Monday, 24 October 2016

The Inspiration Behind The Milly’s Magic Quilt Stories

A Guest Post by Author and Artist Natasha Murray

I really enjoyed creating and illustrating these books and hope that children 5+ will enjoy Milly and Patch’s adventures.

Milly’s quilt is made up from fabric that once belonged to some colourful characters with stories to tell. Some of the patches are from her baby blanket. One night, Patch her pet rabbit appears on her bed and Milly discovers that if she holds her hand on one of the squares they are both transported to a magical land.

As a child, I enjoyed the TV cartoon series ‘Mr Ben’ and loved seeing where the changing room at the fancy dress shop would take him. This was really what inspired me to write these books. 

There have always been rabbits in my life and one named Napoleon, I loved dearly. She was a blue grey colour and we thought she was a boy until she had babies. Napoleon got sick once and I crept out in the dark and sat in a sleeping bag on a step near to her hutch with her in my arms and stayed there all night. I am glad to say that she recovered. If I had been allowed, then I would have had Napoleon live in my bedroom with me.

It’s always fun to look at drawings and work that you did when you were a child and some of my stories were strange and I wonder what was going through my head at the time. The idea for ‘Humbert the Lonely Giant’ came from a story I remembered writing when I was at secondary school. I have always loved reading and thought the library was an exciting place to be. I enjoyed fairy tales and especially loved Enid Blyton’s The Wishing Chair and The Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood.

I grew up in North London and lived near to a playing field surrounded by trees. My friends and I would make camps, hideout and live out magical adventures there. Make believe was always an important part of our lives. We also loved riding our bikes around the block at breakneck speed.

I now live by the sea and spend a lot of time writing, designing, daydreaming and thinking up new and exciting tales for all ages.

To view all Natasha's books please click here

Thank you very much Natasha it was fun to read about your childhood and the inspiration behind your stories. Barbara

 Natasha's mention of secondary school reminded me of a very long, convoluted tale I wrote when I was at school. In my story, the action took place in a series of ‘lost' tunnels and ghostly lighthouses, based almost entirely on books written by Enid Blyton.  After I married and left home, my mum had the very good sense to consign it to the dustbin. Had she not I might well be in trouble for plagiarism!

Did you write stories when you were a child?  Have you continued to write or is it just something you did at school?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

And the Winners are...

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter my Moment in Time Giveaway. Thanks for the shares and follows they were all much appreciated. The magic one million page views looks just a little closer thanks to all of you.

Now to the draw; those of you who selected a favourite book from the ones on offer were entered into a draw for that particular book.  And the winners are...

Susan P Moss



Sandra Cox

Much to my surprises the Broons Annual wasn't chosen by anyone but this is a giveaway so someone has to have it!   :-) 

Those of you who already have a prize were removed from the final draw and the remaining names put together and a winner drawn … and that winner is …


Sorry Willie it looks as though you ended up with the booby prize but you never know you might love it.

Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to everyone else.  I will be contacting each winner shortly. Thanks for playing along.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Books are Always in Fashion at Killerton House

killerton House, Devon
Killerton House
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember a previous visit to Killerton House here. That first visit was rather fleeting, but this time we enjoyed a more leisurely look around. Killerton is an 18th-century house and estate in Broadclyst, Devon, owned by the National Trust since 1944.

School children dressed in Victorian clothing on the lawn at Killerton

The house feels very much like a family home, and we were delighted to discover that removing books from library shelves is actively encouraged! We were kindly invited to sit a while, read and enjoy the ambience. I have to say we were more than a little surprised because in most National Trust properties, touching anything is strictly forbidden. It was a privilege to handle the books but some; especially those in the children’s section are suffering at the hands of less than careful visitors.  

Killerton House, Devon, Library
A corner of the library
Enid Blyton The Caravan Family The library at Killerton house
Enid Blyton, Noddy and Beatrix Potter
Trudi and Hansel in the library at Killerton House
Trudi and Hansel A story of the Austrian Tyrol

Books and family photographs at Killerton House
More books and family photographs

The Doyle Diary - the last great Conan Doyle Mystery
The Doyle Diary - the last great Conan Doyle Mystery 

Library at Killerton Vintage Children's books
A small selection from the many children's books in the library 

After spending a considerable amount of time drooling over and photographing books, we moved on to the 'fashion to dye' for exhibition.

