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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Nice review in Scotland on Sunday

Got a review from Jasmine Fassl on Scotland On Sunday's 'Santa's Spellbinders' ...

'... for newly confident readers, There’s A Hamster In My Pocket by Franzeska Ewart (Frances Lincoln, £5.99) is just about perfect – a laugh-out-loud tale about pets, deadly curses and eccentric families.'

That's a nice little Christmas present!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas holidays!!

Yes - they're finally here, I've decided! On Thursday I wrote the last part of Chapter 5 of my latest book and now I'm concentrating on Christmas.

The 'latest book' is Book 3 in the series for Frances Lincoln which so far contains Sita Snake-Queen of Speed and There's a Hamster in my Pocket!

In this book - which hasn't quite got a title yet - I'm introducing the indomitable Poppy O'Day, aka 'Pod' who, with the help of her psychic red squirrel glove puppet Mr Mystico, makes poor Yosser Farooq's life a bit of a misery one Christmas time.

Delivery date is the end of February, so I'm well on track and even hoping perhaps to have it finished ahead of time.

Not that the end of February will see the end of Yosser and Kylie! I've got a two-book contract this time, so there will be another title following soon after.

Which is great news - but right now I'm knee-deep in tinsel, candles and festive fayre, and enjoying every seasonal minute of it!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Nicola Morgan - Mondays Are Red

I braved snow, ice and sleet today to visit my 'old' friend Nicky Morgan in her lovely flat in Edinburgh.

I hadn't seen Nicky for quite a while, so we had a lot to talk about, including the Scottish Children's Book Awards which take place in February 2012. Nicky's fabulous new novel Wasted is shortlisted in the 'Older Readers' category and her The Highwayman's Footsteps was previously shortlisted.

One of the projects we discussed today was her latest venture into the world of ebooks with a title of hers I particularly like - Mondays Are Red

When I first got to know Nicky Mondays Are Red had just come out, and I loved its vivid, chilling descriptions of the world of synaesthesia.It's great to see it making a come-back now, with all sorts of new additions.

If you'd like to have a look at the Kindle edition of Mondays Are Red click here.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Kelpie's Song

The first pantomime I've ever written, The Kelpie's Song, is over - and I think it was a great success! I certainly enjoyed every minute of the preparation (except, perhaps, the Amputation of the Kelpie's Nose ...) and I thought the Calder Drama Group did really well!

The sets were lovely - and I especially liked the bedroom scene, where 'Mum' reads Loch Legend - Betty McKellar's re-telling of the Kelpie legend - to Grace (right) and Jenny (left).

The real 'pantomime' part was set in the Lochwinnoch Charity Shop (we do have a very good charity shop here in the village!) where a mysterious 'necklace' turns up. The 'necklace', it soon transpires, has magical properties - and in this scene 'Mum' has her eye on it - but 'Mandy McManus', proprietor of the charity shop, is determined she won't have it!

There were four schoolchildren in the pantomime, and they were great. Here's Amy, the youngest, who played Angel Fish and did a lovely dance to usher the mortals into the Kelpie's underwater kingdom underneath the River Calder.

In the end, thanks to the 'necklace' (which turns out to be the gem-encrusted magic bridle without which, I'm assured, you can't release a Kelpie!) and various other magical devices, King Kelpie is not only freed, but returned to his original status of King Unicorn!

And, in true pantomime tradition, EVERYONE finds their own true love and lives happily ever after!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


On Thursday 17th I went down to London to do some research for my adult novel, The Faraway, and to meet Catherine Pellegrino, who I'm delighted to say is to become my new agent; and as I came out of the tube at St Paul's this was one of my first sights.

The whole anti-capitalist protest camp was so fascinating I found it difficult to drag myself away, and consequently when I did finally arrive at St Bartholomew's Hospital (one of the main settings in The Faraway) the museum, which I'd planned to visit, had closed. It was a bit disappointing, but I walked around in the last of the evening sun, taking photographs, and a very helpful hospital gateman was able to answer some of my questions -so it was still a very worthwhile visit.

It was lovely to be back in Smithfield again, and especially around the church of St Bartholomew the Great, which I've written about in the past (my first children's novel, Columbine, was set in Bartholomew Fair) and have a great affection for. This part of London, being just outside the Wall and therefore surviving the Great Fire, feels very much unchanged and I'm looking forward to writing about it again soon.

