Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author content from Victoria Williamson

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I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, a lyrical middle-grade novel about friendship and tolerance. It is the story of Caylin and Reema, who meet on a Glaswegian council estate when they care for an injured fox and her cubs. 

Author Victoria Williamson has written a guest post about animals, and how they bring us together. Thank you, Victoria for your time. birdAnimal Friends 

 

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Young Victoria with her rabbits

Like most children, I spent years begging my parents for a dog when I was growing up. “It doesn’t need to be a big one,” I’d say, “A little one would do, and I’d walk it every day and feed it and clean up after it and…” My parents knew better than to take my word for it though, and eventually got me a lower-maintenance rabbit instead. I called him Sam, after Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, and soon he was joined by Hazel, a female version of the Watership Down character, and her sister Katy from the What Katy Did series. It didn’t take long for three rabbits to become seven, then twelve, then…

 

Despite the extra work involved in looking after so many rabbits, who seemed to appear despite our very best efforts to keep the males and females apart, I was thrilled by the new arrivals. It wasn’t just because the baby rabbits were so cute, it was because of the new friends they helped me make. Like many aspiring writers, I was a shy teenager who lacked confidence in talking to people at school. But the baby rabbits brought classmates to our garden in droves, and people who had never spoken to me before in school were happy to chat away as they stroked the soft fur of the tiny rabbits they’d heard about through the grapevine.

That was my first lesson in the power that animals have to bring people together and forge new friendships, and it’s one I never forgot. Animals appeared regularly in my own stories, from the first trilogy I wrote about a clan of foxes living in a forest under threat from a pack of wolves, to a monkey sidekick in a pirate book and a wombat companion in a distant planet colony.

It was a family of urban foxes in my debut novel though, that really reflected my own early experience of animals providing an opportunity to make friends with people I previously thought I had little in common with. In The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, Reema and Caylin couldn’t seem more different. Caylin’s a Glaswegian school bully, all defensive and prickly-edged on the outside, but lonely and longing to make a connection to other people on the inside. Reema’s a Syrian Muslim refugee, homesick and resentful at the war that’s uprooted her family and stolen the big brother she adores. When the girls first meet their reaction to each other is mistrust and unease. It isn’t until they find an injured urban fox and her family in the back garden of their apartment building that they discover a shared purpose, and eventually forge a strong friendship.

Most people are familiar with the idea that a pet is not just a companion in the home, but a great way to break the ice with strangers. People who would normally stride on past when out on a walk are happy to stop and say hello, smiling at a dog and asking it questions directly that are really meant for the human owners. A purring cat curled up in your lap is one of the quickest shortcuts to feeling at home in a stranger’s house, and even a less cuddly tortoise or a hamster can provide endless topics to discuss when the conversation starts to flag.

Why do people so often feel more at ease talking to animals than to humans? And why do Caylin and Reema initially find it so much easier to make friends with a fox and her cubs than they do with each other? I think one of the reasons for this that animals are multicultural – with Hurriyah there is no language barrier to cross and no sense of being judged for being different. Caylin and Reema can just be themselves around Hurriyah and tell her what they’re thinking and feeling without the stigma of the labels other people apply to them. With the foxes, Caylin is no longer ‘the bully’, ‘the girl with the lisp’, or ‘the girl who doesn’t wash her clothes’, and Reema isn’t ‘the refugee’, ‘the Muslim’ or ‘that girl with the headscarf.’ They are just themselves – two girls who, when all of the surface differences are stripped away, are more alike than they realise. Both have suffered loss, both care about their family more than anything, and both have a real passion for running.

Their willingness to care for the foxes eventually morphs into a willingness to care for each other, and by the end of the book it becomes clear that rescuing Hurriyah, the fox called ‘Freedom’, is a metaphor for the girls’ struggles to overcome their own difficult circumstances together. In literature and in real life, animals often help us see past our own differences, and making friends with one can often lead to us befriending another person who is more like us than we could ever have imagined.