Specially selected pieces from Killerton's collection brings to life how colour can reveal much about the wearer and also looks into the origins, status and function of colour in fashion. These are some of my personal favourites;
Afternoon dress from the early 1860s - Chine Silk with woven satin stripe

fashion to dye for Killerton House
1840s Evening dress - Silk brocade with woven satin stripe and floral sprigs 

1920s evening dress - Silk Crepe de Chine, beaded with crystals and diamante

Two highlights from a large display of hats, shoes and accessories

The exhibition includes over 100 pieces of work by Diploma Art and Design Foundation students, from Exeter College. Students were asked to design an outfit inspired by the colours at Killerton. Their brief included using paper patterns rather than fabric. The patterns were strengthened by using iron on Vilene. As many of you know I have a fondness for paper patterns (see a previous post here) so I found this part of the exhibition fascinating. 

Fashion to Dye for is on until Sunday 30th October. If you get a chance to visit you won’t be disappointed.   You will find full details of the exhibition here and this is a link to Killerton House

We ended our visit with a stroll through the gardens.  I took lots of photographs but in the interest of keeping this post as brief as possible, I will share just one. I was trying out the macro lens on my camera. I didn't see the greenfly (on the bud stem) until I got home, same with the tiny insect on the flower. I saw the larger one but had no idea the tiny one was there. I guess the lens works!

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Monday, 10 October 2016

Yard Culture: A Lost Way of Life. A Guest Post by Bish Denham + Giveaway

Thanks for letting me come and play in your yard, Barbara! Today I’m going to share a little something about yard culture, which plays a part in my novel, The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands.

Yard culture has nothing to do with flora or fauna. It’s about people. In the Virgin Islands, and probably throughout the Caribbean, yard culture was a way of life. Until its rapid decline in the mid-1960s, it was a way for the village to take care of the children.

After school or on week-ends children congregated in the yards of different homes. Groups of friends who hung out at school usually hung out together after school.

The yards were large, an acre or two, or more. Often times there was more than one home on the property housing extended family members: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. There might be kitchen garden or fruit trees on the property. For most there was no electricity and no running water. The homes were small and made of wood. By today’s standard they would be considered shacks.

Two typical wooden homes.

Overseeing the yard and the children was a matron, who would be the mother, aunt, or grandmother of one or more of the children. She kept an eye on the kids as they ran around and played in the yard. It was a kind of baby-sitting or after school day-care. A snack might even be provided, a johnny cake or a paté (a pastry fill with beef, salt fish, or pork, then deep fried) fruit, or a simple sandwich. It was also a place for kids to play if they lived in a home without a large yard. Everybody knew everybody and the kids knew which yard they “belonged” to. If they weren’t in school or at home they were expected to at a particular yard. It was difficult for children to get into trouble, but if they did, it was certain word of their misbehaviour would mysteriously reach their parents before they got home.

Each yard had its own culture, its own feel, smell, and energy dependent upon the children who played there and the matron who oversaw them.

This lignum vitae tree, over 100 years old, is in the corner of what used to be a large yard in Cruz Bay, a yard where I spent many hours playing with my sister and a number of other children.

In my book, The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands, Sam and her best friend Nick, often pass through or explore a yard very like it. In this brief excerpt Sam gives a description of Miss LuAnne’s yard.

We have a picnic under the lignum vitae tree, sitting on the smooth, swept dirt. The air is alive with different smells: Miss LuAnne’s cooking, damp chicken feathers, rotting leaves, the perfume of oleander flowers, the ocean, the mangrove swamp. It’s a mysterious soupy mix particular to this yard and nowhere else. I love the smell of Miss LuAnne’s yard; it’s comfortable, familiar, and safe. It’s the smell of home, of friendship.

Book Blurb
Pirates. Explorers. And spooky ghost hunters.

It’s 1962. Sam and her best friend, Nick, have the whole island of St. John, in the U. S. Virgin Islands, as their playground. They’ve got 240 year-old sugar plantation ruins to explore, beaches to swim, and trails to hike.

But when a man disappears like a vapor right in front of them, they must confront a scary new reality. They’re being haunted. By whom? And why? He’s even creeping into Nick’s dreams.

They need help, but the one who might be able to give it is Trumps, a reclusive hunchback who doesn’t like people, especially kids. Are Sam and Nick brave enough to face him? And if they do, will he listen to them? 

As carefree summer games turn into eerie hauntings, Sam and Nick learn more about themselves and life than they could ever have imagined.

