Friday, December 12, 2008

round and round and round and round

Perhaps it's not too clever an idea to read the news online at before posting to this blog. Tends to colour what I want to write about.So- for once I'm not going to wiffle on about the disastrous political shenanigans going on in all our names over in Poland. Nor am I going to bore y'all to tears about the paucity of moral fibre that has led to us all saying yea to a vastly expensive bail out of the US car manufacturers. Not to mention the Merkel-led suck-up to the German automobile makers , but we're not, not NOT going to go on about that.


That way lies madness. And spiralling around in ever-decreasing circles is not what I want or need right now. Right now, here is my wish-list for this festive season.
1. A posse of endearingly fey elves to do my bidding. Ooooh yes. Left a bit, right a bit, mmmmmm, don't stop.
2. A personal shopper to go and fetch what is on everyone else's lists so that I won't have to go and engage with the madness that is Edinburgh retail.
3. A pop-up masseur to iron out the wrinkled bits and a miraculous re-elasticization of my aged skin combined with a targeted weight loss in all the right places.
4. A heeeeuge and hitherto undiscovered royalty cheque to materialize in tomorrow's post.
5. A clear and present idea for the text for my next picture book.
6. A sudden ability to bow my fiddle like a diva, and a gift for being able to play Shetland reels at full speed rather than my feeble dead s..l...o...w efforts at present.
7. Oh, yeah. World peace, massive and mysterious reduction in the ppm of carbon in the atmosphere and Love for all.

LOVE is all there ever was.. Nothing else matters. Happy pre- Solstice to one and all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

my Inner Slug

Flat, I am. More like crepe woman if that didn't have older-lady with wrinkly neck connotations. However, the morning mirror informs me that I am heading for, nay am in the joyous territory of the crepey neck, so we'll drop that subject because there's nothing I can do to stem the march of time across my person.

Should celebrate it, really. But, ungrateful wretch that I am, I tend to look in the mirror and mutter 'eughhhh' rather than anything more encouraging.

Perhaps it's the lack of light that makes me feel as if I'm spread too thinly across the surface of my life. Light finally makes it feasible to go for a run along the little single track road outside my house at 7.50 a.m. and disappears entirely round about 4.30 p.m. which makes for an awful lot of time spent in darkness* wondering why I feel so sluggish and dull. The discipline of going running in the morning is a good thing, and lifts my mood to the point where I feel like a goddess - but only for an hour or so until my Inner Slug reasserts itself.

I finished the artwork for Stormy Weatheryesterday, but far from feeling triumphant and full of joy at completing a set of beautiful illustrations for what I hope will be a profoundly reassuring lullaby, I feel numb. This is because all work and no play makes Debi a boring old fart, but sadly, still an impecunious one. From various sources I hear that there are no copies of any book I've made to be had in any of the high street chain bookstores in Edinburgh. For Edinburgh, this gloom-laden illustrator extrapolates The World. How the heck am I supposed to make a living if my books aren't actually in the shops? At the time of year when people actually buy the bloody things? How are any of us, apart from the top layer of bestselling authors, supposed to put bread on the table if our wares cannot be found in the marketplace?

No - don't answer that. I'll answer it for you. One of the places that books actually can be found is through a deep discount merchant who out of the goodness of his own heart, brings a huge variety of books into workplaces around the UK and piled high, sells them so cheaply that the creators of said books do not make much more than 1% of the cover price. The cover price which is massively discounted. Why would anyone ever want to go into a bookshop when they can buy insanely cheap books at work or online through the ironically titled bookstore named after a tribe of one-breasted women? Roll up, log on, who'll buy my luvverly books? Cheap, cheap, cheap.

I feel like one of those little birds that plucks the down from her own breast to keep her chicks warm.

But hopefully some utterly misunderstood, as yet undiscovered Caledonian biomechanism will register that we are almost at the lowest point of the year, and, accordingly, will swing the nation's cheerometers over into the black once we pass the solstice. Till then, I'm clinging on, white knuckled, gritted of tooth and totally fed up with this endless year's sodding treadmill which has me unable to step off, unable to admire the view, unable to do anything other than turn, turn, turn...

*15hours and 20 minutes ecksherly

Sunday, November 23, 2008

and home again

Another train, in the dark, heading North. Bjork on the earbuds and a feeling of a job well( ish) done. Two events with mixed age groups of children today - the little ones in the morning appeared to be half asleep, verging on comatose; the afternoon group was sparkier and waaaay more fun in terms of audience participation. Go figure. At times like this morning I wonder, as I stand up there drawing and drawing and talking non-stop to fill up the endless yawning silences, I wonder what the hell am I doing up here?

Is it me? Or is it them? Or is it just that the us isn't working? So, for my partners in non-creativity this morning, I have this to say - it didn't work out, did it? It may have been me, it may have been all of you ; but no, there were small pockets of resistance, some of you smiled shyly, but the rest of you looked as if you were hoping it would all be over soon so that you could get back to whatever it was you were doing before your thoughtless parents dragged you out of bed/away from the tv/the playstation and forced you into a car/bus/train to make sure you participated in a free but ticketed event at a book festival that is stunningly, brilliantly, wildly enthusiastically run by a team of unpaid volunteers. 

The key word in that last sentence was 'participated'. Dear children, for the majority of you this morning, your sum total contribution to this event was... to look bored. Bored, bored and beyond bored. I'm sorry that you felt that way. Certainly makes me wonder what I was doing wrong, or even if there is anything I can do to wake children up out of that kind of depressing torpor because whatever it takes, I sure didn't have it. Not this a.m. 

However, there were pockets of resistance. Not all of you looked like the flesh and blood embodiment of that well-worn teen look of 'yeah, whatever'. Not all of you made me wish I'd chosen a more rewarding occupation like manual sewage operative. Not every single one of you looked dead from the neck up. the little boy and girl who made a big effort to make up for the embarassing shortfall in the audience involvement of this morning, a thousand thankyous. For smiling. For making an effort to join in. For connecting. Thankyou. 


Friday, November 21, 2008

natcherl born traveller, me

Bizzarely, I'm at my happiest writing-wise when I'm on a moving train. There's something about being rocked by the motion and locked in my own little applemac bubble. Works for me, every time. Which does rather nake me think that should I get another suicidal urge to write another beast of a novel, I'll probably have to acquire a railcard and spend a year travelling on the great iron road. Which is all very well if you're Paul Theroux with little in the way of family committments, but totally impossible if you're moi.

The only way it could work for me would be if I shuttled backwards and forwards between Dunbar and Edinburgh in the hours when I'm not having to do the school run. I think one of the true joys of travel is the fact of being surrounded by one's fellow citizens without any of them having any earthly idea of who you are. Sure, you can do some covert detective work and assess your fellow passengers by virtue of what they carry, but other than that, anonymity rules.

So - a combination of close physical proximity and the alone-ness of being utterly unknown. Seems to free up some synaptic pathways and allow the words to flow. And flow they must because I'm off to another book festival - this time the Northern Children's gala day in Newcastle whic is always good for meeting my colleagues and having a good moan. Writers can moan and moan and moan, but they tend to do it in flowery language, and even their most vitriolic outbursts are couched in wonderful prose, so tonight should be a blast. and it's always helpful to know that we're all in it, all of us wallowing round in the post-Potter aftermath. 

The wordyhurricane came, it flattened our little world and we're now picking ourselves up out of the wreckage. And, oh, the stories we could tell....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

scary biscuits

Well, I've gone and done it. As of ten minutes ago, I've gone and committed myself to ten weeks of training with a purpose. This is a better idea than the other training plan I've rigorously followed which involved a bit of concentrated lying in bed, a few short intervals of pillow management, and an extended period of devising endless excuses for why I can't possibly spare the time to go out for a quick run when there are such interesting things happening behind my eyelids.

The Great Winter Run beckons. So what if its beckoning finger bears more resemblance to a whip? What care I for the aching muscles, the inhalations of partially burnt hydrocarbons and the freezing cold rainy mornings where I'm sprayed with grit from passing cars as I pound the tarmac intent on upping my cardiovascular virtue quotient? Fie upon my slugabed self. A pox on my pathetic Inner Duvet Hog. A plague upon my perfectly human desire to burrow deeper under the feathery quilt and squinch my eyes shut against the first rosy fingers of dawn and mentally consign all members of the dawn chorus to a swift neck-wring, pluck and into the pot.

Nope. The New Me shall embrace the day, lace the trainers, squeeze into the rather alarmingly tight running kit ( must have shrunk in the wash, surely) and take to the streets.

Oh what the heck have I done?

The sudden panic engendered by having registered for my first 5k race is offset by a deep, unspoken until now, fear over the possibility that the good people of America could be so shortsighted as to elect a candidate with his very own defibrillator and circling fascist vulture-lady. They couldn't. They wouldn't.

Would they?

Tomorrow we'll all find out. I still have my copy of the Guardian the morning we woke to discover America had re-elected Bush. The cover was entirely black with just the words Oh. My. God. printed in a bold white font. Let's hope history does not repeat itself.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

swathed in dustsheets

Sorry about this - the carpets are rolled up, the furniture is swaddled in cambric, supper will be cold cuts and fridge leftovers and if you want entertaining, grab a paintbrush. I'm renovating. Don't know about you, but I've been bored witless with the way this page has looked for over a year, and for heaven's sake, I am supposed to be an illustrator, so surely I ought to be able to produce a more visually exciting blog?

