Monday, 12 December 2016


It's all go in The House of Stories, or at least I think it is. I'm hardly ever here just now, what with work, children's stuff at church, Aged Parents and I Know Not What. And on Saturday, one of my lifelong dreams happened. I went to Narnia. More than that, I was a Narnian.

It was the idea of our Education Officers. This Saturday was the Christmas Fair, which is always massive, and we always do craft activities for children. The two aforementioned ladies really did do magic. One of our rooms was transformed into a wintery forest with fir trees and a lamppost, leading to Mrs Beaver's kitchen where the craft tables were laid out with all the bits to make stars, lanterns, angels, and all manner of tree decorations. All three of us love dressing up. We had the White Witch (who had to be nice because her bad magic doesn't work in our lovely holy building) and Mrs Beaver, and I put together a grey dress and some odds and ends and floated about being a Dryad. (You might get a picture at some time, but we were all too busy to take any on the day, so I'll have to dress up again.)

From time to time I pulled up my roots and drifted about through the crowds, meeting families and telling them, 'Hello, I'm from Narnia. Did you know that Narnia has come here today...' and guiding them up the stairs where they could walk through the wardrobe into the forest and then into Mrs Beaver's cheery kitchen. The lovely thing was the response, the awe in the faces of the children and quite a few of the adults, too. We had a lot of grown-ups who just came to see Narnia.

And just in case you hadn't discovered this - every woodland is as enchanting as a Narnian woodland. The Pevensey children are humans, like us. We have our Aslan. In these senses, we never have to leave Narnia.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Much and the Mistmantle Hedgehogs

Two things you may as well know about our Missus.

One, she's right soft about Advent calendars. Loves 'em. I don't mean the choccy ones, I mean Advent Calendars like the ones she and 'er sister 'ad when they were little, what just has pictures. In them days there weren't much in the way of Advent Calendars in this country, but 'er 'ad relations in Germany what used to send 'em. 'Er loves 'em, gives 'em to loads of folks and always 'as one or two for 'erself.

The other thing you need to know, is that 'er has a 'ole in 'er imagination. That's why this 'ouse is full of stories. Them people in 'er stories, especially them animals, they drop out of 'er 'ead and you find 'em running around the garden. We've 'ad Mistmantle 'edge'ogs 'ere this morning, eating the windfall apples. 'Ibernate, I told 'em. You 'edgies, you're supposed to 'ibernate all winter, look, er's even got a 'edge'og 'ouse for you to 'ibernate in. It's got leaves in and everything, look, I'll 'elp you find it. They're Mistmantle 'edgies, they said. We are Myrtle, Furtle and Ouch, and we don't do 'ibernating.

I took 'em for a look through the window and there's Missus opening her Advent calendar and bouncing about like a little kid because 'er got a picture of a trumpet. Them little 'edgies wanted to know what that were all about, so I told 'em. Next thing was, them little 'edgies are running round the garden saying it was their Advent calendar and all them fallen leaves are the doors, and they had to find the first one. They did all right out of it, too, they found two beetles and a woodlouse. Good news if you're a small 'ungry 'edge'og. I reckon we'll have 'em back every day until Chrsitmas Eve now. What are they going to think when there's a tree in the 'ouse?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Where's the dragon when you need it?

When my children were small we had an invisible dragon. His name was Chrysoganus, and on wild, windy, stormy or just freezing cold days, we'd climb on his back and ride him to and from school. When your school is right on the north-east coast within falling in distance of the North Sea, you really need something to hold on to.

We had a bit of a family get-together in Wales this weekend, in Cardiff. For us, it was torrential rain both ways and the sort of traffic queues where you begin to doubt whether you ever existed before this. Whenever we stopped at a service station, Tony parked as near to the door as possible without breaking the glass and we ran for it. For some of our fellow travellers it all got dramatic from the moment a coach in a train at Huddersfield caught fire. After that it was three different trains, a bus, a taxi, a lot of mutterings about the train companies and a frustratingly late arrival. The children found it quite an adventure. (Their parents didn't). Coming back wasn't easy either, as there's flooding in the South-West and nobody thought to bring a boat, a swimming cossie or a surfboard for getting up the motorway.

I'm beginning to think that these journeys are easier in the company of a small child. You can always sail an imaginary boat, and as long as you can keep warm and fed, it's exciting. And for best results, find a dragon. Off the wild Northumbrian coast on this stormy night a dragon is circling Coquet Island, hoping for another little family to carry to school.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Now, there was an inspirational lady. She was born in the seventh century, a niece of the king of Northumbria. When he was killed she went into exile with her Auntie Ethelburgha, the queen, who founded a nunnery. This seemed like a good idea to devout, brainy, sensible Hilda, who in turn became the Abbess of Whitby.

She presided over a double monastery, ie, with monks and nuns, living simply in the Celtic, sharing way. Kings and leaders came to her for advice. She was an organiser, a motivator, a teacher and a woman of prayer, and if the legend is true she was pretty good at getting rid of snakes. She encouraged the first English poet, Caedmon. It is said that the birds flying inland dip their wings in honour of St Hilda (OK, that's a bit far-fetched, but a nice story).

This lady, who was born to privilege and used her education and influence to spread grace, love and wisdom, went to heaven on 17 November. Women's colleges are often named after her. Happy St Hilda's Day.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Sad, and what else...

I am sad this week because of what has happened in America. I can't quite believe it, to be honest. So all of us at The House of Stories, and all our visitors, let's keep living for thanksgiving and love, compassion and joy. Let's make a difference. Let's make life as good as we can for as long as we can for as many as we can.

So, what has been happy this week?

The toddler group on Wednesday morning and the lovely team I work with

Writing stuff

The dogs in the park

An afternoon at the ballet with an old friend - (Northern ballet Beauty and the Beast, very good)

The window at Fenwick's department store in Newcastle - they're doing Beatrix Potter this year

The sun still rises

Love. Love. Love.

And, as a vicar friend used to say, 'Let's Do Praying'.

Friday, 4 November 2016

It's all going terribly well

Here at the House of Stories we are lurching from one exciting episode to the next. Various relations are crocked. We had actors from the wonderful Riding Lights Theatre Company to stay last week - if you're in the UK and get a chance to see Simeon's Watch, do go. A thoughtful, wise, moving and funny play about dementia, with faith themes woven in and out of it and a nod towards Christmas. They were lovely house guests, too.

There was just time to change the beds before The Golden Child and her family came to stay. I think the highlight of the visit was a bit of exploited child labour when we let them climb The Tree and it took them about twenty minutes to harvest their body weight in apples. All this with late autumn sunshine, and I'm sure our little garden was full of angels.

On Saturday we had Hexham Abbey full of children. The extraordinary people who organise these things felt that instead of being disapproving and 'the church doesn't do Halloween', we'd offer something that took Halloween back to its Christian roots and made it possible to talk honestly about death and sadness. We did skeleton building and made candle boats, and talked about remembering the people we love. In the first hour we had about twenty children through. Nice steady pace. And then they flooded in, queuing up in their costumes, all the little Draculas and witches holding their mummies hands, and we were raiding cupboards so we didn't run out of stuff. And they LOVED it. Result.

A beautiful Sunday autumn afternoon in the garden, gentle weather for putting the garden to bed, and I burned garden rubbish in the little outdoor stove that Tony gave me a few years ago. The smell of woodsmoke hung around me and came into the house, and was perfect.

On Tuesday, a very beautiful service of remembrance, with people who've been bereaved in the last year gathering in the Abbey. My friend Wendy and I were on duty doing tea and coffee afterwards, and were surprised at how many people stayed for a cup of tea (not coffee). As my mother once said to me, never turn your nose up at people who make a pot of tea in a crisis. Sometimes it's exactly what's needed.

And at last, yesterday I was at the bank sorting out a new account which I would have done weeks ago if not for family upheavals. Very nice young woman with a computer got it sorted, except that every time she was about to put everything through, the computer went down. Fortunately we both laughed about it, instead of unplugging the thing and banging it against the wall even though we had more crashes than the Grand Prix. By the time I left it was raining, but never mind - I popped into a charity shop and bought a Terry Pratchett, which redeemed the day.

It's all going terribly well.

Monday, 24 October 2016


We have visitors coming this week, lots of them, so I have had to sort out the attic.

The attic is one of the reasons we bought this house. It's a vast roof space which the previous owners made into a very pleasant room with sloping beams you can bump your head on and cupboards all the way round under the eaves. Windows look out for miles across the hills. There was already a corner with a desk and bookshelves, just waiting for me. There's room for two single beds, one at each end, and I have a couple of rugs and a comfy chair in there, and - well, lots of stuff looking for a home. There are Christmas decoration, a lot of knitting and craft stuff in a chest and a basket, and, because this is The House of Stories, a lot of cuddly toys live here. They sit on top of the chest and have a great time up there. They include Captain Lugg, Mother Huggen, an otter and innumerable squirrels. (Oh, and a baby bath that we got for when grandchild comes to stay. That was before he was born. We've now found that he doesn't like the baby bath, he likes to go in the big bath with his mum.)

