Tuesday, 18 December 2012

'Ableness' to draw

I was just thinking about the fact that the amount of people I know who draw is kind of a small amount. A really sadly small amount. So if I wanted to chat to someone about drawing, or do some sketching with someone, the chances are I'm gona be a pencillish geek on my own. 

But why is this? Why do people not draw more? Why do people think they can't draw? 

It seems to me that people must be wrong. 

All kids draw. Whether they are gifted at it or not. Small kids are not afraid to draw and they are always pleased with their results. 

Bigger kids are sometimes slightly scared to draw and often disappointed with their results, if it doesn't seem as good as their friends' pictures. 

Adults only draw if they know they are truly, deeply good at it. 

But somewhere in there there's room for exploration. Like, why would we assume that just because we're not making masterpieces at 11yrs old that we cannot draw? Or that it wouldn't require some effort to get better at it? I bet a whole heap of adults would actually get something out of sketching and scribbling but they are too scared. And even if they had a go they might stop again if the first thing they drew wasn't great. But scribbling is fun. It's even more fun if you completely let go of any expectations; most of all your own. Don't expect anything. Be surprised. Take chances. Screw up the drawings you don't like and throw them in the bin. 

Don't expect your work to look like other people's. It won't. Just like your fingerprint, the marks you make on paper are completely individual. 

Pencils are cheap and you can carry one round in a handbag with a small pad of paper and sketch wherever you get a chance.  And come over and have a cuppa and talk to me about it!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Simple Steps to a less complicated Christmas

I blogged recently about what I want to get out of Christmas. 

Basically, Christmas had a become a bit much for me with it's commercialism and excesses. 

I felt I was doing certain things just because I always have, or because other people do, or because it's expected. But not any more. Our Christmas is tailored to us as a family and is led by what we truly want or appreciate or feel to be right. 

The major obvious change I have made to my Christmasses, a few years ago, is dispensing with a huge Roast Turkey dinner on Christmas day. This might set your nerves jangling and I completely understand that for many people this meal IS what it's all about and that's fine. It's just important that whatever you choose to do, you do it because it's right for you. For us, the first break with tradition was that we cooked roast turkey on Christmas Eve, eating it hot that evening, and then having no cooking to do the following day. It meant we could enjoy a simple but delicious treat on Christmas day - cold meats and chutneys. For me, I actually prefer a turkey, ham and butter sandwich than a roast dinner anyway. I've often considered other options such as a big cosy casserole or just a big pile of sausage and mash. But this year we are going to enjoy a beautiful Indian curry, filled with wonderful spices and delicious aromas. What could be more festive? Even more shockingly, we're not even cooking it. We're going to buy it in advance from our very favourite Indian takeaway, one that makes our hearts sing with glee, and freeze it. Then, on Christmas day all we have to do is boil some rice, heat some Naan and lay the table.  I really can't wait. I'm not suggesting you all go and have a curry, by any means, but I do encourage you to look at what you usually do and ask yourself- "Do I love it? Does it stress me out?" And act accordingly. 

The other thing I try to avoid around Christmas is too much travelling and moving from one house to another. For me, Christmas is one of the few times in the year when I am away from work for more than just a couple of days, and I don't like to spend it stuck in a car, carting things all over the place day after day. I like to be in one place for at least a day or two and make the most of it, and then see other people as and when it fits in. Of course it's lovely to see as much of family as possible but all your siblings and in-laws are never all going to be in one place at the same time and you can feel a bit overstretched trying to fit everyone in to the Christmas period.  Some people have a three year rota, (for example, Christmas day with your parents one year, your in-laws the next and stay at home on your own the third year,) and feel this is the only way to make it fair. But sometimes it's good to just take each year as it comes and see who's going to where and whether you fit in with it or not. Wherever you happen to be, BE there. Make the most of who you are with. You may not see them for some time to come. 

Presents. There are so many ways you can shake up the present giving regime at Christmas. Sometimes we've set challenges and price limits - £5 or £10 per person, with the aim being to only buy second hand gifts or to make them yourself. Sometimes, there are just so many expectations around what people should get at Christmas. However you choose to do Christmas presents, remember never to act just upon other people's expectations but what you feel to be appropriate. It may change each year. It may be that  one person gets something a bit more expensive while you find an amazing bargain for someone else. It's OK. Trying to be fair will exhaust you.

