Talking Books talks Septimus Heap & writing magic with Angie Sage

Septimus_Heap_-_All_Seven_CoversOn the 28th February I was very lucky to have as my guest on Talking Books Angie Sage, an author who has received global success with her series of fantasy novels, featuring Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son with magical powers. Starting with Magyk and ending with the seventh book, Fyre, we gallop through the adventures of Septimus and his friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is another Harry Potter wizard-alike however. Septimus is funnier, more intelligent and supported by a cast of characters that can keep anyone aged seven to seventy plus interested and amused.

Angie is also a really inspirational and creative writer, and illustrator, who lives in a fifteenth century house in Somerset that exudes its own mystery and magic, including as it does an old mural that purports to be of Henry VIII, but turns out to have something of the devil in it…

So after rather too many ‘umms’ at the beginning (on my part) we had a wonderful chat; the thirty minutes flew by and I wished I had read more of her work before we met. However, Angie agreed to read a passage from one of the books in the series, which as you can hear on the link below, had us all chuckling. There are ghosts, witches, dragons and human interest aplenty. Yes – even wizards can fall in love and as J.K. Rowling discovered, young readers growing up with their characters long to know who has paired up with whom. We talk about this, along with the joys of writing and developing characters and stories over a long series of books, the ‘Harry Potter’ effect and the pitfalls associated with selling film rights to Warner Brothers. Angie is a hugely successful writer, selling in numbers beyond the hopes of most writing fiction today, but that doesn’t mean a writing life is without complications.

Good news for Septimus lovers is the planned trilogy, TodHunter Moon, which takes up the story seven years on. Readers  just can’t get enough of the stories and Angie just doesn’t want to leave the world of Magyk….

But back to Septimus. I was given a wonderful copy of the last in the series, Fyre, by Angie after the show and I will treasure it. I just wish my children were still of an age to enjoy them. They will have to come back to them with their own children, should they change their minds and have them….

University as a ‘rite of passage’: On becoming an empty-nester

institution_full_545__winchester_CENTRE_hero (1)On Saturday my lovely daughter Evie is starting her first term at the University of Winchester. She only made her mind up to go to Uni at all at the beginning of August, having had a year out to focus on her athletics and train with the GB high jump coach Fuzz Ahmed in Birmingham. Her friends came home after their first years of study, extolling the virtues of the Student Union and her determination to avoid the debt of a student loan went out the window.

Evie & James in 2000
Evie & James in 2000

Both children (and won’t they always be our children?) will now be at University. James lives with his partner is London and all being well is fully fledged and on his way. Now Evie follows – promising to come back in the holidays, but only until she graduates and can find a job ‘anywhere but Taunton’. I don’t blame her, frankly. But I am sorry, and sad. I actually feel, for a little while anyway, that I will be bereft.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am full of pride, along with the usual parental fears about safety and concerns that they both have enough money (because to be honest we haven’t enough to help them much and it is SO expensive). But not only is it a real rite of passage for Evie, it is a significant one for Peter and I too. We are now on our own for the first time in more than 22 years. We can do as we please; we can swing from the chandelier (if our old bones would let us and we had one); we needn’t buy Oreos and Coco Pops any more or smell endless pepperoni pizza on the go. James isn’t here to play World of Warcraft and Evie won’t have ‘Sex and the City’ DVDs on repeat. Neither will now be here to leave towels all over the floor of the bathroom or underwear festering under their beds, at least not in our home. Oh dear….

Winchester student accommodation
Winchester student accommodation

We have never sought to influence either child in their decision, but we are really pleased Evie is following her brother to higher education. I don’t think it is for everyone and I loathe the idea that anyone would value a degree ‘for the sake of it’ over a valuable vocational course. But when you have a son for whom Philosophy is an obsession and a daughter who can jump higher than the top of her mother’s head, the life skills they will learn and opportunities they will have away from home will be invaluable. Winchester Uni has great athletics facilities and a good Law faculty (who would have thought Evie would ever follow my example in anything...)  We have visited the city with her and although I knew it of old, as one of those places forever associated with the poet John Keats and ‘Ode to Autumn’, (there is a wonderful ‘Keats Walk you can do now) I saw it through new eyes – imagining what it would be like to be a student there. Put it this way – I was green with envy and I continue to be so. How different the experience is from ‘my day’. The Polytechnic of Central London was great (it is now the University of Westminster and maybe not so great) but there was no central campus and no ‘student village’.

Lots of parents are packing their offspring off for the first time at the moment. The lists of what to take are so long we know we will forget something. At least we know Evie can cook and do her own washing and is ok-ish with money, but it must be a huge step to take for any young person. The accommodation seems to be lockable rooms in small flats with a shared kitchen – at Winchester all very new and very nice (and apparently compared to Manhattan…) – but surely a challenge if you are shy, have concerns about privacy and personal space or an aversion to washing up. Evie is very gregarious, but is already worried she won’t be ‘clever enough’. She will be, but the workload will be unlike any study she has done before and to be certain you come out with a degree worth its name you can’t just do ‘enough’ any more. You have to stand out. It truly is a stress-filled time, but hugely exciting and full of promise and opportunity. No wonder so many parents ask if they can enrol when they turn up with their offspring to Open Days.

