Chat · Lifestyle

7 things which brighten my February


The tinsel is back in the loft but we’ve still got six weeks of winter. How does that even work out? Like many bloggers this week I am asking myself what is the point of February? Dark mornings. Dull skies. Rain. Endless rain.

We talk about seasons as if they are places we arrive at, fixed destinations when in fact the world is always turning. February is part of that cycle and it seems a pity that so many people want to put it on fast-forward. When I look past the rain there is really quite a lot to love about February. There lies the trick. The sun may not be shining right now but that doesn’t mean we create our own warmth.

This list is by no means exhaustive but here are some of the little things which brighten my world. What’s making your day brighter?bird

String lights: One reason January and February hit people hard is the post-Christmas blues. As winter rolls in we string up tinsel and fairy lights. Our houses twinkle and glitter throughout December. Why is it tradition to take those lights down in the darkest weeks of the year? 

String lights are cheap and cheerful and they bring back some of that festive glow. Suggestion: add string lights to a glass jar.

img_4807Book Post: Publishing people. I love you regardless of whether you send me post. You turn manuscripts into stories, you turn stories into masterpieces and you create something which genuinely makes the world a better place. You’re fantastic guys. BUT. When book post lands in my letter box it brightens my day. Every. Single. Time.

Migratory Geese: I live near a salt marsh. From October through to Spring we share our local area with migratory geese. Twice a day they fly past my house – on their way to feed and as they come in for the evening roost. Right now the geese are gathering ready for migration. This afternoon the sky filled with geese and it was the most beautiful sight.

img_3882Kitty Snuggles: Maisie comes to me when the house is quiet. She’s a Heffalump of a cat who rolls around when she wants a tickle. Willow is Little Miss Dainty Paws. She is a hunter, a burrower. Her favourite thing is to crawl beneath a blanket or dressing gown and snuggle right up to her chosen human. There is no doubt my girls play a big part in my life.

img_4881Cosy Boots: I don’t care what they look like on my feet. My booties are like a hug for my calves and feet. Cosy anything sounds about right. Onesies, leggings and bobble hats are all welcome here.

Bath stuffs: The Body Shop outlet sold off Christmas bubble bath in bundles. I kid you not. Our bathroom is all about frosted plum and vanilla chai. They smell so nice it is a wonder we ever emerge from our bubbly kingdoms.


Monty Don:  As much as I love the Solway it isn’t the sunniest place in the world. No worries – Monty Don is bringing paradise gardens right to my living room. Did you know pavilions came into being because nomadic people based them on tents? Dream fodder. 


What is brightening your world? Perhaps you enjoy the long, dark nights? Let me know in the comments below.



Chat · Lifestyle

What’s affecting your productivity?



I saw this idea over at The Everygirl and wanted to write my own thoughts about productivity. Which habits make us less productive? Let me stress – this is not a lecture. The most difficult thing about Social Media is seeing other people’s apparently impossible standards. Comparing yourself to a curated image will never make you feel better.  This post is designed for people who would like to get more out of their creative sessions but who don’t know how to turn their procrastination into work time.

Lots of posts exist about procrastination. Most of them will tell you that horrible truth. The golden rule: only you can put that work in. Some advice posts leave you there. You’ve had the lecture, you know the score and the rest is up to you. OK … but I think we all encounter these difficulties and we learn along the way. One person’s solution will be different from another. The key is to identify which behaviour is currently detrimental to your work ethic. 

Which habits stop you from getting the most out of your work time? Here is my list of ideas: birdPetty distractions:

  • Set a time or a work-goal for tea breaks and stick to it. If this is a regular time it will become habit, and you will find it easier to stick to.
  • Limit what you eat and drink during working time. Which foods distract you? Is it choosing a sugary snack or munching your way through the nut selection? Cut it from your working time or limit it to one portion a day. I will eat chocolate to procrastinate, but only eat healthy stuff if I am hungry.
  • Set social media times. Keep your phone out of reach and work with the internet off if you possibly can.
  • Get real – is it a job or another distraction? It is easy to convince yourself you need to type that email, respond to that comment and do your online shopping but if you are serious about your goals you need to give them time.
  • Don’t panic if you get distracted! Don’t berate yourself. Again, please let me stress these are not rules. Nobody can be perfect all the time. The worst thing you could do is go back to work in a negative frame of mind.


Vague goals and unrealistic objectives:

My rule of thumb: if I am flicking on to social media on a regular basis, my writing goal is probably too vague. Every writer – published and unpublished, fiction writer, blogger or journalist – learns that there is only one way to fill the blank screen. That doesn’t mean you should sit staring aimlessly at it for hours. If you aren’t typing, ask yourself why. Is it because you need a clearer plan for the next paragraphs? Because you haven’t made enough notes? If so take it back to the drawing board.

