blogging, lifestyle, upcoming, updates

Where Have I Been?

Hello faithful readers,

You may have noticed it’s been a little quiet round here, due to some technical glitches and some life upheaval I haven’t been able to post all the lovely things I’ve been waiting to share with you, but they are coming soon, so don’t go anywhere.

Come say hi on Twitter or Instagram, even drop me an email at ramblingmadsblog@gmail.com

Check back on the blog soon as we’re making some behind the scenes changes you’ll hopefully love and there will be exciting new content very soon.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog tour: Goose Road – Rowena House

In 1916, in France, Angelique is making Hay on her family’s farm when the postman delivers news – her father is dead. Angelique is not sorry – he was a cruel, drunkard of a man – but she is deeply relieved her brother, Pascal, is still alive. She makes a promise – then and there – that the farm will remain exactly the same until he beloved brother returns home. She hopes, desperately, that if nothing changes at home, he won’t either.

Of course, nothing goes to plan. The harvest is ruined by a storm, her mother falls ill and the bailiffs arrive, ready to repossess the farm after her father has gambled it away. Angelique sets off with her treasured flock of Toulouse geese to sell them to make enough money to save her family home and await her brother’s return…….

About the author;

Rowena studied journalism at LSE and spent several years on Fleet Street, reporting for various news agencies. She has lived and worked in France, Africa and Belgium as a Reuter’s foreign correspondent and covered the fall of Addis Ababa at the end of Ethiopia’s 30-year civil war. She now lives in Devon and works as a freelance journalist. In 2013, Rowena won a competition run by Andersen Press, which published her winning entry, “The Marshalling of Angélique’s Geese” in War Girls, a collection of short stories about WWI as seen through the eyes of young women. The Goose Road is her novelization of that story.

Here Rowena shares her thoughts on historical fiction:

Why I love (some) historical fiction

As a reader, when I say that I love historical fiction what I mostly mean is that of all the novels I’ve ever read, my favourites tend to be set in the past.

That doesn’t mean I only read historical fiction. I like detective stories as well. Sherlock Holmes and Raymond Chandler, especially, which just happen to be set in the past.

I like some Sci-Fi and fantasy writers, too: Larry Niven, Tolkien, Terry Pratchett.

So I find it odd when someone assures me they don’t like historical fiction as if it’s all one and the same. How do they know beforehand what book will capture their imagination or speak to something in their souls?

Personally, I won’t ever say ‘I like this’ if it carries the implication ‘I don’t like that’.

As a writer, however, I can say with a hand on my heart that I absolutely love historical fiction. I love the research, and the honest attempt at resurrecting the past by uniting insight and imagination with that research.

Historians when faced with gaps in their knowledge must rely on evidence that meets defined standards of academic rigour, ‘facts’ which they then sift and prioritize, and speculate upon, and rearrange to suit their own logic and reason – and prejudices. In that way, all histories are constructed. Fiction is just further along that line.

In particular, storytellers aren’t restricted by written records from their chosen period, with all the limitations that typically implies about the wealth, power and gender of those who did the writing.

For The Goose Road I read many books about rich, powerful men in the First World War, but I was free to write about a poor, semi-literate girl from a peasant underclass, even though I never once found a first-hand account from such a person despite months of research.

Instead I made up her life from snatches and scraps I found here and there, fleshed out with practical, personal experiments with scything hay and watching the behaviour of geese, combined with memories from my time as a journalist when I meet African girl farmers, working the hard soil by main strength with crude, manual tools.

So one thing I loved most about writing the book was giving my protagonist her strong, independent voice.

Another thing I love about historical research is the way it primes the mind for time travel. The heat and dirt, strange towns, exotic scents, hungry crowds, the fear and excitement. The ‘other’. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When I went with my family to the labyrinthine medinas of the ancient Moroccan city of Fez, donkey trains shoved us aside in narrow streets crowded with shoppers and hawkers with their baskets of wares.

Cages of ducks, chickens and pigeons spilt out from the butcher’s shops. There were spices on stalls, fabrics, and leather goods from the stinking tanneries, their dye-pits gaudy with reds, yellows, orange and green.

The noise was constant, the faces fascinating.

