Let Us Talk of ... The Village Shop

Vote Here

It is occasionally hard to think what to write about when attempting to keep up a weekly post here on  my "Tuesday Talk" slot.

 Often I take the easy option and invite guests to write something.
(I'm open to volunteers!) but today I want to highlight our Village Shop.

Chittlehamholt is a small village in North Devon. The nearest town is South Molton, about six miles by road away. It was originally 'a clearing in the wood' and became a logging station to which the people of the  nearby village, Chittlehampton, came to cut timber. Eventually it grew into a separate hamlet. Through the Middle Ages to the reign of Henry VIII, the land was a park belonging to the earls of Devon, and until 1885, a part of Chittlehampton - known as the South Quarter.

Chittlehamholt Woods
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Chittlehamholt like this:

"CHITTLEHAM-HOLT, a chapelry in Chittlehampton parish, Devon; on the river Taw, 3½ miles SW of South Molton, and 5 E of Umberleighr. station. Post town, South Molton, North Devon. Pop., 317. The manor belongs to the family of Brown. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £82. Patrons, the Trustees of Lord Rolle. The church is a modern structure in the early English style, founded by the late Lord Rolle."

The Village Pub - The Exeter Inn, is a sixteenth century coaching inn. The road through Chittlehamholt was, then, the main Barnstaple to Exeter road - Exeter being about thirty miles away. I assume the Exeter Inn was probably a place where they changed horses. When it came on the market in 1918 it was sold for £550.

Chittlehamholt Village Hall
We have a very nice Village Hall where various functions from the monthly Parish Council meetings to a Dance Club and Quiz Nights are held. Once a month there is a 'drop in' lunch provided by some of the fabulous cooks of the village. Ron (my husband ) and I try not to miss these! But like many rural villages, the public buildings and facilities have disappeared: the bus service vanished, the Mobile Library comes but once a month, the school house is no longer a school, and the Post Office and small General Store closed.

But there is something wonderful about Village Life that you don't get in larger towns - and most definitely not in cities beyond the immediate neighbours in your street. 
And that something is Community.
Everyone knows everyone else - and mostly care about everyone else. If someone is ill, people notice and offer help; we say hello and stop and chat, and even when there is a difference of opinion over something, on the whole, feelings remain friendly. 

The Taw Valley, North Devon near Chittlehamholt
In January 2013 we moved from a London Suburb to an eighteenth century farmhouse about one mile outside the village. We were immediately welcomed into the community - I know most of the villagers (at least by sight if not name ... my fault I can't remember names!) Back in Walthamstow I knew one neighbour as a friend and one neighbour as a downright 100% nuisance because of the noise and her continuous stream of crude language (this despite her young children). Beyond that... no idea of anyone. I did not even know the local shop keepers (partly because one had no  knowledge of English whatsoever.)

What has made Chittlehamholt expand its "friendliness" is the opening of our Village Shop two years ago. 
A Community Shop, not run for profit, and 'manned' by Volunteers. I am not one of the Volunteers (my poor eyesight couldn't cope with small labels and the buttons on the till - but I do manage the Village Blog instead - so I do my bit!)

It is a log-cabin style, not very large and does not stock an enormous quantity of goods (well the village has less than 100 houses in it!) But for fresh milk, butter, cheese (Devon made) Bread, meat, (also local) and household essentials the shop provides nicely. 

And then there is the homemade or homegrown produce - cakes, pasties, jam, marmalade (oh you should try the marmalade!) Fruit, veg, salad ... and all of it topped by a cheery volunteer manning the Till ... and the coffee bar in one corner, where, unless it is a nice day and villagers and visitors can sit on the bench outside, it is enjoyable to sit and chat.

And this is where I want to share our Shop and Community with you. 
We have been nominated for the People's Choice Award, run by the Plunkett Foundation Community Co-operative Awards 2015. The Plunkett Foundation helps rural communities through co-operatives and community-ownership, to take control of the issues affecting them - i.e. helps with setting up a Community Shop like ours.

