At this time of year, certainly in the northern hemisphere, it’s dull and cold and a bit miserable. Add lockdown to that, and family members (and those of people v close to me) not coming out the other side of Covid… and I think we need to seize the bright moments and hold on to them.
For me, apart from my family (and how grateful I am that I can FaceTime my daughter 200 miles away in Manchester and brainstorm essay stuff with her), that’s flowers and dogs. Here are the daffodils on my kitchen windowsill from this morning. And my beloved spaniels Archie and Dexter, whose waggy-tailed welcome in the morning is the perfect start to the day.
And today is particularly bright. Not just because I’m picking up my birthday pressie from DH this afternoon, 10 days early (let’s just say it’s cross-stitch related), but because the shortlist for the RNA Awards 2021 is out – and I’m on it with my 90th book, ‘A Will, A Wish and a Wedding’!
I’m delighted to say that our Scarlet is also there with me, with ‘Cinderella and the Surgeon’ (Yay! – congrats to one of my besties) – and congratulations to everyone on the lists. Romance definitely makes the world go round.
Usually, the ceremony means we meet up for lunch with the editors, and we sit having a catch-up with tea (oh, all right, pink bubbles) before the awards do itself, this year it’s all virtual. We’ll be toasting each other with bubbles on the night. And there are plans for an author meet-up post-lockdown so we can celebrate it properly. Even if it’s next year, we’re doing it because it’s important to celebrate the joy. Life is for living, and – as the title of our blog says – love is the best medicine.
What are the bright moments you like to hold on to?
It’s going to be a strange holiday season, this year – whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid. (I know not all the dates line up, and if I’ve forgotten to include something then I apologise wholeheartedly and please let me know.)
Usually, I have ‘Christmas’ every single weekend in December, with various family members and friends I won’t get to see at Christmas itself. This year, thanks to lockdown rules, there’s nothing, and it feels very strange. So instead of choosing silly ‘secret Santa’ presents to have after pudding with ‘Christmas dinner’, I’m giving money to charity (and I’ve also agreed with my two closest friends that we’ll support charity rather than give each other presents this year).
This weekend, however, we were able to collect our daughter from university so she’s home for Christmas, and I am so very grateful for that.
We’ve decorated the tree (a smaller one this year, because it’s the pup’s first Christmas – given that he trashes the shrubs in the garden, I can see him pulling a larger tree over), put lights on the Christmas reindeer, and fairy lights and Christmas pot-pourri on the dresser (and that bottle is sparkly light-up gin!). So it’s starting to feel like Christmas. Christmas Day may or may not be just for the four of us, but I’m grateful that we can at least have that.
May your holidays, however you celebrate, be happy. What are you doing differently this year, and what are you grateful for?
Kate Hardy’s latest book, Forever Family for the Midwife, is out now — about a male midwife and his second chance at a happy-ever-after.
I’ve just rediscovered an old hobby – cross stitch. I used to do tapestry when I was a student (great for train journeys!), and embroidering with my mum. And then career, work, professional exams and children got in the way…
Now, I’ve also found that counting things is a good way to keep worries out of my head and let my thoughts percolate in the background. Sometimes that’s been at the gym, sometimes it’s been ballet class (thankfully on zoom, though it isn’t quite the same), and it occurred to me that a good way to help me think (and stop me spending too much time playing Boggle online) would be to go back to cross stitch.
And the bug’s caught me! These are some of my recent makes.
It was super-helpful during revisions – gave me something to do while I was sulking (!) and also gave me that thinking space I needed. It’s a lot like what I do with a book. Unpick things where it’s gone wrong, add more detail and some highlights. It’s amazing the difference a strand of floss can make! So on the left you have the ‘wee Hieland coos’ before the outline was added, and on the right the finished version with a fringe/shaggy hair, eyes, nose and the thistles. Same with writing: a little tweak here can make all the difference…
I can’t knit or crochet, mind. Just sew 😉 Do you do cross-stitch or embroidery? Are you a knitter or hooked on crochet? What’s your favourite thing you’ve made?
Kate’s latest book – starring a male midwife – is out in October.
For me, it started when I had a ‘funny feeling’ the day before the UK went into lockdown, and insisted on the 5-hour drive (each way) to grab my daughter from uni and bring all her stuff home on the Monday. We managed to stop at McDonald’s for coffee and something to eat halfway home, literally half an hour before they closed for months – and a few minutes after we got home we had the notification that we were all on lockdown.
