Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A dragony moment or two...

This morning saw the second of my official Summer Reading Challenge storytelling sessions, all about dragons today. It was fab! We even have our own dragon in the library - Stanford, who sits on top of his dragon's lair, guarding his box of treasure and listening to the stories with us...

Last week - Mermaids and Monsters - was very nearly a disaster, because for a start I got the time wrong. I turned up about 9.45 for a 10.30 start, and discovered we were actually starting at 10. Cue Squidge maniacally running around in the children's section, trying to find books on said mermaids and monsters, set out craft stuff and sign people in. Fortunately, I had some wonderful helpers in terms of library staff and a couple of reading champions, teenagers who've signed up to help through the summer and who already know me through my daughter and their primary school.

This week, I got organised. Turned up in plenty of time, found plenty of dragon picture books to read, and - most importantly of all, I think - had an audience where the ages of the children were very similar. We shared a good half-dozen books and then went on to making dragon bookmarks and Chinese dragons.

We asked for feedback from parents/carers who attend with their youngsters, and I wanted to share what one dad wrote, because it made my day and meant we'd pitched the session just right;

We had lots of stories about dragons burning wood.
The reader we had (that's me!) was friendly and good.
Then after that - and this bit is true - 
We got to cut things, to colour and glue.

How cool is that?

Next week, it's stories from around the world, so I'm on the hunt for myths and fables with an international flavour. We've already worked out a rather...visual version of the wonderful Handa's Surprise, so I'll let you know how that goes! And I'll be on the lookout for simple Anansi the Spider and Garuda stories to share too...

Friday, 25 July 2014

When letters become art...

You'll probably be aware I have a bit of an artistic streak. I've had a go at many different crafts and blogged about my attempts at stained glass making, knitting and flower arranging - to name but a few.

Today, I had a go at lettering.

I've always enjoyed playing with letters - drawing them, copying different fonts etc. When I was 18 and retaking my A-levels before uni, I remember carrying an art book all the time for free periods, when I'd reproduce my name over and over again in different types and colours of fonts. Since that time, any lettering has been limited to handwritten place names for posh dinners at Christmas.

Until today; today I got to play with the letters and add a bit of art too!

The creative retreat day was being held as a pilot course by Jo Leatherland, university chaplain and teacher of art. The idea was that we would meditate on scripture, see what we felt God was saying to us and take those words as the basis of our lettering attempts.

Bear with me while I take you through the process of why I ended up with what I did...

I'd gone with a weighty heart. There is so much dire stuff in the news at the moment that I'd been feeling overwhelmed and fearful in the face of so much human suffering. The first scripture that tugged at me was Psalm 18, verse 6; 'In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.'

Fine, thought I - but it's not really me in distress. Scared, yes, distressed, no.

I flicked to Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd. 'Do not be afraid, for I am with you' - verse 4. Trust me, I heard whispered. (Psalm 25:2 'O my God, in you I trust'). There was another phrase in verse 5, about a cup overflowing with blessings which struck me hard as a visual image, so I jotted down all the things I'm thankful for, given that there are so many folk in the world who aren't as blessed.

And finally, Ephesians 3:15 - 'Be rooted and grounded in LOVE.' If only there was more love in the the Middle East, in Ukraine, in Sudan, Iraq...

(As you might be able to tell, I'm a great 'flicker' - I open my Bible to a page and trust that what I need to see is there. I'm not one for memory verses and the like, though I sometimes wish I was. It'd make it a lot easier to find stuff you need sometimes...)

Anyhow, I'd found my scripture. Everyone warmed up by copying some alphabet fonts, and then we got creative. Now me, I can't just do letters - I have to get pretty round them too. Jo had laid out loads of beautiful, full colour ideas sheets and there were a couple of things I saw that sat well with the texts I'd felt drawn to. I did a couple of black-and-whites first...

Then added colour... I used watercolour pencils but took the colour straight from the lead with a brush rather than colouring first and washing over with water afterwards. I also added some artistic 'splatter' (technical artistic term!) but it doesn't show so well on the photo.

This next one is not an entirely original idea, because on the ideas sheet was a fabulous tree with lots more swirls and leaves and the entire page filled with text. Because my scripture was 'Be rooted and ground in love', I adapted the idea to suit... No colour wash on this, just colouring in.

And then I got onto the overflowing blessings... Here's the black-and-white...

And here's the rather crinkly-looking coloured version that I finished off at home! (Note to self: remember to use a cartridge/watercolour paper for works with larger areas of wash!) It's mainly watercolour pencil wash, with highlights of fineliner pen. And of course I had to get a rainbow in there somewhere, didn't I?

There were some lovely pieces created by the other folk attending, but I got so engrossed in my own creations I didn't take photos as I'd planned to. Suffice to say that they were all very different, all very personal, and all very beautiful because of the heart that had gone into them. I had a great day and would've loved to have had longer, but my appetite is whetted and I've got an idea to reproduce one of these for a present in the near future...

