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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Sky stories

character development, girl, children, children's book art, picture book art, illustration, illustrator, hannah foley, running, jumping, crying, laughing, readingThe new attic room has come into its own with this prolonged spell of hot weather. In the evening Finch and I pick our way over Big Dreamer’s tools (he is building a wardrobe) to the futon for bedtime stories. It’s a lovely cool spot, the wide-open roof windows creating a refreshing draught. Above our heads the sky is all pale blue haze and the swifts dash madly about in a festival of evening feasting. Sometimes, as I close the book covers, we sit quietly, lost in thought, contentedly listening to the swifts’ spiraling squeaks, and relishing the cool evening air on our faces. I will miss that sound when they go, always a welcome change from the raucousness of rooftop seagulls; their absence marking the downward turn of the year. What a summer it is turning out to be.

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Discover Kelpies

I have some very exciting news! Last week I received a wonderful email telling me I’d been short-listed for the Discover Kelpies Writing competition. This is a competition run by Scottish Publisher, Floris Books, to find new writers for children. I wrote a novel for children aged 8 – 12 and entered it into the competition. That makes it sound easy but it wasn’t. It took me a loooong time to write my story and then have the guts to enter it. I was so surprised when I received the email from the Discover Kelpies team that I had to keep re-reading it! You can find out more about the competition and the other short-listed writers here. Big Dreamer and I will be heading up to the Edinburgh Book festival in August to find out who has won!

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Hot!

How are you all getting on in the heat? At every opportunity we have headed off for shady river banks and cool sea breezes. The warm weather has brought out the jellyfish along the coast near us. They always give me the fright of my life when I suddenly feel one beside me mid-swim. The heat is hard on the littlies. They sleep in just their nappies, fan on, windows wide, hair plastered to their foreheads. Wren didn’t help herself the other evening by getting up, having a rummage in the wardrobe and putting on all her winter gear. She had woolly hat, gloves and big thick coat on, and was most unimpressed when we took it all off her. I can only think that her two-year old thermostat, having never experienced such heat, went completely haywire and decided to start back at the bottom again. 

Here are my sweet peas, growing well. In the blurry background is my ‘Lollipop’ verbena, just planted this spring and flowering beautifully. I daren’t ask really, but…how are your gardens doing? You can see how yellow our grass is beyond the green of the flower bed. Anyone fancy a sweepstake on when the hosepipe ban will come in?!

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