 

Check out the other stops on the tour: 

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Guest Post

YA Shot Guest Post: Patrice Lawrence

yashotbanner.jpgYA Shot

YA Shot is a day-long festival held in Uxbridge, London. The money raised is used to fund author events throughout the year in schools and libraries. YA Shot aims to foster a love of reading and writing, and to help young people aspire to careers in the arts. 

 

Patrice Lawrence

Patrice Lawrence Author Image.jpgI am excited to welcome Patrice Lawrence as part of the YA Shot blog tour. Patrice Lawrence debuted with Orangeboy in 2016. It is the story of Marlon, a boy who finds it increasingly difficult not to get drawn into a world of gangs and crime. The book was a phenomenal success, winning the YA Book Prize and the Waterstones Children’s book prize. 

Lawrence followed with Indigo Donut, the story of a young woman searching for her own identity when everyone around her knows the story of how her Dad murdered her mother. Both novels deal with themes of identity and inheritance. This guest post is about the theme of family legacy. Huge thanks to Patrice Lawrence for your time. 

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From father to daughter and everything in between – Patrice Lawrence 

I have no photographs of my father. My parents split up before I was born and my father, Patrick Edward Singh, died in his 40s. I had spent time with him, as a child and as an adult. He was a great reader, anything from ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ to the collected works of the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov. He was also a musician. I remember his basement flat in Brighton being full of guitars and I knew that he had fronted a band called Eddie and the Black Princes. He loved the provocative wordplay. (The original medieval Black Prince was Edward, son of Edward 111, probably given the name because of his black armour.)

As I grow older, people remark on my resemblance to my mother. I look like her. I have her family name. I share her love of books, art and cake-making. She introduced me to early Depeche Mode, UB40’s brilliant first album and New Order. She has bought my YA books and shipped them off to the family in Trinidad. She has made sure that the booksellers in Haywards Heath Waterstones know that I am local.

Both Marlon in ‘Orangeboy’ and Indigo in ‘Indigo Donut’ are tied to family legacy. Marlon’s connection to his dead father, Jess, is through music and sci fi. He has inherited his father’s vinyl collection of funk and soul. He is named after the actor who played Superman’s dad in the 1978 film. His feelings are punctuated with music and he often articulates his world with the help of Star Trek and The Matrix.

Marlon, like the other two pairs of brothers in ‘Orangeboy’, has inherited loss and revenge. What happens to him is exciting but destructive. It is also viewed through the prism of ‘race’ – how far will he let the past shape the present and his identity as a young, black man in today’s society?

Indigo believes that she has inherited anger. Her father killed her mother and what’s inside him is inside her. It is like a wild animal, roaring up when provoked. She is frightened to let anyone get close. And what else has she inherited? She stares at photos of her mother, trying to trace their resemblance. She can barely remember living with anyone who is related to her. She is not sure how to go forward because she doesn’t understand her past.

It is only when I exceeded the age my father was when he died that I started considering his legacy to me. My father in everything except blood is my stepdad. He has been in my life since I was four and has always called me his daughter. We spent last Christmas together watching Steve McQueen films trying to list the death dates of The Magnificent Seven actors in chronological order. We recalled the joy of holidays spent in his native homeland. I don’t need another father.

But –

Like my characters, like so many young people, I still can’t help asking – ‘who am I?’ Does my hair, my face, my body shape bear any trace of my father’s side? When Bailey, in ‘Indigo Donut’, became a rock god with a room full of guitars, was I thinking about my father? Or my daughter? Did my father’s guitar dudeness bypass me and hit my daughter full force?

Last year, I saw that a retired nurse, one of my parents’ peers had written a history of the Victorian psychiatric hospital where they had worked. I ordered the book out of curiosity. I opened a page at random and there was a photo of my father. Resplendent in a quiff, he was playing his guitar.

 

Many thanks to Patrice Lawrence for your time. Check out more info about YA Shot and book your tickets here.

