On Weeding & Writing - an occasional eclectic blog by author C.F. Dunn

Women’s Clatter

I’ve been keeping company with George, Duke of Clarence this afternoon and have had enough of his shenanigans for one day. As a bit of a change I’ve dipped into the chapter on ‘Women’, by P.J.P. Goldberg in Fifteenth-Century Attitudes and come across these gems: “Doghter, temper well thi tonge’, (from The Good Wyf Wold A Pylgremage) and this useful advice to men, ‘whyls they ar yong/If ye luf youre lifys, chastice thare tong.‘ (from the Wakefield pageant). The prohibition against women’s ‘clatter’ that runs through many Medieval texts can also be seen in the present day. It’s a bit of an eye-opener.

On Weeding and Writing: Creative Gardening Writes Novels

Can creative gardening write novels? I think it can. It’s that post-Christmas period when the morning sun reveals the dust on the shelves and the first snowdrops and winter aconites wink under the hedges. I ache to get out into the garden and continue the jobs left undone at the close of autumn.


With Thegn’s help I’ve been concentrating on clearing ivy in the spring garden. Seedlings of ash and sycamore have over-wintered there as well, and their bare stems defy attempts to dislodge them. Where I win the battle, I push crocus bulbs and snowdrops into the loosened soil, and plant wild primroses and spotted pulmonaria (lungwort) under the shelter of the trees. They look sad at the moment but, given gentle rain and warm sun in equal measure, will soon rally, providing nectar for emerging bees.

Such repetitive work gives me plenty of time to think about writing. Often, gardening is when the best ideas filter into my consciousness, bud, and blossom. Over subsequent weeks as the garden develops, I weed out the blind bulbs of ideas that lead nowhere, the weak seedlings that undermine the plot. I feed and tend the stronger saplings whose branches will bear the most fruit and the best storylines. In my garden, I flesh out my characters and prune those that get ahead of themselves. Even the very act of tending the soil gives ideas for the future. While Emma D’Eresby in The Secret of the Journal series hates gardening (because her father loves it), Isobel Fenton in The Tarnished Crown series lives for it. For her, the garden is a place of refuge in a land of turmoil where she, and she alone, is mistress.

Perhaps that’s also one of the reasons I like to garden. Here, I have the time, the space, and the freedom to create. From a simple patch of bare ground I can make a world of my own, whether in my head or on my knees, in the certain knowledge that hard graft now, will bear fruit later.


New Book Contract: love and treachery during the Wars of the Roses

I am delighted to announce that I’ve signed a three-book contract with Lion Fiction.  

The first book in my historical trilogy is due for release in 2020. Wheel of Fortune launches into the turmoil of England in the C15th. The country is turning a corner after the ravages of the Black Death; the Hundred Years War is finally over, but conflict and treachery have come to haunt the families that survived.

I’m back on home territory with a story that charts the fortunes of young Isobel Fenton as she negotiates the treacherous political landscape of the Wars of the Roses and the mid-C15th. This is a period of history I started studying way back at the age of nine when I picked up my brother’s book on the history of England and became hooked. It was one of those traditional histories that paints monarchs in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – simplistic even to my child’s eyes. I remember being outraged at the depiction of Richard III even though I knew nothing about him, and it led to a lifetime of research.

That was the beginning. Now, decades later, I still study the political fortunes of the C15th, but this time, as a novelist. I get the best of both worlds.

Happy Christmas!


Wherever you are, whatever you do, be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Put your feet up, pour yourself a favourite tipple (or brew), and have a joyful, blessed and gentle Christmas. 🎄

Welcome to My World with Guest Author, Tamara Tilley

 I am delighted to have novelist Tamara Tilley join me all the way from the United States as my guest. Author of page-turning fiction, Tamara is also rated as in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads – an accolade earned through her thorough and insightful reviews of fiction in many genres. https://tamara-tilley.blogspot.com

Tamara has been writing since 2003 in the Christian/Romance/Suspense genre. The characters she creates are never perfect (thank goodness) but it’s their flaws that make them real. She is passionate about reading and excited to see the strides Christian artists are making in the self-publishing field. With her husband, she lives and works at Hume Lake Christian Camps where they have been full-time staff ministering there for over twenty years.


You write in a very specific genre. What made you choose this area? The first time I picked up a book to read for pleasure (something I didn’t think was possible), it was Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. As you can imagine, I was hooked. Years later, I had an idea for a story and started writing, not knowing if I would be able to finish it. That was the start of my writing journey.

How do you get ideas for plots? Without sounding too weird, they just come to me. I have numerous concepts from simple outlines to page counts up to 300 that I have yet to complete. 