There are plenty of lovely things to make to give as presents. If you knit or crochet, it's great to think about this on and off throughout the year. Talk to people and get recommendations for patterns that work well. Join Ravelry to access free patterns.
Think about what your family and friends would wear, use, or play with. Keep a lookout for wool in charity shops and see if it will work for the projects you want. Think about doing a wool swap with a friend. Remember you won't be able to get it all done in December. It's lovely to have a wooly project on the go to pick up during a television programme, a bus journey, a wait at the dentist. It might not be realistic to try to knit everyone a jumper but there are so many lovely things you could choose, from soft toys, tree hangings, mug warmers, scarves, socks, baby clothes, cushion covers, egg cosies or teapot cosies. Here's where I plug libraries (got to be done.) It's free and very quick to join your local library and every library will have a selection of craft books. You can also order almost any knitting book through the online library catalogue or in the branch with a member of staff.  Have a good browse to find the things that excite you. 

Then there are jams and chutneys. 

Save your jars throughout the year so you don't have a panic to scrabble around when there's a glut of apples or plums. People love recieving homemade yummy things, especially if you add a pretty fabric or paper lid and a bit of ribbon and nicely written label. Chat to people you know to get tips, and download free recipes. People with a big harvest of fruit or veg are often desperate to give some away to avoid wasting it. 

One of my favourite ideas borrowed from my lovely friend Jodie of The Yummy Mummy Manual blog is to have a "favourite sweets" discussion with your friends and find out what they love so that you can fill a pretty jam jar with stripy humbugs or jelly babies, or the dreaded sherbet Flying Saucers!  It's very inexpensive and it's a good use of any lidless jars you may have, just put a bit of pretty paper over the top and a cute tag.  

Whatever you do, don't stress about it. Don't worry. Find your own traditions, and be prepared to abandon them in years to come. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

All I want for Christmas is ...?

No doubt, at this time of year, people will be asking you whether you've done all your Christmas shopping yet? This is a question that will be much repeated throughout the rest of December, and it seems to be the most important question relating to the Christmas season. It is certainly the most frequently discussed topic. 

But it occurred to me a few years ago that it's really not all about the shopping and the presents. I started to feel quite sick about Christmas and felt increasingly uncomfortable about people's expectations, and in particular, my expectations. What do I expect to happen at Christmas? What do I hope to get out of it?

I have to confess I have always loved presents.

They are such a beautiful mystery; papered huddles of them under the tree, little packages peeping out of stockings. I can't deny that for many years my attention has been very focussed on receiving and opening presents. Despite this, I have also always loved finding and giving presents. I love drawing up lists of what I'm going to give to everyone. I love folding in neat ends of gift wrap and curling ribbon. 

But I have realised that I've outgrown my childish ideas of what Christmas is about. I believe in Jesus and everything he means for the world and me, and that Christmas is, for many, a time to celebrate this fact. In theory. But in practice, HOW DO I DO THIS? By over-eating and focussing on my selfish desires for THINGS? I wonder how I could better express and live the message of Peace and Goodwill to all Men. That is ALL HUMANS. Good will. Even the annoying ones. Even the ones that aren't easy to like. 

I know now what I really do want to get out of this . Mostly, I'd like to be a better person. I'd like to be kinder and more thoughtful and more generous. Not necessarily more generous with presents or food or money, but with time and attention. I would like to give my attention more fully to those I am with. To listen better to whatever is of interest to the people I love. To give a hand more often and be the best I can. I'd like for whoever I'm with on any particular day to see the best version of myself, instead of a me that is wishing I could be off doing something else or being with someone else. It's quite a big ask, but it's a request I am confident that Jesus likes to hear, and loves to help with.  Obviously, this isn't just about Christmas, but about all year, for the rest of my life. And it doesn't mean I'm instantly becoming a perfect angel. But every journey is made up of small steps and a desire to push on. 

This has already become a fairly long blog-post so I will leave the more practical suggestions about simpler Christmasses and ways to break with traditions to another day. And don't worry if these ideas aren't in time for you to change your plans this year. January is a cold and dark month, often without much going on. Perfect to sit and think about people and to gather ideas, reassess how you want to do things and how you want to live. Keep a notebook.

Until then, keep warm and toasty Lovely People. xxx

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bookish Bargains

I was met by the delightful sight of these two very wonderful books by Julia Golding at the charity shop on my lunchbreak today.  I would know these books anywhere, and I ran over, grabbed them and bought them immediately. Not only are these excellent stories, but they have such enticing, adventurous covers. These two are hardbacks. PRISTINE hardbacks. And they were only ONE POUND each! Bargain or what.

They are really rather gorgeous and look completely unread. The only sad part about that is that obviously these were bought new for some young human being who obviously didn't take too warmly to them. Fair enough, I guess, if it's not their cup of tea, but I hope they gave them a fair chance before wafting them away to the charity shop. 

