Archive for the month “May, 2013”

The benefits of holidaying at home

We had a £700+ car bill last month, which in the current financial climate is a big blow, especially as my freelance income is variable. So this half term we have been doing what an increasing number of families are doing, holidaying at home. This means staying at home but acting as if we are on holiday, which means avoiding being sucked into the usual jobs and projects, chilling out as much as possible, making the most of home comforts and doing some fun, local things.

My sons are loving it, playing lots of X-box when not glued to the computer, or (to balance this, and it must be balanced) out doing sport. They had two football tournaments at the weekend, and tomorrow we are hoping to go up to the Snozone in Milton Keynes (with some gift vouchers left over from Christmas). They’ve also, before it started raining, been playing badminton in the garden. This morning one of them is going to play squash with a friend, and the other is planning tennis later if the weather improves. My husband has been doing stuff in the garden (which he enjoys), has done a bit of sport too and has read a couple of books.

I have read a few books too, which I’ll talk about in my next post, and I’ve taken the meerkat (Angus) for some very long walks.

When the sun was shining at the weekend we went punting up in Oxford with my brother and sister in law. I also spent time lying and dreaming in the hammock in the garden in the sunshine.

Now that the rain has set in, as well the reading I’ve been watching some catch up TV (specifically some old Seinfeld, The Fall and Arne Dahl), having long baths and early nights and just enjoying that we are all together but not rushing about as much as usual.

The last couple of nights, we’ve been watching family films together. We watched the Jack Black and Ben Stiller film ‘Envy’ the other night. Very funny. And tonight, me and the boys are going to have pizza at a friends house and then we’re going with her and her family to see the new Star Trek movie.

Yesterday I wrote my first ever blog for ‘Girls Heart Books’ which is up today. It’s all about first kisses, and my sons are absolutely Disgusted, Horrified, Appalled and Aghast. Really, not very keen at all. Can’t think why….

A non freelance day

This morning I’m going to visit Luise Pattison at The Book House in Thame, to talk about school visits, the literary festival, and how much we love books.

Have had a fantastic email this morning from Freddy Shannon, the librarian at Watlington Primary School. I’d asked for some feedback about my author visit there.

She said:

“Our year 3s are still buzzing from your visit and “the Abominators” has become the most requested book in the library, still running on a waiting list despite selling 43 copies on the day! One mother stopped me just last weekend and said how much her daughter had enjoyed your visit and that it had turned her from a very reluctant reader into an avid one (an almost impossible task according to her ! – There is obviously something about the “Panty Wanty Woos”).”

Since this is not one of my freelance days, when I have my nose to the grindstone writing brochures, leaflets, ads, newsletters etc, my plans for the day include…

  • working some more on a few new short stories I’ve been writing (I’m experimenting with some short stories for teenagers just as a way of playing with ideas – plus I’ve always loved short stories (Alice Munro is my heroine))
  • working on some more Abominators ideas
  • going for a walk with Angus, the West Highland terrier/meerkat cross
  • going to the Post Office to post a couple of books to people
  • doing some very boring paperwork/tidying up
  • staring into space
  • taking the kids to drumming and piano lessons after school – both are at practically the same time (but in different places of course, it would be far too easy otherwise)
  • going to Book Group at Paddington Clare’s house tonight – we’re discussing ‘The End of the Affair’

Chatterbooks in Aylesbury 4th June

Chatterbooks is a fantastic scheme in local libraries where children and teenagers meet to discuss books they’ve read. I’m lucky enough to have gone along to a Chatterbooks session at Beaconsfield library, and in June I’m going to one at Aylesbury library.

It’s great to meet enthusiastic readers and talk about what books they enjoy. Thank you, Aylesbury library, and Ben Foster, for this poster to advertise the event. Ben has offered me vintage wine and a limo of course, but I’ve settled for a chariot, pulled by a large team of West Highland terriers…


The Swansong of Wilbur McCrum by Bronia Kita

Wow. Just finished this book and had a little cry at the end. Lyrical, beautifully written. Loved the vernacular of the Wild West which was spot on. A celebration of survival and friendship, and the most loveable central character who is so compelling you take every step of his incredible journey with him.

Here’s the Amazon link, it’s also available on Kindle.