A week or so later: daughter and I both had a high temperature and no sense of smell… (No tests available, but we’re pretty sure we had a mild dose of Covid.)
The following six weeks, I struggled to write a single word, because writing a medical romance about a male midwife felt so insignificant and pointless when I looked at what was happening in the world. The only thing that got me through was early morning dog-walks to find the sunrise. (Spectacular, in my part of the world! No filters.)
Our pup Dexter (booked in February when it was confirmed that the pup’s mum was expecting) was born in lockdown, but thankfully restrictions eased so we actually got to meet him the week before he came home with us, and he’s been a total joy (see my personal blog for the Pipsqueak Posts – videos, pictures, and some things that might make you laugh). He’s become best friends with his older half-brother and he’s 18 weeks old now (seen here from his first day here through to last week).
My husband was working throughout (his job can’t be done at home and he’s classed as an essential worker). I managed to finish my medical romance. We also found a bluebell wood just up the road (ha, only took us 26 years of living here) and a field of poppies, and made a container vegetable garden (with varying success – it had to go behind chicken wire as our garden ‘helper’ kept harvesting things well before they were ready!).
I’ve had the joy of doing zoom calls with family and friends, and I’ve been grateful for facebook reading groups and meeting people who love books and dogs as much as I do. My weekly ballet class has moved online (with a ‘zoom coffee’ after) – which is as good as it gets in the ‘new normal’. But I’ve really missed theatre and live music seeing friends for coffee, and having a ‘plotwalk’ in the gorgeous medieval city where I live. So many wonderful things have been cancelled; I just have to believe that we *will* find a way to get it back. (The same as my son *will* get to take his driving test, which has been cancelled twice, and my daughter *will* get back to university. I think lockdown really has been hardest on the 16-24 age group.)
I also managed to write a True Love/HQ Romance, which was accepted last week. And I did my first ever Facebook Live, which was fun – though what I didn’t say was that I was suffering from a weird itchy rash and trying very hard not to scratch my shins throughout. Raised, bumpy, non-blanching and coalescing… Getting an appointment to see someone has been challenging. Phone triage (even with photographs) has been hopeless. The words ‘non blanching rash’ seemed to be met with ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’. Thankfully I got the good practice nurse, last time round, and he listened to what I was saying. It’s not contact dermatitis – I always wear long trousers for dog walks so I haven’t brushed against anything; no changes in toiletries/detergent/food. Not shingles, as it’s one-sided. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, antibiotics and anti fungals hadn’t touched it. It’s nothing to do with my underactive thyroid; and I’m not developing diabetes (recent annual blood tests are all in normal ranges). We’re going for a diagnosis of ‘idiopathic pruritic purpurae’ (cough – and you can bet this is going in my next booK!). Thankfully, now I’m heading towards the end of week 3, strong antihistamines and very strong corticosteroid cream seems to be helping – and cold compresses are my best friend. Could it be a Covid rash? Because I’m using the Zoe app, I was invited to have a test at our local drive-in centre. (Mask + closed window = very tricky for a deaf person… We improvised a lot with sign language!) The test was negative. So who knows?
I’m just about to start my next medical romance, a duo about twin doctors which involves a kidney transplant. But this month my 90th M&B hits the shelves – and I had a lot of fun researching butterflies for it. So if you like the countryside, architecture, butterflies and a bit of a weepie with a happy ending, then hopefully you’ll enjoy this.
Stuffed aubergines (serves 2 – and the leftovers serve 2 for lunch the next day)
Olive oil spray
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained
1/2 a large courgette (zucchini), diced
1 bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1/2 a red onion, peeled and diced
5 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
About an inch of red chilli pepper, deseeded and chopped finely
Pinch of cinnamon
Cut the aubergine in half, and scoop out most of the flesh (leaving enough to make a ‘cup’ and hold its shape, around 5mm); spray with oil, place skin-side down on a baking tray and make at 180C for 20 mins.
Meanwhile, add boiling water to the couscous and leave to soak.
Spray a little oil in a pan, add the garlic and chilli and sauté for 30 seconds.
Add the rest of the veg (not the chickpeas!!) and sweat for 15 minutes until softened. (You might need to add a little water to stop it sticking.) Add the cinnamon.
Stir the veg and the chickpeas into the couscous.
Use half this mixture to stuff the two aubergine halves, cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 mins. Serve with veg of choice (or salad).
Use the other half of the mixture as the base of a salad for lunch the next day.
