Monday, 24 July 2017

Tangle

A mess tends to get worse before it gets better. It is important to remember that. This week I tried to do some sorting out of all the knitting, sewing and crafting stuff that has gathered round me over the years. Yes, I do mean 'gathered around me'. I don't deliberately acquire it. It tangles me up. It follows me home. Beads, needles and ribbons are sociable creatures and gather together. They collect each other, as teddy bears do. That's why they don't stay in their own bundles, they cuddle each other, they twist up together and tie themselves in knots. Me too, if they get the chance. I fought off several metres of organza ribbon. half a mile of pink bias binding nearly choked me, and don't get me started on bead wire. That was an encounter I'd rather forget, but they don't call it Memory Wire for nothing.

I blame the daughters-in-law. (The Daughter is Innocent in this.) A few years ago we went to the Knitting and Stitching Show, and did they try to stop me? Did they drag me away from the special offers? No, they stood and smiled, that's what they did. And last Monday when we were staying with the Sunshines, I happened to say something to Lady Sunshine about knitting. She TOOK ME TO A WOOL SHOP. WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO HER? A real wool shop, one of those teeny weeny Tardis places down a little side street. When I walked through the door I would have fainted if there'd been anywhere to fall over, but the stands of haberdashery held me up. To get a good look at the wool meant thrashing a way through the jungle. I left without buying anything in there, but only because I was overwhelmed and you can't handle cash when you're shaking.

Recently I also acquired all of Mum's knitting and sewing stuff. The plan now is to get the daughters-in-law here, pile up all the craft stuff and let them help themselves. They can go and cram boxes of it in their own houses. Except the reindeer ribbon, of course, I really like that. And the oddment of coloured silk, I'm sure I'll use that one day. And everything in the shoebox.

Yesterday I knitted a butterfly.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Wimble Much

It's Wimbledon, and this is really not bad weather for it. It's sunny in London and cool here with a fair bit of rain, so there's an excuse for staying in and watching the tennis instead of gardening. However, Much and Oliver are both made of stone and the weather doesn't bother them a bit. In fact, Wimbers is about the only time Much can be persuaded to get off his snail.

Oliver has been into tennis all his life, but Much only learned it after he moved here. Oliver's very patient, especially as Much's first idea about tennis was to hang on to his racquet with both hands and wallop the ball into the next county. However, he's getting the idea now and it's a long time since any sheep were concussed. Dodger runs about being the Ball Dog, and doesn't necessarily bring it back.

Our garden community has been joined by the sweetest little black cat, a very smooth, small black one with bat ears. I've given him the talk about birds, and he doesn't chase anything bigger than insects and the wavy tops of grasses. I'm looking forward to seeing him watch the tennis. (No, they don't make racquets out of you know what any more.) So our garden is dripping wet but it is a glory of roses, lavender, gooseberries and stone people playing tennis.

Somebody asked me if there were fairies in my garden. Don't be so silly!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Fidget

I've always been a fidget. A wriggler, a hair-twister. I can't sit in a meeting without a notebook in front of me. It's supposed to be for making notes, but by twenty minutes in I'm drawing flowers and little houses. I can't sit in front of the television without something to knit, sew, cut out, or puzzle at. Other people sit quietly in the garden with a drink. I have to pull out the weeds and pinch the dead heads off the pansies.

I also fidget write. I have to have some little piece of work going on, if only to play with. At present I'm in the rare position of doing one book at a time, which rarely happens. And my one book is at the stage where I have to leave it to get cold before I can go back, re-read and revise. I'm twitching for some fidget writing.

Maybe a picture book text. What hasn't been done? What would I like to do? A penguin story? A polar bear? An elephant?

A re-telling of a fairy tale? Or a legend?

Something that's never been done before? So what would that be?

Whatever I might come up with, I will never, ever, write anything so incomparably perfect and lovely as Paddington Bear. Thank you, Michael Bond, who died today at the age of 91, for giving us Paddington. The world of children's books just now looks for excitement, danger, adventure, thrills, pace. Perhaps we're all missing something. We're missing the fact that generations of readers have warmed to the stories of a gentle and sensible bear who doesn't storm about, do anything stupidly dangerous, or even fidget. He gets on with things, speaks politely, and raises his hat, and the world is better for him.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

To explain

It's been quiet at The House of Stories lately, so I thought nobody was calling any more. But a few visiting cards have dropped through the door, so perhaps I should catch up and explain what's been going on. Writery things are going on, but nothing that's at the discussable stage yet.

