Thursday, June 18, 2009

please, somebody, plug me in

I'm imagining a crash team breaking down the door and dashing inside to find me, wan and limp, flopped in a corner of my studio, index fingers still twitching feebly in a rictus-like attempt to air-type out one last post before I flatline.
One..., didn't Ry Cooder sing that once? Or was it a meatball? Or have all the songs I've ever listened to while I work and work and work all run together into song-soup? And do I even care?

The crash team are distracted by the studio. I'm making landed-fish gaspy sounds and needing their immediate attention, but they're too busy pulling books off the shelf and exclaiming - wow - I had that when I was a kid. Jeez, did she write that too? Oh, my, I loved that one. Mum used to read me that at bedtime. And that one too. Just how many books has she written?

Seventy six...I gasp, but my voice is fainter than a line writ small in 8H pencil.

They peer down at me, and they all look so young, and far away. They don't read books made of paper now, d'you know? What I do, in the writing and illustrating of books on paper - well, that's kind of quaint and dinosaurish. I knew if I lived long enough this would happen. I have become a living curiosity. I still, dammit, prefer pens and paper to just about any other recording medium.

I'm lying there, gasping pathetically and hoping they might be able to use the USB slot at the back of my neck or the Firewire TM connection in my ear to connect me to the grid, otherwise my hard drive is going to dump all my remaining data onto the rug. Via my nostrils. And that won't be a good look.

Or maybe they'll use a Stryker saw to unzip me from sternum to pubes and peel me back to reveal a smaller, younger, fresher version of the me that is draped, like a strand of overcooked linguine, across the sofa that I used to take afternoon naps on, back when I was trying to write six linked novels in six years followed by four linked younger novels in three years topped off with five hundred line drawings in three months. Or was that three blinks? Or was it forty younger novels? Or.

I forget. Unsurprisingly, memory, then eyesight go first.

Maybe - and this is the kindest scenario of all - just maybe they'll unscrew me at the waist, and lift my top half off my bottom half, and inside, there'll be another me that looks just like the one that's been unscrewed. And inside that one, there'll be another, and another, and another, and another, right down to what, when our girls were little, we were pleased to call 'the bean'. The smallest matrushchka of all, the core dolly, the girl in the middle of the woman in the centre of the lady. The one where you can barely make out her features, since they were painted by an underpaid woman with a one eyelash brush. Core dolly. Babeheart. She is so very small, and so very well guarded. Was so very well guarded.

And then our puppy will nudge past the crash team and stick out her long, long tongue ( you would not believe how long that dog's tongue is) and, schloooop. I'd be gone.

Monday, June 1, 2009

putting my witch to bed

Can't quite believe I've finished the illustrations for Witch Baby and Me After Dark, and not only finished them, but parcelled them up and posted them to London. 

Maybe when I wake up tomorrow morning and automatically think - what am I going to draw today?- and the answer comes - the artwork for a new Mr Bear book, maybe then I'll believe I've done it. Or maybe when I see the hole on my drawing board where WB&MeAD used to be, I'll feel bereft, anti-climatic and flatter than a flat thing.

I tell you, though, WB&MeAD ( as she is known) was a labour of love. One hundred and eighty seven illustrations in all. One hundred and eighty seven? Somebody shut me up.

Here's one of them, fresh out the oven.

Friday, May 29, 2009

living in stupid times

Tonight we went out to see a small local screening of  'The Age of Stupid'. To be honest, I'm completely blown away by it - partly because most of the predictions on which this deeply disturbing prediction of future climate catastrophe is based have been shown to be too conservative and cautious in their scope. The IPCC have to go through a ton of peer-reviews, re-writes and general toning down ( the detail of which would make your average writer throw in the towel in disgust and go get a career in something less demanding like writing up experiments in quantum mechanics with a goose quill pen dipped in toffee )before they can publish anything relating to MMGW, and consequently their data is past its sell-by date before it even hits the shelves.

So - hard as it is to take on board, the future could well be even worse than the film showed? Gulp. The words toast, utterly are and we come to mind. Hosed, stuffed and completely fecked  can be substituted for toast should carbonized bread product seem like too gentle a description for the fate awaiting us. The film states categorically that unless we do something, and do it soon ( like get our carbon emissions way down by 2015 at the latest) we're heading for extinction - or as somebody said in the film, 'Mankind appears to be determinedly focussed on the little patch of sand upon which it is standing as a tsunami sweeps towards us'. 

Or, put differently

So, if you know a dragon
and most of us do
ask it if it thinks that this story is true

for if we can't see that our stories are linked
then sadly, like dragons
we'll soon be extinct.

