HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY!

May all your stories have dragons,
All your dragons have knights,
And all your nights have stories…

Artwork © Copyright 2020 Kate Chesterton
From ‘Castle Barmy’ by Jason Hook & Kate Chesterton
Ebook published December 2020, Hardback publishing May 2021

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! May it be kinder, gentler and greener than the last one.

“With the towns quiet and the roads empty, the land had grown greener and the skies had grown bluer. The trees were taller, there were flowers everywhere and the air was filled with the singing of birds…”

—From Castle Barmy, available on Amazon for KindleApp, illustration by Kate Chesterton 2020

The Billy Goats Gruff

A ‘Verse a Day’ fairy tale told in who knows how many parts.

Do you remember the Billy Goats Gruff, and that fearsome Troll lurking under the bridge they wanted to cross? One by one they tried, each asking the Troll to spare them with the promise that a bigger, fatter prize was following behind. Perhaps, today, those three brothers might appear something like goateed gangsters or horned Peaky Blinders. I hear them speaking in the gruff Yorkshire accent Jason Isaacs used so brilliantly in The Death of Stalin, as they discuss their search for grass that is greener and thistles that are tastier. This new version of the fairy tale has something to say about both billies and bullies…

(Illustrations by Christa Hook, copyright © 2020)

Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale 1

1
In a valley of green, back in Fairy Tale days,
Gangs of billy goats fought over which land to graze,
There were billy goats tough, there were billy goats rough,
But no goats were as bad as the Billy Goats Gruff.

2
These three billy goat brothers ate thistles and thorns,
And they butted their rivals with curly, sharp horns,
Growing fat in a field by a fast waterfall,
Where the thistles grew thickest and richest of all…

3
But one dark autumn evening, the Gruffs felt a chill,
Looking over the valley from high on their hill.
‘All our kingdom’s grown muddy!’ one growled with a shiver.
‘The grass looks much greener beyond the Great River.’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 3

4
‘My brothers! It’s time for us Gruffs to expand!
We must cross that Great River and grab our new land.
But there’s only one bridge, under which lives a Troll,
And she’ll drown any strangers who won’t pay her toll.’

5
‘Let me cross over first!’ bleated Tiny Goat Gruff,
Who was youngest and smallest, but made of tough stuff.
He was wide as a wolf, with a beard of blood red,
And a hat with a crow’s feather perched on his head.

6
Tiny rolled out a motorbike, polished and black,
Started up the loud engine and climbed on its back.
And then, dipping his horns, gave his brothers a poke,
Before roaring away in a great cloud of smoke.

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 6

7
Tiny stopped at the crossing and stroked his red beard.
On the bridge, in the moonlight, a figure appeared.
She was really quite small, dressed in rags and old shoes,
And her bald head was covered with goat’s-head tattoos.

8
‘Your whole business,’ said Tiny, ‘is one we’ve admired.
But Gruff Brothers Inc. think it’s time you retired.
I’m taking your bridge, cos that grass looks much greener.’
He tried to look mean… but the Troll looked much meaner.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 8

9
‘My dear Tiny Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

10
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head,
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
They all drowned in this river, one hundred all gone,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and one!’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 10

11
Tiny’s hair stood on end, his legs started to shake,
And he bleated: ‘I think there has been some mistake.
I’m not worth all this bother, I’m just skin and bone.
Please await my big brother and leave me alone!’

12
‘I will let you cross over my bridge,’ hissed the Troll,
‘If you leave me your bike and your suit as my toll!’
So, poor Tiny was stripped of his bike, suit and pride,
Before galloping off to the opposite side.

BillyGoat12

13
‘It is time I set forth,’ bleated Curly Goat Gruff,
Who was older than Tiny and smelled very rough.
He was big as a bear, with a beard full of curls,
And his horns wore a bowler hat covered in pearls.

14
Curly entered the barn through a large, sliding door,
And from inside the building there rose a great roar,
Before Curly drove out in a black limousine,
And cruised off down the hill in the groaning machine.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 14

15
Parking close by the bridge, Curly stepped from his car
And called out: ‘Brother Tiny, point out where you are!’
But instead saw a Troll, who was bald as a coot
And was dressed in what looked like his brother’s best suit.

