On the day after the equinox, on the day light tips into darkness, it is on this day that autumn arrives.  It is my first day back at work and it has been a fortnight since I was in the park at 6am walking Winston.  For the first time since early spring it is dark.  Not completely.  The sky is cobalt rather than indigo.  Figures are vaguely recognisable.  But it is still a shock to the system.  Before we leave, a bat circles the air around us, the first I’ve ever seen in this park.

From a distance, it is clear that autumn has come.  Great swathes of green trees are tinged with a touch of gold.  There are beacon trees, flaming torches in the hedgerows, usually maples.  But up close, the landscape is still remarkably green.  Walking through the country park, it is the fireweed that offers the fieriest colour.

Last year gales ushered in the equinox.  The old poplar in the park was rent by wind, an enormous limb blown to the ground.  This year summer bleeds gently into the equinox and autumn steals in amid mist and rain.  I had longed for September, but it passes in a flash, the last of the summer washed away by rain, wind, mist and frost.  Spent raindrops form clear beads on hawthorns full of haws.  A trio of blackbirds bathe in an enormous puddle.  Raindrops dance the Flamenco.  Fungi has blossomed on the damp bridleway.  I count five species: more shaggy inkcaps than I have ever seen, a scatter of puffballs and others I can’t identify.

There is a different energy on a true autumn day.  The air feels thinner.  There is movement.  Not only of the weather and the leaves, though that is part of it.  The world is shedding, falling apart, but it’s a joyous shedding.  And then there are those still autumn days full of gold, when the sun lights up trees and teasels from behind and makes rosehips glow.  The dene is a riot of golds, reds and browns, overblown and overgrown, having a last chaotic burst before all the leaves are shed.  The grass is scattered with leaves of a different kind: pages from a book, burnt around the edges, shedding words into the landscape.

And the new season has given me energy.  I’ve submitted a dozen stories, revised a few more, started writing a new tale about poppies, the harvest flower.  With the rain and wind has come optimism.  My ears are clear and so is my mind.  The last year was gloomy, a struggle to get through, but now I’m shedding the year that has gone before and preparing to dream.

Blogger book of the month – Roads: a journey with verses by Smitha Vishwanath and Vandana Bhasin

I have accompanied Smitha Vishwanath on some exciting journeys via her blog.  I was there as she went through a huge life change moving from one country to another and became accustomed to her new circumstances.  And I was there as she embarked on a creative journey to become a writer and a fledgling artist.  She has now published her first book of poems with fellow poet Vandana Bhasin.

This book of poems by two talented poets promises to take the reader on a journey and delivers and epic trip. The journey in question is that of life, and the book is split into sections that cover many of the big themes we all face on that journey: courage, wisdom, love, strength, joy.   Both women contribute to each theme, offering a delightful contrast of views, imagery and tone. Smitha’s poems are intimate, emotional, drawing on a strength from within, while Vandana’s poems are open, assertive and sometimes confrontational.

The journey begins with ‘courage’ and it proves to be a positive and uplifting start. Smitha writes about daring to learn, fly, fail, even if the journey to success is not smooth. Vandana rails against rules and victimisation and demands that we drop the masks we wear. There is a nice rhythm to the collection. It moves inwards towards ‘wisdom’, ‘serenity’, ‘love’ and ‘joy’, then looks outwards to the world with ‘strength’, ‘compassion’ and ‘hope’. There are quiet moments and demands to be heard. There is sadness and joy, despair and self-assurance. And each poem is accompanied by a personal piece giving context to the verse.

Some of my favourite poems by Smitha are: ‘The Night is my Refuge’, a soothing poem about the restorative power of the night; ‘Treasure the Little Pleasures’, an evocative poem about the importance of small things; ‘Hush Daddy! Don’t Fear’, a moving poem about caring for an ageing parent; ‘Tender Moments’, a quiet loving poem in which a mother watches her children sleep; and ‘The Little Corner Room’ about a haven in her grandmother’s house.

Favourites by Vandana include: ‘Today’, an encouragement not to put things off to a vague tomorrow; ‘It’s all in the state of mind’ captures that dissatisfaction of wanting something other than what we have; and ‘Wings of Freedom’, a soaring poem about hopes and dreams.

The book ends, appropriately, with ‘gratitude’. Smitha’s ‘Promise of a new day’ is a beautiful meditation on things to be thankful for, while Vandana’s ‘Moments of Gratitude’ has the rhythm of a prayer. This book is an uplifting, enjoyable and emotional journey with two very engaging guides.

You can find Smitha here and the book is available on Amazon.


The last weeks of August sizzle.  Furnace days that pass like treacle.  Hottest days on record, air so close it’s hard to breathe.  Air so hot it’s impossible to get relief.  Sleepless nights.  Sticky, long days of hard brilliance.  August is stuck in amber: it seems it will never end.

But finally the amber cracks.  On the morning of the storm the world is damp with dew and the sun is a blazing orange balloon.  We know the storm is coming, but it isn’t until the hour before midnight that it appears.  Two booms of thunder and a neon flash herald its arrival.  The next crash envelops the house, as though giving birth to it.  Lightning flares every few seconds.  Thunder grumbles.  Rain hammers down.