The top book, 'Cat Among the Pigeons' is the second in the series and 'Den of Thieves' is number 3, with 'The Diamond of Drury Lane' getting it all started and the series continuing on over six books. But the first one I ever came across at the library and got stuck into was 'Cat Among the Pigeons' and it reeled me in enough for me to devour all the others, along with my Mum who loves them too. The story certainly didn't suffer for being read before the first one, but I would recommend starting at the beginning if you can.

If you want a feisty, adorable heroine and a good dose of fast paced thrilling adventure, these are the books for you. Our lead, young Cat, lives in the Theatre Royal, up amidst the props and costumes, orphaned from birth and living off the kindness of the Theatre Manager, turning her hand to any job that needs assistance. Red haired, brave and loyal, Cat gets into many a tight predicament and it always seems impossible that she will escape or rescue whoever needs rescuing. Throughout the series we see her navigating the perilous backstreets of London, hiding out in a revolutionary Paris, being sold as a slave in Jamaica, and tracing her family routes in Ireland.

There is a strong theatrical theme through all the books, with each one containing a really absorbing cast list and scene synopsis. We meet a wonderful ensemble of characters from truly despicable villains to faithful and true friends and a whole lot of dubious types in between. One of my favourite characters is Frank, a posh school boy who Cat befriends one evening at the theatre, along with his sweet sister who become like siblings to Cat.

It now appears there is a new Theatre Royal story coming out soon, so keep your bookmarks at the ready. 

I should warn you though that, sadly, the publishers suffered a bit of a funny five minutes and thought the completely perfect covers needed redesigning,

from this rich gorgeousness:         

to this insipid mildness:

I think it turns something unique and awesome into something tacky and uninspiring that could be one of the countless unmemorable girly books out there that do nothing for the heart and soul. I do not wish to see a photograph of somebody else's perception of Cat's face on each book - I can imagine her for myself with the help of Julia's brilliant writing. So, do look beyond the watered-down, luke-warm image that you will see in bookshops or libraries now, and be assured that what lies inside is an absolute gem. 

And here they all are, the first three, happily sitting on my bookshelf. Smiles. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Book Review - Fire Spell

I would like to introduce you to this fine and super book that I discovered on one regular Tuesday afternoon not so long ago, sitting innocently on the shelves at the library, like all books do that escape my notice when they first arrive. Nevertheless, here it is. 

You can just tell it's going to be good, can't you?

It is one of those books that you have to give in to. You have to keep picking it up and turning those pages, even when you really should be doing something else. 

I won't say much about the plot because it's too intriguing and brilliant for me to ruin it for you but it involves: a puppet master, 3 children, an old witch, dirty London, some smelly dogs, a pile of cruelty and a big heap of kindness, hope, and a completely satisfying ending to a mystery and a condundrum. 

I think this is a superb book for over elevens, and adults too, of course, who love a good daring adventure.

The vivid characters are completely original and we have the luxury of seeing each one's thoughts and feelings as the story deepens. It is a treat to be so overwhelmed by such a book every now and then, but frankly if it happened too often I don't think I could cope! 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Belle and Boo

Belle and Boo are a sweet and innocent duo who are always together - "on sunny days, rainy days, and dreamy let's-be-lazy days."

These books by Mandy Sutcliffe are part of a whole brand centred around the little things that Belle and her bunny, Boo, get up to. I recently spotted a cute little Belle and Boo tin in the gift shop at the Devon Guild in Bovey Tracey.  And I'd seen some gorgeous prints and things for sale online the other day. And now I see there are actual stories too.

"Belle and Boo and the Birthday Surprise" is a gentle little story about the preparations for a birthday, which turns out to be a surprise for Boo himself. The sweetest thing is that after all their work and adventuring, although "Birthdays are best" in Boo's opinion, Belle reminds him that she loves him more than Birthdays themselves. Cuteness. 

The books are available in libraries and the products are all listed online, inlcuding some lovely prints.

The illustrations have a retro, verging on kitsch feel and the stories are a perfect wind-down for little girls at bed-time. Especially if they have their own Boo, or completely wonderful unique equivalent. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Book Review

'You, Me and Thing: The Legend of the Loch Ness Lilo.'

written by Karen McCombie & illustrated by Alex T Smith

I discovered this brand new shiny book the other day sitting wonkily amongst the other familiar junior fiction as I was shelving a a few titles. The books do get very tumbled about and kids often put them back with their spines facing inwards or splaying the pages around other books, which is extremelydistressing. But I do love tidying up the kids' section and making it as perfect as possible even if it won't stay that way for long. 

It means I am very familiar with all our stock and new books do tend to jump out at my face.  Quite often I come across new books when unpacking our delivery every other day but sometimes they escape me and find their way onto the shelves without me even glimpsing their lovely covers. 