Guest Post

Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour

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Matt Killeen author photo.jpgToday is my stop on the Orphan Monster Spy blog tour. Protaganist Sarah is a good example of a female character who knows her own mind and makes her own decisions. Matt has written about his female heroes and today he celebrates singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. 

I’m so excited to welcome Matt to my blog. 

birdAlanis Morissette

 Alanis was not the first female artist to swear and tell it like it was. She wasn’t the first to complain about abuse in the music business in song. She wasn’t the first to scream and talk explicitly about sex and heartache. She wasn’t even the first person to play the harmonica that badly in a professional setting.

 Yet there was something about her that sounded genuinely new. There was virtually no analogy, metaphor or simile at work in most of her lyrics. She hopes that her ex-boyfriend feels her having sex with someone else. So that’s what she says.

 Again, it was not unique, but it was the moment when 33 million people stumped up £12 for Jagged Little Pill to hear her go for it over and over again. It was the point when the entire world decided it wanted to hear a woman speak, without any filter whatsoever, from the darkest and most transgressive of her desires and hatreds, to the wildest of her dreams and the most heinous of her wounds. All in so many words.

 Figuratively and lyrically she managed to exist simultaneously as “beautiful” and “ugly”, good and bad, equally comfortable with either, equally dismissive of both. She seemed so triumphant and so lost, so powerful and yet so vulnerable. Even her descriptions of sex manage to be detailed without being pornographic. And all this rendered complexity, all this terrifying, deep and murky raucousness was melodic, accessible and catchy. Perfect pop. It played the game, changed the rules and won.

 One of the few obfuscations on the album, using similes throughout, is the track that’s most dubiously derided. No, her examples aren’t ironic – but in fact, she doesn’t insist these things are ironic, she just asks us if that’s what we’d call them. It took me years to realise that it was all about meeting the man of her dreams and then meeting his wife…an event that left her lost for words. It’s an admission of weakness, so embarrassing that it can only have been true. What it probably was for a supposed former infatuation junkie, was typical.

 It was an album released by a woman – it appeared on Madonna’s Maverick label – when every other company had passed on it. It outsold her boss, the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses and even Adele hasn’t done better. It remains the 13th highest selling album of all time, the second best-selling album by any woman. That may not be meaningful – Shania Twain is number one after all – but it was the Wonder Woman of its day, proving conclusively that the public would stump up cash to hear a woman speak for herself.

 She suffered through all this to an extent and took a sharp turn in style in its aftermath. She became ever more introspective and concentrated on self-care to the detriment of her sales and arguably the quality and importance of her music. Certainly, her work no longer resonated with the numbers of people it had done.

 As a music journalist, I might bemoan the reasons behind her later choices. She once said of her change in intensity, that singing Jagged Little Pill live, night after night, hadn’t resolved anything for her but made her more angry. This suggests that she thought that it was supposed to be cathartic for her. She was the shaman, she was there to heal the tribe, not herself. Of course, there speaks that part of us all that likes our rock-stars to burn bright and then be a bit dead.

 As a fan, I could talk about the crushing disappointment of her meditative later material, or the fact that the 2005 acoustic version appeared to show someone who didn’t know what made her greatest achievement worth listening to.

 But as a feminist, she decided she was done. So that has to be good enough for me. Maybe what she gave us of herself should be enough for everyone. She was just a singer. She was not a spokesperson or shaman. She was just a woman. But wow, what a woman.

 

Thanks to Matt for your wonderful piece. Tomorrow’s stop is at Be My Anchor.

Guest Post · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Kelly McCaughrain – Author of Flying Tips For Flightless Birds

kellymccaughrainbannerFlying Tips For Flightless Birds is one of my favourite books of 2018. It has everything: memorable characters, themes everybody can relate to and bucketfuls of humour. If you love contemporary YA look no further. This one is special. Kelly McCaughrain has kindly agreed to tell me some more about the story. Huge thanks to Kelly for your time and insight into the novel. I totally love your answers! 

