Knuckle’s Cottage

This summer, the fabulous book reviewer, Louisa at Roaring Reads, suggested creating a holiday itinerary based on the places in your favourite books. Inspired, I’ve created three films, taking you to some of the Scottish locations in my book, The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle. For those of you who don’t know, Avery Buckle is the perfect Halloween read, so this Autumn, grab a copy and join me in exploring hill-top hospitals and hidden railway tunnels! The first is posted above.

In other news, I saw a real live stoat at the weekend! I was driving up a narrow country lane and I thought it was a squirrel, a very thin squirrel. It dived across the road and I saw the black tip of its tail as it disappeared into the hedgerow. It was marvellous – I was as thrilled as can be! Stoats are amazing, and a good sign of a healthy food chain bursting with biodiversity.

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In Conversation

I’ll be honest, I took September hard. It started with being away in Scotland when the swifts left. This year more than any other, I was desperate for the light to linger, and the darkness and damp to stay away. So, I turned to one of my favourite Autumn reads, Wind in the Willows, and flicked through my battered copy to one of the ‘lyrical’ sections editors cut in abridged versions, but which are the bits I love the best. Ratty struggles with the turn to Autumn too, and Grahame writes a touching depiction of the way the seasons can affect some people’s mental health. His best friend Moley, deals with it just perfectly…

“Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in… the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves… of reddening apples… the browning nuts, of jams and preserves… til… he reached midwinter, it’s hearty joys and… snug home life… and by degrees the Rat began to sit up and join in…”

And slowly, by degrees, I began to sit up and join in too.

One of the big festivals of Autumn is Halloween, so to mark the season, today, the wonderful Elizabeth Ezra and I released an In Conversation film of us discussing our books. Elizabeth’s book, Ruby McCraken – Tragic Without Magic, won the Kelpies Prize two years before mine. Both our stories are about witches and magic so are perfect reads for the season. We chat about the inspiration behind our books, migration, girl power and the influence of Scotland on our writing. Above is a still from the film of me laughing my head off! Below is the film for you to watch. Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and find yourself a cosy armchair to snuggle up in and have a listen!

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Fuel!

I thought I was going to have to cycle my round yesterday. After a busy weekend doing visits all over the city, I was running very short of fuel, and nowhere had unleaded. Luckily, it only took a quick shifty round of cars and I was on my way again. Not that I would actually have minded all that much. Personally, I’d rather ambulances and police cars were fully fueled, and, honestly, there is something appealing about pedaling about to see patients, though I wouldn’t be able to see as many and wouldn’t be so well-equipped.

I can’t say the thought of cycling was quite so appealing this morning however, the sky gunmetal grey, heavy downpours pummeling the ground. I was glad it was my day off. The children were a bedraggled heap by the time they got home from school, poor little Wren, her usual cloud of blonde ringlets plastered to her head. They’re all in nice warm pyjamas now, because if they get a cough, we all know what that means! And fingers crossed everything settles down on the fuel front soon or I might well be on my bike!

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Six months!

Saturday marked the six-month birthday of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle hitting bookshop shelves so I couldn’t resist celebrating with a cat cake! Publication had already been delayed by a year due to Covid, and even then, released just after the third lockdown here in Devon, Avery Buckle emerged into a retail market that is, quite frankly, still very wobbly. But readers, librarians, book sellers, book reviewers, and teachers have been so kind over the last six months, so to all those who have supported the book – Thank you!

Book club at Owl and Pyramid indie bookshop, Seaton, by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Once my tea and cake had gone down, I hot-footed it over to Seaton’s bookshop, Owl and Pyramid, to chat all things Avery Buckle, with the little book group that meets there. Chatting with young readers has been one of my favourite things about having a book published, and I haven’t been able to do nearly enough of it due to the pandemic, so this was a real treat. Nevertheless, it can be hard to shake off the feeling of being an ‘author’ imposter, never helped by questions about the next book. I can only be philosophical about that at the moment – publishing is a competitive game even when we’re not crawling through a global slowdown, caused by a worldwide pandemic. I’m just one small person in that context, with minimal power to do much about anything, except to keep writing. Which is what I have been doing. The next book and the next book and the next book have all been written. One has gone out to submission and another will soon… so, who knows? It’s not the rock ’n’ roll answer they’re looking for, and I‘d love to tell them about a bidding war, a three-book deal, and multiple sequels in the pipeline, but never mind. Life’s not a fairy tale for most people and easy rides make rubbish stories! 🙂

So, after an evening of feeling a bit ‘funny’ about things, I was all to glad when one of my favourite days of the year dawned cool and misty, giving way to glorious blue skies by the afternoon – the local, annual ploughing match. We can’t have been the only ones who were sad to miss it last year, cancelled due to Covid restrictions, because there was a bumper turn-out this year. It was such a treat, watching the tractors, picking our favourites, stroking the horses, inspecting the produce, and chomping on more cake and tea! I dug the toes of my shoes into the deep, red, Devon earth, savoured the Devon colloquialisms amongst the chatter, and took in a big ol’ lungful of Autumn air – glad to be rooted to this place, come what may. We returned home for roast dinner in the garden and raised a toast to the Harvest.

