‘You Can Draw in 30 Days’ by Mark Kistler

I did the illustrations for my new book myself, mostly because I was on a limited budget and couldn’t afford to pay illustrator fees. These illustrations definitely don’t look like the work of a professional, which is okay because they’re supposed to have been done by the thirteen-year-old narrator. But as I was working on my less-than-perfect illustrations, I remembered how much I used to enjoy drawing when I was a teenager. I did art as an elective subject at high school and proved to be spectacularly untalented at most artistic endeavours – painting, sculpture, pottery, screen printing – although I was okay at drawing. Maybe the idea of perspectives and vanishing points and so on appealed to my nerdy maths brain. Anyway, I had so much fun doing my recent book drawings that I decided I wanted to do a bit more guided practice and eventually found this book by Mark Kistler, who apparently is famous in the US and used to be on TV.

This book was a great introduction to basic drawing techniques. It’s designed for absolute beginners with no confidence in their own abilities, so it was ideal for me, given I’d barely picked up a pencil in thirty years. There are thirty lessons, which you could do in thirty days, although I didn’t have time to spare every day for a month and so I stretched the lessons out over three months. The lessons teach the fundamental ‘laws’ (foreshortening, placement, overlapping, shadow and so on) that make pencil marks on a page look like three-dimensional objects, but it’s done in a simple, easy-to-follow manner that provides quick success and builds confidence.

I zoomed through the early lessons on spheres, cubes, spheres inside hollow cubes, pyramids and textures, coming unstuck only when I hit cylinders. Something about the combination of curved and straight lines did my head in. But the book gives lots of practice in each skill, over multiple lessons, and so I persisted, valiantly producing wonky tins of tomatoes:

Wonky tins of tomatoes

And wonky tubes:

Wonky tube

And wonky mugs with wonky handles:

Wonky mugs

Then came interiors and exteriors of buildings in one-point and two-point perspective. Phew, mostly straight lines again, what a relief:


Mark Kistler is a cartoon illustrator, so he also provides instruction in some basic cartooning skills, such as 3D lettering and cartoon whooshes and cartoon planets consisting of volcano craters and levitating boulders. Then in Lesson 28, we suddenly had to draw faces. This seemed an enormous leap to me, but once I started, I realised I was using the same principles and skills I’d been practising all along. Admittedly, my first face was only vaguely face-like, but I kept going for a few days and my face drawings got better and better:

Face 1

Face 2

Face 3

The final lesson, though, was to draw your own hand. You know what fingers are? CYLINDERS! It’s also pretty difficult using your right hand to hold the pencil while you draw your own left hand. I am definitely in need of more hand-drawing practice, ideally using someone else’s hand as a model.

The good thing about drawing is that you don’t need anything except a pencil and some paper. Kistler provides suggestions for a few other useful drawing tools, but they weren’t expensive. I ended up spending less than twenty dollars in total on a nice thick sketch book, a smudging tool, some pencils and a nifty retractable eraser. Kistler is also a fan of tracing as an instructional method and he recommends a complicated arrangement involving a transparent clipboard, erasable markers and an easel. I couldn’t be bothered with that and honestly didn’t think tracing was going to help me develop my skills, so I ignored all the tracing instructions. The lessons also have optional ‘bonus challenges’ to extend your skills – sometimes I did them, sometimes I didn’t, depending on how enjoyable or interesting they looked. But by the end of the book’s lessons, I definitely felt more skilled and confident about drawing. I found I really enjoyed relaxing over a sketching activity for twenty minutes at the end of a long, stressful day and I plan to keep on drawing. If you want to learn to draw, but lack confidence and don’t want to shell out for expensive drawing lessons, You Can Draw in 30 Days is highly recommended. Two smudgy thumbs up!

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Eight

Summer holidays are nearly over, but first there’s the gymkhana. (I have never had to write that word before and I’m struck by how weird it is. What have horses got to do with gyms? According to my dictionary, ‘gymkhana’ was derived in the 19th century “from Urdu gendḵānah ‘racket court,’ from Hindi geṁd ‘ball’ + Persian ḵānah ‘house’ … altered by ‘gymnasium’ via Latin from Greek ‘exercise naked,’ from gumnos ‘naked’”. Maybe related to polo?)

Anyway, Nicola is riding Mr Buster, Patrick’s pony, in various ‘fun’ events like Potato Races and Musical Poles, which she’s only doing because she needs to win some money to pay for Sprog’s upkeep. When she arrives, there are a lot of Serious Pony People doing horsey things (“Nicola didn’t often feel shy or out of it, but she did now”). Worse, there are death glares from a girl who turns out to be Wendy Reynolds, the girl Lawrie accidentally imitated at the elocution competition and who mistakes Nicola for Lawrie. Uh oh…

Ginty turns up to watch, because the other Marlows are all busy killing wasps at Trennels. Ginty, it turns out, is what Nicola calls “a Pony Club type”, although maybe Ginty gets it from her mother (“Mummy was talking about hunting this winter”). So, Mrs Marlow must have had a fairly posh country upbringing, to have grown up hunting? Wendy Reynolds and her brother Oliver have TEN horses and win just about every event. But Wendy gets her revenge on the Marlows by barging Mr Buster, telling Nicola the apple in the obstacle race has a wasp on it, and worst of all, riding her horse at Mr Buster, causing him to hurt his leg and Nicola to fall off.

Patrick is quite rightly furious about Mr Buster (although, of course, doesn’t even check to see if Nicola’s hurt) and tells off Oliver. But then Peter and Lawrie arrive with a dramatic account of how the wasp-killing in the attics turned into Trennels nearly burning down and it was ALL ANN’S FAULT:

“…and there was Ann, holding a candle, exactly as if she wanted to start a fire and the beam smoking away like mad … Ann went completely and utterly mad and called the fire brigade! … And Daddy was livid and Ann couldn’t say anything, ’cos it was her fault …”

I must be missing something, because wasn’t it a good thing to call the fire brigade? They couldn’t be sure they’d put the fire out and it was a wooden roof. Unless they have to pay lots of money for the fire fighters? Is this meant to show that Ann subconsciously wants to destroy the family home? Or is this simply another dig at Ann’s well-meaning but useless attempts at helping?

