The Lane of a Thousand Stories

It’s not just a lane. To those who don’t know. But then nothing is ever just something. Everything is much, much more than that. To us, the lane is alive with a thousand stories. Millions of lives. Endless possibilities.

For me and you, hand in hand, it’s not just a lane, is it? It’s an adventure waiting to happen. It’s Doctor Who and Clara. It’s sticks turned into sonic screwdrivers. It’s the Tardis waiting for us back home. It’s mud monsters that will drag you down. It’s Cybermen and Daleks and Zygons. It’s a stretch of concrete that twists and turns, and it’s me watching your little legs running down it as fast as you can, yelling over your shoulder to run from the monsters. It’s me, forever tensed that a car will round the corner too fast.

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They are not just puddles in the lane. They are wonders to explore with stones and sticks and welly boots that never quite manage to keep the water out. They are covered with ice to crack and slip on. They are deep with mud to squelch and squerch through. We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going on a bear hunt. They are not just puddles. They are portals to another world. Many worlds. Worlds with trees and telephone lines inside them. Worlds with a mystery face staring right back at yours.

They are not just bushes! Not just a hedgerow to hurl rubbish into. They are blackberries in the summer. Your little hands reaching in to pluck juicy berries from between the thorns. Your sleeve getting snagged on brambles. Your face smeared with red. They are alive, teeming with small unseen lives that run adjacent to ours, unknown. They are buzzing with bees and birds and butterflies, who go about their private lives without fuss or blunder. Who live never to question or worry. Me and you know they are there. And there is not a bush we don’t walk by without knowing or thinking.

Hello Mr Robin. Mr Blackbird. Mrs Blackbird. The shy Heron who takes off should you get too close. The noisy geese. The silent swans. The otters we have never seen. The rabbits in the fields and the buzzards on the telephone poles. The woodpecker drumming. Swifts and starlings and magpies and our favourite, the mighty crow. The crow rules the world, or so we secretly believe. With his knowing caaw and his murder of companions, they could take us all on, should they want to.

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It’s not just a bridge, is it? It’s poo sticks and science. It’s sygnets and ducklings. It’s where we collect conkers in the Autumn. And it’s not just a river, it’s a ford, a fork, an expanse of water fit for paddling. Your favourite place. Your tree dragon and the swing and sitting on the fallen tree, trying to catch tiddlers in a jar. Mucky feet and cold toes. Snacks in the pushchair. Summer. Shady spot, dragonflies and damselflies. Kicking the water. Us and the dogs and me lost in time, caught between now and us, this life and an old one. Me and my sister, stood in the river, captured in a moment that has lasted forever, the sunlight perfect, illuminating our small lives, fishing nets in hand, shadows dancing. At the river, I am full of a thousand memories and with you, I am making a thousand more.

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The lane seems so long when you walk so slow. It’s me saying hurry up, walk faster, come on, come on then, can you at least walk in the right direction? It’s you, picking up stones and sticks and conkers and leaves, staring at bugs, helping them cross the road, saying ‘that’s sad’ when you spot something dead because the lane is not just full of life, it’s full of death and we see it daily. Creatures too slow for the cars. It’s me in a hurry. Urging you on. Rolling my eyes. Come on, come on I’ve got stuff to do. Hurry up and I’ll get you a hot chocolate when we get in.

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It’s not just a lane. It’s songs and silliness and passing the time. It’s make-believe and storytelling and laughter and tears. Death and life and why? Why Mum? Why?

It’s not just a lane. It’s Nature, who was here first with the blackberries and the hawthorn and the Oaks and the Hazel and the dandelions, bluebells and daisies. It’s all the things that exist despite us and will go on after us. But for now, for a moment, it is our lane. Not just a lane, but our world and a thousand stories and lives.

Nothing is ever just something.

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Character Interview; Aunt Mary from A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers by Susan Russell

Hello and welcome to another character interview! This time we have the pleasure of chatting to Aunt Mary, one of the main characters in the beautiful A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers  by Susan Russell

1 ) Tell us what your positive character traits are

I s’pose I’d best be described as a steady sort of person. I’m reliable and no-nonsense, but I’ve got a soft side once you get to know me. Positive too – I’ve seen tragedy aplenty, but I don’t see any point in letting the bad things rattle around your head for years dragging you down. Better let it all out at the time, I say, and then get on with things

2)What would you say are your negative character traits?

I said I tend to get on with things, but I must admit I do eat a bit more than I should if I’m honest. So I’m a bit plumper than I should be, but where’s the harm? All good home baking, and it keeps me busy. Now I think about it, I s’pose I don’t let myself feel too much. When your heart’s been battered it wants to protect itself, doesn’t it? Mind you, the young’un, Alex, managed to thaw me out good and proper, bless him.

