Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Big City

On Monday, off I went to London for a publisher's party. They know how to party at Puffin, and if you google 'The Banqueting House, London', you'll see where we were. A very grand venue with a ceiling painted by Rubens. When Charles I was led out to the scaffold, did he glance up and think, 'Rubens did a good job with that'?

I met Julia Donaldson, the new Children's Laureate, who writes everything in the most natural and entertaining rhymes. She is charming and friendly, and so easy to get on with. I was able to thank Jeremy Strong for making children laugh, Andy Stanton for getting my godson reading, and the lovely Julia Golding for endorsing HIGH CRAG LINN. I grovelled before Shirley Hughes, who took a kind interest in how LYS was doing - I told her how much he loved DOGGER. If you haven't read it, you've missed it.

The next morning was coffee and macaroons at a publisher's office (it's tough in the big city) and a free afternoon to enjoy the museums. When the rain was, as they say in Northumberland 'stotting' down at Wimbledon I was in the underground and didn't know a thing about it. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, but it missed me, so what am I?

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Stand well back, I am spitting tacks.

It's all to do with an item on the radio news this morning. Apparently some bright little sparks with nothing better to do have worked out a way of knowing whether you're successful or not. Apparently if you're a success, you -

are married,
have children,
earn at least £50,000 a year, (which is about twice the average wage in the UK), and
own a house worth at least £250,000

I was speechless. Who works these things out? More to the point, how?

So, you can be a ruthless money-grabber on to your third marriage with an alcohol problem and a criminal record, but that's OK, you're a success. You can alienate everyone around you, cheat, lie, and manipulate, but if you do it with a house and money in the bank, well done you.

On the other hand, for all the single people who have dedicated their lives to caring - sorry. If you have no children of your own but are a warm-hearted aunt/uncle to other people's, you're not there. All those of you who've worked hard and served your communities all your lives, if you live in sheltered accommodation you're not on the success list. If you've chosen to live with little money but great job satisfaction, you don't make the grade. Sister Frances Dominica, founder of the first children's hospice in the UK, sorry to tell you this, but... and that goes for you too, John Bell of the Iona Community, Anne Widdecombe, and all the other people the blog readers can add to this list. In fact, byt his standard some of my favourite people are failures.

Either this survey has failed, or I have. I think if you live with a generous heart and make the world better for being in it, that's success. But maybe I never understood the word.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

what's that?

I'm still finding strange things in my handbag. Nothing crawling, I hasten to add, or trying to get out. Nothing with legs. But there's still confetti everywhere, I just found a pair of scissors, and the packet of safety pins has been opened. There, you see, I said we'd need those. On the other hand, the various pills for sore throats, aches, pains, and funny tummies weren't needed - but they would have been if I hadn't popped them in with the phone, camera, keys, hand gel, tissues (those were needed), pen, little notebook, diary, hairbrush, and comb. And the hangy up things.

I think they're some sort of hangy up things. They were still in an unopened cellophane packet, and looked like plastic hooks. I wonder if they were something to do with the sparkly lights we hung up. If so, we managed without them.

What's the strangest thing you ever found in your handbag or pocket?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


The Sunshines chose 'Gabriel's Oboe' from 'The Mission' for the entrance, and and left to 'Accidentally in Love', from 'Shrek'. No, they're not ogres, they just love that song, and everyone began to clap - though I couldn't, because I was sailing out of church on the arm of Lady S's brother. We had some great hymns and worship songs, including my favourite 'Be Thou My Vision', which is in the opening pages of Urchin and the Heartstone. During the signing of the register, Daughter played the flute, beautifully, as ever.

At the reception various people sang, played, and recited, but the one that thrilled us all was when Lady S's brother, his wife, and their two small children (flower girl and ringbearer) stood up and sang. It was all completely simple and unaffected and the children hadn't sung in public before, but they looked confident and sang tunefully and clearly. The memory of that happy little family will stay with me for a long time.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Best

The Best Blog Entry Ever

You may notice I've been away from The House of Stories for a while. I've been a lovely little town in the South West for the wedding of Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine. After all that planning and preparation, here we were, and it would take another book to tell you all about it. So, the short version.

On Wednesday LOS and Lady Sunshine picked me up from the station. We hit Cribbs Causeway to buy paper stationery, buckets for flowers, enough cool boxes to make Pimms and fruit punch by the gallon, presents for the little attendants, sparkly stuff, glittery stuff and stuff I can't even remember.