Lawrie also learns about Wendy’s revenge and goes off to recite the poem again to Wendy. So there is some sort of justice for poor Nicola.

Rowan and Patrick then compete in a tense show-jumping event, which is extra-tense for Nicola because Rowan has promised to share her prize money if she wins. But alas, Rowan’s horse falls and Patrick wins! What will happen to poor Sprog now? Except then Oliver Reynolds comes up and offers Nicola all of his and his sister’s prize money. I think this is meant to present an ethical dilemma, but of course Nicola refuses the money, just as she refused to report Wendy’s cheating to the judges. I’m not really sure what this says about Marlow morality. It’s important never to make a fuss? Leave judgement of others to God?

Nicola miserably contemplates how to tell Patrick to let Sprog go, while Patrick gloats all the way back about his win. At home, he unkindly tells his father “the entire Gymkhana consisted of Marlows lying in heaps in the ring”, but then his father hands over a cheque to Nicola from selling The Boke of Falconerie. It’s for eighty-seven pounds! Nicola is rich and Sprog is saved! Hooray! Good has triumphed, courtesy of God or the Fates (or Antonia Forest).

And that’s the end of Falconer’s Lure. There was a lot to enjoy in it, but I do think my favourite Marlow book so far has been Autumn Term. I am really looking forward to getting back to the Kingscote girls in End of Term, which I’ve ordered from Girls Gone By.

You might also be interested in reading:

‘Falconer’s Lure’ by Antonia Forest
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven

I’m sorry for the lengthy delay in blog posting, but I’ve been caught up in a flurry of self-publishing tasks (SO MUCH TO DO). Anyway, on with the reading.

Chapter X: High Diving

The Sprog is not doing well at the whole learning-to-hunt thing, so Patrick loses his temper and says they must abandon the sweet little merlin to the wild, even though he “probably wouldn’t survive the winter”. Nicola is horrified and offers to take over all his care, but Patrick refuses:

“Jael was dead, Regina had abandoned him, and The Sprog (regarded as a hawk) was useless. He didn’t want him hanging round, a reminder of better things, and, in an unhappy, dog-in-the-mangerish sort of way, he didn’t want Nicola to have him either.”

So they leave poor Sprog in a field – but he flies after Nicola and lands on her shoulder! So she is going to look after him through the rest of the holidays and then take him with her to school. Awww! I like Sprog. Even though I’m not really sure how keeping a hawk at school is going to work.

The rest of the chapter is about the family at the beach doing various sea-related activities, in their own unique Marlow ways. Nicola, for once, is merely a spectator. Lawrie forgets her swimming cap, comes spectacularly last in Beginners’ Swimming, cries about it, has to be coaxed into her diving event, performs creditably, throws a tantrum when Peter steals her wishbone at lunch, then goes off happily to her tea party with the actress-judge. As Peter astutely observes, Lawrie “might be two years younger than Nick sometimes, instead of only two hours.”

Rowan effortlessly wins her swimming and diving events. Ginty, also a good diver although she lost her last school competition, didn’t even want to come to the beach, but was forced along by the family. She decides to disappear after lunch, so she can be all special and sorrowful in solitude. She is, at least, aware that her ‘friend’ Unity is ridiculous and that it’s all posturing. I do have some sympathy for Ginty in this chapter, because if you can’t be a bit emo when you’re a fifteen-year-old girl, then when can you? Unfortunately, she hasn’t told anyone where she’s gone, which worries Karen and prompts Ann to walk all the way to Trennels and back in the heat, searching for her. Mrs Marlow is the most annoyed she’s been so far when she finds out about this, snapping: “Another time, if someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do, say so.” Except Ginty DID say so, and no one paid any attention to her! She was forced to enter the events and forced to come along! Anyway, she does end the chapter resolving to drop Unity, so that’s one good thing.

Apart from spending hours looking for Ginty, poor Ann has to put up with constant condescension from her siblings. Peter and Nicola are so blatantly rude that Rowan tells them off for being unkind, which shocks Nicola. But even then Rowan is patronising, saying “those sweetly pretty thoughts [Ann] gets are quite genuine” and “she’s a kind girl, after her fashion” and that Ann just can’t help being “sloppy”. If I were Ann, I’d leave home as soon as I possibly could. She could train as a nurse and then go off to work in Africa or somewhere else that’s far, far away from her family.

However, this chapter is mostly about Peter’s holiday finally improving. He wins his sailing race by ten lengths and his father is observed looking “surprised but very pleased” (for once). Mind you, Peter’s a Dartmouth cadet and a Marlow, so he’s had far more experience and training than any of his competitors. Nicola cheers loudly when he wins and is instantly hushed because even though Marlows are expected to win everything, one mustn’t ever celebrate that in public. Then there’s a long, tense high-diving contest between Peter and Patrick, in which Peter has to battle his fear of heights:

“He started up the ladder, thinking, as he had so often thought before, that once he’d done this, he’d find himself on the other side of fear, like jumping through a paper hoop. And then he knew he wouldn’t. There would always be more paper hoops.”

Anyway, he triumphs. But then, when Patrick goes to congratulate him, Peter snubs him! And then Patrick apologises for calling Peter a lily-livered loon and a murderer and Peter oh-so-graciously deigns to forgive Patrick! Can I just point out that Peter has NEVER apologised for putting Patrick’s life in danger on the cliffs or thanked Patrick for holding him safely in place till their rescue or said sorry for killing Jael. If anyone deserves to feel injured, it’s Patrick!

Right, that’s it, I’ve had it with Peter. He’s so awful, he makes Patrick look good.

Next, Chapter XI: The Jump-Off

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six

I wasn’t familiar with the song Nicola performed in the previous chapter, so I looked it up and found this beautiful version by mezzo-soprano Sophie Macrae:

It’s so sad. No wonder people kept bursting into tears when they heard it. Anyway, on with the reading.

Chapter IX: Lost Hawk

Patrick and Nicola go chasing off after Regina the peregrine falcon, who was startled into flight by Tessa. Hours later, they track Regina down to where she’s settled on a church tower in a village the other side of the Crowlands. Patrick decides they have to stay there until sunrise, but it’s okay – they can spend the night with his cousin, the local vicar. First he goes off to phone his mother, who is in a panic because she thinks the children have disappeared because they’ve been on the cliffs again. This seems a perfectly reasonable fear to me, but Patrick is “distinctly injured” by her assumption that he’s done something thoughtless and dangerous.

