Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Greenwood Tree

Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.




 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

Greenwood Tree Giveaway

I may have mentioned this before (like, nearly every day for the past few weeks or so) – Greenwood Tree is on Tour – a Mystery Tour, no less. Guess whodunnit, win a prize or two (full description here).

As part of the Tour, we have craftily devised a new giveaway, which is on its way (the 20th), via Grey Cells Press : you can enter by visiting the Tour, liking a couple of pages, following some grog-swilling, Remington-bashing characters on Twitter …. easy.  That is, if you’re looking for a chance to win some free mystery cozy reading (i.e. Greenwood Tree).

GWT book cover

If you’re not looking  for anything of the kind, then forget I spoke. I’ll just sit in the corner, drawing bears and minding my own business.  Kind of dusty in here – who took my crayons?  Hello ?

A Day Out…

Here’s a nice little curio I came across Retronaut the other day: a ticket issued by the British Museum in 1790 to one (*squints *) Mr Masefield (?), who was allowed entrance as one of five or six visitors  for a genteel amble around Montagu House, one ‘fair’ day in March (according the Meterological Table in Gentleman’s Magazine, with temperatures of 56° Fahrenheit at noon).And after admiring Sir Sloane’s admirable collection of books, prints and natural specimens,did Mr Masefield then wander out for a stroll in the neatly laid out gardens ? It is quite a view, with a fountain at the end of the walk, and close on 600 species of plants growing there.


The gardens had had a chequered history, the house having been abandoned in the 1740s; however, when it was purchased as the first home of the Museum, they were restored by the Trustees’ hired gardener Mr Bramley, and became a popular visitors’ spot in their own right.

Sadly, they disappeared completely in the 1820s under the new designs for the present British Museum by Sir Robert Smirke…

Montagu House, North Prospect, 1715, both house and gardens in fashionable French Style

I wonder if the Warrens might have popped in on an occasional visit down to London. I should think Robert did when he was not at Temple Bar or ‘Varsity. That and the Pump Rooms at Bath were on the Social Calendar for those wishing to be thought well of as Eucated Gentlefolk.

Much has changed. One thing has not: admission is still free, after three hundred years. Something laudable in that, especially at a time when libraries are being closed down and prices generally are going up …

Rather a different view now of course:

The British Museum, Great Court

The British Museum, Great Court (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For those with a mind to hop through time, Retronaut is a rather fun place where various oddities from the past are put on display: http://www.retronaut.com/ – worth a toddle or two)

Greenwood Tree Cover Reveal

GWT book cover Here it is… there it goes… and here we are. A new cover for Greenwood Tree. It was fun developing it, from its early days as a straight mask on black background, to deciding on the font (that took the longest time!) to choosing the colour…. after much to-ing and fro-ing, and tests, and re-runs, and tweaking and applying of  curling tongs  – we did it. I particularly like the font, as it combines that sense of decay, ancient and with a nice touch of mystery. I particularly like the effect of the T – sinister, with suggestions of an axe blade. Which has a certain relevance. A lot of very kind people will be posting this cover on their blogs. I do hope you will pop by them, to say hello and see what else they get up to. The full list is here : AuthorsAnon Newsletter –  and we’ll be chatting (I hope!) on Google + and FaceBook so do add your pictures, links to anything related to Green Men, myth and mystery, 1920s, the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, 18th century manners and fashion …. there’s plenty to choose from once you start …. 🙂 I can’t feature images on this kind of template, so I have posted the banner as an image widget … it’s a bit odd… you end up scrolling to the right to view it properly. I might find another way of displaying it …. There will be all sorts of other stuff on the other blogs, so I am just putting a few favourites here, which I may  or may not be posting at the various events as well…. Starting with a bit of Julia’s London: (I have posted this before, I do think the colour quality is amazing ) and some of the sort of life-style she felt a need to escape …: (Although I think she packed at least one of those cocktail dresses..) and a little something I just came across: the George Inn at Lichfield where the infamous ball takes place in 1783 …

I may well add  more later. I’ll just  pop one of the clips that will be circulating the web on here as well…

(Er, you will remember the name, won’t you ..? 😉 )

Unexpected Pleasures & Towers of Words

My publishers’ website has been updated. As a result of which, Greenwood Tree is now available to pre-order. All very swish, with a drop-down menu.

