Making It Up as we go along Sun, 25 Sep 2016 09:00:15 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Ninja book box. Sun, 25 Sep 2016 09:00:15 +0000 Subscription boxes are big these days aren’t they? I confess that I’m intrigued by the idea of regular parcels of goodness, but so far I haven’t subscribed to any.

That might change with the launch of the Ninja book box – see it on kickstarter here

Ninja Book Box is a new quarterly box shipping worldwide from the UK and featuring books published by independent publishers, and that’s what makes it really interesting to me. It’s easy enough to miss what small independent publishers are doing in the cut and thrust of big social media, so anything that shines a light sounds like a good plan. Ninja Book Box aim to introduce excellent books (both backlist and new releases) particularly those which their team & the publishers they work with feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve, and help you find favourites in genres you wouldn’t necessarily pick up for yourselves. Supporting primarily UK based small businesses, each box will contain a book (often signed by the author & with additional material) plus at least two gift items and lots of other fun extras and will take its theme from the book. The Ninja team want to support excellence and promote exploration and discovery in all aspects of the box. Subscribers will also gain access to lots of additional community perks. For more information sign up to the newsletter, or check out the website for details of how to get the first box!

To launch the idea there’s a great blog tour happening across a multitude of blogs, check out the details at the bottom of this post. But before you do that, take a look at the rafflecopter for an easy to enter competition, with your chance to win a box too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, both to competition entrants, and the Ninja team 🙂


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Puppy in my pocket twitter party! Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:26:00 +0000 Yes, it’s that time again – I’m one of the hosts for a twitter party to celebrate the wonderful range of Puppy in my Pocket toys.

In my pocket twitter party badge

the time: 28th September 1pm.
the place: Twitter!
Your hosts: @ukmumstv

Use the hashtag #PuppyInMyPocket to join in and watch out for all the fab prize tweets to join in and win some wonderful prizes.

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Martyn Ford: Dreams and regrets – UKYACX blog tour. Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:28:03 +0000 ukyacx-logo-with-newcastle-details

As part of the UKYACX blog tour (MG variety), I’m very pleased to welcome author Martyn Ford to the blog today, continuing on the occasional series of Dreams and Regrets guest posts. Over to Martyn


Tasked with writing a blog post on “dreams and regrets”, we first have to define the words. I’m going to interpret the former, dreams, in the aspirational sense – an ambitious goal – and not write, despite the temptation, an account of that time I swapped souls with an old school teacher in order to trick a talking crab called Sesame Jones out of stealing all of my teeth.

And the latter, regrets, I’m largely going to ignore because I’m one of those people who says conceited things like, “Oh, ya, no, I don’t have any regrets”. Not because I’ve perfectly handled the many millions of choices I’ve had so far in my life, heavens no, but because regretting things is a bit like saying you’d change them in a time travel situation. And we don’t need to google chaos theory to know why that’s a bad idea.

So, what is my dream (goal, aspiration, target, whatever)? If I’m completely honest, I actually don’t know. Because every time I achieve something I set out to achieve, the target moves. It’s like running to the horizon.

This is a paradox. It seems to me the kind of people equipped with the necessary discontent, the compelling drive to work hard towards a situation different from their current one, are often the people not satisfied with the result.

I think I have a compelling urge to be creative, that’s all. Any achievements outside of that – which I’ve often mistaken for goals – are simply a nice bonus, a by-product. And, recently, I’ve learned that this is fine.

Almost a decade ago, I was 19 years old and working at an off licence. While it was a wonderful place to work, for all the wrong reasons, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. (Once, and this is true, I was so unstimulated that I stuck cutlery to the ceiling with Blu-Tack. A spoon here, a fork there, not too much. I had to use a ladder. If you don’t believe me, well, good. Making that up is less weird than actually doing it.)

“Ah, well, what do you want to do?” was the common response to my apparent dejection.

I had no real answer, besides a vague desire to write.

“Ah, well, what do you want to write?”

Again, just pouts and shrugs from me.

Fast forward a bit and I was walking past my local newspaper’s office. In the window they were advertising a vacancy for a junior reporter. I wandered in and, despite my lack of experience and (although I lied about this bit) ability, the editor offered me a job. She is one of many kind people who have given me the benefit of the doubt at various milestones in my career.

This was good (it still is, I still work for the company, albeit on a different paper). I was getting warm. This was a well-trodden path. I’d heard successful writers say they started in regional journalism.

