Monday, 24 December 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone!

I would like to wish all my readers the season's greetings.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Spam, spam, spam...

Due to platefuls of spam lately, it's possible that e-mails you have sent me have been identified as Junk by my computer. In the absence of a good fire-breather mail system, please try again, and give your e-mail a heading that makes it clear you know something about one of the books. Anything that looks as though you're trying to sell me something will be dumped unread...

Saturday, 10 November 2007

And then there are the deer...

When I go adder-watching, I often see roe deer. Because I'm standing so still, and keeping so quiet, they often don't see me until the last moment. They veer to one side and go bounding off as though the hounds of hell are at their heels, clearly horrified by their lapse of concentration. The best way watch creatures as timid as these is to disguise your outline, so that they don't see you as a human being. I photographed these two from behind a tree.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

More snakes...

It seems that there's an interloper at Adder Mansions... This rather handsome grass snake has been basking in the late autumn sunshine, not too far away from the pile of brushwood the adders call Home. It's a bit shy about having its photograph taken, however, and doesn't hang around for long.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Lilywithers introduces herself

Hiya, kids, colts, fillies and foals!

My name's Lilywithers, and I'm taking over from Pewtermane as agony aunt. I'm a lot younger than the old master - I've only just completed my Thinking is Good for You course - but I'm raring to go. My special interests are mythical singers; unlike Fuzzy, I'm not into squawk music. I think Led Zeppelin and the Arctic Monkeys are really smooth. So let's get started.

Dear Pewtermane,
Help! I am a Japegrin and my eyes are starting to turn blue! I'm trying to find a potion to change them back; I was considering Snakeweed's potions, but I'm not sure I trust him... He's scary.

Your friend, Rainflower

Dear Rainflower,
What a cool name! Names are like, crucial. You’re dead right not to trust Snakeweed’s potions. If I were you, I’d listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra records because there's an old brittlehorn saying - like cures like.
To find out Frank Sinatra’s nickname, click here:
and look under Background information.

pp Pewtermane

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Adding some more wildlife photos...

Today I achieved a lifetime's ambition by seeing a pair of adders in the wild. September is a good time for spotting snakes in England, as the weather has begun to get a little cooler and they are more sluggish. Although adders are poisonous, and a bite should always be treated seriously, there have only been 12 deaths from adder bites in the last 100 years. Snakes are far more frightened of people than we realise, and they will escape at the first opportunity.

I do like reptiles; I think they're really beautiful, and when, eventually, these two slithered off it looked as though someone had poured them away like water. Adders in England hibernate each winter, and a lot of them may use the same place. They don't lay eggs; they give birth to live young.

There are two very good websites I can recommend:

And I've just discovered that snakes don't hibernate, they brumate... For information on this and diapause, estivation, and torpor, go to

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Frigate birds and fruit bats

I have been to Mexico this past week, birdwatching and visiting the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It’s the first time I’ve returned to Central America since I went to Costa Rica and had the inspiration for The Divide, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered. The pelicans and the frigate birds were the most memorable sightings, soaring over the hotel with an elegance and an expertise that left me awestruck.

The most exciting part of the trip was snorkelling in an underground river system, accessed through a cenote, which is a sinkhole filled with crystal clear water. As you go further in the caves are decorated with the most exquisite stalactites and stalagmites, and cave swallows and fruit bats make their homes in the rocky roof.

I was very impressed by the organisers ( who are committed to eco-tourism and supporting sustainable development for the Mayan people who live there today. You are not allowed to swim if you’re wearing insect repellent, suntan lotion or perfume, as it pollutes the water. My guide, Markus, was a turtle expert. We kayaked out to a reef and swam in the Caribbean with loggerhead turtles, parrotfish and a stingray! And as a final treat, in the airport gardens, I saw a pair of Morpho butterflies. Those of you who’ve read The Divide may remember the line on page 10… A Morpho butterfly the size of a tea-plate, its wings the most astonishing metallic blue…

