Category Archives: 30by30

#30by30 number 30.2 – join a book club

This item didn’t make it onto my original list because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make time to fit it in. But with the wonders of modern technology I have found a lovely online bookish community (which counts, as far as I’m concerned). And I fear that a couple of my other tasks may not be quite achievable so adding extras will hopefully cover the ones that get missed…

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I came across a blog talking about ninjabookbox late last autumn – it originated in a Kickstarter campaign which I was immediately gutted I had missed out on. Ninjabookbox is a book subscription service – every quarter subscribers receive an independently published book and a number of related gifts – the amount of gifts vary depending on your level of subscription. I was intrigued by the idea and so I signed up for the mailing list. Shortly before each box goes on sale its theme is announced, so as soon as I heard that the next box was ‘A Shakespearean mystery’ I couldn’t resist ordering the mini box (the book and one gift), you know, just to see. I was so enamoured when I received it that it wasn’t long before I signed up for a recurring mini box subscription. I also found out that there were a few of the original box left, so I quickly got myself one of those too…

So I have now received three of the quarterly boxes and have loved all three books – my first was The Bookman’s Tale, the Shakespearean mystery in which an antiquarian bookseller is launched into a complex tale of bribery, forgery, and danger when he comes a cross a Victorian watercolour which looks exactly like his late wife. The first book (and the second one I received) was Star Shot – an instant winner with me because it is set in my favourite city of them all, Cardiff. The story is a bit surreal, and follows various characters who stories beautifully overlap as they try to make sense of a web of silence that slowly seems to be seeping across the city. The third box came in May and I just finished the book this weekend – Dragon’s Green – a fantasy novel for children in which the main characters find their hidden strengths and learn the power of friendship, bravery and books. I also gave into temptation and bought the summer special box – A Grand Adventure – which contained three books, and I have just started the first of these.

 

Part of the idea of the boxes is that there will be a chance to discuss the books with other subscribers, this has yet to find its best format, but I’m already enjoying the engagement with other readers I have found through the forum on the website and on twitter. And its not just about the books in the boxes, for our Summer Reading Challenge we have each picked our own books to read over the summer and encouragements and recommendations have abounded.

My two favourite things about the ninjabookbox are:

  • The books – I have loved each of them so far and they are not books I would have found on my own.
  • The charms – each book comes with a small charm (like for a bracelet) which is linked in some way to the book. For some the link is obvious (the Shakespeare book was a quill) but for others it is only in reading the book that the link becomes clear.

 

So, hopefully I’ve succeeded in recommending the ninjabookbox to you. If you would like to find out more, head over to their website at www.ninjabookbox.com where you can sign up to their mailing list or buy lots of lovely bookish things in their shop. The August boxes go on sale soon too! (I think there may even be a few summer special boxes left). If you do want to buy anything, you can get a 15% discount by using the code CERI15 – this can be applied to anything except the quarterly recurring subscriptions.

 

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The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part Two

For part one please click here…

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That evening, I ventured out into the town to celebrate my adulthood. I wore the dress in public for the first time. And, for the first time in my life, I felt visible. I knew people were watching me, noticing me. I felt confident. The air sizzled around me. I could feel the power in the dress.

I found my way to a bar that had a buzz about it. As I entered it felt like the world stopped as everyone turned to stare at me, before going back to their conversations. All except one guy at the bar, who was reading intently. I recognised him from my school days. I remembered he had been kind. The seat next to him was free, so I drifted over.

As I sat down, the bartender looked at me expectantly, “What will you have?”

I opened my mouth to answer, and I realised I didn’t know what any of the drinks were called. It suddenly struck me what I risk I was taking, being out of the house. There was a reason I hadn’t been seen in public for years. Although my father was a powerful public figure, he was also a very private man. Maybe people weren’t staring at me because of the dress, but because they knew who I was. If word got back to my father that I had been out unchaperoned, I dreaded to think how he would react.

This was a mistake. I shook my head and stood up to leave, but as I did I felt a hand over mine on the bar, “Please, stay for a drink with me”.

I looked down at my hand, then up at the man holding it. Jack. I remembered his name. His eyes were brilliant blue, almost the same shade as my dress.

“If you are concerned about your reputation, I assure you I am widely considered to be respectable,” he said with a smile, but also with a kindness and concern in his eyes.

Slowly I nodded and sat back down. I lowered my gaze. “I don’t know what I’m meant to drink,” I admitted.

He ordered us a soda each. I sipped mine, it tasted of fruit and bubbles and cold. “Thank you,” I said. I felt my confidence returning as I caught a glimpse of the dress in the mirror behind the bar.