Firstly – thank you from the bottom of my heart to our key workers, the ones who look after the sick and make sure we’re fed and keep us safe. We appreciate you.
Lockdown is a strange world. I’m super-lucky because (a) both kids are home with me (eldest finished uni, youngest just started so we had a 400-mile round trip to Manchester to get her because I had one of my ‘funny feelings’ – and then lockdown was announced that night). I live literally five minutes’ walk from open fields and woodlands, so I get to take my dog out at the crack of dawn and watch the sky become beautiful. I’ve been taking bits of birdsong on my phone and posting them on Facebook so people who can’t get out can hear/see it (sadly, I can’t post them here because WordPress seems to think that 6 seconds of birdsong means ‘file too big’!); and I’ve taken my proper camera out as well as my phone and caught some beautiful sunrises.
I’d like to share a couple of the pics here from three different mornings (the sun on the lefthand pic was actually a deep crimson, but the camera only picked that up behind the trees). I live on the outskirts of Norwich (roughly in the middle of the big bump above London if you look at a map of the UK), and it’s my favourite place in the world.
And then, of course, there is my BIG NEWS – those of you who follow me on Facebook know all about my beautiful Archie, and I’m thrilled to say that last weekend Archie’s half-brother was born (this was his dad’s last litter before retiring, so I went into nag mode the second our breeder told us, and Gerry finally agreed on the day after my birthday that we could have a pup – I’ve been excited about this ever since!). So meet Dexter – he’ll join our family at the beginning of June (or as soon as lockdown allows after then). Pre-lockdown, the plan was to go over and meet the pups and the pup would choose us, but in these strange days we had to do it by photographs. What settled me was seeing all the pups together – one all squished up in the middle just caught my eye and I thought, ‘he’s ours’. We know the mum’s dad as well, and our breeder tells us that the mum is an absolute sweetheart, so we know we’ll have a pup with a gorgeous temper like Archie. We can’t wait to meet him!
Stay safe, everyone, and keep looking for the joy – it’s still out there. And I hope that when this is all over the good bits will stay: keeping in closer touch with our family and friends, and being kinder and more considerate. Love to you all, Kate xxx
I’ve had the most wonderful weekend in London. The tickets had been booked for months and months – and on Saturday I went to the Tutankhamun exhibition with my best friend. I went with her (and my husband and kids) when it was at the O2 about 10 years ago, and I went to the British Museum one in 1972 (I was very small and don’t remember that much of it, but it’s definitely where my fascination with Egypt started).
This one was spectacular. And fascinating. And we got to see things that hadn’t been out of Egypt until this particular ‘world tour’.
Bits I loved most? (Apologies; this will be a bit pic-heavy!)
The reed stylus case, a linen glove (3500 years old and in wonderful condition), and a vessel used in the ‘opening of the Mouth’ ceremony that was apparently shaped like its hieroglyph.
Statues, large and small. (The middle one is the guardian statue and it had obsidian eyes.)
Details – the drawing and lion on a bow case, and look at the toes on this statue!
It was absolutely fascinating. I learned that the Egyptians used boomerangs for hunting (waves to my Aussie mates – I couldn’t believe it, either, but there were 3500-year-old boomerangs in front of me). I learned that the Egyptian week had 10 days instead of 7. I learned how canopic jars worked, and how mummies were put together – not just the wrapped mummy, but all the layers on top of that.
Obviously *the* mummy case wasn’t there (too fragile), but the rest of that layer was exhibited. The gold etc was impressive, but I found the art around it much more interesting. (I would’ve liked more on the medical stuff, but sadly…)
It’s also very topical for me, because my latest book features an archaeologist — and although it’s not a medical, it kind of is because it’s an amnesia book. (And because it’s my first amnesia story, and because I’m interested in the medicine behind it… you can guess where this is going! Anyway, One Night to Remember is out now. (If you’re interested in Egypt, Regency England, the Roman baths, or cello music, this is totally up your street.)
So my question for you is – what’s the most memorable exhibition you’ve ever seen?
When I last posted, things were in a bit of a state of flux. We were waiting for exam results, and I’m thrilled to say our daughter got in to her first-choice uni (though I miss her horribly – she’s five hours away!). But now things are settling down, with our son back home from uni and our daughter moved away to uni, and I’m getting used to a whole new set of routines – and so is the dog!