It’s rather taken me by surprise. A pleasant surprise, I hasten to add; something of  confirmation that, after all the hectic scribbling and manic editing, the doodling and digressing (on my part), the planning and preparation, we are on the way to publication. Still, unexpected, and slightly unreal (and all those other oft-quoted sentiments that authors are supposed to express).

It certainly took a damnably long time to write. I have made up for it since. A sequel is in progress,in that I have a beginning, a middle and an end and have only to fill in all the bits in between, I have a third half-planned, and ideas for a fourth jotted down somewhere …This on top of all the ideas, images, plot lines, notes and ‘excerpts’ lying in files and folders,  or in notebooks and on scraps of paper, as yet untyped. Some of those may yet disintegrate, fade away or otherwise be consigned to oblivion. Others I hope will grow into something, well, at least entertaining,  if nothing else.

… Silver buckles on cracked black shoes twinkling along 18th century cobbles; a hedgehog in slippers reading the Times, clockwork automata in hot-air balloons, (these are only a few of my favourite things….) Into my head it pops, onto the page it goes. It might become a short story, an incident, a scene, a three-part saga; I squirrel them away for future use – throwing nothing away. Yet. I accumulate. Something of a hazard when it is physical; and even  slightly disconcerting in digital form. Rather like a despairing partner or parent when their loved one insists on throwing nothing away: ‘But are you ever going to use it?’ asks my common sense, ‘You never know,’ replies my imagination,  ‘you just never know when you might need it’ and ‘waste not, want not,’ and so it goes on. Towers of words, piling one on top of the other, regardless of whether or not there is space and time and energy to do something with them, sitting in silence, watching, waiting for their cue…which does not come. Because there is always more spilling out, being tucked away in nooks and crannies until space itself will eventually run amok, shouting out ‘No More Room! No More Room! Implode! Implode! Melt-down!’

So when both my mental attic and my digital one are filled fit to burst, and bookshelves are swelling and heaving with notebooks stuffed with words, and I am reduced to a jelly or puddle on the floor, perhaps then all those words, sentences, ideas will find a way to float out into the ether and paint pictures in other people’s minds.

(Turns to gaze woefully at groaning pile of notebooks; then turns back to keyboard to type. Tap, tap, tap. Taptaptaptaptaptaptap….)

All of which was intended to lead neatly onto a link to said swish drop-down pre-order  menu … (I can’t think what happened along the way):  Grey Cells Press  (where you will also find excellent works by fellow authors, and likewise here :  Holland House Books ).

Happy browsing. 🙂


The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man Cometh.

via The Green Man Cometh.

I am a guest this week – what a novel experience that was!  Many thanks to Dean Lombardo for inviting me  – here is the opening :

“The next time you visit a cathedral, crane your head up to look at the ceiling, where the building’s arches lurk in shadow. What else do you see? You might need binoculars—but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth. Sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this often-sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has regained resonance only recently: the Green Man…”

Post continues  here …

The Bell

Eight sentence snippet(http://www.wewriwa.com/):

“Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it.”

(Complete story below)


A short winter’s tale with Julia Warren, to bring in the new year. It was  inspired by … a pet dog’s bell hanging on a Christmas Tree.

Happy New Year  and Happy Haunting !

The Bell

1800, December

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

“… and such a tree it was, the children said, a great yew in a pot, standing taller than any man in the room, right in the middle of the floor and spreading its branches out as so many arms, each bearing something bright, something pleasing, something to delight – and delighted the children were, too, each coming home afterwards with his or her toy and sweetmeat tightly clasped to breast, cheeks all pink with excitement…little Robert declared it to be the best Christmas party ever… and Emma ate all her sweetmeat at once and was quite unwell most of the night…too much sugar and excitement, I have declared all rich food be kept out of sight for the rest of the week , or at least until their spirits are a little more settled….