Sadly, illustrator I may well be, but html code decipherer I am not. Dweebs are sooooo not us. So the title bar with attendant illustration may well be as far as my renovations go. I'd love to be able to lay out my blogpage in a more adventurous fashion but I need to be shown how because, well..perhaps I'm just terminally dim, but I don't understand how to tweak the Blogger layout and make my page my own. Also, time is somewhat precious, money is scarce, and spending hours plittering about with pixels is not going to put broccoli on the table.

The good news of this week is that eldest son is off to rehab after going through three weeks of rapid detox. He has done very well to overcome the chemical addiction, but his thoughts, dreams, desires and general life patterning will take longer to detoxify. That's where rehab comes in. Unlearning what he learned from the unreliable pedagogy of the poppy. Changing all his habits. Untying the knots that bound him to a half-life spent oscillating between the dealer and the Deeps.

I'm doing a fair bit of oscillation myself between a range of emotions that I wish I could harness for the purpose of energy creation. I'm a one-woman alternative energy generator, me. My feelings can blow up into gales which could set the blades spinning in a wind farm. My stormy highs and lows are like a form of emotional wavepower. Intense bursts of rage and grief flare like solar power... I could go on. I'm sure you'd rather I didn't. However, it should come as no surprise that I can hardly get my head off the pillow in the morning ; the whole upheaval and upset and digging up of the past consumes so much time and energy that I feel wiped out by it all.

Next week, with my son safely tucked up in rehab a long way from wintry Edinburgh, we have to go to his lair and gather up the salvaged bits of pieces of his life that he would like us to keep for when he rejoins the human race. His home of the past three years is a lair ; there is no better word to describe the flat he has inhabited through the dark years of addiction. I would rather never go there again as long as I live, but this mother's hardwired guilt will drive me up and down the entire height of an Edinburgh high-rise, over and over again to retrieve the detritus of my son's long love affair with narcotics.

It has been a long love-affair, and there is a heck of a lot of detritus. He has an entire room full of disembowelled bikes. He has another room full of disembowelled computers. In the middle of this incredible chaos, two sleek, well-fed and beautiful black cats prowl, stalking through the circuitboards and derailleurs as if rooms full of urban trash were as homely as their ancestors' palaces of Ancient Egypt. The ashtrays are full of cigarettes rolled from the ends of other cigarettes which, in turn, have been made from the cannibalized remains of other cigarettes ; the whole ashy history stretching back in time to the days of a tar-drenched nicotine quest fuelled by poverty and need. The kitchen houses a vast collection of brown medicine bottles and burgeoning spider plants spilling out of their pots over the top of the fridge. He began to strip the wallpaper in the hall, then gave up on the job. The scraps of discarded wallpaper have littered the bare floorboards ever since. There is an unsurprisingly bad smell; strong enough to make me mouth breathe on every occasion I have visited.

I hope that the next time we go there is the last time. Groundhog Day is all very well and good if you spend it someplace pleasant. Otherwise, you have the feeling that you're on the Hamster-wheel of Hell.

Monday, October 27, 2008

a breath of winter

Sailed out of Aberdeen at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, heading for Lerwick in what I thought were mountainous seas, but hey, I do have a tendency to exaggerate. I did lurch to my cabin window at about 7.30 a.m to take some photos to prove that the mountains were real and not imaginary, but the very action of standing upright was more than enough to bring on a fit of the dry heaves and I had to assume the horizontal position promptly before I went in for major cabin redecoration.It was a journey from hell, and as the ship left Aberdeen harbour and wallowed and yawed out into the full ferocity of the North Sea, I did wonder if I was going to make it intact.

And what vicious shipping magnate named the Shetland ferries in such a completely unsympathetically onomatopoeic fashion. To wit : the s.s. Hrossey and Hjatland. Don't know about you, but when I give it the technicolour yawn, the sounds that emerge from me are along the lines of Hrosseyyyy and Hjat, hjat, hjaaaatt. Too much information, I suspect. Enough already.

I'm still swaying slightly and I've been here for 24 hours now. I was greeted with horizontal sleet as I came off the boat. Sleet? Yikes. We are far North. Edinburgh was sub-tropical by comparison. I'm only here for four days, talking to Shetland's teachers about the projects that I worked on with their children. Also talking about my dragon book and banging my climate change drum, but mainly having fun showing groups of teachers how I managed to get their children to enjoy writing stories. This involves a lot of drawing on the dreaded interactive whiteboards which is about as easy as drawing with a small and wayward half brick with a different agenda from your own. Where I place my pen on the board bears little relation to where the actual drawn line appears. This is deeply disconcerting. Off the top of my head I imagine it to be a bit like chopping onions using those gloved hands that you see in use in nuclear power stations when they're handling uranium - you stand on one side of the leaded glass screen, and on the other side are your virtual hands actually using the knife on the onions. Weird. However, when the whiteboards work, they are truly amazing devices, enabling large numbers of people to watch as you draw something to illustrate what you're wiffling on about.

But when, as happened today, I accidentally hit the wrong area of the screen with my mouse/pen/cursor, and all the huge drawing we'd been working with disappeared, it was incredibly hard to keep sounding ladylike when all I wanted to do was curse like a sailor.

Two hours of talking is effortful, though. At the end of the morning all I was fit for was to curl up with a book and try to pile in enough calories to stop myself from freezing. I can't seem to find a switch to turn the heating up, or indeed, to turn it on in this room where I sit tapping out this post. And yes, I've piled on more layers of clothing, but there's a limit to how many layers I can fit, one on top of the other before my arms stick out from my sides like the Michelin woman. The heating here in Lerwick comes piped in from the town's monster incinerator which occasionally belches out foul smokes and fumes that you can taste. It's called 'district' heating, and is a grand idea if, and it's a big if, the filters work. On the days when you can almost chew the air, I suspect the filters are not working as they should.

So. Tomorrow, I go talk to another group of teachers, but afterwards I hope to get out of Lerwick and go breathe some seawashed air. Winter has already arrived up here at sixty degrees North, which came as a surprise since I left mid-autumn behind in the softer South. I want to get out in the crisp wind, feel the teeth of ice blown across the sea and flirt with the Big Chill before it comes in a few weeks time to the more temperate latitudes where I live. Annoyingly, the clocks went back this weekend, thus allowing fewer hours of daylight to walk Shetland's coastline. I won't be able to go for the long walk I'd anticipated, and will have to find a shorter route - perhaps I'll attempt Fitful Head again, now that there's no chance of being set upon by Arctic terns determined to protect their nesting sites. At this time of year I might get blown off the summit, but that's a risk I'll be able to see coming. The Arctic terns came out of a clear blue sky last May and forced me to turn back. This time the only thing that'll be nesting in Shetland are sets of occasional tables.

And that was a truly pathetic joke for which I apologize.

Friday, October 17, 2008

last of the southern epics

Thank heavens. Now I can collapse in a small Ardbeg-sprinkled heap and say - Job Done. One last heroic effort today - up and down to London in a day, by rail ( am I insane, or what?), pausing momentarily in front of a roomful of senior librarians to flash images, illustrations, sketches and ideas and general climate-rant in front of their thankfully smiling faces and receptive minds. And then back on another train up to Scotland. Phew. 

Let's hear it for librarians. Come on, LOUDER. Damn it, these people are the Keepers of the Faith, the real Masters and Mistresses of the Universe. They deserve a special place in our hearts and minds. When the money is tight, in this country you can still go to the Great Temple of Literature and ask politely if they will acquire something you want to read for their collection. Oh yeah, and you are hoping that they're going to pay for it. Try doing that in a bookshop and see how far you get.

And the fund of knowledge pooled in that room today was formidable. Anything you want to know about children's books - enquire within.

But for now, I'm on an unbelievably overcrowded train and one of my fellow passengers ( the posh one with the flaky children) is  - I can't quite believe this - pouring milk out of a vast plastic container into a teetering cup of hot tea a scant millimetre from where I sit tapping this out on my Precioussssssss. Can I stand the strain or shall I pack up, fold my tent and stop now before it all goes to hell?

Tough call. One last heartfelt hoorah for librarians the world over. And now - I'm gone, before the Descent of the Milk and the Ensuing Carnage. Laters.

Monday, October 13, 2008

train through Lakeland

When I was very very small I was given a beautiful two-tier box of coloured pencils. All shades of the rainbow were there, pointy end upwards in a matt black card box with a top that tilted on a paper hinge to allow this baby artist access to her tools. I loved those pencils to bits. Every time I tilted back the lid and gazed in awe at the colours, I was almost hyperventilating with excitement.

Not unlike how I respond to a wall of yarn in a knitting shop, actually. However, these days, my response to all the hues and types of yarn has to be firmly sat upon less I commit fiscal suicide. Fiscicide? Yes. Anyhoo... My pencils had their maker's name embossed in gold ( not real gold, for heaven's sake) and the name was Lakeland and Cumberland. 

Well, that was a long, long time ago. Coloured pencils? These days, my dears, we find ourselves a burnt twig with which to daub the walls of our cave in these straitened times. ( you know - that stockmarket-melted, climate-changed, credit-crunched Armageddon we're currently enjoying. Some of us are enjoying it more than others but they had better hide their smug smirks less the rest of us rise up and rip them limb from limb, but hey, I digress) It's pretty chilly in the cave, and most of the stunted twigs we find lying around are saved to put on the fire at night. But sometimes, as the Tribe's resident storyteller, sometimes they allow me just one little twig with which to tell the story of what the heck happened to all our 21stC towering dreams, and how we all ended up living in caves.

I think, in truth, the Tribe would probably eat me, because my net worth in survivalist terms, is really negligible. Too old to bear Tribabies, too slow to hunt Tribeasts and way too mouthy to put up with any kind of Tribull, I'm pretty sure I'd end up in the pot, simmering nicely along with some turnips. 

where the hell am I going with this? 

