Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

December 21, 2010

Cheers!

So, it's been another marvellous blogging year and as I wrestle with the bloody fairy lights which insist on falling off my carefully arranged display around the cooker (grrr), I would just like to take a moment to wish all my lovely blog readers and fellow bloggers an extremely Happy Christmas.

This year, like most, has had its ups and downs but overall, I think it has been a belter which has seen my hair get ever-greyer and my children get ever-taller, louder and messier. I find myself looking at them with more and more wonder, amazement - and occasional horror - as we hurtle into the school years and beyond.

This year, I attended the first ever CyberMummy conference where I nervously, but proudly, read this post and found out later that same day that my blog had won an award. I then had lots of large G&Ts to celebrate and felt a little ropey the next day!

I also took the plunge and started my online blogging workshops which you can read all about - and book - at the Inkwell Writers website.

I also, in 2010, wrote 60,000 words of my first women's fiction novel, helped by a huge spurt in November as part of the National Novel Writing Month. This will - hopefully - be finished in Jan/Feb and I will then start to submit it to publishers - ahem - if any are reading! I am also planning to release 'Hot Cross Mum - the ebook' in the early part of next year - so get those Kindle readers at the ready!

And just before I hang up my blogging boots for 2010, I am absolutely thrilled to have been nominated for the 'British Mummy Bloggers - Brilliance in Blogging Awards' for the funniest post of 2010. You can check all the nominees and vote for your favourite in a range of categories here.

So, that's it from Hot Cross Mum for this year. Here's to a fantastic 2011.

Now, where is that bottle of wine. Ah, there it is. Cheers.
x





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December 13, 2010

Story Spark: Interview with Niamh Sharkey


In my final interview for Story Spark which concludes this weekend, I am delighted to welcome fantastic author/illustrator Niamh Sharkey to Hot Cross Mum. I hold Niamh entirely responsible for my children saying 'Nonsense Smonsense' - a line from her brilliant book 'The Ravenous Beast'! Niamh recently won the Irish Book Awards 'Children's Book of the Year - Junior Category' for her new book 'On The Road With Mavis and Marge' and will be reading at The Ark this Sunday at 2pm. Her session is suitable for 4-7yr olds.


How did you get involved with writing and illustrating children's books?
I really love books. My mum said I always had ‘ my head stuck in a book!’ I studied Graphic Design in Dublin and when I left I got my first illustration jobs with The Irish Times and Mercier Press, who were really good to me. A publisher in England saw these book-covers and wrote to me to see if I would like to illustrate one of their picture books. I was in Australia, no Internet at the time so I sent all my roughs by fax. ‘ Tales of Wisdom and Wonder’ was painted at the foot of Mount Wellington in Hobart, Tasmania.

Where do you get your inspiration?
From Everywhere. People I know, places I have been, snippets of conversations I’ve overheard can become part of my story. I always keep notebooks. When I have an idea going around in my head I try to capture it in my notebooks. Little doodles in pencil and dip pen. I try to capture the automatic idea that I come up with, that’ s why notebooks are great. I try not to think about how it looks, I just scribble it down, I try to have fun with the characters, humour is really important to me.

You must be delighted to have won the Irish Children's Book of the Year Award for 'On the Road with Mavis & Marge'. How long does it take you to illustrate a book like this?
I was thrilled to be nominated - and to then win; it’s a real honour. 'On the Road with Mavis & Marge’ started originally with a chicken that featured in a mural I painted for my daughter’s school in Skerries. Around that time I was watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall programme on TV about his Chicken Out! Campaign. I decided to play around with the idea of a chicken and a cow taking Free Range to its limits; to the moon and back.

It always takes way longer than you think to make a picture book. At workshops I ask the kids can they guess how long it takes to make a book. The usual answer ranges from an hour to a week. I wish! It takes me about a year from when I write the story. I make lots of dummy books to see if the idea works. It takes me about 8 months to paint all the illustrations. I use oil paints, inks, gesso and some collage. I have a great design team at Walker Books; they really make wonderful picture books and take tremendous care when choosing the paper, typefaces and design for the book.

How often do you participate in events such as 'Story Spark'? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I love doing workshops; it’s great way to meet my audience. I feel anyone can draw, just pick up a pencil and start doodling. I try to make my workshops as interactive as possible. I love getting the children to join in, whether it’s learning to draw a Hugglewug, a chicken or a cow. Even really young children love to follow along with step-by-step doodles.

Finally, what still excites you about children's books and how does it feel to be involved in a market which is thriving and producing a number of influential Irish authors and illustrators?
Anthony Browne, the Children’s Laureate in the UK said recently that, ‘Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.’ If you love books, they can give so much back to you. I am still excited if a child connects with my book. If they laugh, loose them selves in the story, if they recognize the safe harbour a book can offer, and if they connect with my characters, I have done my job. A parent told me recently that their son loved my book so much he slept with it under his pillow every night. That made my year!

