Chat · Guest Post

Chocolate Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan Author Guest Post

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Chris Callaghan is the author of The Great Chocoplot. If you liked the sweets in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory you’ll love this. You’ll crave a Blocka Chokka bar as you follow Jelly on her quest to stop the Chocopocalypse. Part adventure, part hilarious satire on modern life, The Great Chocoplot is a fantastic read for Middle Grade readers and big kids alike. Read my review here. 

Chris has written about his memories of childhood selection boxes, and I am so pleased to welcome him for the 14th Day of Blogmas. Huge thanks for the wonderful post. bird

Selection Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan. 

The 1970s are where my childhood Christmas memories flutter around my head like the snow falling in Bedford Falls. But it isn’t all memories of Morecambe and Wise, fights over the double edition of the Radio Times, or Boney M having a ‘New Entry’ into the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops – some of my memories are of the classic selection box.

Gchriscchocolateboxeso into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you’ll find all manner of chocolate and sweetie delights, packaged in alluring festive trimmings. There will be the occasional box containing a few assorted treats but these, in my opinion, are not quite the same as the traditional selection box of my childhood.

 

I remember that they were a fairly standard present. Usually there to bulk-up a pile of other wrapped presents to enhance the ‘wow factor’ of that 5am entrance into the living room. Also, often handed out by next door neighbours or Auntie’s you hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Even before it was unwrapped you knew exactly what is was, with its distinctive flat, rectangular shape and gentle weight – but of course you had to pretend!

“Ooo, I wonder what it is?” we lied. Still maybe clinging to the hope that it was a Scalextric Set or an Airfix Millennium Falcon. But no, it was a few bars of chocolate and some sweets.

“Thanks, Auntie. That’s brilliant!” we lied again. (I sound a bit ungrateful, don’t I! But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of greed in Christmas – just embrace it!)

 

But once we’d got bored with our proper toys (I’m sounding like a brat again), it was the pile of selection boxes that drew our attention. The first game upon opening would be refitting the treat, which had fallen out due to the tradition gentle shake of the unopened present, into the corresponding compartment in the crinkly and surprisingly noisy plastic tray. Once this was achieved, the decision-making process began.

Do you keep your favourite bar until last or chomp it down right now? That is maybe a decision that a grown up would ponder for a while, but for a child on Christmas morning – it’s easy!! (Greed again)

 

texan_bar__16585I’d always choose the Texan Bar first. An impossibly chewy delight that would not only take forever to eat, but would also easily remove any stubbornly remaining baby teeth. The Texan Bar has since ceased production, probably on Health & Safety grounds!

Then there’s the obvious ones to go for: Galaxy, Mars Bar and a Flake (which would have to eaten while singing the song and pretending to be in the bath).

 

The selection boxes would always come with a game on the back, where you would have to cut out tiny counters from the box itself. Using paper scissors for this task was a nightmare, as they could barely cut paper, so had a hell of a job cutting card (often leaving sore red ring marks around our fingers and mangled bits of card as counters). The game itself could be completed in a few minutes, with minimal enjoyment and rarely got a repeat run.

 

The day after Boxing Day, which is a pretty dull enough day already, would mean our selection boxes had the stuff we really weren’t keen on. For me, this meant Marathon (yes, Marathon kids, not Snickers!) and Topic. Nuts in chocolate still sends shivers down my spine. Although, there was a certain fun in eating around the nasty crunchy bits and spitting them out into the convenient plastic tray area provided with the box. But then as New Year approached, the only sweets left were the ones that you would never buy and were only ever eaten because your own greed insisted that they had to be eaten. This was always the fruit version of Polos, for me. I’ve never been a fan of boiled sweets and even though the proper mint Polos were a regular favourite, these rock-hard luminous rings of sticky doom were not what I’d call a treat!

They were always stuck together by the world’s strongest super glue. It would take the rusty chisel in Dad’s tool box from the cupboard under the stairs to break them apart. Or, if you couldn’t wait, just treat it like one complete lolly stick. Being an impatient/greedy child, it was a huge effort to try and crunch on this multi coloured Polo lolly. The effort didn’t match the pleasure!