Here's the entrance to the churchyard - made famous by its appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

King Kelpie's Mask

At last, King Kelpie's mask is finished! Well ... almost ... It still needs a mane, but it's just about there and I think it looks very regal. Here it is, with the Fish Sprites masks alongside:

The horn is still drying on top of the radiator and hopefully, by the Magic of Velcro, King Kelpie will transfer seamlessly into King Unicorn later today.
Hooves crossed!!!!!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Horny Problem ...

After the last author talk for a while, it's time to get back to preparations for The Kelpie's Song panto. Rehearsals are going well, and the actors are beginning to do without their scripts so their acting's coming on in leaps and bounds (literally!).

Masks for the 'fish sprites' are made, and now all that's left to do is finish King Kelpie's mask ... and there's the rub. Because - sshhh! don't tell - King Kelpie is ACTUALLY King Unicorn, who's been put under a wicked spell by Esmeralda Crystal (boo! hiss!). And the culmination of the panto is the re-attachment of his Royal Horn.
Now, making this horn has been quite unexpectedly challenging. Here are the Horns So Far:

Horn no 1 - cardboard with paper mache
Horn no 2 - kitchen roll inside 
Horn no 3 - Adam's idea, an ice-cream cone coated with PVA
Horn no 4 - foam rubber ...
... carved into shape
There's still a bit of work to be done because - yes, you spotted it, the 'horn' looks more like a courgette at the moment. Or a baguette. Or The Gherkin. Or ... suggestions welcome, but be careful!!!!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Castle Hamster goes to Turnberry!

There can't be many more salubrious locations in Scotland than the famous golfing hotel, Turnberry, and that's where Castle Hamster and I headed yesterday for the Turnberry Children's Book Event today.

Alongside Linda Strachan, Frank Rodgers, and Maggi Gibson, I gave a talk about There's a Hamster in my Pocket which - of course - culminated in the Toffee 'n Caramel game!

Books were provided for sale by Scotia Books, and the event was sponsored by The Herald, so of course there were lots of photos taken. Here I am with Calum and Emilia (and Caramel and Toffee, balanced precariously on their shoulders) being posed on the grand staircase. I was particularly impressed by Emilia's wonderful PINK outfit - she was a perfect Castle Hamster helper!

Thanks also to Emilia's mum for taking this, and several other, photos.

The event was organised by Gayle Harthill, and it went extremely well.

I spent Thursday night being thoroughly spoilt - wined and dined to the accompaniment of a lone piper pacing the ramparts, then sleeping in the most luxurious bedroom I've ever seen; and after my event Gayle kindly took this photo of me with the doorman, Mark Armit, who is seen here wearing his special Turnberry tartan. Could Castle Hamster be Turnberry's new Pets' Wing I wonder? It does match remarkably well!

And after all the excitement, I went off to the delectable spa and swam and sauna'd to my heart's content - a great end to a great day.

Amazing the places a couple of robot hamsters can get you into, isn't it ...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

EAR we go!

Today I worked on the Kelpie mask. I covered the wire armature for the nose with plaster bandages, then attached ears:

It's definitely looking more horse-like. I'd have liked the nose to be a bit longer, but I feel that would cause major problems with weight, and make the whole thing very awkward to wear.

Mind you, I think even as things stand it IS going to be very awkward to wear, and before I do too much more I'm going to let Allan try it on.

He must, after all, be able to:


Fingers and hooves crossed!!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Wigtown Book Festival

Well, the Wigtown Book Festival is over - and Toffee, Caramel and I had a great time!

Here I am in the Children's Marquee waiting for the audience to arrive. I'm with Esther, who introduced me very professionally.

And in full flight, ready to start the Toffee 'n Caramel Game ...

... with my two helpers, Ben and James.

We're preparing to play the game with the Toffee 'n Caramel 'robots', and we did play four quite exciting rounds with them; but Ben and James had brought along a very, very special little visitor and so we got to play one very very special round with HIM ...

Yes - here he is - Jock the Real Live Hamster!

Jock must have an Equity Card hidden about his little person, because he was a real pro!

After a bit of a clean in the middle of Castle Hamster, he proceeded to explore. First he gave the portcullis an exploratory nibble, before moving on for a more serious chew of Exit 2.

Fortunately he then (to my relief) delighted the audience by EXITING - and believe me, it was one of the most EXCITING EXITS in Castle Hamster history!

Three Cheers for Bold Sir Jock of Wigtown!

