How Now Ginger Cow

A few weeks ago I talked about the Town Moor; a huge open stretch of land lying North of the city of Newcastle. It is home to soaring sky larks, grumpy crows and Whippet Dave. But there is another animal that lives on the moor and that is the humble cow.  They graze the coarse grass from Spring to Autumn, arriving around Easter time and departing just before Bonfire Night on the 5th November.

Cows on the moor

The people that own and take care of The Town Moor are the Freemen of the City and they have the right to graze their cattle there. There are hereditary Freeman who can trace their right to the land back to Anglo Saxon times. And then there are honorary Freemen and these include, former US President Jimmy Carter, Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and Newcastle footballer Alan Shearer.

Cows on the moor 2

No more than 800 cows are allowed to graze.

I used to have a problem when the cows arrived on the Moor because Mischa Skinnydog liked to round them up. But seven years of training and we’ve got it cracked.

Cows and Mischa

The cows are usually quite shy, but last autumn I met a particularly friendly one. (I’m saying cows but actually they are all boys.) I saw him in the distance with a Magpie riding on his back.

Cow and Magpie

Old Ginger and the singing Magpie.

“Gee up” said the bird and they trotted over to say hello. What a beautiful beast he was wrapped up in a thick ginger coat. He batted his long curly eyelashes then bowed deeply before me. “What a pleasure to meet you Ziggy.” he said then trotted away with the Magpie singing Ghost Riders in the Sky. 

Cow and Magpie

 

I imagine he’s “a ploughing through the ragged sky” by now, which makes me sad because he was so friendly. But there’s a whole new herd arrived on The Town Moor just waiting to make Mischa’s and my acquaintance. We’ll see what they have to say.

Ginger Cow

Fact or Fiction? You decide.

 

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Faery Tale Friday; Little Red Riding Hood

I absolutely adore fairy tales, the darker the better, and one of my favourites is Little Red Riding Hood or sometimes known as Little Red Cap. It is French in origin and dates back to the 10th century. Of course it would have been told orally and over the centuries each story teller would have embellished the tale with each and every telling.

Illustration by Gustave Dore (1883)

The earliest known printed version was called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge by Charles Perrault. This is a very moralistic tale where the hapless Miss Hood naively gives the wiley wolf directions to her Grandmama’s house. He arrives before the girl, devours Grandmama then, after donning the old lady’s clothes, gets into bed and invites Little Red Riding Hood to join him. After pointing out all his distinguishing features, yet still failing to notice his wolfish good looks, Miss Hood follows the fate of her dear Grandmama and is gobbled up by the beast. There is no happy ending.

File:Carl Larsson - Little Red Riding Hood 1881.jpg

Little Red Riding Hood by one of my favourite artists Carl Larsson (1881)

Of course the Brothers Grimm version cleaned things up a bit and introduced a woodcutter who saved both Granny and Little Red Riding Hood. There is of course no happy ending for the wolf. But my favourite adaptation is The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter. Taken from her book of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, it tells the dark and savage tale of a werewolf who charms a young virgin walking through the woods to her Granny’s house. As in the original story he tricks her into telling him the location of the cottage then races ahead. Poor Granny is devoured and he lies in wait for the girl. However, on entering the house she spies a tuft of white hair burning in the fireplace.

When the girl saw that she knew she was in danger of death. “Where is my Grandmother?” “There’s nobody here but we two, my darling” Now a great howling rose up all around them…the howling of a multitude of wolves….”These are the voices of my brothers darling; I love the company of wolves.”

Carter’s story is inspired by the very early versions of the tale and her young woman triumphs over the wolf.

There must be as many illustrations for this story as there are versions of the tale itself. So I thought I would add to them.

Faery tale Friday Sketch

My Little Red Riding Hood

 

Faery Tale Friday Composition

What big eyes you have.

FaeryTale Friday Little Red Riding Hood

Faery Tale Friday; Little Red Cap

Do you have a favourite version of Little Red Riding Hood?

