My own little piece of Chelsea

Summer flowers
Summer Flowers – Ellie Holmes

The Chelsea Flower Show was recently held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London. Possibly the most famous flower show in the world, it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. Crazily intricate show gardens are constructed from nowhere and dismantled after just a few days from elaborate gardens in Main Avenue to smaller, more intimate gardens that can inspire, challenge and delight.

I have visited Chelsea on several occasions although I prefer its slightly less celebrated cousin Hampton Court. I may not have the greenest of fingers and my garden may be a triumph of optimism over horticultural knowledge but my own little piece of Chelsea inspires, challenges and delights me every bit as much as a show garden and at a fraction of the price.

Summer flowers2
Summer colour – Ellie Holmes

Whilst small my garden is also a haven for wildlife; birds, bees and butterflies are regular and welcome visitors. As an organic gardener, the bugs are a challenge but I appreciate they all have their place in the grand scheme of things and we each of us go about our business leaving the other pretty much alone. This spring I even had a hedgehog in the garden (I think he or she may have been hibernating in the compost heap or behind the shed).

A gardening expert would probably tut and shake their heads at some of my planting combinations. Certainly, I would not win any medals but my garden is not about showing off. It is about relaxation and calm, colour and inspiration. We all need a little beauty to feed our souls and each day, in different ways, my garden provides that. I think that is better than any medal.

Hosta heaven
Hosta heaven – Ellie Holmes

The Return of Happiness

Some of you may be familiar with a flower called Lily of the Valley. It is a woodland plant which thrives in dappled shade. With its delicate, bell shaped flowers and sweet scent, Lily of the Valley is a welcome sight in the northern hemisphere, heralding the time when spring begins to slowly transform into summer. The scientific name for Lily of the Valley is Convallaria majalis. Majalis meaning ‘of or belonging to May’.

Lily of the Valley1
Little Kiss of the Sun – Lily of the Valley by Anje Pietsche courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

There are many stories that surround this beautiful plant. Some say it derived its common name of Our Lady’s Tears from the story that as the Virgin Mary shed tears at the crucifixion of Jesus her tears fell onto the ground and the Lily of the Valley sprang from the ground where her tears had fallen.

Lily of the Valley2
Lily of the Valley by Jim the Photographer courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

The plant is also said to signify the return of happiness. Legend has it that the plant fell in love with a nightingale and became utterly enchanted by the bird’s pretty song. When the nightingale left the forest the plant was sad. It was only when the nightingale returned the following May, filling the forest with its beautiful music, that the Lily of the Valley bloomed in delight at the nightingale’s return.

Lily of the Valley3
The Woods of Lilies of the Valley by Claudia Dea courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Whilst the return of happiness is always something to be celebrated, how much better it would be if happiness never went away in the first place. An impossible thing to achieve? Probably. One way to achieve if not happiness then at least a level of contentment, would be to take pleasure from the small things we see, hear, touch and feel as we go about our everyday lives. The pleasure in listening to a child laugh or watching a puppy play. Running our fingers over a lavender plant and then smelling the scent on our fingers. Watching the breeze play across a field of grass, pushing it one way before pulling it another as if orchestrating a dance for our delight. The feel of sinking into the crisp, clean cotton sheets of a freshly made bed at the end of a tiring day.

Child Laughing
Child Laughing by Cheriejoyful courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

All too often we are weighed down by our cares and woes, wishing the week away to hang on to every weekend but to do so is to live only half a life. To live a whole one we need to be fully engaged. Mindfully aware and ready to acknowledge beauty whenever we see it.

Roadside flowers
Roadside Flowers by Kurt Bauschardt courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

If we can learn to take pleasure in the small and simple things we can find a reason to rejoice every day and not just when we hear a nightingale sing. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to live?

Happiness by Moyan Brenn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0


Cover Story

I have had a LOT of comments about the cover of The Flower Seller. This is a good thing because the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and as a debut in a tough commercial market a stand out cover is a must.

So how did it come about? As soon as I made the decision to self publish I knew I wanted to work with Berni Stevens – because I had long admired her work. The first hurdle to jump was would a well known designer want to work with an unknown like me? Bless her, she took the gig.

She asked me to prepare a brief for her. My brief ran to three pages. I had never done anything like this before so I had no idea if the brief I wrote was good, bad or indifferent. I’m guessing good because of the end result so I thought I would share with you some of what I wrote.

Firstly, I thanked her for working with me (very important!), then I explained what genre I was writing in – Commercial romantic fiction (equally important as straight away Berni with all her experience knew the type of covers that would work well in this genre). I then included the blurb I had written for the back of the book to give her an idea of the story.

