Month: April 2013

Resurrection Cheese

Best. Name. Ever.

If you want to make cheese, you need a cheese press – but in 19th Century West Wales, not everyone could afford to buy one.

So, what do you do?

You improvise.

What’s big and flat and heavy, and easy to come by if you live in a semi-rural area…?

Yeah. That’d do it.

The full story…

Resurrection cheese is what resulted when, in the 1860s, a townsman of Llanfihangel Abercowyn, in the Carmarthen county of Wales, wanted to make cheese but didn’t have enough money for the proper equipment. He didn’t make a deal with the devil in exchange for a cheese-press; rather, he called upon his resourcefulness, made a trip to the abandoned graveyard in town, and with a few fallen headstones he fashioned his own cheese press.

Farmhouse cheeses were large — sometimes nearly two feet in diameter — and circular; and evidently, able to easily copy the inscription of a headstone. When this townsman sold his cheese at the market, with a clear gravestone inscription, one of his customers exclaimed, “You have resurrected this cheese from Llanfihangel churchyard!” From then on, its “official” name was resurrection cheese.

BLOOD & FEATHERS: REBELLION… the playlist

Or, at least, the first part of it.

I always write (and rewrite, and edit, and all those other things…) to a playlist – and REBELLION is no exception.

The whole playlist will appear in the back of the book when it’s published on July 9th this year, and I’ll be putting it up on here too. But not quite yet.

In the meantime, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is the first track…

They Bought A Zoo

In the Devon countryside, there is a house.

It sits at the top of a long, narrow drive, on the side of a hill; just outside the village of Sparkwell, looking across fields and hills and (this weekend, at least) banks of low-lying cloud, mist and drizzle.

And living in the garden of this house, there are animals.

Lions, tigers and bears, to be precise.

Because this house is at the heart of Dartmoor Zoological Park.

You may well have heard of it – even if you think you haven’t.

 

I fell in love with the story of the zoo when I read its owner, Benjamin Mee’s book last year, and this played a large part in our rolling up to Dartmoor in the middle of a not-so-gentle April shower yesterday, wellies and all. I’m glad we did.

lionEven in the rain, the atmosphere is lovely: some of the animals may be ensconced in their houses (lynx, I’m looking squarely at you. Don’t think I didn’t see you in the doorway) but the keepers are incredibly friendly and approachable and even the drizzle’s not enough to put Josie the lion off her food.

We arrived just in time to see her being fed, as two of the big cat keepers (with two “keepers for a day” assisting) hung a sack filled with her food in a tree in her enclosure. It lasted about a minute and a half before she’d torn down the meat pinata and carried her lunch off to the back of her space to eat in peace.

The keepers explained that she’s only fed every other day in an attempt to keep her lifestyle as close as it can possibly be to the one she would have in the wild – so rain or not, we were pretty lucky.

The rain didn’t seem to bother the newly-introduced Iberian wolves, either, one of whom was asleep at the back of their enclosure.

Having read We Bought A Zoo, one of the animals I really did want to see was Sovereign, the park’s jaguar.

I don’t know a huge amount about jaguars – except that they’re clever. Having seen him wandering around his enclosure, looking straight back at us, I’m glad there was a barrier and a nice big moat between us. Yes. To say he’s intimidating is an understatement.

sovereign

It isn’t all about the big name animals at Dartmoor – although between the bears and the big cats, there are plenty. My little boy was especially taken with the peacock and (naturally) with the meerkats, whose last feed we just managed to catch at the end of the day. I’m always a sucker for the otters, and a soft touch for a capybara.

One of my favourite things about the day was the end of Westcountry Falconry’s display, held on the front lawn of the house. We missed most of it – but arrived just in time to meet Wendy the Striated Caracara, who trotted along behind her handler when he let her out of her aviary and immediately went to look under the picnic tables in case there was anything worth her time there. Anyone who doesn’t think birds have a personality clearly hasn’t met Wendy.

Education is a big feature of the zoo’s event programme, and this (plus the staff’s love for what they do) comes across in the “Close Encounters” sessions, when some of the zoo’s smaller residents come out to play.

We got to meet several of the reptiles, including a very inquisitive corn snake – and, after at least five minutes of dithering about it, even Small Boy was brave enough to stroke them all (and boy, did he feel proud of himself afterwards).

Dartmoor Zoo is an incredible place, with an incredible story. It’s easy to understand how someone could fall in love with it, and with the animals.

meerkatThe staff and keepers go out of their way to bring all the animals’ personalities to the fore: you aren’t just watching A Lion, you’re watching Josie, who loves her food but misses her mate, Solomon, who recently died.

