Tuesday, 30 December 2008


'Er's up and about again. Er was well enough to stagger off to church on Christmas Eve, or stagger to the car, anyway. Happy Christmas, Gnome, she says. Blimey, she'll be talking to me snail next. Hobbled down to the river yesterday and chucked some bread at them ducks. Luckily the weather's been mild so the ducks aren't all that bothered.

It's got noisy in that house since they all come back for Christmas. There's someone warbling 'er flute in the attic and one of them lads plays a parp-parp thing in the front bedroom. And if 'er would stick to writing 'er stories and leave that piano alone we'd all be a lot happier. There's plenty of notes in there, blimey, they can't all be wrong ones. Good thing it's winter and they keep the windows shut. 30th December, and she's still playing Good King Blooming Wenceslas.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


I haven't been blogging because I haven't been doing anything much. On Thursday night I had a sore throat, which I thought would develop into a bit of cold and go away, sharpish. I seriously underestimated the enemy. Virulent the Virus went for me with battleaxe and total war and for three days I couldn't walk further than the bathroom. Then, probably as a result of all that cowering under the duvet, my spine forgot how to bend and siezed up solid, so that now it ouches loudly if I stand up/sit down/lie down/walk/pick things up from the floor/leave things lying on the floor. This is the first day since last Thursday I've been able to sit here and type.

There is just time to wish you A VERY HAPPY AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS before I hide from Apple.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Oh, help, I am a busy Christmas person this week so I haven't blogged. Urchin and the Raven War just got a stunning review in Voya, the sort of review every author dreams of. Happy Christmas to me.

I was personally invited - by a member of the cast, no less - to a Christmas play at one of our local schools. These were the Key Stage One children (under sevens) and they were amazing. Finer poins of stagecraft include prodding your fellow actors in the back if they get lost while walking round the stage or an elbow in the ribs for missing a cue altogether.

This morning was our toddler group Christmas party, and today I was not only dogsbody and storyteller, but Santa's Helper as well. I have never done that before, and felt most important. I should put this on the CV and/or write a book about it.

Big Son came home this evening. In 24 hours the fridge will be half empty and we'll need more coffee. Who cares. He's home.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

jack and the beanstalk

With apologies to the readers in the USA, who may not know about English pantomime. By the time you've read this, you may know even less.

Tonight I went to a village amateur pantomime


Oh yes I did, and was reminded of some of the things I love about villages - like tradition, effort, and how many talented people are up for something inexpressibly silly. The Lassie what stays with us was brilliant in it, and after three days of stage fright, too. We had a giant and a demon


and a fairy queen who played the violin (because she could.) LOTS of songs, mostly led by the brilliant pantomime dame (played by a woman, which is unusual)and all the audience participation you can muster from a Yorkshire audience. The principal boy (played by a boy, which is also unusual) and the leading lady threw sweets into the audience, and Daisy the cow survived the usual jokes about 'uddersfield and moovies to be the star of the show.


OH YES SHE WAS, she was inhabited by two young lads and what a showstopper they made her. And. being a village thing, it was all seasoned with jerky curtains and jerkier cues.

Sadly, there wasn't a slapstick scene. Then again, this is a village do and the costumes will be needed next year. So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, GO TO YOUR LOCAL VILLAGE PANTOMIME THIS WEEK, OR THE WICKED BARON WILL COME AND TURN YOU OUT OF YOUR HUMBLE COTTAGE.

Now, that's the blog finished for tonight. Or, as you might say,

IT'S BEHIND YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Oh yes it is.)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Hope helps

Staggering out of a migraine today. Hope the Hedgehog has very kindly offered to help with my blog. He says he'll tell me what to say. He obviously thinks it's just a kind of story-telling, because Mistmantle animals don't write and have no concept at all of communicating by anything more complicated than a captain's token. But Hope, being Hope, can't see me typing. He can hear the click of the keys and supposes I must be knitting. Don't try to enlighten him.

Margi of the House of Stories is much better since I made her a hot blackcurrant and put Apple's cordial in a safe place where nobody would find it unless anything lives in the drains. I'll have to persuade her to eat an apple (they're lovely apples, I've had one) before I tuck her up in her nest. The food here is very nice. It's a bit late for slugs, but the worms here are delicious and plenty of them. Last week the holly tree was covered in red berries, and now there's hardly any left because the birds were so hungry. (I don't eat holly berries, but they sometimes get stck on my prickles.) And we're starting to have those little spiced lebkuchen in the evenings. I hope Crackle knows how to make them at the tower.

Is it getting late? It smells like a frosty night. I'd better tell her to stop knitting now and go to her nest.


Thursday, 4 December 2008


Bloomin ducks

'Er's been putting out peanuts for the birds. I don't mind 'em. Bit of flutter, bit of tweet tweet, nice. Might be a problem if they took too much interest in me and the snail, but as I don't have a peanut tree growing out of me 'ead they leave me alone, and if they tried to peck the snail they'd break their beaks. Not that 'e'd notice.

But now it's ducks. Same story as last year. First thing in the morning, down to the river, off she goes with 'er 'andful of sliced 'olemeal, I swear to you, it's only them ducks that gets 'er out of bed in the morning. Thing is, you start off with a duck and a drake, waddle waddle, gobble gobble, and then you'e got a dozen of them all 'oming in on the bread and making a racket like the first rehearsal of the Clarinet Band of the Yorkshire Inebriates. That's what I object to. The racket. And if anyone makes any remarks about driving me quackers I'll run 'em over with me snail.

One of these days 'er's going to break her ankle slithering down that garden to them ducks, and then what will she do? Sit at that piano banging out Rudolf the Red-Nosed blooming Reindeer. At least them ducks know when to go to sleep.

Blimey. I'm glad the snail don't sing.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


We've got snow! Maybe I never grew up, but I still get excited about snow. I admit I did a lot of work today and didn't go out to play in it, but if we have more I have to go and build a snowman because my god-daughter in the snowless south wants me to send her a picture of it. Sensible girl. Advent calendars, candles, the lassie coming in with her Christmas shopping, Prokofiev's sleigh ride, snow. It was my piano lesson today, so all we did was carols. (Oh, andRudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, which is dire but funny.)

If that combination of snow, music, etc, doesn't feel as sparkly as it did when you were a child, it doesn't mean that the sparkle isn't there. You just have to recognise it. Children are better at doing that than grown ups. Look at snow as if you'e never seen it before.

That's what happened when my elder son brought a friend home for Christmas a few years ago. Friend - and what a nice lad he was! - was from snowless India and couldn't get home for Christmas. While he was with us, it snowed, not very much, but enough to send him running to the door like a five year old. Between courses at Sunday lunch he was outside with his mobile phone, taking photos and sending them home to his mum. After lunch we all went for a walk in the snow which isn't necessarily a good idea when you live halfway up a very steep hill, but what might otherwise be a slither and a trudge and a grumble was the most amazing, happy, hilarious treat when shared with an excited Indian student. No bones were broken.

Sadly, there wasn't enough to go sledging. He would have loved it. But he now lives in the North-east of England, so he may soon have his chance. I

The sledge is still in the cellar. Did I mention the hills round here?
More snow is forecast. Think of me zooming down the garden, crashing through the fence and throwing bread to the ducks as I hit the river.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Tomorrow is Advent Sunday. Advent. It's full of anticipation, mist and mystery, frost, sparkle, and hope. Hope, not fingers-crossed hope, but really, positive hope, hope for change in and around us. And it's demanding, too, because if there is a possibility of change we must be ready to change, and make changes in the world. It is the opening of a door. It tingles. Christmas is when heaven meets earth, and Advent is when we prepare for it.

I've been making Advent wreaths, one for a church and one for home. Tomorrow, we'll light them and sing. One of my German friends taught me to make advent wreaths - people from Germany and thereabouts are good at Advent and Christmas.

And this morning I had the most wonderful, unexpected surprise. A package too big to get through the letterbox proved to be the most unexpected and perfect present. My elder son had sent me a large and stunningly beautiful Germann advent calendar, all the more exciting for not being anticipated. I had to tell you about this, but I can't begin to explain how beautiful it is or how happy it makes me.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

things I've learned this week

This week I've learned -

that carpet cleaning wipes are really good for cleaning teddy bears -

that if you want to go to an event it helps if you turn up on the right day -

that if you turn up on the wrong day it isn't catastrophic -

that Betty's of York make stunningly wonderful franzipan mince pies -

that St Bede's Pastoral Centre was the best place in the world for me to be today -

that the toddler group can run perfectly well without me.

People who've brightened up my life this week (apart from my family)

Our friends in the north, Emily, my agent, the lady at Duttons, the man in the music shop, the man in the post office, the staff at the Bar Convent, the DHL man, Sister Cecilia and the people at the Pastoral centre, Jo, Kayleigh, the people on the train, and a guy who just sent us an e-mail for Hanukah and Christmas. There's a lot of love and a lot of good people around.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


For a few too short days, I have been back where I belong. I've been past the house where I first saw Crispin (or Yo-yo, as he was then) running up and down the beech tree. I've got down on my knees at the church that inspired 'A Friend for Rachel', otherwise known as 'The Secret Mice', my first published book. I've filled up with wide Northumbrian skies, and heard the accent that immediately makes me feel welcome. Most of all, I've enjoyed the company and hospitality of very special friends.

I've visited some lovely places in my life, many of which I've loved and want to go back to. Breathtaking, beautiful places. But if God made anywhere better than Northumberland, he's keeping it to himself.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

the naming of

Juliet might have said 'what's in a name', but Shakespeare, speaking for himself, might have said 'a lot'. Why else would he name his characters as he did? Even allowing for the fact that he nicked all of his plots before anyone had learned how to sue for breach of copyright, he had some choice over names. Look at Midsummer Night's Dream. Not a name out of place.

I was reminded of the significance of names by an e-mail from one of my young readers, who very thoughtfully suggested names for possible future characters, some of them very good ones. Characters in books won't tolerate having names thrown at them - there is only one right name for a character, and sometimes you have to go on trying them out until you find the right one. Some strong personalities,like Crispin and Padra, arrive with their own names, and there's not a thing you can do about it. In 'The Octave of Angels' a small and determined young person appeared, and her name was Myrrh. How can anyone be called Myrrh? But she was, so I had to find a reason for it.

Yesterday, I found a packet of bluebell bulbs that I'd mislaid, and finally got them planted. Now there's a sensible name. Tells you exactly what it is. Here's ginger-hair-funny-face signing off for the night.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

every good boy deserves favour

I never had piano lessons when I was a child. I could have either music or dance, but not both, and I really wanted to dance. I wasn't that good, but I loved it, and it meant that a sport-hating kid took lots of exercise.

(Note to all other sport hating kids. The only thing I know about hockey is that if you run down the pitch wiith your stick higher than your shoulder, you get sent off. That means you have to take a warm shower and sit in the changing rooms with a book.)

But that isn't what I meant to write about. Finally, when I was grown up enough to have a daughter doing a music degree and a piano in the house with nobody playing it, I decided to have piano lessons. Maybe I'd just do it for a little while to see if I was any good. I don't think I have any natural talent, I hate making mistakes, and I'm long past the age where the brain just gulps down everything new, but after a lifetime of not even knowing where Middle C was, it's a great joy to be able to play anything at all. (For me, not for my family. One more stumble through Scarborough Fair and they'll be howling at the moon.)

This afternoon I went to the most fantastic concert, arranged by my piano teacher to give her younger (decades younger) pupils the chance to perform. There they were, all the way from six year old dots plinking their way through nursery rhymes while their party shoes dangled two feet above the pedals to assured young people swishing through Bach and serious jazz.

Being able to make music is the most wonderful thing. I loved every note, and I loved their readiness to play, whether they were dying to perform or terrified of it. Watching the skill and hearing the music pouring (or trickling) through those young people was uplifting. Do they know how privileged they are?

I could have danced all the way home.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

zooming (with help from Gleaner the Squirrel)

Sorry, I haven't blogged for a week, but I've been zooming about.


Thank you, Gleaner. First to York for a very successful signing, and many thanks to all who came, bought books, chatted, met the animals


and did rubber stamping, and thanks to Kirstie and all those lovely people at Borders. Then a couple of days to turn around and catch up with everything here,


(actually, Gleaner, I think it might) - then off to Sheffield for a quick visit to my long-standing long-suffering


friend. Just got back this evening to find that the kitchen angel had organised the evening meal.


Gleaner, dear, if you were just a little more sociable you'd have lots of animals to share meals with, and...


Gleaner! Be quiet at once! No spoilers!


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

and the answer is

Big Bo-Peep

A frustrating morning trying to find really just right advent calendars without success.   No chocolate, no cartoons, just beautiful, magical, ooh-factor advent calendars.  It's too much to
hope that I'll find the enchanting, whimsical German ones my sister and I used to get, but I know there are companies making really lovely advent calendars SO WHY DOESN'T ANYBODY ROUND


If anybody I work for is reading this I have done lots of work today as well  : )

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Who lost a herd of elephants?

My son came home from school asking me that, many years ago.  I was reminded of it just now, when we were all passing silly jokes around.  This is just a quick blog to let you know
that I will be signing copies of the Mistmantle Chronicles at Borders bookshop in York (on
Davygate, opposite Betty's) on Saturday, 8 November from about eleven in the morning to
four or five or whenever they chuck me out.  

Answer in the next blog.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Also Ran

A few days of silence from the house of stories generally means one thing.  I wish it meant a deep state of contemplative silence or a furious outburst of creativity, but it doesn't, it's a migraine.  However, the little goblin with the drill has now left my left temple and the keyboard stays still when I look at it.  Nasty things, migraines.

November the first and second are All Saints and All Souls Day.  I love the idea of the great throng of heaven all having a party.  I think the idea is that All Saints are the official Saints, and All Souls are all the millions of loved and holy ones who don't get a mention in any books or lists.

Today, I've been thinking that 3 November should be All-So Ran day.  Remember all the people who might have lived great and holy lives or even simply loving and helpful lives if their potential hadn't been crushed.  The ones who had the warmth starved or beaten or terrified out of them, the ones who learned to live with their mouths shut and their heads down, the ones who'd love to believe in God but simply can't, the ones who were sent to fight wars they didn't understand and died still not understanding, 
or carried the weight of those wars for the rest of their lives.

Today is nearly over, so do something tomorrow to feed a child, to warm a heart, to stand up for
the weak.  God bless the Also Rans, and God bless you.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Life just got better.  The Oxfam shop is selling fairtrade chocolate santa clauses.  

I know, it's too early to think about Christmas.  Well, I'm not.  I'm thinking about chocolate.

I had two very exciting days in York last week.  I was with a young friend who'd never beenthere before, and loved watching her discover the Shambles, Stonegate, and the Minster.  After all that, there was Betty's, where everything is so good, and you feel warm and looked after as you watch the world go by.  York is unlike anywhere else.   I once did a book called 'Ghost at the Window', later 'Fire Lion', about a house which never knows which bit of its history it's supposed to be in, so it changes to medieval or Victorian or 1930s when it feels like it.  York is like that.

I have to say, though, that the Minster, spectacular as it is, can't hold an ecclesiastical candle to Durham.  In the Minster for the first time, you say 'wow' or 'ooh'.  In Durham, you can't say anything.

We spent the next day learning about Godly Play, which at its most simple is a way of telling
Bible stories, but is really much more - a way of becoming focussed and involved in the story
and in what it says to you, which may not be the same as it's saying to everyone else.  It was
designed for children, but can be used with any age group.   Storytelling is one of the few things
I understand, and I think I may get into this in a big way.  

And the high point of the week was the arrival of two calligraphic prints I'd ordered from the
gifted and astonishing Tess Cooling.  It's hard to say how beautiful and awe-inspiring they are,
but for me, Tess's work is in the same realm as Durham Cathedral.

Life just got better.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


'Er what writes the books has scarpered.  Scarpered off to York for two days.  No doubt 'er will be telling you all about it, but you might remind 'er I can't see a thing for blooming leaves.  Frost I don't
mind.  Stone gnomes are tough stuff.  But them leaves is a nuisance.  Tell 'er  her
can compost 'em.  I don't mind if 'er collects 'em and builds a copy of the eye-full
tower with 'em, so long as she gets 'em off me and me snail.  

And me snail just sneezed.  He's got a sycamore leaf up his nose.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Crispin of Mistmantle

The island's bitterly cold today, more like the short days of winter than the middle of autumn.  Ran to Anemone Wood today, and found them as busy as ever, collecting up the autumn stores.  The usual scene - barrels full of chestnuts, hazelnuts, filberts and walnuts, baskets upon baskets of apples and berries, and a few youngsters pelting each other with the rosehips they were supposed to gather for cordials.  I did suggest to Apple that she might like to make 
blackberry wine this year, but I could see from her face that she's determined to make that disgusting
concoction as usual.  At least it doesn't do any harm, and it least it keeps flies away.  

They're all right for firewood and  nests, but I saw some threadbare cloaks.  I'll speak to Thripple, 
see what we have in the way of wool for warm winter cloaks.  By the tim I came back to the tower, frost was forming on the steps.  Hope was taking a long time about climbing up, but as he was sliding down more steps than he went up it was going
to take a long time.  I offered to help, but he said he enjoyed the falling down bit.   I tried a different approach. 

"Want a ride up the wall?" I suggested.  I've never run up the wall before with a hedgehog on my back and wouldn't be in a hurry to do it again, but Hope found it very exciting, and his mother was greatly relieved to see him.  In no time, he was asleep in the wool basket by the fire.  Sometimes
I think he's the happiest animal on the island.  

Friday, 24 October 2008

daughters and quinces

I phoned my daughter last night, and caught up with her news and the updates on the various cats and dogs she is foster-mother to just now.  (It's a long story.)  Then I told her about a course I'm considering taking.  

How long does it last... assignments... how widely recognised is the qualification... these were all questions I'd asked myself, but now I was hearing them from my daughter.  Suddenly I was back to the days when she was sixteen and looking at university courses, and I was asking her all those questions.  I'm impressed.  She has just become my life coach, but maybe she always was.

The garden is full of quinces, which are hard, bitter yellow fruits.  Dad tells me I can make quince jelly with the addition of sugar, apples, a straining bag, sterilised jam jars, a kitchen like a sauna and a lot of time and patience.   Maybe not.  Perhaps there's an easier way of using quinces that's not such hard work but will stop me feeling guilty about wasting them.  Flower arrangements?

Perhaps I should ask my daughter.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

the first house of stories

Not exactly THE first house of stories, but my own first house of stories, where as a small child too young to write anything down I would lie awake at night making up stories in my head.  I've been visiting my parents, who still live in the house I grew up in.  My dad's just had a birthday, so we went over with a new book of Punch cartoons, knowing that he'd like one.  

The house hasn't changed much.  Last night I lay in my old bed again, but this time I didn't make up stories, I just marvelled at the fact that my mum (who is as old as her tongue and a little older than her teeth, as she always said) still makes up fantastically comfy beds.  

I was also able to give them their copy of URCHIN AND THE RAVEN WAR, which felt a bit special.  Mum will get to it before Dad this time.  He's got to work his way through Punch.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

St Luke's Tide

Today is St Luke's Day, a good day for doctors and writers,  as St Luke was both.  I don't know why I feel so good about this time of year - it's as if it's full of good memories,
but I can't quite remember what they are.  It's a golden time, with the trees turning and a feeling 
of gratitude for every hour of sunshine.  Today I walked home from the station through swishy leaves.

Especially, it's a time all of it's own.  Just October.  Just let it be October.  It's not the time for thinking in terms of Christmas, and nothing to do with plastic black and orange things in supermarkets for Halloween.  It's just warmth before winter, a time of sorting and settling and letting be.

October.  The word sounds like something you can bite into, like a russet apple.

Which reminds me.  I'm hungry.


Thursday, 16 October 2008

Apple's turn to blog

Everyone's talking about that horrible war, I mean, all wars is horrible, but I'm meaning that horrible war with them ravens, great big bullying spuggies, that's what I called 'em.  I said as much to one of em, too.   'Er who tells the stories, 'er must have been talking about that war.  Don't know why animals want to go on talking about them things, though, mind, there was a lot of good come out of it, a lot of good.

 'Er who tells them stories, 'er didn't want me doing no bloggering, 'er thought I'd give too much away.  Don't see how 'er works that out.  I just sit here in the wood and say what I think, just between you and me, and nobody's going to hear us, are they?  Can't go bloggering through the mists, can I, I mean, I don't shout that loud.

  It's getting colder now.  I been out collecting nuts and bedding for the winter, and I ain't as fit as I used to be.  Time to light a fire and get warm.  Heat up a drop of my best cordial, and there's plenty to share.  You're welcome.  It'll do you the power of good,  it being strong stuff, it makes animals strong, too, stands to reason.  Look at all the good it done our Urchin!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Urchin and the Raven War!

What a day!  Urchin and the Raven War, the fourth Mistmantle, is published in the US today.  This one isn't coming out in the UK (nothing to do with me!)  but it's obtainable here by all the usual on-line routes.  If you don't like ordering on-line, ask your local bookshop to order it for you.   There's something exciting about a publication day, even if it's happening a long way away.   

I am fighting back from a migraine, and so didn't feel up to reading anything demanding today.  Instead, I dipped into the pile of books waiting to be read and took out a Henry Brewis, for his accounts of life in rural Northumberland as seen by a surly peasant farmer with flat cap, foul weather, and an ingrained contempt for sheep.   Before I opened it,  the cartoon on the front was making me giggle, and a giggle in a migraine is a rare thing.

Read Henry Brewis.  Read Urchin and the Raven War.  Not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

riding lights

Last night, Cinderella went to the ball - Cinderella being me, with my husband, so no prince required.  It was the Riding Lights Theatre Company ball, their big fund-raising event, and if you don't know about Riding Lights, put their name into a search engine the minute you finish reading this.  They are the most outstanding, exciting theatre company you'll see in a long day's march, and the Riding Lights Ball was a like a Riding Lights production - engaging from start to finish, never a dull moment, never a wasted opportunity.

The theme was 1970s and dressing up was optional, but my ballgown doesn't get out very often (I don't wear it for typing),  so my posh frock and I took each other to the ball.   Ooh.  We had amazing fireworks, we had an auction conducted by the multi-talented Antony Dunn, the food and drink were excellent, we played silly games (remember Buckaroo, or flipping plastic frogs into a bucket?), and the whole evening was filled with surprises, like your table being visited by a mad scientist, the Queen, or Superman.   I love dancing, and we danced.  Lots. Especially, we met some fascinating, lovely people, made new friends, had great conversations, and laughed a lot.  We finally left at about midnight.  What a happy ballgown bunny I was, with a goody bag, a bunch of balloons,  and a fibre optic lamp - no, I didn't steal it, they were selling off the ones from the 

By the time we got home, the young people in our house were tucked up and fast asleep.  Lightweights.

Let me repeat - at a search engine, and hopefully a venue, near you.  Riding Lights.


Friday, 10 October 2008

down in the meadow

My husband bought a brand new grass-cutting thing today and set about clearing the bottom of the garden.  I call it the meadow, or the wildlife garden.  He calls it the jungle.  You could stand a small child in there and not see it.   Our son tried to sort it with an old-fashioned push-push mower, but the blades broke and the gnome fell off his snail laughing.

I came home this afternoon and found it wonderfully, beautifully, clear.  I can walk down the meadow without being caught in a rugby tackle by stray brambles.

I think we have moles.  (We could have had half of Mistmantle in there and not known about it until now.)  What I really want is a hedgehog.
I could advertise for one.  Hedgehog wanted - free board and lodgings, and all the slugs you can eat.
 Apply at the House of Stories.  


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

from Needle

It started with Fingal the otter.  So do lots of things.  Fingal was splashing about in the shallows with Swanfeather when she said that there weren't many starfish around this year, so Fingal said we'd have to knit them.  The next thing we knew, there was a
little flock, or pack, or whatever you call it, gathered round the workroom door wanting to know if we could
knit starfish.  It's quiet just now, so Thripple said yes.  Then I thought I could do a fish, too, so I did, and you can't have just one fish - that would be silly - so we did lots of them.  Then Hope wanted a ladybird, so Thripple made him a big one so he could see it.  Since then we've crocheted caterpillars, embroidered beetles, - and I drew the line at woodlice.  Have you ever tried to knit a woodlouse?  Don't.  

I'm teaching them all to knit their own creatures now.  Winter's coming.  I have mittens to make.  


Monday, 6 October 2008


I have been riding this snail round this garden since long before 'er come 'ere, 'er who writes them books.  'Er was pottering about yesterday, talking to the flowers like she thinks she'll get an answer.   When 'er first come, I thought we'd see some changes, and I reckoned the first one would be me.  I reckoned 'er wasn't the gnome type.  If I'd been painted red and blue I'd have been out before you could say 'fishing rod', but I'm a plain stone gnome.  I  aint conspicuish, not with all them plants all over the place.  I'm camelflaged down there on me rockery, riding me snail.  

I'm not saying I would have minded if 'er 'ad chucked me out.  In fact, in a way, I was looking forward to it.  I been 'ere donkey's years on this rockery, and I don't get places much.  Did you ever see a thin gnome?  I got a gnome dome belly to be proud of and little short legs, so it takes me all me time to climb up the rockery and frighten the cat.  The snail, he don't go so fast.   In fact, 'e don't go at all, not so much as you'd notice.  'E got one and a half inches last year, then 'e dozed off in May and he aint woke up yet.  So if 'er give me away to 'er mates up north or down south, I wouldn't 'ave minded.  But, no, not 'er.  She says, 'e's been ere longer than we 'ave, she says,  'e should stay.  Then 'er picked me up and put me where I weren't before, so I get a different view.  Same bloomin rocks, different flowers.  She's put in a lavatree-eria and a heeby-jeeby and a little white thing that I can't remember what it's called and I don't suppose 'er can, either.

You'd think a bit of common politeness wouldn't be too much to ask.  Morning, gnome, how you doing, as she goes by.   I could tell 'er a few things. 'Er writes stories.  I could tell her a few.  Like I said,  I been 'ere a long time.  Met a few slugs.  Chased a few cats.  Watched fireworks and had a chat with the reindeer come Christmas.  Night night, all.

Night night, gnome.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Oh, help.  I am sorting out my study.  Most difficult jobs get very, very difficult when you''re about three quarters through and you wish you'd never started.  This one is already impossible after one filing cabinet and half a bookshelf.

Why is it so hard to get rid of books?  A book doesn't deserve respect just because it's a book.   There's a perfectly good Oxfam shop for the ones I'll never read again (but then again, I might.)  And the ones I've had for years and simply not got round to (but I could meet somebody who really, really wants them.)  Perhaps I had it drummed into me at an early age that books should be respected, or maybe I feel maternal about them - 'if I'd written that book,I would want somebody to care about it'.

At present, I have a pathetic little heap of books to go to Oxfam or local schools and a keep-heap the size of Ayers Rock.   I've discarded one, but that's the 2006 Bed and Breakfast Guide and probably doesn't count.

By the way, in the book world, books become 'titles' , or, at least, they are titles when they're new.  They don't publish books, they publish 'titles'.  My newest title is 'Urchin and the Raven War'.  Look out for next year's Mistmantle title, and I believe there will be some exciting new titles from your favourite authors this autumn.    In the meantime, I suggest you stay and keep cosy.  All you need is a a hot drink, an apple, and a thumping  good title.

Monday, 29 September 2008


Today is Michaelmas Day, the festival of St Michael and all Angels, which is a favourite of mine.  I love the idea of the autumn air full of angels.  When my children were small I used to make paper angels with sweets hiding under them -  I still do, but sometimes the sweets are bigger than the angels.  And we no longer have angel hunts.

Years ago, when my daughter was eating her Michaelmas chocolate, she said 'I think when it's Michaelmas, we should have chocolate every day for a week', to which I replied, 'sorry, we don't keep The Octave of Angels.'  That sounded like the title of a book, so  I wrote it as soon as I'd woked out what 'The Octave of Angels' might be.  It's out of print in this country now, but it may still be published in the US, I'm not sure.  It included a lot of themes which were dear to my heart.  And sometimes, characters in books create their own names.  Children in The Octave came up with names like 'Berry' and 'Myrrh', and I had to find the 
reasons for them.  

My first book, A Friend for Rachel, later 'The Secret Mice' has a lot to do with Michaelmas and angels, too.  
That's out of print, too, but I hope it can reappear one day.  There's something very special about a first book.

