Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Oops, I think I just published a blog post with nothing on it. In fact, it's a miracle I'm posting anything at all. The computer has a gremlin.

It's OK. It's not the sort of gremlin that posts rude remarks in somebody else's name, or tries to spend a lot of money. It's just some sort of gremlin that makes the computer slow and sulky, and won't let me into my own blog. I'm only here now because I crept in through a side door that the gremlin didn't know about. Don't tell it, will you? Oh, how I need Captain Lugg to settle it for me.

It may be the same gremlin that made rain come sluicing down yesterday when we were taking Mum and Dad for a trip round Warkworth and Alnmouth. It is quite possibly the gremlin that left a bag of candles just where Tony would trip over it. It also hid most of the poetry books, but I found them.

This was important, because now and again a few of us from the village and round about - maybe seven or eight of us - get together to share lunch and poems. The theme for tomorrow is 'hope'. This is by one of my favourite poets, Kenneth C Steven, a poet from the Western Isles of Scotland. The collection is called IONA, an this is -


I found a lamb
Tugged by the guyropes of the wind
Trying so hard to get up.

It was no more than a trembling bundle
A bag of bones and wet wool
A voice made of crying, like a child's.

What a beginning, what a fall,
To be born on the edge of the world
Between the sea and America.

Lamb, out of this island of stone
Yellow is coming, golden promises,
The buttery sunlight of spring.

Friday, 25 January 2013

snow bears

It has snowed steadily for five hours. On the garden it is thick and smooth, but it settled unevenly on the holly hedge, falling and gathering into mounds. It looks as if a snow bear is trying to climb over beside the gate, and another two have fallen asleep on the top. Captain Padra now has a robe, and five inches of snow have covered his circlet.

The road outside is roughed up with white, the way my mum used to do the icing on the Christmas cake. Two hours ago, when I was looking down from the bedroom window, two people came past with a dog, something of the collie sort. Oh, it's good to see a dog as happy as that. I've got my people! I've got snow! I've got a stick! Oh, wow, life is so good! Look at this - if it's downloaded OK - Tony took it about half an hour ago in the back garden.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


What a joy to be on the island today! On a day like this the young moles and squirrels love a good snowball fight. Squirrels are very sharp at dodging behind tree trunks, and a young mole can pop up from the ground and vanish again before you can say 'Duck!'

Otters and hedgehogs can take it or leave it. They're not so quick at getting out of the way. The little hedgehogs are rolling in snowdrifts and saying, 'look at me, I'm a snow hog!'. Padra's family are building snow otters, Swanfeather made a slide and Fingal's started on an igloo. (I know somebody who might be able to help him with that.) Catkin tried to organise a a snowball fight with the tower animals but without much success, because Oakleaf took a stack of ammunition up to the Gathering Chamber and pelted her from a safe distance. Not safe for long, my son.

So I informed my family that the Gathering Chamber was out of bounds, dragged Urchin away from whatever he was doing, and did a quick patrol of Anenome Wood. The littlies had discovered that they were tired and cold and very wet and snow wan't fun any more, so we got a fire going in a burrow and rustled up some hot drinks. We were just about to round them all up and usher them in when Apple apperaed with an enormous bottle and a big smile, and you've never seen squirrels move so fast in your life. In fact, afer half a second you couldn't see a squirrel at all.

Urchin sent Apple off on a mission of mercy somewhere else, and we all sat and had a hot cordials and stories party round the fire. Worth getting cold and wet for.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Pawprints and little bird claw prints, too. The snow is laced with them.

There are big sole-of-the-bootprints, too, because I went down yesterday to feed the one solitary duck on the river. However, I think he'd already been fed. Frequently and a lot. A chef would have taken one look at him and written a menu. (Not for me, by the way, I'm vegetarian.) Anyway, I stood at the bottom of the garden with a pot of proper duck food (the real thing, from Barnitts of York) and he didn't even flap.

There are little bird tracks everywhere, and Captain Padra had snow on his head so I arranged into a circlet. There is a snowman in a garden at the end of the road, and all day children have been sledging down the hills. Daughter in Cardiff loves snow but her little car does not, so she's walking or cycling to work every day.

I have a problem. I am an author, and have to be sensible and get down to some serious hard work in the morning. But I am a children's author, and, as C S Lewis said, it's the silliest children who are the most childish and the silliest grown-ups who are the most grown-up. So maybe an important part of my job is to lie in wait for Tony with a pile of snowballs.

