Waterstones Book-Signing Events with Essi Tolling, Autumn 2012

With the Reynolds family at Camberley Waterstones

This autumn I am doing tour of Waterstones bookstores, signing copies of Watchers. It’s been a busy programme, with signings every weekend since the middle of August! I love doing these events: such a great way to meet readers, chat about their favourite books – and, of course, to have a browse around the shelves myself too!

Bookshops are just such fantastic places. I know the market for kindle and e-book sales is rocketing and more and more people are buying online, but nothing can replace the excitement of heading into a real store. It’s a whole different experience to shopping on the Internet. Something unexpected often catches the eye in a way that simply can’t happen unless you’re surrounded by the books themselves. If you’re seeking inspiration you can ask for help from the staff, who often suggest titles you’ve never even heard of. And then there is the simple pleasure of reaching out, opening a book, feeling the paper as you thumb the pages, smelling its unique smell, as you let the words take you off to another place…

That first page is always the one that does it for me!

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome the surge in e-book sales. More people reading more books has to be good news, and I have a hunch that many people who read the electronic versions will go on to buy physical books too. But there will always be a special place in my heart for bookstores, much as I prefer reading from the page rather than the screen.

Maybe it is because it’s a social thing? Although we hunt for titles in our own little “bubble”, when we are in bookstores we share the space with others who love reading – whereas shopping online is a solo experience.

If you enjoy visiting bookstores as much as I do – and if you’d like to meet me sometime soon – you can find me in the following Waterstones stores over the coming weeks:

Saturday November 3rd: Waterstones Trowbridge

Saturday November 10th: Waterstones Bristol Galleries

Saturday November 17th: Waterstones Hereford

Sunday November 25th: Waterstones Southampton West Quay

Saturday December 15th: Waterstones Swindon

All signings are between approximately noon and 3pm. Do come along and say hello. I’d love the chance to meet you!

With Sue Brooks at Cardiff Waterstones

A trip to Skenfrith Castle!

Skenfrith Castle

In my last post I talked about how I mix fact and fiction in the Tilly Greenway books and how much I love going to the various “sacred sites” and places of historic interest that pop up in our tale. There’s so much to see and learn in any country, but England, Wales and Ireland certainly have their share of wonderful places to visit.

It’s often easy to overlook what’s right under our noses – to take for granted things that others will travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see. With this in mind, I took the wiggly route on my way back from a recent book-signing at Hereford Waterstones so that I could spend some time in one of the most important places that Tilly and Zack visit during book one: Skenfrith Castle.

The approach to Skenfrith Castle

Sitting on the border between Wales and England, this is one of many castles built by the Normans during the eleventh and twelfth centuries to mark out the territory between what was under easy rule and the dangerous lands where the Celts lived! Take a drive along the border and you’ll see them, one after the other: Chepstow, Monmouth, Gooderich, Skenfrith, Grosmont, White Castle, Raglan etc.

Of all these, Skenfrith is perhaps my favourite. With its huge round tower and crumbling outer walls, it has a brooding, stark quality to it and this, combined with the fact that there are rarely many if any people there, makes it the perfect place for Tilly and Zack to set out from on their quest!

Thanks to Oliver Cromwell’s thugs, many castles (and churches) have been destroyed. Cromwell believed that he would quash the supporters of the Crown by dismantling their strongholds and seizing their land. He was wrong. His Republic lasted only eight years before the rightful Stuart King was back on the throne.

Skenfrith Castle has stood the test of time in pretty good shape. Sitting on a meander of the River Monnow it is no more than a simple outer wall surrounding a round keep tower, although the walls are several feet thick! To give you a sense of perspective, here I am standing in the broken archway.

"I'm the king of the castle!"

In “Watchers” this is where Tilly and Zack meet Ambrose, a mysterious figure who has been alive since the days when Alexandria was a place of great learning. This is another example of mixing fact and fiction. Ambrose is a figment of my imagination, but Alexandria was a real seat of learning for hundreds of years (many famous scholars studied there) until its libraries were razed to the ground in the 5th Century AD.

