Thursday, 30 April 2015

Much and the Election

What about us, then? What about the Gnome Vote?

Once again, nobody considers us gnomes in the run-up to the election, probably because we don't run up anywhere as a rule, we saunter or push wheelbarrows or ride about on snails. The only chance a gnome has to get noticed is if 'e paints 'imself red, white and green and sticks 'is stomach out. Plain stone gnomes like me are beneath notice. About four foot six beneath blooming notice. And I don't want to 'ear no facetious remarks about the Gnome Office and the National 'Elf Service either. I'm a very old gnome and them jokes 'ave been around for a good sixty years.

Let's look at what the gnomes 'ave done for this country. We don't just sit around gardens, y'know, we keep the weeds down. We provide endless entertainment to small children and yer neighbours. We promote good relationships with yer tooth fairies and yer wildlife, and it gets pretty blooming wild with some of them tooth fairies, let me tell you. And who keeps the man-eating tigers out of yer garden? We do. Yes, us, the gnomes. I don't suppose you've seen a man-eating tiger in yer garden, 'ave you? Thought not. If you ain't been eaten by a tiger, thank a gnome.

So what do we want? A bit of consideration, a good view, and a chat now and again.

When do we want it?

Dunno, really. We ain't going nowhere fast.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Those sticky out things on my back are not shoulder blades. They are wings. They must be.

We had a lovely weekend back in the village where we lived until about eighteen months ago. We saw lots of good friends including the Golden Child (youngest godchild) and her family, and got together with the Sunshines and the Cahooties. In the course of this, the Golden Child told someone that I was her 'fairy godmother'. I do hope she doesn't expect the ball gown and the pumpkin coach. Best I can do is a party dress and a ride on the train.

When I was little I thought that angels were grown up fairies (bigger, but with wings.) I now think that angels are an altogether different thing and a lot more helpful. May the shelter of the angels be ours today.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Trade Secrets

On a writer's forum I belong to, we've been talking about whether we put advice for aspiring writers on our blogs. I've never done that, but it's one of the things I get asked about a lot, so maybe it's time I did. There's a bit about 'advice to writers' on the main website, but for anyone who wants help, this might be useful.

Read, read, read. If you love a book, ask yourself what was so great about it? If you don't think much of it, ask yourself what was wrong with it.

Write. Don't just think about it. Do it. Write what you know, write what you love.

Ask yourself 'what if'. What if this person missed her train and her whole life changed as a result?

What if the parcel waiting for you at the post office contains - a lion cub? a plant which grows like a beanstalk? a genie? a box of old letters? a map? Stolen diamonds?

What does your character want? How can they get it? Should they get it?

Everything you write is a draft. Don't be afraid to make huge changes if you want to. It's your story.

If it starts to bore you, it'll bore your readers. Keep the good bits and change the rest.

Write yourself into a corner. Write an impossible situation. Now how can you get out of it?

Don't make it too easy for your hero/ine.

Enjoy it!

If you need ideas, look around you. Ask yourself 'what if'. Ask yourself what makes you laugh, cry, or sit on the edge of your seat. If you're still stuck, maybe you could write about an excellent vet who goes to exceptional lengths to save animals.

That'll do to be going on with. I'm off to watch Supervet.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Election 2015

For perhaps the first time, I don't know who I'm going to vote for. I know who I'm not going to vote for, if that's any help. So, what policies would win me over?


Will you all stop talking about tests, science, attendance and league tables. By the time they're halfway through high school kids know what they're good at and what they're not, what they love and what they would do anything to avoid. Stop making life a misery for teens and let them play to their strengths.

Not all education happens in school. Not all parents can take time off in the holidays. A week of family time in a beautiful location, especially if there's lots to explore and learn, is at least as valuable as a week in the classroom. 'Please can my child have a day out of school to do a music/dance exam, have a once in a lifetime trip to the theatre, go to great-granny's ninetieth birthday?' No-brainer.

Stop giving them tests! If the teacher is any good he/she knows what the child can and can't do. Children need support, not testing.

Let kids enjoy being kids! Lighten up! Put Fingal of the Floods in charge of education immediately!

Thursday, 16 April 2015


I was very happy to be learn that one of my books is being prepared for a US edition. This meant a few alterations were needed. The back garden where the children play is 'the yard', the shop became 'the store', and 'the post' is 'the mail'. All very exciting. The Mistmantle Chronicles have been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Serbian, Russian, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish.

One language that I've never been translated into is Geordie, which is surprising, as I'm fluent in it. There are various definitions of what a real Geordie is, but basically if you were born round about Newcastle or Tyneside, you're in. Northumberland isn't in Geordieland, it's much more rural, but the language is similar. Let me give you some vocab and useful phrases

Howay - or 'haway' - come on/come in/pull yourself together, anything like that. The variation 'hadaway' is usually come off it/I don't believe you/get lost. Also very useful.

Claggy - sticky

Clarts - mud, as in clarty', messy or dirty.

Bairn - child. Eeh, wharra clarty bairn!

Gan - go

Yem, or Hyem - home, as in 'Howay, I'm gannin yem. Are ye ganyem?

Chorch - church, or alternatively chepple, or chapel. You might gan to chorch to get wet, or to get the bairn done (christened).

Coos - cows. If working with coos you can get gey clarty and claggy at the same time, and caad, too, if it's winter. Your ears are your lugs, and if you gan on the moors it's caad enough to blaa yer lugs off.

Cuddy - horse or donkey. Or St Cuthbert, who is our local lad, should be the patron saint of England, and is affectionately known as Cuddy. 'Hadaway wi yer cuddy' is useful if the cuddy is in the wrong place.

Gadgee, or aad gadgee - an old man

Marra - friend (only seems to apply to men) An aad gadgee might like to gan with his marras to the pub, or if he lives in Ashington it's the purb. Or the clurb.

Whyaye - why, yes.

Weshing - washing. Ashington again - rurb a durb durb in the weshturb.

Plodge - paddle, as in plodging in the watter. Howay, we'll gan for a plodge.

Now is that clear as day or clear as clarts? Do you know how to tek the bairn to chorch, invite your marras to the purb or get the coos oot the clarts? Off you gan, then.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The trouble is...

One of the big news stories in the UK today is about a massive jewel theft. A gang of thieves got into a vault in Hatton Garden, the London jewellery quarter, and stole millions of pounds worth of diamonds. They appear to have made quite a weekend of it, with repeated visits to the vault, dressed as security guards. Oops.

My first thought was 'what happened to the alarm system'? Apparently the alarm was linked to the police station, but the police didn't respond. The reason for this is not clear. Somebody suggested that it might be because when an alarm system has triggered off a few false alarms within six months they stop prioritising it, rather like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Be this as it may, it doesn't look good for the constabulary. Just because it was over Easter Bank Holiday weekend... you lot across the pond, stop sniggering.

Now, this is what I think about it. Those policemen thought we were still in the good old days, when a London bobby could sit in his police station with a mug of tea, a packet of digestive biscuits and a crossword, knowing that somewhere out there was a gang of enterprising kids putting all to rights.

It's the trouble with writing exciting stories for children these days. Contemporary children are brought up by responsible parents who always know where they are, give them lifts everywhere, and keep them at the end of mobile phones. How are they supposed to catch gangs of smugglers?

When I was a kid the Famous Five could have replaced the Met, the Flying Squad and the Kent Constabulary. They'd go out with a tent and a picnic and by the time they got home they'd got a whole spy network bang to rights. Emil and the Detectives? Tin-Tin? I don't recall whether William Brown and the Outlaws ever rounded up any criminals, but they could have done if they put their minds to it. I read pony stories where kids galloped away to the defence of the realm, or the village, or the gymkhana or whatever, and they didn't necessarily put their helmets on. Those were the days when you could trip up a villain with a skipping rope, knock him over the head with a lemonade bottle and tie him up with his own trouser belt. Then Max and Simmo would stand guard over him while Bootsy and Tiffers ran the two miles home or to the phone box/police station to let the grown ups know that it was all over bar the shouting.

