For the catalogue I recorded a reading from Chapter 2, ‘The Hole in the Wall’. I had to rearrange a lot of furniture and even take apart an armchair and put it back together to build my set! My phone also ran out of storage several times but I got there in the end.
In the bottom right you can also see a present from Laurel – a tin that opens to show the hole in the wall and Underfell beyond (plus Callum sitting on the wall).
Exciting times, but now I should really be getting on with the next book!
Over the past month I have been writing a piece of flash fiction every day, using prompts from @willowandroxas on Instagram for #WillowWitchtober. I have really been feeling the spooky season this year so even though I think the challenge is mainly aimed at visual artists, it seemed like a lot of fun to write about different witches every day for a month!
When I was younger I used to scribble short stories all the time, but in my twenties I seem to have been mainly focused on writing and redrafting a few big projects so it was a nice change of pace to exercise my imagination and come up with new ideas every day. Some might even become longer stories down the track, who knows?
Here are a couple of unedited pieces I wrote this month and a few photos from my October camera roll.
“Pass it to me.”
Niamh extended her hand and Cole dropped the object he was holding into her palm. Niamh had half a second to take it in – pale blue glass, frosted white and edges smoothed by years beaten on the sea floor – before the memory took her.
A glass bowl, held in two pale, soft hands. Glass – not very practical for a sea voyage, but nothing about this young man was particularly practical. He lifted one of his hands to pluck a gleaming gold hoop earring from the collection of jewels the bowl held, but as he reached up to his ear he set down the bowl – and the memory was severed.
But Niamh was still holding the smooth piece of sea glass, and she could feel the other pieces that had once made up the bowl as if they were tugging her on strings, reaching for the shard in her hand as though to make the bowl whole once more.
Niamh closed her fingers around it, and with her other hand pointed out to the horizon.
“Set a heading!” Cole called, and the crew leapt into motion.
Calla was out of breath by the time she reached the windswept hilltop. Though the graveyard was protected by trees, wind rattled through their branches. The sound in the winter forest was like teeth chattering.
She approached the overgrown grave and lifted the bunch of flowers from her basket. Out of season, but that hadn’t been a problem for her. She knelt down in the grass and plucked the flowers one by one from the bunch, setting each stem to the ground and calling down its roots until it stood firmly before the mossy grey stone. Calla had been cultivating the moss over the past few years, and now she saw a sprout of ivy peeking out of the soil. She reached out and encouraged it up the curved edge of the gravestone, emerald leaves unfurling around the name etched into the stone.
“There you go, Gran,” Calla said, settling back into the twilight.
“Thank you, my dear.” The voice shivered through the leaves.
Claribel sat beside the fire, feeding it pinecones, her eyes glazed. It was coming up on a decade since that wizened old man had imprisoned her in this cave. Though she had used her abilities to fill the place with comforts, she had never succeeded in breaking the enchantment that held her captive.
There was still time, of course. What was ten years when you’d lived 800 already? An evening, maybe. The passing of time didn’t disturb her the way it had as a young woman. Back then the world had been filled with infinite possibilities and there could never be enough time to see them all through. But as she’d aged those endless opportunities had faded away, unimportant, as her life and her cares crystallised. No; she could wait.
Still, one did get lonely eventually. And though she was in no doubt that eventually she’d find her way out of her cosy prison and make that wizard rue the day he’d turned his tricks on her, it would be nice to have some company in the interim.
The embers cracked and threw up sparks, catching her attention. Her eyes came into focus on the burning logs in the hearth. She twirled her fingers, gently coazing the blackened wood into form, a smile pulling at her lips as the creature took shape. A head like an arrow, its eyes glowing embers. The lithe body and flicking tail that brushed over the fire, coal-black.
She held out a hand and the flame marten flowed up her arm like lava, its paws pleasantly hot, and settled in the crook of her neck.
One week ago today the magical cover for The Sky Beneath the Stone was revealed on My Book Corner!
I hadn’t dared to imagine that the cover would be so beautiful, so full of wonderful details from the story, in such a gorgeous style. Thank you so much to the illustrator Diana Renzhina and the team at Kelpies!
If you don’t know what any of this means, a tabletop RPG is a game you can play with friends around a table (or on discord/zoom etc in these times) with pencils, paper and dice. Dungeons and Dragons is the most famous example. It’s basically like group storytelling which is what I love about it.
A Guide to Inglewood Forest is a setting guide, so it isn’t a game in itself. Last year I ran a session of a Robin Hood themed game called Merry Outlaws for some friends. The setting I developed as background for the story was Inglewood Forest, the most northerly Kingswood in England during the later medieval period (and in Cumbria, where I grew up). It also has its own famous outlaws, Adam Bell, William Cloudesly and Clym of the Clough.
After the game Laurel and I expanded the setting, adding descriptions of the seasons, places, notable characters, wildlife and plants. The guide is designed to be used in conjunction with Merry Outlaws or similar medieval RPGs, basically to help you add detail to your game and give some story prompts.
