Tuesday, 31 March 2015

15 Things. Corner Shop.

Two things to tell you about today. One is about Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Baby, which just got a fantastic review in the Independent on Sunday. It's also one of the recommended books for The Summer Reading Challenge for 2015. All because of LOS talking about putting babies on washing lines!

Thank you for all your kind wishes and wise advice about What To Do With A Grumpy Sneezy Author. (I got quite dopey and sleepy too, perhaps I was turning into 4/7 of a set of dwarves.) I'm fit for human company now.

Song Morning gave advice about gargling with salt water. I hadn't thought of this, but I should have done. A few years ago I learned about this method of curing a throat infection, and this is how it happened.

We were living in Yorkshire and LOS was away at university in Newcastle, living in a shared house. At various times in our lives we find we're fighting our way through thorn bushes, and LOS was having a thorn bush time, what with his course and everything. On top of this he was getting constant painful throat infections. He tried medicated sweets, he tried the famous Northern 'Black Bullets' which cure lots of things, he tried medicines and everything. Nothing worked for long. Sore throats, as you all know, are miserable things. In our phone chats I suggested honey, warm water with honey, warm water with lemon and honey, honey and honey, thyme and honey. Nothing did any good. I can't remember if he saw a doctor - I think he must have done - but nothing helped. Soon, almost every other day he was traipsing down to the corner shop and buying more throat lozenges. But then the motherly woman behind the counter noticed the young student who was always buying throat sweets and asked him if they were doing any good. After a few more questions she told him not to bother with them any more. Having talked him out of spending money in her shop she explained all about how to gargle with salt water (much as Song Morning explained it to me).

Reader, it worked. It worked wonderfully, like a charm. Suddenly we had a happy and greatly relieved LOS, and his whole world started to look brighter.

I know almost nothing about this lady. I know that she ran a corner shop in inner-city Newcastle, that like most city corner shop keepers she was Asian, probably Pakistani, and that she was kind. Now, remembering that story, my heart goes out to her again as it did then, in heartfelt gratitude to this woman who looked after my son when I couldn't.

And that's what makes the world go round.

Saturday, 28 March 2015


I have a cold. I am a grumpy author today. I very rarely get colds and when I do I resent them furiously. Yesterday my throat was very sore, so I bought one of those sprays that you squirt into the back of your mouth to numb it. It doesn't work for very long but it's better than nothing. And it doesn't taste like something you should put in your mouth. It tastes as if you should use it to clean rust off the garden shears.

It reminded me of a small medical test I had done a little while ago, when they sprayed the back of my throat to numb it. The anaesthetic spray was a similar kind of thing but a lot stronger in every sense. You could remove paint with it, and take off a couple of layers of plaster too. And now, thinking back, I knew what it reminded me of. Oh, those poor animals on Mistmantle. Did Appe really expect them to drink that stuff?

Apple, if you have any spare cordial - and you just might - the NHS could use it. But they probably shouldn't.

Friday, 27 March 2015


There is a bit of discussion going on about the voices of Mistmantle characters. I never write in strong dialects or accents because that can be a struggle to read, and therefore slow down the reading process. The reader wants to be absorbed in what a character says and where that leads us, not struggling over the pronunciation. Archie's War is mostly set in Yorkshire and I just hint at the Yorkshire-ness of it, missing out 'the' and maybe slipping in a Yorkshire-ism now and then. A Yorkshire lad might say 'right' instead of 'very'. I like to sketch accents in lightly.

If a character has voice mannerisms, they bring them into the story all by themselves. I don't have to make it up.

The important thing about Apple's voice is that it rarely stops, and she can never quite finish a sentence because she doesn't know where she left the beginning. I imagined her as broadly West Country (think of Sam Gamgee in the film of Lord of the Rings), but the excellent Andrew Sachs, when he read it on the CD, makes her more an East End London squirrel. There's something a bit Yorkshire about the moles, practical creatures that they are. Hope is breathy and eager and well spoken. Gleaner is petulant, and Tay sounds like a headmistress or a very severe magistrate. Brother Fir is a combination of various people I have known, principally two Franciscan brothers. He has Brother Richard's eyes and his limp, but his mannerisms are more to do with Brother Dennis. The 'H'm' is all his own.