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

Now that the young’un’s gone back up to London, Mallow Cottage feels a bit empty. I reckon I’ll wait a bit, while he settles back in with his dad, and then I’ll get the train up there to see them. I could have him back down for the holidays maybe. That ‘gift’ him and Flora left tucked away between the photos for me to find, that was some shock I can tell you. I came over all faint when I opened it! Don’t tell anyone, but I talk to Flora now. Alex would understand, but I mustn’t let Arthur, Mr Godolphin, catch me or he’ll think I’ve lost my marbles. Kind man, Arthur, he’s been coming round more often lately

4) What are your fears?

Fears? Me? I lost my first husband to the war, then my sister and niece to illness. Once I got over that I don’t reckon I’ve been afraid of anything much – can’t see the point. If something bad’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. No point in worrying about something you can’t change, you have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Mind you, when the young’un first arrived I was fearful for him. I don’t think I showed it, but seeing all that pain locked up inside of him…well, I did worry that we wouldn’t get past it.

5) Do you have any enemies?

Not that I knows of!

6) Tell us about your best friend

Old Hilda. Been friends for years, though she’s quite a bit older than me. Both lost our other halves in the war, both not blessed with children, both ‘get on with it’ types… I first started goin’ up to her place on the moors when she needed help with the farm. ‘Course, that’s all gone now and she’s just got her cottage left. It’s a poky little place, but she’s determined to stay up there ‘til she’s taken out feet first,’ as she says. Bit too much for me to walk up there nowadays, what with being a bit rounder than I used to be, but I get a lift up with the weekly grocery van. We have a right old natter, and all the while she’ll be busy with her crochet. Her place is strewn with crocheted throws of all sorts. I doubt she’d admit to it, but I reckon she does it to stop herself being lonely. No doubt she talks to herself when no-one’s there, seeing as she never stops when someone is!

7) What’s your biggest secret?

When my sister and my niece died, and then all those other little’uns in the village succumbed as well, I went a bit mad for a bit. I was numb at first, and then a couple of weeks after the last burial I got up one night and headed towards Tappers Wood. It were a full moon, good and bright, and I went by the lanes because a day or two earlier I’d seen a big coil of rope left by one of the field gates. It was still there. I remember the feel of it: cold, rough, and heavy, wet with the mists rolling off the fields. Don’t know how long I stood there, holding that rope and looking all the while at the trees up ahead – sussing out the ones with the strong branches, the ones I might be able to climb up to. I’d got one in mind–worked out how to get up there with that rope, where to tie it, how much drop would do the job–when a fox strolled out, bold as you please, and just sat there looking at me. So beautiful in that moonlight… Well I came to my senses, threw that rope back where I’d found it and went home.

8) Do you have any regrets?

Regrets is pointless.

9) Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Five years time I’ll still be here, baking my bread and traipsing down to the village when I needs to. Maybe it won’t be just me in Mallow Cottage though, maybe Arthur’ll be joining me there! Young’un would like that as well, I reckon.

10) How do you hope people remember you?

As someone who could see to ‘the heart’ of things, the calm in the eye of the storm.

Thanks so much to Susan and Aunt Mary for joining us today! If you’d like to find out more about Susan, just click on the links below!

Website: http://www.susanrussell.eu Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Russell-author-745681398937235/

Twitter: Susan Russell @contact_susan Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jar-Full-Angel-Feathers/dp/0995600651/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504115967&sr=1-1&keywords=a+jar+full+of+angel+feathers

Bio: Born in Norwich, many of Susan’s earliest memories are of writing, drawing, and ploughing through piles of books from the library. She began her working life as a nurse, and after two years as Staff Nurse she moved to Sidcup to work in a residential home for handicapped young adults. Meeting her future husband resulted in a move down to West Dorset, where a busy life included opening a kitchenware shop, raising three sons, and qualifying in the natural health care fields of massage, the Bowen Technique, and Medical Herbalism.

Interview with Author Harriet Springbett

Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!

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1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?

I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit in. A recent storm had uprooted a nearby sumac tree and I found myself wishing I could stroke its branches back into shape to rebalance it: we hug trees to make ourselves feel better, but who ever makes trees feel better? I started to wonder what it would be like if someone could communicate with trees and help them in this way. As Rainbow was under my pen, she became the one to be blessed / cursed with this gift.

2) Did the plot come first, or the characters?

Definitely the main character. I’d already written a short story about Rainbow, and a member of Lumineuse, my writers’ group, said she was such a vivid character that she could almost see her beside me. The plot grew organically from Rainbow, her gift and her problems. This was a deliberate approach on my part, because the previous novel I’d written was plot-led and I’d found the writing experience too restrictive.

3) The story is told in both past and present tense – why did you choose this approach, and how difficult was it to pull off?

