Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas 2017

This year at church, we had an Advent Flock which travelled around the Parish. At every home the flock visited, a little lamb was left behind, to be reunited with the flock on Christmas Eve at our Crib Services. Our children were invited to make extra sheep too, so the flock had grown somewhat by 5.30pm after two services. 

This Christmas, if,  like the shepherds and kings and our Advent flock, you are coming to the stable - or you find yourself in a situation you did not expect - remember that God is with you, now, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus. 

In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, may your Christmas journey lead you closer not just to the heart of Christmas, but to the person of Jesus whose birth we celebrate.

Happy Christmas, everyone. xxx

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The building of a snowman

There's something about snow in the UK - it seems so rare that we get any of the decent stuff, that when we do, we go a bit mad!

On the one hand, it causes massive disruption. People aren't used to dealing with snow, so they don't cope with travel disruption or school closures and the like. (And yet years ago, when snow was more common, everyone seemed to manage much better - have we become softer in our modern day, I wonder?) Huge shout-out to everyone who keeps vital services going in these circumstances!

On the other hand, it gives folk a chance to play and enjoy the beauty of a changed world. I thoroughly enjoyed my walk down from church in near-silence, looking out over the fields. It also gives you a chance to cosy up inside if you like to look at the snow but not venture out in it.

Well, Mr Squidge enjoys playing. As I write, he's building an igloo in the garden.

He's already built a snowman, and that's what I want to share with you. Thing is, I was chatting on messenger to Squidgeling J - who, you may remember, is away at university. Bristol had seen snow today, but it hadn't settled; Squidgeling J wanted to know about the snowman.

Via a mixture of photos and messages, (live streaming the build was optioned at one point!) we had a conversation that lasted as long as it took to build the snowman.

He started out rather lumpy and looking like a giant white jelly baby.

Then I realised this was his body when Mr Squidge added a head.

Arms came next - one giving me the thumbs up, the other looking like Mr. Snowman had worked out on one side...until Mr Squidge made it look like his hand was on his hip. I was posting messages to Bristol every few minutes...'he's got a nose'...'there's an arm'...

A face. 'Creepy' was how Squidgeling J described it. And I have to say, it was a little disconcerting to have an eyeless snowman staring at me through the patio windows.

Oh, didn't I mention that? This four foot high snowman is built right outside our lounge and stares in at me, while I sit warm and cosy on the sofa...

Anyway. Mr Squidge added buttons and proper eyes (wine bottle tops) and then we found a hat. Mr Squidge had a colleague who celebrated her last birthday by asking everyone to come in wacky head gear, because she had unfortunately lost her own hair due to chemotherapy treatment. (Sadly, this friend died a few weeks ago.) Mr Squidge had joined in with the spirit of wacky head gear and bought himself a fez. A proper felt fez. And that's what we gave Mr Snowman.

Only for a short while - don't want the snow and wet to ruin the fez! However, the final choice of headgear was actually a santa hat, which doesn't matter if it gets wet.

Mr Squidge didn't half look pleased with himself...

Anyway, he's just come in because it's too dark and cold to do much more on the igloo, and I'm finishing this as he's making a cup of tea and warming a mince pie or two.

Whether you are a lover or hater of snow, I hope it doesn't cause you too much inconvenience over the next few days and that you manage to get some time to enjoy it, too. At least build a snowman, even if he's a tiddly one!

Friday, 1 December 2017

A Community of Christmas Trees

Our local Parish Church - the big one, in town - is holding its annual Community Christmas Tree Festival. As usual, my own church set up a tree, decorated by our Starting Rite members. (Starting Rite is a 5 week course for parents and their babies, which explores baptism, and their logo is apparently feet!)

So, not too many words in this blog - but a few pics of some of the trees I admired the most. Have to say, though, they are all brilliant for different reasons - and there were 120 to see!

To start off, here's our St. Mary in Charnwood tree:

All the babies who'd been on the Starting Rite course gave a sock, and had their name added to it.

The teeniest, tiniest toes were Charlotte's - right at the top of the tree.

Keeping with children - this was one nursery's egg box and cereal packet tree...

If I remember right, this was a school's craft club...lots of very clever ideas on the one pallet tree...

