Days Out · Non-Fiction

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.


The earliest Almanacs, according to the introduction to this one, were created over 3000 years ago. They were created by Ancient Egyptians, who listed dates that were thought to be lucky and unlucky. They were also used to help farmers know when to plant seeds and harvest crops. 

2020 Nature Month-By-Month takes inspiration from earlier almanacs but is catered to the modern-day and especially to children. It lists special days – from religious festivals to bank holidays – but it also suggests different activities to help its readers connect with the outdoors at different times of the year. 

The National Trust preserves some of the most special places in the UK, from coastline to land, to historic parks and gardens. According to its website, it believes that everybody has the right to escape to the outdoors. This comes across in this book, which goes to great efforts to suggest activities suitable to people in different areas and situations. We live in a society where fewer people than ever have outdoor spaces of their own and where cities are increasingly crowded and difficult to escape at a weekend. However, if we look around, we can find outdoors to interact with, even if it is the clouds above us and the puddles beneath our feet, and we can engage in activities that make us friends of the outdoors. 


As the title suggests, the pages are divided up by the month. Each month begins with a list of dates and anniversaries and then is separated into short sections about festivals, walks, birds, nightlife and craft among others. These sections are a page or two long but they are beautifully detailed. Although this is aimed at children lots of information would be of interest to a wide age range, making it perfect for families to share. 

The pages are beautifully illustrated with pictures of plants and animals and people enjoying outdoor spaces. Almanacs are one of the places to traditionally link illustration with nature and it is encouraging to see this continue. The art so clearly comes from observation and it makes the reader want to get outside and do some looking around of their own. 

Not only is this full of wonderful ideas, beautiful illustrations and fascinating facts, but it is a handy size perfect for slipping into a pocket or a rucksack. Get your walking boots or wellies on and prepare for a year of outdoor adventure fun. 


Thanks to Nosy Crow in association with The National Trust for my copy of 2020 Nature Month-By-Month. Opinions my own.

Days Out

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Material from David Almond’s notebooks

About Seven Stories

Imagine a place which celebrates children’s literature, illustration and all forms of creativity.

Seven Stories in Newcastle is home to the biggest archive of material related to children’s literature in the UK. It also has a visitor centre which host exhibitions, author visits and creative activity of all kinds.


My reason for visiting was to see the exhibition about David Almond’s work, Where Your Wings Were. I’ve loved Almond’s work since childhood, and every time I return to one of his stories I gain something new about creativity and humankind. His talks on art and the creative process have also influenced my writing and encouraged me to think deeper about the role writing plays in my life.

The exhibition explored different elements of Almond’s work, including the magic which exists alongside the everyday and the different settings around Newcastle.

Artwork by David McKee

I was delighted to find that an exhibition of David McKee’s artwork was on display at the same time. Elmer is another childhood favourite. My mum, sister and I read the stories together at bedtime. Seeing so many of the original illustrations on display made me think about McKee’s use of colour and space. The exhibition explored this, and also looked at McKee’s recurring themes of tolerance and letting everyone be free to be themselves.


A further gallery was dedicated to Aliens Love Underpants. This was very much a play space and we were impressed by the different elements of the book which had been picked out and recreated for visitors to explore and reenact. 

Thoughts after visiting 

Seven Stories is also a place where everybody is welcome. Sensory trails run alongside ordinary exhibitions. Adult dressing-up clothes hang alongside those for children. Quiet spaces are clearly signposted. Most especially, this is a space where families of all shapes and sizes are welcome. Seven Stories is the one place I have visited where it feels like nobody needs to explain themselves. Everyone can join in and everyone is welcome.

The centre understands how writing, drawing, dressing-up and play are connected. How one form of creativity leads to another. It is special to be in a place which encourages all kinds of art and expression.

I came away feeling as if my batteries had been recharged. Not only was I excited to return to my writing projects, but I also wanted to play with different types of art.

Look forward to a return visit at the first opportunity.


Louise Nettleton


Chat · Days Out · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh festival.


Her books are bestsellers, she’s sledded through the arctic in search of eagle hunters and her ancestor (according to the fun facts ahead of the event) plotted with Guy Fawkes. Abi Elphinstone writes middle-grade fantasy full of magic and animals and vast, untameable landscapes. I loved her writing from the word go and was delighted to see her at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 24.08.2018.

