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)

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

UNICEF also offers a more traditional selection of cards and gifts at

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.


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 - if you do go along on Saturday, please be kind to Anthony and remember to laugh when he cracks a joke. Thank you!


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.


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, phone 01 6707788 or visit in person at The Ark, 11a Eustace St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Photo credits Caoileann Appleby.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Dear Fingernails,
You are shockingly neglected.

Yours shamefully.

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........

Brainwashed from La La Land


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 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.


November 1, 2010

50,000 words!

Yep, 50,000 words. A lot of words. The number of words me and thousands of other writers are aiming to write before the end of this month. Why? Simply because November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it is know to its friends. The idea of this initiative is to get procrastinating wannabe novelists and writers, such as me, to JUST WRITE. Hammer it all out, get it down on paper/screen and go back to it in December to faff about with the commas and the apostrophes and to correct the terrible sentence formation and shockingly bad dialogue.

I am more than slightly daunted by the prospect, given that I usually don't have time in the day to write a decent tweet, let alone 1,667 words of, what will hopefully become, a bestseller. But people do all sorts of mad things in their lives don't they, like climbing mountains and throwing themselves off very tall buildings and I know writing 50,000 words isn't quite up there with the base-jumping adrenalin junkies, but it's my challenge.

So while others grow fabulous moustaches for the month of MOvember, and start their Christmas shopping and watch the final week of Masterchef the Professionals, I'll be here, tapping away, tapping away, tapping away......

Some other bloggers I am aware of who are also taking up the challenge are Slummy Single Mummy, Musings on a Life Quite Ordinary, Deer Baby and an excellent writer Alison at Head Above Water who wrote this great post about the whole idea of National Novel Writing Month - and how to get through it! The best of luck to them and if you're also participating, leave me a comment below.

I will, of course, keep you posted on my progress and solemnly promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about exactly how many words I managed at the end of the month.

Wish me luck!

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