Ireland has some really talented authors and illustrators working in the field at the moment. It is so nice to have some new faces this year, both Kevin Waldron and Chris Haughton have made wonderful picture books. Books full of heart, full of warm characters, that leave room for the reader’s imagination to take flight. Hurray!

Thank you to Niamh for her time. You can keep up top date with all Niamh's doodles and news at her blog.


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December 8, 2010

Five Go Insane Indoors

"Goodness me," exclaimed Mother. "Quickly children. Pack away your electronic gadgetry. You really must come to the window and look."

"What is it Mother?" the young scamps chorused, their eager eyes burning with anticipation and their cheeks flushed from the thermostat being left on too high.

"There really is the most terrific amount of snow outside," Mother answered. "It quite simply makes me want to bake a splendid batch of chocolate brownies, put on my new woollen mittens and make lots of snowmen!"

The children clapped their hands with glee and ran to gather their cold-weather gear, and then realised they didn't really have any, so made do with impractical items such as jeans and poorly fitting coats.

Father didn't look as excited as everyone else as he soon realised that the heavy snowfall would prevent him from driving to the office and he would therefore be forced to spend the day 'At Home' with his wife, two children and exuberant young cat.

Mother put on a brave face and her finest thermals and set about making the finest snowman in the Parish. The children were a little moany about snow being in their wellingtons and their cheap gloves offering insufficient protection against the arctic elements, but Mother hardily battled on and made a really super Snowman. She felt a minor amount of rage when she noticed a few minutes later that the children had kicked the head off him.

Day after day as the snow continued to fall, Mother noticed that her enthusiasm for baking and creating spiffing snow-people seemed to be decreasing. As the temperatures fell outside; voices were being raised inside. Father soon realised he could tolerate mid-week family life no further and hired the army to airlift him to the office where he reclined his comfortable chair and set to work on his 10ft Subway sandwich.

After seven days of this wintery-hell, Mother decided that she really wasn't awfully keen on snow after all. Even the lashings of Whiskey and Ginger Wine couldn't seem to lift her spirits. Finally, she shoo'd the cat and the children outside for a very long constitutional, while she lay in a darkened room to recover from, what appeared to have become, a permanent migraine.

"This snow is absolute bollocks," she uttered, before having a little weep.

The End.

Thank you to Next for the lovely '8th Day of Christmas' logo used at the top of this post.


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December 7, 2010

Story Spark: Interview with Ian Beck

Despite the snow and ice, 'Story Spark' soldiers on! This season of tales, literature and imagination at The Ark, Dublin sees another series of author readings this weekend and I am delighted to have asked fantastic author and illustrator Ian Beck a few questions about his work and also discovered that he painted the cover for Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. Wow!

Ian will be reading this Sunday, 12th December at 4pm for 7-10yr olds. The theme is 'Wild Woods and Magical Quests'.

1. How did you get involved with writing/illustrating children's books?
I had been a freelance illustrator since leaving Brighton School of Art in the late 1960’s. I worked mainly in editorial, illustrating for magazines and newspapers. One of my regular clients was the Radio Times, and I made a colour drawing for the Holiday Supplement in the very early 1980’s, and one of the designers at the Oxford University Press noted it and thought my style of drawing and general colouring etc might be suitable for a book they were planning for babies. I made a sample drawing, which pleased the editor of the book and I was offered the job. I was delighted because our first baby was nearly two and I had been looking at books with him and wishing I could make something in that field too, but saw no way in, and then hey presto. The editor was a very boyish David Fickling, and the book was Round and Round the Garden, compiled by Sarah Williams, first published in 1983 and still going strong. David later encouraged me to write my own stories as well as illustrating, so in a real sense he is the person responsible for my entire later career.


2. Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from small events in daily life, from chance remarks, from very old cartoons, from huge Hollywood films, from novels, from music of all kinds, from anime, Japanese prints, in fact from everywhere and everything. I think the trick is to recognise a good idea and then be able to nurture and develop it and learn to trust your imagination.


3. How long did it take you to write your most recent book?
My most recently published book was the third one in my Tom Trueheart series of adventures, Tom Trueheart & the Land of Myths& Legends. Bits of it had been floating around in my head while I was writing the second book in the series, and certain loose ends needed tying up etc, certain themes needed to be fully developed. I think it took about eighteen months to write altogether given that I was also working on finishing my young adult title Pastworld at the same time.
4. How often do you participate in events such as 'Story Spark' where you read to your young fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I visit a lot of schools and libraries and book festivals during any one year, and I do find it very rewarding. It is very useful to get feedback and discover if readers have enjoyed the stories, and which ones they liked best and so on. Also I think it is important for children to see that stories and pictures are made by people not machines, and fallible people at that who have just had more practice than them. I have done so much of it over the last twenty five years or so that I don’t really get nervous now at all. Perhaps I should?