Thursday, Tony and my sister arrived and we launched into action. Over the next two days, flowers were arranged, the marquee was turned into a banquet hall, cup cakes were collected, guests arrived, gardens were plundered for greenery, garlands were hung up, and Tony hung up strings of lights because I was a wuss and was afraid that if I tried to do them I'd knock out the trip switch and cause a power cut. By about two hours before the ceremony it was all ready and there was just time to change. Lovely Younger Son was in so many places at once, there came a point when nobody knew which car his shoes were in.

I'll tell you snippets and anecdotes as the week goes on, but to condense it all, LS, LOS and all the wedding party looked stunning. Daughter, who was a bridesmaid, has never looked so beautiful, played the flute for the signing of the register and the soiree, and was chatted up. The little flower girl and ring-bearer were lovely and a credit to their families - and oh, what a great family LOS is marrying into. LS and LOS had planned it all themselves, and everyone launched in to making it just the day they wanted. We danced and danced.

A very blessed and happy future to The Sunshines.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Hello, little ladybird! I haven't see one of you for a long time, and I'm surprised to find you on the ivy. You won't find anything nice to eat there. Come with me and I'll carry you to a lovely rose with aphids on it.

Come with me - don't worry, that's just the shadow of my hand, it won't harm you. Neither will I, so stop turning round and going the other way. This way. No, THIS way. If I keep trying, you'll give up and climb up. Give the ivy leaf a tap - and you cling like a limpet.

Finally. That wasn't so bad, was it? Now I'll take you to the roses. Here. This one has a small aphid community project living on it. Down you go. Down you go. Down... come on, you didn't want to come on my hand in the first place...

look, you useless insect, that is a rose, it is covered in greenfly, and you are supposed to climb on and eat them. That's better. No, don't try to crawl off again. If you try to stand on the edge of a petal you'll - you'll do what you just did, spread your wings to steady yourself because you nearly fell off. I have a ladybird with no sense of balance, and its radar isn't too good, either. The aphids are this way.

Excuse me, missus. Left. No, the other left. Would a kindly greenfly jump up and shout 'over here!' before running for cover? Here. I'll help. I'll move one and drop it in front of you...

oh, work it out for yourself. What do you want me to do, kill it, cook it, and serve it in a sesame seed roll? It's a wonder you're not extinct. There's a raindrop on there. Try not to drown in it.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Night Visitor

I was thinking recently of one of our best ever holidays, in a chalet on the shores of the Lake of Menteith, in central Scotland. The glass doors opened so close to the water's edge, we would all wander down there with our breakfast in our hands and eat while dabbling our feet in the water. There was even a rowing boat, which we could take out whenever we wanted to.

One beautiful evening, we rowed out round the Isle of Menteith (where Mary Queen of Scots lived as a little girl), and as we brought the boat in, I jumped out and waded through the water to guide it in and tie it up. (Having grown up on the coast, I knew to check for pebbles before doing that, and kept my trainers on.) It was turning cool by then, just time to go back into the chalet, make a hot drink, and watch the changing colours of the sky over the water. I left my trainers on the porch to dry.

It was a wet night, but by the time I went out in the morning the skies were clear and my trainers were dry enough to put on. But my right foot wouldn't go in. I wriggled a bit, and still couldn't get my trainer on, so I thought it might be full of waterweed and looked inside.

It wasn't waterweed that look back at me. It was a very disgruntled little toad, who had only wanted a warm sheltered place to spend the night and wasn't pleased to find five big bony toes coming the other way. I introduced him to the family then released him on the shore, where he lay very still and pretended to be a stone. I wish I could have explained to him that we didn't mean any harm. I wouldn't want any creature to have so close an encounter with my foot.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


I didn't get the blog written yesterday (sorry!). By the time I got back from after school club and had something to eat, it was time to go out to a quiz night, which was a lot of fun and a good fund-raiser. We learned a few things (like how little we know about adverts) and finished a close fourth out of eleven, which I think was defeat with honour. (Or 'honor' if you live in the US.)

Which brings me to the Queen's Birthday Honours List. The queen has an official birthday round about the anniversary of her coronation, when a lot of Honours are dished out. Good to see that a children's author has been awarded the MBE - the brilliant Julia Donaldson, of the Gruffalo and so much more. The inimitable Kate Atkinson was honoured, too.

