Monday, 29 September 2014


Even the names in the Lake District seem to grow out of the landscape - Blencathra, Watendlath, Ullswater Grasmere, Helvellyn, Stock Ghyll. Mountains rear up into the sky over long clear lakes. Acres of beech, birch and oak make a home for deer, red squirrels, and whole colonies of birds. Dry stone walls mark the hillsides. Farmhouses are stone and slate, clothed with lichen and look as if they grew.

We were there on Saturday, starting at Sawrey to pay homage to Beatrix Potter's house. Yes, you can visit Hill Top where so many of her stories were based. You can see the garden where Jemima laid her eggs, the landing where Anna Maria ran away with the rolling pin, and the Dolls House where Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca wreaked havoc. A log fire burns in the hearth and the house is exactly the way it was when Beatrix Potter Heelis lived in it.

We stopped in Ambleside for lunch and went on to Wray Castle. The National Trust has only just started work on the castle, so it's not full of Do-Not-Touch furniture. Instead it's got dressing up rooms, microscopes so you can look at what they've found, and an outdoor/indoor room where you can build a dry stone wall. It's not really a castle at all, it was built by rich Victorians, but they wanted it to look like a real castle complete with falling-down bits (which fell down.) The best things, though,are outside.

The trees are turning golden brown and we walked on beech husks. A path led down to Lake Windermere where a jetty led out across the water and a swan sailed by. It was a perfect afternoon, warm and soft and the air tasted clean and fresh. All too soon, we had to leave, but w can't wait to go back. in the meantime I can make the pictures in my head, with Urchin and Sepia looking down from the trees. Hope, Needle and Crackle are picking blackberries. Tipp and Todd skim stones across the still blue water.

Splash. Hello, Fingal. I knew you wouldn't be far away.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Little Reds

It's a while now since I last saw a red squirrel and they are just the loveliest animal in the world. I need to go to Scotland again. The Sunshines were there last week, in Perthshire, and called in to see us on their way home.

"Did you say many critters?" I asked.

"Lots!" said LYS. They'd seen six red squirrels, busily running up trees and across the forest floor, putting away nice scrummy nuts for the winter. Lady Sunshine has observed that the squirrels near the Loch of the Lowes, which has a bird hide and is very animal friendly, fatten up more quickly than the others. She suspects there are squirrels so overloaded that they go into nut coma and drop out of their trees.

They do sometimes shut their eyes while eating, as if they are just transported with joy. Or maybe it's because they know they're being watched, so they shut their eyes because 'If I can't see you, you can't see me.' Lady Sunshine's favourite squirrel of the week was one with a creamy tail, and they saw another when they were driving home. It was running by the side of the road, so they beeped to explain to it that it was in the wrong place. There used to be a road safety programme for children called 'The Tufty Club', based on a little red squirrel. This one wasn't listening.

When I wrote FAWN I wrote it about fallow deer, which are the commonest in England. In Perthshire they saw fallow, roe and red deer. They needed a road safety talk, too.

"There were three of them," explained LOS. "The one in front stopped, looked along the road, saw the traffic, and said 'Good! Follow me!' It could have turned a bit nasty. But fortunately no deer were injured in this incident. Neither were the Sunshines, I'm glad to say.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

This and that

My ancestors came from all over the British Isles, and for all I know some of my Scottish and English forebears might have killed each other at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland is a place I have been in and out of all my life, and some of my happiest holidays have been there. I can understand them wanting to cut loose from the United Kingdom, but I'm so glad they didn't.

And now, I'm thinking about names. I'm turning over ideas for a new book, and more and more I like to play with names.

In the book which is coming out next year - The Summer Lion - I really went to town on names. I used a character that Tony and I made up years ago, The Honourable Mrs Veronica Thumping-Jolly. I took a middle name each from my mum and Tony's mum and made Elizabeth Andrina, known as Drina. She was going to be a Jones, but then I remembered what sort of book this is and called her Elizabeth Andrina Snapdragon. Her favourite cousins are Taffeta Fiddlestep and Billy Will-Do Fiddlestep, and if you want to know why he's Billy Will-Do you'll have to read it when it comes out. And now, again, I'm playing with names and not playing safe.

I want names that stay in your head. I want names like Venetia Scraggins, Septimus Mumblegoffin, Lord Snaffleworth. Charles Dickens was brilliant at this sort of thing. He invented Nicodemus Boffin, Mulberry Hawke, Ebenezer Scrooge and Wackford Squeers. Those are great names. I can't remember the first name of Mr Snodgrass in Pickwick Papers, but it must have been good, as I said to Lentilla Prettyboots this morning.

For all of you who try to write, have a go at this. Make up a character with an outrageous name. Then ask him/her a few questions. With any luck, you'll get answers.

And now, I know you're dying to hear about The Archers. Well - the Roy and Elizabeth thing has ended in tears, but we knew that would happen, didn't we? Hayley is being wonderful about it, but she's not thrilled, especially what with Mike and Vicky and little Bethany moving away. Ridiculous. Mike is a real straw-chewing, muddy boots, wading through cow poo son of the soil, and he's going to live in Birmingham. Good luck with that, as they say.