My sister is home! A senior nurse at the hospital said she'd never seen a recovery like it! She is still using a frame to walk and taking a lot of painkillers, but she will get there. The cat was standoffish for a few hours then said, 'oh, go on then,' and curled up on her mummy's very comfortable bed.

Over the month or so when I was in and out of care homes and hospitals, the garden thought I'd moved out. But I'm giving it all the t and c I can now, and the roses are so happy I can see them dancing about and giggling when they think I'm not looking. I've just thinned out the cornflowers because Much couldn't see a thing, and now he's chatting away to a wild rabbit who comes in now and again and eats the dandelions. We'll have gooseberries soon. The blackcurrants haven't done a thing, but fortunately next door's are growing through the fence.

And for all of you Over The Pond who are dying to know about what's really happening over here, let me explain about (1) The General Election and (2) The Archers.

The Prime Minister said she wasn't going to call a General Election, and called a General Election. Everyone said that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, was unelectable, largely because he was an old-fashioned leftie who cares about people, grows things on an allotment, and makes jam. It turns out that people, especially young people, like old-fashioned lefties who care about them. And jam. Anyway, Jeremy Corbyn did brilliantly well, won a lot of seats, and lost, except, in another sense, he kind of won. The PM lost a lot of seats and won, but no longer has enough seats to ride roughshod over the rest of the country and is frantically swapping marbles in the playground with any party who will prop her up. She has not yet approached the Monster Raving Newport Pagnell Liberation Front, but give her time.

Proportionately, Labour won and the Liberal Democrats did really well, but we don't do proportionate. So that's all clear and simple, then. And countries all over Europe are weeping with laughter and holding each other up.

And the thing you really want to know about - Justin Elliot wants to buy some land from Tony Archer to build houses. No, Susan, not a multi-storey mega pig rearing unit, houses. Freddie Pargeter bunked off an exam to go to a music festival with Johnnie and came home with a dodgy looking tattoo and a big smile. His mum Elizabeth is livid, and will probably shove him into an ancestral cannon and fire him into the middle of next week. Toby and Pip have split up. James and Leonie, who between them are wetter than a swimming pool in the monsoon season, had a very public hissy spat and stalked off in opposite directions, so Lillian and Linda are having a mud-slinging match. All's well in dear old rural England, my merry morris dancers.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Sad

Yes, it has been a long time, hasn't it? There are very good reasons for that.

In May last year, we were all waiting for a birth as my grandchild dithered as to whether he could be bothered to be born. Eventually the decision was taken out of his little hands because he was a Caesarean baby.

This year, we were waiting for a death. My ninety-three year old mother was slipping gently away, and I wanted to be there at the end. There is too much and not enough to say about a woman who as well as daughter, sister, wife, mother and great-grandmother was nursery nurse, carer, nurturer, homemaker, indefatigable cook, needlewoman, encourager, grafter, and a friend and confidant to so many. She could be funny, she could be terrifying. Above all, I think, she was a welcomer and thrived on offering hospitality.

We were prepared for that. We weren't prepared for what happened next day, when my sister was in a road accident so severe that we didn't know whether she'd see the next morning, or whether she'd ever be the same person again. A lot of prayer happened. To cut a long story short, she is now recovering from multiple injuries but they are mostly broken bones and will mend. Her brain is as sharp as ever. The care she is receiving is world class, and yet again I treasure the NHS. I will be grateful all my life to the off duty doctor and nurse who helped at the scene, the paramedics, and the air ambulance team.

At The House of Stories, we are all so thankful. The Sunshines, Hobbits and Cahooties have been so wonderful that I want to cry just thinking about it. I love this family. And I am so glad that my sister and I are daughters of a tough wee woman.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hope the Hedgehog

Hope may be a small hedgehog, but he's a big favourite with readers of The Mistmantle Chronicles. I was telling him about my sister, who looks after five rescue hedgehogs, and he was very interested in that. He also wanted to know about May Day, and I told him it was a bit like Spring Festival but with different dances. Then I had to explain.