Characters are central to a story. How do you develop yours? I start with a general idea—what their weaknesses are or what they’re dealing with in life—and they kind of fill in the blanks.

Many authors say they have always wanted to write – is this true of you? No. The complete opposite. My weakest subjects in high school were English and Literature. I barely passed with “C’s”. I hated reading and thought “reading for pleasure” was an oxymoron. I was a math major and still consider that my strength. Even so, now I love starting a story and seeing where it goes. 

When did you first start writing? 2003

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing? Well, since I only write it in my free time, my true job is as a retail manager at Hume Lake Christian Camps and my other hobby is making greeting cards.

How do you get into writing mode? A clean house (so I don’t feel guilty that I am fudging my real responsibilities), a comfy chair, and an idea.

If your latest book REUNION was adapted to film, who would play the lead role? Kate Hudson and Taylor Kinney (T.V. show Chicago Fire). 

Plotter of pantser? Do you have a full draft or let it develop as you write? Total pantser. I never know when I start a story where it’s going to end.

Do your characters usually behave or do they sometimes take you by surprise and do their own thing? They definitely have their way with me. When I’ve tried to explain to people that characters sometimes take on a life of their own, they look at me like I’m crazy. But other writers totally get it.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? I wouldn’t necessarily say blurred, maybe believable or real. My book One Saturday is about a woman who has suffered a physical assault. One reader was so concerned that I was speaking from experience, she wanted to make sure I was okay. I took it as a compliment.  

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Romance-suspense. I definitely like suspense and intrigue with my romance. I’m not into cozy or sappy. I like grit. I like characters that are flawed and don’t have all the answers.

Do you have a favourite author and why? I definitely have favorite(s). I would say Dee Henderson’s The O’Malley Series is what inspired me to first start writing. But other authors I love to read are (in no special order): Marylu Tyndall, Ronie Kendig, Janice Cantore, Susan May Warren, Dani Pettrey, DiAnn Mills, and Lynette Eason. And self-published authors Sally Bradley and Amy Matayo.


I used to say that I didn’t like the genres of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or period pieces. But Marylu Tyndall introduced me to mermaids and archers. Tamara Leigh introduced me to medieval heroes and heroines. And, last but not least, C.F. Dunn introduced me to those things that cannot be explained. I remember when I was sent Death Be Not Proud for review purposes. When I started reading it, I wasn’t thrilled that it had a paranormal bent to it, but I continued because of my agreement to write a review. I became completely consumed by it. I was enthralled with the characters and the escalation of danger and passion. Your writing is so articulate and intelligent. Your characters have flaws and obstacles that make them real and relatable. The entire series is one of the best I have read, and one of very few series I have on my re-read list. You definitely stretched my boundaries and my thinking. 

What do you think of the rising field of self-publishing? I absolutely love it. I feel it has expanded the options for Christian readers. I understand that Christian publishers have to market to the broadest possible audience, and by doing so, they have strict guidelines on content and storylines. Unfortunately, I feel that doesn’t always allow for authenticity and reality. Christians stumble and fall. Christians don’t always do or say the right thing. We are immersed in a world that straddles the fence and makes excuses for wrong choices. To write stories that ignore the realities of life or portray heroes and heroines that can do no wrong, makes them unrelatable. Yes, I read for escapism, but not into a world that insults my intelligence. The expansion of self-published books from Christian authors have bridged a gap for those of us who want a little more realism in our novels without having to sift through the tawdry or inappropriate. To clarify – I never glorify sin in my novels, I just don’t ignore it.

Cooking Up A Storm: Spicing It Up

Have you ever tried home-made crabapple jelly? Best eaten with lamb, chicken and turkey, I grew up on this late-summer staple.  My father took me scrumping the old crabapple (or crab apple – Malus) trees on the RAF base where we lived and, years later, we planted our own and nurtured them to fruition.


Between research, writing and renovating the house, I’m getting in a bit of jelly making – kindly assisted by Thegn’s quality control. One of the good things about moving home is discovering what’s been planted over the years. This crabapple is the deepest burgundy and is streaked with ruby inside. The apples are HUGE compared with most crabapple varieties – size of an average lime – and cook to a glorious raspberry pink. The resulting jelly retains a dry, almost astringent flavour and is not as fragrant as, say, John Downie or Dartmouth. I’ll be experimenting by adding spices and port for a wintery slant, and flakes of chilli pepper to liven things up bit. I expect generations have savoured those same scents of stewing apples and spices, redolent of late summer sun. Timeless.