16
‘I have followed,’ said Curly, ‘this river’s direction,
To sell you some shares in Gruff Brothers Protection.
We’re taking your bridge, now then where is my brother?’
‘He’s gone…’ trilled the Troll. ‘He ran off to his mother!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 16

17
‘My dear Curly Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

18
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head.
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
I have drowned me one hundred and one just like you,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and two!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 18

19
Curly’s knees started knocking, his face turned quite pasty,
‘Hold on now!’ he bleated, ‘No need to be hasty!
I’m sorry to see that my offer offends,
Please await my big brother, and let us be friends!’

20
‘Oh, you grizzling, grovelling, grotty goat Gruff,’
Said the Troll, ‘Did you not think that I’d call your bluff?
Leave the keys to your car, and your pearl-covered hat,
Then please cross, and cross quick, ’cos you smell like a rat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 20

21
Meanwhile, high in the valley sat Biggy Goat Gruff,
Who was thinking: ‘I’ve waited up here long enough.’
He was huge as a horse, with a beard of jet black
And a mane of grey hair down his billy goat back.

22
Biggy pulled on a greatcoat of scarlet and gold,
And he growled, ‘I’ll make sure that troll never grows old!’
Then he hauled back the sheets from a rusty green lorry,
Jumped in, turned the keys, and drove off in a hurry.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 22

23
On reaching the bridge, Biggy searched for the others,
But try as he might found no sign of his brothers.
And there in the moonlight a little Troll sat,
Wearing Tiny’s best jacket and Curly’s best hat.

24
‘I have come,’ Biggy rapped, ‘for your bridge and your river.
This message my brothers were meant to deliver.
I’ll butt you, and beat you, and bite you in half.’
But to Biggy’s amazement, he heard the Troll laugh.

BillyGoats24

25
‘Oh, my dear Biggy Gruff!’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

26
‘But I see by your size, and the gold of your cuff,
You’re the greatest by far of the Billy Goats Gruff,
So, I’ll give you my bridge, and I’ll bow down my head,
If you’ll just let me keep one small stone for my bed.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 26

27
‘Be my guest!’ Biggy roared, growing careless with pride,
‘But beware, as my truck is both heavy and wide!’
So, the Troll gently slid out a stone marked with moss,
Before stepping aside to wave Biggy across.

28
Roaring over the crossing, the truck gave a moan,
As the bridge’s loose stones groaned a terrible groan,
And the Troll wore a grin as her bridge tumbled down,
Dropping Biggy Goat Gruff in the river to drown.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 28

29
Never knowing their big brother’s fate in this matter,
The two younger Gruff boys grew fatter and fatter.
They grazed their new grass with such monstrous greed,
That they gobbled up every last thistle and weed.

30
‘Little brother,’ said Curly, ‘Our luck has turned bloody!
Once more, it would seem, all our land has grown muddy,
While over the river, there’s green grass and flowers,
We’ll have to return to reclaim what is ours!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

31
They galloped to where the Troll’s bridge had once been,
But as hard as they hunted, no bridge could be seen,
Just a pile of stones, stacked up neatly enough,
With a sign that read: ‘Here lies poor Biggy Goat Gruff.’

32
On the opposite bank, where a garden had grown,
Stood a little, grey cottage of moss-covered stone.
On the drive, in a limousine, there the Troll sat
In a greatcoat of scarlet and pearl-covered hat.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

33
‘I’m much bigger than last time we met!’ Tiny hissed,
Throwing pebbles and shaking his billy goat fist.
‘All that grass would be ours if we’d thought to remain!’
Grumbled Curly, ‘Now help us cross over again!’

34
‘My dear Billy Goats Gruff,’ called the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
Your big brother has left you no bridge, just a moat,
Now I’ll never be crossed by some hillbilly goat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 34

35
The next morning, with needle and ink of deep blue,
Her friend Fox gave the Troll one more goat’s-head tattoo.
‘Did you really drown one hundred goats?’ old Fox said.
‘Golly, no!’ laughed the Troll, ‘Only Biggy lies dead.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy tale 36

36
‘Like the pearls on my hat and the stripes on my cuffs,
There are all sorts of ways to beat bullies and Gruffs.
You don’t need to be bigger and badder by far,
But it helps if the bullies all think that you are…’

37
They both sat back and laughed as they heard the Gruffs quarrel,
And Fox said: ‘Your tale has at least one more moral.
You’ll never be happy, and always act meaner,
When grasping and grabbing for grass that is greener.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 38

THE END!

Text Copyright © Jason Hook 2020 
Illustrations Copyright © Christa Hook 2020

The Big Butterfly Count of 2038

The Big Butterfly Count runs from 17 July to 9 August and you can find details here.

