I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Horses, romance, scandal and secrets in the delightful rural setting of The Cotswolds. It begins with a nail-biting prologue and then launches into life in Compton Magna several years later. The connection is Luca, someone who has an extraordinary gift with horses. He has a reputation as a womaniser, but he has hidden depths and a plethora of secrets to be revealed as the story progresses.
The characters are many, and all of them richly described in such a vivid way that they are believable. The plot is complex, exploring relationships, village life, family drama and mysterious events and secrets. The Compton Magna stud is the focus of the story, so the horses and dogs are important characters too, which is part of the charm for me.
This is written in true bonkbuster style. It’s long, packed to the rafters with glamorous and enigmatic characters, many of whom behave less than circumspectly. Scandal, secrets and sex are rife in Compton Magna, which is a sharp contrast to the glorious rural setting. The humour is what makes this story so readable, and the snapshots on life and people so astute, that its worth reading for characterisation alone.
I loved this author’earlier stories, and this one reminds me of them, an enjoyable escapist read, full of emotion and sparkling dialogue, in a quintessentially rural England setting.
Guest Post – Fiona Walker – The Three Big Questions Most Author’s Get Asked Are:
How did you first get published?
The answer I always give is: my novel was plucked out of the infamous Slush Pile when I was twenty-three and sold in a weekend. I was just so lucky!
That was more than half my lifetime ago now, and I still marvel at the Disney Princess naivety with which I stumbled into my writing career in the 1990s. Luck played an undeniable part: right time, right place. But I’d already done the hard bit – written a full-length book – before it surfaced in that slush pile. For me, getting published was enviably easy. My first few books were big best-sellers. I had no idea of the knock backs and soul-searching that would come further along the road. Staying published twenty-seven years later, now that’s taken a lot more blood, sweat and tears…
Yet writing Country Lovers reminded me exactly why I love this job so much, and why I can’t imagine doing anything else.
How do you discipline yourself to do it?
Ask me this, and I’ll tell you I sit alone in a room with my imagination for most of the day, most of the year, at the end of which a book pops out.
The truth is I procrastinate endlessly. I talk to the dogs, I wander around my office, I play the ukulele I keep on a stand on my desk, I shout at myself, I look up my reviews on Amazon, then everyone else’s reviews on Amazon. I type sentences then delete them. I look at the clock a lot. I make countless cups of coffee most of which get ignored go cold. If I do drink them, I need to get up to go to the loo a lot. I think, think, think about my plot and the characters.
Then suddenly, from nowhere, I’m through the door to my imaginary world and I can’t type fast enough. A thousand words, three, five. Oh hell, I’m on a roll and I need to do the school run. I try to keep in my head what’s going to happen next, the loon mum waiting in her car with the two pairs of reading glasses on her head, muttering repeatedly to herself.
Back at my desk, children abandoned elsewhere in the house, I write on, Seven thousand words, eight. I don’t look at the clock at all. Long-suffering partner makes supper. I appear briefly, thinking about the book all the time, disappear back into my study and tell him I’ll be up to bed in a minute. Ten thousand words, eleven.
At three in the morning, I go to bed, knowing I must sleep. I think about the book until I drift off. My eyes snap open five hours later, still thinking about it, and I rush back to my desk.
It really does happen like that sometimes.
Writing Country Lovers was like that.
Where do you get your ideas from?
To which, I laugh gaily laugh and say ‘they’re all around us – just look and listen! I find stories every day in the news, at the school gate, overheard in the train, meeting friends for coffee. It’s limiting the ideas I have trouble with.’ Stock answer, and absolutely true.
When I set out to write Country Lovers I was all-too-aware that it’s my eighteenth full-length novel, on top of which I’ve written countless short stories, some nearer novella length. My novels are big – 600 plus page full-week-on-a-sun-lounger big – and full of multiple strands. I could make at least three smaller novels out of one of them (a friend once joked ‘you put absolutely every plot idea you’ve had in each one because you’re frightened you might never get to write another!’).
That’s a lot of ideas. I genuinely never run out of them, but I do worry I’m going to repeat myself.
Country Lovers might have a setting I’ve used before and a few favourite characters returning in it, but the central story is one I’ve never explored: what would happen if you met your perfect match on the worst night of your life?
I hope the only thing that repeats itself is that incredible luck I had twenty-seven years ago.
