Thursday, 28 September 2017


I was involved first time round in Stories for Homes - you can find out all about the project at the website.

I'm also involved in the second volume - my online anthology story, Potato Soup, as well as some other stonkingly good reads - can be found here.

But the real reason for blogging? The ebook is published TODAY!! (Follow this shortlink to find it on Amazon in any territory. The paperback will follow in November.)

You will not regret purchasing this anthology. I was privileged to proofread it and, dare I say it? I think volume 2 is even better than volume 1. And I'm not the only one who thinks it's a fabulous read. Here's what some other folk have to say about it:

Emma Darwin, author of The Mathematics of Love, commented on the quality of writing in the anthology as: “A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all."

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, said: “Stories give our imaginations a home. It's good to see them helping to give people shelter in the real world, too...” reflecting the connection between the immediacy of housing crisis and the stories people tell about their lives around and within it.

Cally Taylor, author of Home for Christmas, said: "A home is more than just a house. It's the people within it, the lives they lead and the stories they tell. Everyone deserves a home."

Julie Cohen, author of Dear Thing and Together, wrote that "Stories for Homes is proof of the power of literature and stories to make a positive difference in people's lives. This collection has heart and soul."

And Tor Udall, author of A Thousand Paper Birds, observed that: "Many of our greatest stories pivot around the idea of home. From Honer's Odyssey to the Wizard of Oz, we will always tell tales of losing and finding 'home' - be that our childhood, a place, a lover, or our core self. These stories tap into our need to belong, to feel, simply, that we have a right to be here. Today, when Brexit threatens to divide families - and refugees, the homeless and the poor are denied a place in this world - this luminous collectionof stories is searingly relevant."

And a few more folk will be telling you what they think too, as SfH2 has begun and will continue to do, a blog tour over the coming days.

Why? Why did so many people come together to create another anthology to raise funds (volume 1 raised £3,000) for the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter?

Anthology co-editor Debi Alper put it like this: “Access to a safe and secure home is a human right - one that thousands of people are denied in 21st century Britain. This world class anthology is a good deed in a very naughty world.”

And Sally Swingewood, who also edited the collections, commented: “The Stories for Homes collections would not be possible without the generosity of a huge number of volunteers. By working together we have produced a book which will not only delight but also help address one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing modern society. In a world where migration, identity and belonging are in the news daily we have a duty to help everyone have a home in which they feel safe and settled. Stories for Homes is one way we can be part of the solution”

Jacqueline Ward, one of the contributors, explained her reasons for getting involved in this Huffington Post article.

And me? Why did I do it? I've never been homeless - I've always been lucky enough to have a roof over my head. I could easily sit in Maison Squidge and ignore what's going on in the rest of the world. But I can't. I hurt when I see people living on the streets, or forced to live in unsuitable accommodation. I cry when I see tragedies like Grenfell Towers, to whom the victims and survivors of which the anthology is dedicated...

I'm human. I want to make a difference. So when I've been blessed with the means to help, I will, whether that means physically (buying a pasty and a coffee), financially (through donating to charities), or through my writing.

That's why I do it. Because I'm a tiny drop in a massive ocean of good that WILL make a difference - this time, through the work of Shelter who help those affected by the housing crisis in the UK.

Please, if you are concerned about those who struggle to find somewhere to call 'home', buy the book. Spread the word. And know that with every page you turn, every story about 'home' you read in this amazing collection, you're adding another drop to that ocean, because all proceeds go to Shelter.

Thank you xx  

Monday, 25 September 2017

Bookcrossing and the UK Unconvention 2017

I'd not heard of Bookcrossing.

Well, not until a few months ago, when someone tagged me in a facebook post asking for local authors who'd be willing to speak at a Bookcrossing convention being held in Loughborough later in the year.

I got in touch, we had some discussions, and as a result I was booked to do a creative writing workshop on the Saturday morning for folks who'd like to have a go at it.

Now, put simply, Bookcrossing is a bit like an adventure for books. They are released into the wild, or left in designated bookcrossing places, and each book released has a unique number that means you can track its journey throughout the world. I suppose it's like the biggest book swap ever, or a large scale free library.

The Unconvention ran from Friday through to Sunday. I had various other commitments over the weekend, but decided to spend the better part of Saturday with the bookcrossers. Mainly because I don't feel it's right to turn up, do your talk/workshop, and beetle off again after a few book sales. Being an author is also about creating relationships with readers, and showing yourself to be human, approachable, and professional.

Anyway, after a slight detour to find the RNIB College (Mr Squidge and I have lived in Loughborough most of our lives, and he STILL took me to the accommodation block instead of the vocational part!) I unloaded my books and props for the workshop and had a wander to see what was going on.