Then he goes off to talk to his cousin, who turns out to be away, replaced by an unfamiliar locum vicar with “absolute hordes of strange children”, all being “dreadfully friendly”. Oh, the horror! Patrick runs away, pursued by a bemused Nicola:

“… here was Patrick still flushed with embarrassment, his hands still shaking as they held the reins. Suddenly Nicola remembered something he had said that very first morning: I can’t meet eight perfectly strange people before breakfast. And he never had been to Trennels, either. It came to Nicola that Patrick, more than anyone she had met so far, was genuinely and painfully shy.”

I would usually have deepest sympathies for a shy character, but Patrick isn’t just shy. He’s also got a massive superiority complex, is completely self-centred, and seems to have very little interest in understanding other people’s motivations or emotions. But I do think this scene demonstrates how empathetic Nicola is – that she feels for him, even though she has almost no fear of anything herself.

Nicola is also happy that she’ll get to sleep under the stars for once. Patrick sends her off to get milk from a farm (“You go. You look younger and more in need of milk.”), and they find a river to water the horses and have their own Famous-Five-style picnic supper on the grassy bank (but draw the line at whittling themselves toothbrushes out of twigs, as people do “in books”). Then they find a haystack to sleep in, which means actually burying themselves neck-deep in the hay. I like all these little details, including Bucket the dog looking “mildly surprised” when he’s told the hay is his kennel for the night. I did find myself thinking, “But … snakes! And spiders!” until I remembered this was tame English countryside, not the Australian bush, so there was unlikely to be any deadly wildlife lurking about.

Patrick and Nicola also have a philosophical chat about death. Patrick discusses what he wants to do with his life, “provided one really got one’s three-score-and-ten” and Nicola, remembering Jon, says, “I suppose one ought to do all the things one most wants to first, just in case.”

Patrick also reveals that an invisible ghost walks up and down the corridor outside his bedroom, and that one night he went out to meet it:

“ … then it – got awfully cold suddenly. I’ve always thought it must have walked through me, but it may just have been me being petrified […] But – well, I’ve never told anyone this before, because I don’t really believe it myself. But the next day I fell off Leeper’s Bluff.”

Spooky! (Except possibly he talked himself into a state of anxiety before and after the ‘ghost’ encounter, which meant his sleep was disturbed, and it made him so distracted and fatigued that he fell off the cliff the next day. Which is how you’d interpret this episode, if you were a boring rationalist like me.)

The next morning, Regina flies off and Patrick seems calm and resigned about it, to Nicola’s surprise. He admits that it was “madly stupid” to expect anyone to keep Regina at school, and that he’d only chased after her yesterday because “you know how one goes on with a thing, until you’ve simply got to stop because it isn’t there any more.” But luckily, they find her caught in an old wartime camouflage net, so they’re able to remove her bells and jesses and then off she flies, completely free, not even recognising Patrick any more.

Now there’s only sweet little Sprog left in the hawk-house. Nicola wants to keep him, but Patrick is adamant – Sprog must learn how to hunt properly and then he’ll be set free, too.

Next, Chapter X: High Diving

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five

Chapter VII: Jael in the Evening

Honestly, Peter is the absolute limit! First, he agrees to go cliff-climbing with Patrick and Nicola, even though he’s terrified of heights and knows he has panic attacks. Of course, he freezes on the cliff face, so Nicola has to go off for help and Patrick has to stay with Peter and try to calm him down and stop him falling off. I’m no fan of Patrick, but he behaves very sensibly when the crisis hits. He does call Peter a “famous clot of a lily-livered loon”, but Patrick says worse to the hawks and Nicola. The coastguard eventually rescues them and Nicola feels everything’s fine now:

“…they’d had all they needed in the way of a row from the coastguards; there was no reason to tell their parents, just for the fun of another; there they all were, safe and sound, and the fewer people who knew, the better.”

Nicola has reckoned without the local newspaper, which only a few hours later is screaming “LOCAL M.P.’S SON IN CLIFF DRAMA”! (Almost as fast as Twitter, that newspaper.) Captain Marlow hits the roof, which is not unreasonable given that the three children could have been killed. Patrick very nearly was killed on that same cliff a couple of years earlier. But Captain Marlow’s not just furious at Peter – “he blamed Nicola quite as much for not telling Patrick Peter simply wasn’t safe on heights”. How is that Nicola’s fault? Certainly she should have told her parents what had happened afterwards, but it’s understandable that she didn’t, given she’s been brought up not to complain or make any fuss or talk about traumatic experiences. The real blame, in my opinion, lies with Peter, Patrick and Captain Marlow, in that order. Peter is fourteen (I think?), certainly old enough to take responsibility for his own actions and to be able to come up with some face-saving excuse when asked to do something he’s incapable of doing. Patrick is even older and knows the dangers of that cliff. And Captain Marlow is the reason Peter is so determined to prove himself in ridiculous displays of manly courage and is so unable to admit to any weakness. Nicola, being the youngest and a girl, had no real influence on Patrick and Peter’s decisions, even if she’d wanted to tell Patrick about Peter’s fear of heights.

Anyway, Nicola goes off to meet Patrick the next morning and discovers his father had gone off “like an A-bomb”. Mr Merrick doesn’t seem to hold it against Nicola, though, and says The Boke of Falconerie is valuable, perhaps even worth five pounds, and he offers to sell it for her.

But then, a few days later, Patrick and Nicola take Jael rabbiting and Peter happens to be there, being irresponsible with his shotgun as usual, and he KILLS JAEL. That beautiful hawk, ready to be released into the wild, dead! And Peter doesn’t even apologise! He just loudly insists that he didn’t do it deliberately.

“Patrick said nothing. He did believe him, really. But he felt so hurt and sorry over Jael’s death, he wanted to make sure someone else was hurt too. And it couldn’t be Nicola, with that white, quivering look on her face.”

At least poor Jael was killed instantly, so she didn’t suffer. But I think Patrick would be well within his rights never to speak to Peter again.

