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Wednesday 1 May 2024

Thoughts from a Devonshire farmhouse MAY 2024

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It seems incredible that we are already in May, where does the time go? Back in April 1993, one week after my 40th birthday, I was accepted for publication by William Heinemann (now a part of Random House UK) The contract was for a three book deal about King Arthur, which became, on publication, the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. A dream come true... sort of...

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The trouble with dreams they’re not always those ‘Wish Upon A Star’ happy-ever-after things that you get in Disney films are they? Some dreams turn into rained-on parades or even nightmares. Some dreams do come true, although shouldn’t most ‘dreams’ be reclassified as ‘ambitions’?

'Dream come true' is one of those phrases that has become somewhat misused - like 'literally'. 'I was so excited I literally died!' er... no you didn't.

'You know' is another annoying phrase. So irritating when you hear interviewees on TV or radio saying 'you know' over and over again. No, I don't know, that's why I'm listening to this interview. 'Actually' is another, except I can't actually moan about this one as I do tend to use it rather a lot myself, actually. :-)

I reckon that ‘dream come true’ basically means something that is yearned for but unlikely to happen because it’s a one in an x-million chance of actually happening, and is probably out of your hands to make it happen. Example: winning the Lottery.

An ‘ambition’ though, is something that you would really like to happen and could be possible if you put enough hard work, determination and hope into it. Example: Getting a book published. Although I suppose there is a bit of a crossover. To achieve some ambitions the dream bit needs to come true – winning the money to achieve the dream, having enough support or encouragement to achieve something... All of which require a rather large dollop of luck!

It always makes me chuckle when you hear someone saying ‘It’s a life changing dream come true!” No, winning £25k, while absolutely delightful, is not life changing. Nor is it a dream come true. It’s a lucky win. Enjoy it.

Oh, and those bloomin’ home improvement adverts on TV! Do people really have dream kitchens? Dream house I can understand, but a dream kitchen?

Mind you I’m biased as I’m not a kitchen person. Kitchens (or the adjoining utility room) are designed to be functional: the cooker, sink, washing machine, adequate cupboards etc.  I don’t cook (hopeless at it) so I maintain that I’ve only got a kitchen because it came with the house. The kitchen I have now is rather nice, very ‘cottagey’ with a Redfyre (same as an Aga but different brand name) and a cosy feel to it (and an adjoining utility room, which I call the scullery because it sounds more countrified), and beyond that a loo and shower room. And that’s enough about the boring subject of a kitchen!

agent's pic of the kitchen (2012)
and dining room beyond

When we, (well my husband) won the Lottery raffle back in 2012 on the opening night of the London Olympics I guess that was a dream come true because I had always wanted to live in the country. I hated living in London. Coming back from every holiday we’d be on the M11 motorway and I'd see the fug-bound sprawl of that London Suburb where we used to live ahead of us, and a huge sinking feeling of despair would overwhelm me. Especially when we were arriving back from a lovely week spent in a country cottage with a glorious view.

I was so envious of a dear writer friend when she moved into a wonderful country dwelling. ‘I’ll never have this for myself’ I thought, miserably. Then we had the win and ended up here in North Devon. So yes, dreams do come true and THIS one is most definitely NOT a nightmare, or even a disappointment. Not always Happy Ever After  as sh*t in life does happen, but I have to be honest, it’s ‘Happy Most of the Time’.

Go back to London? No way!

our Devon home

Dreams, or ambitions, can be spoiled by outside influences though can’t they? The dream marriage that turns sour, the dream holiday that is ruined because it turns out the hotel is dreadful... Our win back in 2012 was surreal at first, terribly bewildering – to suddenly become a millionaire is, well, surreal. We had to go to the Lottery headquarters in Watford (where you have a password to get into the car park, and are escorted everywhere because you cannot inadvertently meet anyone else because of privacy.) We were there to receive advice – that’s a lot of money to sudden have. A suitable bank account, legal advice (write a will etc) and financial advice. This is where the dream almost shattered.

I outlined what our ‘dream’ was: an old cottage in the countryside with land and stables. I was stunned into silence when the advisor replied, ‘Yes but dreams and reality are not always the same, are they? Many people see the fairy tale side of country living but find it is very much different to their expectations.’

‘But we’re used to the countryside,’ I managed. ‘We have horses, we’re familiar with mud, rain...’

