Guest Post

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

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About In The Shadow Of Heroes

Emperor Nero has decreed that he shall have The Golden Fleece of Greek mythology, and nothing will stand in his way. 

When scholar Tullus goes missing, his slave Cadmus knows he must go after him. When a girl called Tog turns up with a secret message, the pair set out to help Tullus on a quest which will take them to the edges of the Roman Empire and force them to question what is reality and what is a myth. 

One of my favourite subjects at school was Latin. Both the language itself and the stories we learned about Roman culture. I thought at once of a Classics teacher when I began this story and was delighted to find out that Bowling is a Latin teacher and a classics graduate. His interest in the past and in the myths of those times is all over his work. Cadmus and Tog behave in ways which are realistic for their times and are fully engaging to the modern audience. 

The quest opens up an amazing world where the objects from Greek mythology are up for grabs. I always think it is interesting to imagine how mythological items would be abused by people in power. 

I am delighted to welcome Nicholas Bowling to my blog. He has written a guest piece which explains how Nero (a legendary figure himself) had an interest in mythology. 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for arranging this opportunity, and to Nicholas for your time. 

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The Myth of Nero by Nicholas Bowling. 

In 69 AD, reports spread through Greece and Asia minor that the Roman Emperor Nero had arrived on the island of Kythnos. He had robbed traders, had armed slaves for an insurrection and had ousted the Roman commander. The arrival of the Emperor anywhere in his empire was bound to cause anxiety to the locals, regardless of his behaviour. This instance was particularly troubling, though, because Nero had killed himself the previous year.

In all there were three “Pseudo-Neros” who came out of the woodwork following his death. Oracles and historians alike spoke of the “Nero Redivivus” legend, in which the monster returned from hiding to wage war on the empire he had once ruled. St Augustine and the early Christians foretold his return as late as the 5th century, and went so far as to label him the Antichrist. Such was the cruelty, decadence and downright weirdness of Nero’s reign, he had already become an almost mythical character within his own lifetime; once he was dead, the myth took on a life of its own. Nowadays the name “Nero” is still a byword for tyranny.

Not only did Nero become a myth himself, but he also had a fascinating relationship with myth while he was alive. He was obsessed with Greek culture and art, in particular with poetry and singing. In fact, he fancied himself the greatest singer who had ever lived, Apollo reborn, and – to the great shame of Rome – participated in poetry recitals dressed as the god himself. The famous story of him singing about the fall of Troy while the Great Fire of Rome raged around him is probably apocryphal but still gives an insight into how he was perceived by his subjects. In Nero’s deluded mind, reality and fiction seemed to blur. The historian Suetonius called him “scaenicus imperator” – “the emperor of the stage”, whose whole life seemed to be a story he was enacting.

When it came to writing “In the Shadow of Heroes,” Nero was a gift of a character – in fact, he was the starting point for the whole thing. The book re-examines myths we think we know and asks readers to imagine that those stories really took place, and left real, tangible objects for us to find. As a choice of antagonist, who better than Nero: the mythical bogey-man who couldn’t tell the difference between story and reality?

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling

 

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blog tour · Guest Post · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis

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About Ocean – Secrets Of The Deep. 

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the ocean? 

With new technologies, scientists are learning more about the watery world every day. And what a world it is, with coral reefs and kelp forests and zones so deep that only four humans have ever explored them before. 

Written by science communicator Sabrina Weiss and illustrated with graphics from Giulia De Amicis, this volume is packed with facts and information about the oceans. 

As part of the blog tour to celebrate the book’s release, Sabrina Weiss has written a guest post about manatees, the stunning animals who inspired legends of mermaids.  

A huge thanks to Sabrina for your time. 

 

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Swimming with the animals that inspired the mermaid myths

By Sabrina Weiss

I have always had a love for the marine world and learned to scuba dive at the age of 11. I have since travelled extensively across the world and dived in various places: from Mexico and Colombia, to Eastern Africa, the Red Sea, and Southeast Asia. But it was a recent trip to northern Florida that gave me a glimpse into the lives of one of the most elusive marine creatures.

During the winter months, large numbers of manatees gather in the Three Sisters Springs to relax and keep warm. The water in this lagoon is crystal clear so it was easy to float on the surface and watch them go about their daily lives. Some of the calves, which are born at an astonishing 30kg or so, are curious by nature and will often initiate playful interactions with snorkellers.

 

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Manatee in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss

 

Manatees are the only vegetarian marine mammals (along with their cousins, the dugongs). They love to graze on fields of seagrass and algae. And they need lots of it to grow to 400 kg in weight. Their short, paddle-shaped flippers and horizontal tail fluke help them to power through the water, at a comparably slow 5-8 km per hour, although they can go faster in short bursts.

