands firmly down. In the end, because I felt sorry for Emma, I said okay, I’ll go first, and I read what I’d written. It was a short story called “Family Matters” and many years later it ended up in my book “Eclairs for Tea and other stories”.

Eclairs for Tea and other stories available from Amazon

Oh yes, I would have had my head and my hands firmly down. But isn’t it funny how things from all those years ago have followed us to the present? “The Manningtree Account” as you know, had its origins in one of those weekly homework tasks Emma used to set us.

I do remember you freaked everyone out in the class when you read us what would later become “The Manningtree Account”. It was so atmospheric and creepy. But how did you feel after that first evening? I went home on fire with ideas and inspiration, and the next day I began writing my first ever novel.

The Manningtree Account – available from Amazon

I remember we walked out to the carpark together and stood chatting for a bit. We found out we both lived in town and you said I should come over for coffee sometime. I went home not only feeling I’d achieved something quite momentous for me. I wasn’t an outgoing or confident person, so the fact I’d made the effort to go, had sat through the whole first class and really loved it was amazing. I did nothing but talk about it for days afterwards and spent the whole of the following week writing. It had given me that much needed boost.

Did I ever tell you I very nearly left after the second week and not come back?

Oh my gosh, no, why? You seemed so in your element there, comfortable, like you belonged. I envied that a little, I felt like an imposter for a while.

Oh, trust me, my confidence is all an act put on for other people. Inside I’m a marshmallow of doubt and insecurity.

We’re all soft on the inside, darling.

Anyway, do you remember the rather abrasive mother who was there with her heavily pregnant young daughter?

Oh yes, vaguely.

Well, that second week I was so looking forward to going. I’d really enjoyed the first class and had written 10,000 words of a novel so was excited to see everyone again. We’d all barely sat down when the mother said she had an issue she’d like to raise with the tutor. She said her daughter had been very reluctant to come back and that she felt certain people shouldn’t be allowed to be part of the group. Then she looked straight at me and bluntly told me she believed I shouldn’t be there because I was making everyone else too nervous to have any input, that she felt I was a professional writer and that as this was a group for amateurs and those just starting it wasn’t the right group for me.

Ooh cow! How dare she? People like that certainly have an issue with the chip on their own shoulder.

For a moment I felt like taking all my clothes off so I really would be back at school having a nightmare! But then several people stuck up for me, you included, and Emma made it quite plain it was a course for everyone and that I’d paid my money the same as everyone else had, so could stay or go as I pleased.

Oh, my goodness, I remember that now! I seem to remember she was a bit sheepish after that yet was still a bit snarky to you for the rest of the course. Sadly, we come across people like that a lot in life.

I spent the rest of the evening in silence listening to everyone else. I remember I didn’t speak and kept looking around wondering if that was how everyone else was feeling. All my insecurities were bubbling to the surface and I wanted to cry. I seriously thought about not coming back again, but at the end of the evening when I walked out to my car, you and several others followed me and told me not to take it to heart, that I shouldn’t listen to such petty jealousy and certainly not let it upset me. That was the only reason why I came back the following week, that and the fact I’d paid good money for that course and I’d be damned if I’d let the spite of one person spoil it for me.

It was petty jealousy. We see so much of it. But you have always had a talent. You’ve honed it over the years, but even back then it was something to be proud of. That is why we were there after all, well certainly that’s why you and I were there. To my knowledge, I don’t believe anyone else from that course went on to have writing careers. I feel proud of us both for that.

Aww, thank you honey, and it’s strange to think that that course was the spark for both of us. That something special happened there and then. I remember after the last evening, a group of us gathered in the carpark chatting for ages. We didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to let go of what we’d found. We swapped numbers and as I was the only one who lived in the town centre and had a young child I couldn’t leave, I invited everyone around to meet at mine the following week to continue what had begun on that course.

I did feel bereft that evening. It had only been a few weeks but those evenings in class had become a lifeline for me. Home life was so complicated and difficult at that time. It was my escape, somewhere I could just be me, just be Becky. Then you saved us, meeting up at yours every week, our core group, well, it kept me going. If it weren’t for our writing club, I might have left my book sitting there and it would never have seen the light of day.

Our writing club saved me as well. I think out of the five or six members of the group, we were the ones truly dedicated to writing a book. We used to read to each other what we’d written during the week. Very often, the others had nothing to contribute, but we always made the effort to produce something. I know I wrote as though I were on fire. Miss F was still very young and napped for Britain, so every spare moment I had I would write. Knowing that the group would be expecting the next instalment the following week, gave me the incentive I needed.

I always felt amazed at how much you could write in those days what with working, and with such a young child as she was then. I did my best to bring what I could with me. Fitting writing around four children and working full-time was tricky – my word, life was so crazy back then. How on earth did we manage to cram it all in? I know it was the same for you, it was such a passion.

You were working on “Remember to Love Me” then and still playing with “The Manningtree Account” and sometimes you’d bring other short stories and flash fiction along, and it was always breathtakingly good and so atmospheric.

Remember to Love Me – mark I

Writing for me back then was a healing tool. It took me out of my own life – creating misery for someone else took my mind off my own! “Remember to Love Me” had been part of my life for four years by then. It had taken me so long to write, we both know I’m not such a fast writer as you. I think creating the problems, misery and sadness of my characters was a way of distancing myself from life.

I think that was true for me as well. My life was so hard. I was really struggling financially, raising a small child alone, working and trying to keep it all together. Writing for me was both cathartic and an escape. During the years of our writing group, I finished “Becoming Lili”, “Erinsmore”, “Lost & Found”, “The Book of Eve”, “Lifesong” and “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~” and of course, THAT book, the first I ever wrote, which I don’t think will ever see the light of day!

Becoming Lili – available from Amazon

Oh yes, THAT book! Lol.

Yes, THAT book. The book that shall not be named.

Maybe one day it will be both named and published.

Hmm, I don’t know. Do you think the world will ever be ready for it? Perhaps now we’ve had 50 Shades of Grey it might be.

50 Shades certainly broke down barriers, even if it was the only thing it did for the literary world. Sorry, not a big fan.

Neither am I, but the level of sexuality in that book did pave the way for writers to be a little more… hmm, expressive in their novels, shall we say?

It made sex more accessible and more mainsteam, but THAT book has a far more intricate plot and far more interesting characters than 50 Shades.

But the thing I remember most about our group wasn’t just the writing side, but the fact it became so much more than that. Remember all those birthday lunches and trips out? Like the time we all hopped on a train and went to Norwich for the day? We went for a fabulously boozy lunch then fell into a taxi and went to see a beautiful ballet at the theatre.

We’ve had so many incredible trips away – usually involving prosecco – all those theatre trips and hotel weekends.

Are you referring to the infamous archaeological weekend we went on?

Our trip to Stonehenge, that always sticks in my mind, it was brilliant. I loved it.

So, did I. A whole weekend away from the family and real life. Do you remember the famous archaeologist Julian Richards of the TV series “Meet the Ancestors” was with our group for the whole weekend?

Julian Richards, yes, he was great. We picked his brains the whole trip. Even the miles we hiked down the avenue to Stonehenge was amazing. It quite took my breath away. I remember getting all emotional when it came into view over the brow of the hill.

They’d said there would be a champagne reception the first evening we arrived, as a “meet and greet” so we got dressed up to the nines, gorgeous frocks, fully made up, heels and jewellery. We went down and found a room full of very earnest looking elderly people all dressed in hiking clothes and staring at us as if we’d just arrived from Mars!

We did make a bit of an entrance, but then we always did like to dress for the occasion and after all, you can never have too much sparkle.

We looked at one another, then strutted into that room as if we owned it. And we did! We totally did! We were the youngest there by a good twenty years and even if I do say so myself, probably the most attractive!

I also remember they’d stated only one glass of fizz or wine per person. Well, we weren’t having that.

Oh no we weren’t! What a stupid rule. Oh no, that was never going to happen. We charmed and flirted and made friends with the waiter and voila, our glasses were never empty for the whole weekend!

Julian also made a beeline for us and never really left. He made sure he was on our table not just that night, but the next one as well. He was most attentive to our grilling him on everything historical, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact we were a good two decades younger than everyone else.

Do you remember though, that first night he looked us up and down and eyed our footwear. Then in a very concerned voice asked if we were aware how muddy and rough the terrain would be the next day? We pulled big eyes and said, “Oh, so you mean what we’re wearing won’t do?”

Yes, I do. I honestly think everyone thought we were serious, until we rocked up next morning appropriately dressed. I don’t think anyone recognised us at first.

Nope, we were all professional in chinos, waterproof jackets and proper walking boots.

I remember getting him to sign his book on Stonehenge and feeling quite in awe. Isn’t it funny that we now sign our own books for others?

I got him to sign mine to Miss F, and I still have it somewhere.

I have mine too.

I remember we went to the theatre a LOT during this time. I think your home life was going through a critical time and you just wanted to escape.