In the morning the landscape is scoured clean.  Green is greener, more vivid after rain.  There is energy in the air.  In the deluge, autumn’s blooms have blossomed: a bouquet of fungi along the paths.  It has been a good summer for fungi, despite the heat.  There has been a bountiful harvest of field mushrooms in the park and a scattering of fairy rings.

A day after the storm, it is cool enough to walk the wagonway.  The hedgerows bulge with fruits.   Birds nests of wild carrot, fat with lilac seeds.   Horse chestnuts ripe with conkers, still encased in green.  Bushes full of blackberries.  The wind teases willowherb seeds from their stalks so that I walk through drifts of down.  I hear the steam train chug and whistle down the nearby museum track.

The flowers are few now: a clump of willowherbs here, ragworts there, clusters of fleabane and sow thistles.  Insects jostle for space on those blooms that remain: hoverflies, bees and flies, speckled wood butterflies.  Dragonflies dart across the path moving between ponds and patches of damp ground.   There is still little evidence of birds: a couple of wood pigeons, the song of a robin and the twittering of a few hidden blue tits.

In the dene, it already seems like autumn.  The avenue of lindens has released a drift of tawny flower casings that look like heaps of autumn leaves.  August is finally over and the scent of a new season is in the air.

I was introduced to the wonderful book Saxon’s Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion some time ago and I was thrilled to see he was crowdfunding to publish his next novel Draca through Unbound.  The book is about a former Royal Marine haunted by his past and possibly by the old boat left to him by his grandfather.  Half of the profits will go to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress.  Geoff has been offered a great opportunity to promote the book at a festival alongside a ‘household TV name’ if it is published in time.  Pledges are currently at 89% but he only has two weeks to reach 100% if he is to get the opportunity.  That’s only 60 books, so please consider pledging to enjoy what I expect will be a great read and to help out combat veterans too!  You can find out more here.

A harvest festival

In the forest, the earth has succumbed to a peculiar alchemy. Far below the canopy, in twisted root and shady hollow, the fruits of the wood have bloomed. These flowers of autumn are strange blossoms: bruised purples, sickly yellows, blood reds, viscous whites. Waxy, slimy, gnarled blooms with names that hint at death and decay: fly agaric, sickener, shaggy inkcap, brittlegill. Some are delicate sprinkles as though a character from a fairy tale has carelessly scattered a trail of crumbs. Some are enormous, meaty things, the size of dinner plates, crawling with insects and already rotting inside.   They are the stuff of fairy tales, stools waiting for their toads.


It is the sunset of the year, when the seasons once more inch towards balance. At the autumn equinox, the hours of darkness and daylight will be the same, but the year then tips into darkness. If we’re lucky, this is a time of plenty, when we gather in our final harvest to see us through the winter. This is when the year suddenly makes sense. The work of growing and nurturing pauses and the shape of the past year can be seen. And just as the fruits of the fungi emerge from the earth, so our dreams are ripe for foraging too.

At Candlemas, I took a handful of seeds and swaddled them in darkness. These were the dreams that emerged during the dark months, the ideas and the projects I wanted to work on this year. At harvest, I will unwrap them and consider whether they have been fulfilled. I’ll look back and wonder whether I did all I could to nurture them. I’ll celebrate those that have reached their potential. And then I’ll let them go. For this is a transition time, when we must leave behind what no longer serves us and begin to seek the seeds of new dreams.

My dreams this year were dreams of creation. I wanted to write and I wanted to paint. In fact, words took precedence over images. A dozen short stories written, my novel readied for submission to agents, an outline of a non-fiction book produced. This year writing has been about work: completing projects and submitting them. There has been a modicum of external recognition – a short story publication coming soon, another publication that almost came off before the magazine stalled, invitations to guest blog. I haven’t achieved all my writing goals for the year (the biggest being to find an agent), but I’m happy with the fruits of my harvest.

My painting has been about pure enjoyment.  I’ve resisted the temptation to see them as something that I might one day sell.  The paintings have been personal.  Some of you may remember that I have a vision of myself as a landscape painter  but haven’t been able to stop painting portraits.  Some of you suggested that I could combine the two. So landscapes have begun to creep into my portraits. And unexpectedly I’ve had my first offer of a sale.

Have you ever been to a harvest festival, where the best of the harvest is gathered, displayed and celebrated? Well, I’d like invite you to a harvest festival of creativity in which we’ll celebrate what we’ve created this year. In the comments, please share your greatest creative achievement of the year (big or small, whatever means the most to you) and insert a link to your favourite post that you’ve written in the last twelve months.  (For those of you in parts of the world where harvest is still months away, we’ll call it a celebration of spring!) My contribution to the festival is a coming magazine publication that I’m particularly pleased with (of which more soon) and a link to my favourite post I’ve written this year: The small wild things  And now, over to you. Don’t be shy about your achievements, this is a celebration!

