Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Is it really that long since I wrote anything here? I've been lazy for a few days, and able to sit around reading for as long as I like. It may be the celebration of the Prince of Peace, but we had a wonderful snowball fight on Christmas morning after church, and I can't remember when I last had the chance to do that.

Perhaps, if I've been quiet, it's because I'm still breathless after the RSC Hamlet on TV on Saturday night. It's still with me. (My son saw the live production at Stratford over a year ago and I'm still jealous.) Cometh the hour, cometh the DVD.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

nearly there

More snow tonight! Daughter came home safely at one o'clock in the morning. There is a message on my phone which says -

need xtra copies of all xmas xwords and quizzes

That could only have come from Hamilton. That's Hamilton the wonder hamster, not Hamilton the teddy bear, who is wearing a tinsel halo and remembering the Christmas of 1997, when he first came to live with us.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

from the snow kingdom

The house of stories is the snow kingdom now. On Saturday I came back from a rehearsal and decided I may as well scrunch down the garden and cut some holly while I still had my coat and wellies on. The snow was crisp and sparkly. Picture this. A snow-filled garden. Woman in winter coat, scarf, hat, wellies, basket on her arm, cutting holly. In the next garden, on the other side of the fence, two children in red jackets are sledging down the hill. Someone should have been painting us for next year's Christmas card.

Snow all the next day, snow going to church and back for carols by candlelight. Lady Sunshine was snowed in here all weekend, and daughter arrived safely yesterday. It's not all good. Ice and snow bring their own problems. If you believe in prayer, pray for the homeless and the stranded tonight.

Daughter is at a wedding today, and I'll be glad when she's home.

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Snow!!!! The house of stories has snow on the garden, snow on the river, and here on Mistmantle it's drifting and deep, and there's at least a dozen little moles having a snowball fight. The hedgehogs and squirrels are lining up to borrow teatrays from the kitchen to make slides, but who needs a teatray! Wheeeee!

Lying on my back in the snowdrift I landed In, I'm looking up at the tower, rising through the falling swirl of snow, with warm lights in the windows. It looks so welcoming. But not yet. One more time... oh, yes!

Sunday, 13 December 2009


I'm getting me name for Christmas, and you needn't ask me what it is, because I don't know yet, do I, and if I did I wouldn't be telling. Might tell you when I know. If told 'er, what if I don't like it, and she said if you don't like it we can change it. What does she think she is, Marks and Sparks?

That dog on her website, that's Daniel, he's got a present wrapped in blue paper and a ribbon, but that's no good to me, I'm not fiddling about with ribbons and paper and stuff. It's bad enough having all them ferns to contend with down 'ere. Oh, and if you think I live in that garden on 'er site, I don't. It's years since 'er lived in that 'ouse. I 'appen to know who's in that photie, too.

'Er's still sorting out her study. Blimey. Them bin men will be crippled come collection day, never seen so much rubbish in me life. Never read so much, neither. Now she's starting on all her craft stuff and that. Spose that's rubbish, too. If she goes on like this she'll chuck the laddie out the window an' all, and it won't 'arf wake them ducks when he hits the river.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


I hope you all enjoyed St Nicholas's Day on Sunday. A few years ago we were in Salzburg on St Nicholas's Day, and it's a big thing there.

At the beginning of the month, I usually give my study a bit of a going through and check that all the correspondence and accounts are up to date. The last few months it's been a quick whizz through, so this time I'm giving the whole attic a really good turning over. It's only taken a week so far. I've binned, shredded, and re-arranged. I've found old photographs, and old stories. Some of them are even OK.

If you're one of the lovely people who have written to me over the years and sent me pictures of Mistmantle, don't worry. I still have your letters and pictures. I treasure those, and they never go out.

Have a great day!

Saturday, 5 December 2009


I'm late, I know, I haven't blogged a single blog for over a week. That's the trouble with tempus, it fugits. By the way, did you know that the spellchecker on the blog doesn't recognise the word blog? Doesn't that mean it can't spell its own name?

Deadlines have been met and work delivered, and I have been able to do some Christmas shopping at the amazing craft markets in York. I can't tell you too much about what I've bought because certain persons who read this blog don't need to know, but I can tell that I bought a real fire breathing (well, smoke breathing) little dragon, because I'm keeping that for myself.

I had promised myself a little treat, which was coffee at Betty's in York. The queues were out of the door, so I went to Little Betty's in Stonegate instead, where the cafe is over the shop.

The white-pinnied waitress led me through one room and another - that place goes further back than I would have thought possible. And there I was. A medieval room with massive oak beams and a real fire. Betty's coffee, cake, and mulled wine. Oh, happy me.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


This is just a quick note at 23.43 UK time, to wish a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving for all of you visitors to the House of Stories from the USA.

And that was the 100th entry on this blog!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A sheep and a gnome

We at the House of Stories are so happy. Shaun the Sheep is back on TV. To our US readers, there may be a way you can see Shaun the Sheep, I don't know. How I hope you can! Come to the UK! Not only can you see the sights of London, Alnwick Castle, the Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia, Lindisfarne, Durham and Betty's Tea Room, you can watch Shaun the Sheep.

Blimey, it don't take much to keep 'er 'appy. Shaun the sheep, I ask yer. You all thought she was grafting away on a book, didn't yer, and she's taking time out to watch kids stuff on telly. Mebbe she is doing a book, but I'd like to bet it's not about me. She mutters on about all kinds of critters she wants to write about, but gnomes? Blow that for a game of soldiers. She's not been seeing much of them ducks this last week or so, neither. We've had that much rain, the river's going like Niagara and the ducks don't stay still for long. Plus the garden's that wet she'd sink without trace before you could say stale wholemeal.

Mind, he's good, that Shaun the Sheep. But what about the Gnome? Hang on, what's me name? Norman? Nick? Colonel Carruthers? Name the Gnome - anybody?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

fingal and I agree to disagree

The river is full. The rain has been tipping all day. Fingal doesn't see a problem with this. But Fingal isn't the one who has to go out to the post office presently. From this window the valley looks misty and wistful, but I don't think I'll enjoy it much when I'm battling through the rain. BUT I'LL GET TO WEAR MY BEAUTIFUL WELLIES.

Lady Sunshine and I had a magical day at the ballet with some very special friends on Saturday. If you get the chance to see Northern Ballet Theatre doing Christmas Carol (or anything else for that matter) do go and see it. Even for those not remotely into ballet, it's moving, funny, pacey and brilliantly executed. I believe they're doing Peter Pan this year, too.

Oh. There is an otter in my welly boot.

I suppose you think that's funny.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

poor guy

I've been in York a lot over the last few days. Amazing as it is, it's not a great place for fireworks - and now will the UK readers bear with me while I explain to the US readers about Bonfire Night.

Four hundred years ago, on 5 November, a group of devout but very extreme catholics plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament with the king and all the MPs in it. They were discovered just as the explosives expert, Guy Fawkes, was lighting the fuse. It all came to a very unpleasant end for the plotters, and ever since there have been bonfires and fireworks all over the UK on 5 November. In some places they still burn an effigy of poor old Guy Fawkes, a brave man, if a deluded one.

Personally, I suspect that there have always been bonfires in November to clear up all the autumn debris, long before Guy Fawkes. It can be great fun - bonfires, fireworks, hot soup, jacket potatoes, and parkin (if you live in Yorkshire - it's a sticky gingerbread). The downside is the flashes and bangs which can terrify cats and dogs even if you do keep them indoors, and there are always people around who shouldn't be allowed near anything more explosive than a party popper. (If you do have an autumn bonfire, always check in case there's a hedgehog hiding in there before you light it.)

And it's all wrong to burn anyone in effigy, even someone who's been dead for 400 years. Now, Guy Fawkes was born and brought up in York. He was baptised at St Michael-le-Belfry and educated at St Peter's School. So York is a bit fastidious about Bonfire Night, and St Peter's School don't, as far as I know observe it at all.