Anyhow, as I straightened this one on the shelf I couldn't help but notice the lovely drawings and my Alex-T-Smith-o-meter piped up and I knew here was what promised to be yet another quirky, fun and lovely book. Because Alex T Smith only illustrates cool stories and his pictures are always totally excellent. 

I was so right. 'You, Me and Thing' is 
brilliant.  Here is Thing, a small creature covered in ginger fur with paws that are like little hands and wings that are stubby and don't work,  ... "two HUGE eyes that blink up at you, all shy and wondering and worried."

There is a generous smattering of illustrations throughout the book, and a nice variety of different layouts of pages to keep the eyes busy and interested. The story is bitesized, for young readers, but a complete and amazing adventure. From the first page the writing endeared itself to me; candid and fun. We have a lot of books by Karen McCombie in the library and they are very well borrowed. Her Indie Kidd series and Ally's World books are just a couple of examples of her huge array of fiction for children and young people. Here's a link to an indispensable website called Fantastic Fiction where you can view everything an author has written, in date order and by series. You can also click on a title for a synopsis: 


This little story has broken away from her super girly books and would appeal to boys as well as girls. 

Ruby and her neighbour Jackson, (sometimes her friend, more often annoying) discover this Thing between their back gardens, the last precious piece of nature left after the woods were cleared to make room for a big new housing estate. This magical little being is incredibly cute, not only to look at but in its communication. Although it can speak English, its vocabulary is childish and it often mispronounces words. Its understanding of the wider world is limited and Ruby and Jackson are forever trying to explain what they've just said. Thing's eagerness and innocence is what lands the children in a spot of bother, trying to keep Thing a secret and protect it. Thing is easily scared so the kids are constantly trying to keep it calm and happy. One of its favourite activities in jumping up and down on a miniature, homemade trampoline, using a the bottom of a biscuit tin and Ruby's swimming cap. 

 When Thing decides to join them down at the local swimming pool one day for a birthday pool party, mayhem is sure to follow.

There are two preceding title in this fun series: 

The Curse of the Jelly Babies 
&  The Dreaded Noodle Doodles

Plus, more to come soon. I highly recommend them for any young reader who needs something fresh and fun to keep their nose in books. 

As always, free to borrow and reserve at your local library! 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Pottering about

I was walking out from my house an hour ago and was reminded of something truly lovely. 

There had been a heavy downpour all morning and I had been getting on with tasks inside until I needed to go out into the town to collect a parcel. 

I donned my Wellington boots and grabbed my big umbrella, just in case, and stepped out down the garden path looking up at the clear sky. Not a drop of rain was falling and I set off into the town with a sense of wellbeing and delight and suddenly a tune came into my mind. It was the serene melody that plays in an animated episode of Beatrix Potter, with an introduction and final scene acted by the lovely Niamh Cusack. I used to love these programmes. This particular episode started with Miss Potter sitting on a little stool out in the Cumbrian countryside, painting the landscape she knew and loved so well. She feels a spot of rain and quickly shuts her box of watercolours, picks up the rest of her tools and notebook, gathers her skirts and dashes back through the grass to her cottage where she looks out at the suddenly grey sky and decides it's time to write a letter. So she settles down to write to her friend, launching into a charming story and so the animation begins. 

When the story of Peter Rabbit is finished and the letter is sealed, a beautiful song begins to accompany the credits.The rain has stopped and Beatrix Potter emerges from her house, walking into the quietly bustling village. Children pass her and greet her, hens part for her as they peck at the ground. "The rain has moved on and it's a new day. Everything is still, nothing seems to move." The clear voice of the singer washes over the scene as we follow the letter to the bright red postbox and the group of children chase, carefree, through the bluebell woods. 

Beatrix Potter's garden at Hilltop, on our Honeymoon in 2009.

As I walked through the modern, rather grubby town of Cullompton, the sense of newness was just as refreshing. I love the rain. I love to watch it, and be in it. But when it stops, there is a certain, delicious peace over everything. As I strolled I heard the music in my head, remembering only half the words, but all the heart and beauty of it. I will always love it.

End scene for you to enjoy on youtube. (Thank God for youtube!)


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Reading in no time at all

What are you currently reading?

In my four and a half years of working in a library, I cannot count the number of times customers have asked me this question. But I can probably count the number of times I've had a good answer, because most often I have not been able to give them a book title. Most often I haven't read a book for weeks, even months. Most times I have shamefacedly admitted "I don't have time to read." This is met with the predictable but true exclamation: "But you work in a library!!!" 

I should point out, I am not paid to read books all day every day, or in fact for any segment of any day. I am paid to do a great many other tasks, but not reading. Sad face.

