All posts by Flyttamouse

Two Women Writers: two FREE books!

'The Freak and the Idol' by Katy Jones and 'The Secret Mother' by Victoria Delderfield

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 I have teamed up with Victoria Delderfield, author of ‘The Secret Mother’.  She has written a guest blog below, and we are giving away a copy of both our books over on Facebook. It’s dead easy – all you have to do to enter is ‘like’ the post and tell us the last book you read, and could recommend, by a female author.

My first (and, to date, only) novel was originally published back in 'The Freak and the Idol,' by Katy Jones2004. I wanted to explore and express the ways in which sexism affects even privileged, middle-class, white women in the UK. In a world where children flee bombs, only to drown or disappear into the hands of traffickers – and in a country where thousands rely on food banks and people are hounded on their deathbeds over when they are returning to work – this seems like a pretty parochial concern. And maybe it would be, except that I was writing about a particular manifestation of a general problem – and this general problem puts half the world’s population at a disadvantage.

So, why are women at a disadvantage in the 21st Century? Why are women paid less than their male counterparts the world over? Why are women so much more likely to be the victims of male violence (including rape and homicide) than men are of female? Why are there so few women in positions of power (heads of state, parliamentarians, judges, CEOs, etc)? And why do so many people – female and male – fail to notice or concern themselves with any of this so much of the time?

A large part of the answer is, I think, the objectification of women. We are taught from birth to see men as the subjects, the active parties (the doers, the thinkers, the leaders, the observers) while women are seen as the objects of male actions (the victims, the subject of male thought, the led, the observed). From this perspective, women are not valued except as they relate to men. Legislation, working conditions and cultural norms are all unlikely to be created and seen from a female perspective when we are all taught to see the world, and ourselves, from a male point of view. The device I used to explore this in ‘The Freak and the Idol,’ was to have a male narrator, who is able almost to control the female characters by the way he defines and describes them. The narrator’s view is only challenged when the female characters begin to argue and answer back.

I have to say that in the thirteen years since my novel was first published, I don’t immediately see many improvements in women’s position in the world. Last year the USA knowingly elected a president who has boasted about sexually assaulting women, who regularly attempts to discredit women on the basis of their appearance and who refers to women as if they are male possessions, not people. His budget blueprint proposes eliminating all twenty-five of the Department of Justice’s violence against women grant programs and he has reinstated the ‘global gag rule.’ This will lead to reduced access to contraception for vulnerable women around the world and, ironically, to an increased number of abortions, many of which will be unsafe and will result in women’s deaths.

Meanwhile, in Russia, forty women a day die at the hands of their husbands or partners and yet parliamentarians recently voted 380 to 3 to decriminalize domestic violence.

It’s a pretty depressing picture, but there is advancement too. The Africa-led collective The Girl Generation is working to end FGM worldwide this generation. Gambia and Tanzania outlawed child marriage last year. Between 2013 and 2016, Malawian Chief Theresa Kachindamoto had 850 child marriages annulled and sent the girls back to school. And perhaps Donald Trump hasn’t been all bad news for women. His comments and his policies galvanized around five million people worldwide into joining a Women’s March, many wearing the pink pussyhats which are a direct response to some of his most notorious sexist remarks. People marched for a variety of reasons, (immigration, religious freedom, reproductive rights, refugees, the environment, racial equality, etc, etc.) but they were all supporters of women’s rights, and happy to be associated with a Women’s March. Maybe a powerful political leader who tramples women underfoot is just what is needed to energize and motivate us – to remind us of what we stand to lose and what we still need to gain.

GUEST BLOG by Victoria Delderfield

Victoria DelderfieldVictoria Delderfield is author of the award-winning novel, The Secret Mother. Her book tells the story of a young Chinese woman who abandons her twin daughters in the early nineties, but never relinquishes the bonds of maternal love. It charts the lives of the adoptive family living in the UK and the twins’ quest to understand their heritage and Chinese birth mother.