If this isn't the way you hear them, don't worry. The way you hear them is what's right for you. They are telling you their story in a language you share. They're good like that. They communicate. That's what cin stories do.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


One of the important things about Crispin of Mistmantle is what he believes about being a king. As far as he's concerned, a king is there to serve the people, not the other way round. A king who isn't willing to die for his people isn't much of a king. It's not the only thing that makes him a good animal to have in charge, but it goes a long way.

I've been thinking about kingship. Being British and mostly English, and into history, I'm excited about the goings on in Leicester this week. It's all about Richard III. In case you don't know the background, he was the last Plantagenet king of England and was killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, at the end of the Wars of the Roses. History generally assumes that his nephews the Princes in the Tower, were murdered on Richard's orders. Shakespeare made a villain of him. But Shakespeare lived in the England of the Tudors, and it was Henry Tudor who won at Bosworth and became king. History is written by the winners (and by playwrights who don't like being beheaded). Richard seems to have been a pretty OK king by the standards of his day. Did he kill the princes? Will we ever know?

After the battle, Richard's body was dropped off at a chapel somewhere and given a quick and basic funeral by the resident monks. Over centuries and much rebuilding the site was lost, until it was excavated two years ago by a clever historian who reckoned she'd found the place. He was buried under a car park in Leicester and there was lot of discussion as to how much he owed the council for parking fees. And finally, now that all the DNA testing and analysis has been done, he is to be buried in Leicester Cathedral. He was received into church in a service on Sunday night and will be buried on Thursday. Every day, people file past his coffin.

I'd rather he were buried at York Minster, as he wanted. But at least he's getting a decent funeral at last.

The usual misery-mutterers are saying it's a lot of fuss about nothing. The cynics are saying how good it is for tourism in Leicester. The self-righteous are saying that we shouldn't be showing all this honour to The Wicked Uncle. I think we're giving a man a decent burial at last, a man whose life was always going to be stormy, warlike, and controlled by forces bigger than he was.

At the service on TV on Sunday night, I heard familiar phrases to do with funeral services - 'this our brother Richard', and 'your servant Richard', the way any man would be referred to at such a time. Our brother Richard, human and flawed like the rest of us. Hacked down without mercy and abandoned. Whatever he did or did not do, may grace and mercy prevail for him. Sleep, our brother Richard.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


Did it again. There, their, they're, as Jonny says.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Vote, vote, vote

A lot of visitors to The House of Stories come from across the Pond. I think I should let you in on what's happening here just now. The Big Thing is that we've got a general election coming up in May. This means that everyone who is anyone in politics is polishing their teeth, getting their hair done, and sending their best suit to the cleaners. Don't leave your baby unattended, they might kiss it.

It was simpler when I was first able to vote. In those days it was was Labour on the left, Conservative on the right, and Liberals in the middle. The other parties were very small - the SNP (Scots Nationalists), Plaid Cymru, (Welsh Nats) a few Ecology candidates and the Monster Raving Loony Party. Apart from that, we had a few left-of-Lenin parties at one extreme and Big Boots at the other, but nobody bothered with them much.

This year we have Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems, all of whom have tipped to the right like dominoes. The Greens (formerly ecology) are blooming, the Scots Nats are charging down the hillsides, the Welsh are on the march, and their hasn't been a squeak out of the Irish for ages. The Beer and Fear party want to send everybody out of the country except the queen and some men who play cricket. There are probably still some far lefties and far righties clinging on at the fringes and then there's dear old George Galloway. His party seems to be very exclusive and I suspect he may be the only person in it. Don't know what happened to the Monster Raving Loonies, which is pity, because they were fun.

Much is utterly disgusted with all of them and is thinking of sitting down for Parliament himself. Much for Gnome Secretary. Better snail tracks and equal rights for hedgehogs. I'd vote for him.

What a long time since I told you about The Archers! And how busy it's been!

There's been a flood in Ambridge. We suspect that it was partly because the Nasty Landowners haven't been keeping the watercourses clear. Linda Snell's dog hasn't been seen since and Freda Fry has gone to the typical English village in the sky.

David and Ruth are staying at Brookfield. I told you they would, didn't I?

Tony Archer is out of hospital.

Kate is being silly.

Kenton is broke.

Matt ran away.

Don't you just love The Archers?