D'you know what was the most terrifying thing about this film? Not the bald facts of the mess we're in. Nor the possibility that we may already have reached the tipping point beyond which we will be unable to prevent runaway climate catastrophe. Nor the exposure of a fraction of the ghastly underbelly of the oil industry with its tentacles reaching out across the globe to draw us all into a web of culpability for atrocities practised in the name of Big Oil. 

No. None of these was as frightening as the fact that only about twenty people bothered to come along and see 'The Age of Stupid.' If it is screened somewhere near you, please, try to go and see it.  will show where it is being screened. It's powerful, moving, funny, wise and, I think, the most important film I've seen for years.  Or you could just file it under 'forget'. Apathy is indeed a weapon of mass destruction. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

no hay fiesta, amigos

Once upon a time, I went to the Hay Festival, did my event, was presented with a white rose and, much later, the crate of champagne that is Hay's wondrous tax-free payment for services rendered. I stayed in Laura Ashley's old home - now a hotel of deep beeswax and buttonback leather luxury, and dined and breakfasted with authors far more famous and celebrated than myself. 

Two things stood out of that time - one was the morning I had breakfast with a mortally hungover author who was, for reasons that I shan't go into here, giving a wind-up paper bat its trial flight over her porridge bowl ( porridge - with a hangover? yeeeearrrrghhhh) while giving every indication that she was about to throw up into her linen napkin. 

The other thing was that after dinner the night before - also with famous authors and harrassed publicists - I sat down in a deep sofa - actually collapsed would be more accurate - and felt a chill breath all down my spine. This proved to be the zip of my dress giving way in its entirety, and effectively reducing my frock to something more like the kind of gown one slips into prior to serious surgery. Crossing the acreage of Aubusson on my way back to my room to effect a quick change was a journey I have no desire to repeat.

So why do I always feel like a geriatric version of the Little Matchgirl when Hay comes and goes and I'm not invited, again? Cool and hip festivals bring me out in hives, as a general rule. I've never felt cool or hip, and you can usually get a seat at any event I've ever done, right up until the doors close. Which is a nice way of saying that I rarely sell out. Any more. I did, once or twice, way back when, and once I'd stepped onto the podium and stopped shaking, I revelled in the buzz. My goodness - what a heady feeling it is to play to a packed auditorium. Whooooooo, it's not rock and roll, but it certainly comes close.

The de-zippered dress was never the same again, btw. Lacking the skills to insert a full-length zip in a linen dress, I employed a local seamstress to do the job for me. She, I am sorry to say, made a complete arse of the job, and the frock now languishes at the end of the wardrobe which is a scant black plastic bag's length away from being recycled.

However - the wind-up paper bat lives on. Two years ago, I found myself emailing the famous author and asking her if she would name her source of wind-up mammals. Being famous, and kind, she went one better - she sent me the remains of the same Bat at Hay Breakfast. Unfortunately, BaHB had suffered the ravages of time, and fell out of the envelope in its component parts. Undaunted ( I lie - I was deeply daunted, but not irrevocably so) I set about trying to find a substitute bat. Finally, after much purchasing of secondhand books on paper folding/ automata, I discovered a source of wind-up paper butterflies. Spent a merry week pulling the wings off the butterflies and trying to cut out and retro-fit all manner of black paper, plastic, tissue, cloth by way of substitute. In the end, after many, many doomed attempts, a high street retailer's January Sale plastic bags provided the perfect black plastic for my bat wings and the rest you can see for yourself on 
At least, I hope you can, but being about as technologically capable as the bowl of porridge that the original bat nearly ended up in, you may perhaps encounter some difficulty accessing the link. You may have to, gasp, manually input it, which I guess is several keystrokes too many. Suffice to say, the bat, and several of his brothers and sisters, puts in an appearance. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Well, that seemed to go well

Had a delightful afternoon with my visiting Witch and Son. Thank heavens she didn't feel constrained to throw any spells around. Phew. More coffee, anyone?

Sorry to have taken almost a week to post this, but life and work rose up and devoured all the hours between then and now. And I still  haven't finished the illustrations for Witch Baby and Me After Dark. Aaaaaaarghhhh. This task is turning into a pictorial In( accessible) Pin(nacle). Every morning I tie on my crampons and have another go, but every evening I find myself 
(metaphorically) retreating back to Base Camp, short of oxygen and running out of steam. 

Talking of which, the gym doesn't get any easier. I'm still Mrs Blobby No-Lungs, or She Who Drips. And my old kit fits not - sadly because I'm a different shape ( think wider) and not as I'd fondly imagined, because it had shrunk in the wash. As I drag myself out of the door at 5.35 a.m., it's hard to keep my motivation going when a little Inner Voice of Sedition is muttering something about how comfortable our bed had been and how hard I'm working and how I should cut myself some slack.... Then, as if by magic, I find I'm outside the gym ( Note to Self : must've sleep-driven) and heading through the turnstile into the little Chamber of Cardio-Horror for another forty minutes of gruesome self-flagellation. In a shrunken gym kit. What a vision of loveliness - NOT.

