• Book Review: The Outsider by Emily Organ

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  • Blog Tour: Clare Mackintosh author of I Let You Go on Writing and Parenting

    I Let You Go
  • The W Factor at Warwick Castle

    HH_WickedWarwick_logo
  • Featured Post: 5 ways batch cooking could change your life

Book Review: The Outsider by Emily Organ

The-Outsider-ebook-cover-200x300For some unfathomable reason it seems to take me ages to actually write reviews of adult books. I think its because I’m often so in awe of the plot and the writing that I’m sort of mentally speechless. This was the case with The Outsider, Emily Organ’s second novel which I simply couldn’t put down.

The Outsider tells the story of a girl who becomes entangled in a relationship with wealthy entrepreneur and decides to give up her current career and move in with him. Its a murder mystery set in New York and the English countryside. The book is a gripping read with lots of twists and turns, most which I couldn’t predict, some which I found quite shocking.

One of the things which I love about Emily Organ’s writing is the way that she describes locations and builds her characters. As I read, New York came to life and I began to really like the main character and care about what happened to her. I enjoyed picturing the house in the English countryside with its balconies and the woodland outside. In fact when I drove up through Gaddesdon Row the other day, I could almost see the characters standing outside one of the big flashy houses.

A great book  leaves you wanting to find out more about the characters; what happens after the book ends? Where does the next stage of their lives take them? I’ve  a burning desire to read more and to find out more. I do hope Emily writes a sequel.

As a Director of a Literary Festival and member of a book club I get through loads of books each year. Some of them are Sunday Times or Richard and Judy Best Sellers, some classics and others might be in those lists of books you must read. However, I can honestly say that The Last Day, Emily Organ’s first novel stood out from the crowd for me last year, as this one does this year. I’ve spent some time trying to work out why, and I cant explain it, other than to say that she just has a way with words which works for me. Her prose is easy to comprehend, which means you can picture the story easily in your mind and therefore remember it. Thats the secret to writing a good book.

I’d throughly recommend both of Emily Organ’s books and implore you to add them to your summer holiday book list. If you’d like to find out more then make sure you have a look at her website here. You can also follow her over on Twitter @emilysorgan

Disclaimer: I was given a copy to review but that was such a long time ago- i’m almost embarrassed to admit it!

 

 

Blog Tour: Clare Mackintosh author of I Let You Go on Writing and Parenting

I Let You GoOne of the first blogs I read and connected with was written by my online friend Clare Mackintosh. That blog has long since vanished but Clare has since gone on to become a Richard and Judy Book Club best selling author with her debut novel I Let You Go. I’ve included an extract from the book at the end of this blog and if you enjoy that I urge you to get hold of a copy.

Clare is a really inspirational woman having succeeded in a career change whilst managing three small children and a literary festival. Over the past year when I’ve been trying to set up my own literary festival Clare has been a godsend and I don’t think we could have managed to run it without her advice! I’m thrilled to welcome her here on my blog to talk about writing and parenting as part of the blog tour to celebrate the book:

Writing and parenting

‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art,’ said Cyril Connolly, ‘than the pram in the hall.’ In other words: have children, and you can forget that dream you had of becoming a writer, a sculptor, a musician. You’ll be forever sleep-deprived, creatively stifled, and at the beck and call of an army of pygmy warriors.Clare Mackintosh

There’s an element of truth in that: sleeplessness can certainly be an enemy to creativity, but it can also stimulate it. I remember feeding my twin girls in the dead of night; the house quiet and dark, and only the ticking of the clock stopping me from feeling that time had stood still. At the time I was deeply, terrifyingly in the throes of post-natal depression, swamped by irrational fears and unable to see a way out. I didn’t know it then, but the emotions I was experiencing would become the basis for a book.

One has only to look at the rise of what is sometimes referred to as ‘domestic noir’ to see how fascinated readers are by the darkness present in people’s every day lives, and it is perhaps not surprising that so many thrillers and crime novels centre around families. The home is where we feel safe: our children are the people we care most about in the whole world. Put one – or both – of those things in jeopardy and you’ve got a novel!

From the writers perspective it is no harder to juggle parenting and writing than it is to combine being a parent with any other job, and in a great many cases it is significantly easier. I went back full time to my job as a police inspector when my children were 3, 2 and 2. Day to day it just about worked, but I never saw my family, and I constantly felt stressed that I was going to drop the ball. Now I write whenever I have time. The children are all in school, so I have all day to play with, and I can be there for every drop-off and pick-up, and for every harvest festival, Nativity performance or parents’ evening. Sick children take up residence in my office on a pile of squashy cushions, and doze or read until whatever bug has left them. In the holidays I work in the evenings, or get up early to write before they’re properly awake. It’s tiring, but it’s a small price to pay for being with them as they grow up. I am acutely conscious of how fast time is going, and after such a rocky start with the girls, I am grateful I don’t need to miss out on any of it.

