Sorbus

Here is an old piece of work I found when rummaging recently. Isn’t it funny to look back and see how your work changes? I’m not altogether sure how I feel about it. There’s an odd discomfort in looking at a piece like this. There are things I really like about it. Was I right to shed what I did to end up where I am now? But, perhaps I’ve not really shed anything. Those techniques are still in my toolbox and the journey isn’t linear.

We planted a Sorbus along the back fence this week. Sorbus are more commonly known as Mountain Ash or Rowan. This one is called Autumn Spire. It is tall and columnar, bearing red berries and crimson foliage in Autumn. It completes my set along the fence: Holly for winter, Swedish Birch for summer, Flagpole Cherry for spring, and now the Sorbus. In ten years time these trees should hopefully be mature (ok, not the Holly), providing food and refuge for our declining songbird friends. In the mean time they will give us shade and much pleasure as we watch them grow.

Next week we will be away on our hols for half term so no post from me but I’ll be back the week after.

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Indoor thoughts

field peas, greenhouse, allotment, autumn, gardening, jobs, chores, growing, gardening, hannah foley, illustration, illustrator, lifestyle illustrationDays starting cold and sharp, apexed with golden warmth, continue here. We had a wonderful walk along the South West Coast Path on Saturday, climbing high above chalky cliffs for views of blue meeting blue for miles all around. It is another golden day today but my thoughts aren’t of outside. I have a very exciting document to look at…the text for the next Billy Hippo picture book! I can’t wait to be drawing this little chap again.
Here’s an illustration of another job I’ll be getting on with this week down at the allotment.

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Lemon Biscuits

Dawn by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)We have had clear star-filled nights here making it easy to see and admire the Harvest Moon. Consequently the mornings have been cold and bordering on frosty. I found a frozen dandelion clock on the allotment. I have needed a few more layers for my early morning bike rides too, but have been rewarded with some stunning dawns, the air alive with birdsong and steeped in golden mists. The birds do seem particularly chatty at the moment. I wondered if it was because they were busy stocking up for the cold months ahead but I like this idea from David Lack: autumn birdsong is a signal of a bird’s intention to stay the winter rather than migrate. I wonder if he is right. It is mostly sparrows, tits and robins I have seen chirruping away, all non-migratory birds. If birds had fingers I imagine then making rude gestures and yelling, “Yah! Get out of here you southern softies, us northerners will tough it out!” That would be mostly the sparrows I should think; just the sort of behaviour I would expect from sparrows.

At the weekend it poured here. We braved the rain to attend the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. It sounds very highbrow (and it is) but we were aiming for an event called Fairy Tale Pets by Tracey Corderoy, which was not so highbrow but probably more fun. Little Owl has been a big fan of Tracey since my mother-in-law introduced her to the Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble series. Granny is a witch and a very mischievous one. You should hear what she gets up to in the Great Granny Bake Off! Anyway, Tracey’s event was about her book Fairy Tale Pets in which Bob decides he needs a job and he’s going to take in pets. Well you can imagine the chaos that ensues when the likes of Baby Bear, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs turn up. Tracey was absolutely fantastic: super nice and super fun. To her credit, she was also not at all fazed with Little Owl’s stack of books for her to sign, or the slightly squashed lemon biscuits Little Owl had made for her. She actually ate them too. Big Dreamer said this was because she is either very nice or was very hungry, but I happen to think Little Owl makes a pretty mean lemon biscuit, squashed or not.

Tracey Corderoy, Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble, children's fiction, children's books, author event, author signing, children, parents, family, book festival, nosy crow

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One of the Many Days

Photograph of apples in an orchard by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)Autumn is here. It was dark coming back from Brownies with Little Owl and her friend last night. Black clouds scudded across the sky. I was hustled and bustled by the wind on my bike this morning. One minute I was shooting forward as if an unseen hand had given me a good shove, the next I seemed to be completely stationary, no matter how hard I pedaled. A bat accompanied me part of the way, its flight even more frenetic than usual, obviously a thrill-seeker. It is mostly dark in the mornings now, the thin grey dawn only appearing as I tip the latch on the gate to come back in.

