Handing over the blog to Jenny Kane on publication day is always a particular pleasure – Winter Fires at Mill Grange, the fourth and final novel in the Mill Grange series, is published as an e-book today (11th November) by Aria Fiction, with the paperback to follow on 9th December. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series, Midsummer Dreams (you’ll find my review here), and it was a bit frustrating that I just couldn’t fit in reviews of the books that followed – you might just like to start with that first one too, but it really isn’t essential (if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can even read the first three books for free). Let me hand over to Jenny and let her tell you all about her latest (including those important buying links…!).
Many thanks for inviting me to your blog today, Anne.
I’m delighted to be able to announce that today is publication day for Winter Fires at Mill Grange – the final book in the Mill Grange series.
Following on from Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange, Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange and Spring Blossoms – Winter Fires at Mill Grange takes the reader on a Christmas time adventure. An adventure that brings with it a touch of greasepaint, the roar of the crowd – and lots of cheese scones and bacon sandwiches.
Let me share the blurb…
Mill Grange is putting on a show this holiday season!
When young Dylan Harris’s former babysitter, Harriet, needs a last minute venue for her acting troupe’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, the staff at Mill Grange throw its doors open…but they may get more drama than they’d bargained for!
With a play to arrange, an unexpected arrival adds to the drama. It soon looks as if a miracle will be needed to make sure this Christmas is one that Thea, Tina, Sam, Shaun, Helen and Tom – along with retirees Bert and Mabel Hastings – won’t forget…
The idea for introducing some outdoor theatre to Winter Fires came to me after seeing an advertisement for a performance of Romeo and Juliet in the grounds of one of my local National Trust properties. As soon as I saw that poster I found myself picturing a play in the grounds of Mill Grange. What if, I asked myself, Harriet (who previous readers will know as Tom’s step daughter and Dylan’s babysitter), wanted to be an actor? Five minutes later, the entire plot line for the novel was jumping up and down in my head, desperate to be written.
Having been lucky enough to stay at Northmoor House (the Victorian manor house on Exmoor that Mill Grange is based on), a number of times – I could easily picture exactly where the play would take place – and with the winter theme of the book already established, the production in question simply had to be The Winter’s Tale. (I know it isn’t set in the winter – a fact that confuses the residents of Mill Grange as much as it did me until I realised it was “a Shakespeare-ism” – as my Nan would have said.)
As Mill Grange gets ready to welcome the theatrical group – The Outdoor Players – through its doors, the challenges of life provide additional battles for series stalwarts Thea, Helen and Bert. Meanwhile, Tom’s stepdaughter Harriet gets ready to confront her father, a man who is difficult to please at the best of times, and who is not at all comfortable with his daughter being an actor rather than getting “a proper job”.
Here’s a little extract from Chapter One. The regulars at the Mill Grange retreat (for recovering military personal) are closed to guests for the winter, and are about to have a staff meeting…
Wednesday December 1st
….The scent of freshly baked cake wafted across the kitchen as the staff of Mill Grange drifted in from their various workstations and gathered around the large oak table that formed the heart of the house.
Thea, a mug of coffee warming her palms, watched as her best friend, Tina, poured a lemon juice and sugar concoction over the sponge she’d just extracted from the aged Aga.
‘Seeing you bake a lemon cake always reminds me of the first staff meeting we had after my arrival at Mill Grange.’
Tina chuckled. ‘That wasn’t quite such a laid-back affair as our meetings these days, was it?’
Moving away from the sink, Mabel dried her hands, her powdered cheeks dotting with spots of pink as she sat next to Thea. ‘I’m not sure if I ever said, but I really am sorry I was difficult in the beginning.’
Placing a consoling palm over the pensioner’s hand, Thea shook her head. ‘You were rightly wary of me. I swanned in from nowhere and started telling you how to restore the house you’d already been restoring for years. You were bound to have been put out.’
Throwing off his shoes, Sam took his regular seat nearest the open back door, ever ready to make a dash for the fresh air if his claustrophobia chose that moment to make its presence felt. ‘That was nearly two years ago and frankly, Mabel, this place could not operate without you.’
‘Thank you, Sam.’ Mabel pushed her shoulders back, as she turned to Thea. ‘You said you’d had a call from Harriet. That’s Dylan’s babysitter isn’t it?’
‘And future stepsister.’ Fresh from working in the garden, Dylan’s father, Tom, finished scrubbing the mud off his hands and picked up a mug of tea. ‘Although, now she’s at uni, she isn’t looking after Dylan so much. I think he misses Harriet as much as he misses his mum, to be honest.’
Thea lowered her cup for a moment. ‘How’s Sue doing in Australia? Settled in?’
‘I think so. Nathan likes being boss of the supermarket he’s running and Sue is certainly embracing the local sunshine. I get the impression that their wedding plans are in full swing.’ Tom found himself scowling as he thought about Sue, his ex and his son’s mother.
Stirring some milk into her teacup, Mabel asked, ‘What’s Harriet studying, Tom?’
‘Drama at Bristol.’
