Is true love just a few dates away … or even closer than you think?
Tom has always been a hopeless romantic: but now he’s just hopeless. After lockdown in particular made the millennial a reclusive introvert, it was finally time to get back ‘out there’ – at least according to his best friends Adam, Allison and sister Sarah.
As the group sets up ten miracle dates to rejuvenate Tom’s love life, he soon realises how difficult the dating scene has become, along with juggling his Shakespearean-themed café on the side and a hobby of romantic mixtape making.
As the dates continue to turn into disasters, an old flame keeps reappearing in Tom’s sight – along with bittersweet memories. Fearing it may be too little too late, Tom must decide whether he can date his way to happiness, or find his true match was under his nose the whole time…
Gordon is a former journalist writing about media and technology. He now works in marketing for Twitter UK. He has also blogged about dating and politics. His first novel Songs For Your Mother was published in May, 2021. His second novel, Blind Dates was published in 2022. He lives in North London, and is working on his next book.
Tom will admit he’s always been an old-school romantic, creating mixed tapes for his friends and those he has a crush on (Beth), and the pandemic gave him the perfect opportunity to revert to type and enjoy his own company while imagining how those he cares for (Beth) might react to his tapes. Thing is, once lockdown eases, he’s still in that mindset, not ready to go dating again, especially since his heart really wasn’t in it during his last relationship with Larissa.
His best friend Marcus moves away, Tom loses his job, and it’s understandable for him to retreat into his shell, continuing his own personal lockdown. It takes a seemingly friendly intervention by his remaining buddies and sister to get him “back out there”, and he agrees to go on ten blinds dates that Adam, Allison and sister Sarah set up for him.
I say a seemingly friendly intervention because it transpires that someone may have an ulterior motive for steering him away from what could be his perfect partner (Beth). Uh-oh!
The dates are eventful, to the point of going viral – and not in a good way for Tom. After each one, he spills all to ex Larissa in the park, where no matter what, he always seems to find her there watching the ducks. (Curiouser and curiouser)
Tom enjoys the dates to a certain extent, but he still has thoughts of Beth, with whom he has blown his chances spectacularly when she shared her feelings with him and he… choked, a reaction she took to be a rejection. Consequently, you can understand why he constantly chides himself for wasting that opportunity, and tries to make the best of things.
While the dates aren’t all successful, Tom has his moment, but it’s short-lived and you might almost think inevitable since you know how he feels about Beth. Things take an awkward turn and not in Tom’s favour; suffice to say the saying “good guys come last” seems fitting to describe him. Is he doomed to be alone forever?
Blind Dates is an amusing yet poignant story told from Tom’s perspective as he navigates the dating market while still holding a light for someone out of his reach. It shows how the pandemic affects him, and how the world has changed as a result. Tom is a likeable man, a tad geeky with his mixed tapes obsession, but an overall nice guy.
I enjoyed reading Blind Dates, and send my thanks to the author and Hera Books for my copy.
Will it be tears or triumph for the Hat Girl from Silver Street?
It’s been five years since Ella Bancroft lost the love of her life, Harper Fortescue, and despite her friends’ encouragement, she’s still not been able to move on. The one thing keeping Ella smiling is the success of her hat shop, Ivella. Her beautiful designs and fabulous creations are the first choice for the fashionable Edwardian ladies of Walsall, and her fame is spreading far and wide.
Darcie Newland won’t ever forgive Ella for stealing her fiancé and ruining her life, even though Harper was never really hers in his heart. After being exiled by her parents to Scotland after yet another scandal, Darcie is now back in Birmingham and set on revenge.
As her hat shop flourishes, and the possibility of a new love appears when she least expects it, Ella finally dares to hope for a happy future. But storm clouds are gathering over the Black Country, and life might have other plans for the hat girl from Silver Street.
The Queen of the Black Country sagas is back with this page-turning story of friendship and fun, love and second chances. Perfect for fans of Val Wood and Lyn Andrews.