So. There you go. Letters becoming art...

Have a good weekend, scribblers!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

I've finally made the papers!

I've been trying since March to get something in our local paper about having published Granny Rainbow, with no success. On the third attempt - I'm in!

Granted, this time I sent in a picture. And the report actually focuses on the upcoming KLiCbait story, set in a local pub, as well as the storytelling sessions I'm doing at the library. Presumably 'cos that's three news items for the price of one as it features a local pub... but Granny Rainbow and me are in.

Would you believe that two pages further in, in the same issue of the paper, I'm also in a photo that was taken at the open meeting about the centenary celebrations for Ladybird Books?

Huh. Press reports. Like buses - you wait for ever for one to turn up, then two come along at once!

A Seeming Glass - publication date!

Super-duper news! The RASSSA anthology, A Seeming Glass, will be published on the 7th August! I have two stories in it - Thread and You Should Have Let Me Sleep...I was lucky enough to proofread the book and it's blinkin' fabulous!

It will be available from,, Smashwords (ie apple, kobo, iTunes etc for those in the know) and will also be available in paperback from Createspace.

Here's the blurb:

'How can I read the futures if I cannot see your skin?'
Six mysterious swans glide on a holographic pond in a totalitarian capital city.  A terrified girl awaits her part in a ritual that could change the future... and the past. A dancer in ancient Jerusalem mourns her maimed sister and prepares for the performance of her life.  A sword of legend sends its wielder back through the fiercest battles in history. A freshly qualified vampire hunter experiences the practical side of his vocation. Fourteen intriguing, dramatic, humourous and unsettling tales, inspired by existing stories and reflecting the breadth of storytelling from Greek myth to Hammer Horror, via fairytales and Arthurian legend.

A Seeming Glass is an anthology of short, and not so short stories, based around the theme of 'a mirror refection'. In other words, subtly different or not quite how they appear to be.
Ever notice how clean and neat Fairy Tales are, for example? Well those aren't the originals. Fairy Tales, before they were heavily edited by the Victorians, were dark, nasty and usually left you with a creeping feeling at the base of your spine. Don't believe me? Check out the original version of 'The Robber Bridegroom'. With that in mind - and a pretty keen interest in myths, legends, folklore and Fairy Tales - The Random Writers have put together this book of dark delights. Every story is inspired by the original form of an older tale and each one has been given a neat, dark twist like the flick of a straight razor.
Dive in - there's something for everyone. I promise.

And to get your appetite whetted, there are going to be prequels and sequels FREE to read on the Random Writer's website, starting tomorrow... 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Catching up...

Been a bit quiet on the Scribbles recently - I apologise! But Mr Squidge and I took advantage of the kids being at scout camp to take a few days holiday 'oop north'. It is fair to say we had a fab time, apart from the stonking cold that broke out on me while I was away, but hey ho. It didn't stop us from doing anything - just slowed the pace even more.

Funny reflection of Mr and Mrs Squidge
in a water sculpture at Alnwick Gardens

Anyway, a few things to share with you from those days away and some bits and pieces either side...

Number 1. I went to Barter Books in Alnwick. 

Oh my giddy aunt! If you love books, you will love this place. It is believed to be one of Europe's (certainly teh UK's) largest secondhand bookshops, and I wandered round for the first hour in a daze, completely overwhelmed by teh sheer numbers and physicality of the books on offer.

Who says print is dead?

We had to go back later in the day so I could do some serious book purchasing (also bought a CD of The Swing by INXS - delighted to find that as my old cassette tape is a little crackly now). Mr Squidge did some computing stuff in the restaurant while I wandered, finding books for the kids as well as myself.

What I hadn't realised is that the name stems from the fact that you can still barter your books - exchange ones you've read for credit on new ones. And I loved the fact that everywhere you look, there are reminders of the station that the building once was - even down (perhaps that should be up) to the model trains running on tracks above the shelves.

I felt completely inspired - and plotted out a new outline for the troublesome first chapter of StarMark over a cuppa. Hooray!

Number 2. I watched Harry Potter and Hagrid perform magic at Alnwick Castle.

Yes, I know they were only actors, but to see the kids flicking and switching their wands to help make Hagrid's toad reappear and later watch the broomstick flying lessons with Professor Trumpington was an unexpected bit of fun.

Number 3. Seen on a menu in a Chinese restaurant - Unicorn bean curd.

That dish WILL end up in a short story...

Number 4. I finished my KLiCbait story, well before the deadline. 

In fact just this afternoon, I pressed 'send' and Moon Rocks is now winging its way to the editors...

Number 5. I got to proofread 'A Seeming Glass'.

This is the anthology about to be published by RASSSA, and by gum, it's good!