Had wonderful conversation over dinner tonight. Youngest Daughter was saying that when she grows up she wants to write Popular Books for children. There was a silence after she said this, while we all mentally arrived at the corollary - unlike Mumma's Unpopular Books for children.

Oh, groan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

me and my big Hexenkessel

I'm having a  Rather Special guest and her Son to lunch tomorrow, which is why my thoughts are turning to menus as I speed homewards on the train from Aberdeen.  I've been thinking about this meal ever since my Special Guest and I firmed up our lunchdate. And emailed back and forth about what would be off-menu, since I am lunching with a (whisper it) Witch and her Son. 

Yup. You read that one correctly. A real Witch.

You can perhaps understand that this is one lunch that I'm rather keen not to make a complete dog's breakfast of. She said, inelegantly. In fact, let's ramp up the tension a little here. When having a Witch to lunch, one most certainly doesn't mess up on the culinary front. Not if one doesn't wish to spend the rest of one's life extruding frogspawn from one's nether regions.

So. No pressure there, then.

My Witch-to-lunch sent a messenger ahead on the ether a few months back with a list of forbidden gastronomic no-nos. Some of these were things you'd expect - no cherub steaks, no wings under any circumstances, no fluffy, pink mousses or saccharine candyfloss desserts, nothing that's been even remotely near anything ecclesiastical ( pope's-eye steaks come to mind) and absolutely no salt, stakes or holy water. 

All of that you would expect. But can someone please tell me why it is that when given a list of proscribed ingredients, all that this cook can think of is - ooooh, but I make such a sensational cassoulet de cherub. Or - what a shame I can't let her try my Texan chilli wing thing. Or that yummy River Caff acqua sancta bollito misto, or  Fergus Henderson's salt-glazed Pope's eye medium rare with ceps. Or the River Cottage mousseline of raspberries and rhubarb with a blood orange jus? Or, or, or....

And my cauldron is, in truth, a tad rusty. Haven't hauled it down from the attic since that last disastrous attempt at stirring up a Perfect Love Potion and, after hours of effort, pouring the result down the drain only to discover that I'd turned the entire population of the South East of Scotland into something that resembled Brigadoon on Viagra.

Oooops. Only for one night, you understand. Yes. That night. Mmmmhmmm. Sorry about that. 

I digress. I think I know what I'll make for lunch, but you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out if it passes muster with the

If I'm not back in 24 hours then come looking for me, huh? 

Monday, May 18, 2009

no fatted calves

It's not a question of etiquette or appropriateness or even of ecological sustainability ( anyway these days, it's almost an act of eco-terrorism to eat beef) but for the return of my prodigal, I didn't go overboard on the food front. We had kedgeree followed by apple crumble and ice-cream. Normal food for an abnormal occasion. It was a very late dinner, since my prodigal didn't arrive off the train at Waverley until 9.30 p.m and was heading back early the next morning. He drank loads and loads of water, didn't have an after-dinner cigarette and joy of joys, didn't wash it all down with a swift injection of heroin. So. Huge progress has been made. 

Didn't realise how terrified I was at the prospect of Eldest Son's first home visit from rehab until after I'd put him on the train back, watched it pull out of the station and went home to be hit by a wave of weariness that went so bone-deep it was almost frightening. Could barely keep my eyes open for the rest of the day. Which was unfortunate since it was the only day I had to bake cakes for Youngest Daughter's weekend celebration of her twelfth birthday. A coffee and Smartie decorated sponge ( Youngest Daughter's choice) and a sensational sour cherry and beetroot streusel number invented by the talented Dan Lepard and published in the weekend Guardian last week.

Family all arrived on Sunday to eat cake and drink cava, sun slid out from behind the clouds and Youngest Daughter did a wonderful thing which we shall all treasure for the rest of our lives. While the grown-ups were admiring the garden and being typical grown-ups, she snuck back into the house, took out her pipes ( which she only graduated to three weeks ago) and started playing as she walked round the back of the house and came to stand at the top of the garden. So at first, there was the distant sound of pipes and then, there she was, slender and beautiful, backlit by the sun, dark hair blowing in the breeze and playing something deeply evocative, traditional and almost unbearably moving. In a Scottish garden in May. 

So if I'm not making a whole lot of sense, it's because that was a weekend and a half and although I'd like nothing better than to begin this new week slowly processing the events of the preceding 48 hours, sifting through all the love and loss and hope and fear and stifled feelings and silted up muddy stuff all bobbing around demanding my emotional attention, instead I find myself biliously green-gilled and travel-sick and on a train to Turriff (north of Aberdeen) to do three days of back-to-back school events in a library. Three days? After that weekend? And no opportunity to play my fiddle for the next three days since I could not manage to carry it along with suitcase, portfolio and computer bag and besides, I'm sure my scraping and sawing would not be exactly welcome at the b&b where I'm staying. 