At the weekend we headed out for a walk and it felt as if every hedgerow and tree were heralding the change of season. Climbing up thicket-tunnel paths there were rose hips, blackberries, and fungi aplenty. Emerging onto an orchard-covered hill, the trees were heavy with the apple harvest. There are acres of orchards on that hill, given wind protection by rows of poplars who confettied us with golden leaves. On the return leg Little Owl and Finch raced around collecting conkers and acorns, while I distracted Wren from wanting out of the baby carrier by dangling bunches of rowanberries just out of reach.  It put me in mind of that lovely phrase from the poem One of the Many Days by Norman MacCaig…

“I watched

a whole long day

release its miracles.”

Photograph of child holding acorns by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)

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Two Thursdays

tea party, toddler, dolly, tea set, cakes, play, children's book art, picture book art, picture books, children's books, fiction, children, illustration, girl, illustrator, Hannah FoleyThe skies have been festooned with skeins of migrating geese this week. Both at the allotment and in the garden I have heard the distant honking and looked up in time to see them; initially a thin wobbly line, then the shape of each bird passing overhead, and then back to specks dissolving into the distance again. If I’m outside, whatever I’m doing, that honking sound always penetrates my consciousness, as if connecting with some ancient weather eye deep in my soul. In fact, honking seems entirely the wrong word for the sound geese make in flight like this. It is haunting and homely all at once. I imagine them calling each other on with the single repeated word, “South, south, south,” their wing beats keeping time like the drummer in a dragon boat.

You will be pleased to know that Finch got on wonderfully during his first week at school. He was completely ready for it and runs about the playground with a nonchalant air, as if he has been going for years. The only glitch is that he has told me he won’t be doing Fridays. Fortunately there was no Friday last week…just two Thursdays.

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Back down to earth

Photograph of a bonfire on an allotment by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)It’s been back down to earth for me this week…literally. As many of you know, this last year I have had a portion of my friend’s allotment. It has been a lot of fun even if I have made some really awful mistakes (spraying my broad beans with weed killer instead of washing up liquid for black fly being the highlight). My lovely friend has decided to bow out and I will be taking the whole allotment on. I have been very excited about it and haven’t wasted a moment in getting down there and clearing weeds. On Saturday we had a bonfire of all the clearings. There’s something cathartic about a fire isn’t there? I don’t know what it is. Seeing the flames licking up all the old rotting stems and roots. I particularly relished seeing the bindweed roots going up in flames (good riddance!). I can see why fire is often regarded as a purifying force in folklore, destroying the old and worn, and making space for new things to grow. As our minds turned towards the start of a new school year, having a fire and burning up all the rubbish felt just the right thing to do.

The back end of last week involved the mad rush to make sure we had all the right kit together and correctly labeled before the start of term. Finch blankly refused to try on his new school shorts and wailed disconsolately when I insisted he put on his new trousers so they could be turned up. He declared he was “shy” of those shorts and didn’t see why he couldn’t wear his normal clothes. Tomorrow, I know I will feel as odd at leaving him behind with his new teacher as I did when Little Owl started school. It’s a definite break point in a longer, gradual transition of him gaining more independence. Who would ever want to halt that? It is one of the wonders of parenthood. Still, I have learnt the hard way that no good comes of not making room for the processing of these moments. With Wren off at nursery I will head off to the allotment, spade in hand, to dig in field peas as a green manure, and with every spadeful of earth I will be sending up grateful thanks for this wonderful little chap who is my son.

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Kelpies Prize

Hannah Foley and Lari Don at Kelpies Prize Award Ceremony

Receiving my enormous cheque from Lari Don

I’ve tried to write this blog post a few times and it hasn’t gone well. It’s hard to find words for something that I still feel speechless about. Maybe, in true British fashion, I should start with the weather…

On Friday it was pouring; pouring in the way that only Scotland does, where the rain is coming down so hard it ricochets off every nearby surface, bouncing back at you from every possible angle. There was a nine degree difference between Devon and Edinburgh.

And I should probably talk about the Party Pavilion. It’s over in the right hand corner of Charlotte Square, home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. You get to the Pavilion by walking through the tented entrance, along a boardwalk, past the Gin Bar-Café and Signing Tent (spotted David Walliams there!), and past the Main Theatre.

