Alex Martin, author of the just released, beautiful story Daffodils (as well as the best seller The Twisted Vine) is one of the bonuses of my writing life. We connected in one of our online writing groups and found we had many interests in common. Just before Easter we decided to get together virtually (because Alex lives in the UK and I’m in Australia) over a cup of tea, and discuss our commonality. This was the wonderful result. I hasten to add it was quite a few cups and even more biscotti whilst we chatted.
Prue: What do I love about Downton? The story of above and below stairs people. The way social mores of the times straight-jacketed individuals into behaving in certain ways and yet unbelievably provided immense security because people at both ends of society knew their place. I love watching the times change – the Titanic, WW1 and how thinking processes began to change as women kept the home fires burning and men came home disillusioned and disaffected. Women’s rights, health, attitudes to homosexuality and prostitution. I love thinking about how Julian Fellowes approaches the writing of each script… what I would give to have a chat over a wine.
Alex: Yes I’ve really enjoyed Downton Abbey too, though at first I was dismayed that Julian Fellowes had beaten me to it for getting this era into the public domain! My new book, Daffodils, is set in just this era. It started as an homage to the tiny village we lived in when our two children were born. The village was deep in a valley with a grand house up on the hill. The workers lived in the village – like us! It has a fascinating history, being a plague village in the Middle Ages when the whole community moved away from the river. We caught the end of an era when elderly people still rented from the landowner. Some of our neighbours (we lived in a terrace of small cottages – I called it ‘Skid Row’) still had no damp proof courses, only flagstones on the floor. Old Harry, my favourite, had a wooden leg and told me how running water had gradually arrived. First there was only the village pump, then a standpipe for the six cottages and eventually they had proper sinks and taps inside. This caught my imagination and triggered the story. Little did I know it would grow into an epic that spanned the entire First World War. Any story that involves that period of history cannot avoid the huge impact of this global conflict. Like Prue, I became fascinated with how the role of women changed at this time. They were brave and courageous, as were the men who loved them, and their actions still have a profound effect on the equality we enjoy today. And I loved the fashion of that time and the level of technology – my level!
Escape to the Country:
Prue: I live in Australia which is a long way from the UK, it’s a while since I visited and it costs an arm and a leg to get there in claustrophobic conditions. The TV show allows me to visit villages I had forgotten existed, to become lost in the lanes and byways of the English country, to spy on homes – see how they are decorated, what the gardens are like, where the nearest highways are. I also have rather a thing about the chaps who present the show. Only the chaps mind! The show also makes me grateful that I live where I live. Why? Perhaps that’s another post…
Alex: This is my guilty pleasure! When work or life gets too much I slip away and watch one of these programmes. I too adore the male presenters. They are so polite and incredibly patient with people who are struggling to make decisions about where to live to realize their dreams. I’m a country girl at heart and enjoy salivating at the gorgeous houses some people can afford. I sit and dream that when I’ve sold a million books, I’ll get Alistair or Jules to whisk me off in their car and find my Shangri-la!
Prue: Oh sigh! I saw my first blue and white striped china many years ago and instantly something inside me chimed. Then I read Rosamunde Pilcher and had a spiritual connection with Cornwall and the odd piece of blue and white china she described. Not long after, I inherited an exceptional collection of Cornishware from the original owner of House when she moved into assisted living. The rest is history…
Alex: I have a real affinity for Cornwall (and like Rosamund Pilcher’s books too), probably because I have a genetic link in my magpie history to its wildness. Cornishware somehow captures the light of Cornwall. Its blue stripes make me think of the lighthouses that the sit atop craggy cliffs that the Atlantic buffets and it also reminds me of the brightness that has attracted so many artists to St. Ives. I also have thing about jugs – no idea why!
Prue: I doubt I could survive without the occasional stitch with needle and thread. Embroidery is a form of meditation for me. I love looking at embroidery and trying to stitch things that appeal. I love the colours of the silk floss and there is nothing quite like letting a length of pure silk (preferably Thai silk) run through your hands.
Alex: Another shared love. I like to sew tapestry but also enjoy making curtains and matching them with cushions etc in my home. Very satisfying. I adore the smell of new cloth and all that potential. Choosing fabric is a delight. I’ve just made some curtains – chalk white velvet with tapestry flowers – for our newly decorated bedroom. I shall post pics on my blog at www.alexxx8586.blogspot.com
Prue: Ah, the best stage of my life. What would I be without it? What would I do without it? Selling books or not, writing is like lifeblood to me. I lose myself, quite simply. As for the other side of writing – I would never had made so many wonderful friends in the UK, USA, Italy, Canada, Germany, Scandinavia, South Africa – I am so blessed. No one tells you about that side of writing when you become an author. It’s pure serendipity.
