Chat · Days Out

Winding Paths and Twisting Stairs – The Forbidden Corridor.



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Forbidden Corner
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ, UK
Middle Grade Reviews

GoldenBooksGirl on Mystery And Mayhem


9781405282642You may remember Amy from GoldenBooksGirl from our shared read of Quest. Short Story Anthologies were designed to be shared, whether you read a story together, chat about one story every week or feed back to each other on one half of the book. This is the format we use – it works well from a blogging perspective, and allows us see whether we agree with each other’s verdict when we read the rest of the book. 

Murder And Mayhem is a great anthology for fans of mystery and crime. Me and Amy share a love of Middle Grade detective fiction, and the anthology has some of the greats: Frances Hardinge, Katherine Woodfine and Helen Moss to name three. 

Huge welcome to Amy, who read the first six stories from Murder and Mayhem. breakbird





Emily and the Detectives- Susie Day

This is a really jovial opening to the anthology; it tells the story of Emily, a young girl who is the real brains behind her father and his friend Lord Copperbole`s much lauded feats as a detective duo, as she becomes involved in a locked room mystery no one else can explain. However, it also touches on why Emily isn`t given credit, and how unfair it is that she isn`t seen as clever/brave enough to solve mysteries just because she`s a girl. It shows a real historical murder method, which will be educational for some, and especially for younger readers or those not familiar with the historical mystery genre. Finally, I thought the mystery was wrapped up really well even though the solution kind of comes out of nowhere.


Rain on My Parade by Elen Caldecott

In her story for the anthology, Elen Caldecott sets a mini-mystery in her Marsh Road setting about the Marsh Road Carnival and a few members of the team solving the mystery of a sabotaged dress. While I did miss Piotr and Andrew in this story, I was pleased to see Minnie, Flora, Sylvie and minor character Big Phil appear. I adore Elen Caldecott`s vibrant, vivid writing style and the imagery she uses as it hugely helps me visualise the setting and understand exactly how each character is feeling, and it brings the world and the story to life. Finally, this story manages to have quite a complex mystery for such a short wordcount as there are several suspects and red herrings for the team to work through and it was as ffun as ever to follow their detective work.


The Mystery of the Green Room by Clementine Beauvais

This short story, possibly my favourite of the three in this section of the anthology, is about a large family reuniting in France for a funeral/will reading and what happens when one of their party goes into their room, locks the door and then dies. The protagonist Marcel is super likeable and I like that as well as him being a great detective we also see him struggle with his changing relationship with his slightly older cousin Joseph who he feels is leaving him behind. This is an absolutely fascinating locked room mystery with a solution I definitely didn`t guess, and I really liked the very enclosed setting as it makes the story feel quite dangerous at points. The only thing I`m not keen on in this story is that I struggle to keep the different members of the family straight in my head as there are so many of them.




The Mystery of Diablo Canyon Circle by Caroline Lawrence

Going in, I wasn`t expecting a huge amount from this as I’m not really a big fan of the Roman Mysteries series by this author, but I enjoyed this story hugely. Darcy is a great narrator and detective (I also love the literary references of her and her sibling`s names!) and the mystery- the disappearance of a dog called Shane who belongs to her celebrity neighbour- is interesting and I definitely wanted to keep reading throughout. I personally don`t like the ending of this (no spoilers though!) but it`s still an excellent story as this is just down to me personally and not the quality of the ending itself.


Mel Foster and the Hound of the Baskervilles by Julia Golding

I had no clue what this story would be like when I started it as Julia Golding is the only author in the anthology I`d never read before, but I`ll be seeking out the novels in the Mel Foster series soon. This was super fun and a great mystery, but I think my favourite part was the relationship between Mel and Eve as their friendship is so nice and they cover each other`s weaknesses and look out for each other in general. I do feel that I may have picked up on some extra references if I`d read the original Hound of the Baskervilles but the story was very easy to follow and I definitely wasn`t confused by anything. Finally, I loved the happy ending and the little cameo from Sherlock Holmes.


