Monday, 30 July 2012


Mondays should not begin with Stephen the gardener arriving all bright eyed and bushy tailed before breakfast so that I felt really bad about getting up late.

Mondays should not include the computer refusing to do what I wanted it to do and hiding my work in places where I can't find it.

They should not include getting stuck with a story and not being able to find out what I need to know to make it work.

And they certainly shouldn't begin with a list so long I didn't know where to start.

They should not involve the doorbell ringing and making me jump out of my skin, only to find a stranger on the doorstep trying to sell me broadband.

They shoud not involve Tom Daley and his team-mate narrowly missing out on a medal for diving.

Never mind, at least this one included chocolate.

And now it's quarter past midnight.


Saturday, 28 July 2012


At nine o'clock last night I sat down to watch the Olympic Games launch. At 1.30 I fell into bed.

Do you know, it's a long time since I felt this good about being British. I loved the inventiveness, the excitement, the beauty, the energy, the quirkiness, and the fact that most of the people taking part were volunteers who had thrown themselves into the rehearsals, worked their socks off, and performed brilliantly.

We had big engineering and small children. Shakespeare, J M Barrie, and Harry Potter. Cricket, maypoles, and farm horses, through suffragettes, wars, and the Industrial Revolution. Enormous blue butterflies who were really cyclists. The lighting of the cauldron was breathtaking and moving, and if you haven't seen the Queen's role, find an i-player or something and take a look. Respect, Ma'am.

We could have done with less rap music, and I didn't see the point of including the Arctic Monkeys (that's a band, by the way) and Sir Paul Mac singing Hey Jude, badly. We don't have to wheel him out on every big occasion. But the scene with dancing nurses and children bouncing on the beds, which was a tribute to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and the National Health Service, was just wonderful.

I would have liked a bit more reference to the coast and the small islands of Britain. But that's me being picky.

Whoever designed those costumes should get a medal. To say nothing of whoever designed the cauldron with the two hundred flowers. Danny Boyle, the film director who masterminded the whole thing is being hailed as a hero and will no doubt be awarded some sort of an honour. Now, I'll let you in on a bit of inside information.

Everything about what would happen in the Olympic Launch was kept top secret, but one member of the team let out a teeny insight into the workings. Danny Boyle insisted that the rooms where they worked had a reading space. Yes, just that, a place with books and comfortable seats, so anyone working on the project could go and sit down with a book if they wanted to. Wonder why?

Because he knew it was important, I suppose.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hello again!

I'm back! I hope you enjoyed reading Tony's blog. I did. It was fun to read my own blog and not know what it would say.

I've just tried something that might let me have my paragraphs back. Then again, it might take out all the punctuation and thoroughly mess me about, and the previews are not always reliable. We'll see.

Exhausted - my friend Edward used to be a horse.

Exhausted comes to mind because I was, by the time I got home last night. And there in the twilight was my weatherbeaten garden doing its very best, and the river making gentle music on the far side of the fence. Tony was just arriving home, too. There were pink roses on the table, and in my absence he had sorted out out a minor problem with an editor, kept up with my e-mails, written the blog, and kept me in touch with anything I needed to know about.

Yesterday - which feels like a long time ago - my sister and I took our parents to lunch at the hotel where Tony and I had our wedding reception nearly thirty-four years ago. I haven't been back since, and it's smartened up a lot since then. All those years ago, I walked into that dining room with the frothy white dress, bouquet, orange blossom circlet, all the works. Yesterday I was the lady in red, considerably more battle-scarred, with a handbag containing hand gel, glasses, mobile phone, pen, notebook, tissues, migraine pills, and a screwdriver. Boy, I've learnt a lot.

You may like to know that I can still get into the frothy white dress.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Anything for a quiet life...

Well, the computer is back from intensive care with whatever new bits have made it work again. That's good. Hundreds of emails have come flooding in, which have been queuing up for days waiting for the inbox to whistle, and in they dashed like excited puppies. Now they're sat there all a-quiver, tails wagging, panting "Go on! Read me! Read me!" We will, we will, but not yet. The Lovely Lady has gone Up North for a few days to see her Mum and Dad, and left the Hairy Bloke to mind the shop. And get the computer set up again. And look after all those excited emails (yes, I know - I'll read you all SOON...) Margi said to say hello, and she'll blog again when she gets back. Kaitlin - she's still thinking of new words. Clara - she's so happy that you've enjoyed the books so much, and even happier than you've found the blog. She'll write to you when she comes home again. Everyone - I think I actually saw a smile on Much's face this afternoon, because he was enjoying the sun. There was even a smile on the snail's face, and that's not something you see very often. All right, you lot - I'm coming. Heel! One at a time, or you'll confuse the inbox. Is there anything dafter than a bunch of excited emails...? Just as well we don't do Twitter! There's enough Twits around here to begin with. Good night!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