Morris dancing, I said, is usually done by men in white shirts, dark trousers, long socks, and big noisy clogs on their feet. They wear bells, too, so they have music wherever they go. And hats with flowers on. And they wave white hankies, or, in some cases, swords.

"Isn't that dangerous?" asked Hope.

"It depends on the Morris Men," I said. "Mostly the ones with swords are the rapper bands. The rappers are sort of bendy swords and they weave them together to make a star."

"Then do they all go to hospital?" asked Hope.

"Not usually," I said, and, seeing that Hope was getting a bit worried about this, I moved on. I told him all about Maypole dancing, which, if you've never seen it done, features a tall pole with coloured ribbons attached and the dancers weave in and out so that the ribbons wrap very prettily around the Maypole. Then I had to explain it all again, because he was very interested. Next, he asked if I could very kindly lend him a bit of bamboo cane and some ribbons, and where exactly does my sister live?

So Hope is off to my sister's garden to teach Maypole dancing. If you live in Northumberland and find a bunch of hedgehogs rolling about trying to pull the ribbons off each other's prickles, please stop and help them. Carefully. At least it's safer than clogs and rappers.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Good Things

Away from the island, good things are happening. We've just come back from a weekend with Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine and Lovely Younger Son and The Lassie. Sunshine, blossom on the trees, and lovely Yorkshire landscapes to explore. LOS and Lady Sunshine were dog-sitting, so we were accompanied by a dog who loved people but wasn't so keen on other dogs. There was a lot of steering him round trees and up hills to avoid him meeting anyone he might want to attack. (I wonder if it would work on some of our world leaders?)

The garden is happy. It is also a mess, because I haven't had time to attend to it lately. Yesterday I had a substantial piece of work to finish, so I decided to cut the grass afterwards. It was a mild, sunny morning, with washing blowing merrily on the line. In the afternoon, hailstones were stotting (a Northumbrian word, means exactly what it sounds like) off the pavements. Then I had a migraine so I curled up on my bed for three hours, and when I woke up, I'd missed the snow. Yes, we get weird weather in the north.

Good news - Newcastle United have won their promotion back to the Premier League. To this part of the world, that's the equivalent of winning a war, a marathon, Wimbledon and the lottery all at the same time.

My sister is now fostering five hedgehogs, which are doing extremely well.

And Why Haven't I Read It Before? I'm reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, one of those books I've always heard about but never read. It's one of the funniest things I have ever read and a great bit of escapism too. I find myself muttering to myself - 'I mun scranlet they turnips, I mun milk they dumb beasts, tes all accursed and flying in the face of nature...'. Just read it.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Sepia

Hello! I haven't blog posted anything for a while because (a) there's been a lot going on, and (b) I wasn't sure if anyone was reading it much these days. Is there anybody out there? However, I just heard about somebody who would like to know what Sepia has been doing, so I went to the Tower, but she wasn't there. She wasn't in her Song Cave, either. Finally I found her in curled up in a tree, and she asked me to tell you -

I had a tickle in my throat yesterday, so I took some honey and thyme and rested my voice, but it didn't do any good and today I can hardly speak, let alone sing. If I take a deep breath I just cough. I'm supposed to be teaching the choir a new song today, but I asked Needle to sort it out and she's asked Juniper to teach them, so that's all right. I'd quite like to go out for some fresh air, but it might not be a good idea.

Back in the winter I had a sore throat just before the festival. I couldn't go from here to the Tower without animals stopping me and fussing and offering me all kinds of strange medicines and advice. Some of them said I should wear two scarves and a pair of slippers. Some said I needed to rest, and some said I should take a brisk run through the trees, and of course Apple sent a bottle of her cordial which made my eyes water as soon as I took the top off. (I didn't drink it. Please don't tell her.) So this time, I 'm staying in my nest, keeping quiet, and hoping nobody notices that I'm not around. Urchin promised not to tell Apple. Later, Needle and Crackle will come round with all the news of the Tower and some honey biscuits, and it'll be fine so long as I try not to cough over them. I will rest myself better. That's all I need.

I must tell Needle not to make me laugh. I'd have a coughing fit.


Poor Sepia! I'm sure she'll be well soon. In the meantime, I feel so sorry for those of you in far flung places who can't hear The Archers, so here's your update. Tom isn't speaking to David and Ruth isn't speaking to Pip.
Justin and Lilian are getting married. Emma's working three nights a week in a chicken factory to pay for the kids' birthday presents and Ed is a Grumpy Grundy. Elizabeth is planning a party for her fiftieth, which should be fun with all the family falling out.

