Entries in On Writing (38)


My 'Children of Plynlimon' novels & Oxford Spires Academy

I really like being on my own in a hotel room with biscuits and a kettle, lots of hot water for a bath, crisp pillow-cases and my computer on my lap on the bed.  A whole uninterrupted evening of writing, and here I am at a quarter to midnight and I still don’t feel tired and everything in the world would be perfect if only the people in next room would only stop laughing and shouting [but then perhaps they’re thinking the same about my growling over my computer, obsessively read everything I’m writing out loud – nasty habit, but I can’t stop it I’m afraid].

I’m in Oxford.  Tomorrow I have a day of events lined up at Oxford Spires Academy in celebration of World Book Day, and afterwards I’m meeting poet and fellow Authors Electric colleague Dan Holloway for a drink before getting my train home.  All good things to look forward to.

As much as anything, however, I’m looking forward to talking to groups of children about my ‘Children of Plynlimon’ books.   I’ve done so many author events over the last few years on the Belize adventure and the writing of ‘In the Trees’ that it’s easy for these three precious books, that I laboured over so long and hard, to be overlooked.

Oxford Spires is particularly interested in the fact that these books deal with stories of alienation, which is fine by me. Alienation is something I’ve always written about - I’m certainly open to talking about it.   ‘Sabrina Fludde’. ‘The Red Judge’. ‘Mad Dog Moonlight’. All three children in these books are in search of a sense of family and a place to call home.  All three are children of mystery. One of them is trying to forget his past, the others are actively – and increasingly desperately - trying to find their pasts. None of them has what one would think of as an orthodox name, and that simple fact says something about their sense of separation from the world around them.

So that’s the general gist of what I want to talk about tomorrow.  Abren from ‘Sabrina Fludde’, and the street boy, Phaze II; Zed from ‘The Red Judge’; the mysteriously-named Mad Dog Moonlight – they’ll all be heading off on their river journeys again, following the three rivers - the Severn, the Wye and the Rheidol – that their stories are built around back to their common source on Plynlimon Mountain where lies the roots of all their troubles, and the solving of some of their mysteries, but definitely not all.  How boring life would be if all mysteries could be solved! 

More than the rivers, however, and Plynlimon Mountain where they have their source, these three books are about identity.  The children’s names are more significant than you’d think.  Here’s Mad Dog’s mother on the subject of the one she chose for him: ‘It’s not some crazy name we came up with off the top of our heads. It’s the name you earned for yourself the day you were born. It’s your name, and don’t you ever let anybody take it from you, because it’s who you are.’

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.  And now that the shouting has stopped next door, I’m looking forward to some sleep. Goodnight. 



We were on holiday in the little cottage that in 'Telling the Sea' I call Wren's Nest.  In the book, I wanted Owen - the local minister's son, who'd run away from home - to skin a rabbit.  However, I didn't know how to do this because I'd never seen it at first hand. I told a friend I didn't know how to do it and he said he'd set up a snare for me.  Before  he could, however, I awoke in the wee hours after midnight to find  stones rattling at my window and my friend with roadkill in his hands.  A rabbit, he called up, only recently deceased.

I remember wrapping myself up in my dressing-gown and going downstairs.  I let in my friend and we went through to the kitchen.  While I filled a bucket with water, he took a knife, chopped off the rabbit's head and ran a blade down its body, skinned it and cleaned out its innards. It's an extraordinary thing to see a body underneath its skin, and still warm too. I don't know what struck me more, horror, shock or fascination. My friend told me how to treat the skin with salt to preserve it, which I did and I still have that rabbit pelt to this day.  He said that in honour of the rabbit, I shouldn't throw away its body but, out of respect for the passing of its life, I should eat it.

And, next day, I did.  With the help of my husband and children, I made a fire in the cottage garden and we cooked the rabbit the way I guessed Owen would in 'Telling the Sea'.  Then we shared it between us.  It was burnt, but it tasted good.  

I've never forgotten that rabbit, its fur as soft as silk, its skin marked with a network of red veins shooting off in all direction like a road map. Thousands of animals get run over every year, but this one was special. Nor will I ever forget the friend who appeared in the darkness like a conjuror, producing a rabbit from a hat. In a lifetime writing books, this is one of the memories that most stands out.  It happened twenty years ago, but it still says something to me about the value of a life.  If you read 'Telling the Sea' perhaps you'll see why.   


Wild & Wonderful

Embedded on my website now.  For those of you who've missed it so far, enjoy. 

Wild and Wonderful from R & A Collaborations on Vimeo.