The House of Stories became the House of Catastrophe this week. No, this is not Helen's previous definition of catastrophe, it's a technological melt down. New book already to go to publisher on Monday. Printer dies. Tony's computer siezes up and goes into coma. Computer in intensive care. Printer put to one side so kids at after school club can enjoy taking it apart and finding out what doesn't make it tick. Hammers will be provided. Book pinged off electronically to publisher via memory stick and laptop. Make notes re latest set of proofs, also to be sent by lap top and memory stick. Forget where I put memory stick. Blog via laptop. Cough violently. (Violently - by way of lentils) Before anything else can go wrong, goodnight.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

catch up

I am almost where I need to be. At last. All my correspondence is up to date (until whatever comes in tomorrow.) I have been a good godmother by babysitting the Golden Child and her brother last night. By the way, a tub of bubbles costs 45p (I think that's about one dollar) and bring inestimable joy to two small children and one middle-aged woman. I'm still not sure why the cat bit me, but it wasn't anything to do with the bubbles, and he didn't draw blood. At two o'clock this morning I finished a major draft of the latest book. Now, it should only need its nails polishing before it goes to the publisher. I think I have sorted out the paragraphs on here, but this remains to be seen. The torrential rain has stopped, so I have been able to go out and attend to the poor battered and unseasonal garden. Tomorrow I will start on the housework, which looks as if Snow White got up left the dwarves to get on with it. And I've caught a cold. Grumble grumble sniff. And Helen says that a chest of drawers is where you keep your knickers. Atishoo.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Round the table

Still no paragraphs. I suspect the blog needs an overhaul. After I made some rude remark about the Prime Minister's Cabinet (and I'm glad to live in a free country where you can be rude about the government and get away with it), Helen pointed out that the Prime Minister's Cabinet is where he keeps his china, glass and tablecloths. She also said that you have to keep an eye on your dining table or it'll eat everything in the house. Tell me about it. I had an occasional table. Well, sometimes I did. And a nest of tables, until they all hatched out and flew away. The trouble with multiplication tables is that you end up with dozens of them, and a constable is where prisoners sit. OK, everyone, it's furniture time.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Where do you work?

I still can't get this format to keep paragraphs. Bear with me. I may have to re-invent the blog. I was reading a newspaper article today about people who work in the banking and finance sector in London. As the writer pointed out, if you ask any of these people what they do, they may well answer vaguely, 'I work in the City.' This is a British code meaning, 'it's to do with money, you wouldn't understand what I do, but I earn enough doing it to have a spare house in the country and an account at Harrods'. Happily, his office cleaner could just as honestly say, 'I work in the City'. So could a taxi driver, the ticket sellers at Liverpoool Street Station, and the buskers. If I said, 'I work in a village', 'I work in Yorkshire,' would that convey anything? Not a thing. Occasionally, if people ask me what I do and I don't want to tell them, I say I do freelance work for publishers. If they persist, I say, 'the boring bits'. (Believe me, if you're checking the proofs for the third time because somebody's been moving the commas around, it's nothing to get excited about.) But I could say that I work in publishing, or in books, or in a state of desperation because a deadline is looming. If you're a farmer, you work in wellies. If you're a developer, you work in progress. If you're a roundabout operator, you work in a spin. And me? I work in the attic. Well, like most writers, I work in trains, I work in the kitchen, I work in the sitting room. If work includes thinking round ideas, I work in the bath and lying in bed in the mornings. But mostly, I work in the attic. Unfortunately, attics are associated with the family mad woman, like Mrs Rochester. Can I be the official crazy lady? I need a new website. PS The Archers is getting much too serious. Soembody just tried to burn down a barn, and Josh Archer and George Grundy are in there. So is a cow. Eddie Grundy is selling hybrid garden gnomes and there's a wild boar roaming about. What they need is a mad woman in the attic.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Grr is for gremlins and I am beset by them. I've just been informed by a reader (thanks, Heather!) that the official Mistmantle site has been inflitrated by a Trojan. I've e-mailed Bloomsbury to ask them to sort it, but I recommend that you don't visit the site, or send anybody else there, for a week or so or until further notice. If Bloomsbury tell me anything, I'll pass it on. Pity the trojan if he meets Captain Lugg and his army in there. There are gremlins in this computer, too. My last post appeared without any paragraphs, and I've no idea how that happened. And it's running very slowly. Either, as Tony suggest, there's a problem with a server somewhere, or the hamster on the wheel has gone on two weeks holiday to Costa del Ninety Degrees in the Shade and decided to stay. To say nothing of the weather gremlins. There can't be any water left up there. (Note to ducks - that is not a new lake. That is the sports field.) (Note to clouds - this is a small island. If you keep moving for a few hours in any direction, you will find the sea. Rain on that.) Gr is also for Great Scot, and my heart broke for Andy Murray, who played brilliantly, but couldn't quite get past Federer at his most dazzling. If any of you have any connection with the ATP or the Murray folks, tell him he's my hero. It was a very close match of outstanding tennis from them both, and the Lion of Scotland was awesome. Come to think of it, if anyone's popping in on HM in the next few weeks, tell her it's time for Andy Murray OBE - with a view to Sir Andy in the future? And so I don't spend all this blog on grumbles - portentous - we got soaked while camping cauliflower - plant beloved of sheepdogs marigold - to wed for money, and finally, armoury - never mind, Andy, we still love you.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Whae's like us?

