Through train windows

A child dressed up as Low, from The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, for World Book Day 22. All rights reserved (
A wonderful Low, from The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, for World Book Day

I’ve landed in a heap at this weekend, and I’ve so much to tell you. I’ve been sitting here, Wren at my side, trying to craft it all into some sort of narrative but February has passed in a blur and I think I may only manage vignettes, like glimpses through train carriage windows. Wren is singing away as she colours rainbows over a misprinted 2021 diary I brought home from work. My brain feels a bit like her drawings, a frenzied riot of every shade in the rainbow.

Maybe I should start with a funny story…

“I have never seen that jumper in my life,” protested Middler, near the beginning of the month.

His poker face is incredible.

I raised an eyebrow. 

“What? You’re telling me you’ve never seen the muddy school jumper in your size, with your name sewn into it, shoved in to the back of the wardrobe?”

He shrugs, grins and makes a run for it. 

Storm Dudley rocked up, followed by Storm Eunice, followed by Storm Franklyn, which was all rather testing for my waterproof mascara on the bike to work. I hope you all survived. One morning, making a dash for it between squally gusts, Atlantic seasalt pebble-dashing my cheeks and my glasses, I glimpsed a lone swan, standing drearily on one foot in the churning grey waters deluging the river meadows. That was the day Russia invaded Ukraine. As the news rolled in, I felt a lot like that poor bird, uselessly standing on one leg, wondering what on earth to do with the deluge of grey news from a world seemingly determined to forget anything we ever learned through two world wars.

Primrose seeded in the cracks of a pavement by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (
A cheeky primrose, seeded in the cracks of a pavement

We picked up the shards of five panes of greenhouse glass at the allotment after the storms had passed. Our back fence had blown down at home. Beneath the splintered wood, primroses twinkled in dark hollows. Daffodils in a tub we brought from Scotland, trumpeted golden glory, just as they have faithfully done every year since Little Owl pushed the bulbs into the compost with five year-old fingers. I cycled precariously to work with a pot of tulip bulbs balanced on the handlebars to brighten up the view from our office window. Sometimes the incongruence of the world seems unbearable. War and spring flowers. But it would be so much worse if the flowers didn’t bloom.

Daffodils 2022. All rights reserved (
Little Owl’s daffs

On my phone I have a recording I made last February, of dawn out on the estuary. I rode out to the mouth of the river and in the dim lilac of a new day, listened to the wading birds calling to each other, the stars reflected in the millpond-still water. It’s a haunting sound and I love it. Deep inside, the language of wild things speaks to my heart in words I can only fathom wordlessly. Apple seeds I put in the fridge over winter to germinate are sprouting. They will be Wildings, of course. Most apples are from grafted trees, which produce a more reliable crop. I had been inspired to germinate these seeds by an old tale from the 1600s, of a tree up on the hill, going out of Exeter. It was famous for producing the best cider apples and it was a Wilding apple tree. So, who knows what my Wildings might become. Though I find infinite solace in wild things, I have no trite nature-related answers about the state of the world. I read an article by the social scientist, Chris Smaje, in the most recent edition of Land magazine, and couldn’t help think that we as a species need to work out why these ‘big men’, whether it’s Putin or Trump, continue to emerge from our group dynamics to wield such oppressive power. How is the world still reckoning with these archetypes that feel as though they’ve marched freshly out of the Roman Empire?

Over half term I took the children on one of our favourite school holiday trips – a cup of tea and a rummage through the shelves of the ‘big’ library in town. I stood outside the toilet in the library, studiously avoiding looking at the elderly gentleman waiting next to me. I was sure he didn’t approve. Little Owl and Wren were in the toilet together and all that could be heard was them singing the Bee Gees classic, “Ah-ah-ah-ah, Staying Alive!” over the sound of the hand drier. He looked a very ‘proper’ man and I was certain he wouldn’t have let his children carry on like this in his time. Mums everywhere can regale you with stories of older people who like to dispense their wisdom about your parenting fails just when you’re feeling at your most vulnerable. I couldn’t decide whether to brace myself for the comment I was sure was about to come, or to rap on the door and tell them to hurry up. It was then that I noticed his knees bend, and to my astonishment he started bopping up and down, singing along with them under his breath, “Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive!” He caught my eye and winked. 

Hannah Foley after a school visit. All rights reserved (
Beaming after my school visit

Out of the blue, I was asked to do two very lovely things for World Book Day – a school visit and a library workshop. After struggling more than a little with the awkwardness of self-promotion as a debut author last year, it was so nice to be asked. And if anyone reading this is wondering about asking, please do. Whatever, your circumstances, as long as I can get the day off and you can cover my expenses, my answer will probably be ‘yes’. So, on the day before World Book Day, I did three author events in a row, each to three classes from year 6, then year 5, and finally, year 4. Apart from a couple of things I will tweak next time, they went really well, and I absolutely loved the imaginative ideas bursting out of these wonderful children. I was able to partner with a local independent bookshop for booksales, which was an added bonus. 

Hannah Foley reading from The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle at a library author event. All rights reserved (
Reading some of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle at my Riddles Workshop

Then, on actual World Book Day, I ran a Riddles Workshop at our local library. Exeter is home to a very special 10thcentury book called, funnily enough, the Exeter Book. It lives in the library at Exeter Cathedral, and is the largest and oldest volume of Anglo Saxon writings in the world. It contains a number of riddles. I talked about this with the children and we had a go at writing our own riddles on authentic (wink) 10th century parchment. It was another fun event, full of brilliant, bouncing children. 

The Exeter Book

In other news, I’m working on an illustration commission, there is top-secret book news to come, work continues apace, and my fingers are itching for seed sowings in March! But for now, I think I will colour rainbows with Wren.

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