Was Maid Marion an Essex Girl?

Matilda Fitzwalter?
Matilda Fitzwalter?

I don’t remember now where I found the story that Maid Marion was buried in Essex. The internet is a wonderful, rich and unreliable source of information. I did however find various versions of the story online, and a photo of the church. With a husband who can find anywhere in this country with an Ordinance Survey map (no Satnavs for him!) I thought we had a good chance of locating the tomb. The biggest problem would probably be getting into a country church.

Surely this is a film set?

Little Dunmow is ridiculously pretty. Surely it’s a film set? We saw no-one in a bonnet or top hat, however, or indeed doublet and hose. A short walk following a sign-post brought us to this little building. What serves now as the parish church is part of the former priory, a small establishment but an impressive building from the information inside. And yes, it was actually really easy to get in. I’ve always felt too embarrassed to knock on a stranger’s door and ask for the key, even though the notice on the door of a church often says as much, but confidence comes with age, and the owner of an enthusiastic spaniel handed the key over with no questions asked at all.

Little Dunmow Priory Church

Inside, we found two tombs and one memorial. The memorial is to Robert Fitzwalter, leader of the baronial opposition to King John, one of the sureties of Magna Carta, and bearer of this wonderful title: ‘Marshall of the Army of God and Holy Church, and Founder of our Civil Liberty.’ 

Memorial to Robert Fitzwalter
Memorial to Robert Fitzwalter

The tomb nearest the door is identified as Walter Fitzwalter, who died 1432, and his wife Elizabeth, nee Chiddock, who died 1464.

Walter and Elizabeth Fitzwalter
Walter and Elizabeth Fitzwalter

Local tradition says the stone effigy lying with hands clasped and eyes staring at the roof beams is Matilda, the daughter of Robert Fitzwalter. In 1212 he was part of a conspiracy to kill King John, and escaped trial by fleeing to France, where he told the French king he’d risen up against his master because John had attempted to seduce his daughter. The local legend, recorded by Philip Morant, historian for Essex, says she lived at Dunmow, and was poisoned when she refused the king’s love.

Traces of the poison that killed Lady Matilda?
Traces of the poison that killed Lady Matilda?

Meanwhile, we have an Elizabethan play written by Anthony Munday about Robert Earl of Huntingdon, whose alias was Robin Hood, and whose wife was Matilda, daughter of Robert Fitzwalter. The nineteenth century antiquarian Joseph Hunter identified these two as being Robert Hood, a yeoman from Wakefield, Yorkshire, and Matilda, who joined him in Barndsdale Forest after the Battle of Boroughbridge.

This claim on Robin Hood by Yorkshire will doubtless outrage the good folk of Nottingham. The rest of us will be noting that there are two problems here. Firstly, the Essex tradition has Matilda dying, and the Munday play has her fleeing to the forest. And secondly, the Battle of Boroughbridge was 1322, more than a century after Robert’s struggle with King John. Besides, the headdress and gown worn by the lady on the tomb are quite obviously late Medieval. A more likely identification is that she could be the mother of Walter, who lies on the next tomb.

It’s rather a dull solution, though, isn’t it? I wish there was more to back up the stories. We do have a King John tradition further south in the country. He apparently owned much of the land here as a hunting chase, and a local house is said to be his hunting lodge.

King John's Hunting Lodge, Thundersley
King John’s Hunting Lodge, Thundersley
St Peter's Church, Thundersley
St Peter’s Church, Thundersley

The parish church, according to an account which has more holes in it than a colander, was burned down Christmas Day 1215 for defying the Pope’s ban on services. The catchment school is named after King John, who I always think is quite an unsuitable role model for our young people. Even putting these traditions together, there isn’t much evidence.

But hey, I’m a writer, not a historian. I love the idea that Maid Marion was an Essex girl, part of the struggle for English liberty on several fronts. There’s a story here, I’m sure.





In search of the Vikings – Oslo 2108

106. Hylestad Stave church portal, church demolished 17c, Sigurd legend (2)
Sigurd licks his finger while roasting the dragon

Norsemen featured heavily in my childhood reading: mostly Henry Treece and some C. Walter Hodges, with a bit of Rosemary Sutcliff and Jill Paton Walsh. Looking back, this was probably because my mother bought books that linked into my history curriculum – I was home-schooled – but the early years of British history particularly attracted me. An odd word, that, ‘attract.’ I was aware their behaviour included enslaving, killing and robbing, but my books, fiction and history text books, were written for children and did not go into detail, and maybe as a child in a safe, loving home I didn’t really think about the horror faced by the men, women and children who suffered the fury of the Norsemen.