Available now at:

About the Author
Bish Denham, whose mother’s side of the family has been in the Caribbean for over one hundred years, was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She still has lots of family living there whom she visits regularly.

She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named the islands, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. The ruins of hundreds of sugar plantations, built with the sweat and blood of slave labor, litter the islands. Then there were the pirates who plied the waters. It is within this atmosphere of wonder and mystery, that I grew up. Life for me was magical, and through my writing I hope to pass on some of that magic.”

The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands, is her third book and second novel. You can find Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales and A Lizard’s Tail, at

To learn more about Bish
you can visit her blog, at Random Thoughts
She can also be found on Facebook
on Twitter @BishDenham 
and Goodreads

To be in with a chance of winning an autographed copy of the bowl and the stone (ship within U.S.A only) click here, and don’t forget you still have time to enter my moment in time giveaway here.

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Monday, 3 October 2016

A Moment in Time ~ Giveaway

My birthday which was in August came and went in a blur of gifts, cards and flowers. One such gift was from my dear friend Nicole an author and illustrator with several beautiful children’s books to her name. Her newest book Zullen we spelen, Bout? (Shall we play, Bolt?) was published at the beginning of September. Nicole kindly sent me a signed copy together with several other beautifully wrapped gifts.  

An illustration from Nicole's new book 
Zullen we spelen, Bout?  Children's Book by Nicole de Cock
I love receiving parcels, especially when they are as exciting as this one - thank you so much Nicole.  
Zullen we spelen Bout? Nicole de Cock

Zullen we spelen, Bout? and other books by Nicole are available from Amazon here

Since my birthday, I’ve wanted to ‘share the love’ with a giveaway something I last did in December 2014. Where did those two years go? I’m at that time of life when time goes quickly but does it really speed up? According to ‘proportional theory’, our sense of 'present' time begins to feel relatively short in comparison to our lifespan, so a year may feel quicker in old age compared to childhood. The emotional quality of an event also influences our perception. Source 

It just goes to prove time really does fly. With that in mind, I should probably get on with the giveaway and what better way to start than with a signed copy of Time and the universe from beginning to end by David Forsythe. 

David's fascinating tale of theories, some now confirmed using telescopes, satellites and space exploration puts into context and explains (in plain English) such factors as Gravity, Relativity, Entropy and the forces of Quantum Mechanics.

Not your kind of thing?  How about Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety with illustrations by Quentin Blake. 

Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety Children's books
This little book published in 1991 tells you all you need to know about staying safe near railway lines. One of the most important things to remember is if you drop something on the line, do not jump down and get it. My daughter in law and I needed a sharp reminder of that last year when I dropped my granddaughter's suitcase between the platform and a stationary train.  Karen and I were all for trying to retrieve if (foolishly), but luckily we had the sense to wait for assistance. Not easy when your little granddaughter is sobbing her heart out. Sorry Zoe, I hope I'm forgiven now.

Maybe you would prefer The Hole Story a reproduction of a book first published in America in 1904 with illustrations by Peter Newell. 

The Hole Story Vintage child's book
The passage of more than a century has done nothing to lessen its appeal, and the hole remains in the pages just as it always has. "Tom Potts was fooling with a gun (such follies should not be), when - bang! the pesky thing went off most unexpectedly!

Or The Broons - Scotland's happy family that makes every family happy!
The Broons - Scotland's happy family - annual book
An annual size book of cartoons published by D. C. Thomson in 1987.

Last, but by no means least, Frog goes to dinner by Mercer Mayer. 

Frog goes to dinner by Mercer Mayer. Wordless Picture Book
When the boy goes to a fancy restaurant with his family, frog can't resist the temptation to stow away in his pocket. Once there how can he stay hidden when an orchestra and various classy diners offer such opportunities for grand adventures? Mercer Mayer's comic drawings tell the whole story without the need for words.

I hope there is something for everyone in this random selection. Please remember these are not new books. They may have small marks, blemishes, etc., but they are all in good readable condition.  

The giveaway is open to worldwide readers of my blog. To enter please follow my blog and then share this post on any of your social media streams (or send an email to your friends and family if you don’t use social media).  Once you’ve done that please leave a comment to let me know which book you would like. There is only one copy of each book. Names will be put into a hat and winners drawn at random. The giveaway closes on Wednesday 19th October 2016.  Giveaway now closed, thank you for taking part.