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I suppose a selection box could be something you might share. But as kids (and as grown-ups) do we really, really want to share? There might have been the odd thing that was swapped with my little sister, but only if I’d gain an advantage, like swapping a Twix for Curly Wurly. A Twix is, let’s face it, a glorified biscuit, while a Curly Wurly is a … well, it’s a Curly Wurly, isn’t it!!

But as it’s Christmas, I should end by saying that we should all share what we have, because that’s what the festive season is all about. (There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean it, but I’ve said it.)

So, enjoy yourselves, and if you have to share something, make sure it’s something you don’t really like. A tube of fruit Polos, for example.

 

Happy (Greedy) Christmas!

 

Do you have a favourite selection box? Which chocolate would you eat, and which would you trade? Let me know in the comments below.

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Chat · Q & A

2018 Deubt Author Sophie Anderson – Christmas Cracker Q&A

The House With Chicken Legs is a 2018 debut I am particularly excited about. Inspired by the myth of Baba Yaga, it is set in a house with chicken legs and a mind of it’s own. Everything about it sounds magical. You can read more about why I’m so excited in my Waiting On Wednesday post, where I flagged the book up as one to watch out for. Author Sophie Anderson kindly agreed to tell me about her dream Christmas cracker. Read about the book, then check out her answers!

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About the Book: 

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…

Available from Usborne Publishing

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Christmas Cracker Q&A:

If you could create a cracker… Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?  Miniature books! ‘My Miniature Library’ by Daniela Terrazzini contains thirty tiny books to create; including fairy tales, nonsense rhymes, and nature guides. It looks delightful! (and perfect for anyone making home-made crackers)

 

What sort of hat would you wear? Something sparkly, made of moonbeams and magic.

 

What would you hope to see inside? Even the tiniest book contains infinite magic – so a miniature book would be enough for me!

 

Which fictional character would you pull it with? A House with Chicken Legs of course! Then I would sit on its roof and read us the story, as it danced beneath a star filled sky.

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Bookish Stocking – Fabric and Accessories

stockingbannerStockings. They’re still tradition in our house, even though we’re out of small people. Everyone gets a stocking. Even the cats have one this year. Nothing could be more joyous. Traditions in my stocking include the giant chocolate penny, which is always in the foot, and little cosmetics from the Body Shop. 

If you want to theme a stocking for a bookish person – a lover of kidlit especially – here are some fabrics and gifts to get your ideas going. Hover the mouse over the pictures for links.birdFabric (*squee* Moomins!) –

 

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What do you hope to see in your stocking? Do you have any traditions? Let me know in the comments below.

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Christmas Cracker Q&A – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl

The first thing I remember thinking about Harry Potter? I wish Christmas crackers were like that. I was – by happy luck – nine and three-quarters years old when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time. The plot had me hooked, but it was chocolate frogs and live mice in Christmas crackers which made me want to be part of JKR’s world. 

This Blogmas I will ask authors and book bloggers to design their dream Christmas Cracker. First up is Amy from GoldenBooksGirl. Amy is a new blogger this year. She has so much to say about children’s literature, and so much time for everyone that she’s taken to blogging like a … wizard to levitation. She’s also the blogger who makes me braver. From clicking request on Netgalley for the first time (oh yeah, but it was such a big deal back in June), to asking for real actual proof copies or emailing authors to ask if they will do an interview. Amy, without you the mouse button would still be hovering over ‘request’. 😀 

Anyways. Here’s Amy’s dream cracker:

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Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place? 

I am not a big fan of cracker jokes, unlike my uncle who takes great glee in reading every single one. 
This is one of his favourites: What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas Quacker! It’s also one I can bear, so I’d put that in.
 

What sort of hat would you wear?

I generally try to swap paper crown with the person who has the purple or pale pink one.
 

What would you hope to see inside?

The best thing I have ever gotten out of a cracker (which was from Dog’s Trust) were some really gorgeous magnets with dogs on them. 
 

 Which fictional character would you pull it with?