Dazzle, Dog Biscuits and Disaster by Kate Pankhurst

This story is the very definition of a canine caper, and I love it a lot! It`s about Sid, whose mum runs a dogwalking business, as one of their dogs escapes from its house and Sid gets blamed. He soon sets out to clear his name and find out where Dazzle really is. I actually managed to work out the culprit in this but it`s an utterly delightful read and Sid is a sweetheart of a narrator. If you like Mariella Mystery, I think you`ll love this short story even more.



waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

ftffbSynopsis: (from

A sweet and kooky romcom starring flying-trapeze double act and brother/sister twins, Finch and Birdie Franconi, and their geeky friend, Hector Hazzard. After Birdie’s terrifying trapeze accident, serious performer Finch and clumsy wannabe Hector must work together to save the family circus school and put on the biggest show ever. Together they learn to walk the high-wire of teen life and juggle the demands of friends, family, first love and facing up to who they are – all served up with a dash of circus-showbiz magic. breakbirdWhy I can’t wait to read Flying Tips For Flightless Birds:


  • Did I mention that I love circus settings? OK, ten or twenty times, but saving the family circus school is another take one of my favourite settings.


  • I love the tagline ‘Life is a Circus, Don’t Miss the Show’. Circuses are a great place for characters to do something even though it is dangerous, or crazy, because they want to be part of the magic, and will never live with themselves if they don’t step out.


  • Following on from the above thought, this is a great metaphor for the theme of sexuality. Romance feels big and scary, especially for a young protagonist, but what if the only thing to do is ‘jump’? Something wonderful might happen.


  • Circuses are often used in fantasy stories, something I devour and applaud, but it is nice to see a circus setting in a novel which looks to be contemporary. Contemporary YA has really come into its own this year, and it is lovely to see how many different books come under that banner.


  • It is great to see a rise in LGBTQA+ stories which explore the building relationship between the characters, rather than ‘the issue’. 2017 has definitely seen a shift in what is being published, and Flying Tips For Flightless Birds looks set to start 2018 on the right foot.


Flying Tips For Flightless Birds

Walker Books

March 2018


Work with the brain you’ve got, or 100 hours.



A couple of weeks ago I posted this picture on Twitter, and it got a reasonable response. I thought people might be interested. Lots of people in my network write, or have a creative pass time. In the summer, I set myself the challenge of counting 100 hours writing. Not planning, not editing or … fussing … just words-on-the-page writing. That’s not to say those other things aren’t important, but I find it easy to distract myself with them, and forget the thing which matters most. The picture marks the moment I hit that target.

It took longer than I hoped, but in the two weeks since  I’ve almost done another 50 hours. Why? The challenge helped me build discipline. My projects have got longer, and I’m less self-critical in early drafts. This was my biggest problem. I was so frightened to be imperfect, I wouldn’t let myself get going. Having overcome that, I’m giving more time to each project, which means less planning time.

Another thing has changed. Through the first 100 hours, I felt guilty for colouring in half an hour at a time. To simplify:

  • a large square is 25 hours
  • a small square is therefore an hour
  • half a square is … you get the picture.

At first I was angry if I coloured in half a square. Three, maybe four squares. That was what I wanted. Except, I kept colouring in at the half-hour. Now I always colour half-squares. Not only that, but I set them up as time windows. I have a fidget, then settle down for another half-hour. I figure if short bursts of writing work, why fight it? 

 I would be a fraud if I offered writing advice. However, I think if my current experience has taught me anything, it is that. Work with the brain you’ve got. Learn your habits, and work with them. Don’t make excuses – you don’t need to do yoga, or sit at the finest chair, or build extension or wait for more time – but when you sit down to write, do work in the way which gets words on the page. 

Here’s to the next 100 hours, and the next. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, except that the words are on the page and I’m so happy. 


What do you reckon – motivation or distraction? Have you ever set a time challenge for a hobby?

Middle Grade Reviews

Nine Places. 150 Applicants. The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend




Nevermoor stretched out for miles in every direction. Morrigan she was imagined she was on a ship, sailing an ocean of buildings and streets and people and life.

A thrill crept down her neck. Leaving a trail of gooseflesh. I’m alive, she thought, and the idea was so absurd, and so wonderful that a laugh spilled from her mouth, cutting through the quiet. Morrigan didn’t care. She felt expansive, bursting with a new joy and termerity which could only have come from cheating death. 

It’s a new age, she thought with disbelief, and I’m alive

(The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. PP. 80 -81.) 


Morrigan Crow has an unfortunate reputation for making unlucky things happen. A reputation which is damaging her father’s political career, and costing him a fortune in compensation. As far as her family are concerned, there is one small blessing: cursed children die on Eventide, so Morrigan won’t be around much longer.

At the age of eleven, children in the Republic find out whether they have any bids. It’s too expensive to educate every child properly, and there needs to be an underclass. After all, that’s where the servants come from. Only the best and the brightest, and those with well-connected parents receive bids. Morrigan isn’t expecting any bids. After all, she’s on the Cursed-Children Register. Imagine her surprise when more than one person bids.