5. How important do you feel events like 'Story Spark' are in encouraging children to read and be excited about books?
Obviously in the current climate of austerity fear, with libraries being threatened with closure and cut backs all around it is more important than ever for celebratory events to be continued and encouraged. The ability to read and enjoy reading books and stories is a vital and an empowering one and lasts for a whole lifetime. Nothing could be more important, such festivals now and in the future could be the very lifeblood of literacy.

6. Finally, what is your favourite children's book (not your own!), and why?
I have read continuously and obsessively ever since I could read. My favourite books in childhood were the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton with the wonderful line drawings by Thomas Henry. Later I graduated to loving the wonderful Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle and still do. Of more recent books for children my favourite would be Holes by Louis Sachar.



Thank you very much to Ian. To catch him, and other authors this weekend, check out the full Story Spark schedule.
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December 6, 2010

Deprived of a nativity


I love Christmas - always have; always will and although I will be resisting the urge to put my decorations up for another couple of weeks (despite the fact that half my street is already flashing and twinkling away in festive glory), I'm all for the tinsel and the silly hats. I'm almost even partial to the odd sprout nowadays.

But I am sorry to say, dear reader, that one aspect of my Christmas experience will be forever missing. I won't be going to see my children in their school nativity (bursts into tears).

Let me explain.

My son's school is non-denominational. This is not only a very long word, it is also a relatively new concept for education in Ireland. It's great for us non-Catholic folk and the school is fantastic, but I will admit to being more than a wee bit sad that this also means that I will never get to see my little boys with tea-towels on their heads holding a toy lamb, or standing with their arms out straight for about 8 hours trying to be angelic (has another little weep).

I have very fond memories of our school nativity in the freezing cold village hall and was a fairly decent Mary myself for several years running. Silly though it may seem, it really quite saddens me that my children won't be following in my nativity thespian footsteps and that as a mother, I am going to be deprived of the opportunity to half laugh/half cry at my off-spring hanging around in a pretend stable. That is one of the reasons we have kids, is it not?

So, please, please think of me when your little ones forget their lines or trip up on their curtain-cum-kingly robe and when you're taking your photos and wiping away a tear or two.

I'm hopeful that at least we'll get a little end of term show and a song or two - if not, I may seriously have to think about changing schools.



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December 4, 2010

A Mother's Lament


(to be sung to the tune of 'These are a Few of My Favourite Things' from 'The Sound of Music').

Snotty, wet noses and scrapes from my kitten
Dark, windy mornings and getting fingers in mittens
Fussing, complaining and having a good whinge
These are a few of my favorite things

Kids who are moany, walls covered with doodles
Dora The Explorer and uneaten chicken noodles
Small boys who cry when their brother takes their things
These are a few of my favorite things

Boys in their dress ups which ends up with bashes
Hurricanes in November and men with moustaches
Febreze and Dettol, panty liners with wings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the kids fight
When the bin stinks
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feeeeeeeeeeeeeel so bad.



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December 3, 2010

On the third day of Christmas...

But really, who needs a French Hen, let alone three?! So instead of giving anyone such a 'poultry' gift (groan - sorry!), I have done some rigorous field research into some much more interesting gift ideas.

First up, and in keeping with the French theme, are these gorgeous LED nightlights from Pabobo; a company based in Paris. They kindly sent me the Barbapapa chain light (pictured below) which we all love - me especially, as Barbapapa was my favourite cartoon and very few people seem to remember it. Pabobo have a lovely range of plug in and portable nightlights, chain lights and projectors which would make a lovely gift that is just a little bit different. The lights come with a UK plug.

If you're looking for something to do with all the photos you've taken of the kids this year, why not treat yourself, or family members to a photo calendar? Photobox do a fantastic range of calendars which allow you to select size, themes, layout and even add important family dates to. The service from Photobox is excellent and the products are very high quality.


In case all the real snow has disappeared by Christmas Eve, the Marie Curie Cancer Care shop has 'magic snow' among its range of gifts. This works by adding water to the contents of the sachet and the snow grows in front of your eyes! The kit comes with footprint and hoofprint templates to really make it look like Santa and Rudolph have been down the chimney! Use voucher code MC10 to get a 10% discount at the Marie Curie Cancer Care online shop. 100% of the profits from the online shop sales go to providing free nursing care to terminally ill patients in the comfort of their own homes or in one of the 9 hospices.


If you didn't see this last year, you have to check out the Portable North Pole where you can create a free, personalised video message from Santa to your children including their name, age, what they have been good at this year and what they're hoping for from Santa. It also includes a navigation screen to show the route from the North Pole to your home. This is absolutely guaranteed to cause great excitement; especially if you wait until Christmas Eve to show your children their messages.

Finally, thank you Next for the lovely French Hen logo used at the top of this post. They have created a logo for each of the 12 days of Christmas, so expect to see a few more over the coming days! Don't forget to check out their gift ideas at Next.co.uk like these fab digger wellies - I just wish I'd had them this week (for the boys that is, not for me).