The theatre was the air that we breathed back then. Whether it was locally or in London. I loved our London trip when we stayed in a boutique hotel and went to see “Phantom of the Opera”.

That would have been in 2007 because it was my 40th birthday present from everyone.

I seem to remember the Italian waiter where we went for lunch taking quite a shine to me.

Oh my, I remember that waiter! You shameless woman, but it did get us free drinks with our desserts and how many after dinner mints, did we get?!

Free drinks and lots of after dinner mints – it was worth a little flirting! Although he did ask me for my number!

You never told me that!! Hussy!

He never got it of course.

Hmm. The next day we had a massive breakfast then managed to fit in a tour of London, Madam Tussauds and the Tower of London before catching our bus home. Stupidly, I was wearing brand new heeled boots. The state of my feet by Sunday evening! Ten screaming blisters where my toes used to be, but totally worth it.

I wore heels too that weekend, oh, how we suffered for fashion back then! I loved that weekend so much. I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” again this January, I love it so much I’d gladly go again.

Maybe we will when this is all over. But then time passed, and life got busy for everyone and, as usually happens, the group started to drift apart. We stuck together the longest though, even when in the end it was just the two of us.

It was hard keeping it all together. Relations became a little strained with certain members of the group. It was always so much easier and more relaxed when I came alone for dinner armed with a fattening dessert. Especially when I’d managed to arrange a lift home afterwards so we could open a bottle of red.

Yes, there were a few personality clashes and there began to be negative vibes from certain people that simply didn’t happen when it was just us two. And it was during this time that you published “Remember to Love Me” with a lavish launch party where you looked amazing!

Oh, the “Remember to Love Me” launch party! That was a strange thing. Being the centre of attention was extremely difficult for me, but it was wonderful that so many people attended. Launches are not done like that anymore. Maybe it’s for the best, at least now I can wear my PJ’s when I release a new book! But I must say – that dress! Dark emerald satin with the highest black sandals known to woman, it was beautiful.

Would you sign my copy of your book please, Becky.
Why certainly, Julia

It certainly was a gorgeous dress. A few years after that we drifted apart ourselves, which I deeply regret and don’t know why it happened. I think you were going through a tough divorce and then starting afresh, and I don’t know if maybe I reminded you too much of your old life and a past you were trying to escape from.

Life had been difficult for many years and of course, things inevitably came to a head. The divorce was hard, not just in the practical and emotional respect but on my children. For a very long while things got too much, and mentally I wasn’t in a good place. I found the only way I could survive from day to day was to hibernate. I was working full-time in a completely different sphere from what I was used to and then I met James….

Anyway, fast forward to Christmas 2016. I’d published “The Book of Eve” through a small press the Christmas before but sales were dire. I was so naïve about the whole publishing process and didn’t really have an internet presence, other than a private Facebook account that friends and family were on. They didn’t really want to see endless posts about my books, and I didn’t really know how to promote myself or what to do. I was a bit stuck. I’d also just been diagnosed with a growth in my abdomen and was scheduled for surgery in February 2017. Things were tough. I certainly didn’t have any plans to publish anything else and had given up on my dream of being a published author. I hadn’t heard anything from you for several years when suddenly, out of the blue, you messaged me through Facebook. I was stunned and so happy to hear from you.

I was planning to re-release “Remember to Love Me” and was scrolling though Amazon one day when something made me look up Julia Blake. When I found “The Book of Eve” I knew it was a sign that I had to get in touch. I just knew if I could do this on my own, then so could you. There were far more options now for independent authors than ever before, when it used to be traditional or seedy vanity press only. I just knew we had to do this together. After all, we’d begun this journey together, there was no way I was going to do this without you.

Remember to Love Me – Mark II
Available from Amazon

I couldn’t believe it was you! We chatted for a couple of weeks. You told me how you’d republished “Remember to Love Me” as an indie author. With your help and encouragement, I started my Instagram page and you introduced me to your friends on there, who were so kind and supportive.

I didn’t really know back then what sort of advertising we needed to do. Only that we did. We had social media at our fingertips, something we hadn’t had back when we started.

Plus, Instagram was such fun. A warm, encouraging and supportive place to connect with writers and readers alike. You persuaded me to give it a go and we decided that my old novella, “Lifesong” would be a perfect way for me to dip my toe in the water, as it were. It was short enough to make it manageable and I’d release it as an eBook so it would be easy for me to try my wings out on. So, once I was released from hospital and had to spend three weeks resting at home, you came over and we spent the whole day sorting out “Lifesong”.

Lifesong – available from Amazon

We sat there all day, and you kept us topped up with coffee while we formatted and created a cover for it and uploaded it. And there it was. You were an indie author. “Lifesong” was the perfect book to start with.

You were going to release “The Manningtree Account” as an eBook at the same time.

“The Manningtree Account” now that was something that also came into creation from that writing course all those years before. Releasing “Lifesong” inspired me to go back and look at those stories I’d created back then with fresh eyes. “Manningtree” had stayed with me all that time and I knew it was the one I wanted to publish next… suitably creepy to reflect how my writing style was evolving. Isn’t it funny how far we’ve come in the publishing game?

It is. Just look at us now! You published “The Manningtree Account” and then “Daughters of the Oak” which was when I think it all kicked off for you. It was then you really found your voice.

Daughters of the Oak – available from Amazon

Yes, I’d like to think I’ve now found my voice and where I sit among the genres. All my books are very gothic in feel, some more than others, but they are all ghost stories at their core even if their feet are planted in other genres such as romance and horror. My current novel that I’m desperately trying to finish for this Autumn is again dark, full of ghosts, and so much more.

You’ve grown into your persona as an author, you really have.

Thank you. And so, have you, you really are an author for all seasons.

Oh, I think that’s because my butterfly brain can’t settle to any one thing, that’s why I jump from genre to genre. But then the release of “Mr Stoker & I” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that your path is a dark and twisting one.

Very dark. Very twisting. “Mr Stoker & I” is very special to me. Probably more so than any other. Lucy still resides inside me, every so often whispering to me. She will not make a come back in any form, although readers have asked me to, but for those who have read “Mr Stoker & I” and know how her story ends, maybe she is still wandering the East Cliff of Whitby. But there are plans to revisit Blackthorn Manor in the future.

Mr Stoker & I – available from Amazon

Good. I know your many readers will be very pleased to hear that. I think my favourite spooky tale connected with you though, is the one that happened in real life, and that’s the story of how you “made up” your husband long before you ever met him.

Ahh, my very own James Wright.

Yes, please tell me the story again.

We first meet Lance Corporal James Wright in chapter four of “Remember to Love Me”. When I wrote his character way back in 2000 it was more than a decade before my own fateful meeting with my very own James Wright. After my divorce I started working in a hotel. I was the duty manager so was on duty most of the time. James was the head chef, so was working equally long hours. We met and I knew instantly that we had connected. Very soon he became my friend, my confidante and the one person I talked to the most about work, life and everything. Romance blossomed and I realised I had discovered my “Mr Wright” after all. He really is my other half. It is very eerie.

James & Becky Wright

You are so lucky and that’s such an amazing story, it must have been fate. And of course, the fairytale didn’t end there, did it?

I not sure I believe in fate, but I do believe that if we lay ourselves open to possibilities then wonderful things can happen, and no, the fairytale didn’t end there. We’ve been married five years now and have our son, who’s now six. And yes, I do realise how lucky I am and thank the heavens every day that we found each other.

And now look at us! It’s 2020 and we’re closer friends now than we’ve ever been, but these are very strange times we are living in.

These are strange times. There’s nothing I’d like better right now than to be sitting in the same room with you, drinking coffee and chatting as we used to do. But the wonders of technology keep us connected.

They do indeed. And then of course, last year you decided to put all your hard-won knowledge and experience, together with James’s wizardry with a computer and form Platform House Publishing.

It is very surreal how Platform House Publishing came to be. I think it was a series of small decisions that led us to where we are now. I’ve always done all my own formatting and interior book design, and James has always created my covers. Then came the odd video trailer…

And from there a mighty business empire was launched… well, I’m sure it will be.

Platform House Publishing

Now we are creating for others, just like you. I’ve come to realise that other authors need help with certain aspects of their books. We work and socialise within the great interconnected networks of Instagram and Facebook, and everyone on there has been so supportive that we wanted to give back that support in a practical manner. That’s why we desperately try to keep our prices as low as is feasibly possible.

And then last year when I came to you with my crazy plan to revisit my earlier novels and completely overhaul them with new formatting, interior illustrations and even new covers, you wholeheartedly supported me and said – “how can we help?”

To me, the whole idea of helping in anyway I can, is exciting. I honestly get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of formatting and book interior design. It makes me feel slightly less of an oddity even though no one else seems to enjoy formatting.

My problem is I have the vision, I can see what I want my books to look like, but I don’t have the technological know-how and I certainly don’t have the equipment to make those dreams a reality. And that’s where you come in. I’m sure there are thousands, millions of authors out there like me. They’ve written a great book, they’ve had it edited, but they need help to give it that final push, that polish that turns an okay book into a fantastic one.