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A Haunted Halloween

It’s that time of year again when the door to the Otherworld opens a fraction to let who knows what into our midst. Pumpkins are carved, kids faces smeared with grease-paint and dogs are being made to dress in ridiculous costumes.

It’s also the time for a good ghost story and a bit of Author Elfing.

Earlier this month author William Hussey visited Seven Stories for an evening of chilling tales in our Artist’s Attic. With the lights down low the Attic was the perfect place for William to frighten the living daylights out of us. First he read Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You by M.R James, just to get us in a spooked out mood and then went on to tell his own short story Turn Her Face to the Wall, that had a brilliant twist in the tale. Finally William read an abridged version of the prologue from his latest novel, Haunted. That really had everyone leaping out of their chairs because….well I can’t say, you’re just going to have to read the book which is spooktastic. Of course this isn’t a book blog but my literary hound just loves to have a bit of book banter so check out Mischa’s review here.

After the readings it was Q and A time.

William told us he got his inspiration from everywhere and that we should carry a notebook with us at all times…just in case. The spark of the idea for Haunted came from a true story based on an incident in the life of Thomas Edison. In 1920 Edison claimed to the press he was on the verge of inventing a machine for speaking with the dead. After his own death, a search was made of his lab notes but no such machine was found. Everyone assumed it was a practical joke. But William thought, “What if it did exist and someone got their hands on it? What would happen then?”

About writing William said he covers 2 sides of A4 for ideas and plotting and that character is “the God of story”. Funnily enough the original story had a boy as the main character. It was later on that William changed this to Emma Rhodes, the feisty, ghost busting heroine.

Even though it was dark and gloomy in The Artist’s Attic and I was shaking with fear I managed to sketch William entertaining the audience while he sat in our massive story tellers chair.

Lomogram_2013-10-03_08-45-45-PMHe was kind enough to post this up on his website and referred to me as “Seven Stories own artistic genius.” So I thought I should repay such kind words by elfing Mr Hussey. He asked if he could be a dark elf, which given that today is All Hallows Eve, seems highly appropriate.

William Hussey Elfed

He may not be truly dark but his “elfter-ego” certainly has an air of mystery about him. Check out William’s photo here to see what he really looks like.

Happy Halloween everybody.

Would You Read a Blog Post written by a Dog?

Hello, this is Mischa SkinnyDog sneaking onto Ziggy’s blog.

Ziggy has been very busy lately writing her very first novel for young adults. Given her inner turmoil it may be her last. I wish her well, I really do. I have been happy to wait hours for her to remember to feed me and walk beside her while she completely ignores me muttering about first person versus third person limited. Clearly I should be her first person and that would be limited to just…well…me!

Anyway, not having the attention I fully deserve I have taken to reading. Ziggy has lots of books, many of which have pictures in and I love nosing through them. Of course when you get to the end of a good book you want to talk about it to someone. Ziggy is too busy so I thought I would embark on my own blog and find people to have a bit of Book Banter with.
Do you like books? Do you like looking at beautiful illustrations? Would you read a blog written by a dog? If so you can join me here.

But dogs can’t read or write or blog I hear you cry! But if you believe in elves then you’ll believe a dog can blog. The trick is I use a tablet; I just dab my nose all over the Gorilla Glass (I thought glass was made from sand but.. hey?) and voila! I even Tweet. When it all gets a bit slimy a quick swish of my tail and I’m good to go again.

Also this IS a dog talking because it’s not in ickle wickle baby talk. If you ever see a dog writing about his hooman’s then his owner is talking for him. Trust me, dogs talk to each other just like you….except we do it telepathically. Plus if you look at the top of this post you’ll see it’s written by The Literary Lurcher NOT Ziggy Shortcrust. Proof, if proof were needed.

I know Ziggy will be back on here soon. After all she wants to talk to you about Hotrods, python handling, dressing as a Viking for the BBC, and very scary leather clad knights.
In the meantime please take a look at The Literary Lurcher and share in some Book Banter.
Love and Licks
Mischa x

You will believe a dog can read

You will believe a dog can read

 

A Small Life

I attend a writing class. We meet in the very chilly basement of the Amnesty Bookshop, after closing, once a week. Surrounded by stacks of books with improbable titles we read out our work and thrash out ideas. The group is led by a local author and playwright who sets us weekly “homework” to inspire our writing.