Chapter VIII: Lawrie’s Sort of Day

Lawrie is just as ridiculous as Peter, but at least her ridiculousness is much less likely to be lethal. She does have some sympathy for Peter, telling Nicola he’s having a “fairly mouldy holiday”:

“Seeing Cousin Jon’s plane thing. Getting stuck on that cliff. Shooting Patrick’s hawk. I expect he minds, don’t you?”

Well, the last two of those were Peter’s fault. He’d better do something worthwhile by the end of the book, or I’ve had it with him.

Anyway, Lawrie, Nicola and Ann go to Colebridge for their festival competitions. Ann and Nicola have stage-fright, but Lawrie is her usual egomaniacal self, so much so that even placid Ann snaps at her. None of the Marlows seems to like Ann much. She’s just there in the background, being quietly helpful and kind and good, while they make fun of her. Her mother doesn’t want her to be a nurse and makes vague noises about Ann being a music teacher and Lawrie suggests being a concert pianist, but Ann says she’d hate being famous:

“I could understand it if what you wanted was to give pleasure, and–and interpret really great work. I think that would be a reason for being a concert pianist. But even then, I think being a nurse, if it’s a thing you can do, is better.”

This makes Nicola want to be sick from the sentimentality of it, but I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting to do good in the world. (Also, it turns out Ann is religious. Maybe she’ll end up a missionary. Or a nun, except I don’t think the Marlows are Catholic.)

Nicola goes off alone to her singing competition and is suddenly shaken by her song’s lyrics about death, because they remind her of Jael. Even then, with all that bottled-up grief, she tries to be sensible:

“You couldn’t, you simply couldn’t go in for a singing comp, and begin to cry in the middle of it because of the sadness of your own song; in spite of herself, Nicola gave a little shiver of laughter; because it was funny, the notion of Nicola Marlow boo-hooing loudly while everyone waited respectfully for her to go on.”

She pulls herself together, sings beautifully and would have come first if she hadn’t had to stop in the middle of her song. Well done, Nicola (although it’s okay to cry about death, even if you are a Marlow).

Then Lawrie, who hasn’t bothered to rehearse her poem, accidentally imitates her previous competitor and is disqualified by the semi-famous actress judge, who thinks Lawrie was being facetious. Lawrie runs off crying and poor identical Nicola is told off by the judge. At least this makes her father think Nicola’s been punished enough, so things are friendly again and he gives her ten bob as a reward for her singing. Which makes Lawrie cry again, although later Lawrie does have “one of her unexpected moments of looking at herself objectively, and finding the sight awfully funny”.

Then Lawrie hatches a ridiculous scheme to make things better – she will track down the actress-judge, so Lawrie can recite her poem properly and thus be discovered as an exciting new theatrical talent. Nicola, feeling “unusually helpless”, is dragged along. Unfortunately, the scheme works and Lawrie is not only driven back to Trennels (with Nicola invisible in the front seat), but invited to tea with the actress. Lawrie will be unbearable now…

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four

Chapter Five: Jael is Entered and Peter Gate-crashes

Nicola continues to learn about hawking and Patrick continues to be obnoxious. Nicola is unhappy about watching Jael’s training, which involves showing Jael a live rabbit and then disembowelling the poor rabbit as soon as the hawk grabs it, and also letting a rabbit loose with a cross tied to it so it can’t escape down a burrow. Patrick says it’s “terrifically humane and nothing the R.S.P.C.A. could even begin to object to”. (The RSPCA in Britain in the 1940s must have been very different to the current Australian RSPCA, which had quite a lot to say recently about rabbits and other animals being used as live bait to train racing greyhounds.) Patrick also laughs wildly, “clutching his stomach as if it hurt”, when Nicola misunderstands an unfamiliar hawking term.

No wonder his parents are pleased Nicola’s sticking around. “He hasn’t had much opportunity of making friends this last year or so,” says Mr Merrick to Nicola. “We shall always be delighted to see you, as long as you want to come.”

I don’t think it’s just Patrick’s injuries that have stopped him having friends, if he behaves at school the way he behaves at home. Even Nicola thinks he’s being “unreasonable and rather childish” when he argues with his mother, who says it’s impossible for Patrick to bring the hawks to London, so they will have to be released into the wild. She also tells Nicola that the Merricks are buying the Marlows’ London house, so I suppose at least Lawrie will be able to visit her beloved hall-stand in the future.

Patrick does show some concern when Jael claws open Nicola’s shoulder, but probably only because if the grown-ups see, they might stop Nicola from helping with the hawks. And he does give her a book about Nelson’s funeral (as an inducement not to complain about her shoulder?) and she promises to bring him The Boke of Falconerie.

Meanwhile, Peter is coaching Lawrie in swimming and diving, because Lawrie has learned nothing from Autumn Term and “her ambitions were legion” regarding winning all the school and regatta competitions – also, “these holidays, she might achieve a rather spectacular rescue if only someone would be so obliging as to put themselves in danger of drowning”.

It also turns out Peter has actually taken his loaded shotgun to the beach with him. I don’t know anything about British gun culture, but surely that’s not normal? He aims it at a passing seagull, then manages to kill a couple of rabbits on the way home. Then he decides to take the dead rabbits to Patrick for the hawks. Patrick and Nicola aren’t there, but he feeds Jael a rabbit, leaving the door wide open. What if that messes up Jael’s training schedule or allows a hawk to escape? Patrick and Peter become a bit “shy and embarrassed” when they meet, years after they last saw each other, but things improve when Patrick invites Peter for an afternoon’s hawking and suggests he bring his camera. Peter is trying to win a photography competition, the prize being a “cine-camera”. Then Patrick suggests Peter take a photo of the peregrine’s nest on the cliffs.

Peter, looking at Jael, said in a quick, enthusiastic voice, “That’s a good idea.”
Nicola looked across at Lawrie … and Lawrie lifted her shoulders to her ears and spread her hands a little, being Mademoiselle Renier being bouleversée by such stupidity. And of course she was right: if Peter wouldn’t say himself he couldn’t stand heights, no one else could say it for him.

