Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Stonking stories and Rave reviews

Spent the morning with a group of local, homeschooled children, writing stories!

It was great - I love the way that children don't limit their imagination like some of us adults.

The younger children took three objects from my story bag and we ended up with... a dragon who loved baked beans and he stole the princess's necklace. She managed to get it back by trading the necklace for beans. Or... the queen who needed to rescue a flying elephant who was in prison, and afterwards they went home for tea and she had a shower. (Sweaty work, rescuing flying elephants!) Or the bad king who stole the good king's heart, and the policemen had to put on swimming goggles to go down into the ocean to catch the bad king and make him hand the heart back.

Each of these stories - by the end of the morning - had been made into teeny illustrated books!

The older children got the story starter 'The antique glass bottle contained...' and built their stories around a framework of questions. Sure, we had some stories that took their influences heavily from film or TV, but there were some pretty unique ideas. In fact, sometimes I wish I could pinch a few and 'grow' them myself! I can't remember all of them in detail - but inside the bottles there was crushed unicorn queen horn, spider venom, the spirit of the Spider King, poison, medicine...

As these older children started writing, we got chatting too, about how the first draft doesn't have to perfect, how some people like to go at a story full tilt and some like to think about it a bit, how some stories use the same ideas but develop them differently and all sorts of other writery things.

It was certainly different leading a session in someone's (rather gorgeous) kitchen rather than in a school environment, but it didn't stop me or the children enjoying ourselves.I'd certainly consider running sessions for homeschoolers again.

Then this evening, I was tagged in a review of StarMark. It's posted on here, on Everybody's Reviewing.
To say I'm overwhelmed is putting it mildly... Have a read, see whether you agree if you've read the book yourself. Or maybe read the review if you haven't, and see if it makes you want to give StarMark a chance...

Either way, right now, I'm one very happy Squidge.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Squidgeling starts uni!

This weekend, we took Squidgeling J to Bristol University, to begin the great journey that is student life.

Have to say, I had a couple of wobbles in the week prior; Squidgeling J had caught a rather nasty cold off Squidgeling T (he's got Newschoolitis and has shared it round at home) so she wasn't feeling at all well, and I was rather worried as to how she'd cope with being away from home and ill.

We drove down to family, who live about a forty minute drive away from Bristol, and took the train from there into the city on the Saturday to get our bearings, find the hall of residence, and see some of where J's going to be spending the next four years.

It was great. We went to Brandon Hill and climbed Cabott's Tower (fab views, very tight spiral staircase; if you didn't know anyone well before you went to Bristol, you certainly would after crossing on the stairs with them!) I saw my first Banksy ('Well Hung'), and we spent a good half hour trying guitars and flicking through sheet music in the Hobgoblin Music Shop.

The train back to the family was...interesting. Half an hour late, then the train disappeared from the screen. Mr Squidge rushed us all off to get a train to Bath so we were a little closer to where we needed to be, but we missed it. Only to discover that the train that had disappeared from the screen had reappeared at an even later time. Except it wasn't at the platform it was supposed to be at.

All became clear when the nice BR man (!) came up to tell all us numpties waiting that the train was now on a different platform and was about to leave... Cue mad dash to that platform, then a Hong Kong kind of squeeze onto one of the two carriages we were allowed onto because the train was going to be split further up the line. Blimey, but it was packed tight. When we reached Bath, there were folk left behind because we simply couldn't squeeze anyone else on...

Eventually got back to family and had a lovely evening with them, even though J was starting to feel rather poorly after the exertions of the day.

Sunday morning, up bright and early, J feeling much better (hooray!) and we set off for Bristol. Yes, the car was packed. It had all the usual - clothes, kitchen essentials, bedding, plus fencing kit, camping kit, circus kit, a violin and a bike. Good job we have an estate car! J likened it to playing boot tetris...

Traffic wasn't as bad as we'd feared - it was the Bristol half marathon the same day, so we allowed extra time, just in case. Arrived, parked up, got the key, and started to unload.

Now, the thing I remember most about going to uni myself was my mum making my bed, so that was the first thing I did. J was busy saying hello to her flatmates who had/were arriving, so I unpacked as much as I could for her. She has a room in a flat on the top floor of the hall, (four flights of stairs!) so she's going to be fit when she comes home!

