A Home From Home – Veronica Henry / #Extract #BlogTour #RandomThingsTours @annecater @veronica_henry

 

Sunshine, cider and family secrets…

Dragonfly Farm has been a home and a haven for generations of Melchiors – arch rivals to the Culbones, the wealthy family who live the other side of the river. Life there is dictated by the seasons and cider-making, and everyone falls under its spell.

For cousins Tabitha and Georgia, it has always been a home from home. When a tragedy befalls their beloved great-uncle Matthew, it seems the place where they’ve always belonged might now belong to them…

But the will reveals that a third of the farm has also been left to a total stranger. Gabriel Culbone has no idea why he’s been included, or what his connection to the farm – or the Melchiors – can be.

As the first apples start to fall for the cider harvest, will Dragonfly Farm begin to give up its secrets?

 

 

Extract

***

Crack!

There was nothing more satisfying than the sound

of an axe splitting a log. Tabitha had spent all morning

getting her swing just right, like a golfer, and now she

had the perfect rhythm. It was better than any workout,

and she was stripped down to a camisole and shorts, dripping

with sweat. Not a ladylike glow, but good honest

salty sweat, running in rivulets down her face, her back,

everywhere . . .

She’d finally accepted that the tree wasn’t going to

survive. It had shown signs of disinterest in life some time

ago. She had done what she could to mollycoddle it over

the heat of the summer, but now there was nothing for

it but to chop it down and use it for firewood. Often,

they would keep fallen trees, and sometimes these would

continue to bear fruit, but this was blocking the way so

now, instead of an ancient apple tree, she had a beautiful

pile of logs waiting to be stacked in the wood-store for

drying.

She wasn’t sentimental. She would replace it, get a new

tree tucked safely into the orchard so it would get strong

before the first frost and the onset of winter, which would

be upon them before they were ready. It was always so

hard to believe cold weather was on its way in the soft

warmth of early autumn, with the trees and bushes and

hedgerows heavy with fruit, gold and purple and deep

red and orange.

She gathered up the last few logs, flung them in her

wheelbarrow and laid her axe on top. She gave a loud

whistle, and Poe – named by her cousin Georgia after

Edgar Allan Poe, because his shiny coat was as black as

a raven’s wing – bounded back to her. He was a formidable

ratter. Even though Dragonfly Farm wasn’t a proper

working farm – no cattle or sheep; no grain to store – the

outhouses were still a draw for vermin.

She calculated there was enough time for her to go and

have a long bath with a dose of Epsom salts to soothe her

muscles before heading to the Swan. She’d worked there

for seven years and she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

On the banks of the river Rushbrook that gave the village

its name, the pub was unspoilt, cosy but comfy, with a

good mix of locals and people from further afield who

popped in regularly for one of her famous pies. She was

part of the fixtures and fittings. She belonged there as

much as the flagstone floors and the cases full of fish that

had been caught in the river and the photographs of the

Rushbrook cricket team going back to the 1800s.

The pie-making had started when the chef had gone

off sick and Tabitha had stepped in: she didn’t have the

skills to cook to order, so she had taken the contents of

the fridge and made a selection of pies. They had gone

down a storm and were now the pub’s speciality. Chicken

and mushroom, steak and Stilton, venison, fish, spinach

and feta, rabbit and mustard – she changed them according

to the season. They were all topped with her shiny

pastry, hand-decorated with lattice work and leaves and

finally monogrammed with an entwined TM for Tabitha

Melchior.

Today, she was spending the afternoon making pies

before her shift behind the bar, which would finish about

midnight. Then she would be up at the crack of dawn the

next morning to exercise racehorses for Jimmy O’Gowan.

It was hard work and not nearly as glamorous as it

sounded, but she loved it: she was light but strong, and a

fearless rider. Every week Jimmy would plead with her to

come and work for him full time. ‘Ah, come on now, Miss

Melchior,’ he’d say, his voice syrupy with Galway charm.

‘You’re the only person who never lets me down. I need

you to run the yard. We’d win the Gold Cup every year

with you at the helm.’

But she would laugh her refusal.

When people asked Tabitha what she did for a living,

she was always amused by the look on their faces when

she recited the list. She’d worked out a long time ago that

she wasn’t a career girl. She didn’t want to be answerable

to anyone. She was a pie-making/racehorse-exercising/

cider-making/anything-else-that-came-her-way barmaid

who by and large chose exactly how to live her life.

OK, so she didn’t get sick pay or have much of a pension,

and even lumped together her income wasn’t huge,

but she did what she loved with people she loved and

she never got bored, and what could be better than that?

It was flexible too: if she wanted to disappear off to

Glastonbury for a week, she could. When she needed

to take time off for the apple harvest and annual cider

making, she could. And she was able to be spontaneous

and indulge in passion projects.

Thank you, Veronica Henry and Random Things Tours.

 

About the author

As an army child, I went to eight different schools, including the Royal School Bath, where I learnt Latin, how to make rock buns and how to take my bra off without getting undressed.  I went on to study Classics at Bristol University, followed by a bi-lingual secretarial course – a surprisingly useful combination.

I landed a job as Production Secretary on The Archers at Pebble Mill in Birmingham, where it used to take me two and a half hours to type out an Archers script on an Olivetti ET121 typewriter.  Duties ranged from recording the sound of newborn piglets to playing Peaches the barmaid in the Cat and Fiddle.  There was never a dull moment, and The Archers taught me that everyone needs an escape from everyday life.

From there, I became a script editor for Central Television, working on broadcasting legends Crossroads and Boon.  I started a family and became a freelance scriptwriter, writing hundreds of hours of television drama, including Heartbeat and Holby City.

In 2000 I got my first book deal, and am currently writing my twentieth novel.

I also write lifestyle features for newspapers and magazines, including Woman and Home, Red, The Daily Mail, Woman and The Sunday Times.

I speak regularly at Literary Festivals, libraries, WIs and charity events, talking about my career and the inspiration for my novels.