Make your plans realistic within the time available. The desperation to be better and achieve more has killed many creatives before they have started. If you have an hour you will not be producing half a novel. Or a beautiful new blog. You might write a draft a decent blog post or write 1000 words. Know from experience how much you are likely to achieve.


Not taking time for yourself:

We have six books to review. We want that novel drafted. We want to improve our photography or our web-design skills. We need to respond to our social media. Sometimes this thing called real life gets in the way too. Guys … there will never be enough time in the day, but if you work work work you will burn out.

  • Set a finish time. Excepting Fridays, my internet is supposed to go off at 8pm. I need some hours in the day where I am not in contact with the giant web of information.
  • Allow you-time. Blogging and writing are hobbies, but if you aspire to turn them into a career, odds are you’re working hard at them. Make sure you factor in down-time.
  • You-time is not for planning. I’ve spoken to lots of bloggers who are like me. INFJ-types. Over-thinkers. You have to allow yourself head space. If you find this difficult try some meditation techniques or ‘active rest’ (engage your brain in something repetitive like cross-stitch or Sudoku.)
  • Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. You need sleep to function. You need sleep to think. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.


Which are your worst habits? How do you overcome them? Let me know in the comments below.


Chat · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan Author Talk

img_4910‘All I had was this character’ says Brian Conaghan regarding the origins of his collaboration with Sarah Crossan. Both writers had launched successful debuts and been nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Awards. Prose poetry novels were unheard  in UKYA before Sarah Crossan debuted with The Weight Of Water. She was told it wouldn’t sell, but it has now sold in multiple countries. When Brian Conaghan wanted to put his new character into a prose poetry novel, he knew Sarah Crossan was the person to consult.

What were their priorities? Sarah Crossan spoke of the need for a similar work-ethic. They were working in a tight time frame, so she needed to be certain the work would be done.

The novel developed in a series of online conversations. During the writing stage, Crossan wrote Jess’s parts, and Conaghan wrote Nicu’s. While editing the authors worked together. The ending was planned in one session. Crossan spoke about the different ways the ending could have evolved, but said the priority was for both characters to grow and develop as a result of their experiences.

Crossan spoke about the pressures of writing an ‘Own Voices’ character. Both authors wanted the voices to be authentic, and agreed that it is important to be sensitive to the fact that they have not lived ‘the real experience’. Conaghan spoke about his experiences as a teacher, saying he wanted to give voice to the children he worked with who were not represented in fiction. He also spoke about the ability to empathise with the outsider experience – he has not lived Nicu’s life, but has experiences which enable him to empathise with Nicu and create his character.

How do they write about difficult themes? Crossan stressed the importance of universally img_4908relatable themes, referring particularly to Moonrise, her latest YA work. Moonrise is about a character on death row, an experience which only a small number of people can relate to, but the story is also about death and dying which is a universally relatable experience.

Advice for writers included accepting rejection and a strong work ethic, and not being afraid to make mistakes and show other people your work.

Thank you to Newcastle University School of English and Seven Stories for the opportunity to hear from Conaghan and Crossan at this free event. For those of you who are not aware, Seven Stories is the national centre for children’s literature. It hosts great exhibitions and events, and houses the largest archive of children’s fiction in the UK.


Nonsense Language in Children’s Fiction


51-yvglu2bolI had a spare hour in London, and found myself in the Tate Modern Bookshop. As you do. They have the most wonderful selection of picture books, chosen for artistic merit. One which is now top of my wishlist is Du Iz Tak? It features a series of vignettes about the lives of insects. A grasshopper plays the violin. A spider builds a nest. The insects talk to each other in dialogue. What makes this book remarkable, aside from its illustations, is that the insects talk in a nonsense language. 

Du Iz Tak? 

What is that? 

How is it possible that we know what those insects are saying. Visual information provides us with context, but even without those images, most people would come to the same conclusion. This is about language conventions. It is the same formula which makes Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky so appealing. We know which words represent nouns, which represent adjectives. Slithy – adjective. Wabe – noun. gyre – verb. Gimble? You get the jist. 

Isn’t every word, after all, a made up word? 

Here are some examples of made-up language in children’s literature and culture:


Perhaps the most famous example of nonsense language in children’s culture, The Jabberwocky tells the story of a young knight who goes out on a quest to slay the fearsome Jabberwock. 


Edward Lear:

A runcible spoon is a three-pronged fork which curves like a spoon, but this is not thought to be what Lear had in mind when he wrote The Owl And The Pussycat. The world ‘runcible’ appears in different contexts throughout his work. 