We left around half one after going out for lunch...J seemed happy and was looking forward to the hall social that evening.

And yes, that's a homemade duvet cover and patchwork pillows...
Like mother, like daughter.

Reminded me so much of my uni days and my room... I have a photo somewhere, almost the same as this, of me sitting on my bed in Randall Lines House...

Funniest thing happened as we left and reached the street, we whistled; we Squidges have a particular whistle to attract attention. Worked better than yelling and yawping when the kids were little, and still continues to work now. Anyway, we whistled from the road, and J peered out of her window. All we could see was the top of her head, then her hands waving at us, then her jumping up and down. Look can see her, just! Reminded me of those cartoons, with the caption 'Wot no...?' next to someone peering over a wall.

Saw my second Banksy on the way back, (Girl on a balloon swing) as well as some Silent Hobo - who, I have only just realised, did a huge mural in Loughborough a few years back!

I didn't cry. Thank goodness. Not until I got into bed that night, anyway, and the light went out and I imagined her in her new room, on her own...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Timmy, meet Timmy

Squidgeling J is a self-confessed crazy cat lady. Apparently.

We have a cat - a male, about 7 or 8 years old, called Timmy. (Readers of Granny Rainbow will know about Timmy, because when he was younger, he used to bite me when he was hungry.)

Giving me his 'Feeeed meeee!' face. And yes, that IS a beauty spot.

Timmy has always been a creature of habit. He's more Squidgeling J's cat than anyone else's - he will snuggle up on her stomach when she's sitting in 'her' chair, or snooze on her blue blanket on her bed. Late evenings, he becomes very fickle and sits on Mr Squidge's lap, and he's also taken to sleeping on Squidgeling T's bass guitar case in the run-up to bedtime. Oh, and 5.30am? That's my turn, as he knocks things off my bedside table in an attempt to get his breakfast. But I digress.

I mentioned recently that Squidgeling J is off to uni soon - and she's often said what will she do without Timmy?

So I came up with a plan.

One of Mr Squidge's old school friends is a felt artist - Stephanie Cowburn. She specialises in making bespoke toys and models of people's pets, so I thought it would be a good idea to get a Timmy Two made for Squidgeling J to take away with her. I sent the photos... front, back, sides, and my cheque, and then I waited...

Today, Timmy Two arrived.

Timmy Two!

Front, back and sides! Amazingly accurate...

According to Stephanie, he's a bit of a lush, as shown in the photo she sent me just before he was posted.

Anyway, after introducing Timmy Two to Squidgeling J (who laughed her head off and then cuddled him on her stomach like the real thing), we decided to introduce the real Timmy to Timmy Two.

A tentative sniff, a cautious paw...and then Timmy whacked Timmy Two on the nose! He obviously recognised him as a cat (proof of how lifelike Stephanie can make these toys!) ... and got really flustered. In fact, I tried again later, and as soon as Timmy Two came out of his box, the real Timmy's eyes dilated and he prepared to pounce. So poor Timmy Two's got to stay in his box until he arrives in Bristol, or he might get into a scrap before he goes...!

Stephanie also makes EXTREMELY lifelike miniature memorial models of dogs, and is currently putting together a book that's been commissioned, telling the stories of the real dogs on whom some of her models were based. Due for publication this time next year...

Squidgeling J has a 'Timmy' to take with her on her great university adventure. Thank you, Stephanie!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A tumbleweed blog?

I've not written a blog for weeks. Sorry. Not because I'm deserting the blog, but you know sometimes, life just seems to get in the way? There's so much going on that you could tell people, but actually, there's no time to write it all down? Well, yeah - that.

So here's a very brief summary of what's been happening.

The kitchen: Still unfinished. Still waiting for two doors, a working radiator, a floor, for cupboards to be straightened and niggly snags to be ironed out. But everything works, so we have moved back in and we're gradually beginning to remember where we've put the saucepans and bottles of squash and the Tupperware lids.