Next I summed up the key themes for the book: love, deceit, betrayal and hope. I then told Berni of my need to build a brand with my full length fiction so that someone seeing one of my covers would know it was an Ellie Holmes. This, again, was important because what works for The Flower Seller has to work for my next full length novel White Lies and the novels that come after.

I then moved on to key imagery and said ‘I want my covers to be eye catching and beautiful with rich colours.’ I love peonies and I decided peonies could be my theme.

I then went on to say what I didn’t like (equally important as most cover designers are not mind readers). As part of this I said that if the cover was to feature a person then I wanted them to be featured from behind.

Then I moved on to the text. Apart from the fact I wanted consistency across my brand when it came to the text I told Berni I didn’t mind what colours or fonts were used. I thought a plainer text for my name worked well and something more flouncy for the book title but ultimately I left these decisions to Berni.

I told Berni that I am a fan of covers that have pictures that beckon you in whether it be into a house or a garden. Subtly, I think it works on another level to also beckon a reader into the book.

Berni being the fab designer she is took all this disparate information and weaved it all together to form something magical. She then sent me her first set of four covers which I have reproduced below.

Contact Sheets for The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes
Contact Sheets for The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

You can see how each of them took something from the brief I had outlined to her. Covers one and two were my favourites and ultimately I discounted number two because it showed the tools of the trade of a flower seller and whilst that is the title of the book, the main character is Jessie not Owen. So, it had to be number one. Remember that line about wanting a cover that was “eye catching and beautiful with rich colours”? I think I got that! Berni also developed the idea of covers that beckon a reader into them by showing Jessie walking down a path. Subtly, I hope that entices readers to want to walk down the path with Jessie and thus open the book. And of course I got my peonies. Apart from a couple of small changes (spot the differences?), this is the final version.

The Flower Seller
The Flower Seller – Front Cover

It was a wonderful experience and Berni was a delight to work with. I am excited about where the next brief will lead us.

Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my debut novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday

The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website


Put Down Your Phone and Talk to Someone in Person

With spring now with us in the Northern hemisphere many of the roadside verges, municipal parks and private gardens have their fair share of glorious Daffodils. These plucky flowers are one of a brave group of blooms to emerge from the ground when the weather still has the potential to be bitterly cold. The sight of them in reassuring clumps gives everyone a much needed lift, reinforcing the idea that spring is just around the corner.

Daffodils by Andrew Wilkinson courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Daffodils and Jonquils are known collectively as Narcissus. The name possibly comes from the Greek word narkē meaning numbness in reference to the fact that the narcissus is poisonous. The plant and more particularly the bulb itself contain a high concentration of lycorine and can cause a nasty stomach upset if ingested.

It is suggested that the name may also come from the boy Narcissus in Greek mythology. There are various versions of the story but the most familiar is that Narcissus bent down to take a drink from a river and was so enamoured by the beauty of his own reflection that he could not tear his gaze away and died there on the riverbank to become the flower that bears his name.

The myth has been painted by many of the great painters among them Caravaggio.

Caravaggio_Narcissus_1598 by Art Gallery Ergsart courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain Mark 1

These pretty little flowers which have come to resemble such hope for the new spring therefore have a darker side to their etymology which their sunny white and yellow heads give no hint of.

From Narcissus also comes the word narcissists – those people so obsessed with themselves that they cannot look beyond their own wants and needs to consider anyone else. In our rushed 24-7, selfie obsessed world, narcissists abound, absolutely convinced we are as obsessed with them as they are with themselves.

Man Woman Smartphones Restaurant by David van der Mark courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

We can all become caught up in the toils and troubles of life. We can all turn inwards and focus on ourselves to the extent that we can push away those closest to us. Who hasn’t seen a couple sharing a table in a restaurant, scanning their smart phones for social media updates instead of talking to one another? Perhaps you’ve been one of those people. The flotsam and jetsam of Twitter and Facebook will continue whether we are a part of it or not and sometimes the moments we share with loved ones are too precious to share with the world.

Today we run the danger of not truly enjoying the moment if we haven’t shared it with our followers. We somehow need the validation of that status update to give the experience more meaning when it should be enough just to be savouring the moment with the people who are physically present. It’s hard to live in the now if you are fiddling with a phone and worrying about your internet connection.

Bank of Daffodils
A Beautiful Bank of Daffodils by Adrian Scottow courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

So next time you see a swathe of beautiful daffodils, remember that in their beauty is a warning against the dangers of self-obsession. Remember poor Narcissus and don’t step too far down that road. Put down your phone and talk to someone in person.