Fiona Walker, Oct 2019
Fiona Walker is the author of eighteen novels, from tales of flat-shares and clubbing in nineties London to today’s romping, rural romances set amid shires, spires and stiles. In a career spanning over two decades, she’s grown up alongside her readers, never losing her wickedly well-observed take on life, lust and the British in love. She lives in Warwickshire, sharing a slice of Shakespeare Country with her partner, their two daughters and a menagerie of animals.
When Charlie Thorpe met Holly Renton, they were not a match made in heaven…
Holly lives and works in the beautiful town of Willowbury in Somerset. An incorrigible optimist, she is determined to change the world for the better.
Charlie Thorpe, on the other hand, is the ultimate pragmatist. As Willowbury’s new member of parliament, he has to be. While he’s determined to prove himself to the town, as far as Holly’s concerned, he’s just another politician on the make.
But when their paths cross again, it’s clear they’ve got more in common than they think. Can Holly and Charlie overcome their differences and work together, or are they destined to be forever on opposite sides? And why does Holly have a funny feeling she has met Charlie before…
Let Fay Keenan whisk you away to a world of glorious country views, unforgettable characters and once-in-a-lifetime love.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A family drama with a gentle romance between two unlikely individuals, who find they share more common beliefs than they thought. The setting in a small Somerset town is charming and realistic, and the political and social issues raised are integral to the story but resonate. This story has important messages but still manages to remain entertaining.
The pacing is slow, which takes a little getting used to but you do warm to the characters, once you get to know them. Similarly, the romance is realistically delivered in tantalising snippets, but they get there in the end.
Contemporary causes, family drama, and sweet romance are all found in this originally crafted story, with a relatable small town ethos.
The Weekender – Fay Keenan – Extract
‘White sage is all very well,’ Holly Renton reflected, ‘but the ashes are a bugger to get out of the carpet.’ Earlier that morning, before the shop had opened, Holly had carried out a ritual called smudging, which was meant to purify the energy in a building, promote positivity and remove negative energies. Picking up the dustpan and brush, she emptied the pungent remains of the dried herb bundle she’d ignited and then wafted around the windows and doors of the shop into the bin.
‘I know you recommend this all the time for other people’s houses, but why are you so bloody obsessed with doing it in the shop?’ Rachel, Holly’s sister, glanced down at where Holly was still brushing the rug under the mullioned front window of ComIncense, the shop specialising in herbal remedies and well-being aids that Holly ran in the sleepy but nonetheless New Age small town of Willowbury and smiled. Just beyond the shop’s counter, the door that led to Holly’s small back yard was open and Harry, Rachel’s three-year-old son and Holly’s nephew, was playing happily with a set of wooden animal-shaped blocks in their own lorry, which had come from a box of assorted toys that Holly kept specifically for the younger customers. Holly didn’t believe, unlike some of her business-owning neighbours, that children should be banned from places like hers, and since the early-spring weather was warm and pleasant, Harry had trundled out into the sunlight to play.
‘You’ve got to refresh places from time to time,’ Holly replied. ‘Especially when there’s been a lot of negative energy about, and since all of the scandal with Hugo Fitzgerald, I really felt like this place needed a spiritual cleanse!’
‘You can say that again,’ Rachel reached under the wooden apothecary’s dresser that displayed countless jars and pots of dried herbs and flowers, all purporting to be of some spiritual or physical benefit, to retrieve one of the toy llamas that Harry had thrown under it. ‘What a way to go…’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Holly replied, still sweeping. ‘At least, having had a massive coronary, he wouldn’t have known much about it.’
‘But what a waste of a good plate of scones and jam!’ Rachel grinned. ‘Mum told me that his constituency agent found him face down in them at his desk.’
‘I wouldn’t have fancied digging him out of them,’ Holly said. ‘But from the size of him, the heart attack was an accident waiting to happen. And gossip has it, he had his finger in a lot of pies, not just the odd plate of scones.’
‘Oh, you know how the rumour mill goes into overdrive when something like this happens.’ Rachel, who had more of a tendency to see the good in people than her sister did, dismissed Holly’s comments with a wave of her hand. ‘I mean, I’m not saying he wasn’t a prat, but nothing was ever proven about his financial misdemeanours. Although I have to admit, since he couldn’t have given a stuff about Harry’s condition, and getting access to these new drugs, I’m hoping the new guy will be more receptive to the cause.’