The Hammer and Tongue Oxford Poetry Slam Final

What a FANTASTIC time at the Oxford poetry slam final at the Old Fire Station last night. Stewart Taylor’s magnificent performance of the very, very funny ‘Do Not Mock The Clog’ deserved to win, especially with the energy and talent he put into the delivery. With the energy filled, hilariously entertaining set from from the genius who is Tim Clare (in particular his Noah’s Ark Bar and Grill poem which just got better and better and funnier and funnier as it went on) and everybody else with their thought provoking, funny, moving poems … what a night!
It was wonderful to meet the very talented 2012 slam winner Davy Mac, whose poems are clever, witty and topical and delivered with panache (I loved it when he made his hat announce ‘Hufflepuff’ as an icebreaker).
I was very impressed with Micah Isser’s clever, surprising perspectives and beautiful imagery, Eric Coffin Gould’s heart stopping, deeply moving love poems, Dan Holloway’s soaring tale of the dark side of London, Kate Walton’s lyrical, flowing and magical dances of remembrance and finally Anna Percy’s raw, powerful poems, challenging our perceptions of body image and female identity.
I performed as Jen Russell (my maiden name) and nerves did get the better of me, especially in the second performance (I was that woman who was literally shaking) but I still really enjoyed the opportunity and personal challenge of getting up and ‘facing the fear’. Hammer and Tongue, I salute you. Well done for everything and thank you.

Snitchy Grass Blabber Mouth

A review of ‘The Abominators’ (for children, especially boys, aged 7-10) on the ‘We Love This Book’ website enjoys the gang’s unusual use of language.

“An entertaining and witty story that makes you snigger out loud, it’s books like The Abominators that will surely put an end to those pesky rumours that boys don’t like to read.

Mucker, Cheesy, Bob and Boogster are the mischievous gang of mates who call themselves The Abominators. They get up to harmless-no-good and highlight how silly teachers can sometimes be. The newest member, posh boy Cecil Trumpington-Potts, isn’t someone the gang would ever have really chosen to join the crew, but he proves he’s more than just a wimpy panty-wanty wearer!

Mr Nutter, the name Smith has given to the head teacher at Grimely East Primary, will make all readers grin. Isn’t that what everyone has dreamt of calling their head teacher at some point? The story takes you on many different adventures, daft pranks and barmy initiations to find out if Trumpington-Potts can really cut the mustard as part of The Abominators. The book will sit perfectly on the shelf next to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Horrid Henry stories.

The language is spot on, with things like ‘wuss-head’, ‘grebby guzzler’ and ‘Snitchy Grass Blabber Mouth’: you can almost hear Mucker and his mates saying it to each other. The black and white illustrations bring the words even more to life and are another crafty way of adding some more cheekiness.”

Helen Dugdale, ‘We Love This Book’ website

7 out of 10 kids choose The Abominators

Yesterday I received this surprising and wonderful news from Luise Pattison of The Book House in Thame (our wonderful local independent bookshop).

On Tuesday I had a class of 38 children in year 4 from a local primary school, who came for an hour of talking about books, bookselling and story extracts.  We had a fantastic time, and I read them bits from lots of new titles, telling them at the start to listen very carefully as at the end I wanted them to vote for the book they had enjoyed the most, and I would give them a copy for their classroom.
 “The Abominators” pooled 26 out of 38 votes (HOORAY!!!!) and so a copy duly went back to their classroom.
After school, several children came back with parents and bought a copy, one little girl even paid for the book with her own money, as her mother said she had to wait for Saturday if she wanted her to pay for it – and she wouldn’t wait!!!
Their teacher (who couldn’t come) said they hadn’t stopped talking about it, and I asked her if she would like you to visit if that were possible – the answer of course was a resounding ‘yes’!

The best birthday card ever! (And some good news)

Amazing news!!! THE ABOMINATORS has been selected for an Amazon promotion! Amazon Kindle is running a promotion from 17 – 30 May to showcase illustrated books for customers who read on their Kindle Fires, iPhones, iPads, Androids, Macs, and PCs. They will be supporting this promotion onsite and on devices as well backing it up with an email and social media campaign. I wonder if we’ve been chosen because of the incredibly fantastic illustrations of Sam Hearn, which are quite simply hilarious, but also clean and sharp and will look great on tablets and Kindles.

THE ABOMINATORS will be priced at £1.49 for the duration of the campaign, which should make it really appealing for readers. And if people go out and buy it to read with their kids on Kindle (especially on holiday), it will raise awareness of the series.

It seems appropriate at this point to show you the birthday card sent to me by my brother and sister in law. Which must be the best one ever.



A funny old week

It’s been a funny old week. Great birthday weekend, but then a lot of worry when my son suddenly had this scary allergic rash. The good news is that it has stabilised, not getting worse any more at least. He’s back at school today where apparently there’s another boy in another year with a similar thing. It could come and go for up to six weeks probably.