There are also a few toys from my children's past and the dolls' house that Father Christmas made for me, with help from my dad, when I was tiny. And that was the problem yesterday, because I couldn't resist giving it a bit of a sort out when I was doing the attic. Finally I remembered that I was supposed to be cooking a meal, not playing with my dolls' house. I left a lot of clutter on the sitting room floor for the dolls to sort out. But Smallest Goddaughter is coming this week, and I'm sure she'll get on to it.

By the way, I am very particular about who gets to play with my dolls' house. It's MY dolls' house, and there are times when I still want to play with it.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

History Chat

One of the exciting things about living where I do is that I'm just ten minutes walk from another author, an aged lady with a lifetime of her own stories behind her as well as the ones she's written. We had coffee this morning and talked about the various things we have written/are writing/may write one day. Both of us love writing history. It's a bit of a shock to realise that my childhood is history now, but it means that I can sit back in an armchair, look up at teenagers and say, 'When I was a girl we had no mobile phones, television was a small black and white set and only on for a few hours a day, we walked everywhere and played in the streets, and a sherbet dip was tuppence in old money'.

Prue told me about a book she'd set in 1824, in which somebody was in prison for murder. She did her research and found that 1824 was the year when they changed the procedure for keeping prisoners at Newcastle until the assizes (trials). in fact, they changed it twice, and as records were incomplete she couldn't find out where her murderer would have been held, and had to take a calculated guess at it.

I told her about Hold My Hand And Run, which I set in 1628 in a city based on Durham. I researched to find out who the bishop was at the time. That was the year when Durham had three bishops in quick succession. I worked out that Kazy ran away just between Bish Two and Bish Three.

You might wonder why Prue had to choose 1824 and I had to choose 1628? Because we had to. Because, taking all the elements of a historical novel into account, there is only one time when it could have happened. It's a natural rule of historical fiction, just like getting the details of food, clothing and housing right. On the subject of research, my dear friend Eleanora, who died not so very long ago, was an expert on historical costume, the only person I ever knew who could talk with authority about pattens. If you want to know what pattens are, do some research. That's what writers of historical fiction do, again and again.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

We're Back!

I haven't been neglecting you, honestly! But at some point about two months ago the Blogger Gate Guardians locked me out of my own House of Stories and I couldn't get back in. But this weekend, Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine came to stay, and LOS had a few firm words with the computer. He knows how to speak computer, and the door of The House of Stories flew open when he used the magic key. I am delighted. There has been so much to tell you over the last two months. Unfortunately I've forgotten half of it.

However, all is well. Tony now has two new knees and is worth a king's ransom in scrap value. The Hobbits are thriving, and little Frodo is now on solid food, though I don't know why they call it solid when it's mush. A small amount gets into the mouth. The rest is spread over his ear, his nose, his chair and his mum, who tells me that some of it flew through the air and she hasn't found it yet. The Sunshines and the Cahooties are well, and the Cahooties are now Owners of Guinea Pigs. Much is sulking because I haven't cleared his border yet, and Dodger is chasing windfall apples round the garden.

About the apples. As you know, apple trees are very special to me. Our own apple tree (as far as an apple tree can belong to anyone) has been simply weighed down with fruit this year, I must have harvested twice my body weight already. We went out this afternoon with large shopping bags and a sense of purpose. I climbed the tree, Lady Sunshine climbed the stepladder, and LOS played hook-the-apples with a shepherd's crook. (That has its own story, which I may tell you one day.) As we picked apples off the grass, Lady Sunshine said that we could do with a recipe for apple and mint cordial.

'Sh!' I said, but it was too late. Already a rotund and beaming squirrel was wobbling across the garden.

"You want cordial, m'dear? You just give 'em 'ere, I'll do that for you, bring you half a dozen bottles, no trouble at all. Don't you worry if the slugs have been at 'em, I'll cut those bits off. I'll have some of that mint, and the thyme, and any other 'erbs that look like they're dying off. Don't matter about maggots, I reckon they take one look at the cooking pot and run for cover. Got any vinegar?"

Sunday, 14 August 2016


I'm not much of a sporty type, but this week I started to watch bits of the Smilycop, and then I started watching bigger bits. Because of the time difference between here and Rio, much of the action in the Polymics takes place when British lady bookstoryists are snuggled up asleep with their teddy bears, and it seemed that every morning I woke up to the radio announcer telling me that Britain had won something. This all got very interesting. And I do like watching the splishyjumps and the gymnelasticals, so I sort of got into the Limpycos.

This week there has been a lot of rideybikes and floatyboaties, which are both things Brits tend to do well at, so we've seen plenty of flagwavy National Anthem. Daley and Goodfellow did very well with their splishyjumps. You wouldn't get me standing on the edge of a thin wobbly board like that, I get scared just watching, especially over a pool full of crocodiles. Well, it could be full of crocodiles as far as anyone could see. Our male gymnasts have just won some things, but I'm not sure if it was climbing on things or jumping off things, or just jumping. We won silver at the Grubby Sevens and lost to Fiji, who are jolly nice people to lose to. A farmer chappie won a medal in Shooting At Things, then went home to get the harvest in. The Rockety-Scot is struggling in the tennis just now, but it's the final so he's sure to get a medal. Charlotte and her Dancing Horse will be on tomorrow. Between them they have all of six feet, and they still manage to get them in the right order. And that's just the Brits. Rio is hooching with brilliance!

Friday, 5 August 2016


Double Book launch today. Have just waved goodbye to The Hobbits, who have stayed for a few days. Sunshines and Cahooties arriving tonight (woohoo!) Various members of the family crocked. Daughter's car isn't too good, either. I have yet to buy drinks and nibbles for the launch, or prepare A-boards. Last night's washing is still in the machine. I'm greatly looking forward to cutting the grass. The garden is so wild it's ready to run away and hide up its own tree.

My brother-in-law has a T-shirt for occasions like this. It says - 'I can only please one person a day. This isn't your day. (Tomorrow isn't looking too good, either.)' However, we multi-taskers know that this is not the answer. Neither is 'I'm out' 'Beware of the Garden Gnome' or 'more coffee'. The question is the one Claire asks, and has taught me to ask, and it works. It really works. The question is -

'who needs me to love them today?'

Monday, 1 August 2016


I happened to mention to somebody - I think it was Mother Huggen - that 1 August used to be celebrated as Lammas, or 'Loaf Mass'. It was a thanksgiving/celebration of the first bread made from the summer wheat harvest. In no time at all this story was all around the island, and you know how they like any excuse for a festival. Today, while Yorkshire celebrates Yorkshire Day and a few English villages nod in the direction of Lammas, Mistmantle animals have been setting up tables around the Tower and sharing bread.

If the otters made it, it probably has seaweed in it. This tastes better than it sounds, and because it was made by otters it may have a faint taste of fish. Hedgehogs - to be honest it's not always wise to ask what they put in it, but it tastes fantastic, and Needle and her family make the most delicious bread with berries in. Moles eat pretty well anything, and mole made bread is fine if you don't mind the earthy taste. The squirrels are best, as squirrel cooks have a real understanding of nuts and grains. Some of you will remember Urchin taking walnut bread to Crispin. To those two, walnut bread is the absolute best, but Sepia prefers hazelnut. Crackle puts red berries in with it. 'Bread' includes oatcakes, flatbreads, and all those other breads that don't go in the oven.

Did you ever make a 'damper'? We used to do it when I was a Guide. You make a kind of yeast-free bread dough, (mostly flour and water, I think, but I can't remember), wrap it round a stick, and cook it over the campfire. A damper, if it doesn't drop off into the fire, is best with butter and jam, if you have any, otherwise it just tastes of smoky stick. There is nothing to recommend it except that you made it yourself. And you have to be careful what kind of stick it is. One that won't poison you or catch fire is a good idea. Cold dampers are revolting, hot ones are edible, but it's one of those things where cooking it is more fun than eating it. That's why Fingal is supervising a lot of eager little animals, already stuffed to the gills with with Mistmantle bread, sitting round a campfire trying not to drop dampers into it.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Happy Families

Firstly,a brief note. Some very strange comments have been popping up on this House of Stories report. They make no sense at all, and put up a link. These are nothing to do with me. I don't know where they are from and I delete them as soon as I see them. DO NOT click on the link. If any high-tech squirrels out there know how to prevent them, do let me know. I've always maintained that the House of Stories Blog is a place where anyone can pop by for a chat and a cordial, but trolls and hawkers are not welcome, especially when I'd just posted something following the death of a good and remarkable man who saved the lives of thousands of animals.

That's that. Today is a very happy one on Mistmantle, as Russet of the Circle and his wife Hawthorn had the naming ceremony for their younger son Swift, who screamed at the top of his little lungs until the singing started, and then he was mesmerised. Sepia's choir usually have that effect. After that he was fine until after his next feed when he was sick over Brother Juniper's tunic. Fortunately Juniper is used to this. Fingal is one of his heartguides, which is very like a godparent, and has already taught him to swim. He has been wonderful with Swift's big brother and sister, Curlew and Heron, who probably think they're otters.