And many thanks to Zoe Bestel for taking the photos, and for Heather for being such a Calming Presence!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Castle Hamster Box

OK, so it doesn't look much ....

... does it? Just a big shiny black box.

But it's taken several days, lots of paper and paste, and a big sticky space in the office, to complete.

Now it's hopefully drying in the balmy breeze, which occasionally gusts rather alarmingly so I've put 2 bricks inside. I've also moved it away from the fence where a tree kept shedding its leaves onto it. And have fingers crossed that the starlings steer well clear because I'd rather it wasn't black and white.

Incidentally, I've spent the last 15 minutes removing black gloss from my right eye with white spirit ...

When it dries - WHEN??? ... I am hoping Castle Hamster will fit snugly inside without too many problems, and that I can invent a closing mechanism using Velcro.

Yes, it doesn't look much. Just a big shiny black ..... BOX

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Birth of the Kelpie ...

Work on the Kelpie mask goes on.

I tried it on Allan on Thursday night before the rehearsal and it was just as well I did, because even the little overlapping I'd done had caused the inside to feel quite a lot tighter.

I was particularly concerned about how much of the eye-holes I could get rid of and still allow Allan to see, and although he said I could block in the inner third, I'm still a bit unwilling to do this. Peripheral vision's OK for horses, but I'm not sure about actors!

Anyway, yesterday I got a photo of a horse, and some stuff called Wireform and began the task of elongating the face to - roughly - horse-like proportions ....

Is it me, or are there echoes of the Elephant Man?

Oh well ... maybe that's OK to be going on with ...

And then there's the mane to find.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

NOT Castle Hamster!

Yes, amazingly, this blog post is not about Castle Hamster - though it easily could be, for the Trials and Tribulations continue and it's still not finished ...

It's about The Kelpie's Song which is the pantomime I've written for Calder Drama - the local drama group here in Lochwinnoch. Last March I wrote them the community play The Spirit of Lochwinnoch and they still seem to be speaking to me after that - so this latest production is due to be performed on the 24th and 25th of November and rehearsals are well under way.

Now, one of the challenges in The Kelpie's Song is that part of it is set in the underwater kingdom of the King of the Kelpies - there's a local legend that says a wicked kelpie lives under one of our lochs but in the pantomime he lives under the River Calder - and so a set has to be created that looks magical and watery. The other challenge is that The Kelpie's Song being about a kelpie, which is a kind of water-horse, usually white, the actor playing the part has to wear a mask. And it was to the creation of said mask that yesterday I turned my attentions.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of young Allan last night as we swathed his face in plaster-of-paris bandages, but think Revenge of the Mummies mixed in with Phantom of the Opera. After allowing the plaster to dry out we removed it, and I for one was mightily relieved not to find Allan's eyebrows, ears, or other vital parts of him, adhering to the inside ...

So this was what was sitting on my desk this morning when I came downstairs ... and the problem of how to morph it into something resembling a mystical horse - the problem with which I had finally (with difficulty) got myself off to sleep last night - was the order of the day.

If I've ever done anything like this before it's long disappeared into the deepest chasms of my memory, so basically today I was making it up as I went along.

First I patched up some bits that looked a bit threadbare. Then I had a Long Think, and I thought that what I really needed to do was get rid of Allan's understandably 'human' features. So I rolled bits of moist loo paper into little sausages and bound them into place with more bandage ...

.... and this is how it looked at Close of Play this afternoon.

Goodness knows how I stick the ears on. More bandages, I suppose? And since horses have eyes on the sides of their heads, I need to move the location of the eyes away from Allan's own eye-holes NOT FORGETTING that Allan does need to be able to SEE ...

So there we are. Almost makes Castle Hamster look like child's play ...?

What am I saying????

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Official Launch of Castle Hamster!

Today Lochwinnoch (well, my little part of it) was bathed in a pink glow as we celebrated the Official Launch of Castle Hamster and played the Toffee 'n Caramel Game for the very first time.

Here I am with Leah, my next-door neighbour, cutting the Castle Hamster cake (which my friend Moira and I made yesterday and which was trickier than Castle Hamster to make except it didn't take so long ...).

Leah was the overall winner of the First Toffee 'n Caramel Game, correctly predicting which hamster would emerge onto which drawbridge more often than anyone else.

As well as this remarkable achievement, Leah also won Special Commendation for bringing her own hamster (Pinky) with her, and for being generally the PINKEST party participant of all.