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Please share this post if you can, those little numbers at the side of my blog are very slowly creeping towards the one million mark. One million page views – is that even possible? Do you think the number reverts back to one after it reaches a million? If it does I will be wishing I could turn back the clock!

How did it get so late so soon?

I’m so grateful to everyone who takes the time to visit my blog, thank you. 

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Monday, 26 September 2016

Never judge a suitcase ...

We've all heard the expression never judge a book by its cover but what about never judge a suitcase until you see what's inside?

I'm sure you've seen lost luggage auctions on TV (like storage wars only with suitcases). It's where you bid on a case with no clue to the contents. Occasionally someone finds a laptop or jewellery, but more often than not it's a pile of dirty laundry. Personally, I've never wanted to go through someone else's lost luggage and sincerely hope nobody ever goes through mine. That, however, didn't stop me buying this case with very little knowledge of the contents.

Battered suitcase from The Giant Shepton Flea full of vintage books

It wasn't at a lost luggage auction but at a flea market or The Giant Shepton Flea Market to be more precise. I had an inkling of what might be inside because I saw someone open the case and take out this little book; 

Honk and Tonk by Joy K Seddon Flip book Vintage children's books

She took a quick flick through the pages before throwing it back in the case and walking away. I have a soft spot for flip books from the 1940s and 1950s and was quick to take her place. As I started rummaging through the case the stall holder said, "You can have that for a fiver (US$6.26) if you want it." I assumed he was referring to the book but when I queried it, he said, "No for the lot love, case and all." I mumbled "Yes OK," and he bagged the entire thing before I got as much as a second glance at what I was buying.

A case full of vintage flip books & other children's books from the 1940s and 50s

Although small, the suitcase is heavy, so the only sensible thing was to take it to the car. Once there, I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. Imagine my delight at finding not one but eight flip books along with several story books by Racey Helps and Enid Blyton, a sweet story about Humpty Dumpty, one called Merry-go-round, a Vistascreen 3D viewer with slides and other bits and pieces. Time was getting on and anxious not to miss out on any treasures waiting to be found I decided to leave further investigations until I got home. In hindsight, I should have quizzed the seller about the origins of the suitcase. Did he buy it from an auction, a house clearance, did he know the previous owner, or was it his?

Flip books, Honk and Tonk, Jimmy at the Zoo etc., vintage children's books

The case has seen better days, but the contents are joyous. I'm sure everything belonged to the same little boy. His name is in most of the books and in some instances so is his address. His name and address are also on a label inside the case but this time written in a different hand, possibly by an adult. I have an image of a little lad of around eight years old stashing his favourite books and bits and pieces inside his case, but I wonder why someone added his address. Maybe the family were moving home, or perhaps the little boy was going to stay with family or friends.  

Vistascreen 3D printer, Racey Helps Books found in case at Shepton Flea

After a few days, the case and its contents began to trouble me. Obviously, I’m thrilled to have it in my care, but I’m also sad for the little boy and his lost treasures. Where is he now? Is he alive or dead? Why did he part with his case? I will probably never know, but I have learnt a little more about him. Looking through the books I discovered not one but two addresses, one in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset, and one in Alton, Hampshire. Using the age of the books as a guide, I concluded he and I must be of a similar age. 

I have a subscription to FindMyPast so it was fairly simple to find a record of his birth, which turned out to be 1949. He was born in Surrey, England, and spent part of his childhood in Alton, Hampshire, places I know well. He later moved to Poole, Dorset and married there in 1973. I can find no trace of him after 2003, but that may be my very amateurish attempts at searching. He is a year younger than me so if he is alive he is 67 now. I still don’t know why he parted with the case, but I feel an affinity with him and his childhood because mine was probably fairly similar. Between the ages of five and twenty one, I lived just 15 minutes or 6.3 miles from Alton, Hampshire. Without knowing it, he and I were near neighbours. We may even have seen or spoken to one another. 

Noddy, Humpty Dumpty, Enid Blyton old books

Thinking about it now I have to assume the stall holder acquired the case from an auction or house clearance. I have no evidence of that, just a hunch, plus the seller didn't look as if he was in his sixties. I suppose the case could have belonged to his father? It's sad to think of someone's cherished possessions given so little regard or value, but I'm thrilled to have them and will do my best to be a good custodian of the memories contained in a battered case.

My post next week will include a giveaway for followers of this blog. Be sure to call back and don’t forget to follow.

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