Amanda Giorgis

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 – https://books.bookfunnel.com/historicaloct/p7ve0t1ed8



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 – www.amandagiorgis.com 

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 amanda@amandagiorgis.com

Five years on

I’m being a little bit self-centred today. But, I make no apologies for celebrating 5 years to the day since I hit the ‘publish’ button on my first ever book. So I am looking back at what I have learned since that evening (Saturday 29th September 2018 at 7:29pm, to be precise).

I was far too old to take up writing properly. I wish I had started years earlier, but life got in the way of the stories in my head. Husbands, jobs, emigrating, other hobbies, you know the kind of stuff. Over the years I had written the first paragraph of a dozen books, only to abandon them after a few days, and then in 2018, quite unexpectedly, a few magical things came together and The Wideawake Hat was born.

Here’s how I described these events in the Preface to The Wideawake Hat :-

In late 2017 my ex-boss (and now good friend) Heather came to stay at our house in the basin. The story of James Mackenzie caught her imagination and we enjoyed finding places associated with his name including his memorial on the hills looking out across the flat lands. It is indeed an awesome place and this is where the seeds of this story were sown as we walked along the river past an abandoned homestead, which could once so easily have been James’ home.

Between March and September 2018 my interpretation to the legend of James Mackenzie grew into a book. In the back of my mind I had visions of The Applecross Saga being another Poldark series – 12 books, I said grandly to anyone who asked! We are on number 7 now, so I may have got that prediction right after all.

Now, writing I can do, but in that naive way that creative people think, I presumed someone would just come along and want to publish the book, All I had to do was sit back and watch the royalty payments come in. There was sure to be a call from Netflix too. We would be raking it in!

Oh, how silly that idea seems now. I did a lot of research into publishing, and I didn’t much like what I found out. I have to admit to being quite arrogant here. I didn’t want to wait for years to be published, neither did I want some publishing house to tell me to change things round. It was my book and I thought it was perfect. Looking back now, it is far from perfect, but it isn’t a bad start to my writing career. If I re-wrote it now, with experience under my belt, I would probably change it quite a lot.

So self-publishing was for me, it seemed, though it wasn’t a world I knew anything about. In New Zealand at that time, Amazon did not have a big hold on readers. We kiwis don’t much like having to pay for things in Aussie dollars, and that was all there was on the mighty Zon in those days. So I began on Kobo, simply because a few friends who read a lot suggested it to me. I suppose I thought the ebook thing would be a small part of my overall sales. Paperbacks would make my fortune. I ordered 500 copies to be printed locally. It was a lot of boxes – it still is a lot of boxes, I’m afraid! I was hopelessly over-ambitious about that.

I had enough experience to produce a reasonable cover, the back matter and a decently formatted document. My only external help was from my good friend Heather, who served as editor, proof reader and all round sharer of good ideas. I couldn’t have done it without her. So, on Saturday 29th September 2018 at precisely 7:29pm, I hit the button on Kobo that says ‘Publish ebook’.

It took a while to go on sale (that was my first lesson in planning ahead). I sold 5 copies in the first day. My husband, my sister, my niece and Heather. I have never known who the 5th one was, which makes me feel very proud that someone chose my book without even knowing me. Whoever you are, thank you very much!

Having dipped my toe in the water, I continued to wander around the internet looking for ways to expand my publishing empire. I found Apple Books and Google, then took the plunge with Amazon. Never in KU – it has never appealed to me to be forced to be exclusive to Amazon. Sales grew a little bit at a time. I found the world of promotions and sought out the free or cheap ones. I built a website and some presence on social media. It all helped a bit. I suppose I was publishing ‘wide’ at this point, though I have never known another way, and had certainly never heard the term to describe self publishing to more than one place. 