James 2013
James 2013
Evie 2013
Evie 2013

So Saturday will be a day of mixed emotions for us, as for so many other parents this autumn. We have gone through all those ‘first days at nursery’,  ‘first days at primary school’, ‘first days at secondary school’ and would like to encourage all those parents in the blogging community to cling on to those memories and have a thought for those of us who have no more ‘back to school’ shopping trips to negotiate, or assemblies to attend. It will be graduation next – and then they really will be on their way,

Bless them.

My first ‘Web Splash’ – New Beginnings by Rebecca Emin

This is a new experience for me and as middle-age takes an undeniably firm grip on my life I am up for a few more of those. So, as I was invited, via Goodreads, to the ‘Web Splash’ for Rebecca Emin’s novel New Beginnings, published today, I thought I would take a look.

On Rebecca’s website ramblingsofarustywriter she promises an online launch party, complete with virtual champagne, random giveaways and the launch of my second writing competition. How could I resist?

New Beginnings  is a novel for older children about one Sam Hendry, who is not looking forward to starting at her new school. Initially given a tough time she finds new friends and has to, amongst other things, face up to bullies, find new interests and actually consider performing on stage.

Having seen some comments by young readers it is clearly a book many enjoyed and identified with. That age group is discerning and difficult to please in my experience so Rebecca has top marks so far.

As well as finding out more about Rebecca Emin and her book I also had the opportunity via her ‘linky’ to discover a number of writer’s blogs and sites I had never come across before. At a time when making contact with other writers and readers via the web has never been more important this has proved a great resource. How can you be a ‘good’ writer if you don’t read wagonloads, widely and well?

So huge congratulations to Rebecca on the publication of New Beginnings. A copy can be purchased via Amazon or from the publishers, Grimoire Books, from today. RRP 6.99 or just £2.49 on Kindle.



She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… on feminism and being mum

If you are walking around Exeter City Centre today, you may spot a slim 16-year-old girl, 5ft 9 with legs up to her armpits. She is very gorgeous. She is also wearing a very short pair of turquoise shorts with hearts on them, with tights, pumps and legwarmers. I would like to say that as her mum my shock at her outfit related to the rather leaden October skies and the possibility of hypothermia, but if I were honest my first concern was that the young men of Devon would be hard pushed to keep their hands off her.

Now, I am a great believer that a woman should wear what she feels comfortable in without fear of molestation. Imposing yourself on a woman cannot be excused because she is wearing something a man might find irresistible, or which shows a little more than usual. There are, in my opinion, just two exceptions to the ‘wear what you want to’ rule:

Continue reading “She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… on feminism and being mum”

More reflections – why we’re NOT all going on a summer holiday…

My friend Jo of Slummy single mummy fame has recently written a lovely blog entitled ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday‘ about the beginning of the school holidays, finding things to entertain her two girls and the challenges of juggling work and childcare during the long break in her first full year of self-employment. Looking at it last week I was suddenly filled with something a little like envy. Why? Because for the first time since our honeymoon my husband Peter and and I will be holidaying by ourselves this summer, whether we like it or not.

For our two week family holiday in August we organised a free house swap with my brother and sister-in-law who live in a village in Suffolk. They will be bringing our three small nieces and nephew aged between 5 and 10 to stay in our little terraced 3 bed, and Peter and I will, it turns out, be rattling around on our own in their five bedroomed house. Well, not quite on our  own. We are taking the dog.

James is off to University in September and is working, ostensibly (ha ha) to save every penny possible before he leaves, so I appreciate he doesn’t want to come with us. But Evie? She has grown up so quickly that her response to the suggestion that she might like to bring a friend with her took me by surprise. ‘God, what would we do! I’m not coming, I’ll stay with Auntie Jane.’ That was that. No amount of persuasion (and certainly not the Benjamin Britten House and beautiful nature reserves) could change her mind.  When she was invited to go to Dawlish with one friend, and the Beautiful Days Festival with another, there was no competition.

Now like Jo I have never really been into the potato printing or papier-mache but to be honest my two grew out of that a while ago. We did until quite recently still enjoy the odd trip to Crealy Adventure Park, or to various seaside towns, where as teens they gravitated away from buckets and spades to (horrible) amusement arcades and (boring) miniature golf courses. In homage to countless days out in my youth, we would occasionally drag the children round a cathedral or church (inevitably half covered in scaffolding and green tarpaulin) until James said, aged 11, ‘Oh no! Not another religious establishment!’