This is a wonderful story, and while it can easily be read as a standalone book, I really want to read the first in the series too, just to catch up with the early years of Ella Bancroft. As a Midlander, I revel in books set in my neck of the woods, and those using the local dialect hold a special place on my bookshelf. Clearly, I wasn’t around during the period of this story but references to places I’m familiar with – like the Rag Market – take me back so effectively to my hometown. Now, the story …well, where to begin? It’s jam-packed with drama and yet is so full of heart and warmth that you can’t help but be drawn in. Ella and Ivy are co-owners of the hat shop Ivella, yet theirs is a trying relationship. Once rivals, they’ve now joined forces and their business has grown exponentially. It’s mainly down to Ella’s creativity, since Ivy’s designs are still stuck in bygone times, but nonetheless the two of them are enjoying a boom in business, and Ella is fast becoming known as the only place to buy a hat. Trouble is, this creates a little friction, and Ivy is a tad jealous. Ella manages to ignore the curt responses from Ivy and is hugely generous towards the older woman. Such is Ella’s character that she treats others well, but even she has noticed a change in Ivy, and when others in their workforce voice similar concerns, Ella seeks out advice to help Ivy. What follows is a heart-warming yet tragic foray into Ivy’s degenerating health as dementia sets in and causes her to forget things and get very frustrated with herself and others. The outcome is heartbreaking and so beautifully and sensitively handled by the author. With all this on her plate (increased fame, rampant sales, and caring for Ivy) you might think romance would take a back seat. After all, Ella has suffered her fair share of loss already, and fear of being hurt again has prevented her from risking her heart. The romance subplot fully respects her fears and concerns yet sweetly blossoms towards the inevitable. Ella is apprehensive about moving on, and her visits to a “medium” to get permission from her dearly departed love to do so brings her back into contact with an old face, someone who bears Ella a grudge like no other. The desire for revenge is strong and action is imminent to threaten Ella’s livelihood.
It was so refreshing to read about women succeeding in their own businesses during those years when they were often treated like second-class citizens. I loved the mash-up of conflicts facing Ella, and how she handled them. There’s a lot of tension in the revenge subplot in particular and that had me racing through the book to see how it unfolded. However, I did feel that specific storyline fell a bit flat in its resolution and was a little too perfect / convenient an outcome. Nonetheless, I was totally pulled into Ella’s world, and once I’ve caught up with the first book in the series I hope there will be more to discover about The Hat Girl 🙂
She can’t abide Christmas. He’s not sure what it’s all about. Together they’re in for a festive surprise.
Ambitious software developer Holly may have a festive name but the connection ends there. She despises the holiday season and decides to flee to the remote island of Mull in a bid to escape from it.
Syrian refugee Farid has made a new home in Scotland but he’s lonely. Understanding Nessie and Irn Bru is one thing, but when glittery reindeer and tinsel hit the shelves, he’s completely bemused. Determined to understand a new culture, he asks his new neighbour to educate him on all things Christmas.
When Holly reluctantly agrees, he realises there’s more to her hatred of mince pies and mulled wine than meets the eye. Farid makes it his mission to inject some joy into Hollys’ life but falling for her is an unexpected gift that was never on his list.
As their attraction sparkles, can Christmas work its magic on Holly and Farid, or will their spark fizzle out with the end of December?
Margaret is a writer, mummy, wife and chocolate eater (in any order you care to choose). She lives in highland Perthshire in a little house close to the woods where she often sees red squirrels, deer and other such tremendously Scottish wildlife… Though not normally haggises or even men in kilts!
She has published nine books and written many more. Margaret won a short story writing competition in 2012 and her winning entry was performed live to an audience at Pitlochry Festival Theatre as part of their Winter Words Event. This spring boarded Margaret’s journey from writing for fun to novel writing – though she still enjoys every minute of it.
Margaret is also a keen amateur photographer, who enjoys drawing, reading, and talking about books.
Christmas means different things to different people, and to some it means absolutely nothing at all. Holly verges on the “let’s get it over and done with” side, while Farid is bemused by the whole thing. So you’d think Christmas would be a non-event when Holly moves into the cabin next door to escape the madness of the festivities. Farid, however, really wants to fit in having made his home in Scotland, and everyone – but everyone else – is preparing to celebrate in style.
His curiosity forces Holly to take part in carol-singing, cake-making, and even present-buying – things she has not expected to do this year. In fact, she plans on working through the holidays …but there is something charismatic and engaging about Farid’s curiosity than even she cannot ignore.
Farid is such a sweet guy, and Holly definitely bears the prickles of the plant after which she’s named at first. Seeing them come together is enchanting, but surely it can only be temporary?
I’ll admit to worrying about Farid falling head over heels in love with Holly, his chats with his family prove exactly how deep he has fallen, all while Holly is working on her next project. The uncertainty of their relationship status kept me reading on, willing a happy ending for Farid and a chance for Holly to reflect and start over with fewer misgivings about love.
