You too can have a washer collection…though I wouldn’t advise it.

In our house we always celebrate seeing the first swallow. We’ve got an old tatty bit of paper on the kitchen wall and each year we mark on it where and when we see our first one. The paper stays on the wall all year round and is so faded and brown now that I’ve just had to mount it on a bit of card. All that peeling off and sticking back up with blu tack has taken its toll. This year they arrived on the 14th April, and it never ceases to amaze me how something so small and so fragile can have flown so very far. I try to imagine what it flew over to get here – desert, rivers, sea, cities towns. Amazing. But what I’m waiting for now are the swifts. A couple of years ago one took a wrong turn and came in through an upstairs window. It was only a rustling sound from down by the bed made me find it. I picked it up and dropped it back out of the window (best thing to do – they can’t take off from the ground so you need a high window, it’s just the same as them taking off from a high nest) but just for that moment before I let it go I realised how lucky I was to be holding it – no-one else had ever touched it before nor was ever likely to touch it again. Maybe that’s true of most wild birds, but not all of them fly to Africa and back and it felt as though it would take a little bit of me with it when it went.

A while ago (at least a few years) I started noticing how many stars people drop on the pavement – paper and foil ones. Someone has had a party ballon burst and, bingo, the pavement is covered in stars! Once I’d noticed it I couldn’t help keep seeing them, and then it was only a small step more to picking them up. ‘Never pass a lucky star by’ I’d say to myself. I’ve got pots of them now. But worryingly, very worryingly, I’ve started noticing how many washers people drop…and there, my friend lies the road to insanity. As I was taking this picture, Alice asked me why on earth I was taking a picture of washers? I told her that it showed a healthy interest in both photography and collecting washers from pavements, and that I was allowed to have a hobby. She wasn’t impressed.

Fire it up, we’re ready to go.

I started my old blog on the David Fickling Books website with a photo of where I wrote, so in keeping with tradition I thought I’d start this new blog with the same thing, only separated by five years. This is what the room looked like in June 2008 just before The Toymaker was published

and this is what it looks like today, in April 2013, with The Feathered Man all written and in the shops.

It’s where I mostly write. I take Alice and Bea to school, come back and dependent on the other stuff that gets in the way, I’ll make a start. The table belonged to my Grandma. It survived the London Blitz. She used to keep things on the little shelves beneath it, and I remember being very small, sitting under the table and taking all the things out to look at them. Jack Alice and Bea used to put a blanket over it and make a cave. Now I write at it.

If you’d asked me before I took this picture whether I thought that much in the room had really changed over the five years, I’d have said I thought not. But having compared the pictures, there are several differences, though none of them look strange to me because they must have just happened without us ever noticing. I suppose that’s the trick that’s played on you when something changes so gradually that you don’t actually see it happen – like growing up or growing older.

But the picture I perhaps should really have started with is this one, because this is the Feathered Man of the story.

He’s got a few less feathers now than we first came by him because he does tend to loose them everywhere, and on those occasions I’ve taken him on a school visit with me I’ve had to do a sweep back along the corridors afterwards picking up as many dropped feathers as I can still find. It was this sculpture, given to us by a friend and fixed on the wall of Alice’s bedroom, that gave me the real idea for the book. I’ve wondered about re-feathering him now with iridescent blue feathers, but I think that would be just a bit too creepy given what happens in the story.

This evening we are going to film two short video clips of me reading from The Toymaker and The Feathered Man to fit on each of the book pages of this site. We were going to do that a couple of days ago, but the church we are using for it had bell ringing practice that night, which everyone had managed to forget. So, back we go to the church tonight. We should have the lights and sound set up just by the time that darkness is beginning to fall…