November news

Signs of Summer at Applecross HQ
I’m reaching the point where I can’t tell the mothers from their lambs now. They have grown so fat on the lush green grass in our field. Since my last newsletter we have had the odd drama, losing one poor lamb on a viciously cold and wet day, and another who had to be fed by hand when his mother rejected him. But, all in all, we now have 9 healthy lambs, 3 black and 6 white. Sadly, in chicken news, I have to report the demise of Henry the rooster. If truth be told, he was never much of a macho rooster, but I miss him bossing his girls around, crowing at teatime and generally being an ornamental addition to the flock. Will we get another rooster? Who knows? Our thoughts turn to more horticultural matters at this time of year. There are trays of seedlings growing in the greenhouse and all the fruit trees are showing signs of being productive this year, although there’s still time for a stiff NW wind to blow the seedling fruit away. I may pick my first strawberry today – what a treat that is!
Political Turmoil

Here in New Zealand we have just had a general election, although it seems to be taking weeks and weeks to work out who is in charge because our form of government almost always ends up with coalition deals having to be done. While I find the political (with a small p) process fascinating, I am not at all Political (with a capital P), so all I will say is that we seem to be going along mighty fine without a Prime Minister and cabinet for now. Says a lot, doesn’t it? 

But there is much more interesting political turmoil on another front. It is our annual ‘Bird of the Year’ competition, although this time it is ‘Bird of the Century’ to celebrate 100 years of our Forest and Bird organisation. Long time followers will remember that a bat won a couple of years ago, so we are not shy of controversy when it comes to voting for our much-cherished wildlife. We could even vote for extinct birds this time – my favourite, the Huia, made it to number 8 in the charts.  The overall winner this year, by a huge margin, is the Australasian Crested Grebe (Pūteketeke) – something of an outsider until a certain American chat show host decided to give his backing. He nearly got pipped at the post by 40,000 invalid votes for a penguin. Now, you may think we don’t approve of foreign interference in our elections, but this competition is about awareness of our treasured birds, many of whom are threatened with extinction, so, as they say, ‘any publicity is good publicity’! Much more fun than the process of selecting prime ministers, anyway! 

I took the photo above when we lived in Twizel. You can’t help loving a bird who brings such watery gifts to his chosen mate. If she decides he is ‘the one’, they will dance together and make that distinctive heart shape with the long necks. When the babies hatch, they climb aboard their mother’s back and hitch a warm and safe ride in her feathers until they can swim.

Looking for something else historical to read?

If you can’t wait for the 7th Applecross Saga book to come out, you could fill the gap with a free choice from here –

Good news – I have finished writing ‘Flora Brown’!  

Just some editing and formatting to do now (although that is sometimes harder than writing the book in the first place). If all goes to plan, the ebook will be available on 1st January 2024 – a month earlier than anticipated. You can already pre-order it on Amazon and Kobo. The paperback version will follow very soon after that. 

I have to say I am quite pleased with this book. It has a little bit of everything in it – adventure, romance, a nasty neighbour, a little bit of romance, lots of puppies and even a ghost! All set against the true historical story of the early refrigerated ships carrying food from the colonies to feed the malnourished folk back home. I can’t wait to share it with you. 

One of my advanced copy readers sent me this message as soon as he had finished reading :-

Book completed!  Brilliant!!  Next one please! 📚📚📚 

Here is the synopsis :- 

The year is 1880 and cousins John James Mackenzie and Sam Morling set out to make a new life for themselves in Scotland. 

Having never ventured beyond the shores of New Zealand, they seek adventure and excitement on their journey before settling at the Scottish estate owned by the Mackenzies, where, with John James’ farming experience and Sam’s desire for landscaping, they hope to restore the house and grounds to their former glory.

The estate manager’s daughter, Flora Brown, is not only pretty, but clever and determined. She has her own ideas and dreams of a life in New Zealand with the laird’s son. She fears she will be overlooked because of her lowly social standing, but intends to try everything she can to make him notice her.

Isabella, daughter of the neighbouring estate shares Sam Morling’s passion for plants. As love begins to blossom between them, Isabella finds her way blocked by her cruel and over-bearing brother who considers gentle Sam to be an entirely unsuitable match.

