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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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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A sunny seagull

seagull, Hannah Foley, illustrator, herring gull, illustration, seagull. children book art, children books, picture books, non-fiction, birdsPhew…busy here…and hot! Here’s a seagull for a sunny day.

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Happy Midsummer!

dragonfly, damselfly, beautiful demoiselle, banded demoiselle, river, hannah foley, illustrator, illustration, children books, children book art, picture books, picture book art, non-fiction, natural history, wildlife, children, kids, family, education, biology, insectsHappy Midsummer! This weekend was fittingly glorious. We hid fairy doors in the garden for the children and their friends to find, and discover little Midsummer gifts left for them behind the doors by the ‘fairies’. The river is bursting with life. Two lots of cygnets have successfully hatched and are already getting leggy. The parents sensibly remain wary. A fox crisscrossed my path several times this morning, too intent on his business to be nervous of the likes of me. There’s plenty to keep him busy. Baby rabbits lollop around on the banks, and I practically had to run a wood pigeon over before it would move.

Pottering around by a cool river on Dartmoor at the weekend there were a tremendous number of damselflies. Looking them up, they were mostly male (metallic blue) and female (metallic greeny-gold) Beautiful Demoiselles (a type of damselfly). Imagine having ‘beautiful’ as part of your actual name! There were so many they were landing on our arms and legs. One even had a rest on Finch’s head! There’s something truly wonderful about a wild creature using you as a resting post isn’t there? Apparently, one way to tell damselflies from dragonflies is that damselflies rest with their wings shut whereas dragonflies rest with their wings open. There are only two species of demoiselles in the UK and funnily enough we have seen them both this week: the Beautiful Demoiselles on Dartmoor and then a male Banded Demoiselle popped in to our garden the other day. The Banded Demoiselle is metallic blue like the Beautiful Demoiselle, but has a black band on its wings. It was a wonderful sight to see, a blue flash streaking across the lawn; more of a Midsummer fairy than anything we could conjure up. I can’t imagine what it was doing in such an urban spot though. The river near us is not exactly their preferred habitat. I hope it made it wherever it was trying to get to.

One of the male Beautiful Demoiselles



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Backwater wanderings

Photo of the Otter Estuary by Hannah Foley. All right reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)The summer term is cranking up a gear. School photos were last week, Finch instantly recognisable with his white blonde curly hair in the front row with his pre-school pals. Little Owl also easily identifiable by the chunk of hair she cut off the front part of her head over the Easter holidays, standing up at right angles where her clip has slipped. Then it’s sports days, library trips, and the Summer Fair. I’m on popcorn and candyfloss this year, all in a bid to avoid going back on the Hook-a-Duck stall. Never again!

For Father’s Day this weekend we walked up the River Otter. It’s the site of the much-covered re-introduction of Beavers by Devon Wildlife Trust. The scheme has been a great success. The Beavers are thriving and with them, the health of the river too. It is such a tranquil backwater that it’s hard to imagine it as the centre of trade it was in medieval times. The river is now heavily silted at the estuary at Budleigh Salterton, creating an amazing habitat for wading birds and all sorts of other wildlife. The government have just this month started a consultation on creating seventeen new Marine Conservation Zones, one of which is the Otter. It’s a really exciting opportunity to protect habitats and wildlife, so fingers crossed it goes through without much trouble. You can read more about the River Otter Conservation Zone here and the Marine Conservation Zone consultation here.

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Walks Diary

illustration, illustrator, Hannah Foley, boy, horse, woodland, magic, fairies, elves, pixies, natural history, trees, children, kids, children's book art, kid lit artThis weekend I was, at last, able to add another walk to my Walks Diary. I started this diary in the New Year and it hasn’t been going well. A cocktail of endless family illnesses, snow, and building chaos meant lots of blank pages. We love to walk and if asked what they would most prefer to do for the day, our kids will often say, go for a walk in the countryside. Long may it last! I remember Little Owl once loudly wondering to me that she hadn’t had a picnic on a tree stump in a while.

However, the silly thing we often do is go for a great walk and then say to ourselves something like, oh next time we’ll turn left there and do that extra loop down to the stream; or, that would have been a better place for the picnic; or, we should come back in spring when this place must be full of bluebells; and by the time we do the walk again, we’ve forgotten! Some of you also know my pursuit of simple, seasonal living as a defence against mental illness and some of the unhealthy aspects of modern life. I’d like our walks to reflect a natural rhythm: to walk where the flowers are blooming when they are blooming if you like.

Anyway, at last, this weekend I could photocopy the OS map, mark our route with a coloured crayon and make notes. The walk was in the area around Hound Tor on Dartmoor, taking in Kitty Jay’s grave, Bowerman’s Nose, and the Hound Tor medieval settlement. Kitty Jay was a young maiden betrayed by her betrothed who then hanged herself. There are always flowers on her grave and it is said they are put here by a ghostly hand who won’t let her memory be forgotten. Poor old Bowerman was an 11th century hunter who disturbed a coven of witches and was turned into stone for his trouble. Dartmoor is cluttered with these sorts of stories and I love it. Clambering over rock-strewn hilltops, and then down into deep, dark, mossy lanes, Dartmoor is one of the oldest-feeling places I’ve ever been. Everything about it tingles with an ancient and almost other-worldy atmosphere, even on a bright sunny day in June.

Funnily enough, it was the very real ruins of the medieval settlement nestled between Hound Tor and Greator Rocks that felt the most mysterious to me. It has the perfect vantage point, looking down the wooded valley towards Manaton. I could imagine lookouts posted on both sets of rocks to keep watch for marauders from the South and West. Originally Bronze Age, it was resettled around the 9th century. Now all that remains are a few gentle, overgrown mounds and piles of stones, perfect for hobbits. From up on Hound Tor it’s easier to see the intention in the layout, which sets it apart from the surrounding piles of rocks and mounds left by nature. Very little is known about the people who lived on Dartmoor in the Bronze Age. They seem so strange and distant, living before Hellenism and the post-Enlightenment paradigm of this age. How did they think and see the world? Recently the Woodland Trust and The National Trust undertook an archaeological dig at Wooston Castle, not far away in Fingle Woods. Wooston Castle is an Iron-Age hill fort in an unusual position, not up on a hill as is most often the case. You can read more about the dig here. I’m excited to hear the results when they come out.

In other news, look who’s been hanging around the allotment!

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