The Christmas Falcon

It’s Christmas Eve, 1814, and the big house of Falcon Hall in Edinburgh is wrapped in snow and night. In the kitchen, the grumbling cook is preparing Christmas dinner when a mysterious child with a falcon on her shoulder comes to help him…

The Falcon Christmas is based on the true stories of Falcon Hall in Morningside, Edinburgh, and of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. It is a 6000-word story hidden inside a Christmas card which I wrote, illustrated and individually produced about half a mile from the place where the story is set.

The ideas for The Christmas Falcon came from various sources. There was research for my PhD on the Falconars of Falcon Hall and on dinner parties in the New Town of Edinburgh. There was the accidental discovery that Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge was based on a real person. And there was watching The Muppet Christmas Carol once too often. I did re-read Charles Dickens’ original version when writing my story, and discovered that Kermit and company stuck pretty closely to it.

I love that sort of story, the sort where the ingredients of snow, food, carols, historical costumes, children, animals, and a huge dose of good will to all, are mixed together into a delicious warming Christmas pudding of escapism, ideal for reading curled up by a fire with a glass of mulled wine. It’s just the right length for one of those Christmas gaps, while you’re waiting for the pudding to be done, or for the cousins to arrive, or for the long Christmas Eve evening before Midnight Mass.

But I also like stories that teach you stuff, and the Christmas Falcon, while entirely fictitious in itself, has a lot of history behind it. At the end of the ribbon-bound storybook inside the card, there’s a link to a page on my website with the historical background to the story, which I hope both Edinburgh and Dickens fans will find interesting. There’s also a snatch of poetry from one of my favourite poets, the Scottish Renaissance writer William Dunbar, of whom I hope you will hear more from me.

To be honest, the most arduous part of producing The Christmas Falcon turned out to be sticking on the glitter. But it’s worth it, because it will bring my William-Blake-y illustration to life so delightfully when it’s on your mantlepiece with fairy lights or candles around it. And as I stick it on, I think of you opening the door to the cousins, or arriving at Midnight Mass, or serving the pudding, with a warm heart, and slightly glittery.

You can buy The Christmas Falcon on Etsy or Folksy. If you have read The Christmas Falcon I would be delighted if you would take the time to review it using the comments box below. And please follow me on facebook or sign up for email updates on my website to hear about my future projects.

The St John’s Garden


St John’s Church at the West End of Edinburgh have just completed a major project to improve and open up their historic and beautiful graveyard. They asked me to provide an illustration for a new interpretative sign. It’s the cherry on the cake of all the work of tree-felling, planting, path-building and monument restoration which has been going on in the background.

graveyard-panel-smallMy illustration was beautifully put together with the information on the history and facilities of the site by graphic designer Peter Blood from The Osprey Company,, who provided the signboard itself. If you want a sign, we’ve made a good team and would love to work together again!




The sign was unveiled at a special ceremony with the Bishop of Edinburgh (the guy in the pink frock…) The unveiling is being done by historian Angus Mitchell, who knows more about the people buried in the churchyard than anyone. (I’m hot on his heels, however, because the people in the graveyard are some of the subject of my history PhD which you can read about here).

The sign is on the Terrace down the steps from Lothian Road — drop in and have a look if you’re in Edinburgh!


Gladstone’s Land Gallery

George Harris and I are exhibiting our work this week in a father and daughter team. We’re at the Gladstone’s Land Gallery in the Lawnmarket, just down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle — it’s number 13 on my guide to the Old Town.

Gladstone’s Land is a 17th century tenement. The ground and first floor are set up as a museum by the National Trust, and the gallery is on the second floor.

Tourists going up and down the Royal Mile can’t miss my sign…

Those who make it up the winding stone staircase will find a treasure-house of delights…..  

… with George’s beautiful acrylics and watercolours of Skye, Torridon, Assynt, all over the mountains and coast of the west of Scotland.

It’s worth coming in just to see the seventeenth century painted ceiling, and the casement windows. It’s also a great place for people-watching.

We’re there all this week, 10 till 5, until Sunday. Please come and say hello!

Follow me on Facebook Visit my website

Being Part of the Edinburgh Festival

I love West Port. Every time I walk along it I see something new. Where else would you find a shop front proclaiming, ‘V. Good, Defence Lawyers’? Yesterday I noticed that the adjacent laundrette and sex-shop both had copies of the same sign in the window: ‘Staff wanted. Apply with CV within’. I walked through the Grassmarket wondering how I would construct a CV which would suit what is presumably one job. Then on Victoria Street, one of those little A-boards which say ‘caution, slippery surface’, except someone had adapted it to read ‘caution, ghosts’. Aw! And the great old stone church-converted-to-restaurant that burned right out in a tremendous fire last winter is open for business again. That’s extraordinary: it still looked like a sooty shell in June.

That was in the morning, on the way to the National Library. I walked that way again last night, to a late ‘Hot Chocolate’ concert in Old St Paul’s. The city was buzzing. Not the winter crowds: forlorn girls with barely enough flesh or cloth to cover their bones keeping out the sleet and the pain in their feet with bottles of spirits (I join them occasionally. We are the most prosperous generation in history). This, though, is the festival crowd, where mere revellers are outnumbered by middle-aged cultured couples, European herds led by fierce brolly-women, and most of all, young artists of every sort, choristers in black, actresses in corsets, buskers in kilts, comedians in jeans and t-shirts, tumblers in colourful dungarees, crafters in shawls.

Usually during August I feel as if my city has been occupied by invaders, and lie low in the cloisters of the National Library until they disperse and I can reclaim it. But this year I’ve been part of the Festival. I’ve been to four concerts, two as audience and two, with Sospiro Baroque and The Choir of St John’s as singer. In the  been to an opera, Montezuma where male and female sopranos competitively explored German Liberalism in the context of the native Mexicans, and a play about the Darien Scheme, Caledonia, as a sop to my neglected history research. In Caledonia I was surrounded by English audience members who didn’t know the story, and were baffled first by the sheer daftness, and second by the extraordinary mixture of boldness and self-doubt, local obscurity and global ambition of the Scots both in the story and putting on the play. I loved it, and that was when I thought, this is my festival.

I also spent a week at the West End Fair selling my guide to the Old Town, Layers of Edinburgh, amongst other things. There’s time to stop and think, standing in the sun at that hub of Edinburgh where all my roads always meet. I thought, I don’t want to choose between illustrator, historian, ecologist and writer. I want to use all four at once, as Layers of Edinburgh does, because that’s what this city has made me. Ali Bali Jewellery was demonstrating the potential of on-line marketing. So here I am, here’s a clip of Layers of EdinburghLayers of Edinburgh, an illustrated guide to the Old Town, and here is where I can tell you about what happens next.