Travels with Jenny Colgan… book reviews

Escape to an Island in the North

Life in general has been pretty stressful – I was one of the people still working during lockdown in need of a holiday, if not in body then definitely in spirit. This book came along with a pile of others – I tried one or two before picking up this novel and it was just what I needed.

Flora is definitely, absolutely sure that escaping from the quiet Scottish island where she grew up to the noise and hustle of the big city was the right choice. What was there for her on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, and no one will let her forget the past. In the city, she can be anonymous, ambitious and indulge herself in her hopeless crush on her gorgeous boss, Joel. 

When a new client demands Flora’s presence back on Mure, she’s suddenly swept back into life with her brothers (all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework) and her father. As Flora indulges her new-found love of cooking and breathes life into the dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour, she’s also going to have to come to terms with past mistakes – and work out exactly where her future lies…

The Island of Mure in summer was a wonderful place to escape to, Flora was a likeable character – we followed her journey from dismal heat baked London to her home back in this beautiful island in the North Sea… so far north it was closer to Greenland than mainland Scotland.

The island characters are a mixed bunch of scary and friendly, but Flora goes back to face her family after she left under a bit of cloud. The more I read about the endless daylight, the empty sandy beaches the more I found myself with yearning to visit Scotland.

It’s a romance but there is more depth to the characters than the usual chic lit, the characters are struggling to overcome the past, even Flora who eventually comes to understand her family better and make peace. There are three books in this series all based around the fictional Island of Mure… I am saving the other two for winter… I had to stop as I was yearning to pack my bags and move to Scotland…

I read this book shortly after finishing the beach shop bakery – I needed another little holiday from real life and I was falling in love with Scotland. I live in the South, where the houses seem to be cramming together, and there are people everywhere – it is so good to escape.

Jenny deals with very real issues in her books, both feature mental health problems, depression and how it can affect those around the victim, how the shadow falls into the next generation too. I also love the ethnic mix in this book, the characters aren’t all white.

Zoe is a single mother, sinking beneath the waves trying to cope by herself in London. Hari, her gorgeous little boy is perfect in every way – except for the fact that he just doesn’t speak, at all. When her landlord raises the rent on her flat, Zoe doesn’t know where to turn. 

Then Hari’s aunt suggests Zoe could move to Scotland to help run a bookshop. Going from the lonely city to a small village in the Highlands could be the change Zoe and Hari desperately need. 

Faced with an unwelcoming boss, a moody, distant bookseller named Ramsay Urquart, and a band of unruly children, Zoe wonders if she’s made the right decision. But Hari has found his very first real friend, and no one could resist the beauty of the loch glinting in the summer sun. If only Ramsay would just be a little more approachable…

Dreams start here . . . 

It is a lovely break for a good few hours with people who have troubles, but come together and find love and that rarest of things…. a sense of belonging.

If you are in need of escape from the worlds woes …. these books are ones to enjoy.

You can find out more about Jenny’s books on her website


Stitched Selfie

I am not a big fan of the selfie – I can’t shake off my inner critic that sings ‘your so vain’ in the same way I still can’t have a conversation on my mobile phone in public without excruciating embarrassment, but I over came my reluctance recently. The Solent branch Embroidery Guild I belong to set up a workshop with gifted textile artist Nicky Barfoot entitled the Selfie Workshop. I have missed the regular meetings and workshops so the opportunity to connect – all be it virtually- was firmly grasped. Not to mention work place stress that had me desperate for the soothing nature of hand stitching, I gave myself the whole weekend to enjoy a spot of well earned play.

Nicky is wonderful instructor, confident in her own creativity to allow students to go off in their own direction, with her encouragement. The course itself was self guided with access to private tutorials demonstrating every stage, together with a private Facebook group that connected me with fellow students, instruction and encouragement from Nicky, which was a lovely socially distanced way of connecting with people I hadn’t seen for months. It was great seeing other people’s work, I am always amazed at how diverse we all respond to the same direction and instructions! I be inspired by others too, as you will see in the end of this post.

After trawling through the vast collection of photos I found a couple of suitable photos, taken a while ago – I used a software programme to convert the photograph into a line drawing and followed the instructions to transfer outline onto fabric. Nicky has a great method for transferring the image easily, all you needed was the good old fashioned tracing skills that I hadn’t used in 30odd years!

outline stitched and transferred to fabric

I treated myself – stitching this outline in my cosy nook, tea close at hand, pincushion within reach, watching Outlander in the afternoon. It not only brought back happy childhood memories of Saturday matinees with my Nan, while we stitched away, but also the embroidery stitches were simple, soon the challenges, stresses and conflicts of work were soothed away, I had finished the outline in no time.

At first I made it all black, but then I used a light gold chain stitch for the necklace, using a bead for the pendant. I really love this aqua it sat just right and was the right scale. I then I added the Suffolk puff (yoyo) – to cover up a little mistake I made with the hair at the top of the ear! You can’t do that with a painting!

I then unpicked the black lip outline and used blanket stitch in red for my lips. I think the blanket stitch here gives depth to the outline I also used a couple of French knots. The eyes are slightly different as I began one with one thread of floss, the second one was with my favourite Cotton Perle, thicker thread. (I also had to dash to my local Boutique Haberdashery in the morning to get black Perle) What an indulgent day I was having! I also changed the nose outline a little. While I could not remove all the black, I was happy to leave it as it was, as it showed progress.

I had ended the afternoon using blanket stitch to form the fringe edge – she was becoming more vintage pin up as the project unfolded and less of a ‘selfie’ but I was enjoying seeing how the process evolved. I am learning to allow a project have a life of its own, rather than sticking rigidly to an idea.

Evening came, after the usual domestic activities of cake making and cooking, it was time for more cosiness in front of the box with hubby safely beyond the reach of my arm swing with needle! (its why I have my own cosy chair!) I decided to continue the vintage theme by adding ‘polka dots’ to the dress – an idea that came to me while baking a cake. Its as if the project is a journey, with each step revealed as I go.

I have a large collection of plastic drawing stencils that come in handy for embroidery, the circles come in various sizes so I picked a random one and marked it out with a air erasable pen. I am going through a bit of a blanket stitch phase at the moment, so chose to use it for the polka dots. I then used it again alongside the right hand edge of the neckline. I am stopping it there – until the next stage unfolds. I might stitch some texture in the background.. who knows.

The great thing about Nicky’s workshop is that you get to see other students work, there were a few who used sewing machines to do the outlines so I decided to experiment with my sewing machine.

Here is a portrait of hubby, this time by sewing machine which is faster, but not as relaxing. I really love the simplicity of the lines in this portrait, it makes a bold statement.

I have really enjoyed participating in this course, this new way of working is opening up all kinds of opportunities, not only in terms of time scale – not being limited to a day or a couple of hours, as well as being able to see what other people are doing is richer.

If you would like to join Nicky Barfoot’s selfie class – you can contact her via her website.