Once a term it’s poetry. I’m rubbish at poetry. Love reading it but can’t write it so I always do something daft. This terms poetry homework we were given one line from a song and had to use that as the inspiration and first line of our poem.

I’m going to let you suffer; here is my poem.

 

 

A Small Life

 

 The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars

And I want to reach through them and touch the stars

But I’m only a hamster and I don’t know what stars are

Can you eat them?

The beast in me is run ragged on the wheel

And I race around with such passion and zeal

But I’m only a hamster is zeal a meal?

I hope so.

The beast in me whirls around in a plastic ball

That spins down the stairs at the end of the hall

I’m only a hamster is this my all?

Probably.

 

Hamster

A frail and fragile hamster

 

Extra points if you can name the song and artist.

Ziggy and the King of the Rook Elves

Mischa SkinnyDog and I went for our usual walk; through the houses, onto the moor and up into the woods. As we made our way between the trees such a racket began above our heads.

“Look,” said Mischa “crows.”

“Ah my skinny friend” said I “if you see a rook on its own it’s a crow. If you see a lot of crows, then they are rooks.”

Mischa was contemplating this when the rooks swooped down and took hold of us. There were dozens of them grasping at us with their sharp talons and beaks. They lifted us from the ground and took us high above the tree tops until we came to an old oak whose trunk had a gaping hole. From our vantage point it appeared like a wooden chimney. Down flew the rooks taking us with them into the depths of the tree.

Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole we fell further and further and deeper and deeper under the ground. All at once the rooks loosened their grip and we were dropped unceremoniously on to leaf littered earth. Considering how far we had fallen it was surprisingly light and I could see that Mischa and I were in a vast cavern tangled with tree roots suspended from its roof. The rooks circled around us cawing loudly but as the settled amongst the roots they took on their true guise; Rook Elves. These are particularly clever, yet mischievous creatures who excel in thievery.Each one had about their shoulders a cloak of glistening jet black feathers but only one wore a crown made from a rook. He leapt down from the roof top roots and stood before me and spoke.

“Now I’m the King of the Rook Elves, a Pixie VIP. I’ve reached the top and had to stop and that’s what’s bothering me. I want to draw like Ziggy Shortcrust and doodle round the town. Give me the dibs on your inky nibs, I’m tired of elfing around.”

“Goodness me!” I said, “I’d be happy to help in fact it would be an honour but I’m afraid I don’t have my pens with me.”

“Now don’t try and kid me Shortcrust,” he said, “Clue me what to do. Give me the gen on your fine liner pen so I can be like you.”

Then all the elves gathered around Mischa and I and started chanting, “Oh oobee doo, we want to be like you, we want to draw like you, sketch like you too. You’ll see it’s true, Elves like us can learn to be doodlers too.”

I could see these creatures weren’t going to take no for an answer but I had no pens. What could I do? Then it struck me….quills. We could make pens from feathers. So I set Mischa to work nibbling away on the rook feathers until we had enough for everyone. I can’t tell you what we did for ink, but it was a scary process getting it. Silver birch bark served as paper and off we went. I conducted my very first Elf Doodling class. We were only there for a couple of hours but on our release it turned out we had been gone two whole months. You may remember from my last visit to the OtherWorld that the elves sent out a Ziggy Changeling in my stead. It would appear this happened again as nobody missed me at all. But she appears to have an aversion to blogging so that’s why I haven’t posted anything for a while.

Fact or fiction?

You decide.

 

King of the Rook Elves drawn with a quill.

King of the Rook Elves drawn with a quill.

Wait Just a Minute Mr Postman

Back in January I decided to revive the lost art of the hand written letter by writing a letter a day. I invited you to join in my challenge by emailing me your postal addresses so I could send out letters. But not just the written word; each one would contain an original Ziggy Elf. The promise of “a letter a day” has proved a little hard to keep up with but nonetheless over 70 letter elves have been dispatched right around the world, with many more ready to take flight.