I will make my disclaimer again: I haven’t researched for this article beyond visiting the sites and reading the plaques carefully, so don’t treat me as a historian. I haven’t done extensive research into current thinking about Viking behaviour. What strikes me each time I visit a country inhabited by the descendants of this fearsome race is how civilised they are. The people are polite, kind, and more than tolerant of tourists who can’t speak their language, their streets are clean and their children well-behaved. Our visit to Oslo, and to the museum of polar exploration, only served to enforce this impression.

Oslo spreads itself round several harbours on a low shelf in the south of Norway. Its reach is wide, but from the promenade you can see wooded islands rising out of the water, and a trip to the end of the Metro line takes you to Nordmarka, the ‘city park,’ miles of mossy woodland where you can follow the broad track with families and dog-walkers or strike off into paths laced with roots and studded with slippery rocks. Autumn colours of yellowing leaves lightened the green.

67. city forest Nordmarka woods, Frognerseteren

The city centre itself is, to my untutored eye, a mix of 19c  and 20c: apartments blocks  with fine frontages  in russet, caramel or dove grey; a few brutalist wonders; and the shining flanks of the Barcode, a set of modern towers that show the best of Scandinavian design. It positively rattles with museums, celebrating its history and culture. I’m going to run through some highlights in historical order, rather than in the order we saw them.

The Viking Museum took a trip out by bus to reach. Here, four burial ships are displayed proudly, with the goods that had accompanied the dead – yes, and some bones that survived of the two women buried in one of them. The boats are wide and shallow, the curve of their prows proud and graceful. Most of the excavated items were wooden, and often intricately carved, serpents weaving  loops with warriors. Dragons? Yes, I found most of the dragon heads familiar to me from a childhood blessed with well-illustrated history books. There were two for a tent frame, one for a bedpost and four that astonished me for being so small. I’d always thought these fearsome carvings to be huge beasts designed for the prow head. Not one of these would have fitted on a shop, and the last four are thought to be meant for a burial rite, with metal rattles attached to them to clash and ring. Many of the goods were practical, including a milk churn for the two women. The dead weren’t going to go hungry, but I do wonder how the women felt when they woke up and realised that being dead only meant more housework.

38. Viking ship museum; barrel
A nice little job for the buried women
27. Viking ship museum
The Oseberg Ship
29. Viking ship museum; dragon head, quite small, possibly musical instrument
Dragon head – much smaller than I imagined

Perhaps it was the women who persuaded the Viking nations to convert to Christianity, not just to keep up with the neighbours but for a better afterlife. It must have changed the values of at least some of the citizens of Oslo, because its patron saint is valued for protecting a slave woman – and being killed in the process. St Hallvard is honoured in the manholes all over the city – and doubtless elsewhere, but this is where we found him. It’s thanks to Google Images that I traced the legend. Hallvard was a merchant, just setting out on his boat when a slave woman came running up to the bank, screaming for help. She’d been accused, wrongly, she said, of robbing a home, and three men were after her. Hallvard believed her and took her on board. But the three men chased them, shot at them, and killed them both, tying a millstone to Hallvard’s neck to make his body sink. Saints, however, are known not for being safe from violence but for the curious behaviour of their remains, and Hallvard’s body floated. His friends found him and buried him. On the manhole cover you can see he holds the arrows in one hand and the millstone in another, while the woman lies beneath his feet.

55. St Hallvard manhole cover, one of many many (2)
St Hallvard showing off the arrows and millstone

Conversion to Christianity did not mean abandoning those dragons. In the Historical Museum a room is dedicated to the 12c onwards, with saintly figures and surrounds saved from those impressive buildings, the stave churches. Once more, serpents writhe through the wood grain and their huge eyes gleam in the shine of the material. Here you can see the church porch that features the  blood-and-thunder story of Sigurd, immortalised by Wagner in the Ring Cycle. The story starts at the bottom right as we look at it, with Sigurd forging his sword, and moves up the right,  across to bottom left and up to the top with Gunnar in the pit of snakes, being killed by Atli (Attila the Hun) for the famous treasure of the Nibelung.