‘It’s still bloody unfair that he gets to swan in here and take the seat after only the quietest by-election,’ Holly grumbled as she replaced the dustpan and brush on the shelf behind the counter. ‘I mean, the guy’s only a year older than me and he’s been parachuted into one of the safest seats in the country. Even if we have a change of government, he’s unlikely ever to lose his seat. What if he’s just as crap as Fitzgerald and couldn’t care less about us here in his constituency? We’re stuck with him until he chooses to retire.’
‘Give him a chance,’ Rachel said reasonably. ‘He might be good for this place.’
‘Have you made an appointment to see him yet?’ Holly asked, glancing down to where Harry was now building a tower of exotic wooden animals that was getting more and more precarious the higher it got.
From the outside, Harry looked like any other energetic three-year-old, but on the inside, it was a different story. Weeks after he’d been born, Rachel had been launched into a perpetually revolving carousel of physiotherapy, medications and experimental trials in an attempt to alleviate the chronic condition, cystic fibrosis, that would, in all likelihood, limit Harry’s life. The latest medication, which might make a huge difference to Harry’s life expectancy, was currently being held up because the government was still negotiating with the pharmaceutical company involved over a reasonable price to supply it to the National Health Service. How it was possible to put a cost on a life such as Harry’s was a source of increasing frustration and heartbreak for Rachel and the family.
‘Not yet,’ Rachel sighed. ‘If Hugo Fitzgerald couldn’t be arsed to do anything other than toe the party line, then why should this new guy be any better? Especially if he is a total rookie. I doubt he’ll stick his neck out for Harry.’
Noticing Rachel was, unusually for her, close to tears, Holly hurried around from behind the counter and gave her sister a hug. ‘Don’t let it get you down,’ she murmured. ‘I’ll always be right there with you, campaigning to get this little munchkin the treatment he deserves.’
‘I know,’ Rachel replied, giving Holly a shaky smile. ‘I’m fine, really. It’s just when he has a bad day, it reminds me of the challenges he’s facing, which will only get worse as he gets older. And knowing that the new medications could potentially make those challenges so much easier to face…’
‘We’ll get there,’ Holly said. ‘I’ll be with you every step of the way, like I always have been. And I still think it’s worth a punt with this new guy, you never know.’
‘I’ll try and get in to see him over the summer,’ Rachel replied, breaking the embrace from her sister and grabbing the last of the wooden animals to add to Harry’s tower of jungle wildlife. ‘Can I make a drink?’
‘Of course,’ Holly said. ‘I’ve got some organic fair-trade matcha tea in the kitchen.’
‘Is that the super-energising stuff?’ Rachel asked. ‘After being up with Harry last night, I could certainly do with a lift.’
‘Honestly, it’ll keep you going until midnight!’ Holly said. ‘Go on… you know you want to.’
‘All right,’ Rachel replied. ‘But if I end up buzzing around Willowbury like a wasp for the rest of the day, I’m blaming you.’
‘Fair enough. And make me a cup, too,’ Holly called as Rachel disappeared up the stairs to Holly’s flat above the shop. Popping the dustpan and brush behind the counter again, she continued the conversation, since Rachel had left the door to the flat open. ‘Perhaps I should give this new guy the benefit of the doubt,’ she said, adjusting the labels on the jars of dried herbs and plants on the dresser so they all pointed uniformly outwards. ‘After all, new blood could be a good thing.’
‘Perhaps we should be fair and reserve judgement until he’s been in the job a few months,’ Rachel said over the bubble of the kettle. ‘You never know, he could be just the tonic this place needs, politically.’
‘You always try to look on the bright side, don’t you?’
Fay Keenan is the author of the bestselling Little Somerby series of novels. She has led writing workshops with Bristol University and has been a visiting speaker in schools. She is a full-time teacher and lives in Somerset. Fay’s new series for Boldwood will begin with The Weekender.
When Jess Thornton’s dad was lost at sea, the family coped in different ways, alone in their grief. Now, her mum seems to be going off the rails and her sister, Isla, who moved to France, is now back and determined to get their old family home on the market. But the last thing Jess wants this Christmas is for renovations to start on the house. It’s sure to stir up all sorts of memories she’s desperate to avoid. And to make things worse, Isla appears to have hired the most obnoxious builder in the world to do the work. Jess could ignore the fact that women seem to be putty in his hands. But what she finds harder to ignore is the frisson she gets every time she squeezes past him in the mess that is now their beloved old home! Can the family finally start talking and find a way to move on from the past this Christmas?