I am incredibly competitive and pride myself on never losing a cracker pull. If they lose I don’t care who they are, but I’d probably let Ade from Boy in the Tower win as he’s so brave and inspirational and lovely. Or Sam from Ways to Live Forever for similar reasons.

 

Check out GoldenBooksGirl 

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Check back on the 10th of December when 2018 debut author Sophie Anderson will answer the same questions!

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8 Novelty Presents Where The Novelty Wore Off

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There’s no need to buy Christmas presents this year. Not in our house. Between the garage, the loft and the cupboard under the stairs, we have a house full of presents-past, which have barely been touched. It would make a great sleepover, if I could be bothered to go through the packing boxes.

We moved two years ago. Plenty went to charity shops, but the move happened in a small time frame. You have to pity the removal company. They boxed it all up, and here it is. Still unsorted, thanks to the additional storage in the new house.

Here are some of the unloved Christmas presents I would find if I went through the boxes. Reader – buy wisely. You may want it for Christmas, but will you want it once the novelty wears off? bird1-1213888416aexzPopcorn Maker. And Ice-cream maker, and fondue set. We didn’t go so far as the chocolate fountain. The Ice-cream maker had a healthy run during my childhood, but the others were gimmiks all the way.

Scalextric.  Every birthday between the ages of eight and 13, Dad tried to persuade me I wanted a Scalextric. He nearly succeeded when I was ten. Eventually the truth came out. The only thing my daddy ever wanted. As a small boy, he had a car track, but not an actual Scalextric. A family decision was made to buy the one thing Dad had ever wanted. How many times has it been played with? I reckon twice.

Robin Felting Kit. Still knocking around in my bedroom from last Christmas. It’s your fault, Kirstie Allsopp. You made it look so easy. Stab the polystyrene and the felt attaches. Stabby, stab, stab, and you too have a claim to creativity. What happened when I stabbed the polystyrene? The felt fell on the floor, and I made a small hole.

Grabby Machine. Think Toy Story. Think the Clllllaaaawwww. Own your very own (mini) arcade machine, and enjoy infinite goes to get things out. Great fun, until you snorkelling_with_the_swollen_purple_headrealise if you ever want to play with it you’ll have to fill it yourself. Put stuff you might want in, and everybody falls out over the fiver. Put tat in and nobody can be bothered to play with it. We bought this for a get-together and it was definitely a one-hit wonder. 

Hair braiding. This goes back to when I was nine or ten, and was probably advertised in a pre-teen magazine. Hands up who remembers Girl Talk? Star Girl? 1990s Zoella. I have the kind of hair which grows outwards rather than down, and zilch interest in the methods required to tame it. 

71sv4w2iyul-_ac_us218_Adult Colouring Book. It’s mindful. It’s got pretty little bunny rabbits amid intricate designs. I might have finished half a page. 

Modern Monopoly. Like standard Mononpoly, except you get a pretend credit card, and even the brown ones are beyond the wildest dreams of Millenials. Instead of chance cards, some flipping machine can hit you with a ‘chance’ at any moment and rob you of your hard-earned cash. Enough to sour family relations. 

Wii Fit. Not a computer game, not exercise, and it is galling when a nine year-old beats wii_balance_board_transparentyou at hula hoops because you have no co-ordination. Go for a walk. There’s more to see. 

Clockwork Seal. If I had more display space, this would be out. It is an object of beauty. Wind it up and it flaps its flippers. Only … there’s not much more to do with it, and it gathers dust. 

 

rainbow_loom_multicolored_bandsOne I would Keep: Loom Bands. I bought the first packet for ‘research’. Could I teach my Rainbows how to make a simple bracelet? The sparkly blue, the grape-scented purple and the official Rainbow Loom? Those were all for me. This shouldn’t have been a hobby I clicked with. Aside from being 20 years older than the average weaver, I have no coordination. Guess what? I got into intricate designs, as demonstrated by tween vloggers. Great fun. 

