Saturday, 29 April 2017

Raring for a Grow-Bag

A violet, self-seeded at the pond's edge. And, below, a snakeshead.

I watched the little wren peck its way across the pavement in front of my kitchen door, then vanish into the thickets of grass around the pond. A moment later, it flew out, trailing a long wisp of dried grass behind it.

Twice I've seen the female blackbird with a beak so stuffed with grass that she seemed to have one of the more flamboyant RAF moustaches. Nesting is definately happening not too far away.

Below, Marmalade and alchemy - the heucharia called 'marmalade' and alchemillia mollis.

I have another heucharia called 'Ginger Ale.' I used to have one called 'Creme Caramel' which I loved but a bad winter killed it.

The fruit trees are all doing well. The crab-apple is weighed down with pink and white buds. At the moment it is wrapped up in fleece to protect them from the sudden cold snap. When the wind blows (which is does quite a bit, up here on the Rowley Hills) the tree mows and gibbers at the top of the garden like a Victorian ghost.

The cherry and the Bardesy apple also have flowers or buds and are also wrapped up. The plum and the two hazels have so far produced nothing but leaves but they seem cheerful.

My windowsill is filled with tomato seedlings. When I look at them I can't help feeling that they are excitedly raring to get outside into a grow-bag. They seem to be waving frondy little leaves in the air.

In the cold greenhouse I have a tray of sunflower seedlings which I hope will grow to ten feet tall. They have big, thick, rounded leaves - right bruisers compared to the tomatoes. I shall plant some in my front garden, to astonish and intimidate the passers-by.

My romanescues are coming through and I'm thinking of planting at least one of them in my front garden too, just for the way they look. I think they're like something from another planet - when, of course, they are just part of the ordinary amazingness of this one.

Fractal romanescue - Jon Sullivan - Wikipedia

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A Review of A Sterkarm Tryst by Penny Dolan

Penny Dolan is a wonderful writer whose books include the gripping and beautiful romp, 'A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E'.  So I'm thrilled to have this generous review from her, as she is no slouch in the writing stakes and knows what she is talking about.

 You can read my review of A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E here.



A STERKARM TRYST by Susan Price, reviewed by Penny Dolan

Susan Price’s long-awaited YA novel A STERKARM TRYST has now been published. 
So, because I loved the world of the 16th Century Border Reivers that was brilliantly evoked in the two earlier titles - THE STERKARM HANDSHAKE and A STERKARM KISS - I bought a copy of this third novel, and was not disappointed. 
Earlier events and confrontations are woven lightly into the plot, allowing new readers and re-readers slip easily into this particular storyline. This is science fiction with excellent time-travelling!
The trilogy has an interesting premise: James Windsor, a late 21st Century entrepreneur, intended to use his company’s Time Tube to colonise and exploit the unspoilt lands of the past. 
Windsor thought his men would easily secure such a backward territory - and then they met the Sterkarms. Of all the feuding families in the Debatable Lands, the Sterkarms are the most treacherous: everyone knows that a Sterkarm handshake might promise friendship with the right hand while the left hand carries a blade to slide between your ribs. 
At first, the Sterkarms treat the 21st century intruders with wary respect, deciding these strangers must be Elves. After all, they can appear and disappear, dress in unknown materials, and carry magic pills that take away pain. And from these "Elvenkind" springs the relationship that stands at the heart of the novels.
Andrea Mitchell, a 21st Century anthropologist, finds the love of her life in Per Sterkarm, the family heir, and at the start of THE STERKARM TRYST, she has come through time to her lover again, though uncertain of any welcome.
Known as his "Entraya", his Elf-May, she has a hard task. She has to warn Per and the Sterkarm family that a deadly new enemy has entered their lands. Windsor has time-travelled a group of Sterkarms from an almost parallel time dimension into this one. These are warriors who know this wild landscape as they do, and who fight with matching ferocity and who look just as they do. They will know all the Sterkarm tricks, and Windsor is behind them.
How can Andrea even explain this phenomenon? 
How can a Sterkarm attack another to whom - it seems - they owe loyalty? 
And how, I wondered, can a writer manage two almost-identical casts?
Susan Price does. Carefully, scene by scene, she moves the action forward, resolving what the reader wants resolved, and ending with treachery getting what it deserves. The headings keep the story straight and satisfying in its conclusions.
However, I must say that the plot was not the only thing that made A STERKARM TRYST a compelling experience for me. Within the storytelling, I heard rich echoes of the traditions, superstitions and legends of the Border Ballads, as well as the languages and voices of the region and its past. Humour is there too, within the pages, as well as moments when the differences between the present and the past are suddenly very evident.
Moreover, the dramatic landscape of the book is recognisably that of the Borders, an area of wild uplands and uncertain weather, a place where cattle-raids were then part of the culture, and where hunger was a constant threat.
I enjoyed being within that way of life, following the descriptions of an active community and culture, along with glimpses of cooking methods, housekeeping and textiles, herbal lore, fear and superstition. Captured in the writing too, was the importance of respectful behaviour and right words and acting according to your status: the sense of a time and place where any perceived insult might mean death.
A STERKARM TRYST feels a very physical story. It moves through camps and hovels and crowded stone towers, past the stink of unwashed clothes and the gutting of meat and the hard lives and gory deaths of men and women: this is not a benign or moral fairy-tale. Besides, survival depends on a reputation for cunning and treachery, especially when there are two lots of Sterkarms riding out, as well as Windsor’s thugs and their 21st Century weapons.
Yet, reading the book from the comfort of home - and despite all the violence - it is hard not to admire the warmth and energy and the bonds of family loyalty and protection within the Sterkarm clan. Like Andrea/Entraya, I found the Sterkarms beguiling, and welcomed the many characters that Susan Price has created – Toorkild, Lady Isobel, Sweet Milk, Gobby, Mistress Crosar, Joan Grannam, Davy, Cho and more - each one entirely convincing, for all their faults.
Especially that blue-eyed, fair-haired hero, Per May Sterkarm. And Cuddy. I have to mention them. Read the book and you’ll discover why.
Penny Dolan.
All three titles, including THE STERKARM TRYST, are published by OpenPress in a handsomely-matching set of covers or as e-books.