The Winterbourne guests

The previous four blogs introduced seven of the main characters in the story. So for the final character introductions blog before the book is released next Tuesday (1 November – I may have mentioned this before!) – I thought I would give a brief overview of some of the others…collectively known as ‘the guests’.

Six guests arrive at Winterbourne House on the 23rd December for the start of the four day Christmas programme.

JJ and Shelley are from Manchester. They’ve had a long train journey to reach their destination. After arriving at King’s Cross, they had to take a Tube train to Waterloo station on the south side of London to then catch a train from there to Brighton on the south coast of England and from there another local train to Winterbourne Village. They probably could have driven down in the time it took to do all that. So, although JJ is enchanted with the place when they arrive, Shelley is in a bit of a mood.


JJ and Shelley didn’t have time to stop at Platform 9 and 3/4s as they rushed through King’s Cross station

Also arriving from London on the same train, via Hong Kong and Australia, is Clare Finlayson. She is an actress who specialises in playing kick-ass female characters in martial arts films. She has a nostalgic reason for coming back to Winterbourne.

Candice and Marguerite arrive in a rental car. They are from Canada and have been travelling around the UK and Ireland, as Candice is keen on tracing the roots of her family tree.

Sally Hunter lives in London and arrived by a later train, then walked from the station to the house, a distance of about five miles. She wants to write a biography of the former owner of the house, Kim Russell, and thinks that posing as a guest will help her gain the information she needs.

This scene from Chapter One is from Sally’s point of view when she arrives in the lounge for the pre-dinner drinks on the first evening.

When Sally saw the group gathered around the fireplace, her first thought was to grab a glass and a couple of the freshly baked mince pies and retreat to her room. Sherry wasn’t something she was prepared to drink, even to be sociable. Dipping into the bottle of Irish whiskey she’d brought for a medical emergency would be acceptable, though.

She recognised two of the women seated on the sofa. They had stopped their car on the way up the drive to ask if she wanted a lift to the house. She had declined, even though her rucksack was feeling heavier by the minute as the lane wound uphill. And the woman seated on the easy chair in the corner, well that was an unexpected bonus. This was going to make missing out on her usual round of Christmas parties in the city worthwhile. To top it all, she would be able to prove that cantankerous old woman wrong. On the long walk from the station, that had been foremost in her mind.

“This looks cosy. Mind if I join you?” She pulled up the upholstered stool next to the sideboard and placed it conveniently between the two from the car and the subject of her interest. “I’m Sally.” She smiled brightly, letting her gaze travel around the room.

“Oh, yeah. We saw you walking up the lane. That’s some trek from the main road.”

“I walked from the station.”

“What? Are you nuts? That’s like five miles.”

Sally figured the accent for American. “Well, it wasn’t raining. That’s always a bonus in this country. And living in London, a walk in the country is something to be treasured. I feel tons healthier already, just breathing in proper fresh air.”

“I’m Candice and this is my partner Marguerite. That there’s Shelley and,” she pointed to the figure lounging in the other easy chair, “JJ from Manchester. And this, can you believe it, is Shay Finch from AR4 and 7. Sorry, hon, I don’t remember your real name.”

Sally thought she heard the woman in the chair next to her mutter, “They never do.”

The door opened and the cute little red-haired butch who had greeted her at the front door came in carrying an armful of logs. She dumped them in the basket by the fireplace, sat herself down on the stone hearth and looked around at the group.

“Hi, I guess you’ve had time to introduce yourselves, so I won’t ask you to do it again. This is the welcome speech but I’ll keep it short, and if you have any questions, feel free to butt in. We like to keep things informal here. There is a Christmas programme that you will have seen, but please don’t take it as written in stone. It’s just a guide to activities which you can either take part in or not. The evening meals and buffet lunches will be supplied as advertised. Breakfast, however, is up to you. The cupboards in the kitchen are labelled so you can find what you need. One of us will be up early enough to get the coffee pot going. There’s also a selection of teas. Fresh eggs and bacon are available if you want to cook your own. We just ask that you clean up after yourselves and leave the place tidy. My partner, Gaby, is nine months pregnant but still insists on taking care of the catering. She won’t let me anywhere near the kitchen when she’s cooking, but she might be amenable to letting you help out if you feel so inclined.

“And if you want a change of scene, we can recommend the pub in the village. It’s run by two good friends of ours, Toby and Mark. They’ll be joining us for the festivities on Christmas day, as will Felicity and Rose who run the stables, and our two friends and business partners from London, Ade and Rita. You’ll also come across Gaby’s parents at some point, Teresa and Guido. They’ve been here a number of times so they’re also a good source of information. Any questions?”

Sally glanced around at her fellow guests and wondered who would be the first to ask a question. The instructions they had received after making reservations had been very detailed but no one ever took time to read such things properly.