(In fact, it’s a job I’d recommend to any aspiring writer. It consists of speaking to people, learning about the world and writing. I can’t think of any three things more beneficial to a would-be storyteller.)

But it wasn’t quite it. I wanted more creativity. I wanted to write things which weren’t true.

And so I founded my very own rejection letter factory. It’s quite simple, you can make one yourself. First, write a bad screenplay or a bad novel. Then, pitch it to every literary agent/ publisher/ producer you can find.

It got to a very strange point where if there wasn’t a rejection letter in the post/ email inbox, I felt a pang of disappointment. What kind of next level, masochistic psychology is that?


In the interest of brevity – let’s leap forward in time a few more years. Finally, I sat down and started writing a draft of what would later become The Imagination Box, an idea I had been stewing since the age of about eight and, more importantly, the first thing I finished that I felt positive about. That, alone, was a triumph for me.

Thankfully it secured me a brilliant agent and, about five years after my first draft, was published by Faber & Faber. It has since become a trilogy – I’ve recently finished the third.

It’s about a machine that creates anything you imagine. So themes of desire and the overblown virtues of getting what you want are prevalent.

It seems so trite to say something like, “it’s the journey, not the destination”. But it’s true. It’s about the whole ritual, the hard work, the knowing smile. Each and every rung.

The utterly bewildered frown on your colleague’s face the following day when they look up and notice that spoon – that’s just a lovely bonus.

Maybe, just maybe, I “regret” taking most of my twenties to figure that out.


So who else is now checking the ceiling for cutlery? Or contemplating sticking some up there? Great post from Martyn, and you can catch him in action at UKYACX next week – all details here.

Martyn Ford is a journalist and author of The Imagination Box trilogy (Faber & Faber in the UK, Delacorte in the US). Follow him on twitter at @Martyn87 or check out his website here

Disclosure: amazon links are affiliate links.

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Quick giveaway – win a family ticket to FunfestUK this weekend! Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:03:11 +0000 As I posted a few days ago I’m going to Funfest UK this Saturday 10th September at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire. And now I’m offering another blogger and their family the chance to come along too.

funfest final option_no strap_outlines

I’ve got a family ticket on offer, that’s a blogger, their partner and two children, you get lunch, the conference sessions and chance to get to know all the brands displaying their wares. (There’s no travel provided, that’s up to you.) You can find out more about the whole day, the speakers and exhibitors by popping over to the Funfest UK website, and don’t forget to check out my twitter list too.

Sound good? It’s really easy to enter, just pop down to the rafflecopter widget. You’ve got 48 hours to get your entry in, and the only mandatory one is to leave me a comment on this post. Don’t hang around, and remember, it’s good to share 😉

a Rafflecopter giveaway

listed Competitions at ThePrizeFinder

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Make learning to read child’s play with Reading Eggs Tue, 06 Sep 2016 15:54:59 +0000 Often, one of the biggest fears new home educators express is how they will help their child learn to read. There’s so much about about phonics, the right way to learn, the wrong way, which books to use, what order to do it all in, it can get really confusing.

With Smallest, and now Tigerboy I’m making life easy for myself by using Reading Eggs online as part of the learning to read process. (There are also lots of reading books around, plenty of sounding things out when we’re out and about and some emergent writing in his drawing time.) We use it on the PC in the living room, and I hover about to be helpful, although it’s so well set up that once I’ve done the login, Tigerboy manages it himself. In fact he often tells me to go away so,that he can do it “by myself”.

Small child using Reading Eggs on P

Right now, instead of the usual two weeks free trial, Reading Eggs are offering a five week trial, ideal for you to see whether it suits your little one in the same way it does mine. And to help spread the news about the extended trial, I’m pleased to say I’m hosting a giveaway of a one year subscription to the Reading Eggs service. (Click the banner link or here to find out more or sign up – affiliate)

Entry is via the rafflecopter widget and the only mandatory entry is to leave me a comment on this blog post, telling me the first book you remember reading/loving as a child. What are you waiting for?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I am part of the Reading Eggs Golden Eggsporers Blogging group, and have received a free subscription as part of that. Links are affiliate links.

More competitions at ThePrizeFinder

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August’s snippets Sat, 03 Sep 2016 21:21:51 +0000 {playing} at being Tudors. We call it playing. It’s fairly hard work actually, given the level of research, the costume making, even just long days. And we are volunteers, receiving a place to put a tent and food in return for our participation. No matter how hard it is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

{catching up} with the real world. Which feels harder every time.

