I have just spent the past week setting up an exhibition at Florence Arts Centre in Egremont with Jessica Meagher, one of my oldest friends, with whom I run Heather & Yew.
As the flyer says, the exhibition is all about the Cumbrian folklore, history and nature that inspired Underfell – the fairy world underneath Cumbria – in The Sky Beneath the Stone. There are loads of historical images of the settings, newly commissioned works of art and photography, and lots of interactive elements like a collaborative map, a forest of stories and a mapreading challenge!
We had our opening event on Saturday – a visit from Gary from Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre with a whole range of birds. We were worried the rain would slow us down but in the end we brought the whole event into the theatre at Florence and everyone had a turn at flying Buzz the Harris Hawk!
By the end of the day we also had loads of additions to our map. It was such a fantastic start to the exhibition!
The World Beneath the Fells is open at Florence Arts Centre from the 29th of July until the 4th of September, Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Hope to see you there!
I recently wrote a guest post for Cumbria Wildlife Trust about learning to become ecologically literate as an adult.
I remember running through a field with my best friend on her parents’ farm when I was about ten years old.
I heard the strangest sound overhead – I thought it was a metal detector or maybe a robot, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why it was coming from the sky. It was nearly 20 years later that I finally learned what a lapwing sounds like.
Actually, for most of my life I didn’t know the names of many birds beyond magpies and sparrows, or the difference between beech and birch. I grew up outside Whitehaven and spent much of those years playing outdoors with my brothers and friends: nature was the backdrop to our fantasy worlds, inspired by The Lord of the Rings. Mounds of earth overgrown with long grasses were our mountain ranges; the bog at the bottom of the field was a deadly swamp. There was a whole village in the hollows of the hawthorn hedges, and an old railway sleeper behind the barn was a narrow bridge over a ravine.
More about that later, but for now I wanted to let you know that I’m running a free five-week creative writing workshop for young people aged 16-25.
“Whether you’ve been writing since you could hold a pen or have never quite been sure where to start, this workshop is for anyone aged 16-25 who’s interested in discovering how stories work. We’ll learn about character development, story structure and worldbuilding, using the places we know and experiences we’ve had to propel our writing to far-flung planets or times gone by – or right here at home. Participants will work towards completing a short story or outlining and beginning a book, with the optional opportunity to read your work or have it read out at the final event of the exhibition, BETWEEN THE PAGES.
Every Sunday from 31st July to 28th August 2022, 2-4pm, Florence Arts Centre. Participants should do their best to attend all sessions.
FREE but places are strictly limited.
To apply, send a paragraph about yourself and why you would like to participate to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to email with any questions you have about the course!”
If you know anyone who might be interested in taking part, please put them in touch as I’m really hoping to have a few keen pupils!
Here are six books I think you’ll love if you enjoyed reading The Sky Beneath the Stone.
Secrets of the Last Merfolk by Lindsay Littleson
They gave you the box, they gave me the key. The merfolk exist, and they want us to find them.
New friends Finn and Sage discover an incredible secret: real merfolk live under the wild waves off the Scottish coast. The sea-people are brave, proud, powerful — and in grave danger.
Can Finn and Sage help defeat a terrifying enemy before the last of the merfolk are lost forever?
Why I loved it: beautiful Scottish coastal setting, two friends on an outdoor adventure, mythical creatures!
Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna
Cassie Morgan has run away. After seven years spent waiting for her mother to return, she flees her dreary boarding school and sets out to find her. But the world outside her school is full of hidden magic and children have been going missing.
With the help of a talking cat and a flying broom, Cassie escapes to the enchanted village of Hedgely. There she will begin her training in the practical skills of witchcraft with the Hedgewitch, who watches over the Hedge, the vast forest that marks the border between England and Faerie.
Why I loved it: such immersive nature detail, alternative history, practical magic and a liminal forest.
The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes
Ten-year-old Jasper has been waiting all spring for his beloved nightingale to return to his garden and sing. But it’s not there, and neither is his sister, Rosie. His parents seem sad and preoccupied, so gathering his courage, his backpack and his treasured Book of Birds, Jasper sets out alone on a walk to find them both.
The expedition takes Jasper through town and country, meeting a host of characters who are also searching for lost things. Helping his new friends, Jasper begins to see that he may not find what he is looking for when he reaches the journey’s end, but even in the darkest of moments, a nightingale’s song can be heard somewhere.