You may like to know that Biryani was an angel cat yesterday. She went in and out of her box quite calmly and didn't bite anyone, even the vet.

I've just realised that I've made a big mistake with the post.

Tony reads it. And his aim is better than mine.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Second Round

Last Saturday was a decisive win for Biryani. (Thanks, Sam!) Since then LYS has been teaching Biri that going in the basket means food, and she has been eating her dinner in the cat basket with her back legs sticking out. Tomorrow they should be able to get her to the V - E - T, and she may never forgive them. Or the basket. Or the V - E - T.

Then again, it's been snowing so much they may not get her there at all, and they'd have to postpone the match until next week. I've just texted Lady Sunshine to see what Biri thinks of snow. She much prefers the radiator.

Of my other animal friends, the older dog who lives with daughter says that snow is a very bad idea and he will only go out when he really, really must. The puppy has never seen snow before, and adores it. And my little terrier friend Oz has a poorly paw and it's no fun walking in the snow with a poorly paw, so he will just lie quietly by the fire while his mummy makes him better. He would like some boots, please, to keep his paw cosy.

Oz is adorable. If he's a bit of a wuss, I don't suppose it matters.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Thank you to Tony and Much for covering the blog on Monday. Much can't be seen on that photograph, and may be indignant. But I'm glad you've seen the river.

Most of my journey home today was on a train from Newcastle to York. I tried to write, but as we rushed through County Durham in the winter afternoon light I put down the pen and stared out of the window. Field after field was resting under soft snow and a pale sky. A plantation of fir trees stood tall and patient with snow on their branches. Snow had made everything still and quiet.

Unlike the Sunshine's house this week.

Biryani was due to visit the V - E - T for her J - A - B - S, which meant putting her in a basket. Now Biri, as you know, is a rescue cat who has been moved around a lot, so perhaps she has bad associations with being in a basket. Or maybe she was just being a cat.

It started with a mild skirmish, and one-nil to Biri. Leaping into the air to celebrate a triumph is fair enough. Lacerating my son on the way down is not. The blood stains are off the furniture now and we think LOS will live. But, last I heard, Biri was peering reproachfully out at them from the middle of a bramble bush. I've been away for three days, so as far as I know she might still be in there.

Any advice on how to get B- I- R - I to the V -E - T?

Monday, 14 January 2013

Snow. Much snow.

As in "enough snow to make Much complain." Well, it doesn't take much to make Much complain. If you see what I mean... It started early this morning, just a few flurries of small flakes, then it decided to go for it and started with really big flakes. And it kept on going, all morning, until the whole world was white and fluffy. The Hairy Bloke thought it looked nice, so took a few photos of the garden and the snowy hills. The Lovely Lady of the Stories was on a train, heading Up North to visit her parents. And Much was grumbling. He had snow on his head, and snow over his feet - he could still see over the top of it, but he was grumbling (well, that's what Much does...) Then the sun came out, and it began to melt. And Much was grumbling, because it was turning all wet and slushy. Then it began to freeze, so it stopped getting all wet and slushy. Yes, you've guessed it - Much was grumbling because it was freezing. I think he's only happy when he's got something to grumble about: it's being so miserable that keeps him cheerful.

Years ago, when we lived in Northumberland, we had an American student stay with us over Christmas. She arrived the day before Christmas Eve, and was a bit bemused by the fact that we were all getting very excited about the possibility of a white Christmas. I explained that it doesn't often snow at Christmas, so we get excited when it does, and the weather man said it was going to. She explained that where she lived, it snowed in November and melted in March, and you could set your calendar by it.

When we got up the next morning, it had snowed during the night - but not in the valley bottom. We were in the green and wet, and halfway up the hillsides it turned to white. I had promised to take her into town, so we went the pretty way, up the hill and along the top of the valley. THere is a road there which is built where the Roman Wall once stood, and a field halfway along where King Oswald of Northumbria defeated a pagan king and his army, so was free to ask the monks on Iona to send him someone to help spread the Christian faith in his Kingdom. That is one of those places where world history changed. The road was originally built by an English general to deploy troops in the years after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (our Scottish ancestry doesn't like that part of the story very much, but it is part of the story). So, in one short drive, we touched Roman history, Anglo-Saxon history, and 18th C British history - about 2,000 years in one morning. She was suitably impressed, and had a whale of a time.