104. Hylestad Stave church portal, church demolished 17c, Sigurd legend (3)
Sigurd kills the dragon
116. model of stave church
Model of a traditional stave church: I asked my husband to make me one but he said no


The shopping centre is named after a king of Norway who was actually French. Karl Johan started life as Jean Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals. He was offered the crown of Sweden after the French retreat from Moscow, and went on to lead the Swedes against Bonaparte. In 1814 Sweden forced Norway to accept him as king of their country too. This might seem a bad start to his reign over the Norse, but he appears to have been popular in his time, and firmly on the side of his subjects rather than his former master. His palace displays itself in a wide park and he sits astride his horse looking over the heads of the tourists, who come to watch the guards in their dark uniform marching up and down in front of the steps.

57. Karl Johan in front of Royal Palace
Karl Johan, freshly permed

The Fram Museum, a short walk away from the Viking Museum, really shows a different side to the Norwegian character. Whether or not their ancestors were savage robbers, Norway can be proud of Roald Amundsen. The makers of the museum certainly are, and it would seem rightly so. Amundsen led various expeditions into wild territories, and his success in the Antarctic was thanks to patient preparation and an openness to learning more and more about survival techniques. He and his crew befriended Inuit locals as they prepared for their journey to the North Pole, and through mutual respect and trust gained valuable knowledge on how to live in arctic conditions. Brave, resilient and humane – now that’s a hero to be proud of.

21. Fram, Polar exploration ship
The Polar Ship Fram

Three days in the city and it was time to go home, with a new respect for this country just across the water from me. We will be coming back!


Book review: The Sophie Rathenau Mysteries


Do you ever read an enthusiastic book review and wonder if the reviewer is hoping to get something out of writing fulsome praise? This, dear reader, is not the case. At least, I hope not. I am, I confess, in the middle of an exchange of manuscripts with the author just now: I will read and give helpful feedback on the manuscript of book 3 in the series while he will do the same for my hopefully-debut novel. But I did check out the sample of the first book in the series before contacting the author, because I didn’t have the energy to read and comment on a whole novel that didn’t appeal to me. While I was waiting for him to get back to me I bought that first book. And the second. And the collaborative anthology that includes a third Sophie mystery. (And in case you are concerned at this lavish spending, dear reader, be assured that on Kindle the combined price of all 3 would buy me less than two barista coffees.)

The Prussian Despatch

1772. Sophie Rathenau, adrift in 18c Vienna, only has a few coins and her dead husband’s pistol. To pay the rent and keep starvation at bay, she advertises as a finder of lost things. Now she has no less than three people approaching her asking her to look for the same thing – a lost despatch of a sensitive nature. She is thrown into a web of lies, crime and intrigue. Or maybe she throws herself in?

Sophie is one of the most engaging characters I have encountered in a book for a long time. Feisty and brave, with a tongue that gets her into trouble, her brain works ten times as fast as mine in working out who is doing what – but she doesn’t always get it right, and she has a self-destructive streak, thanks to a deep unhappiness over her past. She has clearly had adventures before, and while part of me wishes the author had started the series at the outset of her career, it gives her extra depth and the story extra interest for us as we are given snippets about her past.

Vienna in the eighteenth century, its sights and sounds and smells, its fine buildings and its rough poverty, is drawn vividly. The story tears along at great speed, and I found it hard to keep up with what was going on. To be fair, though, I am like that in crime dramas on television as well. Plus, I didn’t realise at first that there was a glossary of terms and names which made things clearer. There are scenes at the end where characters talk and more is explained about what really happened to the dispatch. Besides, I was so interested in Sophie and her world that I wanted to keep reading.

In fact, when I’d finished The Prussian Despatch I did something that I never do normally, being a professional procrastinator. I went straight on to buy the next book in the series.

The Lay Brothers

Sophie Rathenau has had to flee Vienna after double-crossing the Chancellor of the Habsburg Empire. She’s working as a barmaid in Munich and hating it. When she loses her job, and her friend disappears after becoming involved with a Jesuit priest, Sophie picks up her pistol again and gets herself entangled with an unscrupulous conspiracy.

A new background gives this series a chance to pit Sophie against new dangers in a new setting, and once again the alley ways and taverns of an eighteenth century city are brought to life so you can almost see and smell them. Old villains and new, old friends and new mean Sophie will need to constantly question who to trust. The trouble is, she is not only brave and warm-hearted but also very vulnerable as the anniversary nears of the death of her beloved husband. Will she trust the right comrades?