Damn shame, that. Music really does help. Especially if it's music I make myself. Swaying in a fashion which is guaranteed to deeply embarrass my daughters, and sometimes trying to ignore the tears that roll down my nose and slide under my chin to join me in a salty communion with my fiddle's chinrest. I debated whether to pack my flute instead, but decided that my fellow guests at the b&b would rise up and beat me to death with the thing after hearing a few of my shrieky attempts at notes in the higher registers. So I crammed in running shoes and a wet weather jacket instead and shall take myself out for some heavy breathing in the lanes of Turriff after my day's work is done. 

That is, if I can stay awake...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A grand day out

Brighton was a joy. Amazingly chilly sunshine ceded to amazingly chilly fogginess, but walking by the sea never fails to lift my spirits, even if my teeth are gritted against the cold. I could have simply stayed in my amazingly comfortable room at the Cavalaire Hotel but I needed to walk after the four-train, six hour journey down from Edinburgh, and if only I hadn't then decided I needed a spot of retail therapy, I wouldn't have tried to singlehandedly prop up the ailing British economy by dint of nobly handing over the contents of my slender wallet. But hey - I wouldn't have bought a divine pair of gladiator sandals ( for all those occasions where I anticipate going into the arena for the express purpose of being mauled by lions: a.k.a book festivals) nor would I have spent a merry hour or so struggling in and out of a succession of breathtakingly chest-compressing sports bras in forgiving shades of black, coal and soot. I didn't exactly need the sandals, but the sports bra was long overdue - the current once-white-but-now-taupe model being the kind of undergarment your mother warned you about* being run over while wearing.

*As if you'd put on your best scanties and then go out and deliberately fling yourself under a moving vehicle all the better for the A&E staff to admire your impeccable taste whilst picking bits of your person off the tarmac. 

Also, there's something quite encouraging for reluctant gym bunnies about buying new kit - it's not exactly inspirational, but it does vary the monotony a little. And monotony there is by the square hectare at the gym. Urrrrrghh, it is So. Very. Boring., especially on the days that my gym buddy doesn't show and I have to put in my lonely miles on the treadmill without the respite of conversation. There are only so many thinks I can think before my Inner Couch Potato starts the Seditious Whispering, and to my horror last time I went, some close descendant of the Marquis de Sade was - gasp - making toast downstairs from the cardio suite and had left all the fire doors open, all the better to waft the zephyr of carbohydrate concupiscence under our innocent noses.

And then somebody sneezed. Wetly. Explosively.

If you'd managed to hook all our rolling eyeballs up to a Van der Graff generator at that precise moment, our combined voltage could have blownthe sneezer straight across the room. As it was, we just kept calm and carried on. Proving once and for all that the Spirit of the Blitz is alive and stalking the land.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

cross-country training

On a train to Brighton - actually, on four trains to Brighton, such is the nature of interconnectedness-not. Four trains? Sheeesh. And dipping in and out of wireless broadband signals makes for twitchy blogging, lousy Guardian onlining and dodgy emailing. But hey. And it's beautiful outside - blossomy, sunny and precisely the kind of day that I do not want to be stuck on a speeding steel tube heading South. For some reason I get very travel sick on trains, and a day spent feeling decidedly ill, trapped on a variety of trains is Hell On Toast.

However, if I was home I'd still be beavering away at the line drawings for Witch Baby and Me After Dark which due to my having to lovingly limn each and every particle of foliage, shadow and woodgrain, are taking forever. FOREVER. Sisyphian doesn't even come close, right? Fortunately, I love drawing and close to four hundred line drawings ( over the series of three books) have sharpened up my technique to the extent that I no longer hyperventilate at the prospect of drawing a human face in deep chiaroscuro, but instead enjoy the challenge. Since the majority of the scenes in WBandMeAD are set in darkness ( the action takes place around Hallowe'en) there's plenty of opportunity on my part for much cross-hatching, and consequently the book will probably weigh more than most due to its freight of black ink. I used to have a tutor at Art School who would accuse me of knitting when he found me cross-hatching. That was back in the Dark Ages when knitting didn't have the same cultural appeal as it does now, and the tutor had an inbuilt bias against black and white line work due to being a watercolorist.  Media regardless, I wish I was a better draughtswoman, though. Looking through youngest daughter's copy of Finn Family Moomintroll,  I am as ever struck with awe at how stunningly brilliant Tove Jansson was in her use of light and line. 