And as I work there a fair bit, I have allowed my lifestyle to reign over my reading habits. Apart from my illustrating time, I don't usually have large chunks of time to myself. I flit about the household hoovering up, wiping up surfaces, tidying this and that. My days at work are long. Weekends are about Andy and I, and what we want to do together. I have become one of those people who do not read. I am ashamed, but mostly saddened, by this fact. Because, I LOVE to read. I love paper, I love authors. I love publishers, printers, libraries, stories. I love books. 

I realised that not reading often is no way to behave, no matter what excuse I have, so I have recently vowed to myself to READ MORE.

I've realised that my perception of reading time is sitting for large periods of time, in a comfy place, with a cup of tea, and no responsibilities or time constraints. This perception is based upon my past life, as a child and teenager where I had no responsibilities or time constraints. I could lounge in fields of buttercups with a book, laze in my hammock in my parents' garden with a book for hours on end. Spend a lie-in reading an entire novel, antisocially get my nose in a book for a whole evening. (Once homework was done, of course.) I could read whenever I liked, for however long I liked. I spent most of a summer holiday reading the entire series of Anne of Green Gables. My idea of reading is to devour chapters and chapters at a time, or not at all. I know, that's really poxy, and WRONG!!! 


I have learnt that I need to read, even if for a few miserly minutes a day. I have come around to the idea of reading at even the smallest opportunity; tiny tea-breaks at work, waiting at the dentist, stirring a stir-fry. I can pull out whatever delightful tome I have on the go, and get stuck in. I refuse to be vexed or disappointed by interruptions or having to close my book just as it's getting really absorbing. I will take whatever I can get. And I will appreciate it. And it's working. I have read many books in the last few months that I would otherwise not have tackled. And, even in 2 minutes of reading, have been made to laugh and cry by the words I have read. I can engage from the first to the last word, I can read in no time at all. 

If you feel you don't have time to read, have a think. Where are those few minutes in the day or week where you're waiting for something, or you have a few moments to yourself? Don't think that those moments are too small to use. A book is made of many many small moments. Don't be put off. Pick up your book. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Number Ten

Ginger Fig is a delicious shop in Bath Place, Taunton. 

They sell all sorts of lovely stuff and have a gorgeous, light, airy gallery upstairs to support local artists. They are also situated on a very cute little street.

One reason I particularly like them is that they have just agreed to stock my greetings cards, which makes them the tenth shop to make that jolly wonderful decision and means I am exactly 2 thirds of the way to my goal. 

When I first set out to print my cards and sell them a few short months ago I decided that I would aim for 15 shops to stock my cards by Christmas. Don't ask why I chose that number and that date, it's just a goal and I find it helpful to have a deadline and an aim. 

So onwards I go, seeking out lovely inviting shops that I would love to shop in myself, asking their owners or managers to please take my cards. I have learnt a lot so far and I'm sure there are many things I still need to be taught, like don't leave THAT off your invoice, you Wombat. 

The lovely Catherine of Ginger Fig has also asked if I have any prints of the colourful animal designs that she could stock, mounted, alongside the cards. And I don't. But, I will! 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Taking Off

I love my boots. I am not engrossed in fashion or the need to keep up with others. I don't care about brands and designer labels. I just like really comfy boots. The boots I have are Doc Martens Authentic Wedge boots and I am convinced they give me more energy. They make the street feel more bouncy and my legs feel stronger and longer. They make me feel like I could Pogo all the work and they make me take two stairs at a time.

Yesterday as I walked down the high street I had a definite spring in my step. 

The combination of the cooler air, the thought of going home for lunch to see the Kitties, and the boots I was wearing all added to the bounce in my stride and the urge to skip along, to run, to leap, to take off. 

I really felt at that moment that if sheer willing was all it took to fly, I could will myself along and up into the air.  I will remember this feeling when I am trudging along tired and heavy or hot and flagging. I am glad for my legs and I must remember to use them to their fullest while they are young and strong.  I love the feeling of stretching them to step up our step Victorian steps. I love striding in my boots.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Book Reviews - 'Stuck' & 'Daisy Dawson'

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins Children's Books

Oliver Jeffer's latest picture book continues to prove his ability to give life and wings to a simple idea and turn it into an adventure. 'Stuck' explores the problems of throwing good after bad. Literally. It all begins with a little boy named Floyd getting his kite stuck in a tree. The ridiculous lengths he will go to, to retrieve it, are beyond belief and you will not fail to be surprised by the boy's lack of logical thinking. Just when you think things can't get sillier they do and just when you think the boy will solve the problem … he doesn't.
So much is left unspoken but as you look at the pictures you will know exactly what the author is getting at.