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Wasp Spider

Today I found one of the most beautiful spiders we have in England - Argiope bruennichi. She weaves a large orb web, with an amazing zig-zag pattern in it. The male is very tiny, and may only be a quarter of the size of the female, who can be as large as two centimetres in length. You can see an insect she has caught for her dinner, and wrapped in silk. Of course, it could be her mate... This spider is sometimes known as the Wasp Spider, because of her striped markings, and she's completely harmless to humans. I've never seen one before, so I was thrilled to come across her in Nonsuch Park, in Surrey. I left her exactly where she was, of course. If there weren't any spiders we'd all be overrun with insects in no time at all!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Rain, floods, and new reviews

We've had some really bad weather in the UK just lately. There has been lots and lots of rain, and some flooding, and because of this we had to drink bottled water for 24 hours! The wet weather has slowed down the growth of many plants, but it's been heaven on earth for the slugs and snails.

I took a photograph of this baby robin enjoying one of the brief spells of sunshine that we've had. Robins are very tame, and they often follow you round the garden, hoping that you'll turn over a juicy little caterpillar...

Alan Brown has just posted a new review of The Divide on his site, Just For Kids Who Love Books. This is the link:

It's a really nice site, simple to use and easy to read. Take a look - there are lots of other book reviews up there, all written by kids aged 8 - 14, with useful pages such as how to write a letter to an author.

Of course, if the author has a website you can always send an email instead, and you'll find plenty of links to them there as well.

There's also a new review by Mark Robson on his own site, which I recommend you explore.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Writing classes

I shall be teaching two creative writing courses in the autumn term, starting in the week beginning 17th September. One will be at Therfield School, in Leatherhead, on Monday evenings, from 7.30 - 9.30. Details can be found on the WEA site.

The other will be at The Malden Centre, from 1.00 - 3.00 on Thursday afternoons. The Malden Centre is in Surrey, and can be reached by train from Waterloo, or bus from Kingston upon Thames.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Review and Interview

There's a new review of The Divide, and an author interview on

Monday, 21 May 2007

In reply to Ryan's email

Dear Ryan,
I've been unable to reply to your email, as it keeps being rejected.

As Pewtermane is still meditating on the true nature of an itch (he’s tackled fleas, lice and heat rash so far) he remains unavailable to answer your problems. The fleas got a little out of hand, so at the moment he feels he has enough problems of his own. He has, however, asked me to deal with anything that crops up. So, Ryan, in answer to your question about how you change your ancestry the answer is: you can’t. You could always lie about it, of course, which is probably what Pewtermane meant. You would also like to know what’s wrong with being part japegrin. Nothing whatsoever, as long as you like the company of sinistroms. They prefer japegrins as masters, as japegrins are more likely to order them to do something really violent. If you wish to take this discussion any further, please do it through comments.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

A Plug for the Countryside

They've discovered, apparently, that a walk in the countryside lifts depression. It's also an excellent way of solving writing problems, because you don't have many distractions. We're so used to getting electronic information in sight and sound alone that the opportunity to use all your senses at once can be really stimulating. I've come up with names for characters, plot twists, titles... Today (Sunday) I heard a cuckoo, saw some deer, smelt some flowers, felt the sun on my face, and ate a really yummy almond cake halfway through the walk. Not to mention basking in the warm glow of smugness at the amount of exercise I'd had without it seeming like a trial. Go for walk in the real world, and create fantasy ones when you get back!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Elizabeth in Ukraine

During April I attended a conference on children's literature in Ukraine. Initially, I flew to Krakow, in Poland, and stayed with my relatives until I was joined a few days later by some of the other delegates. We then caught the train to L'viv, crossing the border to Ukraine at Przemysl. In L'viv, some students have been translating the first few chapters of The Divide into Ukrainian - you can see them on the left. Everyone was very kind and helpful, and the food was wonderful! Although I don't remember much of the Russian I learned at school, it was a big help when I had to decipher street names written in Cyrillic... After the conference finished I took the train to Kyiv (formerly Kiev), which has some wonderful architecture - and the best Metro system I've ever encountered. Above is a photo of me in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which means Independence Square. And Hello to Russell from Leicester, who owns the whole Divide trilogy and came onstage after my reading in the Palace of Arts in L'viv to introduce himself. How bizarre was that?