You remember drippy James and Leonie? They've had a wet little baby boy and called him Mungo. If you think that's bad, it was going to be Mowgli. In honour of the occasion, his step-granny's garden flooded.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Much has been making remarks about having a pond, or at least getting the water feature sorted. I suppose, after all those years by a river, he misses the sound of running water. Mr Next Door turning the hose on the roses doesn't quite cut it. And you never know - we might even get frogs.

I forget why we were talking about frogs at Toddlers this morning, but we all agreed on how cute they are. I may have told you about the Halloween when a lot of girls in witch costumes arrived with one very little brother dressed as a frog. There he was, holding his sister's hand on the doorstep, looking up at me. Froggily. I melted. I wanted to tell them, 'take all the sweets you like, just leave me the frog'. Frogs are ugly and cute at the same time, like me.

One of the songs on the playlist at the wedding was 'Rupert and the Frog Song'. Do you know it? Suddenly everyone was smiling and swaying and singing it, and I was remembering when LYS was born and that song seemed to be on all the time. It was always on the TV in the ward, and it was such a happy, warm, innocent song for a ward full of little babies. Some people find it irritating. I completely love it. Give it a Google. It's on YouTube - the version I found, it was about six minutes into a thirteen minute film. Frogful of happiness.

Go on, then!

Thursday, 11 September 2014


- 'Ello, do you want me? Were you wanting some cordial?

I didn't mean Mistress Apple, I meant apples, but she's here now, so let's hope I get through this blog in one piece. Thank you, Mistress Apple, but I still have a bottle of your cordial in a cupboard. The metal one. Yes, the one with a lock. We wouldn't want anyone to steal it, would we?

After the wedding I had a brief stay in London meeting nice people who make books, and now the pieces are in place for the work I have to do this autumn. It is definitely getting quite autumnal now. Leaves are turning, the beech hedge has been trimmed, I treated myself yesterday to a little wander and a bit of blackberry-picking. And our apple tree is being very generous. Within a day or two I need a long session of cutting up apples and putting them in the freezer. The very small ones go to Helen's horse.

- I can tell you my recipe, if you like.

Thank you Apple, but I already know it, and how could I ever forget? But the harvesting of apples just reminded me of a time very long ago when Tony and I were first married.

It took us a while to find a decent place that we could afford, so for three months we rented a pretty squalid little furnished basement flat. After I'd given it a good scrub it looked less like a dungeon, just like something out of Dickens. There was a rickety little cooker that took hours to do anything, in a kitchen the size of a small cupboard. The house would have been grand once, just off Whiteladies Road in Clifton, but now it was divided into as many flats as it could contain. Some of the larger apartments were quite respectable. A more hazardous one belonged to a guy called Larry, who did odds and ends of work on farms. He and his wife had a cat, and about the time we were there Mrs Cat had a family of kittens.

Larry was impressed when I rescued one of the kittens, which had become stuck behind a tea chest. He was even more impressed when I offered a bit of chicken for the cats. My mum always used to cook up the chicken giblets for our cat, so when I cooked a chicken I did the same for Larry's cats. He was so appreciative, you'd think I'd given him an income for life.

It was round about harvest time, and some lovely people from the church where Tony was doing a placement gave us a generous gift of fruit and veg. There were just the two of us, and we only ate together in the evening, so a the fruit and veg took a bit of getting through. We didn't have a freezer. I made a lot of rather strange jam. Then Larry came back from one of his farm days and gave us a bag of apples and a marrow the size of an aeroplane.

Larry, bless him, continued generous. So did the church. It got to the point when I bit my lip and froced a nervous smile whenever I saw Larry coming with a carrier bag and a big smile. I made marrow jam and gave it away to the unwary. I planned the Fifty Things to do with a Marrow cookery book. Anyone who visited us was sent home with apples and vegetables. There is only so much apple pie two people can eat, and in that cooker it took all day to make it.

It reminded me of Miss Read, who wrote some funny and touching books about the life of a country school teacher. The locals gave her produce so generously that sometimes she was forced to bury it secretly in the garden at night. But we didn't have a garden. If we hadn't moved after three months, the marrows would have taken over.

Friday, 5 September 2014


Yes, I have been away for a long time, haven't I? Sorry to neglect you but it's all been a bit much and I haven't been at The House of Stories very much at all lately. Mostly because of this -

Now, if the computer is doing what it's supposed to do it should show you some lovely pictures from Daughter's Wedding to Her Chap. The Hobbits. There's one with me and Tony, one with her brothers LOS and LYS, and on the other one there's me, Lady Sunshine, The Lassie, and Claire. So now all my children are married and as happily as I could possibly wish. I will share memories with you as we go along, but standing out vividly are the music from the choir they both sing with, and the Guard of Honour with stars from the Christmas production where they first met. And all of us saying 'We do' to 'give her away', though I don't like that expression. Hamilton was a Page Bear and a very good one. Tony did the rings and blessing. They had asked me to do a reading from Mistmantle, so I adapted the blessing over Catkin from The Heir of Mistmantle.

All this reminds me that I haven't yet shown you a picture of the wedding of LYS and The Lassie in May, so here we are -