I’m a day late, but hope you’ll enjoy the final part of Scrapefoot! It’s been really exciting to write this story in serial form and thank you for your lovely comments. If you’ve liked what you’ve read, do check out my books- dark and twisty with a glimpse of the mythical past!
I told him he could stay. He wasn’t doing any harm, and he seemed to know more about the house, about my mother and about me than I did. He was clever. I left quietly by the front door. It had been snowing again, and the path wore a new, glistening blanket of white. I was at the gate before I came to my senses. What had I done? Given the green light to a complete stranger, a squatter, a vagrant. How had he tricked me into that? Scrapefoot, indeed!
As I turned to march back to the front door and give him a piece of my mind, I noticed that my footsteps were absent. Even heavy snow could not have obliterated them so soon. What was going on? Slipping and sliding, I made my way back to the house and flung open the door. The fire was still blazing merrily, but there was no sign of the man. I checked the sitting room and the bedrooms. even the bathroom and the back garden, in case he was chopping more wood, but Scrapefoot had vanished. I twirled slowly in the middle of the sitting room. Something was not right. I could smell that sharp musky scent I’d noticed before. There on the new cushion, in my mother’s favourite chair, lay curled a white fox.
“How did you get in?”
It surveyed me steadily. It’s eyes were a sharp, icy blue. Something stirred in my head- words- although from whence they came I really couldn’t say.
“I’ll stay until your mother comes home, and then I’ll be gone.”
Was it a promise, or a threat?
This time when I turned and left. I didn’t go back.
“Mum, I’ve been doing some thinking.” I held my mum’s tired hand. It was 3 pm and the tea trolley was on it’s way. I could smell a fresh brew and custard creams. A nurse was rearranging the medicine trolley, checking items against her clipboard. “How would you like to go home?”
“Go home?” The words were tremulous, sweetly hopeful. “Home to my own house?”
“Yes. I think we could manage. If I relocate and work from home- your home- we could manage well enough. What do you think?”
“Oh Rebecca!” My mother’s grip tightened. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming of, but I couldn’t tell you. You have your own life to live.”
“Let’s just say I had a sudden inspiration. Experienced a guiding light, so to speak.”
“It would be like old times!” Her eyes were bright and a little bit teary.
“Steady on. I am a grown-up now, you know. I’m too old for stories!”
“Even the one I used to tell you about Scrapefoot?”
A peculiar feeling twisted inside me; part fear, part joy. “That is a story best left for another day. Wait until we get you home and I’ll tell you everything…”
Scrapefoot is a traditional folktale, said to be the inspiration behind Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In this story, Goldilocks is a wily fox!
This is the penultimate part! No artwork this week, as I’ve been prepping for some of my classes, so I’ll leave you with a rather nice photo instead!
He wandered away and I followed him. It was like he owned the place and I felt silenced. There were many things I wanted to say, but my tongue was stubbornly mute.
We arrived at my mother’s bedroom. This was not a good idea, my inner voice warned. This wasn’t where you should be going, but he flung open the door and my mother’s room was just as she left it, with the bed made and the dressing table tidied. The faint smell of the powder she always used at bathtime made me so sad, tears sprang to my eyes.
“See what I’ve done here,” the man said. He flipped open the quilt. “This mattress was terribly lumpy, so I got one of those toppers. Your ma will think she’s sleeping on a cloud from now on.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” I said weakly.” It’s not your place.”
An evil little voice said no, it was your place to do all those things, but you never did. You were always too busy. The man is still speaking. He looks ridiculously pleased with himself.
“I tried the other beds. The spare was way too hard and that little sofa bed in the box room was so soft and saggy it would ruin your back. Now this one_” he waved a hand. “Is just right.”
I gathered my wits. All I want to do is thank him, but I could not. He was a home invader!
“Look, Mr- I don’t even know your name.”
He grinned. His teeth were white and sharp. “Scrapefoot.”
“Mr Scrapefoot. You cannot stay here.”
“But it’s empty, and I have nowhere to go.”
When he didn’t answer, I sighed impatiently. “That’s as maybe, but this is not your house, and there are charities which deal with- all that.”
“You forgot about the star.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake. What about the star?”
“It’s a sign of hospitality and compassion.”
“In what way?”
“Think about that family, the homeless family, who lived in the stable all those years ago.”