Manatees are sometimes called sea cows, but their closest relatives on land are actually the elephant and hyrax (a small rodent-like mammal). What is even more extraordinary about these slow, bulky animals is their history. On his voyage to what is now the Dominican Republic, the explorer Christopher Columbus supposedly saw three mermaids from his ship. In his journal, Columbus described the mythical creatures as ‘not half as beautiful as they are painted’, and historians believe that he actually mistook manatees for mermaids.

 

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Manatee mother and calf in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss

 

That was reason enough for us to include this amazing animal in our OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep book. As well as beautiful illustrations of mermaids and manatees, we tell the tale of the fearsome Kraken: a ferocious, tentacled beast that was believed to pull ships down to the murky depths of the seabed and devour the sailors on board. Young adventurers will also enjoy our map that explores the possible locations of the legendary lost civilisation of Atlantis. Scientists are still scouring the ocean floor, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and even the Caribbean but are yet to find evidence of this peaceful utopia.

OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep by Sabrina Weiss, illustrated by Giulia De Amicis (£14.99, What on Earth Books)

Follow Sabrina on twitter @sabrinamweiss and Giulia @giulia_de_amicis

Find out more at www.whatonearthbooks.com

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and What On Earth Books for my gifted copy of OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Guest Post

Blog Tour: A Witch Come True by James Nicol.

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The Magic Of Maps – author James Nicol talks about the importance of maps in The Apprentice Witch trilogy 

Maps, maps, maps! Who doesn’t love a good map?

When I was a child we had a set of The Lord of The Rings in our house, they were kept on the very important bookshelf alongside a very old bible (we weren’t an especially religious household) some photo albums and some other “leather” bound classics I think my mum and stepdad had bought from a door to door salesman!

I loved those Lord of the Rings books so much, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t!) read any of them. What I loved about those books was the beautiful maps inside of them, all in black and red ink, they folded out to three times larger than the book themselves and I loved to poor over the map and imagine the places named on it, Mordor, Khand and Near Harad. Imagining my own stories and people that might live in those places. That was always much more exciting and fun than delving into the books for me – and that should have been a clue really!

I also loved drawing and making my own maps as a child, often treasure ones inspired by The Goonies, I loved drawing rivers and hills and forests and again my imagination would burst with the stories that perhaps unfurled in these imagined places. I used tea and coffee to stain them and to make them looked aged and I remember being over the moon when my nana actually shoved one in the oven to make it look really distressed (but don’t try that at home though folks!)

So when I started to write my stories as a young child and teenager I was always thinking about the world they were set in, drawing little snippets of maps or building layouts to give the characters a real place to inhabit, a place to be, a place to live! But this was always on the grand scale – rather like Lord of the Rings.

When I started work on what was to become The Apprentice Witch Trilogy I had a clear idea of this small island Kingdom and the neighbouring Kingdoms across the sea. Hylund, Dannis, Grunea, Veersalnd and The Uris.  That was all fixed in my head from the outset. As the edits and different versions of the story evolved over the months and years of writing, so too did the maps, settings came and went, Arianwyn moved from a tumbledown cottage outside of Lull into the Spellorium (a location that has become a favourite with readers I’m thrilled to say!) and the story became steadily more focused on the odd little town on the edge of the Great Wood that surrounded it, my world was becoming less epic it seemed.

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The original world map for The Apprentice Witch – the Four Kingdoms names didn’t change at all through the various edits and versions of the original story.  The shape of Hylund was inspired by a real island but I now have no idea which one!   

  

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The Original Map of Lull and the surrounding area, Lull was loosely based on the town of Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales, the market place captivated me and seemed perfect for the town I was slowly creating in my imagination. You can even just about see the reference to Arianwyn’s cottage, ‘Kettle Cottage’ – her initial home in Lull before I created the Spellorium which is on Kettle Lane.

Then I realised that one vital map was missing.

Lull!

I needed a map of the town. A Place I was writing about more and more but couldn’t always see clearly in my mind, where was the Spellorium in relation to the Blue Ox, how would Arianwyn get to the Great Wood, where was the river and many other questions. So I drew a scrappy map and pinned this to the noticeboard over my desk and like magic, Lull was a real place, full of homes, businesses, people and most importantly stories!

When it was revealed that the map of Lull was going to be included in A Witch Alone I was over the moon! But I had one evening to pull my scrappy sketch into something that could be translated into a suitable illustration (by brilliant illustrator, David Wardle) to make the print deadline. What he did to turn my scribble into the beautiful illustration is nothing short of magic and I loved it. But having the map feature in the book presented the challenge of having the map “proof read” – i.e does it reflect accurately in the story? Yikes!