The Honours system has changed recently, and nominations are made for people who just get on with things. Volunteers, people who quietly and faithfully do a good job year after year, people who inspire and slog can be awarded an honour. I know a delightful story of a 'mother hen' dinner lady who did a great job welcoming immigrant and refugee children who didn't speak English, taking them under her wing, and helping them to find their feet. She was astonished to be awarded an OBE, and thoroughly deserved it. I believe the children all emerged speaking English with a perfect Geordie accent.

I know a few people who deserve a medal. Who would you honour?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Usually, when I've been meeting a new editor, I've gone to London or Oxford. But this particular editor offered to come to York, which made me feel such a VIP. As she'd come so far out of her way, the only place to take her was Betty's.

I may have blogged about Betty's before. It's the pinnacle of Yorkshire tea rooms, founded by a Swiss confectioner who settled in Yorkshire and combined the best of Swiss and Yorkshire traditional food. There are only five branches, all with an old-fashioned charm about them, and Little Betty's, in Stonegate, is the perfect place to go with an editor who had made such a long journey to meet me. (I hope you're going to google all these places.) We got to know each other and discussed lots of book related things that I can't tell you about yet.

Sometimes, being a writer is pure slog. Sometimes it's disappointment, frustration, and lack of confidence. At its best it's exciting, satisfying, self-motivating, inspiring, joyful, and addictive. And, on Monday, it was being in a very beautiful setting in one of the most breathtaking cities in Europe, getting to know a new friend and colleague over lunch at Betty's.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Aal ahint

Where I come from, if you're running behind with all the things you have to do, you are 'aal ahint like the coo's tail', which means 'all behind, like the cow's tail'. I'm all ahint with the blog, so I'll tell you today what I did yesterday.

Both Lady Sunshine and the Lassie (Lovely Younger Son's girlfriend) were here at the weekend, and on Sunday afternoon we sat down together to make favour bags for the wedding. Traditionally, you put five sugared almonds in favour bags. However, sugared almonds pose a danger to (a) people with nut allergies and (b) teeth, so Lady Sunshine opted for jelly beans instead. At present the jelly beans are in the wrong part of the country, but we made the bags anyway, ready to pop them in.

After the first hundred or so we ran out of ribbon, even though we'd bought enough to gift wrap an elephant. However, we only have about another forty to do, and it was such fun. There is something about all that creative activity - or, to put it more simply, 'making stuff together' that is satisfying and a real bonding thing. Finally, we scrunched up all the empty bags from the ribbon shop and threw them at the menfolk. That was satisfying, too.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


If you're still wondering about the Scrabble, yes, he did beat me, by about thirty points.

Yesterday was the sunniest day of the year, and Tony and I were out early for the four and a half hour drive to Cardiff to hear Daughter's flute recital. The recital room was too hot, tuning was potentially a problem, but she handled it like the star she is and her music made my heart sing.

There was time to get together with Daughter afterwards for food, drink and friends, and we left Cardiff later than we'd planned, which wasn't a problem. Due to the first set of motorway diversions we saw a bit of South Wales we hadn't seen before. By the time we got to the second set, which took us twenty miles out of our way, we'd had enough. Then, at nearly midnight, the wonderful and unexpected happened. A shooting star fell before our eyes, bright and clear in the dark skies above the moors. If we hadn't been miles out of our way, we would never have seen it. Our second star of the day.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

one of those traditions

All families have their own little customs, and they become one of the endearing features of family - or community - life. One of ours is 2 June, which is a day set apart for Lovely Younger Son.

LYS was born near to Christmas, so we always gave him an official birthday on 2 June, the anniversary of his baptism. (What a day. His older sister was not quite well, but didn't make a fuss, bless her. She sat as quietly as could be and waited until all the company had gone home before throwing up all over the bathroom.)

So this day has always been set apart for him. It was always a low key affair because we couldn't expect anyone outside the family to observe it, and money was tight in those days, but we'd get little presents for the children. It usually fell in half term, so he could choose what to do. We might go swimming or bowling, or just to play on some swings somewhere, and he'd choose something special for tea.

I suppose it will become less important as the years go on, but we still celebrate the day. It was fish and chips for tea, and we gave LYS his presents. When I've finished this, he and I and are to play Scrabble To The Death.

What do you mean, 'will I let him win?' I'll be the one fighting for survival. You spend all this money on their education, and what happens? They beat you at Scrabble.