Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

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Celebrating With A Book Launch!

What a wonderfully amazing and joyous day! My first proper book launch to

officially birth my second book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’, out into the world. And we had a blast! Even before two o’clock struck, people were pouring through the door as I happily greeted so many friends… new and old. It was so good to have so many very dear people there with me.

And there was lots for them to do while we waited for stragglers – and there were one or two! I had assembled a collection of vintage family advent calendars dating back to the early 1950’s which we put out on display, (more about them another time), and we had both my books, ‘Merry Midwinter’ and ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ for sale, as well as a branch full of my speciality fir cone gnomes which make cheekily cute decorations at any time of year.

There was also a table of refreshments: home made chocolate cake and ginger parkin coated in sweet white icing and studded with crystallised ginger; gluten and dairy-free orange cake and fruit flapjack with savoury snacks to nibble on as well. I had made mulled wine and a none-alcoholic fruit punch but as the cinnamon had a very strange gloopy reaction in the fruit punch and I had forgotten a pan in which to heat the mulled wine, that rather narrowed the choice down to tea and coffee for the more discerning… well, you can’t win them all!

All four candles were lit on the advent wreath which I had made for the occasion and I began by welcoming everyone and giving them an update on what has been happening to me in the world of publishing since the beginning of the year. For not only was this a celebration for the launch of my second book but also for Herbary Books who are responsible for publishing it! Jess and Dafydd were there with us and so I officially introduced their new business venture to the world as well.

I went on to talk about the ancient significance of Midwinter celebration and what advent and the advent wreath symbolises and how the advent calendar developed. I mentioned how I came to write ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ and we went on to discuss what makes Christmas important to us and how we can bring that into our lives this winter festive season.

I was glad that I had booked the hall for longer than I originally intended. It allowed me to get round and talk to everyone… sign books… and eventually sit down with some of my nearest and dearest for a well-earned cup of tea before beginning to pack everything away.

Once home again, there were six of us for dinner… and a giddy, happy party we made of it. Later, as we settled back with cups of coffee, Jess opened a big tub of chocolates… ‘Celebrations’… what else?!

Stepping Into The Past

Dinas DinlleHill Fort

View walking up the hill to the iron age fort

Walls have been uncovered that were built by people over two thousand years ago, and which probably haven’t seen the light of day since the great storms of eight hundred years ago when all the sand blew in and forevermore totally obliterated parts of the coastline.

Yesterday, I went with my family to visit our local beach – the one nearest to us, only four or five miles along country lanes which normally takes us approximately twelve minutes to drive to in the car. Archaeologists have been excavating on top of the hill fort there this past couple of weeks. The public were then invited to go and see what they had discovered.

Gazebos and tents to house photos and maps and other significant information bucked and flapped in the aftermath of the gale which had assailed north west Wales the previous evening. The sun shone but the waves roared in thunderously as they crashed upon the beach relentlessly and the wind nearly blew us away, especially once we reached the exposed summit of the hill which the fort crowns. It was hard to stand still or upright and the furiously swirling air snatched our guide’s words away in a possessive tantrum, but what we saw and discovered there took my breath away far more thoroughly that the exigencies of the wind.

We were told about the Roman watch tower which was probably built from stones taken from the older hut circles and later, the farms which came and went – even a golf course which was laid out across the hill fort at the turn of the last century!

Hill Fort walls

One of the archaeological trenches showing a wall between six and eight feet thick – built to withstand the elements and humanity alike.

But it was the stones. Stones carried, held, placed by hands over two millennia ago… laid with infinite precision and care by ordinary people shaping their homes… people with vision of a new community… ordinary people going about their everyday business, with blisters and sore backs, with loved ones, with hopes and aspirations just like you and me. I felt the intervening years dissolve and I stood with them – those people of old – and looked on with them as their great round houses and animal folds took shape.

I walked with them towards the entrance to the enclosure which faces away from the sea and the wind and envisaged hunters returning home with their prey, farmers walking back up the track at the end of a long weary day from toiling in the fields… the laughter and chatter of children, the women’s voices and the smoke rising from the cooking fires. It was all there, just a blink away… and then was gone. But I was still left with a feeling of shared community… connection… experience.

Dinas Dinlle

Looking across the sea towards the mountains of Tre’r Ceiri

As I walked back across the summit of the hill and looked out across the bay to the mountains opposite, I saw the very same view that these ancestors of the place must have looked at every day of their lives and felt again that frisson of connection. I thank the archaeologists whose care and work enabled me to briefly walk beside these older folk once more. It gave me a sense of place and time and of fitness to carry on the task of preserving the planet and our life upon it – more precarious now than at any other time this past few thousand years.

With much to think about, we descended the steep slopes and sought sanctuary within one of the bright, warm cafes. I bet those older folk would have a loved a cup of hot tea or coffee!

A Golden Day!

Spent a wonderful day with my family at Cae Non yesterday! The weather was hot and sunny with blue skies and the land was awash with blossom. One of the main focuses of the day was the ritual mixing of our Lammas loaf – or in this particular instance, four flat loaves which were baked on a planc or griddle over an open wood fire. We all took turns to knead the dough and then left it to rise under a damp cloth in the

The land of Cae Non! Our land is actually visible in this picture, but you have to know where to look!

warm sunshine while we wandered off to climb a neighbouring hill.

In spiritual terms, hills can be seen as liminal places, between earth and the heavens. (Think of the tradition of climbing a hill to receive wisdom – Moses and the ten commandments or the Quaker, George Fox, who had certain revelations on Pendle Hill.) This time of year is the season of the grain harvest and in ancient agricultural terms, the time when the masculine energy of the ripening crops of grain sacrifice themselves to the scythe and sickle of the farmer so that humanity might feed and prosper through another long winter.

