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

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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

 

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Author Michelle Harrison

There is one middle-grade novel I am extra-specially 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 mirrior, 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 recipie. 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. 

Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author Content – Pages & Co by Anna James

Pages & Co by Anna James – blog tour. 

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Pages & Co was one of my favourite reads this summer. It is a magical middle-grade story which will by loved and enjoyed by all bookish people. The story follows a girl with the magical ability to wander inside books. 

I am delighted to welcome Anna James to BookMurmuration to talk about the books which made her an avid reader. bird

Children’s Books That Made Me The Person I Am Today – reccomendations from author Anna James 

 I imagine that anyone reading this is built of books. I dread to think of who I would be if you took everything I’ve learned or felt because of a book I’ve read, I worry there wouldn’t be much left. In Pages & Co, my heroine Tilly feels much the same, so much so that she struggles to relate to real people outside of the bookshop that she lives in. When characters from her favourite books start popping up, she thinks she’s found the friends she needs, but of course real life is still waiting.

Yesterday I wrote about my top ten children’s classics over on a Day Dreamer’s Thoughts. All of those books were hugely formative for me, but I’ve resisted the urge to repeat any (Anne of Green Gables in particular!) to choose some more modern books that had a big impact on me growing up. From the super famous to the out of print, these are the five books that have most impacted me as a reader, a writer and a person.

 

Favourite books from childhood –

–          Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

“And it’s a pity too that I’ve no right to open your letters. I hope you don’t get many, or my conscience will give me no peace.”

If I had to name one writer that has had the biggest impact on me it would be Diana Wynne Jones. She’s written a lot of books and I think I’ve read most of them. She’s probably best known for Howl’s Moving Castle because of the Studio Ghibli film, but in my mind the Chrestomanci series is her best. They’re a bit of a Narnia situation, i.e. do you read them in the order they were written, or chronologically in terms of in-world timing, but I would recommend starting with Charmed Life. Quirky, funny and clever, it’s storytelling at its absolute best. With her worlds within worlds, playfulness with genre and tropes, and stories of finding yourself, Wynne taught me all the foundations of the things I love to read and write.   

 

–          Back Home by Michelle Magorian

“Come on,’ said Peggy. ‘You’ll have to come with me. I need you to show me the way.”

Michelle Magorian wrote the beloved Goodnight Mr Tom (which I’ve somehow never read) but my heart lies with Back Home, the story of Virginia, nicknamed Rusty for her red hair (I can’t resist ginger heroine as a redhead myself) who is returning to England after her evacuation to the US during the Second World War. She comes back to a country and a family she barely understands and struggles to fit in at home or at the strict boarding school she’s sent to. It’s a story of hope, bravery, family and being true to yourself. If you’re already a fan, I recently read Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War and it took me right back to how I felt reading Back Home.

 

–          Momo by Michael Ende

“Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.”

Another book where the author is better known for a different title, you might have heard of Ende as the writer of The Neverending Story, but he also wrote another book about the power of storytelling about an orphan called Momo. It’s sometimes also published as The Grey Gentlemen, who are the villains of the piece and inveigle their way into Momo’s town and start to steal the people’s time. This is one of my Dad’s favourite books, and I came to it through his version which is printed in brown ink with amazing illustrations. It’s a trippy, weird, profound book about how we use our time, and what is really important in life, and the grey gentlemen were big inspiration for me creating Enoch Chalk, the villain in Pages & Co. His grey bowler hat is a nod to them.

 

–          Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

“You cannot change what you are, only what you do.”

From some slightly more obscure titles to one of the most famous books of recent decades. I was bought Northern Lights for Christmas by my Grandad when I was about nine or ten and I fell in love. My Grandad, and the way he chose books for me and my sister, hugely inspired Tilly’s Grandad. He died when I was at university, but I hope that in Tilly’s Grandad he exists still in some way. His Dark Materials is also the series that made me aware of publishing, because I had to wait for the third book in the series. I remember going into my local Waterstones every time I passed to ask if they knew when it was going to be available. As well as being brilliant stories, these books taught me about challenging corrupt authority, standing up for what is right, and showed me the power of being your own heroine, something that is at the heart of Tilly’s story too.

 

–          They Do Things Differently There by Jan Mark

“We have to be careful from now on,’ Elaine said. ‘In a minute we’ll be back where we started. If we’re going to disappear, this is where it happens.”

It is an absolute travesty that this book, first published in 1994, is out of print (I think I am going to have to petition my publisher to buy the rights and reissue it). It’s one of the weirdest, most wonderful books I’ve ever read, and my childhood copy (whose RRP is £3.50!) is very worn from how much I read it. Arguably a UKYA novel before UKYA existed as a genre, it’s about two teenage girls living in a newly built town just outside of London, inventing a hidden world in the cracks and corners of the identical suburban houses. It features fishmonger poets, avenging angels, and a mermaid factory and it is a clever, weird trip of a book that kicked off my love of books about magic just around the corner, hiding in plain sight in the real world (see also Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones!).

 

Pages & Co: Tilly And The Bookwanderers is available from 20th September 2018.

Thanks to Anna James for your time and to Sam White at HarperCollins UK for organising the tour.

Guest Post

Author Guest Post: Pippa Goodhart

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Author Pippa Goodhart talks about bookish characters in an amazing guest-post. 

When one of Bill’s experiments goes badly wrong, and his father loses his job, Bill sets out to make money selling fossils. He finds something amazing, something which might make him a fortune, but is the world ready for the questions raised by Bill’s discovery? 