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December 2, 2010

Story Spark: Interview with author Ali Sparkes


Continuing my children's book author interviews to coincide with 'StorySpark' at The Ark, Dublin, I'm delighted to have finally made it through 10ft snowdrifts to speak to the excellent Ali Sparkes who kindly stopped building snowmen to answer my questions. Ali's book 'Frozen in Time' was the winner of Blue Peter's 2010 'Book I couldn't Put Down' and 'Book of the Year' awards. Her most recent title, 'Wishful Thinking' was published this summer. Ali will be reading as part of the 'Once Upon A Time Adventures' session for 8-12 yr olds at The Ark this Saturday 4th December at 4pm. Click here for information and booking details.

Hello Ali, help yourself to a mince pie there. Now, firstly, we'd love to know how you got involved with writing children's books?
I worked in journalism for many years, as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and in radio, and set out to get some scripts accepted by the BBC and other parties, after having some minor success with comedy vignettes on Radio 4 (Woman's Hour and Home Truths). I collected a lot of very nice rejection letters! In my early 30s I decided to make a real push for it and was advised to stop faffing about with scripts where the odds were so stacked against success and to try books. I did. Many, many rejection letters and hopeful but ultimately unfruitful meetings later, I finally got my first book deal with OUP in 2005.
Hurray! So, where do you get your inspiration?
All around me in ordinary life - I like to write about ordinary characters to whom something extraordinary happens. I love the contrast of normal with paranormal or extraordinary. When I was a newspaper reporter the best interviews I ever got did not come from celebrities but from ordinary folk who had experienced something life changing. Much more gripping!

So, how long did it take you to write your most recent book?
About three months. It's UNLEASHED: TRICK OR TRUCE, a 40,000 worder (ish) featuring Spook Williams, a character from my earlier Shapeshifter series. Have to say, though, that two months was spent faffing about, thinking, researching, hanging around with magicians and the like... and the last month was VERY fast writing. I tend to do it that way, although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

It wasn't Paul Daniels was it?! 'Story Spark' is such a great idea - h
ow often do you participate in events like this where you read to your fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I've never done Story Spark before or anything quite like it. I normally have a whole author 'gig' - very interactive, with loads of props - but have rarely spent a lot of time just reading aloud. I will do a bit of interactive stuff, because just me reading for a whole hour is a bit dry... I have some 1950s fun up my sleeve for in between chunks of Frozen In Time. I won't say too much except this... there will be an opportunity to win a can of signed SPAM. OK... calm down everyone...

Ooo, I LOVE Spam - brings back very fond memories of school dinners. How important are events like 'Story Spark' in encouraging children to read and be excited about books.
Incredibly! Anything that makes reading special will help. Reading should be about pleasure, not duty. The learning is incidental, as the best learning always is...

Here, here. Before you go, please could you tell us what your favourite children's book is (not your own!), and why?
Very hard to choose just one, but in a fight between My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Brendon Chase by BB and The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken... Joan Aiken might just have the edge.

---

Thanks to Ali for her fantastic insights. If you fancy that can of Spam - or just want to listen to Ali reading and see what other tricks she has up her sleeve - why not join her on Saturday.

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December 1, 2010

The year in pictures

I have a gazillion photos of my children (and not much else) but, unfortunately, they are mostly hidden away on my PC or on a memory card somewhere. Every now and again I do get myself organised and print a few out to send to family members, but for the most part they live in my hardrive; unseen by anyone. 'Undisplayed Photo Syndrome' is, apparently, quite common but the good news is, there is a cure. Ta-daaaaa.

It is known as a Kodak Photo Book. These are high-quality, hardbound photo albums which are perfect for keeping your favourite photos from the year, or of a particular holiday, all in one place and VISIBLE! I gave one to the boys' grandparents last year and I think it was the best christmas present they have ever received. It is proudly shown to everyone (and I mean, everyone) who enters the house!

The Photo Books make great Christmas gifts and are easy to compile and order through the KODAK Gallery website where you can choose from a variety of book sizes, colours and page templates. Find out more and start creating your Photo Book at Kodak Gallery

Also, until the end of January 2011, you can take advantage of an exclusive offer to get 2 Kodak Photo Books for the price of 1 by using voucher code 2FOR1PHOTOBOOKS

For the next 12 days, Kodak are also running a brilliant competition to become Kodak’s ‘Photo Book Family’. The ‘Photo Book Family’ will win a KODAK Pocket Video Camera and £50 KODAK Gallery credit to create a Photo Book. To be in with a chance of winning this excellent prize, send your best family photo to Kodak.Xmas@ketchumpleon.com Kodak will select the winner from all entries.

Good luck!