Meanwhile, at Applecross sheep station, James and Sophia Mackenzie are growing older, much in need of their son’s help. Sophia has always believed that her son would stay in Scotland forever, though James disagrees and expects him to do his duty on the farm. A sudden change of circumstances requires John James’ immediate return, bringing with him echoes of his father’s past. 

Last month I shared a short extract from the day John James visited his grandmother’s grave. This time, I give you part of the tale of wee Mabel, a much loved black Scottish terrier :- 

As Bella walked away from Braeside after the conversation with her mother, her mind was full of ideas of how to get away from Charles and Agnes, but her duty to her parents always seemed to be in the way. She had her little Scottish terrier, Mabel at her side today. The scruffy black dog enjoyed her walks to Crawdon, not only for the exercise, but to get away from Charles’ spaniels, who were far too boisterous for a little terrier. She did everything she could to keep away from them these days, much as her beloved mistress did in regard to her brother. It was a hot and humid day, despite the onset of autumn, the sky cloudless, the sun still strong. Bella, deep in her own thoughts, took a while to notice that Mabel was no longer by her side. Turning to look back, she saw the dog flopped down on the side of the road, her tongue hanging out, her sides heaving. “Oh, Mabel, what’s the matter?” said Bella, hurrying back to pick the dog up. “Come on, we are nearly at Crawdon. Sam will know what to do.” 

Sam and John James were just leaving the stables, having spent the morning on matters relating to the grouse moor renovations before eating their lunch at the office table. They were not expecting to see Bella today, but this was not the first time she had arrived uninvited, so they were happy to wait as she came up the drive towards them. It was only when she called out to them that they realised she was doing her best to run, holding Mabel in her arms. “Sam, Sam, help me, please,” she called out. “It’s Mabel.” 

Despite Bella’s expectation that Sam would know what to do, it was John James who ran forward to take Mabel from Bella’s arms. He knew far more about dogs than Sam did, and he instantly recognised the problem as soon as he saw Mabel’s bulging belly. “Quick, let’s get her to the stables,” he said, not stopping as he spoke. “It’s cooler there, and she needs to drink some water too. Bella, when are the puppies due?” 

Bella stopped in her tracks. “Puppies!” she said.  

John James kept moving, reaching the shade of the stables and placing the exhausted dog on a pile of straw. Meanwhile, Sam had gone on ahead to find a shallow bowl which he filled with water from the pump. As soon as he put it on the ground, Mabel raised her head enough to lap at it, her little pink tongue spraying everyone with drops of water. It made them all laugh. 

“Is she really having puppies, John James?” asked Bella. “I thought she was just getting fat from eating too many scraps from the table. The awful Mrs Upton keeps handing her tidbits of food. I should have realised, I am such a fool.” 

“No, you are not,” Sam jumped to Bella’s defence. “You have a lot of other things on your mind too.” 

“Any idea who the sire would be?” John James had seen enough pregnant dogs to be taking a practical view of it all rather than an emotional one. 

“I suppose it would have to be one of Charles’ dreadful spaniels,” Bella shuddered at the very thought of her poor little Mabel being mounted by one of those ugly beasts. “She hasn’t met any other dogs that I am aware of.” 

Now that Mabel’s panting was diminishing, John James put a hand on her belly to feel for her pups with a well-practised hand. He could count four bumps, maybe five, and they were a fair size for such a small dog. “Well, either they are quite large puppies, or they are almost ready to arrive,” he said. “No wonder she was tired, carrying all this extra weight. I’d say you should get her home and make sure she has a quiet place to have her litter. It will be in the next day or two, I reckon.” 

“Oh, goodness,” was all Bella could think to say in reply. 

I’m afraid you will have to wait to find out who Bella, Charles and Agnes are, and what happens to Mabel and her puppies, but not for long! 
Don’t forget that all six of the Applecross Saga books are available from your usual outlets as ebooks and paperbacks. The 7th book, ‘Flora Brown’ is available for pre-order on Amazon and Kobo too. 

The ebook version of Book 1, ‘The Wideawake Hat’ is free to download.

The audiobook of ‘The Wideawake Hat’, narrated by Su Melville, is also available from all the usual outlets.  

Checkout my website for all the details – 

Authors love to hear from their readers – please do consider leaving a review wherever you like to do so – and I really do enjoy receiving emails from my readers, so feel free to contact me at

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