Monday, 22 August 2016

Don't forget the competition!

The holiday snaps have begun to trickle in as peeps share with me where they've been reading StarMark. I've decided to extend the deadline to the 14th September, as I realise some schools are still out for the summer until early September, so if you'd still like a chance to win, then check out the rules and enter!

And great news - I've had feedback from StarMark's first young male reader! L, who's almost thirteen gave it a literal thumbs-up and told me "'It was really good - I read it in a week!" So I now know that StarMark appeals not just to girls (as you'd expect from having a female MC) but potentially to boys, too. And Mums. And Grandmas. And Dads...

Hooray!

If YOU enjoyed StarMark, please tell your friends about it or consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads to spread the word.

Enjoy what remains of your holidays xx

Squidge, sailing and StarMark...

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A blast from the past

Years ago, I spent some time designing images for rubber stamps, working with a company called Dimension Fourth Ltd. The company no longer exists, but for some time I enjoyed drawing different images which Roy and Aly Higginbottom turned into acrylic stamps and amazing cards. (I believe Roy and Aly are both still involved in the crafting world, but are no longer together.)

Anyway, as a result, I have three box files full of stamps made from my designs. I've dabbled and made cards using them, but not for ages. And I probably wouldn't have given them a thought, except that during a bit of a clear out yesterday, I found a box of ATCs I'd made using my own designs which sent me on a bit of a stroll down memory lane...

To the uninitiated, ATC's are Artist Trading Cards; card-makers sometimes produce miniature works of art (2.5 x 3.5 inches) based on stamping and swap them with other crafters. Each tiny card could take an hour or more to create. I used to LOVE making them...but could rarely bear to part with them - as proven by the boxful I found under the bed.

I love Christmas, so quite a few have a wintry theme:


Then there were borders and cartoon people and cute animals and fashion ideas...



And these next are my absolute favourite ATCs, especially the white cat and bouquet of flowers. Somehow, the backing paper colours and hand-drawn flowers just work. But then I also loved the patchwork quilt, with the stitching on paper and tiny button...



Having found these, I rooted out the boxes of stamps themselves. They're all acrylic, and the best way to store them is on laminated sheets. I used to stamp the images onto plain paper, have a colouring in session with the Squidgelings and then laminate the sheets so I had a handy reference as to what I'd got where.

Here are just a few of stamp sheets...

My first designs were mainly borders and cartoon people.


And as the cartoon people went down well, the range was extended to include historical and seasonal figures as well as a complete Nativity set!


I love Christmas, so I played with Christmas fairies...


...and words and trees and a LOT of patchwork designs...


...before moving onto penguins and Eskimos. The long-legged Santa and snowman were THE first designs I got paid for, and they were based on a pair of mantelpiece ornaments I'd bought when the Squidgelings were tiny.


More patchwork - I think I patchworked an awful lot, even before I got into the fabric version! There's a complete set of upper and lower case letters, a tortoise and a rabbit! And then we get the cute critters. I started with mice, cos I've always had a thing for mice.


 Then I moved onto cats - for all seasons - and dogs and moles...


I love the poodle on the scooter and the cat peeping out of the daisies.

You know, I hadn't realised just how many I'd drawn over the years until I went through the boxes... Perhaps it's time to get stamping again? Assuming I can find the time between writing projects, church and home, of course. Maybe I'll hand make my Christmas cards this year?

I'll let you know if I find 25 hours in the day between now and then!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Charnwood 2016 - Part 2: Channel Your Thoughts



(Read Part 1 here)

The start to Charnwood 2016 was a little...frantic. We arrived home from Menorca at 10.30pm on the Friday and by 10.30am on the Saturday I'd finally packed my bag, the car was loaded with three lots of kit and activity materials and we were on our way. We arrived, the kids tumbled out of the car and I had a very bumpy ride in an ATV over to the tent I'd be working in before off-loading my kit to the Noisy Nineties subcamp where I'd be sleeping and eating.

Noisy Nineties orange!

There were six sub-camps, each given their own colour and a decade, because the theme was 'Entertainment through the Decades'. The Squidgelings were in Non-Stop Noughties, and lime green!

Beautiful skies over the campsite

My role at camp was that of a team member in the Channel Your Thoughts Team. Our job was to provide a safe space for campers of all ages who needed a bit of quiet time or a break from activities or who struggled to cope with the overwhelmingness (is that a real word?) of a tented village that was home to 5000 people from 22 countries. We also had a remit to provide for the faith needs of the campers, offering a quiet space for prayer or contemplation should it be needed, as well as more formal services for different denominations and a Scout and Guide's Own.

Our rainbow tree outside our little marquee

Our days began with prayer for those who wanted it - just 15 minutes to prepare us for the day ahead. A team dingbats session followed once the activity tables were set out, and then we waited for whoever needed us.

Team dingbats...don't think we ever got 100%!

