Friday, 30 January 2015

Here we go!

Yesterday was the Big Launch of Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Baby. I'm too old to get this excited about a party. I met my agent from the train at Newcastle and - after a restorative coffee - off we went to Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books. Holly Sterling, the illustrator, and I were whisked off for an interview while a few earlybirds got a tour of Seven Stories, from the Creation Station in the basement through the bookshop and the exhibition galleries to the Story Space in the attic. I want Seven Stories to put in a bedsit so I can move in.

The Story Space is magical. Wooden beams with fairly lights on them, dressing up clothes, books, some very goodnatured bears, and The Storyteller Chair. I have now sat on The Storyteller Chair (but not on the bears). Holly and I are both small, so there was room for both of us on there. The day before, The Duchess of Cornwall (Mrs Prince Charles) had visited Seven Stories, so I hope she got to sit in The Storyteller Chair too.

There was a bit of a chance to chat and then some little speeches, (including mine) and Joseph Coelho - a performance poet and a lovely guy - read out the text. The the selling and signing began, and went on non-stop for the rest of the evening. I haven't had a fanfare like this about a book for a long time, and it was such fun - and enormous thanks to all those who came to support us. Love you.

I have to say that Fifteen Things is achieving great things. Since it was published, not one child has sent up her baby brother in a hot air balloon. As far as I know. And my name is in the Visitor's Book just after Camilla's.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Now, at last, the trees are etched in snow. It lies in clumps on the bushes and in a soft layer over cars and pavements. All day it has teased us, starting and stopping, but for two hours tonight it flew about in blustering winds and settled at last. The silence of snow. The way it sparkles in the light. The swansdown perfection of snow when nobody has walked on it yet.

Tomorrow there will be grumbles. Cars will slide, walkers will slither. The middle-aged will complain that this or that route hasn't been gritted. The old will protest that it was far worse than this in 1947 or 1963 and we coped without all this fuss. And the kids will put on their wellies and make snowmen. With any luck, kids, the teachers won't be able to get into school and you can have a day off and get the sledge out.

Tony - where did we put the sledge?

Sunday, 25 January 2015


Last weekend a group of us were sitting round a table when a small person spilt her orange juice. She looked very upset for a moment until we all assured her that it didn't matter, it wasn't important, it was easy to clear up and would she like another drink? It reminded me of a morning nearly ten years ago now, when Tony and I were in New York. The US publisher of Mistmantle had invited us over for the Book Fair, and put us in a gorgeous hotel near Central Park. It doesn't get much better. They did the most amazing breakfasts I have ever seen in my life. Even by New York standards, those breakfasts were awesome.

On this particular morning I was pouring out the coffee when I spilt some on the starched white cloth. When a smiling, motherly woman came to clear the table I went all British and apologetic - 'I'm so sorry, I've spilt coffee on your tablecloth...'

"That's no problem!" she beamed down at me, and looked down at the cloth. "Is that all? Oh, now honey, don't you worry about that! Honey, let me tell you, if the worst thing that happens to me today is a little spilt coffee, then life is good!"

I often think of her. Life is good!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Have I got everything?

I left home this morning with

One copy of Stories of the Saints
One length of white tulle
Two parcels to post, one to Yorkshire and one to the USA
Two hats
Two scarves
Three bunches of artificial flowers, and
Five library books

The tulle, scarves, hats and flowers were for the Toddler Group. We were doing the story of the wedding feast at Cana, so we needed to do a bit of wedding dressing up - tulle and a bouquet for the bride, hats and flowers for the guests and so on. The Saints book was to show off to a few folks I'd be meeting later, the parcels were to go in the post, I had to return four library books and get the P G Wodehouse renewed, buy some more envelopes and collect my new reading glasses from the optician.

Until one has collected ones glasses one cannot be relied upon to have a clue what one is doing or whether one is supposed to be doing it, and besides I'm easily confused, but I think I handled it all very well. I returned the bride, my friends, and three bunches of hats to the library, renewed the optician, picked up an artificial saint and dressed it up in two hats and a scarf. Then I put the rest of the clothes on PG Wodehouse, showed off to Yorkshire, and posted the Toddler Group to the USA.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Gnome in Winter

Call this a winter? Honest, call this a winter? We've had a sprinkling of snow, a few showers, but it aint settled much. Just a covering, no more than icing sugar on a pudding. They reckon it'll be cold tonight, oh yes, it'll freeze, but where's the blooming snow? Up on the 'ills it's different, them's white, them 'ills. In Yorkshire, now, they got proper snow. We 'ad a picture of Lady Sunshine looking like a Snow Queen, snow in 'er 'air, big smile on 'er face. Where LYS and The Lassie live it's proper Dickensianian, they got cobbled streets, I bet that looks good in snow. Lethal, mind, but I bet it looks good.

When I lived in Mytholmroyd we 'ad some right proper winters. I've seen December days when the snow was 'alfway up 'er wellies. 'Er was off down the garden to cut the Christmas 'olly, the kids next door was out in their warm red coats sledging down the garden, you could 'ave put us all on a Christmas card. There weren't no salt left in the shops, everyone 'ad bought it to put on their steps. 'Er and the Lassie was out building snowmen. 'Appy days. 'Er says 'ot chocolate tastes better when you've been frozen stiff before'and. Me and me snail, we don't feel the cold.

