Thursday, 22 March 2018

The End is Near for One of my Favouritist Places in the World – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn.



In 2013 my family relocated. Everything was new. New House. New school. New Job. New clubs. And thanks to out trusty steed ‘Volvo’ biting the dust also a new car. To make matters worse I’d moved away from critique group (the much talented Oxford wing of SCBWI BI), and further away from closest writer friends, (Jo and Nicki –are your ear burning?) But also increasing the distance between me and my most favourite shop, Mostly Books in Abingdon which I frequented in many different guises; customer, helper, general loiterer, to name a few. So with our lives being almost unrecognisable, it was a real boost to discover a gem of a local bookshop, one that was the embodiment of every bookshop and library I had ever imagined – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn. 



Stepping into The Cottage Bookshop is like entering into the Bookshop in ‘The Neverending Story,’ the smell, the seeming endless labyrinth of bookcases, the promise of numerous other worlds and adventures lurking between thousands of covers. I fell in love with the place instantly. The tiny cottage I was to learn had been a bookshop for over sixty years and in that time had added bookcase after bookcase, and housing over sixty thousand titles of every type, genre and book imaginable. It had also featured in television shows and had many famous customers over the years, and was in fact believed to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Library. 



So, once discovered I would voyage to The Cottage Bookshop when I need a pick-me-up, or for specific things. On one occasion the whole family spent three hours looking for just the right book to help my daughter with a history project. She was studying Elizabeth I and wanted a book that was non-fiction but written more like a novel but at her level. Eventually we unearthed just the thing, a book about Elizabeth’s reign written as if a novel. It was the right age range and pitched perfectly. To our surprize we found that it had travelled a long way, Published in 1953 by a US publisher, but sold originally in Brazil, the original price label still attached. 



My children owe in part (at least) much gratitude to The Cottage Bookshop and the treasures we have found there for some of their best grades, across numerous subjects, including an art ‘Selfie Maze’ project. But, The Cottage Bookshop is more than a destination for educational purposes for our family. We have spent many a Saturday morning walking the few miles from our house in the middle of nowhere, through the woodlands and fields, to the shop, to each buy a stack of books that we lug home, after stopping at the pub for a well-deserved coffee and read of course! 



The Cottage Bookshop always has a community feel, we once met a elderly lady there who had been visiting the shop since her childhood, and other times we bumped in to visitor from overseas. It is a much loved place, by many from near and far. However all good things must come to an end, and it was announced last week that after almost 67 years, the owner has put the building up for sale and that the bookshop will therefore be closing. So with a sad heart, I bid a farewell to The Cottage Bookshop and it lovely staff, and say, that it was a pleasure to have been a customer and to have discovered it with enough time to enjoy it in all its bookish eccentricities!


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

It's OK to Just Write...


I’ve not blogged in while, not since World Book Day back in spring! it’s a constant worry at the back of my mind, that I’m not blogging enough, that I’m not reviewing enough and that I’m not engaging enough on social media. Despite the constant nagging worry that often turns into guilt I have to try and convince myself that it’s ok.

It’s ok because life is busy, so far this year…
  • Moved House
  • About to facilitate another house move
  • Have had increased work to be done for my business
  • Helped my youngest child transition to secondary school
  • Helped set up a new charity Bookshop
  • Commenced house renovations 

And so on, I won’t bore you with any more details. But, as you can probably imagine, this means my writing time has somewhat diminished, and therefore I have to prioritise my writing activities.

So, for now my main priority is editing my current WIP MS under the careful guidance of my Golden Egg Mentor, and one and only Mother Goose Imogen Copper.



This may not sound too arduous, but it is time consuming. With every piece of feedback comes a necessity for latent thinking time in order to process and fully understand the issues raised and to come up with creative solutions that work with the remit of the story and world. Much of the time this also includes research to ensure that any factual elements are correct (as we don’t want a Star Trek Discovery science type blunder to undermine our carefully constructed world). Of course research whether it is from books, web-sites or documentary's takes time to find and digest.



Here’s a photo of some of my last bought of research, which is rather an eclectic mix. I always think that it’s make a good game – looking at authors research materials and then trying to guess the plot. If you fancy trying it, please comment below.

Then there’s the plotting and planning, which again takes time, to het it right and ensure that timelines are correct and that the MS still conforms to you chosen plot structure.

Edit plan!
All in all it means when push comes to shove and time is short I have had to choose writing over blogging and social networking, Of course despite knowing it’s the right thing to do – to give myself permission to prioritise I still feel like I’m failing by not accomplishing everything on my ever increasing to-do-list. 

That being said, it’s taken a dislocated hip and trip to A&E to get me to properly accept that it is ok to just write. Although having said that I did find myself recommending books to the nurses for their kids, so I guess I’m actually still doing what I love - promoting children literature – just sometimes not on the web!

Well that’s all for now, I need to go edit!

Editing whilst recovering from dislocated hip - i appreciate the irony of the title!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

One Families Ups and Downs of World Book Day Costumes!

Image result for wbd




The approach to this years World Book Day is filled with the usual costume dilemmas and elation but for me it also has a tinge to sadness. The bittersweet felling is as a result of it being my youngest offspring’s last WBD in primary education, and therefore probably his last year to dress up! So after years of WBD horrors, dramas and successes this will be the last WBD as most of the upper school choose to mark it in other way: quizzes and in fact one school, (my daughters) have the teachers dress up and not the pupils as it’s ‘More fun that way’ apparently!

So, as my son deliberates whether to go as Mr Munroe from Chris Riddell’s Ottoline books, or Douglas Adam’s Marvin the paranoid android from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (but fashioned like the 2006 film played by Warwick Davis and voiced by the late great Alan Rickman) I thought I’d take a look back at the highs and lows of our families WBD costume dilemmas.