A Festive Surprise tells of a heart-warming romance that, at first sight, seems short-lived. Yet the strength of their feelings suggests that this is no “holiday romance”, and the Christmas backdrop provides the necessary magic to enthral and captivate the reader while working its charm on Farid and Holly. The outcome is a surprise that neither expected, and possibly the greatest gift of all.
The feel-good, life-affirming story of love, friendship, family, and new beginnings!
Changes are coming to the riverside town of Ryemouth, and while some of the community are excited by new beginnings, others are finding it hard to let go of the past.
A new 14-episode audio soap with a cast of loveable characters you’ll want to laugh and cry along with.
Susan and her boyfriend Dave can’t wait to open their new café and deli, The Old Engine Room. But Susan’s dad, George, is not so thrilled. He’s never approved of Dave, who used to hang out with the wrong crowd. Can the happy young couple win George round?
Mary and Ruby have been friends since the first day of infant school, even though their lives have turned out very differently. Mary has a contented family life with husband George and daughter Susan. Poor Ruby has never been so lucky in love. Then she meets her teenage crush in surprising circumstances. Mary has her doubts about the charming Paul. Will Ruby finally get her own happy ever after?
Dave wants to put his past behind him. His dream is to make a success of the business, and one day be a good husband and father, like his own dad, Mike. Yet, he’s forced to keep a secret from everyone he loves. Who should he turn to for help out of a tricky situation?
When the community comes under threat from developers, can everyone put their differences to one side to defend the town they love?
Riverside is full of romance, heartbreak and secrets, as well as gentle wit and humour.
The Riverside audiobook drama is based on the popular weekly magazine serial written and created by Glenda Young.
Dave McClelland has enjoyed a busy career in Film, TV, theatre and radio, in both the UK and Canada. Recent television credits include Coronation St, Emmerdale, Doctors, Broken, and Compulsion, and he’s recently worked in the horror movie Black Daruma, to be released later this year. Dave worked as a radio host with CBC whilst living in Canada, and since returning to the UK, he’s put his voice to work in radio dramas, audiobooks, and voiceovers.
Melanie Crawley is an actor and voice artist. She recently produced and performed in the political theatre project ‘Next Left: Test Track Trace’ at Theatre Deli Sheffield, the northern UK tour of ‘Tannie & Tannie’ by Claudine Bennent and in various ‘All Female Shakespeare’ productions at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. She has narrated around 50 audiobooks from her studio in Sheffield where she also works as a corporate and commercial voice artist and as an actor for radio / audio comedy and drama. Her most recent audio projects include ‘The Age of Love’ a podcast for ‘Festival of the Mind’ by Christopher Green, ‘Sketch Up’ a series of comedy radio sketches which she also performed at Leicester Comedy Festival. For screen, Melanie’s recent projects include ‘Truck’ part of the Council Culture Online TV series and ‘Tea and Cake’ one of the ‘Monarchy Monologues’ for Act Your Age. She writes, performs and produces the narrated audio-drama podcast: Low Light.
Lisa Armytage is an experienced actor in film, tv and theatre, and an established audiobook narrator. After a season with the National Youth Theatre, she trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, soon afterwards emigrating to Australia. She is best known as Dr Beverley Marshall in the iconic Aussie soap, ‘Neighbours’, and the lead female role in the Australian romantic movie ‘Cool Change’. Also in Australia, Lisa was a main cast member in the TV mini-series ‘The Lancaster-Miller Affair’ and ‘Miraculous Mellops’ and took guest roles in ‘’Cop Shop’, ‘Cell Block H’, ‘The Flying Doctors’, ‘Police Rescue 2’, ‘A Country Practice’, ‘Sky Trackers’, ‘Heartbreak High’ and ‘All Saints’. Since returning to the U.K in 2003 Lisa returned to working in theatre before narrating a wide range of audiobook genres. She has recently completed her third audiobook for best-selling British-Australian novelist Anna Jacobs, and has voiced animations and dramas, of which ‘Riverside’ is the latest.
As a Voiceover Artist, Gerard Fletcher can be heard currently voicing ads on TV and commercial radio stations worldwide (as well as major supermarkets) and has narrated 2 audio books and documentaries for BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Paramount and History Channel.
He is also the calming onhold voice of many major companies including DPD, The National Trust and Halfords and The Sheffield Tram!
He’s a musician and has published works for commercial sound libraries and theatre.
