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!