I’ve made friends online along the way, and learned so much from those who are prepared to share their experiences with us newbies. I’ve tried a few things and failed – I don’t think I am ever going to be a TikTok influencer – and I’ve tried some things and they have worked very well indeed. If I had to pick one good idea out, it would be making the first book in the series free as an ebook. Slowly the conversion rate for those who continue to read books 2-6 has grown to 22% and I’m still working on building that up.

So here we are. 6 books written and a 7th one nearing completion. I continue to love writing, to lose myself in the characters and storyline. And I continue to enjoy seeing people start to read my books and get hooked on James and Sophia and their lives in Mackenzie’s Basin. I have no way of knowing if my sales figures are good, bad or indifferent. All I can say is that I take in more money than I spend each year, though it isn’t enough to live on! But I will proudly say that on the 5th anniversary of publishing my first book, 20852 copies have been downloaded, bought from my website or a shop, or listened to. I treasure every single sale!

The big question, though, is what will the 10th anniversary bring? There’s always that call from Netflix, I suppose……!

News from Applecross – august 2023

Signs of Spring

It feels like it has been a long winter here in New Zealand, but, at last, the daffodils are in flower and there are buds on the trees and shrubs at Applecross HQ. 

We have a neighbour’s six pregnant sheep grazing on our lush, green field at the moment. It will not be long now until we hear the patter of tiny feet. Looking at the size of the mums, we could well be in for six lots of twins!  

This level of productivity is not showing up in our hens, though. Two eggs in the last fortnight is just not good enough! I will forgive Henny and Penny as they are at least 6 years old, and Bluebell, Poppy and Lily are not far behind them. And Henry, well, one would not expect an egg from him, of course! But Daisy, Ivy and Rosie should really be laying their usual lovely brown eggs most days. 

Our animals live out their natural lives with us regardless of their productivity, but we are missing our regular supply of eggs. Anyway, two more ladies will be arriving soon to boost supplies – maybe they will encourage Daisy, Ivy and Rosie to lay too. Continuing my vague theme of flower based girls’ names, I googled suggestions and got 124 names – plenty of scope for more chooks to come. I’m thinking Marigold and Clover, unless you, dear reader, have any better ideas. Comment below with your suggestions. 

Here’s a photo of the lovely Bluebell…


Our Land in Colour

When you look back into history, your mind usually conjures up images in black and white. In New Zealand, colour photography was rare until the 1960s and colour television only reached our shores in the late 1970s. How wonderful it is, therefore, to see photographs from 1860-1960 digitally coloured and published in this beautiful new book, ‘Our Land in Colour’.

Somehow the rather flat, monochrome portraits and landscapes have come to life with the colour added. I thoroughly recommend you track down a copy and have a browse. Prepare to be amazed! 

I bought my copy from my local bookshop, Emma’s at Oxford

As you all know, I like to support my local bookshop and library, which is why I am now advertising in ‘Indie Books‘, a catalogue of independent and self-published authors. Although this is only available in New Zealand, the same rules apply worldwide – if you want to see my books in your local bookshop, or on the shelves of your local library, ask the manager to look me up and consider purchasing copies of my books.

Here’s the ad –


While we are on the subject of other books, if you are looking for a new historical fiction series to read, look no further than here – Free First in Series

‘Flora Brown’

Winter is the perfect time to be writing, more often than not you will find me with feet up in front of the fire, my laptop balanced on my knees, tapping away with the 7th book in the Applecross Saga, ‘Flora Brown’. 

I’m on track for publication in early 2024, but I thought I would share a little excerpt with you, to give you an insight into the storyline. John James is just about to leave for Scotland. He believes he will be gone for good, although he hasn’t told his mother that. Little does he know that there’s a young lady called Flora who can’t wait for him to sweep her off her feet and transport her back to Applecross……

Nobody quite knew what to talk about at the breakfast table. Everything that needed to be said had been spoken at supper, so all that was left were the odd questions from Sophia.

“Have you packed your presents?” she asked. 

“Yes, Mama,” replied John James, pulling the knife from his pocket to show her it was not going to be left behind.

“Do you think you have enough warm clothes for the Scottish weather?” she asked only moments later. 

