Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Mermaid Legends How-to: Style your hair just like Shelley's.

Inventing and drawing the hairstyles for Coralie Sparkles' mermaids in Estella and the Falling Star was just about the most fun I've had with pencils and paper.

I love Pippa's short brown bob, and Merina's free-flowing, long-as-her-tail, shiny black tresses. I also love Estella's crinkly golden curls, with her simple little plait dangling down beside one ear.

But it was really fun creating a more intricate hair-do for the mermaid with attitude, Shelley. She is after all, the Guardian's daughter. Her jewellery hints at her status, and so her hair had to measure up. I could imagine Shelly being used to being pampered, and perhaps having a loyal servant to arrange her hair in exciting ways each morning. I pictured her with a dressing table full of ribbons, shell decorations, jewels and beautiful silver bangles and pendants.

Darcie with Shelley's hair-do.

With two slim plaits that start at her temples and link up at the back into one high pony-tail, a ribbon is tied in and weaved down through the rest of Shelley's hair, plaited for a section, tied off, and tied again at short intervals to create a series of bulbous bobbles, before trailing off in a nice long tassle at the end. 

My friend Darcie (otherwise know as Shellanna Shimmerfin - to check out your own mermaid name, click HERE.) has been growing her hair for some time and was happy to try out Shelley's stylish plaits. We took photos at every point to make it really easy for you to follow the steps and try it for yourself. 

1. Brush hair thoroughly and part in the middle. Take a section from the front, from the parting to above the ear. Plait it until its long enough to reach past the middle of the back of the head. Put a tie around it while you do the other side.

2. Hold the two plaits out of the way while you brush the rest of the hair up into a neat, high pony-tail and secure well. Then bring the plaits round and add into the pony-tail by securing with a separate tie. This just makes it easier so you're not trying to hold onto too much while securing the pony-tail. I can tell you it was easier drawing this hairstyle than doing it with real hair that wanted to slide all over the place!

3. Take a long piece of ribbon, of whatever colour you choose. Shelley had turquoise in the story, but imagine a coral pink or a starfish gold or silver, or seaweedy green!

Secure it round the hair-bands that are holding the pony-tail.

4. Then wrap the long part around the ponytail to hide the knot and the bands, then loop through itself to stop it unravelling.

5. Now you can start your big plait, weaving in the ribbon with one of the three strands. You can keep the plaited section as short or long as you like. Then fasten with a hairband.

6. Then wrap the ribbon round the hair-band again and thread it through itself or the hairband to keep it in place. Then lead the ribbon down through the next section of hair and secure with a hairband again. I pulled the hair gently so that it spread out into a nice bulging bobble.

Repeat this stage again to create another bobble of hair, and keep going if you have ultra long hair, or just do one if you are running out of length. This is why the plait section may vary a lot too. 

7. After each section is tied off with a hairband and wrapped around with the ribbon, you can tie a wider ribbon at the bottom to finish it off in a nice bow. Leave a nice big tassel if you can.

Then you can enjoy swishing and flicking your plait behind you. 

If you have a go at Shelley's hair-do, please send us a photo of how it turned out. Or you might like to experiment and find your own way to tie up long hair.

If you have short hair, there are still lots of ways you can play with plaits and pony-tails, buns, twists and clips. Maybe you could find a way to slide in a shell or two, or some beads or stars! We'd love to see all your mermaidy hair-dos. Email them to:

and we will post them up in the gallery on the Mermaid Legends website.

A Mermaid Legends How-To: Make Nana's Seaweed Buns

 As some of you will know, I recently spent a year blogging about the making the yummy food within classic children's stories.

Now, a brand new story for children has been published, with my illustrations in. Estella and the Falling Star. And I couldn't resist trying to make the seaweed buns that young mermaid Merina enjoys eating at her Nana's house. 

The book describes them as seaweed buns, and I had to draw Nana carrying a plateful of them. I pictured them as a bit like scones. A nice soft doughy bun that I could imagine Nana patting out roughly, rather than rolling the dough and using a cutter.

For the dough, I use my favourite scone recipe, shared with me by a friend whose scones I  have admired and enjoyed at many lovely teatimes. I've added seaweed, cheese, herbs and spcies. Feel free to use your own scone recipe and tweak the extras if you like. 


8oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder 
1 1/2 oz soft butter
1/4 pint milk (you may not use all of this)
pepper (to your taste)
pinch salt
pinch or two or paprika
pinch of cayenne papper
big handful or two grated cheese (I used Parmesan, but cheddar will be fine.)
a generous sprinkling of dried oregano
a pinch of dried thyme
A big handful of seaweed (Make sure it's edible. I bought a packet of dried seaweed on ebay, because my supermarket was out of stock. Put it in a bowl of water for a few minutes until soft. Then squeeze out the water and use scissors to snip into little pieces.)

Place flour and baking powder in bowl.
Add butter and rub in to make a breadcrumb texture. Then add all the extras - salt and pepper, oregano, thyme, cheese and seaweed. Gradually add milk to make soft dough.

Squidge into a ball, without squeezing it too tight or handling it too long. Chuck onto lightly floured surface. Pull off evenly sized lumps, about the size of a plum, lightly roll in your palm to make a ball, place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and press down to give it a flat top and bottom.

If you want to give it an extra Mermaid Legends feel, you could press the back of a ribbed shell into the top, before brushing them all with milk.
Bake at 220C for ten to twelve minutes.

Eat while just still warm if possible. They're really yummy with tomato chutney.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Magic of Mermaids

Do you think there might be some way we can work together? said the amazing Amy Sparkes, one day, to the amazed Susie Tyler. 

Said the Susie Tyler, "You name it."

And this little unknowing mermaid was the trigger that set in motion an exciting cascade of suggestions, realisations, conversations and illustrations. 

All I knew at first was that Amy was keen on something fantastical. I started filling a sketchbook with dragons and fairies, and this one little mermaid. I always wanted to be a mermaid. At the swimming pool, my friends and I would slip into mermaid identities as our skin hit the water. Invisible dolphin friends would surround us and we would twirl happily through the water imagining oceanic surroundings and adventures.
Whilst drinking gallons of Lady Grey tea and drawing away, I took a snap of this mermaid and emailed it over to Amy to see if I was on the right track. It was at this point that Amy decided the world was ready to greet her cast of mermaids who inhabit Sapphire Seas. It was time for a new story to be launched. 

Estella and the Falling Star was ready and waiting for its illustrations, and now that it's really here, printed, and in my hands and on my bookshelf, I look back on the last few months as a happy, dreamy blur. Full of many many shells and tails and a LOT of hair!

I have adored finding the visual identity of Merina, Estella, Pippa, Shelley and Nana. I had to start by exploring lots of hairstyles. Although colour is very important for the front covers, we couldn't rely on the mermaids' colour differences to set them instantly apart from one another inside the book.
Being black and white, they needed to be complete individuals, with very differing hairstyles and clothing. Amy and I had a lot of fun (and a lot of tea - it just so happens we share a love of Lady Grey teas as well as mermaids) deciding what hair worked best for each character. Pippa has cropped hair which we felt echoed her cheeky nature and sharp wit. And it was nice to break with the tradition of long hair for one of the mermaids. 

Once they were all designed, I was delighted to re-read the latest draft of the story and find that Amy had slipped in a few extra adjectives to mention their lovely locks. The fun of hearing an author describe a character that you have visualised is almost too much!

Gradually the finished illustrations built up and we were able to go full steam ahead with the publication. And here it is. It is a book. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Interview with Jane Brocket, author of the book that inspired my challenge.

As you know, my entire Fictional Food Adventure was inspired by reading 'Turkish Delights and Treasure Hunts', a brilliant and thoughtful booky gift from one of my most treasured friends. Jane Brocket is the talented author of that book, and of many others, centered around baking, knitting, sewing and all good homely delights. 'Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts' is actually the American version of the original British 'Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer', which is even fuller of wonderful classic children's books and recipes to explore. Jane has very kindly answered all the questions that I was eager to ask her about books and baking, so that I could share them all with you here. So, to celebrate the end of my Fictional Food Adventure, here are some lovely thoughts from Jane herself:

Jane, you are obviously a connoisseur of classic children's literature. Can you tell me what you feel is at the heart of a great classic?

I think it’s very difficult to define what makes a true classic and I also believe it varies according to each child. Some read for plot, others for character or situation, some for imagined worlds and others for reality. What every classic has, though, is an authentic authorial voice which doesn’t patronise the reader, pace because children don’t like it when books grind to a halt with ‘boring’ descriptions, characters the reader can relate to, details which make the setting easy to imagine, and children doing things on their own (there are so many absent parents in children’s classics). I always liked a good cry, too, so many of my classic classics would be weepies in places (Little Women, Little Lord Fauntleroy, What Katy Did are all of that ilk).