To get you in the mood, and perhaps suggest how important it is to look after our beautiful fluttering friends before they are gone for ever, how many hidden names of butterflies can you find in the poem below…?

Welcome all who were called to this barren small heath,
Where the speckled woods rise from the plastic beneath,
And the dead meadow browns under orange-tip sun,
Glaring down clouded yellow on all that we’ve done.

We are gathered today, as we gather each year,
To record and survey all our planet holds dear,
Tell your last swallowtail, note the time and the date,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

In your childhood days, all you needed to do,
Was to laze in your garden while they came to you,
And the shadows grew bright with their scrap-paper hues,
Green-veined whites, purple hairstreaks, small coppers, large blues.

Like kaleidoscope blossoms blown down from the trees,
A collection of postage stamps thrown on the breeze,
Let us wait as the gatekeeper closes the gate,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

Where they once flew in wildflower meadowsweet parks,
They now shrivel and die like a bonfire’s sparks,
Chanting brimstone and treacle, on large heath or small,
With no witchcraft to roll back this butterfly ball.

We have broken their butterfly wings on a wheel
Which stops turning for children whose ringlets we steal,
And the last chalk hill blue is wiped clean off the slate,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

When a butterfly won’t flap its wings in Brazil,
Will the wind cease to blow while the oceans grow still?
Will we go to the wall with such hothouse neglect,
Gazing clear through the glaze of our greenhouse effect?

Will our butterfly minds flutter on to forget
The last butterfly stitch in this butterfly net?
Now the old purple emperor lies here in state,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

Is there anyone here who remembers last year,
When we waited all day for just two to appear?
But how lucky we were! Now our race is near run,
As we set out to count and record the last one.

Because all of our one hundred eyes looked away
While the last painted ladies made peacock display,
And the northern brown argus predicted their fate,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

There it is! The large white! What a sight! What a tale!
A great white that’s as rare as Old Ahab’s white whale,
Take a blank scrap of paper, a snowflake, a ghost,
As the last grizzled skipper abandons his post.

We are stood on the bridge looking down on the drop,
This is no type of comma, but final full stop.
Sail a fleet of red admirals before it’s too late,
The Big Butterfly Count of Two Zero Three Eight.

© Text copyright Jason Hook 2019

 

London’s Pubs Unlocked

As England’s pubs unlock their doors, the bars unbar, the pumps pull, the barrels roll, and the spirits of the age flow free, it is a moment to remember the poetry of the pub sign, and the joy of names that summon the dawn, transport, trade, faith, royalty, beasts, birds and the night sky, all those things that help us to view our capital through the heart of a glass…

The Rising Sun, The Fox, The Gun, The Daylight Inn, The Barley Mow,
The Rose & Crown, The Hare & Hounds, The Flying Horse, The Tally Ho!
The Lamb & Flag, The Handsome Cab, The Coach & Horses, The Black Cap,
The Railway Tavern, The Flying Scotsman, The Only Running Footman, The Brewery Tap,
The Blind Beggar, The Chelsea Potter, The Waterman’s, The Windermere,
The Mason’s, Cooper’s, Bricklayer’s, Brewer’s, Plumber’s, Joiner’s, Grenadier,
The Bishop’s Finger, Ye Olde Mitre, The Black Friar, The Green Man,
The George & Dragon, St Margaret’s Tavern, The Harp, The Hope, The Dove, The Lamb,
The King’s Head, Queen’s Head, Duke’s Head, Turk’s Head, Bedford, Britannia, Spaniard’s Inn,
The Boar’s Head, Bull’s Head, Stag’s Head, Nag’s Head, Albert, Victoria, George, Nell Gwynne,
The White Horse, The Black Horse, The Old Packhorse, The Old White Bear, The Spotted Dog,
The Cock, Ye Olde Cock, The Swan, The Peacock, The Fox & Pheasant, The Hampshire Hog,
The Trafalgar, The Nelson, The Admiral Duncan, The Spanish Galleon, The Old Ship,
The Prospect of Whitby, The Army & Navy, The Juggler’s, The Smuggler’s, Dirty Dick’s,
The Horse & Groom, The Plough, The Moon, The Evening Star, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,
The One Bell, Eight Bells, Ten Bells, Old Bell, The World’s End: “Time, gentlemen, please!”