T&Cs
Voucher
The 2 for 1 voucher code offer is valid until 31.01.11 on www.kodakgallery.co.uk. Maximum of 1 free Photo Book per customer, voucher code can only be used once. Offer is valid on all Photo Book types (excluding the mini book).

Competition
The competition runs from Dec 1st and ends on Dec 12th. The winner will be required to supply Kodak with footage of their family compiling their Photo Book within 28 days of receiving the prize. The competition email address will be live from Wednesday Dec 1st and entrants will need to send their full name, address and family photo to this address to enter. One entry per person, open to UK residents aged 18 or over.


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November 26, 2010

Rethinking Christmas

I'm sure I'm not the first person to have sat and thought about what they would like for Christmas over the last week (or maybe longer). Maybe that instinct to start writing a list is ingrained in us from our childhood; pen poised, clean sheet of paper at the ready. Hmmmm, what do I want this year? But as the years fly past, I increasingly don't know what I want. I'm not sure what I need. This is probably because I don't really need anything. If you're in the same predicament, how about asking for an 'Inspired Gift' from UNICEF.

Instead of asking for the latest bestseller, why not ask for five story books for children?
Instead of asking for some fancy chocolates, why not ask for some peanut paste?

Instead of a bottle of your favourite tipple, why not ask for an emergency water kit to help a family collect and store clean, safe water when their regular supplies are destroyed?

Instead of another throw for the bed, why not ask for a blanket to keep seven babies warm and protected from the elements?
Or instead of ordering a delivery of a hamper, why not ask for equipment and medicines needed for the safe delivery of a new baby?
To see the full range of Inspired Gifts please visit www.unicef.org.uk/inspired

UNICEF also offers a more traditional selection of cards and gifts at www.unicef.org.uk/shop

Thank you.

UNICEF Inspired Gifts are real, life-saving supplies that are delivered to children in emergencies and disasters around the world. They include products such as water containers, vaccines, medicines, food, and education materials. Your friend or family member will receive a card which tells them how the gift is making a real difference in children’s lives.There is gift to suit every budget.

UNICEF is one of the world’s leading emergency agencies, responding to more than 200 emergencies each year. Never before has the demand been so high for essential relief supplies. In Pakistan alone, nine million children are caught up in the current disaster and over three million are at extreme risk of disease. This is wrong, but by purchasing one of UNICEF’s inspired gifts this Christmas, you can help to put it right.


Please also visit fantastic blogger Rosie Scribble who is working very closely with UNICEF and recently visited Cameroon with them. She blogged extensively about her amazingly moving experiences.

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November 25, 2010

Story Spark: Interview with author Anthony McGowan


To coincide with 'Story Spark', a season of tales, literature and imagination at The Ark, Dublin, I am delighted to welcome fantastic author Anthony McGowan to Hot Cross Mum. Anthony will be reading this Saturday, 27th November at 4pm. The theme for his session is 'Heroes and Villains (and Some Folks in Between)'. What more would any 8-12 year old want?!

I asked Anthony a number of questions about his brilliant books and the Story Spark event. He very kindly gave me some most excellent responses.

How did you get involved with writing/illustrating children's books?
I began writing when I had a very boring civil service job, back in the 1990s. I had an idea for what I thought would be an adult book, about a teenage boy who gets hit by an ice-cream van and wakes up in hell. Then it struck me that as the main character was a teenager, then it really ought to be a book for teenagers. After a bit of a struggle it was published as a young adult book by Random House. I wrote a couple more young adult books, then they then encouraged me to write for younger children. So, I sort of stumbled into being a children’s writer …


Where do you get your inspiration?
Three places: memory, books, and listening to my own children. Most of my books are based on my own experiences growing up in the north of England. I went to a pretty brutal secondary school in Leeds, which left a whole series of intense memories burnt into my brain. Those memories (some brilliant, some terrible) tend to form the meat of my stories. Then I usually try to insert a framework taken from some other book – so, Hellbent is based quite closely on Dante’s Inferno, and Henry Tumour is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1, and The Knife that Killed Me is based on the Iliad. Whoops, came over a bit pretentious there, didn’t I? And then for my younger books, the Bare Bum Gang adventures and Einstein’s Underpants, a lot of it was taken from things my children – Rosie (7) and Gabriel (11) have said and done.


How long did it take you to write your most recent book?
It took about a year. I wrote the first draft quite quickly, but it was way too long and most of the time was spent whittling it down.

How often do you participate in events such as 'Story Spark' where you read to your young fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I do lots of events in schools – in fact I’ve just come back from a week of events in a school in Sao Paulo in Brazil. I find them incredibly exhilarating and exciting, but I still get quite nervous. I have nightmares about cracking a joke and looking out on to a sea of stony faces …

How important do you feel events like 'Story Spark' are in encouraging children to read and be excited about books.
They are incredibly important. There was nothing like Story Spark when I was a boy, and I know I’d have loved it. It’s especially important to try to reach out to the kids who don’t normally associate reading with fun. Having a real live author read his or her work can make it come vividly alive.