Eh-oh! This simple greeting caused outrage when the Teletubbies hit our screens in the mid-90s. Children would imitate it! They might never learn to speak! It was infantile! Guess what? The programme was aimed at children who spoke in babble, and a word, after all is a sound which denotes meaning. 


The Sims:

The Sims was at peak-popularity when I was 12 or 13. A school-friend and I spent a happy year getting hyper over Sim language. Whole websites are dedicated to translating Sim language, presumably so you can understand phrases like ‘why did I let the fireworks off indoors?’ or ‘I swear this pool had steps two minutes ago’. 




Furbies – first generation, 90s-kid Furbies – were programmed to begin life speaking entirely in Furbish, and gradually learn the chosen language as they worked through their electronic cycle. The adverts promised children that Furbies were clever creatures who learned via imitation. Happy hours were spent by circles of preteens swearing and their Furbies, and listening with bated breath for imitation. (Our childhoods were simple but fulfilling, folks.)  Unfortunately, the same promise caused people to think Furbies were picking up language, and they were actually banned by American intelligence agencies. Really? Toys which spy on their owners? Not back in 1999 … 


Louise Nettleton

Du Iz Tak is published by Walker Books UK.


Maps in Children’s Fiction – Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

mapsbannerThe lovely people at Scholastic sent me a finished copy of Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. I was excited for a number of reasons. Brightstorm is a wonderful novel, and it was a lovely surprise to have a finished copy as well as an ARC. On top of that the cover is beautiful and there is something extra-special about the design. There is a map printed on the front flap of the novel. 

Brightstorm centres around exploration, and two adventures to South Polaris – one which went tragically wrong, and one which aims to investigate what happened. The world is divided into three continents. Place names on the First Continent sound familiar: Chesterford, London, Popplewick. I live in Britain, and these places could be down the road. Places on the Second Continent sound unfamilair, but we understand what they are: Sand Dunes and The Citadel, for example. By the Third Continent we have The Everlasting Forest and The Impassable Mountains, names which sound as if they come from a fantasy story. I *love* this scale of familiarity. It makes me understand the urge to explore which drives some of the characters. 

Vashti Hardy told me more about the map, and how it progressed through the writing and publication of Brightstorm: 

Hand drawn map by Vashti Hardy

Drawing a map was one of the first things I did when planning Brightstorm. It started off as a much more simplistic version, then I redrew and added features as the story developed. Sometimes I plot directly onto a map — for example I drew an enlarged version of the Third Continent and wrote the main plot points on there with lots of arrows, notes and scribbles about what was physically going on, as well as where the characters were in their emotional journey. I’m quite visual in my planning so putting the plot onto a physical map really helps me to untangle the story! 

Finished Map designed by Jamie Gregory

The map proportions changed a little because of where it’s located in the physical book (it’s a little thinner), so the positioning of the continents is different to the original. This was tricky as I had to check Arthur and Maudie’s journey was still logical and the distance versus time frames still held together — on my original I used a scale of approximately half a centimetre to a day’s travel by sky-ship. Hopefully this gives it an element of authenticity. We had to move the position of the Citadel, the sand dunes and the Last Post eastwards for the final book version, and there are a few features a bit more open to artistic license (the ice lake proportion for example!). But I think that’s OK as sometimes important features on maps are exaggerated and I love the final book version. 

Drawing a map helps me to consider the wider world outside of the main plot: the previous discoveries, the history, and the tiny details which filter in. I think if the wider world is fuzzy in the writer’s head it will be for the reader. Small snippets of information about the wider world filter in naturally then, which hopefully all helps to persuade the reader that the Wide really does exist, somewhere…

Vashti Hardy – author of Brightstorm 
Do you have a favourite fictional map? Do you like it when books come with maps? Let me know in the comments below.

Many thanks to Vashti Hardy for your time and information, and to the people at Scholastic UK for my copy of Brightstorm.


10 ways to keep Christmas alive

christmaseverydayWish it could be Christmas every day? While some people are pleased to get back into their daily routine, others would wear a Christmas jumper every day if only it wouldn’t spoil the magic of it. My Mum, sister and I have almost elfish levels of Christmas tolerance. My sister’s room has affectionately been called ‘the grotto’ for the past six weeks, while I wrap every one of my tree decorations in tissue paper and bubble wrap to ensure they are safe. Every single one.

Would it be Christmas if it came every day? The good news is you don’t have to decide. If Christmas is something you enjoy, there are ways to bring festive sparkle to even the dullest January.bird

Christmas tree farm in Iowa.Keep a live Christmas tree – this is a great idea for people with garden or patio space. My neighbours in London had a live tree. It was waist-high that first year, and the cutest thing is the new growth looks different, so you can see how much it has grown. I have a patio cherry tree which I bought eight years ago. I love watering and tending to my little tree. It isn’t high-maintenance, but encourages me to potter in the garden.