“What are you reading?” I asked. He showed me. It was a medical journal. “You became a doctor. You always wanted to be,” I said. We talked for a while about his work, until I realised the bar was slowly emptying. “I should probably go,” I said. He offered to walk me home.

As we left the bar he stopped. “Wait,” he said. I turned to look at him.

“First, I swear on my honour that my intentions are pure and that no harm will come to you. I have something in my apartment I need to show you. It’s not far.”

I considered for a moment, but I knew that I trusted him, how much I had always trusted him.

As we walked I realised the temperature had dropped. He must have noticed I was cold as he took off his jacket and placed it over my shoulders. We walked on in silence. I tried not to think beyond the moment, to how my father would react to my behaviour. I just wanted to enjoy the moment of being with someone who wasn’t afraid.

We turned a corner and he pulled out a set of keys. I followed him up the stairs to his apartment and he pulled open the door to let me enter ahead of him. As I went in, my breath caught. There, on the mantelpiece, was a photo of my family. My father, in a bright white suit. Myself, a small child, a red ribbon in my dark hair. And there, clutching my hand tightly, was my mother.

“I’ve never seen a picture of my mother before,” I whispered. I crept forward, as if approaching a holy relic. And then I saw what she was wearing. An electric blue dress. My electric blue dress.

“You look just like her,” Jack said, behind me. “I thought it the moment I saw you.”

“Where did you get this? You shouldn’t have this,” I asked.

He told me how his father had been a dedicated supporter of my father’s rise to power, until my mother’s disappearance.

“They were all in awe of her,” he explained. “My father tried to find out what had happened to her, caused quite a stir. Then, one day, he didn’t come home. I was young, but I realised what had happened. On that day, I made two promises, that I would discover the truth and that, somehow, I would protect you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I sat down heavily on the sofa, cradling the photo.

“It was easy enough to keep an eye on you in school,” he continued, “But then you turned sixteen and stopped coming, and I feared the worst.”

“He wanted to keep me hidden. I think he hoped I’d be forgotten, like my mother was.”

Jack shook his head. “No. She was never forgotten. And neither were you. We heard whispers, knew you were alive, if out of sight. And with your coming of age, I hoped and prayed our paths would cross. And here you are.”

And that was when the full weight of my actions hit me. I had left the house, unchaperoned, and was now alone with a bachelor in his house. My father would be livid. But, strangely, in that moment, I didn’t care.

Jack must have seen my confusion playing out on my face, as he offered to walk me home. But I didn’t know if I could face that big empty house so full of secrets. And I wasn’t ready to give up on my first, perhaps only, night of freedom.

“This is the safest I’ve felt in years,” I whispered.

“You can stay, if you like. I’ll take the sofa,” he added, quickly.

 

******

Please stay tuned for the final instalment!

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part One

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I knew it made me stand out. It was a shot of colour in a drab town.

My Godmother presented it to me on my 21st birthday. For my “coming-of-age” she told me, smiling but with sadness in her eyes and a sigh on her lips. I understood. Traditionally, mothers would throw a massive party for their daughter’s coming of age, as if to say, “Look, my daughter is an adult, she is here!” The ladies of the town would gather for wine and sweetmeats, and the mother would instruct the girl on how to make her way in the world as an adult. With no mother, it would fall to my Godmother to induct me into adulthood, but the rules were strict. There would be no gathering, as only a mother could announce her daughter’s age publically. My Godmother could give me advice, but my entrance into public life would be without ceremony.

I eased the dress out from the whispering paper and help it up against myself. The air seemed to vibrate around it. In had never seen anything so beautiful.

My Godmother helped me into the dress. She had chosen well as the fit was perfect.

“Be careful how you wear it, there is power in this dress,” she said, the twinkle back in her eye.

She led me to the mirror so I could see the effect. Then she hugged me and whispered, “Your mother would have been proud”. Momentarily, time seemed to stand still as I held my breath and glanced around. But the world kept turning. No one had talked of my mother in this house for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t done to speak of those who had gone. And though my father was away on business, he had ears everywhere.

My Godmother winked as she released me from her embrace. I knew then that I would be safe. There was magic in her, and I knew she would watch over me.

I made us tea, and she began to speak, teaching me the ways of the world. We saw in the dawn together, marking my entry into adulthood, then she returned to her own family, leaving me to face the new world on my own.

 

*****

Part two will follow soon! Image free from pixabay.com

#30by30 number 16 – finish writing “The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress”

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I often have really vivid dreams that stay with me a long time after I wake up. Sometimes these are just the jumbled meanderings of my subconscious trying to make sense of my life – like the time I was stressed about work and dreamt that someone had rearranged the office over the weekend and I couldn’t find my desk. Occasionally, though, a crazy dream brings me the nugget of an idea for a story. I had one such dream last summer.