Why I loved it: an outdoor adventure, emotional themes sensitively explored, birds, birds and more birds!
The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange
The Lake District, 1899
The Earl is dead and cruel Cousin Clarence has inherited everything. Twelve-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith is cast out of Gosswater Hall to live in a tiny, tumbledown cottage with a stranger who claims to be her father. Aggie is determined to discover her real identity, but she is not alone on her quest for the truth. On the last day of the year, when the clock strikes midnight, a mysterious girl of light creeps through the crack in time; she will not rest until the dark, terrible secrets of the past have been revealed …
Why I loved it: Cumbrian setting, very practical protagonist, an old manor house setting and a spooky island on a lake.
The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle
When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …
Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies.
The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down.
Soon, a new Keeper will rise. But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.
Why I loved it: a real-life setting imbued with magic, timey-wimey stuff, totally heartwrenching conclusion.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found – only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong.
Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, Yanka has always wondered about where she is from. She tries to ignore the strange whispers and looks from the villagers, wishing she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. But, when she has to flee her house, looking for answers about who she really is, a journey far beyond one that she ever imagined begins: from icy rivers to smouldering mountains meeting an ever-growing herd of extraordinary friends along the way.
Why I loved it: heroine on an epic adventure, enchanted forest, stories retold, magical transformation.
These are just some of the brilliant MG books I’ve been lucky enough to read lately. If you have recommendations for more books along these lines please do send them my way!
Hello! I’ll be in various places around Scotland talking about The Sky Beneath the Stone in April, starting with the book launch at my local, wonderful Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh on Friday 1st April at 7pm. Free tickets are available or you can contribute £3 which is redeemable against a copy of the book.
It’ll be a busy weekend because we have our first roller derby game for over two years on the Saturday and then on Sunday 3rd April I’ll be at Moat Brae in Dumfries as part of Big DoG Festival! The event is at 2.30pm and costs £3, and amazingly there will be actual birds of prey you can meet in the garden afterwards.
At the end of the month I’ll be over in Glasgow running a couple of workshops for the schools programme at Wee Write on the 28th April. More information is available here.
You’ll be able to buy a copy of the book at all of these events, and in the meantime you can always pick up a copy at your local indie bookshop or order a copy through my Bookshop.org affiliate page. 10% of author royalties will always be donated to Cumbria Wildlife Trust so they can keep doing the amazing work they do.
If you have read and enjoyed the book it would be so helpful if you could take the time to leave a review or share it on social media!
Please note this Saturday afternoon’s events have been postponed – check back in a little while for the new date and further info.
In the run-up to World Book Day on the 3rd of March, and The Sky Beneath the Stone‘s official launch date on 24th February, I’m doing an event at St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh! Two events to be precise, this Saturday 19th February at 1pm and 2.20pm.
We will be mapping our most magical places, creating characters and writing a story with the help of some props and prompts! The book is aimed at ages 8 and over but the event will be suitable for the whole family.
I’m not going to comment on the state of the world (except for that) but I am doing a lot of chilling this festive season and looking forward to 2022. Plus I’m about to turn 30 (flirty and thriving)!
I was planning to do a lot of visuals but honestly I’m a bit wiped so I’m just gonna list some of my favourites from this year, in no particular order, and intersperse some pics of our adventures in France. My parents were living in their campervan when Covid started so they’ve ended up settling in rural France. We came over in early December before the borders closed, but we’ll be home for New Year’s.
You can now pre-order The Sky Beneath the Stone! Preferred options are direct from Kelpies or through my Bookshop.org affiliate page. I’ve heard tell that Aussies have been ordering from Booktopia. I’m not sure when you’ll be able to order through your local indie bookshop but it can’t hurt to check with them!
Books of the Year
Adult / Non-fiction
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
Children’s / YA
Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone
The Song That Sings Us by Nicola Davies
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble
Secrets of the Last Merfolk by Lindsay Littleson
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
I watch a lot of films and don’t keep track of them very well but some of my favourites from this year have been Dune, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon and most recently Don’t Look Up and The Matrix: Resurrections.
Some of my highlights of 2021 have been getting to hang out with my parents for the first time since 2019 and my whole immediate family for the first time in years, starting a business with one of my best friends, training to be a Marine Mammal Medic and helping in the aftermath of Storm Arwen, travelling in the Highlands and managing to do some normal things with friends whenever we were actually allowed. I even went to roller derby training a few times!
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!