Singing trains

Last week was a busy one. My trip to Edinburgh was great. It was beautiful weather up there: clear and crisp, and slanting low light around every corner. I visited my publisher’s office and met my editor properly for the first time. We had lemon biscuits and coffee, and chatted through the editing process and all sorts of other miscellaneous book-related things. It was lovely and made me very excited about working with them. I also did some tutorials at Edinburgh College of Art but will post about that another time. It was funny being back at the College of Art. It hadn’t changed a bit. Back in Exeter, most of the housework and chores awaited my return but the family seemed to have survived.

At the weekend it was Exeter Literary Festival, and I got along to an ‘In Converstion…’ Event at Exeter Waterstones with Philip Reeve. Philip is best known as a YA author but he has also collaborated on books for younger children with the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre. Really, I think his books are for all ages. We love them in our house. If you haven’t heard of Philip’s books you might have heard of the upcoming Mortal Engines film by Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, which is based on Philip’s book series of the same name.

It was wonderful hearing Philip discussing his books and writing, with another Devon-based YA author, Lucy Hounsom. He is a very engaging person to listen to. It was particular interesting for me to hear about his journey from illustrator to writer. His books are mostly science fiction and I loved hearing his ideas about dystopian versus utopian science fiction, and how these relate to current events. He is definitely someone I could have listened to speak for at least double the time. I have been making an effort to get along to more author events as I always do find them inspiring. I virtually skipped back home down the hill, underneath the hung but yet to be lit Christmas lights on Exeter High Street, singing to myself just like one of Philip’s sentient trains.

Philip doesn’t just sign books for his fans, he also draws them illustrations – brilliant!

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Boatbuilding diorama

Here is a children’s fold-up diorama with cut-out figures I worked on over the summer. I do love a bit of maritime history!

Next week there will be no post from as I’ll be away on illustration-related business. I’ll be back the week after.

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Hunter’s Moon

I have been enjoying the Autumn evenings over half term. There is still enough light to do half an hour in the garden after the littlest ones are down to bed and I’m often getting a stack of washing in anyway. It has been so still and peaceful, glorious sunsets adorning the sky. The plants are dying back, elegant skeletal remnants of their former glory. I have left the grass long this year, to help it recover from the trauma of the dry summer. Oh, it did look forlorn. I pounce on each fallen leaf from the fig tree. As big as dinner plates, they are perfect as a mulch on my patio pots, keeping the weeds at bay. I have slowly been putting the garden to bed. This year I have laid a lot of my cuttings over any bare soil. I have learnt from my allotment reading that this is good for worms, and hence good for the soil.

I have had to cut the rambling roses back hard. Apparently they should normally be pruned in August but a renovation-prune should not be done until now. I have a lot to learn about roses. I learnt this year that I should have trained them along the horizontal and then the new-flowering-growth would work up the vertical, but I had it all backwards, hence the hard prune. I hope they don’t die! The hanging baskets are down and stored on a nail in the shed. As I work the shadows grow longer and the air more chilly, until at last the whole garden is dim and the kitchen lights send bright rectangles across the side-return. The Hunter’s Moon is high in the sky. I briefly stop on the doorstep to take a deep breathe of star-lit evening air then head inside to the snug warmth.

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Christmas cards

I’m so sorry…it’s not even November…Christmas cards…

Christmas, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, Christmas Tree, family, snow, pine trees, sunset, winter, Christmas preparations, buying Christmas tree

Christmas, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, Christmas Tree, family, snow, pine trees, sunset, winter, Christmas preparations, buying Christmas tree

I have packs of ten to sell for £6 (plus postage and packaging if required). The message inside reads ‘Merry Christmas’. Each cards comes with an accompanying white envelope. The cards are A6 in size and are landscape in orientation. For my lovely regulars in the North, I will be sending a batch up to my Yorkshire distributor (aka my wonderful mum-in-law). Send me an email at hannah@owlingabout.co.uk if you would like a pack. Okay, you may go back to October.

Hannah foley, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator

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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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