Copyright © Jason Hook 2020

Washing the Lions

01524d6342b565a278fa7be96daba7d399ccf5af7f-2B-2-1Today at the Tower of London it is the annual ceremony of the Washing of the Lions. All tourists must only watch by lockdown link this year! The noble beasts are to be released into the moat, where their keepers will take up brush and water and perform the dangerous yet dignified ritual of the annual scrubbing of the Kings of Beasts.

Lions have been kept at the Tower Menagerie since the year 1235, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, presented a gift of three lions to the English King Henry III, to celebrate his marriage to Henry’s sister Isabella. Those three lions have endured as the symbol of English royalty, and the history of lions as residents of the Tower of London is a long and fascinating one. Meganerie2

(Most of the above is true. However, the lions will not in fact be washed today. Since 1698, it has been an April Fool’s Day tradition among Londoners to advertise the Washing of the Lions as a lure to unsuspecting tourists and a jape for those in the know. Sometimes, gilt-edged invitations have even been printed. But while lions were indeed resident at the Tower Menagerie for hundreds of years, they are no long present. And even if they were, any gathering to see them soaped would join the many who over the centuries have been left swallowing their missing pride.)

Happy April 1st!

 

Turning the World Upside Down

On Valentine’s Day, I’ve treated myself by spending a little time and showing some love for my unpublished children’s book, Isabella Mawtle’s Immortal Vanishing Cream. This excerpt is from the chapter where Pip and Molly Mawtle, trapped in their Great-aunt Isabella’s bewitched house, tumble through a revolving floor, and find their world turned upside down in every conceivable way.

I hope you don’t mind me sharing…

“As the Cursery Rhyme whirled about her ears, Molly’s end of the see-saw soared too high. Molly see-ed up and Pip saw-ed down, and the floor revolved until it stood on end – and then tipped completely over. Their world turned upside-down and Pip and Molly were sent somersaulting into the darkness as, high above them, a fading violin voice whirled…

‘I’ve looked inside your hearts
To see the whats you whish to do!
You’ve dreamed all night, now hold on tight,
We’ll make them all come true…’

Faster they fell, the air rushing cold over their cuckoo-cropped scalps. Down and…

d

o

w

n…

 

faster…

 

fasterfasterfaster…

 

f

a

s

t

e

r

.

.

.

until, at last, a blood-red floor rushed up to meet them. They gritted their teeth. They clenched their fists. Remembering suddenly the wish they had made never to grow old, they thought for the first time of just what that wish might really mean, what double meanings it might hold, and how careful you should be when you whisper the words of your wishes in a witch’s house. And for the first time in their young lives they felt a vague sense that life might not last for ever. They held their breaths and waited a witch’s tick for the coming true of that careless wish: for the thud of young bone on stone, the thump of young skull on floorboards, the thwack, the crack

…the squish!

Pip and Molly hit the floor without thud, thump or thwack. They landed not on hard as rock, but on soft as jelly; not egg on concrete, but rubber ball on space hopper.

They felt themselves sink gently into the softest, the bounciest, the most trampolinest of floors…

‘Balloons!’ Molly cried.

‘Balloons!’ laughed Pip.

And they remembered how in the back of a black carriage an age or so ago they had wished for a house with floors of balloons and ceilings of feathers, so that they might bounce up into the air and then fly back down again.

The first of these they did now, for what goes down must come up. With a squeal, the floor of balloons sank beneath their weight, and then sprang up and launched them into the air. They trampolined towards where they had fallen from, as if the cogs of the morning had been put into reverse. And as they flew back up through the darkness, Pip and Molly peered up towards where they knew a wooden floor to be – a floor that was now a ceiling, and a ceiling, since they were falling upwards, that was also now a floor! Never had their world felt more turned upon its head.

They had wished for balloons and they had got balloons. Now they wished even harder for feathers. And the darkness above sang out to them in a choir of honey-toned hoots. It sounded like an orchestra of bassoons blowing one huge ‘HOOT!’ above them, around them, inside them. They vibrated like reeds in the two ‘Os’ of that hoot, as if they had been sucked into the wind-pipes of a church organ. And as they flew towards the floor that was now a ceiling, the ceiling that was now a floor, they waited for the sharp rap of wood. Instead, they felt the soft wrap of feathers. They flew up into down – beautiful, feathery down – which caught them as softly as a woollen mitten catching two dandelion seeds.

For a moment, Pip and Molly were suspended there, side by side, sensing in the darkness the soft outlines of giant feathers. In silence, they hung there, happy to be neither falling nor rising, glad just to be still there and still.”