There were two 'book' trees, but I liked this one because it was made out of thick tomes which described all you needed to know about every aspect of citizen's rights, supplemented with tags describing people's responses to the help they'd received from the Citizen's Advice Bureau...

Lots of guiding trees in evidence, but this was my favourite - a treeful of Brownies, made out of plastic cups...

And where there are guides, there are usually scouts! A tent tree - complete with papier mache scout, cub and beaver heads peeking out of it...

Huge tissue paper flowers on this Gardening Group one - each large flower's about two feet across!

Now to a treeful of angels. Book folding seems to be a big thing at the moment - I'm torn between loving the finished product and hating to see pages creased. But this tower of angels looked amazing.

You've heard of the Great British Bake Off - well there was a tree decorated as the Great British BISQUE off, by the pottery club of the Grammar School. I have never seen so many gingerbread men. And I loved the bunting made from cake cases...

Now, my favourite tree of the lot. Made by a group called Charnwood Threads, the idea was simple - here's a white triangle of felt/fabric. Now decorate it using needlework.

Biggest triangles are probably 4-5" from base to tip

Oh my - I could've posted so many more photos of the individual decorations, because they were all exquisitely stitched. But here's a flavour...

Frayed fabric strips...

A string of felt tree lights...

Minute patchwork hexagons...
Simple threads...

 And the prize for the biggest variety of tree types in one submission? This one  - a winter wonderland of trees made from knitting, paper, felt, card, books...have I got them all?

In a break with Squidge Christmas traditions, I will be putting up a tree Chez Squidge tomorrow - mainly because I'm cooking an early Christmas dinner for eleven (!) on Saturday so we thought we'd better be a bit festive. Pictures will follow...even though it's only about three feet high.

Right, I'm off to defrost a 12lb turkey. See you later!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Nearly there...

Wish I could say the title relates to my writing, but I'm finding it hard going at the moment.

Being a woman of a certain age, hormones seem to be stealing away my concentration. If I'm not completely fuzzle-brained, I seem to be not sleeping, or experiencing wicked migraines (which knock me out for a good 24 hours) or feeling like I just want to crawl into a hole until this whole hormone lark bogs off - for good!

I am trying to work through it...and there are a few things that have given me a boost this week.

The first - I have a kitchen floor! After five months...

You might remember we started our kitchen back in July, (you can see some of the progress here) and we are still only just getting the finishing touches in place, because of reasons beyond our control. Whilst I love a lot of the new kitchen, there's a fair bit of the process and end result that I am less than pleased with - so much so, that if I could turn the clock back, I would never have gone with the company we used. The annoying thing is, you only tend to have a major refit like this perhaps once in your lifetime, so you put the work into looking for a company you think will do the best job and who comes up with what you want, and then it feels as though they let you down. Big time. I'm going to live out the rest of my days knowing that my kitchen is less than perfect...but I am grateful that it is done. Almost. Just touching up of paintwork, realigning the radiator, putting on a new drawer front because the fitter scratched it when he did some glueing... *sigh*

Be positive, Katherine. Be positive.

The second thing to make me smile this week was this: a mini book charm necklace by Sleeping_Beauty5.

You know I already have a StarMark necklace of my own, which I bought when I knew StarMark was going to be published. In fact, MY StarMark ended up being THE StarMark on the cover of the book (with a few clever manipulations by Bink's cover designer!)

small charm on the left, StarMark necklace charm on the right...

I wear it to author talks, especially at schools, and thought it might be nice to ring the changes and get something to represent Kingstone, too. Now, on the cover, you might remember that there is a sun, moon, mountain image?

You can get half sun, half moon charms, but nothing with the mountain bit, so I'd given up. Until I saw Sleeping Beauty's ad on ebay for a miniature Twilight book charm. I contacted her, asked if she would consider making a custom one for me, (her very first custom job, I'm pleased to say!) and within a week I received it.

I'd agreed with Mr Squidge that it should be a Christmas pressie, but I couldn't resist a peek, or sharing Sleeping Beauty5's handiwork with you all...

The book and the charm

And here, to give you an idea of the size and detail possible...

The colour is a little bluer than the real thing, but not by much

Even down to the spine...

And the blurb on the back!