The Sophie Rathenau mysteries move along at lightning speed, and as with the last one I had to go back and re-read many of the passages to follow the twists and turns of the plot, but as the books are fairly short this was not a chore. What really makes the series, for me, though, is the character of Sophie. Is she an anachronism? I’d suggest not. As well as plenty of compliant housewives, a few women were also pirates and highway robbers: Sophie just happens to be less corrupt than those adventurers. But anachronism or not, she is a layered character with mixed motives, a complicated background and a whirlwind of emotions that sometimes threaten to destroy her.

Sweet Nightingale

This one is a short story, fitting in timeframe between novels 2 and 3, and can be found in the anthology Winter’s Edge, an Anthology of Historical Fiction. Familiar characters feature in a new adventure. For a change, Sophie’s plan works right first time and the broken heart is not hers.

I’ve found out the author currently plans five more books for the series, news that gives me great pleasure. My only complaint is that I’m going to have to wait for the rest of the series to be written!


I had fun with the photo. A Kindle doesn’t make for a great picture in itself (the cover is best in colour, but the screen version is only black and white) so I copied the fashion for what my daughter informs me is a flat lay (Why? It’s not flat) and is borrowed from makeup Instagram posts. The beer bottle is neither eighteenth century nor Viennese, but the picture was brought back from Vienna by said daughter and, I think, features St Peter’s Church. It took quite a lot of angling to eliminate miscellaneous 21c household paraphernalia from the frame, but hopefully I will remember the ideal positioning for another time.

Edit: the author has told me the picture actually features in Chapter 31. I checked it out. Sophie is outside the church ready for a dangerous rendezvous when a friend comes out and tells her, “There’s a man I don’t like the look of. Tall and swarthy, with a moustache like an Albanian.”

“He’s Turkish,” says Sophie.

Writer’s Progress – revising

What editing should look like. I didn’t get much written that day, but the coffee was excellent.

I’m editing. Again. I’ve just finished an edit checking plot consistency, at the same time tidying up repeated or unnecessary words or unclear sentences. I’m bored with revising. I want to get a novel out there, and write something else. But I don’t think my book is the best it could be.

Now, I might be aiming too high. As someone who’s never paid more than £10 for a writing course, and has had only stories published, it’s probably unrealistic of me to expect to write smooth prose with cunning leitmotifs, brilliant plotting and masterfully handled unreliable narrators. BUT – there are certain things I really need to get in place if my book’s got half a chance of being read by an agent: a plot without holes, a protagonist desperate for something, high stakes. Why haven’t I got these in place already?

What my editing actually looks like, only it got messier

I started off fairly confidently. I had a theme, a story-line with a start, middle and resolution, each with some detail. But when I’d written it all, it was far too short to interest any traditional publisher. It was only a novella, in fact.

So I followed the advice of a writer friend and added a sub-plot. This got me up to a very thin novel.

I asked my husband to read it. He did. He liked lots of it, made various suggestions for improvement, and expressed incredulity at my plot twist. It relied on my protagonist being young and naïve, having grown up in a sheltered upbringing. But no, it was too far a stretch. Oh. Half my story replied on this twist.

So a significant rewrite was needed. Draft three.

Trying out my revised chapters on Scribophile, an online forum (this site has been invaluable to me) I found I had a new issue. Readers assumed that, because my protagonist was fourteen, it was a YA novel. I didn’t feel I could put it out as YA seeing as the sub-plot was only of interest to adults, but I was very attached now to this sub-plot and didn’t want to abandon it. Besides, I didn’t see myself as a YA author – it wasn’t the way I wanted to go. The solution? Upgrade the sub-plot to a parallel plot.

In one respect, I saw this could work out very well. To complement the foundling searching for a mother I had a mother who had lost a daughter. I enjoyed weaving the two together. The woman who protects my first protagonist became the sister of the second protagonist. The pauper boy who gives the first protagonist directions for escaping her cruel mistress became the son of the beggar who gives a dangerous illness to the second protagonist. However, the sub-plot had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight. It was planned thinly, because it was quite thin – being secondary. As a sub-plot, Meriah’s story lacked shape, drama and high stakes. So I added and added to it. This built up the word count, but now I had a bit of a mishmash. I had a ghost story, a romance, a mystery and the story of a woman trying to keep her job. I really needed to decide what I was writing. I went over and over the story-line to decide what was my main thrust and to get the other themes to submit to it.

