Newsletter no.168, February 15th, 2021

I believe that Spring is supposed to be almost here. There are daffodils in bud in the shops and there are snowdrops coming out in the garden, but the weather has been bitterly cold and a true spring seems very far away. But – really good news – all my older friends are getting their vaccinations done! The relief! Every time one of them, or someone I know who has big health issues, gets the vaccine, I feel it’s a big step towards a better future. Yes, we know that this and that may apply, and we may have to keep having jabs but it it’s an enormous relief. A big ‘thank you’ to the NHS.

Will we ever get back to what we knew as ‘normality?’ Will we have to live by taking precautions wherever we go and whatever we do? Time will tell on that one. I have been trying to keep in touch with my immediate circle of friends once a week, and that’s worked well enough. Now I need to find time to reach out to friends whom I don’t see very often, not to mention those who live in Europe and New Zealand.

Has the news from friends all been good? Well, no. On the whole my friends have come through the past year in good spirits but I have to remind myself that not everyone started the year in the best of health and it is inevitable that some would ‘cross the river’ in the usual way. I grieve for each one. I recall with fondness the times spent with them in the past, remembering that we used to do this and that together . . . and after a while I am able to move on.

Meanwhile, work continues, for which I am really, really grateful. Some people are managing very well in lock-down as they take up studying Gaelic or painting or join a Book Reading Cub. And I have the next book to write.

Murder-in-Law has finally gone to press, hurray! And will be published at the end of March. I have enjoyed writing this book which has Ellie in the background as her younger friend – and excellent cook – Susan steps into the limelight. The story: when work started on remodelling their big house into two units, Ellie and her husband decamped to Canada where his daughter lives. Susan, her husband Rafael and one-year-old Fifi, finally move into their part of the house – where the plumbing is not yet as it should be – only to find Diana on their doorstep demanding help. Evan, Diana’s husband, has been attacked in what looks like a burglary gone wrong. Diana is always trouble, isn’t she? Can Susan – with help from a distant Ellie – solve the mystery?

The next short story from the archives for you is called ‘Saying “Thank you!”’ It’s set about this time of the year and reminds us to thank people for their kindnesses . . . in particular those who open the heavy door of the bakery for me. I think it’s the heaviest door in the whole of our shopping street. Mind you, their bread and their cakes are wonderful! And as for their almond croissants! You can access the story here.

A blessing on all who open doors for the less able.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.167, February 1st, 2021

I opened the inner, porch door and found two cupcakes sitting on the mat. That was a good start to the day, wasn’t it? And no, they were not from my chocolate fairy who still pops a bar of chocolate through into my letter box every now and then. I knew straight away who the cakes were from. I have a Good Neighbour who enjoys baking but whose husband doesn’t eat cake. Now her daughters have left home and started their own families, she still likes to bake and I am one of the fortunate recipients of her bounty.

This year she tried making marmalade for the first time, and she named me her official taster. When I made marmalade I used Mrs Beeton’s recipe but had trouble getting the mix to set. My Good Neighbour followed a similar recipe. The flavour was wonderful! The marmalade had set well, the orange peel was slightly tangy and still recognisable for what it was . . . unlike some commercially produced versions which seem composed of a lightly flavoured jelly with a few strands of orange peel floating in it.

There’s not much I can give my neighbour in return. Occasionally she’ll accept a cutting from a plant in my garden. I used to cat-sit when she went on holiday, but of course that’s stopped for the time being. The only thing that makes me feel better is the idea that a kindness done to one person can go around from her to him, and perhaps her again, before it ends up with her helping . . . the original good neighbour. I think that works. I do hope so.

One of my readers has written to say that she has been reading and rereading the short stories I’ve been attaching to the newsletter. She has good neighbours, too – though not, apparently, one who bakes for fun – but she does have one who is going to take her to get her vaccination. I am touched that so many people seem to like having the short stories sent them. I know libraries have been shut for a while, but you can get almost everything on line and I understand that my Eden Hall series is doing well. It seems ages since I wrote this series about a British stately home and its Cinderella heroine. If you’re desperate for something read you might like to try it?

Meanwhile, the story I’ve plucked from the archives to go with this newsletter today is called ‘Unfinished Business’. It’s set at this time of the year when you may be looking back at the past, and thinking of making a New Year’s resolution – or not, as the case may be. So what will our old friends decide to do? You can access the story here.

Work continues, slowly, on the next Abbot Agency book. I’m taking my time over this one, but it is getting into shape at last. Also at long last, ‘Murder-in-Law’ is being sent to the printers. Progress!

A blessing on all good neighbours! And, may someone be a good neighbour to them in their turn.

Veronica Heley