Friday, 6 November 2009


Happy Christmas, Hammy the Wonder Hamster is in the shops now! It may be too early to read it, but not too early to dash out and buy it! If you can't get to the shops or if you're in Yorkshire and it's wet, cold, and 'orrible out there, order it on the Puffin site and make Hamilton a star. Your hamster wants you to read this book!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

messy pup

I began today by spilling my mug of tea over the desk. Fortunately Cottontail Computer escaped and nothing important was damaged, but I have some wet notes, and a lot of never to be used stamps are in the bin. (NB wheelie bin and recycling to go out tonight.) If I had to make a mess, I'm glad I did it first thing and got it out of the way.

Gleaner would scold me for being such a messy little pup, Fingal would roll over laughing, and Docken would tell the story of the queen's bathwater from the Heir of Mistmantle.

And Hamilton Hamster? He would design a much heavier mug so that not even I could tip it over a good story. At least, I hope it's good.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

saints and hamsters


And love to all the very special people at St Deiniol's library in Wales, and if he isn't patron saint of mis-spelling, wy nott? I was there all too briefly last week, writing furiously, and I hope to be able to share the results with you one day.

Now, excuse me, Mistmantle animals, but this is The Month of the Hamster! The second book about Hammy the Wonder Hamster (whose real name, of course, is Hamilton) is due on Thursday! Yes! (Oh, and it's by Poppy Harris, but that's me.) I know it's early for Christmas, but you need time to get the word out that this is the must have book for keeping children and adults out of trouble during the holidays. I need to update the website, but in the meantime, you can take a look at Happy Christmas, Hammy the Wonder Hamster on the Puffin site. A school concert. A Christmas wish. A hamster with a microchip and big ideas. A very happy author who had great fun writing it.

To those of you looking forward to a post from Mistmantle, Fingal wants to know what a hamster is, and is it a kind of boat. Oakleaf said hamster sounds like sister and he's already got two of those and doesn't want any more, thanks.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


What do you do to keep a nonagenarian happy? Give him a remote control helicopter. That's what lovely elder son bought for his grandfather, and didn't that make his day!

Granny is not pleased.

Dad comes from the make your own entertainment days, which in his case meant a train set which grew like Topsy until it took up the entire attic. When I was small, a favourite thing when the grass had just been cut was making homes for fairies out of grass cuttings. I was never too particular, I didn't mind what moved in - spuggies, snails, ladybirds, urban pixies - so long as it was alive. The immediate result, however, would be grass stains on a cotton dress.

Mummy was not pleased.

This got me thinking about Mistmantle games. We know that they play First Fives and Find the Heir of Mistmantle, but I expect they build play houses in the forests and make swords out of sticks so they can run through Anemone Wood pretending to be Crispin. Any other thoughts out there?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

squirrel moments

During our holiday last week - when Padra so kindly covered this page for me - we had a few wonderful days in red squirrel country, not far from Aviemore in the Highlands. Quite apart from unexpected autumn sunshine, we saw squirrels everywhere. They were very busy, running about digging holes and collecting nuts. Every time I see them I'm stunned all over again by just how beautiful they are, so small and elegant and athletic.

Not far from the Rothiemurchas estate is Drake's Alpine Nursery, but the plant nursery is only the beginning of it. They also have a coffee room which serves tea, coffee and cakes. Not biscuits, not scones. Just cakes, as in, to die for. And while you enjoy your coffee and cake, you can sit at a wee gallery just at treetop level and watch the squirrels and any number of species of wild birds, all giving the bird feeders a good reason to be there. It's one of the most amazing hidden gems I've ever come across and is popular with the locals, which is always a good sign.

Local. Oh, if only.

PS Mistmantle readers may like to know that Sepia was there. She didn't sing - you can't, while you're eating - but she has the most beautiful table manners.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Good evening! I understand my brother Fingal has been talking to you, so no doubt he's left you totally confused. Sorry about that. The woman - Queen of Switzensomething-something - who writes our stories has been on holiday for a week and has just come back, and is now pinging about like a squirrel on a spring trying to catch up with work.

I understand that she's trying to make her life less complicated. Uncluttering is the word. I fear a long and fierce struggle is ahead,and she may not be altogether successful. Anyone who goes on holiday and comes back with two china plates, various greeting cards and notelets, a selection of very silly fluffy bobbles for making things with and an assortment of cones, leaves, twiggy bits and lichen can't persuade me that she's seriously uncluttering. I suspect she's making room for a different sort of clutter. Heart love her. And you, too.


Captain Padra

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Queen Elect

The two lads and Lady Sunshine (elder son's girlfriend, sorry, LOVELY elder son's girlfriend)have just been sitting on the floor playing Risk, which is a board game about armies taking over the world. I disapprove of the reality, but the game is OK. I have made it clear that if any of my children should happen to take over the world, I would like to be Queen of Lichtenstein and a few pretty bits of Switzerland. Then I went to Denmark, and it's so magical - no wonder the Danes are supposed to be some of the happiest people in the world. Perhaps Queen Margareth would consider a job share. My name is almost the same as hers, so nobody would get too confused. So I should remind you now and again that I am (or we are) the Queen Elect of Switzensteinmark.

We seem to have a flurry of enquiries about Mistmantle animals and blogs. We shall see what we can do. And Hamilton - Hamilton the Wonder Hamster, of whom we are very fond - is greatly looking forward to the adventure of blogging, being a computer-friendly hamster. We are pleased to inform you that his Christmas adventure should be available to purchase very soon. If you haven't met him, do go to our website and you'll find him in a chimney pot.

To all of you in the USA, that's how queens are supposed to talk, and it doesn't harm to practise, just in case.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


Some of you have been asking about the Mistmantle site at www.mistmantle.co.uk, and are finding difficulty getting into the secret area. As it's a secret, I can't tell you. But I will suggest that if you move your mouse slowly across the home page, left to right and up and down, you will come upon a particular leaf. The pointing hand sign will come up to show that you can click on it. Click, and see what happens. If something else lights up (and it should) click on that, too.

There should be some new stuff on that site. Fingal, Huggen and Needle will contribute, and we may even hear from Urchin and Crispin, too. I've also had requests for a blog from Corr, and if I can catch him on land, I'll tell him.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

news from the island

The latest release date for Rage Tide is 20 July. And it's nearly October, so July is coming. If you like Mistmantle, order it, get your families, friends, schools and libraries to order it. Review it on websites and anywhere else you can get a review in, tell everyone about it, read it to your budgie, if you have a hedgehog in your garden call it Thripple, or Needle, or anything else Mistmantley. Tell your parents you're a red squirrel.

..or an otter!

I haven't introduced you yet.

...everyone knows who I am!

Eat a fish. Now, a reader reminded me recently that we haven't heard from Fingal on the blog, so...

HELLO, BEYOND THE MISTS! Blog? No problem, any time! By the way, what's a blog? What, just talk about me and what I think and what I'm doing? Like I always do? Bring it on!

I'm not allowed to say anything about the big events on the island because What's-her-whiskers does that in her stories. Anyway, I'm sure you can guess that a rage tide means a lot more than getting your paws wet (and what's the matter with that?)

The sea is swarming with fish just now. You can dry them and keep them for the winter, but fresh is much better. Now, we've got a fair number of little otters on the island just now. A few weeks ago this beach looked like Mother Huggen's nursery, if you didn't watch your paws you'd step on a baby. The sooner they learn to swim the better, and there's nothing like a glut of fish to get the little ones working out what otters do best - eating fish and splashing about. (That's what I do best, anyway.) Baby otters are chubby to begin with, and now they've learned to fish they're like a lot of little furry footballs, all lying beached on the sand holding their stomachs and burping like frogs.

The rest of us take turns to patrol for watersnakes. I did for a massive one yesterday, but not as big as the one Arran sorted the day before. She's in the lead in the watersnake challenge.

Longpaw has just arrived and told me that Captain Padra requests my presence. Bless them, they can't run the island without me. Take care, and if you want a watersnake settling or a blog blogging, remember, I'm your otter.

Friday, 11 September 2009

no title

Firstly, to all friends and readers in the US, you are being thought of and prayed for all over the UK today, including here, in the House of Stories.