Squint, and the occasional wrist watch or smart phone would disappear. Stop for sweet mint tea or mud-thick coffee, and it took no effort at all to imagine a slight alteration in clothing, a sword or a dagger worn at the belt…

Stories of the crusades sprang to mind and the tales of Scheherazade. The place felt familiar, but also more confident than I’d ever imagined: busier, buzzing, and entirely caught up with itself. The place belonged to the people. But their time was also ours, and what felt old and distant was suddenly here and now.

I experienced a similar sensation of time collapsing when exploring the muddy back-streets of the French Channel port of Étaples for The Goose Road.

A 1913 map I found in the local library showed that the old town’s layout – even the names of its twisting lanes – hadn’t changed from the days when British Empire troops and nurses walked there, and veiled widows slipped by in the shadows, and the great military trains of the First World War rattled past, carrying infantrymen to the Western Front, and the wounded to hospital.

Only ghosts from that war walk there now, but I felt them brush past me all the same.

I found the book really interesting, I’m fascinated by stories about ordinary people during extraordinary times, like this. Angelique is a farmer’s daughter who defies the odds to do something unusual and quite unprecedented.

This book has a lot of sad moments, some really tragic points, but Angelique is a strong heroine and one filled with determination, like my childhood literary hero Anne of Green Gables, stubborn and headstrong. Wartime France is not a safe place for a teenage girl and a flock of geese, including her pet gosling Armandine, travelling at times alone on trains with dodgy men or through encampments of striking munitions workers.

The writing is good, it keeps you interested and the characters are well defined. I know this isn’t written for young adult readers but I think it would appeal to any teens interested in history, especially if you enjoyed Michelle Magorian’s war books like Goodnight Mister Tom and A Little Love Song.

books, fun stuff, Illumicrate, lifestyle boxes, reviews

Illumicrate #10 Rise Up!

My lovely local Hermes courier braved the freezing weather and snow to deliver my Illumicrate, bless her.

This is a big box, so big it doesn’t have the usual logo on it – but it is packed full of books and bookish treats.

The theme is Rise Up! and the items are all about rebellion.

The book is Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyck – a female centred retelling of Spartacus, which really intrigues me as a premise. I look forward to reading this and sharing my thoughts later. There’s also an exclusive bookmark, pin and temporary tattoo.

There’s also an ARC of Sally Green’s The Smoke Thieves. I read Half Bad and thought it was interesting so I’m curious about her new series, of which this is the first book.

Now we have the box exclusives.

Fight the Darkness cushion cover by @stellabookishart – my copy of Ember in the Ashes is somewhere in my flat – until it turns up I will console myself with this bright and cheerful cover.

A Rebel’s Command List by @howstoreofficial – handy for making my lists of what books to read next.

Inimitable mug by @abbieimagine – I haven’t read the box this is inspired by but I like the design.

Daggermark by @rdashjackdotcom – this is a nice quirky bookmark but too bulky for my preferred bookmark so I’ll add it to my collection. Yes, I collect bookmarks and have done for years (I have the Brownie badge to prove it 😁).

Lunar Lip Balm by @lovely_lip_balm – a minty pot of lip balm, perfect for the current cold snap’s effect on my lips.

Phoenix magnet by @hannahhitchmanart – as I’m not a Potter fan I’ll be passing this on but it’s nice and colourful.

Bonus items are from Shatter Me, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black, Strange the Dreamer, Witchsign, Clean, The Hazel Wood – all either recently published or upcoming books.

I think that this was a nice mix of items from different rebellion themed novels/fandoms. Nothing really leaped out at me this time.

The books both look interesting but I might not have picked them up in a bookshop.

A solid box but not the best one I’ve had so far.

beauty, cruelty free, make up, reviews, skincare

Sey-Beaute Naturelle Lipsticks*

Sey-Beaute is an independent, cruelty free, vegan beauty range designed by an incredibly talented lady called Meghan who was inspired to start her line while studying in China and struggling with her hair health. Hailing originally from the Seychelles, but now based in the UK, Meghan went back to basics – coconut butter and other natural ingredients that have been used for years.

I was gifted a selection of gorgeous soy based lipsticks to test as well as a tub of delicious smelling watermelon body butter.

Sey-Chic is a gorgeous purple-pink, a warm toned lipstick that brings a pop of colour to my pale winter skin.

Sey-Shea is already a favourite, a rich golden nude that I wasn’t sure would work on my skintone at first, but imparts a slight shimmer in place of my more usual matte nudes.

