blog tour for Devon and Hell

October 27, 2019

In the next ten days, Devon and Hell (the omnibus edition of the four books in the Dream Cottage: Four Seasons in Devon series) will be featured on the following blogs:


It's the story of my move back from rural France to East Devon, swapping croissants and French countryside for cream teas, coastal walks and a delightful cottage by the sea. Or so I thought.

The reality was a deeply unpleasant surprise – actually my worst nightmare – before I'd even moved in. In my latest memoir, living the dream by the sea rapidly descends into living hell as each day brings a new onslaught of domestic disasters. (And as my most loyal readers will know, I am no stranger to those.)

Throw in an estranged mother who has recently been 'sectioned' under the Mental Health Act and frankly, it's a wonder I managed to get out of bed in the morning. (Spoiler: some days I didn't.)

Devon and Hell, as with all my books, will (hopefully) make you laugh, make you cry and almost certainly make you cringe in places where I've been a little too honest. Ultimately, it is an uplifting tale of surviving a nightmare mother and a difficult childhood – with hints of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – and triumphing over rogue builders and a catastrophe-packed cottage renovation.

Devon and Hell is about learning to laugh in the face of disaster rather than curling up in the foetal position to cry. If all of this hasn't put you off, you can order the e-book here and enjoy some lovely descriptions of the Devon coastline, along with a great big slug of schadenfreude. Dreaming of moving to Devon? Well, read on...

Finally, I know that some of my readers prefer a proper book, and on that note, the print version will be launched in October 2020.

book news

October 27, 2019


Thanks to my most loyal readers for the lovely feedback and reviews of the Dream Cottage series. All four of the mini-ebooks (two of which, Christmas and Summer are just under half the length of a full novel) have now been rolled into an omnibus version and renamed Devon and Hell: Four Seasons by the Sea.

This will be released in e-book format, £9.99, tomorrow, October 28th. It's a long read – approximately fifty per cent longer than a standard novel.

For this reason, the print version, which will be launched in October 2020, will be edited down and have approximately 30,000 words cut. So if you want the full, unexpurgated version of the disasters I've encountered since I moved to Devon, the e-book is the way to go. You can order the book here.

NEW BOOK - Dream Cottage: Four Seasons in Devon

December 14, 2018


So here it is – my new book about relocating to Devon (that's the southwest coast of England, for my American readers). Dream Cottage: Four Seasons in Devon is actually a series of four books, starting with Part One – Christmas.

It's a tragicomic tale of how I swapped croissants and French countryside for coastal living and cream teas – a story of a disastrous cottage renovation and my, frankly rather tragic, relationship with my late mother.

The first instalment, Christmas, is 28,000 words – approximately one-third of the length of one of my full-length books.

The second in the series, Dream Cottage: Part Two – Winter, will be released on 1 January 2019, with subsequent e-book releases in spring/summer and autumn 2019.

I decided to slow-release Dream Cottage in four parts as I love the idea of people reading it in synch with the Devon seasons – or in 'real time'.

The print version will not be released until 2020.

I've worked unbelievably hard on this project – much harder than my previous books – and I'm confident I could not have made it better than it currently is. It's also, for better or for worse, the most personal of all my books. So I very much hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

Karen (with WOOFs from Biff)
East Devon, 14 December 2018

not the latest Tracey Emin – but a Brittany Ferries mattress

July 29, 2018


It started so well. All the pet-friendly cabins on the Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to Le Havre crossing were booked, but a helpful woman called Celia said she would check for cancellations each day until she found one. With hindsight I wished she hadn’t.

As a frequent traveller on Brittany Ferries – four to six crossings a year between 2005 and 2014 – I’ve had concerns about the cleaning on both the ‘economie’ service and main service from Portsmouth to Caen on a number of occasions.

I try not to look too closely, but on this particular crossing the cabin had been cleaned in haste – the floor was still wet and the bed had not been properly made, providing a nauseating glimpse of the mattress protector underneath.

It was covered in black hairs and a patchwork of stains that appeared to have accumulated over a considerable period of time.


Seeing that was shocking enough– it looked like a cast-off from an Ebola ward– but what followed was unbelievable.

Rather than a fulsome apology and swift evacuation to another cabin, three senior members of Brittany Ferries staff, called to inspect the mattress, deemed it fit to sleep on, shrugging their shoulders and telling me there were no other cabins available.

Instead of an apology Brittany Ferries staff made it quite clear I was inconveniencing them.

The cleaner, who had shamelessly smoothed a thin sheet over this grotesque sight, looked pointedly at his watch and gruffly declared that he would like to go to bed.

‘There is no way I’m sleeping on that,’ I said.

The receptionist glared at me behind her glasses. ‘Madame, vouz n’avez pas de choix.'

My dog, Biff, by now deeply distressed, slunk under one of the bunks. (When he eventually emerged, he was covered in thick grey fluff and dust.)

