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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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 like these fab digger wellies - I just wish I'd had them this week (for the boys that is, not for me).


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.


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 will select the winner from all entries.

Good luck!

The 2 for 1 voucher code offer is valid until 31.01.11 on 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).

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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