Vintage tractor at a Devon Ploughing Match by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
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Summer Memories

The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle in Aberfeldy bookshop by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Here’s a few memories from the summer to share… 

I met up with a couple of friends at the book festival in Edinburgh. It was lovely to get together and chat books, art and writing to our hearts’ content. The festival was a quieter affair this year though, located at the Art College rather than it’s usual home at Charlotte Square, due to the pandemic. Though I missed the bustle there was a lot to be said for the peaceful atmosphere. In the quad a big screen broadcast some of the events. Sitting around the Art College Green on benches and seats, was like sitting in a collective ‘front room’, and there was something very companionable about it. I liked it a lot. I caught most of Salmon Rushdie’s event and found it fascinating. He’s such an interesting man. I especially enjoyed his perspective on ‘Western’ literature, and the way his Indian story-telling heritage has influenced his work. Recently, I have felt constrained in my own writing, restricted to what people are going to be able to understand, which can feel a very narrow frame of reference in these risk averse times. He heartened me considerably, especially by pointing out that, though it’s not very fashionable in the West, fiction is supposed to be fiction, and the current mode of writing observationally is relatively new.

There was sadness about attending the festival too though. In other circumstances I might have been running an event there, promoting The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle. Who knows? It’s best to be philosophical about it. But there has been a sense for me, without the feedback from events and school visits, of my book disappearing into a black hole. Is anyone actually reading it? So it was lovely to see a copy on display at the Aberfeldy Watermill Bookshop. The booksellers were lovely to chat with. If you happen to be up that way I’d recommend a visit – such a well-stocked and pleasant bookshop – little nooks and crannies brim-full of book-sized treats. Plus, there is a rather wonderful café, which does delicious scones… and coming from a Devonshire dumpling, that’s a serious recommendation!

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September wobbles

Allotment produce by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

The start of the new school term now, usually finds me down at the allotment, lighting a fire for the weed pile. I always feel a bit wobbly at this time of year, my children making their way out into the world under their own steam, as if they aren’t always growing! I suppose the start of the school year is imbued with the memory of that first day off to school, and September often feels a time for fresh starts in my own life too, New Year’s resolutions made much more at this time than in January. I’ve learned to acknowledge these feelings, and give them a nod, so they can pass on. A fire and a good dose of digging is just the thing: manure spread over bare soil, green manures sown, and this year, I am making a big effort to collect seeds, slowly accumulating little packets made from brown paper, rattling with hopes for next year’s spring.

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Departures

Scottish Highlands by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk).

I hope you had a lovely Summer. We returned from Scotland with our hearts full of memories of mountaintop views and the evening light glittering the surface of the river. It was just wonderful and exactly what we needed. Back at home the swifts have gone and I’m sad I missed their departure. There are still plenty of holidaymakers around down here but our minds have turned to the new school term (already in full swing in Scotland). No matter how well I prepare there’s always a last minute scramble for some item we have forgotten to get or a replacement needed for something that I’m certain, fitted perfectly well before the holidays. There are nametags to stitch in, lunch boxes and kit bags to find at the back of the cupboard, new shoes need marking. As I write the children’s names on their insoles, it’s hard not to feel I’m marking time too – another school year, my little people growing, just as they should.

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Visitors

Look at some of the beautiful visitors we’ve had to our garden recently. The black and white striped insect is a day-flying moth called the Jersey Tiger Moth – very striking. And don’t you think the underside of the Red Admiral’s wings are just as beautiful as the top? We are soon to be doing some visiting of our own. We are returning to Scotland for a holiday, and are very excited. All the more because we’d been holding our breath to know if we would actually be able to go amidst reports of rising Covid numbers. So, I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the next few weeks, and will be returning at the beginning of September. Happy holidays one and all. See you soon!

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Pants

Morning coffee spot by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Last Thursday, the most amazing sound filled the evening air. Bells! I don’t think I’d realised how much I’d missed hearing them until they were ringing again. Thursday night is bell-ringing night at the parish church behind our house. Or, at least, it was before the pandemic. It made me realise how much of our community fabric I thought had unraveled without the evidence of fetes, allotment produce shows, and the bustle of people at the community café (now sadly closed down). But the bells made me hopeful. Perhaps it is there, the thread a little looser, but still a carpet after all. 

It is the beginning of the school holidays, here in Devon. Swifts screech overhead, and the hedgerows are full of tansy and meadowsweet on my rounds. Here is the view from my morning coffee stop on Saturday. Those grey clouds brought rain later, for which the ground was very glad. I asked Wren what her plans were for the holidays. “Wear pants,” was her reply. Fair enough. But I did insist she wore more than that to sign up for the summer reading challenge at the library.

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Potatoes

New potatoes in a colander by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Every window and door in the house is open as I type this. Is it hot with you? I got very red in the face digging up the last of my new potatoes at the allotment. There were rumours of blight circulating the site – it spreads so easily amongst the tightly packed plots – but I seem to have got away with it, and I have no main crop to worry about.

My little car is like a sitting in a roasting tin as I do my rounds at work. Alongside the ‘Heat Wave Contingency Plan’, a chart was circulated Trust-wide so that staff could monitor the temperature of wards and offices. Funnily enough, there was no mention in the plan of monitoring District Nurses car temperatures. The one bit of silver lining was that I didn’t have to hunt for a loo at all over the weekend. 

Term is drawing to an end here in Devon. There were plans for a Summer Fayre, which were postponed, and then eventually scrapped. The year 6’s residential took place in tents on the playing field. Sports Days were scheduled, then re-scheduled, then re-scheduled again when children in bubbles had to isolate. I was put in charge of the teacher’s end-of-year collection for Finch’s class, dropping off the present this morning. Mr. B. probably shouldn’t drink it all at once, though he may be tempted after the disrupted year we’ve had. Hats off to you teachers. I don’t know how you do it. 

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