As a child, what books did you read over and over again?

When I was young, I was so keen to discover exciting new books and have different reading experiences that I rarely reread any books. However, I think I must have read a fair few Enid Blyton books twice because each time I was so totally swept away by the stories and they didn’t take long to get through – I seem to remember the details very clearly. So the great joy of writing Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer was having the chance to savour so many of my childhood favourites all over again, and to discover many new ones, too. 

What are your three all-time favourite children's novels from any era?

Having just said I rarely reread books, I definitely read the following more than once: 
Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton was the very first paperback I ever read on my own and I can still recall the thrill of being swept along by the story and the details of the caravan and the catering – without any help from an adult. The book is no great masterpiece, but it was a milestone in my reading and got me started. I was also desperate to have a holiday in a tiny yellow and green caravan after this. 
I adored What Katy Did even though I completely missed the Christian redemption message. I loved Katy’s character, was horrified by her accident, and spent a lot of time wondering if I would improve and be a better person if I broke my back and was confined to bed. I also relished all the details of the American setting – so very different to Stockport where I was reading the book. 
I seem to have had a blithe lack of awareness of Christian themes because I also read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without ever picking up on them. This is another book I romped through and had to go back through to enjoy it all over again. The idea of stepping out of the back of a big wardrobe into a different, snowy world enthralled me and I wished I could do it. Maybe this also contributed to my perennially itchy feet (and my fascination with Antarctica)?

If you could go on a picnic with any children's book character, who would it be? What do you love about that character?

Jo from Little Women. Mostly because we’d be able to lie on the grass, read books and eat apples, instead of having to do lots of energetic stuff, although I’d ask her to demonstrate how to leap a fence and applaud her athleticism. We’d talk about books, families, ambitions, life. She’d give me tips for writing and I’d give her tips for cooking (I’d also persuade her to marry Laurie). I’d love spending time with her because she’s impulsive and impetuous, doesn’t care about clothes, how she looks, or any ladylike nonsense, is affectionate and optimistic, and would always be stimulating company.

What essential provisions or treats would you take on an adventure?

I’d have a big basket or knapsack filled with bottles of home-made lemonade and ginger beer which I’d chill in a brook or hang off the back of a rowing boat, a whole loaf’s worth of sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper (fillings: cheese, ham, chicken), lots of hard-boiled eggs and a twist of salt, a large cherry-filled cherry cake, a paper bag of ripe plums, and a large bar of chocolate. There would also be somewhere to stop en route for sticky gingerbread, freshly made macaroons or a creamy ice cream.

Have you ever had a baking disaster like Anne of Green Gables, leaving a crucial ingredient out of a cake or forgetting something's on the oven?

Plenty. My pastry crumbled and refused to roll out just a couple of days ago, and I had to chuck it away and start all over again. I’ve left baking powder out of cakes made with plain, not self-raising, flour and pulled very sad, flat messes out of the oven. I’ve wrecked fudge, and made toffee which has never come unstuck from the bottom of the pan. I’ve made rock-solid plum jam which tasted disgusting, and have burned many things over the years. Finally, I realised I needed a reliable timer that I could sit on my desk or carry around the house with me so that I wouldn’t miss the oven’s beeping! 

Of all your scrummy recipes, what do you love to bake or eat the most?

Rock buns – both baking and eating. When I was growing up, real rock buns were a bit of a joke: dry, dusty, rock-hard and very unappealing. On the other hand, fictitious rock buns seemed a lot more interesting, especially when eaten at the meetings of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. So I always wanted to make them, to see if I could make nice Secret Seven rock buns rather than dried out rock buns. I adapted a recipe, adding glacĂ© cherries, a generous amount of nice dried fruit, and nutmeg, and using soft brown sugar instead of caster and hey presto, I got deliciously squidgy, generous rock buns. I’ve been baking them this way for years and years, and they are still my favourite quick bake, and always delicious with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Round Up and Celebration

Well, it is done! My funny Fictional Food adventure is finished. So, between August 2014 and August 2015, I have read these 23 books:

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis

Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

Little Women by Louisa May Allcott

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Little House n the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House on the Prairie

What Katy Did by Susan M Coolidge

What Katy Did at School

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter

Heidi by Joanna Spyri

The Secret of Spiggy Holes by Enid Blyton

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards

Mary Poppins by P.L.Travers

Mary Poppins Comes Back

Charlotte's Web by E.B White

Of all of these wonderful books, my favourite new discoveries are the stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Women,  Matilda, Danny Champion of the World, and Paddington Bear. 