“Are you talking about…Bethlehem? That’s got absolutely nothing to do with this, and anyway I’m not religious or even remotely spiritual. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a story.”
“Like a folktale?”
“Yes, if you like.”
“A bit like the ones your mother used to tell you? The Artic Fox and the Northern Lights, and what was that other one? The very old one that eventually became Goldilocks and the Three Bears. What was the name of that one again?”
My blood ran so cold, I felt like I’d been standing out in the garden for an hour or two. Had I told him about those stories? That my mother used to tell them to me by the light of the fire? I don’t think I had. They’d popped into my head, certainly, after seeing that white fox, and the animal tracks and the flames licking at the chimney. But if I hadn’t told him, how on earth did he know?”
“Have you remembered the name of the story yet?” He asked again.
Hello! Hope you are doing fine. Thanks for dropping by to catch up with Part 4 of Scrapefoot. I thought it would only be four parts, but this story has other ideas! Thanks so much for reading.
This week, who exactly has broken in to Rebecca’s mum’s house?
For the first time in my adult life, I felt a bit blindsided. How on earth was I going to get him out?
“If you don’t leave immediately, I’m definitely going to call the police and have you done for breaking and entering.”
“I didn’t break anything,” he said. “I fix things.”
He nodded towards the table leg. He was crafty.
“How exactly did you get in?”
He laid a finger aside his long, elegant nose and tapped it. “Ways and means, ways and means.”
“What? Look, this is my mother’s home and-”
“But she isn’t, is she?”
“She’s in a home. Look, this is really none of your business.”
He put another log on the fire as if the words coming out of my mouth meant nothing to him.
“I’ve cut some logs for her, out the back.” He dusted his hands together.
“But-but she doesn’t need logs. She’s in a home, where she is being looked after.”
“Looked after.” He repeated. “After. Doesn’t that word mean behind? Like something left behind, or a second thought?”
I was so angry I couldn’t reply. I glanced at my phone screen. Was calling 999 an overreaction? He didn’t seem dangerous, just…odd. I was just trying to remember the non-emergency police number when he stalked past me. I caught that sharp whiff again, the foxy, musky smell. I’d forgotten about the fox. Had it gone into the other room? That’s where he seemed to be going, the strange man, crossing the floor with long loping strides. Into the sitting room he went, and I followed him. He sat down in the big easy chair where Mum used to relax to watch Coronation Street and do her crossword. The memory made something go chink inside me, like a bit of ice breaking off. The man gave a couple of experimental bounces.
“This is better, isn’t it?” He jumped up so quickly I backed away, but he came after me, took my arm gently, the way a spaniel picks up a feathery game bird. “Come on- you try it. Remember how this chair was really lumpy?”
“No I don’t. This was my mother’s chair. I’m not in the habit of sitting in it and she never complained”
Reluctantly, I let him guide me to the chair and I sat down. The cushion moulded to my shape. Even though every sinew in my body was knotted with tension, I let myself imagine how wonderful it would be to let the softness of the cushion lure me into complete relaxation. Horrified, I sat bolt upright.
“Is this a new cushion? What the hell are you playing at?”
The pale stranger plonked himself down on the sofa, did another couple of experimental bounces, and then moved to the wing chair by the window, the one that had been my grandmother’s. That chair, I recalled, was evil. It seemed to have springs pinging from its soul.
“This chair is dreadful,” he said. “So hard and uncomfortable.”
“Yes, you’re right. I’ve never liked that chair.”
“And the couch- well, that is too soft.”
I tipped my head in consideration. “I always quite liked the couch. I used to curl up there to do my homework.”
“ Bad for your back. I bet you have a bad back.”
“ I have sciatica, but that’s neither here nor-”
“ So I found that cushion in the skip and now your mother’s chair is just right. She’ll be so happy when she comes home.”
He looks so pleased with himself, like a smiley collie dog, that I don’t have the heart to tell him she will never be coming home.
Thank you for reading!
While you’re here, please take a look at my novels and writing courses. I love to blend a little folklore into my novels, and from my interactions with readers, I know you like it too! If you can, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. With book shops closed, it would really help. Thank you in advance!