International Women’s Day – a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as well as a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The 8th March also happens to be my youngest son’s birthday. And that’s got me thinking again about how the battle for equality often begins before birth…

When I was pregnant, I didn’t elect to find out the sex of my unborn child. I can honestly say it didn’t matter to me whether I’d have a boy or a girl. Figures from China, however, show the worrying trend of a clear and sustained preference for baby boys which has led to the greatest gender imbalance of any country in the world.

The Battle Begins at Birth

According to the United Nation’s (UN) Population Prospects 2010 revision, China’s sex ratio at birth (SRB) reached 120 (male births per 100 female births) in 2005-10, compared with a world average of 107.  This earned China first place on the global ranking of imbalanced sex ratios at birth, a rank it has held since the mid-1980s when the SRB first moved into the “abnormal range”.

In the early 1980s there were 108 male births to every 100 female, only slightly above the natural rate; by 2000 that had soared to 120 males, and in some provinces, such as Anhui, Jiangxi and Shaanxi, to more than 130.

Experts say the gender imbalance in China’s population can be traced back to the start of the “one-child policy” during the 1970s.

Gender studies scholar Lu Pin, who edits the online newspaper Women’s Voice, said the policy had combined with a preference in Chinese traditional culture for male heirs, whose duty it is to care for their parents in old age.

“The one-child policies actually allow for the gender bias in favour of boys, and, as such, can be said to bear some responsibility for reinforcing it. In rural areas, the one-child policy was always in effect a ‘one-and-a-half child policy,’ because couples would be allowed a second child if the first was a girl. If the first-born was a boy, then they wouldn’t be allowed to have another,” Lu said. She fears that the government colluded with traditional ideas that boys are more valuable than girls.

In recent decades, the spread of cheap ultrasound (enabling sex-determination in early-mid pregnancy) and easy access to abortion courtesy of the government’s one-child policy, has led to widespread abortion of female foetuses. As a result approximately 30 million more men than women will reach adulthood by 2020.

Li Bin, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, has noted that, “If this trend continues it will jeopardize gender equality, development of girls, lawful interests and rights of women, and the nation’s long-term development.”

Other undesirable consequences of the resulting gender imbalance may include excessive savings (as families with boys compete to match their sons with scarce girls), trafficking in women, child abandonment and rising disaffection and crime among the low-skill unmarried male population.

What has been done?

To combat China’s SRB discrepancy, several laws were voted during the last two decades. In 1991-2 new laws forbade the drowning and abandonment of young girls, neglect and discriminations of sterile women or women only having daughters. In 1994, it became illegal to determine a foetus’ gender and in 2002, abortions based on gender were outlawed.

Numerous efforts to improve women’s rights and promote gender equality with a view to lowering the SRB and improving girl survival rates have already been undertaken, including the “Care for Girls” campaign, first introduced in the Chaohu Experimental Zone in 2000, and then in the entire country from the beginning of 2006.  Officials have credited the fall in the official SRB between 2009 and 2011, from 119.5 to 117.8, to their recent crackdowns on illegal prenatal gender tests and selective abortions, while acknowledging that enhanced efforts to promote equal opportunities and the social status of females are fundamental solutions to the problem.

Market reform has also played a significant factor in increasing the opportunities available to young women, who were previously tied to their rural and familial milieu. In my novel, The Secret Mother, I chart the life of one such woman, Mai Ling, who flees an arranged marriage – and the domestic drudgery this entails – in favour of economic liberty. Market reform has allowed girls to earn wages and therefore provide their family with financial support before they are married. It has begun the slow process of changing perceptions of women as ‘son-incubators’.

However, the roots of son-preference lie unquestionably deep in Chinese culture. To say it will take decades to end a preference that dates back thousands of years may be optimistic, particularly in a country of China’s size and internal differentiation. But try to end it they must – for the sake of unborn generations of men and women to come.