At that time Alexandria housed the one of greatest libraries in the world, more than half a million scrolls that went up in flames whilst the mob (who had been whipped up into an anti-pagan frenzy by Christian zealots) murdered any teachers they could find. One of those killed was the university’s female librarian, Hypatia. She was also its head-lecturer in both philosophy and astronomy, which goes to show that there was equality between the sexes in the Alexandrine culture. Hoping for mercy, Hypatia sought refuge inside a church, but was shown none.

In real life most of the Alexandrian texts were lost forever, but in the Tilly series they have not all disappeared. A secret society called The Guardians of the Earth has preserved a precious few and are keeping alive some of the knowledge of long ago…

One of only two doorways in the outer wall at Skenfrith Castle, this one used to open onto/into the River Monnow

Ambrose is the most senior member of The Guardians. His name is based on the merging of Amber and Rose (you’ll find out why in the story) and bears echoes of Ambrosius, a historical character said to be alive at the time of King Arthur. The real-life Ambrosius was something of a Merlin-figure and may well have been one of the Romans who became a druid.

My Ambrose has elements of druid about him too, his main aim being to listen to the teachings of nature and pass on his understanding. His connection with the Arthurian Merlin is cemented by the fact that he is accompanied by a falcon called Mirlyn. There is a real bird of prey called a Merlin, but the main reason for Ambrose’s “familiar” or totem being one of these small birds of prey is that hawks and falcons are symbols of guardianship in the Old Lore.

Tilly and Zack have their own totems too, but we don’t come across them until the second book, except for Tilly’s association with the Lark – which we can explore another time.

Skenfrith Castle is one of the Trilateral castles – Grosmont and White Castle are the others – which is another layer of richness for me, because of the 3-fold ray of the druid’s Awen. Here Ambrose has his “dream chamber” where he lies looking up at the stars, dreaming “deep dreams of yesterday, tomorrow and today”. Calling himself “The Bearer of the Blue Light” and “First of the Twelve” he has an important role to play in the story.

Here he is, standing in the archway to the castle in Meraylah Allwood’s wonderful illustration.

Ambrose - Illustration from Watchers

Of course, we’ve embellished details. The archway is much as it might have been, rather than as it is now. That’s the fun of mixing fact and fiction.

As in the story, there is a river that runs right through the village until it passes beneath an old stone bridge at the feet of a pub. It is along this river that Tilly, Zack and Ambrose make their mist-shrouded escape (I won’t tell you from what or whom!) and head up into the Welsh mountains.

The old bridge at Skenfrith

Things change. When I last visited Skenfrith there were six gnarled apple trees growing between the outer wall and the keep, which is why there are six in the story (one of which you can see in Meraylah’s picture). Most of those trees have been felled since then, but one still stands, hidden from view on the far side of the tower.

The last Apple at Skenfrith Castle - still festooned with Mistletoe

As in the story, this Apple tree’s branches are laden with bunches of mistletoe, which is an important aspect of the atmosphere in which we first meet Ambrose, because the colours of mistletoe are Green and Gold and because the plant was highly valued by the wise ones of old and also because one of the old names for mistletoe is “All Heal”…

Ah, but that’s a story for another post!

Mistletoe at Skenfrith

PS – If you enjoyed this post, you might like to find out more about Tilly’s first adventure (including lots of reviews from readers) at any of these links. Thank you!

Paperback amazon.co.uk      Paperback amazon.com

Kindle: amazon.co.uk         Kindle: amazon.com


Death Moon, Birth Moon

On the evening of the last Full Moon, which many cultures call the Death Moon, I was stuck in a traffic jam on the highway to London. I only saw the moon later that night (by which time I was too tired to write a post). It was huge and lemon-coloured and I wished I was in my much-loved woods watching it through the branches of trees overhead.

As it was, I was left musing on this and that as I waited for the traffic to clear. It was a salutary time. Somewhere up ahead there had been a major crash. The Full Moon had lived up to its name.

Every so often things happen to make us even more grateful to be alive. This was one of those times for me. The crash happened just a couple of miles ahead. A couple of miles probably meant a couple of minutes’ driving time.