‘I had not yet told you about the toys – Robert has marched the little wooden soldier he was given till I am certain I heard the poor thing squeak in protest; such limitless energy the little ones have! – whereas Emma has a doll with a bell attached to it; a shepherdess, I think it is, a charming little thing– the bell is on a stick, with a blue ribbon attached; every time it is shook, it gives off a singularly gentle chime. The child has been carrying it around the house, and now the dog  follows her everywhere: I am certain he does so in order to hear the sound of the little bell again…’

1800, July

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

‘My dear Edith,

Such a panic there has been since you were last here, I can even now barely set it down without my hand causing my pen to tremble and scratch, and the ink to run and drip most terribly – and this even with the happy outcome. No doubt in years to come we shall look back all together in fond memory of the day Emma went missing – but not at present; I am quite unable to imagine what I might have done or where I might be had things turned out otherwise …

‘You will remember it is Emma’s habit to wander about the garden on sunny days, (still with her doll and its little bell to which she is most attached),and so it happened she slipped away the other day without telling anyone – which she has been told not to do previously, on many occasions, but because we know her usual movements, we have always been able to find her. This time, however we could not find any trace of the naughty thing, and were quite desperate, and called all the servants out to help search the grounds for her. It was now growing near to six of the clock, and she had last been seen a little after lunch.  We had just sent the footman over to Hartley House to enquire if she had stumbled across their land, and I was standing at the gate, watching after him as he went, when up came our dog, straight to where I was, holding in his mouth Emma’s little doll – still with its bell, which gave out that tiny chime…I had no breath left in me, with calling her name and traipsing the garden, and the sight of this  poor little toy in the animal’s mouth made me close to fainting;  Bess and Jacob were nearby, fortunately, or I should have quite fallen. Toby began whining and pawing at my gown, all this time holding the blessed toy in his mouth, and turning his head constantly. Jacob it was who suggested we follow the dog – indeed I needed no persuasion, and we fairly ran after the animal, who led us across the field, through the copse at the bottom, and onto the hill behind – and there, under the old oak , on a slope, we finally discovered  Emma, asleep, her bonnet half off, and her book beside her. Jacob blessed the day with such warmth as if she were his own, picked her up and carried her back. Toby has been rewarded by having the bell tied to his collar on special occasions – and I shall keep the bell in memory of this day…’



A discreet tinkling, a sigh, a murmur and everyone paused briefly.

‘Oh well,’ said Mrs Leveton, ’I can get some more from Woolworths – it is a shame though, such a pretty colour…’ She gazed down at the mosaic of ruby and gold glass, then bent to pick another small globe from the large cardboard box beside her.

The Levetons had started decorating for Christmas earlier than usual – and a few of their hapless friends had been inveigled into helping out, including Julia. She had volunteered – or rather, Aunty Iz had volunteered first, only to find she was unable to go at the last minute – so Julia offered to help out, and found herself invited to join the house-party.

‘She is a dear, but she does tend to lose things rather easily; I think you would be good at finding them for her – and do take this over for her ….’Aunt Iz  gave Julia a parcel tied up with a deep green ribbon. ‘I am sure you will have a lovely time – and you know Geraldine and Tommy already, so you can catch up on old times.’

Julia trundled across to the Levetons in the careful custody of Brenton and the family car in time for lunch, and spent much of the afternoon unpacking decorations, arranging mistletoe and  holly, and finding lost objects: silver spoons down the backs of chairs, cousin Maud’s necklace, the morning newspaper … There was a merciful lull towards four o’clock:  various errands and invitations were recalled and Julia was left briefly with a brimming teapot and cup in the large drawing room with the now resplendent tree and a roaring fire.

It was warm, she was tired and drifted off comfortably for a few minutes. Her dreams were brief and muddled, involving a large black dog, a sleeping child and a small bell, chiming gently in the background. She awoke suddenly, convinced that the bell was real – indeed, so vivid was the dream, it left a fading impression of the bell still sounding its singularly light, gentle chime. There was even a lingering certainty of the black dog, padding gently away through the door. Julia blinked and looked again – surely there had been a shadow moving just out of sight, across the open door?