Of Ravens, Inktober and Froggicorns

Decorative raven image with wild roses, moths and magical tomes
The Raven

In the months leading up to the Raven King’s Faery Ball and the Faery Fayre in Glastonbury I found it a lot easier to create artwork inspired by ravens than by faeries. I sketched stuffed ravens at Manchester Museum and live ravens at Gauntlet Bird of Prey centre, as well as taking some useful photos. I drew bird skulls and listened to Grimms’ raven-themed fairy tales on audiobook, ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Seven Ravens’. I discovered, among other things, that ravens mate for life, have a complex vocabulary, like to play and can fly upside-down for long distances!

At the same time I was looking at Regency style costume and decorative detail, with the plan of incorporating it into fairy-ish images, but these ideas didn’t really come together. (I think it may have the difficulty of representing the fae while allowing them to remain mysterious which was inhibiting my creative process…see my last post.) However, my Regency researches did inform my Raven picture, above (read more about it here). I also bought some paper fans, which seemed like a brilliant idea for an event involving a ball, but they proved quite difficult to decorate. Most media bled through the paper quite easily and looked messy on the reverse side. It certainly wasn’t possible to use layers of blended markers with pencil crayons on top, as I do for most of my artwork – the paper would’ve disintegrated! My most successful fan featured – you guessed it – ravens.

Regency style hand-decorated fan with ravens
Hand-decorated paper fan with ink and black glitter. And ravens.

The latter part of my plan for creating artwork for the Faery Fayre involved Inktober. For the uninitiated, this is an annual challenge started by Jake Parker, which involves producing an ink drawing every day throughout October. Participating artists post their work online with the hashtag #inktober. My plan was to try to do some raven or/and fairy themed artwork as part of the challenge. I thought that black and white might lend itself to the world of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’.

So, predictably, I drew a raven.

Raven Portrait for #inktober
Raven Portrait

…and another raven.

Clever Raven drawing for #inktober
Clever Raven

These ones are not ravens, they are crows. Which is quite different.

Crow drawing for #inktober
Not Ravens

Also, remarkably, I did some other Inktober drawings which were not ravens – or even like ravens. You can see the whole series on Instagram. I managed to do an Inktober drawing every day but one…on the day we travelled down to Glastonbury we had a dreadful journey and I was in a dark car till after midnight, so it proved impossible to do a drawing during the right twenty-four hour period. (Nor was I particularly inclined to when we finally arrived, especially as I had to be up for the Faery Fayre the next morning!) The whole Inktober experience was surprisingly exhausting. (Probably I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was difficult to fit an extra thirty-one drawings into a month!) I’d definitely recommend it though…it was encouraging to find that I could produce a daily ink drawing, regardless of whether it was convenient or whether I thought I had any ideas. It also proved to me that I can work more quickly than I imagine…and that I can get good results (sometimes, at least!) with little or nothing in the way of reference.

I even managed some faeries.

Faerie Ball drawing for #inktober
Faerie Ball

I’m currently having an Art Sale of all my available Inktober work on Facebook – at very affordable prices. The last day is November 16th and to date I’ve sold exactly half of my available work (a few of my Inktober drawings were in sketchbooks I didn’t want to dismember, so I didn’t offer them for sale). I’m really pleased to have sold so many! It’s very satisfying to send my drawings off to good homes!

Hagstone drawing for #inktober
Hagstone – a stone with a natural hole, through which faeries can be seen!

I can’t end this post without saying that today (8th November…technically it’s now 9th, but only just!) was the official release date of the picture book I illustrated for writer Kay Green, ‘The Loveliest of all was the Froggicorn’! The best source of information about the book is probably the Facebook page, but there is now a Froggicorn Twitter account too.  I have some books available myself, which I am happy to personalixe. You can contact me using the link above to arrange a purchase.

Edit: You can now purchase a signed and personalized copy of ‘The Loveliest of all was the Froggicorn’ from my online shop.

Fae Folk drawing for #inktober
Fae Folk I drew while running my stall at the Faery Fayre. I was inspired by the amazing costumes I saw, though no one looked quite like this!!


In the Court of the Raven King

Carrion Crow Sketch
Not actually a raven.