Well I’m pleased to say that with the exception of a moving telephone box (I blame vandalism!) and a small pond that had to be magicked up, everything was spot on!

 

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Never in a million years when I was drawing those maps as a small child or pawing over the middle earth map did I ever imagine a book I had written would contain a map of a world I had created. If I could go back in time and tell myself that as a ten-year-old I would, I’d love to see the look on my face!

It is so clear to me now that it was the map that helped to keep my story centred, gave it a heart and focused our attention not on the magic of the story but the people that fill it, their lives. It was the key to creating a place that readers have said they want to go and live in – and as an author what more could you ask for than that!

James Nicol. 

 

Many thanks to James Nicol for your time and wonderful guest post. This is a tremendous insight into how you use maps to develop your work. 

A Witch Come True by James Nicol is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). 

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and https://www.jamesnicolbooks.com/.

 

 

 

Blogmas 2018 · Guest Post

Guest Post: Blogger Charlotte Burns talks about her decision to get a dog for Christmas.

In the last of my blogger guest posts is Charlotte from Charlotte Somewhere, talking about her decision to get a dog for Christmas. 

Charlotte has kept us all hooked to Twitter this autumn with her ridiculously cute pictures, from the day-old puppies through to first visits and videos of dumpling-sized puppies toddling around their basket. It has also been interesting to hear how the decision to get a dog – sorry, Dexter, another dog – has given Charlotte’s family memories to share.  

I was delighted when Charlotte agreed to share her thoughts as part of my Blogmas. Thanks to Charlotte for your time and for keeping me up to date on the latest fluffy pictures. cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

A dog is not just for Christmas by Charlotte Burns

A Dog Is Not Just For Christmas…

But I’m getting one anyway. We’ve all seen the adverts at this time of year, urging people not to get a dog as a Christmas present without considering the consequences. The statistics telling us how many of these dogs end up in shelters when the initial excitement wears off.

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Dexter

I’m getting a puppy. He’s not going to be here by Christmas, but it will be soon after. I know what I’m in for: we already have a cocker spaniel who we adopted at 17 months old. Dexter. He’s a love. He changed our lives when he arrived, but now I don’t remember what it was like to be without him. We’re well prepared for life with a dog.

Recently a friend of ours had puppies (well, she didn’t, her dog did). They’re related to Dexter (his brother is the father and the friend also owns Dexter’s mum – are you still with me?) They were the cutest balls of fluff you ever did see. I wanted one. We’d never discussed getting another dog, but when I suggested it to Husband, he thought it was a good idea too. We did maths and talked about it, and did all the sensible things before settling on getting one.

Then we involved S. And, if you know anything at all about S, you’ll know that’s when the chaos started. We chose our puppy via a facetime call. Then S started to think about names. We had to veto Voldemort (“but mummy we can call him the Dark Lord for short”). We also vetoed Buckbeak. Eventually we narrowed the choice to two names we all liked (except for Dexter, who has zero interest in the puppy’s existence). And we let S chose.

He enrolled the assistance of a very carefully crafted Goblet of Dog Names which contained only one name. And he revealed it very dramatically over Sunday lunch but throwing the paper into the air and announcing…

‘THE DOG’S NAME IS GOING TO BE … NEVILLE.’

Here he is.

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Neville

Blogmas 2018 · Chat · Guest Post

Guest Post: Amy from Golden Books Girl tackles the Christmas shake-up Q&A.

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Christmas shake-up Q&A:

What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another. 

Today’s answers come from Amy from Golden Books Girl

Amy is one of my earliest blogging friends. She’s the one who keeps me sane when I have 460 blog posts to write on a Friday evening. Her knowledge of middle-grade fiction is second-to-none and she has cheered on my writing from the early, shapeless stories through to the third edits of a 45,000-word manuscript. 

I love Amy’s blog too – it’s a mash-up of Disney and middle-grade fiction and exceptionally cute dogs. 

Thanks to Amy for your time. 

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Gift an object from one book to a character from another and explain why.

Oooh this one is definitely the hardest! I think I’d give a certain very expensive spoilery object from the Children of Castle Rock to Joni’s family from Skylarks so that they could sell it and have a really special Christmas with the proceeds.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together.

I want a party with basically all the Geek Girl characters, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells from the Murder  Most Unladylike books because I think they’s be brilliant company and Ade and everyone else who lives in his tower because they deserve a really special Christmas because they go through so much in the book!

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be?