Oh, if The Archers could have such Happy Families! Pat had to phone Rob, who answered in his chilling way, 'what can I do for you?' 'Drop dead' would be the right answer. However, as Pat's daughter Helen is in prison for knifing the creep when she couldn't bear it any longer and he has custody of wee Henry, Pat has to be careful. The insufferable Kate is raiding her mum's cupboards to furnish her yurts, Pip is being very silly with the Bad Brother, Lillian the Veteran Vamp is being even sillier with Jason, and war has broken out over the village fete. Fallon has attempted a coup and Linda Snell exploded. Take cover, everyone, Victoria Sandwich cakes are flying through the air.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Les Stocker

You wait a week for a blog post and three come along at once. But I wanted to tell you about somebody special.

Late last night I heard that Les Stocker had died. Les was a man who cared so thoroughly and deeply about wildlife that he and his family devoted their lives to the rescue of sick and injured wild animals. From rescuing a few wild birds and hedgehogs they set up the pioneering wildlife hospital and rescue centre, Tiggywinkles. For decades, animals at Tiggywinkles have been restored to health and returned to the wild or, if they weren't well enough to survive in the big wide world, given a safe place to live. (A deer can cope perfectly well on three legs, but not in the wild. A wealthy friend of Tiggywinkle's with a large estate adopted all the three-legged deer.)

Les led the way for having wildlife care taken seriously. He learned, and shared what he learned. Groundbreaking surgery was carried out and written up in their hospital. Les travelled the world speaking at conferences about what they did. Because of him, wildlife care was put on a professional footing and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recognised him as an Honorary Member.

When you're writing books about talking animals, you go to your imagination with a bit of help from C S Lewis. When this makes you fascinated with wildlife, or when you're writing about real wild animals - FAWN, for example - you go to Tiggywinkles.

When you help an injured human, they generally know that you're trying to help. Animals don't, they just know that they're in pain and helpless, and they fight. The last time I met Les he had a hefty dressing on one hand. This was by no means his first rescue-related injury. He had been rescuing a trapped badger, and as an experienced animal handler he wore gauntlets. A badger's jaw is a powerful thing, though, and it still managed to bite him. Knowing how dangerous a badger bit can be, Les went to hospital for injections and a dressing, but the bite still got infected. Just an occupational hazard.

There is a guard of honour at the gates of heaven. It's made up of hedgehogs, deer, rabbits, foxes, and wild birds. There is a personal appearance by St Francis and wild applause from the angels as Les Stocker walks in.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Not so much a blog post, more of a warning. The weather is hot. DON'T leave your dog in the car. Don't leave any living thing in a hot car, or in a sunny conservatory or any room that might overheat. Even if you think you won't be long, don't take the risk. And if you see a dog suffering from exhaustion in a hot car. The RSPCA advice is here -

Monday, 18 July 2016


I am still here. I know there hasn't been much word from The House of Stories lately, but The House of Stories is still the House of Hobbling and there is far too much going on just now.

Some of you like to have news from Mistmantle, but just now it's pretty standard Mistmantle summer. Berry harvest, a lot of partying, and animals on the beach jumping in and out of the water. They're all right, Fingal and Tide keep an eye on them. I've no idea where Corr is off too these days. Scatter is making flower chains.

As you know, I love my garden, and especially roses. I have an angel corner in my garden, with clematis Angelique and Lichfield Angel rose. I bought Lichfield Angel largely for the name, but having said that, she is the most beautiful delicate rose and is at her best just now. Being concerned about some droopy stems - and we can't have droopy angels, can we? - I looked up Lichfield Angel on-line and, by accident, found out how she got her name. Great story.

Thirteen hundred years ago, the monastery on Lindisfarne was famous. Lindisfarne, also called Holy Island, is the tiny tidal island just off the Northumbrian coast which St Aidan used as his base. Most of the monks and teachers in the north of England were trained there, and sent out to do whatever needed doing. Among these monks were four brothers - Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad. Chad was sent to what we now call the Midlands, and built a church dedicated to St Mary. It is now Lichfield Angel.

About eight years ago some work was done on the floor of Lichfield Cathedral and in the course of this the archeolly-jollies found the Saxon foundation. We're talking between thirteen and fourteen hundred years ago, the original church built by St Chad, and among what was left of it they found a carved stone, which might have been part of a grave. It's beautiful. the figure of the Angel Gabriel, broken in two places but still perfectly clear because it's been safe from weathering for centuries. There are still traces of paint on it. That is the original Lichfield Angel, after which the rose was named. It may have been part of St Chad's grave.

From the seventh century to the twenty-first. From Northumberland to Lichfield went Chad. From a stone to a rose, and so back to Northumberland again. A weaving in and out like a Celtic knot, with no beginning nor end.

Monday, 11 July 2016


Before we go any further - ANDY MURRAY WON WIMBLEDON AGAIN! Cartwheels, congratulations, champagne, whisky, rousing choruses of Scottish songs. Like every other 'Mc' in the country, I am proclaiming my Scottish ancestry. Moving on...

Tony recently had an operation to replace his left knee joint. Try explaining that to Much the Gnome. 'I've been sat on my snail outside in all weathers for more years that I can rightly remember, and there's nowt the matter with my knees', he said. Much, I told him, if Tony had spent a decade or so perched on a stone snail I'm sure he wouldn't have arthritis, but as it is...

The operation was two weeks ago and he is now pootling about the house on just one crutch and having a little wander up and down the street now and again. We are adjusting to the fact that he can't yet drive, hoover, take the bins out or load and reload the dishwasher. (I really miss that bit.) There are still some things that he needs my help with, most importantly -


I think socks are rather sweet, often sweeter than the feet they look after. They are snuggly little foot mittens to keep your toes cosy. But not these socks. These are those tight surgical things that Tony has to wear for weeks after the operation so he doesn't get a thrombosis, or maybe it's to stop his legs dropping off, I'm not sure. Because of the angle of movement required to put them on he can't yet do this for himself. However sweetly I sleep, I wake to a nightmare. On with the socks. They are snug. They are meant to be. Never mind DVT, I'm pleasantly surprised that they haven't cut off his circulation.

First thing in the morning I seize a sock and grapple with it. Roll it up and give it a good stretching out sideways, then with teeth-gritting effort force it over the heel. It gets easier after that, especially as the socks have now been through the wash a few times and are losing the will to resist, but really, the first couple of times I did THE SOCKS it took me ten minutes a leg and I broke sweat.

For those of you who like me to blog about Mistmantle, I'm afraid they have very little understanding of socks because paws don't generally need them, but Mother Huggen puts little soft scratch mitts over the babies' paws. She sews them herself. And arthritis is very rare on the island. Tennis, now, that's something they understand.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


Mistmantle is by its nature a sheltered island. Not many animals move there from other places - they can't get through the mists. Those that do are not always good news. (It took a long time to repair the damage after The Raven War.) But refugee squirrels and visiting swans are always made welcome.

Wales has just gone out of the Euros, (the football, not the currency) but that little nation punched well above its weight to be in the semi-finals and I am proud to be grandmother to a little Welshman. Andy Murray is through to the semis at Wimbledon. I can hold my head and claim Scottish ancestry. (At the age of twelve I'd hardly ever been south of York, but I knew Blairgowrie and St Andrews like the back of my hand.)

Amid all the shouts about immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, let's remember that most of the British are mongrels. The Scots and the Irish changed places, the Britons and Celts were taken by surprise by the Romans, then just as Romano-British life was settling down, the Romans went home and along came the Angles and Saxons. They'd no sooner Angle-Saxed than the Vikings spoiled it all. By the time we'd sorted that one out and the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings had learned to speak politely to each other, William the Conqueror did his conquering and the Normans took over. Now, that really was bad news. They wouldn't even let the Scots be Scots (or Irish) or the Welsh be Welsh, and if you didn't speak French you'd never be invited to the posh parties.

We weren't invaded again, but refugees came over whenever life in France got scary or the Reformation kicked off again. Come the Second World War, the doors were open to people from all over Europe, fleeing fascism. Polish airmen came over and flew with the RAF. Some of them married and stayed here. There were German prisoners of war who were moved by the kindness of the locals, and stayed.

Since the Brexit vote, there has been some extremely nasty racist and anti-immigrant behaviour around. Let's just remember - Britain is a mongrel nation. The US, too, has influences from almost every continent. We're part of a mix. We're all Breltanglevikians.

Monday, 4 July 2016


A young squirrel lay asleep in a boat, too exhausted to stay awake any longer. He was separated from his friends, and in danger. Readers of Mistmantle, you know this story. A couple of passing otters found him and helped him to where he needed to be, but he never knew that. Only you know that.

