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? 
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Letter to Santa – 11 things I want this Christmas

wishlistbannerIf I get all this, it will be a sign that I’ve been very good this year. My wishlist says a lot about who I am. Reading and writing are the most important things in my life. Everything else makes those an even nicer experience.

When my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas this year I said Moomin Bedding. I’ve wanted this for a year or two, but constantly forgotten it around birthdays and Christmas. The chocolate is sorted. We’re planning a family trip to Kennedy’s, and this being an important event we’ve marked it on the calendar. 

There are more books I want than I can possibly name. My family suggested I tell them a smaller number, to ensure I get the ones I really, really want. I chose the illustrated edition of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Tell Me A Dragon by Jackie Morris and Daemon Voices by Phillip Pullman. My sister also hinted that she’d bought me a picture book because she knows I like the illustrator. I have a sneaking suspicion I know which book, and am intrigued to find out whether I am right.

I’m off shopping – my family are so generous with present-buying that I owe them presents they actually want. In the meantime, here is my wishlist for Christmas 2017. 

 

 

What is on your Christmas wishlist? Have you sorted your pressie buying? Let me know in the comments below.

Picture Books

7 Picture Book Visitors

Controversy around the John Lewis advert has seen sales of Chris Riddell’s 1987 picture book Mr Underbed sell out. A new print run is expected in time for Christmas. Mr Underbed – the story of a boy who finds a monster under the bed – is set to be the hit of Christmas 2017.

I’m not so interested in the monster, as the fact the monster is a visitor. Visitors are nothing new in picture books. They come, and when they inevitably leave the child has changed as a result of their friendship. Here are seven of my favourite picture book visitors. bird1.) 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental The first penguin is cute, but every day another penguin is delivered. The family engage in a number of maths problems as they try to store the penguins in their small house. At the end, there is a great environmental message.

2.) The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr Perhaps the most famous visitor in the history of children’s literature. The book has been interpreted as a metaphor for Kerr’s childhood. Kerr grew up in Nazi Germany, where strangers came into Jewish households and robbed people of their property. 

3.) The Bear by Raymond Briggs One day, a great white bear comes to stay with Tilly. Is he real? Has she imagined him? *whispers* I love the book because I love the cartoon. I’m a huge Snowman fan. The Bear is more poignant in tone, and more beautiful. 

4.) Three By The Sea by Mini Grey  A stranger blows in, and tries to separate cat, dog and mouse with special gifts. Their life is almost wrecked when they come together and decide to ignore his gifts. 

5.) The Something by Rebecca Cob Is the Something a visitor? Anyway, there’s a hole in the garden, and something’s down there. Is it a troll? A dragon? Maybe it’s just a mouse? A book which encourages children to look at the world with imaginative eyes. 

6.) Can You Catch A Mermaid by Jane Ray Eliza’s Dad is a fisherman. She would rather he stayed at home and played with her. She waits for him instead of playing with the other children. The only reason she lets him go is he might bring home a mermaid. One day, Eliza befriends a mergirl on the beach. She wants to keep hold of Freya forever, but being on land makes Freya unwell. Eliza learns to let people go, and to interact with others. 

7.) Lost And Found by Oliver Jeffers A penguin arrives on the boy’s doorstep. The boy sets off to return the penguin to the South Pole. The South Pole isn’t what the penguin is looking for. A story about finding friendship. 

 

Do you have any favourite fictional visitors? Let me know in the comments below.

top ten tuesday

10 Wintery Reads

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The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell: frost faires, Snow Queens and pygmy dinosaurs. A group of explorers trek across the snowy Icelands. Will Stella Starflake Pearl survive when she is separated from her group? This year’s tale of wintery magic. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and plan to read it in one sitting with generous helpings of hot chocolate. 

 

Father Christmas and Me by Matt Haig *whispers* I’ve already read this, and it is fantastic. I love Matt Haig’s take on Father Christmas’s home, and the topical themes of fake news and divisive reporting. Sounds serious? Don’t be fooled? There’s plenty of Drimwickery – that’s elvish magic – and Spickle Dancing to keep things light-hearted. 