Our Shop is one of three enterprises nominated for the shortlist.
For this award the judges were looking for exemplary community enterprises making a difference to a vulnerable individual or group of people; it could have been on a one-off occasion or continually. 

This is what was submitted for us, the Chilttlehamholt Community Shop, Devon:
Since this Community Shop opened, the volunteers have become a close, supportive group, conscious of the needs of the disadvantaged and quick to respond positively.  Typical of this is the case of Tim and Heather.
They arrived in the village at the time the shop was opening.  Heather suffers from MS relying on wheel-chair or motorised mobility scooter.  Tim, her husband, is full-time carer.  Attracted by the friendly atmosphere in the shop, Heather wanted to be part of this, ie a volunteer. 
Thanks to her tenacity, some encouragement and re-organisation she was soon behind the counter, serving.
Recognising her limitations, volunteers rallied to support her and maximise her input.  This included becoming responsible for the Volunteer Rota.  She is always keen to be in the shop and all of this was recognised when she was elected to the Management Committee.
Each Thursday volunteers take Heather to a day-long embroidery and quilting workshop.  This provides Tim with respite and a chance to play golf.  Heather can pursue her hobby.  Other volunteers ensure they have opportunities to socialise.
Heather confides that being appreciated has been a blessing, we notice the difference and importantly, so does her consultant.

Our Community Shop has become the heart of the village - it is not just a place to grab a pint of milk or bottle of ketchup because you forgot to buy it from the supermarket. Our shop is a place to come for a chat and a coffee, to meet other villagers, to cement that feeling of being part of a community or welcomed as a visitor, a place to share news (and a gossip). It is also the place to go if you want a good laugh!

And this is where YOU come in!
We need VOTES

graphic designed by AvalonGraphics
and to cast a vote for us!

The Village of Chittlehamholt 
very much appreciates your support! 
Thank you!
(voting closes 1st June)


* * * * * 
Related Book to Read:

Purely by chance I came across a Facebook Post by my good friend, Historical Fiction author Elizabeth Chadwick today. Her Keeper Shelf Tuesday post, where she mentions one of her all-time favourite reads. 
It caught my attention:
"Today one of my non historical reads. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand joined my keeper shelf in 2010. What is it about? Here's the blurb from the back that explains it well.
'Major Ernest Pettigrew (Ret'd) is not interested in the frivolity of the modern world. Since his wife's death, he has tried to avoid the constant bother of the village women, his ambitious son and the suburbanisation of the English countryside. He prefers to lead a quiet life, upholding the values that people have lived by for generations – respectability, duty and a properly brewed cup of tea (very much not served in a polystyrene cup with the teabag left in). But when his brother's death, and a love of Kipling sparks an unexpected friendship with the widowed village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali, the Major is forced to confront the realities of the 21st century.'
A lovely, warm, humorous comfort blanket of a book that's never mawkish."

Village Life, Village Gossip  and the Village Shop? Well, I went straight to Amazon and downloaded a copy onto my Kindle!

Now that I've finished writing this, I might just go and sit in the garden and read it!
(and, my readers and friends you now know why my next book isn't written yet... Village Life and Country Living  you see!) 

Sailing Into New Seas!

Something Exciting to Share!

As some of my friends, followers and readers know, I’ve been a published author for over twenty years now. During those years I have some fabulous ‘highs’ and some absolute depth ‘lows’. The biggest High was being accepted for publication by William Heinemann (Random House UK) in 1993, the lowest Low – being dropped simultaneously by my agent and publisher.

Words cannot convey the devastation I felt after being told (quite brutally) by said ex-agent that my career had (apparently) ended. The cause of the rift was that she didn’t like Sea Witch. That added to the devastation because I had put my heart and soul into writing that book, and since then several readers – including some top authors - have told me it shows. The few people to be negative seem to be readers who do not like violence, sex, or bad language… but Sea Witch is a pirate-based adventure for adults, with adult content. 

Pirates usually were violent, sex-orienteered and foul-mouthed, but fair enough, it would be a boring world if we all liked reading the same thing. 
Unfortunately ex-agent also didn’t like it, (didn't like the Pirates of the Caribbean movie) and didn't like me for sticking to my gut-instinct, not meekly doing as she wanted (ordered) me to do.
He’s a drunken womaniser!’ she protested. 