Ten days ago, a member of my family fell, was injured, and ended up in hospital. Fortunately the fall happened where passers-by would see him and a dog-walking stranger looked after him, sent for an ambulance, and waited until it arrived. The hospital in question isn't easy to get to for non-drivers, like me, so I got to the nearest station but there was no taxi rank, not even a phone number for a taxi. However, I could see a pub about five minutes walk away, so off I went and asked the barmaid/landlady if she had the phone number for a taxi firm. Yes, she said, and would you like me to call one for you?

I hadn't ordered a drink, and she hadn't asked me to. She just phoned me a taxi. She didn't even say 'would you like a drink while you're waiting?' but out of courtesy I ordered a tonic water.

The kindness of strangers. It changes the world. You can be the stranger.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sorry, kids.

Cartoonist Dave Walker has just suggested that one thing we can do following the Brexit vote is 'apologise to a young person'. Most under thirties voted to stay in, and it's their future at stake. So today I told a couple of lads from church - lovely kids whose parents discuss issues with them, so they understood about the pros and cons of the referendum - that I had voted Remain, but nevertheless I was sorry for what my generation had done to their generation.

They were very nice about it. Then the younger one brightly told me that they have Irish passports, because their mum is Irish. Thank goodness for that. The Irish have far more sense that to leave Europe. And Ireland is beautiful. So is the music and the culture. Irish people really get it about books and poetry.

I wonder what the lads would charge to traffic me to Dublin?

Friday, 24 June 2016

Not In My Name

I haven't been around much lately. I've been to York, to Oxford, met some lovely people, and wanted to tell you about it.

But today I woke up to see that a dishonest campaign based on exploiting greed, fear and ignorance has led to a marginal vote in favour of leaving the EU. The fabric of Europe is being ripped apart. The world's egotistical leaders and would-be leaders are crowing. Wise guides weep. I am distressed, I am angry. On behalf of the many friends who share my grief today, let me tell you -

Not In My Name.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Man Who Couldn't Stop

I came across this book by accident. It's The Man Who Couldn't Stop, by David Adam.

For those who are into Celtic Christianity, this is not the David Adam who used to be Vicar of Lindisfarne and wrote all those excellent books on what we can learn from our forebears. This David Adam is a science/medical journalist who found his life turned inside out and upside down by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

It's not just people with OCD who need to read this. If you live with someone with OCD, if their obsessions and compulsions infringe on your life, please read this. This will tell you exactly what your friend/relation can't begin to explain, but longs to. It explains how an obsessive thought can completely take over a life. People with OCD behave in ways which everybody finds ridiculous and annoying. But if you're there, in that position, it seems that if you don't check this/clean that/make sure of this, the consequences for everyone will be catastrophic.

And David Adam, eventually, came through.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Why did...?

We've just had a few days away, firstly at a wedding in Yorkshire and then a few days in the sun - honestly, the timing couldn't have been better - in North Wales. We were driving home today when a sheep shambled across the road in front of us. Fortunately we weren't moving much faster than the sheep, so no harm was done. But it got me thinking.

Everybody asks about why the chicken crossed the road. Nobody asks about the sheep. Or the cow, the cat, or anything else, but today I'm thinking about the sheep. (There is a joke about why the hedgehog crossed the road, but it's not suitable for repeating in front of Mistmantle animals, and besides, they wouldn't get it.)

I was telling Fingal about this. First I had to explain what a chicken is. The idea of a bird that clucks, scratches about in the ground, and can't fly is so funny to a Mistmantle otter - well, Fingal anyway - that he ended up getting underwater hiccups and very nearly caused a high tide, not to mention capsizing Corr. Then, 'road'.

"What's a road?"

"It's like a path. But bigger, harder, and sometimes they have lines drawn down the middle - yes, Fingal, I suppose it's hilarious."

At this point I gave up and left Fingal doing chicken impressions, then rolling over in the sand laughing. And suddenly all the tower animals are telling variations on 'why did the squirrel fall out of the tree?'. Why indeed?

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Much and Fairies

We've 'ad a few days of good weather and 'er's been tripping down the garden. Er's been away a lot lately on account of The 'obbits and their new little Frodo, and meanwhile the weeds have been growing like they're on blooming steroids. Now 'er's 'home, 'er comes out in the sunshine, flitting about with 'a trowel in 'er 'and. Bless. About time, too. It's all very well, 'er going on about the lovely blue drifts of cornflowers, but I can't see over the top of 'em. Swamped, I am. Off she goes, exclaiming about 'er beautiful garden as if there were fairies at the bottom of it. It's nonsense, that. There's a compost 'eap at the bottom of the garden, and you never see a compost heap fairy these days. They all work for blooming John Innes.

Any fairies in this garden come to the rockery. Why, you ask? Why do they so love the rockery? Well, since you ask, there's nothing fairies like better than a chat, and though I say it as shouldn't I can do sparkling and witty conversation as well as the next grey stone gnome from Yorkshire. 'ad a most entertaining 'arf hour with the Cuckoo Spit Fairy and the Missing Tools Fairy today. But if anyone's seen the How To Do In Greenfly Without Using Chemicals Fairy, get 'er to give me a call, will yer?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Crackle of the Cakes

It's all completely silly round here. Ever since Frodo arrived, She of the Stories has had baby brain and can't concentrate on anything. As usual she is trying to do too many things at once, and she hasn't said anything on here for over a week. In the tower there are new pages to be trained, so Urchin and Padra are very busy with that. Fingal is always sailing about, teaching Tide and Swanfeather how to manage a boat. Then of course there are crops of delicious things growing all over the island, so they have to be tended. Very soon it will be the start of berry season and all those little animals will have blackcurrant stains around their mouths. She asked me to think of something to tell you, so -

I happen to know a very busy young squirrel - a friend of She of the Stories - who is the most amazing baker. I could do with her on the island just now. I wonder if I could make her shortbread with hazelnut flour, and her gateau with ground almonds. She might even learn one day to make Kingsmantle Cake, the one dear Brother Fir was so fond of. And I do wonder if she has any clever ideas with gooseberries, as we may have a glut of them this year. But shall I tell you the best way to eat the fresh soft fruit? Sit in the sunshine and eat it with your fingers, fresh from the bush.

Thursday, 12 May 2016


I have been away from The House Of Stories for some time now. I've been in Wales with The Hobbits (that's Daughter and Daughter's Chap). I was there for a new little Hobbit coming into the world, to be known on the blog as Frodo. He is, of course, gorgeous. Golden-haired and gorgeous. Not quite the most beautiful baby boy ever - LOS and LYS share the honours there - but he's a very close runner-up. Bright as a button and doing all the right things. In no time at all he'll be finding the wonderful world of books.

His parents already have Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Baby so they know not to hang him from washing lines or plant him in the garden. Soon there will be Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Granny, only I won't be Granny, I'll be Nan, and I don't mind if he hides an elephant in my bed. In fact, I'd be delighted. I'm going out today to get him Holly Sterling's new book, Hiccups, and of course he'll have The Very Hungry Caterpillar and some of those lovely Ahlberg books. In time, he'll get Thomas The Tank Engine. There are some lovely baby books from Lion, one of my publishers.

Any more? Any favourite baby books?

Monday, 2 May 2016

Roly Poly People

There is a song called 'Song for the Roly Poly People' which I think is by Judy Small (apologies if I got this wrong.) I've heard it sung by the delightful Heather Innes, and you can find more about her on the link above. Tony and I first met Heather at Alnwick Music Festival many years ago when she sang her way into our hearts. I can't find a clip of Heather singing it, but if you search about you'll find a version of Roly People People somewhere. It's about celebrating the roly poly people.

Models, dancers, and a lot of actresses are stick thin. The Duchess of Cambridge is a healthy young woman if ever we saw one, but as soon as she stepped out of hospital with a new baby in her arms the nitpickers were remarking on the 'baby weight'. And because there is, let's face it, a problem of obesity, we're all being advised to shape up. Fair enough. And I'm not defending myself here, because I'm pretty scrawny.


some people are roly poly because they just are. Their genes make them curvy. Some people can wolf down a full English breakfast and wash it down with milk shake and still stay thin. Some just have to nibble an oatcake and it goes straight to the hips and stays there. We are all different, surely we realise that by now? Some people are rounded. Get over it!

And some of the people I love most are roly poly people. I love big, sensible, roly poly women. I remember reading about a roly poly lady who ran a woman's refuge. She'd stand between a frightened woman and an angry man, blocking out the daylight, and nobody messed her about. Big strong, roly poly women can walk into a room and you know everything's going to be all right. If you're sad, roly poly ladies will wrap you in their arms and protect you. If you're hungry, they'll feed you. If you're afraid, they'll protect you like a mother bear with her cub. They are built for comfort, not speed. I owe my sanity (what's left of it) to roly poly women. If you can get internet in heaven, Sandie Maude and Mary Kelly, this includes you.

If you're one of those readers who wants more Mistmantle, think of Apple, one roly poly squirrel with a big heart and a big hat. And remember - never trust a thin cook.

Thursday, 28 April 2016


Time for a happy post!