 

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black I read the first chapters on ReadersFirst and am now seriously excited to read this book. The twins always knew their sister Vivi was different. They didn’t know she was heir to the elfish throne. Not until the elf king came and killed their mother. Wintery? Holly Black captures the darkness of fairytales perfectly, and I think that is never more atmospheric than in winter.

 

The Lost Boy by Christina Henry This has been on my shelf since late summer, and lots of my Twitter friends have read it recently. Peter Pan is the ultimate Panto. I think the original story is as good today as it was in the early 1900s, and look forward to reading this origin story for Captain Hook.

 

Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire Gregory Maguire was one of my favourite authors in my actual teens. This was my favourite – it crosses the story of Cinderella with the history of the tulips in Amsterdam. 

 

Barefoot On The Wind by Zoe Marriott One of my favourite reads of 2017. Beauty And The Beast YA style. She’s a rebel who doesn’t want to marry. He lives in the middle of a cursed forest. Beautiful and bold, I love this book on so many levels.

 

Winter Magic (ed. Abi Elphinstone) A great collection of stories by some of the best children’s authors at work in the UK, this book dragged the seasonal story out of it’s slump (Am I the only one who found winter stories too predictable before Winter Magic?) There is something for everyone here – snow dragons and Victorian frost fairs, haunted kirks buried beneath the snow and magic colouring books. 

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens My GCSE teacher said something about Great Expectations which remains true. If you only remember one fictional character for the rest of your life, it will be Miss Havisham. Try me. Miss Havisham will haunt you. 

 

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond The book starts where it ends. Christmas eve, when the children who were believed dead ‘come back to life’ and walk through the town. The most interesting thing is what the text says about story structure, and the role of stories themselves.

 

The Tailor Of Gloucester My favourite Beatrix Potter. I’ve associated with Christmas since I was knee-high. We had the cartoon recorded (yes, on actual tape), and it ended with a rendition of The Sussex Carol. The story is set one Christmas eve, when a tailor fears he will be ruined because he is too ill to go out and buy silk twist to finish a wedding suit. The resident mice are aware of his plight … 

 

What are you reading this winter? Any old favourites? Let me know in the comments below.

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8 Novelty Presents Where The Novelty Wore Off

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There’s no need to buy Christmas presents this year. Not in our house. Between the garage, the loft and the cupboard under the stairs, we have a house full of presents-past, which have barely been touched. It would make a great sleepover, if I could be bothered to go through the packing boxes.

We moved two years ago. Plenty went to charity shops, but the move happened in a small time frame. You have to pity the removal company. They boxed it all up, and here it is. Still unsorted, thanks to the additional storage in the new house.

Here are some of the unloved Christmas presents I would find if I went through the boxes. Reader – buy wisely. You may want it for Christmas, but will you want it once the novelty wears off? bird1-1213888416aexzPopcorn Maker. And Ice-cream maker, and fondue set. We didn’t go so far as the chocolate fountain. The Ice-cream maker had a healthy run during my childhood, but the others were gimmiks all the way.

Scalextric.  Every birthday between the ages of eight and 13, Dad tried to persuade me I wanted a Scalextric. He nearly succeeded when I was ten. Eventually the truth came out. The only thing my daddy ever wanted. As a small boy, he had a car track, but not an actual Scalextric. A family decision was made to buy the one thing Dad had ever wanted. How many times has it been played with? I reckon twice.

Robin Felting Kit. Still knocking around in my bedroom from last Christmas. It’s your fault, Kirstie Allsopp. You made it look so easy. Stab the polystyrene and the felt attaches. Stabby, stab, stab, and you too have a claim to creativity. What happened when I stabbed the polystyrene? The felt fell on the floor, and I made a small hole.

Grabby Machine. Think Toy Story. Think the Clllllaaaawwww. Own your very own (mini) arcade machine, and enjoy infinite goes to get things out. Great fun, until you snorkelling_with_the_swollen_purple_headrealise if you ever want to play with it you’ll have to fill it yourself. Put stuff you might want in, and everybody falls out over the fiver. Put tat in and nobody can be bothered to play with it. We bought this for a get-together and it was definitely a one-hit wonder. 