Oh, Peter. He’s so caught up in demonstrating how brave he is, that he hasn’t realised it’s braver to admit when you can’t do something.

Chapter VI: The Day It Rained

Nicola gives Patrick The Boke of Falconerie and Jael is becoming a skilled hunter. She chases a hare off into the woods and Nicola gets spooked in there:

The sunlight, striking down between the thin tree-trunks, had a tarnished look. In the undergrowth, still sodden and strong-smelling from the night’s rain, a million insects buzzed and hovered. There was nothing else. Unless you counted the unseen presence which watched and listened and moved as you moved.

“Yes, well,” said Nicola, not aloud, above the sudden thudding of her heart. For there wasn’t anything there. It was only the thing that happened in woods…

Afterwards, Patrick is able to admit he was “absolutely panic-stricken” for a moment, but Nicola can’t do the same because “when you were thirteen and a girl, you had to be more careful.” Which is true – plus, she’s a Marlow, therefore not allowed to show any weakness.

Then there’s a nice long scene with the siblings exploring the old attic at Trennels and deciding what they’ll do at the Colebridge Festival. Peter is entering for diving, swimming and dinghy sailing; Karen is entering the food section with “One Bowl of Salad Ready to Serve”; Rowan’s doing show-jumping on her pony; Lawrie’s doing swimming, diving, high jump and elocution; Ann’s in the piano competition; and Nicola hopes to win some money for keeping her hawk by entering singing, sports and pony events. Ginty wants to maintain her pose of being “different and aloof and sensitive like Unity said” and tries to get out of entering, but gets bossed into swimming and diving by Rowan. Also, their father is umpiring the sailing, and Patrick has done one nice thing by saying Rowan can practice with his jumps, even though they’re competing against each other.

But then their mother comes in, bearing news. Miss Keith says Nicola can keep a hawk at school for a term! And the Kingscote uniform is changing back to its pre-war style, which means great expense for the five sisters, which prompts Rowan to make an announcement. She will leave school and manage the farm! It’s not as though she has any great career plans, having realised she doesn’t have the artistic skills to be an architect:

“Save Daddy coming out of the Service. Save Giles having a conscience. Save me having to think what I want to do in my future life. […] What’s the point of my staying two years in the Sixth, and p’raps being finished afterwards? It’s all so I can get a reasonable job. And here is a reasonable job. So what?”

Nicola thinks this is a good idea, because Rowan is a “terrifically bossy type” who “really can run things”, but their mother is unconvinced. She says Captain Marlow won’t agree, except of course he will – this way he gets to have Trennels and his Navy career. Poor Rowan! She doesn’t sound enthusiastic about this at all. She’s sacrificing herself for her father. Even if she doesn’t know yet what she wants to do with her life, even if Peter can eventually take over the farm – surely it will limit her future options to leave school at seventeen.

The other thing that happens is that Nicola tries out her competition song, a very sad song about death, which makes Mrs Marlow rush off in tears because it reminds her of Jon. Which makes me wonder if she stayed at Trennels as a young woman and met both Jon and her future husband at the same time, and even though she ended up with Captain Marlow and eight children, maybe she really preferred Jon, who does seem to have been much nicer. (Don’t tell me, there’s fanfic about that, isn’t there?)

Next, Chapter VII: Jael in the Evening

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three

Chapter Four: Colebridge Market

This is my favourite sort of chapter, in which nothing very exciting happens (people do the weekly shopping and have haircuts) but we discover lots of interesting things about the characters.

Firstly, we learn the children only have one living grandparent, Mrs Marlow’s mother, who is glamorous and Parisian and gives unsatisfactory girly presents instead of the cold hard cash that the twins would prefer. Grandmother stayed in Paris all through the war, which suggests she either got trapped there (and is pretty tough to have survived the occupation) or was a Nazi collaborator. Also, Mrs Marlow has a sister called Molly. Captain Marlow’s parents were killed when he was a teenager and he spent a lot of time at Trennels.

Secondly, the Marlows have been at Trennels for a thousand years, “four hundred years before the Merricks” (ha, take that, Patrick!). Rowan also explains to Nicola that their father is going to give up his Navy career to farm at Trennels, because “it wouldn’t be proper” to have non-Marlows there (and probably because he likes the idea of strutting about being the local squire). Nicola is horrified that he’s giving up the chance to be First Sea Lord. In fact, at one stage, Giles even offered to give up the Navy instead of his father (I bet he did it fully expecting everyone to reject the idea outright, which they did). But the current farm manager is on the verge of retirement, so someone needs to take over. Also there are lots of debts – not because the farm is unprofitable, but because Jon was hopeless with money – hence the need to sell the London house. Mind you, this is the sort of ‘poverty’ in which they have a huge house, plenty of land they could let if they wanted, two vehicles, a pony and enough money to pay school fees for six children at expensive boarding schools.

Like Nicola, I’d thought Rowan would want to live in the country, but Rowan thinks the whole thing is “putrid”. Karen is happy because she gets her own bedroom, Ginty, Ann and Peter prefer the country to London, and poor Mrs Marlow is making the best of it, even though she thinks it would be more sensible to get a tenant farmer for Trennels. Nicola suggests Karen run the farm because “she’s only going to Oxford” and could just as well go to an agricultural college. Hmm, not quite the same thing, Nicola!

Rowan also says Karen would be hopeless at running anything, just as she was hopeless at being Head Girl, which is news to Nicola. It’s true that it can come as a revelation to children that their older relatives are not necessarily good at whatever they do. Mind you, what is a Head Girl meant to do? At my schools (I went to a lot of them), school captains ran assemblies and occasionally represented the school at official functions, but what happens at boarding school? Are Head Girls meant to be some sort of assistant to the headmistress or an unpaid, untrained school counsellor? Rowan thinks Karen will “end up a good conscientious Civil Servant. Or somebody’s wife. She’d make quite a good wife.” Meanwhile, Nicola thinks Rowan or Ann would be good at running Trennels, but of course, they’re still at school and “Rowan wanted to be a games mistress and Ann wanted to be a nurse.” I like that the book presents girls as having actual career ambitions, even if we know that there are limitations to what they can do (Karen, for example, would have to resign from her Civil Service job if she got married).