Rethinking the shape of my plot, complete with tissue for rubbing things out


Next, there was the shape of Meriah’s story. As a main plot, it needed definite peaks and troughs. About this time, I started reading John Yorke’s Into the Woods, and discovered the concept of the direction twist in the middle. I spent days playing round with Meriah’s story, writing out the plan in different ways, using my whiteboard and colour coding. Moving on, I rewrote her thread extensively. As I’ve worked, I’ve constantly questioned, tweaked, doubted. As a sub-plot heroine, Meriah could be quite passive. As a main protagonist, is she strong enough? And so I go on patching, and fearing I will never get to the end of it.

Would I have avoided all these problems if I’d planned in more detail? Even after putting away my outline for a few months?

I’m not sure. I think I could have avoided the issue of audience by thinking that through carefully. And now, after drafting the third novel that’s then fallen apart due to plot holes and story-lines that beggar belief, I might finally have a nose for them.



Past and Present in Hatfield Broadoak


Coming up the hill, Hatfield Broadoak


The closest thing we have to a family tradition apart from Christmas and, erm, Eurovision, is the Hatfield Broadoak May Bank Holiday fete. For my husband, the attraction is the 10k run twice round the village. For our daughter, it is the cake stall and burger bar. For me, it’s the historic setting, the flower festival and the tea tent. And we girls also enjoy the mobile animal petting station, despite both being over 18. That duck in my profile picture (the one with the beak, if you’re not sure) is Bailey, the duck we met last year, and Bailey is a girl. Fluffy things aside, the village is gorgeous.

The church is large and open. It retains some lovely box pews…

Box pews, Hatfield Broadoak

and four splendid gospel symbols, Matthew’s man, Mark’s lion, Luke’s bull and John’s eagle, greet you from pew ends as you enter.

St Matthew – probably 1708 by John Woodward
St Mark’s lion – probably 1708 by John Woodward

I adore wooden carvings. My family members sidle away in shame when I find one in a church, because I have to run my hands over the wood, whether it’s leaves or a fine leg. An enthusiastic steward gave me a history of the church. Apparently it used to be twice the length, because where the east wall is now, it extended into the church of the Benedictine priory that was there before the Dissolution.


The east end, showing the remains of the priory

The monks would mount set of stairs outside, enter the building by the small stone door you can see high in the wall…


The door apparently for the monks to enter the church

walk the narrow pathway on the rood screen, and move into their worship area. (How did they get down from the rood screen? I’m still wondering.) The rest of the priory was attached to the north side of the church, and entered through this door and up some stairs:


I found this all a bit far fetched so I searched through my books at home. Eventually I found a picture of the pulpitium of Notre Dame de Paris, a stone screen cutting off the nave, and the hoy polloi from the choir and the religious hub of the cathedral. It had a gallery above which was approached by a staircase, and from which readings were done.

Apparently you could see all the way down the church from parish end to priory end before a disagreement between the villagers and the monks in 1378. One story is that the monks gave an annual Harvest meal as thanks for the (obligatory) tithes the villagers paid them, but one year it was discovered that the nice big side of beef was in fact a foal, and so the villagers attacked the priory. The monks appealed to King Richard II, hoping he would side with them, but in fact he ordered a wall to be built separating the parish church and the priory church.

Outside, Church Cottage and an almshouse join the churchyard to the high street, a wonderful sweep of eighteenth and nineteenth century houses. The inn dates from the middle ages, with a Georgian brick front, close to a junction where the road dips downhill one way and round a corner the other. The corner is marked by a long building called, confusingly in my opinion, the Priory, and dating from about 1600, although it stands quite a way from the church, and the old court house from the 14c. Down the hill you will find Town Farm, once called Hatfield Bury, a medieval manor house.


The medieval manor house


If you follow the High Street back past the church you find the old Victorian school house, as charming as Victorian schools always are (to look at, anyway), the Catholic church and, beyond a second pub and down Broad Street, more thatched cottages with rose gardens than even Grantchester can boast. And this is the much reviled county of Essex!


Another runner! A child ran into my picture. I love the contrast of dead and living.





