Thursday, 31 October 2013

Much and the Fairy

After I mentioned a fairy for the New House of Stories, I thought again. Perhaps I should just stick with books and bears. We could end up with another one like Mavis. Bless her. Her heart was in the right place, but her wings were more than a little skew-whiff by the time we met her.

Mavis was the Tooth Fairy when our children were small, and was getting on. She should have retired but she insisted on staying in spite of getting into such a stooshie with every Pick-Up she did. She couldn't find a tooth without help, even with her glasses on. "Can't find it anywhere, Missus'. 'That's the dog's bed, Mavis.' It was worse after we moved and she'd be so relieved to find the house that she forgot it wasn't the same layout as the old one. She'd fly in through the landing window, turn right, thud into the wall and wake everyone up. By that stage she always wore a crash helmet, which limited the damage but amplified the clang. Then I'd sit her down on the stairs and calm her down - she was getting deaf, too, so I'd be bellowing 'Don't try to get up Mavis. Deep breaths, now, deep breaths - shall I find the tooth for you?' while Tony got her a cup of tea, or a G and T, which always went down well. By that time the whole house was awake. Then we had to check that she'd got the tooth and left the money, and stand back so she had room for a running take off. I often wonder what happened to Mavis.


I was thinking today, it's been quiet since 'er went. I got me snail and there's a couple more old gnomes in the garden, but they ain't got personality like what I've got. Now and again I 'ave a chat with them birds or the ducks, and I get on very well with Stephen, but 'e don't come that often now the growing season's over. The 'olly looks very grand with its berries on, but 'ers not 'ere to go all excited about it. I was sitting 'ere watching them leaves dropping off the sycamore, and then I thought - that's not leaves - that's blooming fairies! Fairies with blooming parachutes!

Turns out that The Silver Wings Home for Mature Fairies was 'aving an outing, and they'd dropped by, as yer might say, in my garden. Blimey, they might have asked first. Still, it were nice to 'ave a chat. I got talking to one and it turned out 'er name were Mavis, and she used to be Tooth Fairy to the old missus's family. She should 'ave retired, she said, but she wanted to stay until LYS had got all his grown up teeth. Now she lives with all these old fairies and they 'ave a high old time, they still fly about but they need 'alf a stone of fairy dust to get going. All them will-o-the-wisps, they light the way with Glimmer Zimmers these days. Well, I never. Wonder where old gnomes go?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


The curtains arrived today. Just two pairs,one for the landing and one for our bedroom, but it means so much to us. It's part of making this house the way we want it. They're a light William Morris pattern of leaves and berries with 'Love is Enough' printed across, green on white for the landing, blue on white for the bedroom. The old grey shiny curtains from the landing will go to a charity shop, or maybe a drama group could use them for costumes. The old ones from our room are past hope, I'm afraid. So then we got all of a whatnot hunting for curtain hooks and finding we hadn't got the right size, and Tony going out for more, and a lot of climbing on chairs, and finally, we have beautiful curtains.

Bedroom curtains are very important. When you wake up in the morning, what do you see? Probably it's your bedroom curtains. Then again it might be a teddy bear. In my case it's frequently a cup of tea, because Tony gets sorted out in the morning before I do. And many years ago it was our dog who woke us all up in turn, escorted me to the bathroom, and then took me for a walk. But what I mean is, bedroom curtains are an important part of the beginning and end of your day. I look forward to swooshing them shut tonight and open in the morning.

I'm thinking of inventing something else that goes swoosh - a fairy to live in the garden. It would give Dodger something to chase. Perhaps two fairies would be good, to keep each other company. But they'd better behave or they'll be uninvented, sharpish.