The biggest change is to the mornings. Our son has a six-month chemistry job, which is wonderful (very good experience, plus time hopefully to get through his driving test, so applying for a permanent job next year will be easier) – but it means I need to drop him at the train station at 6.15. In turn, that means the dog is getting a rather earlier walk! We’ve been lucky to see some amazing sunrises. (And we won’t talk about the flooding this weekend, when we got two inches of rain on Sunday and a few major roads became impassable…)
I’m back at the point of being able to organise myself again. So I have my diary and two small whiteboards – one on the fridge so I can organise meals for the week/see appointments and everyone’s work shifts at a glance (which also makes it easier to do the grocery shopping list), and one propped on the piano so I know what I’m doing each day re work projects and exercise routine. It’s all very nerdy, but if I don’t tick things off then things just get missed.
How do you organise yourself? What’s your top tip?
Kate Hardy has two new releases coming up: The Soldier Prince’s Secret Baby Gift in October (if you like snow, Father Christmas and royal romances, this will be up your street) and Mistletoe Proposal on the Children’s Ward (which you’ll enjoy if you like Christmassy things and ballet).
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster summer in our house. The high points are our son graduating (definitely tears of joy, that day) and a ballet workshop where we did a bit of Swan Lake (adult ballet classes for beginners are utterly fabulous). The low point was my husband’s mum passing away (although it was a happy release, it’s still very sad and the funeral is later this week). And the weird bit in the middle is waiting for our daughter’s exam results, which will hopefully let her go off to her chosen university and spread her wings. There are also job applications, driving lessons, deadlines, and…
… Yeah. Sometimes you just need to take a few moments out to breathe.
So this weekend we went in search of butterflies. Apparently this summer is the summer of the Painted Lady butterfly in the UK (this happens about every 10 years), so we went to Wheatfen Nature Reserve on Saturday (home of the rare swallowtail butterfly, except we went between broods so missed the swallowtails completely!) and to the best-preserved Iron Age hillfort in my part of the world. Both places were gorgeous, and this is what we found: (LTR a peacock, a red admiral, a speckled wood and a chalk hill blue)
The hillfort itself? Actually it was really impressive – a little bit smaller than Maiden Castle in Dorset, but still amazing. It was full of wild flowers, and I’ve never seen so many butterflies. Walking round a place that has barely changed in centuries was wonderful.
So where’s your favourite place to escape? And do you have a favourite butterfly?
Kate Hardy’s latest release, A Nurse and a Pup to Heal Him, is set in Norfolk and stars a gorgeous therapy dog 🙂
So my last few blog posts have been about my run for cancer research. I kind of hope you’d like to hear the last one in that – I did it! Sunday May 12. It was hot, some of the route was on a camber (so I walked that bit – otherwise there would have been a trip and a wrecked ankle), and I hate running outside. (I hate running, full stop. But outside is much worse than the gym.) 10k – or six miles – is a very, very long way. But, clad in my T-shirt and hat and tutu (!), and with my tech sorted out so I actually had music (I could NOT have done it without that), I did it. Took me 89 minutes (I have short legs so I’m slow), but I did it. And I raised £1325, so a massive thank you to everyone who sponsored me. But the big takehome? I was listening to Coldplay’s Up&Up as I crossed the finishing line, in fact to the very last words of the song. And they were very, very appropriate: NEVER GIVE UP.
So even if something feels like a challenge (and, as I’m not a runner, a 10k run was a huge challenge for me), don’t give up. Believe in yourself and keep trying.
As well as that, I’ve been busy with other things – learning ballet! I’ve rather fallen in love with ballet, and my local theatre sent me an email after Swan Lake asking me if I wanted to join their adult beginners’ class. Absolutely! I’m not sure if it’s the gorgeous music, or the fact I have to concentrate on the teacher’s instructions, but after class I feel totally chilled out. (And then there’s the obligatory coffee and scone with my classmates afterwards…)
I’ve also been working hard, and I’ve reached another writing milestone this month with the publication of my my 85th M&B! A Nurse and a Pup to Heal Him does what it says on the tin 😉 It’s about a GP, a nurse and her PAT (pets as therapy) dog, and it’s set in my part of the world; and, although the dog on the cover is gorgoeous, the dog between the covers owes more to this one… 😉
And this picture was taken at the weekend in ‘Great Crowmell’ (aka Wells-next-the-Sea, my mash-up Norfolk seaside village). This is very much our happy place – the beach stretches for miles. The sky looks a bit dramatic, but it was actually a gorgeous afternoon and very warm.