Review of “A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” by Zara Thorne

Cloud Cottage final cover

Romona lives with her grandmother, Tilly Donnelly, in a cottage on the South Downs. Tilly has brought her up from a baby and in spite of the generation gap, the pair are very close. Then Tilly collapses in the local shop and is taken to hospital. She can remember nothing of what has happened, nor of her recent past, which leaves Romona to cope as best as she can.

Unwilling to confide in anyone, in case she is taken into care, Romona must find a way of staying at Number One The Pastures, until her grandmother is fit enough to come home.

“A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” is the first Charnley Acre book that I have read and it is a total delight.

Romona and Tilly are vividly depicted characters and I feel a real sympathy for them both. I love Romona’s courage and determination and her slightly old fashioned view of life. The author gives a convincing picture of a twelve year old struggling with the day to day problems of living on her own in a remote cottage and at the same time trying to find out what has happened to her grandmother.

The other characters are well drawn too, in particular, Kinsey, Romona’s friend and her large noisy family who are a direct contrast to Romona’s isolated life with her grandmother.

And there is Emily, a journalist, who takes an interest in Romona and welcomes the quirky intelligent girl into Cloud Cottage, giving her a place to do her homework, a refuge from the crowded home, Romona has invented as a cover story.

When the truth emerges about Tilly Emily willingly takes on a greater role in Romona’s life. But Emily too has problems. Can she trust her boyfriend Ethan and why is he so set against Romona?

Although the novel deals with loss, ageing and coming to terms with a painful and life changing reality, the writer does it all with a light touch, so that “A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” is an warming and uplifting read.

I can thoroughly recommend the novel and look forward to reading more about Charnley Acres.

Zara Thorne is the pen name of Deirdre Palmer:

DP author picDeirdre lives in Brighton, on the south coast.  She has written four full-length novels under her own name, all originally published by Crooked Cat Books, and four shorter women’s fiction novels as Zara Thorne through Fabrian Books, a self-publishing collective.  She has also published a book of short stories, most of which were previously published in The People’s Friend magazine. Deirdre is a member of the ten-strong writers’ group, The Write Romantics, and is a full member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – although she doesn’t confine herself to writing romance. Much of her inspiration for the Zara Thorne books is drawn from the countryside and villages around her home count of Sussex.  ‘A Welcome at Cloud Cottage’ is the third book in the Charnley Acre series, although the story stands equally well alone.

The novel is available on Amazon:




Courtyard Garden : Quince-essential

Jan Edwards

DSCN1204A few weeks ago we called in a professional to 20181104_123530prune the vastly overgrown holly and prunus that were running amok at the front of the house. (Picture taken early this year – the lawn beneath the tree died in the summer heat and has not yet recovered)

20181104_121438The corner was an impenetrable thicket that was also home to a vast variegated ivy and though good cover for birds was causing damage. (It had already pulled down a brick pillar! illo)

20181104_121433 (1)There is also a wasp nest at the base of the prunus  which is why I am holding back from full scale works. Waiting for those Jaspers to vanish for the winter!

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What my daughters taught me

Posy and Lucy

You would think that in the normal course of things it’s mothers that teach their daughters, for me, however, it hasn’t always worked out like that. Learning can be a two way process.  I taught Posy and Lucy the basics, starting from when they were little and hopefully inculcating some of my own values as they grew up. However, over the years I have learned so much from them.

Starting with the small things: Lucy introduced me to “A Girl called Jack” and Jack Monroe’s thrifty recipes, I also now keep my broccoli in the fridge and only use environmentally friendly cleaning products in my kitchen and bathroom.

Lucy is also good at re-cycling clothes that no longer fit, or suit her and I’ve followed her example in my occasional wardrobe culls, as evidenced on my “Bulging Wardrobe” pages.

On a deeper level, she’s shown me how entrenched our un-conscious bias is when thinking and talking about gender. Equality is something I’ve always cared passionately about, even so I’ve not been so aware of the insidious nature of prejudice. We all have deeply rooted views, mostly stemming from childhood, but unless we are prepared to dredge them up and acknowledge them, we’ll never be able to move on and genuinely treat people as individuals.

As a writer, this is something I have to address if I don’t want my characters to be stereo-types, or to behave in gender predictable roles.