I write psychological suspense novels with a strong emotional pull, and I doubt I would be writing at all, had it not been for my children. The emotions I experienced as I went through fertility treatment; became pregnant with twins; gave birth prematurely; held my son as he died; became pregnant with twins again… all these experiences gave my writing a richness and a depth I couldn’t have replicated with a different life. More prosaically, when I decided I was missing out as a parent, and wanted to quit my career in the police, it was the children who drove me forward – not to mention providing me with material! I wrote for parenting magazines and websites, used them shamelessly in articles and columns, all with the aim of earning enough money to keep the wolf from the door. The pram in my hall is more of a friend than an enemy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Extract from I Let You Go

When I wake, for a second I’m not sure what this feeling is. Everything is the same, and yet everything has changed. Then, before I have even opened my eyes, there is a rush of noise in my head, like an underground train. And there it is: playing out in Technicolor scenes I can’t pause or mute. I press the heels of my palms into my temples as though I can make the images subside through brute force alone, but still they come, thick and fast, as if without them I might forget.

On my bedside cabinet is the brass alarm clock Eve gave me when I went to university – ‘Because you’ll never get to lectures, otherwise’ – and I’m shocked to see it’s ten-thirty already. The pain in my hand has been overshadowed by a headache that blinds me if I move my head too fast, and as I peel myself from the bed every muscle aches.

I pull on yesterday’s clothes and go into the garden without stopping to make a coffee, even though my mouth is so dry it’s an effort to swallow. I can’t find my shoes, and the frost stings my feet as I make my way across the grass. The garden isn’t large, but winter is on its way, and by the time I reach the other side I can’t feel my toes.

The garden studio has been my sanctuary for the last five years. Little more than a shed to the casual observer, it is where I come to think, to work, and to escape. The wooden floor is stained from the lumps of clay that drop from my wheel, firmly placed in the centre of the room, where I can move around it and stand back to view my work with a critical eye. Three sides of the shed are lined with shelves on which I place my sculptures, in an ordered chaos only I could understand. Works in progress, here; fired but not painted, here; waiting to go to customers, here. Hundreds of separate pieces, yet if I shut my eyes, I can still feel the shape of each one beneath my fingers, the wetness of the clay on my palms.

I take the key from its hiding place under the window ledge and open the door. It’s worse than I thought. The floor lies unseen beneath a carpet of broken clay; rounded halves of pots ending abruptly in angry jagged peaks. The wooden shelves are all empty, my desk swept clear of work, and the tiny figurines on the window ledge are unrecognisable, crushed into shards that glisten in the sunlight.

By the door lies a small statuette of a woman. I made her last year, as part of a series of figures I produced for a shop in Clifton. I had wanted to produce something real, something as far from perfection as it was possible to get, and yet for it still to be beautiful. I made ten women, each with their own distinctive curves, their own bumps and scars and imperfections. I based them on my mother; my sister; girls I taught at pottery class; women I saw walking in the park. This one is me. Loosely, and not so anyone would recognise, but nevertheless me. Chest a little too flat; hips a little too narrow; feet a little too big. A tangle of hair twisted into a knot at the base of the neck. I bend down and pick her up. I had thought her intact, but as I touch her the clay moves beneath my hands, and I’m left with two broken pieces. I look at them, then I hurl them with all my strength towards the wall, where they shatter into tiny pieces that shower down on to my desk.

I take a deep breath and let it slowly out.

You can find out more about this book, Clare’s forthcoming novels and lots more information over on her website here. You can also find her over on Twitter: @claremackint0sh

The W Factor at Warwick Castle

HH_WickedWarwick_logoThere is nothing we enjoy more than a trip to Warwick Castle. It has the perfect mix of history and entertainment. Since 2012 Horrible Histories® characters have been entertaining visitors to Warwick Castle.  This year Warwick Castle will be home to the first ever stage show, ‘Wicked Warwick’, to be specially scripted for Warwick Castle and brought to life in partnership with The Birmingham Stage Company.

To celebrate this the Warwick Castle team are inviting members of the public to join the family fun with the chance to win a one-time cameo in ‘Wicked Warwick’ by auditioning for ‘The W Factor at Warwick Castle.’

 Individuals, families and groups are encouraged to come along on the morning of Wednesday 27 May and present their favourite short gory stories on stage to a panel of three judges. Its a brilliant fun day out for everyone.

Entering is easy, free of charge and registrants will receive a 2-4-1 voucher for entry to the Castle on the day. Eager entrants need simply visit the Warwick Castle website to register their intention to audition live for a panel of judges at ‘The W Factor at Warwick Castle’ on Wednesday 27 May.

If you want to stand out from the crowd you can also post your auditions on  the Warwick Castle Facebook Page   with the tag #thewfactor  and receive priority placement in the audition queue. Last minute entries may be accommodated on 27 May depending on time available.

My children are up for the challenge and let us film their auditions:

Not very gory, but they will be saving that for the day!

You can see more entries on Twitter #thewfactor.

The judging panel will select four entrants to perform in live shows at Warwick Castle the following month, on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June. One overall winner will also receive a unique starlit woodland family sleepover in the  Mediaeval Glamping Village on 21 June, only 5 minutes from the Castle and located in a beautiful woodland glade.