Heavens, by now you're undoubtedly scratching your heads and wondering what on earth was in my breakfast back in Birmingham earlier this a.m. Or can it be that a week of touring has finally dissolved the weak glue that held my synapses together? Hope not. Boy, do I hope not. I still have miles to go and promises to keep. So. Pencils. Lakeland and Cumberland have long gone, I think. Or morphed into another pencil-creating company with a different name. Derwent pencils are ringing some vague and distant bell in the porridge of my brain. Anyway. Lordy. Do stick to the point, Gliori. The train has passed through some hideous urban conurbations, most of which have completely passed me by, locked in embrace with my desktop, as I have been. But I looked up about half an hour ago and found myself in the middle of a landscape of such quintessential pastoral beauty that I was completely blown away. It was the Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter, William Morris, John Ruskin and many other luminaries of the art world whose work has enriched our world, to the betterment of us all. The views were exquisite, and if only I still had access to my little box of pencils ( reaching out for them down through the years) I could have drawn a sketch to show you what I mean. For now, simply the words will have to do.
This is a wonderful world, full of beauty. We ignore it at our peril.

Friday, October 10, 2008

dogless in transit

Another day, another train. 

Yesterday was spent partly in York and then on to Newcastle. Three separate events in one day, three hour-long talks to different groups of children about climate change. And my dragons were welcomed, well-received and the message they bear was well and truly delivered.

The rest is up to each and every small person, every teacher, every parent and every single individual who has heard what I had to say. And none of it is exactly stuff that we, the adults, didn't know already, but perhaps something of the passion and the urgency I have brought to this whole project might rub off on some of the people who have heard me talk.

The working day started at nine in the morning and finished at eight at night. After which, Emma and I headed for the bar of our exceptionally comfortable hotel and toasted ourselves for having put in a stonkingly good day at the coalface. We had supper and then, eyes barely able to focus due to sleep-deprivation exacerbated by a fire alarm going off in the wee small hours of the night before in the hotel we stayed in the night before in York. Well, that wasn't exactly the most elegant sentence I've ever cobbled together, but I'm sure you know what I mean. You get the picture. We're into the home stretch of the tour, as of now heading back down the country to Cheltenham to take part in the Lit-Fest. Anyhoo - last night, after drinks and dinner, I collapsed on my vast hotel bed, sank back into the pillows and phoned home. The news was good, but let me feeling a very odd mix of emotions. To explain-

my beloved Eldest child has been struggling with heroin addiction for years - how many years we're not entirely sure, and in this case, the numbers are not important. Suffice to say, this has been a very difficult thing for all of us to get our heads around. Crikey, Gliori - mistress of the understatement, or what? I'm trying to keep this light, so bear with me. Don't think for one second that I feel lighthearted about all of this, but there is nothing to gain by wallowing. You'll have to trust me on this one. My child has been in the Dark Woods ( his words) for so long he can probably hardly remember what the sunny uplands feel like. In terms of years spent on this planet, he's old enough to have a house, a job, a wife, children and a receding hairline. In reality, his life stopped when he put it on hold in his early twenties by embarking on this descent into hell. Watching this happen to a beloved child is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. In truth, when members of your family embark on this journey, they take a part of you with them.

The news from home is that next week he's going to start to claw his way back out of the darkness. He'll do some horrible and necessary weeks of de-tox and then he'll be gone, far, far away to do at least one full year of re-hab. I have no idea who he will be when that year is over. It's not like the Federal Witness Protection Programme in the good old you-ess-of-ay, but there are similiarities. It's unlikely that he'll ever be able to return to the city of his birth, and it's possible that he may never want to re-engage with his family. He has to break ties with the past in case they are the ties that bound him in cycles of self-destructive behaviour. Only he can decide in the years to come, which, if any, of the threads from the past he will pick up and weave back into his new life.

And I have to watch from the shore as his boat heads out into the fog, without any clear idea of where he's headed,  whether he will return, or if I will recognize the man that steps back onshore. I am so very proud of him for deciding to take this step into the unknown, and I applaud his courage.

But right now, on a train to Cheltenham, I wish my dog was by my side, because right now, I could really do with an uncomplicated creature to wrap my arms around and have a good cry on. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sleepless in transit

It's now Wednesday and Emma from( The Trouble With Dragon's publisher) Bloomsbury and I are on another train, with a wifi signal dipping in and out of focus, on our way to a school in Ilkley ( Yorkshire) to talk to another 110 small persons. Yesterday was great - speaking to a whole school of children( ages from 5 to 11) about climate change, and about the Dragons, and watching their dear little open faces as they 'got' it. And it's such an important thing we're talking about that my voice breaks every time I talk about it, because I am so utterly convinced that we have to hurry up and DO something before we miss the window of opportunity for turning this whole thing round.

The soundtrack that runs through my head for the tour is Kate Bush's 'Ariel'. Songs that get stuck in your head are known as 'earworms' but this music is far too beautiful for such an ugly term. I am transported literally by the train, and metaphorically by the music, and the net result is a dreamy state of langour which seems to work well when I have to get up there and talk to hundreds of people. By the end of this week, I will have spoken to almost a thousand children, and I'm hoping that those thousand children go home and start asking questions of their parents, their teachers and each other. I'm hoping I've given them exactly the right amount of information about climate change, in a form that they can understand and remember. Hopefully presented in a way that will give them enough of an idea of the urgency with which we have to address the issue, and of the importance of doing so.

Otherwise we are going to sleepwalk our way to extinction.

All around us, financial markets are in turmoil, the US is obsessed with election fever and we appear to be taking our eyes off the most important issue of our age. Climate change gets a few column inches while the FTSE and Dow Jones steal the front pages. If we all lived on Tuvalu and were watching our homeland disappear under a rapidly rising sea, or if we lived in Bangladesh and were watching as our tiny vegetable gardens wilted and died under saltwater, or if we were Inuit people who could no longer dare to go fishing on the ice because the once solid whiteness beneath our feet had become treacherous slush or...if we were one of a billion people whose lives are going down the pan and not because their investments were failing, then I think we would no longer care about what the markets were doing.

Apologies. Not my most cheerful posting,this. I remain hopeful, but I also want to jump up and down and yell HURRY UP.

And being away from home without my fiddle has made me feel music-starved. If the craving gets the better of me, I can always go and find a music shop and pretend to be interested in buying a fiddle just so I can get my hands on one, but I'm still too shy to play in front of strangers, and besides, Emma would probably die of embarrassment at being seen out with an author with what I can only describe as fiddle issues. She undoubtedly would think fiddle music is boring as hell, and would be too polite to say so.

It can't be easy, going on tour with an assortment of authors and having to adapt to whatever their particular 'things' are. As a publicist, you're obliged to spend an awful lot of time with your author. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week, plus all the work and the in-between stuff too. Next time you're in a hotel, have a look at the couples having dinner. The ones where there is a young woman in the company of an older one - they're not all mother/daughter combos or even father/daughter ones, some of them are publicists with the people they're paid to look after. Their 'monsters'. I'm trying my hardest not to be too monsterish, and I think, apart from yawning non-stop due to sleep deprivation, demanding to be fed three times a day and ranting on about climate change, I'm not too bad, but you'd have to ask Emma.

But not right now, because she's grabbing a quick nap, the sensible woman. I've got zizz-envy - I'm too wired to sleep, probably due to the bucketloads of coffee I've already consumed and it's only mid-morning. On tour, I never sleep much which means that by the time I get to the end of a tour, I'm so spaced out I look like the unholy union of the marriage between a rabbit caught in headlights and Dracula's mother. Attractive, NOT.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Trouble With Dragons goes live

It's publication day today, and I'm on my way to London. The night is slowly turning to day outside, as this red-eye train sways and clatters towards London. I'm red of eye too - not enough sleep for the past few nights, nervously anticipating this week of full-on dragon events. Why exactly this meant that I had to sample my way through several single malts and talk long into the wee small hours for the last three nights when in truth, the sensible thing to do would have been to have gone to bed early, relatively alcohol-free, is a question I'd rather not answer.

But hey - hindsight is a wonderful thing. And I haven't drunk any malts since last winter, and it was like meeting up with an old and dear friend. Och, Ardbeg, come away in, and wee Caoil Islay - how grand to see your wee face again... and we just had to have ourselves a ceilidh and put the world to rights, and before we knew it, it was 2 a.m and the bottle was drained. In my own defence, I have to point out that it wasn't even half full. I am such a cheap date.

The most exquisite dawn is breaking outside - the sea a pewter sheet of rolling silk on my left, one lone fishing boat dragging a v-wake back to shore. As ever, I am reminded what an beautiful world we share. Which makes what I'm about to do a whole lot easier, because it's far simpler to talk about something you love than just about anything else. Touring with a book is a tough gig - being hauled out in public after the months of solitary confinement when you actually made the damn thing can be very discombobulating. The contrast between the big cities we're about to tour and my normal Sleepy Hollow lifestyle, gives me a wide-eyed staring look just the right side of psychotic. Thankfully, authors are expected to look a tad deranged, so I can get away with it, but trust me, if I was your medical health professional, you wouldn't let me within a million miles of you.

In anticipation of being heckled by climate-change deniers, I've been re-reading all of the books I initially digested while I was working on the Dragons, but I know that I'm pretty useless when confronted with the kind of rage that the majority of deniers seem to exhibit. The rage is born of fear, but that doesn't make it any more palatable. It also, ironically like a high-performance sports car, goes from nought to sixty in under a second, and I am continually aghast at the speed with which seemingly mild people will transform themselves into froth-at-the-mouth table-thumpers when the subject of climate change is raised.