Trained at LAMDA. TV includes “The Crown” Series 5 (Netflix), “Sherwood” (BBC), “Get Even” (BBC/Netflix), “Emmerdale” (ITV),”Girlfriends” (ITV), “Happy Valley” (BBC), “Coronation Street”(ITV), “In the Club” (ITV), “The Accused” (BBC) “The Street” (BBC), “Shameless” (BBC). Feature Film: “Gold” (2018), “The Messenger”.
Gerard has performed in radio drama (BBC Radio 3, 4 and 4 Extra and Wyndham Books) and presented Screwfix’s YouTube channel for 2 years!
Glen McCready trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art where he graduated with honours. Screen credits include Signor in Years and Years (BBC), Henry Bowater in Hotel Portofino (Britbox Original) and Jack in the indie feature Above the Clouds. Stage credits include Eddie in Blood Brothers and Sgt Trotter in The Mousetrap (both in the West End). Glen works extensively as a voice actor with numerous credits in animation (including Granitface in the animated feature Dragon Rider), video games (including Maximillian in Evil Genius 2 World Domination), audiobooks (including Conan Doyle’s The Lost World), audio drama and radio drama.
As an award winning voice artist and actress, Penelope Rawlins is known for her work in animation, audio drama, narration, video games, audiobooks, theatre, radio and television.
Known for her authentic children’s voices – Penelope can be heard on Netflix in Rainbow Rangers (voice of Lavender and Indigo), in Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, voicing Jackson Jet on the Kartoon Channel, CBBC in Ninja Express, Amazon Prime in Uma & Devan Namaste! and the title role of Mini Wolf. Other animation includes Mighty Smighties, Captain Virat, Pomi & Nar, Hubert & Takako, The Amazing Adventures of Kika & Bob, Lulu Zipadoo and the voices of Princess Rhea and Princess Hera in the popular series SpacePops.
Penelope has voiced over 300 audiobooks and was nominated by Audible for Narrator of the Year. Favourite titles include; Gorillas in the Mist, Journey to the River Sea, The Turn of the Screw, Homeland: Carrie’s Run, Homeland: Saul’s Game (based on the CBS television series).
An extensive list of computer games and Warhammer titles, Penelope voiced Maleneth in series 1 and 2 of Realmslayer, opposite Brian Blessed’s Gotrek. As a stage actress for many years in regional and national theatre, Penelope played opposite Tommy Steele in Chaplin: The Musical. National tours include: Brief Encounter, Butterflies Are Free, Present Laughter, The Railway Children, The Lady Vanishes and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Radio dramas for the BBC include: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, The Professor, The American Senator and Portrait of a Lady.
She wrote and produced her first play Pigeons in 2019 which sold out at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, London to 5 star reviews.
Becky Wright is best known for her many years on The Archers, playing Nic Grundy.
Toby Laurence is Freddie Pargetter in The Archers.
Social Media Links (Narrators)
Dave McClelland = @mcclellanddave
Melanie Crawley = @melaniecrawley
Lisa Armytage = @LisaArmytage
Glen McCready = @McCreadyGlen
Penelope Rawlins = @PenelopeRawlins
Toby Laurence = @TobyLaurence
Giveaway to Win 5 x Audio copies of Riverside
(Open to UK/US)
*Terms and Conditions –UK/US entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
Oh my, this is the perfect combination of a soap opera style drama, a close-knit community with its own cosy mystery, and an addictive radio play with proper dialects. Kudos to the narrators for bringing this marvellous cast of characters to life. It’s episodic format makes it so easy to dip into, although one episode is never enough.
A believable community centring on a couple of families, the younger generation taking on a new venture with their café/deli, aptly named The Old Engine Room, the story hinges on their relationship with each other and their respective parents. It combines a nostalgic look back at Ryemouth’s ship-building past with the development of luxury apartments overlooking the river: the past bleeding into the future of the community.
Family conflicts are put aside when trouble from the past threatens the café’s future – and possibly even relationships – and it’s heart-warming to see the hero of the day coming from a most unexpected source.
Add into the mix the enduring friendship of Mary and Ruby. When an (old) newcomer tips the apple cart and seems to ruin things for Ruby, Mary is on hand to help her friend, but another upset awaits and the two women have to reflect on their past to prove the solidity of their friendship.
An engaging, funny, and charming story in which community spirit, friendship and romance steers the residents of Ryemouth through choppy waters to a happy ending. I would happily listen to more of these episodes … please!