I fell in love with Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ about a decade ago, I suppose. A copy was handed to me reverently by a friend who told me, ‘I think this is the next ‘Harry Potter’!’. The book was indeed received with the wildest rapture by an enthusiastic portion of the reading public. Looking at online reviews now, though, I see that it’s not for everyone. I imagine that if you don’t read pre-twentieth-century literature you might find it hard going. Otherwise, it’s basically Jane Austen with fairies, so…what’s not to like?

The rest of the world discovered Jonathan Strange et al last year, when the BBC TV adaptation came out. It was satisfyingly atmospheric and Childermass, Arabella and Jonathan Strange himself were wonderfully portrayed. Some of the magic looked brilliant on screen (Strange’s sand horses come to mind) but I was a little less convinced by the fairies. Perhaps this is because the evocative language used to describe the fairies and their realm in the book simply cannot be translated into something as definite as a filmed image, without losing most of its mystery. How, for instance, can the costume department create “a gown the colour of storms, shadows, and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets”? The fairies in Clarke’s novel are just beyond the reach of our imaginations; but fairies on screen are seen, revealed, defined, pinned down; and so, I think, inherently less magical.

The fairies were one of the aspects of the novel I thought was exceptionally interesting (besides the humour, the totally convincing magical Regency world, the characters and the intricate footnotes…). Susanna Clarke’s fairies are so ‘other,’ so much more fairylike than other fictional fairies. In comparison there is something rather disappointing about Tolkien’s elves – which are basically nobler, better-looking humans – or Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, which are diminutive, dressed-up kindergarteners. Clarke’s fairies are wilder, much less comprehensible, far less rule-bound and, above all, far less human. They are the fairies of traditional English folk tales.

All of this is on my mind, because I have recently bought tickets for the Raven King’s Faery Ball, this October, in Glastonbury. I’ll be selling my artwork at the associated Faery Fayre that same weekend, so I’m planning to develop some artwork loosely inspired by Susanna Clarke’s novel and the folklore which informs it. (I’m feeling slightly daunted, because drawings and paintings of fairies share the drawbacks of TV adaptation – it is difficult to maintain mystery whilst visually portraying it!) I’m intending to research the Regency fashions which appear as part of the backdrop to the book – and which are adopted by some of the fairies; I think a sketching trip to Manchester Gallery of Costume might be in order. I also need to draw ravens and revisit some of my books of English fairy lore. I need to get busy…

Sketching at Manchester Museum

So, one of my plans for 2016 is to sketch more (maybe one of my plans for 2016 should be to update my blog more often…ahem). As well as sketching in coffee shops, in the house and at the park, I’ve paid a few visits to Manchester Museum to draw their stuffed animals. The first time I sketched wolves (which led to a mixed media piece called Not Out of the Woods) and the second time I drew a nine-banded armadillo. This week I wanted to research dragons.

Now, you may think that they wouldn’t have dragons in Manchester Museum, but you would be wrong! I wasn’t expecting to see any actual dragons, but I found a rather appealing eastern bearded specimen in one of their display cases, along with a number of other lizards.

Lizard Sketches from Manchester Museum
Lizard Sketches. The Eastern Bearded Dragon is at the top left.

I am really enjoying sketching with Faber-Castell Pitt artist brush pens at the moment. I’ve been using the finer ones for a while, but until recently I more or less ignored the ones with brush tips. You really can’t be at all tentative about your sketching using these, which makes a change for me…and I like the results! For most of these I used Cold Grey IV and added a bit of tonal variety with the lighter Cold Grey I.

Sketches of bats, snakeskin, toad's eye and skin
‘Eye of frog, and wool of bat’…or something like that.

I was expecting to sketch a lot of birds in flight, but there weren’t too many in the museum. However, bat wings are surely closer to dragon wings than birds’ wings are, so I went with this Fruit Bat (poor thing looks a bit crispy in real life…I don’t think bat wings respond well to taxidermy). I also drew some snake and cane toad skin and the toad’s eye. The cane toad’s bumpy skin is similar to my idea of the skin on a dragon’s face.