About the book:

img_4989Finch and Birdie Franconi are from a circus family. Now the family business is in trouble, it is up to the twins to save it with their flying trapeze act. The twins are also a double-act at school. It has never mattered to Finch that everybody calls him a freak, because he and Birdie have always done their own thing.

When Birdie suffers a terrible accident, Finch must find a new double-act if he is going to save the family circus school. Can Finch overcome his feelings about school and new-boy Hector? Will he ever get over James Keane? Can Hector’s Dad accept the son he has?

A warm and witty YA novel about sexuality and identity.

Check out my full review here. birdQ and A:

Hi Louise, thanks for having me on your lovely blog! This is my very first blog interview so I’m very excited!
Your story deals with a teenager’s feelings around coming out. What were your priorities in writing a coming out narrative?

My priority was never to write a coming-out story, it was to write a love story. But the very unfair fact is, if you’re going to write about a young-teen LGBT romance then coming out is probably going to feature because it just does in real life. It’s the unavoidable roadblock in the way of your first relationship, and I think it’s hugely unfair that if you don’t come out, then you don’t get to do the teen romance thing like all your peers, or certainly not in the same way. I remember telling my parents I’d been asked on my first date by a boy, and that was hard enough (it was awful!), because you’re basically admitting private things about yourself – you like someone, you’re thinking romantic thoughts – things that are really no one’s business. It must be so much worse if you think your parents might react really badly.

So I knew it was going to feature coming out and I did feel strongly that I wanted the characters to be young. I wanted them to get started on their love lives at the same time as all their peers, not in late adolescence or university or even later, which is the case in many novels about coming out. If there was a priority, it was maybe that.

But beyond that, I didn’t really have conscious ‘priorities’ in mind. I wanted it to be sensitive and realistic, but I’d have wanted that for any story, LGBT or not. The whole point is that Finch’s feelings are no different to any teenage boy, so I didn’t try to approach the story any differently than I would that of a straight kid, and I didn’t think about it too much while I was writing it.

 

 

Birdie has an accident part way through the narrative. What does this mean to Finch (beyond stress and fear for his sister)?

Finch and Birdie are not only brother and sister, they are twins and trapeze partners, which means their lives really revolve around each other and always will. So Birdie’s accident has huge ramifications for Finch in that sense.

I’ve always found twins interesting. I’m not sure I’d have liked to have one because I’m a bit of a loner, but on the other hand, it might be like having a built-in best friend. But it must be weird if your identity is built around being one half of a pair; twins are so often known as ‘The Twins’, even within their own families. How do you know who you are by yourself?

And I think that period when teenagers start dating must be especially weird for twins who are close, because it’s the beginning of a process of separation. Birdie’s accident is the start of that process for Finch, and it’s the start of him discovering who he is and who he can be without her.

 

 

Birdie expresses her feelings through a blog. Why did you choose to tell her part of the story through blog posts?

I chose to let Birdie speak through a blog partly to differentiate her voice from Finch’s, and partly because it felt like a very natural way to impart all that information about circuses. Finch and Birdie wouldn’t sit around talking about circuses, that wouldn’t have felt natural. And if I’d just made Birdie tell the reader all that stuff directly, it would have been boring. But writing it as blog posts meant I could make it entertaining, funny, and believable. So structurally, it was very useful.

But the main reason I used the blog was that, although a lot of the posts appear to be about circus history, in fact Birdie is using them to describe her feelings about her role in the circus. It’s her sneaky way of telling Finch some things he needs to hear but doesn’t want to hear. I think it’s a strange phenomenon that, even though the internet is so public, it can be easier to say things online than in person, because it feels sort of anonymous. It’s also probably what I’d do if I had something important or difficult to say to someone. I’d prefer to put it in writing than try to have a conversation about it, I just find writing easier than talking.

 

 

Please can you tell us more about why you chose a circus setting? What does it represent within your story?

