Monday, May 20, 2019

The Penny Drops -- Wilding the Dene


History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good. Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and actions of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.
--Martin Luther King Jr
I will number myself among the complacent about the environment. I like to think of myself as one of the Good – I keep bees, the last time the garden saw pesticide was probably 1996 just before we moved in, we have had a programme of making sure a good majority of the plants were  good for the bees since 2000 (starvation of colonies is real), and my hens and ducks have roamed free during the day since 1998. My various cats have been indoor cats since about the time Penny encountered a hen in 1998. We know we have foxes and so when Penny and Tuppence went, my husband suggested that we keep the next lot in. We recycle and try to avoid single use plastic and so on.  I can give loads of reasons why I thought I was doing enough including raising three children who were environmentally well (two of which work in the sector). I thought I could rest on my laurels so to speak. Other people maybe needed to change but me – I was good. After all I was doing my best and the less environmentally aware were the ones
The penny dropped last week.  
I read Rebirding by Benedict MacDonald and realised that I had become infected with the new normal. I simply had not noticed the decrease in the bird and insect population. He gives an example of a fig tree  where hornbills just to go to feed and the clearing teemed with life and sound but one day the tree was cut down and the hornbills no longer visited the area. They may have found food elsewhere (if they were lucky) or they may have starved. However, people going to that clearing after the fig were greeted by silence. They had no idea that hornbills ever fed there. Their normal was not hornbills in a fig tree but a silent clearing where one or two other birds flickered about.
And suddenly I understood that I had been part of the complacent and the appallingly silent. I have also suffered to greater or lesser extent from Ecological Tidiness Disorder in my quest to a garden which is pleasing to the eye as well as supporting my bees.
MacDonald gives some very sobering figures of the decline in birdlife in the British Isles and the crash in the insect population. It is easy to forget in a world where one puts out bird food for the birds that different species have different feeding requirements. And for some, if they can’t find the insects, they starve. Insects are dependant on certain types of plants. They have evolved. Not all plants will host insects equally. Insects have spent  thousands of years evolving to feed off specific plants. When those plants are not there, they can sometimes adapt but sometimes they starve. And when they die, the birds who feed on them, do not thrive, go elsewhere where there is more competition etc. Because of research into migration and the mind maps birds carry, we are learning that it is not as easy as once thought to increase populations. For example, there is no point in building the perfect habitat for a pine marten in Sussex and hoping that one will appear – their range doesn’t include Sussex. And in dealing with animals, you do have to think range. Britain is on the Western edge of the range for many birds.
While it is depressing, MacDonald gives hope and that hope comes from the concept of rewilding. In short, making sure the environment is not managed for just one species, but rather looked at as an ecosystem as a whole. It is about working with nature, instead of against it. However, I don’t think he is much of a gardener or completely understands some of the trouble. It is not just the people who have paved over everything, have decking, and use pesticides at every opportunity who need to change, but also the people who garden for wildlife who have to change as well. We, the complacent good, must alter our behaviour to ensure things actually change.
Ecosystem gardening is actually far harder than it sounds and is why it isn’t usually practiced.  In one sense it is simply an extension of Beth Chatto’s philosophy of the plant to suit location but in another, you do have to be aware of what insects the plant will host etc. And it is gardening more for the longer term.
My youngest son who is currently a Master research student at St Andrews and is in Cyprus studying fledgling behaviour of the Cyprian wheatear and who has not read the book is so pleased that the scales have dropped from my eyes about the seriousness of the problem. Although, he did think it amusing I got in a totally unintentional twitter spat with Monty Don when I asked if Gardener’s World could try to make native plants aspirational rather than highlighting things like tree ferns. My intentions were good, but my wording was misconstrued. My son found out about it when a fellow researcher in Cyprus asked him if his mother’s name was Michelle. I got a phone call.
 My son is an ornithologist rather than a plantsman and didn’t totally understand about  some of the ways in which the wildlife gardener  might have inadvertently assisted in the decline from sterile hybrids of native plants to the use of exotics which have evolved to support other ecosystems  to create sterile green deserts which look natural but are almost incapable of supporting any native fauna. He now does (sort of). This problem is also one environmental consultants in planning have been highlighting for years but one which has been overlooked by gardeners and gardener designers.
He suggested I read Wilding by Isabella Tree if I wanted to know more. It is an excellent book but had I read it first, it would not have had as big an impact as Rebirding as I would have thought – ah but I am one of the Good and her experience has nothing to do with me, really.  The calls to action are many and varied.
Wilding also made me feel better – much of what I am doing has been good. Actually better than good.  I can do with few more tweaks in my approach and losing of my ETD especially in pulling nettles and brambles (A sore point with my son. In his first year of uni, my son was once sent out to recover from a bad hangover and made to pull brambles while I dealt the state of his bed. He spent much of the time staring up at the sky as I had suspected he would) but on the whole the bones are there. I just need to look at the garden with different lenses.
 The other good part is because the next door neighbours operate a more than begin neglect policy on their part of the dene and the public footpath goes through a strip of land owned by a mysterious trust which has not been touched for decades really, the natural haven where I garden actually has far more areas and is bigger than I first thought.
 I have no intention of getting into any more spats or trying to provoke and see little point in trying to get the bad to change their ways (I leave that to others), instead I want to persuade and that is why I am going to devote part of this blog to writing about The Dene and my efforts at ecosystem gardening to create more of a haven for nature. I am going to detail the beginnings and what we have done, impart  how to garden with free roaming ducks and hens and still have a decent border and vegetable patch etc as well explaining about my efforts to be a better ecosystem gardener. One of my latest projects (forced by Hugh Buff-Orpington, our cockerel) has been to turn the old back lawn into an orchard under planted with wildflowers. In part because it can be so overgrown, I have hesitated to share but I think the time is right.
I hope this helps or inspires someone. There will still be bits about my own historical romance writing but I think this is a worthwhile project. So please bear with me as I give some insight into my attempts. I am going to make mistakes. I am a very flawed human being but my intentions are good. At the very least it will provide me with procrastination distraction from my latest wip which is at POS stage. 
If you are interested in getting involved in Rewilding Britain, do visit their website to find out more.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Booksweeps Giveaway