Birthdays: I am now the mother of an adult. Squidgeling J celebrated her 18th birthday and we held a joint 'open house' for family and friends to enjoy her 18th and my belated 50th. It was a lovely day, the highlight of which was the rainbow layer cake J made for me. Can you believe that we don't have a single photo of it, though? I was so busy with food and chat, I never managed to pick up the camera...

GCSE's: Squidgeling T did really well, with A's, 7's and 8's (which are A's and A*'s in last year's money!) a C (Spanish. Not a surprise) and B in FSMQ. He's now in 6th form at a new school, hard at work.

University: We're in the final countdown before Squidgeling J leaves home for Bristol. I'm a little conflicted over this - I know she'll be fine, but I can't help worrying. We've been making lists and buying bits and pieces and packing and yes, I have shed a few tears on the QT...

Writing: This year, I decided not to go to the Festival of Writing because of its closeness to Fresher's Week at Bristol. But I HAVE been writing. I'm about halfway into my rewrite of Rurik, doing bits and pieces every now and again. I can't wait to be able to carve out some time every day and work through even more of the old material to make it read even better.

Flowers: I helped one of the other churches in town with the arrangements for their flower festival. Situated in St. Joseph's Chapel, I plumped for a woodworking theme...

Library: We have popped into the library at school, but what we can do is a little limited at the moment because we are waiting for an update to the system in a couple of weeks.

So there we are. A very speedy catch up. Hopefully there will be more time to write blogs in the near future, and I'll manage at least one a week from here on... 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A very busy Squidge indeed!

Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the old blogging front - been a bit preoccupied recently!

I last blogged about our kitchen refit here. We're now into our fourth week.

Timetabling various work has been a bit of an issue - lots of time in between phases of work, rather than a smooth day-after-day continuation. We knew there would be a week's wait for our worktop after the units were fitted, but we didn't expect a delay of a week before the template could be taken, then another for said manufacture and fitting.

Units in, but no doors...

 It's going to look fab once it is completely finished - we've been painting in the quiet times so at least we're getting that done before we move everything back in. Here it is half-done, with a few cupboard doors and drawer fronts missing, no floor, and no paint on the walls.

Missing the glass doors and worktop

My really funky radiator!

Almost done. Still missing a few doors and drawer fronts...

We've also been trying desperately hard to get the garden room finished - which it is! There are lights, we even painted inside (I feel like I've lived in painting trousers for the last week!) and we have squishy bean bags and enough carpet for folks to crash down there and for me to do Pilates.

Squidgeling T has already had a jamming session with a mate in there - one full drum kit and a bass guitar with big amp, and we couldn't hear much at all in the house!

Mr Squidge has done an amazing job on building this

I'm looking forward to writing there, too. Amazing how much you can do if you're out of range of wifi and can't access the internet... Speaking of which, I'm 25,000 words into the rewrite of Rurik. It's going well, although I have discovered one or two continuity errors re timing. And I've had to rethink some character interactions and motivations. I'm hoping to have a first draft completed within another six weeks.

What else has happened? I went to my first 'festival' - an event to celebrate a friend's 50th. As you can see, I got into the spirit and dressed accordingly. So did Mr Squidge, but he didn't fancy sharing his photo!

Was especially proud of my 'festival nails' - the ones you can't see are cerise pink! 

And we've also had some very exciting news - Squidgeling J got the grades she needed in her A levels so she's off to Bristol University to do an MEng in Engineering Mathematics for the next four years! Tomorrow we find out how Squidgeling T got on in his GCSE's, too...

I don't think things are going to get any less busy any time soon, either; I have several bookings for author talks and creative writing workshops coming up as well as trying to put back everything that come out of the old kitchen into the new one. And learn how to cook again - we have always cooked on gas, but we're now the proud owners of an electric oven and hob, so it's all VERY different.

I'd be bored if I wasn't busy, wouldn't I? ;)

Saturday, 12 August 2017

NIBSing in August

Our most recent meeting was a little thinner for numbers (holiday time!) but was no less rich in material created because of it. So for your enjoyment, here are two ideas for writing inspiration - and two pieces of flash.