I thought of the folks who would soon be receiving a call to say that one of their loved ones had died and what a complete and utter shock that must be. I ran over times when I have come close to death (of which there have been several) and thought about those that I love and how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

The next day I met a group of school girls to chat with them about Watchers. They were all in the same age-group as my own daughters and we had fun talking about dragons, writing and imagination. The day after that I attended a book-signing at a Waterstones store. Most of the people I met were young parents with their children, one was a druid and several were Facebook friends who popped in to meet me.

I enjoyed both days, but as I drove westward out of the hustle and bustle of the suburbs I felt myself relaxing again; not just because I was heading to the countryside, but because I was acutely aware of the preciousness of each moment. Life goes on for those of us who are lucky. For others, its slender thread is snapped in an instant.

I try each day to show my gratitude for being alive, but for me this Death Moon brought a stark reminder to be even more thankful for each hour, each moment that my spirit continues to inhabit this particular body.

The last time I was out with the camera was two days before the Full Moon when it was still waxing. I took the picture above of it as it was rising. In the pic below you can see two ravens: symbols both of death and birth as well as magic (see my post from the New Year on messages brought to us by Ravens).

Earlier on that same walk I had seen the first young rabbits of 2012 sunning themselves by the hedgerows.

In the hedges, last year’s old beech leaves…

…sat beside this year’s new buds.

And in the ditches and pools that are so common in Devon, dead oak leaves floated…

…alongside this year’s frogspawn.

All of these brought to mind that every death is a birth, that nothing truly ends. The wheel keeps turning. Death and life walk hand in hand.

Today, after three nights away, I woke to pre-dawn mists and owls calling in the woods. Later the sun broke through, warming the dew on the grass. It is good to be alive! As this thought ran through my mind a line from Philip Larkin (who I haven’t read for thirty years) popped up through the mists:

“What will survive of us is love.”

I think he’s right – and I’m grateful for that…

With best wishes,


Waterstones Book-Signing Events…

I shall be doing a number of book-signing events in Waterstones book-stores over the coming months. If you live anywhere near any of the stores listed below, please feel free to come along! I would love to meet you. If you can help by putting the word out on your Facebook or Blog pages, that would be excellent too!

There are a number of dates later in the year still to be confirmed, but the immediate schedule includes:

March 2012

Saturday 10th: Dorking, Surrey.

Sunday 18th: Cribbs Causeway, Bristol.

Friday 23rd: Abergavenny.

Saturday 24th: Hereford.

April 2012

Saturday 14th: Newport

Saturday 28th: Ipswich.

May 2012

Saturday 5th: Plymouth

All signings are between 11.00am and 3.00pm.

Looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible!

With best wishes, Essi.

It Happens Every Year…

It happens every year, that day when you wake up and something has changed. Something is subtly different in the air around your face and the ground beneath your body. Lying in bed, you breathe in deeply and an unforeseen smile spreads across your face.

Somehow you just know that today is the day. The worst of winter is over. Overnight, the Earth has spun itself just that little bit further round and spring is on its way!

That day arrived here on Sunday. Not that it was different in any huge way from the day before or the day after, but something deep inside my cells felt the unique excitement, the swell of sap in tree-trunks, the stirring of bulbs beneath the soil, the hubbub of inter-communication peculiar to this time each year.

With my first mug of coffee in my hand I stood outside, watching the last wisps of mist curling around the tree tops, listening to the birds.

A nearby dunnock was singing to its mate; a simple, sweet refrain that I had not heard as yet this year. In the distant oaks, two jays were chatting to each other, making their odd, almost chicken-like clucks and wheezes. Down in the valley a cock pheasant coughed and shook his feathers, a warning to other males and an invitation to any lady pheasants. “This is my patch! Stay away!” “Here I am! Come and find me!” And a magpie flew right overhead, with a twig in its beak.

They knew it too. Spring is at hand.

Not that we won’t have more frosts (we might even have more snow) but the undercurrent has shifted, we’ve crossed the threshold. Life is stirring that much more vibrantly in plant, insect, animal and bird and if the frosts do come again, their visits will not last. As though to prove that point, this blue-tit puffed himself up to show that he wasn’t feeling all that warm yet!