Keep a decoration out – A Simple one. It wouldn’t be special if we had them all out everyimg_4607 day, but why not keep one decoration out of the box? In my experience one misses the box, and it makes me smile to see them through the year. I have also wondered whether to keep my synthetic flowers out for bookstagram purposes.


Craft – start in the next few weeks, and you should have enough handmade cards for Christmas 2018. From cross-stitching to card-making to papercutting, many crafts have a back catalogue of Christmas patterns available.


Gingerbread person DNA.

Enjoy your food – If you enjoyed cooking or baking for Christmas, why go back to ready-meals? A three-course meal isn’t feasible every day, or even on a weekly basis, but whether it is baking on a Saturday, hosting a dinner party or starting a foodstagram account, you can turn food into a fulfilling hobby.


Visit a donkey sanctuary – When I lived in London, my favourite place to visit was Redwings Ada Cole in Essex. I sponsored a donkey for years, until he died. I kid you not, the sanctuary host birthday parties for their adoption club residents. You can sing happy birthday to a donkey and watch them eat donkey-friendly cake. I’ll never forget Ada Cole. It is a super-special place.


11781267186_ccfca86bbd_bBecome a visual merchandiser – Use your decorating skills to promote brands and make shops beautiful. As well as thinking up decorative schemes throughout the year, you will never have more fun than at Christmas. (Who did you think did the Liberty window? The Christmas Elves?) Check out entry routes and qualifications here.


Louise Nettleton

Would you like more Christmas in your year? What do you do throughout the year that keeps Christmas alive? Let me know in the comments below.





This is not another post knocking resolutions. I have made my blogging goals. Whether or not you make them ahead of the new year, setting goals can help us move towards our ambitions. However, I did start a series of anti-resolutions about my blog. It was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Should I keep my GoodReads up to date, or is life too short? Do I really want to sit through every Twitter chat? Do you know what? By thinking about what I didn’t want, I started to get a clearer picture of what was important to me. bird

  • Goodreads: I do not want to spend hours copying and pasting into GoodReads

Actually, I remain unresolved on this one. What I don’t want to do is copy and paste every review into every site for hours on end. People who go to GoodReads look for short, snappy round-ups of books and a couple of reasons to read them. I might review a smaller number of books separately on GoodReads, or resume the copy and paste with a small number reviewed separately. The New Year might be a good point to log back on – I can let myself off the catch-up session which is putting me off, and start afresh with 2018 releases.


  • Twitter chats: I do not want to go to every Twitter Chat

Humbug? Not necessarily. There is a Twitter Chat on almost every night of the week, between blogging communities, writing communities and the bookish network (yes there is overlap between these!). As a new blogger, and one who was a hermit in a previous life, I thought you ‘did’ these or ‘didn’t’. Maybe new bloggers are just overenthusiastic. The result was I went to chat after chat, until I had nothing left to say. I joined in on nights when I was exhausted, nights when I wasn’t mad-keen on the book in discussion and nights when the topic wasn’t relevant to me. (This was a writing chat. I learned SO MUCH from these chats, and spoke to so many great people, but I joined in a couple of chats about issues so far past the publication point they were just not something an unpublished writer could talk about.) My point? I want to share the best of myself, look after my mental health and enjoy time offline too.


  • Social Media: I won’t make every comment sparkle

Sorry. Sometimes all I can say is ‘that looks amazing’. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? There are two or three bloggers who I admire very much. They have great blogs, and whenever I say this about a new release, they share information about the book. You know what? With more information and another enthusiastic reader to talk to, I often find more to say. 


  • I won’t write 7 pieces a week

Two reviews, Top Ten Tuesday, Waiting On Wednesday and a Chat. What if I have three things to say? Or could share one short anecdote? I don’t have a formula yet, but this year I would like to work on original content. I want to learn from bloggers in different spheres, and most of all I would like to hear from my readers. What do you like to read most? 


2018 will be the year I move away from having a blog to running one. 2018 will be the year I work on original content. 2018 will be the year where I socialise to move my blog into new networks. That doesn’t mean there won’t be books, book talk or time for the wonderful bookish chat I enjoyed through 2017. Far from it. The point is I have dipped my toes into the blogging waters. Now it is time to take the plunge. Happy New Year to you all, and remember – resolutions are elastic. They are made, stretched, and restretched when your efforts do not bring the desired results. 


Have you made any resolutions? What do you think about starting in reverse? Let me know in the comments below.