Perplexing yet entertaining, get Stuck in.

Daisy Dawson On The Farm
by Steve Voake illustrated by Jessica Meserve  Walker Books

'Daisy Dawson On the Farm' is the latest in a sweetly charming series about a little girl who can speak with animals. This is the premise for a string of adventures involving all sorts of creatures, at the seaside, in the snow, in a secret pool and everywhere she goes.

I would encourage anyone with a little girl who is gathering confidence in reading alone to try these books. Firstly they are fun, short adventures with lots of appeal. The text is laid out with plently of space and injected with oodles of illustrations. No page escapes the odd squiggle or sketch so the blocks of text are not daunting but inviting. Early readers will gobble up the words and be flying onto longer books 

before they outgrow their next pair of school shoes.

Secondly, the pictures are perfect. They are a gorgeously thick, charcoally black and, whether it's the bough of a tree arching over the top of a page or Daisy striding along the bottom of one, each drawing is a wonderful frame for the text. The animals are all very believable and expressive and Daisy is a delight.

Whether you start at the first or the last book, you will be     sure to dive straight into Daisy's happenings. On the farm, though, we follow her quest to bring relief to the hot, thirsty animals who are struggling through a drought. With her clever plans and ability to take everyone into consideration, Daisy will always find a way in the end.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Living the Dream

As an illustrator with a dream, I often wonder when my dream will come true. When will I be earning a living from creativity? When will I have a book published? When, when when? But lately I have been realising how very blessed I am. I am understanding that I AM living the dream right now, every day. I am IN my happily ever after and I am trying to live accordingly. 

 I married my best friend and I am grateful for every moment in his company. He is my dream come true and I want for nothing. I have been realising that I have no right to expect that everything should always go my way, that all my goals will be reached. 

What I have is enough. I am content. I am more than content. I am so very deeply blessed and I know joy. Anything extra is just that, an extra. A bonus. If I succeed that will be so lovely. If I don't, I will not allow it to wreck my world. 

It is also dawning on me that the time before a particular dream comes true is a very precious time. I have hope of wonderful things to come. I get creative when I can. I think about ideas a lot of the time. I plan and explore continuously. But I am no longer desperate. I used to think that if I was truly talented I would be snapped up by a publishing company immediately, that it would all happen very quickly. That if it didn't, there was something wrong. Either they had got it wrong or I just had no talent at all.

That early momentum and motivation was helpful, but you can't live that way for long; you burn out. I know now how naive and foolish I was all those years ago when I first sent my artwork out into the world. I am an older, more mature person now and I am glad I didn't succeed back then. I would not have learned so much. I am still on this road to "success" but I am walking at a pace that is sustainable. 

I guess I'm just a little pensive right now, having just had my birthday. I was thinking about what each year brings to me and what I bring to each year. I have often been self-absorbed and selfish and it's a constant process to think of and act for others. I keep reminding myself that when my time comes to leave this world I would like to do so knowing I've acted well. That good intentions are carried out, that lazy options are ignored and that going the extra mile will be my habit. Leaving a mark on the world doesn't have to mean that galleries everywhere will forever display my drawings or that bookshops in every town will keep a continuous stock of my books. I hope that the mark I leave will be in people's lives. That the state of my heart will be open and clear to think of others and love them. That I will have patience and forgiveness for those that test it. That I will have restraint where necessary, that I will choose kind and encouraging words instead of harsh, accusing ones. I sometimes wonder why everyone in the world expects the world to change because of what others do. The world is a wonderful and terrible place. We make it so. A good world begins inside our hearts and if you want to make an impact, start there. If you have children, teach them too.  Teach them the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, honesty and deception, kindness and cruelty, love and hate. It begins inside us. For those who wish the world was different, change is possible. 

I realise that there are a lot of expectations in the world. Expectations from parents and friends. From the general public and the media. People expect us all to want more. We even feel we need more. But what we actually NEED is less. We need less in order to learn to appreciate. What is the point of having all we need if we are not satisfied with it? I want to appreciate all that is good in the world. And for all that is bad, I will not be deterred. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Stuff and Nonsense

I have had a major clearout of our studio in the last few days. I love Bank Holidays and I love getting out and about, come rain or shine. But I also LOVE to go up in the attic and SORT. 

I have been exploring this drawing-writing dream of mine for almost a decade, at varying strengths and in different ways. I have accumulated A LOT of sketchbooks, notebooks, first, second, third and fourth drafts, roughs, final drawings, scribbles, notes, records, receipts and general PAPER. 

I do not need it all. 

I do not want most of it. 

Enter the bin bags and shredder. 