People are still speaking to Josh. I can't think why.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A Lot Of It About

A lot of the visitors to The House of Stories are American. If you're from the US, you may have heard that the British are always talking about the weather. It's true, we do that. We have to. There's a lot of it about.

Tony and I had two wonderful days on Holy Island at the weekend. If you don't know about it, it's a tidal island off the coast of Northumberland, cut off by the tide twice in every twenty-four hours. It's also wild and windswept, a haven of wildlife, and the cradle of British Christianity, and none of this begins to describe it. It's often called a 'thin' place, where there's little to separate earth and heaven. The wind sweeps across the North Sea, and the North Sea changes colour constantly. We walked for miles, with the wind or against it.

We came home on the first official day of spring, which coincided with a cold snap. On Wednesday morning, we woke up to three inches of snow which had flattened the daffodils. By the time I went out it was slithery slush, and today was warm enough for Tony to sit outside with a book. Now do you understand why we go on about the weather?

And isn't it a long time since I told you about The Archers? I know some of you are dying to know what Pip did next. She's still with Useless Toby. If you want to slap the pair of them, you'll have to join the queue. Eddie and Clarrie are doing B and B, Linda declared war, Justin proposed to Lillian and Lillian had a fit of the vapours. David and Ruth's cows caught Wobbly Hereford Disease or something and have been given the vaccine. If they've got any left they could give Toby a shot.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Selkie

Today I've been thinking about seals. The breeding season hasn't started yet, but soon they will be rolling about on the shores of remote islands, and not so remote ones too. There will be boat trips to the Farne Islands to watch for them. You might like this -

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands

You know how you feel when you've overeaten? (Serves you right.) That's what seals look like on land. Stuffed. Unable to do anything but flop solidly on to the nearest horizontal space while gazing out from those big brown eyes. But in water they are fast, they are graceful, they are sure.

In parts of Scotland there are all sorts of stories about the Selkies, or Silkies. They are seals who arrive on land and take human form, usually the form of a beautiful woman. in some cases they have to fold up their sealskins and keep them safe so that they can return to the water. The usual tale is that a man falls in love with a selkie woman and marries her, but in time she yearns for the sea and nothing he can say or do will make her stay. She takes her sealskin, runs to the shore, and returns to her life in the sea. If you're a seal, you're a seal, and it's no good trying to be anything else.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Fingal

We haven't heard from the island for a while, so I thought I'd have a little potter about and see what's happening. There was Fingal, and I wondered what had happened to his tail.


Oh, don't worry, that'll grow out. I was doing a bit of maintenance work on the boat, some paint and a new sail. Ffion came along and watched for a bit and of course she wanted to help. Oh yes, she had a frog with her. They seem to follow her around. I'm surprised she hasn't eaten one yet. Anyway, the big paintbrush was too heavy for her, so she tried dipping my tail in the paint, but a full grown otter's tail is not a good paintbrush and it didn't go well. So then she tried using her own tail, which is smaller and neater but not quite within her line of sight unless she rolled over on her back. That worked reasonably well, and there wasn't much paint left in the pot when she knocked it over.

Of course it doesn't wash off, it's boat paint, it's not supposed to! It doesn't look too conspicuous, though, because she got so much sand stuck to it. And she doesn't mind. It'll grow out, as I explained to Padra and Arran. Padra fell off his rock laughing and Arran rolled her eyes up but she didn't really mind.

Did I say Ffion had sand stuck to her tail? Yes, and some few very pretty shells. And seaweed. And a surprised frog, but we set that free by trimming her fur a bit. It's the only frog on the island with otter fur slippers.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Puss In Books

This week I've been thinking about books and cats, or Puss in Books as Tony brilliantly put it. What do cats read?

Of course all good Cattolic kitties read their Catechism, but apart from that, they enjoy the classics. Did you think your cat didn't appreciate Shakespeare? They love Romew and Juliet, Antony and Clawpatra, and of course The Winter's Tail. They're partial to curling up in the fire with a Charles Kittens book - A Tail of Two Kitties is a favourite, and Bleak Mouse. They like Martin Nuzzlecat, too. Like me, they enjoy anything by Kat Atkinson, like Behind the Scenes at the Mewseum. And cats who like an old-fashioned story of North-East working class life go for anything by Catterine Cookson.