I suppose it's easier for them birdies. In Mytholmroyd I used to see their little feet sticking out of snowdrifts, I 'ad to pull 'em out before the cats clocked on. Peck, peck, peck on the iced water, it was a wonder they didn't crumple their beaks. And them ducks at the bottom of garden were 'alf perished with cold when 'er went out to feed 'em.

As its, we've got stuff coming up in this garden already. 'Er went out the other day and found three snowdrops, some little primulas, pulmonaria, and a blocked drain. 'Er poked the drain with a stick and got it sorted, but so far the flowers is doing all right.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Peter, Paul, Pereptua and Josephine

What do they have in common?

They are all saints, and they all feature in my new book -

(yes, done it again. Publishers choose when to publish, not me.) New titles are coming all together, like buses. So I have another new title and it's

Stories of the Saints. It's published by Lion, who also did 'Women of the Bible', and again it's illustrated by Alida Massari with her sweeping lines and gorgeous use of colour. Mrs Editor and I had to do a lot of thinking to get the right blend of saints for this book.

Certain old favourites had to be in, so we have Peter, Paul, Bernadette of Lourdes, St Francis. Looking for a variety of times and places we chose Perpetua and Felicity, who were thrown to wild beasts by the Romans. And we liked Martin de Porres, a mixed race South American monk. St Perpetua was so composed about dying that after being hurled to the ground by a mad heifer she got up and rearranged her hair. St Martin de Porres and his sister served the poor and needy and ran an animal hospital on the side. When mice invaded the monastic kitchens he explained to them that this was really not a good thing to do and rehomed them at the bottom of the garden, where they stayed on the understanding that he'd provide the catering.

There was one saint I'd never heard of until Mrs Editor put me on to her. She was born in Sudan and known as Bakhita, but she couldn't remember her real name. I suppose that's what's happens when a little girl is kidnapped by slave traders, beaten, sold, monstrously ill-treated, and sold over and over again. All this was early in the twentieth century. But her story finally led to Italy, a convent, freedom, and a life lived out in awe-inspiring love, joy wisdom and gentleness. She took the name Josephine, and she shone. Josephine Bakhita. Respect, ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

I am in disgrace

I was blogging late at night. Or my back was hurting. Or I had a headache. Or a little pixie had got into my head.

I plead guilty but of unsound mind.

As Samantha pointed out, on my last blog post I wrote 'right' when I meant 'write'. I am astonished and ashamed and if this comes to the attention of The Society of Authors they will dress me in old proofs, burn my latest book, force feed me the ashes, and make me read 2015 The Writers' and Artists' Year Book from cover to cover. Out loud, including the adverts.

It's knot easy two bee a righter, butt at least eye could spell. I new my knights from my nights and I knew the place wear I live from the plaice that swims in the see. I know a horse on a course from a coarse horse. I'm afraid to talk to Hamilton now, in case I tell him he's a bare and not a bear.

Hamilton comes to me and puts a paw round my shoulders. 'Never mind', he says. 'They're, their'.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Fifteen Things

Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Baby got a rave review from the UK magazine 'Books for Keeps', so wee Holly Sterling's illustrations are getting well-deserved admiration. I say 'wee Holly' - she looks as if she'd blow away in a high wind, but in fact she wins top level karate competitions. Respect where it's due!

So here are Fifteen Things Not To Do With a Lady Author -

Tell her to get up in the morning

Hide her pens

Tell her you've never read her books but (Other Author) is really really good...

Rearrange her desk

Ask her to right a stunning, exciting, funny, fifty thousand word book by the middle of next week

Sing loudly and out of tune

Steal her radio at crucial moments

Give her decaff coffee

Deprive her of chocolate

Send her spam e-mails offering lovely holidays that she can't afford

Make disparaging and uncalled for remarks about teddy bears

Feed her on mushy peas

Fill in the crossword before she can get to it

Expect her to be able to count up to fifteen

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Baby

I haven't blogged for a while, but it's OK, I hadn't run away. Run? Me? Are you kidding? I've been hirpling about with a stick wrapped in tinsel. However, I can now walk upright like a normal person.

After Christmas and the family all coming and going like trains at Newcastle Central Station, followed by a celebration of the life of my friend Eleanora, one of the bravest people I have ever known, I am back to work. And just in time for the publication of


It was inspired by something LOS said about babies and washing lines and a comment from Vicar James that it sounded like something in one of my books. Reader, I wrote it. Then after a long search for just the right illustrator Frances Lincoln Publishers found the young, gifted and delightful Holly Sterling. Every book is like a new baby. This one is very baby.

I am under pressure now from the people in the garden. Much definitely wants 'Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Garden Gnome'. And LYS and The Lassie gave me a wonderful present, a hedgehog shelter to put in the garden. Fifteen Things Not To Do With a Hedgehog?

Fifteen Things Not To Do With an Author?