I have had so much fun, getting rid of HEAPS of stuff that I don't need, and making room in folders and drawers for a new season of productivity and of pursuing my dream. The kittens have also had a lot of fun, surfing the waves of paper that spread across the floor as I flung it do its destiny. I have been ruthless but considered. In the process I have gazed at drawings that were once the best I could do. Illustrations that were once so precious that I carefully filed them, trying not to smudge or rip them, now have no value to me at all. I do not wish to do anything with them and they are too numerous to keep as mementos. 

I am aware that in such cases it is advisable not to get carried away in the frenzy and satisfaction of throwing things in bins, so I did exercise due caution, BUT I had a jolly good time too. 

I hate clutter. I hate stuff for the sake of stuff. I love clear desks and tidy drawers. Things within reach and a place for everything. That does not mean that I accomplish this all the time. I often have piles AND PILES of stuff that is waiting to be put away or sorted through. But the desire is there. I love my home and I love it even more when it's well organised and the only things in it are those I choose to be there. 

It is easy to get bogged down by the compulsion or obligation to keep things, but I must evangelise that it is extremely liberating to JUST GET RID OF IT.  NOW! Do you like it? Do you ever look at it or use it? Why let it take up space that could be used for something that deserves to be there? 

I know that when I settle down to get creative or get on with some admin, I will do so without the distractions and delays that clutter brings. When I need to file an invoice, instead of wading through reams of paper, and frustratingly moving heaven and earth to find somewhere half sensible to put it and will then forget again next time, I will calmly, and with a serene smile, pick up my folder, file my sheet and put it back WHERE IT BELONGS. Three cheers. 

I hope you have fun de-cluttering and reorganising. Crack open a new box of labels and boil the kettle. You may be there some time. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Newspaper Column August 2012

'Claude at the Circus' & 'Pants on the Moon'

Today's column is out in the Mid Devon/Tiverton/Crediton Gazette and is available to read below.

Claude at the Circus
by Alex T Smith
Hodder Children's Books

Claude at the Circus is so good to look at that it might as well be edible. I devoured this one in a few minutes and then went back through it, drooling over every perfect page, every striking composition and delicious layout. It is charming, hilarious and quirky, with plenty of action, as well as little morsels of detail going on in the background to amuse and delight.

We follow the bizarre escapades of an endearing little pooch named Claude as he and his best friend, a sock called Sir Bobblysock, explore their local park. As the two enjoy their new surroundings and sample the pleasures a park has to offer, from lying in flowerbeds to getting caught up in a crowd of joggers, mishaps lead to mayhem and before long Claude and Sir Bobblysock are slap bang in the middle of a circus, wowing the crowd and winning the day.

We experience all the visual delights of a picture book but with a much more expanded story, perfect for challenging early readers. Black, white and red are the only colours used, and though you might think this palette could be a little restrictive, Alex T Smith is a master artist and every page turn leaves you reeling at the gorgeous design. I need to go and buy all three Claude books for myself, but rest assured they are all available from Devon Libraries.

Although I'd like to be helpful and tell you the age range that this book will appeal to, I honestly don't think I could give you an upper age limit. Everyone will appreciate what this book has to offer, and us librarians will be very forgiving if it's returned to the library with a spot of dribble on!

Zoe and Beans: Pants on the Moon
by Mick and Chloe Inkpen
Macmillan Children's Books

Many of you will recognise the books of Mick Inkpen, with his creations Kipper and Wibbly Pig featuring in a whole bunch of brilliant stories that are read to little children everywhere each night. Mick Inkpen has teamed up with his daughter Chloe to bring us this charming new set of adventures about a small, inventive girl named Zoe and her soppy, lovable dog Beans. This story takes us from a homely garden to the faraway Moon, after a strong gust of wind carries the pair and their washing line high up in the air.

Mick Inkpen is always pleasingly playful with language and his writing is full of subtle quirks. The story requires you to leave all scepticism behind; every cynical thought and serious viewpoint, to allow yourself to be immersed in a little child's world of endless possibilities.

 Zoe is a clever little thing and always manages to get herself and Beans out of mischief. The lines between reality and imagination are blurred and you can never tell if the adventure really happened or if it was all a wonderful game. Check your local library for previous titles and watch out for the next Zoe and Beans book coming out later this year, “Hello Oscar.”

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Something to Do - a Book Review

I had a parcel today. It contained this book "Something to do" by Septima. 

I love it for many reasons, two of which are that it's a puffin paperback from the 1960s and it is edited by Kaye Webb. In my family, those facts give a sense of excitement and trust, knowing the book is almost certain to please.  