You aren’t just watching a family of meerkats, you’re watching a pair with two babies who were born in mid-December (there were 3, but one of them contracted pneumonia and didn’t make it).

Likewise, Kevin the boa constrictor couldn’t take part in the “Close Encounters” talk because he was wrapped around his tree and had made it clear in the most snake-like way possible that no power on this earth was going to get him to unwrap himself, thankyouverymuch. They’re all treated as individuals and visitors are encouraged to remember that’s what they are.

If you can, go. You won’t regret it, and we’ll be going back – whether it’s raining or not.

If you can’t go, read the book. Think about donating, as it’s places like this which help to safeguard some of the world’s most endangered animals, and teach the next generation about the world around us. Long may they remain.

BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION cover

REBELLION final cover

Once again, I’ve got the amazing talent of Pye Parr to thank for this, as well as the team at Solaris Books. It perfectly matches the feel of the book, and (for once) I’m kind of lost for words.

I. LOVE. IT.

(And I hope you do too…)

You can pre-order the book from Amazon (UK) (US), BN.comWaterstones and, of course, your local bookshop.

The angels are back…

Splinters of Souls

bookshelves

I was having a conversation about books (no surprise there) on Twitter over the weekend, and it veered into the amount of money it’s possible to spend on them when you really get going – and how that compares to, say, a designer handbag. I said, rather glibly, that I’d much rather go book shopping than handbag shopping… and then I started to wonder why.

Let’s start with the obvious. I’m not that fussed about expensive bags or shoes as trophies. They just don’t do much for me. I have one decent handbag, which was a gift (and which I do love. So much so that when it got damaged in the Apple Juice Incident of 2012 – details of which I’m not at liberty to divulge – I might have got a little bit sniffly and uttered the immortal cry of: “This is why I can’t have nice things…”. But moving swiftly on.) and which I use a lot. But I only really need the one good one, don’t I? After all, any others would just sit in a cupboard when they’re not being used. Alone. And, knowing my luck, slowly sinking into a puddle of juice. Christ.

But books don’t do that. I looked around my house, and I saw books. Not as many as I used to have, admittedly: I gave away boxes and boxes of them before we moved. But still, books. And because I straight-out alphabetise them (alas, I haven’t the patience for Dewey), there are books rubbing spines that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as natural companions. John Connolly and Jilly Cooper, for instance… whereas Joe and Will Hill seem like easy shelf-mates. (Me? Oh, I’m next to Erin Morgenstern… and within striking distance of the Michael Marshall/Smiths…)

The thing is, I can see them. And more than that, I remember them. Every time I look at those shelves, I’m not just seeing books. I’m seeing memories.

There, right at the start, is my mother’s collection of Judy Astley books, and her copy of Sam Shepard’s short stories which I know she only bought because she had a thing for him (and rightly so) but which are astonishingly good.

There’s the battered old copy of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, which I’ve read and re-read every Easter since it was published. On the shelf in the bedroom, there’s the copy of How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe which I was reading when my mother died and which made me cry when I reached the last page. There’s the Lud In The Mist I nicked from my parents’ bookshelves when I was little because I liked the cover. The 3 volumes of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship‘s by far the most battered, and actually falls open at the first appearance of Strider (what?).

There’s my beloved copy of Only Forward, signed at the very first convention I ever went to, in Brighton. There’s Chris Fowler’s Disturbia: a book I’ve had since I don’t even remember when, and which I used as a sort of unofficial guide book to London when I moved there for university.

Books by my friends, books by people I’ve never met and most likely never will. Well. Be difficult with Dickens, wouldn’t it?

Books that have made me laugh, books that have made me cry and books that break my heart.

And when I look at those books, I realise why I’d rather have them than a bunch of handbags.

They are memories; pieces not just of their authors’ souls, snapshots of them as they wrote, but pieces of mine.

I remember the first time I read some of them. I remember the times I’ve re-read some of them – and left between their pages like a pressed flower or a leaf or grains of sand from a holiday, there are slivers of my own soul. Versions of me, be they from one, ten or twenty years ago. Who I was when I picked up that book for the first time; who I’ve been since.

There’s a famous Jean Cocteau quote, beloved of cat owners – myself included – that cats are the visible soul of a house.

Perhaps books, whether tidily stacked or jostling for space and piled one on top of each other, are the visible soul of their owner.