There are some jewel-like drawings in Tove's books that lodged in my subconscious when I read them as a ten year old, and rediscovering them a few years ago was like finding buried treasure. Or, as I'm sure I may have said before, like stepping into a sunlit attic room and finding oneself home. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

plague central

Yup. We got it here first. Scotland is now officially a pariah nation, second only to Mexico. If I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of walls to rival Hadrian's original being erected down there in them thar Border country. Sigh. Tomorrow I have two events at an independent bookshop down in the Scottish Borders, and next week, I'm supposed to travel down to Brighton to do an event for which a whole class of children, their teacher and I have been preparing for the past two months.

At least, that was the plan before Media-Flu broke out all over the planet.
Media-Flu Symptoms : 
Weakness of the normal critical faculties - we appear to be rushing like Gadarene swine (ooops, perhaps not the best analogy) I mean rushing like lemmings towards a Panic Pandemic.
Vomiting: Acres of newsprint are even now being ejected from the vast factory sheds of the Fourth Estate.
Diarrhoea: (or perhaps logorrhoea )This unstoppable eruption of tides of foul-smelling discharge is  flowing from the fevered minds of journalists trying to file copy before rushing out to buy their personal stockpiles of Tamiflu.
Temperature: Rising by the minute towards a complete global meltdown of common sense.
Pains in the joints: and in most bars and other places where people gather to spout nonsense.

Maybe it's not nonsense, maybe a pestilence of biblical proportions is headed our way, but the way that the printed media have seized upon this topic to the exclusion of all else is wearisome. Our eerily deserted local supermarket had a whole raft of DOOM, DEATH and OINKERCHOO tabloid titles in evidence, and try as I might, my eye had scanned them before my brain could censor what I was looking at. And I most emphatically didn't want to look at those.

Marvellous. More interesting things to wake up and ponder in the wee small hours. O, the thinks you can think...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

a feathery hug

Sometimes we all need an owl mummy. This one is from Stormy Weather - publishing in October 09.

But much more importantly -Welcome to the world baby Findlay Langlands - the first new baby in our wider family for eleven years. Can't wait to meet you. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

101 today

I don't usually pay a whole lot of attention to numbers - except when the come suffixed with a DR which in these benighted latitudes means you've got to get on the phone quiick to the bank before they close you down. Post codes, phone numbers, car registration numbers, tax codes, pin numbers, birthdays, national insurance know what? I don't retain any of them. So, when I logged on tonight, I noticed that my last post was the Fiddle and Pins centenary edition.

Aw heck. If I'd noticed, I would have baked a cake, but since the dawn of spring has also brought the dawning realisation that my jeans and assorted trousers are growing decidedly tight round my rear, cakes are temporarily verboten.

Which means I'll have to ignore the siren song coming from the big glass-topped cake tin that holds our 2009 Simnel cake, which I swear is trying to attract my attention as I type this. If I listen hard I can hear it banging up and down and hurling home-made candied peel all about in a fit of the 'Notice me! Eat me! Eat all of me! We're talking quality adipose tissue here, not common-or-garden flubber! Come on, you know you want it!'

Attention-seeking little cake. Actually, not all that little - it's a bit of a monster with it's cape of marzipan and freight of speckledy chocolate eggs. And given the tightness of my jeans, to eat anything more than a slice about a micron thick is to call down the wrath of my Inner Personal Trainer, and trust me, I don't want to do that. Shhhhh. Whatever you do - don't rouse her.

Having blithely said I don't pay much attention to numbers, I've just worked out what a complete lie that statement is. I pay a lot of attention to the numbers on the dial of my bathroom scales. And I'm gripped by the calorie count that my heartrate monitor watch thing tots up at the end of a session. And the number of minutes still to go in the self-imposed purgatory of running for half an hour non-stop...although since I wheezed my way through January's 5k, I haven't done any running longer than about 10 minutes. In fact, since January I have completely trashed what I laughingly call my fitness regime, and am currently at a high risk of jumping two sodding dress sizes in an upwards direction.

Which is why I'm going to get up at 5.25a.m. tomorrow just like I did yesterday, and will continue to do on a one-day-on, one-day-off basis until I'm back in the rut of early morning gym-bunnydom. And yes, I hate it every bit as much as you might imagine, but the prospect of facing down my Inner Personal Trainer is far, far, far worse. The only thing missing is a good playlist to fire me up and keep me at cruising altitude while I dree my weird.* All suggestions welcome.

* As good a phrase as any to describe the ungainly, wheezing, red-faced, sweaty and ultimately pointless procedures I put myself through in the pursuit of fitness, happiness and tighter buns than a desk-bound illustrator deserves to possess.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

unsprung Spring

The blossom is out, the trees are at bud-break, the primroses carpet hills in Argyll but it's so damn cold that I can only think wintry soup thoughts and warm cashmere wrappy things and hot baths and electric blankets cranked up to max and every meal i make seems to have a dried red chilli or two snuck into it. Brrrrrrr.