Mrs Leveton chose that moment to hurry in, anxious and flustered: ‘Oh dear, oh dear, now I know I had them in here not a moment ago…’

‘What would that be, Mrs L?’

‘My glasses, dear.’

‘They  aren’t the ones on your head, by any chance, are they ? ‘

Mrs Leveton felt about and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘You are quite right – I am getting too forgetful in my old age.  I must go and find Lucy…’ And off she went again.

Lucy was Mrs Leveton’s youngest niece, home from a brief, unsuccessful visit to Geneva and waiting to be presented next season. Pale, fair, dreamy, fond of animals and books and not inclined to talk, she put Julia a little in mind of cousin Bunty; without perhaps the aplomb.

Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it. Or perhaps he had already wandered in while she had been dozing and somehow entered her sub-consciousness.

Geraldine and Tommy, the Levetons’ daughter and son, were now out in the hall, arguing about holly and garlands. Julia went out to see what else she could do.

After another round of hunting for misplaced mistletoe and ribbons, it was time for drinks, followed by dinner; most of the other guests were to arrive later over the coming weekend, and Julia welcomed the comparative peace and quiet of a small gathering, in spite of Tommy insisting on winding up the gramophone and demonstrating his own version of the Charleston.

All went on pretty well the next day until just after lunch when there was a mild attack of panic – Mrs Leveton, on looking over the Christmas Tree suddenly emitted a genteel squawk. ‘The bell!’ she gasped, quite shocked. ‘Now, how could I have forgotten the bell …’ She started rummaging about in the semi-discarded decoration box, increasingly frantic, until she gave up and sat down.  Geraldine and Tommy sat on either side of her, looking anxious. Julia peered inside the box. ‘Is it very small?’ she asked.

‘It was from a child’s toy, and we always hang it on the tree every year; only now it’s not there…oh dear oh dear, what will Freddy say…’

‘Oh, come along now, mother, you know the old man doesn’t fuss about such things,’ offered Tom cheerfully. ‘If that’s all you’re worried about…’ Julia noted however, that he looked about the room with a faint hint of.. uncertainty? Even nervousness?

The fire was still billowing valiantly away, and yet the light and atmosphere in the room had somehow changed. Mrs Leveton’s anxiety was contagious. Julia got up and started hunting around the room. Tommy followed suit, leaving Geraldine to encourage their mother with suggestions. ‘…some more boxes in the attic, perhaps, or slipped down between the cushions..’

Julia’s curiosity grew with this concern over what might otherwise be considered a mere trifle, and, wary of further upsetting Mrs Leveton, waited until the suggestion was made to look further afield – as they tramped upstairs towards the box-room, she put a few questions to Tommy who was most forthcoming, if a little scathing.

‘Yes, it came off a doll one of the old man’s ancestors had; family tradition maintains it should be hung on the Christmas tree every year… something to do with a child getting lost and found. There’s a myth about not losing the bell, or things will happen, some such rot. Can’t say I believe in all that sort of thing, myself – nor does the old man, either. Oh well – if it will put the mater’s mind at rest – and here we are…’ He turned the handle to the box-room.

They had searched for the better part of an hour when the question was raised as to where Lucy was; she had not been seen, it transpired, since breakfast. Nobody had observed her leave the house, nor was she in her room or downstairs. Before another two hours had passed, Mrs Leveton was in a state of nervous collapse.

‘It’s the bell,’ she kept whispering, ‘I know this is because I’ve lost the bell …’ and she pressed a handkerchief to her mouth.

Geraldine took charge and persuaded her mother to lie down. ‘It’s exhaustion, mother, we’ll find Lucy, I’ll get Mrs Heron to make you some chamomile and you have a rest…’she escorted her upstairs, leaving Julia and Tommy to continue the hunt.

