Hidden Images on The Hidden Hand…

Several people have emailed me to ask me what is on the cover of The Hidden Hand. And is there actually a hand hidden in there somewhere? Why not take a look and see what you can see? I can reveal that there are at least 6 images in there…can you find them all?! Good luck! Essi 🙂

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Watchers in Waterstones!

Book-signing in Waterstones bookstores is always fun!

This autumn I’m doing a tour of Waterstones Bookstores, signing copies of Watchers. I started off as soon as I got back from Ireland with a visit to Wells Waterstones on Saturday 18th August.

It was the hottest day of the year, which normally means fewer folks are out buying books, but we had a really excellent day with a steady stream of people coming to the desk. Thanks to Sarah and all her staff for helping to organise everything. I really enjoyed my visit with you.

Wells is a beautiful city, full of higgledy-piggledy side streets and wonderful medieaval nooks and crannies. The Cathedral is one of the most spectacular in the country (amazing to have such a vast building in such a small place) and is definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been already (or perhaps another visit, if you have!).

Wells Cathedral – front view

One of the pleasures of being back in England is the variety of architecture, spanning so many centuries. Just look at this fabulous arch-work inside Wells Cathedral!

Wonderful interior – Wells Cathedral

It was market-day in Wells and the streets were packed with people hunting for goodies. It was so hot it felt more like being in southern France than England. Reminded me of when I was 17. A friend and I spent the best part of a year in Provence, picking whatever fruits were in season and doing any jobs we could find. Sometimes we would get up at the crack of dawn to take cherries to the local business-market and afterwards we’d wander back through the village, sampling the wonderful olives, cheeses and fruit. Mmmhmm!

There was no market in Camberley yesterday, where I was signing books at the Camberley Waterstones, but as it was a wet day lots of people were out and about (rain is good for book-selling I’m told) and we had a record-equalling day of sales, which was great!

One of the things I enjoy about doing book-signings is the chance to meet and chat with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Each meeting is quite brief, but it’s amazing what comes up within those few, short minutes. It seems book-buyers love to tell their own stories as well as buying those written by others! And of course, as I writer, I’m not averse to telling my own…!

My thanks to Tracy, Louise and rest of the Camberley Waterstones staff for all your help.

At Camberley Waterstones Saturday 24th August

Next Saturday, I’ll be in the Haywards Heath Waterstones from noon until 2pm. Do come along for a chinwag if you are in the area. I’d love to swap stories with you!

For now, I’d better get back to writing the last chapters of The Hidden Hand – my deadline is approaching fast!

Solstice at the Avebury Stones

To mark the longest (or shortest, if you are “down south”!) day of the year, here are two of the tallest standing stones at Avebury, the remarkable site that draws many people to it every Solstice.

This picture gives you an idea just how immense these stones are…

I’ve been to Avebury many times, but you won’t find me there today. I prefer to be there when the place is quiet, if possible (preferably at sun-up or sundown). On my last visit, I stood beneath the slopes of Silbury Hill as twilight deepened, watching a barn owl quartering over the fields, like a white moth under the Moon.

I shall be returning to Avebury again this Saturday. Thanks to Esther and John, the managers of the Henge Shop in the village, Watchers is now on sale there. I’ll be doing an informal book-signing event over lunchtime/the early afternoon. So, if you are planning a solstice-weekend visit to one of the most extraordinary sites in Britain, do pop in to say hello!

If you can’t come this weekend but are going to visit the stone circles another time, I recommend a visit to the Henge shop before you leave. It has a wonderful assortment of books covering a wide area of interests (plenty of titles on crop circles, history, healing, lore, legend etc). It also stocks some carefully-chosen crystals, ceramics and a selection of unique souvenirs. I’ve never left without a new treasure of some kind.

Outside the Henge Shop, Avebury, last week

The Avebury complex itself is a wonderful place, for so many reasons. We do not know who set the great avenues and circles of stones in place, but it was a long, long time ago (Avebury is older than Stonehenge).

Was it the hands of giants that rolled the great sarsens so carefully into place? Were the Annunaki or the Nephilim involved? Or did our ancestors have some now-forgotten technology that enabled them to manoeuvre these huge, unwieldy objects with such precision – something we cannot do as well as they did? No one knows for sure. (I’d love to be able to duck back in time in order to find out!)