One of our activities was based on a book I'd read on my holiday - The Keeper of Lost Things, a stunning debut by Ruth Hogan. I'm not going to say much about the book - other than 'READ IT!' - because it is a beautiful story, and as an author I was struck by how cleverly it was constructed. Dotted throughout the book are the stories behind the lost things, and it was this idea - of writing the story behind the lost object - that I thought we could use as inspiration.

So, as is often the way before a NIBS session, I ran round the house collecting things that people might have lost.

I chose a button badge with 'I read, therefore I am' written on it and came up with this...

     She jerked her hand and the last book out of her bag and stared at the bead of red on her finger. Then she almost threw the book onto the pile and sucked her stabbed digit, tasting metal and salt.
     Perhaps she ought to wear the badges on her lapels instead, like most other people did? Except that this was her book bag, and she always used it to bring her books back to the library. It wouldn't be the same without the many book-related badges rattling gently on the fabric.
     She checked her finger. Still there. Not bleeding any more. So which of the badges was it this time? She reached for the bag and-
     "Hullo, Jean. What you been reading this week, then?"
     Her cheeks glowed. Frank Abbott was talking to her. "Um..."
     "I had a rather tasty little gothic horror to keep me up at night, but I see you're a bit more of a fantasy buff?"
     They both glanced down at the pile of G.R.R.R. Martin.
     Frank took her elbow in one hand and grabbed the straps of her bag with the other, dragging it across the counter. It snagged, momentarily, and there was a metallic 'ping' but neither of them heard it.

Our second exercise used paint charts. No, not the individual colours like I've used before (to create flash like this one called Planet Fever). Whole paint charts, which double up as inspiration if you can't think of colour combos for your own rooms.

Because there are so many pictures of rooms, decorated all sorts of ways, I challenged the NIBSers to find a picture of a room and write about it. There were some smashing pieces as a result - in one, an author described a particular shade of red as 'Bad Day at the Abbattoir' - which gave me a whole new idea for rewriting the paint names as something more realistic. Like a shade of green - 'The Morning After'. Or blue - 'Frostbitten Toes'.

Anyway, in the paint books were quite a few studies.

Study? Or writing corner?

Now 'study' to me, is a bit different to a mere writing space, and in my head, drums up a totally different image to the photo - like the one above - that I was looking at. Most showed writing spaces rather than studies, but it set me thinking about exactly how small a space would you need to claim it as a study...?

   "And here's the study." Andy flung the door open. Or he would've done, except he remembered - too late - that the door opened outwards, onto the landing.
   There was an embarrassing wait while he asked his clients to back up a bit... a bit more... I think one of you needs to step into the bathroom, please, thank you... and finally he could pull open the door.
    Mr and Mrs-to-be surged forward and there was a three-way shuffle while Andy manoeuvered himself into the bathroom to allow them to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the narrow doorway.
    "It's a bit small," Mr said.
    "Well, you don't need lots of space to be sat down really, do you?" Andy pulled his mouth into what he thought was an encouraging smile. "Notice the high level shelving for all your books and papers and pencil pots." He watched the backs of their heads as they lifted their eyes to the ceiling.
    "In any other house that'd be called a picture rail," Mr muttered, taking one step into the study.
    To be fair, one step is all that could be managed. And when he pulled the desk chair out and sat on it, the back legs ended up on the landing, forcing Mrs-to-be to take one step back. "The desk is tiny."
    "It's a space-saving design, created by the previous occupant in a midnight moment of genius," Andy chipped in, hoping he'd remembered that right.
    Mr swivelled in the chair and fixed him with sharp eyes. "It's just a wider than normal windowsill."
    "Yes, it doubles up as one of those too." He was getting flustered now. He really needed this sale.
    Mrs-to-be flung her arms around Mr's neck and hugged him. "Darling, it's perfect. How much is it again?"
    Had he done it? Andy choked the words out. "Three hundred and fifty thousand."
    "We'll take it," Mrs-to-be said, before Mr could open his mouth...    

Monday, 7 August 2017

Something old, something new...

My old kitchen is reduced to this:

My new kitchen arrived. Most of it looks like this...

The rest of it? Well, it looks like this...

...and this!

I'm reliably informed it will look a whole lot different 
again by tomorrow.