“Yes, Mama,” John James replied again. “I can always buy extra if I need to.” 

In truth, Sophia was trying to fill the silence with words. This last hour with her son was almost painful. She rather wished he would get on with his porridge and go now. Or even better, change his mind and stay at home. 

“Don’t worry Ma,” he had said last night. “I’ll be fine.” 

Sophia knew perfectly well that her son would be fine. He had grown into an independent young man, intelligent, well-mannered, capable and, in her opinion, handsome. Yes, he would be fine. But would he ever come home again? She had tried to tease that out of him over the last few months, only too aware that he had made no definite plan for the return journey. But he had been evasive, only willing to say that he would sort that out later, or laugh at his mother for wanting to know every detail about his journey. She knew him too well. James didn’t agree with her, though.

“He will be back in due course,” he had said when Sophia mentioned it. “He knows he has a duty to run the farm one day, and I may not manage it on my own for many more years to come, you know, my dear.” 

“I’ll be fine,” John James said again now, echoing his words from last night. It was an answer to his mother, but a sort of affirmation to himself too. Yes, he would be fine.



Don’t forget that all six of the Applecross Saga books are available from your usual outlets as ebooks and paperbacks.  

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 – www.amandagiorgis.com 

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 comment below or contact me at amanda.giorgis@icloud.com 

The latest ‘pup’date from Applecross

Is there such a thing as Puppy Brain? You know, like Baby Brain. Anyway, I have it, whatever it is called! To begin at the beginning…..Many of you will be familiar with Jess, our old huntaway girl who starred on the paperback cover of ‘The Wideawake Hat’ in her role as Friday, James Mackenzie’s favourite dog. Sadly, we lost her a week or two ago at the good age of about 13 (she was a rescue dog, so ages are all a bit approximate). Here she is as Friday’s ‘cover dog’ on the paperback version of the Wideawake Hat, and on the day she arrived with us – just over 9 years ago.

Because we have been expecting her time to come for a while now, we have been keeping an eye on available rescue pups to fill her paws as Ted’s companion. So here comes Hunter, a 5 month old huntaway who was found wandering the streets of Invercargill, unclaimed by his owner. Last week he made the big journey up to Christchurch, with an overnight stop in Dunedin. And he is just wonderful! I could bore you with photos and videos for ever. It is so hard to choose just one, but this will do for now. Be warned, there will likely be more to come as he grows into adulthood.

Those of you with young children know that finding time to concentrate for any length of time is hard, and so it is with a puppy. Checking that he is chewing toys, not the furniture, counting the minutes between toilet breaks and waking to howling pups during the night are not ideal for creative thinking, so writing has taken a back seat for a week or two, I’m afraid. However, with shorter days coming over winter here in New Zealand, logs on the fire and the garden in hibernation, I plan to get into Book 7 very soon. No spoilers as yet. Suffice to say that it will mainly be set in Scotland and that the first shipment of frozen lamb was sent from New Zealand to London in 1882, organised by a land owning company based in Scotland. Put two and two together, and those of you who have read Book 6, Cocksfoot and Clover, may well realise that John James does indeed journey over the seas. The question is, will he be persuaded to return to Applecross? And by whom?

Cyclone Gabrielle

Have you heard about the havoc caused in parts of New Zealand by Cyclone Gabrielle? It has not been widely reported outside of New Zealand, even though there are areas of the country, like Hawkes Bay, Tairāwhiti and the west coast of the North Island, where many people have been made homeless and, in particular, our farmers and growers have lost their stock and had their crops utterly devastated. Debris from forestry work washed down swollen rivers, blocked bridges and caused slips and massive flooding, with metres of silt being deposited on houses and land. The clean up will take a very long time and require orchards to be replanted, stock to be replaced and fields and fences to be recreated. Fencing is a priority. You will remember that George and Sophia built a fence as soon as they decided where to settle in Marytown. Then James and Edmund spent a good deal of time and effort fencing their land at Applecross and Combe, and in the latest book, James and his son are seen mending and replacing those first fences. Fences are important to farmers. They protect crops, stop animals from wandering and provide a symbol of ownership. I give you the following extract from Book 2, Shepherd’s Delight, with a request that, if you are able to do so, you donate to the New Zealand Disaster Fund – see how some of the money will be spent on the Farmy Army Facebook page.