I loved the sound of the royal Christmas in Maradova, and I’d love to give those a go! We see them in Princess in Practice, and they sounded wonderful! Or some of the Covey family’s from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting?

Much like Fergus from the Children of Castle Rock’s decision to sabotage Alice when she first arrives at Stormy Loch, my choice for this question is inspired by literally nothing other than to see what would happen: I want to move Daisy and Hazel’s present opening scene from the end of Mistletoe and Murder to a fantasy world. Really any, but I think something where the animals speak like in Narnia, would be HILARIOUS to see Daisy especially navigate. I can’t imagine her putting up with the White Witch for long!

Make your New Year’s resolutions with messages from three books. 

I need to embrace what Gracie learns throughout You Only Live Once- you need to have a healthy balance between doing school work and other things you love.

‘Nobody ever really metamorphoses’- this is from Geek Girl (I’ve mentioned them SO many times in this post alone, but they’re such faves so why not?!). It’s something I try to remember constantly- you can’t really change yourself that much, and as such you really should like yourself.

I also liked the Great Diamond Chase’s message of trying your best to be good to the people around them and do the best thing for them, so I’ll go for that as my last one I think.

Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books. 

I think for a dress I’d go for the polka dot dress from the Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington, or perhaps one of the party outfits from A Sky Painted Gold- which all sounded gorgeous! For jewellery, I seem to recall Harriet wearing lovely expensive earrings in one of the Geek Girl books, so I’d have those too, and for shoes I’d probably go for strappy sandals (which are mentioned in loads of books, and I’m almost certain they pop up in several of Cathy Hopkins’) even though it’s December, because I can’t wear high heels. I can’t think of any characters off the top of my head who wear red lipstick, even though there are probably loads and I just can’t remember them, but I’d finish off the look with that because I wear it with just about any outfit it even vaguely goes with!

 

Do you have a great answer for one of these questions? Let me know in the comments below.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · craft · Guest Post

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts

 

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts – a collaboration with Lisa’s Notebook

There’s no better time for quick crafts than in the run-up to Christmas. Whether you’re looking to distract the children for half-an-hour, to make a last-minute gift or for a bit of time out, factor some craft time into your festive agenda. 

This post is a collaboration with Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook. I adore Lisa’s blog. With regular features about gardening, self-care and kid-friendly activities, there is something for everyone. Be sure to check out Lisa’s post and see how she got on with the same crafts.

We chose some crafts from Pinterest – collaborating was a lovely way to motivate each other to do the crafts, rather than just pinning them to our boards. It was also a great way of finding things we might not have picked ourselves. Our theme was ‘nature’ and I love how we interpreted this in different ways. 

The three crafts featured here are:

  • A pine-cone elf
  • Bird feeders
  • Star decorations made from twigs 

Check them out below, then have a look at Lisa’s post to see how her crafts came out. 

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Pinecone elf – 

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This was the first craft I picked. There are many examples over Pintest and by looking at these I decided I wanted to keep my elf simple, to add a jingle-bell to his hat and to have accessories in two colours. 

The fiddliest part was making the hat, but once I found a template it came together quickly enough. The result was very sweet and I think these would make lovely little gifts or table-favours. 

 

You will need:

  • Sheets of felt
  • One pinecone 
  • A wooden ball 
  • Jingle bells
  • A pen to draw on the face
  • A glue gun 

 

Instructions: 

  1. Cut out the hat. There is a great template here which shows you the shape to cut the felt. Stick the hat together using your glue gun and add a jingle bell at the top. 
  2. Cut out the feet and scarf.  
  3. Stick the hat to your wooden ball, then stick the head on to the pine cone. Add the feet and scarf. When everything is dry, draw on the face. 

 

Bird feeders – 

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You will need – 

  • Dry mix: Birdseed, currents, sultanas, oats 
  • Fat. I used vegetable fat. 
  • Cookie cutters laid out on a baking tray. You need open cookie cutters, not the ones with patterns in. 
  • Straws (Paper ones work just fine.) 

 

Instructions –

  1. Measure out your dry ingredients. I used a ratio of 2 parts dry ingredients to one part vegetable fat, so I used 500g of dry ingredients to 250g of vegetable fat. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Melt the fat in a saucepan. When it is ready, pour it in with the dry mixture and stir until all the fat is soaked up. This step should be done by an adult. 
  3. Distribute your mixture between the cookie cutters, patting it down with a spoon. 
  4. When you’ve filled your cookie cutters, stick a straw in each one near the top of the cutter. This will form a hole so you can hang up your bird-seed cake when it is set. Leave your bird-seed cakes to set. 
  5. When your bird-seed cake is solid, remove the cookie cutter, tie the string through the hole and hang it on a branch. 