To be free to be who you are is lesson from Posy, Lucy’s big sister. Her legacy is an irreverent view of life, the mantra “don’t let the b——-s get you down” and the importance of living life to the full, with all the risks that entails.

She suffered from stage fright, but that never stopped her and if she set her sights on something then she’d concentrate her mind until she achieved it.  Posy Juliet 1In Cahoots Theatre Company’s Jamaican tour of “Romeo and Juliet” began with a conversation about Port Royale being the ideal venue for the play. From there Pose convinced Jim Malcolm, the Deputy High Commissioner, of the brilliance of her idea, found a director, cast her actors, raised the money and hired the costumes.

Great role models both of them, which is why I’ve acknowledged their influence in “City of Secrets”, because I’m sure that some of their qualities can be found in the independently minded Letty Parker, who at the age of twelve, is making a living selling pies on the streets on Bristol.

City Of Secrets cover

City of Secrets (Adventures of Letty Parker) by Misha Herwin @MishaHerwin #BookReview @penkhullpress

A lovely review from Kerry. Thank you.

Chat About Books

City Of Secrets cover

I know I don’t often read and review children’s books, but I was intrigued by City of Secrets and it has been a breath of fresh air to read something a bit different for a change. I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed it! It is aimed at 9-12 year olds and I’m ever so slightly older than that, but I think this will be enjoyed by many children and adults alike. If you have children around this age then I am sure they will love it. Or why not enjoy it together. I think it would be great read aloud. It is beautifully descriptive with an array of interesting characters and an intriguing storyline. I’m sure you’d find it as captivating as I have.

Letty Parker is a feisty little character! She lives alone, selling pies on the streets of Bristol for a living. Bristol is portrayed as…

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#Friday Favourites: War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

War of the WolfUhtred of Bebbenburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn’t have time to enjoy the victory.

“War of the Wolf” tells is the latest in the latest book in the Uhtred saga. By now Uhtred in his sixties but he is still a warrior, a leader of men with a fearsome reputation and a fiercely pagan faith. At a time when being a Christian was equated with being a loyal subject of the king, Uhtred’s refusal to convert makes him an object of suspicion. His own view of Christianity is highly sceptical. He sees the priests and bishops as corrupt, refusing to acknowledge the power of any other god and determined to bring everyone to their way of thinking whatever the cost.

Uhtred himself is far more tolerant. The men who fight for him worship a dozen gods and goddesses, the Christian god among them ‘but if a man believes the nonsense that there is only one god, the there’s no point in arguing, because it would be like discussing a rainbow with a blind man.’ His own belief, though he is careful when threatened to touch the symbol of Thor’s hammer he wears as an amulet, is that destiny is all. Man can try to cheat his fate but in the end he has no choice but to succumb.

This does not mean that he cannot fight and the novel is full of action. The sounds and smells of battle are vividly described. Although successful leader Uhtred never denies his fear at the onset of battle, or his sorrow at losing his men. His care for his people and especially his view of women is what makes him a rounded character. Uhtred may not be faithful to his wife, but he likes and respects women. Any man who commits violence against a woman, in a time when it was accepted as a norm, is punished.

Women, in general, played a minor part in Anglo-Saxon society, unless they were queens but Bernard Cornwell’s female characters are well drawn and convincing and one of the reasons why I enjoy his books.

Also fascinating is the depiction of an England on the cusp of being a united country − a place where the old religions and customs are giving way to the new.

I studied this period of history for A level and have always thought that the description of the period between the departure of the Romans and the Battle of Hastings as ‘The Dark Ages’ was highly inaccurate and the story of Uhtred confirms my opinion. Bernard Cornwell’s books show how just how complex and fascinating the ‘Dark Ages’ really were. They are also a great read for any lover of historical fiction.

Claire Baldry

When Claire Met Amber

This is me, Claire Baldry, as drawn by twenty-four year old Amber Gee. Amber has created all the illustrations for my latest poetry book ‘Simply Modern Life’.

Claire meets Amber Pic1


This is Amber, at the age of three. Amber is a very private person, and this was the only photo she was prepared to give me.


So what can I tell you about Amber?