Castle Hamster is still not finished though. Its garden needs landscaped, and a way of protecting the whole outfit in transit still needs to be worked out. But, thanks to my patient party guests, I'm pretty happy with the way the game is working. Next stop - the Wigtown Book Festival!

And many many thanks to Moira (my Tower of Strength!), Linda, David (my trusty Technical Adviser and Right Hand Man), Aaron, Ellie, Katie, Leah, Kiera, Lewis, Tracey, Laura-Rose, Leslie, Christine, Amy, Scott and Tom for being brilliant guinea-pigs!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Rise and Fall of Castle Hamster

Yes, there has been Big Trouble in Castle Hamster Land. Why is nothing ever simple?
The last time I blogged about the castle, things were going well. We were, dare I say it, in the pink.
But things were about to change.
The point of Castle Hamster is to play the Toffee 'n Caramel Game which is a betting game. You have to bet on which hamster will come out of which exit archway and down a tunnel into a plastic cup baited with sunflower seeds. That's what Yosser and Kylie do in the book.
And that's where the problems began, because getting Toffee 'n Caramel to run out the exit archways and into transparent tunnels was well-night impossible. I have no photos. It all happened late on Saturday night and was too dispiriting for words.

So, on the advice of partner Adam (an expert on Robotic Hamsters and their Use in Cardboard Castles) I have now begun the Shoring-Up of the Exit Archways. I've also made them a bit bigger. It's sticky work and I'm not sure that it WILL work.

On Saturday, it's the Grand Opening Ceremony of Castle Hamster, when a few selected children will paly the Toffee 'n Caramel Game for the very first time. No pressure then ...

And as for Toffee 'n Caramel, whose royal retreat is now filled with the heaviest objects I could find so that its bottom bonds with the 'garden' (imagination ... imagination ...) ... well, they've had to find alternative accommodation:

Well - it IS Royal Danish ...!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Scottish Children's Book Awards shortlist

Yes - it's official today! There's a Hamster in my Pocket has been shortlisted for a Scottish Children's Book Award. The ceremony was held today in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, and you can see photos - and a video of me with my cat The Woozle - by clicking here.
It was lovely to meet the other authors and the Book Trust staff and there were, of course, lots of photos taken!

looking suitably pleased!
I'm really glad the shortlist has been announced, and very honoured indeed to be part of it.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Toffee 'n Caramel have arrived - Ta ra!!!!

After much searching, I've found Toffee 'n Caramel - and today they saw Castle Hamster for the first time. You'll need to excuse their pretty bad behaviour. The grandeur of the place kind of went to their heads ...

Cute, aren't they!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Painting, and Decorating, of Castle Hamster

The paper-mache-ing is finally over, and today the painting began. I used white masonry paint tinted with red acrylic and it went on like a pink-blancmange dream!

After 2 coats - inside and out - the decoration began. The 'windowsills' and turrets were painted a darker pink and then red heart stickers and silver stars added. 

It's also got a fake wood floor, and once the flags are added, it will be more or less ready for occupation. And the occupiers are going to be VERY INTERESTING INDEED! Watch this pink space ...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Will it never end?

As the 'wallpaper paste 'n newspaper' layers continue in mind-bogglingly boring tedium, Lily and I wonder if it will ever, ever end.

How strong does a hamster castle have to be, anyone????

Sunday, 28 August 2011

More Building of Castle Hamster

The layers and layers of paper mache (made with extra-strong wallpaper paste) continue and the castle walls get stronger and more impregnable. I'm spending approximately 4 hours a day ripping and sticking. Thank goodness for Radio 3 ...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Building of Castle Hamster

I'm giving a talk about There's a Hamster in my Pocket at the Wigtown Book Festival on Saturday October 1st and - for the first time in living history I'd guess - HAMSTERS are invited! (although probably best not to bring them in your pocket ...).

In preparation for this amazing event, I have begun the Building of Castle Hamster. Now, I know this looks pretty much like a large cardboard box with tubes attached, but give it time!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be up to my elbows in paper mache ...

There's a Hamster in my Pocket

My latest book is There's a Hamster in my Pocket, published by Frances Lincoln. It's the sequel to Sita, Snake-Queen of Speed and tells more stories of Yosser Farooq and her best friend Kylie Teasdale.
Earlier this summer I was delighted to hear There's a Hamster in my Pocket had been chosen for Richard and Judy's Summer Bookclub.