"Woof!" said Timmy.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Play time

Another sunny day! It isn't going to last long, so I've spent all the time I could in the garden. I've learned to use a saw, and there's no stopping me now. I've dug and planted, potted and pottered, and tried to get weeds out without taking the lily-of-the-valley with them. In previous gardens I've not been able to grow lily-of-the-valley. We moved here to find a border full of them. Of course, I talk to plants. Would you like to go in here? Now, if you don't like it I can move you. Have you got enough sunlight there?

Later, I got to thinking about computer games. I'm of the generation that was all growed up before even Space Invaders or Mario, and have never got into them. Besides, so many of them seem to involve killing things, and I don't want to do that. I've got as far as playing the sweet and not too demanding games that come on the Jacquie Lawson cards. . There's one to do with smashing Easter eggs and it's very therapeutic. I love the crunching sound it makes when you hit one. And then I thought about gardening, and playing, and what sort of a computer game gardeners could do when it's too wet to play outside.

How many geraniums can you put in before the thunderstorm?

Race the slugs to the herb bed.

Plant the bulbs where the cat won't dig them up.

Lily beetle. Nettles. Ground elder. Oh, dear. We're back to killing things, aren't we?

And then I thought stories. You plant saxifrage here, anemones there, begonias somewhere else. Next morning you look out and they've all changed places. Next time they've done it again. A week later the saxifrages are all sitting on the fence, the anemones are swimming round in a pond and there's a begonia up a tree. And next...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Much and Murdering

I'm surprise 'e 'asn't done 'er in.

Yesterday was Easter Monday, Bank Holiday, and for once the sun shone. Like 'alf the people in the country, 'er was off to the Garden Centre.

(At this point, I must explain - because Much won't - that the previous day I had cut down everything in the front garden rockery that I didn't like. This left a lot of space. And the Garden Centre is a real garden centre, a small one run by local people who know what they're selling. As my Austrian friend says, 'you can tell it's a real garden centre because they don't sell scented candles'.)

Yeah, but 'er didn't just buy plants and seeds, 'er bought 'arf a ton of topsoil. Four bags of it. Loading that lot up nearly crippled poor Tony. There was so much stuff in that trolley already, 'e 'ad to stack 'em all at the same end and the thing nearly went over like a catapult. Would 'ave landed right on his foot, too.

Come the afternoon, 'er's pottering about in 'er garden sorting out where to put her campanula and 'er saxophone or saxifrage or weeds or whatever 'er calls 'em and Tony's cutting the grass. That were the first cut of the year and it didn't 'arf give that garden a shock. The fairies 'ad to pack up their little suitcases and run for it. Then, because e's good like this, 'e did the vacuuming. Or at least, 'e started. Arfway down the 'all the vacuum cleaner conks out all together. Caput.

'Er Ladyship were right 'elpful. 'Er asked a lot of questions like whether 'e'd tried a different socket, or was it a loose connection in the plug, and was he sure 'e was doing it right? 'E replied on the lines of whether 'er would like to swallow a three pin plug. 'Er found this very amusing and went back to 'er garden.

Poor old Tony. He'd nearly lost his foot in a soil avalanche, run the lawn mover through the rain forest and 'ad a lot of un'elpful suggestions about what to do with a dead vacuum clear. Well, that's it, I thought. This is the day when we find 'er battered to death with a vacuum and tied upside down to the trellis with a saxifrage in 'er mouth. And we were thinking putting a honeysuckle there. (On the trellis, not in 'er mouth.) If Tony does 'er in today, I thought, I reckon he'll get off on the grounds that 'er drove 'im round the bed. I'd sit down in court and defend him.

What did 'e do? 'E made her a cup of tea. I reckon 'er's spoilt, don't you?