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
A lovely story with a festive backdrop. Family drama and romantic comedy are beautifully interwoven, in this tale, which features two sisters, a mother who is lost in grief, and a father who went away to sea and never came back.
There are family secrets, hard truths and many misunderstandings, which have been ignored until now. The time is right for the family to rebuild, Jess is living a half-life, her mother is distracted, and now Isla is back, and being so defensive.
Can Jess keep her family together? Can she face Christmas again, and why does she feel so attracted to the sexy builder who is destroying all her childhood memories?
A poignant, heartfelt story, with believable,flawed characters, full of angst and hidden depths. The slow-burning and sweetattraction between Jess and Seb is tested with a myriad of internal and external conflicts.
Anemotional and realistic family drama. The resolution is in keeping with the story and brings this festive family story to a lovely conclusion.
Rosie has been scribbling stories ever since she was little.
Back then, they were rip-roaring adventure tales with a young heroine in perilous danger of falling off a cliff or being tied up by ‘the baddies’.
Thankfully, Rosie has moved on somewhat, and now much prefers to write romantic comedies that melt your heart and make you smile, with really not much perilous danger involved at all – unless you count the heroine losing her heart in love.
Rosie’s brand new series of novellas is centred around life in a village cafe. The latest, ‘Bonfires & Hot Chocolate at the Little Duck Pond Cafe’, is out now.
Watch out for ‘A Winter Wedding at the Little Duck Pond Cafe’, which will be published Christmas 2019.
Rosie is also writing a full-length, standalone book for Christmas 2019, entitled ‘Snowflakes over Moondance Cottage’.
Lucy fell in love with tumbledown Rosemary Cottage as a child. So thirty years on, when she loses her city job and discovers the cottage is for sale, it feels like fate. She’ll raise her children in Burley Bridge and transform the cottage into a B&B with her husband.
But a year can change everything . . .
Now Lucy is juggling two children and a B&B but on her own. Christmas looks set to be their last on Rosemary Lane – until she meets James, a face from her past and someone who might offer a different kind of future . . .
Should Lucy leave the cottage behind? Or could this winter on Rosemary Lane be the start of something new?
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Childhood memories can be powerful, and Lucy’s love of the cottage on Rosemary Lane stayed with her for thirty years. When her career reaches a crossroads, she convinces her husband that living there would be perfect for their family. For a while it is. Then life happens and tragedy strikes and Lucy is left to rebuild her family, but will it be at the cottage on Rosemary Lane?
Whilst this story is not exclusively festive, there are many Christmassy references and touches, which show the best and worst of the season. Told from mainly from Lucy’s point of view, this is a lovely tale of family life in a small Yorkshire village, it is a story of bereavement and loss and starting over. There are some strong friendships, and interesting romantic possibilities overlaid with courage, emotion and humour.The story draws you in, and it becomes important what happens to Lucy and her young family.
The rural setting is well described and the cast of characters diverse and realistic. James’ story is intricately woven into the main plot in a believable way, with just the right amount of serendipity. The story brings hope out of tragedy and leaves the reader with a feel-good hug.
Fran made the biggest mistake of her life when she had an affair with Ben. Both families live in the village of Oakheart; their children are friends. Fran’s guilt shadows her days. But it’s no more than she deserves, or is it? At least she’s managed to protect her husband, Hector, from the harsh truth.
But for how long?
Tessa has left her troubles in the past and now has the perfect life. Ben might have his faults, but his life has not been easy. They need each other, and Tessa will do whatever it takes to eliminate any threats to her marriage.
Threats from women like Fran.
A cliff overlooks a disused chalk-pit. The locals
call it High Heaven. It’s a place of secrets. And it’s where Oakheart newcomer
Maria died. When Fran discovers a link between Maria and Ben, disturbing
questions arise to which she has no way of knowing the answers.
Faced with an ultimatum from Tessa, time is running
out for Fran. She’s scared, every minute of every day.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
This starts with a tragic event and then lapses into normality, which although slow-paced is essential world-building. Told from two points of view Fran and Tessa, you meet Fran first and realise her normal life is unbalanced with a few strange events. You don’t meet Tessa in any detail straight away, but when you do, immediately you realise she is not happy.
The suspense building is steady and relentless, you are constantly waiting for what something bad to happen. Fran appears to be a reliable protagonist, but she does have secrets she wants to keep hidden. Tessa has an agenda, but are past events really as she sees them?
The plot is clever, not too complicated, but effective. I guessed one of the twists early on, believing things are never as obvious as they seem, but the final twist is chilling.
A well-paced story of love, obsession and revenge in an everyday village setting.
I live in Brighton with my husband
and a tabby cat called Chester. After a career in public sector admin, most
recently at the University of Brighton, it was time to stop dreaming about
being a writer and actually do something about it! Fast forward to the present, and now I’m both
traditionally published and self-published, with five women’s fiction novels
under my own name, and five ‘cosy’ reads, writing as Zara Thorne. I’ve also published a book of short stories,
most of which were previously published in The People’s Friend magazine. ‘The
Wife’s Revenge’ is my first foray into the psychological suspense genre.
Monica Noble is thrilled to be asked to judge a neighbouring village’s flower show, even if she can’t tell a begonia from an azalea! Her fellow judge Vicar James Davies inhales deeply from a large bloom and drops dead in the tent. At first, everyone thinks he’s had a heart attack, but the doctor on hand is suspicious and calls in the police. A second murder quickly follows, this time of one of the main suspects. Monica must help the Chief Inspector Jason Dury to solve the two murders and find the killer —fast before anyone else pays the ultimate price.
This is the second of a series of enjoyable murder mysteries with great characters and baffling crimes which will keep you gripped till the final page
MONICA NOBLE was widowed young, leaving her to raise her feisty daughter on her own. That is, until she met and fell in love with Graham Noble, a country vicar (pastor), who enticed her to leave her high-flying job in advertising in the city and move to the Cotswold countryside. There she found bucolic life very pleasant indeed — until murder started to rear its ugly head. And she discovered, to everyone’s surprise, that she had a flair for solving the most unholy of crimes.
I received a copy of this book from Joffe Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Like all good murder mystery, this begins with the introduction of numerous characters, possible reasons for them to dislike each other, and careful setting of the murder scene. It is part of the charm of this genre, and the Monica Noble mystery series does this so well.
The setting at a village flower shower is atmospheric and true to life, the sense of community, gossiping and rivalry are perfect, as the reader tries to work out who is going to be the victim. This story has a good twist at an early stage, and the reader immediately has to pursue two strands of investigation.
The familiar set of regular characters are beautifully written, Graham, the kind, handsome vicar, who dotes on his younger, loving wife Monica, Carol Anne the rebellious teenager, who always has an angle, or a new project, but is pleasantly naive, and still in need of her mother’s guidance. Then there is the enigmatic DCI Jason Dury, who dislikes the inconvenient chemistry between the well-like vicar’s wife and himself. The frisson of desire simmers under the surface, there but barely acknowledged.
The murder has a techno criminal aspect, and many suspects, and motives, it makes pleasurable reading and challenging investigating for lovers of whodunnit mystery.The characters and setting are vividly portrayed and easy to visualise, this would make a wonderful TV show.
Another engaging adventure for the Vicar and his clever wife.
Maddie is restless in London. She
has friends, a job and a sort-of boyfriend, but something in her life is
missing. Then she visits the ancient village of Walditch, deep in the Dorset
countryside. Something stirs in her, and on a whim she buys a centuries-old cottage
and moves there three months later. Her friends think she’s crazy, but for
Maddie it feels like coming home.
Late at night in the cottage,
Maddie hears strange noises and sees mist gathering indoors and out. When she
starts investigating the cottage’s history, she becomes drawn into the tragic
story of a family who lived here 400 years ago. Meanwhile, Maddie starts to
fall in love with a local carpenter – but he has a relationship already…
Can Maddie solve the riddle of
the past? What is her connection with the family that lived there so many years
ago? And can she and her true love ever be together?
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I live in a sixteenth-century converted barn, and just standing in it, thinking how long it has stood over looking the Exmoor landscape is awe inspiring. So, I can fully appreciate the inspiration behind, this lovely timeslip romance set in Dorset.
Serendipity plays an important part in this book. I was drawn to Maddie’s story, as soon as I read about her unexplained, and out of character attraction to the old cottage, formerly a blacksmith’s, when she visited the village as part of her work. The story is cleverly written, so that Maddie’s experiences at the cottage are believable. Set in the present, as she brings her new home up to date, there are many slips into the past as historic events and a time defying love unfolds.