Then Peter says he’d like to learn to run the farm, except he acknowledges that he’s too young at the moment. Besides, when he’s eighteen he’d have to go off to do National Service. He does think he could do it after National Service. This seems a good plan to me, given that Peter hasn’t much interest in or aptitude for the Navy. Rowan points out that Giles will inherit the farm from their father, but as Giles is unlikely to “chuck the Service to farm”, then Peter could be his bailiff and Nicola his housekeeper.

Anyway, Rowan and Nicola do the shopping in Colebridge, the nearest town, where Rowan picks up a pamphlet about the upcoming district show and Nicola buys The Boke of Falconerie, 1598 for sixpence from a market stall. Maybe it will provide some ammunition for her campaign to be allowed to keep Regina at school (or end up being immensely rare and valuable, thereby saving Trennels from foreclosure). Also, Nicola accidentally gets her hair cut very short (“the way you’re all going on, anyone’d think I’d had it dyed and permed like a–a teen-ager”) and Lawrie gets upset they are no longer identical so she shears off her own hair. Lawrie is being extremely childish in this chapter, even by Lawrie-standards.

Finally, Peter has inherited a shot-gun from Jon. As this is Peter, I foresee disaster. The question is whether he will a) shoot himself in the foot, b) shoot someone else, hopefully in a non-lethal manner, or c) kill someone’s beloved pet. Run, Fluff, hide!

Next, Chapter Five: Jael is Entered and Peter Gate-crashes

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two

Chapter Three: “No One Ever Tells Us Anything”

The Marlows stay on at Trennels in a kind of unhappy extended holiday, with Nicola feeling they are “almost like trespassers” in Cousin Jon’s house. It seems to Nicola that they must be returning home soon, so she goes to say goodbye to Patrick, where she quickly realises that “however badly they might feel about Cousin Jon, it was much worse for Patrick.” After all, Jon had been his friend. But Patrick also has surprising news for Nicola. Trennels now belongs to her father. Trennels is entailed, Captain Marlow is the eldest surviving male in the direct line, and the estate can’t be sold.

Naturally, Captain Marlow hasn’t bothered to tell the children this. And when Nicola asks him if it’s true, he says “Certainly we shall be living here,” as though she’s meant to have absorbed this knowledge through osmosis or something. They’re not only going to be living and farming at Trennels from now on (even though none of them have farming experience), they’re selling their London house with most of the contents, and the children aren’t even going back there to help pack their belongings. And the girls will come home from school on weekends, and when Nicola isn’t delighted at this news, her father tells her she needs to be less emphatic about it, otherwise she’ll hurt her mother’s feelings. The nerve of Captain Marlow, giving lectures on tact and empathy!

One of the things that really well-written children’s books can do is take you back to long-forgotten childhood injustices and make you feel them all over again. As I was reading about Nicola and Lawrie’s reactions, I was reminded of the time my parents suddenly announced that our family would be moving to another country, in the middle of a school year, and we children were expected to be delighted by the news (which everyone else knew before us). And then we had to pack only our absolute favourite possessions, because there wasn’t much space in the cartons for childish non-essentials, but never mind, we’d be back in our old house in two years. Except of course, we never returned to live in that house or that city, and the house was sold while we were away. So Laurie’s anguish over their furniture, silly though it might seem, even to her, makes absolute sense to me now:

“There was the house, only just put together again, and all the chairs and tables, expecting them back in five weeks’ time. And now, after all the time they’d been with the family, all their faithful service, they’d never be seeing the Marlow family again. They were just going to be pushed out to auction, like old horses, to be sold to anyone who thought they could make use of them. The more she thought of it, the more alarmingly pathetic the picture became …”

Mind you, having a sobbing session under the bedclothes about old hall-stands seems quite a healthy thing to do, in a family where no one is allowed to show any emotion. Nicola herself bottles up her grief about Jon:

“… her throat swelled suddenly, as it still did when she thought about Cousin Jon unexpectedly, for all everyone insisted on being so comforting about his having died doing the thing he liked best. She blinked, and to her horror, felt something hot and wet splash past her eye-lashes, down her cheek and on to her shirt. She muttered something about having to wash before lunch and plunged down the slope at a tremendous pace, so that by the time she reached the garden all possibility of crying had been shaken out of her.”

We also discover that Trennels is six hundred acres and that when Captain Marlow was young, “I used to want the place so badly I could barely be polite to Jon.” There’s no mention of him inheriting an aristocratic title, but still, it’s a pretty impressive estate. So, the Marlows are landed gentry! Good thing Nicola’s learning falconry and getting some riding practice, I suppose. She goes out with Patrick, the horses and the dogs to watch Regina catch some ducks, which is not as bad as I thought it would be. At least the Marlows get to eat the ducks, and a falcon would hunt birds to eat anyway.

Nicola and Patrick have a picnic tea on the turf and quote Shelley at one another, in order to demonstrate how classically educated they (and the author) are. (Mind you, it was easier to do that sort of thing when the canon was so limited and everyone had to read the same books and poems and plays by the same dead white Englishmen at school.) The children also geek out about their obsessions. Patrick is a devotee of Richard III, what a surprise, and Nicola shows him her treasured wallet full of her “Nelson things”, which include “a cotton thread from one of his uniforms” and “an actual signature cut from a letter” and which she always carries with her in her waistband. Leaving aside the question of how you’d be able to tell that piece of cotton from any other random cotton thread, should she really be carrying these valuables around the countryside with her? Now I’m worried there’ll be a scene when she’s forced to abandon her wallet in order to save Patrick from falling down another cliff…

Next, Chapter Four: Colebridge Market

‘Falconer’s Lure’ by Antonia Forest

'Falconer's Lure' by Antonia ForestI have been working very hard on my new book and felt I deserved a reward, so you know what that means – Antonia Forest read-along time! And really, with the world in its current state of chaos and despair, what better time to immerse oneself in a nice story about English children enjoying their summer holidays on a country estate. That’s pretty much all I know about Falconer’s Lure, except I’ve also read that it’s a pony book, but with falcons instead of ponies. I am totally on board for anything involving posh country estates, although I’m a bit wary about the falconry, being very much against animal cruelty, especially involving birds. Then again, most of my knowledge of falconry comes from reading T. H. White’s biography and he was notoriously bad at doing it, so maybe it’s not as awful as I think.