Hair braiding. This goes back to when I was nine or ten, and was probably advertised in a pre-teen magazine. Hands up who remembers Girl Talk? Star Girl? 1990s Zoella. I have the kind of hair which grows outwards rather than down, and zilch interest in the methods required to tame it. 

71sv4w2iyul-_ac_us218_Adult Colouring Book. It’s mindful. It’s got pretty little bunny rabbits amid intricate designs. I might have finished half a page. 

Modern Monopoly. Like standard Mononpoly, except you get a pretend credit card, and even the brown ones are beyond the wildest dreams of Millenials. Instead of chance cards, some flipping machine can hit you with a ‘chance’ at any moment and rob you of your hard-earned cash. Enough to sour family relations. 

Wii Fit. Not a computer game, not exercise, and it is galling when a nine year-old beats wii_balance_board_transparentyou at hula hoops because you have no co-ordination. Go for a walk. There’s more to see. 

Clockwork Seal. If I had more display space, this would be out. It is an object of beauty. Wind it up and it flaps its flippers. Only … there’s not much more to do with it, and it gathers dust. 

 

rainbow_loom_multicolored_bandsOne I would Keep: Loom Bands. I bought the first packet for ‘research’. Could I teach my Rainbows how to make a simple bracelet? The sparkly blue, the grape-scented purple and the official Rainbow Loom? Those were all for me. This shouldn’t have been a hobby I clicked with. Aside from being 20 years older than the average weaver, I have no coordination. Guess what? I got into intricate designs, as demonstrated by tween vloggers. Great fun. 

 

 

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9 Ways to Enhance your Reading Experience

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Reading is about so much more than books. When non-readers roll their eyes at the idea of books, they miss the point that reading is about so much more than text. Of course we can be philosophical about books developing empathy skills, but I was thinking about the physical reading experience. 

Books are not the only things which are important to the reading experience. There are little things which make reading even more of a pleasure. Sure, we can read in anywhere, but if you designed the perfect reading environment, what would the little touches be? 

Here are nine things which make my reading experience – 

 

Seating and cushions – It makes a difference. I like to read with my feet up, and a pile of cushions behind my back and shoulders. I love my huge cushion – firmer than a pillow, it turns what would be a slump into something which passes for sitting up.  Blankets are important in the cold. My Mum is a prolific knitter, and only knits with pure wool. I’m well sorted for pretty blankets. 

 

hot_chocolate_28229Hot Drink – I’m not up on a range of teas like some of my lovely Twitter friends, but I make a mean cup of tea. Pour the milk in first (how do those milk-after people measure??) and give the tea bag time to work it’s magic. Simples. I like a good hot chocolate too. I’m a chocolate-snob, but hot chocoalte? That sugar-packed chocolate drink works for me. 

 

Stationery – I make notes. Lots of notes. I could do this on any scrap of paper, but there is so much pleasure in a beautiful notebook. I am a self-confessed Paperchase addict. 

 

Bath Products –  Whether you read in the bath or have a long soak afterwards to contemplate the story, you need good bath products molton-brown-pink-pepperpod-body-wash_2016_kbt034_xl. My favourite is Molten Brown’s Pink Pepperpod. Pepper is one of those scents which has been marketed to men for too long. Don’t let anybody genderise your bath bubbles. Pepper and Sandalwood are as refreshing as fruity and floral scents. 

 

IMG_2677Chocolate – There is nothing better than good chocolate. Real chocolate uses cocoa butter, not vegetable oil. Last month, I visited one of my favourite chocolate places, Kennedy’s in Orton. It isn’t super-pricey, but it is good chocolate, and they have some wonderful combinations. I chose some chocolate for the top of my birthday cake. The St Clements (orange and lemon) didn’t make it on to the cake, but it was wickedly-good. 

 

Candles – I prefer to read in good light, but I understand the attraction of candles. I haveil_570xn-1165135269_oi31 a scented candle I refuse to burn, because it makes my room smell … of my room, actually. It has become a defining smell. I love the range of ‘bookish’ candles available at William and Joseph. 