Elphinstone says her dream job – aside from being a writer – is to be a Blue Peter Presenter. I reckon they’d have her in a second. Her enthusiasm for her audience and her spirit of adventure made me think of Blue Peter long before she was asked her dream job by a member of the audience.

Her resounding message was you don’t have to be the cleverest person to be a writer. At the age of seven, Elphinstone’s life-ambition was to become a unicorn and it wasn’t until she was older that she found her way into writing through the places visited and things she saw in the natural world.

A slide-show of places which had inspired Elphinstone’s writing proved that adventures can be found closer to home as well as further away – from Tromso to some water off the M25, the outdoors has been a starting point for different aspects of Elphinstone’s writing.

I have never seen children so excited about reading. From pop-quizzes about arctic animals (with signed bookmark prizes) to the chance to try on a fox-fur hat, Elphinstone grabbed the attention of each and every child in her audience. This is what a book event should look like – excitement and chatter and children bouncing on their seats because they are so desperate to ask the next question.

Elphinstone’s final message was that she wrote four novels had had 96 rejections before publication. The people who get there, she says, are the ones who keep going no matter how many times they appear to fail. Failure is not finite. It is a stumble along the way. The audience (young and not so young) were left with more confidence in themselves and their eyes open for adventure. 

Following the event there was a signing. Having books signed and meeting authors is one of the most special and inspiring things about being a bookworm. Thank you very much to Abi Elphinstone for signing my books and for a memorable and uplifting talk. 




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Event round-up: Northern YA LitFest – The Supernatural and Fantastical in YA


NYA Literature Festival 

You may remember how much I enjoyed the first Northern YA Literary Festival back in March. Lots of other people did too, so much that the organisers held a spin-off event. The Supernatural and Fantastical in YA was held on Saturday 21st July 2018 at 53 degrees in Preston. 

The day was centered around two panels, with a merchandise stall, book stall, face painter and book-swap to keep everyone entertained. There were author signings following each panel and everyone in the queue got their books signed. 

Author Panels 


Fantasy: Melinda Salisbury (chair), Sally Green, Taran Matharu and Alexandra Christo. 

The first panel discussed fantasy-fiction – worldbuilding and infleunces and the place of fantasy YA in the publishing industry. 

The authors the importance of real-world themes in fantasy fiction. Stories are about issues and experiences from the real world whatever their setting. There was also some discussion abut how to keep a setting believable.  Melinda Salisbury suggested that even the most fantastical world should have real-world ‘touchstones’ and rules to remain believable. She used the example of a polar-bear in a jungle to suggest breaking certani rules would make a story difficult to beleive. Alexandra Christo reminded the audience that authors create stories, not worlds. The world exists to serve the story. 

Fantasy YA may be a bestselling genre, but consensus was it is seen as something lesser by the publishing industry. Melinda Salisbury suggested that people sometimes forget to take the real-world themes away from a fantasy story. 

The authors talked about their forthcoming work and current writng projects. Taran Matharu is working on a series with dinosaurs and Sally Green wants to write contemporary fiction. 

I have read Alexandra Christo’s novel and two of Melinda Salisbury’s series, and wait straight to the bookstall for my first taste of Sally Green and Taran Matharu’s works. Taran Matharu likened his series to a cross between Pokemon and Harry Potter. Sold, sold and sold. 



Supernatural: David Owen (chair), AJ Hartley, Melvin Burgess and Sally Green (standing in for Marcus Sedgwick.) 

What is the difference between fantasy and supernatural? Melvin Burgess summarised it very succinctly – fantasy is about worlds outside our own while the supernatural is about things from outside a world coming in. As in the first panel, the authors thought it was important for a story to feel as realistic as possible. AJ Hartley spoke about anchoring aimg_6576 story in reality. The more ordinary it feels, the more a reader is prepared to believe. 

Melvin Burgess and Sally Green spoke about exposition – revealing information which is relevant to the story without overloading it with irrelevant facts. 

David Owen asked possibly the most interesting question of all time -do zombies exist in the same world as ghosts? The reason this rarely happens is that both answer the question of what happens when we die. 


A big thanks to the organisers, University of Central Lancishire and all the authors who took part in the event. A large number of book events take place in London, and are out of reach to many people. Getting authors up North important and exciting. 

I can’t wait to the next NYA Literature Festival in March 2019. Rumour has it some stellar authors have already signed up and the publishing swag stall will be back. See you there? 