Their arguments become more and more hysterical and unsound, which tends to be indicative of someone finding themselves stranded on the moral equivalent of melting pack-ice. In a way, this is funny, if you happen to enjoy wiping spittle off your glasses, but in another way is pretty tragic, since we all have to share this green and blue oasis in space, and frequently, I find that it's the table-thumpers who are beasting through far more than their fair share. Their arguments tend to begin in a condescending, avuncular fashion - as if it's their mission statement to put me straight, to disabuse me of my falsely held opinions. First they attack my knowledge (and the findings of the IPCC), then they move on to my politics ( it's all a left-wing conspiracy) followed by my choice of newspaper ( suddenly it's bad news to be a Guardianista) and then rapidly, they turn, Jeckyll-like into a creature resembling the unholy union between a frill-lizard and a froth-monster.

Oh, sigh. I can refute, explain, reason and generally hold my own till the cows come home, but in the end, it matters not a jot. I may as well spout pages from the telephone directory for all the good it does. Recently, a relative actually came out with the appalling opinion that the flooding in the coastal plains of Bangladesh was a good thing because 'there were too many of them'. The root assumption at the slimy black heart of that particular foul sentiment was that 'they' were less deserving of life than the relative herself. Her solution to the over-population part of our climate change problem being - the hell with the poor. The horrible thing about this kind of ghastliness is that these core beliefs are held by apparently kind, good and upstanding citizens. Kind, good and upstanding citizens who are terrified of change if it means that they have to accept a lesser share of what's available in order to accommodate the needs of people they perceive as being less deserving.

So, yeah, that was someone with whom I exchange Christmas cards. What the heck is it going to be like having a frank and full interchange of opinions regarding climate change with persons unknown and possibly hostile? Watch this space.

I'm just going to step outside for a while...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Darkness Falls, Part One

Safe home after the rigours of amusing six hundred children in tents, I have allowed myself a few hours to sift through the Sunday papers and came across this delight in the Observer.

On being asked how he will spend the hours of darkness forecast for Britain in the forthcoming winter of powercuts, financial doom and rising unemployment, Donald Macleod, principal of the Free Church School in Edinburgh replied,
'Now that we've run out of coal, gas, oil and old newspapers, we should have a nationwide network of wind turbines and nuclear power. Sadly, we don't, because they either spoiled someone's view or offend someone's principles. So the short answer is that I'll wring necks.'

Visions of our rapidly emptying oil tank being scaled by a commando force of rampant ministers, all hopped up to the gills with righteous god-given indignation. Great, huh? That's all we need. Ranks of dog-collared thugs patrolling our streets, some of them drunk on communion wine, others simply fuelled on belief that their Way is the Only One. Oh, fun times ahead, people.

The line drawing of Daisy and her Inner Demon is one of the 143 black and white illustrations I finished last week for the inside of Witch Baby and me at School ( publishing in January 09). I took approximately half an hour off to celebrate this completion with a cup of coffee, and then began my next project - a picture book called Stormy Weather. Strangely prescient, what? One wonders what, if anything will be left of Western capitalism when it is published in October 2009. It is a lovely book - I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in the doing of it. All the pencil roughs are done, so the months between now and the hand-in date in January will be spent painting watercolour artwork for every double page spread. That is, when I'm not out in tents, or at book festivals or, like next week, on tour with The Trouble With Dragons.

The tour is a week of events up and down the length of Britain, travelling by train, armed with a powerpoint thing on a usb data stick, some pens and missionary zeal ( though not of the same order as Donald Macleod's) I'm hoping to add my voice to the rising clamour regarding the urgent need for us to do something to reduce our carbon output. I'm fighting a rearguard action by attempting to engage as many children as I possibly can in the course of a week, in the hope that they will go back home and pester their loving parents into taking action.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world appears to have taken their eye off the ball entirely - obsessing about money, mortgages and the identity of the next new and sparkly leader to replace the older models who have failed us. Deckchairs? Titanic, anyone?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hotel du Cac

I'm in downtown Newton Stewart in a somewhat unprepossessing Nameless Hotel* ( big sign outside beside the dumpster in the litter-strewn car-park telling all and sundry that the Nameless is under new management - doesn't that just make your heart sink?) and as I checked in, I noticed a sheet of laminated A4 stuck to the reception desk ( probably with the effluvia of guests gone by) bearing the fateful words

Binky and Charlene invite you and your colleagues to celebrate our Grand Opening Night. Dress informal. Party starts at 9.00 p.m.

That, my dears, is tomorrow night. Tomorrow brings two events each with 250 children, followed by the firework opening of the Wigtown Book Festival, followed by what I fervently hoped was dinner and an early night before getting up on Saturday morning to do another event in a tent and then driving 189 miles back home.

Instead...Oh. My. God. The part of me that is forever teenage wishes I'd bought my fiddle and had the cojones to drink several large shots and then join in with the Nameless Opening Party, and another part of me ( the crusty old fart) envisages a night of stomping downstairs in my PJs to demand a little bit of consideration for those of us blah de blah de blah zzzz.

Problem is - I forgot my PJs. Just how steely are my cojones, anyhoo? Have I got what it takes to stomp downstairs in the altogether and demand a little hush? Somehow, I suspect I wouldn't have to be too strident. The Shock and Awe caused by my naked arrival in the public bar would ensure that silence fell with an all-too audible thud. Eughhhhhhhh. Doesn't bear thinking about. Ladies of my age are invisible, mostly, and if rash enough to bare anything, are the subject of public ridicule.

So. Earplugs it will have to be. But the Nameless is too raw to be called a hotel. My room was recently painted - yesterday? This afternoon? The fumes are evil. I have no table to work at, no wardrobe, no drawers, no chair - just a bed with a stack of puffy pilloids which will ensure that I sleep for approximately ten minutes before waking in the Human Pretzel Position. I am shortly going to venture downstairs to brave the dining room, driven more by a desperate need for G&T rather than any appetite, since the paint fumes appear to have put paid to that. Have I unwittingly stumbled upon the secret of effortless weight loss? I'm trying to find the positive in this situation, but heck, it's a bit of an upward struggle.

Back later with an update from your own correspondent in Newton Stewart.
*I wouldn't dare name it while I'm staying in it. I choose life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

bring on the revolution

Of course, I don't really mean that, given that my recurring dystopian nightmare is of a revolution of baseball bat-wielding visigoths coming to raid our broad bean patch. Or whatever current horror my wakeful subconscious cares to throw at me in the wee small hours. Mind you, the content of each evening's ten o'clock news has been nightmare enough - this was definitely a week for giving thanks for being poor enough to possess no spare capital whatsoever, especially since we bank with what used to be called ( until Wednesday) the Bank of Scotland.

Not that they were, of late, all that great. Actually, having banked with them since I was a student ( back in the mists of time when the Romans ruled Caledonia and we were about to invent the wheel) of late, I have noticed a certain aggression coupled with a kind of dumb-assed laissez faire bordering on insolence in my dealing with the bank. Or mayhap, I am simply getting old. No. I am getting old, no mayhaps about it, but still...

The thought that out there are some persons unknown who have actually made bucketloads of profit out of a concerted whispering campaign to drive down the bank's share price is pretty shocking, but unsurprising. It has to be said that there have been a heck of a lot of Porsche Cayenne 4WD's belching around the countryside of late, and they can't all be owned by footballers, can they?

Edinburgh is full of fund managers. Or perhaps mis-managers might be a better name. The few that I've had the misfortune to meet have been so utterly morally bankrupt and cocky that one has to conclude that death is too kind an ill-wish to wish for them. Leeches, parasites, human flotsam, visit upon them every plague and pestilence, may their parts wither to match their shrivelled souls, may their children grow to curse the day they issued from such foulness, may black boils sprout from between their eyes so that by their countenances do we know them....

Or, at the very least. let them have erectile dysfunction bigtime.

There, that ought to do it. Phwoarrrrr. Bet they're quaking in their boots, eh?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

attention all shipping

The days are too full right now - every waking moment accounted for and spent either working, cooking or laying down the produce of the garden for consumption over the colder months. The freezer has bag upon bag of beans - broad and French, all blanched and tucked away for later. I've been oven-drying tomatoes to the point where my dreams are full of little red orbs, and now the apples have started falling off the trees and I'll have to start on them next. And then the pears will begin...and this weekend I ought to pick the blackcurrants and and and.

Work is pretty full-on too. I'm currently up to number 99 of a total of 143 of a set of b/w line illustrations for the second Witch Baby book. This entails getting up early and arriving, bleary-eyed at my drawing board at 7.30 a.m., whereupon, in between school runs and emails and phone calls, I've been cross-hatching away, I have no idea what I'm like when I'm drawing in such a concentrated fashion - a desperate illustrator, I think. A demented draftswoman. Whatever. It's a whole new way of working for me. In fact the entire, once-familiar landscape of publishing seems to have shape-shifted into an unrecognizable terra incognito.Due to publishing schedules, the book I'm working on has to be done at a break-neck speed, which forces me to think very, very hard, stare mightily at what I'm doing and stops me from my usual serendipitous methodology whereby I used to drift, and dream and plitter around in a box of paints, doing a convincing impersonation of a ditzy lady watercolourist.

Not any more. Off with the floaty chiffons and billowy silks and on with the tailored twill and tweed. If you follow my drift. In fact shortly, if this pace continues much longer, it'll be off with the twill and tweed and on with the leather and rubber. With studs. And chains. Let's not forget the chains, eh?