Umm… pirate? 
It isn’t suitable for teenage boys!’ she exclaimed. 
Umm… actually quite a few teenage boys love it - but I didn’t write Sea Witch for teenage boys. 
I don’t write for teenage boys. 
I have no intention of writing for teenage boys. 
I was told to either write it for teenage boys or find another agent. 

I wrote Sea Witch because I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and wanted to read something similar – a nautical adventure with a handsome, loveable, rogue of a pirate captain, with a believable blend of fantasy intertwined. I found plenty of Young Adult fiction that fitted the bill, but nothing for adults with that inclusion of adult content.

So I wrote my own.

Getting over the shock of being dumped in such a fashion I retrieved my files for my other serious historical fiction novels, put my faith in Sea Witch, and went ‘Indie’ – self-published. There have been several Lows there too, but I’ve survived. OK I don’t sell my books by the thousand, but they are selling steadily. I have an increasing readership – and my pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, has an expanding fan base clamouring for me to get the Fifth Voyage, On The Account finished. (Nearly there!)

There is always that little bit of doubt, though, as an Indie writer. Am I a good writer? How do I reach more readers? Is this all just a waste of time? I can’t keep up with all this marketing – why on earth am I doing this!

And then, one day, out of the blue something turns up to make you shout ‘Yes! It is all worthwhile!’

Except for me on this occasion two things more or less came along together. Maybe small fry to established mainstream authors, publishers and agents, but these two things have restored my self-confidence and shown me that I was right about Sea Witch (and the following books in the series.)

Happy Dance Grin number one: 

I was approached by Catnip Edizioni, A young digital publishing house dedicated to unpublished authors and Italian translations of international discoveries” to have the entire series of the Sea Witch Voyages translated into Italian.
I have now signed the contract and look forward to seeing Jesamiah in Italian. 
(Well you’ve heard of Spaghetti Westerns… why not Spaghetti Pirates?)

Their latest release is :

Happy Dance Grin number two: 

I have signed a contract after being approached by UK mainstream Amberley Publishing to write a non-fiction book about pirates.

We have not completely decided on a title yet, but it will be something like Pirates: the Fiction and the Fact (although we’ll come up with something more interesting than that).

Inside will be exactly what is says on the label. The plan is to write the factual side of pirates, exploring the famous names and exploits but also covering what pirates did in their ‘spare time’; how they lived, plundered – and died. Balancing this with the fictional world of piracy, from Errol Flynn to Jack Sparrow, and yes, via my own Jesamiah Acorne!

The background flavour of my Sea Witch Voyages are based on fact – Bring It Close, the third Voyage for instance, features Blackbeard (that most notorious pirate). I wove his story into Jesamiah’s adventures. Exploring the facts that can be turned into fiction is occasionally a challenge, but is always exciting.

Were they Rough Hooligans or Romantic Heroes? 
They were actually terrorists, drunks, womanisers, murderers, thieves... but in novels, well, don't we all like the bad-boy hero who, beneath it all, has a heart (and a tooth or two) of gold?

About Amberley Publishing
At Amberley we aim to publish authoritative books which also broaden the appeal and accessibility of the subjects. Our authors range hugely in experience from first-time writers to well-known professionals but they all display impressive knowledge and enthusiasm in their fields of expertise. Our aim at Amberley is to channel our authors’ passion through their books, in a way that appeals to a large and varied readership. We hope our books can introduce new readers to a topic, stir up old memories, fill in knowledge gaps, spark debate or quite simply provide enjoyment of a subject.”
Living In Squares - Loving In Triangles
Their latest book is: Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf & the Bloomsbury Group by Amy Licence 

I am thrilled by this new venture (and although I am proud of being an an Indie writer,) a return to mainstream publishing in the UK because I have been asked to write a book is very exciting!

So to all who read my books, follow me here on this blog (and my other blogs,) on Facebook, Twitter and such - I am honoured by, and appreciate, your support, friendship and enthusiasm for my books...      THANK YOU