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Day Out: The Forbidden Corridor.



Staycation round-up #4. There is no term to describe The Forbidden Corner, a place of wonders found in Leybern, Yorkshire. Tourist attraction? Yes, but it is also a garden, a folly, a work of art and one man’s dream. Welcome to a place of giants and devils, boars and mice and grave-stones of men who got on the wrong side of fairies. And water. Healthy amounts of water. Please note: this picture contains pictures of the attraction.

There is plenty more to see, but it you want it to be a surprise, look away. 

At the entrance, we weren’t given a map but a tick-list of some of the strange things we might see. There are no sign-posts within the park. This is part of the fun. It is like a giant maze, except some of it is in a castle, some of it underground, some of it in gardens, and some of it more like a traditional hedged-in maze. The first time we found a view-point, I suggested we could map the park, but the trees are planted to obscure the attractions from the view-points. A lot of thought has gone into the design. 

As a party of three adults, we realised this was a friendly attraction for all ages. Certainly the school kids were having great fun, but so were the seniors. It is possible to play in the towers, or to admire the gardens. The thing everyone had in common was a healthy imagination. 


One huge point to consider is access: there are areas which are hard to access if you have mobility issues. Several of my closest blogging friends have mobility or balance issues, and I would suggest phoning for information on how much is accessible, and visiting on a spring day when you can enjoy smaller amounts of the park while others in your party explore the castle.

We enjoyed the cafe – plenty of regional food, and a spacious area to sit. 

It was a lovely introduction to the Yorkshire Dales. The funniest thing was, having gone to see the attraction, we ended up having a long walk. It is set in the most beautiful countryside, and I would love to go back and explore the general area. The Forbidden Corner is like the best sort of book, full of hooks to keep you walking. What can I say? I walked through a giant’s mouth, stuck my tongue out at a water daemon, and searched a mouses’ layer for a giant cat. It was like the best sort of dream, and I’m reluctant to wake up.  

The Forbidden Corner
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ, UK
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Staycation #3 – Beneath the Trees, Where Nobody Sees …



Beneath the trees, where nobody sees … our third Staycation day was a visit to the other side of the Solway. When we planned the Staycation, we had two objectives: to take time to stare, and to see more of the wider region around our home in Cumbria. Staycation day 3 cost us the petrol, and the price of our picnic, but it gave us so much in terms of our objectives. 


The trees? The wooden dude, who looks like the spirit of a dead tree come back to hunt img_2747the axe-man? We walked from Rockcliffe to Kipford. There are houses built on the cliffs. One of the gardens is populated with stange beings. Experincing it is like stepping into an Anthony Browne picture book. The more you look, the more you see, as some are hidden in the walls and trees. It is difficult to give this experince in photographs, but I have close-ups of some of the beings, including the masks which hang in the grotto. These sculptures and strange beings are out for the world to enjoy. There is no charge. It was lovely to see the land around someone’s house transformed by imagination. 

Along the way we heard woodpeckers, and various other birds. Birds have a huge presence on our side of the Solway. There are various sanctuaries, and the year is measured in swallows and migratory geese (who came back Spet 12th). The geese fly over the house twice a day – they feed in Scotland, but sleep in Cumbria.  Seeing them fly in is one of my favourite things.


After a picnic, we headed to Sandyhills, then had a nose at Sweetheart Abbey. As Edward I once said, if this is Scotland, I want more of it. We have planned a return visit, to the Robert Burns trail around Sweetheart Abbey, and plan to set-up for the day at Sandyhills next spring. 

What is the strangest or most lovely thing you have seen on a walk? Let me know in the comments!

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September Staycation #2 – Sweet-toothed Trail

You’ve heard of Grasmere Gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake. Maybe you’ve heard of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. I live in a region of sweet-toothed treats, which is apposite. I am Queen Sweet-Tooth. It’s a wonder they’re not rotten! Anyway, what you didn’t know is that Kendal Mint Cake is just the tip of the sugary ice-berg, and that actually, it’s not only the Lake District which produces famously fantastic treats. It’s not only Cumbria. It’s the entire border reigon. 

When we lived in London, me and my parents would spend a week’s holiday in a barn outside of Appleby. Our holidays were planned around food and walks – a convenient balance was achieved, and we ate everything from pub food to giant meringues and three-scoop ice-creams.

