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November 2016 - a month at home

The weather has been unseasonably dry and mild so we have spent a great deal of time in the garden. Leaving our wild areas unmown so that plants can set seed has meant an increase in bluebells, primroses, Northern marsh orchids, twayblades, devil’s bit scabious, wild carrot, red clover and golden rod - to name but a few. The price for enjoying these through the summer is paid by the daunting task of cutting everything back in the winter.

Our 1.2 acres are interspersed with outcropping rocks, heather clumps and small gorse bushes so we have to use a hand mower, strimmer and rake. It’s hard work and we’re not as fit as we once were, but the recent good weather has allowed us to make a good start. Even so, at least three quarters of the garden still needs attention. The photograph shows the difference between mown and unmown areas and gives an indication of just how much work is still to be done.

The slope down to the seashore is the most difficult part - but it must be tackled if we want to retain our bluebells. Left alone it would be like the neighbouring gardens - nothing but bracken.

Remembering that in June it will look like this is all the incentive we need.

Some overgrown heather and gorse has been cut back and burned on a bonfire which lasted through all the daylight hours. Starting at 8.30am we finally had to dowse it when darkness fell soon after 4.00pm. More hacking back of overgrown Rosa rugosa, heather and gorse will need at least one more fire. Finding a series of dry days when things to be burnt are reasonably dry, when the wind is in the right direction and neighbours haven’t pegged out their washing is difficult. So we cross our fingers and hope for a wind from the north. I love bonfires and whenever we have one I always think of Ernie Jenkins who, according to Dylan Thomas in ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’, likes fires too.

There hasn’t been any time for writing but book sales, following the special offer in Scottish Islands Explorer magazine, have been good. All three books are still available for the price of two - £19.98 including p & p. Message me if you would like copies - and don’t make the mistake of thinking that the books are only for children.

I’ve had many comments to the contrary. One came from a reader via Sarah at Buth Bharraigh (the Community Shop in Castlebay on Barra) to say that the age range on the books that make up The Hagstone Chronicles should be changed to 9 and over. She thought that age 9-12 was limiting the appeal. I'm sure she's right because lots of my readers are older - even elderly. One middle-aged male reader wrote that they weren't just books for the young - but for the young at heart.

Another message came from a grandfather who bought the three books for his granddaughter. Here’s what he wrote - 'Had a sneak read of ‘Cry at Midnight’ and before I knew it I was into chapter 10 and 1 o-clock in the morning, had to discipline myself to put it down. So far so gripping can't wait to read all three. Congratulations on great writing.'

While most sets have been bought for children, one set went off as a surprise Christmas gift for a husband who loves the Hebrides. A single copy of ‘The Snake Wand’ - Book 3 - went to a young fan in America. Her mother, originally from Tiree had bought ‘Cry at Midnight’ - Book 1 because it is set on Tiree. She went on to buy Clickfinger - Book 2 last year and her daughter has been eagerly awaiting Book 3.

The look on her face when she received it for her November birthday shows her delight.

I love getting such photographs and it’s heartwarming to receive feedback from readers. I always respond to them and never fail to answer questions. These are usually from children asking for tips on writing. I like to think that I’m helping to inspire some future novelists.

Finally, on the last day of the month I filled the house with a glorious scent while making quince jelly and bottling a liqueur made from Rosa rugosa hips. This year they were wonderfully abundant and as I have bushes all down the side of the drive there were plenty left for the birds. Hopefully the liqueur will be nicely matured in time for Christmas.