It’s Sunday again! I can’t believe it. For people who are confined to barracks, we’re fairly rattling through the weeks and months! Let’s hope time is propelling us towards a bright spot on the horizon. Anyway, I hope you are keeping safe and well and have a few moments to spare for the third instalment of Scrapefoot. Who is behind the brightly-lit windows of a seemingly empty cottage? Enjoy…
My heart must have stalled, because it suddenly started up again, rattling in my chest like a freight train. This time I did fumble for my phone, not to access the flashlight, but to have 999 at the ready. Squatters. That was the only explanation. Eel Beck Cottage was an ex-forestry worker’s dwelling. It had its own modest patch of land, with a vegetable plot at the back and a front garden over which, despite some heavy-duty wire netting, my mother had fought a long running battle with the deer. This was not a house you’d stumble upon. There were no passers-by in the wood, no ramblers, or tourists or opportunists. Whoever was behind those warm amber windows had chosen to be here. Had been led here. I glanced up at that bright star.
How dare they? Mustering all my courage, and mentally rolling up my sleeves, I started up the garden path. I was not afraid of confrontation. Most people, be they board members or gnarly trespassers, could be viewed as naughty children. They just needed the error of their ways pointing out to them in no uncertain terms. I had only taken a handful of steps when I realised I was not the first to mark this pristine blanket of snow. There were tracks, a single animal, leading right up to the front door. Animal prints. Fox prints. I stopped dead. Despite the cold and the dark, the front door was slightly ajar.
I faltered. Icicles, like crystal drops, had formed on the stone lintel and now they were melting, drip, drip ,drip. Someone had lit a fire in house. I could smell woodsmoke and the snow which had been banked up against the bottom of the door caved in like a child’s sandcastle. The amber light around the door seemed to grow brighter. For a second, the idea of a dirty, smelly fox slipping into my mother’s home outraged me more that the notion of a vagrant take-over. I could smell fox; that sharp, musky whiff. The same scent that greeted me in London when I went out to my car in the early mornings. The scent of something waiting and watching, anticipating my next move.
Giving the door a shove, I stepped over the threshold of snow. A rich, dark heat hit me: smouldering timber, winter apples, spice. It propelled me forcibly back to childhood, to my mother’s far-fetched tales, fleecy pyjamas, hot chocolate before bed. I had to swallow something hard that lodged in my throat and when I called out, my voice had lost its usual authority.
“Hello? Who’s there? You shouldn’t be in here, you know.”
I let my gaze roam around the walls. The place was filled with candles in jars. On every surface they sat, little flames dancing like fireflies. I’d been imagining a crime scene, the place burglarised, upturned drawers and scattered paper and desecration. But none of that was evident. The place looked broadly as we had left it twelve months ago, when the paramedics had skilfully manoeuvred my mother over the same threshold. She’d looked back once, and I’d had to avert my eyes from the deep well of sorrow in hers.
No the place looked undisturbed. I said it again- hello -in a much firmer voice. A head popped up from behind the table, quickly followed by the rest of the man who’d been crouching there. There is a strange man in my mother’s kitchen. That’s all my brain would come up with. There is a strange man in my mother’s kitchen.
And he was indeed strange.
He was very…pale. Like a faded painting. Hair the colour of ash and a wispy beard to match, an Arran jumper unravelling at the hem, and those camouflage pants that soldiers wear in the desert. He was barely there, yet somehow he seemed to merge with the kitchen and all its neutral shades; whitewash, stone, limed oak. When he looked straight at me, his eyes reflected the amber glow of the candlelight.
“Hello,” he said, as if I was the visitor, the intruder.
“What do you think you’re doing?” My voice was gaining ground, becoming more confident.
He glanced at the floor tiles. “I was fixing that table leg. It’s wobbly, the table.”
“It’s always been wobbly, but-”
“No problem. You’re welcome.” He moved over to the hearth where a healthy blaze was spitting and crackling. Sparks detached themselves and floated up the chimney. As a child, I used to rush outside to see if I could spot them emerge, little specks of fairy dust against the night sky. I shook the notion away.
“My mother hasn’t used that fireplace for years. There’s central heating and light.” I marched over to the wall and clicked a switch. The kitchen was flooded with a harsh artificial glow, making the stranger wince. I could see him clearly now. My first thought was that he was much younger than I’d first thought. Maybe he’d gone prematurely grey, like Philip Scofield. His skin was still young and taut, and his facial hair looked a bit tentative, like a teenager’s. It was hard to work out his age.
“I like the dark,” he complained, rubbing at his eyes.