For our second staycation day, we chose to revisit some old holiday favourites. I was also on a mission to choose some treats for the top of my birthday cake next month. 

First stop was Appleby Bakery. You’ve seen Appleby-in-Westmoreland on the news. It’s that-place-with-the-horse-fair, except it is so much more. I love Appleby, and I especially love the Appleby bakery, with it’s pies and regional cheeses, and tray bakes. Most of all it’s tray bakes. Today I chose a picnic slice, which is basically a Hagrid-sized florentine. 

Ask nicely and I’ll share.

We moved from cake, into chocolate and ice-cream. Kennedy’s chocolate shop in Orton is a gem. Housed in an old school-house, you can see the chocolate being mixed and shaped in moulds behind the shop, and from windows in the cafe. 

The shop itself stocks every flavoured bar under the sun, all made on site. Selection IMG_2608boxes are family celebration staples – my favourite flavours are from the dessert range – butter fudge cream and Mississippi mud pie. You can get an idea of the selection here. Kennedy’s deliver through the post, and I can tell you from experience that the chocolates arrive safely. 

Savoury food as well as is sweet is available in the cafe, and there is a good range of food, including a menu of daily specials. It was nice to see local produce used, such as Lancashire cheese. 

Ice-Cream is also made on premises, and we enjoyed our ice-cream sundaes. I was particularly taken with the idea of serving in long, thin bowls. This enabled me to try different flavours together. As any serious sweet-tooth knows, ice-cream sundaes served in a cup tend to end up looking like poster paint mixed by a four year-old. 

Complimentary chocolate flowers came with the receipt; a cute touch, but if you haven’t come in for chocolate, I defy you to walk out without. One taste and I was sold. Peeking into the factory while lunch was being prepared was lovely. The opening to the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film? It’s not far off. They actually have sinks full of pure chocolate. Good job they keep the public separate. Full of sugar I might have been, but I would happily have stuck my head under and drunk it all up. 

IMG_2677The birthday cake mission was a success: great plans are afoot, and I’ll keep you updated. It’s not until October 13th, but one thing is certain. This year is going to be a very happy birthday. 

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September Staycation #1: Barter Books


Hundreds of thousands of books, homemade cake and a toy train which runs over the top of the book shelves. What’s not to love? Barter Books is a second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland. I joke that it is a book lover’s pilgrimage, although  that wouldn’t be far off  the truth. Unlike many second hand book shops, Barter Books respects not only the books in its possession, but the experience of choosing a book. This is book shopping as a hobby. As a pleasurable activity. 

IMG_2427It is situated in an old train station, a premises vast enough to lend the shop a cathedral-like air. Its spaciousness allows it to priortise comfort – although the shop was heaving, there were plenty of comfortable seats, tables and benches. As well as the station room cafe, attached to the shop, tea and home-made biscuits are available. Honesty boxes reduce the hassle of paying for refreshments, and cut the queue length. 

The wide aisles make the shop well accessible. Children are well-catered for, with Wheelybugs and a climb-in train to keep the very youngest visitors entertained. 

One great draw of the shop is its bartering system , (yep, clue is in the name.) Visitors can bring two (average-sized) carrier bags each of books to barter for credit. Accept the offer, and you can spend this credit on books or merchandise. I was offered £16.00 of credit for one carrier bags worth of unwanted books, meaning my five books only cost £1.70. This is a real perk – like many bookworms, I have plenty of unloved books around the house. Bartering not only made a cheap day out, it meant I took in nearly as much as I brought back. Shelves are still heaving, but only as much as the day before. a

We last visited in 2008, when we lived at the opposite end of the country. We’re now closer, although a scenic route into the Scottish Borders and past the cheviots extended IMG_2439our drive. Last time we visited, my haul was more ecclectic, The Squashed Fairy Book being the prime example. Yesterday, I mostly bought MG and YA Fiction, but also found a copy of The Essex Serpent, which I’ve been meaning to read since publication, and a children’s poetry anthology which has a totally fantastic range of poems.

A stroll through the town added to my book haul. We were too late for the castle and gardens, another highlight of the town, and location for the Flying Lesson in the first Harry Potter film. I visited the year after the film came out – think people posing with toy brooms next to cardboard cutout Hagrid. A revisit is on the agenda. 


Barter Books

Alnwick Station, Northumberland NE66 2NP.

Open Every Day, 9.00 – 19.00