The one called JJ spoke up. “When can we use the pool?”

A mental tick. Yes, that was on the sheet.

Wil Tyler didn’t blink. She just said calmly, “There’s a key on a hook inside the back door. You can use it anytime. We ask that you lock up the chalet and return the key. It’s kept locked, not because we usually have any trouble with local kids wanting to get in, but if anyone did we would be considered negligent if we left it open. There are towels in the cupboard down there. Just leave them in the laundry basket when you’re finished.”

“We booked a riding session online.” Candice ventured.

“Yes, that’s right. I’ll be going out with you. Just turn up at the stables about ten minutes before and we’ll sort you out with riding hats. Oh, and dress warmly. Also, for anyone else visiting the stables, there are two dogs in residence, Daisy and Raffi. You might also see them roaming the grounds. They’re Labradors and very friendly but please don’t feed them. Even with all the exercise they get around here, it’s an effort to keep their weight down.” She stood and gave the group another once over. “Well, if you’re all okay for now, I’ll leave you to it. Don’t eat too many mince pies. It’s champagne and canapés in half an hour.”

When she closed the door behind her, Candice sighed and said, “Well, isn’t she just the cutest thing. I could listen to her talk all day.”

And which part of small town America are you from? Sally wondered. She glanced at the woman slouched in the chair next to her who was looking like she wanted to blend into the background. Getting her out of Candice’s clutches would be Sally’s first task. It made her job easier. She would be able to gain her trust. Yes, she thought, the old woman was going to be made to eat her words.


Scenic winter woodland

So, only a week to go and you’ll be able to find out more about what happens over the four day Christmas holiday at Winterbourne House.

Read the beginning of Chapter 1 from Christmas at Winterbourne on the Affinity website. The book is due for release on 1 November 2016 – on the Affinity website and Amazon.


Buying options for the books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


The Ghost of Winterbourne

Time to introduce a character who has been mentioned in the previous three introductory blogs…Kim Russell… the character who isn’t there but who is central to the story. She died in a horse riding accident fifteen years before the start of the novel.

Kim was the author of a successful series of novels featuring an Australian sleuth, Amy Ransom. The novels were also made into films. The reason most of the guests book into Winterbourne House is because of the author’s fame. Fans come from all over the world to stay.


Winterbourne House was Kim’s home and she left it to Wil Tyler. The reasons for that are explained as the story unfolds.

One of the guests for the Christmas holidays wants to write Kim’s biography and there are a number of people present at the house that she wants to interview…Wil, who was like a daughter to Kim; Ade, her best friend; Felicity, housekeeper and stables owner; and as a bonus, one of Kim’s ex lovers.

However they are all keen to preserve their memories of Kim and the would-be-biographer finds herself increasingly frustrated at their lack of willingness to talk.

Memories surface throughout the story and this is one of Wil’s, the last serious conversation she had with Kim before going on an extended holiday to Rome:

…[Wil} arrived at the house to pick up a few things she needed and was dismayed to find Kim slumped on the floor in the study with an empty bottle of Glenfiddich at her feet. It wasn’t an unusual sight, and one that had become more frequent. With difficulty she managed to rouse Kim and get some coffee into her along with a few rounds of toast. They had gone for a walk, taking it slowly as Kim’s movements had the lethargy of someone wading through deep slushy snow.

It was up to Wil to keep a conversation going. She talked about the work she was doing for her master’s degree. After finishing with a first in her BA Honours degree in linguistics from UCL, she was continuing with more research on the Etruscan language. The subject fascinated her but she realised by the time they reached the pond at the edge of the woods that she’d lost Kim some time before.

“That’s great,” Kim said, when she stopped for breath. “But who are you screwing?”

Wil winced. It was almost word for word the same question Ade had asked her the week before. “No one special at the moment,” she said, repeating her reply to Ade.

“But you do have a sex life, I hope.”

“Sometimes. It’s just a distraction, though. I’m not ready for any long-term relationships.”

Kim gave a snort of something that might have been an attempt at laughter. “You mean you don’t want to follow my example. Sorry I’m such a shit role model.”

“It’s not that. I just haven’t met anyone I like that much.”

“What about the Chinese girl you brought down at Christmas?”

“Lin? Yeah, well she was sweet, but it was never going to last. She was just experimenting. I think she really just wanted to know if my pubes were the same colour as the hair on my head.”

Kim really did laugh then. They had reached the clearing and sat down opposite each other on the logs. Kim picked up a stick and poked at the ground between her feet.

“I want you to find someone who’ll love you.”

They’d had this conversation before and it disturbed Wil. She loved Kim and worried about her constantly, especially when she saw her looking as frail as she did now. Grace’s visits always left Kim in an unbalanced state of mind. She had recognised Grace’s lingering scent in the hallway when she’d arrived that morning. She went over to Kim and sat next to her.