‘Ah but not having shops nearby? No corner shop, often a lack of transport, the quiet, no neighbours...?’

‘Our idea of bliss,’ I muttered. Particularly the 'quiet' bit as our neighbours in the upstairs maisonette, with its probably very nice but very noisy laminated flooring, had three children who effectively imitated a herd of elephants, and Mother was prone to adding obscenities into every other sentence. (And was excessively loud when enjoying 'relations' with the current boyfriend which resulted, fortunately after we'd moved out, in yet another kiddie to add to the herd.) And she was entirely incapable of closing her front door. The whole house shook every time she slammed it.

This pompous advisor man insisted that we were deceiving ourselves, that life in the country was very probably not for us. How dare he! What did he know about us, our dreams? He upset me. Driving home I shed a few tears, he’d more than rained on our parade, he’d well and truly peed and stamped on it.

He took us for stereotypical townie city dwellers and didn’t listen to what we were trying to say. To him our dream of living on a farm, having farm animals, being part of a rural community was laughable. I was so upset I was even at the point of wishing we hadn’t won. That's what happens when you stomp on peoples' dreams. 

A few days later I picked myself up, complained to the Lottery people and apologising, they re-arranged a different meeting with different people.

I’m glad that we’ve proved that ass wrong. We now live on a thirteen acre farm, we are currently bottle-feeding our farmer neighbour’s lambs, our immediate neighbour has some very fine Dexter cattle in the field next to the house. We have chickens, ducks, geese – and the horses, of course. And a dream pub in the village. (The Exeter Inn - very highly recommended for food, drink, ambiance and quiz nights!)

Yes, a dream come true for us– although the money has now gone. (Most of it went on buying the house outright.) But dreams, despite what I've said above, can have happy endings.

My ambition from the age of about thirteen had been to write a novel and get it published. Well that’s been achieved several times over, and while not a nightmare the dream isn’t as ‘Happy Ever After’ as you would think. Marketing is damned hard work and I’m ecstatic if I manage to sell even one book a week. That ‘dream’ to become a well-known author, to have a supportive publisher and agent who valued my writing  didn’t last. Thanks to an ex-agent who did not support me after that initial success, I ended up dropped by Random House. That agent sold me down the river and I will never forgive her. I am now an Indie self-published author – enjoying it, yes, but oh my goodness it’s a hard work and an expensive hobby. Yes hobby. The only way to look at it is as a hobby - it takes the pressure off having to get sales or the next book written. Writing is about enjoying what you're doing. Not enjoying. Don't do it or the dream will turn into that nightmare.

But what are real dreams I wonder? Why do we dream? How does it work? (And does eating cheese at night really affect your dreams?) 

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Do animals dream? Any of us who have the privilege of owning a dog have seen Fido stretched out before the fire, whimpering softly, ears twitching, legs scrabbling - very obviously (or so we think) chasing dream rabbits. My cat, Mab, swishes hr tail in her sleep, dreaming of chasing birds perhaps? Horses twitch in their sleep too, but that's probably only a flicking skin irritation.

What constitutes having dreams? An ability to have an imagination, a thought process, a sense of the past/present/future? I wonder if scientists will ever find out?

I’ve had some scary dreams and some very helpful ones:  the entire second chapter of Harold the King (titled I Am the Chosen King in the USA) was a very detailed dream – including the scenery, the drama and the dialogue. Word for word I woke up, remembered it and wrote it down.

permission to use obtained

A few months ago I had a vivid dream about standing on a railway station platform with a crowd of people. A steam engine came past much too fast – and there was a minor crash. The locomotive was green (Great Western) and I could clearly see its name and number  Torrington 34031.

I had no idea if there was (had been) an actual loco called Torrington with the number 34031, so I Googled it. And yes, it was a real locomotive. So why did I dream about it? Why those exact details (which I absolutely had no knowledge of). Was this some form of a supernatural dream? Or a memory from a previous life perhaps?

Is that what dreams are? Jumbled up memories?

Several times I’ve had a dream where I’m in a large old house that has different passageways and doors leading to shadowy, secret staircases that lead to unexplored rooms – it’s definitely the same old house. Was it a house I once knew?