 

Bookshelf Decoration –My bookshelves are pretty packed. I would love to be a bookstagramer, and get into the whole visual side of things, but at the moment I’m happy to admit that is not me. My shelves are cluttered, there is a beloved childhood toy on top of one and I had a great Lego display space until I acquired more Middle Grade fiction than I can otherwise store. 

 

Declarations of Love to Favourite Books –

P1010556This is something the internet has got me into. Good old internet. Whether it is a necklace with a Narnia quote, a bookish GIF or a Hogwarts travel poster, there are any number of ways to declare undying love to a favourite book. I would like to see more bookish Christmas decorations. I have the cutest Wonderland tree decorations, but where is Peter Pan? Narnia? I also love these little wooden people, which are sold as toys, but actually double-up as cute and totally bookish tree decorations. Jesters? Kings? Zombie-Pirates? SOLD. 

 

Book Chats –Reading a story is only the beginning. Talking to someone who has read the same book is like finding someone who has been on the same journey. It’s a scary thought. They have seen your special place with different eyes, and that can be difficult. It can also be wonderful. Hours can be spent reliving those journeys, colour can be added to your recollections and the friends I have loved most have without exception been bookish. 

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Days of Mystery and Myth. Six Reasons why I love autumn.

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(Quote from Wintersmith album by Steeleye Span. Based on work by Terry Pratchett.)

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Spring is over-hyped. It is more fun now we live in the countryside, and actually see the swallows arriving and the lambsies skipping around the fields. Growing up in London, Spring was a wash-out. Every year, we were promised blossom and wooly lambs and little Easter chicklets. What did we get? Some sad blossom which hung around for half-a-day, and a whole lot of rain which made the blossom stick to the pavement like treacherously slippy confetti.

Meanwhile, we had to listen to the same boring stories about life beginning and the bloke who rode into town on a donkey. Great.

Never mind the renewal of life. Autumn meant conkers. Autumn meant new pencil cases, and pencils which weren’t covered in cruddy pencil dust, (and might never be! You never know!). Most importantly, autumn meant my birthday, while spring meant my sister’s. Which was fun and all that, but mine was the most exciting.

I still love early autumn. The colours are more striking, the food more filling and there is a hint of magic in the air, which spring just fails to deliver. Spring is the sappy season, which vies for your attention with the obvious. Autumn is the wilder, bolder season who throws out all the surprises and still wins.

 

Six Reasons I love autumn:

 

Conkers: Holding a conker is like holding the season in your hand, all the glossy, firey colours bound tighty into one nut. There is also the satisfaction of opening a horse chestnut shell. How can something so spikey be so smooth and delicate? Conkers are collectable. Don’t be fooled by people who say conker collections are for children. Adults are at it too. They collect twice as many, then pass it off as natural decoration, or seasonal garlands.

 

All the colours of the season: Sounds like a sad cliché. You’ve got to be out in it to appreciate. Cumbria in the autumn may be the most beautiful place on earth. We live near the Solway. The local moss (peat bog – bear with me, it’s spectacular), looked as if it had been set on fire and left to simmer down to embers. I’m quite certain it is home to goblins, or maybe there are people waiting to rise from the murk. You don’t get that in spring.

Food: Homemade jam. Blackberry and apple crumble. Nuts and berries and root vegetables. On October 1st, Hommity Pie comes back to Cranstons ( regional food supplier, and purveyor of great-pies-which-make-a-quick-meal.) Hommity Pie is a great option for veggies, and goes beautifully with the nut and leek salad. Well. The extra fat will keep me insulated.

Pumpkin soup: I love carving pumpkins, and was gaining a reputation back in London. I’m not quite at work-of-art level, but I like to do something more than the standard eyes-DSC_0529and-a-mouth. Over the Atlantic, pumpkin carving is HUGE, and it is something the internet has gifted me.

Pumpkin carving means pumpkin soup. We have this once a year, usually because I’ve wrecked at least one pumpkin and it seems a crime to waste so  much fruit.  Creamy soup and crusty bread. Need I say more?