In the middle of all this time-constrained nonsense, something had to slip, and sadly, it was the gym. I am, officially, a slob. This state of affairs is, I have to say, a temporary blip in an otherwise spotless record of cardiovascular virtue, but right now, there are not enough hours in the day.There's the 143 b/w illustrations followed by a ten day book tour with my dragon book, and then , oh, puhleaze, then I will try and squeeze my 5k running and occasional visits to the gym back into my days. The think I was not prepared to let go was playing the fiddle. Even if I'm cross-eyed with tiredness, I try and fit in an hour a day. Some days, I even like how I sound.

Summer flew past. Then it rained, I think. I didn't get out as much as I would have liked. Didn't swim nearly as often in Loch Fyne. There were shoals of jellyfish making me very wary of the water. Besides, most of the time I was working my socks off. One weekend off all summer. One. The rest of them I was working one or both days. I think I can say, hand on heart that I've never worked as hard in my life as I have done this year. Part of this is simple timetabling - the books have to be done for tight deadlines. But, the other part of this punishing workload is a simple lack of money. Publishers advances are reflecting the somewhat depressed market, or at least that's what I'm being told as I'm paid what I used to earn back at the beginning of the Nineties. Urrrrghhhhh. And just to crank the stress-factor up a notch or two, my trusty Mac went down last week, and not in a Lewinsky fashion either. It died on me, a long, long way from home. Up on the Hebridean island of Lewis, in fact. It stayed dead all that long and hideous weekend during which I did my best to not think about all the 'stuff' I had stored on its silent hard drive. So, after trying to fix it myself, I called in help, and help duly took it away for intensive care and reported back that it was officially a deadmac.

So. Newmac had to be bought with the moolah earmarked for something trivial like eating or the mortgage or some such frippery, and then, oh joy, newmac had to be toilet-trained, socialized, educated and is only now standing on its own two feet for long enough to demand 'when's tea?' and 'have you washed my socks yet?'. Don't know about you, but I think I'm living in the epicentre of a Chinese curse. You know - the one about 'may you live in interesting times'. Hmm. Interesting times are here. I'm living them.

Friday, July 4, 2008

out with my Baby

Well, that's that done. 'Witch Baby & Me' is now officially out there ; yet another book to join the hundreds of thousands of other books published every year. 

At the risk of sounding like a cynical old hack, I have to pause here and say a resounding - SO WHAT?

But there's always a part of me that counters with - I did my best, wrote the best book I could possibly write, tried to give it heart, leaven it with humour and illustrate it with the very best drawings I could draw, so THAT'S what. In the general scheme of things, yeah, so what, but in my little corner of the planet, if our children are the living arrows we fire into the fray, then our books are darts of light.

And besides, there are some truly groan-makingly terrible jokes between the covers of my Witch Baby, and watching childrens' faces light up as they get my dreadful jokes and seeing their faces dissolve into giggles - that's good too. I've also had a really, really good time, introducing new, young eight-year-old readers to my imaginary family and watch as they allow their imaginations to flesh out the characters that walk around inside my head - that's pretty close to flying, actually. Damn, I think my job is one of the best  jobs a person can do. As a session with children progresses, I feel less nervous ( let's not forget here, people, that launching a book is still public speaking, even if it is with children rather than adults, and I still find the first introductory ten minutes to be a nail-biting nightmare of stage-fright and terror. As would you, I promise. Unless you have cojones of steel.)and once  I stop feeling nervous, then I can begin to fly. And Witch Baby is an easy book to fly with. Which came as something of a joyful surprise.

So I've done three days in London, trucking hither and yon in the bowels of the Underground, emerging dripping ( it's not air-conditioned down there) eating out for every meal, drinking mojitos at night at the end of a long day, limping around in pointy shoes ( the downside of touring is the wardrobe crises from hell that I undergo - what to wear. Oh, what to wear?) and talking, talking, talking.

Now, on a crammed to capacity train heading back North I think I've had more than enough of not being home. I'm tired, my tolerance levels are well into the red zone due to the presence of a crew of rugger buggars who got on at Durham and have been steadily drinking their way North. Their crass, woman-baiting t-shirts, their loud shouty voices and awful porn mags, their burping, farting and swearing.... - I know I'm sitting here looking like a vengeful, mean old harpy, shrivelled and shrewish, but if I could hit the ejector switch and launch them all into hyperspace, trust me, i'd do it. Big, drunken loutsh thugs, trampling all over everyone's sensitivities and forcing their thick and oikish inanities down all our throats. Oh, ghoddddddd. 

where's my loving-kindnesss, then? 

Pfffffffff, as one of my characters would say. It hardly needs to be said that she is a witch, a Sister of Hiss and that like her two other sisters, she  must represent some less than generous facet of my personality - my Inner Bitch. A useful facet, at times, but not one that sees the light of day too often. 

Friday, June 27, 2008

mossy heart

Decided to take time out from Poo Central to do some work. On a Friday night? Jeez. How bad, exactly is Poo Central? It's not that bad, really, just a tad puppy obsessed. I have no room to complain, in truth, since 99.9% of the mopping-up operations are carried out by Michael, but there still is only so much obsessing over has she, does she, will she, oh, not again that one can take. I need to disengage for a wee while in order to regain a sense of proportion. I need to remember that this stage will not last the rest of our lives, right? There's only so much toilet-training an intelligent puppy can undergo before her dumb owners realize that, like a small baby, she is simply too small to understand what is being required of her.

Poor thing. If synaptic pathways could be willed into existence, she'd be sitting on the toilet like a human, demanding to have her bum wiped, but as it is....well. It's Friday night and I'd rather work late than stand in the rain, begging an infant dog to void her bowels on the grass rather than the carpet.

Yes, it's raining and yes, it's the first day of the children's summer holidays and yes, we're spending them in Scotland, more or less at home, except for one short week in August when we'll decamp to Wester Ross to sample a different kind of rain. Last summer, The Dreech, started just like this one. The Dreech just about finished us all off with its incessant chill and wetness. Another one of those we do not need. And should you wish to know, the plural of Dreech is Drek. With the 'R' rolled, as in Drrrrrek.

So. The mossy heart I found on Eshaness, on the day that Mary Blance and I were lost in fog. Sometimes you find exactly what you're looking for in the strangest of places. I went to Eshaness for the view and the majestic seas, and instead I found this bonsai heart- garden of moss and sea pinks, growing on salt-drenched rocks. Proving that love can flourish in the harshest of places.

Monday, June 16, 2008

roar of distant thunder

or was it a drum roll?

Ta daaaaaaa.

Introducing She Who Has No Name Yet. We have a history of this nameless thing. It's our understandable reluctance to slap on a label that may well be the wrong one. At least, that's our excuse. In keeping with our lovely Islay, we're looking for Scottish islands names. But with one proviso - whatever it is has to receive the majority vote from all of us who are going to share a house with this dear little puppy.

So far, Cara is a strong contender. Not only a Scottish island but also means 'dear one' in Italian.

Right, must go - poo detail awaits. Who'd've thought one so small had so much inside her?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

green and leafy

I'm speeding by train through the English countryside late on a
summer night after a day of astonishing heat. Most of today has been
passed on a train heading South or a train heading North and in
between these compass points, in an overheated room in a library in
Birmingham talking to independent booksellers and librarians about
Witch Baby.

And being in a city centre with the crush of people and the mindless
buying of pretty stuff and the endless consuming stupidity of our
desire to own, to have, to have more of whatever didn't quite fill
our inner void, and the many glossy temptations on offer in our
cities today...well, too much of that leaves me rubbed raw and dirty
by association.

But now, on the way home, looking out at twilit fields and hedgerows,
I am astounded by all the beauty. Eleven days before midsummer and
the world beyond the glass is full of the promise of summer. And so
green and soft. The quilted fields look deep enough to sink into, the
barley more like swansdown than stalk and stem. On a night like this,
the world could break your heart.

This weekend we go and collect a small Golden Retriever puppy from
her loving breeders and bring her home with us. Over three years in a
dog-less house and we know that we have mourned our beloved golden
Islay enough now. Although when she died the hurt was almost
unbearable which makes us wary of putting ourselves in a position to
feel like that ever again. Even writing this, now, years later and I
am close to weeping. Gone but not forgotten. Our beautiful Islay
dog. Last night I sat beside her grave and hoped that she would have
given this new puppy her blessing.

So. Soon this weblog will be deep in puppy tales. Not to mention
other puppy things which are far funnier in retrospect than they are
at the time you're scraping them off various surfaces and precious
furnishings... Once she comes, there will be photos. But right now
I'm mentally cataloguing my shoes and wondering where the hell I'm
going to hide them from her little nibbly fangs. Not to mention how
we're going to save our youngest daughter's Sylvanian Family members
form being chewed- bunnies, foxes, cats etc. And the doll I knitted
for youngest daughter's last birthday. What if....Oh lordy. It
reminds me of the day when one's adorable littly finally graduates
from crawling to standing up and making swipes at whatever takes her
fancy. With the big difference that you can't put a nappy on a puppy.

Thank heavens.

wir midder, da sea

Watching the wake of the ferry as it drew me slowly away from Shetland on a beautiful blue evening I saw it as an unravelling lace from the ocean's bodice, a vast thread that stitched the two halves of the sea together. Neptune's zipper, if you will, unzipping me from the island. Leaving, rocked in the embrace of wir midder, the sea. Our mother, the sea from which all life came.

And I secretly long for one friend's hand waving from shore, but Noelle and I share a loathing of long drawn-out farewells, so it was a silent and unremarked leaving. I stayed out on deck till I was numb with cold, then I ate supper and went to my cabin. The sky outside my window was a pale, clear blue and in these days of the 'simmer dim', the light was unlikely to dim until much later. Then I remembered the dvd i'd requested from Medecins Frontieres called ' Invisibles' and slung it into the mac and had my consciousness raised, if raised is the right word. 