You know that feeling, when you know your own stories (yep - two of mine are in it) are OK and you're pleased with them, but you also know that pretty much every one of the other authors who have submitted stories are damned fine writers and you worry a bit that your own writing will fall a bit short...?

Well, all I can say is that there was some pretty amazing synergy going on, because the sum of the parts is much, MUCH greater than any of the bits I offered!

This will definitely be a book to get if you like your fairytales twisted...Due to be published any day now...

Number 6. Did I mention I think I might have sorted that problematical first chapter of StarMark? 

I did? Well, I'm so chuffed I'm going to repeat myself!

Me and a book sculpture in the grounds of what used to be Newcastle Polytechnic
 - now University of Northumbria - where Mr Squidge did his degree
So there you go - a bit of catching up, done. Catch you later, scribblers!

Saturday, 12 July 2014


Our fledgeling writing group now has a name. We are the NIBS. That is, the Nanpantan Improving Body of Scribblers!

We met for the third time last Wednesday (you might remember my last blog post, when I hadn't done my homework...) and it was great to welcome even more new faces to the group. I think we can safely say that this thing isn't going to fizzle and die any time soon!

I don't know whether it was the thought of holidays coming up (we finish school earlier than most folk in England) or the fact we've had such lovely sunny weather recently, but it was a really fun session. From the first exercise of telling a collaborative story (it started with a vicar who dropped the baby in the font during a baptism and ended with the baby sprouting wings and flying up to the church roof, to the dismay of the church wardens!) we laughed and grinned our way through the evening.

We wrote a dialogue in pairs that we acted out (with many a giggle - especially for the vicar who really wanted to be a ballroom dancer!), wrote outlandish excuses which explained why we were late for work (that flying baby played a role again, as did dragons, monkeys driving lorries filled with zoo animals and quicksand in the garden, to name but a few!) and we finished with stories that had to include making a drink (some of which ended up as comforting as the tea itself, and others which ended up used as a murder weapon...)

We are beginning to feel comfortable enough with each other to comment on what we hear shared - gently and with encouragement - and I think it's a testament to everyone present that even those who attend for the first time are willing to share. We don't force people to do so if it makes them uncomfortable or they don't feel confident enough. As we develop, we may have feedback nights, but it's not turning out to be the kind of group that's working with the sole aim of publication and needs critique. I think we just enjoy playing with words and validating the endless notes and scribbles we make, because it feels right and part of us to do so.

Having said that, yes, I'm a published author. But I like the fact that with this group, I can play for a while, experiment, and maybe get a glimmer of an idea that could be a short story or a novel in the future. I also enjoy sharing other author's writing and ideas; it never ceases to amaze me how many different themes stem from just one motif.

Next month will be quieter as we're well into the holidays by that point, and another member has offered to find the exercises. Which is good, because I tend to go only for the ones that appeal to me. We'll also be working on a website and we're already up on Twitter and Facebook as a community page. Our next meeting is the 13th August and I'm looking forward to my homework - rewriting a fairytale from the bad guy's point of view.

So I'm off now, to do some scribbling in the sunshine! Catch you later, fellow scribblers!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Haven't done my homework...

In the writer's group I've helped set up with some friends, we do writing exercises at our meetings and set 'homework' for the time between meetings. Most of the time, homework is finishing off the evening's exercises and a couple of other specific things to try over the next month. Kind of to keep things ticking over, y'know?

Tonight, we're meeting again, *whispers* and I haven't done my homework!

Oh, I've written - a couple of Granny Rainbow stories, lots of StarMark editing, outlined the KLiCbait story - but I've not done the specific tasks connected with the group. I did go as far as downloading a picture I found, of auburn-haired women in white dresses and draped over mounds of soil the same colour as their hair; I jotted a few ideas for a story based on that...but I didn't finish it.

Thing is, as a facilitator of the group, I feel I should be leading by example. If I turn up and say 'not done it', how is that going to make newer writers feel? Like I can't be bothered? Like I'm not taking things seriously? 'Cos I do take it seriously...

But there are times when I find I have to put my own writing first. I HAVE to complete KLiCbait by the end of this month. I am forcing myself to get StarMark sorted ready for York in September. I need to get Granny Rainbow 2 stories written ASAP so that Laura can do the illustrations over the summer before she goes back to uni.

The writing exercises feel like 'nice-to-do' rather than 'have-to-do' pieces, written purely for my own enjoyment rather than for an intended publication. And I feel that priority-wise, they come second at the moment.

Hope the rest of the group will forgive me tonight. If not, they'll be telling me

Monday, 7 July 2014

First chapter problems

I've recently asked for some feedback on StarMark from a few friends, to see whether I'm finally getting into my MC's head. The answer seems to be 'yes, but you could do better!'