Just to keep you up to date - Kenton Archer and Jolene are getting married and his unbearable daughter is a bridesmaid. Ed's cows are dropping dead and David's sheep have been worried by dogs. I'm worried by Jill Archer, the wholesome and reliable matriarch, who has been driving so dangerously that Joe Grundy nearly had another injury. Put your glasses on, pet.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


A wild, wet and blowy day today. There are warnings of storms from the South of England to the southern edge of Yorkshire. All of you in the south, nail down the garden furniture, call the cat in, lock the windows and bar the doors. Then go to bed. Trains are being cancelled tomorrow morning, so don't even attempt to go to work first thing. Most of the schools are on half term anyway.

On my first teaching practice I found that the teachers hated windy days, and I soon discovered why. It gets into the children. If you're a child, you know how it is. When there's a gale blowing you can either struggle against it or run with it, and you, like a leaf, would rather be swept along. You come back into the classroom like Atlantic breakers, full of whoosh, and you know you can fly.

It gets into animals, too, especially cats. You can tell there's a storm brewing long before you see any sign of it because the cat's on top of the wardrobe, in the sink, under your feet, or chasing invisible imps up and down the hall. Here is a wild thing, thinks the cat. I will catch it. This time,this time, I will catch it.

As a small person, I have occasionally had to grab a handrail, a lamppost or somebody's arm to keep from being blown away. On the north-east coast sometimes it was all I could do to keep the baby buggy from flying off into orbit with my youngest child in it. At any second, I thought, poor little LYS will be waving down at me as he soars above the North Sea on a big baby adventure.

Last time there were storms in the Calder Valley, a vicar friend of ours forgot to bring in his daughter's trampoline. next morning, it turned up in the churchyard.

So snuggle down. Sleep tight. May all your storms blow over.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Wednesday turned out quite busy. After the Premier radio slot, we whizzed back home through rain as if the angels had left the sluice gates open. We were out again at about twelve because we were having lunch with our friend Brenda.

Brenda, like me, is vegetarian. Unlike me she is such a great cook I want to kidnap her and lock her in my kitchen. She is also one of the kindest and - I'm going to make up a word here - sensiblest people I know. She is also warm and charming, and has the gift of making everything around her beautiful and everyone around her at home. It got even better, because she'd invited another friend from way back, a warm and funny woman whose physical health is flaky and whose spirit is indomitable. We should put those two in charge of the world. Brenda served up a scrummy lunch and we talked for hours. Wow, we have some wonderful friends! Tony and I just had time to turn ourselves round and get out again for...

do you know about The Proclaimers? Two Scotsmen with a sound that goes straight to where you need it. We saw them live at Greenbelt 2012 and their signature barnstormer '500 miles' was possibly the high point of a great festival. There's a new film out called 'Sunshine on Leith' based on their music and set in Edinburgh. Sunshine on Leith is one of my favourite songs in all the world, so I only hoped that the film did it justice. (Leith, by the way, refers to a district of Edinburgh and the Water of Leith, the river that runs through it.)

What a beautiful, true, happy and sad, moving, funny film, and the set pieces make you want to get up and dance. I've been going round singing Proclaimers songs ever since, and this is still in my head -

While I'm worth my room on this earth
I will be with you

As long as the Chief puts sunshine on Leith
I'll thank him for his work, for your birth and my birth

Please, find it, listen, watch.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Firstly, thank you so much to Clara for that lovely blog spot. I feel most honoured, and all of a whatnot.

I don't do mornings. I'm not made that way. When I had to get to work or had children to get ready in the morning, I got on with it. It's amazing what you can do if you have to. But six in the morning doesn't like me and I don't like it. Midnight is fine! Bring it on! But today I was being interviewed on the breakfast show for Premier Radio, which meant getting out at seven and being at the studio for eight. (Yes, I know, lots of you do it every day, but my brain doesn't understand the concept of falling asleep before at least one in the morning.) I'd intended to go by train and taxi, which would have made it even earlier, but Tony offered to take me into town. Hero.