It started with a picture of a girl wearing, you guessed it, and electric blue dress. Actually, when I woke up the story was nearly fully formed, I just needed to write it down. But finding time to put pen to paper is never easy and that first day after the dream I just had time to sketch out the first scene. Then life happened and my creative writing ended up on the back burner again.

But the girl in the dress stayed in the back of my mind, and I knew I needed to tell her story. So it only seemed fair to her to make it part of my #30by30 challenge. In November I was meeting up with a friend in Bath so I took my notebook and pencil on the train and used the journey time to write, but it wasn’t quite long enough. So my notebook went on holiday with me over Christmas (it’s a big ole notebook so I could have done without the weight, I probably should get a smaller one… if you’re wondering, that is my notebook in the picture, in a former life it was my teacher’s planner. I hate to be wasteful). I finished the story in my hotel room overlooking the sea.

I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I spent last weekend typing it up and editing it, although, being so short, it didn’t need much work to make it presentable. And I’m going to share it here over the next couple of weeks. I’ll put the first part up later today (I know, two posts in one day! What is the world coming to?!)

I’ve had a hard time explaining the genre to my friends, it’s part urban fantasy, part dystopian, part ghost story. Actually, when I thought about it, I decided the best way of explaining it is as a fairy story. There’s a kind of princess, a sort of wicked king, an almost knight in shining armour and a definite fairy godmother so I think that’s what I’ll call it – a modern fairytale.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

#30by30 number 21 – Become a Patreon

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One of my aims with #30by30 is to support and promote things that I care about, in an effort to be less self-centred, I guess.

Anyway, not too long ago I heard of a website called Patreon which allows creative types to fundraise from supporters to help them to continue to create in fields that are often difficult to progress in when you are starting out. It’s a bit like Kickstarter or Indigogo, but instead of helping to get a specific project off the ground, patrons fund the ongoing work of a writer, actor, artist, singer etc.

I currently can only afford to support two people at $1 per month each, which, with the associated fees and currency conversion rates should be a little less than £2 per month, but I’m hoping to be able to increase that in the future as most of the artists offer extra content to the higher level supporters.

But for now, it gives me the opportunity on this blog to tell you about the people I support and to promote their work to you 🙂 I also recommend you head over to www.patreon.com to check out some of the other creative people that use that site to see if there are any you would like to support!

 

So the first person I chose to support is Mya Gosling of goodticklebrain.com – a mostly Shakespeare webcomic. The first time I heard of Mya was when her three panel plays were featured on some list or other of things to check out on the Internet. In those comics she condensed each Shakespeare play to three points, illustrated by stick figures. She also retells the plays act-by-act and scene-by-scene, which really helps to bring the stories to life. She does other one-off or occasional comics – the recent Shakespeare’s missing mothers series had me crying with laughter, as did the Hamlet/Sound of Music crossover comics. For a Shakespeare geek like myself, there are very few more enjoyable things on the Internet. Also, the complete works t-shirt she created is one of my favourite items of clothing and a great conversation starter…

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My second patronee (not convinced that’s the correct term but never mind!) is Mary Kate Wiles, an actress and vlogger. A couple of years ago some friends recommended I watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube – a modern adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Lizzie has a video diary. I LOVE Jane Austen so I am always a little reluctant to watch spin-offs and non-period adaptations, but with much Persuasion (!) I gave it a try and I did not regret it.

Mary Kate was cast as Lizzie’s irrepressible younger sister Lydia. One of my favourite things about the show was that Lydia really came to life as a rounded character rather than just a plot device (sorry Miss Austen!) – showing the quality of the writing but also MK’s brilliant acting. Last year I re-watched the series and mentioned to a friend that I was doing so, and she asked if I had seen MK’s Craftversations videos, which I immediately investigated. In these videos, MK interviews a friend from the world of YouTube (actor, writer, producer, etc) while they carry out a craft activity. I love these videos because not only do they give me great ideas for craft projects to try but they have also introduced me to lots of other fun YouTube series that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

So there you have it, two of my favourite Internet people. I’d love to hear if you support anyone on Patreon and if so, who and why 🙂

30by30 number 6.2 – meet someone famous(ish)

Now, my #30by30 challenge is barely a month old and I’ve already hit a hitch. I’ve had to swap out one of my challenges.

In the summer I was sent a picture of a flyer for a group that knits items for the neonatal unit of a local hospital, and I had intended to join this group as part of my challenge. Unfortunately, when I called the number there was no answer. I have since heard from a friend that the flyer had such an overwhelming response that the phone number had to be disconnected.

