I am rather pleased, nay, delighted, to welcome Cathy Bramley to my blog today. I have followed Cathy’s inspiring career since she self-published (and subsequently re-released) Conditional Love, then found a publishing home with Transworld and released Ivy Lane as a four part ebook serial. Ivy Lane was released in its entirety in paperback yesterday. Not only that, but Appleby Farm, Cathy’s newest ebook serial, has just been released. It’s a spin off from Ivy Lane, following the story of Freya, who works in the cafe near the Ivy Lane allotments. But Freya is about to be called back to the Lake District. To home.
Cathy’s books hold a massive appeal for me. Ivy Lane is based on an allotment where Tilly takes on a plot and in doing so turns her life around. And on Appleby Farm there are chickens. Say no more. In each book, in each instalment, Cathy draws you in with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells from the allotment and the farm. Her books are truly a feast for the senses. The cottage pie scene, in particular, from Appleby Farm stood out for me. As Cathy writes, “It is like a big hug. Right there on the plate.”
Interview with Cathy Bramley…
Congratulations, Cathy, on a rather exciting February. You have released the first instalment of Appleby Farm available as an ebook, the paperback of Ivy Lane is now out in the shops, and you have also just signed a new three book deal with Transworld. You must be feeling very happy, writing-wise?
I am feeling very fortunate, Helen! A year ago I had just signed a deal to write one book, Ivy Lane, with Transworld. Now I have five novels under my belt and am about to start my sixth. I took a big leap of faith last year to give up my marketing business and concentrate on writing full-time; it’s such a relief that it appears to have paid off!
I know you’ve said Ivy Lane allotments was inspired by your mum’s allotment. Is Appleby Farm in the Lake District inspired by a real farm?
I conceived the idea for Appleby Farm after my editor, Harriet Bourton, planted a seed in my head about writing a follow-on novel from Ivy Lane. After I came up with the plot I realised that I needed to do a lot of research as I am not a farmer! I remembered that a former client of mine, Charlotte, had converted an almost derelict Lakeland farm into a visitor attraction Old Hall Farm in Bouth. So I went to see her a couple of times last year. Her farm is fabulous and is located in a stunning area of The Lake District and it totally inspired the setting for Appleby Farm.
Any book with chickens in has a huge tick from me. Do you have chickens yourself or did you undertake research?
I did want chickens when we first moved to the village where we live three years ago. In fact I even went as far as asking for a hen house for Christmas! But I changed my mind as we don’t have family nearby to look after them if we go away. Luckily, my friend Julie has hens and so I went round to her house last year for a lesson in looking after – and picking up – chickens!
Now I have seen a Q&A video of you where you say you don’t base your characters on real people but you do borrow stories from people you know. So, tell me. The hen walking into the dog kennel at 9.30am, laying an egg then the dog munching on it – did it really happen? (That story made me laugh. I know chickens have proper personalities so it wouldn’t surprise me).
I visited more than one farm when I was researching Appleby Farm and as luck would have it, my husband went to school with a farmer’s son, who is now a farmer! I went round to visit him and parked my car near a dog kennel with the name ‘Bracken’ over the little arched doorway. Just behind the kennel was a field of hens. The farmer, David, told me that one of the hens lays an egg every day at 11am and that his elderly black Labrador would pop by to eat it before anyone else could retrieve it! I loved that story so much that I had to weave it into Appleby Farm!
I love your books as they are fully rounded, almost 3D, in that we know exactly what the characters are smelling, touching, hearing and eating. In Ivy Lane I could smell the tomato plants, feel the dirt on my hands and in Appleby Farm I could smell the cows and hear the chickens. As regards the food, how do you decide what food to incorporate in the story? Did you picture Freya in the farm kitchen eating cottage pie in front of the aga? What made you decide on the scones?
This is probably going to make me sound like an absolute loon… but I don’t consciously think about what food to incorporate into the story, because the food is already there in the scene in my head. All I do is write it down. So for example, I just knew that Auntie Sue would make a big cottage pie on Freya’s first night back at the farm. (Yep, definitely a loon!) I decided on the scones because although they are very simple and quick to make, getting them right is a skill and I thought it would be nice for Auntie Sue to have passed that skill onto her niece.
Out of Ivy Lane and Appleby Farm which dish or bake has made your mouth water whilst writing?
Oh, this one is easy! It’s Summer Pudding in Ivy Lane! This is my favourite dessert and it never ceases to amaze me how ordinary bread and fruit can taste so ambrosial when combined like this. Especially when doused liberally with double cream…
Thank you so much for such brilliant answers, Cathy. I’m really looking forward to reading the next three parts in the serial.