We climbed to a space which sits high between the sea and the narrow land of Pen Llyn, with the lofty, hazy mountains of Snowdonia in the far distance. Villages, fields, bays, beaches, hills and mountains were spread out around us like a huge and magical quilt. It felt wondrously freeing to literally rise above it all and get life into perspective. To look down and literally and metaphorically see everything mapped out below. We could also clearly see our own land of Cae Non, vigorously bushing out with young tree growth as it transforms from a boggy, weedy, neglected field into a shady, sunny, be-flowered adventure of magic and mystery.

 

How many thousands of generations of our ancestors have sat besides such a fire to cook and eat their meals?

The wonder about the natural world – and life in general – is that there is always something lovely to anticipate and look forward to. I hope that you are enjoying this powerfully invigorating and nurturing season and storing up all the sunshine and Vitamin D against the darker, colder days to come.

Later, once more restored to our own domain, our own miniature domain, my husband lit a fire outside and we began to cook and bake our evening meal. The sun sank lower in the sky. I have noticed that already the quality of sunlight has begun to change from the bright, clear, almost white light of midsummer to more mellow, golden tones which herald the approach of autumn.

For those of us who are lucky enough not to be experiencing deluges of rain and flooding, the beaches, mountains sides, woodlands and sunny gardens all await you – go out and make the most of Lammas-time… and have fun!

The Path Leads Onwards!

First draft finished – another manuscript now ready to enter the editing and production process! And yes, it is another book centred around Midwinter and Christmas but is applicable to any time of the year. ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ is based on the traditional twenty-four doors, with an extra special door to open of the twenty-fifth of December.

Advent calendars are usually based on giving us something nice to enjoy. This calendar differs in that – far from taking – it is all about what we can give back to the world around us. There is an introductory chapter to explain the origins, aims and development of the advent calendar and also an explanation of the ethos behind Advent itself. This is followed by twenty-five short chapters, each one suggesting a way in which you can make life pleasanter and happier for everything that lives around us – and here I am including animals, plant life and inanimate objects as well as the human element.

Each door will be marked by a large, seasonally illustrated numeral which the reader will ‘open’ by turning the page. There is a simple task or challenge for every day; ideas like giving a hug to people, making someone a hot drink, spending quality time with someone, making people laugh, feeding the local birds, planting seeds, and so on. I also include why these things are important… what real benefit they bring to those around us. Yes, we are mostly aware that it is good to promote such actions… but then we often forget to keep on doing them, especially in the hustle and bustle of the weeks before Christmas when in reality this is just the exact time we should be focusing even more on selfless thought and activities – not less.

But nothing we do, think or say is without its consequences and nothing we participate in is simply one way – there are ultimately the benefits that accrue to the perpetrator as well. Simple kindness can bring immeasurable fulfilment, satisfaction, joy and love. Our interactions with others are always a two-way street.

So, if you want to give yourself or your loved ones an early Christmas present look out for ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ which will be available to buy from the beginning of October onward. There is also a final short chapter on how the ideas can be applied to any time of the year – January is a wonderful time to instigate these activities… brighten the cold dark world of post Christmas and cheer everyone (including yourself) by doing so.

This whole idea began as a series of blog posts dashed off in the heat of the moment last December while I was rushing around promoting my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter’. Once Advent had come to a end it seemed such a shame to merely discard the idea, so earlier in the spring I began work on rewriting them and taking the time to truly consider what I wished to convey. The result will soon be in the hands of my editor.

I have also been having long conversations about how I wish to portray the seasonal numerals which will represent the ‘doors’. I finally knocked up some very rough sketches to show everyone what I had in mind. They were warmly received and now – although I am no artist at all – am left with the task of doing the job properly for inclusion in the book. I just hope that it does not also fall to me to execute the cover… words are one thing but lines on paper have a habit of refusing to do what I expect. Come to think of it, so do my words! Ah well, such is life – jolly exciting isn’t it?

Candying Time

Candied Peels 1

Candied halves of grapefruit ready to be dried off.

I have just seen a post on Facebook which informs me that there are only fourteen more Fridays before Christmas. I got my diary out and counted – and it is true! So for all the people who feel that they have loads of time between now and Christmas…. think again!!! Suddenly, fourteen Fridays neither sounds – or feels – very much.

And I already seem to be a bit behind myself – and I am blaming all delays this autumn on my book which is being published in just a couple of weeks time on the 4th October. I have only just finished candying my first batch of fruit peel which I usually get done in July or August. My favourite peel is grapefruit which is thick and luscious when candied. I usually add it to my mixture when I am baking my Christmas and New Year Cakes. It gives a fresh tang to the other fruits and spices. (And I often finish using it up in the Hot Cross Bun dough at Easter which makes the spicy fruit bread an extra-delicious treat.)

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‘Gather Ye Fir Cones While Ye May’

Fir cones

Gathered on one lovely summer’s walk through the Beddgelert Forest

Gazing out of my window this evening it is hard to believe that it is the middle of August and the children are still on their summer holidays. The mountains are completely obscured by cloud – in fact, I can hardly see the other side of the valley – and it is dark, gustily windy and drenchingly wet. Ah, the true British summer has returned to us. Now this is the weather I recognise and understand!

In such circumstances my thoughts turn to autumn and cosy evenings by a blazing fire… and being me, they drift as far as the Midwinter season. No, don’t groan! There are facets throughout the whole year which reflect on our major Winter celebrations; things which it is good to do/collect/gather/make in preparation for that special time, and now – if and when the rain stops! – is no exception.

For it is now that everything in the woods and forests is coming to fruition, and that means things like all the fir cones which feature so prominently in our Winter decorations. But NOW is the time to begin collecting them. Take

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