Sketches of lizard faces, dog bat, bird talonHere is another bat, along with some different lizard faces and a griffon vulture’s foot. This unfortunate tuatara was pickled, and looks a bit pained!

Sketches of a crocodile skull and stuffed albatross
Saltwater crocodile skull and a wandering albatross

I finished off with this crocodile skull, which was amazingly textured, though I didn’t spend much time trying to capture that…I was mostly interested in the teeth and the shape of the jaw. I finally sketched a bird with outstretched wings in the shape of this albatross. It’s not really saying ‘dragon’ to me, but it might be useful!

Pyrography Pendants

In between bouts of illustration, I’ve been doing a bit of pyrography. This (for the benefit of the uninitiated) is the art of burning designs into wood or leather (and sometimes bone, gourds or tagua nut slices!). I use a Peter Child pyrography machine which is good for detailed work.  The temperature is adjustable and it has a sort of pen for which you can make wire nibs in the size and shape you require.

My pyrography pen, complete with ashy residue on the tip
My pyrography pen, complete with ashy residue on the tip…yes, should probably have removed that…

This time I have been making woodland animal pendants using some large, unfinished wooden beads I bought readymade. They are kind of smooth and oval, but flattish. Foolishly I didn’t think to take photos of the first few stages, so here is a brief description of what I do:

  • Create a design on paper
  • Ensure that the pendant has a big enough hole all the way through (sounds pretty basic, but I seem to have spent quite a while enlarging holes with tapestry needles and the wrong end of fine crochet hooks!)
  • Transfer the design to the pendant with pencil.  Normally I would do this with tracing paper, but that’s too difficult on a curved surface, so I just work freehand.
  • Using the pyrography machine and a fine point go over the design.  Erase any remaining pencil marks, then go over the design again adding detail.  I usually use a spoon-shaped nib for some of the shading and then return to the fine point to make sure the main features are sufficiently defined.
  • Add some colour.  This isn’t at all a necessary part of pyrography, but it really seems to bring these pendants to life.  I use gouache or acrylic paint with a translucent thinner, sometimes thinned with a little water as well.  It’s important to be able to see the design through the paint.  Really I’m just aiming to tint the design and maybe add some tiny details such as highlights in the eyes.

Apply two coats of varnish and string on a leather thong, with any beads which seem necessary.

Finished Fox and Barn Owl Pendants
Finished Fox and Barn Owl Pendants

And that’s it! It’s a relatively quick process – maybe a couple of hours total per pendant for the design transfer, burning, painting, varnishing and stringing, though in practice I do it over a longer period to allow for drying time. They’re really quite tiny – only three and a half by two centimetres tall.

Fawn and hedgehog pendants
Fawn and hedgehog pendants

One of the appealing things about these pendants is that they’re very easy to customize.  So far I have been continuing the design onto the back of the pendants (the back of the owl is quite detailed…the back of the fawn is spotted and the the back of the hedgehog has a pattern of spikes. The fox is plain fox colour) but it might be nice to add names, a significant date or a brief message to the back to make it extra special.  I can also use different kinds and colours of cord and beads.  This week I have been working on a commissioned pendant of a completely different creature (but it’s a present for someone, so no details!).

I’ve created a listing for these pendants on Etsy and there should be more designs to come – I have lots of ideas, though it’s an interesting challenge getting some of them to fit on an oval! You can also contact me via Facebook or message me here to order a pendant or find out more about a custom design.

Barn Owl Pendant
Barn Owl Pendant

Here Be Dragons

My current illustration project (see my previous post) is proceeding well.  I’ve been drawing the froggicorn himself, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve mainly been focusing on dragons.

Dragonscale border in progress
Border in progress

Almost every double page spread in the book will have its own border.  This is the dragonscale border I designed for the main dragon page.  I used Letraset Aqua Markers, working on top with coloured pencils.  I’ll be using the same media for all the Froggicorn illustrations, sometimes with the addition of some paint.