Finally, what is your favourite children's book (not your own!), and why?
For teenagers it would have to be Redshift by Alana Garner – one of the greatest books ever written for any age. For younger children I’m a huge fan of Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books. Stanton is just a comical genius. I’ve stolen his illustrator – the brilliant David Tazzyman to illustrate the books I’m working on now – a series called The Donut Diaries.


More details about Story Spark and booking details for Anthony's event, and others, are available here and at www.ark.ie - if you do go along on Saturday, please be kind to Anthony and remember to laugh when he cracks a joke. Thank you!

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November 23, 2010

Tough lessons to learn


Oh my poor, poor children. They are growing up. And it's tough.

First, we've had a run of birthday parties where my eldest was invited and the youngest wasn't. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later and although the parents kindly invited the little guy, I feel that I have to let the eldest have his own friends, and his own fun, without having one eye out for his little brother all the time. My poor little boy just couldn't understand why his big brother was going somewhere with a big present and coming home with a party bag and a balloon hat. I did my best to not make a big deal of the parties; we did special things together while the older brother was partying, had our own party bags, had our own fun, but his little voice still insisted that 'It's not fair'.

Then we had the older brother getting upset when it was the little fella's birthday - how come he was getting lots of presents and he wasn't getting any? We explained, we wiped away the tears, we explained again, but his slightly bigger voice still insisted, 'It's not fair'.

And finally, we had the incident of the Spiderman costume - you know, the one with the bulging muscles? My eldest - who recently turned 5 - has, for years, been beating himself into a Spiderman costume which is for 2-3 year olds. He ran upstairs to put it on the other day, only to return back to the kitchen a few minutes later, clearly not dressed up as Spiderman. "It doesn't fit," he wailed, sobbing into my shoulder. "I'm too big." This, from a boy, who has spent most of his talking life telling us he wants to be big. I cuddled him and although I felt sad for him, couldn't help smiling at the irony of it all. Daddy somehow resisted the urge to pat him on the back and say 'You're growing up son. Soon you'll be a real man like your Daddy."

And then it was my turn. Yesterday, the 5 year old was busily drawing a picture for his Daddy's birthday. He told me he was drawing a picture of our family. It was very cute (see below).
"Tell me who everybody is love," I said.

"That's Daddy. That's me and that's Sam."

"Oh. And where is mummy?"

"There wasn't room for you mummy."

Tough lessons indeed.

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Story Spark: A season of tales, literature and imagination

This winter 'The Ark' in Dublin's Temple Bar will become a hive of story-centred activity for families to explore. The Ark has partnered with Children’s Books Ireland and Poetry Ireland to present StorySpark, a celebration of children’s literature and story that will light up even the darkest of days.
Launched in Dublin last night, the event will run each weekend from 23rd November – 19th December and will feature readings and creative workshops many of the top names in children’s literature including: Derek Landy, Anthony McGowan, Roddy Doyle, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Mary Arrigan and Aubrey Flegg, Ali Sparkes, Tony Mitton, Enda Wyley and Larry O’Loughlin, Marcus Sedgwick, Guy Bass, John Boyne, Ian Beck, Philip Ardagh, Oisín McGann and Joe O’Brien, Niamh Sharkey, Sarah Webb, Brianóg Brady Dawson and Gillian Perdue.

Watch this space for insights into the people behind the books, as I will be running a number of author interviews over the next 2 weeks.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the creative facilities of The Story Lab, a facilitated interactive space, will be open to those wishing to write and record their own stories, or to enjoy those left by others.

Later in the afternoon, The Reading Room will play host to some of the most talented children's authors writing today, with a series of exclusive readings at 2pm and 4pm.

This is an unmissable chance to go behind the scenes of favourite books and put questions to the people who created them. The latest titles by all participating authors will be available from The Story Store (hosted by The Gutter Bookshop), with signings taking place after each event. Weekdays (Tue – Fri) StorySpark welcomes schools to take part in a morning visit to The Ark comprising two separate hour-long storytelling experiences:

For full programme details, times and all you need to know go to www.ark.ie, phone 01 6707788 or visit in person at The Ark, 11a Eustace St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Photo credits Caoileann Appleby.

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November 19, 2010

Hot Cross Christmas Gift Guide: Part 1

As a Mummy Blogger (which, by the way, I think should now be included under 'Occupation' on those forms you get asked to fill in every now and again), one of the perks 'of the job' is that I sometimes get sent things to review from nice people who work in offices which are a lot swankier than mine. Over the year, I've been frantically reading books, pressing buttons, assembling toys, wearing clothes, putting stuff on my face and hair and eating things - all, might I add, in the name of research for my 'reading' public. As it's nearly Christmas, I thought I'd give you my top tips for pressies from the stuff I've tried out this year. So I give you:

Books for Adults - Although I wasn't sent these books to review, I have to recommend the two best books I read this year: 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' - brilliantly written, with characters you'll fall in love with from the first page and 'The Help' - an amazing book which I defy you not to love.