{preparing} for new starts. Big goes to sixth form on Monday, she needed to enrol, get a bus ticket, some extra clothes, though thankfully no uniform this time. Small is going to try out guitar, Smallest has a new swim club lesson slot, Tigerboy is the only one with no explicit new things, ironic because he would be starting reception if he were going to school. He’s so very young. I know that he would charge in headlong, but I’d rather he had more time to play dens, draw, count, explore, dress as a Tudor (when we got home on Monday night he started to undress in the kitchen suddenly tearful and wanting to ‘look like a boy’), build with Lego, dismantle toys (maybe not quite so much of that) and generally be himself.

{reading} A Boy Made of Blocks. See earlier review.

{enjoying} sunsets, late evenings, early mornings. Watching bats over the moat, learning to identify constellations that point to the North Star, just spending time.

It was a good month.

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Who’s heading to FunFest Blogger Summit 2016? Fri, 02 Sep 2016 16:57:38 +0000 funfest final option_no strap_outlines

I’ll be there – we had a great time last year, and the kids absolutely loved it all. (After all, who wouldn’t love the chance to balance a stormtrooper on their hands?)

Smallest and the stormtrooper

There are only a handful of delegate tickets remaining, and it all takes place in just over a week’s time on Saturday, September 10th. You can grab one of the last places for just £20 (don’t forget kids come free!) by using the offer code FFOFFER – simply click here to secure your ticket.

FunFest have also announced two more Expo partners – interactive toys specialist KD-UK and The MiniMaster Sports Company.

They join these other leading toy and entertainment firms who will be looking for blogger brand ambassador partners at FunFest next week – The Entertainer, Jumbo Games, Insect Lore, Magic Box, JCB Toys, Falk, Kids@Play, Topps, Amscan, Addo, Ardega, Crushed UK, Qualatex and Those Licensing People.

Jumbo Games will also be giving away a free goody bag to all delegates who download this voucher

to their phone and present it at their stand in the FunFest expo area.

Plus your ticket includes a half-day conference, with exciting guest speakers from the world of blogging, including Honest Mum Vicki Psarias, Fundamentally Children‘s Georgina Dalton, Mahon Digital‘s Saija Mahon and Slummy Single Mummy Jo Middleton.

They will be covering a number of topics, including how to create a successful partnership for both brand and blogger and a look into the impact of children’s digital footprint in the online universe, something I’ve been talking about for years.

The day will end with an awards ceremony celebrating ‘best of show’ brand and products, with bloggers and their children uniquely picking the winners. (I’m wondering whether the brands are going to be above a bit of child bribery on this one 😉 )

The FunFest Blogger Summit is for all bloggers – whether you’re a mum, dad or grandparent, or a general lifestyle blogger. The event is also suitable for both beginner or wannabe bloggers, as well as the elite of the UK blog sector, as there will be conference sessions and masterclasses suitable for all.

And, if you’re nervous about going and not sure who’ll you know, why not pop an introductory blogpost up and drop it in my linky below, or give me a shout on twitter and I’ll add you to my twitter list. Look forward to meeting you there.

Disclosure: I’m a Funfest ambassador and receiving a free ticket in return for posting.

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A boy made of blocks by Keith Stuart Thu, 01 Sep 2016 03:31:51 +0000 I kind of wanted to hate this book. Yet another story of an autistic boy, rescued from his lonely locked in state by some external power, this time in the form of a computer game.

But I didn’t.

I don’t entirely love it either. Repeated references to the autism scale, what is that? Spectrum, not scale. It isn’t linear. High functioning and low functioning are terminologies the autism community (yes, we have an active and broad ranging community built across social media) is rejecting. Along with the idea that it’s a disorder, or that we suffer from it.

But along the grounds that if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, I figure there probably are children kind of like Sam, fighting their way through an unforgiving world. And parents like Alex, wallowing in a pit of despair about the whole thing. And there has to be room for their stories too. The difficulty we all experience comes when they are the only stories told, as that reinforces the damaging stereotypes and stigmas that surround autism.

I’ve met a lot more than one autistic person. I am one, I live with at least a couple more, I’ve (lots of) autistic friends, have worked in care and support roles with adults and teenagers. There are some parts of this story that ring very true, but I struggled with how long the book takes to get to the interactions between Alex and Sam. The back story/ current situation is laid out with painful self indulgence it felt – it just took so very long to get to any point. Perhaps that’s intended to feed into Alex’s characterisation but I just wasn’t taken with it. It felt like hard work. 