I have to admit, I’m quite at home with technology. Despite being a writer with a great love of words, you know I’ve always struggled with mild dyslexia.

I know, and it’s amazing how you’ve overcome it and reached for your dream anyway.

It is so important to make a great first impression with your book. You can have the best story, superbly edited, but if the cover and interior formatting are off and unappealing, then a reader might just pass it by. We want to make sure that every book when it leaves us is the best it can possibly be, both aesthetically and in meeting all the standards required to publish.

It’s very true what they say – “the first bite is with the eye” – and I think that applies just as much to a book as to a meal.

Definitely, we eat with our eyes first. What with James being a chef he was born creative. His medium may have changed, but he’s still creating feasts.

So, he appreciates how true that saying is more than anyone. I really enjoy working with you, you always seem to know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, and over the years you’ve helped me polish the “Julia Blake” brand until I believe all my books have a certain look to them. Well, they soon will do. We have a few more left to transform.

Chaining Daisy – the sequel to Becoming Lili
available from Amazon

I feel that we have made all your books look like “yours” and that they have the mark of your brand. It always sounds very corporate when I say that, but we are in business as writers, we are all small businesses and without a certain amount of “branding” we will never stand out.

And finally, we’re at the end of one more project together and that’s “Erinsmore”.

Oh, the epic saga that is “Erinsmore”. I think we have lived that fantasy as much as you have these past few weeks and it’s been such a joy. James, even as we speak, is in the depths of the “Erinsmore” fantasy creating an epic video trailer for you.

And I expect thoroughly enjoying it. I think between us we’ve created something incredible, and I can’t wait for this story to be re-launched on the world next week.

I think the story now resides within the packaging it’s always deserved. All those years ago when I first read “Erinsmore”, I knew it needed something extra special. James adores creating video trailers, it’s become his happy place, especially in these uncertain times.

Erinsmore – available from Amazon soon

And now, thanks to you, it’s got that special packaging. Anyway, do you realise we’ve been chatting for over two hours? Even virtually, there’s no shutting us up.

Once we start, there really is no stopping us!

And it’s now turning into Friday evening and I know you’ll need to go and make dinner for your family, as I have to. Do you have any plans for tonight?

This afternoon has been a joy though, a much-needed distraction from the world we’re currently living in. Well, Platform House is still open, I’m creating some special treats for another couple of authors, then I’m planning to do some writing as I’ve committed myself to Nano again this month. I’m certainly a glutton for punishment! But this book won’t write itself, and I really need it written ready for a Halloween release. Luckily, dinner tonight is in the hands of the professional.

Oh, wow! You certainly are a workaholic. I did think about taking part myself, but even with currently having a lot more time at home, what with planning for the launch of “Erinsmore” next week and with three other books to prepare for publication, I was afraid of biting off more than I could chew. Best of luck with everything, and I’m looking forward to our next coffee and chat session, even if it does have to be virtually.

I think I must be crazy as well to have set myself such a challenge, but I will do it, somehow.

I have faith in you.

And thank you for having me over for a virtual coffee and a chat about old times and new, it’s been fun.

It has, I’d like to thank the lovely Becky Wright for giving up her Friday afternoon to chat with me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed being able to eavesdrop. Have a good week everyone, and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Report from the Home Front

What a strange week it has been. Day ten of quarantine for Miss F and me, and so far, so good. Aside for the odd snarling spat at each other, we have rubbed along remarkably well. I think this is because we are fortunate to have a house with enough rooms to escape to during the day, only coming together in the evenings to have dinner by the fire and watch Netflix.

We have a deal between us. We each get to choose a series and watch them an episode each in turn. Miss F is making me watch Gossip Girl which is everything I really hate about American television. Teenagers that are supposed to be sixteen but look thirty and all dress in expensive, designer clothes and never wear the same thing twice. They seem to have an endless source of money, hardly ever go to school and never get homework. But the amount of time they spend bitching about each other and jumping in and out of bed, to be honest I don’t know when they’d have the time for school or homework! Their parents are conspicuous by their absence, or at the very least have so little control over their promiscuous, precocious offspring they might as well not be there.

I really don’t enjoy these series, but at least this one doesn’t have vampires in it and Gossip Girl does have one huge plus going for it. It’s not Riverdale! That surely must take the award for the biggest pile of fetid dingo kidneys ever produced. I suffered nearly three seasons of this ridiculous pile of poo before rebelling and threatening to gouge my own eyes out with a teaspoon if I was forced to endure anymore. By this point, I think even Miss F was tiring of it, because she agreed to choose a different series without a murmur.

And what am I forcing her to watch in exchange, I hear you ask? Well, did you know that Netflix has all eleven seasons of the X-Files on there! That’ll make the long hours of isolation simply fly by. I haven’t seen the X-Files since it first aired and watching it again has made me realise two things. Firstly, how slow and creaky the first series is, and secondly, what an appallingly bad actor David Duchovny is. As wooden as a shed door, he delivers all his lines in the same nasally monotone and it’s no wonder he kind of sank without trace when the show ended. It’s equally no surprise that the fabulous Gillian Anderson went on to become a superb and well-respected dramatic actress. Even in her limited role as Scully her talent shines through, and the things that woman can do with her eyebrows are beyond belief.

What else have I been up to beside watching TV? Well, obviously I wasn’t feeling too great so had to take it steady. Lucky enough to only have it mildly, it nevertheless was unpleasant and left me exhausted and aching in every muscle. Still, I did manage to spring clean my bedroom which was a result, and I’ve washed all the woodwork in the hall, stairs and landing and hand swept the carpet to get up all the bits the vacuum cleaner simply doesn’t get.

During the past week, the weather here in the UK has been amazing, with clear blue skies and warm sunshine, so I’ve been out in the garden for a little bit every day to get my daily dose of vitamin D and some much needed fresh air and exercise. I’ve tidied, weeded, swept and moved plants. The next big job out there is to paint all my fences, but I’m going to wait until I’m fully recovered before tackling that. Also, this weekend the weather has taken a decided turn for the worse and it’s too cold to be outside for long.

Socially, I’ve spoken on the phone to my mother a few times and emailed friends to check they’re okay and swap news. Last week, my group of local authors and I attempted a mass meet up on-line. It was fun, even if our technology let us down at times with one or more of us suddenly disappearing or being unable to make themselves heard. But it was great seeing everyone and having a couple of hours of chat. Thursday evening, I hung out of an upstairs window and clapped to show my support of the NHS staff all working tirelessly and daily risking not only their own health but also that of their families. All my neighbours were on doorsteps and in windows, and it was great to be able to wave and shout greetings to them.

Yesterday all the residents on my street received a very distressing email that one of my neighbour’s brother had sadly died from Corona. This really brought it home and he is the first person that I know off who has died from it. More poignantly he was only 52, my age, and had no underlying medical conditions. United in our desire to do something to show our sympathy and solidarity we all emerged onto the street. Carefully observing at least eight foot between me and anyone else all the time, I went out as well, and we all stood there in the evening chill, clutching glasses of wine or bottles of beer and raised a glass to show our deepest respects. Calling out to one another our news and offering practical help in the form of collecting essential supplies or medicine to one another, it made me realise what a very special street I live on.

A passing council worker enquired what we were doing, but on being told it was a wake to show support for a neighbours bereavement, he bowed his head in sympathetic silence, reminded us to observe the social distancing rules and not to stay out too long, then went on his way. We stayed out for about thirty minutes, before the cold drove us back indoors.

Then last night I face timed with fellow authors Caroline Noe in London and Linda Gazani in California. Long time friends on social media, it was the first time we’d ever seen each other’s faces and we spent over two hours online chatting and giving each other much needed support and companionship, especially as both Carrie and Linda are in isolation completely alone.

This really made me wonder, what would we have done if this had happened pre-internet age? Even my own mother who used to believe the internet was the work of the devil, has been forced to admit that it has been a lifesaver for many during these strange days of quarantine and self-isolation. Can you imagine being stuck in your house, all alone, without the chance to email, text or facetime with your family and friends. And yes, maybe social media has its flaws, but for sheer connectivity to other communities around the globe it can’t be beaten and is saving peoples sanity.

As well, all those poor parents who’ve taken on the role of teacher to their young children. Imagine how much harder that would be without the online lessons provided by hardworking teachers who are busy working away at home preparing lessons and marking homework, all to keep up with the educational needs of the nation. I know my own cousin’s youngsters are benefiting from this and are quite enjoying their home schooling.

Wednesday morning, the animal centre at the West Suffolk College where Miss F is training, streamed a live, hour long tour of the facilities so you could meet all the animals from cheeky goats to cuddly bunnies and scary snakes. If you are home schooling, then this would be an invaluable lesson on animals and what they like to eat and give you a much -needed break from being teacher. The link is below to watch the video and there are plans for a live, streaming session every Wednesday at 11am GMT when you can ask the carers questions about the animals and really connect with them. I believe next week is going to be all about training animals.