I love circuses. I’ve been trying to learn to juggle since I was 16 and I’m still crap at it (I have infinite sympathy for Hector). I love the atmosphere of circuses and the more I read about them, the more I admire them.

The reason people run away and join the circus is that they have always been a place for outsiders.  Circuses have been around since the 18th century, when social roles were even more rigid than they are today. People who were severely limited in mainstream society – women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities or disfigurements, people of colour, people from poor backgrounds – could not only have a career in the circus, but be the star of the show.  Talent and hard work were all that mattered. 

It was no utopia, of course. The life was rough, they worked hard for their money, they could never settle down, there were sometimes violent clashes with local people or rival circuses, but it must have been preferable to many people than life in the mainstream.  Perhaps because they got to be themselves.

In Flying Tips, the circus is a refuge for Finch because it is a completely accepting space. He is loved there for his uniqueness, whereas at his high school he’s rejected because he’s not exactly like everyone else.

 

Finch is hung up on popularity, and sometimes forgets to value his friends. Please can you tell us more about why you chose to give him this flaw?

I don’t think Finch ever wanted to be the most popular boy in school, but when he experienced rejection by someone he cared about, he reacted by going in the opposite direction and deliberately making himself a total outsider. But really I think he was just hurt, and the reason he tends to be unfriendly is that he’s trying to keep people at a distance because he’s afraid to trust anyone else in case he gets hurt again.  It can be brave to step outside the mainstream and be a loner, but it can sometimes be even braver to let people into your life.

 

Quickfire/Fun: –

  • Which role would you choose in the circus?

I’d be torn between Trapeze and Clown. I honestly think Clown would be harder and more rewarding.

  • Finch and Birdie wear some amazing outfits. What would your most daringKelly McCaughrain Vintageoutfit look like?I love vintage! This is a picture of me at a Jubilee party wearing a tea-dress, stockings and a 1940s headscarf. (Can I stress that the cigarette was part of the costume, I do not smoke!!!) But, unlike Birdie, I wouldn’t dress like that every day, because hair and make up are so time consuming! Actually, I think if I was really brave, I’d just wear men’s clothes all the time because they’re so comfy.
  • Hector’s clowning draws attention to himself in a good way. What would you like to be noticed for?

My writing. I have lots of hobbies, but I’ve never truly cared about being very good at anything except writing.

 

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas Around The World

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Today’s post is from Christina at Chrikaru. Christina is a special friend. We are bookshelf-twins, and equally obsessed with getting our hands on every book available. Christina’s other interest is language-learning. Her blog is filled with fantastic multi-lingual flash-cards. She speaks four languages fluently, and is learning four others. Her talent has taken her to other countries, and she has spent Christmas around the world. She has shared her experiences of other customs and traditions. A HUGE thank-you Christina, and it is lovely to welcome you to my blog. birdVietnam

This was my first Christmas overseas and away from my family – I was pretty young and me and my roommate had to work as Christmas day is not a holiday in Vietnam. My roommate’s dad and my brother came out to visit us, bringing the essential supplies of crisps and chocolate. Christmas dinner was local crabs and noodle soup, eaten on a rush mat on the floor of our tiny room, followed by a sing-along with several hundred of our students at the university. Bizarre but unique experience!

Ireland.