Books for Children - I've been fortunate to review loads of children's books this year. We devour books in our house so this is a complete joy for me. Check out my previous reviews of picture books: 'A Bit Lost', 'Tiny Little Fly' and 'Three By The Sea'. There is also a fantastic new illustrated edition just published by Walker Books of Ted Hughes's 'The Iron Man' - not the Marvel comic one, the classic, literary one. If you're into History, the wonderful 'The Story of Britain' by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by PJ Lynch, would make a lovely gift for a niece or nephew or grandchild.

Beauty Products - regular readers will know I became a Liz Earle convert this year. I have tried their 'Cleanse & Polish', 'Botanical Shampoo and Conditioner' and most recently their Superskin Moisturiser and Superskin Concentrate which are miraculously fighting off that awful 'cardboard face' syndrome I seem to get every winter. I cannot recommend their products , service and beautiful wrapping, highly enough.

Toys for children - I was eating my own words when we trialled the LeapFrog 'Tag' readers system earlier this year.

And finally, if you're looking for white goods, may I recommend Applicances Online. Fellow blogger Single Parent Did wrote an excellent review of their products and services and they kindly sent me a bottle of bubbly. Don't ask me why, they just did. M'kay.

So, that's a start. More next week.

This post was written for 'Festive Friday' which is running over on Thinly Spread every Friday until Christmas.


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November 15, 2010

Chocolate and books

My Guardian Angel is definitely watching over me at the moment. I know this because I was recently sent 3 bars of Galaxy chocolate and a book - all for myself. Chocolate and books would be up there among my most pleasurable of indulgences so I was a very Happy Hot Cross Mum.
The book I was sent to review is Lisa Jewell's 'The Truth About Melody Browne'. I haven't read Lisa Jewell before - I knew about 'Ralph's Party' but, somehow, never read it.

I have to say I enjoyed this book. It was an easy, yet interesting read which I could plough straight into for a few chapters before bed. The story is about Melody Browne, who has no recollection of her life before the age of 9 years of age. Now in her 30's, we follow Melody as her memories are given a kick-start back into action. I particularly enjoyed the way Lisa writes the scenes of Melody's childhood and her social references past and present are spot on. Anyone else remember the high street shop 'Chelsea Girl'?! All in all, this is a well-written, enjoyable book with a plot which is interesting enough to keep you turning the pages until the end.

Oh, and the Galaxy chocolate was, of course, delicious and has helped me get half-way through an entire month of writing 50,000 words of my own novel. In December I will go back and edit my words, wipe down my chocolate covered keyboard, add more words and with a bit of luck and lots of things crossed will be ready to send it out to publishers early in the New Year. Watch out Lisa Jewell, I'm right behind you!

Pippa at 'A Mother's Ramblings' wrote this very entertaining review about the Jane Green book and chocolate she enjoyed as part of the Galaxy campaign - with pictures - so go and read hers next, then go and buy a bar of promotional Galaxy '1 million books to be won' and log onto the Galaxy Bookclub Page to see if you've won a book. If you haven't, find a quiet corner anyway (or the downstairs loo will do) and get stuck into a good book you've had sitting on the bedside table since last Christmas. We all deserve some me time now and again, after all.

Check out the Galaxy Facebook page for more book reviews and competitions.

This post was written on behalf of Galaxy Chocolate.

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November 10, 2010

NSPCC Letter from Santa


Soon, excited children up and down the country will be waiting anxiously by their letterboxes; eagerly awaiting their Letters from Santa, courtesy of the NSPCC.

The NSPCC has worked very closely with their representatives in the North Pole over the last few months, and Santa has decided to send personalised letters to every child on the ‘Letters from Santa’ list!

For a suggested donation of £5, a letter will be personalised and placed upon Santa’s sleigh for delivery over the Christmas period to a child (or big kid!) that’s special to you. Every pound is warmly received as it will help the NSPCC continue to provide help and support to vulnerable children.

Each Letter from Santa will make a significant difference to the lives of children - for example £20 donated could enable the NSPCC to answer another five calls to ChildLine.

All of the personalised Letters from Santa will be posted in time for Christmas. Letters can be ordered through the NSPCC Wishes website, where you can find Christmas eCards, Corporate eCards and Letters from Santa. You can even make a donation to Charity!"

Letters from Santa with the NSPCC are easy to order, so it couldn't be simpler to support the NSPCC this Christmas. So, please help to put smiles on the faces of the nation’s children this festive season, starting with a magical Letter from Santa himself!


This is a sponsored post on behalf of the NSPCC.

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November 3, 2010

Dear so and so...