However, even more wonderful, many of you have sent letters back to me. Beautiful, handwritten, illustrated letters often with decorated envelopes too.

Thank you so very, very much to everyone who has taken the time to reply. They are fabulously creative, fun and inventive. You are all so talented.

Many of the letters I have sent can be seen here. And if you want to join in with my challenge and receive your very own letter elf all the details are here.

Ziggy’s Home for Wayward Dogs

Back in January I had the ludicrous idea to revive the lost art of the hand written letter and set myself the challenge to start sending letters. But not just the written word, each letter would contain an original hand drawn Ziggy Elf. Over sixty elves have departed the North of England to find homes right around the world. I wanted to post up what I was doing but realised I couldn’t reveal the contents of the letter or it would spoil the surprise for the recipient. So each envelope is also illustrated.

For those of you that drop by this blog from time to time you’ll know I have a fondness for dogs. This latest batch of illustrated letters have gone all canine.

First up is a letter for Karen McRae which I know has already made it to Canada. Karen is a photographer and you can find her fabulous images at Draw and Shoot

English bulldog

The next one is for Rene in North Carolina. He is also a photographer but with a completely different, and rather cool dude style. Check out his images at Chasing Meaning Now Rene’s envelope has these guys; a Skinny Dog and a Scruffy Mutt.

Skinny and jack 1

I liked them so much they have turned up on Cathy’s letter, which headed off to my home county of North Yorkshire. You can find out more about the very crafty Cathy at Nana Cathy and see what was inside her letter here.

Skinny dog and Jack Russel 2

I loved these characters so much that Laurie in Jordan, Margaret in Wisconsin, Melanie in California and Pamela in Texas are getting the chance to adopt them. I guess it’s like a little story.

Skinny Dog and scruffy mutt with ball

Skinny dog & scruffy mutt 2

skinny dog & scruffy Mutt sitting down

Scruffy mutt

And just to balance things out, here is my “thank you for my birthday pressie” letter to my brother.

SavedPicture(3)

If you want to join in with my letter writing challenge and would like your very own Letter Elf have a look here.

Letter Elves Revealed

At the start of January this year I had the crazy idea to revive the lost art of the hand written letter. I thought I would do this by writing a letter a day, but not just words, these letters would be illustrated with a Ziggy Elf. Over 50 Letter Elves have flown around the world already with many more due to take off. They’ve landed in just about every state in North America, Australia, Canada, The Philippians, China, Hawaii, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, England and Wales. Some people have taken the time to reply, which is lovely. I have received some fabulous letters, beautifully crafted.

When I post up the letters I never reveal the contents as it would spoil the surprise for the recipients. But some of the earlier ones have now been received so I thought you might like to take a peek.

 

 

 

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Look at that. A fancy slide show! With thanks to Mark from The Vibes who created this post and showed me the way.

If you would like your very own letter elf then take a look here. And to everyone who has requested an illustrated letter, don’t worry they are on their way.

A Happy Elf Birthday to…….?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…….I have failed! I have not written a single illustrated letter for 10 whole days, and I beg your forgiveness. You see it was like this; I’ve just worked a seven day shift at the museum, its half term and we have been getting 700 to 800 visitors EACH DAY. Running up and down seven flights of stairs and chatting to hundreds of lovely people took its toll. Each night I got home, had dinner and then promptly fell asleep on the sofa.

But, now I’m on holiday. Yipee! And yesterday was my birthday. Hooray! So I’m in a celebratory mood. And what better way to start than with a Birthday Elf. You will see below the start of an illustrated letter, but who is it going to? If it’s your birthday or you know someone whose birthday is coming up how about an original Ziggy Elf? I will send it with birthday wishes to the first person to email me their postal address to ziggy dot shortcrust at gmail dot com headed “birthday elf”.  But don’t worry, if you’re not first, I promise I’ll still write to you. Yes, everyone is a winner with Ziggy.

 

Birthday Elf

 

To find out more about my ridiculous challenge to revive the lost art of the hand written letter have a look here.