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Thursday, 18 October 2012

The masks for my panto, The Rainbow Bird,  are finally finished and varnished and now it's time to give them to the actors so that they have plenty of time to get used to their avian personas.

The characters are, from left to right, Storm Bird (villainous through and through), Queen Crow (not as villainous as Storm Bird but definitely has her moments ... her favourite phrase is 'Peck their eyes out!'), King Swan (well-intentioned but basically a bit of a bumbling idiot) and Rainbow Bird (all-round good guy and pretty free with her crocks o' gold too).

I'll miss having them hanging about the place ... but it's definitely time for them to fly the nest!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Ronnie Heeps - Studio Visit

Adam and I went to visit our friend Ronnie Heeps' studio last week as part of the Open Studios at the Wasps Factory in Hanson Street, Dennistoun.

Here's Ronnie with Adam, standing in front of one of Ronnie's 'Kaleidoscope' paintings.

You can see the whole series of 'Kaleidoscope' paintings by clicking here.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Castle Hamster Mk 2 is launched!

Last week, in between panto rehearsals, costume-making, violin-playing and novel-writing I finally finished off Castle Hamster Mk 2 - the new-improved castle that FITS INTO A SUITCASE - yay!!! because I was invited to give a talk to the two Primary 7's of Kingsland Primary in Peebles.

Kingsland is a brand-new, state-of-the-art school and is absolutely beautiful, and the children were wonderful. The castle went down pretty well (even though this young man seems a bit baffled by it!) and I was pleased with its improved visibility and the fact that the hamsters have more space to manoeuvre. There were several comic moments!

Now it's back to the desk and the music stand, with The Faraway standing at 35000 words ... and two scales (D major and Bflat major) needing a LOT of attention! Though I have to say that, amazingly, having loathed scales all my life, I don't mind them on the violin.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Rainbow Bird

With the very sad demise of my publisher Frances Lincoln's children's fiction list, things have been a bit depressing. However, enter The Rainbow Bird stage left!

Set in the magical Land of the Birds, interspersed with the Lochwinnoch RSPB,  this will be my third play - and second Panto - (oh yes it will!) for the wonderful Calder Drama Group, and it will have an even larger cast than before.

Not all the parts are decided yet, so there may still be some changes but at the moment the photo below shows most of the characters I'm going to be working with.

Making the mini-sets is really helpful for the writing process as well as highlighting costume issues .. like the need for BIRD MASKS. And, as promised to ex-Kelpie Allan, whose heavyweight plaster Kelpie mask cut off his breathing and circulation last year, this time round there will be absolutely, positively NO PLASTER OF PARIS!!!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Castle Hamster Mk 2 is painted!

Today the first coat of pink paint went on, and I was helped by Moira and Helen. Here Helen's little Theo applies his very first brushstroke, making him the youngest castle-painter in Scotland ...

... or do you know different?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Castle Hamster Mk 2 is built!

At least 3 layers of paper mache (or more ... it felt like more) and the castle is ready for painting and decorating later this week.

I must say it will be nice to clear all the paste and newspapers away and get the table back.

SOMEONE is going to miss the raw materials though ...

... The Woozle!

There's nothing warmer and more comfortable as far as HE's concerned. Plus you get to do the crossword.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stunning Estonian cats!

A few weeks ago I met Katrin Eagle at the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival, and fell in love with her work. 

Katrin is a Scottish based artist of Estonian origin, and her work covers a broad range of media and subject matter. 

Currently she's working  in wool felt, often using her paintings of Scottish landscape as an inspiration for pictures. 

The cat picture I bought is one of a range of cats based on Estonian embroidery designs, and now I've framed it and hung it below my New Mexican 'sea-urchin/coconut-shell' masks.

I bought the masks ten years ago in Santa Fe and the friend I was with pointed out that I could hardly have chosen a more fragile souvenir. I went home with a suitcase packed full of bubble-wrap, and was amazed that all the masks arrived intact.

I think Katrin's cat looks really good with my masks, and I'm VERY impressed - and tempted by - her website!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Chick???

Here I am with my Easter present - an Eagle Owl from World of Wings from Luggiebank, near Cumbernauld. (The photograph, which was taken by Caroline Ross yesterday, was the Easter present, I hasten to add ... and a lot less fattening than a chocolate egg it was too).

I see from the World of Wings brochure that they also have parrots, so I might be contacting them again when There's a Parrot in my Backpack! comes out ...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

New Plans for Castle Hamster!!