I was awake at six. I think I was probably awake at ten past and half past as well, but I've no idea what happened in between. At seven, we left the house. By 7.15 we were behind a big vehicle with caterpillar wheels and so big you could have transported a six bedroom house on the back and the garden and garage as well. Square wheels, my father would have said. It sort of lumbered, like a dinosaur on the prowl for small unwary animals. That stayed ahead of us all the way to Newcastle by which I didn't want to look at the clock any more. We got lost on the Quayside, Tony did a spectacular job of negotiating the one way system, we went to the wrong car park first, and stumbled into the studio gabbling apologies.

What followed was a stimulating and very enjoyable morning with John Pantry, the host. We talked about the importance of reading to children, and about bringing Bible stories to life, and all sorts of things. I hope I made sense. Tony, who was in the studio, said afterwards that I came over very well. I hope so. If I said anything really stupid, I'm going to blame sleep deprivation.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Years ago, I wrote a book for the Oxford Treetops Series called 'My Guinea-Pig is Innocent'. It went down very well with children, teachers and reviewers and I found that people warmed to the title before they'd even started the book. Perhaps if I'd called it 'The Escaping Guinea-Pig', 'Guinea-Pig in Danger' or 'Guinea-Pig Adventure' they wouldn't even have opened it. Titles are very important. Just now I'm working on a book about a dog. The plot's all there, I have no problems with the characters, I'd love to adopt that dog and I'm enjoying the writing, but my editor and I are scratching our heads about the title. When we know, I'll tell you.

One of the books on my to-read pile is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by that Grand Old Lady of Literature, Judith Kerr. Now, there's a title, and from all I hear it's a powerful story, too. She was a little girl from a Jewish family in Germany in the 1930s, and they only just got out of Germany in time.

On a lighter note, there is a prize awarded every year, the Diagram Prize, for the oddest book title of the year. Some previous winners are -

How to Avoid Huge Ships

Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers

Highlights in the History of Concrete, and my favourite

Goblin-Proofing your Chicken Coop.

Goodnight from the New House of Stories, and don't let the goblins into your chicken coop.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


What glorious days! A big family get-together on a day that started off cold and drizzly and turned into a warm autumn afternoon, and we took Mum and Dad to one of their favourite hidden valleys. Then a whole day at Seven Stories in Newcastle, the utterly wonderful National Centre for Children's Books, with over twenty other children's authors. If you love books for children and you're ever anywhere Newcastle, it's a must. Perhaps I'll tell you more about it another time, but it's getting late and I have to be up in the morning.

Today was another of those afternoons, a golden day. I'd written all morning, so I went out and planted bulbs, and Tony cut the grass. Everything smelt of cut grass and freshly turned earth. Then we brought out the stepladder so that I could get to the top of the apple tree and pick the last of the fruit, turning my head because the late sun was so strong that it dazzled through the leaves and branches. And I thought - can this really be me? Here, doing this? How enchanted, how story book, is this?

Speaking of Apples -

Ooh, and then this evening 'er sister rang up and said, you know when you were at my house, well you left yer hat, shall I put it in the post? No, she says, I'll pick it up next time I'm there, say hello to it for me. Now, I happen to know that hat, it's a green one and dead plain, if you ask me it needs a bit of decorating. It's good squirrel country round where her sister lives, I'm sure we could spare a few nuts and elderberries, and plenty of feathers, ooh, feathers, them pheasants is everywhere Plenty of sheep wool, too, looks very nice when you've got the mucky bits out. I'll get to work.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


What a proper autumn we got this year! They call this a 'mast year'. All them trees has done so well, they got more beech nuts and berries and seeds and whatnot that they don't know what to do with 'em all, so they're shedding them on the ground. Everywhere you go there's hedgerows like treasure chests. We was out this afternoon and ooh, there's elderberries, hips and haws, all bright as jewels and the trees just turning amber. I reckon I could make a nice drop of elderberry wine and rosehip syrup this year, as well as me famous cordial. You have to leave plenty for the birds, mind, but this year there's more than enough to go round.

And there's something else you can do with them berries, too. Can't wait to decorate me hat.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Well, do I?

