Monday, 22 January 2018

FIVE MINUTE FICTION: SNOW MAGIC

A magical wintry story from talented young writer Blue... take five minutes out of your day to relax, curl up and enjoy!

Stepping out of the front door, I exhale and watch my breath swirl in the air before drifting away. I love winter. Yes, it's cold, freezing actually - but it's magical all the same. Especially January. It's often overlooked in favour of December, but January, smack bang in the middle of winter, is a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time when anything seems possible. Well... almost anything.

A young girl jogs down the street, struggling to keep pace with the lanky teenage boy she's with, dragging an old-fashioned sled behind her. She beams at him in admiration; he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than with his little sister, heading for the play park. From my bench at the edge of the park, I can hear everything they say. 'What d'you want to do first, Cleo?' the boy asks, shivering in his hooded sweatshirt. 'I can push you on the swings?'

Cleo pouts. 'No... I want to go sledding, Ben!' she says, gesturing to the wooden sled.

The teenager runs his hands through his hair. 'Cleo, we've been over this,' he sighs. 'You can't go sledding when there isn't any snow. We tried last year, remember? You fell and tore your new jeans, and Nan yelled at us. No snow, no sledding. I'm sorry, Cleo.'

Cleo is dangerously close to tears now. 'But it never snows!' she argues. 'It hasn't snowed in years! I am never ever ever going to get to go sledding again because you won't let me - you're the meanest big brother in the whole wide world!' She sits down on the sled, head in her mittened hands.

'Cleo, I don't control the weather!' Ben snaps. From my vantage point on the bench, I smile. They remind me of my younger brother and I growing up... we were forever fighting and throwing tantrums. Cleo does have a point, though. Winter, though bitingly cold, rarely brings snow these days. Soon enough, Cleo will grow up, wrapped up in teenage life like my own little brother is now, sleeping till noon. She'll forget about simple joys like sledding down a hill on a blanket of fresh snow. Her brother may not be able to control the weather - so it's a good job I can.

Slipping off my gloves, I rub my hands together, feeling the chill spread from my wrists to my fingertips. I shake my hands and small, barely noticeable blue sparks shoot up into the atmosphere. I grin as the first flakes of snow start to fall, gently at first and then a flurry.

'Wow!' Ben splutters, pulling his hood up. 'Where did this come from? Looks like we get to go sledding after all!' The excitement in his eyes betrays the nonchalance in his voice and I realise that eight or eighteen, you are never too old for sledding.

Cleo is spinning in the snow, her hands stretched out to catch the flakes as they fall. 'Magic!' she breathes.

Magic? I'm not sure about that. It's simple atmospheric excitation, no wands or abracadabras required. Slipping my hands back into my gloves, I get up and head for a walk in the snow, Cleo's squeals and Ben's laughter still ringing in my ears. I love midwinter, the start of the new year with the future spreading out before me like a fresh blanket of snow. Anything is possible. Anything at all.

Cathy says:
This gorgeous story gives me shivers... I LOVE it! Brilliant stuff, Violet! If YOU love to write, why not give a 'like' to the CC Facebook Fan Page and join in with the regular story challenges? And feel free to COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

PLEASE HELP OLIVIA!


Four years ago, a cool, clever and feisty girl called Olivia won our MY BEST FRIEND ROCKS competition with her friend Ella. Now, Olivia is suffering from a serious spinal condition... she and her mum Estelle explain how WE can help...

Estelle says:
I still remember how excited Olivia was to win Cathy Cassidy's MY BEST FRIEND ROCKS competition in 2013... now fourteen, Olivia has been diagnosed with severe scoliosis, a deformity of the spine which has left her misshapen and in a great deal of pain. We first noticed a hump in Olivia's back just before Christmas 2016, and a consultant gave us the devastating news that she had adolescent idiopathic scoliosis which sometimes occurs during puberty for no known reason.

There was no cure, physiotherapy would not help and Olivia would have to wear a thick plastic brace to slow the curvature - but only major spinal surgery could prevent ongoing deterioration and disability. Sadly, conflicting advice and admin delays have held up this urgent treatment and caused great stress to us all. When we heard of a new kind of scoliosis surgery which was less invasive and could restore full spinal flexibility, our hope soared. We travelled to Germany to meet the surgeon, and were certain this was the right thing for Olivia - but it was not available on the NHS. We need to raise £35,000 to fund an operation in Germany in March... can YOU help us?

Olivia says:
I started noticing the pain in the summer of 2016; it is a deep and constant pain and it's hard to stand for long periods. The brace feels quite primitive - it's like a plastic corset, thick, restrictive and unwieldy. I cover it up with baggy t-shirts, and at least wearing it is a positive thing as it supports my spine. I have to wear it every day, only taking it off for sports or showering, but I'm getting used to it. I am worried about the surgery, but we met a girl who had successful VBT surgery and that was reassuring. I would like to start a national campaign to get all primary schools to carry out spinal checks so that problems like mine could be spotted and corrected earlier, and other children wouldn't have to go through what I'm going through now.