Maddie’s leaves a well-paid career and a glamorous life in London behind her. At a crossroads in her life she is not sure why, but as the story progresses, things start to fall into place. Her meeting and attraction to Nick is powerful but fraught with conflict. Their chance of something developing seems remote.
The characters are complex and realistic, the situations they find themselves in believable. The pacing and the timeslip element make this an absorbing read. I couldn’t put it down, literally I read it into the night.
The poignant ending is perfect, and the epilogue draws everything together in this gentle, timeslip, romantic story.
Guest Post – Kate Ryder – Secrets of the Mist
I’m so thrilled to be invited on your
guest post. Thank you!
Do you ever wish you had a second chance to
meet someone again for the first time? I have explored
this theme in Secrets of the Mist, a time slip romance that encompasses self-discovery and a great
love resonating across the ages. With
supernatural, historical and geographical overtones, it should appeal to fans
of Kate Mosse, Diana Gabaldon and Barbara Erskine.
few years ago, my husband and I moved to Cornwall and bought a derelict, 200
year old cottage. Whilst carrying out extensive
renovations and taking the cottage back to its shell, we discovered a time
capsule left by a previous owner. The
contents were fascinating, if not that old (circa 1980), and made me consider previous
occupants during the past two centuries, the lives they led and the dramas that
may have taken place within the four walls of our cottage.
Apart from spending days mixing cement,
procuring building materials and helping to install the plumbing and electrics
(must remember to add these to my CV!) I was also selling complementary health
products at country fairs throughout Devon and Cornwall. One day, a chance conversation with a fellow
trader set my creative juices flowing as she described a Dartmoor cottage she once
owned, which had an unusual, internal stained-glass window and unaccountable
cold corners. Well… that was all the
encouragement I needed!
At the time I was a member of a local
writers group and, suitably fired up, I penned a short story. The room fell silent as I read it out to my fellow
writers and all wanted to know what happened next. During this period I had to travel up to the
South East on a fairly regular basis. On
one particular trip I took a detour to Dorset and discovered the villages of
Walditch and Shipton Gorge, which became the setting for the tale. Furthermore, whilst researching the villages
and surrounding area, I uncovered historic events on which to pin the story. Three months – I mentioned I was fired up,
didn’t I? – and 85,000 words later, I had a novel!
I self-published the book as The Forgotten Promise, and this version achieved
one of the first Chill with a Book “Book of the Month” awards. I am very fortunate that Aria agreed to
publish the novel and, with further time-slip development, it is now Secrets of the Mist. Lastly, but by no means least, I must mention
the lovely cover, which has a softly haunting feel and is totally appropriate
to the story.
Kate Ryder writes
romantic suspense with a true-to-life narrative. Her passion is writing (a
period during which she studied acting only confirmed her preference for
writing rather than performing!). Since then she has worked in the publishing,
tour operating and property industries, and has travelled widely.
She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’
Association and the Society of Authors. Kate lives in Cornwall with her husband
and a newly acquired rescue cat.
In 2017 Kate signed a 4-book publishing contract
with Aria (digital imprint of award-winning independent publisher, Head of
Zeus). Her first novel, ‘Summer in a Cornish Cove’, saw her nominated for the
RNA’s 2018 Joan Hessayon award. Under its original self-published title, ‘The
Forgotten Promise’, ‘Secrets of the Mist’, was shortlisted for Choc Lit’s
“Search for a Star” and awarded a Chill with a Book “Book of the
Extract From: Secrets of the Mists – Kate Ryder
We arrived in Walditch late
morning, having first visited the Bridport estate agents, Randall & Mather,
to pick up the keys for The Olde Smithy. As we pulled up alongside Walditch
village green I noticed a few people already sitting outside the Blacksmith’s
Arms. Casually, I wondered if there might be an opportunity of work in that
Clambering down from the van, I stretched and rubbed
my hands together. ‘OK, let’s get cracking.’
Over the next couple of hours we unloaded the van, depositing
bags and furniture in various rooms. Dan hit his head several times on the low
beams of the downstairs rooms, but I had no such trouble. At five feet four
inches I was a good ten inches shorter.
‘Must have been midgets in the seventeenth century!’
he muttered, ferociously rubbing his skull.