The tenses are intrinsically linked to the characters of the two protagonists: Mary wants to forget her past so the present tense represents her best, whereas Rainbow is like a tree, with roots into her past. It wasn’t a question of ‘pulling it off’, because it was natural rather than being a storytelling device. I was warned that publishers wouldn’t like the tense-mixing, but I believed it was too essential to change. In fact, my publisher (Impress Books) never questioned the tenses.

4) Are any of the characters based on people in real life?

No! Part of the fun of writing stories is creating characters. I’m a detail hoarder, and I jot down lots of rubbish that amuses or interests me, which may then produce a character (or not). For example, the other day I was running with a friend who’d bought a new pair of trainers. I noticed that the underside of her trainers happened to match the colour of her T-shirt, and found myself thinking about the kind of person who would do this deliberately.

5) Did you have to do much research into trees, or did you already have some knowledge in that area?

I love trees. I grew up on a Dorset farm that had 10 acres of woodland and a stream, and we were always playing in them, making tree houses or fixing rope ladders and swings to them. We had our own trees in the way other children have pets. Tree Magic doesn’t have technical details about trees, so I only needed an everyday knowledge, which my childhood and a tree guide provided. However, I did research details for the habitats and characteristics of certain trees, such as the symbolic silver maple.

6) This is your debut YA novel, can you tell us what is coming next?

I have already finished another YA novel called Red Lies, White Lies. It’s a thriller with a 17-year-old protagonist, set in France, and has no magic realism. A beta reader said she couldn’t put it down – but I really should make time to seriously hunt for an agent. I love the writing part of being an author, but I’m not very good at sending out my work. I must confess that I have begun to write another YA novel when I should really be trying to find a home for Red Lies, White Lies.

7) Do you read a lot of YA yourself? If so, what are your favourite YA books?

I didn’t intend Tree Magic to be a YA novel because I hadn’t read much YA fiction. When it was placed runner-up in a competition, the judge told me that with a little rewriting I could target the YA market. An agent who rejected it mentioned YA too – so I researched the YA market and rewrote it for younger readers. I only really started reading YA a short time ago – and I’m seriously seduced by what I’ve read. There’s a refreshing liberty in YA writing. I loved The Sun is Also a Star for its ‘science versus intuition’ approach (a little like in Tree Magic). I was shocked and impressed by Orangeboy. I adored the protagonist in Wing Jones and thought A Monster Calls was beautifully written. I could go on, but I’d better stop there.

8) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far? What have been the highs and lows?

The lows were the rejections. I originally sent Tree Magic to about 10 agents, was rejected by all of them and concluded that the story was rubbish. I left it in a drawer for years before learning that this rejection rate was normal, and that small publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Long live small publishers! The highs were firstly getting my manuscript accepted by Impress Books (though I worried for ages that they’d change their minds) and then the whole editing process with them. They are wonderful. The weirdest moment was when I read the blurb my editor wrote. My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds like an exciting book’ and my second was ‘it’s your book, you idiot.’

9) What advice would you give to new writers just about to start the journey into publication?

Don’t be put off by rejections. You must keep searching for a home, but make sure you get readers and other writers to critique your story first. Writers’ groups are invaluable for this. Also, I wish I’d written more short stories before launching into a novel because the experimentation, feedback and rewriting loop takes less time than with novels. Short stories help you to find your voice.

10) What have you learned so far about promoting your book?

I didn’t realise that book promotion and publicity would be so time-consuming. Getting started can be scary, so it’s wonderful if you have a publicist to guide you. If you’re not careful, it will eat into your writing time, so you have to sum up your courage and push yourself to be proactive while still remembering that the writing is what’s most important.

11) Describe an average writing day for you

I exchanged my full time job for part time work in order to have writing time, so this motivates me to sit down every morning and write until lunchtime. Most evenings I run or cycle – this is my problem-solving time, when I run through scenes in my head and visualise characters’ reactions. Of course, my friends don’t believe me when I say I’m working as I run! I don’t write at weekends, because I want to live fully, spend time with my family, do sport, see friends etc. Inspiration comes from interacting with real life, from watching and listening to what’s going on in the world, so it’s important not to shut yourself away all the time. It also means I look forward to getting back to my computer on Monday mornings.

12) Finally, tell us three interesting facts about yourself

This is the most difficult question. OK: when I was 22 I did a Raleigh International expedition in Chile and then hitchhiked 5000km from the south to the north. My ideal holiday is an itinerant trip with a bike, a tent and good company. And I’m (distantly) related to Thomas Hardy.

More about Harriet Springbett…

Harriet Springbett lives in France with her French partner and teenage daughters. She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.