Sometimes, the dream we think we don’t deserve is the one that’s trying to come true…
Esme Blythe has led a nomadic existence for the last ten years, never thinking she fits anywhere, and never feeling she’s earned the right to. But when she moves in above Percival’s, the charming old toy shop in Market Square, Pebblestow, it seems the village is about to weave its signature fairy-tale magic.
Surrounded by wooden toy soldiers, rocking horses, and vintage doll’s houses, not to mention the locals who seem determined to be part of her life – from her endearing grumpy uncle, to warm-hearted co-worker Blodwyn, and smouldering single dad Seth – Esme has to face up to everything she’s been missing, or turn her back on an incredible opportunity.
New friends, formidable foes, and the thrill of a budding romance, conspire to make this the most bittersweet December ever. But when she finally learns the truth about the toy shop’s owner, her elusive benefactor, the mysterious Mr Percival, is it already too late for Esme to change her mind… and heal her heart?
Lottie Cardew writes uplifting, contemporary romcoms set around the picturesque village of Pebblestow, and is an advocate for diversity in fiction.
Regarded as the bossy one at Novelistas Ink, Lottie often subdues the other members if they misbehave (they don’t really) including the popular authors Trisha Ashley and Sophie Claire. She is a longstanding member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, scooping their New Writer’s Award in her twenties under a different pen-name. More recently, Lottie also joined the Society of Authors where as an active participant in the ADCI group (Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses) she interviewed bestselling author Holly Smale in 2021 for the first ever Disability Issue of The Bookseller.
Lottie is diagnosed autistic with suspected ADHD. Her home in North Wales is overrun by husband, not-very-small children, and a ball of fluff masquerading as a Pomeranian, so Lottie frequently takes refuge at her desk.
Giveaway to Win a Festive Bundle of goodies (Open to UK Only)
A handy winter-themed reusable shopping bag with pouch; a notebook to organise Christmas gifts and to-do lists; and a Scandi-style Christmas stocking.
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
How can a story be so entertaining and yet challenging and powerful? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that with One Last Dream for December, Lottie Cardew has created just that.
Let me explain myself: starting with entertaining (which is why most readers pick up a work of fiction). The village of Pebblestow is charming, its resident warm and welcoming (Blodwyn, I’m talking about you), all of which should put Esme at ease when she finds herself living and working at Percival’s toy shop. Yet it’s not that simple. Why? That, you’ll have to wait and read for yourself.
The shop is quintessentially old-fashioned and traditional, and the workshop below stairs where Mr Percival used to craft his toys is a veritable treasure trove of finished and unfinished toys. With Mr Percival now ill and unable to continue making toys, there’s a sense of trepidation that the end is nigh for the toyshop. With Esme believing her time there is only temporary, that foreboding only gets stronger.
However, there are those (Esme’s uncle & Mr Percival) who see something else in Esme’s future, and an end to her nomadic lifestyle. They know – and they convinced me too – that Esme belongs in Pebblestow. It’s just a matter of persuading Esme now. Cue Seth and his daughter Tamika. Having lived through some traumatic times, Seth is also new to Pebblestow, having moved there to allow his daughter to see her grandparents more often. He is as lost as Esme, and their paths seem inevitably entwined – if only Esme can accept she fits in in Pebblestow. Their friendship is thorny at first, and you start to wonder if there will be a happy ending, but persevere as the delights and magic of Christmas are on hand to make dreams come true.
If seeing how that romance develops is not enough for you, then there are some lovely subplots with Blodwyn and a young man, Piotr, which will warm your heart too.
I’ll admit to finding the start to this story somewhat challenging in that I didn’t take to Esme at first, and I found her to be quite negative about everything. Of course, as I saw her character develop, I understood her better, and that’s what made this such a powerful read for me. The author didn’t instantly label Esme as neurodivergent, she showed how Esme viewed the world and her place in it. It all began to make sense when I saw things from her perspective. As someone who has been pigeon-holed since birth, this approach really made me think and reflect. Sometimes it’s too easy to label an individual; it’s much better all round to try to understand them.
A beautiful story on so many levels, and I’m convinced Mr Percival is related to Santa as well 😉
I’m delighted to be part of this mini blog tour and book launch for the next Meonbridge Chronicle. Book Five – Squire’s Hazard – is the latest offering from Carolyn Hughes, and I’ll be posting my review later in the year. I just know it’s going to be fabulous. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
Squire’s Hazard, the Fifth Meonbridge Chronicle
How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could surely never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for revenge, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards triggered by such powerful and dangerous emotions, can Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE
The Meonbridge Chronicles are published by Riverdown Books.
