Friday, 30 December 2016

Favourite Fictional Heroines (Part 2)

Looking back over my 2016 blog posts, I realised it's been a while since I wrote my first Favourite Fictional Heroines post and thought it about time to finish off and post the second.

Mildred Hubble

One of my favourite series of books as a child was the Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, specifically the first three. I read these books over and over throughout primary school. As an adult in my 20s I got rid of the books, believing I was a grown up now and that was that. In my 30s I had a yearning to re-read them so picked the first two up in a charity shop.

Mildred was accident prone and always seemed to get things wrong though the books ended with her getting something enormous right. She wore her hair in two plaits - a bit of empathy here as that was how my mum tied my hair when I was a child. Like Mildred, strands of hair escaped from the tidy plaits and I always had a faint 'dragged through a hedge backwards' look. Mildred also had my envy as she got a kitten as school issue and could practice magic and fly as broomstick, albeit poorly for the most part.

People in their teens and 20s these days were probably introduced to the idea of a school for magical folk by J.K.Rowling - for me, it was Jill Murphy who led the way. Before Neville Longbottom failed miserably with his broomstick, Mildred fared just as badly with hers. Mildred and Harry could have shared tales of woe about the tall, steely-eyed potions teacher who had it in for them.


I first read Clan of the Cave Bear at the age of 12. It. Blew. My. Mind. I became obsessed with any books I could find set around early tribal cultures. And there weren't very many, I can tell you! At least not to a 12 year old with little money dependent on the library in pre-internet days for tracking similar things down. I can recall Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Linda Lay Schuler but that's about it.

Anyway, Ayla is the heroine of Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series. I devoured the first three books, waited with baited breath for Plains of Passage and then romped through it when I got it on loan through the library. Twelve years passed and the fifth book finally came out and I got nowhere near to finishing it. You know how some people compulsively have to read all the books in a series? I am not one such person. Maybe if I had loads of free time I would be but I'm not going to waste hours on a so-so book when there are others out there on my list. In my head, this series therefore finishes at book 4.

Ayla is a Cro-Magnon child who ends up separated from her people and adopted into a Neanderthal clan. She would have stood out from her new family without the blonde hair, ability to swim and other differing physical skills but her intelligence and the way she thinks about things also set her apart. Life is tough. She isn't physically as strong as the neanderthal people and there are many there who are suspicious of her and see her as a curse and a liability to the people. Her strength of character sees her through situations and experiences that would have broken others. She endures isolation, rape, exile, giving birth to a child on her own at a very young age, and ultimately is able to stand on her own two feet. Those who love her love her deeply and she returns that love fiercely. There is one particular death towards the end of the book which made me sob each and every time I re-read it.

I haven't read this book for well over a decade so I can't vouch for how it has stood the test of time. I recently picked up a copy in a charity shop and hope to return to it and see if the magic is still there for me.


The Grand Sophy is the first Georgette Heyer book I read, a Christmas gift from a friend who felt I needed to know Sophy. And she was right. To date, she's my favourite Heyer heroine. She's spirited and charming, a young woman who has spent her formative years roaming Europe with her father and sorting his life out - and assumes the same proprietorial responsibilities when she finds herself lodging with her aunt's family. To the more repressed characters in the novel who are working to their own meticulous plans, she causes chaos; in Sophy's eyes, she sets things straight and makes sure life runs along its correct lines.

This book contains one of the most entertaining scenes I believe Heyer ever wrote - that of Sophy confronting the money lender who has ensnared her cousin. Sophy sets out, pistol in hand (or muff, if memory serves me correctly), to settle the matter. The dialogue between this confident young woman and the middle-aged crook is a delight to read. The latter tries threats and bullying  and Sophy laughs in his face, never doubting she is more than a match for him.

This is a Regency romance, but if you're expecting Sophy to be prone to a palpitating bosom and heartfelt sighs think again. It's easy enough to predict who she will end up with but her husband-to-be is clear that he finds her utterly infuriating and is by no means dewy-eyed about this exuberant female.

Fleur Talbot

I've read this book at least four times. Fleur Talbot begins the story as a would-be novelist who takes a job as a secretary for a man of dubious morals. As she writes feverishly on her fictional world, she finds people and events in the real world uncannily echoing the characters and plot lines she is creating.