Her debut YA novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in ebook format in January 2017. The paperback is due out on 1st March. Harriet writes every morning and blogs on writing and cultural events at Harriet Springbett’s Playground of Words and Thoughts. Several of her short stories (Quark Soup, Shingle & Sand, Ami Entends-tu?, Big Bones…) have been placed and shortlisted in competitions or published in magazines such as The French Literary Review.

Links;

Tree Magic page at Impress Books: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress/tree-magic/ Tree Magic on Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tree-Magic-Harriet-Springbett/dp/1911293001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485160742&sr=8-1&keywords=9781911293002 My Blog: https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/HarriSpringbett/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarriSpringbett

 

A Little Book On Trees

You see the thing is, there is only so much time. You know that, and I know that. It creeps up your spine every once in a while, reminding you. You see it in the dead leaves on the ground, in the flattened squirrel, in the lines that deepen on your skin. So there is not much time before I cease to exist. I am fighting a losing battle to do all the things I want to do, to see all the things I would like to see, to read all the books, to listen to all of the music, to write all of the words…This is just me making excuses though, because most days I am sickened by my own ignorance.

So I was thinking about this the other day. About how old I am, and how much time there might be left for me, and about all the things I do not know. It caused me panic. Not knowing things. It led me to thinking; what do I know? What should I know by now? What have I already forgotten? Have I forgotten more than I will ever remember? Chances are I have. Chances are this will only increase as I get older. How much does the mind allow you to hold onto? Snippets and fragments. Important things come first. Like walking and breathing, and riding a bike, making a meal, driving a car. What remains once your aged mind has sieved through the rubble? How to tie your shoe laces? Bake a cake? Send an email? But what happens to the rest?
What is probably worse though, is all the things you never knew in the first place, all the things you never read about, or learnt about. Time wasted? Opportunities missed? I am embarrassed by how little I know. How little I have to hold onto and pass on.

So what do I know?

I know how to drive. Just about. I know how to plant seeds and help them grow. I know a thing or two about writing, a thing or two about parenting, a thing or two about how not to train a dog…I know a few things about politics, but so much of what I believe is personal and emotional, heartfelt rather than researched. I have forgotten most of what I learnt at school, college and University.

But what I don’t know shocks me and holds me back. It is staggering in its enormity. My mind closes itself in a panic, shouting there is not enough time, it is not my fault! I can’t help it. But I wish I knew so much more.
I do not know the names of all the trees I love so much. They are a green canopy sheltering me, filled with birdsong, they surround my walks and my imaginings, and I like to look at them and think about how old they are, and I like to stop and touch them if I can. They make me feel close to nature and to the point of everything. I know the oak and the sycamore…pines…conifers. I will learn more and then forget them. And I do not know the names of the hundreds of birds that fill my world with song. I know the robin and the pigeon and the blackbird and the magpie…the easy ones. I will try to remember what I have seen, and I tell myself to go and look them up, go and learn, but I will forget to do even that.

Flowers like the daisy, and the rose and the geranium and the daffodil..of course everyone knows those ones, but there are so many more, ones I have planted myself in my own garden by my own hand, and they still live on nameless to me. Not to mention the flowering weeds that line the lane, pinks, yellows, purples and blues – what are you? Tell me your name and your purpose. It is like all of nature is sat there being ignored. It is becoming unknown and unused.

Space and time and maths and physics…What is electricity and how does the TV work? Mobile phones, and the inter-net. I live with them and I rely on them, and yet I do not have a clue how they work or how they came to be. I am soaked in ignorance. I am weighed down by the guilt of not knowing enough. There is so much to know. Maybe I should make a list and start ticking them off. I would like to expand my knowledge and I would like to not have to keep saying ‘I don’t know’ when my kids ask me things. I would like to know what my ancestors knew, and what weeds to pick and cook, and how to fix a broken bike, and how to change a fuse and what kind of bird sings like that and why…I would like to hold onto the little that I do know before it gets bored and wanders off. What would I be left with?

Self-doubt and rising panic.

I could have done so much more. I could have learnt so much more and put it to good use. If only life was not so short. If only life was longer and not so stuffed full of washing clothes and hoovering mess and sweeping floors and changing beds and making ends meet. I’m running out of time and fear so many things will remain a mystery to me, languishing in the pile of ‘I’ll do that later’, ‘I’ll read that later’, ‘I will ask about that later’. But what if I never do, and just keep scurrying on towards death and getting by on the little bits I have picked up and held onto along the way?

I don’t fear death.

I won’t mind it because I will be at peace and not in a panic.

Meanwhile I will experience the turning of the days and the missing out on knowledge, expertise and experience. So many things I wish I had done. But I didn’t have the money, or I didn’t have the time, or I didn’t have the courage. I played it safe and stuck to what I knew because it was enough to survive on, enough to get me by. I won’t be a wise old woman passing on essential knowledge. It saddens me. I am sickened by the shame.

But I found a little book on trees and I keep it in my pocket.