It's been squirrelled away to Mr Squidge's secret pressie stash place (ie under the bed) and I shall probably forget all about it until Christmas Day!

But also, looking ahead to Christmas, we had our last flower night at church. I decided to make an Advent arrangement - inspired by those we saw last year in Germany when we visited friends. Those same friends will be coming over here this year - next week in fact - for an early Christmas dinner. Here's what I created:

So things are looking up - my head doesn't hurt today, I have a new floor in the kitchen, it's starting to feel a bit Christmassy...

Things can only get better, eh?

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

#sfh2 - Paperback release

Did you know that:

According to Shelter, 65,000 families will be homeless this Christmas.
* At least one more family becomes homeless in Britain EVERY TEN MINUTES.
* There are 250,000 homeless people in England. That's a quarter of a million!
* 300,000+ in Britain.
* In the worst hit areas, 1 in 25 people are homeless.
* Last year, the lowest number of socially rented homes were built in 71 years. 71 YEARS!
* Tory austerity is linked to 120,000 deaths, according to a study in BMJ Open (medical journal).

These figures are shocking and unacceptable. The numbers seem too big for us 'little people' to do anything about. We are left feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of such desperate need...

Except... Today, you CAN do something to make a difference. YOU can help Shelter, the charity which helps and supports people suffering from bad housing and homelessness. And all because a collective of wonderful people have given their time and skills for free to put together and publish a second anthology of short stories on the theme of home, with every penny of the profits going direct to Shelter. 

Today is Paperback Launch Day:

Stories for Homes, Volume 2 (#sfh2) contains over 50 stories in paperback for £12.99. Already out on kindle, (£5.99) the book has received nothing less than 5 stars in every review it has received so far. We - the folk who've been involved in both the book and the online anthology, as well as everyone who helped with the cover artworkblog tour, publicity, and line up of events to launch the book - are hoping it will be every bit the bestseller that the original Stories for Homes anthology was.

The paperback - looking good

And we'll achieve it, with your help. Please - buy the book. For yourself, or as a present. Tweet. Share. Retweet the tweets you see. Buy the ebook. Blog about it. Read it. Make a noise about it! Do all of it, knowing that you - yes, YOU - are making a difference and helping Shelter to ensure there's help for those caught up in bad housing or homelessness both now, and in the future. We already know they appreciate it: 

To finish, there's one other statistic I'd like to share with you. 
71 - the official number of deaths at Grenfell Tower; the anthology is dedicated to the victims of that tragedy.  
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Saturday, 11 November 2017

A sense of achievement

Remember I wrote recently about how my crafting had gone rather crazy?

Well, I've finished one project - hooray!! - and am pretty close to finishing a second.

The completed one is the rainbow lap quilt. I have to say that quilting experts would probably shake their heads over certain aspects of the manufacture of it, (I am not a quilting perfectionist, by any means; I cut corners, my cutting isn't 100% accurate, my stitching's a bit wonky sometimes...) but I like it, and it's just the right size for having over my knees when I'm typing in the lounge on a cold day.

Have to give a shout out to the fab staff at Quorn Country Crafts, who helped me to decide how to edge the rainbow square centre. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have ended up with the rather lovely rainbow batik strip border - even though they were a pig to sew, because they kept slipping on the machine and bits weren't 'caught' by the stitching on the right side. A nifty bit of hand stitching later, and any missed raw edges were hidden...

Loved that there were enough colours in the batik pack
for me to roughly match the border colours to the
central panel squares closest to them

They (the staff at QCC) are also a whizz at working out how much fabric you need to back the quilt, too, with only the minimum of excess material. I chose a teeny-tiny harlequin print in grey and white to give a neutral backing;

I have a few of the batik strips left over, so it's created a new project for me - a cushion cover, I think. Though I won't be starting it any time soon... And in the meantime, I might change my mind completely and do a scraps quilt - who knows?

The second project should be complete by the end of today: my socks.

I caught up on Strictly (Come Dancing) last night and managed to do all but the toe shaping on the second sock. I still think it's a really unusual colour combo - pinks, purples, orange and red - but you can never tell until you start knitting up what the self-pattern will look like. Once these are completely finished, my sister's asked me to knit her a pair, but as socks are much quicker to produce than a quilt, I might get those started.