I immediately clicked off the switch and we reverted to candlelight. What the hell was I doing?
“Look- who are you? I’m going to call the police.”
He laughed at that, one of those seen-it-all-before laughs. “I wouldn’t bother. They’d never be able to find this place. It took me all my time.”
“So how did you find it?” I was feeling frustrated, angry and my legs were tired. I wanted to sit down, but I had to get this person out of the house first.
“The star, of course.” He jerked his head towards the low ceiling. My thoughts travelled upwards, through the rafters and the attic, up into the sky to the Great Conjunction. I brought them back down to earth and rearranged them. I had to get this CRAZY person out of the house. Something else occurred to me.
“That fox- is it yours? A pet or something? It came in here, I saw the prints in the snow. You need to get out and take it with you.” I suddenly moved from the spot where I’d planted myself, looking under the table and between the legs of chairs. “They’re unhygienic.”
“The white fox?” His voice sounded amused.
“Is it a dog?” I straightened up. That would make more sense. “Is it your dog? Look, seriously, you and your dog need to sling your hook. Get out now. This is my mother’s house. I don’t even know how you got in.”
I glance around wildly but there is no sign of a forced entry. Everything is untouched apart from the addition of a warm fire and soft lighting- and a fixed table leg.
“No, No, it’s not a dog,” he said eventually, but he didn’t elaborate.
Thank you for reading! See you next week for Scrapefoot #4
Thanks for joining me on the blog! As promised, here is part 2 of Scrapefoot. Rebecca has simply gone to check on her mother’s empty cottage in the woods- but what will she find? Check back next week for part 3. Enjoy!
Now, in the wood at Eel Beck, something strange occurred. I felt a little disorientated, giddy. It was like being hit by that first sip of glühwein when the air is cold and your stomach is empty. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a shifting of things, as if the cottage I was heading towards was no longer where I might expect to find it. The wood was white and alien and when I paused a moment to look back, my footsteps had been obliterated. Or maybe they had never been there. Where had that voice come from? It had broken into my thoughts, low and insistent. Catching my breath, I glanced at the tree beside me. It was a holly bush, grown to such a point that it could safely be called a tree. The snow had slipped from its razor leaves, leaving green, glossy spikes and berries the colour of blood. In this faded-out world, the red hurt my eyes. It looked positively gaudy, a distraction.
In my peripheral vision, I saw something else- a slash of silver, a black eye, a slender paw. I gasped, but the more I looked for the creature, the more I saw only absence; twirling snow, ragged roots. It had been a fox, a white fox!
I felt breathless, glorious and yet strangely cheated, as if I’d only been granted certain permissions, and was longing to learn more. How often does anyone get to see a white fox? Are you sure that’s what you saw? That voice again. I glared at the holly tree, but she was giving nothing away. She? Oh, come on! I shook my head at my own foolishness. The landscape was playing with me. The longer I stayed there, the more it would try to outwit me, like an owl waiting to sense the heartbeat of a mouse beneath the ground. Don’t fall for it, I told myself. My mother’s vacant home was only a five minute walk away. Go check on it. Turn on the taps, make sure there are no leaks or broken windows and get the hell out of there.
Before ploughing onwards, I cast a last glance behind me. Despite the ongoing snowfall, the path was crisscrossed with tracks. Not mine, they were still missing, but I recognised the cleft print of deer, the spiky splay of some kind of bird, and paw prints of all kinds, from shrew-sized to dauntingly large. The one that stood out the most was the one I seemed to know by heart. Perhaps as a child, I’d learned to recognise it. This trail threaded back on itself, looping around the rest like a sheepdog or crime scene tape. Bold, self-possessed. Quick-witted. A slender arrow of five pads, with the indents of sharp claws. Fox.
All those random impressions in the snow began to resemble a music score, an offbeat tune that filled my being and made my heart stutter an accompanying bass beat. Pressing my hand there, I tried to swallow my irrational fears and took a deep breath. I hadn’t noticed any of those tracks as I’d passed. I hadn’t noticed them. That didn’t mean they hadn’t been there. It was absurd to think otherwise, that somehow these creatures had manifested behind my back like ghosts, I shook my head and walked on. The light was fading fast and I deliberated whether to activate the flashlight on my phone.