Are dreams sort of time capsule memories? Our eye colour, features, personality etc is passed down through DNA – some of our basic DNA structure (lungs, for instance) goes back thousands of years; we breath in exactly the same way as our Stoneage ancestors breathed, so are the electronic currents that manifest themselves as dreams formed from DNA memory?

Another puzzle. If I dream of someone – either someone I know or don’t know – do they dream the same thing? Are we meeting in some sort of dream world dimension? Are we sharing the same ‘story’ somehow?

I vividly remember a nightmare I had as a very young child. It must have been winter for I remember the flickering pattern on the ceiling from the lit oil-stove. I dreamt of a train coming towards me. A big black engine hurtling at speed and then it turned into a black cat and leapt at me... Hmm. I wonder if I was eaten by a panther in a previous life?

The Jan Christopher Cosy Mysteries
set in the 1970s

Another recurring nightmare (usually when I'm stressed) is from my days as a library assistant back in the 1970s to do with closing time - except as this is a scene in my new book to be published early May you'll have to resd the book to find out about the dream. A Memory of Murder the 5th Jan Christopher Mystery e-book available for pre-order, paperback out soon.

Some years ago I had another very vivid dream, like the one that ended up in Harold the King this was fiction connected, but was about my (fictional?) character Jesamiah Acorne. I dreamt his death, exact to every detail and it was very, very real. I woke up sobbing my heart out. 

I wrote the dream down, but I remember every bit of it. Will I ever include it in a future Sea Witch Voyage? Perhaps I'll leave the scene with my will and someone can post or publish it posthumously because there'll be no more Jesamiah when I've popped my clogs. Until then, the secret stays between me, Jesamiah and my dreams.

So dreams are dreams and ambition is ambition, but whatever dreams we have: 

Tread softly, for you tread on my dreamsW.B. Yeates

lege feliciter
(read happily)

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Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse 
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You might also like 

books written by Helen Hollick 


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(Jan Christopher cosy mystery #5)
e-book now available for pre-order
paperback available May 23rd 

nautical adventures set during the Golden Age of Piracy

If you enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie
you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages

Coffee Pot Book Club
Bronze Award2022


The story of the events that led to
The Battle of Hastings in 1066

Harold the King (UK edition)
I Am The Chosen King (US edition)
1066 Turned Upside Down
an anthology of 'What If'' tales
The Forever Queen (US edition)
A Hollow Crown (UK edition)

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy

 The Boy Who became a Man:
Who became a King:
Who became a Legend... 


US editions

Historical Stories of Exile by 13 popular authors 
Cryssa Bazos, Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Chadwick, Cathie Dunn, 
J.G. Harlond, Helen Hollick, Loretta Livingstone, Amy Maroney 
Alison Morton, Charlene Newcomb, Elizabeth St.John, 
Marian L Thorpe, Annie Whitehead.
With an introduction by Deborah Swift

Amazon: FREE ebook!




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  1. Thank you for a lovely detailed read, Helen. It's always so nice catching up on your Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse.You write beautifully and with such feeling. I really enjoyed that – a perfect read with my afternoon mug of tea!! XX

  2. Your farmhouse is charming and gorgeous! I feel quite privileged to be one of the few folks who have stayed with you! It is a dream estate for certain, my friend. Dreams are certainly fascinating! Glad you dreamed up Jesamiah! You'd better will to one of us his passing *nudge* as it would be fitting to publish it following your own - or at the very least, have it printed and sent into the afterlife with you. ♥

    1. Well that's a good idea but then I'd be sharing a seceret *laugh*

  3. You certainly raise some interesting points about dreams; where do they come from? Best of all, your DREAM house becoming reality. Love you sharing the very country life "some ass" almost prevented you from having.

  4. Dreams are difficult. Sometimes, you can get so stuck in your dreams, life sort of passes you by without you noticing, and one day you wake up and smell the coffee only to realise you've dreamt your life away instead of living it!
    I am a firm believer in ambition, in setting targets and working towards them. I also dream a lot, but not of teh variety that has me permanently stuck in a pink cloud.
    I do, however, think that writing is a way of living those dreams. I can scribble my way to a Happily Ever After despite the dire circumstances I plunge my protagonists into. A perfect combo of nightmare-becomes-pink dream :)
    Thank you for an interesting and very personal read!

    1. I reckon a lot of dreaming a life away is due to unhappiness or discontentment. I still can't understand where 'dream kitchens' come into things though! :-)


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