So that's two crafty projects knocked off the list - and I'm afraid I added another one.

I know, I'm a glutton for punishment, but I was given a crocheted Christmas tree pattern by Knotty Knits and Kreative Krafts that I'd like to try. I bought glittery random wool in red, green, and white to have a go at it. Only problem is, I need Squidgeling J to teach me how to do the stitches before I can begin...

I don't think I'll ever be able to say I've got nothing crafty on the go, do you?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Losing the plot - literally!

November already? How did that happen?

The last few weeks have been rather busy, writing wise. I finished the rewrite of Rurik-Reeka and it's out with readers at the moment. As a result, I began to write number 2 in the series, and it's going reasonably well. Particularly as I've also plotted out book 3 and most of book 4! Makes quite a change to be working with pen and paper again.

I've also given several author talks - two to social groups in the evening, and one as part of the 2017 Loogabarooga Festival. (I'll be blogging about that one separately in a couple of days time). It's meant a bit of a boost for book sales, which is rather lovely.

With all this going on, I lost the plot. No, not like that! Let me explain...

Since writing Kingstone, my writing 'process' for each new novel project is to buy an A4 ringbound notebook, with lined paper and preferably with a margin. This is where I begin to thrash out with pen and ink whatever idea I've had, shaping it into a real story. Inside is a chart, where I block out a square for every day on which I write. (And a square for every day that I don't, so I can keep a track of when procrastination takes over... )

(Apologies - the pics are quite dark as it was pouring with rain when I took them, and the camera didn't think it needed to use the flash...)

Inside, the pages are full of notes and scribbles and sketches and questions. It is by no means neat; some pages are obliterated with crossings out when something doesn't work.

There are often loose pages of pictures slipped inside or notes from other notebooks stuck to the pages as I see or think of something that would be useful, except I didn't have THE notebook to hand to capture it in.

The notebook becomes the foundation on which the actual story - the typed-up-on-the-computer version - is built. The entire plot is sandwiched between its covers. And by the end of typing up, the two look very different. Although you might recognise something in this photo that became an essential part of the cover of Kingstone...

The notebook ultimately becomes redundant, but I hang onto it. Am I sentimental? A hoarder? To some extent, yes - to both! The book represents hours of work and thought, and to me, it's a reminder of the struggles I went through to craft the book that ultimately (fingers crossed) was published.

But really, the reason I hang onto it is because that notebook has become a tool.

How so? Well, when I give an author talk, I take along the notebook in which I plotted Kingstone. (I do have others, but this is the only notebook so far which contains a single, unique story.) I find it's really useful to show - especially to children - the process I go through, and that it isn't neat, I spell things wrong, (ocassion and embaressment are my worst words), I do lots of crossings out and I work out of order. But because this is the ideas capturing stage, and there's only me that sees it, it really doesn't matter!

Anyway, as I said, I lost the (Kingstone) plot. Lost this incredibly valuable (to me) notebook. I knew I'd taken it to the school on my recent author visit. I knew I hadn't unpacked all my props because there was no point unpacking them all only to reassemble them a week later for the evening talks. It had to be in the house. Except when I got everything together for the evening talk, I couldn't find the notebook. Anywhere. An hour before I was due to give the talk, and there's me, Mr Squidge and Squidgeling T running up and down stairs, looking for it.

No joy. I had to take another notebook instead.

I must've left the Kingstone notebook at school - that was the last place I'd definitely had it with me. So I contacted the school - had any of the teachers found an A4 ring bound notebook filled with flowery post-it notes?

Apparently not. I was gutted; I simply didn't have anything else that I could hold up and say 'Look - this turned into this!'

I moaned to Mr Squidge about it, got cross with myself for losing the notebook, and then, as I turned to walk out of the dining room where we'd been talking (well, me talking, him listening with a rather pained expression)...I saw it.

The flippin' notebook.

Still in the bag I'd taken it to school in, which was tucked between a chair and the sideboard, and hidden behind a couple of boxes with kitchen stuff in (No, we're still not finished. Don't ask) that I and Mr Squidge had both missed in our frantic search of the previous evening.

The relief literally made my knees go weak.

So I may well have lost the plot - temporarily - but I'm now well and truly back on track and all geared up with my Kingstone notebook for any future author talks.