Each day we had a theme and decorated boards with 'Thoughts of...' They began to fill up later in the week as our visitors got used to doing them. It was interesting to see what the young folk added; some weren't always obvious. For example, on 'Happiness', there were a couple of faces with lines through them. At first glance this looked as if someone had deliberately sabotaged the picture - but it was all planned, because the artist told me it was a sad face with a line through it to show happiness meant no sadness.








Our last day...and we weren't needed so much!

Over the course of the week, we offered a listening ear, a drink and a chat for many folk. Word spread of the work we were doing so that unhappy campers, when spotted, were reported to us so we could make sure they were OK. If they weren't, they were invited to the tent so we could try to help. Thankfully, most of the issues we encountered were easy to deal with or passed on to others, and the next day we'd see a much happier face once the issue was resolved. Our distinctive neckers (made by yours truly) with speech bubble patterns made us visibly different from everyone else, and as one leader remarked when sharing some difficulty with me 'it's those neckers - I know I can talk to you!' But as that was what we were there for, I didn't mind in the least.

One of our activities ongoing during the week was knitting smoothie hats for Age UK. The innocent big knit donates 25p for every hat knitted - we aimed for 100 and got 200! Some hats were collaborative efforts, with folk who'd never knitted before adding a few stitches or a couple of rows or making mini (and in some cases, not-so-mini!) bobbles to decorate them. We even managed - with our left-handed team member - to teach a fellow left-hander how to knit. One of the CYT team, Craig, decided he wanted to knit a hat; we taught him from scratch and it took three days, but here's the finished item (which Craig reckons must've been worth at least a tenner for the effort it took to make!)


Criag said he didn't find it a very relaxing past-time - he was gripping the needles so hard and was a VERY tight knitter - and someone joked he'd be happier knitting on a pair of screwdrivers. Squidge was happy to oblige...

The hardest stitches I've ever knitted! I;'m back to needles...

The full 200 on the last day

We also had a jigsaw on the go - 1500 pieces of British history. Turned out there were actually 1499 pieces, as we discovered when we completed it on the last day.

Fiendishly difficult!

The missing piece


It was a real privilege to work with certain young folk who kept coming back to us. Over the course of the week, we watched their confidence grow until on Friday, we had our quietest day. It was almost as if the children and young people knew we were there, but didn't really need us any more. For me, that was a massive blessing, to be able to share in their growth over the course of five or six days. My lasting memories will be of the young man who faced his fear of water to take part in several water activities off-site; sharing a game of boccia with another from 'Ull; knitting and chatting with several young ladies, and the Malaysian Guides who came in every day to knit, work out the Suduku challenge and sleep!

I managed to embaress the Squidgelings quite successfully too, by dressing up in as much bright orange as I could find for the Opening Ceremony and dancing around in the middle of the main circus tent while the stewards got all 5000 campers seated.


Oh - and if you wondered just how big the marquee was to get 5000 campers into, take a look at these:

The CDC - a tent big enough to house ALL the campers

Inside the CDC - I'm about two-thirds of the way back
so there are even more folk behind me!

Back to the Squidgelings...They avoided my 'Poala Fisch' impression at the street fair on Sunday more successfully...in fact, most of the people I approached didn't know who on earth I was, in spite of my sunshine stickers and shouts of 'Scorchio!' (And if you don't know what the heck all that means, check out this youtube clip of the lovely Caroline Aherne R.I.P on The Fast Show.)



(I did have a couple of 'proud mummy' moments though: Squidgeling T entered the 'Charnwood's Got Talent' competition and made it through to his sub-camp semi final with a group of friends singing Pompeii by Bastille. and Squidgeling J did so well at poi swinging with iCircus that she was invited
to try it with flaming pois - and ended up on the stage doing a fiery routine at the closing ceremony!)

And to finish, here's me with two of the amazing stilt walkers from Stilted, run by Rainbow Dave. The whole group dress at all times in this flourescent yellow and orange, so they stand out somewhat! Could have done with a pair of stilts of my own to bring me up to size!


I got home exhausted, fed up of orange clothing, and probably a stone heavier from the fabulous food served in Mel's Kitchen. Would I do it all again?

In a heartbeat.

Here's to Charnwood 2021.

Oh - and one last thing. I was approached at camp by a Guide who recognised me; I'd been to her school on an author visit earlier this year. We got talking about StarMark - I had a copy with me, so I lent it to her to read. On Thursday, she brought it back, saying she'd read it all and loved it! Needless to say I grabbed a pen, wrote in it and gave her the book to keep... I LOVE it when people enjoy my writing! Here's hoping Barbara shares her enthusiasm for StarMark with her classmates in September.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Charnwood 2016 - Part 1: A long association

My involvement with the Leicestershire Scout and Guide International camp began many years ago, as a just-thirteen year old guide.

I have some very deep rooted memories of Charnwood 1980, held at Bardon Hill. Portaloos in segmented marquee toilet tents. Deep mud from heavy rain and international visitors walking through it in bare feet. The American Scouts selling ash from Mount St. Helen's - a volcano that had erupted earlier in the year. The swarm of bees that took up residence on a bench in the staff area. People laughing at our sub-camp name (Uranus - back in the days when folk said it properly, even if it did sound rude). The Finnish guide, Marjatta, who stayed with my family for a week after camp, and the black wigwam tents of - I think - the Germans.