Cpost1Christmas back home is a three day celebration. Christmas Eve is spent driving around visiting the extended family, drinking lots of tea, catching up and exchanging gifts. Most years we also went to our church for mince pies, carols and midnight service. Presents from friends and extended family go under the tree straight away, but presents for the immediate family are a bit different. Our family tradition is to conceal them in our rooms, then each member of the family has to sneak downstairs and put them under the tree…all without being caught of course! Christmas Day was always Mum, Dad, my brother and me. The day usually starts with getting stockings from the end of bed, then us all coming downstairs and having breakfast (parents are both diabetic so this is an essential!). My job has always been to sort the presents into piles for each person, then we start opening them. My dad usually likes to read the paper in the morning so I normally have to chivvy him to actually open his gifts! After that we all go for a long walk. When we were younger we used to go to a Christmas morning service too. Then a light lunch before the cooking of Christmas dinner begins in earnest. As a kid I always felt very grown up at Christmas because it was my job to get our special tablecloth out and set the table. The tablecloth started off as a plain white linen one, then my mum embroidered it over the years to commemorate special events e.g. when each child was born, trips overseas, etc. It’s lovely to reminisce about these every year at Christmas! Boxing Day is always spent with my sister and her family – usually we go to her house, exchange gifts and have a second Christmas dinner! On the 27th, most years, my family would host a party at our house when anyone was welcome – a chance for me to see my friends before the New Year and to catch up with people that we hadn’t managed to see before Christmas. Is this very different from your traditions?

Japan

cpost2I was an exchange student in Japan for a year and celebrated Christmas with a mixture of students from all over the world. It was weird having to go to class on Christmas morning! After that each student cooked a dish from their home country to bring to a party, then we shared Christmas traditions from around the world. This still ranks as one of the achievements I am most proud of – cooking a roast dinner in a portable oven about the size of a small toaster! Strangely for me, Christmas Eve is a much bigger deal than Christmas in Japan – it is seen as a romantic day so you often see couples out and about on Christmas Eve. The second Christmas I spent in Japan was with my boyfriend and we spent the day eating lots of amazing Japanese food and playing in the snow!

Italy

Despite being an exchange student in Italy for 5 months, unfortunately I wasn’t there for Christmas. I would really love to spend Christmas there one year, particularly as I love all the stories that surround the holiday there – Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) might bring some presents but the main gift-giving occurs on the Epiphany when La Befana ( a witch) brings presents to children.

China

I spent 4 Christmases in China. Christmas Eve is much more popular but Christmas Day is a normal working day for most people. In my first year I went to work, then to have burgers with a group of my work colleagues! In the second year, we clubbed together with a group of expat to cook a Christmas dinner in my favourite café, fittingly called the Bookworm (a lending library and restaurant completely walled with books!) In the third year and fourth year my work organised a Christmas party and Christmas Day was a quiet one at home with friends. It felt quite odd as most people in China didn’t even really seem to be aware that it is a special day for anyone. In the four years I spent there I did begin to see a change though; every year the number of shops or businesses with Christmas decorations up increased.

Now I’m back living in the U.K.. This year I am spending Christmas with my partner’s family in Austria where they take Christmas very seriously – so excited to find out some new Christmas traditions! How are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Do your family have any traditions they follow? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas At Dove Cottage – Then and Now.

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Have you ever thought of training in a literary house? Today’s Guest Post comes from Becky Hearfield, trainee with the Wordsworth Trust. Throughout the past year, I have attended a poetry reading group run by the trust, and the wonderful Susan Allen. The group means everything to me. It brings our local community together, and Susan is one of the first people I dared to show my writing to. Everything about the group supports people to find what interests them in writing, and to speak about it in their own words. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting Becky a couple of times over the year, and am amazed by how much the trainees do. It is lovely to hear from Becky at the end of her traineeship, and to hear what Christmas meant to the Wordsworths themselves. Thank you Becky for your time and fab post. birdChristmastime at Town End by Becky Hearfield 

The Wordsworths spent eight Christmases together at Town End, Grasmere and their domestic sphere changed considerably during that time. Wordsworth became husband to Mary Hutchinson in October 1802 and the couple welcomed three of their five children into the world at Dove Cottage, which was transformed into a home ‘crowded with life’ (Stephen Hebron, Dove Cottage).

dovecottage2The Wordsworths first arrive at Town End on 20th December 1799, just 5 days before Christmas and Dorothy Wordsworth’s 28th birthday, and although Dorothy tells us that their arrival is hailed by ‘a dying spark in the grate of the gloomy parlour’, it marks the bright beginning of a period of intense happiness and shared warmth. William and Dorothy waste no time in getting to know their neighbours and, in a letter dated Christmas Eve 1799, Wordsworth writes to his friend, and collaborator on Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to detail the particulars of their new home and relate their first impressions of the local people, who would come to be very dear to them:

The people we have uniformly found kind-hearted frank & manly, prompt to serve without servility. This is but an experience of four days, but we have had dealings with persons of various occupations, & have had no reason whatever to complain.