Squire’s Hazard is out in eBook for Kindle on 10th October, and will be available in paperback in late October.
Buy the Meonbridge Chronicles at Amazon UK, Amazon US or from other online bookstores, and don’t forget to add it to Goodreads as well.
About the author
CAROLYN HUGHES has lived most of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
What I love about historical fiction is the attention to detail; those quirky little facts that draw you into the period, and what better way than through food? (Works for me!) Carolyn has provided a (food) glorious (food) article on the delights of Meonbridge cuisine. Pour yourself a cuppa and grab some biscuits, because this will make you feel hungry 😉
In the Meonbridge Chronicles, my novels of fourteenth century England, I include a good deal of description of medieval daily life. Clothing, housing, furniture and furnishings, artefacts and tools, working practices, medical matters and, of course, food, all help to place characters in context, differentiate the life styles of people of diverse stations, and bring a sense of authenticity to the historical world I am creating.
In Squire’s Hazard, as in the other Chronicles, food is of course important in the characters’ daily lives, but also plays a significant role in some aspects of the story. So, with reference to a few extracts from the novel, this article explains just a little about the eating habits of my Meonbridge folk.
I’ve read that, in the Middle Ages, breakfast was a meal few folk ate, but maybe that applied mostly to the better-off, who might rise late and weren’t required to expend much energy during their day. In Squire’s Hazard, however, Lady Margaret de Bohun (the “lord” of Meonbridge) might be a lady but is most definitely not one to lie abed then fritter her mornings away in idleness, so I imagine her always taking a little breakfast. In Chapter 1, her grandson Dickon finds her
“sipping from a cup of what he supposed was small ale, and nibbling at some soft wheaten bread”.
And, for the peasant, who spent his or her entire day in the fields, rising at dawn and setting off to work soon after, waiting four or five hours for a first bite to eat would make for an inefficient, ineffective and disgruntled worker! Surely most labouring people would have broken their fast before they went to work, albeit if all they had was a hunk of dry coarse bread and a cup of weak ale.
Dinner was the main meal of the day for all. In religious houses, the time for the meal was originally “nones”, the ninth hour after sunrise, which, depending on the time of year, might be the middle of the afternoon (i.e. the equivalent of 3pm). But, again, working people couldn’t wait that long, so “noon”, and dinner, generally happened around midday (12pm).
For most people, this would be the (possibly only) hot meal of the day. For working people (if they ate at home), it would usually entail a pottage of some sort – essentially a stew or thickened soup – with vegetables, a little meat if available, and maybe some “extras” gathered (perhaps illegally) from the fields and woods. It would be eaten with a lot of bread and ale.
Peasants did not eat meat every day but, if they had the space to rear them, they might have the occasional chicken, and more certainly pork, including the bacon they smoked by hanging a flitch where it would absorb the fumes from the fire. Eggs of course would be available, fish less so in an inland place like Meonbridge, for fish in the manor’s rivers or ponds in principle belonged to the lord and were not necessarily available to common folk.
Wealthier people had pottage too, though the finest pottages might contain almond milk, or spices such as ginger and saffron. They’d also have some roasted meat, or a meaty stew – a brewet – which might be rich and spicy.
A brewet plays a significant role in Squire’s Hazard. Dickon, the eponymous squire, is required to serve his lord at table. At an important dinner, he’s faced with serving a particularly tricky dish. As he steps forward to be handed a dish to serve, he reaches for the nearest plate:
It was a dish of small pies, filled with chicken he presumed, for tiny pastry hens decorated the crisp, golden lids. Simple to serve. His fingers were already gripping the edge of the platter when the kitchen boy whipped around.
‘Not that one,’ he cried and, lunging forward, slapped Dickon’s hand away. ‘This is yours.’ He pointed to another platter, which contained what Dickon recognised as a Sarcenes brewet, a spicy meat stew, its sauce coloured red with root of alkanet. The pieces of meat were almost awash with the garish sauce.
‘Why that one?’ Dickon said. ‘This one’s next.’ He pointed to the pies.
But the boy shook his head. ‘Got swapped by mistake. This one’s for you, young master.’ He took hold of the dish of brewet. It rocked slightly and sauce sloshed a little from side to side.
Dickon gulped. ‘But there’s too much sauce.’