I delighted to have Pippa Goodhart on the blog to talk about bookish characters and Bill’s thirst for knowledge. Thank-you Pippa for your time. 

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The Facts Behind the Fiction

By Pippa Goodhart

How is it that spiders know how to build complex webs, but flies don’t know to avoid those web traps?  Why is the earth layered into different kinds of soil as you dig downwards?  Why are there so many fossils of sea creatures found so very many miles from the sea?  How can there be rhino fossils in an island nation thousands of miles from Africa?  What happened to the dinosaurs and other ancient creatures which are no longer around?

My story’s main character, eleven-year-old Bill, wants to find answers to all sorts of questions.  His nurseryman father has some answers, and, like Bill, enjoys chasing those questions with ideas.  But then Bill meets young academic Robert Seeley, real-life assistant to the great Victorian professor of geology at Cambridge University, Professor Sedgwick, and the world of research into scientific and theological matters opens to him.

Bill is also trying to work out answers to the questions he has about himself and his family.

There are so many stories in which the main character is bookish in a literary way, meaning stories and poetry rather than books about how things work.  That’s perhaps not surprising when those who write books are naturally bookish and sympathetic to such interests.  But the world is full of so many different kinds of interest, and actually fiction can be a very effective way of imparting knowledge and enthusing interest in science and history and so much more.  I’ve always loved stories which give practical information about things which are new to me.  I reckon I could just about build a log cabin and tap maple trees for syrup to be boiled into molasses from my reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books!

I am not an expert on pre-history or fossils, but I knew the questions I wanted answers to, and I hope they are questions that readers will also want answers to.  Because those answers come in the form of fairly brief conversations within the developing personal story of Bill’s life, they are necessarily brief and, I hope, accessible.  I had advice from the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge which holds the fossils used in my story, just to be sure I wasn’t getting the historical and scientific side of things wrong.

My hope is that, as well as enjoying the up personal and who-dun-it mystery sides of this book, children will also pick up Bill’s habit of really noticing and questioning the world they live in.  As Dad says,

It turns out that the biggest question of all in this story is about Bill himself.

 

The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart out now in paperback (£6.99, Catnip)

Connect with Pippa @pippagoodhart  and Catnip @catnipbooks

 

Chat · Guest Post

Guest Post: Bath, book, bed by Hannah from A Cup Of Wonderland.

I am delighted to welcome Hannah from A Cup Of Wonderland to my blog. A Cup Of Wonderland is a beautiful bookish blog with amazing photography and great reccomendations. If you haven’t found Hannah’s blog already, do check it out

Back in April, I wrote a post in support of BookTrust’s bath, book, bed campagain. I suggested adults and teenagers would do well to adopt this routine too. Hannah kindly agreed to give us a look at her own bath, book and bed habits. A big thanks to Hannah for your time. 

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Bath, Book and Bed.

 A while ago on BookMurmuation, Louise published a post which was inspired by the Booktrust recent campaign of Bath, Book and Bed routine. Louise wrote about the importance such a routine has not only for children but for adults as well. I found her post incredibly insightful as Louise illustrated the importance of this routine by discussing her own. Now I happily admit that I am quite an inquisitive person, which perhaps is just a polieter way of saying incredibly nosy, so I quite enjoyed her post. Which is why I was equally delighted when Louise invited me onto her blog to write this post presenting my own Bath, Book then Bed routine.

I feel that before I begin this post, I should include a disclaimer. The majority of the time my routine is quite chaotic and probably not good because I am a phone addict and will watch YouTube videos or Netflix instead of going to sleep. But at least once a week or a couple of times a month, I like to set some time aside especially for this routine. I think it’s a great way of recharging your batteries, allowing yourself a break which is incredibly important if your a bit of a workaholic like me. Now onto my Bath, Book and Bed routine.

 

The Bath:

hannahbathIn my household I live with both my parents so normally when I plan to have one of these types of evenings, I make sure I get in the bathroom last as it means I can happily spend an hour or two in the bath with a nice bath bomb with no complaints or someone (my dad) banging on the door telling me to get out. At the moment my bath bomb of choice has been Lush bath bombs which I love immensely which is due to the fact that it’s one of the few types of bath bombs which don’t irritate my skin or psoriasis. The one which I used for this bath in particular was the Monster one which Lush released for Halloween and it’s my favourite which is why I been rationning the ones which I have remaining.

Once in the bath, I always have a book in hand. After all I will happily spend an hour or more enjoying a good soak with a good book and a cup of tea too.

 

The Book:

hannahbookThe most important part of the evening. Now I normally read in bath for a good portion of time before I get out and light some candles, dry off and then dive right back in. The book in choice for this post was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I saw the movie adaptation when it was released. I adore the film but reading the book made fall entirely in love with every single character, place, and aspect of the novel. If you haven’t read it then I would definitely recommend you purchasing it. 

 

Bed:

hannahbedNow if the book is really really juicy, and I’m unable to put it down. I blow the candles, get my pjs on and slip into bed and continue reading. Which is better than normal as it means that my phone is not being used and I’m not working at all. Now when I finally put the book down and decided to go to sleep, unfortunately the plan deviated a little because my 6 month old pup Oscar, decided to bring his Micky Mouse up and wanted to play. So it was almost completely perfect then? Eventually I’ll to sleep.

 

Huge thank you to Louise for inviting  me to write this post as I too think it’s incredibly important to use your bedtime routine as a way of relaxing and having an allocated downtime.