“I will find someone. But I’m only twenty-one for fuck’s sake.”…

The clearing in the woods with log seating around a fire pit is still a special place for Wil. It’s where she goes when she wants to be on her own to think things through…the place where she feels a strong connection to Kim.


The closest image I have for the clearing in the woods – and there’s the fallen branch that looks like a horse

Next week’s blog: Introducing the guests

Read the beginning of Chapter 1 from Christmas at Winterbourne on the Affinity website. The book is due for release on 1 November 2016.


Buying options for the books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


Meeting the hosts

Time to introduce the couple at the centre of the story who own and run Winterbourne House.


Something like the bourne – which gives Winterbourne House its name

Wil (Wilma) inherited the house from her adopted mother, Kim Russell. The back story for this is quite complex but is key to understanding some of Wil’s personality traits. She had a less than ideal childhood with a mother who never told her who her father was or talked about her own parents. They moved constantly from place to place until they came to Winterbourne village.

Whether or not it had been her mother’s intention all along to hook up with the reclusive lesbian novelist living in the village, Wil didn’t know for sure. But looking back, she wouldn’t have been surprised if that had been the case.

With the help of her partner, Gaby, Wil has turned the writer’s home into a successful guesthouse business. And in the process, has enjoyed a settled lifestyle for the past fifteen years.

This tranquility is about to be disturbed by the arrival of their first child. At the start of this story, Gaby is nine months pregnant and with a houseful of guests, plus friends and family, the four days over Christmas are not going to be peaceful. Wil wonders if she has what it takes to be a good parent, not having experienced much in the way of good parenting as a child.

Gaby (Gabriella) on the other hand has no such worries, growing up on a farm in Italy with loving parents and two brothers. In fact, her parents were more upset about her following Wil to England, than finding out their daughter was a lesbian. Gaby has an artistic flair that manifested itself through her contributions to the renovation of the house and gardens, as well as her cooking skills. She has also won awards for photography and is a valued member of the local photographic society.


The book is subtitled ‘A Memoir in the Making’ and this is one of the flashbacks – Wil’s memory of when she met Gaby.

Scene from Chapter One of Christmas at Winterbourne:

…It had been a hot day in Rome and Wil had spent most of it in the university’s library looking up references for the paper she was writing about the Etruscan people. Someone she’d met at a cafe had invited her to a party that evening and she almost didn’t go. As it was, she spent most of the evening leaning against a wall, watching people she didn’t know smoke and drink their way into oblivion. She sipped at a glass of red wine and refused two offers of badly wrapped spliffs. It really wasn’t her scene. Gabriella arrived with a group and at first Wil thought she was partnered up with one of them, but after a while they started to mingle separately. Wil finished her wine and decided to make a discreet exit. As she’d spoken to no one, she wasn’t likely to be missed. Standing outside the apartment building, she had just inhaled a welcome breath of fresh air when a voice behind her asked, in Italian, if she was leaving already. She turned around to find the dark-haired beauty she’d noticed earlier watching her from the doorway. Not trusting herself to speak, she simply nodded. Gabriella came up to her, took her hand, and asked her to please stay.

That evening they just talked. They met again in the following days, going for walks, sitting in cafés. Wil didn’t think it would go any further than that although she really fancied the woman. But she knew she would be heading back to England soon and didn’t want to start something that would end with a tearful separation and empty promises to keep in touch. Then Gaby asked Wil to go with her to see her parents. It was a family gathering for her younger brother’s birthday and she said she didn’t want to go on her own.

Several surprising things happened that weekend. First of all, Gaby’s family welcomed her wholeheartedly. Secondly, they obviously expected she and Gaby would sleep together and put them in the same bedroom. Wil hadn’t known what to do that first night. She waited until Gaby went to the bathroom, undressed hastily and crept under the covers. Gaby had laughed when she came back and saw her there. She had performed an extremely seductive striptease and jumped into bed. By the time they were on the motorbike, travelling back to Rome at the end of two days of family celebrations, Wil was in love…

Fifteen years later, Wil is still in love with Gaby. But is the impending birth driving them apart…?


Next week’s blog: Winterbourne’s ghost makes an appearance

Read the beginning of Chapter 1 from Christmas at Winterbourne on the Affinity website. The book is due for release on 1 November 2016.


Buying options for the books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


Meet the Londoners

Continuing the introductions to characters from Christmas at Winterbourne, I would like to introduce Ade and Rita…Adriana McPherson and Rita Clarke, to give them their full names.

These two are friends and business partners of Wil and Gaby, the proprietors of Winterbourne House. However, they generally refer to the two younger women as ‘the kids’. There is a twenty-year age difference but Ade and Wil have always had a close friendship, initially bonding over their concern for their mutual friend, Kim Russell.