I have a fun surprise today -- I am participating in  a Booksweeps giveaway. My SENT AS THE VIKING'S BRIDE is included in the  30 historical romances up for grabs plus an e-reader.  It runs from 15 May  - 24 May 2019 void where prohibited.
All the details are here: https://booksweeps.com/book-giveaway/historical-romance-bookbub-may-2019/

Friday, May 10, 2019

Why you should know your historian


My reading for today started with this fascinating New Stateman’s article on EH Carr.
EH Carr is considered by many to have written the first serious book on the subjectivity of history and how the historian’s past always colours their interpretation of the facts. His book What is History stemmed from at series of lectures he gave in 1961. His basic argument is that you must first study the historian, understand their agenda and social context and then read their work. He differed from 19th century historians who felt the historian could give an objective account of history.
The historical timeline with its dates and certainties stems from the 19th century. Von Ranke in the 1830s is the person to blame btw. And dates aren’t always accurate – Christianity in the UK does not start in 597 CE with St Augustine’s mission as was recently shown by the Prittlewell Prince, a high status Christian who was buried in Essex prior to this time. (There are other examples but the find is fairly amazing)
One of Carr’s great insights about 5th century is not that so much was lost but we viewed it through the lenses of a small group of men based in Athens who were of a certain social standing. And therefore the reader should always be aware of whose lenses you are viewing history through. 
The same can be said to be true in my opinion of  the Viking raid on Lindisfarne – the accepted view of the raid being a bolt from the blue comes from a political letter from a monk Alcuin to the court of Charlemagne. The letter is rarely put into context – Charlemagne operated a belligerent attitude towards pagans and was known to be negotiating the marriage of one of his daughters to a son of the King of Northumbria. There is evidence that the Vikings (or Northmen) were already trading in the general region. Was it a pre-emptive strike? Was it a market negotiation gone wrong (this had happened in Saxon territory a few years before with disastrous consequences for the Saxons)? Is Alcuin’s view of the incident coloured by his position that he came from Northumbria, was a monk and was writing trying to influence another decision?  We can’t tell the Viking’s perspective of what happened because they did not leave written records.
Knowing the bias and social context of every historian or primary source author is a useful exercise. It is why I always read the author’s biography first – even when I am just reading for pleasure.
Right back to writing about the Vikings and Picts  two sets of people who are normally always seen through the lenses of others.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Shooing the Crows of Doubt

One thing I have discovered in my years of writing is that there are days the critical voices caw at your mind until you can't think beyond the noise.
I have various strategies  including keeping a scrapbook of good reviews (because you do forget) but I saw this quote today. It was originally in the masculine and I am sure Teddy Roosevelt meant it to encompass all people but I found it more pertinent and forceful to change it to the feminine.
In case it helps someone else in the Arena of Life.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Why you should read Reese Ryan's Bourbon Brothers