There’s strange Mr Squall, who is in charge of the energy supply. Then there is Jupiter North from the Wundrous Society, who says Morrigan doesn’t have to die. She can follow him to the free state of Nevermoor, and cheat death.

If she passes three difficult trials, she can stay in Nevermoor as a member of the Wundrous Society.

Why is Jupiter North so convinced Morrigan has a knack – an impressive talent she can demonstrate at the final trial? What does he know that he won’t tell her?breakbirdReview:

I read this with the same rapt delight with which I first read Harry Potter 20 years ago. Jessica Townsend has created something special – a special world, special characters, and a plot which will keep you turning the pages.

I love the voice in which the story is told. Some serious observations are made in a witty asides. It’s like real-world issues hyped up. Children cherry-picked at eleven? Stand them in a hall, while they watch half their classmates receive ‘bids’. Christmas has become commercial? Let’s play off the traditions of the seasons against consumerism in a battle between ‘consumerist fat cat’ St Nick and The Yule Lady, bringer of snow. What I love is, having thought up the most exaggerated scenario, Townsend works it into the narrative in a really subtle way. The plot kept moving, and everything felt like a credible part of the world.

I adored Morrigan. People have been telling her she is cursed, and doomed to die, and she’s so afraid of being forgotten. She is quite low on self-belief. She’s the cursed-child, not someone with an extraordinary gift. Even so, she keeps going through the trials because there is more to her than a special talent.

The folksy touches were great, from the names (Morrigan Crow. Corvus Crow. The Wundersmith) to the measures of time, (Eventide,) to traditions like Hallowmas and the Christmas fight. Townsend has taken pre-existing ideas and reworked them into something new and exciting. She’s also thrown in plenty of totally new things, like a transport system based on umbrellas, and the Magnificat who oversees room service in Jupiter North’s hotel, the place which becomes Morrigan’s home.

I liked the relationship between Morrigan and Jupiter. It showed how difficult it is for children to trust adults blindly, then to discover those adults don’t always have the answer. Another theme was the arrival of new siblings. Morrigan literally becomes invisible to her family, a poignant metaphor for how some children feel at the arrival of a new child.

This will be a real winner, with teachers, librarians, and young readers, but I can see it being popular with readers of all ages. It has the magic and gentle wit which makes a children’s book a classic.

Huge thanks to Hatchette Children’s for giving me a chance to read this ahead of publication via Netgalley. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Picture Books

Review: Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen



After Michael Rosen’s fantabulous answers to my questions on Thurs, I wanted to share with you the book which brought about the Q and A. Isn’t it special? Many of you know the poem Chocolate Cake. I first came across it at school, in a different edition. Since then, YouTube has come along. Rosen is a YouTube natural. His videos are hilarious, and allow his poetry to be accessed in a different format. This book is the text of the YouTube performance. Please note, although the protagonist is named as Michael, to avoid confusion I refer to him either as ‘the protagonist’ or ‘the boy’. 

Kevin Waldron is a new illustrator. Judging by Chocolate Cake, he is a rising star. I love img_2909the mix of close-ups and comic-book style pages. Sometimes the boy and the cake appear multiple times across a double-page spread. My eyes followed their journey across the page, as if I was on the journey with the protagonist. 

I love the bright-pastel palette, and how some details are simple black-and-white line drawings. This keeps our attention on the boy and the cake, and on the words. 

Anyone familiar with Rosen will know he uses lots of noises in his performances. He img_2912explained the reasons these noises were kept in the printed version in the Q and A. I love how these words are emphasised in bold, playful font. Children really are encouraged to act them out, and to think up their own words. 

We all relate to the boy’s  situation. I read this at a poetry group, to an audience aged 19 – over 80. Everyone related to the feeling of being caught out, and plenty of people empathised with the midnight fridge raids! 

It is lovely to see Chocolate Cake in picture book format. It’s a format which is easy to share, and easy to reread, and the pictures are a celebration of the text as well as a new way to experience the story. I can see this being devoured by schools, and it would make a great gift for any chocoholic. 


Huge thanks to Sarah Hastelow at Penguin Random House for sending a copy to review. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Q and A/Author Interview

Michael Rosen Q and A: On word play, format and memories.

