Ahoy me hearties! It’s nice to put into harbour for a breather! I’ve been adulting all month in one way or another, which isn’t exactly natural habitat for this star-sailor. If I’ve missed a few of your messages-in-bottles over on some of the SM sites, me heartiest apologies!

But here we are, with a break in the storm, so to speak, and time to hang our smalls in the rigging to air on a good following breeze. So crack out the grog, stick your feet up on a barrel of smoked mackerel, and indulge me while I talk all the twaddle I’ve been saving up?

The last few weeks I’ve been masquerading as a very sensible and worthy sort of adult indeed. It has been – as the uptick in hayfever sufferers and stressed adolescents in the streets may have told you – exam season, and where there are exams, there are (at least until AI gets its fingers into that pie too) examiners. While I am sworn upon pain of death not to mention for which board, I can confirm I am one of that nefarious breed. Thus, for the last fortnight, I have marked several hundred of the desperate scrawlings of poor wee bairns whose only wish was that they’d revised harder. Marked and marked, until my eyes went funny. Then marked some more.

The odd thing is, I really enjoyed it. I used to loathe marking with every grain of my being, back when I was a classroom teacher and contractually bound to grade several dozen papers what felt like every day of my waking life, including (yes, really) Christmas. Lawks a’mussy and wouldn’t you know it, but now I’m well out of all those shenanigans, it’s actually quite pleasurable to crack out the (virtual) red pen once in a while, and keep my hand in with the – ahem – “semantic obliqueness” – of assessment criteria.

I feel a bit like I’m cosplaying Professor McGonagall. And who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?

A cosplay McGonagall. Well, it amused me…

But all of this had me wondering about the art of adulting, and the even more important art of skiving* off from it. And this exam season, I escaped (via a chair in the garden between exam papers) to twelfth-century Shropshire, in the company of a medieval monk called Brother Cadfael.

“What’s all this?” I hear you cry. “I came here for waffle and the occasional bit of bluster about writing, not the monthly book club meeting! I can get all that at the library, with coffee and biscuits thrown in!” Fret not. I promise I won’t stick to the point (you surely know me better by now!) and what’s more, there will be nice photos of crumbly, romantic old buildings.

Haughmond Abbey – a crumbly, romantic old building, and the one I just happened to base my short story “The Abbey” on.

Somewhat mollified, “why Cadfael?” you ask. Or at least you do until you remember that I was born and raised within a dodgy West-Coast-Rail ride of Shrewsbury, where the medieval sleuth did his sleuthing and where a mere month-and-a-half ago I was in exile in grim circumstances and trying to skive off from some pretty dire adulting indeed. At which point you go “ah! I see!” and nod wisely, while you equally wisely gear yourself up to look at the pretty pictures and wonder what all this has to do with whatever I’m writing – or more accurately procrastinating over writing – at the moment.**

So I shall tell you.

Every good tour begins in a pub – and this one (opposite the Abbey, if you happen to be in the area) served hot chocolate!

One afternoon in April, somewhat bludgeoned by a particularly brutal blow of fate, I staggered my way onto the platform at Shrewsbury (where the Castle, built in 1070, looms over you the second you step from the train) having decided to cock two fingers at the whole adulting nonsense and escape a millennium into the past. I knew I was in Cadfael country. I knew that the absolute crème-de-la-crème of literary escapism was mine for the price of a day-saver-return ticket. And I knew where to buy a map to take me there.

Shrewsbury Castle, excelling at looming since 1070

Now, what follows will be a montage of some of the more lovely, not to mention gasp-worthy sights you can see in Shrewsbury, a medieval town so perfectly preserved in its black-and-white timbered olde-worlde-ness that a slew of films have been shot there, including the incomparable “Muppets’ Christmas Carol”. 

Ok this one’s not medieval – in fact by Shrewsbury standards it’s positively modern – but it’s rather lovely and gasp-worthy nonetheless.

But I am not going to drag you step by touristy step along any of the three “Cadfael trails” you can take should you ever venture into Ellis Peters’ country (though for any fans, Horsefair and St Giles are still there, as are the Abbey and its famous Foregate, the river path, and all manner of iconic locations from the books) though I might drop a few photos for the curious. No. Fascinating as it was to plod in Brother C’s sandal-shoon footsteps, that is not what I am about today.

Horsefair. Still there.

What was my point again? Ah yes! Escape! And the tingly feeling you get when you step out of your life for a moment into another one, one that is pure imagination and all the realer for that, if only to hang suspended there on a thin rope of “what-might-be”. You do it every time you open a book. And you do it even more precariously when you start to try and write one.

Step into historic Shrewsbury! Except I’m not a tour guide, so you’ll just have to take my word that it’s rather lovely.

You know the feeling. It’s those moments where you believe you just might open your wardrobe door onto a winter woodland. The jangle of a bell in the doorway of a little shop you could swear you’ve never seen before, and that may possibly sell you a book of spells, or a wishing ring, or a map containing the co-ordinates of Atlantis. I felt it prickle my fingers as I ran them over centuries-old stonework and wondered about all the other unique-but-long-gone fingertips that did just the same thing, and then there was another tingle as I wondered if Ellis Peters had felt that self-same prickle when she dreamed up Brother Cadfael. And another, even more delicious one, as I realised she almost certainly did.

If memory serves, this is the “town” door to the abbey, where the ordinary people of Shrewsbury would enter to hear services. A very evocative range of surfaces to run ones tingly fingers across.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this month, dear reader. Escaping into moments of tingle. I’ve been letting myself stand upon the threshold of possibilities and all the different worlds they might open into, if my imagination let them. All the “of course it won’t, but what if?” moments; I’ve let them dance in my brain. What if someone else saw that pretty foxglove, and baked its roots into the cake they donated to the church raffle? What if that path through the woods really was the Royal Way to the land of the Sidhe? Or if it led, instead, to the lair of a pack of skin-shifters, ready to devour an unwary dog-walker (and his dog)?

The innocuous-looking garden foxglove, or digitalis. Caution – does not make a good cake ingredient, being toxic and everything.

And while it might be*** hubris to consider myself in even vaguely similar footwear to JR Tolkien, I did think wryly of him, as I waded my way through exam papers, and of how he apparently plotted out Lord of The Rings on a blank page left by an Oxford undergrad. Should the exam board stumble across this newsletter, I’d like to confirm my mind was very much focused on the gravitas of the marking task before me. But my imagination? That was playing in the tingle-zone.

Perhaps not a bona fide Narnian lamp post, but an imagination-tingler, no?

So no, dear reader, I have not written any new stories this month, for I was being responsible, and wise, and mature, and all of those things that prevent us from plunging headlong into the land of what-if at full tilt. But I have opened a dozen doors into other worlds, and stood at the threshold of each, and I took notes. Lots and lots of notes. 

And next month, adulting permitting, I shall begin to write.


* A British term for truanting / playing hooky / wagging / bunking off (insert own preference here)

** The latter. Obviously.

*** Read “definitely is”


a blue ship's door with the sign "F.K. BELLE MARLOWE"

F.K. Marlowe is a Shropshire lass who lived in London and Beijing before settling down with her husband, three daughters and rescue pup in Vancouver. She writes horror stories with a tendency to the paranormal, and Young Adult fiction with fangs and sass.

Marlowe doesn’t worry overly much about the placement of semi-colons and the like, having spent far too long pootling about in academia to take them seriously. (She has an Oxford first in English Lit, plus a Master’s and PhD from Leeds). She has, however, discovered that life is the best education for a writer, and plans to continue her studies there as long as possible.


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