I welcome Jenny Kane to The Writers’ Hub today. I have read and loved her new novel Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange. This story is a complex , delightful, beautifully written novel which include a theme close to my heart, that of archeology. It is also a gorgeous romantic novel. I adore Time Team so please do read on.
My thanks to Carol McGrath for inviting me to guest on her blog today.
The Time-Team Connection
For many people the television show, Time Team, was essential weekend viewing between January 1994 and September 2014. This groundbreaking show, which took the sofa archaeologist around a stunning array of different excavations and landscapes, was popular from the off. It appealed to all age groups, led to a massive increase in the number of children and teenagers joining the Young Archaeologists’ Club, and an influx of folk taking archaeology degrees. From the earliest flint knapping sites of the Palaeolithic, to the abandoned mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution and beyond, no period of history was ignored.
In 1994, I was a fledgling archaeologist, my trowel still sandy from a recent trip to Tunisia to help excavate a Romano-African city. I remember returning to England to find my parents talking about an amazing new show on television they were sure I’d like.
And they were right – what they hadn’t realised was that I’d already had the pleasure of meeting Time Team’s Phil Harding (him of the hat and Prehistory passion) – as he’d taught me to flint knap as part of my GCSE Archaeology course when I was 14 years old. (I was SO lucky to get to do that!) I’d also been taught a great deal about Saxon England by Mike Ashton (the gentleman of the stripy jumper) when he’d been a guest university lecturer during my archaeology degree course.
Most miraculously of all, some five years into the future, the show’s presenter, Tony Robinson (now Sir Tony), read the PhD I wrote on the criminality of the English Midlands in relation to the Robin Hood ballads, as research for a documentary on the legendary outlaw.
With all these tenuous Time Team connections, perhaps it was inevitable that one day I’d invent my own version of the show- albeit for fictional purposes.
Shaun Cowlson, one of the four main protagonists in the Mill Grange series, is the lead presenter on the archaeology show, Landscape Treasures. As you read about Shaun and the Landscape Treasures team- should you be a fellow Time Team devotee- you may well notice a similarity between my fictitious geophysics boys, Ajay and Andy (known as the AA within the story), and Time Team’s magnetic survey crew: John and Chris.
In book one of the Mill Grange series – Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange – it is the restoration of a Victorian House that takes centre stage. In book two – Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange (realised on 10th September), the Landscape Treasures team take centre stage…
‘I am a big fan of Jenny Kane’ Katie Fforde.
At Mill Grange, the work – and the fun – never stops! As autumn brings coolness and colour, change is in the air for all at the manor…
Sam Philips’ time in the forces changed him forever. Supported by his friends, Sam is keen to help make beautiful Mill Grange a safe retreat for injured army personnel… but his crippling claustrophobia means Sam is living in a tent on the grounds! Enlisting the help of charming village stalwarts Bert and Mabel Hastings, Tina Martins is determined to find a way to help him conquer his fears. But why does she feel like he is keeping a secret?
After discovering evidence of a Roman fortlet on the manor’s grounds, Thea Thomas is thrilled at the chance to return to her archaeological roots and lead the excavation. She spent the summer with handsome celebrity archaeologist Shaun Cowlson – but now he’s off filming his Landscape Treasures show in Cornwall, and Thea can’t help but miss his company. Especially as someone else is vying for his attention…
Welcome back to Mill Grange and the beautiful village of Upwich, full of larger-than-life characters you can’t help but adore.
Here’s an extract from Autumn Leaves…
‘I’m sorry, Lady Hammett, but if we hadn’t cut a trench in your lawn, we wouldn’t have been able to excavate.’
Shaun bit the inside of his cheek, hoping his exasperation wasn’t showing. ‘It’s how we operate.’ He pointed to the Landscape Treasures geophysics team. Ajay and Andy, or the AA as Shaun often called them, were huddled over a laptop while they spoke into the camera about what they’d found and how they’d found it. ‘First we survey the area, then the digger pulls back the turf and we begin to dig.’
‘But it’s our front lawn!’ Lady Hammett’s chin tilted sharply upwards, her angular nose resembling a ski slope. She was so close to a satirical cartoonist’s impression of an aristocrat that he half expected her to snap out of it and start laughing – but she didn’t.