From C15th Gode Cookery

To make Char de Crabb. Recipe crabbs & seth þam in watur tyll þai be softe, & take hony & strene þe crabbs þerwith throgh a cloth. Put to a iijd part of claryfyed hony & a quantyte of sawndyrs, & colour it with saforun; þen put þerto a quantyte of powdyr of peper & ij d worth of þe flour of anneys & a quantyte of powdyre of licorys. Þen take grated brede & mold it vp þerwith, & put it in cophyns & serof it forth, & bene facis. Quod Don Thomas Awkbarow. 

From: C. B. Hieatt “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary.” 




P.S. If anyone has any idea what variety of crabapple these are, please drop me a line and let me know.

Stripping the Past: Restoration Games

Since my last post on restoring our Arts and Crafts house, things have moved on apace. I finished removing all the modern polyurethane from the wide window seat in my study and then started eyeing up the rest of the room. There’s an inglenook fireplace from the original 1630’s house in my study. Edward Sturdy surrounded it in an oak mantle and this, too, had been given ‘the treatment’ sometime in the 1990’s. Now a dark, icky mahogany brown, the beautiful grain of the wood was lost and the surface dull. As you know, I am wary of removing any finish that might be original but, spurred on by the stripping of the window seat, I set out to do a similar job on the mantle.


The copper bell push had to be removed for cleaning. A lovely thing, it had been lacquered sometime in the last twenty years and needed the old coating removed before polishing,, finding a replacement button, and being put back. Behind the bell the original surface glowed a medium oak, a perfect witness to our hunch that almost the entire house had been subject to a mahogany stain on the extensive areas of woodwork.


Anyway, as before I used a chemical paint stripper (Paint Panther) that softened the varnish enough to be removed without damaging the wood. It took a few coats, scraping (carefully), wire wool, and wire brushes to take off a lot of mucky gunge. I then rubbed the exposed wood with white spirit, used a fine tool to clean the really-hard-to-get niggly bits, and brushed on liquid beeswax and natural turpentine (Liberon) to nourish the surface. Left to dry for upwards of twenty-four hours, this was then buffed to a subtle sheen.


Removing the inappropriate wood stain revealed the probable reason for it: surfaces chewed by time and woodworm. I can understand people wanting to unify the look of the wood; some would say that the use of Douglas fir and oak (and walnut, in some places) was a bit eccentric of Edward Toronto Sturdy, but then that is part of the charm of his house – it’s quirky.


The next project to tackle will be the tiled fireplace. At some point, the 9×9 inch red quarry tiles were painted a heavy, pillar box red. I have no idea whether I can rid them of the noxious coating, but I’m willing to give it a go.



While it is so hot we keep Thegn inside most of the day. He has his early morning walk at about 7am, and at about 7pm he has his second walk, and possibly a third at about 11pm. Yesterday evening, Child Two and I took him to the beach only to find the entire strandline littered with dead and dying whitebait. Mackerel risked all to snap at them on the incoming tide, getting within feet of the shore and flashing in the last light of day. Thegn took full advantage and scoffed three or four of the little fish before we could stop him; he was most grumpy about that. #WeAreThegn #LoveDorset

Restoration Game: Joys & Tribulations of Renovating

I’ve been taking time out from writing my latest historical mystery suspense to engage in a little house restoration. One of the joys and tribulations of living in an old house is what might turn up expectedly during renovation.

For the last week I’ve been engrossed in getting some work done in my study – not writing this time, but stripping (although the new book is coming on apace, I’m delighted to say).  I’ve been working on the Arts and Crafts window seat which crosses the entire width of the windows and was stained such a dark colour that it sucked all the light out of the room. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve seen too many over-restored houses to let that happen to this one. Too often woodwork that was supposed to have been painted from the start is stripped back to a naked surface and limed or left parched and bare. I agonised over what to do for the best and the question I asked myself was: is this an original finish to the Douglas fir and oak bench, or a later addition? A test strip painted a pale, neutral colour looked terrible, leaving me no other option than to take the plunge and remove layers of sludgy ‘mahogany’ varnish. 

The varnish turned out to be a modern polyurethane finish. Removing the varnish allowed not only the warmth of the wood to glow through, but also the strong grain – giving texture and depth. It also revealed that two oak panels had been replaced with…vinyl laminate flooring. Delightful. It worked, I suppose, when covered with gooy varnish, but stripped back looked exactly as it was – plastic. Carefully removing the laminate revealed the badly wormed oak panels. My helpful decorator supplied some oak sheet he had tucked away in his garage and that will be my next task – to cut two panels from it to replace the placky stuff. Then I’ll stain the fresh oak to match the 1900 wood, and use a beeswax and turpentine mix to unify the colours, feed the wood and give it some protection.

Even with this much done, the room feels lighter and more inviting and closer to the original finish desired by Edward Toronto Sturdy when he first commissioned the building. I’ll post some more photos when the job’s completed.