Posted in Writing

Scenes from my Cotswold Cottage #2: My Book Nook

This is the second in my new series of posts inspired by Dame Joanna Lumley’s charming memoir, No Room for Secrets, in which she tours her London house giving a commentary on her possessions. I’m sharing snapshots from my Victorian Cotswold cottage in which I write my books, with a commentary on what the objects in each picture mean to me.

Also in this post: news about the book I’m writing now and of a new self-publishing course that I’ll be teaching for Jericho Writers from 1st March. 

All authors ought to be avid readers too, so my house has many cosy corners in which to curl up with a book.

This book nook was built by my husband to my specification from a couple of planks of wood to fill in the space left by the vintage Rayburn solid-fuel stove that finally fell to pieces a few years ago.

But as my grandma would have said, “It didn’t owe us anything,” as we’d bought it for £50 twenty years before when we spotted it abandoned in a neighbour’s back garden. They were only too pleased for us to take it away.

photo of my book nook
The perfect place to curl up with a book

Starting from the top, the old enamel sign on the wall above was lying in the garden when I moved in, a relic from when my cottage used to be the village post office.

I made the crocheted lace that hangs from the beam about 25 years ago. Not sure my eyesight would be up to it these days!

On the two pillars hang two small embroideries:

  • The “Home Sweet Home” on the left was made my dad, who used to do a lot of counted cross stitch, usually on a much larger scale.
  • I sewed the Mrs Tiggywinkle on the right. I adore Beatrix Potter in general, and Mrs Tiggywinkle is my favourite, reminding me irresistibly of my late grandmother. I’m not sure quite why, but I can never see her without thinking of Grandma!

The bookshelf above the seat is for my “books about books” collection, which is constantly growing. The flat-iron acting as a bookend also came from my garden. The little photo beside it is my young neighbour who sometimes helps feed our cats when we’re away. She is especially fond of Dorothy and left this picture of herself so that Dorothy doesn’t forget her.

The small painting on the shelf is by my nephew Dan Gooding, also a writer. He painted it in Cornwall and gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago.

The cushions, from left to right:

  • “A present for a dear child” is the sentimental Victorian-style message on the first one, given to me by my parents many years ago.
  • The large green and white cushions are made from Penguin brand tea towels, and the smaller ones from Penguin tote bags, featuring two of my favourite mystery authors, Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I wish they also made one for Dorothy L Sayers!
  • The cushion in the centre was hand-felted by my dear Auntie Sheila. (My house is full of arts and crafts made by various members of my family, and I value them more than any Old Master.)
  • The small cream cushion on the right panders to my passion for Alice in Wonderland.
  • The green, yellow-edged cushion was crocheted by me from very fine wool many years ago and won first prize for crochet at the Hawkesbury Village Show that year – a great source of pride!
  • By contrast, the blanket covering the wooden seat is a mass-produced IKEA number, but I love it anyway as it adds more warm pink to my book nook, and also matches my pink, green and cream china, which will feature in a future post in this series.

In case you missed it, here’s the first in this series of posts:

Scenes from my Cotswold Cottage #1: Reading After Breakfast


Latest News about my Books

Meanwhile, back on the writing front, I’m poised to write the final chapter of my work in progress, Scandal at St Bride’s, the third in my Staffroom at St Bride’s School series, which should be published in the spring. I’ll bring you more news on that as soon as I can. In the meantime, here’s the beautiful cover by Rachel Lawston to whet your appetite. This story takes place in January, and it’s been helpful to be writing it at the appropriate time of year!

cover of Scandal at St Bride's
Rachel Lawston’s fabulous design perfectly conjures up a chilly January at this unusual boarding school for girls

If you’d like to catch up with the first two in the St Bride’s series in the meantime, you can buy them online here:

Or order them from your local bookshop – good booksellers can order them in from their usual supplier, as can public libraries.

New for Fellow Writers: Simply Self-publish – a new course taught by me!

At the same time (January was a busy month!), I’ve been writing a new course for writers, commissioned by Jericho Writers, the highly regarded group that helps writers become authors, through its courses and other resources on writing, editing and publishing. If you’re a writer and would like to take charge of your own publishing career, my ten-week course, Simply Self-publish, will show you how.

For more information, hop over to my course’s page on the Jericho Writers website here:

In case you missed it, here’s the first in this series of posts:

Scenes from my Cotswold Cottage #1: Reading After Breakfast

Posted in Family, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Scenes from my Cotswold Cottage #1: Reading After Breakfast

This is the first post in a new monthly series of blog posts inspired by Dame Joanna Lumley’s charming memoir, No Room for Secrets, in which she tours her London house giving a commentary on her possessions. I’m going to show you snapshots of the Victorian Cotswold cottage in which I write my books, with a commentary on what the objects in each picture mean to me.