Taking a deep breath, Shaun glanced across the empty excavation trench, and beyond to a group of local and Landscape Treasures archaeologists. They were looking anxious as they played trowels and brushes through their hands. Those who wore wristwatches were making pointed glances at them. Time was money on television, and the precious daylight they needed to work in was fading fast.
‘Your Ladyship, there seems to have been some confusion. We are excavating with permission. You signed the insurance forms and—’
‘I did no such thing! I agreed to that survey thing—’ she pointed towards Ajay and Andy ‘—but no more than that! Do you think I’m reacting like someone who has found a herd of elephants in her garden for fun?’ She broke off, stabbing a finger in the direction of the yellow JCB parked beside Guron House. ‘I have a damn good mind to sue. Which television company are you with?’
Shaun’s mouth opened and closed like a gulping goldfish. When the ability to speak finally arrived, he hated how feeble he sounded. ‘But we have the signed paperwork. It was posted to you, and returned signed. I even spoke with you over the phone to agree timings and—’
‘Oh, now this is just too much. You did no such thing. When you visited in the summer, I agreed to the survey to see if this blessed church thing was under the lawns. No more than that. I’ve been travelling Europe for the last month, so I haven’t been here to take any calls. The only person here beyond the staff has been…’ Lady Hammett stopped talking. Her lips clamped shut and her eyes closed. Shaun watched in increasing disbelief as his companion silently moved her lips, counting from one to ten.
Taking a step back in case Lady Hammett’s calming technique failed, Shaun looked helplessly at his producer, who was also looking fit to explode.
Abruptly turning on the balls of her impractically heeled feet, flicking her dark blonde hair over her shoulders as she went, the lady of the manor marched towards her front door shouting, ‘Sophie! Get out here. Now!’
‘Sophie?’ Shaun muttered, his forehead creasing in confusion. He was pretty sure Lady Hammett expected him to follow her, but instead he headed to his waiting team. Not spotting his quarry among the regular archaeologists, Shaun kept walking until a flash of yellow ducking behind the camera crew’s truck sent him jogging forward.
She was stood, her eyes shut, her hands over her ears, her long blonde hair acting like an additional curtain of protection across her bowed head. She clutched her trowel against her chest like a lucky talisman.
The young woman opened her eyes, but said nothing.
Shaun tried to keep the exasperation from his voice. ‘You wrote on the volunteers’ form that your name was Sophie Harriet, but it isn’t, is it?’
Brushing hair from her eyes, she spoke with false bravado. ‘It is Sophie Harriet.’
‘Sophie Harriet Hammett perhaps? Lady Sophie Harriet Hammett?’
‘Did you sign the legal forms so we could dig here? The ones claiming to be signed by Lady Hammett?’
‘I am Lady Hammett. Well, sort of – ish.’ Flicking her hair over her shoulders, she flashed him a grin that reminded Shaun of the teenage girls at his old high school.
‘This isn’t funny! We could get thrown off the site, lose the TV show even. Permanently. Your mother has a perfect right to sue us. She could have you arrested if she took it into her head!’
‘And bring shame on the family? Hardly.’ Sophie sounded defiant, but the smile dropped from her face as fast.
‘Have you any idea how serious this is?’ Shaun felt like he was admonishing a child. ‘Why did you do it?’
Shrugging, Sophie held her trowel up as if it explained everything. ‘For this.’
‘For archaeology. Don’t you want to know if that’s the lost church of St Guron under there?’
‘Of course I do, but—’
Happy reading everyone,
From the comfort of her cafe corner in Mid Devon, award winning author, Jenny Kane, wrote the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, 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).
(Spring Blossoms at Mill Grange will be published by Aria in March 2021)
Jenny 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 – published by Littwitz Press), The Power of Three (Spiteful Puppet, 2020) and The Meeting Place (Spiteful Puppet, 2019). She also created five audio scripts for ITV’s popular 1980’s television show, Robin of Sherwood.
The Waterford Boy, Mathilda’s Legacy, The Baron’s Daughter, The Meeting Place and Fitzwarren’s Well were released by Spiteful Puppet in 2017/2018/2019/2020.
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. (www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk)
All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk
Jennifer Ash https://www.facebook.com/jenniferashhistorical/
What a fabulous post and, really, it’s an amazing book. Thank you Jenny and very good luck with Autumn Leaves. It is destined for best selling status without doubt.