Spent the Easter break over in Argyll, making up crummy doggerel for my youngest daughter's egg-treasure hunt, baking Simmnel cake and trying to feed beloved visiting friends on a budget of precisely zilch. We did have one spectacular dinner at sunset at the top of a newly-opened right-of-way at the top of a hill with an unexpected picnic table sat right up there at the end of a half-hour uphill slog. Needless to say in the same postal code of the smoking capital of Scotland, that particular picnic table is totally underused, if not certifiably virgin, but hey, not any longer. We had our wicked way and heated a chilli con carne, deflasked a pile of Basmati rice and necked two bottles of red from wealthier times.

And Michael even remembered to pack candles.

Ther's nothing quite like eating volcanically hot chilli with friends and drinking wine at the top of a hill looking out to a seaview of the island of Arran. There was a sufficient window in the weather to allow the candles to burn evenly, and I was left with the feeling that we will all remember that picnic for a long time to come. Not for the food, but for the place and the unlikeliness of eating outside in Scotland at night in April.

We're back at the coalface now, though. Work is beginning to eat me alive, my fiddle playing hasn't improved much but my flute playing has taken an exponential leap forward when I abandoned my godawful Tune-a-Day primer and went off-piste and played real music. Real music, breathily played ( in a previous life I was a smoker, so my playing and hill-walking will always be -gasp -breathy) on a beautiful silver flute. The beautiful flute was a 50th birthday present from Michael which initially felt like more work ( must practise NEW instrument, must get good at flute as well as being average at fiddle and drawing 145 line drawings for the new Witch Baby and bake our own organic bread and, and, and....) but now I'm loving it, loving the sound I make and occasionally really flying. In the way that you can only fly with music.

The other wonderful thing about the flute is that it won't go out of tune in the cold weather. I can sling it in its case in a rucksack and go play at the top of a hill with a view to Arran if that is what my heart desires. Once I've drawn the 145 line drawings and baked the bread, that is.

Monday, March 23, 2009

so far to go

Spent a large part of last night's session with the Fiddlers wishing I was a better fiddler than I am now. This has probably got everything to do with the fact that the wee reel I'd practised assiduously all week and thought - hey, I'm getting the hang of this - turned out to be one of those tunes that require playing with one's bow a blur and fingers flying. Like an old 33r.p.m L.P played at the speed of a 45 r.p.m.single. Or a treadmill at the gym speeded up from walk to sprint. Aaaaargh. Fingermangle. How the heck...? Donald says it's muscle memory (obviously my muscles have got dementia) and Pete says don't think about it - it's easier.Oh, how we laffed.

As with most things, it's practise. Or practice. Just do it.

But supply your family with ear-muffs and plugs before you begin.

There was a stunningly talented piper at the session last night. Small pipes, I hasten to add .The piper's effect on the resident black labrador ( Fergus) was marked. Fergus came round all the fiddlers, one by one, looking for reassurance that the Boy With The Waily-Waily Thing was actually Safe. Poor Fergus. not only having to put up with weekly infestations of fiddles, but now a plague of pipes?

But even if I do practise till my fingers bleed, I'll never catch up with the Fiddlers. I swear they've all been playing since they were tots, like me, but unlike me they didn't give up in their teen years, and carried on fiddling all the way through their twenties, thirties, forties and are now amazing. Really, truly amazingly talented people. It's a joy to occasionally have a tune with them.

At least ritual humiliation-by-fiddle took my mind off the terrors of packing for Bologna. I'm over that now. I've been to have my first hair-cut for a whole year,'s signally failed to have the desired morale-boosting effect. Perhaps I should have embraced my Inner-Harridan/ Unst Granny* with the long wild hair , but I had a yen for sleek shiny hair ironed flat. I know, it's lamentable to be so damn vain especially when you're ( whisper it) Getting On A Bit- but my Inner Fluff-Brain occasionally does get her turn in the driving seat and such is her unfamiliarity with the controls ( ooooh, what's this knob? gosh, I wonder what happens when I press this one? what's that siren sound? why are there red flashy thingsin my rearview mirror?) that it's a safe bet that it will all end in tears.

So - not quite tears, but it is a pretty indifferent haircut, made even less flattering by the fact that due to advancing decreptitude, what I now appear to have is a sleek headful of grey ironed flat stuff. I look, in short, like I'm about to audition for Blake 7.

* Thankyou to Mel for this glorious image. Unst Grannies, Fetlar Uncles, Yell Spouses and suchlike can all be found at 60 degrees North.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coming up for air

So that's what I've been doing for the last fortnight. Writing, thinking, scoring out and writing again. And doing two heeeuge events with children in Liverpool for World Book Day, one rather quiet event in Glasgow at Aye Write and finally two more events in Craigmillar which is full of good people living difficult lives exacerbated by appalling poverty, below average literacy levels, above average social problems all within some of the crumbling remains of one of Edinburgh's most shameful public housing estates. Needless to say, out of the five events I've taken part in, the two in Craigmillar were easily the best fun, the most rewarding and the ones I will remember for a long time to come.