The crew proceeded to turn over the mattress, insisting that this would make it acceptable to sleep on. The underside was truly horrific – a huge brown stain and a hideous collection of effluvia that would put a Jackson Pollock canvas to shame.


‘I’m not sleeping on that,’ I repeated.

‘You will ‘ave to; you ‘ave no choice.’ One of the stewards tried to make me wait outside in the corridor while they remade the bed. I refused. Instead, I watched as they peeled off the rancid protector to reveal a mattress covered in yellow stains and black mold spores – in other words, a serious health risk.


Unbelievably, they STILL insisted that the mattress was fit to sleep on. The cleaner mumbled something about going get a new cover and remaking the bed. ‘There is no problem. You will not be sleeping on it directly.’

‘Would you sleep on that bed?’ I asked.

Silence. I think we can assume the answer was ‘No’. But each of those crew members felt it was acceptable for a passenger to sleep on this soup of effluvia, hairs, bacteria and mold spores.

I didn't even want to be in the same room as it.

Only when I became seriously upset – and perhaps crucially, mentioned that I am a journalist and author of travel memoirs – did the purser suddenly move me to another cabin two doors down.

Why, I asked, had they lied to me and pretended no other cabins were available, that the ship was completely full?

The receptionist shrugged and marched off. ‘Madame, I cannot discuss this any more. You are not the only passenger on this ship.’

As a pet owner travelling on Brittany Ferries ‘Economie’ service – the only service to allow, pets in cabins – I accept that you must park your aesthetic sensibilities on the car deck. The cabins would have been basic and past-their-sell-by-date even in Soviet Russia.

We pet-owners put up the dirty lino floors, nicotine-coloured walls, the bile-yellow sheets, arrogant staff and ships that are barely fit for purpose – the return crossing was delayed by over one and a half hours because the rear door wouldn’t shut – because we love our pets.

We tolerate BF’s so-called ‘no frills’ – aka ‘fleece-the-pet-owner’ – service [nearly £400 for the 'economy' return crossing] because we’re grateful not to leave our beloved doggos below deck.

But when did ‘no frills’ mean absolutely filthy?

What really bothers me is how Brittany Ferries' staff could continue, crossing after crossing, to pull a thin polycotton sheet over that disgusting mess, knowing that some poor passenger was going to have to sleep on it?

What casual contempt must Brittany Ferries have for its customers to allow this to happen. What if someone with respiratory problems had unwittingly slept on it?

The following morning, after a night of no sleep – and with a six-hour drive ahead of me – I went to see the purser and gave him both barrels. It was difficult as he kept interrupting me. (Note to BF staff: when a customer is this angry it is best to shut up and listen.)

‘Madame, what exactly do you want from me?’ he asked at one point.

‘I want to know how, in good conscience, you can allow your passengers to sleep in such disgusting conditions? You should be ashamed.’

Brittany Ferries, he declared, only has the budget to replace ‘some’ mattresses each year.

‘But it’s not just the mattress. The cabin you moved me to was filthy too.’

‘That’s your opinion.’

‘There was a mass of grey fluff, hairs, and bits of plastic under the bed; and pubic hairs and dust on the bathroom floor, as well as hairs and dead insects between the mattress and the side of the bunk.’


‘Madame, if you look hard enough you will always find something wrong.’


I write for a living. It’s rare that words fail me. But in this instance, they did. So I’ve posted the pictures of both cabins so you can decide for yourself.

And if you’ve booked a cabin on Etretat in the immediate future, I suggest you don a full hazmat suit first and hose yourself down with disinfectant afterwards.

*I wrote to Brittany Ferries customer service on 24th July, copying in their managing director ( if anyone has similar concerns, as I know some of you do) and have not yet had a reply. I have also contacted Environmental Health – or ‘Public Protection’ as it is now called – in Portsmouth, in the hope that that they will investigate conditions on board Brittany Ferries ships so that no other passenger will have to endure such a disgusting, degrading and frankly traumatic experience.

new kindle short read – wry society

June 4, 2017


For those waiting for my next full-length book.... a little surprise. Wry Society is a collection of humorous sketches that I originally wrote for the Financial Times How To Spend It magazine.

I know from emails that I've received that quite a few of my readers also read the FT Weekend, but for those not familiar with How to Spend It, it is the luxury colour supplement published with the FT on the first Saturday of every month.

As a freelance, I wrote first for FT Weekend, and then the spin-off, How to Spend It, from the very first issue and for well over a decade. It was, along with You magazine, my favourite client.

I was lucky to have an editor who trusted the judgment of her journalists and who allowed me to segue between writing about handbags, shoes and perfume one month, to writing 2000 words on the subtleties of grey paint or Parisian pasty chefs the next.

My absolute favourite deployment, however, was writing Wry Society – a tongue-in-cheek column that satirised the worlds of the super-rich, the fashionable and the privileged, poking fun at everything from the Cartier Polo to the Frow (fashion front row).