We did really enjoy doing Treasure Trails, a great idea where you walk around nice tourist towns having a good old nose in bits you wouldn’t generally bother with whilst all the time your children are finding clues to solve a murder or catch a spy (not a real one unfortunately, that would be fun). This year it is quite clear Evie won’t be following signs and crawling around old buildings and monuments trying to find a murder weapon, but I heartily recommend it to anyone with children who aren’t miserable spoilsports. (Can you sense the disappointment coming off the page? Do you think anyone would notice if I went round Sidmouth by myself muttering about Rob with a revolver or Archie with an axe?)

Of course, I will now have lots of time to write, read, draw, drink wine, go for long walks or just mooch about, go in second hand bookshops, museums and art galleries. Peter and I can be as quiet or as noisy as we like (the noisy bit will be good…). We can go in cafes where they don’t sell chips or lean against pub bars and we can sit in coffee shops reading the paper and putting the world to rights. The National Trust may find us walking round one of their country houses and beautiful gardens and catch us for lots of money in the gift shop. Is this beginning to sound really nice? What am I moaning about? Anyone with children under five, and/or a full-time day job is probably fuming by now at the injustice of it all – ‘Shut up woman, just one day to do some of that would be fantastic let alone a fortnight’.

But I feel sad, unprepared, a bit cheated and as I said, a tiny bit envious, tempted to secrete myself somewhere in my own home and go on day trips with my nieces and nephew. All those summers flew by, and life is beginning to feel like autumn.

Photo credit David Barry

Raspberry picking – or It never pays to turn back the clock

I have just come back from what I thought would be a lovely morning fruit picking, with my husband, daughter and her friend Harriet who is staying with us for a few days. Isn’t there something in all of us that just loves the idea of a ‘Pick your Own’ fruit farm? The sun is shining (it was), the fruit is bountiful (the raspberries were fantastic) and the cost at the end of the day is much lower than the supermarket (6lbs of raspberries for £10 – sounds good to me).

I bounced out of the house and into the car for the short drive (OK – food miles already I hear you mutter, but it is a really steep hill…) trying hard to enthuse everyone.

‘Auntie Jane says the picking is great’.

‘Strawberries?’ ‘

‘No, the strawberries are pretty much over for now. Raspberries. Great for your smoothies and dad loves raspberry jam’

‘I want strawberries they are much nicer’.

Good start. Arriving at the fantastic Runnington Fruit Farm I went to the shop to get some punnets, and duly picked up three of the larger size.

‘What do we want all them for?’

Now at this point I really should have just given up on the whole family fun outing bit and wandered off by myself to enjoy the peace and quiet, the sound of the wind in the raspberry canes and the occasional squawk from the guinea fowl they keep. But no, I pressed on.

‘Let’s go over there! There are loads! Make sure you pick all the biggest juiciest ones!’

‘Doh mum, I was going to pick all the little green mouldy ones..’

To be fair to Harriet she was doing her best to sound politely enthusiastic, and they were picking, but rather quickly, as if the whole enterprise ought to be completed as speedily as possible. At this point I did wander off, to the other side of the field. Suddenly the mood lifted. I was picking with two families, both with children under the age of 7. One father had a child of about 2 on his shoulders and the air was full of shouts of excitement.

‘Look mummy its HUGE!!’

‘Yes darling, lovely. Bit green though still. Find the red ones.’

‘Ok. Bet I find a bigger one than you though’. I bet he did, as his mum was probably like me and would have hidden her plumpest finds under a layer of scrawnier specimens.

‘Rasps’ said the two year old, swiftly corrected by dad. ‘More rasps’.

Do you remember that feeling when you were little, or when you are with small children, when you don’t want to leave because there is bound to be the biggest, bestest strawberry just under the next leaf? Or having found that one, spotting an unharvested crop, missed by the jam making lady just up the row, that you just have to pick and balance on top of the already over-brimming punnet? If when picking raspberries one oozy delicious one drops off and you just can’t reach it through the prickles, did you ever apologise to it? It is almost as if its little life has been in vain. I did that today. I was determined to stick to tradition.

Suddenly Evie and Harriet were by my side. ‘We’ve finished’. My punnet was just half full. That was when instead of the desire to pick raspberries with my daughter, the overwhelming desire to BLOW them at her came over me. Immature I realise. I then proceeded to take longer than strictly necessary walking up and down the rows,  in pursuit of the Holy Grail of soft fruit. It was only when my husband came back from walking the dog looking a bit stressed out because he didn’t know what to do next that I realised my time there was up. Within the space of an hour my family outing was over and we were back for lunch. Oh well.

It just doesn’t pay to expect trips out with teens to be as much fun as when they were under 5’s. Even if they were enjoying it (and secretly they may well have enjoyed this morning) they wouldn’t let it show and frankly it was almost unfair of me to expect a joyous response. Even if I had offered them paintballing and quadbiking all I would have got was ‘Great. Cool’. I will just have to go fruitpicking by myself in future. So next time you visit a pick your own, if you see a lonely middle-aged woman standing amongst the canes apologising to soft fruit, you will know who it is.

Photo credit