Although, it has to be said, standing up on stage in Liverpool under hot, bright lights in front of heaving rows of hundreds of children was pretty memorable in terms of Need For Clean Underwear.

I used to think that being a children's writer guaranteed one a life of quiet, contemplative self-reliance. A sort of love affair between a Zen vegetarian and a Beat Poet who moonlighted as a Lollipop lady. These days, it's more like being the product of a one-night-stand between a rock star on the downward career trajectory and a hermit with literacy issues. The job description has changed beyond all recognition. I suspect E. H. Shepard would have been horrified at the prospect of 'drawing' on an interactive whiteboard, even in front of an audience of adoring fans.

Now, before the next tranche of editorial input, I'm having a wardrobe crisis of epic dimensions because next week I'm off to the Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. When you are fortunate enough to spend the majority of your working life tooling back and forth from your garden shed with occasional sorties to the supermarket, you can grow very accustomed to wearing whatever you wore the day before, even if that was what you wore the day before that, and regardless of the fact that it makes you look
a. old
b. fat you really have given up any pretensions to elegance or style
and if you are acknowledging your Inner Harridan

This is all very well until you are ripped untimely from your cosy cocoon of Dressing Down. Dressing from your vast selection of washed-to-death and decidedly greying Couture Noir. A.K.A. Dressing for Expanded Waistlines and Comfortable Comfort Eating. Whatever. Suddenly you have to Dress for Work. This never fails to throw me into a complete state of terror, which will lead to my travelling with a suitcase of ludicrous heaviness and, I can guarantee, will entail a long, dark teatime of the soul in an uncharted pensione during which the complete contents of said heavyweight luggage will be tried on in various combinations with escalating cries of dismay as all are found wanting.

Don't even get me started on what shoes I'm going to take.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Long hushhhhhhhh

Please forgive the long hush/gap in comms but February went by in a haze of deadline fatigue. Don't think I've ever written a book quite as fast before, and frankly, it's not an experience I'd care to repeat, but a bit like what is coyly termed a 'precipitate labour' ( think three contractions and you're done...) it does at least have the advantage of getting the horrible bit over and done with quickly.

Yes- sometimes writing is horrible. It's a shocking admission, but after several of the great and the good 'came out' in last week's Guardian to tell all that they loathed writing and would rather floss with a circular sander than sit down with their blank pages day after day after day, I feel empowered to add my name to the list of Authors who Wrestle with Demons. It's not always the pits, but for a fair amount of the time I spend sitting at my desk conjuring words out of thin air, it is a lonely, gruelling task, and one that I can come to dread if the writing isn't going well.

Why do we do it? I can only speak for myself in saying that I go through the grey blahhhhs secure ( -ish) in the knowledge that eventually, I'll emerge out into the sunny uplands. The good outweighs the grim, and the good feels so damn good that it's worth the pain. Or something like that.

Last week we had World Book Day which involved loads and loads of children and not nearly enough cakes, and the week before, I had a Significant Birthday which involved loads of trekking across peat bogs and narrow cliffside goat-paths and not nearly enough lazing around sipping champagne and eating chocolates. And for the three weeks before that, I was doing a fine impersonation of Boring Mummy Who Shrieks and Writes 24/7. Not, I must say, a good look.

Now I'm deep in the Edit, which is a stage I've come to relish ; far more craft than Art, but consequently, the pressure to create is lessened, and the sheer enjoyment of refining, honing, tweaking and finally polishing is putting a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Sadly though, it's not putting a whole lot of moolah in my bank account, but hey - these days, why the heck would I want to put anything in one of those? Banks? Meh...

And finally, today felt like spring was winning. Time to redecorate the blog. Much as it pained me to take down the dragons in the snow picture and haul it upstairs to the blogattic, I hope its replacement finds favour. The running foxes with wind-tossed trees are from a book called Stormy Weather which, if Western capitalism doesn't crash and burn beforehand, will be published this coming October.You saw it here first.

Friday, January 23, 2009

stormy weather, the movie

With one of those bits of divine serendipity, when we celebrated my handing in of the artwork for 'Stormy Weather', it just happened to be one of the filthiest days ever on the West coast of Scotland. So - your intrepid blogger here ( also known as She Who Doesn't Get Out Much) decided to go out and get live footage of just how wet it was. The waves came up over the sea wall, crossed the street and, as you can see, half-drowned innocent pedestrians.

What the video doesn't convey is the smell of the entire sewage system of Tighnabruaich backing up, swirling all about and being hurled back into the centre of the village. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, it saves you from a billion bacteria. We went home and stood, fully clothed, under the shower.

