Friday, 25 April 2014

Will Power

On 23 April 1574 - or close enough - Mr and Mrs Shakespeare's little lad was born. What a good thing that turned out to be.

One of our bears - a present some years ago from Daughter when she was playing and teaching flute in Stratford-on-Avon - is dressed in Elizabethan costume, so what with the costume and coming from Stratford, we call him Will. Will may be a small bear but he has a big personality and a remarkable brain. He makes an excellent mascot at church quizzes and has a great success rate.

Yesterday - a day after Will's Day - I took Will with me to a literary quiz as part of the local book festival. I didn't know anybody there and teamed up with a few other waifs, strays and orphans who didn't know anybody either. Will became our mascot and the sixth member of our team and we called ourselves Will Power. (Many years ago when I was a student one of my favourite things was my Will Power badge, bought at a Royal Shakespeare Company production.)

Though I say it as shouldn't, we were a formidable team. So were some other people (the place was full of librarians and Book Club members) and competition was tough. We won by one point. Will has been punching the air and dancing on tables ever since and I've made new friends. Result.

On 23 April 1616 Will Shakespeare died at home in his bed (probably the second best one.) He had become ill after a night drinking with his old friend Ben Jonson and a long walk home in the rain. Sweet Swan of Avon, Will and I salute you.

Monday, 21 April 2014


I am being eaten by a monster.

This monster is the Migraine Monster. I imagine it as a big grey blob with spikes, teeth and unpleasant habits. It bit me very hard on Good Friday. At one point I also went all of a dizzy, which was surprising. I nearly passed out, which was a bit awkward as we were just finishing the Good Friday procession. We'd all walked silently through the town, we were in the park standing round the cross, and I dropped to my knees. I wasn't overwhelmed with the solemnity of the moment, I just knew that if I didn't kneel down I'd fall down. Tony took my arm, one of the Anglican clergy held me up on the other side, and they steered me towards the nearest place to sit down and sip coffee. The RC priest came to offer help, too. I was an ecumenical project. It turns out that the Migraine Monster had a go at Lady Sunshine that day as well.

The Migraine Monster has been lurking round all weekend, and I wish it would go away. It chewed at me yesterday and had another go this morning. Sometimes the meds work. Lady Sunshine has been mummifying me with those cold strip things that you put on your head, which are very good. Today I was able to have a wander round the garden and a word with Much, who is just loving it here. He's got quite a smile on his face if you look hard enough.

I don't know if I have defeated the thing or whether it's just gone back to regroup. But at this moment I am pain free and able to say to you -

have a wonderful Easter

be very very very very blessed

if you see a Migraine Monster, shoot it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Brain like a Puppy

Hello. I've neglected you, I know. That's because of so much happening, but mostly -

Writers write. that's what we do, that's why we get RSI. And I have just this minute finished the first draft of a book I can't tell you about yet.

Since last week and the party on the lighthouse I have copy-edited ARCHIE'S WAR, finished the above, met Holly Sterling, the lovely illustrator of FIFTEEN THINGS NOT TO DO WITH A BABY, done some thinking and correspondence about other books, had a jolly day out with my parents, been to a Quiet Day and lots of Holy Week things, talked the toddler group through the Easter story, had my hair done and bought remarkable quantities of chocolate. It's all Fair Trade chocolate. And it isn't for me.

By which I mean most of it isn't for me.

Holly Sterling is one to watch. You heard it first here. When I had lunch with her on Monday she asked me how I come up with odd, quirky funny stories. I had to think about it because I don't know, but I suppose it's because I have a brain like a puppy that runs after everything it sees. It doesn't help with meditation and is probably the reason why I'm a non-driver, but I suppose it helps with the creative thing.

ARCHIE'S WAR is the most important thing in my world. Finished it. There it goes. The sun has come out. There are things to do in my garden. My garden is the best thing there is. My son/son/daughter has just phoned me. There is nothing better than my children, now I need to shop, I love this shop, here is Tony to meet me, I love Tony! The new book, the new book, the new book, I must do the new book, there is nothing like the new book, I have to finish it. Mum, mum, these are Holly's illustrations, look! Hello, toddlers and toddlers mums and dads, today's story is the best story in the world. Hot cross buns, it's time for hot cross buns. There's the cat from across the road, maybe I'll do a cat book. No, I want to do a dog book. Hello dog.

I have just realised how impossible I am to live with.

Thursday, 10 April 2014


And here are some answers to the question we looked at last time -

what doesn't all this nursery and school provision give children?

Solitude. Every child needs to be content in its own company and able to amuse itself, and one of the things children learn from solitude is -

Imagination, because if everything is laid on for them why do they have to imagine anything for themselves?