My mother had always been a great one for an uncanny story. She knew all the old tales from this part of Yorkshire; the menacing Gytrash, its eyes like burning coals, Mother Shipton the prophetess, well-dwelling serpents and Scrapefoot the Fox, who gatecrashed a bear’s lair. Sometimes mum would sketch odd things in the evenings, straining her eyes by the light of the fire. As a child, I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure, but later, that turned to contempt. She made me despair. I wasn’t interested in her tales or her drawings and it was the 21st century. We had electricity, for goodness sake! It was as if she wanted to row back to an earlier, eerier time, when the fire played out such tales across the ceiling, the characters like shadow puppets, lurking in the cracks in the plaster. No wonder I was in such a hurry to grow up and leave. My current home is a newbuild; a swish apartment in Highgate, with artic white walls and high-performance lighting controlled by personal software which means I can illuminate the place from my I-phone. I never have to step into a dark room.
I am no longer used to the dark. The trees seemed to be bearing down on me. Above me the sky was like a massive 3-D poster, a luminous chart of all the constellations I had ever known. I could even identify some of them; Orion and his belt, the Big Dipper. And the one that looks like a W. Right overhead was suspended the brightest of stars, or perhaps a planet. On the News, there’d been a story about a Great Conjunction, the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, but I hadn’t really been paying attention. Apparently, it hadn’t been seen for centuries and they thought (whoever they were) that this might have been the actual Christmas Star.
Another of my mother’s stories flitted into my mind. In Finland, Artic foxes are said to race across the sky, brushing the mountain peaks with their tails. The resulting snowflakes ignite to form the Aurora Borealis. Like all of my mother’s stories, I’d packed it away with a sigh, impatient to move on, but out here, in the dark, below the vast dome of the sky and amid the hush of the snow, it felt like anything was possible.
I tried to shrug off the notion. Any moment now, the cottage would come into view and I could do my duty and return to my car, which was parked on the main road. And then it would be back to my hotel for a warming mulled wine at the bar. By some strange quirk, the Christmas Star, or whatever that bright shiny thing was, seemed to be pinned right above me, above the cottage, like a bauble on some weird cosmic Christmas tree.
And then I noticed two things. That creature, that flash of silver fur I’d spied earlier, whistled past me again and in my mother’s cottage, lights were blazing. Lights which should not be there. Each pane of glass was a little square of flickering gold in the dark wood…
Hope you’ve enjoyed part 2! While you’re here, do read about my writing journey, my books and my creative writing courses- and do drop me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
I’ve set myself a wee challenge. In an attempt to get my creativity back on track in the New Year, I’m undertaking The Artist’s Way with Dawn Geddes. Elizabeth Frattaroli and Gillian Duff. Thank you for the inspiration, Dawn! There’s no doubt that circumstances have taken a toll on our inner lives, so I’ve set myself the goal of producing a drawing a day for the next few weeks and as a little 2021 gift for my readers I will be serialising a short story!
Entitled Scrapefoot. this is a modern folktale set in a snowy Yorkshire wood.What is going on in the mysterious Eel Beck Cottage and why does Rebecca keep seeing a white fox? I have no idea, because I’m still in the middle of writing it! Watch it unfold RIGHT HERE. I will be uploading a new part every Sunday in January.
So grab a coffee, put your feet up and enjoy! Follow my WordPress site so you don’t miss anything.
Each crunch of my booted feet detonated in the silent winter wood. Fingers of snow dislodged themselves and showered my head, and underneath the white blanket, things cracked and creaked and stuck out at odd angles like broken bones. Those bits of sky visible through the black ribs of the trees were already navy blue. My preferred type of snow was vast, smooth and well-curated; a short ski-lift ride from a smoking glühwein, but this was no holiday. I’d left it too late to come here.
I hadn’t realised how frail my mother had become. The care home seemed vast about her narrow shoulders, a large, bustling place full of strangers. She kept to her room as much as possible, emerging as requested to sit politely at the table three times a day. She ate like a bird, and she felt like a bird, stick-like bones beneath the ragged plumage of her best hand-knit. I held her the way you’d hold a fledgling, half-afraid of doing more harm than good.
“I’m fine,” she would reply to all of my questions, and I had many, many questions. I hadn’t seen her in person for so long. She didn’t perform well on Facetime. Like a child, there was something about the screen that confused her and she couldn’t get emails, of course, unless the manager printed them out for her and even then she couldn’t see to read them. I tried to remember to use a bold font, but often I’d forget. I’ve never hand-written a letter in my life. I think we’ve come too far to go back to that. We might as well return to the quill.