Evening sun on some of the Avebury stones

Sadly, many of the stones were knocked down and broken into pieces or we would know much more about them. Such is the way of things. Yet what remains is, I believe, still as powerful as it always was. For there is deep magic to be found at Avebury: the dancing dragon-magic of old that weaves its way beneath the surface of the land, no matter what we humans do above it.

It is for this reason that Avebury is crucial to the plot of the whole Tilly Greenway series. In Book One we do not visit the stone circle itself, but we do go to the West Kennet Long Barrow (that ghostly dolmen that lies just south of Avebury itself), before passing between the sarsens of The Avenue and heading on to Silbury Hill.

Yggdrasil-bury Hill, oldest of man-made earthworks of Europe. Inside there is a step-pyramid as old as those at Saqqara in Egypt…

It’s at Silbury that we meet (most of) the dragons who feature in the tale. Yggdrasil is one of them. She is the Ash Tree Dragon, the gentle spear whose actions usher in a new dawn for human consciousness.

It’s a piece of fun to have Silbury as her home. As one of the characters notes, the hill is named after her: Yggdrasil-bury Hill being the place where she was laid to rest until such a time as the world was in dire need of dragon-deeds once more. The hill was once known as the Dragontop, however, because it was said to be scorched black on top by the fiery breath of the dragons who guard its secrets…

I’ll be writing more about what makes particular sites that little bit extra-special very soon, but for now my best wishes for a Solstice full of wonder. Wherever you are in the North or the South, today marks a turning point in the year as the great wheel of the seasons rolls onward. It is a time of endings and beginnings, of hope and renewal: accompanied, as ever, by the thinnest sliver of the waxing Moon. Enjoy!

Watchers is now available in most Waterstones stores. Signed copies are also in the Henge Shop at Avebury and The Goddess and Green Man and in Dicketts in Glastonbury. Or you can purchase your copy via amazon.

Paperback amazon.co.uk      Paperback amazon.com

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

Why I Love Books!

I’m just back from a week-end away, including a book-signing at the Cribbs Causeway Waterstone’s (that’s me having just got set up at the table). It was very busy, with lots of people stopping to chat and many to buy (always good!).

One of the things I love about the Tilly series is that, because it ranges so widely over different topics, folks of all ages and descriptions are interested in it.

One minute I’m chatting to a middle-aged man who is a John Grisham fan about conspiracy theories; the next an eleven-year-old girl comes to my table, clutching Tilly to her chest with a dreamy look in her eyes. She’s seen the picture of Tia and Kama, two of the dragons in the tale and already feels the magic. I tell her she would make a perfect Tilly if the film is ever made and her eyes light up even more!

Sitting in Waterstone’s for a few hours is a joy on many levels, not least because it proves how many people still love (and buy) books. As a booklover myself, I’m happy to see it. With kindle sales sky-rocketing, there’s been a lot of doom and gloom in the media about “the end is nigh” for books. Seeing the steady stream of people pouring into the store on Sunday, all of them with that air of anticipation that accompanies a trip to buy a book, you wouldn’t think so.

I think books will survive and even thrive in the long run. There will always be that extra-special “something” about holding a physical book.

There’s the texture to begin with. I love the feel of a book in the fingers, especially those old leather tomes you find in libraries. One day I hope Tilly will be successful enough for someone to print a special edition, with leather covers and gold-edged pages – and perhaps a few ancient engravings/symbols on the front!

Tilly - her cover is already much-loved!

Then there’s the smell. All books smell slightly different, depending on the type of ink, paper and binding material that has been used. I still remember the smells of books that were my favourites when I was a child. It was part of the pleasure, sitting down and opening up the covers to be greeted by the scent of that particular story or picture-book.

Then of course there’s the big difference in turning a physical page to simply scrolling on down a screen. Separate neural networks are engaged and more feel-good reward chemicals are released into the brain as a result. Most of us have nodded off in bed with a good book still in our hands, comforted in some way by the physical object itself.

We seem to develop a personal relationship with books that screens simply don’t offer.