The one to one attention of somebody with whom you have a mutual admiration thing, but at the same time,

Living in a home environment where everything is not child-sized and child-centred and the child takes its place in the real world

The chance to be odd, eccentric, and different and sort things out in your own way.

And today Tony and I went to a wonderful party in a lighthouse, yes, a real lighthouse on St Mary's Island. We got there just before the tide came in and were happily stranded for two hours. Can recommend. St Mary's Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, if you want to have a look.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Not There

Sometimes, if you want to understand what's happening, you have to look for what isn't there.

There's a Lord Peter Wimsey book called Five Red Herrings. I think I can say without spoilers that it concerns an artist found dead at his easel. Lord Peter examines the scene and looks for something that isn't there. He's looking for a tube of white paint. There isn't one, and there should be. Accordingly, he knows that this isn't an accidental death.

It's a key thing to understanding people's lives. What don't they talk about? Where don't they go? And when somebody is trying to sell you something - let's say, somebody's trying to sell you a battery-operated toy hamster. They tell you that it has a guarantee for six months, it takes AA batteries, it does forward somersaults and climbs up walls. What are they NOT telling you? They are not telling you why the guarantee only lasts six months, or how many batteries or how quickly it goes through them. It doesn't tell you if it lands the right way up after its somersault, and whether it can climb down the walls again or if it gets stuck up there.

Where is all this leading? Well, the government, like many governments from all directions, are very keen to get younger and younger children into nurseries. More children, even from the age of two, into more nurseries for more days and more hours in the day. These will provide stimulus, expertise, socialisation skills and preparation for school. Time and again our television screens show glimpses of children in brightly decorated nurseries, playing with bricks or being read to by highly skilled nursery nurses.

What aren't we being shown?

What are they not providing for these children?

This is quite a big subject. I'll continue it when you've had time for a think about it. Excuse me while I go and have a bath, if Much hasn't pinched the rubber duck.

Saturday, 5 April 2014


Lots of things are turning out beautiful just now. For a start, Beautiful Daughter and her chap are here for a couple of days.

And the very beautiful proofs for my first ever picture book text have arrived. I can't draw, so I much admire Holly Sterling and all those who can. Can't wait for you to see this book.

And this is our first year of this garden, which is promisingly beautiful too. Little blue muscari are springing up here and there, and we have little yellow celandine. The cowslips I liberated from Mytholmroyd are beginning to flower, too. The green leafy thing turns out to be a camellia. Very pretty, too. And the thing with little furry buds like rabbit paws is finally doing something, and what a surprise! It's a magnolia and I always thought I'd like one of those. It just gets better.

Unfortunately I also have a merry little display of chickweed, bittercress, dandelions, groundsel, great hawking thugweed and ground elder. (I made up great hawking thugweed, but the rest are real.) Apparently ground elder was brought to this country by the Romans, and I don't suppose anybody asked them why. They were Italian, for heaven's sake. They could have brought wine, or at least a vine or two to get us started, or garlic bread, bolognese sauce and tiramisu. They could have brought opera, or sculpture, or a few decent footballers wouldn't go amiss, not with Newcastle the way they are now. But no. The Romans brought us a pernicious weed. Nearly two thousand years since they left the Roman Wall and I'm still digging the stuff out.

Listen for the evil chuckle. I have ways of dealing with ground elder.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


I do not play games on the computer. It's addictive, and a complete waste of time. So I've made that clear.

Running through the e-mails this morning, I found one from the e-card people at It featured their new Easter card, and I took a moment out to have a look. it's about Chudleigh the dog and a lot of very talented rabbits, and as a little extra they put on a game. It's a grid of prettily coloured Easter eggs. You have to find groups of matching eggs and zap them. I don't do these games, but I dipped my toe in the water to have a little go at Level One and see how it went.

OK, now who can bet Level 7 with a final score of 7048?

In my defence, I didn't go back for another try. I have a book to write, and the proofs have just arrived for something I will tell you about in a little while. My first text for a picture book!

Much is very happy, and he and his snail are getting on very well with a stone tortoise. They're all a bit wet now, as the weather here is driecht (soggy and cold), but Mytholmroyd was pretty driecht, so they're used to it.

The Archers - Helen Archer's new squeeze, the obnoxious Rob, can't take an April Fool. He brought in the police when Kenton took the wheels off his car, even though Kenton left him a note telling him where they were being held to ransom. Rob was the one who had Kenton put on a train to Machynlleth, for heaven's sake. Lynda Snell is put out because nobody asked her to run the Passion Play and I think the new policeman fancies Fallon. They met when he arrested her for taking a swing at her ex. Tony Archer's cows are poorly, but things like that happen to Tony Archer. His son Tom is now livid in case his pigs catch Wobbly Moo-moo Disease.