 

 

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London Round-up

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So ends radio-silence. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had an appointment in London, and stayed a few days with family. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I’m glad I live elsewhere. Most of the time. It was strange to be in a place so familiar, and to feel so shut-out from it. I grew up in London. Lived there for nearly 26 years without seeing a fraction of the major attractions. It was always there for another day. I lived in the suburbs, which made it just enough of an effort that I talked myself out of getting to know the town.Now I live in a place of open sky. Of migratory birds, and fells and marshland. Most of the time that is where I would rather be, but I am grateful to have a place to stay in London. 

The main event this year was the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. I img_4053watched the programme ahead, and although this contained spoilers, it completely raised my expectations. I hadn’t realised it was such a large exhibition. 

It was beyond everything I had hoped. 

I’m wary of too many spoilers, but here’s an overview. The exhibition is divided by Hogwarts subjects. It contains original material from JKR, manuscripts and objects relating to magic from over the centuries, and other Potter paraphernalia. There is also original material from Jim Kay, the artist responsible for the new illustrated editions. I hadn’t realised his paintings were so huge! In my dream-life, I would hang one of these on my study wall. There are also some clever digital sideshows, such as a potions-making game. 

img_4063The highlight for me was the original material, both from Kay and Rowling. It was lovely to see how Potter progressed. My favourite artifact was one of Rowling earliest attempts to write a scene from Potter. No spoilers – but a word of advice. Rowling’s material attracts the largest crowds. Behave as if this is a queue – join the end, and walk along the display cases. It only takes a couple of people before everyone does the same thing, and those who don’t want to wait can peep over shoulders rather than see the whole case. This takes longer than trying to scrum in, but ensures you see every object clearly. This is Britain, after all – people know the rules of a queue. Join the end, and wait patiently for your go. 

img_4101This trip could be described as ‘the big kid’ trip. Sure, I went to the Tate, but even the exhibition there encouraged adults to rediscover their inner-child. I’m talking about the swings in the Turbine Hall. The message is supposed to be about the power when we work together, and how we could free ourselves from the force of economics if we worked together. Nice idea … but I went higher on the swings when I sat alone. Could be a metaphor for my life. We’ll return to that in a couple of years. In the meantime, if anybody wants to donate for a replica set of swings to be built on my village green, I’ll ensure they get a plaque. 

I also visited old favourites – Hamleys, Disney and Foyles. Self-explanatory, but I’ll share some pictures. I was lucky not to be evicted from Hamleys, ‘Have a go,’ said the cheery sales-assistant, handing me a giant frisbee. Well, nobody asked whether I had co-ordination. I really didn’t mean to lob it at that crowd of tourists …. 

 

Do you have a favourite place to visit in London? Have you seen the Potter exhibition yet? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Delayed NaNoWriMO: Week 1

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Week one? I had 6500 words when I went to London. A week’s delay, and guess what? I wanted to change everything about my introduction. So I cheated. I’m doing ‘delayed start’ NaNoWriMo. 

Let me tell you a secret. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t convinced. Word counters? Chat boards? Shouldn’t I be writing? Week One has persuaded me there is value to this exercise. The word counter and word sprints encourage forward momentum. Those words may not be perfect, but perfection is not the objective. This is draft zero. The rough draft. The point is to get something down.

I’m private about my writing, but the second thing NaNo encourages is networking. I have shared a fragment with a couple of trusted people, and their feedback is encouraging. I haven’t investigated the chat boards yet, but it is great to know they are there. Maybe there will be a plot hole in my story which needs talking over, or a character others can help me develop. In the meanwhile, it is just great to have so many people in my Twitter network aiming for the same thing. It’s amazing how a few positive words can keep you going. 

So what about my project? It’s a Middle-Grade novel. I’ve been working on it for five or six weeks, but the ideas have shifted within that time. I’ve probably written nearly 50,000 words already, but that’s across a couple of starts, a couple of endings, and some key scenes. In other words, I’ve played with ideas, and I have a firm idea of some things which will happen. I’ll tell you more later on. There is nothing worse than sharing ideas too early. They come out like unset blancmange. If you’ve ever spoiled blancmange, you’ll know it makes you want to hang up your apron.  

I’m sold on the principal – a month’s hard work to get ideas out. Time limits often spur people on to work, and as of week one, it is having that effect on me.