The 'Dear So and So... letters are a brilliant idea which were started by Kat who blogs at 3 Bedroom Bungalow. They've been absent for a while, but have been brought back - in style. If you have something to say to someone or something, join the club and grab the badge over at Kat's blog. This is the first time I've done a 'Dear so and so...' so please be gentle with me.
---

Dear Tesco,
For the love of god, please, please, PLEASE can you sort out the trolleys at your Newbridge store. Either I am cursed or there is not one fully functioning trolley, suitable for a toddler to sit in, within a 10 mile radius of your store. They are rammed together (by The Hulk I can only presume) making it impossible to separate one from the other, there are never enough in the allocated trolley bays anyway, when the €1 coin does eventually go in, it is impossible to remove it when I've finished. Generally, this consistent trolley debacle leaves me in a less than positive frame of mind to do the weekly shop and if you don't sort it out I will permanently defect to Aldi. Humph.

Yours in stress induced anger.
---

Dear An Post,
Please can you explain to me how it can possibly cost more to post an item to someone than the item itself cost in the first place (assuming that the item isn't a lead brick). I recently sent a small packet of paper notelets and a CD to my sister in the UK and it cost €7. In return, my sister sent me a massive box full of Playmobil which cost significantly less. I can only assume that these inflated postage costs are due to the fact that you send all parcels out of, and around Ireland, by rare albanian Alpackers or something.

Yours in disbelief.
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Dear Son,
I love you very, very much but please could you try very hard not to appear at the top of the stairs every night within seconds of your light being turned out whispering loudly, "Muuummmeeeeeee. Muuuuummmmmmmeeeeeeeee". It is very reminiscent of a scene from the film 'The Others' which freaked me out.

Yours pleadingly.
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Dear Little Old Ladies,
Whilst I admire your position in life and have utmost respect for the older generation, please could you sometimes notice that a very hassled mother is standing behind you in the queue who just needs to quickly pay for some milk and a loaf of bread before her children (who she has left in the car outside) start battering each other on the head with any available implement. I know you like to buy those lottery scratch card things, and always seem to have dozens of them to check and I know it's nice to chat about the weather and somebody's terminal illness but sometimes, ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, it causes my blood to boil slightly.

Yours hormonally.
---

Dear House,
Just a short note to say that I haven't forgotten about you. I honestly will get around to cleaning you thoroughly one of these days. In the meantime, I hope you like the new air fresheners I have dotted around the place. Every little helps, as they say.

Yours apologetically.
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Dear Fingernails,
You are shockingly neglected.
Sorry.

Yours shamefully.
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Dear Kids TV Channel Advertisers,
I am exhausted just listening to the ads for kids toys. The voice-over people talk so fast and the images whizz around so quickly that I have absolutely no idea what they are advertising. It is just a massive blur of explosions, poo'ing toy dogs, roller-skating hamsters, and something oriental looking. Oh, and I think there is a chocolate making factory in there somewhere? What a top idea for a kids toy........

Yours,
Brainwashed from La La Land
---





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November 2, 2010

I need a dress. A cocktail one.

Help! I am a Mother In Need.

Of fashion advice, that is. You see, I've been invited to two very fabulous weddings in the next two months (one of which is yours Julie dearest if you're reading this - yeay!), which is all very, very exciting, but leaves me with somewhat of a wardrobe crisis.

The dress code for both weddings is 'Black Tie'. Now, on the one hand this is most excellent, as it gives me the perfect excuse to go out and get me a new frock, but, and here's the rub, having not been out much in the last five years, (except to get more milk for wailing children, and more recently to get more food for miaowing kittens), I am having a mild fashion panic.

What exactly should a (ahem) nearly 40 year old mother wear to a black tie, winter wedding, where the style will be utterly fabulous? I don't want to look frumpy, but I don't want to look freaky either. I don't want to look like I've tried too hard, but don't want to look like I tried and failed, either.

Also, you must bear in mind that I have an unshiftable gelatinous blob where my stomach used to be (cheers for that kids), washer-woman hands and exuberant kitten scrapes all over my feet and legs. (I know, I know, I am a vision of absolute beauty).

As a sort-of start to this dilemma, I quite liked these dresses from the very.co.uk website, although again, I hesitate even to put these images up as I may be way off the mark and they will look nothing like this on me!




So, I need your help people of the blogosphere. What the be-jaysus should I wear? Should I be going down the black, cocktail dress route (and then what does one wear on one's be-scratched legs), or should I go for something more colourful? What shoes should I wear, assuming that strappy sandals are pretty much ruled out (or are they?) and is it really true that 'nude' colour shoes make your legs look longer - in which case I'm definitely getting me some of those.

Please help this Mother In Need. The first wedding is in 5 weeks. The clock is ticking.

All comments and offers of fashionable assistance will be appreciated. Comments left after 5 weeks time will not be counted, but you may still be charged. Please get permission from the person who owns your computer before wasting their battery on my pathetic needs. Thank you.

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