Wit and Wild Imagination – Joan Aiken’s Fairy Tales (and a Fairy Tale blog hop)

Fairytale blog hop FacebookHello, and welcome to my blog! I’m Lynden Wade, author of “Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,” which is published in the fairy-tale anthology A Bit of Magic – the book at the top of the circle of books in the graphic above.

You have found your way to the 2018 Fairy-tale Blog Hop – a hunt through thirteen posts by fairy-tale authors for our favourite numbers. Follow the links at the bottom of each blog post to hop to the next author’s website. Collect our favourite numbers to total up at the end and enter to win a print collection of our books! (There are several anthologies, debuts, and even an ARC for a BLINK YA book you can’t buy in stores yet!) So, for fairy-tale fun and a chance to get 13 shiny books mailed to you, read on!

My Favourite Fairy-Tale(s)

Some of the stories we read as children lose their lustre when we revisit them as adults. Others get better and better. The fantasy stories of Joan Aiken belong the latter group. Some are set in a magical, long-ago world and others in ‘current’ times (she was writing in the 50s and 60s), as she weaves together history, myth, fairy tale and nonsense. Her wit and her wild imagination leave me in awe – so much so, that it’s hard to choose one of her stories for this blog post.

Should I choose “Lullay Lulla” (from Past Eight o’ Clock)?  It’s sweet story about a baby put to sleep by a lullaby over the phone, and its happy ending tinged with longing.

Or should I choose “All You’ve Ever Wanted” (from the collection with the same name) for its gentle send-up of the idea of wishes from fairy godmothers?

Perhaps “A Jar of Cobblestones” (from A Harp of Fishbones) because it’s a tall story set in the gorgeous town of Rye.

Or there’s “The People in the Castle” (from All But a Few) for its up-to-date take on the fairy bride motif.

And there’s “A Small Pinch of Weather” (from the collection with the same name) for its matter-of-fact tone:

The town of Strathcloud, where the Ross family lived, still employed an official Weather Witch. The post was hereditary. So at twenty-one Sophy had automatically become Weather Operator for the Strathcloud Urban District Council at a salary of four pounds a year, a bushel of sunflower seeds, and free upkeep of her bicycle.

How about “Broomsticks and Sardines” for this wonderful exchange between parents?

 ‘ I say, Shepherd, I’m terribly sorry – my children have changed yours into sheep. And now they say they don’t know how to change them back.’

‘Oh, don’t apologize, old chap. As a matter of fact I think it’s a pretty good show. Some peace and quiet will be a wonderful change, and I shan’t have to mow the lawn.’ He shouted indoors with the liveliest pleasure,

‘I say, Minnie! Our kids have been turned into sheep, so you won’t have to put them to bed. Dig out a long frock and we’ll go to the Harvest Ball.’

A shriek of delight greeted his words.

In the end, however, I’ve chosen “The Serial Garden,” from A Small Pinch of Weather.

people in the park
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

It’s one of many featuring the Armitage family (the ones who turn the Shepherd children into sheep.)  Magic slips, or gallops, into their lives regularly, Mrs Armitage accepting it gracefully, Mr Armitage with gloom, the children with a sense of adventure. I like the way the Armitage stories are interspersed in Aiken collections with stories about faraway lands. The events of this particular story are set off by Mr Armitage locking himself in the larder. The rest of the family carry on with breakfast arrangements as they wait for the blacksmith to come and release him. Mark is unhappy with cold rice pudding.

 ‘If you don’t like it,” said Mrs Armitage, ‘unless you want Daddy to pass you cornflakes through the larder ventilator, flake by flake, you’d better run down to Miss Pride and get a small packet of cereal.’

Miss Pride’s corner shop, dusty and little-used, is just like the unattractive convenience shops I remember from my own childhood. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find an enchanted cereal packet. But I also remember cut-out models and cereal packet gifts, though the ones I came across were never this exiting! There is a toy garden to make on the back of the packet, and here are 7 parts to make the full model. As Mark gradually assembles all the parts, he finds himself magically transported into the garden. There, he meets a princess who has hidden within to wait for the lover her father didn’t approve of.

There are no spoilers here, but you can rest assured the ending is beautifully plotted and the clues dropped like breadcrumbs on the path. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you close the book.


Do look around my blog while you’re here, and maybe follow me for updates. Do have a look, too, at the anthology my friends and I put together, A Bit of Magic – you can read all about it here.