I'm lying in comfort, safe on the sea, propped on pillows in my cabin on a gently rocking ship, fed, watered and on my way home to a family who love me, in a warm house with food a-plenty and few real worries.  So - the film didn't raise my  complacent consciousness. It was not raised. No. Probably 'prodded' , 'pricked' and 'shocked' would be closer to what I felt as I watched the series of short films by world-famous directors on the subject of people living in deepest poverty, ill-health and in war-torn lands. 

And as I watched,  I became acutely and uncomfortably aware of what a privileged and pampered life we lead over here in our first world fortress. I saw their faces, their tears, the pain engraved round their eyes and heard the terrible stories of the lives of child soldiers, war-victims, raped, pillaged people and young children who had little enough before their worlds fell in. People dying from curable diseases which aren't cured because big Pharma doesn't think the numbers would add up for the end-of-year reports to the shareholders ( big banks, small banks, tobacco companies, agri-businesses, oil magnates, pension funds, all the vested interests of the million shareholders and thus,  ultimately, us. We, the shareholders profiting from the misery of these people.) And on and on, the films went, one after the other, the parade of beautiful faces, dignified faces, people with the same human needs as us, people just like us except...

Except we live in heaven and they live in hell. And, by and large, they are invisible to us. We don't see them. We completely forget as we go about our daily lives, that over on the other side of our garden planet are millions of people who would give everything to share in one tenth of what we have. Clean air, clean water, enough food to feed our children and ourselves. Roofs, shelter, schools, books and clean clothes.

And that's before you even begin to factor in the toys we love to own. We have so much. So much. If you feel like a wake-up call to your conscience, email Medecins sans Frontieres and ask them to send you a copy of the 'Invisibles'. Watch it, share it with as many like-minded people you can think of, and let's try and start a revolution. We first worlders have enough. We have more than enough. There's enough to go round if we all share. 

Friday, June 6, 2008

land of air and sea

Another day of fog, but experience has shown that while it may be a complete white-out in the South end, driving over to the West side sometimes brings a slight clearing of the skies.

At least, that theory held yesterday. Lerwick was thick with fog, so I spent the morning cooking a special meal for Noelle and Tommy (keema matar with Shetland lamb), then I turned off my pans, tucked the pudding (raspberry and strawberry roulade) into a paper and foil cradle, slung it in the fridge and headed out into the day.

I drove to the Dale of Walls, which was a river-cloven valley with irises and buttercups limning the water's edge and hills on each side speckled with little crofts; some in use, some tumbledown, all picture perfect. And all the while, as I headed seawards, the ridiculously theatrical silhouette of the island of Foula was rearing higher and higher out of the line of mist blurring the border between sea and sky. Dramatic? Oh, yes. Plus as many superlatives as there were flowers underfoot. So, I parked and headed off to the North, heading for Deep
Dale which is a huge cleft running east into the land. This is an utterly exquisite coastline - soft and grassy underfoot, covered in seapinks, wild orchids and cottongrass, and the edge of the cliffs undulating in a line as unpredictable as it was breath-taking. Almost as if the coastline had been drafted by a drunken architect, or perhaps it was more like one of those jigsaw pieces that refuse to be slotted into place, but has a fascinatingly convoluted profile. Damn this slow broadband, if ever there was a case for a photograph, this is the one. Words fail me.

I walked as far as I could see little blue 'access Shetland' signs nailed to posts and stiles, and then when they ran out, and I judged that it was time to turn round, I headed home, Deep Dale-less. ( Oh, okay there were some cows off in the distance, and I'm not brave enough to walk through fields of cows perched precariously on cliff edges. Actually, let's be honest here, I'm not brave enough to walk through any enclosure that has cow involvement, not after the night when I left an old studio of mine in darkness and discovered that its tiny front garden was crammed full of cows. And their calves. And when I opened the studio door, I was face-to-face with a bonsai stampede)

However, I digress. That was yesterday, the walk round the coast at Dale of Walls. Today, I thought I'd attempt to walk another part of the same coastline, and try another approach to the romantically named Deep Dale. With a name like that, I had to try. I decided to approach from the north and walk south to Deep Dale, thus avoiding fields of cows and hopefully finding a path that was liberally strewn with blue 'access Shetland' signs. For the first hour, all was perfect. Stunning coastline, even more seapinks, no cows, loads of blue signs and then...

Attack of the giant skuas. As I trekked towards a high lochin, a flock of these monsters rose up into the air, and my heart sank. Two of them, the outriders, were dispatched to see me off, and they did so with terrifying efficiency. My stick to hold above my head ( surrogate scalp, I'm told) was jammed in my rucksack, and when a giant skua is swooping down on you, trust me, you don't stop to fossick in your rucksack.

I legged it back the way I came, apologizing to the birds for disturbing their loch and trying (but failing) to send out the telepathically reassuring message of - feathered ones, fret not, I come in peace, honest, I haven't eaten an egg for ages - if you don't count the egg whites in last night's roulade, that is - I'm harmless, I'm an illustrator, I'm almost a sodding vegetarian ( if you discount last night's lamb) all I wanted to do was walk to Deep Dale...

They were having none of it. They saw me off their territory, and I had to retreat once more, Deep Dale-less. I have to concede. It belongs to the birds and the beasts, sea-girt and for now, impregnable.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Shetland is blanketed in one of its summer fogs today. Just like it was yesterday and the two days before that. My walks up hill and down dale have been taking place in white-outs, in which everywhere looks exactly the same, but you keep on marching on in the hope that the fog might lift and whisk away to permit a view that you just know would be stunning if only you could see it.

I've been hunkering down in a variety of peat bogs, sand dunes and heather banks to do my lady watercolourist thing, but all that there is in my sketchbook for yesterday is a big blank page. Yesterday I caught a sense of just how dangerous it is to go a-wandering on cliffy coastal paths in the fog. Yesterday I might just have needed a change of underwear if I hadn't worked out how to use map and compass to navigate a tricky bit of coastline up at Eshaness.

Mary Blance and I wandered blithely along the cliff-top, cautiously admiring the deep, deep fissures cut into the cliffs at our feet. Fissures, or voes, made by the pounding of the sea on the ancient rocks of Eshaness. Some of the oldest rocks in the world are here, and it is a place of majestic, wild beauty which, on a clear day is as breathtaking as it is terrifying. Here, on the edge of the world, you can easily imagine that you stand on the dividing line between the known and the Abyss.

Yesterday, as we peered and oohed and ahhed, we were respectful of the edge, the drop, the exposure. The sea crashing down below, and the crumbly edges carpeted in sea-pinks, thrift and cotton grass. We admired that floral softness, blossoming for such a short season in contrast to the stony eternity of the rock's existence, predating us, and all our foolish human attempts to gain dominion in such a wild place.

We walked, then we turned to head back to the car, talking, talking, talking and assuming that we only had to reverse our path to bring us back to where we began. We noted the fact that the fog had thickened, but on we went. And on. Until we noticed that the little loch on our left wasn't the one we'd seen before, and if that was the case, which loch was it, and, um, where are we? To which the only answer we could find was ; in the mist. In featureless terrain with the possibility of the hole of Scraada opening up like a yawning mouth at out feet, so we had to be mindful of where our feet were, but also to keep a look out for the Edge. On we walked. Assuming that something familiar would hove to out of the fog.

Something didn't. On we went until I hauled out my compass, got a grip of myself, realised that as compass and map bearer it was Up To Me to get us out of this mess. We needed to be heading South West. We had, until then, been heading North East, convinced that we were going the right way. It turned out that we were a very, very long way from the car. Some of the way back involved Mary discovering just how woefully inadequate her walking boots were to the task of keeping the peat bog off her socks, but hey. Some of the way back involved my trying to sound like I knew what I was doing when inside myself I was full of fog and doubt and a worm of terror.

We made it back, obviously, but wiser by far. Hills kill. Fog confuses. Maps, compasses, good boots and decent weatherproof clothing can make the difference between being really lost, and being able to rescue ourselves.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

future perfect

I've seen the future, and it works. It's a hydrogen-fuelled car, where the hydrogen is made with the surplus energy ( after heating and lighting a large office/workshoplaboratory) generated by two wind turbines. So, technically, this futuristic vehicle is powered by wind. A car that runs on fresh air, and has h2o as its by-product after combustion. Oh. My. God. This might save us yet.

On the other hand, possibly due to our pesticide overuse and monoculture as an efficient way to grow vast fields full of profitable crops, our honey bees are dying off in droves, so, people, we might have cars and heat, but no food. Hmmmm.

Yesterday Noelle and I had a day on the island of Unst. We visited an amazing 'alternative' school in Uyeasound, went to Hermaness ( the most northerly point in Britain) and saw puffins galore, amnd then visited the Pure Project, makers of the world's first hydrogen car. Spent a heady two hours talking ( no, Debi, ranting) about peak oil, oil at $200 a barrel, the need for decent governance regarding climate change and how we're going to tackle it, the need for energy rationing and soon - like by the end of this year and other such full-on topics. It was amazing to meet with the co-designer of this immensely complex, yet simple hydrogen car, and not only to be able to understand him, but to actually feel that change is coming.