I was introduced to this book at my friend's house the other day; she had just been making lemonade using a recipe from this book and pulled it off her shelf to show me and it was a little delight. I was thrilled to discover it is filled with illustrations by Shirley Hughes. When I mentioned it to my Mum the other day she knew of the book but had never owned a copy, having seen it for sale in the sixties when when, aged 19, she worked in a bookshop in London. People came in asking for it regularly. Septima is the name of the group that created the book, so called because there are 7 of them. Sharing a community and having 21 children between them, they pooled their ideas and experience to write this lovely book to keep children entertained. As editor Kaye Webb says in her introduction (which, charmingly she wrote for all of the hundreds of books she worked on), "Here at last is a book to fill up all the wet days and dull days that produce the question "What can I do?" in every family. 'Something to Do' has suggestions for things children can do at home, indoors and outside, without spending much money or being a terrible nuisance."

I love Shirley Hughes' drawings and she is one of the few completely reliable illustrators I know of. She has been working for decades and is a truly accomplished artist. Her figures are so true to life, full of life, expressive and believable. Her illustrations are a comfort, they are so normal and domestic. They are loose, sometimes a bit scribbly. But so RIGHT! 

But that delicious bonus aside, this is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelf of every family who loves to do nice things. Every family who values the cosiness of roasting chestnuts, who savours the taste of toffee apples, who understands the importance of doing things for yourself, doing things for free, and doing things together.

It covers the calendar year, giving a chapter to each month, and within each month it provides suggestions and instructions for interesting, seasonal things to do. Every month starts with a short poem, and is followed by a tempting selection of of craft activities, recipes and games. Among my favourites are the recommendations to get a cat, to go berry picking, what to play in bed when you're under the weather, a host of word games and skipping games.

Yes, technology is amazing and handy but there is still a place for matchbox furniture, marbles, clothes-horse dens, and daisy chains. I hope that if we ever have children of our own that we will remember to give space and time to such things and that dvds and handheld devices will not be the main focus of our day. This book is going to sit happily on our shelf and be referred to throughout the year, forever more. I hope you will discover its charms too. 

Copies are available on Amazon Marketplace, for as little as a penny, plus postage. I even bought a spare one! 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Book Review - 'Cordelia Codd: Not Just the Blues'

by Claire O'Brien
Published by Orchard Books

It is an unequalled joy; discovering a completely wonderful book when you are not looking for one. When unpacking a recent delivery at the library, I was dutifully processing all the usual returns from other libraries and among them was a shiny new junior novel, for my library, unopened and unread. Now, I like children's books A LOT and am always on the look out for new lovelies to love and rave about but this particular book didn't seem like my usual cup of tea and yet I found that instead of putting it aside for shelving, I was putting it aside to take home. I don't quite know why I did. I didn't know of the author, but I recognised the cover as being illustrated by the unfailingly talented David Roberts, so I knew the book shouldn't let me down.

When I got a moment to open the book I was won over in the first page and although I didn't have very many minutes I raced through the first chapter and was filled with the delightful knowledge that I was going to love this book, and I do. 

Cordelia Codd (Coco to her parents) is a delightful young lady who gets you on side from the beginning and you can sympathise with everything she does, says and feels. Although the book is aimed at children from 9-12 I would recommend it to anyone over 9, full stop. Claire's writing is wonderful. No sentence is unnecessary or lacking in interest. It is a rich and expert piece of writing, packed with quirky expressions, and charming notions. 

Cordelia lets the reader in on the most awful year of her life so far; an 'ELEPHANT DUMP of a year,' starting a new school, her Dad leaving home and her Mum struggling to keep her head above water. Due to Cordelia's wounded heart and FURIOUS RED FEELINGS, she ends up losing all her friends and getting into trouble at school. Cordelia's thoughts and feelings flow across the page and your eyes will skip happily from word to word, helped along by regular variations in font and many capitalisations, as Cordelia vents and shouts about all her (many) vexations and heartaches. One shining light of hope is her one and only, new-found, friend, the class nerd, Drusilla, with whom she hatches a plan to GET HER DAD BACK!

Cordelia is a well-crafted character that I whole-heartedly believe in. She is not just irritable and moody, her emotions have depth and although her feelings can run away with her in the heat of the moment, she has a big, soft heart and is very sensitive to those around her. I love Cordelia's passion for design and her eager appetite for elegant dresses and interesting costumes, as she endlessly sketches outfits from classic old films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's. 

The pace of the book is unrelenting. Everything that takes place or is mentioned is relevant to the plot and yet the book still maintains a conversational and informal tone, gathering momentum as events lead to a climax in Cordelia's mission to reunite her parents. 

Whilst reading this book I have been: chuckling, smiling inside, welling up with tears and generally being completely captivated.