On a certain social networking site, things come round time and again.

On this social networking site you are never far away from a kitten. Fair enough,they are rather cute.

There are words of wisdom on this site. There are things to make you laugh. There are invitations to join some game or other just in case you're not already wasting hours of your one and only life.

They have pictures of dinners. Why do people photograph their food? Or, why do I just not understand that?

Then there are things like this - 'do you have the most wonderful, beautiful, talented and precious children in the world? Would you die/kill for your children? Would you fight off flame-throwing psychopathic ninjas for them? Are you proud of them? Do you love them all the way to the moon and back, or what's more, to the other side of Leeds? Will you hold them in your heart forever? Do they mean the world to you? SHARE if you have wonderful children who mean the world to you!'

What a stupid question. Of course my children are exceptional and amazing and I love them to bits. The lady I was having lunch with on Thursday said that I must be proud of them. I said I wasn't so much proud as greatly surprised and relieved that they've turned out so well in spite of being mothered by a madwoman. I show off about them at every chance I get. But 'proud' would suggest that it's about me, and it isn't, it's about them. And I don't SHARE. It would seem a bit cheesy, to be honest. (Maybe I'm just being very British and reserved about this.) It would undervalue the way I feel about them. And it might embarrass the daylights out of them. They know that I love them even if I don't click the thing that says 'share if your children are so precious that you would sell your granny in a wheelbarrow to save them'.

I occasionally share the kittens.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


What a great day! I travelled to York to met up with a dear friend from our North Yorkshire days. She is warm, wise and humorous, a saint with style and sparkle, and I owe her a lot. We met at The Bar Convent (look it up if you ever want somewhere to stay in York, or just to eat.) We talked of this and that, and I asked her about her experiences working in child care in the 1950s and 60s.

In those days, when she was training with Dr Barnardo's, they were trying to break free from the huge institutions of the past. Children lived in a 'children's village' with a small group of children living in each house in the care of housemothers. Not the babies, though - they were all together in a baby unit, with rows of cots and prams. A shift started at six or seven, and you could be on duty until ten if the laundry wasn't finished.

She told me of one place where she worked which had two dormitories full of boys. This was a large house with a lot of children in it, and in the days of open hearth fires the matron was very keen on fire drills, which often took place during the night. The boys loved it, because it was the only time they got to use the fire escape. It was out of bounds at all other times. As soon as the alarm rang they would jump out of bed, open the fire door, run down the fire escape and assemble in the yard.

Unusually one day,there way a fire drill in the afternoon when the boys were all out in the yard to play. At once they swarmed back into the house and up to the dormitories, opened the fire door, ran down the fire escape and assembled in the yard.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Let's make a difference.

Let's buy the fair trade coffee, chocolate or fruit, not just the cheapest.

Let's hold the door for someone.

Let's help the young mother get the buggy up the stairs in the shop.

Let's make someone laugh.

Let's plant winter pansies where somebody will see them.

Let's throw the washing up water on the garden, go round the house switching off lights we don't need, and put on a sweater to delay turning the fire on for another half hour.

Let's say 'well done' to somebody who needs it.

Let's send a card to somebody who could do with a hug by post.

Let's give thanks.

Let's think 'who needs me to love them this week?'

Let's recommend a good book to someone.

Let's do it today.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


What a lovely Harvest Festival we had today. It was an informal, family friendly service with a lot of children taking part, including helping the curate to make beans on toast. The point of this is that lots of different people brought things (somebody just happened to come to church with a toaster, somebody else with a tin of beans, etc) and more people helped, which was a lot of fun. The point is, of course, that we are not meant to isolate ourselves. We are meant to live in community. The rector got the job of opening the beans, and the sight of a left handed rector with a right handed tin opener was quite endearing.

I'm not sure if anyone ate the beans on toast. I was glad the curate didn't because he was wearing his cassock alb, as white as an angel's tablecloth. And we didn't sing the trad Harvest hymns, which didn't bother me, but there are sure to be complaints.