Please tell us - what does your cat read?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

St David's Day

1 March, St David's Day, so here are my favourite Welsh things - as opposed to my favourite Welsh person. If I start writing about him we'll be here till Easter.

MUSIC - the Welsh know how to do that. The harp sounds so lovely. And in days gone by you could whistle down a mine shaft and up would come a male voice choir. In Welsh culture they know the value of music, and do a lot of it. You could go to a rugby match with your eyes shut and just listen to the singing. (They sing a lot about a saucepan, I don't know why.)

THE LANGUAGE - I don't speak it, but it sounds good and looks amazing. (One of my favourite Welsh words is popty-ping. It's the word for a microwave oven. It sounds so absolutely right.) The Welsh language inspired Tolkien.

Speaking of ovens - FOOD. Leeks, cheese, bara brith ( a kind of fruit loaf) Welsh cakes.

SNOWDONIA - you have to see it.

DRAGONS - Wales values its folklore, dragons and all.

DAFFODILS

CARDIFF BAY

Dylan Thomas, Aneurin Bevan, Bryn Terfel, Anthony Hopkins, Tanni-Grey Thompson, David Lloyd George. And the Welsh people who simply love being Welsh. Hapus dydd dewi sant!




Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Maid of Norway

A rather sad little story with big consequences, but a story worth telling. For a writer, it's a story worth playing with.

In Scotland in the thirteenth century, there was a king called Alexander III. He had been king since childhood, had kept the country stable, and was generally regarded as a good leader. There was a queen, and they had two sons and a daughter. In those days it was important for a king to have a son who would learn about monarchy as he grew up and be ready to take over when the time came.

One of the princes died in childhood. The daughter was married to a Norwegian prince and died in Norway, giving birth to a daughter they called Margaret. Then the queen and the only remaining prince died, and suddenly Alexander III was childless. The heir to the throne was the tiny little Norwegian Princess Margaret. Alexander quickly married again.

One night after a gathering of the Scottish lords, he rode home to his new queen through along the coastal path, in foul weather. He lost his way, his horse stumbled and panicked, and he was found dead the next morning at the bottom of a cliff with his neck broken. Overnight, the nation was leaderless, and that was dangerous.

A group of the Scottish lords, The Guardians of Scotland, kept everything together. They crossed the sea to Norway and proclaimed three year old Margaret Queen of Scots, but she stayed in Norway with her father, who was now king, while the Guardians ruled on her behalf. This state of affairs went on for four years and seems to have worked well enough. Various claimants to the throne rattled their swords, and King Edward I of England, in my opinion one of the nastiest monarchs in our history, offered to help but was politely refused. However, when he suggested marrying off his young son to the little queen, the Guardians agreed to discuss it and the Maid of Norway was sent for. At seven years old she set sail for Scotland. But on the way, she became so ill that she didn't survive the journey. Her body was put in a coffin and returned to her father, who insisted on opening it to identify her.

With the Maid of Norway dead, the dynasty died out. Claimants jostled for the throne. The result was war, and more war, with bitterness and hatred that would last for generations. You can read those stories elsewhere.

BUT

this is where we ask that question beloved by writers - what if? What if the King of Norway didn't want to risk his little daughter going to a strange land and being a pawn in the hands of lords and kings, but he couldn't risk annoying the King of England? What if he faked the death of his daughter so he could keep her safe somewhere, maybe foster her out to a Norwegian family where she could be free and live like a normal child? What would you have done? What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Wet Mistmantle

It's sad and soggy here in this Valley in the North. Rain drips from dead trees and empty washing lines. Soggy leaves squelch underfoot. Much, Oliver and Dodger don't feel the wet because they're made of stone, but they look pretty fed up to me.

It's the same on Mistmantle. The moles are staying underground, building tunnels through soggy earth. Hedgehogs make hot drinks and hang up their cloaks by the fire to dry. Squirrels run for cover, dodging through the wet leaves, running up trees and darting into the first hollow they can find. In the Tower, Juniper and Brother Fir make medicines for coughs and colds and the animals in the workrooms stop trying to do any close work on the Threadings because the light is so poor. The kitchen fire is the best place in the whole Tower. But the young animals, including the Tower family, pull up their hoods and run outside to float their bark boats downstream.