I love knitting, crochet and other craft activities, but tend to mainly make things for myself or for friends, so I am still hoping to find a charitable project to unleash my knitting skills on (if you know of anything based in the Hampshire area please let me know). In case that doesn’t work out, however, I have come up with a replacement challenge.

I had toyed with the idea of putting ‘meet someone famous’ on the list in the first place, but thought it unlikely that I would get the opportunity. So seeing as I met some slightly famous people on Friday night I decided it would be remiss not to use this as my new challenge no 6.

A little over a year ago there was a series on BBC called The Naked Choir – a competition to find the UK’s best a cappella group, presented by Gareth Malone. I love anything a cappella and Gareth Malone has a great track record for uncovering talent so I knew this was worth a watch (his latest show The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain is not disappointing, either).

I quickly identified the group I hoped would win, and sure enough, they did! The Sons of Pitches are a midlands-based, all-male, six-piece group with brilliant technique and a great sense of humour. Since winning the competition, they have built up a fairly large YouTube fan base and are currently on their second UK tour. I persuaded some friends to tag along to their Basingstoke show on Friday night and it was easily one of the best gigs I’ve been to in my life, ranging from hilarious improvised songs about roundabouts and Philip Schofield (you had to be there) to simple emotive performances (their rendition of Wuthering Heights still gives me chills every time I hear it). Seriously, if you have the opportunity to see them live, it is definitely worth it.

The great thing about seeing a band at the start of their careers is that they are still small enough to be able to come out to meet the fans after the show. And as I had driven, my poor friends had to wait patiently while I said hello to each band member (and take photos for me).

So that’s probably enough fangirling for one week, but you really should check out their YouTube channel, or at least just watch this one video:

 

30by30 number 19 – Climbing Winchester Cathedral Tower

So last week I wrote about my idea of listing 30 things I wanted to do by the time I turn thirty next autumn, and today I’m excited to tell you about the first thing I’ve ticked off the list. I feel the need, however, to reassure those who may have been concerned about me – I’m not actually having a quarter-life crisis, and I’m not at all disappointed in the way my life has turned out so far, and I’m not upset that I’m not married and don’t have kids yet. I know those things are in my future and I know that they will be worth the wait. I trust in God’s timing, and my faith is probably the strongest it has ever been right now.

The nature of reaching significant age milestones means that people do stop and take stock of their life. I get the same nearly every New Years and whenever someone younger than me achieves something newsworthy like releasing a number 1 album or winning a sports tournament. It doesn’t mean that I wish I had won a sports tournament, it just makes me stop and reflect on whether my life is on a good course. When I started thinking about turning thirty next year, I realised that a lot of the things that I thought I would have done by then, like getting married, haven’t happened. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with my life, but I still want to celebrate turning thirty, not to be scared of it.

Hopefully as we go through the year, you will see from some of the challenges on the list that this is really an excuse to have fun, and make sure I enjoy my final year of my twenties. I’ve just about finalised the list, and it’s quite a mix of things, so I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I will enjoy doing them. I should also explain that I’m not attempting the items in any particular order, they are listed in the order I thought of them, which is why the first one I’ve done is number 19 on the list…

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Climbing Winchester Cathedral Tower

One of the perks of working for a local council is that you sometimes get to do fun excursions within the city to learn about its history and tell everyone how awesome a place it is. I was given such an opportunity last week. I was born in Winchester and have lived near it most of my life, and I have been working there for the last two years. I eat my lunch outside the Cathedral nearly everyday, so I jumped at the chance to go up to the top of the Cathedral tower and learn a bit more about its history and that of the city.

There were several sets of very narrow winding staircases, with a total of 213 steps, so my legs were very sore by the end of it. But it was so worth it for the view from the top! I also learnt lots of fun facts…

For example, the last time the cathedral bells were recast was in 1936. The tradition is that the name of the reigning monarch is carved on the inside of the tenor bell (the biggest of the bells) when the bells are recast, which in 1936 was Edward VIII. By the time the bells were returned to the cathedral, however, he had abdicated. The workmen who were putting the bells back into their places decided that they did not want the abdicator’s name on their bell, so they got out their chisels and crossed out Edward VIII, carving ‘Now George VI’ (in Latin) instead.

So, if you are ever in Winchester, the cathedral is a great place to visit and the staff and volunteers are very knowledgeable about the history of the city. If you are in good health and aren’t claustrophobic or afraid of heights, a trip to the top of the tower is definitely recommended.

Here are a few photos:

(the chair is a memorial to those who would sit inside the roof of the cathedral to watch for bombs during WWII)