This photograph was taken on Saturday 17 March, when I did an author talk in the local library here in Lochwinnoch as part of the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival.

It was taken by Lesley Adam of Adam Image Craft and the reason I'm posting it now is (apart from it being a BRILLIANT photo!) because this is one of the last times Castle Hamster will appear in its present incarnation ...

Yes, sadly, I've been finding the Castle Hamster set-up a bit of a pain to carry around and so, reluctantly, I've decided to build Castle Hamster Mark 2. And Castle Hamster Mark 2 is specially designed to FIT INSIDE MY SUITCASE. (which, of course, if I'd had any sense, I'd have made sure Castle Hamster Mark 1 did!).

So, here are the first pictures of Castle Hamster 2:

This one shows The Woozle checking out the initial shape to make sure it really WILL fit inside the suitcase; and with its lower walls and DETACHABLE TURRETS (a 'must', surely, for all itinerant castles) it DOES!

However, although Castle Hamster Mark 2 is altogether smaller and sleeker than its predecessor, it actually does have more floor space. It also has a smoother floor and bigger doorways, so the Toffee 'n Caramel Game should be even more exciting.

And this one shows it as it is today.

Two layers of paper mache have been laboriously applied, and when the fourth turret is covered the castle will be ready for its first coat of pink paint.

And when it IS finished, great plans are afoot - so watch this space!!!!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Toffee 'n Caramel go to Paisley

Yesterday the hamsters and I gave a talk in Glenburn Library in Paisley as part of the 'Lit Up' Festival.

My audience was Primary 5 from St Peters Primary, and we had a lovely morning. I don't think I've ever had a nicer audience.

Here we are at the end of the talk, playing the Castle Hamster Game ... and it MAY BE (see forthcoming blogs) that this was the last time this Castle Hamster will see active service ...

Quite a lot of the children from St Peters have entered the story-writing competition, the theme of which is 'The Trouble With Pets'. I'm the judge, and the prize is £10 and a signed copy of There's a Hamster in my Pocket! 

I'm really looking forward to seeing the entries!

Thanks to Moira Kinniburgh for taking the photo, and for carrying Castle Hamster (for the LAST TIME ...????)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Toffee 'n Caramel go 'Doon the Watter'!

Yes, today Toffee 'n Caramel went on their very first boat trip, when we visited Primaries 3/4 and 4 at lovely Kirn Primary, just outside Dunoon.

The event was splendidly organised by Linda Mollins, and we had a great time. The children were wonderful, and one boy gave the best definition of 'inspiration' I have ever heard (given that 'inspiration' is pretty well undefinable).

He said, 'Is it something to do with breathing in?'

Which, when you think about it, is exactly what it IS!

And here we are in full flow, demonstrating how inspiring a shadow puppet can be.

Incidentally - I must do a plug for a local restaurant: after my talk I had the best cup of Earl Grey, with the best slice of sultana cake, with the best fire and the best atmosphere and the best music playing the background I have ever had. This is Chatters. Check it out!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Wonderful new desk!

Today work on my office is finally finished and I have a wonderful new computer and a wonderful new desk, which is all ... well ... pretty wonderful, particularly considering I have been working for the last four years on the desk I was bought in 1966 to do my O-levels on, with a variety of pretty horrible chests of drawers to keep things in ...

... NOT a good look!

The man responsible for the miraculous transformation is architect Marcelo Dominguez who runs Casa Homes and Gardens here in Lochwinnoch.

Not only has Marcelo built me this ... wonderful ... new work space, he has also acted as my Spanish Consultant (part of my adult novel, The Faraway, is set in New Mexico).

Today, for example, he advised against naming a house 'Casa de la Media Luna' because apparently that really implies it's a 'house of the croissant'. Instead, I should go for 'Casa de la Luna Cresciente'.Now that is advice worth having.

And here is how the desk looks this evening - lots of smart storage space, about double the work surface, and there's even a hole for the flexes to disappear down into.

WONDERFUL!!!! Or, as we say in Argentina:

Es un maravilloso nuevo


Gracias, Marcelo!

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Scottish Children's Book Awards Ceremony

Well, it arrived at last - the Scottish Children's Book Awards Ceremony, held at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh yesterday.

Unfortunately, I didn't win but it has all been such a great experience that I FEEL like a winner - and yesterday's ceremony was the icing on the cake! It was really good fun from start to finish ...

Here I am at the first signing session of the day, with Nicky Morgan and Joan Lennon.