However, the second half of the book is much better, and I’m pleased I persevered. We get to spend much more time with Alex and Sam together, and as we get to discover Sam, it feels like Alex does too. There are some lovely moments of insight and character development in Sam, largely based around the Minecraft referred to in the title Blocks. (If you don’t know much about Minecraft prepare for a crash course, it will probably be good for you.) Keith’s expertise in games and tech shows through in the understanding he has of the value of games like Minecraft, and the positive environment they can provide for children.

And, although some parts of the ending are kind of predictable, I totally admit that I was swept up in the emotions, and may have shed a tear or two (or even a few more) at what felt like the big climax at the end. (Turns out it goes on a bit after that, but loose ends irritate, so I’ll forgive the tidy up.)

All in all, I’m glad I read this one. Hope my perspective is useful 🙂

Available now at Amazon (affiliate link). Disclosure: I was supplied a copy for review.

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Walker stories in the Book People flash sale. Wed, 31 Aug 2016 15:31:33 +0000 It is no secret to anyone that I am a massive bookworm, and I am doing my very best to bring my children up the same way. We love picture books, sharing books, learning to read. And we do tend to feed our habit at The Book People. A while back we bought a bundle of Walker Stories – 30 of them in a case. Each book has three stories in it, and black and white illustrations, and they’re great read alouds, or less intimidating starter books for someone launching into more independent reading.

There are some really well known titles included, like Handa’s Surprising Day, which I absolutely adore.
Handas surprise and Walker stories I hope you can also see the size of the books – ideal for little hands.

I was also surprised to notice that there’s a book called Drawing Together written by one Mimi Thebo, and illustrated by Jessica Meserve – I met Mimi when I went to give a guest lecture to her creative writing class at Bath Spa university earlier this year.

Drawing together by Mimi Thebo and Jessica Meserve

I don’t know how I missed this, although with 30 books in the set, I do have to admit that I haven’t memorised all the titles 😉 Which leads me on to another point – if you happened to be having a children’s party, and wanted a nice addition to a party bag, this are absolutely ideal. Today at the Book People in the flash sale the whole set is only £15, so that’s 50p a book, I don’t think you’ll find many better bargains out there. You could even buy a set to keep and a set to gift! (No. I do not need to buy a set to gift.) Alternatively, as £25 gets you free delivery you could top up your order with something like the Mog picture book collection from Judith Kerr, at £10 for 10 books, and have a grand total of 40 wonderful books for £25 with no delivery charge. It doesn’t get a great deal better than that to be honest.

What are you waiting for? click on the image below to browse the sale further.

Disclosure: The Book People links are affiliate links.

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Win a goody bag with the updated website. Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:43:19 +0000 When Big was very small, one of her favourite shows was Dora the Explorer on Nick Jr. Now that she’s not so small, her little sister has taken over, and Dora is still a firm favourite in this house, particularly with the Spanish lessons included. So we were really excited to see the rejuvenated site, which is even easier for children to navigate their way around, and is set up for use across devices, on the move and full screen too.

The new version of the site, particularly targeted at today’s tech savvy younger generation, creates an enjoyable and engaging platform for kids to have fun, be creative and learn both on the go and at home. For example, you’ll quickly spot the new Alphabuttons dotted throughout the site, on clicking they laungh a unique animation featuring both the letter and a Nick Jr. character, helping children learn their alphabet as they go. Activities Hub

As well as the character based navigation, content is arranged into five strands, Music, Learn, Activities, Videos and Games. I can see that we’re going to be spending a lot of time exploring as there’s just so much to do on the site.

nick jr goody bag photo

To celebrate the revamp, I’m pleased to say that I’ve got a NickJr goody bag to giveaway, which includes
Nick Jr. colouring book
Nick Jr. umbrella
Nick Jr. tote bag
Nick Jr. crayon set
and a Nick Jr. ‘Wacky Hair Dough’ art kit that you can’t buy in the shops yet! (I’m rather jealous, and I’m not telling the kids I’m giving one away 😉 )

N318-13106 Wacky Hair Dough 1

To enter, just pop over to and leave me a comment answering the question in the rafflecopter widget below. There are extra chances to win once you’ve completed that task. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Listed at ThePrizeFinder

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