I have one husband, one daughter, and two sons. The kids are all over thirty, married and mortgaged, but the other one's still around. Family life means that over the years you do a lot of washing, and especially, you wash knickers. I was thinking of this as I sorted the washing the other day, and I found myself singing. Any tune will do.

Oh, the knickers are excited and the drawers are all delighted
Cos it's happy happy knicker washing day,
Sort the briefs from handkerchiefs, sort the boxers from the sockses,
And we'll have a lovely knicker washing day.

It's the day for happy panties, ask your aunties for their scanties,
It's the day they all go in the tub to play,
And if the weather's fine they can all go on the line
And the pants can dance on knicker washing day!

Oh, vicars' knickers!
Baby boomers' bloomers!
Granny Tilly's frillies, come along!
If you're pants with old elastic
We still think that you're fantastic,
Come and dance and play and sing the washing song,

Add detergent and press'on'.

Repeat first verse.

Sunday, 24 April 2016


'Gaslight' was an old film about a man who was gradually breaking down his wife's confidence and putting doubts into her mind until she thought she was going insane. All this meant that she wouldn't suspect what he was really up to, or if she did, nobody would believe her.

I sometimes add a few funny little notes about The Archers on here (largely for the benefit of those of you Across The Pond who have to live without it.) And there have been some amusing little odds and ends there, largely to do with Linda Snell's building plans and the Fairbrother hens. But a much darker thread has been spinning for the last two years and it's now being talked about all over the country. It's to do with 'gaslighting'.

It's about Helen Archer, single mother of little Henry, who is swept off her feet by the charming Rob Tichener who arrived in the village trailing the remnants of his previous marriage behind him. They married, another baby was soon on the way. But throughout their marriage, he has 'gaslighted' her. He's made mistakes at work so that they looked as if she made them, and of course, she couldn't remember anything about it. One minor little shunt in the car, and he stopped her from driving. In the gentlest, most reasonable way, he would criticise, argue about her choices, put her in the wrong. He came between Helen and her friends and family, all the while seeming to be a Jolly Nice Chap Devoted To His Wife. He dominated Henry while looking like the perfect stepfather. When Helen has challenged him, he's persuaded her that she's overwrought and her judgment is impaired or it's all a silly misunderstanding. Even her parents were taken in. Her best friend was the only one who saw what was going on.

Finally, Helen threatens to leave him, there is a terrible row, he puts a knife into her hand and tells her she should kill herself. Henry comes to see what the noise is about, Helen finally cracks, and Rob ends up in hospital with multiple stab wounds. (The nation rises to its feet and cheers.) But Helen is now in custody. Rob is telling his side of the story. We await developments.

I'm putting this on the blog because GASLIGHTING HAPPENS, and not just between partners. Parents can do it to their children, undermining their confidence, making them feel helpless. I've known teachers who did it. 'Haven't I had enough trouble with you, can't you even get THAT right?' Families can do it to each other, children sometimes do it to each other. They may not altogether realise what they're doing, or how destructive it can be. It's insidious.

So if you catch yourself gaslighting someone, recognise what you're doing and stop. If you see it being done, challenge it. Let's shine a true light on gaslighting.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


There are many things I could have blogged about today, but this one rose to the top of the agenda. Warnings you won't find it easy.

Some of my friends from the Yorkshire days are farmers. J is a woman I admire enormously - as well as the farm she puts in a few shifts at a supermarket. That tells you something about the income you get from farming, by the way. She is also a lovely mum and grandma and helps at the church toddler group. She's one of the most hard-working people I know. In fact between church, work and family I don't know how she ever finds time to sleep, but she responds to everything calmly and kindly. A lovely, gentle woman.

Yesterday morning her husband went out to 'look the sheep', as they say round here, to check up on them and feed them. They had twenty-five young sheep in a field near a local beauty spot.

He found carnage. A dog had been among the flock. Of the twenty-five, nine had been badly injured and one was missing. Of the injured ones, they were able to save only two. Apart from the suffering to the animals, who had been terrified as well as hurt, these good people have lost a large part of their livelihood and have to deal with the aftermath.

This doesn't need to happen. All anyone has to do is to keep their dog on a lead anywhere remotely near livestock. Never mind that it's well trained, obedient, wouldn't hurt a fly, any dog can become wildly excited and out of control about sheep, and the next thing is the sort of savagery that M and J had to face. So please, please, it's easy. Keep your dog on a lead near sheep. Tell your friends and family to keep their dog on a lead near sheep. And if you see a dog out of control around sheep, call the police and, if you can, get a message to the owner. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about, but J has had to think about it for the last two days.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Happy Birthdays

Two big celebrations are coming up this week. Thursday is The Queen's ninetieth. Saturday is Shakespeare's four hundredth and fifty second, and the four hundredth anniversary of his death. By Sunday there won't be a card left in the shops.

What do you give to a ninety year old monarch? How do you say 'thanks and congratulations' to a woman who has seen off wars, crises, Prime Ministers, presidents and tabloids, tragedies and terrors, reared children, has corgis and horses, and put up with Phil for nigh on seventy years? I'd like her to have exactly what she wants on her birthday. Her official party is in May, with pageants and all sorts of razzmatazz at Windsor Castle, but for her real ninetieth I hope she gets to do what she likes. If that means walking the dogs, going for a ride, watching reruns of Dad's Army with a gin and tonic and box of choccies, whatever. I wish her whatever she wishes herself. Happy Birthday, Ma'am.

And now, Shakespeare, who died on his birthday. I hope he'd opened his pressies, blown out his candles, and looked at his feet in embarrassment as they all sang 'Happy Birthday to Ye', but as he was not very well, the significance of the day may have passed him by. The story is that in the middle of April his old friend Ben Jonson came to visit and they went out, got roaring drunk, and came home in a thunderstorm, and he caught a cold which turned nasty. Other historians say that he'd been ill for weeks, which is why he'd revised and updated his will shortly before his death. (But that might have been because he fell out with his son-in-law).

What would he have wanted for his birthday? He'd had it all. He'd been the country boy, the man of the theatre, the acclaimed playwright. Then he left it all behind and went home as a wealthy man, to Stratford. He was a man of mystery, too. Was his marriage happy? Was he a secret Catholic? Did he really write the plays at all? There are many unanswered questions about him. As a father and grandfather, I suspect he just wanted one more birthday. I would give him that, if I could.

And I would tell him a few stories in case he wanted to revisit his theatre days and write something new. And a Tardis, so he could write 'The History of Queen ELizabeth II'. And even, 'The Trewe and Accurate History of William Shakspere'. Anything else you think he should write?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Pen Portrait

The supermarket had all their gardening stuff on display outside last week. Maybe that's why, as I put the trolley away and walked back to the car, I thought, 'galvanised bucket'.

Something happens when a galvanised bucket gets into the head of a writer. As I got into the car I was asking Tony what sort of a character Galvanised Bucket would be, and we both thought it was a hyphenated surname. Colonel Galvanised-Bucket. Mrs Justice Galvanised-Bucket. We were pretty certain that Montague Carmichael Galvanised-Bucket is a senior civil servant. Tall, probably with a moustache. Not a man to get on the wrong side of. He married Marigold Ffothering, one of the Derbyshire Ffotherings, and the marriage produced Caractacus and Primrose. Marigold spends most of the summer in Malaga with friends. One friend in particular.

I haven't yet completed my notes on the Galvanised-Buckets, but now it's your turn. There is a village in Yorkshire called Kettlesing. Pen portrait for Kettlesing Jones, anyone?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Mopping Up

'Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most.'

Who said that? Answer at the end.*

This quote reminds me of a time when the children were teeny. We were living in a part of the north of England where the thing to do, if you're having a hard time, is to pop in on a friend or neighbour and have a good cry. Dear Reader, it was Potty Training Season, and I was just thinking it was time to persuade two and a bit year old LOS to make an effort when the doorbell rang. The poor lady just made it as far as a chair before bursting into tears. LOS, who has always had a kind heart, was concerned. He stood watching her with his head a little on one side while absent-mindedly wetting the carpet. (1)

For a moment I looked from one to the other and wondered who to mop up first, then decided that the lady was old enough to sort herself out, so I left her a box of tissues while I whisked LOS away and made him socially acceptable again. By the time I got back downstairs the lady was looking and feeling a lot better and we had a wee cup of tea and a chat. The dog had been taking care of her, he was good at that. LOS played happily with his sister who had very sensibly ignored the whole proceeding.

No lasting damage was done to the carpet.

(1) this will not embarrass LOS. He's very proud of it.

* John Wesley

Saturday, 2 April 2016


Tony and I took a little time off last week to go to Pow Hill. We'd never been there before but it's near the Derwent Reservoir, not far from Blanchland just about on the borders of Northumberland and Durham. More to the point, it's a nature reserve. We had been tipped off that's a good place for seeing red squirrels, and I haven't seen any for a while, so off we went after lunch. We found a happy little woodland beside flat calm water, and the first creature we spotted was an affable Geordie bloke with a camera the size of a telescope. We asked him how he was doing, and he reckoned there was plenty of bird life about. But, he told us, two o'clock in the afternoon wasn't a good time for squirrels.

In the past I've met squirrels who were bright eyed and bushy tailed at pretty much any time of day, but the Pow Hill squirrels must like their siesta, because at two o'clock they all scurry back to their dreys for a zzzz. How do they know it's two o'clock? Do they squint up at the sky and work it out, or strain their tufty ears for the chimes of Blanchland church, or do they just check their phones? (Not the older squirrels, of course. They have proper wind-up watches on gold chains.) I suppose their body clocks tell them that any squirrel who has been stuffing its face since five o'clock in the morning absolutely needs to lie down before it explodes. Yes, apparently five o'clock in the morning is a very good time to see them. I don't do mornings, but those little sweeties are worth getting out of bed for. One of these days I might turn up at Pow Hill in the wee small hours. I might even be conscious.

I asked the Mistmantle squirrels what they thought about this afternoon sleep thing. Most of them said it was a silly idea. Crackle, who was grinding nuts to make frangipane, said rather sharply that chance would be a fine thing, but then Scatter came and helped her and they giggled together a lot. Apple said that Filbert always likes to rest his eyes in the afternoon, and Tay muttered that anything that made squirrels shut up for an hour or two must be a good idea, but Tay's always muttering to herself these days. I tried to ask Urchin, but he was at the top of a tree and didn't hear me. I asked Princess Almondflower if she thought she should go to sleep in the afternoons, and at last sight she was still rolling around laughing so much she had to bite her own tail to make herself stop. Squirrels!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Let's pause for a moment to remember Lahore. On Easter Day, a branch of the Taliban sent a suicide bomber to a playground because it was known to be a popular place for Christian families to gather on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. It wasn't just frequented by Christians - Muslims were there too - but the time and place were chosen to target Christians. At least seventy people were killed and about two hundred injured, some of them very seriously. As you'd expect from an explosion in a playground, there was a high proportion of children among the dead and injured.

As soon as the news got out, queues (lines) began to form outside the hospitals, queues of people volunteering to give blood. They weren't interested in who followed which faith, just in doing what they could to help and save lives. Yes, the giving of their own blood for whoever needed it. Muslim blood in Christian veins, Christian blood in Muslim veins.

This is not what the haters intended.

Friday, 25 March 2016


I've just realised that it's a week since I've been here. No, I haven't been away, it's just been a bit busy what with Holy Week, and trying to get work all tidied up and finished so I can have a few free days over Easter.

This morning, a beautiful spring morning, we had the usual silent Good Friday procession through the town. At the park, we sang and prayed. Somewhere along the way, this little story came to mind. Apologies if I've told it before. At first glance it's nothing to do with the Good Friday story, but in another way, it is.

Just after Christmas I told you about the devastating floods in the corner of West Yorkshire where we used to live. There was flooding in 2012, when we still lived there, and that was terrible, but it looked like a minor inconvenience compared to the December 2015 floods. The community spirit, as I told you, was phenomenal, and not just the local community. Busloads came from as far away as Leicester, many of them refugees. They cleaned and grafted. A Muslim group cooked for everyone. There was an appeal for desperately needed furniture for those whose chairs, tables, fridges and cookers had to be skipped.

One elderly couple lost everything. Their little bungalow was near the river, and they didn't stand a chance. A team of volunteers arrived to see what they needed.

"I was hoping you'd come," said the lady of the house. "The only place that didn't get flooded was the attic, and there was nothing up there but the highchair. We used it for when the grandchildren came to visit, but they've all grown out of it now, we don't use it any longer. Can you take it with you and give it to a family who need it?"

Friday, 18 March 2016

Wake up

This is the time of year when sleepy things wake up. No, not me, they don't let me hibernate however much I want to. But in the garden the celandines, cowslips and primulas have started bobbing up and there has been a sighting of an dwarf iris. Birds are dotting about birdily and winding up Dodger. You'd be surprised how fast a stone dog can run when there's a bluetit up a tree doing semaphore at it. Hopefully this year, there'll be a hedgehog.

When we lived in Yorkshire we were near to a river and occasionally had to escort toads across the road as they boinged back to their spawning grounds. We rescued a hedgehog, too, which had just come out of hibernation and decided that the sensible thing to do would be to toddle across the main road at twilight. We put him in the garden, but by the time we got back from buying him cat food he'd vanished. Probably caught a whiff of badger and was off like a rocket, or even like a hedgehog pursued by a badger.

And Much just loves it. He grumbles on about not being able to get a moment's peace, but he enjoys the company immensely. His snail will enjoy it too, when it' woken up.

So this weekend, go and see what's waking up.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Yellow eyed penguins

I've never seen a yellow eyed penguin, and if I did it would probably try to kill me. The Sunshines have just come back from New Zealand and told me all about these penguins, so I thought I'd pass it on.

Yellow-eyed penguins are presumably an endangered species, largely because they hate each other, so it's not easy for two YEPs to get near enough to each other to make eggs. I exaggerate - they have been known to toddle along the beach together in groups of four to six, but this represents a massed gathering. They are territorial, so the sight of another YEP on your territory is enough to make you put the nest on the market and move out. Nesting within sight of another YEP is not good.

This wasn't so much of a problem when there were a lot of trees about, so long as they were trees big enough for a YEP to hide behind, but now that the trees have been felled there's no hiding place for an anti-social penguin who would rather be in its own little hermitage. Still, they are penguins and as such must be loved. Perhaps the hope for the future lies in a race of short-sighted yellow eyed penguins who make friends before they realise they're getting on very well with another YEP, and nobody's killed anybody yet.

Moles are even worse, by the way, those things are so territorial and aggressive it's a wonder there are any baby moles at all. But not on Mistmantle, of course. Mistmantle is different.

Friday, 11 March 2016


Another bonkers directive from the Department of Education, those who spend their working lives finding more pointless things to mess up lives of children and teachers. The Powers That Be have decided that children are using exclamation marks far too much in their writing, probably because of text speak.

If this is so, and it may well be, all the PTB need to do is to advise teachers - get your children to go easy on the exclamation marks. This could lead to some interesting classroom discussions about what exclamation marks are, how they work, and why it's not a good idea to overuse them.

But no, they sent out a directive advising that 'only sentences beginning 'How' or 'What' should have an exclamation mark'. Yes, they really did say that! Honestly! Or rather, 'How yes, they really did say that! What honestly!'

What I want to know is whether this is supposed to apply to direct speech. As in the following,

"No," I shouted. "Don't touch it. It's a bomb. It could go off at any moment. Get down."


Tuesday, 8 March 2016


This will be a short post because of what happened on Sunday. Nothing alarming. I may have to leave the typos in.

When you attend a very old church with stone pillars and flagstones, you have to remember that they were there long before you and they don't get out of the way quickly. So on Sunday morning, when I was helping to set up Mothering Sunday stuff and I caught my foot on a pillar, there was no way but down. That's the law of gravity for you. There wasn't much room between the pillar and the nearest item of furniture, so I couldn't fall sideways, I went down like a tree.

It was the knee that hurt most at first, but the right hand that ended up being checked out in hospital. Nothing broken, just a bit knocked about so I am wearing a support bandage and typing little and slowly. This is frustrating when you make your living the way I do. The bandage is conspicuous, so people express concern - but they haven't seen my right knee, which makes the Aurora Borealis look like a squashed grape. Carrying things and getting tops off bottles is difficult, which is a problem when you live on coffee and tonic water.

However, it is getting better, and I'm about to send a card to A and E at our local hospital who saw me promptly on Sunday afternoon. One more gold star for the NHS.

Saturday, 5 March 2016


Welcome, visitors to The House of Stories on the brand new apple tree website! A certain Sam has been prodding me for ages to get it updated, and here it is.

The new website may mean that we have new visitors to the House of Stories, so welcome, find somewhere to sit, and I'll introduce you. The House of Stories is based in Northumberland, where I live, and sometimes tells you about what I'm doing, either with writing or with the muddle that gathers around me. Occasionally some of the animals of Mistmantle turn up here and tell you about what's happening on their beautiful island.
And sometimes Much writes it. I met Much at a house I lived in previously in West Yorkshire. He's a plain, unpainted garden gnome on a snail, very weather-worn, short in stature but not short of opinions. We named him Much after one of Robin Hood's men, and also as in the expression, 'You can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you can't tell him much'. He now lives with us in our garden, along with Oliver and his dog Dodger, who were here when we moved in.

My husband Tony sometimes blogs if I'm away. You may also meet the family, Daughter, Lovely Older Son (LOS) and Lovely Younger Son (LYS). Daughter is married to Daughter's Chap, and they're The Hobbits. LOS is married to Lady Sunshine, so they're the Sunshines, and LYS is married to The Lassie, and they are The Cahooties. Hamilton Bear sometimes gets a mention too.

Now and again I update you about The Archers. It is the world's longest running soap and is set in a fictional village somewhere round about Oxfordshire/Heart of England country. Not to know what's happening in the Archers can be a serious social disadvantage. I know that Pat and Tony Archer don't listen. How can they not know what their son-in-law is really like? The rest of the nation does and is baying for his blood. So you see, it's really important to know what's going on in Ambridge. For those of you across the pond - how do you live without it?

But this blogger is a writer, and shouldn't she be telling us about writey stuff? OK. For those of you who like to write, here's an idea.

Write a story of no more than one hundred words, which must include the following words - Much Apple Hobbit Archer

Have fun!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Much in March

Evening all, and 'Appy St David's Day. For those of you who don't know, St David's Day means Wales, leeks, daffodils, and a lot of folk singing 'Land of My Fathers'. It also means thank goodness we've got January and February out of the way, it should get a bit warmer now. Don't 'old yer breath waiting, though.

Mind, it were a bit warmer today, so 'erself potters out into the garden like the first 'edge'og of spring. Went around with the secateurs, pruned this, pruned that, would have pruned me if I weren't made of stone, there's no knowing what 'er might have done if them secateurs hadn't dropped to bits in 'er 'and. 'Er pulled up a few weeds, which is always improving to a gnome's eye view of the garden. Now, 'er's got a couple of new roses, just little ones what cover the ground, and today was the day 'er planted 'em.

Just as well there weren't nobody there to 'ear 'er chatting away to 'em. 'I've dug you a nice big 'ole, it's all comfy and ready for you, in you go. Now we'll give you some nice backfilling to make you comfy. And these are all your new friends. 'Ello, little Iceberg. I'll put you in 'ere beside Angel of Lichfield and you can look after each other.' Give each other greenfly, more like. Blimey, it'll be conversations with compost next.

But 'er never sees what I see in the garden. Minute 'er went in and shut the door, them roses was falling over each laughing.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


So many things are puzzling me just now. How to get into the garage is one of them, as the dishwasher is parked in front of the door. The kitchen is still in a state of disorder as the damp has been stopped, but everything else is fluid. I could swear cupboards change places in the middle of the night, and the ones that are destined for the tip are trying to climb out of the windows. The sink has been reconnected but the hot and cold taps are the wrong way round.

(US readers - tap = faucet)

I'm puzzled that all kitchens are supposed to be fitted. A fitted kitchen unit is something with a back that drops off, and you can't reach behind it to find out what's making that noise/smell/damp patch on the wall. What's the matter with cupboards? I have to explain to everyone involved in this process that I DON'T WANT A FITTED KITCHEN. I have to say it several times a day. I fear I will start saying it to the postman, strangers in the street, the cat in the garden. Much and Hamilton, not to mention Tony, duck when they see me coming. I need to open a window and shout - I DON'T WANT A FITTED KITCHEN!

(US readers - postman = mailman)

I'm puzzled about The Archers, because none of them have worked out what a ratbag Rob Tichener is. (Except Kirsty, and I suspect he's hiring a hitman for her.)

I'm puzzled about what Boris Johnson is for. I'm puzzled about why anyone votes for Donald Trump. I am sure of this, though - I am absolutely rock-solid sure, that I have the most wonderful, outstanding, life-changing amazing children in the world. Bless you.

(US readers - Boris Johnson = you don't want to know.)

Friday, 19 February 2016


Floor. The House of Stories is missing one.

What happened was, we had a little problem with damp and called the experts in. It turned out that the little problem with damp was due to the previous dishwasher which must have been dripping from a dodgy pipe since before it was even invented. All the horrible kitchen units that I never liked in the first place are lying around looking beaten up and insensible. There are joists to be replaced and a big hole where the floor ought to be. However, those nice lads have tidied up after themselves and patched up so that we have running water and something to walk on over the weekend.

Their contract is to put everything back once they've finished. We've talked about that. No way. I never liked those fitted cupboards in the first place and there is no way they're going back in my kitchen. What would Crackle think of a fitted kitchen? Precious little, I imagine. I want real cupboards and I don't mind getting them from an old curiosity shop. What else would I like? A washing pulley for the laundry, enough space for my old kitchen table, two scullerymaids, and a cook.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Crackle and Ouch

Little Ouch has been hanging around the kitchens a lot lately, and he is beginning to make himself useful. He started snuffling around the tower door, hoping for a glimpse of Urchin, waiting for his sisters, or hoping to find something helpful to do. (Both Ouch's sisters work here now. Furtle is very young, but Thripple, who is amazingly patient with her, lets her help.)

At first he just used to grub about finding worms and beetles for himself and his sisters, and then he asked me about what I needed in the kitchen and became very useful at finding berries for me. In the autumn all he had to do was wobble about in a hedge to come out covered with rosehips and blackberries, and he was very pleased with himself for being helpful. I always rewarded him with a few berries for himself. He's a bit like Hope at the same age. When winter came he'd bring fir cones, acorns, and any useful bits of root he could dig up. He's such a little thing, and it was so cold, so I'd bring him in to the kitchen for a hot cordial and a biscuit or some porridge.

At one time, if we were having roast chestnuts, we'd have to sit around piercing each one with a knife so that they didn't explode while cooking. That's a long and fiddly job when we have a whole Tower full of animals to cater for. Now we just put them in a basket and let Ouch roll about in them. It can be difficult pulling them off the prickles, though, because he says it tickles. A giggling hedgehog may be very sweet, but a giggling sharpest-hedgehog-on-the-island is downright dangerous. Ouch.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


I love waterfalls. So, by the way, do most of the animals on Mistmantle. Let's see if I can find some of my favourites -

Krimml falls in Austria. The only time in my life when I've looked down at rainbows.

Not altogether sure about this one, but it may be the Hareshaw Linn.

It's the sheer reckless, hurtling power of them that leaves me awed and speechless, and the way they keep going though you think there can't be so much water in the world. From side to side spouts shatter themselves to raindrops on rocks or gather in calm pools while the rest of the water goes on flinging itself over the edge. Bright little green plants, clinging to the sides, thrive on it.

I read somewhere recently that God's mercy, like water, will always pool in the deepest and darkest places. There goes mercy, there goes the waterfall, falling headlong to the empty places that aren't empty any more. It's not a controlled pouring, it's wild, dangerous and unstoppable. Like a Word, or a Light, or a Man, throwing himself down from the heavens, hurtling into whatever is deepest and darkest. He falls. He shatters. Life thrives. The waterfall never stops.

Saturday, 6 February 2016


I've just had two days in the beautiful, ancient city of York, meeting my agent and teaching writing workshops. I had a wonderful time, and so, I'm glad to say, did everybody else involved. Here is one of the exercises I gave, and you might like to think about it.

Quieten yourself down. Find the still place inside yourself. Slowly, scene by scene, go over yesterday. If you're doing this late in the evening, go over today.

Whatever sort of a day it was, even if it was one you'd rather write off, you will find, as you slowly go through it, that there was a moment of gold, a moment to keep. Something you did, something you saw or thought, some scene you observed, some shaft of light. There was a moment that made you smile, feel good, or laugh a lot. Take that moment. Dust it off, turn it round, look at it. Relive it. Enjoy it again.

When you've done that, make a few notes about that moment. Carry it around for a little while. It may lead you to a story, a poem, a prayer or a meditation. If words aren't your thing, it could lead you to draw or paint, or make music, or do some simple act of kindness. Plant the moment and see what grows. And enjoy it!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Books, books and more books

We spent a lovely day in West Yorkshire yesterday catching up with family - The Sunshines and The Cahooties - and the Golden Child and her family. We met for lunch at Salts Mill, and to get to the diner you have to go through the bookshop. If you're a books sort of person you know that 'going through the bookshop' is like walking down a giant sweetie counter, only much better. The Salts Mill bookshop is particularly varied and gorgeous.

Salts Mill, by the way, used to be one of the many Yorkshire mills from the days when cotton was king. It was an exemplary mill of its time, with a model village built around it. It's now art galleries, a diner, and shops, including the completely mesmerising one I just told you about. And if there's one thing better than a good bookshop, it's a good library.

When I was a kid the library was a tiny, dark little place hiding among the shops at the end of the street. Children could take out one book at a time. At the age of six I got my first ticket, chose a book, took it home, and read it in minutes. And read it again. And again. And was sick of it, and couldn't get another one, because you couldn't change your book the same day. By the time I was eleven I'd read everything in the junior section and was desperate to get into the adults.

All change. The local library here is a vast space, with tables and chairs and a friendly child sized corner, almost unlimited access to books and a coffee shop and theatre in the same building. There's a children's book group and holiday activities run by the brilliant staff team. These days libraries also have computers. There's always somebody using them for a timed session, with somebody else ready for the next slot. It's not easy to apply for a job these days without a computer and, contrary to what the government seems to think, unemployed people living in poverty don't all have a PC at home. They use the library. The book stock could be bigger, but that's because all public services are being cut these days and libraries are an easy target. Who needs a place where you can browse around, read for pleasure, or even learn stuff, for free? When my kids were small money was tighter than a whalebone corset, but we could always go to the library for nothing, sit around sharing books, and take an armful of them home. We loved those times, those books, those new things learned.

My cousin worked for twenty-five years for a local Schools Library Service, building it up from one woman with a wee van to a flagship service for schools. Then the council needed to economise. Oops, that was that, then.

So I was a bit concerned when another author, Cavan Scott, said that there's a campaign going on to save the library in Hanham, South Gloucestershire, from closure. This matters. Every library under threat matters, because once we lose them, we won't get them back. Cavan is working up all the support he can for this library - look him up on Facebook or Twitter. Where a library is under threat, fight for it. Fight for books, books and more books, and a place to read them.

Thursday, 28 January 2016


If you want a starting point for a story - shoes.

This week at the place where I worship, we have had a sort of art installation, but really it's a home grown thing. Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. After the bombings and shootings in Paris last year, people expressed their sympathy and solidarity by leaving pairs of shoes in a public square. It was about standing together. The idea for Holocaust Memorial Day was 'Don't Stand By', so we asked people to bring in wearable shoes that they no longer wanted, to be sold in aid of refugees. At first the shoes were here and there in the sanctuary. Then there were more of them, and more. They filled the sanctuary. There were shoes on the steps and in the aisles. All day, people brought more shoes. Over and over, to one group of children after another, we talked about The Good Samaritan. Be the one who stops, helps, makes a difference.

I said quietly to one of the team that I found all those shoes hard to cope with, in the right sort of way. He, being Jewish, understood what I meant. We were both thinking of those piles of shoes at the concentration camps. It tugged at the heart.

And going round the shoes with the children, we'd ask them - which do you think have walked the furthest? Which are the smallest? Which are for dancing in? Our shoes are almost a part of us, adapting to our long walks in the country or trudges round the town, our summer sandals and winter boots, hardly worn or down at heel. Shoes have stories. That is fascinating. It can inspire the imagination. It can also be heartbreaking.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Much in January

Glad I moved to Northumberland. If I'd stayed in Yorkshire I'd have been up to me pointy hat in the River Calder come Boxing Day. I daresay all my old gnome mates are coping, wheeling the sludge away in their little wheelbarrows.

I see 'er's come out of 'ibernation. It were almost as warm as spring today and 'er comes wandering down the garden seriously considering 'anging the washing outside. Just as well 'er didn't, cos it came down like Niagara Falls this afternoon. Anyway, 'er did what 'er always does at this time of year, skipping about like the welly boot fairy admiring the primulas, the dwarf irises, the one and only snowdrop we've 'ad so far, and anything else foolhardy enough to come up before the middle of March. Honest, 'er as conversations with 'em. Then off she goes back indoors again.

Thirty seconds later 'er leans out the back door and calls, 'Morning Much'. Oh, and a very happy Monday to you too, missus, good of you to mention it and fit me into your busy day. Oh Much, says 'er, you know how it is. Plants, they change, they come and go. Turn your back and they're fading, or the beasties have got 'em. But not you, Much, you're always the same. My good old reliable Much.

I still don't know if it's a compliment or not.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Day In the Life

What do you think a day in the life of an author is supposed to be like? If you see writing in terms of wealth and glamour you might think it's like this -

Read newspapers in bed

Bubble bath followed by champagne breakfast. Dress as if in Vogue.

Interview for glossy magazine, with coffee or fruit tea

Phone agent.

Lunch of light salad

Send fan mail to secretary to deal with

Write one thousand words of steamy novel

Take Afghans for a walk

Read and approve one thousand words, as above

Evening meal prepared by partner or bought from Waitrose and based on recipe by Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver/Heston Blumenthal

Give talk to local writers' group, book club, or charity event about the exciting, hilarious, heart-warming life of a writer.

Gin and tonic

On the other hand, if you like your writers to be driven, furiously creative and a bit mad it could be like this -

Start work early because you couldn't sleep last night. Write something. Drink whatever's nearest, usually cold tea from last night. Dress as if in an alehouse with Shelley.

Go for long walk in rain with coat unfastened.

Feed cat.

Read this morning's work and bin it. Write three thousand words.

Remember to eat. Find bread and cheese and eat it while writing.

Re-read what you wrote yesterday. Throw half of it away and revise the other half. Forget to finish bread and cheese Cat eats it.

Have great idea. Start work on it. Forget to put light/heating on. Feed self.

Take a break to read or go to pub and meet friends. Re-read great idea. Hate it. Bang head on the desk and cry.

Fall asleep at desk. Woken at three in the morning by cat wanting to be out.

And then there's most of us. Like me.

Get up reluctantly. Dress as if not going anywhere.

Read paper, do e-mails and correspondence, touch base with publishers.

Clean loos. Put washing in.

Unblock overflowing outside drain and dig hair out of bathroom plughole. Grab a bit of toast and eat lunch while reading Terry Pratchett. Glug coffee.

Hide in study and write stuff. Glug more coffee. Phone daughter. Go on writing until hungry. Get distracted by daft stuff on computer. Eat fish fingers in front of television.

Write more stuff. Watch Dickensian. Coffee. Blog. Have great idea that I won't like in the morning. Sprawl with book. Lie awake still thinking of great idea because I haven't yet realised that it won't work.

Writers. That's how we roll.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


I don't know what happened yesterday. Maybe we needed a new hamster on the wheel, or thingy dropped off the whatnot or there was trouble at t'mill. Anyhow, the internet access at The House of Stories was going on and off like a summer raincoat. Today it's been all right, but I still don't trust it. So this blog will consist of the quickest notes and updates I can give about practically all that's going on.

Mistmantle - squirrels up trees, hedgehogs blethering, moles asleep, otters getting wet, all normal.

Tony and I still enjoying books we got for Christmas. I GOT A TERRY PRATCHETT!

Writing - lots. Nothing that I can tell you about yet, but hang on.

Sunshines, Hobbits and Cahooties all Shining, Hobbiting and Cahooting away nicely.

Toddler group - told story of The House on the Sand and The House on The Rock. Built house on duvet.

Garden waking up. Much going to sleep.

The Archers - I know you've been looking forward to it. Rob Tichener is horrible. He wants to separate Helen from her friends, so he's being extra horrible to Ian and Kirsty. Charlie is moving to Scotland, Phoebe's got a place at Oxford but was last seen up a tree. Kate isn't around much. Two pigs have run away. The things they'll do to get away from Rob Tichener.

Friday, 8 January 2016

At Mistmantle Tower

It occurred to me that we have never acknowledged the vital part played on Mistmantle by the animals who do the washing. They do it so well and so reliably that it seems to happen by magic, but no - the Tower washing is only done through hard work and a lot of rolling about in water and giggling.

The launderers are, as you might expect, otters, though you can always find a few young moles and hedgehogs who love paddling about in the shallows while bashing out stains with a stick. Furtle and Ouch just love it. There aren't many clothes to wash because mostly the animals just wear cloaks and hats, and cloaks don't need much washing. But for those animals who sleep in beds rather than nests, there are sheets and pillowcases to be laundered, and what about the festivals? All those tablecloths!

The otters collect baskets of washing from the Tower - there are always far many otters than are strictly needed, because washing is so much fun when all you have to do is roll around in the waves on sheets and tablecloths while the small animals with sticks wait for their turn to beat out the stains. If stains are particularly tough to remove, the best way is to get a mole to jump up and down on it. Moles have been known to spill blackcurrant cordial just for the joy of jumping the stains out afterwards. Somewhere along the way there's always somebody who decides to dress up as a snowman or a bride, and by the time they're finished it all needs washing again. After much merriment and the turning of the tide, the squirrels run a washing line through the treetops and hang upside down doing acrobatics while pegging out the clothes. (Show offs.) As for ironing, nothing needs ironing when it's been rolled on by an otter.

Then there are the baby shawls and aprons. The sight of Fingal mincing along the shore in Almondflower's shawl and Crackle's apron is not easily erased from memory.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Beginning again

Since I last blogged, great things have been happening in Mytholmroyd. It's still heart-breaking. Families are still unable to go back to their homes or are living upstairs in water-damaged houses with no gas. Cherished possessions are piled up by the roadside to be hauled away to the tip. All the toys from the playgroup I used to run have been destroyed because of contamination. Ouch.

But the church and the playgroup have been offered the use of the Cricket Club for as long as they need it. A coach load of Syrian refugees came from Manchester to help the clean up. Muslim and Sikh groups have helped to clear up, and also provided industrial quantities of hot food for everyone. On Sunday morning, they joined in the service at one of the few churches still open. Is this what it takes to bring us together?

If you look at these pictures, you can see how high the water came, and the results. There's a grey line over the two orange chairs. Yes, it did get as far as that in the church hall.

For some of us, this is when we decide that This Is The Year I Will -

Learn to ski

Climb Mount Snowdon

Go to Australia

Sort out the attic

Write my novel

If your plan is to write your novel, my advice is - get going and write it. Get yourself some great characters and give them a huge challenge. Write what you love. Get a plot together, but if you find it isn't working, change it. If you stop loving it, ask yourself why. It's your story. Keep asking 'what if?'. Make it bright, tight, and vivid. Good luck!