Fencing

The Great Historical Fiction Giveaway

Fancy some free books? Click here to download your next favourite story.

And finally

The Easter weekend is a perfect break to catch up on the latest from Applecross. Curl up in the Spring sunshine or by the Autumn fireside wherever you are in the world and come on in to Applecross to meet the folk who have made their home in Mackenzie’s Basin. Download the ebook version of all the Applecross Saga books from your favourite ebook provider, or listen to Book 1, The Wideawake Hat, narrated so well by Su Melville, from Audible, Spotify or your local library. I love hearing from my readers, so please do reply to this post or email me at Amanda.giorgis@icloud.com, or comment and review wherever you see my books. And tell your friends about Applecross too – they would be most welcome to join us on our adventures in 19th century New Zealand.

In the meantime, Hunter says, “Goodbye for now.”

Cocksfoot and Clover – available now!

‘Cocksfoot and Clover’ – available now!

Here in New Zealand all the talk is about the weather at the moment. In the north, unprecedented rainfall has left many homes flooded and roads blocked by landslips. While in the south, we are baking in exceptionally high temperatures.

Whatever the weather is doing at your place, there’s nothing better than to curl up with a good book. So get your copy of ‘Cocksfoot and Clover’, the 6th book in the Applecross series, available now from all the usual ebook outlets, or in paperback from Amazon or directly from the author.

Details on the website

I would love to hear your feedback, so please do consider leaving a review when you’ve read book 6, or contact me directly via amanda.giorgis@icloud.com

In the sheep country of Canterbury and Otago the native tussock lands had reached the end of their useful life by the 1870s and were sown with European grasses – mainly ryegrass, timothy, cocksfoot and clover.Rural New Zealand in 1876. A time of prosperity for Applecross sheep station. However, dark clouds are gathering over the settlers of Mackenzie’s Basin.James Mackenzie is good at his job. Quality wool from his flock is valued around the world. But his son, John James, sees the future differently, embracing new ideas and opening up new markets. Will father and son reach a compromise that will allow Applecross to survive through the threat of pestilence and fire? Will Captain Shepherd’s legacy offer the opportunity for his beloved family to spread their wings?Join James, Sophia and all the folk of Applecross as, once more, they celebrate triumph and success while joining together to face adversity and tragedy against a backdrop of an ever-changing world.
An extract….