The small, wild things

Cow parsley on wasteground

When I was a child, I was given a book about becoming a nature detective.  By today’s standards for children’s books it was uninspiring: filled with dense text and black and white photos.  Still, it captured my imagination and I longed to be able to track and investigate the natural world in the way the book described.  But I was an urban child and I thought the experiences the book presented were out of my reach.  I’ve always lived in towns and cities, while longing to inhabit the wilder places.  I wish I could look out of my window and see open spaces instead of my neighbours’ houses.  The sea has always been my local untamed place, while I believed that the town had little to offer in the way of nature.  But years after I dreamed of being a nature detective, I’ve learned that even among brick and concrete, it’s possible to live the change of the seasons and to find the wild in the everyday.

At the end of my road, there is a small park.  It’s little more than an expanse of grass and a children’s playground, a space that has been cultivated and tamed.  But I’ve walked this park nearly every day for two years and I’ve noticed its secrets.  There are five species of trees here, most of them old, including three wild cherries that burst into blossom each spring.  There is privet and hawthorn, offering cover to songbirds.  You’d be forgiven for thinking the only wild plants that grow here are daisy and dandelion.  But look closer: ragwort and ivy leaved toadflax cling to walls.  Hart’s tongue and maidenhair spleenwort grow in the shady spot under the trees.  There is a small clutch of bluebells, red dead nettle, thistle and cleavers.  Field mushrooms, glistening inkcap and King Alfred’s Cakes fungi fruit in the darker, damp patches.  The obvious birds are the seagulls and the crows, but listen to the dawn chorus and you’ll know there are many others – great tits squabbling in the trees, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings and woodpigeons.  A dunnock has been singing an audabe from the privet each morning and, just once, I saw a greater spotted woodpecker high in a sycamore.

Just a little farther from home and here is the Dene, one of many deep valleys cut by streams that flow into the North sea.  This park too has been tamed, but not altogether.  Cowslips, marsh marigolds, yellow flag, water avens and shaggy inkcap all grow in the damp ground.  The pond, fringed with weeping willow, is home to mallards, tufted ducks, moorhens and the occasional heron.  I glimpsed a fox once, at the side of the road, but I’ve been told scores of them visit the Dene at night.  This week, I watched a pair of mute swans mating – he balancing precariously on her back, followed by a brief dance, where they raised their bodies and necks high out of the water and pressed them together.  Then it was over, off she swam into the rushes and left him circling the pond alone.


And then there is the business park where I sometimes work.  Dominated by office blocks, traffic and scores of people.  But look past the buildings and the tidy, cultivated plants and there is a host of nature here.  Follow one of the paths and you’ll come to areas tangled with trees and wildflowers.  Ponds with resident moorhens, coots, tufted duck and geese.  You may see a hare, a grey heron, or even a deer.  I’ve sat in meetings and watched rabbits at play outside the windows.  A weasel once crossed my path.

But nature always clings to the edges.  The smallest patch of waste ground is rich with possibilities.  The horsetail colony, like a strange clutch of aliens at the edge of a crane hire yard.  In their fertile form, they appear like burnt stalks, later, they turn green and feathery  The froth of cow parsley on the side of a main road.  The gull, minding her nest on a chimney opposite my office.  The bulrushes beneath the pylons.  Herb Robert poking through a fence.  Mayweed, Green Alkanet and Shepherd’s purse by the roadside.  There is a small path nearby, no more than five metres long, a narrow short cut to a housing estate, flanked by a school on one side and a tangle of waste ground on the other.  Along this short path I’ve seen a whole clutch of wildflowers that I haven’t found elsewhere.  Now, alas, it has been ‘tidied up’ and all the wildflowers poking through the fence cut down.  But they’ll be back.  Sometimes, there is a particular kind of beauty to the nature at the edges, in the contrast between the ugly and the beautiful.  And no matter how we try to tame it, it always returns.

Towns and cities distract us.  They urge movement, rarely inviting us to be still.  Their attractions draw us away from noticing the small, wild things that are with us every day.  Nature is less obvious, but it’s there.  Even a weekly, regular walk to the same location will make a nature detective of you.  You may also have to change your view of what is interesting.  The commonest flowers are no less beautiful because they’re common.  When did you last look closely at a daisy?  Have you ever noticed the tiny lilac paws of the ivy leaved toadflax or the miniature heart-shaped seed pods that give the Shepherd’s Purse its name?

Only a year ago, I was blind to what lay around me.  Now, I’m building a mental nature map of my neighbourhood.  As each season passes, I add things to the map.  I know where to go to find a particular wildflower or fungus, the best place to see a hare or a heron.  I know where to watch the seasons change.  And I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I learn by experiencing nature at first hand.  There is nobody to tell me what I’m seeing.  Instead, I look carefully, noting colours, shapes, habitats, until I can put a name to what I’ve discovered.   There’s always something new to notice.  This week on my trip to the Dene, the buttercups have taken over.  The clover and yellow flag are beginning to bloom.  Hoverflies are everywhere and the spittlebugs have been hard at work creating their foamy dens.  I still long to live in a greener place than this, but I’ve learned that wherever I am, I can always find a little wildness.