The shop was selling bookplates, stickers, bookmarks and other bookcrossing related items. The raffle - full of chocolate, books, tea, alcohol, books, souvenirs from local cities, more books, and a range of other goodies - was done in the US style, where you bought your raffle tickets, then put them in the pot corresponding to the goodies you wanted to try winning. (A good way of not ending up with something you didn't want!)

Raffle goodies! No, I didn't win any...

I was given a goodie bag, with lots of lovely things in it. (Note this year's Loogabaroga Festival leaflet - have I told you I'm doing a school visit again?)

All the essentials - map, tea bags, notebook, Uncon logo stickers,
bookcrossing goodies, Loogabarooga info and even a pair of ear-rings!

Then there was the book buffet... It was amazing. Basically, there were loads of books - all labelled uniquely, and ready to be taken by the bookcrossers for themselves or to be set free. I picked up quite a few, as you can see from the pics! Loved how the books were categorised. None of this A to Z author name rubbish! It was things like 'Covers with people wearing hats'. 'Plants and gardens'. 'Rockets and space ships and cars and aliens.' It certainly made you root through the titles, because there was no telling what you might uncover.

'Number books'

'Orange and red covers/titles'

My bookcrossing stash... All very different genres.

There was also a not-so-secret-santa, a way of giving a gift to a fellow bookcrosser. Throughout the day, folks kept unwrapping their boxes and finding all sorts of bookish and sweet treats.

Anyway, the first author was due to kick things off at ten. They didn't show up; unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond their control, they couldn't attend, but the organisers weren't informed until too late to find a replacement. Except...

As I was there, I was asked if I could do a short talk instead! So I did. An off-the-cuff, totally impromptu brief history of how I got to be an author and a peek at how I work when I'm planning a novel. They seemed to enjoy it, even though I wasn't who they were expecting!

A brief stop for coffee and book signings, then it was my creative writing session. A small but select band decided to give it a go, and I offered a few of my favourite writing prompts for them to try. I think my colour charts were the favourite! And we even had some time to feedback the ideas and some very short pieces before lunch.

Hard at work...

Spoilt for choice on the colour front!

Lovely mix of colours - and the writing wasn't bad, either!

After lunch, a few more folk turned up (adding to the book buffet! I was very strict with myself and didn't pick up too many more) and there were some interesting conversations.

I had taken books to sell, because I'd have been daft to pass up an opportunity to sell a couple of books (as it happened, I sold lots more than I expected to - hooray!). And the subject of author sales came up; I think some of the bookcrossers were defending the 'passing on free books even though authors lose sales' comment that it sounded as though they've had thrown at them in the past. But d'you know what? I don't mind at all. Bookcrossers are obviously very keen readers, and they buy a lot of books. So authors DO benefit. You wouldn't expect every member of one family to buy their own copy of a book they all love, would you? Well, using that example, bookcrossers are simply part of a big family who share what they've loved reading...but one of them still has to buy the book!

I don't sell thousands of books - I don't even know whether I sell hundreds - but if someone decides to bookcross something I've written, and as a result someone enjoys a book they might not have otherwise been exposed to, I reckon that's a win, both for me and the reader. Especially if they look up what else I've written and decide to try something else...

For the first part of the afternoon, we settled into either a bookfolding workshop or a talk by Nicola Tallis, author of Crown of Blood; the Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey.

Now, I've lived in Leicestershire pretty much all of my life. I love Bradgate Park, where Lady Jane Grey used to live. I knew of her as the nine day queen who eventually lost her head - even did a school project on her once - but I hadn't realised just how clever she was or how determined a young woman she seemed to be. Definitely not the weak and feeble victim she's often portrayed as being in the history books. The talk was fascinating, and I bought the book so I can learn even more about Lady Jane Grey.

The whole day was great. To be in the company of so many people who love reading and do everything they can to share their love of books with a wider community was a real privilege. I was made, as a bookcrossing virgin, so welcome, and was inspired to join the bookcrossing community. When I tried, I discovered that, at some point in 2015, apparently I did! I can't remember doing that at all...

Anyway, if you are a bookcrosser and fancy finding me, I'm StarMark (!) of Loughborough. I have logged my book buffet books, and although it's going to take me some time to read them, I WILL send them out into the world at a later point. Probably via The Purple Pumpkin's bookshelf...

On the Sunday, lots of books were released into the wild in Loughborough; here's the Sock Man, draped in reading material! I understand Queen's Park and the bandstand were targeted too, so if you found one of the books and are enjoying it, let me know! Better still, log onto bookcrossing - you can do this anonymously and don't have to join - to say where you found it, what you thought, and where you're leaving it for someone else to enjoy...

Oh, and to finish, this made me smile. It was on the wall in the ladies loos at the college...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Stonking stories and Rave reviews

Spent the morning with a group of local, homeschooled children, writing stories!