Copyright © Jason Hook, 2020 

Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat: the show

IMG_0862When Grandpa Walter opened the door,
he was wearing a green suit that looked
just like his garden. ‘Welcome to my world
of wonderful wallpapers!’ said Walter.
‘I wonder which room will be your favourite…’

When I wrote Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat for V&A Publishing a few years ago, my idea was that a picture book about a magical house in which the wallpapers come alive might in turn bring fresh life to the wallpapers in the V&A collection by inviting young visitors to the museum to look at the patterns and pictures not just with their eyes but with their imaginations. Grandpa Walter was named after Walter Crane, whose wallpaper designs form the backdrops in the book, and the artist Ilaria Demonti breathed life into the characters of Walter, his sleepless grand-daughter Wendy, and the fiddle-playing Wallpaper Cat with her fabulous illustrations.

We published the book, we celebrated, and that might well have been that. But if cats have nine lives, then it seems wallpaper cats have at least two. Last week, I had the thrill of watching Lisa O’Hanlon and Dan Willis perform Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat at the V&A theatre to row upon row of young, wide-eyed, shrieking spectators. Now the wallpapers, and the book itself, really did come to life. Butterflies flitted over Walter’s wallpaper garden; rose petals tumbled from the sky; sea-shells carried the sound of the ocean to a hundred eager ears; a giant orange was bounced from hand to hand; and, wonder of wonderful wonders, children gasped at nothing more, nothing less, than projections of Victorian wallpapers as Wendy dashed from room to room.

When the electric-blue Wallpaper Cat leapt from the walls to play enchanted fiddle music, not just Wendy but all the children in the audience ran through the midnight garden and danced. And so the Wallpaper Cat lives on, summoned from the wall to play for any child struggling to get to sleep.

Many thanks to Lisa and Dan for their wonderful work, to Ilaria, and to everyone at the V&A including Astrid, Harriet and Tom.

“Wendy looked up at the roses on the walls.
When she reached up to touch them,
a red petal fluttered down.”

IMG_0848

“And when at last she caught up with the cat,
he played his fiddle and they danced together
the whole night long.”

IMG_0853

Copyright © Jason Hook 2019

The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38

 

There are a number of butterflies hidden in the poem.
In a Small Butterfly Count, can you find and count them?

1SwallowTail
Welcome all of you here to this barren small heath,
Where the speckled woods rise from the plastic beneath,
And the dead meadow browns under orange-tip sun,
Which glares down clouded yellow on all that we’ve done.
We have gathered today, as we’ve gathered each year,
To record and survey all our planet holds dear,
Tell your last swallowtail, and remember the date,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

2Gatekeeper
In my childhood days, all you needed to do,
Was to laze in your garden while they came to you,
And the air would grow bright with their scrap-paper hues,
Green-veined whites, purple hairstreaks,
small coppers, large blues,
Like kaleidoscope blossoms blown down from the trees,
A collection of postage stamps thrown on the breeze.
Let us wait as the gatekeeper closes the gate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

3ChalkHillBlue
Where they once flew in wildflower meadows and parks,
Now they shrivel and die like a bonfire’s sparks,
Chanting brimstone and treacle, on large heath or small,
There’s no witchcraft can roll back this butterfly ball.
We have broken their butterfly wings on a wheel
That stops turning for children whose ringlets we steal,
And the last chalk hill blue is wiped clean off the slate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

PurpleEmperor4
When a butterfly won’t flap its wings in Brazil,
Will the wind cease to blow and the oceans grow still?
Will we go to the wall with our hothouse neglect,
As we gaze through the glaze of our greenhouse effect?
Will our butterfly minds flutter on and forget
The last butterfly stitch in our butterfly net?
Now the old purple emperor lies here in state,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

5BrownArgus
Is there anyone here who remembers last year,
When we waited all day for just two to appear?
But how lucky we were! Now our race is near run,
As we set out to find and record the last one.
Because all of our one hundred eyes looked away
While the last painted ladies made peacock display,
And the northern brown argus predicted their fate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

 

6
There it is! The large white! What a sight! What a tale!
A great white that’s as rare as Old Ahab’s white whale,
Like a blank scrap of paper, a snowflake, a ghost,
As the last grizzled skipper abandons his post;
We are stood on the bridge looking down on the drop,
This is not just a comma, but final full stop.
Sail a fleet of red admirals before it’s too late,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

RedAdmiral

© Text copyright Jason Hook 2019