There are lots of activities online if you look for them, and many actors are giving live readings from their own homes where they are in isolation. Plays, musicals, operas and ballets are all on there as well for free. Kindle Unlimited are also offering a free, two-month trial where you can read for free any of the thousands of books registered with them. I myself have five books on there – The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ – Becoming Lili – Chaining Daisy – Lifesong – and, Eclairs for Tea and other stories. So, if you’ve been wanting to try me on for size but were reluctant to spend any money in case I didn’t fit, well Kindle Unlimited is the perfect way to “try before you buy”. You can pick a book and read as much or as little of it as you want. If you don’t like the book, simply stop reading it. If you’re enjoying it, then read to the end. If you love it, then buy yourself a copy to have forever. If you don’t have an actual Kindle device then no problem, so long as you have either a smartphone or a tablet you can download the Kindle app for free so you can buy eBooks cheaply or even get them for free and never run out of reading material.

I’ve seen a few people stating that they’re not bothering to get washed and dressed, instead are spending days without number slumped on the sofa in their PJs watching endless TV. I simply can’t do that. The thought of staying in my PJs all day just fills me with horror. Every day I’m up reasonably early, washed, dressed, teeth cleaned, and hair brushed. I must admit though, I’m only bothering with make-up when I’m face-timing with friends and family. I have a large breakfast and plan my day, ticking off all the items that have been on my to-do list forever and that I simply never have the time to tackle. I’m determined to cross them all off. And if this isolation goes on for longer than we expect and I reach the end of my list, then it will be time to chill out and plough through my mile long to be read list, binge watch box sets, and maybe write another book (or two).

So how are you all holding up supply wise? Run out of toilet paper yet? We’re okay so far, the sensible stocking up I did before this all began is paying off in spades now. Last weekend, Miss F and I went through the freezer, fridge and cupboards making an inventory of every scrap of food there is in the house, then we made a menu plan for the first week. It barely scratched the surface of our supplies and we tried to be sensible with our rations.

I tend to save leftovers for future meals and drive Miss F crazy with my unique system for labelling these. Well, it’s unique in that I don’t bother to label anything. Nope, I always think I’ll know what’s in that bag or Tupperware box. Yeah, you can imagine how that works out. Picture me, bag of frozen something in hand, peering at it and muttering to myself – now what the heck are you? You look like spaghetti bolognaise, but I don’t know, I’m sure that looks like kidney beans in there and I’d never put kidney beans in a bolognaise!

In an attempt to eke out our supplies we decided to schedule these mystery meals for a couple of meals during the week. Accordingly, I got a bag of what I was pretty sure was beef stew out ready for Tuesday evening. As it defrosted, I looked at it occasionally and poked at it, yep, definitely beef stew, lovely. Anyway, evening came, I’d put potatoes in to roast to accompany it and could see bits of carrot and peas were already in the mix, but, when I put it in a pan to warm through I saw little flecks of green mixed in with the chunks of meat. Hmm? I tried a bit. Then went to report to Miss F.

“Change of plan for dinner.”

“Oh?” she looked at me suspiciously, knowing my leftover fails of old.

“It’s not beef stew.”

“Ok-a-ay, what is it then?”

“Minted lamb hotpot.”

“Result!”

And it was, a wonderful, delicious result. Next time I wasn’t so lucky.

When I make a lasagne, I always make an enormous one and then parcel it up into double portions wrapped in tinfoil and stack them in the freezer. So, I know with an absolute degree of certainty that if there’s a foil wrapped brick in the freezer, it will definitely, one hundred percent, be a delicious slice of homemade lasagne. During our inventory I’d noted there was one double portion of lasagne in the freezer, so I got it out for Thursday’s dinner with garlic bread and salad.

It defrosted. I put the salad together and put the garlic bread in to cook and unwrapped the “lasagne” ready to go in the microwave. It wasn’t lasagne! Miss F wandered into the kitchen drawn by the scent of cooking garlic bread and the expression on my face must have alarmed her.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not lasagne.”

“What isn’t?”

“What I got out for dinner tonight, it isn’t lasagne.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“Chocolate cake!”

Not such a result, but I rootled about in the cupboard and found a big tin of chicken and vegetable soup which we had with garlic bread and a side salad, then we had chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for afters and it was all good.

Maybe I should start labelling things, but where’s the fun in that?

Writing wise, all the edits and formatting on Erinsmore were completed last weekend and it has been safely uploaded to KDP and my proof copy ordered. It should be here by next Tuesday when I will have one last, thorough read through to check it’s all perfect. All being well, we’ll be looking at a launch date of next weekend.

I am beyond thrilled at how the new version of Erinsmore is looking. The cover is stunning and the 30 pages of illustrations inside make it a thing of beauty.

Also, this week, I formatted Lost & Found successfully into its new format and even managed to get the pagination all done first time – anyone who knows me knows that pagination is my nemesis. Lost & Found is with my editor for her to work her magic on it, and next week I’ll start preparing its sequel Fixtures & Fittings ready to be sent to her as soon as she’s done with Lost & Found. Miss F has also begun proof reading book three in the series for me, which I am surprisingly nervous about as she is the first person to read it other than me.

Finally, yesterday, I sat and put several items on eBay to clear the house of unwanted stuff and hopefully make a few pennies. Financially, things are a little tight right now, sure I’m getting 80% of my wages, but only my basic with a small percentage of expected commission on top, so nowhere near what I usually earn. I have been awarded a three-month mortgage holiday which is a relief, but that will need to be paid back at some time so will be an added stress to monthly finances once this is all over.

You can see I’ve had a busy week, and I’m happy with how productive and active I’ve been. I really think that’s the only way to stay sane and calm during these trying times. Having structure in your days and not just vegging out on the sofa all day and every day is a much healthier strategy.

Anyway, it’s getting late, it’s time to light the fire, pour myself a gin and tonic and see about making dinner. Tonight, it’s some fishfingers I found in a bag in the freezer, with mashed potatoes, fried onions and baked beans – at least, I think they’re fishfingers.

So, this is me signing off for another week and sending you best wishes from me in my home to you in yours.

Julia Blake

PS. Thank you to everyone who contacted me re my lack of Jamaican Ginger Cake. I am happy to report that a wonderful friend arranged to have two left on my doorstep along with a mini bottle of gin! Thank you, Rachel, you’re a star.

Plague, Poverty and no bloody Jamaican Ginger Cake! Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!

So, that was a week wasn’t it. In my last blog, I said how uncertain things were and that I wondered what the future would bring, little imagining that in under seven days both Miss F and I would go down with the Corona Virus. Well, we think we have – a high temperature, exhaustion, headaches, achy joints and muscles, a tight chest and a cough that just won’t stop! Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But then, there are a 101 other things it could be. Better safe than sorry, I guess, and into isolation we went.

That was Wednesday. On Thursday we had our Tesco order finally delivered after waiting nearly a week for it and daily seeing so many things taken from our basket, substituted, put back in and taken out again, that by the time we were finally unpacking it we had no clue what was actually going to be in there.

No eggs, okay, we can manage without for a while. No toilet rolls, no surprise there, thank heavens I tend to stay well stocked with those anyway, so we have enough – for a while. No hand soap, it’s okay, we have bar soap, that will do. No pasta, ok, we have enough for a while if we eke it out. No pasta sauce or passata, I have tomato puree so can be inventive with that. Luckily, Tesco had thought outside the box substitution wise – no almond milk, have oat milk instead. No sliced bread, have a bloomer. I’d put a few treats in the basket to enliven an otherwise bland and spartan diet and had put a Jamaican Ginger Cake in, because we both love it. Well, apparently so does everybody else because they were sold out, we got Golden Syrup cake instead. Hmm, okay.

I did get an absolute blinder of a result. I’d slipped a tiny bottle of cheap gin into the basket and some Tesco bog standard tonic water. For heavens sake, a girl needs some treats. Yep, you’ve guessed it, my £7 bottle of gin was sold out, so they substituted it for a £20+ bottle of artisan Parma Violet gin, and my cheap tonic water was substituted for Fevertree posh stuff. Thank you very much, Tesco.

We certainly have enough for our two-week quarantine period, and, if we ration ourselves and plan our meals sensibly, enough for a couple of months of frugal living. Because we are going to have to be frugal now, very frugal. Friday evening, both Miss F and I found out that our companies are closing for the duration of the virus. That’s right, we are now unemployed for the foreseeable future.

Miss F was only working fifteen hours a week, so we don’t know if she’s entitled to any kind of compensation. Sure, they’ve assured her that her job will be waiting for her when they re-open, but no one seems to know how long that will be. My situation, as of course I am the sole breadwinner, is a lot more serious. My company has closed all of its stores as of next Wednesday. The government has promised to pay 80% of our wages for three months, my company have said they will dip into our holiday pay pot to make up the difference – not sure how I feel about that, but have no say in the matter.

However, before everyone starts rejoicing for me at having three months off on full pay, hold hard. The government are only paying 80% of our basic pay, not the commission we earn on top which changes our pay from subsistence to a living wage. Commission that we will no longer be getting. My basic pay is only about £600 a month. Think about that. Could you pay all your bills and eat on £600 a month?