Monday, 16 March 2015


I have been thinking and writing about cats lately, so I need to observe them whenever possible. Perhaps I should go and impose myself on my sister and see what Holly and Harvey are doing just now. (Only Harvey isn't over sociable. All he ever does when I'm there is sit in a high place, watch the birds out of the window, and wait for someone to give him a machine gun.)

Since Jack from across the road died I don't see so many cats round here. I was discussing this with Dad over the phone and he told me I need to get one. I must say I've considered it. A rescue cat, ginger or tortoiseshell would be nice. When I was a girl we had a cat. A warm cat on your lap. The sound of purring. The cat having a funny five minutes racing up and down the hall, or chasing a ping pong ball or a bit of paper on a string. Cat company.

A cat who's always on the wrong side of the door. A cat bringing me dead things. A cat bringing me not dead yet things. The litter tray. Worse, 'couldn't be bothered with the litter tray'. The song that goes 'feed me, feed me, feed me NOW'. Finding the cat on the kitchen worktop polishing off the butter. Never being able to knit again because de-catting the yarn or de-yarning the cat is impossible. Worrying what to do when we go on holiday. Vet's fees or insurance. Cats may be very independent, but they do require a lot from their staff.

What do you think?

Thursday, 12 March 2015


I haven't sent out any news from The House of Stories for about a week, largely because I've had a little running away trip to be on my own and sort some stories out. I was thinking about all the things I'd tell you, and then I heard today's news.

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of Discworld, genius, warm, funny writer and probably one of the best novelists of the twentieth century, has died. He was suffering from early Alzheimer's disease, and died at the age of 66. He had wanted the option to choose the time and manner of his death, but ultimately that was a decision he didn't have to make, as he died naturally, leaving behind the illness that was eroding his brain. It's a bitter-sweet day, mourning his loss and being so glad that he didn't have to endure any longer. And memories of favourite Discworld quotes and characters have kept me company all day and make me want to run straight back to the books.

Sir Terry, Lord Vetinari could not detain you when the time came. You are beyond even the considerable reach of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Not even Granny Weatherwax on her broomstick could catch up with you now. (Oh dearie, dearie me.) Thank you for Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Captain Carrot, Tiffany Aching, CMOT Dibbler, Cheery Littlebottom and Detritus the Troll. Thank you LYS for introducing me to them. I was wondering what suitable comment to make, and LYS provided it. In the words of the Librarian of Unseen University, who was accidentally turned into an orang-utan and chose to stay that way,


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Here it is!

Now let's just see if the file has landed

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Here comes the lion!

Ooh, I am proper excited. Not only is Thursday World Book Day, but it is also the launch day of


which is probably the funniest, quirkiest, most satisfying thing I've written since Mistmantle. Simpler and shorter than the Mistmantle books, but probably the sort of book Padra, Crispin, Urchin and the rest of them would love to read, if the Mistmantle animals did read (which they don't.)

The Summer Lion evolved as so many books do. It came from quirky characters that Tony and I made up on long car journeys, like The Honourable Mrs Veronica Thumping-Jolly and her daughter Daffodil. Then in the course of a game of Scrabble I had a word that looked like a real word that wasn't. It was 'twide'. I told LYS about it afterwards and we both knew what twide would be, if it existed. I can't remember where the idea of a lion with false teeth came from, but I think it might have been something to do with Claire. (She's not a lion, and her teeth are all her own and considerably better than mine, by the way. But I think we once had a conversation about a lion with false teeth.)

Snapdragon Family Circus doesn't have performing animals, apart from Ma's dog and two horses that love showing off. They rescued Jampot the Lion from a circus where he was ill-treated, and he becomes Drina's best friend. So when she goes to Twidings to look after her Grannie Annie, he goes with her. She has a great time with her cousins Billy Will-do and Taffeta Fiddlestep. But then they find that the newcomer to Twidings, Gerbil Cravat, has plans that will destroy their lovely village for ever. They have to be very clever (and appear very stupid, sometimes.) It gets very serious, even when Taffeta can't stop laughing and Poodle falls over his own paws. (He's not a poodle, he's a cross between a deerhound and a carpet.) It gets a bit scary, too. But when your best friend is a lion, anything is possible. And the castle will never be the same again.

Cover image coming very soon.