RosenbannerMichael Rosen Picture 2 - Credit Goldsmiths, University of London

I was hugely excited first to be offered the new edition of Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake to review, then to be given the chance to ask him some questions. Michael Rosen has been a hero since I was small. He came to talk at my primary school, and made every child laugh within about three seconds by describing the assembly hall as having a ‘Weetabix Ceiling’. Rosen’s poetry is funny, and great for sharing and reading aloud. It is also full of moments which are easy to relate to. The boy in chocolate cake, for example, finds himself caught-out after breaking the rules. 

I’m delighted to welcome Michael Rosen, on language, format and childhood memories. breakbirdLN: I have been familiar with the poem since childhood, as it appeared in The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry. Have you adapted the text over time, or was it rewritten for the new edition? 

MR: I adapted the text over time through my performances in schools. Then I put that performance on my YouTube channel. The book is the text of that performance.


LN: Did years of live performance influence the changes?

MR: Yes indeed. Every performance demands that I grab the attention of everyone in the room or wherever it is I’m performing. 


LN: I am particularly interested in the addition of extra noises, which are highlighted in different fonts. Is playful language important to the poem?

 MRI think it is. It’s easy to forget that letters belong to us, they don’t belong to dictionaries or academics. We make all sorts of noises that mean a lot but are not strictly speaking ‘words’. If we want to, we can represent those noises with letters, with brand new spellings. I think it’s great for children to know that they can do that. They can make letters work for them.


LN: In the past, you have spoken about books being more important than formalised language learning. Why is it important for children to see playful approaches to language? 

MR: Books work very hard to convince readers that they are worth reading. We do this with all sorts of ‘hooks’ to do with emotions, thoughts, feelings but we also do it with the sound of what we write. Language always has a physical aspect. With books, that aspect is print and paper. With speech, it’s sound waves created with our bodies. What’s very infectious (and funny) is when you write things down that appear to invite your body to play and experiment with those sounds. The poem is full of that, and I’ve found ways to have created an element of surprise in the sounds. This is also connected with a visceral pleasure (eating cake!) and high risk (what if I’m found out?). This combination seems to have tickled quite a few children and drawn them into wanting to hear it and read it over and over again. 


LN: The illustrations are new to this edition. How much of a collaboration was there between yourself and Kevin Waldron? Did you have any ideas about how you wanted the poem to be experienced, and how the illustrations might differ from previous editions of the poem? 

 MRMy attitude to illustrators, publishing and editors is that my job is to write. Everyone else in the production of a book has their job to do. The illustrator ‘reads’ my text and re-represents it through the pictures. The editors and other publishing workers create the book. That’s not my job either! So I saw the roughs as Kevin worked but I had very little to say because he was doing his work, his way and we all trusted him. I like that way of working. 


LN: I am interested in the different ways you have brought the poem to readers, for example in his school performances and on social media. Has YouTube changed the way in which you write new poems? Did it influence the new text? 

MR: Thanks for asking this. My own view of my poems is that I have several ways of ‘delivering’ them to people, each as valid as another. You’ve identified three: books, live performances, social media.  These aren’t separate from each other, though. They each nudge each other into adapting how they are written or performed. This book is a perfect example of this kind of hybrid. I think I realised this for the first time in the late 1970s when I was going into schools a good deal to perform my poems and found that the talk I was doing between the poems was more interesting to the children than my poems! Then I realised that I could write down these talking parts. Nowadays, I think my thoughts have become  very compressed: as I write I’m miming performance in my head. Social media are quite hard to do from a performance point of view because the only people there are the film crew and the director. They’re not there to enjoy themselves, they’re working, so I’d be ill-advised to take notice of their reaction. I do ‘take direction’ though, especially as the director is my son!


LN: You have said before that you writes about childhood memories. Why and how do particular moments lend themselves to poetry? Are they universal experiences, or very personal memories?

MR: This is your hardest question. I’m not really sure how I find these memories or why I select them. I sense that they are ones that have at their core something absurd or ironic. In some way or another, the person in the story (usually me but not always) doesn’t know as much about what they are saying or doing as the audience. It’s the core of dramatic irony, discovered or polished  thousands of years ago by the Ancient Greeks in drama and has been keeping us going through entertainment ever since. I’m not even sure why it interests me so much other than that I like the way dramatic irony respects the audience: it seems to say, ‘you take over’ or ‘you figure this out’. 


Huge thanks to Michael Rosen for his fantastic answers. The picture book edition of Chocolate Cake is available now. It looks as scrumptious as it sounds!

Thanks to Sarah Hastelow and all at Penguin Random House Children’s for arranging this opportunity.