My travels may not have taken me as far as Dame Joanna’s, and my friends and relations may not be as famous, but I hope you will enjoy these little insights.

So without more ado, here is the photograph I took this morning of where I like to read for a little while each morning after breakfast – a habit I got into during the first lockdown, when it provided a source of comfort amid so much uncertainty.

photo of my reading chair surrounded by other interesting artefacts

The armchair is in the modern extension that my husband built a few years ago. The old part of our cottage has thick, solid stone walls and small windows, which keep it snug in winter and cool in summer, but they also make it very dark. Previously, we could only see our cottage garden from the utility room and my upstairs study.

The new room was therefore designed to give us a panoramic view of the garden and a space filled with natural daylight. We also wanted a high ceiling, in contrast with the low ones elsewhere in the cottage. The stairs lead to a mezzanine floor, added above the old kitchen to make the most of the height.

During Covid restrictions, this light and spacious room, with its view of the great outdoors, really benefitted our mental health.

Now for a commentary on the details of the photo…

  • The armchair, facing the French doors, may seem unremarkable, being standard-issue IKEA, but I bought it because its mid-century design reminded me of the green sofa in the lounge of my childhood home in Sidcup, on the edge of London. I was very happy there.
  • The jade-green cushion with embroidered bumblebee, one of my favourite emblems as my name is Hebrew for “bee”, was a Christmas present from my old school friend Jane.
  • The woollen blanket I knitted during the first lockdown, when I discovered “lockdown blankets” were a thing, because they are a great source of comfort during the knitting as well as on completion. I chose shades of the Scottish Highlands in Rowan Felted Tweed pure wool, becaues for the previous 20 years we had spent many holidays in our camper van in Scotland, and I was missing it very much. It was a bonus that my blanket won first prize in the knitting category at Hawkesbury Village Show this year. (Last year’s village show was postponed due to restrictions.)
  • The rocking horse behind the chair was made by my father, hand-carved with love, when my daughter – his only granddaughter – was two years old. She’s now 18, but you’re never too old for a rocking horse made by your grandpa. It will forever be a family heirloom.
  • The little table came from a charity shop, and on it is an iBeani bookrest (the purple beanbag) recommended by my friend Carol Turnham, who belongs to my Cheltenham writers group. It’s really useful if your hands are affected by arthritis, as mine are.
  • The bottom book, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, was recommended by my writer friend, Michael McMahon.
  • The book above it, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll was bought just after Christmas at TK Maxx – a shop I never usually visit, but my sister had recommended it, and sure enough, there waiting for me was a single copy of this book that I’d been meaning to read for a while. I snapped it up, along with half a dozen beautiful notebooks. (Well, a writer can never have too many notebooks.)
  • The dressmaker’s dummy was given to me by my Auntie Sheila, 91, and the Paisley shawls draped over it are from her daughter, my late cousin Frances. Frances loved wool and textiles, and elsewhere we have felt pictures and cloth that she had spun and woven. We think of her every day.
  • The fez is a souvenir of a hugely enjoyable Madness concert at nearby Westonbirt Arboretum.
  • On the end of the banister is a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat which I gave to my daughter a few Christmases ago for her Sherlock collection.
  • The basket and parlour palm were acquired from a neighbour during lockdown, when  lots of people in our village put unwanted items on their front walls for others to take home. Treasure-hunting like this was a fun diversion when we were living such restricted lives.
  • Out of sight, behind the dressmaker’s dummy, is a wooden goose, made by my husband as an accessory for my scarecrow of St Wulfstan, which I made for the Hawkesbury Scarecrow Trail two years ago. St Wulfstan was formerly the priest of our parish church of St Mary the Virgin, where I sing in the choir and ring the bells. Why the goose? Find out more here. 
  • Less interestingly, there’s also a length of copper pipe, left over from some plumbing my husband was doing. I’ve no idea why it’s there or how long it’s been there, and I must find it a more appropriate home!
photo of St Wulfstan scarecrow and his goose
St Wulfstan and his goose

It was only in compiling this list of artefacts that I realised the reason I love sitting here so much. It’s not just the view of the garden or the comfy chair, but that I’m surrounded by associations with people and places that I love. Where better for comfort reading?

Seasonal Comfort Reads

cover of Murder by the BookSpeaking of comfort reads, if you fancy a lighthearted and cheery story set at this time of year, Murder by the Book, a laugh-out-loud village mystery tale of love, friendship, loyalty and family ties.

It’s available in paperback and as an ebook for Kindle (also in Kindle Unlimited).

Order Murder by the Book here.

Now I must get back to writing my next book, Scandal at St Bride’s, also set at this time of year. It should be launched in the spring.

Both Murder by the Book and Scandal at St Bride’s culminate on Valentine’s Day – happy ending guaranteed!

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy new year, with lots of great books and comfy reading chairs!