 

Snow Queen. Wintersmith. Samhain: The dark nights and seasonal splendour  have brought out the best in our imagination since the dawn of time. Winter was when warrior tribes huddled around the fire and told stories. The only story about spring with the same bite is the story of Persephone in the Underworld. Even then, it’s the months in the underworld which make the story magical.

 These boots were made for walking: and stomping, and jumping in puddles, and walking around lakes. Sandals are made for looking pretty in, and that is a boring pastime. Not that I don’t have sandals I love, but I’m always happier in a pair of walking books, and as for those fleecy-lined boots I wear into town … they are like a hug for my toesies, and I’m so glad to see them back in action.

 

What is your favourite season? Tell me why it is magical in the comments below.

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday – 06.06.2017

Detective fiction has gone beyond cream buns and jolly jinxes … although they are a good place to start. The theme of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is ten books on my TBR from one genre. I have chosen ten middle-grade detective books I would give my ginger beer to read.

Historical and fantasy settings abound. The reason for this is simple. Most crimes can be solved with modern technology. Never mind forensics. The average 12 year-old  has a wealth of information at their finger tips which would destroy the pace of a good plot. You’ll notice how many terrible storms cut off all power in modern day detective fiction. Ridiculously remote locations can also be a gem, for their backward connectivity. Some authors blend modern day worlds with fantasy sub-plots for the same reason.

What I love about this list is the range of characters. Gone are the days when all child detectives had wealthy parents. Rose Muddle was plucked from the warehouse. Mold was abandoned as a baby, and raised by a healer. Poppy Pym started life in the circus. There is also a huge range of ‘maguffins’ – that is, the shiny, elusive thing our protagonists are searching for – from videos of Bigfoot, to missing friends, something tangible usually sets the protagonists on their trail towards the truth.

 

(L-R) 

  • Bigfoot, Tobin and Me – Melissa Savage
  • Mold and the Poison Plot – Lorraine Gregory
  • Black Cats and Butlers (Rosie Raventhorp Investigates )- Janine Beacham
  • Serafina and the Black Cloak – Robert Beatty
  • If you Find This – Matt Baker
  • Beetle Boy – MG Leonard
  • Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret – Lyn Gardner
  • The Guggenheim Mystery – Robin Stevens/Siobhan Dowd
  • Poppy Pym and the Pharoah’s Curse – Laura Wood
  • The Amber Pendant (The Rose Muddle Mysteries) – Imogen White

 

toptentuesday

Six for Sunday

Six for Sunday – Six things I Love in a Book.

Started by Steph at alittlebutalot, Six for Sunday asks us to give six answers to one question. This week’s theme is ‘six things I love in a book’.

  • Headstrong protagonists. Every character has a flaw, something which makes the reader empathise with them. When the action comes, we want them to come out on top. This is one I relate to, characters on the side of right, always, but ready to hurtle into battle regardless of the likely consequences. Think Moll or Lyra.

 

  • Fairytales whose origin informs the plot. I’m a folkie, and love it when attention is given to the how and why of storytelling. This is about the why – why do we tell stories? What can we learn about a society, hundreds of years later, by reading their stories? Examples this year include Ink by Alice Broadway, A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson and The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy by Melinda Salisbury.

 

  • Circus settings. Circus Mirandus to Secret Heart, The Night Circus to Wild Boy. I’ve never been to a circus in real life, but you could sell me a novel in a second by saying it is set in a circus. I think this may relate to point 2. The circus is a place where we allow our subconscious free reign to imagine. Many of the books above touch on this.

 

  • Time-slip anything.

 

  • Reference to real places. Done badly, it can read like those dodgy stories kids are lumbered with when they visit heritage sites, but I love visiting places I’ve read about in fiction.

 

  • Animal companions. It has become a cliché, especially in middle grade fiction, but unless the animal is clearly a token, I’m sold. The flip-side is, I’ve always got my breath held. Mortality among fictional animal friends is high.

 

Thanks to Steph for hosting.