‘Cousin Lucy, you may have noted, is inclined to dream,’ commented Tommy, ‘I am wondering whether it is worth trying the Gallery as well.’

The Gallery was a lesser used part of the house, occasionally opened up in the summer for larger parties. From its original purpose in displaying the family portraits, to acting as an extended lumber room for the detritus of the intervening Victorian period, it now sat in semi-gloom, draped in spectral dust-sheets and to all intents and purposes in a state of hibernation.  Tommy and Julia decided it would be more efficient to split up and so it came about that Julia found herself in a rather remote corridor at the far end of the house, gazing somewhat hesitantly into its depths.

There was still light enough to see to the end of the corridor; that bluish light which comes when the sun decides he has had enough for one day and changes for drinks. There were shadows growing on the walls; half-tables, small chairs, the occasional standing plant pot – and the dog. He was standing at the far end of the corridor – and when he moved, she could just hear the distant delicate chime of the bell around its neck. He padded soundlessly round a corner, pausing briefly to look back at Julia, as if checking that she was coming too. She followed without a word, the sound of the bell leading her down another, narrower corridor, a couple of steps down and … Julia stopped and peered. There was a crack of light under the door on the right. She approached slowly, suddenly aware of her heart thudding. What if… what if… and a dozen or more doubts and queries flooded her mind. She knocked gently. Was there a rustle of cloth, of movement? She turned the door handle as quietly and gently as possible and looked inside.

It was a bedroom – the furniture belonged to another age – yet had been kept in good condition. Dust had not been allowed to make its home here, nor cobwebs their corners. Queen Anne and the Georges still held sway in the dressing table, chairs and small book case while the bed … was occupied. A girl with pale skin, pale hair, in her apricot dress and deep blue jacket lay on it, lost in reverie. Julia stepped forward and gently shook the sleeping Lucy. A book slipped from the bed and landed with a plunk on the floor; she noted briefly it was a collection of fairy tales. Lucy’s eyes flickered open and she let out a soft, startled ‘oh!’. She sat up slowly, and raised a hand, which she looked at briefly in puzzlement. She was holding a piece of cloth, half wrapped around something small that gleamed. Slowly she opened her hand and they both looked down at the small bell nestling in the cloth.

‘Aunty gave it to me to clean – she said it needed a polish,’ murmured Lucy, remembering.

It was not until they were half way downstairs that Julia thought of the dog.

‘Of course, now I remember – straight after breakfast, only it went completely out of my head,’ said Mrs Leveton, recovered after her rest. Everyone was back in the drawing room, the fire still burning healthily away, atmosphere once more restored to conviviality. The little bell, now well and truly polished, hung from a low branch, catching the odd flicker of light from the fire.

‘How did you come to be in that bedroom, though? It’s hardly ever used.’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied Lucy, a little vaguely, ‘I went to my room to fetch a fresh hanky and then I think I must have gone down the wrong corridor by mistake. I got rather lost, I’m afraid – and then, oh – there was the dog. He was sitting just outside one of the doors. Almost as if waiting to be left in. So I opened the door – and found the room… it was so pretty, and the books were so old…’ She looked as if she would fit better in a Gainsborough than in real life, considered Julia.

Mrs Leveton looked perfectly mystified. ‘But there are no dogs here today, although I think Gregory will be bringing his little pug with him on Monday. I wonder how it got in. We had better send someone around the house to check.’

‘I saw him too,’ said Julia, ‘and he sort of led me to where Lucy was. But he was here yesterday as well.That’s why I thought he had come with an early guest.’

A draught or gust from the chimney must have swept through the room, for suddenly the little bell chimed, and Julia jumped. ‘That was it,’ she exclaimed –‘that was the bell the dog was wearing – I heard it most distinctly.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘Quite big – a hairy,black thing, rather quiet – apart from the bell.’

‘Yes,’ added Lucy, more wide awake than she had yet seemed. ‘I remember the bell, too. It jingled a bit.’