Despite WBD celebrating is 20th anniversary on the 2nd of March, I had no idea that it was even a thing, until one morning I had a panicked phone call from a friend, asking what my daughter was going to dress up as at preschool. This resulted in a whirlwind of activity, mostly emptying the dressing up box, until eventually I found an outfit my 3 year old would ware, sadly no photos exist so I shall describe it for you, she wore a silver space-suite onesie (which I think was a Thunderbirds costume), with a hat which was a green skullcap with a pink flower sicking out of the top, accessorised with a pair of wellington boots in yellow I think. I took my daughter to pre-school, where the teacher look at my daughter with pity and me with disdain and asked what books she was from, so thinking on my feet I quipped ; ‘The Times, she a genetically Modified Fruit.’


 The dreaded question; “what are you children dressing up as tomorrow, for Wold Book Day?”

After the horror, of our first WBD, we had a few years before it came back to throw us in to panicked costume making chaos, I don’t know if this is because the school did not celebrate it or if we happened to take our family holidays that week, but it wasn’t until my daughter was in year 2 and my son was in foundation class that our second almost equally unprepared WBD came around. So I was helping out in my son’s class when the teacher asked me the dreaded question; “what are your children dressing up as tomorrow, for Wold Book Day?”




Cue panic – cue scrounging a sheet of green card from the class craft draws, followed by an evening of frantic costume making. For my son, we re-used a green tunic we had made for a Robin Hood costume, and added a self-made Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake inspired Enormous Crocodile hat, and for finished it with a green tail from some silly catch the tail game. For my daughter, I borrowed a red cloak from a friend (I had a 12 mile round trip to collect it) and used it as the finishing touches to a Red Riding Hood ensemble. The extra evening of notice really made the difference between epic fail and scraping a pass.


Having had WBD sneak up on my twice I made a mental note to never allow it to happen a third time. So the next year, we started costume preparation a few weeks before. At the time both children were big into Greek Myths, my son obsessed by Lucy Coats 'Atticus' books, and my daughter by Rick Riordan’s 'Percy Jackson' series. Percy Jackson was easy, all I had to do was make wings for the shoes, and borrow a pre-crafted trident from a crafty friend. But my son wanted to be Medusa, so we went about fashioning a hat using pipe cleaners and pictures of snake heads for her hair. The costumes were fun, and the kids loved them- they also got a second outing at my daughters Greek Myth themed birthday a few weeks later.





So the next year we started to preparations way in advance or at least I did for my son, who wanted to be ‘Frankie’ from the (then) recently published ‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ by Mo O’Hara. This as I’m sure you can imagine wasn’t the easiest of costumes to create, so I opted again to make a hat. The hat took planning and to my son’s joy and my relief turned out well. My daughter’s costume was a dream by comparison, because it was the first and only time she completely arranged it herself.



She and her school friends all decided to go as characters from Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch books, and sorted out their own costumes from their collective dressing up boxes – easiest WBD costume ever. And on a whole a successful year.



12 months later and our lives (due to relocation) had completely changed: new house, new school, new car, new puppies, new jobs, new EVERYTHING, and living in a tiny rental house with most of our stuff in storage. So this year we – cheated. I had been asked by the children’s school to come in and do some WBD writing sessions, so we went as a family and brought a Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2 Costumes. Despite not having made the costumes, they were a success, and Thing 1 and Thing 2 still get used for school fun runs and alike!



My Daughters last year of Primary school and therefore her last year of dressing up was back to costume panic – as both children were reading books about rodents, my daughter – ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ by Robert C. O'Brien and my son ‘River Singers’ my Tom Moorhouse, and therefore a rat and a water vole costume was requested.



As I can’t sew, and I could find no rodent costumes to buy, so I enlisted the help of my mum, who crocheted some noses and ears for some plain woolly hats I had purchased. They were to make rodent head - you guess it - hats, and once assembled and worn with colour coordinated clothes, they worked really well. The kids were pleased, I was relived, and my mum was happy to have helped. It was all looking like a successful WBD costume year until…




… The Telegraph online newspaper ran an article; ‘World Book Day costumes: A parent's 7 stages of crisis’ and I was featured under section ‘7. Smug realisation that you are heading towards playground triumph .’ Being outed as a smug parent by a national newspaper did somewhat mar the feeling of that year's WBD costumes being a success.


Last year, 2016, was the first year of only needing to produce ONE WBD costume as as I’ve mentioned my daughters big school only permit teachers to dress up – weird I know. I however was busier than ever starting a new business and working for the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, meaning my time for costume making was somewhat limited. I therefore ran with the theme from work, and my son went in a BFG costume I brought. However being my son, he was not content without improving it, so we added a cape, a self-made dream trumpet (tin foil and toilet rolls, Blue Peter style!) and a suitcase (well old fashioned brief case) full of dream jars, plus a pair of paper plate ears. I wasn’t convinced it was successful WBD costume but he was happy which the main thing is.



You know I said that we only needed one outfit for 2016 WBD, and that I was prepard, well, at work, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, then told me the day before that also needed to dress up as a Dahl character, so cue - costume panic!



So it brings us up to date and the impending WDB 2017 which is just two sleeps away. You may be asking what did we decide, a Marvin, or a Mr Munroe? Well actually he changed his mind and he going as Gandalf from the Hobbit (which he’s currently reading). Of course it’s not without its issues, the beard we ordered was delivered and it was the wrong colour; white not grey (Gandalf is Grey in the Hobbit you know) so had to be returned, and we still have to go a whittle a branch to be a staff (although thanks to Doris finding a fallen bit of tree should be easy!) So far preparations seem to be going well. And hopefully 2017, our final year of WBD dressing up will be a success. Now where did I put that wizards hat?