The birthday weekend felt very indulgent and made me realise that I’m just not used to doing very little at all/kicking back and enjoying myself. It felt odd, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. It’s as if I’m so used to rushing around and doing jobs now and finding and doing freelance and then writing and all the house, shopping, cooking, everything, the balance has tipped. When I do have time to just do what I fancy, not a duty or a ‘should’ sort of a thing, then I am not sure that I’m very good at it. I need chilling out lessons.

On Friday night I popped to the Cherry Tree in Kingston Blount and joined Fiona, Debbie N and Debbie H for a drink. Then I picked up Russ from his lad’s wine tasting (yes, sounds improbable but it’s true) and back home. On Saturday morning I woke up and had a birthday breakfast in bed. The boys made it, so it was a slice of dry toast and a jar of marmite with a knife sticking out of it. Still, they made a gesture. I got loads of birthday cards, a handbag, a cookery book and a bike. I went round the block twice on the bike and realised that I have developed very rubbish weak legs, but the bike is lovely.

Then I went to lunch at Lottes Kitchen in Chinnor with Debbie N, Tracey and Debbie C. It’s true, I know quite a few people called Debbie. There is also a Debbie P, who I’m seeing next week and a Debbie M who I’ll be seeing tomorrow. And Debbie W was my best friend at Glasgow University, but she now lives in New Zealand (appropriate as her maiden name was Shearer). So that’s Debbie N, Debbie C, Debbie W, Debbie H, Debbie P and Debbie M. In fact if you are called Debbie, you probably qualify to fast track into my circle of friends. This also applies to people called Susan, because I know loads of them too including of course my sister.

After the very lovely lunch (and presents), I went home and lazed about before some friends came round for a barbecue. Russ did all the tidying up and most of the preparation, I only had to do a tiny bit of salad making at the end. Fiona made me a birthday cake which had 72 MALTESERS ON IT. Sam made an Aero cheesecake. One of the presents they gave me was anti ageing hand cream, so from now on I’ll be typing my blog with less wrinkly, crone-like fingers. Unfortunately they won’t then match my face. It was a good night, there was much laughter and wine, and I’m pleased to report that the kids didn’t trash the house when left to their own devices (which happened last time we had friends round with kids, when they spilled coke and trampled crisps all over the den in the garden). So it was a good evening.

The fun didn’t end there. On the Sunday, after a truly lazy day and more bike riding, we went out in the evening to the Aylesbury Grammar School dinner and Cabaret night at the Waterside Theatre. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the tickets properly, they said ‘Lounge Suits and Dresses’ and I was in jeans and a nice top but seriously underdressed as I could see when we arrived and parked. Luckily Russ was in a jacket so looked OK and the boys were smart too as one of them performing. I started to walk to the theatre and fell into step with a couple I vaguely recognised and whose son my son seemed to know, and told them I’d seriously messed up, and they were being nice about it when, and this is unbelievable, the husband’s shoe fell apart. The heel just came off. So he said he had to dash back to change his shoes and – guess what – he lived right round the corner from us.

I got a lift from him, got changed in five minutes flat and was back in time for the start of the show without having had to make Russ and the boys go all the way home with me. I never thought I’d be so pleased that a man’s shoe fell apart. And I never expected to ever write that last sentence.

Because it was a school show I was not expecting much. How wrong could I have been. From start to finish the acts were all polished and – frankly – some of them were positively brilliant – in particular the Lee House band’s ‘Sing, Sang, Sung’ which was so good and note perfect it made the hairs go up on the back of my neck. The standard was unbelievable, frankly. Full marks to the music director at the school, Mr Nathan. Our table was right at the front so we had the best seats in the house. The highlight was seeing my younger son singing in the front row of the choir to a fantastic rendition of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’. A real ‘tears in the eyes’ moment.

It didn’t stop there. On Sunday we had our friends Dave and Julie round, and also my brother and sister in law for a day in the garden and in my case a stint in the hammock. But then my son’s rash got really bad and the worry began as it got worse and worse.

So it’s been a mixed few days – great fun, seeing fantastic and lovely friends, some unfamiliarly extensive lazing around, an incredible school show, then a bit of a scare – but hopefully all back to normal now. Which means stopping this and getting on with jobs. But watch out, I’m going to develop my chilling out skills, especially with that hammock now in the garden.

Normal service will resume shortly

Had a very good birthday weekend and will write about what made it fun in next post.

In the meantime have to keep it short. One of my sons has had an allergic skin reaction (most likely due to us changing our washing powder). He has horrible great itchy weals from head to toe, feel so sorry for him. Been to the doctors and he’s on anti-histamines every four to six hours, but still waiting for a marked improvement. Am too busy re-washing all his clothes, sheets, towels etc (and doing freelance work, and of course worrying, that goes without saying as all parents will know) to write a proper blog post. Hopefully normal service will resume shortly.

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