Miss F and I held an emergency meeting this morning to plan our next move. Discussed were practical ways we can reduce our outgoings, so simple stuff like no lights or devices left on unnecessarily, be mindful of water and take showers every third day, save any unused water for the pot plants, it’s getting warmer so heating off unless absolutely essential (we have open fires and plenty of fuel), reduce the use of the washing machine and hang out clothes on the line whenever possible and not use the drier.

Meals are being reduced to two a day. A substantial brunch at 10:30am then a good dinner at 5:30pm, and not a scrap of food is to be wasted. We’re going to take a look at any subscriptions etc we currently have and cull where we can. Sorry, NowTV and Amazon Prime, but you’re for the chop. Finally, once our quarantine is over, we’ll go through the house with a fine toothcomb and sell anything that we can bear to part with – that’s if anyone is buying of course.

It’s daunting and scary and frightening how quickly our civilisation is being brought to its knees by a virus that still doesn’t seem that deadly. I hope the government does make good on all its promises to help, because the thought of a nation suddenly plunged into mortgage and rent arrears, starving and unable to pay their bills is horrific. I’m sure it won’t come to that, and you never know, maybe this will teach people again how to be thrifty and self-reliant. After all, we did it in the War. Millions of people survived on a lot less than we expect as our right now, perhaps we just need to re-discover that within ourselves.

I think families will be forced to reconnect with one another. If you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end be it through self-isolating or simply because there’s nowhere else to go, then you’re going to have to learn ways to get along without killing each other. Luckily, we have places in our home where we can go to have separate time from one another, otherwise it would turn into the night of the long knives.

In terms of self-reliance, I am better placed than Miss F in that I have so many things I want to do and up until now simply haven’t had the time to do them. Obviously, writing. If I haven’t produced at least one new book by the end of this period, then shame on me. But there’s also reading and reviewing, with twenty books in my physical to be read pile and about 200 on my Kindle, I really have no excuse to be bored. I’m also working on re-releasing Erinsmore and am in the process of giving it its final polish so watch this space for some exciting news about a publication date.

Next on the revamp list are books one and two in the Blackwood Family Saga – Lost & Found and Fixtures & Fittings – and they are currently with my editor. The third book has been written and it will also be going through the editorial stage. So, look out for publication dates for those. Finally, I will regain copyright for The Book of Eve in July so it too will need editing, reformatting and sprucing up for a re-release in August. As you can see, busy busy, lots of plans.

Aside from writing and bookish plans, I also want to deep spring clean my house from top to bottom. Like most busy working women, I tend to get by on a lick and a promise. I clean the bits that show and promise myself that one day I’ll do it properly. Well, one day is now here. Facing at least three months of time off, I have no more excuses. I can take my time, a room a week if I want, but at the end of this, if there ever is an end, I want a house so gleaming with love and attention that Kim and Aggie, those cleaning busybodies from that Nineties TV series could visit and I wouldn’t care.

There’s also the garden. It’s been thoroughly neglected for years because I never have the time to do anything about it other than keep on top of basic chores. My fences all desperately need painting and I’ve had the paint since the beginning of last summer, just never got around to doing it. No excuses now, as soon as the weather warms up a little and I’m feeling less like a worn-out dishrag, then I will be donning my old clothes and getting out there with a paintbrush and my Bluebell garden tones paint. Yes, you heard me, my fences will be blue. That alone is weeks of work and will have the added benefit of getting me outside in the sunshine and fresh air to get exercise and top up my Vitamin D levels.

But Miss F doesn’t have any such plans. Faced with the possibility of an even longer period of enforced house arrest than me as the colleges and schools have all now closed until September, possibly longer, and with no work to go to, no voluntary placement and no coursework (they’ve done their exams so it was just recap work they were doing anyway), she has been left rather adrift. To my comments that sitting around in her PJs for months on end playing video games is neither desirable nor healthy, she snapped at me. I’m afraid I may have to get tough with her. It is essential for her mental and physical well-being that there is structure to her days and definitely some fresh air and exercise in the mix. Perhaps I should force her to pick up a paintbrush with me, although I dread to think what a mess she’d make of it.

I guess we’ll be okay. No, we will be okay. I’ve weathered worse shit storms than this before and one thing I’ve learnt is that this too shall pass. Okay, it may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. In a few weeks, months or years, we will look back on this and we’ll all have our survival stories to tell of the terrible plague of 2020. There is some positive news out there. The cases of people contracting the virus in China seem to have slowed and there have been no deaths for two days. We are about three months behind them, so by June hopefully this will be at an end. I hope so, for all our sakes, I really hope so.

There’s news of a vaccine, although with the amount of testing they will have to do before it’s available to the general population I fear it’s a future preventative not an immediate cure. There are stories of the situation bringing out the absolute best in people with generous offers of aid and charity from people of wealth all the way down to next door neighbours helping each other out. I myself have benefitted from a friend dropping off eggs on my doorstep only this morning – thank you, Mary, I owe you big time.

But, sadly, it also seems to be bringing out the worse in some people as well. I’ve been sickened by stories and images of people fighting to get the last pack of pasta or toilet rolls, pushing elderly and sick people out the way and even taking their essential supplies from their baskets. It’s dreadful to think that in this time of global co-dependence and mutual need, that there are those who only seek to ensure their own well-being, taking more than their fair share and stealing from the vulnerable and needy. Come on guys, we need to stand together now more than ever, seriously, you want to behave that way over a packet of penne when you have a whole cupboard of the stuff at home? Don’t be that person, be better than that.

It’s growing late and it’s getting chilly. Although a sunny day outside, inside it’s definitely cold. Normally, I would have put the heating on but today we are merely piling on the layers and I’ve found a pair of woollen fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm enough to type. I feel very Bob Cratchett from A Christmas Carol, and it’s hard to explain but there’s almost a sense of not enjoyment – that is the wrong word – but satisfaction in knowing that we will cope, whatever happens, we will overcome it. Plans for the rest of the day include making a thorough inventory of all our supplies which we will then use to sensibly eke out and plan our daily menus. I need to bring in wood and coal and lay the fire for this evening and bring in the bedding from the line which will hopefully then only need five minutes in the drier to make sure it’s aired thoroughly.

Dinner tonight will be eaten by the fire with just a single lamp on and maybe a candle or two, with Netflix to entertain us. Yes, we’re keeping Netflix for the moment. At only £8 a month it represents good entertainment value and we need distraction of some kind or else we’d go mad and murder each other.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. A mysterious looking parcel arrive in the post this morning as Miss F ordered it before all this happened, but I won’t get a card, quarantine took her by surprise and she’s been unable to get one, which is fine. We have a fun afternoon scheduled tomorrow to celebrate of games by the fire and a nice dinner with a glass of something alcoholic for Mum.

It’s sad to think so many won’t be able to be with their mothers tomorrow. My own mother is in self-isolation due to being in the high-risk category, but I did leave her cards and flowers at the beginning of the week and I will speak to her on the phone.

I hope you are all well and safe. Wherever you are and however this virus is affecting your lives, please remember to be kind and treat others the way you would wish to be treated yourselves. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can procure some Jamaican Ginger cake, please let me know.

Julia Blake

What has happened to the world? As the reports flood in from too many countries to count now, it seems a small, inconsequential and localised illness that was far away in China, has suddenly become very real and very scary.

So far in Suffolk where I live there has only been one reported case of Covid-19, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will escape unscathed. Watching news reports from places like Northern Italy that are under complete lockdown, it was heartening to hear the residents singing to each other through open windows but worrying to think that we might be next. Although the thought of residents in Birmingham cheerfully serenading each other from bedroom windows is a lovely one, I somehow don’t think that’s how us Brits would react to house arrest.

And how do we in the West respond? Do we remain level and calm-headed? No. Do we think about our fellow man and only take our fair share of supplies? Also no. Panic buying on a mass scale not experienced since the countrywide strikes of the seventies has occurred, with people stockpiling items they consider to be essential should the worst occur, and we all have to self-isolate.

Self-isolate. Now there’s a prissy expression if ever I’ve heard one. Why not call it what it is, quarantine? Because that’s what it is. Going into quarantine to avoid spreading the latest plague to cull mankind. A lot of people I know have expressed a fervent wish that they could spend two weeks at home with no work, no school, no college and no physical interaction with anyone outside their own four walls. I must admit, the notion is attractive, and I know both Miss F and I could manage it just fine. Let’s face it, busy introvert that I am I could quite easily fill those two weeks with home and garden activities and wish for more time. But, that’s not to say I want it to happen.

Because if it did, if we were ordered into quarantine, that would mean it was because the virus had reached pandemic status in the UK and that truly is a frightening thought. It doesn’t seem that deadly a virus, yet. The statistics for survival are high, and with Miss F being only sixteen and healthy, and me being reasonably sound despite a few creaks here and there, I think we’d be okay. We don’t smoke or have any underlying immune issues that we’re aware of.