While moving house recently, I found a stash of my old cuttings and it struck me that they would make a fun Kindle Short Read. This e-book contains over 25 of my best Wry Society columns but please be warned that they feature many explicit references to fashion labels - a reflection of the readership for whom they were originally written.

I had great fun writing Wry Society – the column, incidentally, continues to appear In How To Spend It each month, written, as it always has been, by an alternating roster of writers – so I hope you enjoy these satirical short stories, as much as I enjoyed creating them.

updating the kindle version of sweet encore

November 1, 2016


As some readers will have realised from this review, the print version of Sweet Encore contains material that was not in the original e-book. This includes a whole new chapter, where I take Pierre-Antoine to England, entitled 'A Typically English Experience: From Pratt's Bottom to Topsham'.

But those who bought the e-book can get the updated version – which in line with the reader feedback I received has more about people and less about places – by following the instructions below:

1. Sign into your Amazon account
2. Scroll down to the section 'Digital Content'
3. Click on 'Manage Your Content and Devices'.
3. Select Settings.
4. Select Automatic Book Update and select ‘On’. This will ensure that you receive an update of all your books, including Sweet Encore.

I had hoped to move things on and make Sweet Encore more of a travelogue than a personal memoir. But I now know that readers preferred the narrative drive of the previous books.

I also realised that very few writers are skilled enough to make a visit to a cathedral in Portugal entertaining – and unfortunately, I am not one of them.

But I've learned some important lessons for future books...

exeter book signing

April 3, 2016

Since buying a cottage in East Devon, Darts Farm – 'Farmshop of the Year 2015 – in Topsham, has become one of my favourite haunts. I love a farm shop at the best of times, but this is a farm shop with knobs on – or as it was once described, 'like finding Selfridges Food Hall dumped in the middle of a field'.

Forget gnarled carrots and misshapen pears, and think luxury, rustic department store, selling a beautifully curated selection of West Country produce and home accessories – everything from artisanal spelt breads to celery chutney.

I'm particularly fond of the AGA shop at Darts, where I can sometimes be found gazing at the Fired Earth tiles and drooling over the macaroon-coloured stoves. ('Pearl Ashes', a delicate pale grey, is currently the most sought-after colour.)

The store holds frequent live cooking demonstrations with David Pengelly. On Friday 15th April, 11.00 - 1.00 pm, he will be doing a demo, Artisan AGA Bread Making. There are limited places for the demo – advance booking is required – but if you happen to live near Exeter, I will be signing copies of my book, The Marie Antoinette Diet, afterwards, at around 1.00 pm.

The AGA Shop, Darts Farm, Topsham, Exeter, EX3 0QH. Tel 01392 878 200 @dartsfarm

kings donation 2015

February 19, 2016


five signs that you're almost French

November 1, 2015

1 You find yourself drinking lukewarm black coffee out of a big bowl in the morning.

2 If someone refers to you by a pronoun (he, him, she, her) rather than your name, in company, you consider that to be grounds for ending a friendship.

3 You chill the glasses as well as the champagne.

4 You panic if the boulangerie has run out of bread.

5 You prefer proactive aggression – an angry shrug, maybe some shouting, swearing and arm waving and then... poof, all forgotten – to the passive kind.

where we are now

September 27, 2015

Biff%20on%20windowsill.JPGWOOFS. Earlier this year, for typically random reasons, my two-legged friend and I decamped to Devon, where we are renovating a house. (Yup, she's mad enough to do it again.)

We will still spend a lot of time in France, but I do love Devon. Like France, it is a great place to be a doglet. We are welcome (almost) everywhere and showered with treats and compliments. Just this morning, as we were queuing in the local café, a lady said, ‘What a lovely wet nose, he's got!’ Someone else said that I had 'a very expressive little face.’

Since we arrived here, life has been a whirl of visits to paint shops and builders’ merchants. The people there always seem super-pleased to see me, probably because – unlike a certain someone – I haven't come to pester them about roof tiles or shelf brackets.

At first I thought that people might be making a fuss of me because of my literary pedigree – after all, I’ve starred in three books now – but KW says that no one here knows who I am, and that I am just one dog among many.

sunset%20pic.JPGIn addition to a beach on our doorstep, we also have 96 miles of 'Jurassic Coast' to explore – we've walked quite a bit of it already – as well as an enormous common, lots of farm shops, and cream teas at every turn. The sunsets here are also quite something.

Finally, a book update: in its third year, Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France has sold 1625 copies (print and e-book combined) from April 2014 to April 2015, so this year’s donation to neuroscience at King’s College London, will be £812.50.

In total, 9940 copies of the book have sold since it was launched three years ago, and together with previous years' donations, a total of £5443 has been raised for brain injury research from the royalties. My dogmother will post the usual acknowledgement letter in due course.