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?
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
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
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/
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.