Alex: This is so true! I have wanted to write since I was seven and learned to read. Reading has given me undiluted pleasure all my life. Never mind Escape to the Country – escaping into a book is even better, despite the lack of Jules or Alastair! Now my family have upped and flown, I have a bit of time to write and I love it. It’s a bit that like new fabric buying – all the potential of the blank page. It’s so exciting, particularly when the characters, born of your imagination but so real, decide the story isn’t going at all the way you planned it and take it into another direction entirely. It’s a rollercoaster ride when that happens and such a buzz.
Prue: For me it’s a case of anyone I know “must love dogs”. So far so good. Have 2 JRT’s of my own for my sins and in my 60+ years have had a dog by my side for every one of those years. I could never live without one and at one point was a walker for our local rescue centre.
Alex: Jinx. Can’t live without a dog. All that unconditional love is irreplaceable. I think dogs are earth angels they way they forgive you anything, don’t care if you look a mess and give such sympathy when you are sad or ill. And I love walking in the country with a companion who jumps for joy.
Prue: Cannot possibly live far from it. It’s again a lifeblood thing. Wrong when I am inland or in the air. Right when I am on the sea or by it. I meditate to natural sounds and when the sea sounds on the player, I can feel my body and mind go ‘Aaaahhh!’ Our tiny cottage on the sea coast is my bolthole, my healing place and our modest townhouse overlooks the ocean end of the Derwent River, Tasmania.
Alex: I live in Swansea, by the Gower peninsula in South Wales. We moved here for my husband’s job about 23 years ago. He wanted to take up a better job in the big city of Birmingham but the pull of the sea drew me here and I won the day! The beaches are quite stunning, reminiscent of Cornwall, but without the crowds. We can’t quite see the ocean from our house but a five minute drive takes me to cliff-tops where I walk with my dog, Dylan (a rescue mongrel) and blow the cobwebs away.
Prue: It’s my inspiration, it grounds me in my own timeframe. Quite simply, it’s fascinating.
Alex: Yes, Prue, love it too! I love reading novels set in a different time. Somehow it’s relaxing when you have an idea of the context for the story. Trying to understand how people coped with different challenges through the ages can be very moving and helps me to appreciate all the luxuries and comforts of modern life – sanitation, medicine, communication, travel etc. That doesn’t also stop me from feeling nostalgic for closer knit communities, a slower pace of life and less noise.
Prue: I LOVE gardening and really don’t mind how heavy the gardening is. I love feeling exhausted from a day in the open and I watch daily through late winter, to see what emerges in spring from my efforts. I find the turning of the seasons tremendously reassuring. Whilst it might be sad to say goodbye to summer, one knows with complete certainty that it will come again. There’s not that much else in life that is so certain.
Alex: I noted your love of gardening, Prue. Me too, though not a very organised one. I’m more of a hunter/gatherer and love to walk in the wild, collecting herbs. I’m a qualified herbalist and get a great deal of pleasure from making medicine from weeds. I’m an aromatherapist too and work from home with my little clinic.
Alex: This has been a wonderful chat, Prue. It’s astonishing how many loves we share and yet live on opposite sides of the globe. This is one aspect of modern life that I find really uplifting and, like you, have met so many new friends from all over the world through writing that I would never have otherwise known. I took up writing because it’s an abiding, driven passion but never expected to have this delightful bonus.
Do you love to cook? I love nothing more than a crowded table of family and friends to feed and nourish. I find cooking relaxing and go into a sort of dreamy zone when chopping up vegetables and smelling sizzling garlic in the pan. Or if it’s a rainy day with not much on, doing a spot of baking with more precise measurements. I used to bake all our bread but rarely have time now. That was immensely satisfying and the smell! Very heaven.
Prue: Cooking? Um. I love to cook when things go well, and I love picking the fresh herbs and veggies for a meal, but I have no confidence in my cooking ability and am always in trepidation until someone says the meal is fine. That said, I LOVE cooking sweet stuff – cakes, slices, cookies, brownies, desserts… anything fattening! Love spoiling the family and friends with whatever comes from the sweet kitchen. And I have to admit to a huge sense of satisfaction when I see jars of homemade jams, sauces and chutneys all lined up in the pantry.
Alex’s final comment: Distance really is no object when making friends!
My final comment: And I have to say I couldn’t agree more. As I said to Alex, when one meets a kindred spirit the bells just keep chiming…
To find Alex’s beautifully sensitive books go to: