Bright lights, tiny city!

rochester-1This weekend I took a little trip up to Rochester, a historic city in Kent. Visit Kent describe Rochester as the area where Dickens’ life started and ended. As soon as you arrive, you can’t fail to notice some of the places mentioned in his books lining the characterful streets, which are made up of quirky shops and ancient buildings.

You can take a tour of Rochester which covers a range of sights familiar to Dickens’ fans, including the Six Poor Travellers House, Restoration House and Dicken’s own home – Gad’s Hill Place. Many of the exhibits in the Guildhall Museum are dedicated to Dickens and Rochester also boasts Baggins Book Bazaar, one of the largest second hand rochester-2bookshops in England.

At Christmas, Rochester really comes into its own and, on the first weekend of December each year, its streets are lined with stalls and carol singers to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas, culminating in a lamp-lit parade.

Although we decided not to brave the crowds for the Dickensian Christmas itself this year, we thought we’d visit the rochester-3Christmas markets in the grounds of Rochester Castle instead, the following weekend. This festive market boasts a beautiful setting, where the stalls are sheltered in the shadow of one of England’s tallest castles, overlooking the stunning cathedral, the second oldest in the country no less.

It was an undeniably atmospheric setting, and the mulled cider – along with our obligatory Christmas jumpers – added to the warmth, despite the organisers arranging a ‘snow storm’ as you walked through the wrought iron rochester-4gateway of the castle grounds.

The visit reminded me of two things, the first was why I was so inspired by the places Dickens called home in Kent – Rochester and Broadstairs – that I used them to create the fictional St Nicholas Bay. The second thing, though, was perhaps at the heart of what Christmas is all about. Whilst pretty settings and atmospheric Christmas markets are appealing, it’s the people you’re with who really count.  I shared the day with my daughter and one of my best friends rochester-ap-2and we spent a lot more time talking and laughing than we did browsing the stalls, which is something money just can’t buy.

Happy Christmas and all best wishes to everyone who follows the Write Romantics’ blog.

Jo x

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Winter is definitely here and in Hertfordshire we’ve enjoyed some wonderful frosty mornings. The sun has been shining and Christmas is definitely in the air!

During 2016 I knew I wanted to release a Christmas novel and I became so addicted to writing about winter and the festive season that I thought, why not write two books.

My first winter / festive read came out in October and so far readers have loved In a Manhattan Minute so I’m really happy. My latest novel is called Christmas at The Little Knitting Box and it’s out now!

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Christmas at The Little Knitting Box is available from Amazon as an ebook and the paperback should be ready in the next couple of weeks. I set this one in New York City too and it follows the story of Cleo who moved to the big city from the Cotswolds to run the family’s knitting store. Here’s the blurb and if you feel like taking a trip to New York with me, here’s the link to Amazon… Christmas at The Little Knitting Box

Have a wonderful December and a very Merry Christmas to you all.

Helen J Rolfe x

Christmas at The Little Knitting Box

Christmas is coming and New York is in full swing for the snowy season. But at The Little Knitting Box in the West Village, things are about to change …

The Little Knitting Box has been in Cleo’s family for nearly four decades, and since she arrived fresh off the plane from the Cotswolds four years ago, Cleo has been doing a stellar job of running the store. But instead of an early Christmas card in the mail this year, she gets a letter that tips her world on its axis.

Dylan has had a tumultuous few years. His marriage broke down, his mother passed away and he’s been trying to pick up the pieces as a stay-at-home dad. All he wants this Christmas is to give his kids the home and stability they need. But when he meets Cleo at a party one night, he begins to see it’s not always so easy to move on and pick up the pieces, especially when his ex seems determined to win him back.

When the snow starts to fall in New York City, both Cleo and Dylan realise life is rarely so black and white and both of them have choices to make. Will Dylan follow his heart or his head? And will Cleo ever allow herself to be a part of another family when her own fell apart at the seams?

Full of snow, love and the true meaning of Christmas, this novel will have you hooked until the final page.

Paperchains and Nelson’s Eye: Christmas Days at Nan’s remembered

2-vintage-christmas-wrapping-paperMy earliest Christmas Days were spent at Nan and Grandad’s.  Until I was six, my parents and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ three-storey house (a railway house – Grandad was a train driver).  After we moved out, we made the trip across Brighton, but that was no problem because the buses ran on Christmas Day.

There was always a crowd of us for Christmas Day, including my aunt, uncle and cousins from London, whom I couldn’t wait to see. The same decorations came out year after year; paperchains strung across the ceilings (licked by me in the preceding weeks – I must have been high on glue by the time Christmas came!), shiny paper stars, crumpled with age, and a small fake tree from Woolworths with red berries on the ends of the branches.  The tree took pride of place in the front room window upstairs while we were downstairs in the basement, making full use of the small living room – called the kitchen – the dining room at the front, and the scullery at the back.  This arrangement was old-fashioned even then.  Looking back, it seems incredible that Nan cooked Christmas dinner for us all on the ancient gas stove in the scullery, with none of gadgets we seem to need now to make the simplest meal.

It wasn’t just the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, either.  The Christmas cake andwalnuts-558488_960_720
pudding were made weeks before, mince pies and sausage rolls baked on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day tea was almost as big a meal as dinner.  With tangerines, nuts and sweets in plentiful supply, I remember the day as being one big feast.  I disgraced myself one Christmas tea-time.  Nan asked me if I liked her Christmas cake.  ‘It’s a bit puddeny,’ I announced.   I’d heard my mother say that of course.

A point to note here:  my mother did not like Christmas, a fact she made all too plain.  She didn’t like her father much either.  Also, at some point in the proceedings, at least one of the London contingent would have misbehaved.  One year, the oil painting in the attic of Moses in the Bulrushes was used as a dartboard after a go at the cherry brandy. Our Christmases may have looked idyllic on the surface, but underneath, tension ran like wires through cheese.

As a treat, I was allowed a small glass of port and lemon.  I don’t suppose there was much port in it but I thought it was marvellous.  This early introduction to alcohol had me in disgrace again when, being taken to visit another aunt around Christmas time, I was asked what I would like to drink.  I didn’t hesitate. ‘Port and lemon.’  My mother was mortified and tried to cover up my faux pas.  I think I only got the lemon that time.

chineseAt Nan’s, when we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly, we played games. Dominos, draughts, snakes and ladders, all emerged from years-old boxes.  There was a game called Chinese Checkers.  I never did understand how to play it – I don’t think any of us did, and there were pieces missing anyway.  There were other sorts of games, too, and these, miserable child that I was, I found no fun at all, but it was Christmas and I had to endure them or be labelled a spoilsport.  One of these involved being blindfolded and sat on a chair.  Then you were lifted up, everyone calling out how high you were going, until bang, your head hit the ceiling and you screamed.  At least, I did.  It wasn’t the ceiling, it was a plank held above your head when you were only a foot off the ground.  Then there was Nelson’s eye.  Blindfolded again, your finger was guided into the soft squidgy eye, to much hilarity all round.  I never found it the least bit funny to be shown half an orange when the blindfold came off.

No Christmas would have been complete without Grandad enticing me and my cousins to crawl into the cupboard under the stairs to find what ‘treasures’ we could in this glory hole.  Once we were in, he would hold the door shut, trapping us in the airless pitch dark, until we became hysterical.  This trick wasn’t confined to Christmas, but we fell for it, every time.  Well, we didn’t want to spoil Grandad’s fun, did we?  What with the blindfolds and the entrapment, is it any wonder I’m a fully paid-up member of Claustrophobics Anonymous?

Grandad did have one party trick I loved, and would ask him to do, over and over.  It was simply this: he would cut a brazil nut in half and set light to the cut side, turning it into a magical, miniature candle.

Our day ended with the adults playing cards and my cousins and I lolling around, half asleep, clutching our favourite present from Father Christmas.   Mine one year was a black doll.  To my mother’s puzzlement, I’d longed for a ‘black dolly’ and was overjoyed when I got one – I must have been a very PC child, that’s all I can say.  This plastic beauty was dressed in orange knitted clothes, which, funnily enough, were the same as those I’d seen my other grandmother (Dad’s mum) knitting for the babies in Africa. Pure coincidence, of course  😉

Merry Christmas, all!

Deirdre

Deirdre’s latest novel, Never Coming Back, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 8th December.  Order from Amazon UK here:   http://amzn.to/2fG0FrJ   or from Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2fbMJBe