Ali Sparkes and a Sparkling Talk at the Local Library

ali sparkes out of this worldI’ve just seen the fabulous Ali Sparkes give a talk at our local library and….WOW! That’s how an author talk should be done!

Ali writes for children, and she was funny, informative, and engaging. I won’t give away her ‘trade secrets’, but she has quite a few clever props, some for fun, some to illustrate her points, and a final magician’s trick for the end of the talk, which brought some real gasps from her audience.

I might have to make library visits one day, (though I’d have to finish a book first!) so here’s what I picked up from Ali’s talk.

  • Engage the audience in the first few minutes. Ali had us responding to cue cards straight away, and it really got us in the mood.
  • Keep the audience involved. Ali asked questions, she called people up to help, and she used props throughout the talk to keep us interested.
  • Choice of readings. Ali chose a couple of really fun passages from her books, and these were spread out in the talk, but gave a real insight into what to expect if we read her stories. She put a lot of expression into it, but I suspect she’s a natural performer!
  • Be funny. Well, there again, you’re either funny or you’re not – but it certainly helps!
  • End on a high. The magician’s trick. We were ALL impressed, mums and dads too!

And what about writing advice? The talk was aimed at children, but the main message is clear. Don’t give up. Her work was rejected for years, but she kept writing and submitting. She got close a few times, only to be rejected at the last minute, but she kept writing. She was finally published in 2006, and has written 40 books since then!

We’ve never read her books, but on the basis of this talk, I think we’ve missed out. We bought ‘Out of this World’  yesterday, and now that it’s signed, my daughters can fight over who gets to read it first.

The talk was part of the summer reading challenge, which we’ve always taken, but this year… well, to be honest, the girls read longer books now, and the reading challenge would be a bit like Nanowrimo – all about quantity rather than quality. I’m sure they could pick six books to read, but they’d be chosen for their brevity to meet the six week deadline. I’d rather they read a few ‘bigger’ books slowly.

This is the third author talk I’ve attended at the library, and though I’m an aspiring writer I’ve never hovered around afterwards to ask insightful questions, or chat with the ‘proper’ author.  (Actually, I think there were two ‘proper’ authors in the room, I think I spotted Kate Kelly, in the audience, who’s blog I’ve followed for a while.)

I didn’t hover around for a chat this time either, I wish I was the sort of person who could do that though – just walk up and introduce myself, and start chatting about the writing process.

But is that the right thing to do? What’s the social etiquette for collaring authors after talks? Should you save that for conferences?

What do you think?


Making Mondays – How to make a pet collage with your children

We’re always on the look out for great craft projects, and when I saw the work of this artist Michel Keck, who produces amazing dog pop art, we just had to have a go.

The girls and I made…….. a collection of collaged Berties!

craft with kids, pet collageAnd for this craft, you’ll need all the usual scraps.

collage materials

  • Paper or material scraps – wrapping paper, scrapbooking paper, newspaper, even A4 lined paper can look good.
  • Stickers, glitter, beads – whatever you fancy.
  • PVA glue
  • Scissors
  • A4 photographs of your pet

Firstly, protect your work surfaces from all that glue.

Next, print out the pictures of your pet. You need a nice clear image. We printed the same picture three times, but flipped it in one picture, so Bertie was looking the opposite way. Make sure the eyes and the nose really stand out, because that’s all you’ll be able to see later!

bertie4Then get to work! Tear or cut pieces of your paper and stick onto the photo. You need to leave key areas clear, so that you’ll recognise your pet. With our collages, it was the eyes, nose, and floppy ears that stood out. And we all came up with our own unique versions!

bertie3bertie2bertie1These pictures are all on A4, and since I don’t have any good frames for that size (until my next trip to IKEA), I photographed each collage, changed the backgrounds in Photoshop,  then printed them out as 7″ x 5″ photos.

copiedAll of which fits nicely into the RIBBA frame.

ribbaLike so:

craft with kids, pet collage

It’s not a very messy craft, and I think the end results are really colourful and fun. When I get round to framing the originals, which have a lot more texture and variation, I’ll update this post with some more pictures.

Let me know if you try this with your own pet photo, and post a link to your site so other people can see too!

And I think our Berties might look better in a white Ribba frame….what do you reckon?





London Loveliness – and sparklers!

Is it me, or does it look like Winter has come early to London this year?

Natural History Museum, London, Ice Rink

This is the Ice Rink outside the Natural History Museum, which opens from 2nd November to 6th January.

And how beautiful is that building anyway?

Another lovely – a trip to Hamleys – where I was very taken with these amazing cakes!

cakes, cupcakes, Candy Cakes, Hamleys, London
Made by Candy Cakes on the top floor at Hamleys.

I love London! 🙂

And since it’s November 5th – Bonfire Night……sparklers!

Guy Fawkes' Night, Guy Fawkes, sparklers

Bonfire Night, sparklers

Lovely while they last – but they never last long enough!

Happy Halloween – a cake so bad, it’s frightening!

I love making cakes, and children are an appreciative lot – just as well – this cake was a


My attempt at the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter!

Epic fail sorting hat

And just in case you think that’s not so frightening…..

Harry Potter figures made of icing Close up of Scary Harry, Scary Ron and Oh, So Scary Hermione!


And to do it properly ?
This site, Fictional Food, will show you how a Sorting Hat cake should really be done.

Olympic Opening Ceremony on Weymouth Beach

Weymouth beach, 2 massive TV screens, and the Olympic Opening Ceremony streamed live to an audience of thousands. A real night to remember.

We parked outside town, and walked in along the seafront – which was a treat in itself. The view across the bay towards Weymouth is magical.

Weymouth holiday makers certainly look unusual this year: there were a couple of short haired joggers along the Esplanade who looked more Special Branch than tourist; and there’s the sailing crews, with their incredibly tanned skin, and crisp Team colours, who seem like super-beings walking amongst us.

Olympics 2012, Weymouth Beach

It was such a beautiful balmy night, we could have been walking in the Med, but once inside the Live Site, I’ve rarely felt so British. The atmosphere was incredible, and the ceremony itself was breath-taking. I was so impressed with what Danny Boyle put on for us – it showcased so many things we should be proud of as a nation; also well pleased to recognise most the songs being played, though Eldest Daughter had to point out Dizzee Rascal to me, and I returned the favour by supplying the name of the Sex Pistols when she asked.

I knew the words to a lot of the songs, so did the crowd, and we all sang to the National Anthem. Interestingly, no one, including me, seems to know the second verse. That can’t be right can it? I bet other countries know all the words to their anthems. But when I questioned the girls later, it occurred to me that the only time you hear ‘God save the Queen’ is at a sporting event, and we don’t watch a lot of those – apart from the FA Cup Final, or the World Cup – and now the Olympics.

Olympics at Weymouth 2012

We missed the end of the ceremony, as we had a long walk back, but caught the fireworks on the beach, and we’ll catch up on what we’ve missed over the weekend – isn’t technology incredible?

Olympics 2012, fireworks on the beach

Enjoy the rest of the Olympics, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.