Writers crave good reviews even more than they crave chocolate cake or a really fantastic pen. This is the first one I got, dug up from the archives…
I admit it, I’m a page-corner turner-overer*. I know this crime is almost equivalent to murder in the eyes of dedicated bookmark users, but I have my reasons.
Books are such tactile things; they feel good in your hands and all those wonderful words you are holding up have a pleasing weight. I like my books to feel like they are being read. The books I read over and over again know they are loved because the edges of their pages don’t lie flat, and the spines are flexible and crooked with affection. There might be the ring of a tea-mug stain on the cover. Or a red circle from a wine glass. The crevices might be crackly with sand where I’ve read on the beach, or the pages warped with water where I’ve read in the bath.
My favourite books have a physical personality all of their own and bear the scars of my love. (The one shown above is my copy of ‘Northern Lights’ by Phillip Pullman.)
Which was why I felt truly happy to find
So awesome to hear that my lovely Blackwood book is still sending out ripples and appearing in dreams! I remember the first young girl who read it, aged 14, reporting that she’d had nightmares – but ‘good ones’!
This morning I woke up from a dream I could not remember, save that part of it was the haunting poem from Jo Danilo’s ‘The Blackwood Crusade’.
It is a very touching poem. Here is is in full.
‘Tis just the beginning of you and me
As we wander by the stream.
You on one side, I on the other,
Just water in between.
I’ll sing to you as time goes by,
As winter melts to spring.
As flowers bloom, and die again,
So to life we’ll cling.
I’ll sing to you as the river floods,
And we’re poured into the sea.
And then I’ll hold you in my arms
This is the song that the joint hero, Silas, sings to his baby sister, a strangely precocious and magical infant who seems to come, like the rest of Silas’ family, to a tragic end in the river.
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When somebody totally gets what you were trying to say, understands how your world works, and bonds with characters you gave birth to, it’s like a little bit of sparkly magic.
Within a few moments, the kitchen hands had a fire lit. Free and unburdened by work, there seemed to be a magic about them tonight on the Eve of May. Sparks seemed to fly from their hands as if they were witches.
The kitchen girls produced food as if from nowhere. Their hands were empty and then suddenly full. Of things like a whole clove-studded ham, freshly baked loaves, mincemeat pies and honey cakes.
The washerwomen unfurled the largest of blankets, which seemed to float over the glade like a ship’s pennant before landing in the perfect picnic square.
The cleaning girls pulled wooden sticks from the fire and touched them to a million candles in a million lanterns. They peppered the clearing and hung about the trees, as bright as captured stars.
The village girls arrived bearing jars of jams and pickles, and jugs of ale from the tavern, their cheeks rosy and warm from the walk through the dark woods. They greeted the castle workers with whoops of joy and tender embraces. Most of them were related, after all. Mothers, daughters, aunts and cousins.
Catalina was awestruck. She had never seen anything so magical or so perfect. It was hard to connect these people with the downtrodden, subservient characters that ordinarily toiled in her world.
Someone showed her to a space on the blanket. Another handed her a silver goblet, full to the brim with ruby red wine. She drank half of it down immediately. The youngest serving girl, Joan, approached her, goaded by all the others. She brought out a crown of hawthorn blossom from behind her back.
Dropping a curtsy, she said: “We wish to crown you the May Queen, my lady.”
“Me?” Catalina replied, delighted. “It would be the greatest of honours.”
She rose up onto her knees and bowed her head solemnly. Joan placed the blossom crown on her head and everyone clapped.
“What do I have to do?” Catalina asked Maude, her nursemaid.
“You have to start the proceedings,” Maude replied. “Oh, look, my daughter’s here!”
And then Maude abandoned her. But Catalina had been waiting for many years for Maude to abandon her, so she didn’t care one bit.
“What do we do first?” she called out to the nearest girls. “And can we please do everything?”
But nobody had chance to answer her because, just then, there was a strange rumbling noise in the glade. There was a lot of ‘shushing’, and the women fell quickly silent, listening hard. Catalina stared along the hidden path to the right of The Tree as the rumbling came closer.
“It’s Boboli!” A washerwoman exclaimed.
She was greeted with disbelief.
“It can’t be…”
“Don’t be ridiculous…”
“He isn’t due this year…”
But the rumbling came nearer and, just as Catalina’s eyes were burning with the strain of staring, a black horse walked into the clearing pulling a black covered wagon, on which was written in gold the legend ‘Boboli ~ Who Knows All That Is Worth Knowing’.
In which Dr Williams comes across another strange petition in the intriguing medieval Blackwood archives…
Witches don’t exist. Not the ones who fly around on broomsticks cackling at the moon and turning people into frogs. That was all made up by some nasty men to get rid of little old ladies who knew a lot about plants and healing, but not much about the Lord. Of course, that’s a very broad sweep over the subject because I can’t go into it now.
In which Dr Williams comes across another strange petition in the Blackwood archives…
“You are my champion,” Silas told Christina, blushing a little. “My family all died, and here you are seeking revenge, not just for yourself, but for me, and others like me. You have enough courage for the whole of Blackwood. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ because I may not have another chance.”
She looked flattered and amazed at the same time, then examined the remains of her flower. “Nobody has ever said anything as nice as that before. I thought everybody saw me as a blood-hungry madwoman, driven insane by my curse.”
Meanwhile, Silas was lobbing half of the faerie cake into the river.
“SNAPDRAGONS!” he shouted.
Tapping his foot on the lush grass of the riverbank, he waited for a response. The river was very deep and fast and he did not relish the idea of swimming across it. The very idea struck fear into him when he thought of his father’s hand disappearing into the raging grey water as it had carried him away once upon a time. Still, he was prepared to do it if…
“’Ere I am. Don’t be going getting your tunic in a twist,” came a familiar voice, gurgling up from the depths.