My most cherished favourite old reads of the challenge are Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte's Web, Pollyanna, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Borrowers.

The things I have most enjoyed making and eating are Paddington's Marmalade Buns, Debby's Jumbles, Bad Harry's Birthday Trifle, Jeremy and Jemima's More-Jam-Than-Puff-Jam-Puffs, Mrs Beaver's Sticky Marmalade Roll, Mary Poppins' Jam Cakes and Pippi Longstocking's Large Cream Cake and Swedish Ginger Snaps.

If I had to pick just one triumph, I think the Sticky Marmalade Roll is the best baking discovery I've made, because Andy adored it, everyone else loved it and it was an easy, quick comforting pudding. Baking a winner like that was a joy. 

I want to say a huge thank you to Jane Brocket for writing your wonderful book, and to my dear Claire for knowing how much I'd love to receive it as a birthday present.

My Sweet Andy also deserves massive thanks for his patience when I have filled the kitchen with heat and mess, for when I've suddenly needed more flour or sugar, or forgot to buy a lemon, and for his enthusiasm and encouragement this year and always. 

Thank you also to my friends, family and colleagues who have helped me consume the results of the many recipes in this Fictional Food Adventure. 

Although I've now completed the challenge, there are a few books from my childhood that contain food that I always craved when reading them. I'm going to share a couple of these over the next little while, so keep a look out. And thank you for visiting!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Anne's Liniment Layer Cake

As well as being the final recipe of my challenge, this cake represents something of a victory for me. I have always had great trouble with Victoria Sponges. They have always ended up closer to a biscuit than a cake, and the repeated flat disappointments led to me giving up on them. I wonder now, if it was the recipe that was at fault, because I've now finally triumphed and made a cake to be proud of. A cake that I can be happy to share.

I know many people would consider this a basic achievement, but when you have tried and tried your best, and still you fail, the joy of eventually producing such a soft, cushiony cake that sighs as you slice it and tastes sumptuous, is enormous. It was really pretty yummy, especially spread thickly with homemade blackcurrant jam. The tang of the fruit cut through the sweetness and richness perfectly, and in my opinion there is no better filling for this cake.

Anne's own cake was less than a triumph, sadly, despite her best efforts. Knowing her tendency to omit the flour, or leave it in the oven too long, Anne purposely takes extra care to concentrate whilst baking this layer cake for her dear kindred spirit friend, the reverend's wife. And though she did take great care, and brought a beautifully baked cake out of the oven, her mistake was to emerge later, at the point of eating. 

When the revered lady finally takes a bite of the first slice, her face reveals that something is wrong. Marilla, is dismay, then tastes it too, to discover the problem. The taste is so inedible that Anne is quizzed as to what she has put in it. In tears, she claims that it was only vanilla extract. Eventually when asked to produce the bottle she used, it turns out that the vanilla essence bottle actually contained liniment, emptied from its own bottle that had broken. Though innocent, Anne is beyond comfort until her the reverend's wife kindly puts it all into perspective for her.


Fictional Food Adventure: Making Marilla's Zero Alcohol Raspberry Cordial from Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery.

Raspberries are so delicious that I don't believe in messing about with them. But when eating them, I always like to mash them up with a bit of sugar. I think it makes them easier to taste. So making cordial out of thoroughly mashed and pulped rasberries is just an extreme taste extravaganza. I can tell you, it's the most raspberry thing ever. 

I've loved Anne of Green Gables all my life, and I always found the raspberry cordial moment hilarious, despite the heartache it causes Anne. Poor, innocent Anne makes a dreadful mistake in offering her bosom friend, Diana, Marilla's currant wine, by the tumblerful, instead of the intended non-alcoholic raspberry cordial. She unintentionally sets Diana very drunk and it all ends in tears. The liquid itself always looked so enticing, as well as sounding tempting as it tinkles into the glass. 

Now that I know how delicious, and how simple it is to make, I think it will have to be an annual treat to celebrate summer. Rasberries aren't cheap, but they are worth the expense. All it takes is a pile of the soft red fruit, some sugar, water, a saucepan, a sieve and a bottle. 

And when it's fresh from the fridge on a hot day, it's a bit of paradise.