Tina struggled not to chuckle as she recognised the effort Mabel was making not to comment on the fact that drama wasn’t a “real” degree and changed the subject. ‘How’s Helen, Tom?’
‘She’s great, thanks.’ A broad grin crossed the archaeologist’s face. ‘Up to her eyes in event organising for the Roman Baths.’
‘Is she enjoying working from home?’
‘Seems to be. The smallest bedroom is now her office.’ Tom took a sip from his tea. ‘And I can’t complain. Since home is in Tiverton, near Dylan’s school, that means I don’t have to dash back to collect him at quarter past three every day.’
After putting the cake on the windowsill to cool, Tina joined her friends. ‘As we’re all here, shall we start?’
Sam nodded. ‘The agenda isn’t long, so let’s hear what Harriet wanted first. Thea?’
Rolling her mug between her palms, Thea addressed the group. ‘I can’t decide if it’s potentially exciting or if it would be a nightmare.’
‘What would?’ Tina poised her pen over her pad, ready to take the meeting’s minutes.
‘As Tom said, Harriet is doing a drama degree. Her introductory term has just ended and she has landed her first professional acting job over the Christmas break. At least, she had.’
Tom blew into his tea. ‘What’s happened? Dylan was telling me how excited she was. Going to be the girl from Harry Potter he said – so I presumed Hermione.’
‘Not quite. She does have the role of Hermione.’ Thea laughed. ‘But with an outdoor theatre company. They were due to perform Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in the grounds of a farmhouse near Lacock, in Wiltshire, from 18th until 20th December.’
Tina opened her diary. ‘That’s in seventeen days.’
‘Was, actually. Unless…’ Thea looked at Sam ‘…they can find a new venue, the show is off.’
‘And Harriet wants them to come here instead?’ Sam exchanged glances with his wife, Tina, as he asked, ‘What happened to the current venue?’
‘There was a storm over a large part of Wiltshire last night. The farmhouse they were due to perform in has flooded. Apparently the thatch was old and this was the final straw, if you’ll pardon the pun. The owners have had to cancel while they get some urgent renovation work done. The whole ground floor of the house needs ripping out and redoing.’
‘That sounds awful!’ Tina shuddered, glad that Mill Grange had a slate roof and was sat at the top of a hill.
‘Dreadful though that sounds—’ Mabel leant forward ‘—the damage is all inside. If they are an outdoor group, why can’t the show go on?’
‘It’s a health and safety issue.’
The old lady rolled her eyes. ‘When isn’t it?’
Tina scribbled a few notes on her pad. ‘It’s very short notice for them to change venue, especially to here. What are we, a hundred or so miles away from the original performance site? Presumably they’ll have sold tickets that will need refunding?’
‘That’s what I meant by a potential nightmare. If we let The Outdoor Players use Mill Grange, then we’d have to find them an audience in double-quick time.’
Tom raked a hand through his hair. ‘Harriet will be gutted if she doesn’t get to do the play.’
‘Let’s be practical.’ Sam got up and headed for the door. ‘It’s an outdoor performance, so let’s see where it could be done. If we agreed…’
When I was writing Winter Fires at Mill Grange, I was constantly aware that this was to be the very last outing for its characters. I wanted to make sure that all the threads to each of their individual storylines were tied off. So, if you need to know more about Bert’s claustrophobia or discover if Helen has settled into working from home, then grab a copy of the novel, make yourself a hot chocolate, and put your feet up in front of the fire.
If you’d like to buy Winter Fires at Mill Grange, you can preorder the paperback from your favourite high street bookshop, or from Amazon or Waterstones (out on 9th December): the ebook is available from today for kindle, Kobo and Nook.
Many thanks for letting me share publication day with you.
Thank you Jenny – lovely to welcome you once more, and happy publication day…
About the author
‘I love Jenny Kane’s writing.’ Katie Fforde
From the comfort of her cafe corner in Mid Devon, award winning author, Jenny Kane, wrote the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, Winter Fires at Mill Grange (Aria, 2021), Spring Blossoms at Mill Grange (Aria, 2021), Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), A Cornish Escape(2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), A Cornish Wedding (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018), Another Glass of Champagne (Accent Press, 2016), and Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013).
She has also written 3 novella length sequels to her Another Cup of… books: Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle(Accent, 2016). These three seasonal specials are now available in one boxed set entitled Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection (Accent, 2016)
Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015)
Under the pen name, Jennifer Ash, Jenny has also written The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw, Outlaw Justice – published by Littwitz Press 2016-2020), with The Waterford Boy, Mathilda’s Legacy, The Baron’s Daughter, The Meeting Place, Fitzwarren’s Well and more released by Spiteful Puppet between 2017 and 2020. She also created seven audio scripts for ITV’s popular 1980’s television show, Robin of Sherwood.
Jenny Kane is the writer in residence for Tiverton Costa in Devon. She also co-runs the creative writing business, Imagine. Jenny teaches a wide range of creative writing workshops including her popular ‘Novel in a Year’ course.
All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk.