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.