Not long ago, Harvest Festival produce was largely fruit and veg and was taken to the old and infirm. This meant giving apples to old ladies without teeth and cabbage to old men with creaky digestions. By the time the fruit met the frail and infirm it had fallen off the altar steps twice and been juggled with by a choirboy. If you weren't frail and infirm to begin with...

This morning people brought fruit and veg, but mostly I think it was pasta, soup, biscuits, tea, things like that, piled up at the front of the church. They were to go to a food bank. The churches in the UK are doing a great job with food banks, providing food to people who are hard up and also offering friendship, support, a listening ear, guidance to the agencies who can help them. Great things are being done through food banks. But in the 21st century, in the UK, it's a scandal that they have to exist.

I was talking recently to a friend who lives in Sheffield. (That's a big city that thinks it's in the north, but it's as far south as you can go without nudging the Midlands.) I asked her if there was a food bank in Sheffield.

'There are seventeen' she said.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Tarka and Teasel

'Tarka and Teasel' sounds as if I've just bought two kittens. I haven't.

Tarka the Otter is one of those wildlife classic stories. It's the life story of an otter, and I think it was written in the 1930s. It's set in Devon, mostly on the river where Tarka fishes, mates, escapes from otter hounds (otter hunting was legal at the time) and survives the long harsh winters. No costumes, no talking. This isn't Mistmantle. This is the story of a real otter on a real Devon river. It's told in the third person, but all from Tarka's point of view. I read it when I was eleven and it wasn't always an easy read - it made me cry more than once - but a satisfying one that carries you down to the river and into the otter's world. In the winter I could feel Tarka's hunger and was desperate for him to find food. The author, Henry Williamson, developed some unpleasant political beliefs which may have led to his books going out of fashion. Pity, because his books are a lot better than his politics.

In his corner of Devon, around Bideford and Barnstaple, you can't ignore Tarka. There is a walking trail called the Tarka trail, and the local railway line is the Tarka line. By the way, it's also a very beautiful area.

When I write animal books they are mostly from the hero or heroine's point of view, but I try to put a window into the animal's mind, too. When I wrote A HOME FOR TEASEL I had to move into the mind of a pony. I had to see the world the way she would see it, the way she hates being put into confined spaces and her need for a place in a herd. It's as much Teasel's story as Gwen's, so we have to see with her mind.

The book I'm working on now has a little dog in it. He's a very confused little dog at times. The more I write him, the more I feel that human behaviour must be so bewildering to dogs that they can't make head nor tail of us, and come to that, we don't even have tails, and who can get through life without a tail to wag? I think it's very good of dogs to put up with us at all.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Black Cat

Across the road from the New House of Stories (or the House of Books and Bears, as I think it may become) lives a big black cat with green eyes. It is a very picture book cat of a cat. I don't know its name.

When we first moved in we saw it a lot, but then, when we first moved in Daughter was with us and I could swear that cats talk to her. They have an understanding, Daughter and cats. (Her grandfather is also a cat person. Her Aunt Helen is great with cats and has two, but Helen is happy with anything four-legged.) The day the removal men were hauling wardrobes out of the van, the black cat was arching its back under Daughter's hand and following her around.

Since she went home, nearly two months ago, we've hardly seen it. Then yesterday afternoon, when I was sitting working in the front room, Cat jumped on to the wall and from there to the top of the wheelie bin, where it curled up on sentry duty. (You can't fall asleep on a wheelie bin, they don't look comfortable. You'd slide off. This was a thinking cat.) It was there on the wall again today when I went out, and still there when I came back.

I say hello to it and tell it what a good cat it is, but it's a dignified cat, so I don't stroke it. I get the feeling it might turn around and walk away or scratch me if I did. Perhaps it doesn't feel that I know it well enough yet.

"You have not earned the right to touch me," thinks the cat. "Send me the Princess. She alone is worthy."