Do you like it here? Is the food good? Are they kind to you? Have you made any friends?
“I’m fine,” was all she would say, and then she’d smile, leaving me none the wiser. She never asked for anything either. I brought her magazines, chocolate, a hand-held fan in case it got too hot, fingerless gloves in case it was too chilly. She accepted them all with grace, but she never asked for anything. Until this morning. The request I’d been trying to avoid, even though I knew it was on the cards.
“One thing you could do while you’re here, Rebecca.” She rested her hand over mine. It was dry, and insubstantial, like an autumn leaf. “I’d be really grateful if you could go up to Eel Beck. Nobody has been there for so long, and I’m worried about it.”
“Yes, of course I will.” I squeezed the crinkled leaf of her hand. My gut shrank a little. Eel Beck may have been my childhood home, but I was in no rush to go back. I’d struggled so hard to be free of it…
Check back next Sunday for Scrapefoot #2 ! Until then, stay safe, my friends…
As a creative writing tutor, I‘ve been supporting fellow writers at every stage of their careers for quite some time now. For me, this began before I became a published author, when I was still studying at the University of Dundee. With the help of my own tutor, Mr Eddie Small, I set up an informal writing group (named ‘Scribblers’) in my home town of Carnoustie. As I recall, we progressed from the ‘snug’ of our local pub to the Scout Hall! I was certainly rather nervous about the whole thing, constantly questioning my ability to teach. I quickly realised that no one has all the ‘answers’ and passion goes a long way in communicating ideas. More than that, I was joined by an amazing bunch of newbie writers who boosted my confidence just as much as I boosted theirs!
One of those early participants was Dawn Geddes, now a successful journalist and Book Correspondent for the Scots Magazine. Fast forward another four or five years, and both Dawn and I found ourselves in cahoots again! Along with our friend and fellow writer Elizabeth Frattaroli, we embarked upon a new venture, Chasing Time Writing Retreats. Based at Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath, we have been running wonderfully quirky writing weekends since 2017, meeting some truly lovely people along the way. It is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to suspend our operation until ‘normal life’ resumes. As they say, we’ll be back!
This Autumn sees a new collaboration for me. I will be teaming up (virtually) with fellow author Nöelle Harrison (The Gravity of Love and The Island Girls) on a sparkly new venture- a first draft bootcamp! You can read all about it HERE but suffice to say it will be a pleasure to welcome you aboard. By pooling our skills, Nöelle and I hope to offer you our uniquely individual take on how to craft a fresh and original work of fiction. We will be offering masterclasses, live stream writing sessions, creative unblocking, meditation and author selfcare- in short, all the tools you will need to get those words on the page and smooth out any bumps in your writing road ahead. Are you up for the challenge? Look forward to seeing you in November!
Previously, I’ve written about my thoughts as a writer in lockdown, when I was finding it difficult to write. My muse had obviously been scrolling through it, and decided to take pity on me, because the drive to create has returned to some degree. My fourth novel Sight Unseenhas been published into a strange, sad new world. I want to take this opportunity to thank Agent Jenny, as always, and my publisher Birlinn/Polygon. Everyone there is working so hard in difficult circumstances to get those books out.
We were aided GREATLY by Kelly Lacey, Jacky Collins (AKA Dr Noir!) and a legion of fantastic bloggers and influencers who managed to get the Sight Unseen word out. If you need help with your literary endeavours, please look up Love Books Tours and Honey and Stag Literary Events. Heartfelt thanks to them all.
So, Book 2 of the Sarah Sutherland series Last Seen (set partially in India) and an outline for Book 3 (set in places I think I’ll be able to get to) are now complete. I’m just thinking about all those shiny new books that were published this summer, sitting hopefully in bookshops nationwide, longing for readers. I also know how difficult it is to persuade ourselves to try and resume a ‘normal’ life.
With the latest new restrictions, life looks set to shrink even further. I go for a coffee with friends just once a week, but since we’re from four separate households, that looks likely to be a casualty. However, being home alone has led to some interesting observations. While I’m missing all the literary events I used to attend, I’m enjoying a break from the almost-constant anxiety of speaking in public and ‘putting myself out there’. I think this will resonate with many writers, yet when we talk about mental health, we tend to skim over this. I always tell my creative writing students that sharing your work with an audience is ‘something you’ll get used to’ because that’s what we tell ourselves, but writers are generally a shy, insecure bunch. As much as I miss the interaction with readers, this breathing space has definitely made me feel a lot calmer.