However, you need to look beyond the “I’m okay, Jack” attitude that seems sadly so prevalent. Yes, maybe you would be okay, but even though this virus isn’t particularly deadly, it is extremely contagious and that’s where the real danger lies.

Reports indicate that you can catch the virus and walk around for days, even weeks, without being aware you have it. You may very well feel fine, perhaps a slight cough or flu like symptoms, but not enough to raise the alarm, so off you pop to work, school, the shops, the hairdressers, the supermarket, all the while touching things and coughing, spreading the contagion even further, and maybe one of the people who catches it from exposure to you isn’t so young, fit and healthy. Perhaps they’re elderly, have diabetes or some other debilitating illness. Perhaps they have an undiagnosed heart condition, perhaps they’re on medication or treatment that has compromised their immune system. Suddenly, the “I’m alright, Jack,” attitude is more than just selfish, it’s deadly.

But what’s the alternative? I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media condemning the government for not ordering us all into quarantine now. I’m not sure that that is the answer though. All reports indicate that this virus won’t peak for another four to six months so maybe the government is wise to delay such a move until it’s absolutely necessary. After all, could you cope for six months trapped within your home? Although we have a good supply of food and essential toiletries, they wouldn’t last that long, and yes, I am aware we could order deliveries but like most British citizens, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. The government has promised that we’ll all get statutory sick pay from week one of mandatory self-isolation, and the whole nation went yay, but most don’t realise that SSP is only about £3.50 per hour.

Think about that. £3.50 per hour. Could you live for long on that? Could you continue to pay your mortgage, your utilities and insurances on that? How about buying groceries? And what about paying for those Sky and Netflix subscription, because let’s face it, most people trapped in their homes for six months would resort to becoming couch potatoes desperate for entertainment and distraction.

It’s alright for members of parliament, living in their ivory towers with well stocked pantries and wine cellars, and access to savings and endless funds, but what about the rest of us. Who is going to pay for a whole nation being forced to live on sick pay? More importantly, who is going to keep the country running? If we’re all cowering in our homes surrounded by 300 rolls of toilet paper and enough rice to feed a small Asian country, who is going to be running our hospitals, our factories and our emergency services? Who is going to be running the powerplants and water treatment plants?

Maybe the government is right to keep things going for as long as possible, because I do wonder when the Chinese and the Italians and all the other countries that have adopted extreme lockdown measures emerge, what will happen? I have a strong suspicion that the virus will simply return, and it will all have been for nothing.

Am I panicking? To be honest, no. At the moment it all feels very surreal and a bit fantastical. I listen to the news, none of it good, yet all around me life is continuing as normal. We’re still going to work and college, I’m still going to the shops – not stockpiling, I hasten to add, just normal essential shopping – and things are jogging along as they always do.

Will it hit us? Will we be quarantined? Will anyone I know catch it? Will we catch it? Will anyone I know die from it? These are all questions that I know I won’t be alone in asking, but the answers seem up for grabs in that no one knows with any certainty what will happen. Will it be like Swine Flu again – remember that? All that panic and then it fizzled away into nothing. Unless the virus mutates again into an even more virulent strain, I don’t think we’re looking at a pandemic on the scale of the Spanish Influenza that swept over the globe after the First World War. Killing almost one third of the population, it was one of the deadliest pandemics we’ve had since the Black Death.

Even if the virus does mutate, we are still in a much better position that we were then. Medicine has come a long way since 1919, we have instant communication around the world and understand far more about the spread and containment of infection. Most people are stronger and healthier than they were then. Newly emerged from a debilitating and crippling world war, people were malnourished and vulnerable and could offer little or no resistance to the virus.

So, we wait, and see, and that’s really all any of us can do. Sure, be prepared. I’ve made sure we have enough basic food stuffs and toiletries to see us through a month, I’ve also picked up a months-worth of my hayfever medication, figuring it’s not a good idea to be wheezing and struggling to breathe anyway AND catch a dose of Corona. My edict has been – Be Sensible. Not Greedy.

In other health news, Miss F is being tested for asthma. She’s been plagued by an annoying, persistent cough for months now and initial tests show she has a reduced lung capacity. The doctor seems unsure what it is, with options ranging from long term lung congestion to asthma, so twice a day she has to blow into a breath recording device and chart the results. We’re also waiting for an appointment with a dermatologist to get a mole on her back examined. It appears to have grown and changed in texture and is bleeding colour into the surrounding skin. It’s not cancer. The doctor assures us in one so young with no genetic history of cancer, that there’s a less than 1% chance of it being malignant. Still, you don’t muck about with moles so I’m pushing for it to be examined sooner rather than later.

I had a blood test last week and have an appointment for a follow up consultation next Wednesday. I know they’re going to tell me my anaemia has worsened, I think they’re going to tell me my vitamin D deficiency hasn’t improved and I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to confirm my calcium levels have dropped again.

With these more immediate, closer to home, medical shenanigans, is it any wonder I’m not worrying about the corona virus yet?

A shorter blog this week. I’m tired and a bit downhearted and lacking in things to say. I hope next week to have more positive things to write about, but for now can only say that I hope wherever you are in the world you are well and healthy. Stay safe, my friends.

Julia Blake

Wetwang Welcomes Careful Drivers!

Good morning! Hope you’ve all had a great week. Mine has been uneventful apart from commencing work on re-editing and formatting Erinsmore and having to go to the hospital for a blood test. Although, that was a little bit traumatic. Despite stabbing both my arms multiple times it proved impossible to get any blood out of me – think I must be dead – so they had to take it from my hand, which was uncomfortable and has caused my hand to swell and bruise rather nastily. Treated myself afterwards to a frothy coffee and an enormous butterscotch and pecan Danish pastry for being ever such a brave girl.

So, last week, where did I leave you? Oh yes, I was falling asleep on the first night in our holiday cottage up in Yorkshire, listening to the rain hammering down on the skylight and hoping things would get better and that it would at least stop raining. Well, when I awoke next morning after sleeping like the dead – I was in my old bed after all – (anyone who didn’t read last week’s blog might want to pop back and quickly do so, it’s okay, I’ll wait) – and because I’d had a reasonably early night after the journey from hell to reach our destination – when a three-hour journey takes nine hours it takes a toll on you – I woke up early at 6:30am feeling rested and refreshed.

We had planned to go to nearby Castle Howard for the day, but when I opened my eyes the rain was still pounding down and sounded set to last, so I hastily rearranged plans in my head. I’m one of those people whom when I’m awake, I’m awake, and can’t lay in bed doing nothing. I thought about reading for a bit, but was itching to be up and doing stuff, and I was desperate for a cup of tea, so I quietly got up, washed and dressed. Trying to not make any noise in an echoey, open-plan cottage was a bit tricky, and I soon heard Miss F moving about as I was trying to get out a mug and put the kettle on without waking her.

Deciding she was also wide awake and famished, an early breakfast seemed in order and then we’d plan what to do with our first day. Nothing else would do but a full English, so I set the bacon to grill and went to put hash browns in the oven. No baking trays, not one. Putting them on a Pyrex lasagne dish, I noticed there seemed a dearth of cooking equipment full stop, and not even being able to find a frying pan, we had to have our eggs poached instead of fried. Hmm, bit of a nuisance.

The rain was still belting down, so we donned our waterproof jackets and stout shoes and drove the five minutes down the road to the park and ride carpark for York. Now, I love park and ride. If you’re going into a large city for a look around, lunch and maybe a light bit of shopping, then why would you try to drive in, find a parking space and pay an outrageous amount for the privilege. No, park and ride all the way. Only costing us £3.50 to park our car for the day and pay for bus fares for us both into the city centre and back seemed an absolute bargain.

I know York very well. I’ve been there countless times and in fact the last holiday Miss F and I had had was five years previous when we’d rented a house in the heart of the city and spent the whole week exploring everything York has to offer, which is a lot. So, when the bus dropped us off, I knew exactly where we were and how to get to where we wanted to go. It was still early, only 9:00am and we were the first people into the Castle Museum. If you ever get a chance to go to York, I can’t recommend paying the Castle Museum a visit highly enough. It offers amazing value for money, bear in mind this was five years ago but it only cost £10 for us both, plus I’d made sure I had a good supply of 10p pieces as there are a variety of wonderful old slot machines. For a mere 10p you can watch the last rites of a convicted prisoner standing on the gallows, then the wonderful moment when the trapdoor opens beneath his feet and he hangs over the gap to an accompanying mournful bell. Deliciously ghoulish.

The Castle Museum is a museum about people and life. There are room sets showing you the living space of a family in Tudor times, Regency England, Victorian times, the time of the Coronation of Elizabeth II and a cosy looking crofter’s cottage. There are exhibits about household appliances through the ages, the history of birth, death and marriage, familiar products and medicines. Childhood toys through the ages, clothing, employment and leisure facilities. All crammed together in an eclectic and mind-blowing random assortment, it is fascinating and fun, and the absolute best way to spend the first day of a rain-soaked holiday.