But hey. It was, as they say in movies, Real.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

what is worse than not being a nerd?

I have Mel to thank for this. Thankyou Mel. According to the Nerdtest, I'm officially' not nerdy, but definitely not hip'.

Not hip? Bloody hell. Something has gone hideously, horribly wrong. Gasp. I was so sure that having spent the better part of this evening trying to master the intricacies of uploading my own clips onto YouTube, I would have skated easily into the category of the mother of all Dweeby Nerds, but no. And then, sniff, to discover that I'm not even hip? Did I die one night in my sleep? Is there an alternative universe in which I am Forever Hip, while in this one, like Dorian Gray's portrait, I am doomed to crumble and wither into a carpet-slippered, Horlicksian nightmare of bedpans and wrinkled sagginess?

Er. Seeing as how I'm fast approaching a Significant Birthday, I'd actually rather you didn't answer that. I stood on the bathroom scales this morning and could barely hold back my shrieks of dismay. How much?That's what happens when there's not enough light to go round. I make a heroic attempt to achieve the inner glow that cometh only from the combustion of carbohydrates and alcohol. All through the dark days of November and December I kept telling myself that all the running I was doing was bound to keep the flubber under control, but five minutes before the end of my wee Winter Run, I felt each and every extra gramme I'd acquired, and all of them weighed twice what they normally did.

Until I can come to grips with how to upload video, I won't be able to share the true horror of the red blob that barely made it past the finish line, but hey - I DID DO IT. So what if I finished 1,345th out of 1,890? The most salient bit of my last sentence was the bit about finishing, not the placing or the time it took. I still pinch myself, two weeks on, reminding myself that I achieved my little goal. Proof positive that little by little, and bit by bit, if we persevere, we can achieve things that we once believed to be impossible.

As America is now discovering. A new day, and a far more hopeful feeling in the air. And as if to underline that audaciously hopeful young man's message, all around are the first shy buds of the new year. Bring on the new.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A marked lack of lumens

Lordy, but is it just me that thinks the days are getting darker, not lighter? Seems like we wake in darkness, the sun drags itself above the horizon, effortfully hauls itself up to the treeline and then, exhausted by such Herculean efforts, sinks back over the rim of the land once more with a barely disguised snore.

All I can say is thank heavens I've finished all illustrations for Stormy Weather ahead of its impossible deadline. Trying to paint pale watercolour washes in these kind of light levels would be an exercise in severe eye strain, three helical daylight bulbs notwithstanding. No. Stormy Weather the artwork is tucked in a plastic slip, zipped into a portfolio and awaiting transport with me down to London. Handing it over to Bloomsbury in three days time which is hugely exciting, but slightly overshadowed by the imminence of the Great Winter Run which is - gasp - tomorrow.

To which the only proper comment is YEEEEEEAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH, what the hell possessed me to sign up for it?

My dear children yawn and sigh and roll their dear little red eyes so far backwards in their heads I swear they'll cause their eyeballs to slip down the back of their mocking little throats, but for Mummy, it is a Very Big Adventure, this going for a run-thing. They are deeply unimpressed, and only the littlest one can be persuaded to haul ass out of her bed on a Saturday morning and tool into chilly Edinburgh along with her loyal Daddy to come and watch Mummy be very embarrassing,turn very pink, and, alas, probably come in very almost probably last. Speed not being one of the things I seem to be able to get the hang of, no matter how much I train. Speed, breathing, elegance and, let's not forget, discovering an inner ability to glide uphill without sounding like I'm about to blow all gaskets.

Everyone says - get a grip, it's only 5k, but I have to point out that the first 1.5k are up a hill that is steeper than a steep thing. Yup. That steep. I can hear you sucking air. I knew you'd be impressed. Heck, I'm impressed, and I haven't even seen this hill myself. If I was a mad keen competitor, I would undoubtedly have already run the course twelve times over, but I don't want to win, I just don't want to make an absolute idiot of myself.

However, my inner Dammit-I-Want-To-Win demon may well rear its ghastly head tomorrow and give my feet wings, but somehow I doubt it. I suspect halfway up that hill I may just settle back into the gasping and clammy embrace of the Bloody-Hell-If-I-Get-Out-Of-This-Alive-I-Swear-I'll-Never-Do-Anything-So-Dumb-Ever-Again demon. This demon and I have met before on Scottish mountaintops when, confronted with a horrible, horrible vertiginous ridge, my legs turn to overcooked linguine and I begin to plea-bargain with a divine being that I'm pretty sure doesn't exist. At which point, that demon surfaces. I'm told it hangs around A&E wards too...

Anyway. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? With luck, a healthy glow of cardiovascular virtue and that glorious feeling of a fear vanquished. And possibly, a photo to scare the children.