I so hope I'm not deluding myself. I mean, we've been here before. Remember that historic May morning when it all seemed soooo hopeful? Labour were in after umpty dreadful years of toryblah, and the morning news on BBC1 began with not the usual corporate muzak, but with David Bowie singing ch-ch-changes. All things seemed possible that morning. Change felt like it was just around the corner. And yes, I know the argument about how it's like trying to steer a cruise liner, and how it takes ages to change course, but somehow, I'm pretty sure that we don't have years left. I think if we don't get our climate act together ay ess ay pee, we're heading for extinction and catastrophe on an unimaginable scale.

On a far lighter note, I had a Shetland haircut. It took two hours ( !!!) but it looks pretty sharp. Gone is the Susan Sontag witchy intellectual look, and back is the bobbed fluff-brain. Ahhhhh, so much more mwah. Haven't actually washed it yet, so it will undoubtedly go into frizz hell thereafter, but just now it's sleek and swingy. Vanity is appeased, temporarily.

Monday, May 26, 2008

toot sill

I've been getting my hands dirty with Shetland soil - weeding my
hosts' rose garden and fighting what I hope is a winning battle
against the pernicious creeping buttercup, which has always sounded
to me like a guerilla freedom-fighting cow, rather than a weed. Also
touched the Shetland sky and trucked up Ronas Hill on Saturday in the
good company of a friend from Shetland Arts, and we both remarked
upon the fact that the miles fairly fly by when you have a companion
to blether to. On Sunday I nearly made it to the top of Fitful Head
( the migraineur's summit) but ten feet off the summit, I was
dissuaded from climbing higher by a determined and scary Great Skua
( or Bonxie as they're called here)which divebombed me with
increasing ferocity and proximity until I had to turn back. so back
allll the waaaaay down to sea level and I went for a paddle in the
turquoise and icy waters of Quendale beach. Tucked myself up in a
sand-dune and read the Sunday papers and had a cup of tea - just like
a proper tourist.

Beautiful weather - sunny and chill, but on Saturday, in the odd
sheltered hollows that we found by the side of the many tiny lochs
which turn the landscape into lace, the sun was blissfully warm.
Still, it's more of a weatherbeating than tan that now has turned my
face even more wrinkled than usual. Sigh. None of the perfumes of
sweet Araby nor the diligent application of precious unguents have
made a blind bit of difference to the marks that Time has scribbled
all over my skin. I am rapidly approaching a prune-like state, which
is something that I manage to forget until confronted with the
evidence in the mirror at tooth-brushing time. Whereupon I leap
backwards from my reflection with a squeak of dismay.

Can this really be me?

I must learn not to mind. Most of me doesn't, because I fit myself
far better as the years go past. There's a kind of comfort inside my
own skin, most of the time. Well...except those times when I'm aware
that I've increased in girth, and discover that my clothes don't fit
and that realisation stupidly, still has the capacity to make me feel
grim. But doesn't stop my forays into the secret bar of Green &
Blacks tucked at the back of a kitchen cupboard. I think I need re-
programming. I need a brain-wipe in the chocolate- loving synapses.
Actually - my love of food generally makes it well-nigh impossible to
turn myself into a sylph. I'd hoped that the solitude of living on my
own again up here in Shetland would reduce me to monkish aescetism.
Alas - no. I have been cooking up a storm since I arrived here, with
the sole beneficiary of all this culinary largesse being myself. Last
night it was bouillebaisse ( the quick version) before that it was
coq au vin, the day before it was a puy lentil, red wine and chicken
stew...the problem is, I'm still, in my head, cooking for the family,
so the net result is that I end up eating the same thing three days
on the trot. And that is dull, dull, dull.

I even made bagels for the hillwalking at the weekend, and the first
thing I did on taking possession of this kitchen, was make a batch of
sourdough starter, which I turned into bread five days later. I'm a
hopeless case, I fear. Cooking is simply what I do between the hours
of five and seven each day. I have invited Mary Blance and her man
for tea next weekend, and already I'm planning pudding.

Monday, May 19, 2008

sixty degrees of chill

Phwoarrr - it's cold up North. Like an idiot, I swung into summer mode at the first ray of sunshine, so consequently have packed for Shetland as if I was heading off to Biarritz. Oh, sigh. And I forgot to bring socks, except for my hillwalking ones which are vast hairy thick things for yomping up and down chilly hillies, and also my running socks about which, the less said, the better.

The rest of my island wardrobe is all floaty silk nonsenses or full-on hill kit with fleece and goretex. Nothing, but nothing in between. had to email home to say - please send socks. How sad is that, pray?

However, on balance - who cares? Socks? pffffff. I'm here and it's every bit as gorgeous as I remembered from last autumn and I feel completely at home. It's Monday morning and I'm sitting at a table and roughing out a new Mr Bear, I've got my mp3hifi belting out Faithless and lunch is about to fill the house with the smell of coq au vin because, dammit, my eldest daughter isn't here to disapprove of my odd forays into eating Dead Beast, and I wanted to make a comforting lunch for Noelle and i to ease us into the week.

Last night Noelle and Tommy made some amazing stew with Shetland lamb, which is a lamb like no other. Vegetarians, please turn away now. Sweet, tender and without any of that horrible background taste of lanoliny muttony greasiness. Haven't tasted lamb like it since I was on Crete as an art student. But sadly, I can't walk past the dear little white fluffy things with a clear conscience now. Not until I've done some months without having eaten lamb again...

My portable broadband dongle thing is working, but the connection speed is painfully s lll ooo w. Urrrgh. If anyone sends any photos, I'll be in trouble. consequently it takes forEVER to get onto any websites, and as for posting pictures myself while I'm here.....eeeeeee, fergeddit. shame though, especially once I get out there and get some miles on my boots. Oh, I can't wait.

Right. work to do. Less chat. more pencils on paper. Laters amigos...

Friday, May 16, 2008

the prodigal returns

It's growing dark outside on the sea, but I'm currently on the boat's
wrong side to be able to see the lights vanishing off to portside, so
I'm not sure if we're still tacking up the East coast of Scotland
heading for North by northwelcome, or if we're actually out at sea.

I'm going back to Shetland, bless my great good fortune. Can't wait.
Can hardly believe that I'm being given the chance to come back here.
Or there, since technically, I'm not there yet. And yes, it's still
grey out there, just like it was back last August/September/October.
But hey - I have high hopes that I will see a few sunny Shetland
days. After all, I have to see the fabled 'Simmer Dim' when it hardly
gets dark, when the sun barely shaves the horizon with its lowest
curve before heading straight back up into the blue heaven again.

At least, that's the theory.

Off out in the darkening, there's the silhouette of a huge ship with
all its lights on. Fishing? Freighting? Tall as a skyscraper, a vast
chunk of metal drawing across the surface of a dark blue sea. It's
all so like rewinding a well-loved tape, I'm working on another
hideous edit of another Witch Baby story, but sadly, further back in
the editorial process - this is Witch baby 2 v2.1, so if past history
is anything to go by, I still have many grey hairs to go. I don't
want to waste my time on Shetland on cudgelling a reluctant m.s. into
shape - but I'll have to do some work on it. Like I did last time I
was here. Plus begin roughs for a Mr Bear picture book, think long
and hard about 'Stormy Weather' for Bloomsbury and put together a
proposal for Mary at DK ,and, and.

What do I really want to do? Drink sundowners with Noelle and Tommy.
Run Quendale beach. Go back to the vicious cardio class at the gym in
Lerwick. Go to Makkin' and Yakkin'. Go back to Oyeasound and cross to
the island. Go to Eshaness and take loads of photos. Say hello to
Harry and Mandy, wherever they are. Swim that beach. Have a long walk
with Donald. Play my fiddle better, but not always on my ownsome.
Play with other people. ( never easy for an only child) Draw some big
smudgy b/w things for future paintings. Lose some of the blubber
( mental and physical) Visit Mr Stewart the fiddle maker. Laugh till
I have to leave the room. Only connect.

So, yeah. Should get that all done in the first week.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

warm drafts

Well, 'tis done, but don't tell my editor. i've finished the first draft of Witch Baby and Me Mk2. at this stage, I have no idea whatsoever if it's a pile of dung or a nifty little book. I'm too close to it to tell. That's why I need a few weeks of editorial grace to achieve the requisite distance from it, in order to be able to come back to it with a reasonably savage red pen and do some of my editor's slash and burning myself.

Such a good feeling, though. That little pile of pages, all of them covered in raw story. Also heard that there are contracts out there in the ether for more picture books - blank contracts, ye gods, so that makes me feel pretty good. although i seem to have some kind of Scottish streak, not a Calvinist streak because I don't think I'm that kind of a gal, but mean? thrifty? Ahhh, there's the word, thrifty - right, a thrifty streak which makes me feel distinctly uneasy at being paid before I do any work. I'd rather have the texts written before I sign the contracts.However, that hasn't really been the case too often of late - with the exception of The Trouble With Dragons, everything else has been the subject of a multibook contract waaaay in advance of being fully written.

Which is all fine and dandy if the book under contract behaves itself and the writing isn't too hideously difficult, but if it all starts going pear-shaped, then the multibook deal begins to feel like a millstone. and hey, if the writer takes absolutely years to honour her side of the deal, the advance begins to look niggardly because inflation has snuck up on it and rendered it worthless.

I mean, when I signed the contracts for 4 Witch babies, diesel was only 93p a litre. Only! bloody hell, we're fast approaching the time when it would be cheaper to tip single-estate, virgin, hand-pressed, unfiltered organic olive oil into our tanks. Some more unleaded on your raddichio, pet?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

isn't every day Earth day?