I couldn’t wait to be off over the fields. It was a still day, light sun; the sort of day when sounds travel miles. You can hear a rook calling a mile away. On days like this I like to take my time (not that I ever charge around when I’m out and about). There is so much happening, so many things going on. I walk, stop, look, listen – and cover far fewer miles than I might. I love to touch and feel things too and often come back with my pockets stuffed with goodies, although I never pick anything living without permission.

Crossing the first field, I turned to look across at the beech woods that frame the valley. Yes! As I’d hoped, there was a tinge of pink there, the merest hint of buds breaking through before the green leaves unfold.

Lambs greeted me in the second field, dusky-footed and dark-eared. Initially their mothers ushered them away, but curiosity soon got the better of them and they returned to stand around me with that comical air unique to sheep.

I chatted to them for a while before wading through the stream and heading up the far side of the valley. Halfway up the hill is an old, crooked oak, with ferns growing in its creviced bark and a hole where nuthatches may nest in the coming months.

I let my fingers run over the craggy bark, spotting a number of creepy-crawlies who had been drawn out by the same impulse that had led me here.

Then it was on up the wide-stretching final pasture, until I reached the skirts of the woodland. Here I paused, turning back to drink in the scents and sounds.

The mist had given way to sunshine by now and valley was filled with birdsong: robins, blackbirds, chaffinches, an occasional thrush; the songs of the birds that stay here. Soon they will be joined by warblers and other migratory friends, but for now the air rings to the tune of relief and hope. Those who have made it through the colds of winter are happy to be alive and are bursting to tell the world about it.

For a while I sat in the sun with a smile on my face, my heart lifted by the same sensation. Then it was off into the tulgy wood, wondering what new adventures would befall me…

But that’s another story!

Best wishes, Essi.

Ice Moon Magic…

Tonight’s Full Moon, the first after the Winter Solstice, is known variously as the Ice Moon, Cold Moon, Quiet Moon, After-Yule Moon or Wolf Moon.

Wolf Moon conjures up images of wolves howling in the hills, their spirits wild and free. Those of you with the wolf as your totem will know all about that! I find wolves fascinating. They have highly developed senses of hearing and smell. (It’s said that their sense of smell is 100 times greater than ours). So, the Wolf Moon message might be that this is a time to trust our own sense of hearing and smell: to listen to the part of us that knows and understands the Spirit of the Wild – and to act in accordance with it.

My favourite name for this first post-solstice Full Moon is the Ice Moon. At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, the light is cooler than at any other. Walking at night brings many glimpses of blue-white, icy light, even when temperatures are not freezing. Streams glint, branches flicker and last year’s beech nuts crunch underfoot as crisply as though the path were strewn with frost.

One of the old beliefs was that Fire and Ice accompanied the beginnings of our World and that they will accompany its end (which in turn will lead to new beginnings). Ice Moon draws the mind back to our beginnings just at the time when the earth is about to start rumbling with signs of new life. The darkest days are over and spring is daily nearer to hand.

Ice Moon magic says: winter is here and frost is at hand, the nights are long and the earth is hard, but life stirs under our feet!

This year the weather here is remarkably mild, so Quiet Moon is the best description for tonight. All is certainly quiet out in the woods, because a thick mist came rolling up the valley at twilight, muffling all sounds. There is no wind either. As night deepens, owls emerge, flying like giant moths through the trees. One moment their calls sound as though they are far away. The next they are above my head.

That’s one of the things I love about walking in moonlight (even when it is filtered through layers of mist): somehow the world feels even more full of wonder than ever, its sounds, smells and sights filled with sudden surprises.

I wish you a Moonful of magic, whether it is Icy, Quiet or filled with the howling of wolves!


“Prepare to be spellbound…”

Carolyn North, respected American author of more than ten books, has just been kind enough to send me this review of Watchers:

“Be prepared to be spell-bound, mind-jogged and heart-stopped as you follow Tilly Greenway and her half/brother Zack confronting the forces of evil who are trying to tip the balance of the world towards destruction. With ancient Guardians and bejeweled dragons who cast magic with minds that can see far beyond sight, Tilly and Zack lead us into the intimacy of a deeper world than perhaps we have ever known to exist. A book for children of all ages!” Carolyn North, Author of Voices Out of Stone and many other books, USA.

Thanks, Carolyn – and best midwinter wishes to everyone!