But don’t forget that your next stop on the fairy-tale blog hop is: https://teralynnchilds.com/fairy-tale-blog-hop/

If you’ve already been to all 13 stops and collected everyone’s favourite number, then go enter to win the grand prize: http://shonnaslayton.com/fairy-tale-blog-hop/


A Bit of Magic
Available on Amazon

Footnote 1:

I’d love to have Ms Aiken’s gift. I’m paying homage to her influence on me with a series of stories about Helen Rowland, who can hear fairies. She is captured by the Elf King, sees a unicorn breaking into her car, and discovers a Greek god in her garden. Unlike the Armitage children, however, her family, plugged into social media and gaming, are oblivious to the world of magic. The stories are quite off-the-wall, and I’m not sure where to send them, but I’d like to develop them as a series before I make that decision. You can read the opening here.

Footnote 2:


I’m also proud to have my story “Sins of the Fathers” published in the anthology The Forgotten and the Fantastical 4. This collection draws not only from fairy-tales but also legends, myths and history, and is aimed at a slightly older audience. Read more about it here.

Ms Rowland to the Dark Tower Came

Over on my blog Wit and Wild Imagination, I mentioned in the footnote that Joan Aiken’s Armitage stories inspired a series of my own. In my stories, though, it’s only the mother who sees the magical things going on around her. Everyone else is watching TV or plugged into social media. (Yes, a bit of autobiography there.) I haven’t submitted the first to any publishers yet because I want to develop them a bit with an overall arc – plus, I think they might be a bit of a niche market. But as I was writing about Joan Aiken, I thought I’d post the opening of the first Helen Rowland story here.

Then Helen to the Dark Tower Came

By Just zarr - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62319556
Image by Just Zarr, Wikimedia Commons


Almost overnight the household went from noisy to silent.  Silent, that is, except for Helen talking to, as it transpired, herself.  She would tell Lucy, her daughter, everything she needed to know about preparations for school the next day, only to find Lucy was wrapped in the world of Snapchat, sending photos of stupid faces to her friend.  She would call and call to Aston, her son, to go for his bath, to find he was oblivious, noise-cancelling headphones in, battling dragons in a Cyberworld.  When she turned to her partner Pete she found he had made the most of the children’s silence and was watching his old Star Treks that sent her to sleep.  If he was out the silence was eerie.  It wasn’t really silence at all; it sang with tiny, shrill noises that she had never heard before.

          “I almost wish we’d go back to having Tweenies songs blaring away again,” she said to Boy, their spaniel, fondling his ears. 

          “I don’t,” said Boy.

Helen, who had been crouched down to reach him, lost her balance and fell on her backside.  “You can talk!”

          “You must admit,” he said, “I haven’t had much chance to be heard until now.”

          “Dogs don’t talk,” Helen insisted.

          “Ordinary dogs don’t,” said Boy.  “I’m no ordinary dog.  I am the reincarnation of Prince Rupert’s devil dog, terror of the Puritans.”  He said this with great pride and dignity, but he still did not look evil or frightening.        

So Boy was the first Faerie Helen heard in the house.  Many have claimed to see faeries, but faeries are everywhere.  Hearing them is special. 

The second faerie Helen heard was the house brownie.  Apparently he had been there for years, waiting to be noticed.  At first she thought the clanging and banging was a problem with the washing machine, but then she detected the muttering that overlaid the noise.  Now that he had her attention, he told her in detail what he did and didn’t do.  Washing up, yes, but could she please make sure the plates were rinsed first, clothes washing yes, but he would appreciate it if the children could unroll their socks before putting them in the laundry basket, livestock definitely not (and that included feeding the dog).  Then he went back to the washing up, which involved a lot of soap suds and a lot of banging of pans.

Then there was the nixie in the bath, singing.  Helen really resented this.  For some years now she had been banned from singing in the house and her shower was the only chance she had to imagine herself as Elaine Page.  Now she could hear the nixie, who not only demanded she stop, but also sang so breathtakingly that Helen lost her last shred of nerve.   The nixie had lips as red as danger and a flow of honey-coloured hair that ran down her back.   Helen finally understood why the plug filled up with hair so quickly. 

Thirdly, there was the raven foretelling. The black bird had been a regular visitor in the garden with his glossy feathers and his harsh voice, but now Helen could hear what he was saying.  Every day he had a death or a disaster to predict.  It was even worse than when they had had a delivery of the Daily Post.