I also have three of the Sey-slick lipsticks in purple, brown/red and dark pink. All rich, but not overwhelming shades, and you know I love a dramatic lip.

The use of shea and coconut oils mean these lipsticks are moisturising as well as pretty, taking care of my lips while looking good.

The watermelon body butter smells like summer and is made of all natural ingredients that my thirsty skin loves.

The use of natural ingredients and the cruelty free nature of these gorgeous products mean I can see Sey-Beaute becoming a firm favourite and one more people should be aware of.

Currently you can only purchase products directly from Sey-Beaute but I’m sure that will soon change and you’ll see these beauties stocked on the high street.

*this post contains gifted or sponsored items but all words and opinions are my own.

homewares, lifestyle boxes, reviews

Box of Little Lovelies*

As you probably know by now I’m a sucker for cute homewares, especially when they’re in a subscription box.

Little Lovelies is an online shop selling a selection of cute trinkets and decorative items.

The team have curated a monthly box comprising a selection of items from the shop.

At £10 this is a reasonable price considering the individual cost of the contents. The box I was sent contains 5 items.

A bone China mug

Notebook

Scented candle

Glass jewellery box

Magnet (that matches the design of the mug)

This is a lovely box and would make a good gift too. The boxes can be purchased as a one off or as a monthly subscription.

*this post contains gifted or sponsored items but all words and opinions are my own.

food, reviews

Product Review: Global Gourmet Water Urn*

This might seem like a slightly random item to review but bear with me.

I have over the years organised and hosted dozens of events from parties and lunches to corporate events and fundraisers. One of the best things to remember is to always keep people fed and watered.

And being British tea is pretty important to keep people happy.

That’s where a hot water urn comes in. This one holds quite a lot of hot water – 8.8 litres, about 35 cups.

It has safety handles and nozzle so you don’t scald yourself which is definitely an improvement on some of the dodgy old ones I’ve come across in the past and some handy indicators so you don’t have to open the lid to check the water’s hot.

I think this would be perfect for events like a charity coffee morning or to keep spectators warm at a sports event. It’s not too heavy or bulky to transport and even full isn’t too much for one person to carry or move.

All you need is some cups, tea bags or coffee and the all important milk and sugar in order to keep a crowd happy. Just don’t forget the biscuits.

*This post contains gifted or sponsored items but all words and opinions are my own.

food, recipes

Celebrating St David’s Day with British Leeks*

Happy St David’s Day to any Welsh followers I may have.

While I’m not Welsh myself my godmother is and I have lots of happy memories of trips to visit her in Cardiff (although she’s originally from North Wales) and having her try to teach me a little Welsh.

I’m sure you all know that the national flower of Wales is a daffodil and the national vegetable is the humble leek.

There’s probably some ancient recipe for cooking with daffodils (although they might be poisonous) but today I’m whipping up a little dinner from the British Leeks’ cookbook.

Leeks make a great ingredient, we like them covered in cheese, grilled with a roast dinner or added to a lettuce gratin. They’re part of the same family as garlic and onions, and like their cousins are great in loads of dishes.

So for dinner tonight we’re having a delicious dish of pan roast chicken with leeks, chorizo and cider.

Serves 4 (or 2 hungry people)

You will need;

4 chicken breasts

100g chopped chorizo

400g leeks, trimmed and sliced

1 chopped clove of garlic

2 handfuls of chopped parsley

2tsp dried thyme

1 tbsp flour

100ml chicken stock

350ml cider

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 190°c

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken breasts till golden brown and then do the same on the other side. Then place in an oven dish.

Add the chorizo to pan and fry for a few minutes till golden. Add the leeks, garlic, thyme and parsley and fry for 10 minutes till softened. Add the flour and stir.

Stir in the stock and cider and bring to the boil. Season and simmer.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the chicken was cooked through.

Serve with your choice of potatoes (boiled, mashed etc) or some nice crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Cook’s tips: if you don’t drink, swap out the cider for cloudy apple juice, remember to taste as you season and adjust as you see fit.

The resulting dish is aromatic and deeply tasty, the leeks are soft and buttery, contrasting with the peppery chorizo and the warm chicken.

What’s your favourite way to use leeks? Are you celebrating St David’s Day? Let me know in the comments.

hapus Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

*this post contains items that have been gifted or sponsored but all words and opinions are my own.