Secondly, I am sorry to disappoint you with what I have to tell you next. The publication date for URCHIN AND THE RAGE TIDE has been put back, and it won't be available this month. I have to emphasise that this decision is nothing to do with me. It is completely in the hands of the publishers. It saddens me very much to know that a lot of people will be disappointed, and you need to know that I WOULDN'T DO THAT TO YOU.

I haven't been able to ascertain a date, and at present am not even sure if it's this year or next. If I find anything out I'll tell you, but you might do better to contact Hyperion in New York, and ask them.

I know. OUCH. But far worse things happen, don't they, and we're still here.

Sorry to sound a bit wet, but to all of you who love Mistmantle, huge hugs, and I love you to bits.

Monday, 7 September 2009


Get yerself blogging, woman. Yes, I know, you've 'ad yer family coming and going back and forward like bloomin' shuttles, and they're all 'aving birthdays and wotnot. I know you're on with a book about that blooming 'amster (blimey, why does it always have to be rodents with 'er?) And I know you're trying to do what you can with the garden in a summer like a monsoon in Iceland, but there's work to be done, so write yer bloggin' blog. It's not difficult, all yer need is the composterooter, or gong-hooter or whatever you want to call it. Know what I call it. You do it like this - tap, tap, tap. Got it? Oh, give over, I'll do it meself.

While you're at it, good to see that you finally got yerself down the bottom of the garden today, even if was only for them blackberries. Fair enough, last time you attempted it you ended up ankle deep in mud, but you have to keep making the effort. Before yer know it, them weeds will have organised themselves, built a bridge, and headed over the river.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

paper kite

I know, I've neglected you. Godchildren went, daughter arrived, daughter and I got into her cute little car and went north to visit family and also Claire, who is on a pilgrimage up the north-east coast. Not one of your 'all in the bus, please' pilgrimages, but the real thing. Walking. My feet hurt just thinking about it.

We stayed with my sister and brother in law at their idyllic cottage. Sister didn't feel so idyllic as her back is crippling her just now, so between her and Claire there isn't a blister plaster or a heat compress left anywhere between Seahouses and Whitley Bay. If Claire were a woman of less integrity she'd be selling plasters to the other pilgrims at twenty quid a pack, and carry my rucksack for the next five miles.

On a rare day off from trudging through the rain, Claire came with us to Alnwick Garden (google it, it's wonderful) where we had tea in a tree and got wet in the water sculptures, then sat in the sun watching fountains and eating ice cream. There have been very few days this summer when I could simply sit in the sun with good company, good views, and ice cream or a cold drink, and I really enjoyed this one, with the best of company in God's beautiful Northumberland.

Home, my wonderful son joined us for a few days, and for the first time since Christmas we were all together. So, so special. And all this in between writing the new stuff, keeping everyone fed and watered, answering the e-mails and letters, and sorting out the garden, where everything had sprouted up during the rain and the gnome couldn't see a thing.

My brother in law, talking about somebody rushed off her feet, said she was 'flying about like a paper kite'. That's me these last two weeks. Flying about like a paper kite. A happy paper kite.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

the dog

Sorry to keep you waiting, I've been god-childrened all this week. God-children are like jazz dance, exhausting and wonderful at the same time. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

I was going to tell you about Elgar and the dog. Apparently the 11th of the Enigma Variations is dedicated to Sinclair, Elgar's friend who was organist at Hereford Cathedral, but is actually about Sinclair's bulldog, Dan. Elgar and Sinclair were walking beside the River Wye in Hereford one day when Dan fell in. Typical bulldog. It's all right, he got himself out again. Sinclair challenged Elgar to set that to music, so Elgar did, and that becme the 11th variation. You can hear the dog falling in, paddling about, and shaking himself dry, or at least you can when you know that's what it's about.

When we walked along the river we saw a statue of Dan at the place where he allegedly fell in. So why is he facing away from the river? Not bright, bulldogs.

No bulldogs were harmed in the making of this blog.

PS The hollyhocks are out.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

back to blog

Apologies for the error in the previous post. 'Elder son' should read 'lovely elder son'. Or so I'm told.

After Wales came a few days at home to say goodbye to the lassie (ouch) whose work here is finished, then shunted ourselves off to the Cotswolds. Some places are almost too pretty. I can't quite believe that there really are rows of golden stone cotages with thatched roofs and hollyhocks, but I have seen them with my own eyes. (hollyhocks is one of my favourite words, by the way.)

I can recommend the RSC As You Like It, which we saw at Stratford. Sparkling, beautifully staged, funny, energising, and with a set which is both simple and ingenious. Just brilliant, and I came out as happy as a hollyhock in a cottage garden.

Elgar's birthplace and the museum are a good stopping off pace en route to Hereford in torrential rain. Rain is good for hollyhocks. Indirectly I suppose it's good for middle aged authors, too, though it doesn't feel like it when you've got your foot in a puddle.

Do you know the story about Elgar, the dog and the river? I'll save it for the next blog. Happy hollyhocks.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


I've just had three days at a favourite place in North Wales. Favourite things -

the lilt
changing light on the mountains
views across Conwy castle
bara brith
gardens with water in and around them
the Glassblobbery and -

excellent company. We were joined by eldest son and his lovely girlfriend who introduced us to another hidden Welsh joy, Cadwallader's ice cream parlours. I can recommend the white chocolate with ginger and the turkish delight.

It's also such a land of stories, and I think the Welsh tales are influenced by the landscape - misty and mysterious. I have mixed English, Welsh and Scots ancestry and am mostly Northumbrian. I'm the red-haired, Pictish type. So, as a mongrel, I have no connection at all with the appalling brutalities of Edward I and his cronies against the Welsh and the Scots, but also as a mongrel I would like to apologise for them anyway. God bless Wales and all who live there, (especially eldest son and only daughter, who have had the sense to move there.)

Monday, 13 July 2009

It must be July because...

Is it that long since the last blog? Everything seems to be happening at once. Little things - lots of odds and ends of work, local things, parties, and, of course, barbecues.

Barbecues are not about food. They are about sweaty men with tea towels over their shoulders. They are about cooking on a reluctant grill thing in either baking sunshine or pouring rain when you have a perfectly good cooker in the kitchen (and somebody who knows how to use it). As a fusspot, I'm never sure how cooked things are on a barbie, and as a veggie I don't eat them anyway. But a barbie is also about one of my favourite things...

...being outside on beautiful summer evenings. Never mind the barbie. Give me a glass of something cold, a few crisps to nibble on, and good company. And a garden, of course. The barbie in York on Thursday was pretty well perfect. Thank you, everyone.

I forgot to say strawberries. Thank God for strawberries. If you're allergic to them, never mind. I'll eat them for you.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Already July

I don't know where June went, but July kicked off with a gloriously sunny day in York. My great friend and former neighbour Mary had phoned to say that she was coming to York for a day, and could we meet? We've kept in touch through the years, but not met for over a decade. I had the joy of seeing the Minster through somebody else's eyes - she noticed details I've never seen - and it was too hot for lunch so we had ice crem and Pimms instead, and parted knowing that we should have done this years ago, and will again. Mary, a good Northumbrian, neighbour in a million, still making me think and making me laugh.

Thursday was York again, sun again, great company again, and this time it was strawberries and sparkly flavoured water. All the time, a new story that I can't yet discuss was fizzing, too, and taking new, funny exciting twists much better than the course I'd planned for it.

Today it poured, and Andy Murray NARROWLY lost the semi-final. Andy, you are a star, you Great Scot, you will win it one day, and you can ignore any sneering pundits who sit in their comfortable chairs with their ice-old drinks and try to say otherwise. Anyone who can even see those serves, let alone return them, is a man to treat with big respect. Now go and walk the dog. He knows you're the best in the world.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Critters seem to be around just now, beginning with bears. Elder son and his sunshiney girlfriend recently went to her graduation ball. They really know how to celebrate at Birmingham Uni - band, dancing, and a fairground, where they played on the dodgems and my son had a go on a sort of coconut shy and won her a bear.

I have seen the bear on a photo and he really is a sweetie. He was the bear who, unlike the other bears on the stall, wasn't holding anything, just had empty arms for hugging, and the sunshine lady loves him. (How could she not?) So Hamilton's underground railway has spread southwards, and he must have nominated the sunshine lady as his regional bear keeper.