For those new to this series of books, they feature the Marlow family, which consists of Commander Marlow, Mrs Marlow and eight Marlow offspring: Giles, Karen, Rowan, Ann, Ginty, Peter and identical twins Nicola and Lawrie. In the first book, Autumn Term, the twins had an eventful first term at their new boarding school. In the second, The Marlows and The Traitor, Nicola, Peter and Ginty got caught up in a terrifying adventure on land and at sea after uncovering a naval spy. Whatever will they get up to on their summer holidays? With Antonia Forest, anything is possible.

Chapter One: Jael in the Morning

This is the first Marlow book that’s explicitly stated the year in which it’s set. It takes place in the summer of 1948 at Trennels Old Farm (exact location unspecified), which was requisitioned by the military during the war and recently inherited by Cousin Jon after the death of their Great Uncle Lawrence. The story begins with Nicola fetching the breakfast eggs from the farmer and glorying in the sunlit countryside, when she hears what she thinks is a distressed cat stuck in a tree. Nicola, “who had a tender feeling for all animals except anteaters”, climbs to the rescue and finds herself facing what seems to be an enraged eagle. Actually, it’s a goshawk called Jael, as Nicola is informed by its supercilious owner, Patrick Merrick, whom she recognises as a friend of her brother Peter’s from before the war. Patrick snaps orders at her, calls her a “clot” and “silly” for not knowing everything he does about falconry and is unsympathetic when Jael slices open Nicola’s ungloved thumb. What a lovely boy. I sincerely hope he’s not a future love interest for Nicola. Or any of her sisters. Or her brothers. I think even Giles deserves better.

Anyway, they rescue Jael and walk back to Patrick’s house, exchanging family news. Giles is now a Lieutenant, Karen is off to read Classics at Oxford, Rowan is going into Sixth Form and will probably be Games Captain (what, not Head Girl?), Peter is doing well at Dartmouth, Nicola’s father has been promoted to Captain, and the Marlows’ Hampstead house is finally habitable again after being bombed in the war.

Meanwhile, Patrick’s father has just been elected an MP, so his family has to move to London. I’m not sure why – can’t his father stay in a flat there when Parliament is sitting so his family can remain at their country estate? Patrick also reveals he attends a local day school, which he loathes, but that he hasn’t been at school at all for the last two years:

“Expelled?” [Nicola] asked instantly, for she was always hoping to meet someone to whom this enthralling thing had happened.

But it turns out Patrick was ill. I wonder what made him too sick for school for two years. Polio? TB? They were both deadly diseases in the 1940s.

Nicola is impressed with Patrick’s beautiful hunting birds (even though the poor things are TIED UP and UNABLE TO FLY). Apart from Jael, there’s Regina, an imperious peregrine falcon, and The Sprog, a sweet little jack merlin. Patrick asks if Nicola will help him look after the hawks. They really belong to Jon, but Jon’s busy being a test pilot for experimental planes at the local airfield. Naturally, Nicola says yes. Then she goes back to Trennels to breakfast, Patrick refusing to come in and say hello to the family (“I don’t think I could meet eight practically strange people on an empty stomach”). That’s okay, Patrick, they probably wouldn’t enjoy meeting you, either.

Chapter Two: Grand Stoop

Back at Trennels, Mrs Herbert, the housekeeper, is loudly unimpressed with Patrick’s “nasty great birds”, because one of the hawks killed her old cat and she has quite reasonable fears for the wellbeing of young Fluff. Nicola tends to her wounded thumb and goes in to breakfast, where much is revealed about the Marlows.

Firstly, the hawks were really Great Uncle Lawrence’s and Jon inherited them reluctantly. Jon also says the RAF used hawks to kill pigeons near airfields during the war. Really? I happen to know a bit about pigeons in WWII and there was actually an official campaign to shoot birds of prey to stop them killing carrier pigeons, which were a vital part of military communications. That was mostly on the east coast of England, though, and who knows where Trennels is. Jon throws about a lot of hawking jargon, which interests Nicola and Karen, then they get onto the subject of Patrick. Nicola reports Patrick is “nicer than he was” (he must have been appalling before) and Jon tells them Patrick was badly injured and nearly killed when he fell off a cliff while trying to steal baby hawks from a nest. No wonder Patrick’s mother doesn’t like his hawks.

It also turns out Captain Marlow knows quite a bit about hawks, too (so Jon is his cousin, not Mrs Marlow’s) but he was never allowed to go near them because he was so “rough and rude”. Ginty is horrified to hear that hawks are used to hunt not just rabbits and partridges (that is, animals that you can eat) but also larks and blackbirds for entertainment. Jon says it’s all great fun, like “watching hounds at work with a fox” and that he thinks objections to blood-sports are “a bit exaggerated”. Well, I’m with Ginty on this issue. She storms off, but Mrs Marlow explains it’s only because she’s “been worked up and weepy since Easter”, after what Jon thinks was the children “getting themselves shipwrecked and having to spend the week-end in a lighthouse”. Captain Marlow is coldly unsympathetic and says “it’s time she got over it”.

Well, actually she wasn’t just shipwrecked. She was KIDNAPPED by a SOCIOPATHIC TRAITOR and DRUGGED and forced to wade through a tunnel (even though she’s been terrified of enclosed spaces ever since she was BURIED ALIVE UNDER A BOMBED HOUSE IN THE BLITZ) and then she nearly DROWNED and was on the verge of being MURDERED BY NAZI SPIES and afterwards was FORBIDDEN TO TALK ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES so if anyone has the right to be a bit shaken, it’s Ginty.

The family think Ginty’s lack of moral fibre is due to her new school friend Unity Logan, whom I kept picturing as Unity Mitford. Unity is an intense child who goes around adoring Ginty, telling Rowan, “I’d risk more than an order mark for a friend like Ginnie. I think she’s the most beautiful thing the gods ever made.” As if that isn’t bad enough, Nicola notes that Unity writes poetry. About Beauty. And also writes long holiday letters to Ginty.