From L to R: Squidge, Louise, Deborah and my sister Helen.

I loved it! And thus began a long story...

Charnwood 1985 was at Stamford Hall. I was on the service team as a Ranger Guide and a lot of my male friends were in Ventures. I remember tearing my shorts while climbing over a stile on a hike with younger campers, wielding a post-helmet to drive posts into the ground the day before campers arrived, sleeping in the souvenir tent as 'security' one night and backfilling urinal trenches once everyone had gone home. I also remember my friend, Spock (Simon) riding his Vespa scooter round the marquee that the service team slept in on the last night...and most importantly, meeting Mr Squidge and 'getting together'. I can't find any photos of this camp at all...

By Charnwood 91 (a six year gap this time because the 0 and 5 years clashed with Peak, Derbyshire's international camp) I was a guider, and if I'm honest, I don't remember a lot about this camp. My first international as a leader looking after maybe 30 guides was a constant battle to get the girls up in time for activities and do all the camp chores (washing up and bedding rolls) that they didn't have time to do. We were Tasmania from Australasia, I think. It might have been this camp when the necker wave was invented - a whirl of colour around the dell that served as our stage area - and where, at the closing ceremony, a bagpiper played Taps from the roof of Stamford Hall and made me cry...

'91's gateway

The infamous necker wave...

...which moved round the dell.


Charnwood 96 had a new venue - Belvoir Castle - and we were in Cartoons subcamp. We hosted a party of Canadian Girl Scouts and dressed up as Dennis the Menaces, which was also our group's theme. We had a mid-week Christmas party (hence the reindeer antlers) and we'd bought three new tents and spent ages coding the tent pegs and poles so we could keep everything together.

A menace of Dennis's!

Christmas at camp?

Charnwood 2001, we were back at Stamford Hall. Mr Squidge and I were married, Squidgeling J was almost two...and Squidgeling T was a bump due to arrive during the week of camp. As much as the Guide motto is 'Be Prepared', I didn't fancy giving birth in a tent, so decided not to participate. However, Squidgeling T made an early appearance and I spent a day at camp with him in the pram - just long enough to buy a set of sub camp badges and visit my guides!

Charnwood 2006 saw a move to the grounds of Whatton House, thanks to Lord Crawshaw. This was a family affair when Mr Squidge and the Squidgelings came too. We were in Tudors and Mr Squidge made a rather convincing Shakespeare while the Squidgelings were fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream and I was one of the three witches from Macbeth.

Our Tudor mansion gateway

Within a year, I'd decided to leave Guiding for a variety of reasons. So when Charnwood 2011 came round, and Squidgeling J was camping as a guide, I have to admit to feeling rather disappointed at missing a Charnwood. That's when I was asked to help out, as the district I used to guide with needed an extra pair of hands. I had a blast, though it was difficult to not be guider-in-charge, and I knew that any future involvement would have to be outside of the unit camp. Highlights of 2011 were seeing all the guides dressed as Smurfs and dressing up as Charlie Chaplin myself for celebrity night. Oh - and the Oceania gateway water cannon going off every hour to cool down some very hot guides and scouts! I also spent some time in the faith tent, because they were knitting squares for blankets for Age UK...which is where some seeds were sown for 2016.

A mixture of Forest District Guides and Kenyan Scout Smurfs,
with a couple of paparazzi press and Charlie Chaplin...

Granny blanketing!

I was far removed from Guiding by the time plans were being made and bookings taken for Charnwood 2016, but I couldn't bear the thought of missing it. Camping was always my favourite part of being a guider, and so, knowing that both Squidgelings would be camping, I offered my services as staff, specifically in the faith tent which had so impressed me five years before. They said yes...and that's where I've been this last week.

More to follow in Part 2...

Monday, 8 August 2016

Kingstone gets a cover!

Delighted that my second children's novel now has a cover!



Kingstone tells of Katia's fight to become a priest in the Temple of the Triple Gods; the cover shows the symbol used for the gods of sun, moon and mountain. The book is due for publication June 2017 and you can find out a bit more about the story by following this link to Dragonfeather Books...

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Holiday time for Squidge and StarMark!

Me and StarMark have been on our holidays!

First up, a family holiday in Menorca, learning how to be competent crew on a sailing boat. 

Overlooking the harbour in Mahon

A quiet moment whilst sailing

Everyone needs something to read on the beach...

The black lizards of Isle de L'Air preferred
eating tomato to books...
Returned home and within twelve hours, was packed and off to Charnwood 2016, the Leicestershire Scout and Guide International camp. 

Bedtime reading...though not for long!
Find out why in a later blog.

I will blog about both separately, but at the moment I'm still catching up on:
a) the washing that only a seven day camp can create (x3 - me and the Squidgelings) 
b) sleep and 
c) emails and news about Kingstone.

Catch you later, once the washing's done!