Diagnosed with Specific Learning Difficulties, Amber describes herself as ‘easily distracted with poor organisational skills’. I would only partially agree with that description. It is very much to Amber’s credit that two years ago she achieved an upper second degree in English literature. I admire her passionate belief in world justice, and her mature, wry sense of humour. Amber is also an extremely talented artist. Below is one of the many brilliant drawings which she created especially for my book.


Mob for Misha

And this is how we met……

I had already four published booklets of poetry. They were accompanied by beautiful photographs taken by a friend of mine. However, when I looked at the selection of poems I wanted to include in my latest booklet, I decided that photographs wouldn’t really fit. The poems were about the quirkiness of life today, and they needed something with a bit more humour. I went onto facebook, and asked for recommendations or offers from anyone who could create some cartoon style line drawings for me. The response was overwhelming. I had no idea who I would choose. Then the phone rang. It was an unexpected call from Will who works at a great family run bistro just up the road from us. It’s called Wickham Bistro, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in the Bexhill area.

Will said “I hear you are looking for an illustrator. You might want to talk to my girlfriend. Her name is Amber.”

I asked Will if Amber could email me a couple of samples of her work. When the pictures arrived, they were part of an exhibition about Dispraxia to which Amber had contributed. She had created a series of little gremlins which kept getting in the way. I loved the pictures and felt very optimistic. I was also pre-disposed towards working with someone younger and hopefully not too set in her ways. I sent Amber my poem ‘Beware of the Trolls’ and within days the drawing below arrived in my inbox.

Trolls for Misha (1)



I was totally captivated.


There followed a series of meetings, usually at Wickham Bistro. I gave Amber my poems and she slowly delivered her incredible drawings. I had no idea what she would produce, but each one seemed to lift my poems off the page and give them extra layers of meaning. She paid attention to detail, even asking for photos of my grandchildren so she could put their faces in a frame on the wall. I took her to one of my poetry performances, and she sketched some of the audience. People who know me well will spot other personal touches within the illustrations. We never fell out, though the journey was occasionally bumpy. By this time Amber was working full-time, and I had deadlines to meet.

When the booklet finally arrived, everyone admired the illustrations. They are an integral part of the publication.

For now, I am the writer, and Amber is the illustrator, but I think one day the emphasis might change. People might see one of Amber’s drawings and recognise her style. I imagine them saying “That must be by Amber Gee. Didn’t she start her career as an artist illustrating a work by an unknown poet?”

Dragons in my Life

Four small dragons4

My life with Dragons

Ever since I can remember there have been dragons in my life. I don’t know how, I was introduced to these creatures, but there was a time when I was pretty sure that there was a dragon living under my bed. Roostance was the hero of the stories I used to tell my sister, Anuk, at night. He was a small, but not fierce, fiery dragon who belonged to a princess and together they had all sorts of adventures. After a while Anuk was allowed to have her own dragon too, a minor character and much more docile creature called Silverbell.

Other dragons came into other stories and when I was a student there was a brief moment when I contemplated doing an MA on dragons in literature, but life took a different turn and it wasn’t until I wrote the “Dragonfire” books that I returned to the subject.

In the meantime there are dragons in my house and in my garden.Dragons in back bedroom 1

They congregate on the shelves in the back bedroom, sit on my desk, on the shelves in the dining room and one sleeps, nose tucked into tail beside the pond. In my office there is a picture of a red dragon, coloured in and cut out by my granddaughter. There’s one drawn by my son when he was little on the wall. I have a collection of dragon jewellery and friends share posts with me on Facebook and Twitter.

When I was teaching, one of my most successful lessons was when the class wrote their own Dragonology− a description and history of their own beast, a piece of factual writing which covered one of the criteria of the National Curriculum.

There is also a dragon who dances to the Maple Leaf Rag in my play “The Ice Queen.”

All in all it is not surprising that although they don’t play a main part, there are dragons lurking on the roofs of the “City of Secrets”.Dragons and COS2


‘Gabriel stroked the little dragon’s metal scales. “Gargoyles are lazy. It’s well known.”

“Not like dragons.” The creature sat up and looked at Gabriel with its lizard eyes.

“Dragons are different,” he agreed.

“Yesss,” the dragon almost purred with satisfaction. “We’re fierce and we’re brave and we like fire and blood.”’

Which kind of says it all.

On the other hand, there are different sorts of dragons….