‘Nay,’ said the boy. ‘His lordship likes lots o’ gravy.’ He thrust the platter into Dickon’s hands.
His stomach lurched. This was what he’d feared. From Chapter 8
Why Dickon was forced to serve the bright red brewet, and what happened when he did, can of course be discovered by reading Squire’s Hazard!
My character Margery works as a dairymaid for a relatively wealthy family, who have cows, and one of Margery’s tasks is to make cheese. I suspect less well-off housewives made cheese too, if they had access to the milk.
Desserts, of fruit, sweet pastry or some sort of milk-based pudding, might be a feature of the wealthy person’s table. I imagine peasants ate such things rarely, though they might have access to fruit – apples, pears, cherries and strawberries – which they could grow in their gardens (though only the more prosperous would give space to growing fruit rather than the staples of onions, turnips and cabbage), together with what they could forage from the hedgerows.
In Squire’s Hazard, sweetmeats play an important role in the story. The main ingredients were nuts – especially almonds, I think – fruits, honey and spices, perhaps moulded into little shapes with the addition of eggs or cream. I imagine them something like marzipan sweets. It’s Lady Margaret’s fondness for them that’s significant – she eats them often, with a cup of wine.
[Libby]’d come back from the kitchen with a plate of sweetmeats, and placed them on the table. ‘Cook asked if you’d care to taste these, milady. It’s a new recipe he’s trying, for the Christmas feast. He said he’d value your opinion.’
Lady Margaret gazed at the plate of almond delicacies. ‘How delightful.’ She picked one up between two fingers and popped it into her mouth. She savoured it a little. ‘Delicious. Why don’t you try one, Libby dear? Chapter 2
Of course, not all meals were taken at home. If dinner was eaten at midday, for workers out in the fields, returning home would take too long, so they’d take a “packed lunch”. In Squire’s Hazard, Dickon is out with his uncle (and bailiff), John.
His uncle took a linen-wrapped bundle from his saddlebag. ‘Ma’s made us both some dinner. Meat pies, and bread and cheese.’ He held up a flask. ‘As well as some of her best ale.’ He shared out the food and they ate in silence for a while. Chapter 16
During harvest-time, tenants were entitled to their lord providing them with dinner in the fields.
As always when tenants were harvesting her ladyship’s crops, she provided them with a dinner of bread and cheese and ale. …
…as the workers shuffled forward to take a hunk of bread and portion of cheese, they handed each one a cup of ale. Libby noticed how the men and women served by Lady Margaret tipped their hats or curtseyed. Chapter 28
In this extract, the meal is modest enough. But, sometimes, if the lord was feeling especially generous, it could be something of a mini-feast.
There was also the concept of “street food” in medieval times, ready-cooked food to buy in a shop or market. Most people didn’t have ovens in their homes but, if they fancied a pie, they could buy it from a vendor. Though they weren’t necessarily available at certain times of year:
…[Margery] saw at once that food supplies seemed scant: there was bread, certainly, and baskets of onions, and heaps of porray vegetables, turnips, kale, cabbage and colewort. But no eggs, no butter, no salted meat. Moreover, the man who used to wander around the market selling meat pies was nowhere to be seen. How disappointing. She had come out with a little money, hoping to buy something nourishing to eat, but there was nothing much to be had. For a while she was confused, but soon enough it came to her: it must be Lent. Chapter 36
If you’re interested in reading a fuller article about medieval food, and how it features in my novels, do have a look at my blog post, Medieval food, feast and famine.
Thanks for reading, and here’s wishing Carolyn great success with Squire’s Hazard,
An heiress to a fortune, Ren’s home-from-home is the Ritz, while the handsome and brooding Sacha has grown up in Paris’s less salubrious suburbs. So when an accident brings them together, romance seems an unlikely outcome.
When Ren’s society engagement reaches a very public end, Irena’s over-protective grandmother wants her home in London. Ren needs an excuse to stay in Paris, and so after some persuasion, Sacha agrees to pose as her new boyfriend. But only for the twenty-one days Ren’s grandmother has allowed her to nurse her broken heart before heading home to face the music.