Critter the second is the garden gnome. I went down to pull out the weeds and the things that aren't weeds but are getting too big for their roots, and found him at last, submerged amongst the ferns and trailing things. The snail probably hasn't noticed, but the gnome may have something to say.

Critter the third is a small toad or frog (couldn't get close enough to see) which hopped across the back garden while we were having dinner. If it hadn't moved I wouldn't have known it was there, as it had passed all its exams in How to Look Like a Bit of Soil. I'm going to put a bowl of water outside. As younger son pointed out, there's a river at the bottom of the garden, but I'm not sure how long it would take a thirsty froad to find it.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

home from home

We all need a home from home. For roughly a decade of my life, mine was a cosy, sunny, happy house in Surrey.

My friend Claire and I met when we were ten years old and our families were on holiday at the same place. It took us about twenty minutes to become best friends for life. As we lived at opposite ends of the country, we had to set to work on the parents to make sure that we got together, either at my home or at hers, as often as possible, and Claire's house became my second home. As far as I was concerned, if ever I ended up with a critical shortage of parents, I'd just go to Claire's and they'd adopt me. (They weren't consulted. I knew it would be OK.)

Yesterday I sat in a beautiful, light, sunny church as we said our final farewells to Claire's father, Yorkshireman, lawyer, deacon, and quiet hero. I learned a lot about him that I hadn't known, especially about his work with people in need and distress. In my earlier years, it was enough to know that he and Claire's mum made a home where I always felt welcome, happy, secure, cared for - one of the family, in fact. What they gave me is immeasurable.

Yesterday, I told Claire's mum that I'd intended them to adopt me. A few minutes later, holding my hand, she introduced me to someone as 'my adopted daughter', and my heart turned over. I feel so privileged. Thank you.

At some point, I introduced myself to someone as Claire's long term partner in crime. Her second son, my godson, announced dramatically, 'so many years - so many crimes!'

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

the railway

You've probably worked it out. Hamilton is sending the message out amongst the teddy bear network. 'If you don't like where you are, if they neglect you, if you're on a shelf where you're not happy, if you're having a hard time, make your way to this house. If you can't get to the house, just find any member of the family. If you can't find family, find a close friend, they'll bring you to Margi. You'll be all right here.'

So that's it. Hamilton runs an underground railway for bears in need of a refuge. Oh, and elephants, and of course we seem to have a lot of Mistmantle animals and a patchwork giraffe (thank you, Katie.) We adopted the orphaned cuddlies when my aunt and uncle died. We couldn't just leave them, could we? We've been trained by amilton.

I didn't understand exactly how Hamilton got the word out, until my friend Judith asked me if any of my bears used bearepathy, because hers do. Of course. Why hadn't I worked that one out? Bears and spaniels have always communicated without words.

PS Bears are easier and don't need the vet

Thursday, 11 June 2009

hamilton's friends

When Hamilton had been with us for a year, I felt he needed a little friend/teddy bear of his own, so I bought a very small bear with a crocheted hat and sweater from a charity shop. We called him Little, because he is. We soon found out that Little wasn't content to sit on a chair with Hamilton. We found him on the tops of bookshelves, climbing up furniture, and exploring the television, but Hamilton was fine with that. The next year, daughter bought Cuddles, who isn't exactly a bear, more of a critter. And magnetic.

After that, they all just kept arriving. Flora turned up one Mothering Sunday. Funt - an elephant - was something to do with a promotion at Boots. Shamble Claret arrived attached to a bottle of wine, and Bobby (named after Bobby Robson) simply held out his arms to daughter from a shelf and couldn't be resisted. Snoopy had been around for a while, but re-appeared, and I can't remember where Rowlf came from.

Somebody once asked my husband if we collected them, and he replied, 'They collect each other.' That started me thinking, and when I worked out what was happening and talked to Hamilton, he said he'd thought I'd always known.

What was the secret? Keep reading.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Hamilton arrived long after our bear family had been established and looked ready to stay the same. But, in autumn, rows and rows of fluffy white teddy bears appeared in our local supermarket. They were adorable, with sweet feet. Every week, I thought how lovely they were, and every week I resolutely walked past them, because, though money wasn't as tight as it had been, a new bear was a treat too far.

That was until the week after Christmas. The remaining bears were all very special bears because they were all on special offer. How could I resist? But no two bears are truly identical, not in personality. The bear for me was half hidden behind the coffee jars, waiting for me and not letting anyone else pick him up. We bought him, carried him home in triumph, hugged him a lot, and named him Hamilton, which was something to do with a serial I'd just had published.

That night, as we wondered whose bedroom Hamilton would end up in, he sat on the floor and explained that he didn't want to be an upstairs bear. He was a downstairs bear, and wanted to be at the heart of the family. He was so sure of it that even though I had misgivings I let him stay in an armchair all night.

Hamilton was right. He belongs at the heart of the family and in the middle of what's going on. He has sweet feet, attitude, and opinions and looks after us all, and we believe he flies around the room when nobody's watching. From the first, we knew Hamilton was remarkable, but we didn't know the half of it. More to come.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

the oldest bear

I can't remember the oldest bear when he had fur. He was my companion in my cradle, and I'd hugged all his fur off before I can remember. Only a few soft golden tufts behind his ears tell me what he must have looked like once. I carried out surgery on his arm after I had to rescue him from the spaniel puppy, and over the years I have replaced all his paws as they wore down He has had two growls, and is presently silent, but I think he might like a new one now. He has witnessed every triumph and disaster, every embarrassing adolescent moment, every meltdown, every heartbreak, every mistake, and every joy with reliable love. Never once has he judged or blamed me. When I have neglected him, he has patiently waited until I regained my sense of priorities. I seem to remember he was once married to a doll, but I forget which one.

In earlier years he shared guardianship of me with Bunjy, a pink rabbit with a white tail. Bunjy seems to have lost weight and faded over the years and has now retired to a drawer, only emerging on important occasions. When the children were younger, there were a few - thankfully few - really rotten days, you know the sort of thing? When a thoroughly miserable child went to bed, it was a case of 'tonight, I think you need Mummy's rabbit', and Bunjy would see them through the night.

Other bers have names. The oldest bear is just Teddy. Always was.

When did I last take him to bed? I don't quite remember. About Thursday, I think.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

never under-estimate teddy bears

Elder son's girlfriend has just finished her finals. She has come through the euphoria, is now in the sleep-for-a-week phase, and soon wil be catching up on fun things to do. Apparently various bears - hers and her friends' - are planning a teddy bears picnic.

This reminded me of the Yorkshire church which, a few years ago, made plans for their usual teddy bears picnic. (I understand the bears did a bit of fund-raising on these occasions.) But that year, the bears explained to the organisers that they wanted to do something different this time, something more exciting than a picnic. What they really really really wanted to do, please, was abseiling. From the church tower, please. So they did. They had a great day, raised money, and got their pictures in the paper. My bears thoroughly approve, and I think would like to have a go themselves.

More on bears as the week goes on.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

highs and lows

I haven't posted anything for a while because I was in London last week with my great friend Daphne, the wise, generous-hearted, unflappable and easy to be with Daphne, who kept me calm and sane by coming with me on my London trip. There were colleagues to meet, Hamleys to visit, and Chelsea Flower Show to soak up. In between times we dipped in and out of the V and A, the National Gallery, the British Library, and Kensington Gardens. By the time I came back I'd topped up my reserves with the Wilton Diptych (didn't know about that until Daphne told me), lots of Italian paintings, Monet, the Lindisfarne Gospels, stained glass, sculpture, carvings, roses, delphiniums, sweet peas, the perfume garden, the Laurent Perrier garden, the Cancer Care garden, the little courtyard gardens, enough life and colour to top me up for months. (And I bought a hedgehog puppet. Not for me, of course.)

Things you may need to know.

The National and the V and A are the best places to go for cake.

They search your bags at places like that. But only on the way in. As a good Northumbrian, the only reason I didn't try to take the Lindisfarne Gospels home is that my case was too full.

Which brings us to the low. Newcastle went down for the first time in sixteen years. Geordie Pride is hurting badly. Hardly surprising, when they don't allow a manager to stay long enough to write his name over the door.

We'll be back.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


I don't do mornings. Perhaps I'm meant to run on American time, because everything kicks in a few hours late. On Wednesday, I had a trip to Oxford and decided to do it all in one day. There was a bit of panic on Tuesday as a headache moved in, but, joy! only a headache, nasty and couldn't take the hint that it wasn't wanted, but a headache, not a migraine. (Oh, help, I'm turning into one of those people who talks about her ailments. Zip it, woman.)

As I was saying, I told younger son to drag me out of bed in the morning and shove me on to the early train, the one he gets to work. It was a three trains each way journey, and I had a long time to wait at a main line station with a shopping precinct. I don't wear make up much, but a face like mine needs all the help it can get. I really like Beauty Without Cruelty but can't get it locally, so I bought a Body Shop lippy on the station.

Getting on to train number three, I found the lens had popped out of my glasses. I don't need them for most purposes, but for reading and such I do, and there was no way I could get through the day without any, so as soon as I got to Oxford (having a little time before my meeting), I looked for a chemist where I could by some cheapies. I fell into a pharmacist's shop establised in 1732 (or something) which is now a chemists/department store/treasure trove. Bought my reading glasses and - as it was a drizzly day and my early morning brain doesn't look for umbrellas - a sweet little lightweight pretty umbrella.

Meeting was excellent, positive, and that very important chance to sit down with an editor, discuss exactly what you both want in a book, and get to know each other. Two women bringing books to life over a pot of tea at the Randolph hotel. All very positive.

I still had some time before my train left and intended to go to the Ashmolean, but it was closed for refurbishment or something (they never consulted me.) I wandered down instead, strolled around the courtyard of the Bodleian and found myself in their beautiful little shop. There to my great surprise and joy I found a Hoffnung CD, including the wonderful monologue about the bricks. I've been trying for years to get that for my husband. I also found time to pop into a Waterstones, introduce myself and sign some hamster books, and go back to the wonderful little chemist, where I discovered tht they had - yes! Beauty Without Cruelty.

I'm not materialistic, really. But I arrived home on the right side of midnight with a lippy, a BWC mascara, a sweet little umbrella, a Hoffnung CD, and a very good feeling about work in progress.

And a headache. But the headache went, and the rest are still there.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

'er again

Ever sincer 'er 'ad 'er 'eadache, she's been scurrying about trying to get caught up with 'er stories and stuff. And 'er garden, of course. Every time a tulip pops open, 'er gets ecstatic. But, respect, as they say. 'Er's not so bad.

She was clearing out a lot of dead stuff from the rockery and finding there's gaps where gaps aren't meant to be, and talking about getting some traily flowers or summat to put in them. You know what that means. She'll drag 'im off to some plant nursery somewhere and they'll come back with 'alf the 'Anging Gardens of Babylon in the boot. Anyway, when 'er was doing all this clearing, she says 'Hello, Gnome,', as she does, and then she says, 'Would you like a change of scene?' Picked me up by me'at without so much as excuse me, or by your leave, and turns me round.

Now, it were a great liberty for 'er to take, but when I got over the shock I was pleasantly surprised. All my years in this garden I've been looking at the same blooming cotoneaster. Now I find there's purple traily things, and a tree or two, and for the first time in my life I can see that river instead of just hearing it glug.

She come out last week, said 'Good morning' and took a good look at me. 'you're smiling' says 'er. 'When you were the other way round, I couldn't see your smile.' That's cos I didn't have nothing to smile about, missus, and no more would you if you spent all year watching a shrub that don't do nothing.

Dunno what the snail thinks. Don't suppose 'e's noticed yet.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

goose girl

Last night I finished The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Read it. Just read it. Just read it.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Portrait of a an orang-utan

Anyone can get a migraine. Only I get migraines like this. It grew all day on Sunday. Hopes of escaping it by running away for three days in Cardiff failed. A faint and nasty smell of chocolate at the service station was enough to tell me that the Meany-grain was with me. Nothing else puts me off the smell of chocolate like that.

Monday, I rallied enough to totter briefly round Cardiff Bay and fall back into bed again, sure that I'd be fine by Monday. At least husband was able to get out and take the camera for some long walks, and our daughter joined us as and when.

Tuesday I finished The Portait of a Lady. I admit, M'Lud, I am an ignoramity and I aint read no Henry James before so I thought it was time I did. Not sure that I'll read any more and definitely not with a buiding site in my head and the cement mixer in my stomach. Tomorrow, I thought, I will wake up without a headache.

Wednesday Woke up with a headache. Sat up and and saw trashed orang-utan in hotel room. Wish they wouldn't put the mirror opposite the bed. At this stage whatever was inside me (which can't have been much) decided to abandon ship. Further details spared. Husband loaded me into car for journey home.

Thursday Headache has applied for leave to remain indefinitely. Legs capable of carrying me to bathroom (as above) but not necessarily getting back. Doctor called in. Doctor impressed. Suspect he would like to frame this migraine and put it on his wall with the details of where and when he landed the beast. Husband takes prescription to pharmacy. Medication brings on drowsiness and funny dreams which are much nicer than reality and may inspire a book one day.

Friday - woke up without a headache! Not much use of arms and legs, but finally totter downstairs and whisper orders to husband, son, and the lassie, all of whom have been fantastic throughout. Try to play piano, but hands still shaking.
After eating nothing since Sunday lunchtime, suddenly starving and munch enough toast to feed an orphanage. (I lost six pounds in a week, but really wouldn't recommend it).

Saturday Have put myself up fo sale on e-bay as an online pharmacy. Still staggering a bit, but definitely better. Isn't health a great thing!

Can anyone out there out-migraine me?

Friday, 17 April 2009


Tonight I want to throw a bouquet to Margaret Haywood. She is the nurse who, on finding appalling levels of care and hygiene on a ward full of elderly patients, did all the right things, ie, spoke to the line manager. When this didn't do any good, she did secret filming for the BBC Panorma programme and blew the whistle on the whole wretched business.

She did all the correct things and got nowhere, so then she did the right thing. Sometimes you just have to shout, and she shouted. But caring for your patients so much that you are prepared to break rules and shout on their behalf is a serious offence and renders you unfit to be a nurse, because Margaret has been struck off. I wonder if I would have had the courage to do what she did?

Has anyone else been struck off? What happened to theose who were ultimately responsible for the state of those wards? Have more nurses, auxiliaries and cleaners been employed, and is there, for heaven's sake, a simple checklist of what needs doing and a system to make sure it does get done?

My uncle died in pain and distress because of a slovenly hospital. Margaret, I salute you. I wish you'd been there to shout.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

bright day

Church this morning was joyful, celebratory, fun, powerful. Lots of children, and all, enjoying it. In the last hymn (Thine be the Glory) we celebrated with party poppers, streamers, and bubbles (yes, I had asked the vicar first). Flowers everywhere. Big smiles.

Both my boys are home, and my husband is talking to daughter on the phone. We've been topping up the lassie with coffee and chocolate all day and watching her go hyper. Lots of music in this house today. And laughter. It's been a real spring day, so I've been finding things to do in the garden. I didn't know if the passion flower would survive the winter, but there are buds on it now. My friend Stephanie, who has been having a grim time with chemotherapy, is now feeling so much better.

I know it's not the same for everyone, and if you're having a rough time, my heart goed out to you. But here, it's been a bright day.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

One hour and thirty-five minutes

In one hour and thirty five minutes, the lassie can have chocolate and coffee again. We told her that Sundays in Lent don't count, and that when somebody gives you a lovely home-made chocolate biscuit cake you have to accept, so she hasn't been completely cold turkey, but she has been a deprived choco-babe since Ash Wednesday, more of a choco-waif, really.

But the main thing is, resurrection. If that doesn't mean Value Added Life, it ought to.

This week has been intense, bucketing between work, home, story-telling, church, and garden, which is also into resurrection and needs tlc. My wonderful daughter sent me a voucher for Mothering Sunday which has enabled me to buy some of my favourite things to go in the garden. Happily enough, one of my favourite flowers is a favourite funny word too, so hollyhocks to you. They're about resurrection, as well.

On Thursday night we had a bring and share meal, a Eucharist, and a foot washing. Fortunately we didn't have to be too solemn about the foot washing. I've got tickly feet and it's hard to focus on the symbolism when you can't stop laughing and you have to resist the reflex action that to kick out and sploosh the vicar.

But it's about resurrection.

Then I made the crown of thorns to place, with the nails, at the foot of the cross. I hate doing that. Good Friday is so hard. It was a relief to go in today, take that horrible cruel thing away, and put flowers round the cross ready for tomorrow, because IT'S ABOUT RESURRECTION. It's about evil not having the last word. It's about life, and life needs love. Value Added Love.

One hour and twenty minutes, sweetie.

What's it about?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


I've just been to see Millions - a film by Danny Boyle, based on the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Utterly, utterly recommend it. Must see. I will tell you no more about it than that.

A friend called today asking if I could lend her a mouse (for a display that she's doing). What size mouse? The dolls house mice, charming as they are, were too small, though my friend's daughter made friends with them at once. So I hunted through the Christmas cupboard for some knitted mice, which were just right.

So she wanted a mouse, and I was the first person she thought of. I really like that.

If anyone I work for is reading this, honestly, I haven't spent all day mouse-hunting and watching movies. Most of it has been typing. I got in at about quarter to ten and went on typing, and have just finished for the night. If I crack on tomorrow I can have a bit of time off to do Eastery things.

Saturday, 4 April 2009


My uncle once gave me a bagatuelle (or is it bagatelle?) game. I've called it pinball on the title because I'm not sure how to spell the other one and am in too much of a spin to look it up. You know how you pull a handle back and a little silver ball pings around the board? That's what I feel like this week. Lots of busy stuff with stories, correspondence, social things, church things. Thursday morning was toddler group, followed by theatre - yes, it was a contrast. The RSCs new production of The Tempest, full of African influence, dynamic, multi-layered, and with that style and something else that you expect from the RSC.

On Friday, a group of us went to the most amazing resource centre for people working with small children. Oh, it was wonderful. We were therE to buy equipment for toddlers and the after school group. We went from puppets and animal toys (aah!), to dressing up and role play, outdoor play, craft and messy stuff, to the wooden construction things and plain and simple wooden toys for story-telling aids (ooooh!) Not a battery in sight. Nothing more high tech than clockwork. AND THE CAFE! THE CAKE! We talked three times round the budget and came home with heaps of wonderful things for children to play with (skittles, wooden building things, and more) and story-telling stuff for the team to play with. We got back with a brief turn around time before after-school club, and enjoyed watching a small boy having the time of his life building towers.

Finally came the quiz in which my husband's team beat mine into the ground. What, may I ask, happened to chivalry?

And the other important thing this week - Shearer's coming home. SHEARO!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

poor mopsy

Urchin of the Rding Stars was written on Star, a Canon Star Writer, which was very high tech for its time and had a built in printer. My first laptop was Topsy, as in Laptopsy. Then when husband was upgrading his, he suggested that I adopt his old one, which was faster and generally more useful than Topsy. I was going to call this one Turvy, but she didn't answer to it, so she became Mopsy.

Mopsy and I had words in the early stages and I had to get my son to speak severely to her, but after that we got on extremely well until Thursday. I had finished work for the day, saved it, and was closing everything down when she suddenly shrieked at me and flashed migraine-like patterns across the screen. Very cautiously, I woke her up again. This time she didn't swear at me, but the MS I'd just been working on has vanished without trace. No, if you must know, I hadn't backed it up. Everything else was still there, but not the last few days work. Gone.

Advice from those who know about these thins is that Mopsy is failing fast and doesn't need a technician so much as a priest. So today we acquired a new little lappy, Cottontail, and husband is presently training her. I shall let you know how we get on. Oh, I hope she doesn't argue.

This evening, like lots of other people all over the world, we put all the lights off for an hour as a call for more responsible use of energy. I don't know how to square this with working my way through Star, Topsy, and Mopsy and starting on Cottontail all in the last thirteen years, (though older son may well be able to make Topsy fit to pass on, and recycle bits of Mopsy). Anybody else have this problem? It's all too fast. I fondly remember our second hand fridge that lasted us for ten years and finally collapsed under the strain of a hot summer, and my mum's washing machine that must have done twenty years and could still have been painted red and used as a telephone box.

And there's a question. When did you last use a telephone box? I LOVE mobile phones, especially now that Very Small God-Daughter has now worked out how to use her big sister's and, if she manages to get hold of it, can phone me All By Herself.

But she's not getting her hands on Cottontail.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Whenever I'm not quite well, I get sleepy, which I suppose is my body's way of telling me to sleep myself better. Even for self-employed people, that isn't always an option. I'm not ill, I just have a little throat infection or something, but I know if I sit down for too long I'll zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Are you still there? Doesn't help that what I've been doing today has been a bit boring. A lot of what writers do is re-typing and reworking and tweaking about with something that still isn't quite right, and that's what I've been doing all week. And then there's 'if this story bores me, what's it doing to the reader', but it's not the story that bores me, it's all the typing, deleting, changing, and then realising that, just when you thought the jigsaw pieces fitted together, page 59 contradicts page 13. And I inadvertently deleted about five pages on Monday.

At five o'clock the phone rang and I had a fascinating conversation with Very Small God-daughter who told me a lovely story. I didn't understand a lot of it, but it began with Hello Margi and ended with Bump. It has been the most exciting thing to happen to me today.

If anyone knows how to stay awake while compelled to keep silent and still in a warm room for a long time while tired, please te...


Sunday, 22 March 2009


Mothering Sunday - thank you to mum, my children, the two lassies, the god-daughter, and all the people who have made my day special today. And a big huge bouguet and a massive hug to all the people who do mothering without being - in the literal sense - mothers. Aunties, steps, neighbours, teachers, carers, friends, who do the mothering thing just because. May you all be loved as you have loved. xxxxxxxxxx

Thursday, 19 March 2009


'Er's been off again. Came back, full of the joys of spring, she's just had two days staying somewhere near the sea at the north bit of a whale (or something like that, it's hard to hear with a load of moss in one ear and a dead beetle in t'other.) She's all delighted about the blooming daffies and stuff coming out. What does she expect 'em to do, stay in with a good book?

Anyway, tell you what I just heard. Sitting here on the snail all day, I get all the gossip. You know that Red Nose thing, when they all made idiots of themselves? Apparently, 'er mates had planned to kidnap me and hold me to ransom, but they didn't get their act together. What's so difficult? I'm an old stone gnome on a snail! couldn't they catch me? I'm 'ere! Oy! ' ere! I won't run away! Useless lot.

Pity about that. Would have raised a king's ransom. Gnome's ransom, anyway. Don't know what they'd get for the snail, mind.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Comic Relief

I'm proud to say that I have been working my little bottom off for comic relief and people have been inspiringly generous. Today I just have to inform some of the winners of the competition, the ones I couldn't get hold of yesterday, and put away the cow costume (after school club yesterday) and the fairy costume (quiz last night). All credit to The Lassie, who baked very pretty biscuits which sold out in ten minutes, and lent me her fairy wings for the evening. I regard myself as a minor heroine for going to the quiz last night to pass the hat when I could have been home watching Comic Relief on TV. I hope God is impressed. All right, so my lovely husband recorded it. But it's not the same, is it?

One of the lovely things was the sense of shared vision - wherever you went, people were doing Something Funny for Money. Vision, hard work, fun, and love. Changing lives. What a thing to be part of.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


Over the last two days I have written LETTER AFTER LETTER AFTER LETTER AFTER LETTER to young readers and my hand hurts. But it's a lot easier for an adult to write a letter than for a child, and when they've gone to all that trouble it's important to reply in person. I've done a couple of postcards to godchildren, too.

Yes, we have e-mails and I suppose they are more environmentally friendly than letters. But there is something so special about getting a card or a letter through the post, even for an adult, and especially for a child. Always keep a few stamps, general cards, and postcards in the house for when somebody needs a lift. Include funny ones.

A few years ago, I had a little health scare. My best friend phoned on Saturday evening and I wasn't going to tell her, but the third time she asked 'is anything wrong, because you're coming into my head a lot?' I told her. The card arrived on Monday morning. It showed a small person looking faintly worried as she skied over the edge of a cliff, and said something like 'don't panic - God is still in control'.

Skiing over the edge of a cliff may not be recommended, but good friends and cards are priceless.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Hamster at last!

Thursday was World Book Day and the launch of Hammy the Wonder Hamster (only his name is Hamilton). Unfortunately by Thursday morning I was forty hours into a forty-eight hour migraine, and couldn't get excited about anything much. But the good thing about migraines is that they go away.

So does winter, and the air yesterday was spring like. Daffodils are putting their heads up. Unfortunately we're forecast high winds and more snow next week, but I haven't told them that. Bless them.

Monday, 2 March 2009

I don't know

A child's letter to me has just knocked me sideways. She asked me what is the most important thing anyone in Urchin of the Riding Stars says. I hope she doesn't want a quick reply, because I don't know. If any of you have opinions on this, I'd love to hear them. I'm delighted that children are asking intelligent questions about the books, it's just the intelligent answers that I struggle with.

Red Nose Day is bouncing nearer, and I'm trying to get a few things sorted for that. (A competition, a stall, a party, story-telling, a wee kidnapping, you know the sort of thing). Have you seen the website? www.rednoseday.com On 13 March, all the best noses will be red.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


A very different sort of day today. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a whole life spring-clean through Lent. It's also a day that my husband has managed to take off, and we went to one of our favourite places, the RHS garden at Harlow Carr, which always makes me feel glad, thankful, and renewed. I came home to find that my copies of HAMMY THE WONDER HAMSTER were waiting for me. Publication date Thursday - this is not just any hamster - this is HAMILTON!

It's also the day when we heard of the death of David and Samantha Cameron's beautiful son, Ivan. What can anyone say? Perhaps that we live in a world which is beginning to realise how precious such children are, and what a terrible gap is left with the death of any child. Perhaps it's only possible to stand before God without words, mindful of the child, his family, and especially his brother and sister, who have never known life without him.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

wilberforce mcgregor

I first met Wilberforce McGregor when he was delivered to my house on a winter's night in a bin bag. I learned soon afterwards that he had been delivered by motorbike, but, as nobody was home, he was deposited, in said bin bag, over the garden fence. This was not a great surprise as I had been expecting him.

WIlberforce was a present from friends who had found him abandoned in a tree in the grounds of a hospital where they worked. (By the way, did I say he's a teddy bear?) They took him in, washed him, and gave him cuddle therapy, but he was pining for a house with children, so they brought him to us. He may not look like the sort of bear who climbs trees and rides a motorbike, but you can't always tell, can you, with bears.

He had many happy years of being climbed on, fallen off, slept on and snuggled into, but sadly, for at least a decade he has been gathering dust and leaking. Either his head was empty or his feet, depending on which way up you held him, and his white bits were grey. So last night I washed him and today I returned him to his former glory with love and stuffing.

No bears were harmed in this project. The operation was carried out under hypnosis. He is now plump andclean and only heeds minor surgery on one eye, which is falling out.

I'm now looking for ribbon in McGregor tartan.

Friday, 20 February 2009

the five legged camel

Today just got quieter. The lassie who stays with us has a few days off and has gone to see a friend, and my husband is away overnight. God-daughter has been handed over to her family. (I said I'd take payment in used American dollars or gold, but husband thought sheep might be a safer investment, if harder to get into a briefcase.) Suddenly it was so quiet. I sorted out five different heaps of things that needed writing, revising, replying to or just thinking about, and worked until I couldn't concentrate any more (apart for a break for a meal while watching the Simpsons with my younger son. When husband's at home, we watch the news. When he's not, we watch The Simpsons.)

The lassie and I are knitting a Noah's Ark, so I finished off knitting the camels, or so I thought. I ended up with two humps, two heads, two necks, four ears, but only seven legs. This was a bit dispiriting, as I thought it was all over bar the stuffing. A search failed to bring the missing camel leg to light, so I knitted another one. I just know the original is still around somewhere. SAhame to waste it, if it turns up. Five legged camel.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

crinolines and screwdrivers

A fun day at York Castle Museum yesterday when god-daughter and I went to the costume demonstration and were laced into corsets and crinolines. The corset was surprisingly comfortable, but probably because it was too big for me. I loved the crinoline. We looked like wedding cakes, and it was like walking around in a protective bubble. Nobody could jostle you in the street if you wore one of those. Nobody could push past you in a doorway, and on a cold day you'd have room for two pairs of big knickers and a warm petticoat.

An item of not-so-Victorian advice I passed on to god-daughter this week - every woman needs her own set of screwdrivers. Always know where they are, and never lend them. It leads to a sense of self-reliance and a degree of independence. It also means you can mend the wobbly hinge on the loo seat and take the batteries out of anything that annoys you.

Monday, 16 February 2009

that hamster

It is time to stop teasing you and tell you about that hamster. The book is Hammy the Wonder Hamster because 'Hamilton' won't fit on the cover. His name is Hamilton, and he's very proud of it, having chosen it himself. This is no ordinary hamster. He does crosswords, Sudoko, and Bethany's maths homework. How is he so clever? Read his story and find out. Hammy the Wonder Hamster is published under the name Poppy Harris (but it's me), and comes out on 5 March.

This Hamster has attitude. He has courage. He knows world history, languages, and how to use a screwdriver. Look out for him.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

as I didn't say

I should have mentioned yesterday - The site for Riding Lights is www.ridinglights.org - the site, like the company, comes highly recommended. This has been the quietest day I've had in ages, and I might even finish 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' before the end of it. It would almost be treacherous to put it down now. I am aware of the dozens of e-mails and letters to answer tomorrow, quite apart from actually writing what I'm supposed to be writing - but for now, it's still Sunday, and a day of - as far as possible - rest.

I've just looked at the clock. It's Monday. But as far as I'm concerned, while I'm still awake, it's Sunday.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

riding lights

I've just come back from a members' day with Riding Lights Theatre Company, which has been doing wonderful stuff on a shoestring, or sandal string, for thirty-one years now. With an inspiring love for God, love for theatre, and love for the world about them they have produced consistently excellent theatre year after year. I know that I can take anyone to a Riding Lights production and they won't be disappointed. For me, they are the only company I would put up there with the RSC, and this is with a tiny budget, a theatre like the Tardis, and amazing ingenuity. The energy and originality of RLTC is breathtaking. And it isn't just about theatre in theatres. Their touring company, Roughshod, is a small band of hard-working young actors who perform in churches, prisons, school, or wherever they're invited. Their educaion wing works with local kids, and they have a first rate youth company.

They're doing some work with film, now, too, but at the heart of it is live theatre, powerful, exciting, and accessible. As RLTC say - 'Getting Theatre Everywhere'.

Monday, 9 February 2009

sloppy kisses

A young man made my day yesterday. A very young man. I'd just given him a book for his third birthday (one by the incomparable Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler team) and he came up to me with his arms out, said 'cuddle' and gave me a bit wet sloppy kiss. I don't usually like big wet sloppy kisses, by the way, but that one was a high point of my day.

This evening has ben raw cold again. The snowman thawed enough for his carrot nose and mouth to fall off, then solidiifed into ice. In these extreme conditions another of my small friends came to the door (with his wind-up torch and his mum) to personally deliver a thank you letter for his fifth birthday present. I felt he was ready for the bear from darkest Peru, and he loves Mrs Bird because she looks after Paddington.

When I looked out half an hour later, the face was back on the snowman. Readers, in this village we are rearing the next generation of gentlemen.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


I had to be in York on Thursday, and arranged to stay overnight because I wasn't sure about what the snow might do to the last train home. There wasn't much snow in the city - that makes it easier underfoot, but it was a bit of a disappointment because the Minster is breathtaking in it.

One of my favourite places is Betty's, and I treated myself. Sipping hot mulled wine,looking out across St Helen's Square, I could see an old-fashioned lamp-post, and a broad street ending with an elegant Georgian house (or is it Queen Anne? not sure). It was so like being in the past - then it hit me that it isn't, it's the persent, and it's real. It's something preserved, and worth preserving, from the past, so that people like me, and all the other 21st century people in Betty's that day, can sit in that elegant tea room, cross that square by the light of the lamp-post, and walk down towards that house, the art gallery, the theatre, and the Minster. York never loses its magic.

On a very different note, I am already starting to think about Comic Relief on 13 March. I've bought noses for all the family, and one for the car, and a bouncy thing that laughs (no, not a baby.) I'm trying to come up with original ideas for events - red knees day? I think my after school club might like something very wobbly to do with jelly. Yuck.

Monday, 2 February 2009


Snow is so watchable. It's almost impossible not to stop work and stare out of the window. The view changes all the time, and the light goes from a haze of pale grey to a vast white hillside throwing back the light to the sky.

The schools have closed. Children are swooshing down the hill, throwing snowballs, building snowmen. I lent our sledge to the lassie next door so I'll have to slide down the garden on a tea tray and hope I stop before crashing through the fence into the river and disturbing the ducks.

You're never too old to sledge on a tea tray. You're never too old to build a snowman. He has a carrot nose and a bendy carrot mouth, button eyes, a hat and a scarf. I haven't made a snow angel yet, but I'll do that tomorrow. I want a Campaign for Real Weather.

All writers seem to end up writing about snow (apart from the ones who never see any). It's something to do with wanting to catch it, keep it, and get it out again to look at it and remember how stunning it was. Or maybe it just comes from gazing out of windows watching it on days like today.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Jolly Postman

I haven't blogged since Tuesday and am suitably ashamed, but I seem to have lots of correspondence just now.

On Thursday I was in York for some serious thought, study and input, but before that, yes, I did go shopping. York has a brand new Beatrix Potter shop. I was raised on Beatrix Potter, I brought up my children on Beatrix Potter, and I am doing the same for my godchildren. I came away with the Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle, which was always one of my favourites, and some ideas for birthdays.

I got home late at night to find some letters from the US. The next morning, there was a whole box of them, this time from the Mistmantle Pilgrims who came to see me last year, with some beautiful photographs taken in York, Alnwick and Alnmouth. And today, along came my advance copy of the hamster book.

Oh, the hamster...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

waddle waddle splash

I have always liked penguins. Apparently when I was small they were my favourite creature in the zoo, and I can remember a visit to (I think) Edinburgh Zoo when it was most important to be there in time to watch them being fed. I don't know how old I was, but I have the sense that I'd been looking forward hugely to this trip, and wasn't disappointed.

Today - in connection with something I'm working on - I had to learn a bit about penguins, and I had no idea there were so many different kinds. So my word to you today is - GOOGLE A PENGUIN! Or whatever search engine you use, send it on a penguin hunt. They're such fun!

Puffins are so special, too. My friend Claire and I are devotees of puffins. Speaking of Puffins, the Puffin will bring you the hamster soon.

In the meantime, google a penguin!

Saturday, 24 January 2009


I love being a godmother. I have seven delightful, gifted, talented godchildren, five of whom spent the day here. I'm always touched by the way this family looking forward to being here! It was extra special this time, as this visit had been postponed twice due to the usual coughs, colds, viruses, lurgies and plagues that work their way through big families.

Because our Christmas get together had to be cancelled we exchanged prsents today, and I was put to shame, because all the presents we gave were bought - lovingly and carefully chosen, but bought - whereas the children brought beautiful home made jewellery, angels, and funny faces with grass seeds on the tops of their heads so you can water them and make them grow. (The funny faces, not the children). They are very impressed at having a godmother who writes books, but I'm looking forward to wearing my new jewellery in the hope that somebody wil admire it and I can tell them about my godchildren. Not just talented, either, but warm, loving, and thoroughly show-offable. The boys try very patiently to teach me about robots, space vehicles, and intergalactic battles, but I don't really get it, being more of a Jane Austen girl myself. I have more in common with Miss Not-Quite-Twenty-Months-Old who likes hats, especially mine, and looked very stylish in it while talking at great length on the phone. I wish I knew what she was saying, it sounded fascinating.

However, they're not so brilliant that they do all this wonderful creative stuff unaided. Parents have their uses. Children - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE - give them a hug and tell them how brilliant they are. And please teach me to make angels.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


Stunning snow today. It's not lying in the village, so we can all trottle about without falling over, but I was up in the hills today, where it's sparkling and still, covering the ridges and lying across the fields, with walls and fences marking out their old clear shape in the white landscape. At home, I saw the first nearly out snowdrop in the garden.

An advantage today of working from home was being able to stop what I was doing just after four and watch the inauguration of President Obama as it happened. One day I will say - I watched that live on television, the day I walked down from the hills in the snow and saw our first snowdrop of the year.

Friday, 16 January 2009


She's too busy to blog. Oh, poor her. I can't see what she's so busy about. A bit of pottering about, then everything stopped because a Russian version of one of her books came in, so she had to look at the pictures because she can't read a word of it. What, you might ask, is the point of writing a book if you can't read it? On Mistmantle we don't have books. We don't need them. We can remember our stories without writing them down, thank you. But if we did have books, Lady Aspen would have written wonderful ones - much better than hers - and done all the pictures herself.

Oh, and then she put her claw mark on a contract, twiddled about with a new story, got nowhere with it (not surprised) and went off to do the church after school club. After school club means a lot of very silly games, feeding the little monsters, telling stories (she can just about manage those ones without the book) and something they call craft, which usually means she comes home with paint on her paws and glue in her hair. Then off she went to write another stupid story. Oh, and now, (when she's washed the glue out of her hair) she's going to knit a camel.

Nobody has bothered to tell me what a camel is. But Lady Aspen would have knitted a a perfect one, and looked abolutely beautiful in it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

lions and elephants

To update on the last blog - the books are in a healthy state of progress. The lion is absolutely fine. I haven't got up to the bit with the horse yet, so no progress there. The ducks have recovered from hypothermia and falling down on the ice, and the camel has been knitted and is waiting to be stuffed, but it's a Noah's Ark camel, so I need to do another one. (I'm sure some of you know the difference between male and female camels, but please don't tell me. It's more than I want or need to know.) The trains and elephants are sorted, thank you.

The lion and the horse are fictional, and are part of works in progress. The elephants are because a friend has developed a fixation with elephant jokes. But much more imminent is THE HAMSTER.

Yes. Cometh the hour, cometh the hamster. More about him over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Owls, larks, and elephants

I'm just back from a lovely working break, staying somewhere quiet and remote with no home distractions to get in the way of work. I think I've given one book a sense of direction, and have started work on an idea which has been under constructon for years (most things seem to be like that.) In fact, I started the new book months ago, felt it wasn't quite right, and decided that I'd started it in the wrong place, ie, come into the story at the wrong point. I've started it again and I'm still not sure if I'm approaching it in the right way, but that's writing for you. I usually get it wrong before I get it right. You'd think I'd have learnt by now.

If you are a writer, all the above will make perfect sense. If you are an aspiring writer, it may help you to know that published writers still struggle with putting a story together and have to wrestle the thing to the ground. (It doesn't help that I'm an owl, not a lark, and for me, thoughts fall into place just when sensible people are hugging their teddy bears and snoring softly.) And if you're not a writer, it may be because you read books insead of writing them, which makes you a VEERY SENSIBLE PERSON and we need more like you.

In the coming few days I have to sort out books, trains, a lion, ducks, an elephant or two, and a horse. It was going to be a stag, but it's not now. Oh, and a camel. Not all of these are fictional. Have fun!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year

This year I will

be more organised

write more letters

learn to do something useful (like first aid, or a language, or signing, or something)


In order to do this I must stop


putting off

stopping to just glance at a newspaper/book/website

and I must write lists and stick to them.

Easy, isn't it? :)

Oh dear. The gnome just fell off his snail laughing.

Happy New Year anyway!