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.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cards and Carrots

The importance of local links and daily chats

When you begin reading this post you may think it is totally unrelated to my usual blog subject matter, but  read on, I promise it's relevant - honest!

I would like to tell you about our local greengrocers, for many reasons.

The first is that although it is rather dinky, it is cute and painted a sunny yellow inside, and full of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. At the moment I am particularly enjoying their perfectly ripe and juicy nectarines and their avacados, plums and cherries. Fruit is my favourite snack and the only way for me to avoid eating chocolate bars. 

I digress.... The second and very important reason is that this Greengrocers is run by a friendly and fun couple called Brian and Anne. They make everyone welcome and are always so chatty. 

They love hearing about the antics of Wolfgang and Daphne and what I'm going to have for dinner and all sorts. They are just plain lovely.

They also now stock my full range of greetings cards! It all came about in a slightly odd way, but as I always say, sometimes it is worth just asking a polite question and see where it takes you. As I was paying for my big bag of nectarines yesterday I dug around in my handbag for my wallet and my fingers found the little bag of leftover cards that I'd had in there from the weekend (when I'd taken a sample of my cards to a gift shop when we drove out for a countryside jaunt). I pulled them out and found myself saying, half jokingly, "I don't suppose you'd like to try selling these would you?" 

Dear Anne immediately said yes, of course and a deal was promptly settled on, which consists of them selling my cards for me for no charge and me supplying them with a regular recipe to put on their noticeboard.  They'd been pestering me (gently) for another recipe sheet as the last one had been there for several weeks already. I can't help fiddling around with images and words; any excuse will do. So one day when I'd borrowed a book of soup recipes from the library and found a tasty looking one involving bacon, Savoy Cabbage and potato I asked them to find me a Savoy Cabbage. True to their efficient and reliable service, the next morning as I walked by on my way to work, Anne waved me in to show me the luscious green beauty that had just arrived. So, Andy and I cooked our soup, photographed it because we were so chuffed with it, ate it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I then printed out the recipe and photo to make a kind of advert to show customers what they could use this lovely produce for, and gave it to Brian and Anne one day and thus something fun and special has been born. We had a lovely Cauliflower from Brian and Anne the other day which we used for a Cauliflower and Gruyere cheese soup. It was rather tasty and extremely comforting, basically Cauliflower cheese in a bowl. Yum.

Daphne and Wolfgang are also really pleased when I've been to the greengrocers in my lunch break.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Importance of Being Scribbly.

There are times when I am bit scared to draw. I am scared that what I put on the paper is just not going to be anything as good as I mean it to be and I know I'll feel disappointed and discouraged. If you're drawing all day, every day, a certain consistent confidence comes but I very often go for days or weeks without doing any drawing, which is not how I like it. The intervals between putting pencil to paper mean that these precious drawing times have more pressure on them to be successful. When tomorrow is full of other work and today is THE day to be able to move on creatively, there is an urgency about it that can make me timid and hold back instead of being bold and expressive.

At the beginning of days such as these, I find it helpful to have a few minutes of doodling about with no agenda at all.  I scribble and draw silly creatures, happy little faces, or even just meaningless squiggles for a while. This helps me to get familiar and relaxed with the pencil again, and also to get the nib from the harsh, just-sharpened feel to a slightly softer tip.

I just wanted to encourage any of you who draw, or do anything creative, to be carefree once in a while. Draw, write, sew, sculpt something that is almost certain to look rubbish, it doesn't matter. No-one has to see these scribbles, they aren't there to impress. Although you will almost definitely throw them away, they have value and will affect how confidently you approach your work for the day.

Think of it as a warm-up. You wouldn't think of going for a run without stretching your muscles first. Give yourself a chance and get loose.