Pencil sketch of the dragon's head
Pencil sketch of the dragon’s head

Although this dragon is the kind of fearsome beast who appears in Western stories, I have to admit to a little bit of Far Eastern influence in the way I decided to portray him.

Dragon's head in colour
Nearly finished

I’m not sure which part of the story I’ll tackle next.  The Froggicorn hiding among reeds? The unicorn? The faun? The mermaid? I’m spoilt for choice, really…

International Vulture Awareness Day – and Some Owls

The weather today is distinctly unsummery, fittingly, as it’s the beginning of the Autumn term and I’m back to work with a vengeance.

Apparently today is Vulture Awareness Day, so I’m going to share some sketches I did over the summer at Gauntlet Birds of Prey, Eagle and Vulture Park in Knutsford.  Only one is of a vulture, because they’re a lot harder to draw from life than owls – they don’t tend to keep still!

Black Vulture Sketch
Black Vulture Sketch

Vultures are often perceived in a pretty negative way, but they perform a vital role in cleaning up carrion that would otherwise be a breeding ground for disease.  However, vulture populations are declining worldwide, with decreases of 97% for some species in  South Asia and West Africa over the last two or three decades.  The most significant causes seem to be the deliberate poisoning of carcasses, often by poachers (in Africa) and the use of the banned veterinary drug Diclofenac (in South Asia).  Traces of this drug in recently treated cattle are lethal for vultures.  The consequences of vulture decline in India include drinking water being contaminated by rotting carcasses and an increase in feral dogs, which spread serious diseases such as rabies, anthrax and plague.

Many different organisations across the world are trying to help endangered vultures.  If you are interested in donating, SAVE, standing for Save Asia’s Vultures from Extinction, is a consortium of some of these organisations (including RSPB and WWF).

Snowy Owl and European Eagle Owl sketch
Snowy Owl and European Eagle Owl

I also sketched some owls and a Marabou stork at Gauntlet, as you can see above and below.  If you’d like to see some of my finished colour drawings of owls, there are some in my Etsy Shop – both originals and prints.

Unidentified owl (!), Marabou Stork, Barn Owl and Boobook Owl
Unidentified owl (!), Marabou Stork, Barn Owl and Boobook Owl

Woodland Faerie Garland Tutorial

As tutorials go, this one is going to be a little sketchy! Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the making process, not knowing I was going to attempt a tutorial.  The crafting is all simple enough…please ask questions if anything isn’t clear.  There was quite a large element of crochet to the garland I made, but if you can’t crochet then never fear – I’ve included crochet-free options to make a garland that will be every bit as effective.  So, without more ado…

Woodland Faerie Garland Tutorial

What you will need:

  • wire – enough to go around the head of the woodland-faerie-to-be, plus about 10cm extra
  • ribbons – I suggest at least 4 or 5 1m lengths of satin ribbon in colours of your choice, about 1 cm wide.  It’s fine if some are thinner – and I think organza ribbon could work well too.
  • green yarn and an appropriate crochet hook, if you plan to crochet leaves and tendrils.  Crochet-free option: 3m green yarn or 1m green cord and also some scraps of green felt.
  • yarn in the colours of your choice for crochet flowers, or else felt in the colours of your choice
  • glittered wire butterfly – around 5cm across is good (I found mine on eBay)
  • optional extras: artificial flowers and leaves, beads, buttons (novelty buttons can work well…toadstools, minibeasts etc!)


