It’s May Day! One of my favourite days of the year, not because anything special happens, but because it brings the promise of warmer days and sun and ice creams and bright clothes and people just being happier, and I’m 100 per cent all for that. I always wear a sprig of may blossom on May Day just to remind me that all those good things are going to come if we just hang on in there. I cut this one this morning from the may tree in our garden.
But not all things in my garden are doing so well, and this poor looking buddy is a source of woe and worry. It’s a lemon tree and my past self planted him thirty six years ago as a pip. He’s followed me all over the country through all different stages of my life and though he has had some rough times, he’s never looked as poorly as this before. I’m hoping that a lot of looking after this summer will pull him through.
The Wrong Train is heading along it’s last dash to the shops – the advance copy will be printed this month and things like writing the blurb for the back cover and last design calls are being made. Dave Shelton (A Boy and a Bear in a Boat) is drawing some chapter illustrations, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them. He’s designed the cover too, but I can’t show that yet. Publishers like keeping some things back. One of the things that needed to be done was to get a photo of me for the back cover. Now I’m not a big fan of my own face in photos, and I do tend to muck about. This is one of the pictures that the publishers thought didn’t quite strike the right note. This is my daughter Bea with me. Bea is brilliant fun to be round. She wears the most sparkly shoes. She works weekends in a local art gallery which is a bit serious about the art it sells and has at the moment in it’s window a bronze sculpture of a chimpanzee. Yesterday I stood looking at that chimp and couldn’t help thinking that what that chimp needed, in fact what that chimp really needed more than anything else in the whole world was …
I don’t do winter very well. If there were more in the way of snow and blizzards and adventure and stuff, I’d feel a whole lot different about it – but it doesn’t do that sort of thing around here, and it’s hard to think kindly or with any enthusiasm about week after week of grey skies and rain. But that is all about to change, bright spring is gearing up and ‘boyhowdy!’ and ‘yeeha!’ for that. Not words of joy I’d usually use, but you get to go with the moment.
And what have I been doing these past grey months?
Writing. That’s what I’ve been doing.
There’s a new book all done and finished and out in September in the UK and January in the US. It’s called The Wrong Train. I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it. ‘Enjoy’ as in the ‘being completely spooked-out, and not being sure whether you really want to turn the light out’ way of enjoying it. And there is another book on the go too, that will be with the publishers in the autumn, so in the shops sometime next year.
It’s only a week or two now before we see our first swallow here. It’s a date we really celebrate as a family. We’ve kept a calendar of first sightings since April 1996 – that calendar is time browned and scruffy now but marks every first swallow for twenty years. Just imagine that – twenty years of swallows, twenty years of a day when suddenly the sky wasn’t so empty and one of us would point and shout out ‘SWALLOW!’ It’s somewhere out there right now, that first swallow we’ll see – it and us getting closer by the moment. But love swallows as I do, it is the arrival of the swifts that marks the real coming of summer for me. Boy, those guys can fly.
They say that you shouldn’t finish anything on a sad note, but sometimes things are just so big and so sad that there isn’t anywhere else to go afterwards, and that’s how I feel right now. This is our lovely old dog, Spanner. She died just three weeks ago today. She was just over sixteen years old, which is very old for a dog. Because I write at home, she and me shared nearly every day of those sixteen years, from small puppy to silver-muzzled old dog. When our children were small, look for them and you’d find a big soft black labrador not far away. She was a wonderful dog and my buddy, sat beside me while I wrote, walked with me when I walked. I know I will grow accepting of the emptiness of her not being somewhere in the house, but I’m not sure I will ever get used to it. She was the best.
We bought our tree yesterday, not that it is going to be put up until Christmas Eve.
If you read back through this blog to Christmas 2013, you’ll learn how that year we ended up with a tree so ridiculously huge that we named it Spruce Willis. With him started a tree trend that we followed last year with Spruce Banner – a tree of even more ridiculous dimensions than Spruce Willis, and that we are following again this year with a tree only slightly smaller and more svelt than Spruce Willis. We have named this year’s tree fella, Spruce Wayne.
The wonderful thing about Spruce Willis, apart from the fact he was a tree 100% too big for our house, was a secret he kept hidden all through Christmas – a tiny bird’s nest deep in among his branches that I found only after Twelfth Night. I still have it. The nest looked like this.
If you get a tree early and are going to keep it outside people recommend sawing a couple of inches off the bottom of the trunk and standing the tree in a bucket of water, like a cut flower, which in lots of ways I suppose it sort of is. So I unpicked the net the tree is wrapped in, just enough to cut of those few inches and there crushed and folded in the lower branches was another bird’s nest. What a special thing to find.
It has been a difficult old year for my family, and I’m hoping that nest is a sign of better things to come.
A very nice thing that has happened these last few daysthough, is that my lovely son, Jack, wrote the script for a game that has just now been published on the game store STEAM. The game is called Doctor Langeskov, the Tiger and The terribly Cursed Emerald. It is short, free, wonderfully funny and a calling card for the game the studio is to release next year. And Jack wrote it. If you would like to watch the trailer, the link is here