Nicky won the 12-16 category for her wonderful book 'Wasted' and Joan, like me, was worthy runner-up in the intermediate category with her brilliantly wacky 'Slightly Jones' book, 'The Case of the London Dragonfish' which I've just finished reading.

Our category was won by Ross Mackenzie for his 'Zac and the Dream Pirates', and I personally found Ross's acceptance speech particularly honest and moving.

There were, of course, hundreds of children, whipped up into near-hysteria by all the exciting onstage happenings - 'magic' being the theme, we had people appearing out of boxes and real fireworks - but they were really well-behaved and absolutely lovely and it was good to see the winners of the review competition receive their prizes too.

My editor at Frances Lincoln, Emily Sharret, had flown up from London to be at the ceremony, and it was great to have time to chat because usually when we meet we're busy editing!.

My friend Moira Kinniburgh took this photo of Emily and me having a well-deserved glass of champagne at the end of the afternoon.

Possibly the Very Best Bit of the entire day was the champagne and profiteroles actually. I must say, as well as tirelessly championing authors and promoting reading throughout the country, the Scottish Book Trust does a very nice line in cakes.

I even had my very own photographer for the day, in the quite delectable shape of Jamie Heitler, Joan's son.

Here's Jamie, patiently listening to my advice about posing for photoshoots. This advice (to 'smise', which means 'smile with the eyes') is gleaned from my favourite TV programme, 'America's Next Top Model', and comes from no less a person than Tyra Banks.

Keep smising, Jamie - and thanks!

Friday, 10 February 2012

A Tree for Sadler's Wells ...

Should you ever want to make an artificial snow-covered hazel tree in February, take it from me - you'll have your work cut out.

The shops that, during the summer months, stock any number of plastic plants and shrubs (why on earth in summer, when you've got real ones then?) run right out of them after the holly and ivy of Christmas, and there is a very, very paltry selection left.

So, after a frustrating afternoon trailing round depressingly empty shelves, all I could find (and was grateful to find too!) was THIS beautiful creation ... don't ask me what it's meant to be, but once it was de-petalled and de-leafed, the stems weren't bad and, several hours later, a bunch of them was transformed into this ...

... which, though I've seen more robust trees, will hopefully work under stage lighting - and it EVEN has hazelnuts (they're the middle bit of the flowers painted brown).

Let's hope it, and the mouse from The Gruffalo's Child, breaks a leg!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Gruffalo's Child

Today I've been making props for Julia and Malcolm Donaldson's performance of The Gruffalo's Child. 

They're performing this 'Singalong Show' in Sadler's Wells at the week end, and it was felt that the existing props (which I made several years ago and which have been well and truly used!) could do with a Radical Makeover.

This is the mouse puppet which is used to cast the scary shadow which terrifies the Gruffalo's child. I'm making a slightly bigger one this time round.

Tomorrow I need to shop around for a suitable 'hazel tree' and then paint it wintry white.But at least I've managed to get the 'snow' for the base of the tree tonight - a single flat white sheet from Tesco.

It's all in a day's work, I suppose!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Castle Hamster goes to Broughty Ferry library ...

Yesterday I had a sunshine drive up to Broughty Ferry where I gave a talk to two Reading Groups. Here I am in full flight!

It was, all in all, a pretty LIVELY talk, and at the beginning there was much speculation as to what was inside the big black box

Suggestions ranged from 'someone with a hamster in their pocket' through 'a hamster in a cage' to 'one of my cats' and definitely reflected the imagination of the Broughty Ferry Book Monsters!

When Castle Hamster was eventually revealed and the Toffee 'n Caramel Game played, the noise level hit a new record level ... I hope all the serious readers had gone home for their tea by then!!

I was made very welcome by Fiona and her colleagues and once the talk was over, refreshed by apple juice and custard creams, I drove to Falkland where I'd decided to spend the night.

I stayed at The Bruce Inn where I was made doubly welcome! Asked to choose between 'a room overlooking Falkland Palace with no TV' and 'a room not overlooking Falkland Palace but with a TV' I opted for the latter, to be told that actually I could have BOTH rooms - since no one was in the 'room overlooking Falkland Palace' I had it at my disposal too. And what a view it was!

Today I spent a lovely morning exploring Falkland, and found two particularly interesting shops.

This one was full of fascinating fiddles and other antiques ...

... and this one, the Cottage Craft Centre, has to be one of the best craft shops I've ever seen. It looks quite small from the outside, but inside it's like the Tardis - the rooms just go on and on!

All in all, I really liked Falkland!