I don’t have any answers for what’s happening to us, but I’ll share with you some of the little things that are getting me through this and it might help you too:
That first gulp of fresh air whenever you take of your face mask
Sitting in my porch and pretending it’s a conservatory
Fairy lights/lights in bottles/tealights. In Reykjavik, they chase away the dark with lights in trees, lights on the water. My memories of Iceland are not of dark and cold, but of golden reflections.
Tea (always and obviously) in a favourite mug, and taken outside. It’s portable.
Watching the sea instead of a screen.
Going out for a walk just as it’s getting light.
Hearty east coast dwellers who greet you with ‘Quite fresh, today!’ when we’re in the middle of a named storm.
Other people’s dogs. They look so happy.
Discovering really cool stuff in my neighbourhood.
Doing yoga/meditating online (Huge thanks to the Space to BE community- I recommend)
My current ‘Finding Inspiration Through Folklore’ course is drawing to a close. Among other things, we’ve been looking at stones. From beach pebbles to standing monoliths, stone is significant, symbolic and often sacred to us. Think of henges, cathedrals and statues.
You’ll have to allow me a little digression here, because although my blog posts are usually fairly frivolous, how can I write about statues and not mention the seismic changes that we’re now experiencing?
The year 2020 has really shaken us to the core, hasn’t it?When the pandemic first hit, we were fairly resigned to the inevitable lockdown. It made us stop and think, we said. This is a chance to slow down, to reconnect with what’s really important. Family, friends, baking our own bread and playing board games and family quizzes. It made us switch off our screens, go out and meet the neighbours, even if it was only from our doorsteps, and at a safe distance.
As the weeks wore on, despite the heartbreak of lost lives and lost livelihoods, we made peace with the ‘new normal.’ Many of us decided we didn’t actually want to go back to the way we were before.
Since we had so much thinking time, 2020 decided to give us something to really think about. The senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was beamed into our living rooms. There was no escape. We saw it all unfolding, in real time – one of the most horrific and brutal things I think I’ve ever witnessed. A rising, powerful tide of anger rose up and engulfed many nations, and as I write, the figure of Edward Colston, a man I’d never heard of until last week, has just been fished from the bottom of Bristol Harbour. Quite what happens to him now, who can tell, but it’s clear we must find a way to acknowledge the death, suffering and disempowerment he and his ilk were responsible for.
We were right – we cannot go back to the way we were. I feel shaken, by all the things I didn’t know, and all the voices I’m hearing. The words of historian Kate Williams really resonated with me.
I’m going to paraphrase, but she said it’s always been the powerful elite who
‘choose who we should venerate.’ The ‘city fathers’ of Bristol (and every other city) could have chosen to honour an abolitionist, Williams suggests, such as Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who dedicated his life to the abolition movement and in 1789 published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
I read this book when I was a second-time-around student, and it was my first real glimpse into the horror of the slave trade and Britain’s part in it. Strangely, we’d barely touched on this subject at school, which is really part of the problem, isn’t it?
But let me get back to my starting point. Stone. This time last year- 2019 seems like a different planet- I was conducting research into witch trials for my forthcoming book, Sight Unseen. As we know, thousands of women and some men – we don’t know the full extent- were summarily executed for witchcraft on these shores. They suffered terrible torture and deprivation before being forced to confess. What has this got to do with stone and statues? In my research, I came across this encouraging article about a proposed national memorial to those accused of witchcraft.
We have many wrongs to right, but perhaps the democratising of our nation’s statues might be a good starting point.
Who would you choose to commemorate?
Below is one of my favourite stone memorials.
Maggie Wall’s Monument at Dunning, Perthshire. The graffiti says
‘Maggie Wall burnt here 1657 as a witch’.
Although the name Maggie Wall does not appear in the parish records, and there is no reference to her execution, writer and researcher Geoff Holder discovered that a field named Maggies or Muggies Walls was known in the 18th c and in later maps, a Maggie Walls Wood appears.
The monument to the unknown Maggie is in effect a monument to all of those souls caught up in the hysteria and horror of the witch trials.