 

Twig star decorations:

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Never again will I judge a craft by the picture on Pinterest. When I saw this, I thought it would make a nice, easy extra. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The tricky part was cutting twigs to equal length and laying them out in a five-pointed star. They move so much that it was like a game of pick-up sticks. I am pleased with my final result and would try this again. 

You will need –

  • Twigs (we picked up longer sticks and branches and cut them to equal length. This should be done by an adult.)
  • A glue gun
  • Raffia or any ribbon or thread to wrap around the centre. 

 

Instructions – 

  1. Cut the twigs to equal length and lay them out in the shape of a five-pointed star. This is easier said than done. My advice is to draw the star out on paper and not overthink the layout. See how it comes together. 
  2. Stick your star together. Before you get the glue-gun out, look at where your twigs overlap and make a plan. I started with the overlaps nearest the bottom and worked up. 
  3. When your star is dry, tie raffia on to the twigs and wrap it around the decoration. This is a very kid-friendly part and you could use all sorts of ribbons and spare bits of thread. 

 

Final thoughts – 

Thanks again to Lisa for joining me in this collaboration. Our nature theme got me outside looking for bits and pieces, and it was lovely to take time out of the busy Christmas schedule for some crafting time. 

Have you tried any of the above crafts? Do you have any favourite Christmas activities? Let me know in the comments below. 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Guest Post

Author Guest Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

Author Guest Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

2018
Author Michelle Harrison

There is one middle-grade novel I am extra especially looking forward to in 2019. Michelle Harrison writes folksy, magical stories full of black-cats, fairies and local traditions. I have loved every story she has written so far, and  A Pinch Of Magic looks equally amazing.

It is the story of three sisters who must break a deadly curse which has haunted their family for generations. Each sister possesses an object which has been handed down the family – a mirror, a carpet bag and a set of wooden nesting-dolls. None of these objects is what it seems. 

The Widdershins sisters kindly agreed to share their gingerbread recipe. It is a pleasure and a delight to welcome Michelle Harrison and the Widdershins to my blog. 

 

Widdershins Gingerbread

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The isle of Crowstone, home to the Widdershins sisters ‒ Betty, Fliss and Charlie ‒ is often damp and chilly thanks to the freezing fogs from the nearby Misty Marshes. So what better treat to stay cosy with than some warming, spiced gingerbread?

Ingredients

  • 350g plain flour (plus extra for rolling out)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g butter
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup

 

mh1Makes approx. 20 pieces, depending on cutter size. I found this gorgeous Russian doll one on eBay which came with a stamp to press in the detail. I’ve used it several times and the shapes are always met with delight. Without further ado I’ll hand over to the Widdershins . . .

Method

 

FLISS: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the butter and rub together with your fingers ‒ CLEAN fingers, Charlie! ‒ until it looks and feels like sand.

BETTY: Sand? That looks more like shingle from the marshes. Rub it in some more.

FLISS: Shh. This is my recipe.

CHARLIE: No, it’s not. It’s Granny’s.

BETTY: Stop eating the sugar, Charlie.

FLISS: Stir in the sugar. I usually close my eyes and make a wish when I do this part.

BETTY: Can you wish not to burn it this time?

FLISS: *Snorts* Lightly beat the egg and the golden syrup together in a jug—

CHARLIE: Make sure it’s a free range egg. They’re tastier and kinder to the chickens.

FLISS: —then pour the egg/syrup mix into the bowl. Combine until it begins to clump together, then remove from the bowl and knead until smooth.

BETTY: Sprinkle some flour on to your work surface so the dough doesn’t get too sticky. When it’s ready, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for fifteen minutes. This stops it spreading out too much and losing its shape while it’s baking.

FLISS: Ooh, yes. I always forget that part.

CHARLIE: Who cares what it looks like? Get it in the oven I WANT TO EAT IT!

FLISS: Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Once chilled, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 0.5cm on a lightly floured surface, and cut out the gingerbread shapes. Place them on the tray with a gap between them and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden brown. This usually gives me just enough time to write a little love poem.

BETTY: No, this is when you clean up the kitchen and keep an eye on the oven, feather-brain. The best gingerbread is a bit chewy, so don’t overdo it! Once it’s out of the oven, leave it on the tray for a few minutes, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

CHARLIE: IS IT READY YET?

FLISS: Once cooled, you can make your shapes look pretty by adding icing, and silver balls or sprinkles.

CHARLIE: Or just scoff it as it is. Jumping jackdaws, that’s good!

 

Huge thanks to Michelle Harrison for your time. A Pinch Of Magic publishes in February 2019. Pre-order here.

 

Check out day one and day two of Blogmas.