Stand to attention! I'm a McAllister. Not many generations back my forebears lived in Dumfries, and before that, in Glasgow. This is a good time to claim Scottish ancestry. All over leafy Surrey, tennis fans are climbing up the family tree hoping to find a fisherman from Nairn or an Edinburgh merchant. Do you know how much we owe to the Scots? This little cold country gave us Alexander Fleming, R L Stevenson, George McDonald, Andrew Carnegie, Livingstone, Logie Baird, Helena Kennedy, Carlyle, Robert Burns, John Rennie Mackintosh, Eric Liddell, David Tennant, Susan Boyle, raincoats, tarmac, telephones and television, whisky, Dundee Cake, Black Bun, porridge, flummery, a monarch or two and treasure houses full of folklore and muic. AND ANDY MURRAY Hooray, hooray, at last, for the first time in 74 years, a British man is in the Wimbledon final, and it's a Scot what done it. Andy Murray, the Great Scot from Dunblane. I tried to blog this to you last night but the computer was playing up (needs a talking to from a Scots Granny). I was so happy, I was dancing round the house cheering. If had a Scots flag I would have hung it from the window. How do you explain the Scots word, 'laldy'? Give it wallop, or welly, give it your all and something over. Andy is giving it laldy. At least a pint of my blood must be Scots. If I'm ever allowed to give blood again, they're not getting that bit. There is a Scots toast which says, 'Here's to us! Who's like us? Not many, and they're all dead.' or, 'Here's tae us! Whae's like us? Gey few, and they're all deid.' And here's to Andy. Respect!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

socks and staff meetings

To all of you in the USA, a very Happy Independence Day - enjoy the fireworks!

Today was full on hard work but very rewarding as I visited Cockburn School and worked with some of the most focused students I've met.  They particularly liked the scary bits from High Crag Linn.   Some of those kids may well be in print one day.

The school is nearer to the Sunshines' village than to ours, so I stayed there overnight.  Now, as you know from the blog, I'm often away from home and I know how to pack a suitcase by now, but this time I had packed what I thought was a pair of socks and turned out to be only one.  (Also to those of you in the USA, it may be sandals weather over there just now, but it certainly isn't in Yorkshire.  Should be, but isn't.)  What were my options?

Go without socks and end up with feet so rubbed and sore I'd have to crawl out of the door at the end of the day -

wear yesterd - no.  Stop there.  Wearing yesterday's socks is never an option.

Or - and this is the one I went for - borrow a pair from Lady Sunshine.  So I strutted my authorial stuff all day wearing borrowed socks which were a tad big for me, but that's a lot better than too small.  Thank you, Lady Sunshine, and bless your little black socks.

AND -Tony was getting ready for a Staff Meeting this week and commented that maybe taxidermists have a Stuff Meeting.  Do Welshmen have a Taff meeting?  And the British Cabinet is now largely composed of rich  men who went to posh schools, so is that a Toff Meeting?  

I think a new game might emerge.

Monday, 2 July 2012

In a spin

What a weekend that was!  The village gala took place on Saturday, so I stood with the crowds lining the route and we all waved at the floats, which included the the Gala Queen (what a nice lass she is!) with her attendants, a pipe band, The Mad Hatters Tea Party on a float, and any number of fairies.  We had three seasons in one day (two of them were winter), but the thunderstorm held off until after everyone had gone home.  (except, possibly, for the stallholders.)

The StorySpin began at three o'clock on Sunday afternoon.  At five to three there wasn't a soul in sight and I was looking nervously at the door, willing it to open.  Then they poured in!  I started with a Norwegian folk tale with lots of animal noises to do, and it felt right.  We were in the zone.   More came for the afternoon, and judging from the feedback, they enjoyed it as much as I did.  My happiest ever story-telling day.

If a story stays with you, if you remember it and want to repeat it, it has something to say to you.  Treasure that story.

I call it Spinning Stories because I like hand-spinning with a spindle and fleece, and 'spinning a yarn' is another phrase for telling a story.  I take a spindle with me and let people have a go with it, if they like.  One of the kids yesterday was a natural! But the thing about spinning is that, in order to spin smoothly, the centre has to be perfectly balanced.  If not, the spindle wobbles.  But the point of balance ensures that the spin is smooth and steady, and you know when you've found it.

If you haven't already done so, look at Deborah's comment on the blog post last week about cats.  Lovely.

I've thought long and hard about definitions and here's 'Traction - have nothing to do with railways'.