There was a definite pause as Geraldine and Tommy looked at their mother. Tommy gave a low whistle. Mrs Leveton continued to look quite puzzled for a minute – then she said: ’Oh  – do you think it might have been ….’

‘He hasn’t been seen here for a very long time,’ said Geraldine to Julia, by way of explanation. ‘I for one have never seen him – but it sounds like Emma’s dog. Apparently when people, particularly children go missing – he comes and looks for them. I suppose we were not in the habit of getting lost, as children. He was the favourite pet of Emma Leveton – the one the bell belonged to. There’s letters about it somewhere. She was given a doll with a bell on it, and got lost, and the dog found her, by bringing the doll to her mother and then leading everyone back to the little girl.’

‘And it’s always been a tradition to have the bell hanging from the tree – in memory of the dog,’ added Mrs Leveton. ‘ Your grandfather told me to always hang the bell on one of the lower branches, so Toby can brush against it. “But,” he said, “if you ever do forget, no doubt he’ll find a way to remind you.” ‘

There was another pause; they might almost have been waiting for something to happen. Then, with a clarity that made them all jump, the bell gave off its chime. A tiny, delicate sound. They all looked at it, swaying gently from its branch, as if indeed someone had just brushed past it.

Later, Geraldine took Julia to the breakfast room. The portrait over the mantelpiece showed a young girl in white empire dress and large dark hat with a blue feather; the artist had used loose, bold strokes, yet treated the face with a rare delicacy. At her side stood a dog, a magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar.

‘What was his name again ?’ asked Julia.

‘It is written on the frame – look: Miss Emma Leveton, with her favourite companion and rescuer, Toby.’


Mrs Leveton has never yet seen Toby herself – but very occasionally, she fancies she can hear the bell chime delicately in the distance and comforts herself with the idea that Toby is checking the house to make sure all is as it should be.

The Sounds of London …

Couldn’t resist this, another little foundling for the old scrap-book (it’s 1915, so a much younger  Julia Warren was perhaps still learning her craft as a fledgling  journalist, but already with dreams of becoming a writer…)

“Night-time sounds of Kingsland Road:

My first night was the same as every other. My window looked out on a church tower which still further preyed on the wan light of the street, and, as I lay in bed, its swart height, pierced by the lit clock face, gloated stiffly over me. From back of beyond a furry voice came dolefully—
Goo bay to sum-mer, goo bay, goo baaaaay!

That song has thrilled and chilled me ever since. Next door an Easy Payments piano was being tortured by wicked fingers that sought after the wild grace of Weber’s “Invitation to the Valse.” From the street the usual London night sounds floated up until well after midnight. There was the dull, pessimistic tramp of the constable, and the long rumble of the Southwark-bound omnibus. Sometimes a stray motor-car would hoot and jangle in the distance, swelling to a clatter as it passed, and falling away in a pathetic diminuendo. A traction-engine grumbled its way along, shaking foundations and setting bed and ornaments a-trembling. Then came the blustering excitement of chucking-out at the “Galloping Horses.” Half a dozen wanted to fight; half a dozen others wanted to kiss; everybody wanted to live in amity and be jollyolpal. A woman’s voice cried for her husband, and abused a certain Long Charlie; and Long Charlie demanded with piteous reiteration: “Why don’t I wanter fight? Eh? Tell me that. Why don’t I wanter fight? Did you ‘ear what he called me? Did you ‘ear? He called me a—a—what was it he called me?”

Then came police, disbandment, and dark peace, as the strayed revellers melted into the night. Sometimes there would sound the faint tinkle of a belated hansom, chiming solitarily, as though weary of frivolity. And then a final stillness of which the constable’s step seemed but a part.”

by Thomas Burke, from A Lonely Night, 1915.