The book is set around the late 1940s/early 1950s but if this gives you expectations of an unmarried virgin heroine conforming to the moral compass of the day then think again. Fleur is not on the look-out for romance. She has her affairs and is entangled in the life of the wife of one of the men she has slept with in the past.

Fleur's boss manipulates the members of his Autobiographical Association and those on its fringes. He tries to manipulate and control Fleur as well, going so far as to have her manuscript stolen. Fleur is no victim though and is able to match Quentin Oliver like for like in terms of deviousness though she lacks his talent for malign evil.

Quentin Oliver's mother Edwina is well worth mentioning from this book too, an ancient (and hideous to some of the characters) female who loses control of her bladder at will, shows her son no respect and takes a great liking to Fleur because she is no doormat around Quentin.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Boxing Day Beach Photos

Photos taken on Boxing Day down at the beach. Beautifully sun and deliciously cold.

The four photos below are as they were taken, altered only with some cropping.

The next seven photos have been tinkered with, me trying out different effects

Monday, 26 December 2016

A Thrifty Wardrobe

I'm already planning a reading challenge in 2017. Something else I'd like to achieve is a year without buying any new clothes. The two exceptions to this rule will be knickers and shoes. The former because it's not something that's sold secondhand for obvious reasons; the latter because I can have very grumbly feet so need supportive shoes.

Where will I get my clothes from instead? Charity shops, jumble sales and clothing swaps. Cast-offs from friends and family if there is anything going in my size that I like.


I've blogged before about the perfect wardrobe and how I try to be ethical in my clothing choices where possible. The Ethical Consumer has a 20 point rating system for high street clothing shops covering environment, animals, people, politics. As you can see from this list, the main clothing retailers don't even manage a 10 out of 20.

Some tips for 2017

I'm curious to find out how easy it will be to have a year without buying new clothes. To be fair, I don't buy a huge amount of clothes anyway and in recent months it's mainly been charity shop finds, so I don't expect this to be a difficult task.

There are lots of bloggers and websites out there to look to for inspiration. Charity Shop Chic, The Thrift, Pauper to Princess, Britishette and, a favourite of mine for content as well as the name, Can't Swing A Cat.

I've also been wanting to try my hand at refashioning for a while. I have a Pinterest board stuffed with ideas on refashioning and have done sweet Fanny Adams with any of it. A year of secondhand clothes shopping should give me opportunities. I already have a strapless dress bought for £1 last summer that I want to add straps to. I'm booked on a course in April to learn how to do alterations so that should give me some useful skills.

Refashionista, doing what she does best

Refashioning is something else that some people have been blogging about for a while. Refashionista has some fantastic stuff on her blog. You can also check out Confessions of a Refashionista, and the So, Zo blog also touches on refashioning. Oh, and there's the Refashion Co-op and Carissa Knits . . . I think you get the picture! Lots of ladies making lots of amazing stuff.

A Carissa Knits special, with instructions here.

An unexpected and delightful Christmas present I opened yesterday was an upcycled gift from a friend. The jacket came from a charity shop - just take a look at the pic below to see what she has done with it to elevate it from someone's cast off to a treasured wardrobe item. Amazing. My artistic skills are not up to that level, but when checking out the clothes in charity shops in 2017 I'd like to think I will be looking for upcycling as well as refashioning opportunities. As far as my existing collection of clothes goes, I'm intending to take the opportunity to try out some garment craftivism a la golden joinery/ visible mending for any beloved items that rip/tear/get damaged and need some TLC.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

2017 Reading Challenge

Reading-wise, it's been a pretty good year. I've revisited some books I've read before and loved, and found some new ones. Looking forward to 2017, I'd like to shake things up a bit. I'm therefore planning to undertake this Reading ChallengeI started something similar a couple of years ago and never finished it - how to approach this one differently to give me a better chance of succeeding?

Life is short, time is precious, and there are so many good books out there that if a story doesn't hold me after page 50 then I go on to the next one. During the previous reading challenge, I would have maybe one or two books that suited the criteria waiting in the wings. If they both turned out not to be my cup of tea then I just ended up reading something else and getting annoyed when the book didn't fit anything on the list.