“Good God, this is a tedious job,” John James broke into his father’s thoughts. “However did you manage back at the beginning?”“Edmund and I were younger and fitter, I suppose, and keen to make our mark on the land,” replied James.“Frank says we should be making the fences rabbit proof by burying wire below ground,” said John James.James was a little bit fed up with what Frank said, and Abe and Henry too. These days his son started almost every sentence with ‘Frank says’, ‘Abe thinks’ or ‘Henry reckons’. So far today, Frank had suggested burning off the land to reduce tussock grass clumps and keeping rabbits out by fencing, Abe was all for importing a new ram from somewhere up north and Henry thought they should buy a new plough. It was all very well for John James to correspond with these new friends, but he couldn’t help feeling that one needed a bit more experience before making such sweeping changes.“I hardly think we need to keep the rabbits at bay to that extent,” replied James. “We can shoot the odd one or two for the pot, and skin the rest for their soft pelts.”“Henry says the rabbits are becoming a real problem down his way,” answered John James. “They breed too well, and they are destroying the land with their diggings.”James thought that Henry could keep his lowland ideas to himself. What would he know of high country farming? However, not wishing to dampen his son’s enthusiasm, he replied gruffly, “Won’t come to that up here. Ground is too damned stony.”“You can say that again,” John James laughed as he pulled two more big round stones the size of his fist out of the hole he had been trying to dig. He felt like he had already made a pile of them bigger than the hole that had been created in the first place.The two men continued their work without further words for a while, the only sound the skylarks rising above them, augmented by the occasional curse as father or son hit a stone with the shovel, or found themselves tied up in a coil of wire. James eventually pulled himself upright, putting a hand in the small of his back to ease the ache before mopping his brow with the back of his shirt sleeve. The midsummer sun was strong, and almost directly overhead. Nearly time to stop for lunch. He cast a glance in the direction of home, hoping to see his wife carrying a basket towards them, and indeed there was someone coming, but it was not Sophia.It was Jakob, with a shovel over his shoulder and a wicker basket in the crook of the other arm. When he got within earshot, he called out, “I thought I would give you a hand this afternoon, and Mrs Mackenzie sent some lunch.”“Both you and your basket are welcome visitors,” said James. He leaned his shovel against the post he had just set upright and flopped down onto the grassy bank. “Now, let’s see what my wife has packed for three hungry workers.”There was a stone bottle filled with ale, which the men willingly shared by passing it round and taking a swig. No need to dirty the enamel mugs that Sophia had packed for them to use. Then, unwrapping the cloths that covered each item, James found three hearty chunks of raised pork pie, some wedges of a round crusty loaf and several thick slices of cheese. There were three apples loose in the basket, and he left the final package still wrapped up for now, knowing it would contain cake or biscuits, depending what had been baked in the Applecross kitchen that morning.There was barely a word spoken as they tucked into the delicious food. It was a good few hours since breakfast time, and they had been working hard and had the appetites to prove it. Eventually, James offered the flagon round once more before tipping back the last dregs himself. “Ah, now that’s better. I was ready for something to eat,” he said, settling back against the bank, with his feet stretched out and his hat tipped forward over his eyes. “Let’s have a few more minutes before we get back to work, eh?”James shut his eyes. The two younger men had not yet reached an age where they needed a nap after lunch, but they too stretched themselves out in the sun, chatting of this and that.“Heard from the Viners lately?” asked John James.“Not for a while,” Jakob replied. “They seem happy down there on the coast with Mr Viner’s sister, but I do miss their company. And Mrs Viner’s baking was nearly as good as your mother’s. Mrs Mackenzie asked if I would like to invite them for Christmas, but I doubt they will come. Too many unhappy memories.”“Yes, it will be a strange Christmas this year, remembering Grandpapa,” replied John James.“Is Heather coming home this year?” asked Jakob.“Yes, she should be arriving in the next few days with Caroline and Adey Rose. They will travel up with Uncle Samuel, I daresay,” replied John James. “She’s bringing that George Latham fellow with her again. He’s a bit of a drip in my opinion, but she seems taken with him, and you have to admit, they have a lot in common with their books and learning.”The two young men failed to see James’ wry smile beneath his hat. He couldn’t help agreeing with his son. George Latham certainly did seem a bit wet behind the ears.“Do you think they will marry one day?” asked Jakob. There was a time when Jakob hoped for Heather’s attentions, although he would never admit it to John James. But no longer. She was spoken for now, and he liked George Latham. They would make a fine couple.“I wouldn’t wonder,” John James replied as he studiously picked each seed head, one by one, from a tall piece of grass plucked from the bank.“He will need to speak to me first, if he wishes to steal my daughter away from me,” said James, pushing his hat back and beginning to get to his feet.The two younger men went to rise too, John James throwing the stripped stalk over the fence and saying, “You wouldn’t say no though, father, would you?”“Maybe, maybe not,” James replied with a twinkle in his eye. “Heather could do worse, I daresay. She isn’t one to follow in her mother’s ways. Domestic tasks were never her favourite thing. Do you remember that cake she baked? It was more burnt biscuit than sponge.”