Can you tell I’m procrastinating? I was on Friday too. I walked along that boardwalk in slow motion, savouring every step. You see, I didn’t really want the Awards Ceremony to start. I wanted to stay in that lovely space of possibility. If Friday afternoon never ended then I would always be short-listed for the Kelpies Prize; an improbable but potential winner and published author.

But once inside the Pavilion everything sped up: a whirlwind of introductions, drinks, and photographs. Floris Books describe themselves as a family and it certainly felt very true that night; so many friendly, welcoming people, many of whom I recognised in name from children’s book covers. The ceremony began with author and storyteller, Janis McKay, reading out each extract. I found it a moving experience to hear each piece read aloud in that way. Then another children’s author, the wonderful Lari Don, got up on to the stage to present the award. She gave a great speech about what an achievement it was to be short-listed, and how encouraged we should all be. I took every word to heart, because I was absolutely not expecting to win. So, when she read out my name (my name!), my jaw couldn’t have hit the floor faster.

So, there you are: winner of the Kelpies Prize. And to have been short-listed alongside such great manuscripts! If you get chance do check out Celia Bryce and Robin Scott-Elliot, both excellent writers and all together fabulous people.

You can read more about the prize on the Floris Books website:

Floris Books, Kelpies prize, writing, Discover Kelpies, children's fiction, Hannah Foley

You can also read about it on The Bookseller:

Floris Books, Kelpies prize, writing, Discover Kelpies, children's fiction, Hannah Foley

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Heading North

Tomorrow Big Dreamer and I will be catching a flight up to Edinburgh for the Kelpies Prize awards ceremony at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday. The Discover Kelpies team have put up videos of the three short-listed authors reading an extract each from our books. Follow this link to hear our readings. Extracts are always so enticing aren’t they? I didn’t want Celia or Robin to stop reading….what was going to happen next?! I’m thrilled to be short-listed alongside two such marvellous storytellers and very excited to be meeting them in person!

That’s a still from my video clip in case you’re wondering!

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Lost a shoe but gained a…

Delphiniums. Photograph by Hannah Foley (all rights reserved - www.owlingabout.co.uk)We are back from a lovely time away, involving lots of ice cream, sand and sea. Finch lost a shoe but gained a dumper truck. Little Owl had to retire her favourite kite (hole in one side) but learned how to play Uno. Wren forgot how to go to sleep then remembered just in time for heading home. We explored some castles, ate fish and chips, and all-in-all had a “real, good jolly time.”

The weather changed part way through the week and there is now that slightly sad feeling to the days, of the year winding itself back in again. I like the way my friend talks about how in late summer the plants get all wild and straggly, and how she gets a strong urge to buy tins of paint to make sure everything is shipshape before the winter onslaught. I know exactly what she means but I’m not prepared to let the summer go just yet. We came home to flowering delphiniums and rampaging pumpkin plants, thanks to my parents diligent watering while we were away. The remains of my August are full of gardening plans and a slightly panicky and irrational desire to spend as much time as possible with Finch before he starts school. He’s learnt to exit a room at top speed when he sees a certain wistful look come into my eyes; being smothered in kisses and tight hugs is not to his taste!

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Real, good jolly times…

So that’s that. The term is over. The warm weather has made it feel long over due. Last June and July we made the mistake of committing to lots of things, forgetting that we really do have the best weather over these two months and August is almost always a washout. This year we stayed non-committal and as a result have been able to spend weekends at the beach and beside rivers in shady glades. Still, the kids were ready for the holidays weeks ago. It has been a struggle to get them through the last bit of term: their hearts already turning from thoughts of sums and spellings to rockpools and icecream.

Now they kick back in the shade in the garden, a sibling bundle of arms and legs, so warm and relaxed they can barely be bothered to even shoo away a curious fly. Little Owl and I have been reading Anne of Green Gables for bedtime and really enjoying it. The end of term has made me think of a quote from it. I love L. M. Montgomery’s quiet wisdom:

‘When Anne got home that night she stacked all her textbooks away in an old trunk in the attic, locked it, and threw the key into the blanket box….

She told Marilla. “…I just feel tired of everything sensible and I’m going to let my imagination run riot for the summer…I want to have a real good, jolly time this summer…”’

Next week we will be away in Wales for our hols having a “real, good jolly time” so no post from me but I will be back the week after.

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