But what impressed her almost as much was the way we could drive from a green world to a white world and back to a green world in just 5 miles, and when we were up there in the white world, we could see the green world of the river valley snaking along below us. And the sun shone, and we enjoyed the day, and it was the beginning of a wonderful Christmas.
This was the view this morning from the front of the house.

And this was the view from the back garden, looking over the river. Lovely.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Home for a Gnome

After my last post, Nels asked what Much will do when we move. Which brings me to...

In the summer, Tony will retire and we are moving back to Northumberland, to a market town. If people didn't buy my books we couldn't afford to do this, so thank you, THANK YOU< THANK YOU, truly more than I can say.

Much is a part of this house and home, as much as the lamppost in the garden, the attic, the sycamore tree, and the front door. He will stay here with his friends and look after the new occupants. But we also have Captain Padra looking out over the river. He was in my Uncle Gordon's garden, and when when my uncle and aunt died I took Padra home. He will come with us. In the new garden there's already another, smaller otter, so Padra will have a young person to befriend and guide.

There's also a much mended statue of a wee boy, and near him there's his dog. The people we bought the house from didn't want to keep them and I get the feeling that they are part of the home, just as Much is part of this one. I seem to remember there's a stone hedgehog there, too.

I suspect that within a month of our moving in, that dog will have learned to talk. And blog. I'll be most disappointed if it doesn't.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


For them as don't know, my name is Much and I am a gnome, and old stone gnome. I 'ave lived at the House of Stories a sight longer than 'Er Ladyship has, so when 'er lot moved in they knew better than to move me and me snail. I 'ave two mates living in flowerbeds, but they don't have owt to say. I perch on me snail 'ere on the rockery and watch the world go by. Well, the ducks at any rate.

'Er latest little crisis is that 'er washing machine's on the blink. So what, I says? You've got soap, you've got two arms, you've got a blooming river at the bottom of the garden, what more do you want? Then again, all them soap bubbles wouldn't do the ducks no good. Beakful of that stuff and they wouldn't be able to quack without gargling. So 'er's packing all them smelly socks and that into two bin bags and heading off to to get it laundry-etted.

You know what 'appens next. Anybody else would just get the washing done and come 'ome, but not 'er. 'Er's going to come back with 'er 'ead full of what-ifs. What if the queen's washing had to go to the laundry? And the theatre's washing? And the zoo? And a football team? And it all got mixed up? Now, there's a story.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Down the Back of the Chair

One of the bright stars of children's literature is Margaret Mahy. Her poem 'Down the Back of the Chair' is about a harrassed dad in need of cash. One of his children suggests that he hunt down the back of the chair, and you wouldn't believe what he finds - there's a dragon down there, a pirate ship, a packet of pins and one of the twins... I can recommend the Frances Lincoln edition, with illustrations by Polly Dunbar.

I was thinking of it this morning. Sunday was The Day of the Three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Today was The Day of the Three Determined Women, Debbie, Bebe, and Margi. One of the rooms in our church hall has become the dumping ground for very old chairs, abandoned coke bottles, chairs, large tables, drama group stuff, newish chairs, display boards, more tables, little wooden chairs that somebody got for us when a school was chucking them out (sit on them and you know why the school didn't want them), some old and tatty books, chairs, the new chairs, glue pots, chairs, chairs, toys, you get the picture.

After two and a half hours and a lot of woman-power, we got it done. We didn't find any dragons, pirate ships, or twins, but we did find

Ten party poppers (my fault)

Nine kinds of dust

Eight items of scenery

Seven rickety card tables

Six empty bottles

Five colours of paint

Four toy trains

Three cuddly toys

Two rolls of masking tape

One mouldy orange

And a whole new eco-system in the bin.

It is now sorted. We have fought the furniture into a corner, cleaned and tidied. The dust saw Debbie coming and tried to hide, but no good. I hope we get Brownie points in heaven for this.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Hope and Joy

My friend Stephanie has a daughter called Joy and a dog called Hope. The two are rarely parted, so she can talk nonstop about her house being full of Hope and Joy, here come Hope and Joy, Joy bringing Hope, and so on.