An excellent site for sounds of London, past and (fairly) present : The London Sound Survey

Now, something a little closer to Julia’s time in Greenwood Tree…. :


Acorn Crunching

I have mentioned acorns before (near-concussion-wise): but it’s now that little bit further on in the time of year – and Greenwood Tree, whatever else it has, contains a multitude of the things, turning up in saucers, on pillows, in baskets … I have some additions to make to Greenwood (haven’t quite decided whether to put yet another acorn in there somewhere), and while pondering these additions, there is a walk I like to take which passes under an informal avenue of ivy-clad oaks; sunshine pokes through in satisfyingly soft, gauzy rays and after rain, we are left with the usual mirrors at our feet, broken up by those tiny, yellowish stepping-stones; a passing glance into another world – on and under the surface: look in, and you might fall; look at, you might imagine. Reflection versus depth … do I pause, Alice-like, to look and wonder briefly what it might really be like on the other side of the mirror?

Nah, not really – too busy crunching acorns underfoot, enjoying the conceit of their cups as goblets for squirrels, banqueting in the new season with its warm colours and often dramatic skies …

… mirrors at our feet …

‘Elves for fear creep into acorn cups and hide them there’

Another favourite image, although it leaves a puzzling thought: how big are elves, really? Shakespeare would seem to suggest here that elves are in fact either telescopic or permanently miniscule. Is there a manual or guide which defines the actual height of an elf? They do seem to vary according to who is talking about them …

And, come to think of it, rather than associate acorns with autumn, I find I look ahead to spring: yes, yes, partly to override thoughts of winter, my least favourite season, but partly because the acorn is the seed that will (given the slightest encouragement) take root and produce a sapling (which I shall then be battling with in the back garden) … It is the classic emblem of growth. Occasionally annoying, often baffling, ultimately unstoppable. Unless I pull that sapling up … ideally, I would transplant it. Sometimes there just isn’t enough room though. (I could make an obvious parallel here with writing – the old creative theme that asks for pruning, up-rooting and transplanting – but it surely isn’t necessary to spell it out …)

So on I go, crunching acorns – what a satisfying sound that is (seems destructive, doesn’t it, but they will mulch down and provide something to the soil even so) – and what a lot of them there are …

This has been a walk in the woods, in most senses of the phrase, so please don’t pay any attention. Wander along, or take that path over there, or stop and look up at the sky while I take a photo or doodle a bit … I won’t be long.

A walk in the woods …

Acorns: visiting cards or reminders?

Was sitting outside, attempting to scribble, when a stonking great acorn thudded, or rather, thwacked onto the page before me, missing my nut by inches. Smack bang in the middle of me notebook. The cheeky beggar. I came that close to nursing a minor bump on the old cranium ….

A cheeky beggar

“… The buns were finished, and Julia had jotted down a few ideas for a character into her notebook. Time now for the bookshop. Surely once there, something in her sluggish brain would be jogged into action.

She didn’t have the exact amount, so paid her shilling and doodled some more while waiting for the waitress to bring back the change. The doodle turned into another of her dancing tree-men. When the waitress had been and gone with the change, she began to gather up her goods and noticed something extra on the plate, rolling around between the coins. She frowned briefly at it and peered closer. It was an acorn, still green in its shell. She took the change, and went with the plate (in a spirit of inquiry)  to the waitress, who was extremely surprised and quite sure that no such thing as an acorn had ever been seen inside a Lyon’s Corner House before – and certainly not on any item of crockery.

‘Oh well, I’ll take it then, for good luck,’ said Julia cheerfully, to cover her puzzlement.

‘Very good, miss,’ replied the waitress politely, evidently well-trained in how to deal with eccentric authoresses who went around absently scattering acorns about. …”

(GreenWood Tree excerpt)

Acorns pop up here and there in Greenwood Tree, on window sills and pillows, in saucers and baskets  – like visiting cards, or reminders … perhaps this was a visiting card to jog my memory, my own reminder of the fact I have pretty much finished the illustrations for it, and should really get on with sticking them into the old MS, instead of hovering in limbo; I am tempted, y’see, to do some Rowlandson/Gilray style colour ‘plates’ as it were  … we shall see …

In the meantime, something to be going on with: Mrs Glass and Mrs Rawnlsey gossiping over their outsize pots of tea  …

Mrs Glass: More tea, Mrs Rawnsley?