There is even a reconstructed Victorian street in the heart of the museum, complete with a stuffed horse pulling a hansom cab. There are old shops you can go into, and there was a workshop going on in the old sweetshop. We had a go at making peppermint creams which we were able to take away with us, yum. Wandering around the street, taking our time, peering into all the windows, the museum was beginning to fill up a bit and we no longer had the place to ourselves.

A gentleman in authentic Victorian working man clothes approached us and asked if Miss F would care to be a temporary rat catcher. He had been paid by the city to catch rats, he explained, and if she would help him, she would get three gold coins for every rat she found. As the gold coins were of course chocolate ones, she eagerly agreed to help and dragged me off to look for rats. A frustrating ten minutes later she was in despair, when I suggested checking out the rather scary looking public conveniences, because if rats were going to be found anywhere, it was there. Scrabbling around in the dark corners, she gave a crow of triumph and pulled out a fine looking, big black rubber rat and we went to look for the rat catcher so she could collect her reward.

Afterwards, we wandered out to visit the reconstructed eighteenth century mill they have in the grounds of the museum, and discovered it had stopped raining, the sun had come out and it was showing promise of being a nice day. We sat down on a bench in the sun so Miss F could eat her wages. She looked at the empty wrappers.

“I wish I’d kept the rat now,” she murmured. “He was a very nice rat.”

When we finally left the museum at almost three in the afternoon – nearly six hours entertainment for £10, what value for money! – we agreed we weren’t hungry, just peckish. A French patisserie close to the museum seemed perfect, and Miss F was soon happily consuming a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of cake the size of her head, whilst I contented myself with a big frothy coffee and a cheese scone.

The streets had dried up, it was a lovely afternoon, so we walked off our treats and looked in the windows, taking our time and enjoying not having to be anywhere or do anything. We did a little shopping, some treats we fancied and a couple of things I’d forgotten to bring, then wandered back to the bus stop. There was an Argos store opposite and I took the opportunity to buy a frying pan and baking tray, to use whilst in the cottage and to take home with us because we did need new ones.

Then we caught the park and ride home. Back at the cottage, we opened the backdoor to let the evening in and Miss F went to the fence to say hello to the sheep that were mooching about in the field at the bottom of the garden. I heard her chattering away and assumed she was talking to the sheep, then suddenly there was a little girl at the back door with her asking if Miss F could go and swim in their pool, followed swiftly by the owner of the cottage who’d been looking out for us to return so she come and enquire about our journey and check we’d settled in okay. Confirming that they did indeed have a pool and Miss F was welcome to come and play in it with her own children, Miss F dashed off to get into her swimming costume and I made coffee for us.

The owner was lovely, very open and friendly. As we drank, I unpacked the day’s purchases to put away and she looked surprised when she saw the frying pan and baking tray. Explaining that I hadn’t been able to find either that morning, it was my turn to be surprised when she showed me a “secret” drawer at the base of the cooker filled with every type of cooking tin, tray and pan I could ever need. Boy, did I feel stupid.

She left, I prepped dinner, then poured myself a glass of wine and settled down in the small garden with a book to enjoy the evening and wait for Miss F to come home. Birds twittered in the blue sky above, the sheep looked at me and chatted amongst themselves, the sun was warm on my face, my wine was very cold and very crisp, and the book was interesting. What more could anyone want?

We ate dinner, watched TV and played some games, then Miss F went to bed and I watched a film on TV – with the sound off and the subtitles on, of course – although I kept nodding off and missing bits. And that was the first day.

Beautiful Castle Howard

The next day dawned gloriously sunny with a wonderful blue sky and the promise of a fine, summer day. We had breakfast and I packed us a picnic. We were off to Castle Howard. A mere ten-minute drive away, Castle Howard is one of the largest stately homes in Britain and is absolutely beautiful. Set in acres of garden and parkland, with lakes and water features, there is enough to keep you busy for a whole day, which is why I packed a picnic. If it looks familiar, it’s because it’s where the TV drama “Brideshead Revisited” was filmed in the late eighties, and as we drove down the long driveway and the house came into view I kept humming the theme music, until Miss F threatened to stay in the car if I didn’t stop.

How about this for a garden shed?

We spent a whole wonderful day there. Luckily, Miss F and I like doing the same things and exploring old and historical places always makes us happy. We found a wonderful space under a tree by the river to eat our picnic and walked miles around the parkland, before driving home in the late afternoon to find a little girl sitting on our doorstep waiting for Miss F to come and play.

Giving her permission to go and have fun with her new friend, I unpacked the car and tidied away our picnic stuff, wondering what to do about dinner, when suddenly Miss F was back with an invitation from the owner and her family to go over for a barbecue. What a lovely surprise that was. I took over some wine, and spent a very pleasant and chill evening, eating and drinking and chatting with the family and their lovely friends, whilst Miss F ran about with a hoard of children and dogs and had a marvellous time. And that was our second day.

Monday dawned, and the weather was not quite so hot but still nice, so we decided to do a proper beach day and drove to nearby Scarborough. Again, park and ride, because why not? When you’re a stranger to an area it makes sense instead of trying to find somewhere to park and getting stressed out about it. Scarborough is a lovely, traditional British seaside resort famous for its waffles. I hadn’t brought a picnic as I didn’t want to carry it around with me and I knew there’d be plenty of food there for us to forage on.

There was Punch & Judy on the beach, which we watched while eating massive Mr Whippy ice creams with a chocolate flake of course. There were donkey rides and Miss F begged for a go. Even at only 12 she was a tall girl and her feet practically dragged on the sand. I felt sorry for the donkey.

We walked with out feet in the ocean, dangling our shoes by their laces, then had to sit in the sun until our feet had dried and try to brush all the sand off from between our toes. We ate seafood on the seafront and had a portion of chips between us, hot and squishy, with lots of salt and enough vinegar that it formed a puddle in the bottom of the tray. We walked all the way along the front, then turned around and walked all the way back. We ate candy floss, well, Miss F did, I can only ever abide a taste of it as it’s so sweet. Bit like sugar infused loft insulation. The seagulls wheeled and cried overhead, and music pumped from every arcade. Tempted into one by the bright lights and ringing bells, I changed some money and we played on the Tuppence Shove, rolling our 2ps down the slots to try and knock down the big piles teetering on the edge.

Finally emerging the losers, we found during the hour we’d been in there that the skies had clouded over and it was getting dark. Only dressed in light, beach clothing we shivered and even though it was only 3pm I made the executive decision to start heading for home. We still had a way to walk back to the park and ride, then had to wait for a bus, and then it would be almost an hour’s drive back to the cottage. It got colder and colder, Miss F was shivering in shorts and a thin t-shirt, so I wrapped my jacket around her, and we practically ran the last bit, reaching the bus stop just as a bus pulled in.

Safely back in the car, I was indicating to turn out of the carpark when the heavens opened. Monsoon season again, the wipers were working overtime and the car steaming up as I desperately turned the heating up on the windscreen full blast to try and clear the condensation.

Back home, Miss F went off to have a shower and get changed whilst I made us dinner, then we settled down to another evening of TV and games as the rain once again lashed down outside. And that was the third day.

Next day the weather had turned foul. The sky was black and heavy, dense rain was pounding down. A day trip anywhere was out of the question, so we once again pulled on warm clothing, sensible shoes, waterproof jackets and caught the park and ride into York. I’d exchanged some Tesco loyalty shopping vouchers into tickets for the Jorvik Viking Centre in the centre of York, and a cold, rainy day seemed the perfect time to use them. It was early, and luckily the queue for it wasn’t too long and was still under the protective awning. I have seen the queue snake all the way around the building and back again and had warned Miss F if it was that long we’d have to go and do something else. After a ten-minute wait we were in.

Remember how I told you what good value the Castle Museum is – £10 for six hours entertainment. Well, the Jorvik Viking Centre isn’t. Over £30 for the two of us to get in – thank heavens for Tesco vouchers, and we were in there for about 90 minutes. Yes, it’s interesting, and the highlight of the experience is climbing into these mechanised carts which then take you back in time to a reconstructed Viking street, complete with waxworks inhabitants, sounds and even smells. Ahh, the heady aroma of an eighth century latrine pit, lovely. But that only takes about twenty minutes and even with taking our time over every exhibit and looking at everything, it was still only coming up for eleven when we emerged into a cold, dark day. The streets were flooded, the rain was hammering down in Biblical proportions. Any moment I expected to see an ark go floating by. It really was horrible, and all around were miserable and soaked tourists, not dressed adequately and shivering in the cold.

I’d also swapped some Tesco vouchers for meal vouchers to use in Bella Italia restaurants, and deciding an early lunch was in order, we splashed off to find one. Despite being early, when we found it there were hardly any tables left but being only two of us the stressed looking waitress squeezed us in on a little table in the corner by the front window. So, we could watch the rain pound down and drenched people hurrying by clutching their umbrellas.