Well, I'm doing well for hope and joy this week. The comment from Jon Kilpatrick on the last blog gave me a whole heartful and headful of joy, as well as the sense of amazement and 'how did that happen?' that always comes when people move into Mistmantle. Jon, will you e-mail me, please? I'll see about a New Year Message or something for your students.

And you know about Hope, my adorable little Hope that LYS made for me. Now that we're clearing away all the Christmas things he has moved upstairs to the shelves in my study where we he and I can see each other, and he has a squirrel and a frog for company. He's on a low shelf so he can't fall off and hurt himself. He is smiling happily up at the squirrel or the stars, depending on which way I turn him.

I've taken a break to write this - I'm halfway through taking the decorations off the tree, the old glass ornaments that were on my Dad's tree when he was a boy, the things he made for my children, the beaded decorations that I made, the things the kids made when they were small, and precious delicate crib scenes from Austria. They will be wrapped and stored away, ready to put on the tree in the new House of Stories next Christmas.

And it feels like the right time, time to pack everything away and take down the tree so that the dining table (on which most of my books have been written) can go back to its usual place. We're all getting back to work. It's time to make a proper start on the year. A year full of Joy and Hope.

Friday, 4 January 2013


As some of you know, we have a godfamily living a long long long way south of us. Getting together isn't easy, but yesterday we met up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to have lunch together, exchange presents, and explore the Ashmolean.

There is something for everyone in there, from ancient civilisations onwards, and it seems to me that they're concerned to be child friendly. They had laid on three trails for children with accompanying leaflets to help them find things - you could choose from


Small god-daughter was in her princess dress and thought the Gold trail was a good place to start. It was, too, with all the featured items flagged up with a gold star on their cabinets. It led us to the small, intricate and beautifully worked Alfred Jewel, from an Anglo-Saxon court. There was a gold statue of a Russian Empress and medieval paintings so beautiful that the Princess and I gasped at them before we even realised we were supposed to be looking for the figure flying through the starry sky. There was a golden key, and we had to guess what it might be used for. The King's Special Door, said the Princess.

We moved on to the Rabbit Trail after that. She never tired or grew bored. All afternoon she was bright-eyed and delighted. I held her hand as she stopped to gaze open-mouthed at the pretty Georgian tea-services. We talked about making things by hand, and how much effort it must have been, and chose which tea-set/ring/watch we would choose if we could. Time and again she would see something that made her stop and catch her breath, and to me the greatest wonder was that her hand was in mine as she pattered from one beautiful thing to another. At the end she thought that the loveliest thing in the museum was the Alfred Jewel. I knew better.

She was particularly fascinated to see that some of the artefacts were broken, and some had been mended while others hadn't. We talked about that, and the reasons for it. She's a very neat-fingered child - she could thread beads before she was two - and she is now seriously considering a career in the care and conservation of historic artefacts. The other thing she wants to be is a chimney sweep. Not in that dress, my darling.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Year Baby

My New Year Baby is a book, Women of the Bible, which is published this month by Lion. It is very wonderfully illustrated by Alida Massari, who makes great use of the blues, golds and purples that I love, and does beautiful little vignettes and borders.

When I was first approached to do stories like this I couldn't help thinking that it's already a well trodden path. But that's because these are strong, old stories, and worth re-telling. Every generation needs to look at them again, and see what new insights they find. So I read again about Ruth, Rachel, Mary, Lydia, and the rest of them, and carried them around, and asked them questions, and let them question me, too.

Living in a rainy valley, I knew that forty days of rain in a boat full of animals is not fun. Mary reminded me that we have to mark the important moments in our lives, and reflect on them. And Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth, taught me that you need twelve thousand snails to make a little bit of purple dye. And nobody asked the snails.

The Golden Child was here last week, so she got her copy. She's only just three, and at the moment she's more interested in choosing a lollipop from the Christmas tree, but hopefully when she's older she'll find inspiration in these courageous women of faith.

And finally, in case you think this is all getting a bit worthy, I realise that I haven't told you about The Archers for a while. It's a bit quiet, really, there're all putting on Christmas shows and eating dinner at each other's houses. But Lilian (that women must be sixty-five if she's a day) is having a bit of a whatnot with Matt's brother, Ed and Emma are living with Emma's parents to save money, Vicky and Mike's baby is nearly due, and Clive Horobin got arrested. Oh, and I think Elizabeth and Ifty will be the new love story. But not too soon, please. It's only two years since her husband Nigel fell off the roof.