Hazel McHaffie

Floors Castle


Every now and then there comes a patch in life where a complete break away feels imperative. One reason after another (all legitimate and unavoidable) has prevented escape for me up till now, but this past week a snatched few days away helped to recharge the batteries.

What to take in the way of books? – well, reading has to feature in recuperation, doesn’t it? Something undemanding that might well incidentally teach me things about writing, but the real aim is to lose myself effortlessly in a fictional world. Escapist indulgence, pure and simple.

The answer came in a special deal of three books by Harlan Coben in a local bargain store: Back Spin, Fade Away and Drop Shot, lumped together I suspect because they’re all sport-related: golf, basketball and tennis respectively. I’ve got a fair collection of (some still unread) books by this American crime writer, acquired since I read and was impressed by Tell No One. He’s easy reading, fast paced, witty, clever with his plots, entertaining without too much hard work, with a nice line in self-deprecation and sarcasm. In his acknowledgements, he ascribes all errors to those who helped him! – so a guy with a nice line in humour then; someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Just the kind of chap to help me de-stress.

And indeed these three novels served the purpose very nicely. Something I could just pick up and put down at will, without needing to analyse technique or remember detail. Coben has the confidence and street-cred to break plenty of writing-course rules, but somehow it all adds immediacy and appeal. The pages just kept turning; the twists just kept coming till the very end.

I’ve returned to ‘normal’ life refreshed and unwound. Not just from reading, but from wandering through intriguing mansions and fabulous gardens too (a little glimpse below). A real get-away-from-it-all break. Just what the doctor ordered.


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Time travelling!

A few days away visiting stately homes with fabulous gardens, has taken me right into the world of Georgette Heyer’s novels which regular viewers know I’ve been dipping into again somewhat nostalgically.

Picture fabulous mansions …

long skirts swishing across the grass, embroidered coats glinting in the sun, buckskin boots crunching on the gravel …


earnest conversations in the formal gardens, flirtatious dalliances in the shrubbery, serious businesses transacted in the magnificent libraries, sedate quadrilles in the drawing rooms …

The enormous wealth that enabled families to add whole wings to their mansions; the titles inherited and lost; the long hard hours of the servants … it’s all writ large in the histories of these real life families, echoed by the fiction we soak up for entertainment. I felt as if these two worlds merged seamlessly in those enchanted hours away.

Where was I wandering … dreaming … imagining …? Floors Castle, Abbotsford and Mellerstain House in the Scottish Borders. All superb backdrops for a spot of romantic escapism.


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