Spoken word, fairy cakes and pick 'n' mix

I can't believe March is already almost over - it has been my best, and my busiest, month so far this year. Literary events (e.g. book launches, spoken word nights, etc.) seem to have sprung up throughout the month like March daffodils and I couldn't resist attending them all (except Dawn O'Porter's book launch this afternoon, which I decided at the last minute to shirk in favour of a pyjama and Sunday roast day, but I doubt Dawn will miss me too much.)

I kicked off March by helping hold a literary event (which I always compare to hosting a big birthday party - exciting, but you will get the "What if absolutely no one shows up?!" jitters.) You might already know, especially if you read my first ever blog post, that I help run a literary magazine called Octavius, which publishes short stories, poetry and drama by students in Scotland, regardless of age or course. The New Writing Showcase event at the beginning of the month was held together by Octavius and two other literary magazines, Far Off Places and From Glasgow to Saturn. Each magazine picked three writers who they have published before to read a short story or a few of their poems, and we all squeezed into The Old Hairdressers  in Glasgow for a Saturday afternoon of literary goodness.


























As you can see, we came armed with fairy cakes and little stripy bags of pick 'n' mix - spoken word events are hungry work! The space filled up quickly and everyone settled in to listen to the readers (with a short break in the middle for buying drinks at the bar and scoffing sweeties, of course.)



























If you like reading but you've never been to a spoken word event, I really recommend attending one. It's a bit of a cliché, but hearing a writer read out their own work can really help the words charge off the page and come to life in front of you. There's always been such a positive atmosphere in the events I've attended, and it's wonderful to support new writers and let them gauge the response to their writing from the audience (some people seem to assume that spoken word events must be really boring but there's always a lot of laughter!) 

I just realised this is the first time I've actually posted a photo of myself on my blog, but here I am with the rest of Octavius, looking very smiley and every inch the serious literary editor in my dot-to-dot bunny t-shirt.

Photos by Nicky Gibson (my oldest friend, who I am always dragging to literary events in exchange for free cake.)

Dreams of escape

I really wish work had a half term. I'd love to say 'adiós' to the commute and have a free week to read and sleep go on an adventure. I've been thinking a lot about holidays lately - the Christmas break feels like forever ago and I'm not going on holiday until October this year, so I've been staring longingly at holiday adverts in travel agents' windows, dreaming of blue skies, warmer weather and not having to check my inbox for a while. 

If money (and annual leave) was no object, these are the places I'd love to go:


Las Vegas

Bold, brash and OTT, who wouldn't love a crazy weekend in Las Vegas? I'm not a big gambler (I've only been to a casino twice and I prefer the drinking cocktails part to the gambling part), but I think the bright lights of Las Vegas could change my mind. When I think of Las Vegas, I think of the episode of The Big Bang Theory were Raj says "I'm telling you, Leonard, video slots, free drinks brought to us by a bosomy barmaid, all you can eat shrimp for £3.95? Disneyland can suck it. This is the real happiest place on Earth."

While I would always choose cuddling up with Mickey Mouse over a "bosomy barmaid", there is something about the bright lights, tacky landmarks and hedonism of Las Vegas that does makes it seem like a Disney park for adults.






Whitby

From one extreme to another, I've love to spend a sunny weekend exploring the cobbled streets of Whitby. There are so many pretty little towns and villages across the UK that it's difficult to choose where to go, but I've wanted to visit Whitby since I read Sarah's post on her day out there. Booking a B&B in Whitby one bank holiday weekend and spending a few days amongst the little pubs, cake rooms and gothic scenery that inspired Dracula is definitely on my travel bucket list. 













Canada

Living in Scotland, beautiful natural scenery isn't hard to come by (the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond are only a 20 minute drive from Glasgow, after all), but Canada is truly breathtaking. I've said "Canada" instead of any particular place because there are so many stunning places. After a quick Pinterest search my laptop screen is full of beautiful images that make me want to quit my job, buy a canoe and go breathe in the fresh mountain air. This photo is of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park - I wonder if they're looking for any new forest rangers?












New York

I'm not promising that 60% of the reason I want to visit New York isn't because of a lifetime of watching Friends and Sex and the City, but I am absolutely itching to see this iconic city in the flesh. After years of seeing New York in TV shows and films, hearing entire songs dedicated to how fabulous it is*, and even eating "New York style" food, I want to experience New York for real.


* Did you think of Frank Sinatra or Jay Z? C'mon, be honest.











Reykjavik

I had to add Iceland to this list because it is like nowhere else I have ever seen: glaciers, waterfalls, lava fields, streams and mountain ranges, Iceland is like a Narnia you can catch a flight to. The country looks so beautiful and untouched, and Ayden's review of Reykjavik convinced me that the capital also adds a quirky touch to a picture perfect holiday. And of course there's the chance of seeing the Northern Lights - while there's no guarantee of seeing these while you're out there, even the tiny sliver of possibility is enough to make me want to climb into the back of my wardrobe book a flight.








Are you going to any of these places on holiday this year, or have you been in the past? If you've blogged about it, please leave me the link below! 

Writes of Passage | 50 Books That Will Change Your Life

Being, ahem, a bit of a bookworm, I couldn't help but get excited when I saw Kath from Sensitivity and Flare and Lauren from The Emerald Dove had posted about how many from this list of "the ultimate 50 books" they've read. For World Book Day, young people and adults nominated the books that changed their lives to create this list. I'm usually terrible at this type of thing (leading me to always wonder if I've spent the past 24 years with my head under a rock), but, curiosity piqued, I decided to check off the list myself.


Books that will scare you
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • The Rats by James Herbert
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Lord Loss by Darren Shan
Score: 0/5
Oh... Um... Doing well so far...

Books that will teach you about love
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Forever by Judy Blume
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Score: 4/6
I clearly adore a love story! I've read Forever, Jane Eyre, The Diary of a Young Girl, the Twilight series and How I Live Now. I've never read Pride and Prejudice but I have read Sense and Sensibility - annoyingly the one no one ever talks about!

Books that will make you laugh 
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
  • Geek Girl by Holly Smale
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
Score: 2/6
I've only read Angus, Thongs and Full Front Snogging and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4. There might be people who will judge you for reading a book called Angus, Thongs and Full Front Snogging, but, seriously, this series is hilarious. I read it in my early teens and I don't think another set of books has made me LOL so much (to use my 14 year old self's lingo - now I say words like 'lingo').

Books that will transport you
  • The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • Percy Jackson (series) by Rick Riordan
  • Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
Score: 1/6
I tried to read the Northern Lights trilogy. I really, really tried, but I just couldn't get into it at all. Perhaps one to add to my TBR pile (I seem to be the only person who has read any of these and doesn't absolutely love them). I've probably read the Harry Potter series more than six times, so, eh, does that count?



Books that will change the way you think
  • Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
  • A Streetcat Named Bob by James Bowen
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack
Score: 4/7
This is probably my favourite section so far - I adore the Noughts and Crosses books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time and To Kill a Mockingbird. I actually didn't like To Kill a Mockingbird the first time I tried to read it, so I gave up after a few chapters - fast-forward a couple of years and it's now a book I would recommend to everyone. 

Books that will make you cry
  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • My Sister's Keeper by Jodie Picoult
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Score: 2/7
Whoops. Back down again. I coincidentally just finished The Time Traveler's Wife yesterday afternoon and I loved it - I had assumed it would be a bit of a soppy easy read, but I actually thought it was a lot more interesting, thought-provoking, and, eh, ruder than I had expected! I've also read Of Mice and Men and I really enjoyed it - I haven't read it since high school though, so it's definitely one to reread now I'm a little older. I actually own Before I Die but I've lent it to my mum - I'll need to ask her what she thinks of it! 

Books that will help you understand you  
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Score: 2/5
Oh dear, another 2. I've read The Fault in Our Stars and The Catcher in the Rye and I really liked both. As the title of this post suggests, I think The Catcher in the Rye should be mandatory reading in high school!

Books that will thrill you
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • Gone by Michael Grant
  • Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
Score: 1/7
Oops. I've only read The Hunger Games. I love The Hunger Games. If I had to reread The Hunger Games or read one of these new books, I'd probably reread The Hunger Games. And I guess it's that sort of attitude that explains my consistently crappy marks in these quizzes. 

Ultimate Score: 16/50

Oh dear. And I'm an English graduate as well! I guess I should stop reading the same books over and over and over *stares wistfully at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban*.

How many have you read?

Little Pug Necklace

It's just a little post today to show appreciation for my adorable Little Pug necklace from Love Hearts and Crosses.


I won this little lady through a giveaway on Victoria's blog Lily Loves Lola back in January. I'd only been blogging for six days when the giveaway went live (which means I'd blogged a grand total of twice) but I thought "What the heck!" and entered anyway - I was incredibly surprised (and absolutely delighted) when Victoria contacted me a week later to say I'd won! I think the only other thing I've ever won is a flashing spinning top in primary school after taking part in a dance competition in PE (I would quickly like to add that the dance competition was compulsory - which, yes, did make the whole experience even more mortifying!) 

The Little Pug necklace is 3.5cm (so a lot more teeny tiny than she looks in these photos), hangs on an 18" Hamilton Gold plated chain and is made out of porcelain. She's so pretty and the attention to detail is unbelievable - these photos unfortunately don't show the delicate features of her face or the tiny individual hairs painted into her fur. I was so impressed with the necklace that I even showed my mum (who then wanted to take it into work to show a woman she works with who "loves quirky jewellery and dogs!")





I waited until now to blog about this beautiful necklace because I kept forgetting to take photos when it was light (I only seem to be at home when it's pitch black outside - hurry up, spring!). You can see a couple of professional shots (as well as their full range of animal jewellery, statement jewellery and absolutely beautiful origami jewellery) on the Love Hearts and Crosses website.  

Thank you to Love Hearts and Crosses and Victoria for my first ever blog giveaway prize - and for the fact that I didn't have to dance in a gym hall full of people to win it!

World Book Day

While Pancake Day might be over (and my jeans may be a little tighter), March is stuffed full of other events to get excited over. Feed your mind (geddit?) with World Book Day tomorrow: celebrating its 17th birthday on March 6th, World Book Day gets children of all ages excited about reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. World Book Day Ltd, a registered charity, send schools (including nurseries and secondary schools that have registered to participate) across the UK and Ireland packs of book tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs full of ideas and activities, display material and more information on how to get involved.


Drawing by Rachel Bright, World Book Day 2013's official illustrator




As you may have guessed, I think books are flipping great. While I didn't need much encouragement to read more as a kid (bookworm for life, yo), there was still a little added excitement around reading when the WBD Book Tokens arrived at school. World Book Day work with the generous people over at National Book Tokens Ltd, publishers and booksellers to send millions of book vouchers to children and young people (more than 14 million - which is one for nearly every child aged under eighteen!) in schools across the country. If you're lucky enough to receive a shiny WBD Book Token, you can take it to a local participating book shop and use it to pick one of eight (exclusive, new and completely free) books. Or, if you'd rather, you can use it to get £1 off any book or audio book which costs over £2.99.

As if free books aren't reason enough to be excited, World Book Day also helps schools come up with book-themed games and activities. I think my favourite is donating £1 to Book Aid International to dress up as your favourite character from a book (or to have a non-uniform day, if you're not so comfortable coming to school dressed up as Wally...) Every year Book Aid International provides over half a million new books to libraries in sub-Saharan Africa - two thirds of these books are for children, many of whom do not own a single book and may never have seen a picture book before a delivery from Book Aid International arrives at their library or school. Last year, children across the UK and Ireland raised over £75,000 for Book Aid International by fundraising on World Book Day (well done you, children across the UK and Ireland!)

Celebrating World Book Day is clearly a no-brainer - the only question is, do you think my boss will let me dress up for work?

Photos from the World Book Day Facebook page


While we're chatting books, if you're local to Glasgow and know little ones, why not take them along to the Wee Write Family Day at the Mitchell Library on Saturday? To celebrate children's literature, there's a range of activities for budding bookworms (between 3 and 16 years old) including book readings, art sessions, author talks and song writing workshops. Highlights include crafts and interactive storytelling with Elmer the patchwork elephant, and Glasgow-based graphic novelists Metaphrog helping kids create their own comic characters. If I was still little enough to go (or had some wee ones to borrow for the day), I'd head straight for the Willy Wonka runaround quiz, chocolate bingo and Golden Ticket hunt - all held to celebrate 50 "whipple-scrumptious" years of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

Chocolate pancakes with chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas

I am an absolute pancake-fiend. I work full time with a hefty commute, so breakfast is usually toast or a bowl of cereal at my desk while I read my emails - when the weekend finally rolls round, breakfast is a bit of an event. I love anything carb-y: croissants, bagels, scones, but pancakes have a bit of a hold over me. Either plain with butter, or covered in chocolate spread and chopped fruit, I spend most Saturday mornings in bed with a plate of pancakes and a pot of tea (and a few episodes of Adventure Time).

I was of course going to make a big deal out of Pancake Day - an entire day dedicated to making and eating pancakes, are you kidding me?! Because I work during the week, I thought I would have Pancake Day a little early so I wouldn't miss out (this does not necessarily mean that I won't just eat more pancakes on Tuesday though...) I decided to make something a little different from my usual plain pancakes, and couldn't resist when I saw the recipe for these amazing-looking chocolate pancakes with chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas on the Cooking Classy website. I've tweaked the recipe ever so slightly to use ingredients I already had, but these still turned out great. 


Chocolate pancakes with chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup light-brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 semi-skimmed milk
2 large eggs
3 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
butter for pan, if needed
fresh strawberry and banana slices
8 oz. chocolate chips
1 cup double cream

1. In a mixing bowl whisk together granulated sugar and cocoa until well combined. Stir in light-brown sugar followed by flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and set aside.

2. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together milk, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. 

3. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and whisk to blend (don't mix too much - batter should still have some lumps).

4. Butter pan if necessary.

5. Pour batter onto preheated pan 1/4 cup at a time and slightly spread batter in a circular form outward (so the centres aren't so much thicker than the edges) and allow to cook until bubbles begin to appear on the surface (about 1 minute). Then carefully flip pancake to opposite side and cook until done.

6. For the chocolate sauce, pour chocolate chips into a heat proof bowl. Bring double cream to a gentle boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and stir until chocolate has melted. Note that chocolate sauce will thicken as it cools.

7. Serve pancakes warm topped with chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas. Keep eating, even after you're already full.

8. Go for a lie down.



Okay, so my pancakes definitely do not look as pretty as the pancakes on the Cooking Classy website (can anyone ever achieve that Pinterest perfect look at home?!), but they were absolutely delicious. They looked so tasty that Sam insisted that we should just split the stack between us - then had to give up after only three! Seriously indulgent, I've stashed the rest in the fridge to eat another day (or, y'know, in an hour or two...)

Spring forward

Hello March! 

I can't believe February is over already - while we had some good times, I have to admit that thing weren't perfect between us: with your dark evenings, cold mornings, and unpredictable weather (i.e. heavy rain and hail storms that would always appear suddenly whenever I went outside - why would you do that to me, February?), I can't promise I'll miss you.

I woke up this morning with sunshine streaming through my window and thoughts of spring instantly filled my head. March is already shaping up to be a good month: my calendar is fit to bursting with different events (more on those later) and nights out, a couple of days of annual leave from work, and the promise of warmer, brighter days. There's something about seeing the sun again that can make the simplest things seem even more lovely - like long walks, days out (preferably to go see baby animals), and breakfast (of hot cross buns - what else?) in bed.

Roll on spring.


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