And the otters? They are loving it. Fingal lopes out from the sea, shakes himself, rolls over, and runs back in again. Tide and Swanfeather tumble through the waves.

King Crispin watches them from the tower. He's glad that somebody's enjoying the wet, and gives Arran and Padra the rest of the day off.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Patchworking

The Lassie and I accidentally found a fabric shop a few weeks ago, and had a little peek inside. The Lassie is a patchworking star, as I told the shop man. We got on to chatting about patchwork, and he said it makes him laugh that customers are very particular about the fabrics they use for their patchworks. Cottons or nothing. In the past, when making new out of old was necessary, everything went into the patchwork, all weights and colours of scrap fabric, shirts and dungarees, summer dresses and party frocks, curtains, anything. To see a modern equivalent, look at woollypedlar.co.uk.

Snippets of fabrics made me think of snippets of stories. I have often thought of writing down the memories my parents have come up with over the years - they are both on the far side of ninety years old. But the important thing about writing down these stories is not so much what happened and who said what, but the background against which they happened. The story about Auntie Annie hitting my grandfather across the face with a haddock has to seen in its context - the quayside, crates of fish, and the woollen shawl that Auntie Annie pulled around her as she took to her heels and ran up the stone stairs. ('I grabbed me shaal, and I ran up that bank...'). Shirts had separate collars. Dark red or green bobbly tablecloths, heavy and often trimmed with tassels, covered dining room tables.

Boys wore grey shorts until they were coming up fourteen. Wearing your first suit was a rite of passage. But those shorts came down to the knee, and socks (if they stayed up) almost came down to meet them. And children's clothes were invariably scratchy and uncomfortable. My Aunt Jenn's coat must have smelt of nutmegs, because she always had one in her pocket to keep the moths away.

A patchwork of my life would start with bits of candlewick bedspread, yellow plastic sou-wester, crinkle swimsuit, horrid school uniform, then 1970s cheesecloth and Laura Ashley. Now, for those of you who like to write and need a springboard -

Choose some of the past fabrics from your life. What stories do they have to tell you? Are these stories for somebody else to read, or just for you?

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Man With Two Shirts

I know that some of you over the pond like a bit of British history now and again, and to be honest, I'm ready for a few minutes of distraction from other events. So here it is. And it's to do with 30 January.

Some years ago I was at a publisher's party at The Banqueting House in London, not far from Trafalgar Square. It's a very beautiful building with baroque painted ceilings, and is all that is left of Whitehall Palace, but we all knew that on 30 January 1649, a scaffold was erected outside it.

Charles I was always on a hiding to nothing. He wasn't supposed to be king. He had an older brother, Prince Henry, who was clever, athletic, gifted and popular until his death at the age of eighteen after swimming in the Thames. (David Walliams got off lightly, then.) Suddenly twelve year old Charles Stuart was the heir to the thrones of England and Scotland. He was a little chap who looked as if he'd blow away in a high wind, stammered, and may have had rickets at some point. At the age of 25, his embarrassing father died and Charles Stuart had to start kinging. He'd become good at all the royalty stuff like riding horses and fencing, and he seems to have been an elegant man and very devoted to his wife, Henrietta Maria, but it wasn't enough.

Unfortunately, Charles had a high view of kingship. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings, ie, God had made him king, which meant that he was a kind of proxy for God and couldn't be argued with. When his Divine Right extended to the Divine Right to raise taxes and adjourn Parliament, the House of Commons got thoroughly upset, and Mr Oliver Cromwell wasn't a bit pleased.

Another mistake Charles made was to try to impose the English Prayer Book on the Scottish Church (the Kirk.) An Englishman giving orders to a Scot is never going to go down well (if he'd been to Glasgow he would have got that in five minutes), and this was the Kirk, for heaven's sake! Before long he'd alienated the Scots and had a Civil War on his hands. He sent for his dashing young cousin Prince Rupert, who was a very good soldier and did lots of dashing around battlefields with his poodle. Yes, really, he had a little white poodle called Boy. Anyway, in spite of Rupert and his poodle, Charles 1 lost the war and was imprisoned.