Over the last year, it has been my pleasure to discover Reese Ryan and her Bourbon Brothers series. It started in a moment of solidarity -- both our books were featured on an ad Harlequin did and so I went looking -- first for her (as Harlequin has a habit of not telling its authors about such things) and then for the book as I spotted something about bourbon and distilleries on her website.
 As luck would have it, the wrong blurb was on Amazon.co.uk  and my heart sunk as I wanted to read about bourbon distilleries and not cowboys. At this point I believe I cemented my crazy lady status to Reese who had no idea about the mix up in blurbs and could not understand about why I was banging on about how writing about a bourbon distillery would be such a great concept but of course cowboys were fine as well. She assured me her books were about bourbon.
The ad which led to my discovery
of Reese Ryan
I read Savannah's Secrets and was blown away. It was just the right tonic for that particularly day. Then in October, I read the next in the series The Billionaire's Legacy and it was equally as good.
All I can say is read them and enjoy. Bourbon or your fave tipple makes a great accompaniment.
By this point, I considered Reese a friend and therefore had no compunction in strong arming her to get my hands on an arc of Engaging the Enemy, the third book and Parker's story. Happily she obliged, even though  I am convinced she still thinks me crazy (but in a nice sort of way). It went straight to the top of my reading pile and I was not disappointed.
 It is the best of the series so far.
 If you want to see a master author at work, read Engaging the Enemy, her handling of two potentially very difficult characters is amazing.  Her ability to communicate the emotional truth of her characters is incredible.
There are a number of scenes that I loved in the story but my favourite was when the two main characters had to hold hands and recite what they liked about each other. There was a brief visit from Savannah (Book 1) whom I had happened to like.
I cannot change my skin tone,  my DNA or my ancestry but reading allows me the privilege of walking in another's shoes and viewing the world through another's lenses.
 I am so pleased that Reese Ryan decided to share her world with readers. For me, she is one of the best series authors writing at the moment.
My one regret at the moment is that her other writing commitments means I will have to wait a little while for the next installment of the Bourbon Brothers. I can't wait to see what she does next. Reese kindly allowed me to fangirl and even send the recipe I had used last Christmas to make fruit cake laced with bourbon. I think a Christmas set Bourbon brothers would be excellent but it is up to Reese. I personally live in hope.

This is my review:
In her third installment of her highly-readable Bourbon Brothers series, Ryan has excelled herself. Her book more than delivers on the Desire promise of sensual glamour, heroes to fall in love with and strong capable heroines. The story and the characters will linger in your mind long after you finish the book. The story is stand-alone but for readers who started with earlier books, there is a welcome return to the Bourbon Brothers' world and a chance to catch up with characters. Savannah, the heroine of Savannah's Secrets, is in several key scenes in the early part of the book, for example.
In Parker Abbott, Ryan has taken a potentially difficult hero (he prefers data to interacting with people any day and his people skills are not the best to say the least) and created an alpha hero to really root for as he falls for his former childhood friend, Kayleigh  who now despises him and his family for the wrongs she thinks they did to her family. However, Kayleigh, a woman who has made sure she can find a way to exit every relationship, needs a handsome fake fiance who knows that the relationship has an end date and Parker fits the bill.
The growth of their emotional relationship had me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep and the ending brought a huge lump to my throat.
Ryan's writing is as ever as smooth and rich as a fine glass of bourbon.
My only regret at reading this so fast is that I now have to wait a long time for the next installment.
So what you are waiting for? Grab a glass of bourbon (or your favourite tipple) and treat yourself to a wonderful feel-good read.

You can buy the book here:
Reese is currently doing a giveaway:
Giveaway ($25 reader’s choice gift card): http://bit.ly/EngagingGiveaway
Her website is here:
Author Website: http://ReeseRyan.com
Personally I'd sign up for her newsletter as she does have exclusive excerpts etc. It is a great way to discover what is coming up next.
And I really enjoy her VIP readers group on Facebook -- it is a great place to discover new to me authors -- particularly Authors of Colour.


Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Historical Treasures feature.

Woo Hoo!
I am very excited. Sent as the Viking's Bride is one of the featured books this week in Collette Cameron's Historical Treasures. http://bit.ly/HighlandTreasures_1_8_19

Every week Collette features some of the best new releases and bargains in the historical romance genre. You can find more about her newsletter here: https://www.subscribepage.com/historical-treasures
It is a great way to uncover hidden gems.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Wanted:Have you seen this book?

As part of Harlequin's attempt to get Harlequin Historical back into North American retail, they have re-released my book The Warrior's Viking Bride in Walmart and Target stores. It is part of a trial. Who knows if there will be more releases -- it is entirely dependent on how well this book does.
My fingers are firmly crossed that this trial succeeds and Harlequin Historical returns to retail.
So if anyone happens to see it in Walmart or Target, could you please take a photo for me?