This was a really fun project to work on between drafts of different books. You can buy it for $3.50 and for every copy sold we put up a free copy for anyone who can’t afford to buy it.
For more information visit the game page on itch.io.
I am very excited to officially announce that my first book, The Sky Beneath the Stone, will be published by Kelpies in spring 2022!
13-year-old Ivy North is an adventurer. She can pitch a tent in four minutes flat. She’s a pro navigator with a map and compass. There’s just one problem: she’s too afraid to go outside.
But when her brother, Callum, is turned into a kestrel before her eyes and spirited away to another world, Ivy knows that she’ll brave anything to get him back. Leaving the safety of her home, she follows him through a hole in the garden wall into a distorted mirror image of the Cumbria she knows. And in the strange world of Underfell, the longer he’s a bird, the less boy is left behind…
The book is aimed at older children and I hope that readers of all ages will enjoy it too!
I can’t wait to welcome everyone into the world of Underfell next year.
I switched recently from Goodreads to StoryGraph to get away from the Amazon monopoly (and then also learned Audible doesn’t pay writers if their audiobooks are returned, which they can be even after they’ve been listened to, up to a year later).
Anyway, I’ve been collecting together all my favourite nature writing and books about animals, everything from Ring of Bright Water to Mythago Wood, and I thought I’d share the links here.
We’re in lockdown again, so I’m reflecting on our last beautiful adventure to one of my new favourite places in Scotland. A few photos from our week on an island that was eerily similar to the setting of the book I was redrafting at the time.
This is an article I wrote in 2016 for Wild Melbourne, now part of Remember the Wild. Logging in the Toolangi Forest – one of Victoria’s most precious old growth forests – is due to take place in a coupe adjacent to the Kalatha Giant from this week. The tree itself is protected, but the rest of the forest is just as valuable, and plays a far more important role in situ than it ever can as paper pulp. Although I am far away I hope that sharing this old piece about this old friend will help in some way!
In the Taungurong language, Toolangi means ‘tall trees’. True to its name, Toolangi State Forest is home to many of Victoria’s most astonishingly lofty trees, which are primarily of the Mountain Ash species. The scientific name of the Mountain Ash is Eucalyptusregnans, meaning ‘reigning’; it too is a fitting title for the tallest flowering plant in the world. These kings and queens of the forest grow to great heights, can live for centuries, and provide habitat for an abundance of species.
Towering 73m above the forest floor, with a girth of 16m at chest height, the Kalatha Giant dominates Toolangi’s treeline. Following the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, a short walking track was created around the tree with signage explaining its significance and the ecology of the area. Following this track up into the forest, you may not at first be able to see the tree for the woods – but peer up through the understory and you’ll be staggered to find yourself right at the foot of this old dinosaur.
The Kalatha Giant has stood for centuries; it is believed to be between 300 and 400 years old. In its time it has seen multiple fires tear through the surrounding forest, and though they could not fell it, it does bear the marks of their passage. The enormous Cathedral Door hollow at its base is a burn scar, a charred gothic doorway between sprawling buttress roots. The older the tree, the thicker its bark, and the more protection it has against fire: by now, the Kalatha Giant has an impressive organic armour. The path leads the walker past a stag – the dead trunk of a tree that was killed by fire some time ago. Although they are no longer alive, these trees have a role to play: before their eventual collapse, they provide vital nesting hollows for animals.
Somehow, the Kalatha Giant also escaped the hand of man. Nearby, a colossal moss-covered stump bears axe-scars where planks were wedged into the trunk of this former giant as platforms for early loggers to hack it down by hand. It’s a labour that is hard to imagine in an era in which machinery can fell trees in a matter of minutes. Who can say what saved the Kalatha Giant from a similar fate? The surrounding stumps and stags seem to point to the unlikeliness of its survival, but at the same time, are a reminder of the cyclical nature of the life of the forest.
At different stages in its life, the Mountain Ash tree attracts different mammals to its heart. Victoria’s faunal emblem, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, tends to prefer shorter, dead trees, possibly because the ongoing decay generates warmth. Greater Gliders and Yellow-bellied Gliders, on the other hand, use living hollow-bearing trees as their base. Among its branches is the rich birdlife of the montane ash forest, from Satin Bowerbirds to Fairy-wrens, Flame Robins and Fantails. The voice of the Superb Lyrebird resounds among the trees. Innumerable species of beetles, spiders and other invertebrates live in its bark, its litter, its soil. This is more than a tree. It’s an entire world.
The area surrounding the Kalatha Giant is now a Special Protected Zone. Whatever is next in this tree’s epic life story, it won’t be brought down at the hands of humans. Already it has reached an extraordinary age; will we live to see it pass into its next phase, the nourishment of other species in its death and decay? This inevitability isn’t something we should try to prevent, but instead, we must ensure that its children and grandchildren – the young trees of this forest – have the opportunity to grow ancient in their turn.
Some facts and figures may be out of datesince this article’s original publication in 2016.