This time, I've done my research. I have an idea for practically every item on the list. I have the first five books physically ready in a pile waiting for 1st January. The Suffolk Libraries website allows you to create a list of books you want to read and I have started one for this challenge which already has 20+ titles on it. I've also joined the Good Reads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge group and taken a look at the message boards, gaining ideas and recommendations. Having access to a community of people focussing on the same thing will keep my motivation up.

There's a 40 book standard list to the challenge, with an additional Advanced 12 to bring the total up to roughly a book a week. I'm aiming for the whole 52! Do I think I can do it? Not 100% sure but I aim to do my best. If I falter on any of them I think it will be the 800+ page novel and as I'm already anticipating that to be the hardest to accomplish I'm planning to decide on the book and take it away with me on holiday in the summer to give me plenty of opportunity to chow down on all those paragraphs.

I intend to obtain the books through the library and charity shops. As I'm saving for various big things actually buying a brand new book will be the exception rather than the rule.

Books that I might end up reading as part of the challenge currently include:
The Goldfinch (880 pages according to Amazon...), Fortunately, the Milk..., Cat out of Hell, Lolita, Zuleika Dobson, I, Robot, Black Butler, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Girl who fell beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Reason I Jump and The Gospel of Loki.

Are you taking on any reading challenges for 2017? 

Printable version found here.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Something to watch while putting up the tree

Tonight is the night I’ll be putting up my Christmas tree. I know what snacks I’ll be enjoying while I do it – deep-filled mince pie and a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. Gran would be proud.

I am left now with an important decision to make - what should I put on in the background to add to the festivity of the occasion? I have four contenders.

When I got my first DVD player from Argos for the princely sum of £20, I bought two DVDs. This was one of them. The other, if you're interested, was Flash Gordon. I watch this movie every Christmas season. It's also one of my favourite comfort films which perks me up when I'm feeling low so I can find myself watching it at other times of the year too.

Never seen it? I will restrain my urge to yell 'WEIRDO' loudly and instead do the grown up thing of telling you a bit about it. The plot follows that of Dicken's Christmas Carol. Michael Caine plays Scrooge, Kermit is Bob Cratchit and the Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Don't know the storyline of the Christmas Carol? That's it - WEIRDO!

Next up is Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. This is a two part series that tends to take me a couple of days to get through. The Hogfather takes the premise of Christmas and transports it to the Discworld, turning it into Hogswatch. Owing to belief issues, Death finds himself drafted in to take on the role of the Hogfather (Father Christmas) and his granddaughter Susan finds herself roped into the mystery against her will. 

The list of actors and actresses you'd recognise goes on and on. David Jason, Marc Warren, Michelle Dockery, David Warner, Tony Robinson, Nigel Planer, Ian Richardson, Joss Ackland - and on and on. The wizards at Unseen University get involved; there's a glimpse of some of the members of the Watch; and the Auditors are causing trouble again.

Third possibility is Elf. A friend was so shocked last year that I didn't own a copy that she bought me one post-haste. It's on the TV every December but now I have the film I have more freedom on when to watch it.

Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human raised as an elf at the north pole. When his adoptive father (Bob Newhart/Professor Proton) tells him the truth, Buddy goes off in search of his real father.

James Caan (Buddy's co-creator) is not that impressed with Buddy and doesn't quite know what to make of him. He's a man who is all about business, permanently on Santa's naughty list for being concerned more with making money than things like family and being nice. Buddy causes him to re-evaluate his priorities. This is a light-harted, feel good film and one of my favourite scenes is where Buddy confronts the store Santa for not being the real deal - You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa. Classic.

If you were the weirdo who didn't know about Dicken's Christmas Carol you should probably just skip the rest of this post. Last on my list of options is Blackadder's Christmas Carol, a Christmas Carol in reverse. Don't know who Blackadder is? Seriously. Stop reading this blog post.

Mr Blackadder is a kind and saintly gentleman who gives to the needy and keeps very little back for himself. His loyal servant Baldrick can't help but wish he would be a bit more assertive so they had more in the way of Christmas treats for themselves . . .

The Spirit of Christmas comes to pay him a visit, not so much to reprimand him as to check in on how he's doing before going off to do some more serious haunting. He show Blackadder a selection of his nasty ancestors and then gives him the vision of a future dependent upon him remaining good and kind.

P.S. Muppet's Christmas Carol won in the end. Of course. 😊