It was great - I love the way that children don't limit their imagination like some of us adults.

The younger children took three objects from my story bag and we ended up with... a dragon who loved baked beans and he stole the princess's necklace. She managed to get it back by trading the necklace for beans. Or... the queen who needed to rescue a flying elephant who was in prison, and afterwards they went home for tea and she had a shower. (Sweaty work, rescuing flying elephants!) Or the bad king who stole the good king's heart, and the policemen had to put on swimming goggles to go down into the ocean to catch the bad king and make him hand the heart back.

Each of these stories - by the end of the morning - had been made into teeny illustrated books!

The older children got the story starter 'The antique glass bottle contained...' and built their stories around a framework of questions. Sure, we had some stories that took their influences heavily from film or TV, but there were some pretty unique ideas. In fact, sometimes I wish I could pinch a few and 'grow' them myself! I can't remember all of them in detail - but inside the bottles there was crushed unicorn queen horn, spider venom, the spirit of the Spider King, poison, medicine...

As these older children started writing, we got chatting too, about how the first draft doesn't have to perfect, how some people like to go at a story full tilt and some like to think about it a bit, how some stories use the same ideas but develop them differently and all sorts of other writery things.

It was certainly different leading a session in someone's (rather gorgeous) kitchen rather than in a school environment, but it didn't stop me or the children enjoying ourselves.I'd certainly consider running sessions for homeschoolers again.

Then this evening, I was tagged in a review of StarMark. It's posted on here, on Everybody's Reviewing.
To say I'm overwhelmed is putting it mildly... Have a read, see whether you agree if you've read the book yourself. Or maybe read the review if you haven't, and see if it makes you want to give StarMark a chance...

Either way, right now, I'm one very happy Squidge.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Squidgeling starts uni!

This weekend, we took Squidgeling J to Bristol University, to begin the great journey that is student life.

Have to say, I had a couple of wobbles in the week prior; Squidgeling J had caught a rather nasty cold off Squidgeling T (he's got Newschoolitis and has shared it round at home) so she wasn't feeling at all well, and I was rather worried as to how she'd cope with being away from home and ill.

We drove down to family, who live about a forty minute drive away from Bristol, and took the train from there into the city on the Saturday to get our bearings, find the hall of residence, and see some of where J's going to be spending the next four years.

It was great. We went to Brandon Hill and climbed Cabott's Tower (fab views, very tight spiral staircase; if you didn't know anyone well before you went to Bristol, you certainly would after crossing on the stairs with them!) I saw my first Banksy ('Well Hung'), and we spent a good half hour trying guitars and flicking through sheet music in the Hobgoblin Music Shop.

The train back to the family was...interesting. Half an hour late, then the train disappeared from the screen. Mr Squidge rushed us all off to get a train to Bath so we were a little closer to where we needed to be, but we missed it. Only to discover that the train that had disappeared from the screen had reappeared at an even later time. Except it wasn't at the platform it was supposed to be at.

All became clear when the nice BR man (!) came up to tell all us numpties waiting that the train was now on a different platform and was about to leave... Cue mad dash to that platform, then a Hong Kong kind of squeeze onto one of the two carriages we were allowed onto because the train was going to be split further up the line. Blimey, but it was packed tight. When we reached Bath, there were folk left behind because we simply couldn't squeeze anyone else on...

Eventually got back to family and had a lovely evening with them, even though J was starting to feel rather poorly after the exertions of the day.

Sunday morning, up bright and early, J feeling much better (hooray!) and we set off for Bristol. Yes, the car was packed. It had all the usual - clothes, kitchen essentials, bedding, plus fencing kit, camping kit, circus kit, a violin and a bike. Good job we have an estate car! J likened it to playing boot tetris...

Traffic wasn't as bad as we'd feared - it was the Bristol half marathon the same day, so we allowed extra time, just in case. Arrived, parked up, got the key, and started to unload.

Now, the thing I remember most about going to uni myself was my mum making my bed, so that was the first thing I did. J was busy saying hello to her flatmates who had/were arriving, so I unpacked as much as I could for her. She has a room in a flat on the top floor of the hall, (four flights of stairs!) so she's going to be fit when she comes home!

We left around half one after going out for lunch...J seemed happy and was looking forward to the hall social that evening.

And yes, that's a homemade duvet cover and patchwork pillows...
Like mother, like daughter.

Reminded me so much of my uni days and my room... I have a photo somewhere, almost the same as this, of me sitting on my bed in Randall Lines House...

Funniest thing happened as we left and reached the street, we whistled; we Squidges have a particular whistle to attract attention. Worked better than yelling and yawping when the kids were little, and still continues to work now. Anyway, we whistled from the road, and J peered out of her window. All we could see was the top of her head, then her hands waving at us, then her jumping up and down. Look can see her, just! Reminded me of those cartoons, with the caption 'Wot no...?' next to someone peering over a wall.