Goodnight, and may the angels keep you. 

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Today I've been in the outside doing that lovely autumn thing, 'putting the garden to bed', though in my case it's more of a hack-back, cutting back all the brambles and ivy before they head for the coast.   This means I'm too busy to blog, so Needle, a tower hedgehog from Mistmantle, will do it.

(If you don't know about Needle, you need to read Urchin of the Riding Stars.  Look at www.margaretmcallister.co.uk or www.mistmantle.com)

It's nearly the end of the blackberry harvest, and it can't come too soon.  I'm not ungrateful - 
I like bramble jam. I like blackberries.   I don't mind at all going out to pick them on beautiful afternoons, with little Hope beside me sniffing around, 
 the sun all golden and the air still warm, and the leaves just starting to turn and fall.  This
time of year we all have to do our bit.  But I swear to you, I can't get the purple off my paws, and that's not good if you're trying to make a new Threading, especially when it's a Threading for the
winter festival with snow all round the tower.  Poor Crackle in the kitchen, she's up to her elbows in blackberries. she says she still sees them when she shuts her eyes at night.  Hope has them stuck on his prickles.

Then there's the cloaks.  You'd think that animals who live among hedgehogs could cope with a few prickles, but no.  Every animal on the island seems to have torn its cloak on a bramble bush.  Why wear cloaks to go blackberry picking?  They've been turning up all day asking Thripple and me - please will you mend this for me, I tore it on a bramble?  Some of them are perfectly capable of mending their own cloaks, and Thripple tells them so.  

The sun's gone down now, so anybody who's going to rip their cloak has already done it.  We shan't have any more tonight.  Thripple lit the fire and we sat down with mugs of hot raspberry cordial and chatted.

There was a knock at the door.  There's Urchin - it's always good to see Urchin, though I don't always let him know it - with a cloak across his paws.

"Captain Padra's compliments," he said, "and could you mend this for him.  It got torn on a blackberry bush.  He says he'd mend it himself but otter paws aren't good for that sort of thing."

I was already threading the needle.  If it's for Captain Padra, that's different.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


It's ayoung lady's fourteenth birthday today,  and I sent her The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary ~Sutcliffe.  Well worth the read, if you haven't come across it.  In fact, I think that goes for all Rosemary Sutcliffes.  They appeal equally to both sexes and have all the elements of good storytelling.   Great stuff.

Much writing time today spent on writery things - e-mailing editors and so on - instead of actually writing.  Just received my early copies of Urchin and the Raven War, beautifully illustrated as usual by Omar Rayyan.  I wish I could draw.  I'm not ashamed to say I held that book and hugged it.

Midnight. Oops, I just turned into a pumpkin.  Happens all the time.

Sweet dreams


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Good evening!  Here's the Blog.  Blog should b a character in one of my stories - Blog of the Swamp, Blog the Impossible.  I'm Margaret McAllister, author of the Mistmantle Chronicles, Hold my Hand and Run, The Life Shop, High Crag Linn, and lots of the Treetops books you get in schools.  

Of course, authors don't really have time to blog.  It's not just that we're writing the next book, or re-writing it, for the third time, or checking proofs, or any of those authory things like school visits or chatting to bookish people.  In my case, I'm
just as likely to be doing the washing, or nipping out to the corner shop because we've run out of milk, or phoning my grown-up kids to see what they're up to.  Or reading somebody else's blog because it's a way of putting off work.  Or - at the moment - making Noah's Ark cushions for the toddler group.  (I'm rubbish at sewing, but nobody told the toddlers.)

So, sometimes I'll write the blog and sometimes I'll get one of the characters from my books to blog about their lives and what they're doing, and what they think about things.  Tess may have something to say, maybe on long winter evenings at Winnerburnhead.   The Mistmantle animals
are sure to have something to say.  Apple certainly will, and so, I think will Fingal.  First, though, I have to explain to them what a blog is.  Todd asked if you could eat it.  Hope wants to know if blogs are friendly, and Tay said it sounds like something utterly disgusting and she's ordered the maids to clean it up at once.

She can't stop me blogging.  Speak soon,