Featured Post: 5 ways batch cooking could change your life

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Batch Cooked vegetarian cannelloni, prepared and dished up by the kids…

You might think that batch cooking is for that beefy guy at the gym who eats six chicken breasts a day and enough spinach to put Popeye to shame, but in fact it’s a cooking technique that could potentially change your life. Its a perfect way to ensure your family have healthy and home cooked food even on those days when you dont have time to cook!

Here are five good reasons why batch cooking is going to shake up how you eat throughout the week:

1. Shopping will be super easy and less frequent

Once you embrace the beauty that is batch cooking you can lie in bed and laugh at those people who have to get up on a Saturday morning to do their shopping because they’re too busy in the week.

You’ll find (as I do) that you eat more vegetarian meals because you always have them available. No need to shop for fresh vegetables each day, your meal is already prepared and ready to go. I use a lot of these recipes for inspiration.

Batch cooking means doing one big shop at the start of the month or week (this probably depends on how big your fridge freezer is, if you’re looking for something a little roomier we suggest taking a peek at what ao.com has to offer) then preparing all your meals, ready to quickly heat them up when you want them.

Once you discover which meals you really enjoy making you can tailor your shopping list so you know exactly what you are buying every time you go and how much you need for all your preparation.

2. You’ll feel great

Batch cooking leads to healthy eating since you’re making all your meals from scratch so after a couple of weeks you’ll feel great for eating more nutritious foods. You can put together delicious soups, mix up some meatballs or whip up some breakfast egg muffins and reduce your fat and salt intake at the same time.

3. Your cooking skills will get better

Your local takeaway is going to feel pretty neglected once you start batch cooking and your eye (or taste) for good food will improve. Soon your mum will turn to you for recipe ideas. It could happen.

4. You’ll cut down on food waste

In the UK we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year but with batch cooking you prepare beforehand what you are going to eat each day and only buy what you need to put in your meals. Everything is used, everything is eaten and you are contributing to a greener environment. Which should feel pretty good. There are a host of recipes inspired by leftovers here, including soda bread and potato cakes.

5. There will be extra cash in the bank

Batch cooking means buying in bulk, which means you can actually take advantage of supermarket offers and reduce the amount of times you have to ‘pop to the shop’ and come out with ten extra items you don’t really need.

Are you ready to make the change? Are you ready to fire up the slow cooker and leave your delicious pre-prepared meals to bubble away throughout the day for you to return to after a long day at work? Are you ready… to batch cook? It’s a life changer!

Featured Post: Fun and frugal May half term activities – how to entertain the kids for less

museumsWith half term on the horizon, if you are like me you’ll be looking for fresh ways to keep the children occupied. If you’re fed up with the constant hum of Minecraft YouTube videos and the cry of ‘i’m bored’ you might find some of these ideas helpful:

Make plans in advance

Think of various things to do in advance of any holiday. I have written about this before, i’ve found it incredibly useful to timetable activities so there is always something to do. It doesn’t matter if you change these plans, but at least you have something there! You might find it helpful to team up with other families and see what they have planned. A group treasure hunt in a local playing field or recreation ground is fun, and will only cost you the price of the actual treasure. If money is tight, then you could always apply for a loan from somewhere like Car Cash Point, for a more expensive day tchiltern open air museumrip or even a more luxurious weekend away. Some train companies offer deals on block booking and the price is often reduced if you book your seats in advance. You will have to bear in mind that exhibition entry and food and treats will increase the cost of your trip.

Re-discover museums

As a museum curator I would say this, but some of the best fun you can have with your children is in museums and galleries and best of all, its usually free. Most of the large London museums still have free admission and many of them will hold lots of special school holiday activities which you can make the most of, often for free!  Many major towns across the whole of the UK are home to a museum or collection of art. You’ll also find some great countryside museums like the Chiltern Open Air Museum near us.

Look out for local festivals

May is a great time to try to find a local festival. You might find scarecrow festivals, flower festivals or spring nature festivals.  For example, if you live in East Anglia, then you could always try the Norwich Festival. It’s the UK’s oldest festival and brings together music, art, film, circus acts and numerous other events over a two-week period coinciding with the May half term. Just check with the local press, or the internet for a festival near you. Facebook and Twitter are also good research resources.

Develop new hobbies with the family

A week long break is often a good opportunity to introduce your kids to a new hobby. I’ve introduced my little girl to the wonders of sewing and last holiday she actually made herself a dress. Meanwhile the boys have been teaching themselves Scratch Junior which has proved handy for computing at school. Why not get the kids writing their own blog, collecting different leaves to stick in a special book or learning how to spot birds.

With a little bit of planning its easy to find free or cheap activities to keep the children engaged and learning. If all fails a trip to the library will fill a bit of time and prove worthwhile. I have to say as a child my best days were spent reading books and playing marbles. Sometimes a bit of simplicity provides the ideal break and a rest for everyone!