Not that I’m a Luddite on this. Kindle is fantastic in many ways, especially for those who can’t get out and about so easily, or for whom holding a book isn’t easy. And I’m sure Kindle will increase the amount of books being read all over the world, which has got to be a good thing.

It’s just that, being of a certain age I was brought up enjoying the book-in-the-hand and listening to the sounds of the words as my parents read to us at night. I loved to thumb through those old copies, especially the ones with faded pictures of their heroes and heroines. Who knew which way the story would twist and turn? Was the baddie really a baddie? Were any of the goodies baddies?! How would the main characters get out of the latest scrape they found themselves in? All these questions flooded through my mind as I sat with a book on my lap.

What that’s left me with is an excitement about books that I don’t (yet) get from Kindle. Walk into a bookstore and there they all are, lined up along the shelves like a vast treasure-trove that no matter how quickly you read, you know you could never get through in several lifetimes!

And that’s part of the fun. I have heaps of books in my bedroom. Some of them are being re-read for the umpteenth time, some of them I just dip into for bits of information and others are yet to be started. But I know that for all the reading I may do between now and the day when I shuffle off the mortal coil, there will still be millions, billions of books that I never see, touch or even hear about!

Books are more than a little like people. We fall in love with some, others make us laugh, some leave us cold, whilst others intrigue and fascinate us. All are made up of essentially the same “stuff” and yet each is unique. And no matter how many we bring into our lives, whether face to face or via the Internet, there are billions more whom we will not meet in quite the same way.

Of course, if we are like books, it begs the question: “Who is reading us?”

Perhaps we are more like characters in a story. Each of us walks through a new chapter every day, not knowing quite what is going to happen. We spend our time meeting other characters, who then become parts of our story just as we become parts of theirs. We make good choices and bad ones. We please some people and infuriate others!

As the pages of our particular story grow in number, so does the wealth and richness of our experience, until one day the final punctuation mark arrives and our character retires. But the story doesn’t end there.

At that point the writer who has penned our tale (along with those of all the others in the library of human history) takes a brief pause before picking up the quill, dipping it into the ink of life, and breathing inspiration into another character.

This new character will walk through the story of his or her life in much the same way as we have (whether on page or screen) and for all their uniqueness, they will be forever connected to each one of us, not just by the ink-marks on the page that tell their tale, but by the simple fact that he or she will be born from the same infinite imagination from which all life springs, just as you and I once were.

Whether we are like books or the characters inside them, perhaps the trick of enjoying life is to turn its pages with the same anticipation of pleasure as we do when we’re immersed in our favourite books, never knowing quite where the tale will lead us, but trusting that the process will be full of wonder and, of course, have a happy ending!

Til next time – best wishes,

Essi.

With Simon Monfredi - Events Manager at Waterstones Cribbs Causeway

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.

A Merry Imbolc to You!

Today marks the Festival of Imbolc, one of the four celebrations that intersperse the four Equinoctial Festivals of the old Celtic Calendar. Imbolc was the Festival sacred to Brigid, a key aspect of the Triple Goddess. Her colour is white: white for the snowdrops that drizzle the woodlands at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. White for the White Goddess, muse and inspiration of so many poets.White for the virgin bride. And white for her crescent moon.

White too for the fleeces of the lambs born at this time of the year (the word Imbolc is said to refer to the lactation of sheep who so often give birth in the coldest months), symbols of the emergence of new life from the darkness.

The Anglo-Saxons called this festival Solmonath. It was now that they ploughed the first furrow in the fields, placing into the furrows either a cake or the corn dollies that were woven at last year’s harvest. It is a time of change, the midwinter-spring that TS Eliot calls “sempiturnal though sodden toward sundown”. There may be frosts in the morning, snow may even dust the ground, but things are stirring beneath the hard outer crust of the earth at our feet. Gentle tremors of new life are creeping along root and stem. Seeds are beginning to itch. The way is being paved for another spring.

The Church, following its usual pattern of creating a Holy Day to coincide with the pagan festival days, gave Imbolc the name Candlemas.

Whatever your religion (and wherever you are in the world), you might like to light a candle tonight. Watch its flame flicker and dance, knowing that the dawn always gives way to the day, giving thanks for the cycles of the seasons and the richness of the earth at our feet.

With best wishes,

Essi.