Lawrie tries to draw attention back to herself by reminding them all she has a limp from when she was run over by a car. She is firmly squashed by her father, who says it’s boring to talk about illness. Then he humiliates Ann, who is just trying to make sure Nicola’s wounded thumb is properly bandaged. Then he tries to berate Peter for not addressing Cousin Jon with the proper formality, but fortunately Peter is already out of earshot. And Mrs Marlow hurries to placate her husband. My already low opinion of Captain Marlow has descended to uncharted depths. Maybe he and Patrick could go off and live together in some other, non-Marlow, book, so I don’t have to read about them anymore.

But I think my favourite bits of these books are the keen psychological observations. For example, here’s Peter when Nicola explains that Patrick only wants her to visit the hawks:

“Oh, all right,” said Peter carelessly. He felt such an odd mixture of feelings – hurt astonishment that Patrick should have warned him off, jealousy because Nicola was admitted to what was evidently privileged ground, and fury with himself for being either hurt or jealous – that the only thing to do was to spin round and dash after Cousin Jon, shouting “Wait for me, man! I’m coming!”

Peter goes off with Jon to the airfield while Nicola and Patrick walk to the Crowlands and try, unsuccessfully, to get The Sprog to pounce on a lure. There are some lovely descriptions of the countryside and of Jon’s plane “plunging down the sky”, the vapour trails “sketched across the blue like lines drawn by a slate pencil”. Then comes a moment when “the landscape seemed to quiver”, “as if the air went solid” and it appears someone has lit a bonfire on the horizon, although they don’t hear anything. And, because I’ve read to the end of the chapter and I know what’s coming, I’ll just add that Nicola then passes on the message that Jon will come to see the hawks soon and Patrick says, “Tomorrow, I expect. He’ll be dead to the world tonight.” Oh, no…

Anyway, Patrick and Nicola walk back to his house, having a bonding moment over their respective obsessions (medieval nobility for Patrick, the Navy for Nicola) and then tend to the hawks. But before Patrick can accompany Nicola to Trennels for supper, he’s stopped in a very awkward manner by his housekeeper. And then on the way back Nicola meets Peter, who looks and sounds very odd:

“The sun came down in slanting lines through the trees, and made a fishnet of light on the bed of the stream. It was doing that when Nicola and Peter first met. It was still doing so, five minutes later. But by then Peter had managed to tell her that Cousin Jon had been killed when the plane crashed, and that made everything look quite different.”

Oh, no! Poor Jon. Poor Peter, who had to watch his cousin being killed. And what’s going to happen to Trennels now? Jon doesn’t seem to have any children. Do the Marlows inherit Trennels or is there some other relative around?

Next, Chapter Three: “No One Ever Tells Us Anything”

You might also be interested in reading:

‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Eight

Adventures in Self-Publishing: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet

The first piece of advice most self-publishers hear is that they must be active on social media, all the time. It’s not enough for them to have their own websites and blogs – they have to be on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and Goodreads and a dozen other social media platforms. Authors have to be friendly, funny and confident while endlessly and cleverly promoting themselves and their work – at the same time, ‘being themselves’. This is despite the fact that the majority of authors are introverts, happiest when reading or writing or thinking in quiet solitude or, at their most sociable, gathering with a couple of close friends to have meaningful conversations. The whole ‘promoting yourself’ thing is not only anathema to many authors, but practically forbidden in Australia, unless you’re a white sportsman (and even then, there are limits).

I started this blog seven years ago, because a novel of mine was being published in the United States and my publishers had been a bit taken aback to learn I didn’t have a proper ‘online presence’. I was hesitant at first, but once I’d overcome the technological challenges of setting up a WordPress blog on my own site, I started to enjoy it. I could write about anything I wanted, in as much detail as I liked, whenever I felt inspired to write. And people who liked books would join in the conversation! The only limitation I placed on myself was that each blog post had to be related to books and writing – but as pretty much every topic in existence has some tangential link to books and writing, this was not much of a limitation (see, for example, my blog posts on scones, giant squid and quilting).

I was never interested in joining Facebook, because I didn’t like their privacy policies or business practices. I might have considered LiveJournal, back in the olden days – before it was taken over by Russians. Dreamwidth is touted as the new LiveJournal, but is less popular and doesn’t appear to offer any advantages over my own blog. Instagram and Tumblr seem to be for people who like looking at pictures – I just can’t see how any meaningful, language-based communication can happen on those platforms, although I’m happy to hear otherwise from people who are fans.

As for Goodreads, it’s for readers, rather than authors. I try to avoid it, especially when it comes to my own books. My blog does appear on my Goodreads page (it’s an automated feed, I didn’t have anything to do with it) and I’ve found the Goodreads librarians to be helpful whenever I’ve needed to have book entries corrected. However, I’m not very enthusiastic about becoming a Goodreads Author, especially since reading their Terms of Use. Here’s a snippet of it, explaining that whenever you post anything on Goodreads, including an excerpt of a book, you give Goodreads:

“a royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, list information regarding, edit, translate, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of all such User Content and your name, voice, and/or likeness as contained in your User Content, in whole or in part, and in any form, media or technology…”

Mind you, Twitter users have to agree to similar conditions. The difference is that I wouldn’t be posting anything substantial on Twitter, so I don’t care as much about them owning my content for eternity. Still, I’ve been a Twitter sceptic for years. How can you communicate meaningfully in 140 characters? Isn’t it just people shouting slogans at each other? What about all those women who’ve been forced off Twitter after serious harassment and abuse? True, they have cute animals on Twitter, but I can get my fix of cute animals in many other places on the internet.

On the other hand, lots of authors and writing-related organisations are on Twitter. It’s probably easier to chat with these people on Twitter than via blog comments (I say, looking meaningfully at authors who use Blogger, which refuses to let me leave any comments). Maybe Twitter will be a useful means of connecting with the writing and reading world?

So, as you have probably gathered, I’m now on Twitter. You can find me at mini_memoranda. (There were already about fifty Michelle Coopers on Twitter. The nerve of them, using their own names for their own Twitter accounts!) So far, I’ve accidentally liked one of my own tweets when I clicked on the wrong symbol, attracted one dodgy follower, and had Twitter tell me I ought to follow Tony Abbott. Please tell me you’ve had better experiences on Twitter and how to do it properly.