The other problem that's been highlighted in the very first chapter is that my MC is acting a bit too mature for her intended age - an issue that's partly tied up with 'voice'. Problem is, the first chapter revolves almost entirely around the MC. The only other character in this chapter pops her clogs within the first couple of pages, so it's all got to be 'head-stuff' to keep things moving. And I don't do head-stuff well enough to make that work. Yet.

I'm not disagreeing with the feeder-backers - I think they definitely have a point - but I really, REALLY wish that I didn't feel so negative about it! Because I'm not quite sure what to do now. It's getting to the point where I've reworked this first chapter so many times, I'm losing sight of what I wanted to achieve in it. Feels like I'm in a constant edit cycle with no way of getting off at the moment!

I'll use the Accept, Amend, Reject rule, but it may be that StarMark ends up as a bit of a compromise - I get it to where I'm comfortable in the headology department, self-publish and accept that it's not going to be perfect but it's as good as I can make it at the moment without ruining it. Resign myself to doing better with the headology in anything I write in the future. There is also part of me that wonders how much headology a 9-12 year old would expect to read in a book - am I beating myself up about the headology because I'm coming at it from too adult a reader's perspective? Will my young readers mind if they don't get so far inside Irvana's head?

I suppose the only way I'll find that out is to get the story out there. I'm giving myself to the end of the year.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Mythical Maze

This Saturday sees the launch of The Mythical Maze, the summer reading challenge.

I can't wait! When the kids were younger, we'd sign up every year. Not that they need much encouragement to read - my two always have read a lot. They're too old now, of course. And discovering a whole library full of adult books and classics. (By adult, I'm not talking X-rated!)

I signed up recently at the library as a storyteller, with a view to getting involved in the reading challenge. The scheme is being launched in my town this weekend and I'm going to be doing storytelling sessions every Wednesday bar one through the summer holidays. Me - excited? Just a bit!

This morning, I went round the house, looking for suitable things to read. And I realised we don't have those 'younger' books any more. Horrid Henry, Spy Dog and Astrosaurs - even the occasional Daisy Meadows fairy book - have gone, replaced by Alex Rider, Skulduggery Pleasant, Time Riders, The Great Gatsby, Noughts and Crosses, Sister Missing...

(I do have a few of the old favourites stashed away...I can't part with Peepo! or Cat in the Hat. Or the signed copy of Spy Dogs from when Andrew Cope, the author, came to visit school...)

I've found a few I can use. As I said, the theme this year is Mythical Maze, which lends itself to stories about all sorts of fantastical creatures and fairyfolk. So I've got The Hobbit, where all the dwarves arrive at Bilbo Baggins' house; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback hatches; Under the Mish-mash trees by Dick King-Smith. I'll have to grab an Artemis Fowl from the library to read about the not-so-cute fairies...

I'll let you know if I've any voice left after an hour of reading on Saturday evening.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Guilty pleasures...

No, it's not as bad as the title sounds...honest!

Mr Squidge and I are taking advantage of the fact that for one whole week of the summer hols, both kids are at the same scout camp. We have four days out of that week all to ourselves! Where to go? What to see? Decisions, decisions!

Venice was the first place we looked into. But apparently it's really busy when we want to go and fiendishly expensive. Then we switched to Paris. I've never been, but it's somewhere that Mr Squidge would like to go back to, and bless him, he wants to take me with him.

"Eurostar!" says he.

Hmm. Well, after taking out a small mortgage to get us to London on the train, pay for the Eurostar to Paris and somewhere to stay while we're there...maybe not. So we switched to somewhere closer to home.

Now, I'm thinking 'let's do the things the kids complain about - visit stately homes, mooch round little shops in quaint places, walk through lovely cultivated gardens'.

Mr Squidge is thinking '10-mile hikes in the Lake District'. 

Say what? Don't get me wrong - I DO like going for walks. It's just that I prefer my terrain a bit flatter, and I was rather hoping we'd have time for some relaxation rather than a hard slog up a mountain or two.

So we've compromised. We are spending a few nights in Alnwick, taking in the castle, Holy Island, Cragside and having dinner in one of the world's largest tree houses! Just look at this beauty... (I feel a story coming on...)

The trees go right through the floor...

Then we'll finish up with a night in the city - Newcastle-upon-Tyne - revisiting some of the old haunts from when Mr Squidge was there at uni. You can't beat a walk in Jessy Dene...or a pint of Newky Brown in the Bigg Market.

The weirdest thing about all of this is that as much as I'm looking forward to the trip, I also feel very guilty for taking it! I can't remember the last time we went away without the children for more than an overnighter. I know the time will come when the kids leave home and we'll be able to do it without stopping to think of them first; but at the moment, it feels as though I'm taking advantage of the scouters - using them as a babysitting service.

Come the day, I'm sure I'll be able to put all the guilt behind me and focus on the pleasure of my hubby's company...