Ade is now a retired IT Consultant. She spent all of her working life in London and in the 1990s she was part of a team of computer specialists helping companies prepare their systems for the Millennium Bug. Does anyone remember this these days…the fear that planes would fall out of the sky and bank systems would crash at the start of 1 January 2000?


Y2K – the Millennium bug

It seems there were a few minor glitches at the time but still some debate now as to whether or not it was worth spending billions to do the computer fixes. Anyway, Ade benefitted from getting paid well for the work and is a firm believer that it was necessary.

Ade is six feet tall, well built, with a mix of Caribbean and Italian heritage and was born in Scotland. She likes to joke that she ticks quite a few boxes for employers in terms of filing diversity quotas with being a lesbian as well. And if anyone dares to tell her to her face she should go back where she came from, she’s likely to tell them she’ll be going back to Glasgow – either just before or after she decks them.

Rita was born and raised in Islington, north London, with an English mother and Nigerian father. Both her parents were teachers, so that was the profession she chose as well and she taught mathematics at a secondary school in nearby Highbury. Always smartly dressed, whenever a new member of staff asked how they would know her, they were told – ‘she’s the one who doesn’t look like a teacher’. After twenty years, Rita left teaching to become a schools inspector.

They met at a party in 1994 and after a period of courtship dictated by Rita, they moved in together. When the marriage equality law came into effect they converted their civil partnership to a marriage. To friends and family they seem like an unlikely pairing, but it works for them.


Christmas celebrated in English country house style

Here’s a scene from Chapter One in the book – their arrival at Winterbourne House for the start of the Christmas festivities:

“I would like to get there in one piece, Adriana.”

“I thought you were asleep.” Ade glanced over at Rita who was gripping the sides of her seat, feet braced against the floor. The clipped tone of voice and use of her full name meant her wife was well and truly stressed.

“Keep your eyes on the road, for God’s sake.”

“Keep your hair on, love. I’ve driven this route a million times. It’s dark. If anyone’s coming the other way I’ll see their headlights in good time.”

Rita didn’t relax her grip on the seat until they turned into the drive.

“So, what’s going on with the kids?” Ade asked as she parked the car in front of the house next to a rental vehicle.

“I don’t know,” Rita sighed. “I’ve had Gabs on the phone every day, in tears.”

“I’ve tried to talk to Wil but I think she’s deliberately ignoring my calls.” Ade popped open the boot and unfurled herself from the front seat. She loved driving the Jag but it was a bugger to get in and out of. Even with the seat as far back as she could get it, and still reach the steering wheel, her six-foot frame felt squashed.

Rita stretched as she emerged more gracefully from the other side of the car. She was almost as tall as Ade and also felt the need to move her lower limbs to get the feeling back. Ade passed her the bag full of presents and took out their suitcase. When they had discussed coming down for Christmas, it was initially only going to be for a few nights. But a sense of something troubling the relationship of their two young friends had grown over the past week, so they had packed for the contingency of staying longer if it proved necessary.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for that drink Wil owes me for not answering my calls.”

“I’ll settle for a nice cup of herbal tea.”

Rita opened the door into the hallway and was immediately entranced by the large tree that filled most of the space. “Oh, that’s wonderful! I told Gaby the red and silver would work.”

Ade glanced at the decorated tree. “Yeah. Nice. Look, I’m going to get changed. Will you be joining us for a drink?” She started up the stairs.

Rita followed slowly. “Maybe. I’ll check on Gaby first.”

Setting the suitcase on the bench under the window in their room, Ade located the sweatpants left in a drawer from their last visit. She changed out of the jeans she’d been wearing and discarded her leather jacket. Rita had already disappeared to put the kettle on. She found her in the kitchenette looking through a selection of herb teas.

“I think the rosehip will be good for both of us.”

“I’m not drinking it.”

“It’s for me and Gaby. You go and find out what’s up with Wil.”

Ade wrapped her arms around her and nuzzled the sensitive area behind her ear. “Love you,” she murmured.

“Yeah, I know.” Rita wiggled her backside into Ade’s groin. “But save it for later, stud. Gabs and I have some serious girl talk to catch up on.” She moved out of Ade’s grasp and retrieved two mugs from the cupboard by the sink.

The kettle boiled and Rita waited a few moments for the bubbling to settle before pouring the hot water onto the bags in the two mugs on the counter.

“Smells disgusting. Are you sure that’s good for a pregnant woman?”

“It most certainly is. Now go. And don’t drink too much. We have some catching up to do as well.”

Ade was still smiling with that lingering thought as she walked back down the stairs to the ground floor.

Next week’s blog: Meeting the hosts at Winterbourne House – Wil and Gaby

Read the beginning of Chapter 1 from Christmas at Winterbourne on the Affinity website. The book is due for release on 1 November 2016.


Buying options for the books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes