Tuesday, 10 May 2016

I'm moving!

After five years blogging here, I'm bidding it a fond farewell.

My new blog is Someone, Somewhere, hope to see you there soon.

Monday, 4 April 2016

March reads

1. As far as thrillers go, Black-Eyed Susans is one of my favourites of recent months. Tessa was abducted and left for dead at the age of 17, and her testimony helped to put a man behind bars. But now, almost 20 years later, she's beginning to suspect that he wasn't responsible after all. Well written, pacy and with plenty of tension, my only criticism is that I felt somewhat let down by the anti-climactic ending.

2. So far, the Austen Project books have been a mixed bag: I loved Joanne Trollope's Sense & Sensibility but couldn't even finish Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey. So, prior to the much-anticipated release of Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld's version of Pride & PrejudiceEmma was going to act as the tie-break. And, sadly, it was more Northanger than Sense. In fact, once again I couldn't actually finish it. McCall Smith's book had all the depth of a puddle and the wit of a cracker joke, exchanging the intelligent romantic comedy of the original for something light and fluffy, with all the substance of a marshmallow.

3. I'd seen The Year Of Living Danishly on a number of different blogs recently and was intrigued. The story of journo Helen Russell's relocation to rural Jutland - after her husband is offered a job with Lego - it's a fairly lightweight but also thought-provoking analysis of what exactly contributes to happiness, backed up with stacks of statistics and amusing anecdotes.

4. Top of my list on any visit to South Africa is always checking whether Jonny Steinberg has published a new book (they are published in the UK but it's become a bit of a ritual for me to get them there). So I was super excited to pick up a copy of A Man Of Good Hope from the lovely Clarke Books in Cape Town. This book follows Asad from Mogadishu - where, aged eight, he saw his mother shot dead - to Cape Town, via Kenya, Ethiopia, and a dangerous journey across Eastern Africa to reach South Africa. It's an astonishing story; at times reading like a thriller, full of twists and turns, tragic events and sudden deaths. But it's not a thriller nor even a novel, but the true story of one refugee among millions, and I cannot recommend it enough at this time of tabloid hand-wringing over the refugee crisis.

5. The Lie Tree was published to huge acclaim, winning not just the Costa Children's prize 2015 but the overall book award too. liked it, atmospheric, enjoyed the feminist overtones of the story. Book of the year? not so sure.

6. Lips Touch is a collection of three short stories by Laini Taylor, who also wrote the extremely wonderful Daughter Of Smoke & Bone trilogy (which you must all read immediately: it's amazing). I'm not usually an enormous fan of the short story format when it comes to fantasy - I prefer sprawling volumes of world-building - but I liked two of the three a great deal. The first story, Goblin Fruit, had a great Southern Gothic, Poppy Z Brite vibe about it, and the final one, Hatchling, was fantastic, of novella length and so given enough space to develop.

7. Night Of Cake & Puppets is a short story set in the Daughter Of Smoke & Bone universe, taking place during a break in the narrative towards the end of the first book in the series and following Karou's best friend - 'rabid fairy' and puppet-maker Zuzana - as she attempts to ask violinist Mik out on a date. It's no spoiler to say that they do get together (he becomes a prominent character in the later books), but to find out exactly how they get together takes the reader on a magical ride through a snowy Prague night. I loved having one more tiny glimpse into this world.

8. Stargirl* is a classic YA novel, first published in 2000 and now being re-released for a new generation. It's narrated by Leo, an average guy attending an average high school, which is shaken by the arrival of the previously home-schooled Stargirl, who wears flowers in her hair, sings happy birthday to people in the cafeteria, and carries a rat on one shoulder and a ukulele on the other. Seen entirely through Leo's eyes, Stargirl comes across as little more than the manic pixie dream girl archetype writ large: we only see her as a vessel for other people's reactions and feelings. It's a book I wish I'd read when I was 15 or so, when I would have really appreciated its messages of non-conformity and being yourself. Coming to it as an adult, however, just made me want to break Stargirl's stupid ukulele over her stupid head.

9. The Plain Janes is a great graphic novel about a girl relocating to the suburbs after being caught up in a terrorist attack. Bored and resenting her parents for moving, she teams up with a group of misfits (all called Jane or variations thereof) to carry out attacks of her own: art attacks. The art pranks cause her new community to react in a variety of ways, adults hysterically comparing public sculpture to terrorism, her fellow students enjoying the anarchic spirit in which the attacks are intended.

10. The Infinite Moment Of Us should have been amazing but wasn't. Teenager Wren is preparing to leave for college, but can she break free of her loving but overbearing parents? Meanwhile Charlie, a boy with a troubled past but a heart of gold, has been watching her from afar (not in a creepy way - this isn't Twilight). So far so cliche, right? I enjoyed the start of this novel but around about the time Wren's difficulties with her wealthy parents started being given more credence than Charlie's hideous history of abuse and time in the foster care system, I lost patience. It's difficult to sympathise with such a special little snowflake, even when the author is encouraging you to.

11. I spend quite a bit of time immersed in the #Bookstagram world thanks to work (and there's a whole other post in how weird that scene is). Mayer's Lunar Chronicles, of which Cinder is the first in the series, are afforded god-like status amongst Bookstagrammers so I thought I'd give it a try. Whelp, big mistake. Some YA novels work fantastically well for adult readers (see above) but some don't. and this is one. The titular Cinder is a great invention, a teenage cyborg - part-human, part-machine - and orphan, working as a mechanic in a futuristic China and with a fun android buddy for comic relief. Unfortunately the world building wasn't there for me, the 'twists' were pretty predictable, and most of the supporting characters felt cliched, particularly the love interest.

12. Another title I've seen all over the blogosphere lately is The Trouble With Goats & Sheep*. It's set in the summer of 1976 and follows Grace and Tilly, ten years old and trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy from across the road. Grace and Tilly are absolute gems of characters, with a believable naivety and ironic humour, and the sun-soaked summer days of the heatwave are captured perfectly.

13. Her sister stolen, her grandfather murdered, and her home burned to the ground. Megan is sixteen years old, pregnant, and alone in the world. True Fire starts with a bang but quickly falls apart. Meehan wants very much for Megan to be a kick-ass heroine in the style of Katniss Everdeen (although True Fire is set in a proto-medieval world rather than a dystopian future), and kick ass she does. However, he's overlooked the important fact that Katniss had excellent reason to be handy with a bow and arrow and fit enough to fight: she'd been hunting to support her family for years. Megan, meanwhile, after an education with monks followed by working in her family's mill, is somehow able to pick up a sword and fight with it; able to climb a treacherous waterfall, ride on horseback, walk for mile... and all while pregnant? It just didn't work for me, and nor did the Python-esque humour courtesy of sidekick Damon. It's safe to say I won't be finishing the series.

14. It's important to note that I am emphatically not the target audience for the Geek Girl series: that would be my younger students at school, who I am sure love Harriet Manners and her comic exploits. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Head Over Heels*, especially as it's the 5th in the series and I haven't read any of the others. Harriet is a winning narrator, completely obsessed with facts and figures and keen to organise everyone around her, but with a Georgia Nicholson-esque talent for getting into scrapes.

* These books were kindly provided for review by the publishers via Net Galley, but all opinions are my own.

Just a reminder that comments aren't working on my blog at the moment, so hit me up on Twitter or Instagram if you've got anything to ask/say/shout.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Hello & Goodbye

Hello, long time no see! How've you been? If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you'll probably know that I've been in Cape Town these past couple of weeks. I know, it's a hard life.

While I was gone, Blogger decided to eat Disqus: by which I mean, my comments form has completely disappeared, taking all the comments with it, and I have no clue how to get it back. Coming on the heels of a long-ish term disenchantment with blogging (a sort of 'why the hell are people interested in this crap? May as well not bother' feeling of ennui, rather than my previously experienced writer's block or disenchantment with the blogging world generally), it's given me an excuse to say goodbye to the blog for a while.

I assumed that changing jobs, going from the full-pelt insane stress of teaching to a calmer and more enjoyable workplace, would give me more time to write but instead it's made me less in need of blogging as an outlet. I no longer need a space online in which to de-stress. And because my new job entails managing the digital side of the business, I find that by the time I get home I'm more than ready for a break from social media, rather than desperate to spend hours on Twitter and Blogger.

I'm sure I'll be back. If I can get the comments situation sorted, it will be sooner rather than later. And I think I'll probably keep going with my monthly Reads and Buyer's Archive posts - because I know how annoyed I'll be to get to the end of the year with months missing - but other than that, I'm going to concentrate my energies on writing zines, reading the many books I acquired while away, and spending time with Thomas. So, for now, goodbye. Except for when you 'see' me on Twitter. And Instagram. Or email me, as one lovely reader did yesterday when she couldn't comment as usual.

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Buyer's Archive: February

A year ago I joined in with Elise's monthly Buyer's Archive project, recording all my spending on clothes, shoes and accessories. The idea was that by keeping a record of what I bought, I'd more easily be able to identify what were good buys and what I don't wear, therefore reducing my spending in the long-term. Well, that was the plan...

Last February, I spent £169 on ten items. Looking back on those buys, it's clear that I made some silly mistakes. A smart jacket (I literally have never worn a jacket in my life, because boobs), not one but two pink jumpers despite not liking pink, a pair of Converse which were slightly too big for me... not clever purchases. The only items from 12 months ago that get regular wear are the scalloped collar top from La Redoute, which I wear at least once a week, and a pair of slim-leg work trousers from H&M, which I wear for school. Of the rest, three things - the navy dress, the striped Boden jumper, and the Converse - have been sold on eBay, one - the grey t-shirt - has been sent to a charity shop, and the remaining items languish in my wardrobe.

So, not a good start to Buyer's Archive last year. But how did I do this February? A lot better, I reckon.

Heart print skater skirt, Primark via charity shop £2.99
This serves as a reminder to always look carefully at clothes in charity shops - this skirt is a size 12 so should be miles too small. However, I loved the print so took some time to examine it more closely and found that the stretchy waistband meant it'd fit me pretty well. I've been wearing it with a black t-shirt and mustard cardigan; it makes for a quick and comfortable work outfit on the days I'm not in school.

Black polka dot top, La Redoute £11 (with 50% discount code)
One thing I've learned through Buyer's Archive is that I love a discount; 30% of my purchases over the past year involved a discount code. Equally, it's hardly the news of the century that I like polka dots. Back in December I found a white polka dot blouse, which I love, in a charity shop so I was thrilled to see this top - basically a black version of the one I have - on the La Redoute website. It's already been worn multiple times, teamed with black skinny jeans and a cardigan, and is well on its way to becoming a wardrobe favourite.

Polka dot dress, Closet via House of Fraser £25 (not online)
I know what you're thinking, "Another blue polka dot dress Janet? Really?" But hear me out... I'm going to Cape Town next week for my cousin's wedding and, despite planning on wearing the navy blue Closet dress I bought in July for my brother's wedding, needed a second smart dress as we're having a somewhat fancy family meal the night before the actual wedding. And I also needed the second dress to be suitable for South African summer temperatures and it needed to go with the one pair of navy blue heels I'll be taking. So when I found a single size 16 polka dot dress in the sale at my local House of Fraser, and it fit like a glove, I sort of had to buy it. Right?

Striped dress, Dorothy Perkins via clothes swap £0
I wasn't sure whether to include something which was free in Buyer's Archive but hey, here it is anyway. I met up with Rebs and Bettie a couple of weeks ago to go to a plus size clothes swap in Loughborough and, although there wasn't tons of stuff in my size to choose from, I lucked out with this lovely summer dress. Stripes and navy blue? Janet heaven.

My total spend for February this year was therefore a far more manageable £38.99, enabling me to save some pennies for my trip to Cape Town, hooray!

This month, as well as Elise, Hazel, Donna and Lucy have all taken part in Buyer's Archive.

Monday, 29 February 2016

February Reads

1. Willowdean, known as Dumplin' to her mom, is sixteen years old, living in small-town Texas and grieving the loss of her beloved aunt when she meets Bo - tall, dark, handsome Bo - while working at local fast food joint Harpy's. She's not surprised to find herself attracted to him, but she is surprised that he seems to like her back. I adored Dumplin'loved it with the fire of a thousand suns. Willowdean's relationship with best friend Ellen, her conflicted relationship with her beauty pageant obsessed-mother, her confidence in herself and love for her fat body, and her reactions when that confidence suddenly seems eroded, are finely and tenderly drawn. What I liked most of all was the time the author gives her story to develop. I'm so used to YA novels which race breathlessly through events, whereas Dumplin gave time for the reader to get to know - and love - Willowdean. And my gosh, there are passages that if I were 16 I'd be underlining furiously in pencil, scribbling "so true!" in the margins*, My read of 2016 so far.

* I can neither confirm nor deny the rumour that my copy of Catcher In The Rye is similarly marked by banal teenage scribblings

2. I wanted to love The Art Of Being Normal, I really, truly did. After all, it's one of the first YA novels about transgender kids that's been genuinely best-selling (albeit that it's written by a cis gender author). And for the first 150 pages or so, I did love it: I loved the relationship between David and his two best friends; I loved the pitch perfect scenes in the school. I honestly, truly was on this book's side. And then it went to shit. You see, one of the main characters, Leo (who I thought was a great character in himself) lives on an estate. Or should that be An Estate, one full of broken glass, hooded gangs, smashed windows and - horror of horrors - messy gardens. The ludicrous middle class stereotyping of a council estate and its inhabitants would have been funny if it hadn't been so horribly offensive, and it made me take against the rest of the book. It's almost more frustrating when a book comes so close to being great than when it never gets anywhere near.

3. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is just great, everything I wanted and expected from Carrie Brownstein's (of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia fame) memoirs.  Brownstein isn't afraid to expose her shortcomings to the reader whilst also holding back personal details which she, quite reasonably, doesn't want to share (for example, anyone hoping for salacious gossip about her various celebrity romances - with Corin Tucker and St Vincent, amongst others - will be disappointed). She's best when reflecting on the nature of music fandom or, like another great musical memoir - Beth Ditto's Coals To Diamonds - the weird insularity of the Olympia music scene in the 90s.

4. Claire has quit her marketing job in order to discover her true vocation, only to find herself spending her days aimlessly surfing the internet and her nights drinking too much wine. I've seen Not Working* compared to Bridget Jones' Diary, and they do have in common an incisive wit which gets to the heart of modern life. But it manages to be so much more than that: I felt genuinely involved and invested in Claire's 'journey' (for want of a better and less wanky word). Highly recommended.

5. Hesketh Locke is a behavioural expert employed to trouble-shoot in cases of industrial sabotage. Investigating the sabotage and then suicide of a timber worker from Taiwan, Hesketh doesn't at first connect it - and subsequent similar events in Sweden and Dubai - with a series of bizarre and violent attacks by children around the globe. The Uninvited  is part-sci-fi dystopia, part-thriller and - apart from a weird quirk of the author's by which we are meant to see Venn diagrams as a) bizarre and b) worthy of explanation - extremely readable. 

6. I was intrigued by the premise of Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of Your Fist. Billed as a 'heart-stopping debut about protest and riot', it's set during the 1999 World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle. Full disclosure - at the time of writing I haven't finished it, and have struggled to engage with the central character of Victor. However, the quality of the writing is superb and it's definitely a book I'll persevere with or return to when I'm in the mood for something with narrative meat.

7. I just love the cartoons of Sarah Andersen, so jumped at the chance to read her new book, Adulthood Is A Myth*. There wasn't a page in this that didn't either make me laugh like a drain or wince in recognition, usually both. It's one of the rare titles I've had from Netgalley that I will also definitely buy a 'real' book of, too.

8. The Big Feminist Butt: Comics About Women, Men & The Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism did what it said on the tin: a good collection to dip in and out of. Often funny, frequently thought-provoking, occasionally infuriating.

9. How To Be Free  is somewhere between humour, political philosophy, history and memoir and deals with the knotty question of how we can be, well, free: from debt, from work, from suffering. It was an inspiration to me when I first read it in 2011 but returning to it now - after 4 years of learning a great deal more about radical and anarchist politics from Thomas - I found it all a bit eye rollingly middle class. For example, during the chapter about freeing yourself from the oppression of mortgages, Hodgkinson suggests (seemingly straight-faced) that instead the reader buy a small piece of land and build a house.

10. A Dark-Adapted Eye is touted as one of the crime novels you have to read but, sadly, I found it all a bit of a let-down. There was a wonderfully gloomy and sinister atmosphere, however the supposed twist was ludicrously easy to guess and upon finishing I was only left with a sense of wishing I hadn't bothered.

11. I felt conflicted about, but ultimately pleased that I'd read, David Mitchell's Bone Clocks, but Slade House (which shares some characters with Bone Clocks) wasn't nearly as interesting. A schlocky gothic ghost story about a house - and its two inhabitants - that appears every 14 years to claim a victim, the one positive I can say is it was a quick read.

12. I think Find Her* might mark the final Lisa Gardner thriller I bother reading. While Gardner knows just how to ratchet up the tension, her books are becoming formulaic to the point of parody - young female victim is subjected to graphic sexual  violence, lead detective does some victim-blaming, suspect ends up shot dead by lead detective because 'Murica - I find my taste for the formula has soured.

Overall, I think February's reading experiences can be best summed up by this cartoon. Pesky feminist politics, ruining books for me:

Note: I do not use affiliate links in this post, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source for all your book-buying needs!

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 20th February

Thomas was away, so I took the opportunity to have a long and lazy lie-in without 6'3" of wriggling boy next to me. Once awake, I stayed snuggled under the duvet with a magazine. The Simple Things isn't my usual choice - I find it a bit too consumer-driven, all 'buy this, buy that' - but the cover was so pretty I couldn't resist it while doing the weekly shop.

Time for breakfast. Yum.

The view from where I'm sitting. And in a development which will shock everyone who regularly reads my Photo An Hour posts, I was reading The Guardian and listening to 6 Music. So, what I do every Saturday morning basically.

12 midday:
I've gone off blogging a bit recently, but I did my best to motivate myself to finish a Buyer's Archive round-up for the past year, then got bored after 15 minutes and abandoned it. Standard.

Bored with blogging, I went up to the office and got some layouts sorted for the zine I'm working on.

I went to a plus size clothes swap yesterday, so on Saturday afternoon I had a stack of clothes to try on to decide whether or not to take them or keep them. This skirt ended up in the 'keep' pile.

The house was feeling really chilly (the downside of living in a beautiful but draughty Victorian terrace) so I lit a fire and did some more magazine reading.

Making biscuits (and a mess) in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I chose a recipe with dough that needed to be chilled for 24 hours, so I couldn't enjoy the fruits of my labour. I did, though, get to use my amazing stand mixer, which was a Christmas present from my family.

A bit later than usual, but time for a cup of tea while I listen to the radio (again) and read (again). And yes, in case you're wondering, we do have daffodils in pretty much every room of the house.

Oops. I was so looking forward to being able to take some photographs of somewhere not in my house, but when I actually went out I completely forgot to a) take my camera and b) take photos on my phone. So no pictures for the four hours I spent with friends, eating pizza and gossiping. Instead, the standard final #photoanhour picture: my bed and a book.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Day In The Life

Since I began my new job at The Willoughby Book Club, a question I hear regularly is, "but what do you actually do?" The most common misconception is that I get to sit and read all day (I wish!). Another is that I must work from home. So I thought now might be an opportune moment for a quick peek at a day in my life...

My alarm goes off and I drag myself - reluctantly - from bed. I had a vague hope that leaving teaching might mean an end to the early starts, but my office is full of early birds and I liked the idea of finishing work at 3.30, so I've joined them.

Sitting at my desk with the first cuppa of the day. My first task at work is to catch up on any social media activity since yesterday afternoon: replying to messages, liking and commenting on new Instagram content and updating our Facebook page.

That task out of the way, I start selecting. Our office is lined with thousands of books, arranged according to genre (and age, in the children's section). Each of the Book Selection Managers have a list of customers assigned to us: mine's currently around 700-strong. Unlike most other subscription box services, ours is totally personalised, so my job is to decide which of the thousands of books we stock might best suit each of my subscribers, based on information given at the time of order. In any half hour, I'll therefore be picking up a huge variety of books: from YA to classic novels, from science fiction to the latest literary prizewinners.

Our aim is simple: to send customers a book they haven't read, but that they will enjoy and that will be to their tastes. Sometimes that's an easy task, but in other cases we need to delve a little deeper, using online reviews (Amazon and Goodreads are essential weapons in our arsenal) and browsing our stock to ensure we can find something suitable. So while I don't sit and read all day, I do look closely at our books, perhaps reading an opening chapter here, a blurb there, while I'm selecting.

I set aside time every morning for an online hunt for interesting book news and articles. Whether it's an article about diversity in YA from the Evening Standard, a fun Buzzfeed Books quiz, or a satirical piece on dystopian fiction in The Telegraph, as long as it's book-related I know our followers on social media will be interested. I spend time scheduling Tweets and Facebook posts to share what I find before turning my attention back to book selections.

Lunchtime, and because we're based on an industrial estate we all usually stay in the office during our break. I cannot tell you how good it feels to have a proper lunch break - one in which I sit on a sofa to eat my food and read a book in peace - after ten years of teaching lunch breaks which are more 'shove a sandwich in your gob while also marking books and supervising homework club."

Back to work. I often use this part of the day, when the light in our office is best, to take photographs for our Instagram feed. So out comes my box of tricks - from vintage book pages to lengths of fabric, to bookmarks - with which to accessorise my shots. I love this part of my role and have great fun getting creative (even if my colleagues must think it odd to see me perched on one leg, arched over a stack of books trying to get the perfect shot).

With the exception of Thursday and Friday - when I leave Willoughby at lunchtime and head off to my old school to run some Year 6 literacy intervention groups - I finish at 3.30pm. So, at 3 o'clock I do a final check of emails and social media notifications, then pile up the books I've selected ready for wrapping and packing, before heading home for a cup of tea, a sit down, and the blissful feeling of having no marking.

The other big question - along with, "What do you do?" - has been, "Are you enjoying it?" And ultimately, the answer is yes. It's an enormous change of pace for me: from the manic environment of a secondary school, and all the pressures teaching entails, to sitting in a peaceful office. As a result, I can find myself feeling... not bored, exactly, but under-stimulated compared to the crazy over-stimulation of teaching. But I relish this, and it seems to be just what I needed as the headaches, migraines and chronic jaw pain that have plagued me for the last two years have all but vanished. I also really enjoy the two afternoons I do spend at school, which have reminded me how much fun some bits of teaching can be. Who knows what the future may bring, but for now I feel pretty damn lucky to have had things work out so well.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A Celebratory Weekend in Lincoln

A few weeks ago, feeling worn out and over-worked, I decided that what Thomas and I were in need of was a post-Christmas, post-PhD weekend away. And so, just a few days after Thomas aced his viva to become a Doctor, we hopped on the train to Lincoln for an overnight stay.

Lincoln was a regular destination for day trips when I was a kid but I hadn't been back in years, while Thomas had only visited very briefly, so this was a good opportunity for us both to explore the medieval lanes of the cathedral quarter and get to know the city a bit better. 

Lincoln is very much dominated by its magnificent Norman cathedral, which sits majestically atop the mound known, accurately, as Steep Hill. Entrance is free on Sundays and we were lucky to arrive just as the morning service was drawing to a close, giving us the chance to hear the cathedral choir. The cathedral itself is one of the most impressive I've visited (and yes, I'm sad enough to have visited quite a few. Apparently all those churches my dad used to drag us to visit when I was a kid have rubbed off) and the cathedral quarter is a glorious mish-mash of medieval cottages, Georgian splendour, and half-timbered Tudor buildings.

A weekend away for me and Thomas tends to be dominated by three things: the pursuit of bookshops, of cider, and of vegan food. We found the latter at Cafe Shanti, a cheerful place bedecked with batik fabric, serving vegan and vegetarian food that's both cheap and incredibly tasty (the perfect combination). For cider, we particularly liked the Wig & Mitre pub on Steep Hill, but found decent cider on tap pleasingly easy to come by in most pubs (yes, we tried a few!).

As for bookshops, Lindum Books in the cathedral quarter has a great selection of both new and used titles, while the secondhand bookshop on Steep Hill, Jews' Court Books, was great for a bargain. I also fell head over heels in love with the amazing homewares in a new shop on Steep Hill, the name of which escapes me and which I can't seem to locate on Google. Just take my word for it that it's ace! I very much wanted one of the bear print tote bags to come home with us, but totes are something I have in abundance so I left the little fella for someone else.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Buyer's Archive: January

Last year Elise started a series called The Buyer's Archive as a way to track her purchases from year to year and figure out which items had been worth it, and which had already found their way to the charity bag. As reducing my spending is always a goal, I decided to give it a go too.

Sugarhill Boutique fox jumper, £22.50 in the sale
I mean, look at it. Navy blue and with a cute fox intarsia: how could I not?

Topshop Jamie jeans, £36 including 10% student discount (not pictured)
Why, I asked The Wardrobe Angel, do my jeans always end up saggy and baggy? Had I thought about trying a size down, was Steph's reply. And no, I hadn't, because frankly I'd always thought it weird that I even squeezed into a Topshop 16 so a 14 would definitely be pushing it. Nevertheless, I took myself down to my local branch and grabbed a 14 in both the Leigh and the Jamie, and when I tried the latter on, I swear angels sang and fairies frolicked. Yep, they're that good: like a hug in denim form.

H&M floral print dress, £6 via eBay
I wear my H&M heart print dress in this same style constantly (actually, I have two, and one has had to be repeatedly mended I wear it so much) so I've been looking out for the same dress in alternative patterns for a while, and eBay finally came up trumps. I'm not crazy about the pink (it not being my colour, really) but to throw on for work with tights, boots and a cardigan, it'll do fine.

Primark polka dot top, £6
I mean, we can all see why I bought this, right? Dots plus collar is the Janet brand, and for £6 it was too good a bargain. Sadly, I failed to try it on first and it turns out to be not completely perfect: the collar sits just a bit too high and makes me feel like my boobs are a huge shelf. Time will tell, but I doubt I'll get much wear from it, so not such a bargain after all.

All together, that gives me a total of £70.50 for January, which is a little more than I'd like. However, I did sell almost £100 worth of clothes on eBay, so swings and roundabouts I suppose.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Make: A Mini-Zine For Your Valentine (or Galentine)

These mini-zines are the easiest but loveliest gift to make for someone you love, be that a partner, friend or family member. I am by no means an artist so the simple black-and-white line drawings and DIY feel of these mini-zines suits me down to the ground.

You will need:
An A4 piece of white cardstock
An A5 piece of coloured paper
A shaped punch or a very steady hand with a cutting knife
A black fine liner

I use the technique on this how-to from Design Sponge but amended slightly: instead of the faffy folding of paper to make the zine, I use an A4 piece of white cardstock, chopped in half and then half again before folding down the middle to make an 8-page booklet.

Once your booklet is made, the fun bit begins: deciding what to write and draw! In the past I've made mini-zines for friends that tell, in scrappy and very DIY-feeling sketches, the story of our friendship. For Thomas, I've made one zine giving the many ways and reasons I love him ("more than books" was one - I know, it's a bold claim) and, to celebrate the end of his PhD, I put together a silly story about his journey to becoming Dr S.

The beauty of these mini-zines is that they're a completely personalised gift that will always be appreciated but that are actually super fast and easy to make. If you don't fancy giving a mass-produced V-Day card this year, they make the perfect alternative.

* I should probably explain that Thomas, being both very large and very hairy, has the nickname 'Bear', hence the frequent bear references!