Finally, Parliament decided that they couldn't let the king live. There would always be conspiracies to put him back on the throne. So on 30 January King Charles walked out from the Banqueting House to the scaffold where the axeman waited. He asked for two shirts to wear that morning because it was bitterly cold and he didn't want to shiver and make people think he was afraid. He died bravely, and with dignity.

The Stuarts didn't often do well as monarchs. But they make great stories.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Angel

There's always one. After the Christmas decorations are tidied up and put away, there's always one that manages to stay up late. Usually it's one of the crepe paper imps. Cheeky little beggars, those imps. But this year it was an angel, a quite modern little enamel angel who flies rather stiffly and has unfeasibly long legs, who fell off the Christmas tree when it was taken out and is still hanging around between the sewing box and the CDs. I've deliberately kept out a few things that need a bit of mending, and a little wooden decoration made by my father and intended for Frodo to put on his Christmas tree when he's older.

Then there are stars. I have a liberal hand with confetti stars at Christmas time and they're still all over the floors. No amount of cleaning will ever scoop up the last one. There are some in the garden, and every now and then a tiny star twinkles up at me from the floorboards. That's fine. The stars can stay. (I said more about this on Girls Heart Books, if you'd like to give it a look.)

What is this telling me? It's telling me that stars and angels - even strange-looking angels - are for life, not just for Christmas. We need them. More than ever, we need them. Whenever Frodo comes into this house, stars and angels will not be far away.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Mistmantle

What do you think?

I'm always getting lovely e-mails from readers, usually but not always in the US, who want to read Urchin and the Rage Tide but can't get a copy unless they pay far too much on the second-hand market. I usually suggest that they contact Hyperion, the US publisher, because if enough people do that they might just bring out another print run. Perhaps Mistmantle is due for a revival. Any thoughts? Ask your friends. Ask your teachers.

Meanwhile, we finally have snow! Not a lot, but a covering, so the Mistmantle animals are all playing snowballs in the garden. Hope is rather at a disadvantage because he can't see the snowballs coming at him, so Myrtle suggested that the rest of them should be blindfolded to make it fair. All my scarves are in use. The trouble with blindfold snowball fights - I mean, one of the troubles with blindfold snowball fights - is that not only you can't see the snowballs, you can't see anything else either. Hedgehogs have landed in the mint, the mud, the rockery, and if we had a pond they'd have fallen into that, too. I am standing in front of the holly, just in case. How a blindfolded otter gets up a tree is beyond me but Fingal is up there in the branches hurling down snowballs while shouting 'For the honour of the Circle!'. Don't try this at home. They don't mind getting wet and cold, but I suspect they'll be glad to be back in the tower with hot cordials. Even Much is grinning.

Ouch! Fingal, I'll get you back.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Is anybody there?

Good heavens, Mrs Margi, are you still alive? Yes I am, and I'm here to tell you that for the last month I have been far from The House of Stories, flying on swans to and from Mistmantle and brushing through fur coats into Narnia before dashing through the December skies on the sleigh with the flying reindeer. I'd be lying, though. What with work, family stuff and church and community stuff I have been just about keeping the ducks in a row since before Christmas.

To answer the usual questions - yes, it was lovely. Yes, we got to see most of the family and had a lot of cuddles with a happy little Frodo. Shakespeare DVDs, squirrel sweater (oh, YES!) scented stuff and choccies. The party, with the house full off neighbours and children. The crib service on Christmas Eve. Mulled wine. Sprouts and chestnuts. Springs Dance Company doing Journey of the Magi. The Hely-Hutchinson Carol Symphony and 'Jesus Christ the Apple Tree'. The biggest and beautifullest Christmas tree we've had in years, and the smell of it. Carols. Finally watching 'Frozen' for the first time and completely understanding why everybody's raving about it. Even better, I watched it with the Sunshines, all of us squished up on the settee beside the Christmas tree, and we watched it in the MORNING! It feels like Christmas when you can watch a DVD in the morning.

There are things I've neglected, though, and I'm a bit sad about that. I wish I'd spent more time singing, and listening to Christmas music. I wish I'd done more watching movies, reading, and eating chocolate. I wish I'd got out for some wintery walks. I wish I'd read more seasonal poetry. However, tomorrow is the Epiphany and you can still celebrate Christmas at Epiphany. So that's all right then. Happy New Year!

In the time it has taken to write this, the ducks are out of their row again.