  1. First of all you need to make a ring of wire, which will be the basis of your garland.  I used green pipe-cleaners for this, which was a mistake! I liked the idea that any visible bits of wire would be green and fuzzy and kind of organic looking.  However, the pipe-cleaners were really not sturdy enough for the job, even though I wrapped them three or four thick all around.  For a less flimsy garland you should check out the wire in your local craft shop…or your local hardware store. Green wire would be my first choice, though you could always spray paint other colours of wire, or wrap it in green tape…florist’s tape, for instance.  To be honest, though, greenness is far from vital.  The next stage covers the wire almost completely, even if you’re not trying! Anyway, make a ring of wire to fit the head of your faerie-to-be.   This can be done with just a head measurement, but ideally the wearer should be there so you can get the fit right and make sure the garland’s going to sit where you want it.  Just wrap the wire round your faerie’s head, overlapping the ends of the wire.  Then twist each overlapping end around the circlet, trying not to leave any sharp ends on the inside, where they might puncture your poor faerie’s scalp.  This twisty bit will go at the back of the garland.  (If you’re wrapping your wire in green tape then now’s the time to do it.)

    wire twisted together
    The twisty bit at the back should look like this (only with sturdier wire!)
  2. Start wrapping your wire circlet with ribbon.  To do this, take a 1m length of ribbon and find the centre point.  Place the centre point at the front of the circlet and wrap one end round and round the wire until you reach the back of the circlet, where the wires are twisted together.  (You don’t need to worry about covering the wire completely at this point.)  Then wrap the other end of the ribbon around the other half of the circlet until you reach the back of the circlet.  Knot the two ends of the ribbon together where they meet, leaving two long tails dangling…these will hang down your faerie’s back.  Then take another length of ribbon and repeat the process.  You might want to wrap it the other way so it criss-crosses over the first ribbon – it’s up to you!  Once you have two ribbons wrapped and knotted you will probably find the wire underneath is more or less covered.  If you want more coverage – or more colours of ribbon – add another.  Then take any remaining ribbons and knot them into place about half way along their length at the back of the circlet.  You should now have a wrapped circlet with a bunch of ribbon tails at the back (which will not all be the same length…I think it looks best if the lengths are a bit random!)  I like to trim the very ends on the diagonal to minimize fraying…and just because it looks better.  The knots might look a bit of a mess, but don’t worry – they get covered up later on.
  3. Next you’re going to make a long, leafy green tendril.  To crochet it, start chaining with your green yarn.  When your chain reaches something like 12cm, you can start to form the leaf.  Starting in the second chain from the hook and making one stitch per chain, crochet dc, htr, tr, tr, htr, dc (that was UK terms.  In US terms: sc, hdc, dc, dc, hdc, sc).  That’s your first leaf! Continue chaining for another 12cm or so and add another leaf…and so on until your tendril is about 1m long.  (You can vary your leaf length and width as the whim takes you, by doing more stitches, or using taller ones.) For the non-crochet version you can either use a 1m length of green cord for your tendril, or you can plait together three 1m lengths of green yarn.  For the leaves, cut out some leaf shapes from green felt.  If you feel like it you can embroider veins onto the leaves before you sew them onto the tendril at intervals.  When your tendril is complete, twine it around the circlet and knot it at the back.
  4. Side view of the Woodland Faerie GarlandNow you will need to make some flowers! If you don’t already have a favourite crochet flower pattern then Google will be your friend…there are loads of free flower tutorials available.  For the non-crochet version, simply cut out some felt flower shapes.  You could add a bead or a button for the middle of the flower.
  5. This is probably the time to attach your glittered wire butterfly.  It needs to be attached at the back of the circlet, neatly covering all the ribbony and yarny knots.  (Some of these butterflies are on wire or a clip and others need to be sewn.)  Of course, you don’t have to have a butterfly at the back.  You could easily use a biggish flower, or perhaps a bow – or anything else which will cover the knots and provide a focus.Back of garland with butterfly
  6.  Final step.  It’s time to get down to some serious embellishment! Gather the flowers you’ve made, along with whatever else you have in the way of buttons, beads, artificial flowers and other fripperies. All you need to do is decide how you want to arrange them on the circlet and then sew them in place (though it can take a while to get it looking suitably encrusted if you’re anything like me!).  I found it easiest to sew most of mine to the tendril, but you also have the option of sewing onto the ribbon (or both).  I sewed a few of my smaller bits and pieces onto the dangling ribbons at the back.

    side of garland with crochet flowers, buttons and beads

And that’s it! It’s quite straightforward but could be varied in so many ways…I’m quite tempted to try an autumnal version in shades of gold, copper and flame – and it would be interesting to see how it would look if you ditched flowers in favour of leaves in a variety of shapes and colours.  Hopefully I’ve inspired someone to have a go at making their own version…if you have a go at making a Woodland Faerie Garland I’d love to see pictures!