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Decorations at Dove Cottage today. 

On 20th December 2017, 218 years after the Wordsworths first arrived at Town End, the current residents of Grasmere, and neighbours of the Wordsworth Trust, gathered in the same ‘gloomy parlour’ to share mulled wine, mince pies and to sing carols by candlelight in celebration of that day in 1799. Just across the lane, at the Foyle Room (once the site of their neighbour Thomas Ashburner’s cottage), families were busy making kissing boughs and learning about Georgian Christmas traditions with the Trust’s Education Team. The President of the Wordsworth Trust, Pamela Woof, also gave her annual Christmas reading this December for the Trust’s Friends and Trustees. She read from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal and noted the way the Wordsworths embraced the charitable spirit of the season in their daily lives, as they would readily share what they could with those who called at their home seeking solace. So, despite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum often being bereft of visitors in the winter season, Town End has been aglow with that special community spirit that only Christmastime can engender.

In a letter written to her friend Catherine Clarkson on 25th December 1805, Dorothy reflects on the ‘Blessings of the last six years’ and ‘the pleasures and consolations of Friendship.’ I arrived at Town End in January of this year to begin a traineeship with the Wordsworth Trust, working alongside their Community Outreach Officer, Susan Allen. The traineeship has lasted eleven months and is sadly coming to an end in the next few days. Just as Christmas Day 1805 gave Dorothy Wordsworth cause to reflect on the ‘Blessings’ and ‘Friendship’ she had been fortunate enough to receive in ‘the last six years’, in the build up to Christmas 2017, I find myself in an equally contemplative mood as I take stock of the ‘Blessings’ I have received here and prepare begin a new chapter elsewhere. The Trust now looks forward to welcoming a whole new batch of trainees in 2018, and even further ahead to 2020 as they work towards their Reimagining Wordsworth HLF funded project, in celebration of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday (https://www.reimaginingwordsworth.org.uk).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post

Guest Post – Staying Sane At Christmas

Today’s post comes from Charlotte of CharlotteSometimes. Who better to give advice on keeping cool at Christmas? There will be no sugar-coat about it. Sometimes we need to face up to the insantiy of the world around us, and figure out where to go from there …

Charlotte is one of my greatest blogging friends, and it is a pleasure to welcome her. 

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I don’t know why Louise suggested me as a person to write about being sane at Christmas. Sanity is not usually my strong point! That said, I do maintain a good level of chill over the festive period. I’ve never really understood why it causes other people so much stress. My boss (who is also a lovely friend) suggested it was because I was so organised and efficient. I nearly choked on my gin. Kidding! I never drink gin at work <innocent face>

 

Here are some of my top tips:

 
1. Lists, Lists and More Lists: I am a list maker. I love lists, and Christmas is when my list making comes into it’s own. I have present lists, card lists, food lists, and my infamous Christmas dinner timeline. I can’t take the credit for the idea (it features in Nigella’s Christmas book). It means that a few days before Christmas I plan what time we want to eat and work back the timings of the day from there. It never fails and I am never flapped about producing a dinner. Granted, I rarely cook for a big group, but the beauty of the list is, it’s easily adaptable to your day and your numbers. Lists are your friends!
 
2. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. Don’t leave all the things until the last minute. No-one wants to be peeling spuds whilst their kids are opening presents from Santa. I start my prep a couple of days before and then on the day itself, it’s all just getting things out of the fridge or cupboards and off we go. Presents? Wrap those babies as soon as you can. I’d love to tell you I don’t leave it until the last minute, but I frequently do and GUYS THAT IS UNNECESSARY STRESS. One year all my labels fell off and caused hell with the wrapping in advance plan. My solution? Screw gift tags! I write the names on with a sharpie. I am all the kinds of classy.
 
3. Don’t Invite Your Family (HAHA) – oh. You think I’m joking. Okay. This is partly tongue in cheek, but there is something to be said for the joy of a quiet day with your immediate family. By all means do the big family thing at some point (we usually decant somewhere over the Christmas break to have a day with all the in-laws) but make time for a few quiet days too. Our Christmases got much less stressful when we stopped trying to travel everywhere to keep everyone else happy. Yes, it’s important that you make time for family, but not at the expense of your own sanity or happiness.
 
4. Find the Fun. Christmas prep can’t all be fun all the time, but you can find fun in even the most stressful situations. One year, my parents were having building work done right before Christmas. On Christmas Eve Eve mum and I went food shopping. The supermarket was rammed. Everyone there was barging and angry. Mum and I had the best time. Why? Because we made it fun. We didn’t mind standing in the queues chatting and laughing on. We were listening to the tannoy guy make all the hilarious sarcastic comments and wondering if we could chop up other orange veg and pretend it was carrots. Christmas Eve, mum and I went to buy all the Christmas presents. We played this game where one of us picked a shop to go in and the other had to find a present in that shop for the next family member on the list! It made for some unusual gift choices, but it took the stress out of the day.
 
5. Routine / Traditions. Find the ones that work for you. Don’t feel the pressure to do all the things with all the people or have the latest “must have” Christmas theme. Want to go to the carol service or the next door neighbour’s cat’s mince pie party? Great! Would rather stick forks in your own eyeballs (like me)? Don’t go. If you want to make your house look like the cover of Ideal Home, crack on. If you’re happy with a piece of tinsel and 5 baubles do that. You do you. You don’t have to ldo what everyone else is doing. That way madness lies.
 
6. Cut the Cr*p. Our Christmas card lists are thousands long, we buy presents for people out of routine, we set things up to show off on social media. No. Stop that! Don’t send cards to people you don’t care about. Cut back the present buying: shave people off the list if you don’t want to swap gifts, suggest a secret santa, make them something, set a limit. Whatever you want. Obligation is not one of the Christmas feels! It has no place here. Don’t set things up just for how the photos will look later. I’ll let you in on one of my best kept secrets: just because it’s not on Faceache doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
 
7. Treat Yourself. Christmas is the season for giving right? It’s also the season for a bit of indulgence and enjoying yourself. So treat yourself, even if that’s just to half an hour’s peace in the bath or sitting down with a hot drink to watch something on the TV. Make sure that you make time to recharge yourself and do something that you enjoy just for you!
 
8. Naps! They’re not just for babies and old people. Christmas is exhausting. The days are darker, it’s colder, all our spare time is taken up doing things. If you have a child in your life you will be up until the early hours and then again shortly after with the excitement of Santa. Overtiredness is no good for anyone. Mix that with indulgent food, alcohol and relatives you would never ordinarily put in a room together and the sparks will fly. I don’t mean the good kind. Take time to shut your eyes for a while. One of my mum’s traditions was to send us all to our rooms for an hour or so after Christmas lunch. We didn’t have to sleep. We could read or play quietly, but if forced on us the idea of some quiet time in the busy day, and that’s something to be cherished if you don’t want the day to end in arguments.
 
9. Caffeine. Fuel your day with caffeine! It wakes you up and might just make you perky enough to avoid stabbing anyone!
 
10. GIN. I prefer mine with just tonic and a slice of lemon or lime, but Christmas is a time for adventure. Make a cocktail! Make several. I have a weak spot for one with cranberry in which makes it look as though I am spending the season drinking the blood of my enemies.
 
Do you have any top tips to share for surviving the Christmas season?