We were both hungry and I’d exchanged lots of vouchers as this was to be our main treat meal of the week. Miss F chose a big burger with all the works and I went for a steak and all the trimmings, requesting it be rare, as rare as possible.

We waited a long time for our food, they seemed to be short staffed and the whole restaurant by now was crammed to capacity. When our food came, Miss F’s looked delicious, but my steak was the colour and consistency of an old shoe. I poked at it. Miss F looked horrified.

“That steak looks horrible, mummy.”

“Yeah, it does look a bit tough, they’ve overcooked it.”

“Are you going to complain? Get them to make you another one.”

I looked around the restaurant. Our waitress was currently being given a hard time by a group of four people who’d walked in and wouldn’t believe that she couldn’t just “squeeze them in somewhere”. She seemed to be the only waitress on duty, and other tables were demanding the poor woman’s attention. Everyone’s tempers fraying due to the bad weather.

“No, it’s fine,” I decided. “I’ll just eat what I can.”

I ate everything else on the plate. The fries were good, as were the mushrooms, onions rings, grilled tomato and salad. It was just the steak I couldn’t eat. So tough I couldn’t even cut a piece off, I gave up on it. Miss F couldn’t finish all her chips and peas, so I helped her out.

When the waitress eventually came back to collect our plates, she looked at the abandoned steak, curled up on the plate like an old flipflop that had been left too long in the sun.

“Oh, your steak.”

“Yeah, sorry, I tried but I couldn’t even cut it, let alone eat it.”

“You ordered it rare, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

She poked at the steak and pulled a face.

“That doesn’t look very rare, more cremated. Why on earth didn’t you send it back? We’d have done you another one.”

I shrugged. “You looked like you had enough on your plate, and it’s fine. I ate everything else, so I’ve had enough to eat.”

“We’ve got two chefs and three waitresses off with this wretched flu thing that’s doing the rounds, so things are a bit crazy in here today,” she admitted, and cleared our table and went to get the bill, taking my vouchers with her.

When she came back, I was stunned to find she’d only charged me for our drinks – both our meals not appearing on the bill.

“You were so nice about it,” she said, handing our vouchers back to me. “Not many people would have been so understanding, so thank you. At least now you can have another meal with your vouchers.”

It just goes to show, sometimes having a little patience and empathy for the other side of the picture, can reap its own rewards. Although, I did leave a bigger tip than I intended.

It was only 2pm but it was as black as pitch outside. The temperature had dropped drastically, and the streets were flooded with running streams of water. We decided to go home. Once back in the cottage, we changed out of our wet things and I lit the wood burner and the candles that were dotted about. Miss F found Lord of the Rings on Sky movies and we settled down in our cosy haven with the sound of the rain lashing down outside and the comforting pop and crackle of the fire inside. Not being very hungry, we snacked it for dinner and watched movies until it was time to go to bed. And that was the fourth day.

Next day I’m happy to say with the typical capriciousness of the British weather all the nasty rain had gone, the sky was once again blue, and the temperature had risen – promising a balmy summer day. In the cottage were several leaflets about local places of interest and we’d picked out a Tudor manor house called Burton Agnes to explore. Once again, I packed a picnic and we set out in high spirits to see what adventures awaited. It was about a 45-minute drive and on the way, we drove through some beautiful countryside and villages, including Stamford Bridge, which given our love of history we found very interesting. For those of you unfamiliar with British history, Stamford Bridge is where the Vikings invaded in 1066, aided and abetted by the king’s brother who believed he should be on the throne and not his brother Harold. King Harold had to march his men all the way up to Stamford Bridge, where he thrashed his treacherous brother’s arse in a major battle. His men were exhausted, but when the shock news came that the Normans had invaded all the way down on the South coast, Harold had no choice but to march his battle knackered men all the way back down and throw them immediately into battle against William the Bastard of Normandy.

Of course, Harold lost, but it does make you wonder. If his brother and the Vikings hadn’t invaded or hadn’t chose that particular time to invade. Harold and his men would have been fresh and ready for their battle against the Normans at Hastings and they probably would have won. The Norman conquest of 1066 would never have happened, and Britain would have stayed under Anglo-Saxon rule. Everything would have been different. Makes you think, doesn’t it, how the fate of millions can rest on the decision of one man.

We drove on, enjoying our journey, but as we left one village, I happened to notice the village sign.

“What was that? What was this village called?”

“Wetwang, mummy. It’s called Wetwang.”

I nearly drove the car off the road. What a brilliant name. Of course, technically it’s not rude, but it really sounds like it should be.

We reached Burton Agnes and parked the car. A beautiful Tudor manor house set in acres of quirky gardens and woodlands, there was a giant chess board and other games to play in the grounds. The house was interesting and there were woodlands to wander around with lots of interesting wooden sculptures on display by a local artist, including a whole family of wooden owls of varying sizes peering out of the branches of a tree.

Lovely Burton Agnes

There was a pretty water feature with some unusual modern artwork in the middle of it, and an ancient apple orchard with picnic benches where we sat and ate lunch. A lovely little gift shop was worth a poke about and we bought presents for grandparents and some homemade sweets for us. And that was the fifth day.

Next day was our last day, so we set off early for the hour-long drive to the coastal town of Whitby. The drive was magnificent through the purple heather moors and my little Nissan became like the little engine who could as we chuffed our way up one steep hill – with Miss F threatening to get out and push – flew down the other side, and then did it all over again.

Again, park and ride, and we arrived in Whitby just as the town was opening up to visitors. We poked about the old shops and found a second-hand book shop where we spent some time and pennies. We clambered up the hill to the abbey and admired the view, before coming all the way back down again. We wandered down to the harbour and saw a boat advertising trips around the harbour. Miss F wanted to do it, so we did, and a pleasant hour was spent cruising around the headland. Landing back at the harbour, we both realised we were starving and that a decision had to be made. Have an ice cream and a late lunch or admit defeat and find somewhere nice for lunch now, even though it was only 11am.

Lunch now, we decided, and headed back to a quirky looking café we’d seen called The Magpie that offered a great looking seafood menu. Not realising how popular it is and what a tourist attraction it is, we slipped in because it was only 11am and there were only two of us so we could be squeezed into a little table in the corner of the window. I was surprised how full it was already, then turned my attention to the ten-page menu – all fish and seafood and all looking fantastic – while the friendly waitress went to get our drinks.

“Look, mummy,” Miss F hissed. “Look outside.”

I looked outside. A queue a good ten-foot long was now stretching away from the front door of people eager to get in for lunch. I looked around the packed restaurant, “good luck” I thought smugly and sipped at the one glass of wine I was allowing myself – after all, it was our last day, I’d be eating a lot and not driving for a good few hours – and carried on perusing the menu.

If ever you find yourself in Whitby and you like fish and seafood, I can’t recommend the Magpie enough. Unpretentious, friendly and reasonably priced. It’s all about the food, and the fish is fresh, as locally sourced as possible and beautifully cooked. But go early or be prepared to wait.

After our wonderful long lunch, we mooched about a bit, then headed back to the park and ride, mindful of the hour drive back and the fact we had to pack and clear the whole cottage that evening. I was also painfully aware we were facing that drive home in the morning, and I will be honest, I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Nine hours to get here. How many was it going to take to get home?

Back at the cottage, we set to together and sorted and packed as much as we could into the car ready for the morning. Not very hungry after our mega lunch, we finished off all the snacky things we had left, leaving ourselves exactly what we needed for breakfast. One last film on Sky movies, and then we both turned in for an early night. And that was the sixth and last day.

Next morning it was fine and dry, not too hot and not too cold. Relieved at all the packing we’d done the night before, we had breakfast, did a last trawl through the cottage to make sure nothing had been forgotten – I’m a sod for forgetting charging wires – and we were on the road by 8:30am, leaving a nice bottle of wine, some chocolates and a warmly worded thank you card on the kitchen table for the lovely owners who’d made us feel so welcome.

It was an amazing drive home. The roads were clear, and we hit Bury St Edmunds just after eleven, unable to believe how different it had been to our hellish journey up. We’d had a wonderful holiday. Maybe to some my reports of bad weather and freakish rainstorms sound nightmarish, but we dealt with them and found things to amuse us and simply being together and not having to rush or obey strict routines made it a real break. Having the time to wander about and play games, and even just watch films by a roaring fire and candlelight was a treat.

When I consider how little the holiday costs me – the accommodation was free, I used about £50 worth of petrol during the whole week, Tesco vouchers paid for entry to the Jorvik Viking Centre and our meal in Bella Italia ( and we actually brought those home with us again). Yes, we paid for entry to Castle Howard and Burton Agnes – but Miss F was still a child, so it wasn’t too bad and provided us with two days-worth of entertainment. And yes, we spent money on food, but we would have had to eat at home anyway and I brought most of it with us. By taking picnics where we could and restricting buying food and drink out, we saved money, and I still had £200 left over from the sale of my bed which paid for everything.

We both have wonderful memories from that holiday, and still talk about it fondly, and that is the mark of a truly superb vacation.

Hope you’ve enjoyed going on holiday with us, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake