Saturday, 30 April 2011

higlights 1

I've just come home to a clean and tidy house, courtesy of Lovely Younger Son. Tony and I spent a week staying with my sister in the upper reaches of North Northumberland and I couldn't possibly tell you all about it, so here are some highlights -

- the views from Bamburgh Castle and Boulmer over the sea, and the view from Bamburgh to Holy Island

- the walk down from Shepherd's Law on a stunning evening - lambs in the fields, a pond with tadpoles and reflections, soft light over the hills

- all the white tulips and apple blossom in Alnwick Garden and, of course, the tree house

- lunch outside in the sun

- Barter Books in Alnwick, probably one of the best second hand bookshops in the world

- seeing my wise old friend Mary, who is well into her nineties with a big heart and a mind like a razor

- the sunshine, which is almost unheard of in the North-East at this time of year

- the cats

- watching the Royal Wedding with good company. So the next blog, unless something strange happens in the meantime, will be my highlights of the Royal Wedding. If you're not into things like the Royal Wedding, you can always do what my brother-in-law did - make disgusted harrumphing noises and go out to shovel horse manure.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


A very happy Easter to you all.

An Easter like this makes the whole message so bright and vivid. Everywhere there is colour and blossom, the sun is shining, children are playing outside, the whole message of love and life being stronger than hatred and death is waving at us from every direction. It's something to take in and hold on to when the days are cold and dark.

One of the hardest thing is to have cold dark days when everybody else is celebrating. If this is you, I hope you'll find that the seed is still there, unseen in the earth, and growth is sow, but it is happening. Joy will come.

The Golden Child is more miraculous than ever. She can eat chocolate without changing colour. Even her older brother (wittily entertained by Lovely Younger Son during church) was wearing a white shirt which stayed white all morning. This defies all the laws of nature. I am astonished, and need to rest in a darkened room (eating chocolate.)

Saturday, 23 April 2011


Good Friday is always strange. If the Cross means anything to you, this is the day when you have to face it and stand by it. And at the same time, everyone's enjoying a holiday. With the fine weather and the late Easter, there are flowers everywhere, and people are out enjoying the sunshine.

The morning was a happy time, surrounded by children. On the way to a service in the evening I walked through the park, which was already littered with empty cans, bottles, and chip papers. The doors at church were left open, and in with the fresh air came voices, laughter, taunts, shouts, and the siren of an ambulance.

That's how it is. We have to cope with the light and the dark, the joy and the sorrow, at the same time. We can do that, but it needs a big heart.

Exercise your heart today.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Buttock-callosities? What sort of a name is that? We have a great time with Mistmantle names. Even after all this time my nephew can't go in and out of the Spring Gate without someone saying 'Tide's in' or 'Tide's out', and and if he goes up to the top of the tower, there's a shout of 'High Tide'! Needle no longer notices remarks about looking for a needle, the wrong kind of needle, or needles in a haystack.

Apple's not as silly as you might think. She calls herself Apple Dumpling so nobody else can get in first. But it does make you think about how Urchin introduced his page to her 'this is Apple...' oh, work it out for yourselves.

She of the stories (She who is about to fall asleep over the keyboard) had a rose bush at her old house called 'William Shakespeare'. She wanted a deep red one, and chose it for the name. Was that a good idea? 'William Shakespeare's got greenfly,throw soapy water over him', 'William Shakespeare needs cutting back'. 'William Shakespeare needs dead-heading'.

She's been rushing about all week, but she did manage to get away yesterday for a couple of hours in beautiful sunny York. She's come in from the Maundy Thursday service, flopped into a hot bath, and now she's yawning like a hippo. Go to bed, woman.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Honestly, I'm not making this up.

Last night I was checking the spelling of 'baboon', so I looked it up in the dictionary. Our ancient Chambers Dictionary defines baboon as -

'a large monkey of various species, with long face, dog-like tusks, large lips, a tail, and buttock-callosities'

YES! BUTTOCK-CALLOSITIES! Basically it means hard skin around a baboon's bottom. And baboon's bottoms are often luridly colourful, so shouldn't that be multi-chromic buttock-callosities? I ran straight upstairs to challenge Lovely Younger Son to see how many times he could get buttock-callosities into the conversation at work today. Haven't yet caught up with him to find out.

They could be members of the aristocracy. The Honourable Jeremy Withering Buttock-Callosities, Mrs Rosie Buttock-Callosities and their beautiful daughter Rainbow.

Over to you. Can you get buttock-callosities into your conversation? I've done it seven times in this blog.

By the way - dog-like tusks? Excuse me? What sort of dog is this, Mr Chambers? Are you sure it's a dog?

Monday, 18 April 2011


Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and we all processed around the churchyard with our little palm crosses in our hands. It was a sunny day for it, too, and in a Yorkshire April you can't take that for granted. (Or in a Yorkshire mid-July, for that matter.) This reminds me of Brother Harry's tree.

Brother Harry was a warm, funny brother at the Franciscan House at Alnmouth many years ago. He wasn't a gardener himself, but Brother David Stephen was. On one particular Palm Sunday the palm crosses were made from very fresh, green pliable palm and David Stephen told Harry that he could plant his palm and it would grow. Now, that sounds like a wind-up to me, but David Stephen, honest friar that he was, could grow anything. I've no idea how he persuaded it to root, but it did, and Brother Harry was delighted with his tree. I never got away from the friary without a pilgrimage up the hill to see Brother Harry's tree.

At about that time, the TV chef Gary Rhodes did a programme from the friary, and cooked lunch for the monks. Harry was helping in the kitchen at the time, and seemed to be a doing a lot of fetching and carrying in the line of the cameras. He is now waving palm branches in heaven, and I'm sure had a good Palm Sunday. Whether the tree is still there, I really don't know.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The eighty-somethings

Yesterday was the last toddler group before Easter, and one of our helpers is celebrating her 85th birthday at the end of this month. She's still driving, still helping with toddlers, and she brought tiny, sweetie-decorated cupcakes for the children. She's the same vintage as the queen.

Having said that, Mum's older than she is, and Dad's over 90. I was reminded recently of a story he told me about taking Boy Scouts camping during the war, and asked him to send me his account of it.

Stop there. Think about life in the twenties, thirties, and so on. Think of life as it was then, and the changes the 80+ generation have seen.

Then ask them to tell you their stories, now, while they can. When an old person dies, we lose a library.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


'Er's flitting round that garden like a blooming fairy, talking to them flowers, blooming 'eck, one of these days they'll talk back to her. One new bud on the aqui-thingy and she goes ecstatic. Mind, it does look good, all them daffies and tulips and forgotten-me-nots all sprouting away. 'Er says there's a Chinese proverb that says 'if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden'.

In 'er case, if you would be happy with yer garden, get some bloke to do the heavy work for yer.
Perhaps 'er's got more sense than I reckoned.

Monday, 11 April 2011

quote, unquote

Lovely sunny weekend. Attended to garden flowers in the afternoon and made paper ones for wedding garlands in the evening, while watching 'Lewis'.

A sharp-eyed correspondent just pointed out that I no longer have quotes on the website. That's because they were on a loop and coming round yet again, and I thought they might become tedious. Also, they were geared up to fit in with times and seasons, and no longer do. The Easter ones will be totally out of sync this year. (Or 'ut of sunc') as I typed first time round.)

At some time I will work my way round to another lot - but setting up the first round I found it surprisingly difficult to find quotes that were the right sort of length and would appeal to a wide range of people. It was much harder than I expected.

Some of my favourite quotes are those family sayings that don't really mean much to anyone else. Every time I pick up a hammer and a nail I remember Lovely Younger Son at two years old, following me about as I put up the Christmas decorations, saying 'Mummy bang bang wiff a hammer'. That's very advanced for a child approaching his second birthday, but its charm wears off when he's been saying it all day. It's now gone into family speak. Yesterday he helped me to put up a new washing line (glamorous life, being a writer), but no hammers were required.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

sunshine and keys

A number of my books - A Friend for Rachel, The Octave of Angels, My Guinea Pig is Innocent - have involved families moving house and a child having to cope with settling into a new place. I didn't plan it that way, that's just how it turned out.

It goes with Tony's work that we've moved house fairly frequently, and that's been hard for the kids. But today was a very happy story of a new house. Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine received the keys to the house they'll be renting, and the three of us went there to say hello to it.

It's a sunny little house, full of light, in a village in a beautiful part of Yorkshire. It looks as if it's just been waiting for them. A happy house.

Friday, 8 April 2011

down to earth

The Golden Child is now sixteen months old, and is getting the world sorted. Today she came with her brother to after school club, saw me, beamed, and toddled towards me with her arms open, only to veer away to the left because she'd seen something more interesting. A train. Not even a particularly pretty train, just a very small black one. OK.

In our church we have one of those enormous brass eagles holding up the lectern - curved beak, talons, looks every inch a killer. Golden Child pointed it to me on Sunday morning. 'Quack quack!' she said.

Ducks are quack quacks, so everything with wings is a quack quack. Now, that would have brought the Raven Armies down to size. Quack-quacks. Or 'blooming spuggies', as Todd would say. May the Golden Child continue to give us all a sense of proportion for many years to come.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Sound the trumpet, fly the banners from the tower, pour out the cordials, blow bubbles, turn cartwheels.

The reprint of URCHIN AND THE RAGE TIDE is due on 15 April. Fingal is turning somersaults in the water, Urchin is shouting from the top of his favourite tree, tower squirrels are dancing up and down the corridors, moles are popping up from their tunnels to cheer, and Hope is bouncing on his bed. And I am saluting you, you honorary citizens of Mistmantle, all of you who contacted the publisher and made it happen. Well done. And thank you, Hyperion, for listening.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Judith and Hamnet

Real warmth in the sun today, spring breeze, and a garden full of colour. River muddy brown but happy.

Daughter and Lovely Older Son are twins, and I've been thinking a lot about twins and all things twinnish lately. Looking through old photographs with Lady Sunshine, I remembered how, when they were very small, LOS and D always had each other. They didn't cling, except when they first started playgroup and school, but they each knew that the other one was around if needed.

When they were born I couldn't believe that this was happening to me - boy and girl twins! Isn't that what everyone wants? And, yes, it's good. Hard work, but good. And just now I keep meeting boy-and-girl twins. There seem to be a lot of them about.

I was reminded of the Shakespeare family. William Shakespeare and his wife Anne had a daughter, Susannah, then twins, Judith and Hamnet. But health was precarious in those days, and young Hamnet Shakespeare died at only eleven years old. I imagine Judith, with nobody to tease and to tease her, nobody to quarrel and scrap with, nobody who's just there, like your shadow. Yes, she had a big sister, but that's a different relationship. Judith Shakespeare needs writing about.

On a lighter note, nobody gets up to mischief like twins. I should know. Anybody out there got any good twin stories?

Monday, 4 April 2011

London Lady

Not exactly a London Lady, but I did go down on Friday for a meeting of children's writers on Saturday. I spent Friday evening at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where there is always something to marvel at. They had the most beautiful exhibition of botanical drawings. It astonishes me that anyone can observe and reproduce a flower so perfectly, and makes me look at the real thing all over again.

And there was some Victorian book illustration by Walter Crane, who was the Big New Thing in his day. He introduced new concepts, like learning to read in very simple little steps and providing charmingly illustrated books for small children. He wanted to make early learning fun, even when that was a pretty odd idea.

Saturday was an excellent day in the company of other children's authors and illustrators, led by, among others, Helena Pielichaty (football books for girls), Tony Bradman (has been around for ever, written everything, and is inspiring), and Anne Cassidy (teen crime fiction), with a brilliant final address by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions, Framed.)

The only downside (and it wasn't much of a downside, more of a down edge, really) was that there was a lot of disruption on the tube (underground railway) all weekend. Leaving the conference, I reached Victoria Station shortly after 4.30. Why did it suddenly get so busy? Why were the trains and the platforms crammed and the tannoy saying something about maybe having to close the station?

Oh. Arsenal playing at home. Late kick-off, 5.30 at the Emirates Stadium. If you're not in Britain and don't understand that, it means that if you can get on and off the train without suffocating it's a good day.

It was a good day.