According to Randall & Mather, the cottage dated
back to the mid-1600s, in part. The property details stated: A charming, two-bedroom period cottage situated in Walditch, a
village set deep in hilly countryside yet only a mile from Bridport and West
Bay. The Olde Smithy offers discerning buyers an opportunity to put their stamp
on a property steeped in history but with all modern-day conveniences.
The sitting/dining room, kitchen and master bedroom
were in the original part of the building, and all had heavily beamed ceilings
and uneven floors, while a two-storey extension, built during the late 1980s,
created a hallway, downstairs bathroom and first-floor guest bedroom. A small,
overgrown, cottage-style garden to the front opened directly onto the village
green and to the rear, immediately accessed from the kitchen, was a courtyard
created by a collection of outhouses, one being an outside privy. A pathway led
past the outbuildings to a further area of overgrown garden where there were
three gnarled and twisted fruit trees, in desperate need of pruning, and the
outline of a long-forgotten vegetable bed. To my delight, at the far end, was a
The day passed quickly and we busied ourselves
unpacking boxes, stacking shelves and filling cupboards. I had energy to spare.
Soon, the cottage soon took shape and by the time the elongating shadows of the
oak tree encroached upon the front garden it felt homely. Only the last
remaining packing boxes stacked in the hallway and the lack of curtains at the
windows declared me a new occupant. I made a mental note to buy fabric during
the next few days to remedy this, as I’d been unable to salvage any window
dressings from the flat. Being a Victorian conversion, the apartment had tall
sash windows to which the landlord had fitted vertical blinds.
As the day progressed, Dan regained a cheerful
disposition and his earlier melancholy evaporated. He was busy cleaning the
fireplace as I rummaged through a box in the kitchen, searching for elusive
teabags. I paused and looked around appreciatively at the beams, the flagstone
floor and the view of the courtyard through the small-paned windows. I could
already see next spring’s hanging baskets on the outhouse walls. I smiled, instinctively
knowing that all that had gone before was simply leading to this day.
‘Hey, Mads, take a look at this,’ Dan called from the
I turned and walked to the doorway. A thick haze
filled the room and I marvelled at how much dust he’d created. I was about to
suggest he let in some fresh air when I noticed all the windows were open wide.
I frowned. How strange… The room was full of fog and yet there was a strong
breeze blowing outside.
It must have been a trick of the light because, as Dan
turned, his blond hair appeared darker and longer and he seemed less tall and
lean; an altogether rougher version. I blinked and shook my head, as if
brushing away the image. As quickly as he had appeared altered, there he was,
once again, the Dan I knew.
‘What have you found?’ I walked across the room and
saw a small opening in the stonework to one side of the inglenook. ‘How did
‘One of the stones was loose. It came away quite
easily when I investigated. I think there’s something behind it.’
‘Clear away a bit more,’ I said, enthusiastically.
‘It might be a bread oven.’
Placing his long fingers into the gap, he teased away
at the stones around the opening. For a moment nothing happened but then one
suddenly shifted, coming away in his hand. There was a definite edge to the
hole. I peered inside at a hidden void.
‘Wow, how exciting!’
Without hesitation, I inserted my hand and felt
around, unsure what I expected to find, but apart from a thick layer of dust
and rubble, the alcove was empty. Disappointment flooded through me.
‘I’ll make a feature of it,’ I said. ‘I’ll visit a
reclamation yard and find a door that fits.’
‘This cottage will give up more of its secrets as
time goes by.’
As Dan spoke the words I became aware of an expectant
stillness in the air.
‘Why did you say that?’ I asked sharply.
‘Well, these old places always have secrets, don’t
they? And this one’s had four hundred years to collect them.’
Suddenly I felt hot and short of breath. Feeling
dizzy, I reached out for Dan, as if trying to hold on to something solid;
something I could trust.
He caught hold of my arm. ‘Hey, steady, Mads!’
Beads of perspiration pricked my forehead and I
struggled to hold back rising nausea.
‘You OK?’ Dan asked with concern.
‘I just need some fresh air,’ I gasped.
‘Tell you what – let’s abandon the tea thing and go
to the pub instead.’ This was his answer to most things.
‘Yeah, I could do with a drink.’
He smiled at me.
‘And dinner’s on me,’ I said weakly, hurrying towards
‘Now, there’s an offer I can’t possibly refuse, but won’t that be a tad messy?’