Woodland Faerie Garland

The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn

Some of you will know that for the last eight months or so I have been almost-but-not-quite-officially going ahead with the illustrations for a children’s book about a froggicorn! In fact, it’s been on the back burner for years, but for many reasons – not least the fact that I wanted to devote a considerable amount of time to it – the project hasn’t been able to get properly under way until now.

The Loveliest of All

The story, entitled ‘The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn,’ was written by Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press some years ago, but has never been published until now.  I’m incredibly excited to be illustrating it, partly because it’s a perfectly formed and very appealing story and partly because it features a whole variety of mythical beings, so illustrating it really is a fantasy artist’s dream!

Early sketches
Early sketches

We’re planning to release the book by September 2015, so it will be my main project for the next year and a bit.  I want to illustrate it lavishly, so there’s a lot to do!

Shiny New Blog

Imagine me, staring nervously at my laptop, wondering what to type.  Blank pages are terrifying, aren’t they?

OK, never mind the terrifying blank page.  Come in, sit down, have a cup of tea.  In fact, why not a glass of wine? Or a hot chocolate with plenty of cream and marshmallows if that’s more your style.  Comfortable? Good.  If you’re comfortable, then I’m a little more comfortable.

So.  Why start writing a blog, you ask? Helpfully, for the progression of this post.

Well.  Several reasons.  For one thing, I’m a writer.  Not a very prolific writer at present, but a writer nonetheless.  It ought to be easy for a writer to blog about her work, her projects, her inspiration (it ought…).  For another thing, I’m an artist and I’m increasingly realising that when people connect with a piece of art they usually want the story.  They want to know more about the artist, the inspiration behind the work and the process of creating it.  So perhaps I can do a little explaining here.  Also, I get a lot out of other people’s blog posts.  There are so many people out there generously sharing their ideas, experiences and expertise…their craft tutorials, their preschooler activities, their free crochet patterns…and I make use of them all the time.  (I read today that Pinterest users spend an average of 98 minutes per month on Pinterest.  Really? I’m sure I chalk up 98 minutes every two or three days…).  I help myself to other people’s freely shared information so liberally that I think I ought sometimes to make a contribution to the general pool.  I’m hoping to share ideas which have worked well for me and maybe attempt a few tutorials.  Perhaps I’ll start with a tutorial for a woodland faerie garland – what do you think??

Ah yes, faeries.  What, you wonder, has any of this to do with faerietales? I do love faerietales.  (Forgive my self-indulgent spelling…)  I love listening to storytellers, I love the beautiful illustrations which often accompany faerietales (I’m thinking of Arthur Rackham, Errol Le Cain and my childhood Treasury of Fairy Tales by Hilda Boswell…anyone else have that?) and I love modern, faerietalelike novels and short stories.  I would dearly love to create the sort of tales produced by the likes of A.S. Byatt or Angela Carter…and my recent writing does seem to be heading a little further into that kind of territory.

Strangely, faeries don’t very often crop up in so-called faerietales…but I’m at least equally drawn to the idea of faeries.  Most of my artwork is faerie or fantasy related and I go into a frenzy of delight (mostly in the privacy of my own head, I have to say) over the faerie and pixie inspired clothing and accessories which abound at the faerie balls and festivals I sometimes attend with my artwork.  ‘Faerietales’ seemed appropriate because the word draws together many of my interests and enthusiasms and also because – not coincidentally – the name of my online art portfolio is ‘The Faerietale Gallery’.

So there you have it.  Have you finished your drink already? Sure you won’t have another one? Well, I hope you’ll drop by again soon and check how I’m doing…and do please leave a comment if anything springs to mind!