Happy Earth Day.
I believe that every little thing we can do counts, so today
I didn't use a car
I signed a petition to stop a dam being built in Patagonia
I didn't eat meat
and I tried, but failed to drag the words of a new picture book about climate change out of my subconscious. They're in there, but can I access them? Pffffffff.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

the cruellest month

No fooling. It's freezing outside, despite the springlike appearance of the tender pink blossom on the cherry tree.I can see snow on the Lammermuirs in the same frame as this pink effusiveness, and the air blows straight from Vladivostok. Tonight, I finally dared do a little light fiddle playing after two months off due to incipient r.s.i in left arm. Wrapping my fingers round my fiddle's neck causes my hand to start up a dull shriek as it goes into a cramp, but I'm so keen to keep on playing that I'm going to force it a bit this week and see what happens.

Such fun. I seem to have new confidence, because I'm attempting loads of jigs and reels that I didn't dare try before. The poppy reel has weirdish timing and looks like a dense page of black-noted difficulty, but it's a rollicking good tune, and I'm determined to become fluent in it. Da full rigged ship is one of Fiddler's Bid's tunes, and having already heard it on Da farder ben da welcomer really helped my interpretation of its lilting rhythm. There's a bellying swell to the tune that could, with the slightest stretch of the imagination, be seen as a musical interpretation of the wind filling a ship's sails.

And now, dammit, I have a new earworm to drive me completely bananas while I run.You know those tunes that stick in your head and replay endlessly, especially when you're engaged in some meaningless task with repetitive movements? Running fits the bill as one of those repetitive things - it's nothing if not coma-inducingly boring, but I don't mean that in a bad way - just that I seem to veg out while I'm pounding the paths and byways of East Lothian doing my half hour stint.

I ran through a deep puddle last time I was out, and mud oozed into my trainers which are now grey instead of white-ish. As were my socks and my feet underneath. On the way back from this run, as I was slowing and cooling down, I spotted some wrecked old fenceposts lying in the hedgerow. Having burned our way through our winter's supply of dry firewood, I'm now always on the lookout for wood to burn in the woodburning stove until the sun finally starts to warm our world up a bit. So I hauled all the dirty old fenceposts back to my car which was parked in the middle of a very modern and squeaky clean housing estate at the start of the railway walk where I'd been running. I loathe housing estates like this one - utterly prissy and up itself and liberally dotted with little f.o.a.d signs pointing out that these premises are protected by sentinel/ armedguardian/ urukhai/ kraken security as if every single person wandering its streets who isn't lucky enough to be a resident, must, therefore be criminally-minded. With my post-running bright red face, sweaty hair and clothes covered in either mud or leafmould, I realised that I didn't exactly look like a vanilla citizen, and when I ran into our old postman from many moons past, I could see that he wondered what the heck I was doing, dressed like a tramp and lugging an armload of old fenceposts along the street.

The wood thing is becoming a bit of an obsession. We heat our house and all our domestic hot water with the woodburner, so no wood equals no heat and no baths. Normally, there's enough wood in four woodsheds to carry our house through the winter. But this year, winter has stretched from October through to April, and we've run out. We've scoured beaches, raked through woods for dead trees, and every time we see any wood lying unclaimed, we stop and claim it. The girls are utterly mortified by our scavenger behaviour, which is entirely understandable when everybody else's parents look as if they've just stepped out of the hairdresser's, and theirs looks like they have not only been dragged through a hedge backwards, but stopped halfway and tried to drag the hedge home with them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

hams of steel

How do they do that? Run for twenty six miles non-stop? God - it's so impressive I just want to lie down and weep. In these parts, I'm still limping my way through re-learning how to run my piddly little 5ks four times weekly, and even with such a small distance, I find the going is incredibly tough. At the moment I've got to the stage in my training where I run for thirteen minutes, walk fast for two and then repeat, but even that has me feeling like a dung-beetle pushing my vast ball of crap uphill. All too solid the flesh, and none of it exactly feeling like it was built for speed. All of it creaking and groaning and whining -do we have to? aren't we there yet? And the cold and wet weather turning my preferred track through woods and fields at back of our house into a black and sticky mudslide, which means until it dries up, I have to go road-running which feels hideously public, not to mention fume-laden. I'm not a lycra-clad godess, alas, just a middle-aged woman who'd really rather prefer if nobody had to be forced to witness her heaving and gasping round her five ks's like a geriatric grampus. Whatever a grampus might be...Also, tarmac is very unforgiving to the aging underfoot compared to the path I've been enjoying through trees and mud which has been my usual training ground. I use the word 'training' loosely, although I'm going to have to set myself some real training goals before I die of boredom. Actually, I also use the word 'enjoying' loosely ; enjoyment tends to hit me all at once when I'm standing in the shower at the end of a run, although there are moments when there's a serendipitous alignment between the music on my i-pod and the cadence of my running - mind you, the sun has to be in the sign of the Nike and the moon in Diana, and there has to be an 'r' in the month, but when all these conditions are met - yeah, it's enjoyable.

But those brave marathon runners, all 35,000 of them; there's something about the London marathon that brings me almost to tears. This year they ran in rain, hail and very occasional spells of wintry sunshine. To my relief, I saw that some of the runners do actually slow to a walk, but most of them keep pounding the tarmac, step by hard-won step. So to all of them, the walkers, the runners, the fast and the slow and the quietly determined in between - respect. I am in awe of your achievements. It was, as always, a joy to watch.

Today, thanks to Michael encouraging me to take some time out for myself, I managed to add on a week to my Shetland trip. YIPPEEEE! This means that I'll have a week to walk the beaches, paint and recharge my batteries and get out there with camera, sketchbook and eyes wide open. Also I'll be able to revisit some of the places I saw last year, and see them in a different and hopefully even more clement season. Uyeasound, Muckle Flugga, Quendale, Ronas Hill...and maybe if I'm feeling suitably brave ( or insanely optimistic), I'll even get into the sea and swim. Woo hoo - bracing, what?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

men in woolly skirts

It's a first for me.

Yesterday, I took my youngest son to be fitted for a kilt. We spent months dithering over what to buy our boys for their 21st birthdays - both turning 21 this March within three weeks of each other, so the family coffers have taken a wee bit of a battering. Step-son wanted some obscure bit of music making electronic kit, so that was duly ordered off the net and arrived and was wrapped and handed over, but frankly, both his dad and I are none the wiser. We're not entirely sure what the heck it was that we bought. Suffice to say, step-son was delighted with it. Whatever it is...

Youngest son was another matter. Not big on possessions, and dark green to boot, trying to get him to work up any enthusiasm for anything in the 21st birthday gift line was well-nigh impossible. However, inspiration struck one day last month when one of youngest daughter's friend's parents was round dropping or picking up her child and in conversation I mentioned how hard we were finding the choosing of a good gift to mark a beloved son's birthday. She said 'why not a kilt?'

Perfect. Why not indeed? It wasn't despoiling the planet, it's made by an individual artisan, it's part of a historical tradition, it's a fantastically practical garment and it ought to last my son for most of his adult life. Better than a watch, an mp3 player or any bit of modern and breakable, soon-outdated kit - a kilt may not be the most exciting thing ever to receive as your 21st birthday present, but I have the suspicion that it will grow on him. When we went to the kiltmaker's, she had a kilt-in-progress on her worktable, so we could see what a beautiful thing a handmade kilt is. All hand-stitched, robustly made, and as youngest son's girlfriend and I both agreed, the boy has the perfect thighs to carry it off . Must be all that football...oaks come to mind. He also did not want a big fuss made for a birthday party, so in the end we just had all of us round a table and invited his girlfriend too. I made my first sachertorte for his cake, but again, he didn't want candles and fuss, so we didn't do any of that stuff. It was a sensationally good cake, though. Phwoarrrrr. And the boy ate the last slab today and practically had to go and lie down in a darkened room to recover. Dense, rich and chocolatey, I could only manage slivers at a time, but my son's calorie consumption rate is prodigious to say the least.

He's gone now. Back to Aberdeen till the summer, with exams looming and football matches in the offing. Not to mention what Michael irreverently refers to as his 'tin man'. This is a triathalon involving a lot of swimming, running and cycling. Tin? Sounds like kryptonite to me, but what do I know? I'm a zillion miles off being able to do a triathalon. This weekend is the london marathon, and just thinking about it makes me feel inadequate. I'm still slowly working my way back to being able to run four times a week in easy, incremental stages. Actually, not easy at all. Wheezy and hot-making despite the rather arctic temperatures when I set out.

But the running is great. This time last year I was growing more and more injured while running, but I kept on going, convinced that it was just a passing phase.Now, a year on, I'm a lot more cautious. There's been a lot of rain recently, so the wee track in the woods is a quagmire. Tomorrow I'm going to try the old railway walk and see what that's like for running. Only problem is that I'll have to cycle to the start of it, and it's been months since I took my bike out. Urrrgh.

The only problem with the running programme is that once I've done my run and showered and am finally at my desk, trying to write 1000 words or whatever I'm aiming for each day, all I want to do is put my head down and snooze.It's not that I'm knackered - heck no, not me, see me, see bouncy - it's just that post-running I'm so relaxed my spine has all the tensile strength of a strand of overcooked linguine. But my inner personal trainer will not let me off for so much as a single training session, so tomorrow, out I go come rain, hail, shine or probably all three if the past week's weather is indicative.

Despite this, I can't sleep at night. I wake around 4 a.m. and lie there scratchy of eyeball and somewhat hacked off at being awake. If only I could toss off a small literary masterpiece while I lie there sleepless, but instead, I put the time to good use and have myself a little pre-dawn Fret and Nail-Gnaw. Then, twenty minutes before I'm supposed to be awake, I fall deeply, dribblily, deeply-dreamily asleep. Actually, asleepdoesn't even come close. Let's try coma instead. That's what I fall into.