Saw my second Banksy on the way back, (Girl on a balloon swing) as well as some Silent Hobo - who, I have only just realised, did a huge mural in Loughborough a few years back!

I didn't cry. Thank goodness. Not until I got into bed that night, anyway, and the light went out and I imagined her in her new room, on her own...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Timmy, meet Timmy

Squidgeling J is a self-confessed crazy cat lady. Apparently.

We have a cat - a male, about 7 or 8 years old, called Timmy. (Readers of Granny Rainbow will know about Timmy, because when he was younger, he used to bite me when he was hungry.)

Giving me his 'Feeeed meeee!' face. And yes, that IS a beauty spot.

Timmy has always been a creature of habit. He's more Squidgeling J's cat than anyone else's - he will snuggle up on her stomach when she's sitting in 'her' chair, or snooze on her blue blanket on her bed. Late evenings, he becomes very fickle and sits on Mr Squidge's lap, and he's also taken to sleeping on Squidgeling T's bass guitar case in the run-up to bedtime. Oh, and 5.30am? That's my turn, as he knocks things off my bedside table in an attempt to get his breakfast. But I digress.

I mentioned recently that Squidgeling J is off to uni soon - and she's often said what will she do without Timmy?

So I came up with a plan.

One of Mr Squidge's old school friends is a felt artist - Stephanie Cowburn. She specialises in making bespoke toys and models of people's pets, so I thought it would be a good idea to get a Timmy Two made for Squidgeling J to take away with her. I sent the photos... front, back, sides, and my cheque, and then I waited...

Today, Timmy Two arrived.

Timmy Two!

Front, back and sides! Amazingly accurate...

According to Stephanie, he's a bit of a lush, as shown in the photo she sent me just before he was posted.

Anyway, after introducing Timmy Two to Squidgeling J (who laughed her head off and then cuddled him on her stomach like the real thing), we decided to introduce the real Timmy to Timmy Two.

A tentative sniff, a cautious paw...and then Timmy whacked Timmy Two on the nose! He obviously recognised him as a cat (proof of how lifelike Stephanie can make these toys!) ... and got really flustered. In fact, I tried again later, and as soon as Timmy Two came out of his box, the real Timmy's eyes dilated and he prepared to pounce. So poor Timmy Two's got to stay in his box until he arrives in Bristol, or he might get into a scrap before he goes...!

Stephanie also makes EXTREMELY lifelike miniature memorial models of dogs, and is currently putting together a book that's been commissioned, telling the stories of the real dogs on whom some of her models were based. Due for publication this time next year...

Squidgeling J has a 'Timmy' to take with her on her great university adventure. Thank you, Stephanie!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A tumbleweed blog?

I've not written a blog for weeks. Sorry. Not because I'm deserting the blog, but you know sometimes, life just seems to get in the way? There's so much going on that you could tell people, but actually, there's no time to write it all down? Well, yeah - that.

So here's a very brief summary of what's been happening.

The kitchen: Still unfinished. Still waiting for two doors, a working radiator, a floor, for cupboards to be straightened and niggly snags to be ironed out. But everything works, so we have moved back in and we're gradually beginning to remember where we've put the saucepans and bottles of squash and the Tupperware lids.

Birthdays: I am now the mother of an adult. Squidgeling J celebrated her 18th birthday and we held a joint 'open house' for family and friends to enjoy her 18th and my belated 50th. It was a lovely day, the highlight of which was the rainbow layer cake J made for me. Can you believe that we don't have a single photo of it, though? I was so busy with food and chat, I never managed to pick up the camera...

GCSE's: Squidgeling T did really well, with A's, 7's and 8's (which are A's and A*'s in last year's money!) a C (Spanish. Not a surprise) and B in FSMQ. He's now in 6th form at a new school, hard at work.

University: We're in the final countdown before Squidgeling J leaves home for Bristol. I'm a little conflicted over this - I know she'll be fine, but I can't help worrying. We've been making lists and buying bits and pieces and packing and yes, I have shed a few tears on the QT...

Writing: This year, I decided not to go to the Festival of Writing because of its closeness to Fresher's Week at Bristol. But I HAVE been writing. I'm about halfway into my rewrite of Rurik, doing bits and pieces every now and again. I can't wait to be able to carve out some time every day and work through even more of the old material to make it read even better.

Flowers: I helped one of the other churches in town with the arrangements for their flower festival. Situated in St. Joseph's Chapel, I plumped for a woodworking theme...

Library: We have popped into the library at school, but what we can do is a little limited at the moment because we are waiting for an update to the system in a couple of weeks.

So there we are. A very speedy catch up. Hopefully there will be more time to write blogs in the near future, and I'll manage at least one a week from here on...