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26 November 2019

Tuesday Talk: At Home with Helen...

Welcome To My Study

One of the questions I occasionally get asked is, ‘Where do you write?’ For ‘writing’ include running the admin for Discovering Diamonds, these blog posts, Facebook and Twitter (@HelenHollick)  updates – well anything computer-based.

I use a desktop PC and a fairly large screen because of my wonky eyesight (laptops and tablets are a no-no for me – although my Kindle is my life-line where reading novels and such is concerned).

When we first moved to ‘Windfall Farm’ I had a study room that was off the living room, this became converted to a kitchen when we had the annexe built on for my daughter and son-in-law – and my new study was added as an extra room beyond the dining room, where originally there was a paved patio. The study faces west-north-west and overlooks our little section of the Taw River and its namesake valley. And I do admit to spending more time staring out of the window than I should!

The Taw at Umberleigh
Mist in the Taw Valley
(from our Top Field)
I had to cut back on my collection of books when moving into my new study, although because of my eyes I couldn’t read them anyway, so the non-fiction and hardback novels that I was never going to use again went to the local library, paperback fiction went to the charity shop. I did keep all the sailing reference books, anything Arthurian 1066 related and side-saddle riding books. And my treasured fiction.

These include my signed first edition of a Dick Francis thriller (and the entire collection of all his books) and signed copies of Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman. The complete Bolitho series by Alexander Kent and most of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey series. 

My treasure of treasures are the extra-special pony stories kept from my younger years: Wish For A Pony part of my (almost complete) set of Romney Marsh series and the complete set of Punchbowl Farm by Monica Edwards. The ‘Jill’ books by Ruby Fergusson, Black Beauty, of course, a few of the Pullein Thompson’s adventures and two by show jumper Pat Smythe. (Only us ‘oldies’ will remember her!) The last is Moorland Mousie – about an Exmoor Pony. I must have had that book when I was about ten (I’ll be 67 in 2020) I think this is where I got my love for Exmoors from (we now have three on the farm) and we support the Moorland Mousie Trust as much as we can – a rescue centre for the ponies that have to be taken off the Moor. Too many left out there will damage the semi-wild herds.)

Other treasures are various ornaments that mean a lot to me – my Jack Sparrow ‘doll’ (although I have customised it to become Jesamiah).A china model of the Saxon church that would have been at Waltham Abbey (that is, Earl Harold – later King Harold II’s Abbey). A ship or two, a few dragons, a couple of cannons, a ship’s helm … all models of course!

Behind my desk is my doll’s house. It was my daughter’s but she was always more interested in horses. Alas, the house became a little ‘derelict’ for it was stored in the barn for a couple of years. The damp didn’t do it much good and the mice moving in (somewhat similar to a Beatrix Potter tale) didn’t exactly help. Very reluctantly I decided to be brave and dispose of it to the bonfire a couple of springs sago when we had a clear-out. I had a few tears because of sentimentality, the main reason being my Dad had re-made the front when I first acquired the house and had made an oak front door and porch.

By ‘acquired’, I mean ‘found’. My husband, then (about 30 years ago) worked as a dustman (refuse collector) in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The doll’s house had been thrown out to go on the dust cart. Ron recued it. (He also rescued a rocking horse, which I mended and ‘did up’ as a Christmas present for my, then,  eight-year-old daughter. We still have Mushroom, as he was named.

 I was so reluctant to lose that house… but… no point in keeping it in such a state. Fast forward to my birthday. What I hadn’t known was that my daughter hadn’t removed it to the bonfire, but had patiently (and secretly) renovated and redecorated it. It still needs some finishing touches – new curtains, several new bits of furniture, but I’ll get around to doing that one of these days. The doll’s house had always been my substitute dream country house, so I guess it’s fitting to be here in my real dream house!

The windowsill has several geraniums overwintering here in the warmth, and the Christmas Rose, I’ve just noticed, is starting to bloom. Sybil, the white-and-black cat (as opposed to Mab, the black-and-white cat) sleeps on the chair next to my desk, and in typical cat fashion drives me mad by going out the cat flap in the adjoining kitchen but insists on coming IN through the door to the veranda. Obviously, she is convinced that the cat flap only works one way…

The original study
My other 'companion' of sorts in my study is ‘Alexa’. I regard her as my P.A. Most useful are reminders to cook/check the dinner (usually regarding the potatoes) but she is also wonderful at spelling out words I’m not sure of or as a thesaurus. Especially helpful as I do struggle, now, with using a dictionary. I also enjoy ‘question of the day’ (I’m up to a score of 753 points) and that little personal touch of a morning and evening: ‘Alexa, Good Morning, what’s in the calendar today?’ and ‘Alexa, goodnight.’ It’s nice to get a pleasant, ’goodnight, sleep tight’ response.

Just a bit of a pity that she’s not clever enough to write the next blog post for me…


  1. Wonderful post, Helen. And what a lovely surprise to find that the doll's house had been saved from 'demolition'. Having watched both the episodes of 'Escape to the Country' I feel I know this place quite well, and still get a warm glow from knowing how much you all enjoy living there :-)

  2. As Annie Whitehead said so well Helen, it's great to know that you are living in, and enjoying your Dream House! When you love a place it soon becomes populated with things, and memories that further enhance it, and reflect your personality. When one reads your heart-felt comments the sense of well being is contagious! But then you have a great talent in that regard. When you have transported me onto the deck of Jesamiah Acorne's ship, I can taste the sea spray, and feel the wind in my face. It's good to share one's happiness. x


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