Over the course of three weeks, Ren realises the world outside her exclusive bubble is more beautiful than she could have imagined. While Sacha reluctantly begins to see the goodness of the woman behind the wealth. When their time is up, will Ren want to return to her gilded cage, and will Sacha be able to let go of the woman he’s been ‘pretending’ to fall in love with…
Imagine the impossible, that you’ve never heard of Paris. Well, then, you’re in the right place for the author’s depiction of The City of Light is delightful, captivating and also balanced. As with most cities, Paris has its lesser known arrondissements, the places tourists don’t see and probably don’t even believe exist. So, taking a young man from the very poorest (financially speaking) part of the city and matching him up with an heiress whose knowledge of Paris revolves around The Ritz is quite the paradox. Ren (Irena), raised by her grandmother, is until recently engaged to marry the son of another wealthy family. That their forthcoming marriage will also seal a lucrative business deal is neither here nor there 😉 Until that relationship falls apart and Ren can’t face the public glare nor the wrath of her grandmother. She decides to extend her visit to Paris and promises to stay under the radar, which for a social media star will not be easy. Quite literally running into Sacha and spending time in his world is the perfect solution. Who would ever expect to find her so far away from The Ritz? Sacha is refreshingly unassuming, he cares not for material wealth or the trappings of fame that accompany Ren. It’s very easy to like Sacha, but it’s harder to warm to Ren who is a victim of her privileged upbringing …and it shows! Ren quickly learns that hanging out with Sacha and his family and friends is very different to her own relationships, and the fact that her grandmother does not approve only seems to spur her on. But a fake relationship? Eek – at this point I start to worry. Meddling with people’s feelings is a dangerous path, even when they both insist they know what they’re doing. Because, of course, the laws of romance state otherwise. While this is not really a Christmas story, it does take place during the run-up to the festive season, so it’s pretty normal to expect there to be some magic in the air. Isn’t it? There are many scenes in which Ren and Sacha convince themselves that nothing can come of their relationship, maybe too many scenes of that kind (the lady doth protest too much, comes to mind) but the inevitable cannot be ignored forever. Fate has spoken, and the more time they spend together, the better we understand them, and well, when you know, you know … ❤
Escape to France with this warm, witty romantic read.
After ten years of loyal service Daisy Butterworth has been made redundant. Like any clever woman, she knows the cure to redundancy is a little too much wine and her best friend.
Only the next morning, Daisy has more than a hangover . . . she has a whole new house – in France!
Seeing this as an opportunity instead of a disaster, she’s excited about finally moving to France, just as she and her husband always dreamed of. However, Daisy is in for another surprise. Despite planning to move there for over 20 years, her husband never actually intended to go.
So begins a year in France, alone, renovating the gorgeous old farmhouse that is held together by wallpaper and wishes.
Will a year at the French farmhouse be just what Daisy needs? Or could it be the previous owner, Frederique, that is the answer to Daisy’s dreams?
I think I’ve spent more time in France with books this year than anywhere else… and I’ve loved it 🙂
Stunned to find herself redundant, Lily concludes that maybe those plans she and husband, Ben, have been making for years might now just come true. Their son is off to university, so what is stopping them from following their dream and moving to France? One thing: Ben. He doesn’t want to go, thinks the time is not right – but that’s what he’s been saying for years now. Lily realises that maybe he never intended to follow through on what is essentially her dream since she was a young girl. She’s forced to acknowledge that he always had a reason to prevaricate, and he’s not even willing to talk about it now. Cue the red wine and a drunken foray onto the internet, browsing all those wonderful places that will never now be hers, be theirs. Or so she thinks, until the next morning, replete with hangover, an email informs her of a purchase she made the previous evening. Lily has bought a farmhouse in France. Surely, Ben will see now that it’s meant to be, that fate has stepped in to guide them across the channel to a new life. Or maybe not?
Lily is stumped – there’s a house literally with her name on it (or potentially on the deeds in a few weeks) and still Ben won’t budge. She can’t possibly let this chance escape her, can she? Mais, non! And so, off to France she goes, alone, nervous yet excited, probably still reeling from the shock that has numbed her emotions temporarily.
What awaits her is daunting, amusing, sweet, scary and hugely entertaining. From a squirrel infestation to an overly-romantic mayor, some nightmare “expats” (I can say that as one myself – and I can vouch for the flat-earthers too!) Lily does find great friends, warm-hearted people who welcome her with gusto, but there’s something missing. While she convinces herself that she can do this alone – or even with a new partner – she cannot quite shrug off her marital status. Unfortunately, Ben doesn’t seem to want to be with her as much as she wants to be with him – or so she believes.
I love how this played out in the end, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Lily grow into herself as a stronger, more self-assured woman. It became clear that whatever happened, she would survive… but I admit to having my fingers crossed for a happy ending.