Can YOU help Olivia to get this ground-breaking surgery before it's too late? All money raised will be put towards the cost of Olivia's life-changing surgery and associated costs. If the option for VBT becomes unavailable, all donations will be refunded. Please share our story with friends and on social media - any donation, however small, can help.

To donate, click HERE - but please check with your parents/carers first if you are under 18!

Watch Olivia and Ella's awesome entry for MBFR 2013 and please think about donating and help Olivia find the fun in life once again.

Cathy says:
As you can imagine, this story feels personal to me... no fourteen year old should be going through what Olivia is. If your family can donate - or your class at school perhaps - that would be amazing. THANK YOU on behalf of Olivia and her family! Please COMMENT BELOW to leave a message of support for Olivia.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

KATIE: LOVING LOVE FROM LEXIE!

NZ reader Katie reviews LOVE FROM LEXIE in her own inimitable way... best review ever! Blush, blush! And thank you!

Katie says:
LOVE FROM LEXIE - the novel in which Cathy Cassidy does All The Things!

- THE TORTOISE THING. Mary Shelley is tortoise goals and she is the reason I was hooked before the 30-page mark. Like, 'Oh, look, we're going on a tortoise hunt!'!

- THE BAD BOY THING. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. We have another bad boy on our hands. He;s just as scrumptious as the last ones but he's got a big ol' secret. Nevertheless, the show must go on! Can you tell I'm pumped?

- THE LIBRARY THING. OK - so there's this librarian based on a real life person and her dresses are just TOO MUCH. I have a Harry Potter dress that I think Miss Walker would approve of! The tears and the hot chocolates and the cookies - librarians are the best, right? And the super cool library with the super cool things and the importance of the libraries. I just can't. Libraries are SO VERY IMPORTANT. My local librarians didn't bat an eyelid when LOVE FROM LEXIE got chewed up by my puppy Luna! She didn't mean it!  cannot stress enough the importance of reading, ad Cathy Cassidy articulates it so beautifully, and what a library has to offer, which is a whole heckin' lot!

- THE HARRY POTTER THING. I can't breathe. I. Am. Obsessed. As if BROKEN HEART CLUB wasn't enough (go read it!) Cathy Cassidy did the thing and sprinkled Harry Potter references all through LOVE FROM LEXIE and now I can't even... because Harry Potter is MY LIFE and Cathy Cassidy recognises and acknowledges this and she is willing to raise other children's books up. To be honest one of the parts I cried at was the library performance for the TV news, because they used PHILOSOPHER'S STONE...

- THE HITTING ME IN THE FEELS THING. So there's Lexie who narrates the story, and the whole time I am thinking, 'I will protect you from the Dementors, child...' and then there's the band, and then there's MARLEY. Marley is just a whole other level of feels and I thought LOVE FROM LEXIE couldn't get any more powerful, more important, and then the thing with Marley happened. Wow.

Honourable mentions go to THE CAKE THING; THE MINORITY INCLUSION THING; and THE SONG LYRICS THING. Roll on the sequel!

Cathy says:
I totally love this review... if LOVE FROM LEXIE never gets another one, I'll still be content with all the loveliness here! Have YOU read LOVE FROM LEXIE yet? What are you waiting for?COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 19 January 2018

HOW TO BE A DOMESTIC GODDESS... OR NOT!

Reader Ruby tells us about her vow to become a culinary superstar before leaving home for uni this autumn... maybe...

Ruby says:
I study hard, I am all set to get good A level results and I have an unconditional offer to the university course of my choice for October 2018. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest person ever... smart, grown up, and independent, with my life on track. And then I step into the kitchen.

I don't know why it is that I can pass exams and yet be too dim to make a piece of toast without burning it, but that's me. I am allergic to the kitchen. If I boil an egg it turns out hard as a bullet - or gloopy and raw. The last time I tried to boil pasta, it formed a congealed rubbery slab in the base of the pan, and had to be scraped into the bin. I am a kitchen disaster.

This all started when I was little and was given a book for Christmas that had lots of fun things to do in it. One of the things was to make fudge, and I decided on Boxing Day afternoon to whip up a home made sweet treat for the family. I sneaked into the kitchen and started boiling up butter and sugar, just like it said in the recipe, and the next minute the smoke alarm was screeching and the pan was on fire and my dad raced in and had to actually throw it out of the back door into the garden. (The pan never recovered and had to be thrown away.)

The thing is, I know my kitchen allergy is pretty feeble. I also know that unless I learn to cook soon, I will starve to death when I leave home for uni... and my flatmates will laugh at me, which is almost worse. So my New Years Resolution is to learn to cook... starting with the basics, such as not destroying so many saucepans or burning the cooker every time I go near it. So far, I have mastered the skill of chopping and frying an onion (it made me cry but life is cruel, right?). I have learned not to burn toast (you have to stand over it and not take your eye off it, which is very boring). Next week I will be attempting to add cheese to the toast - NOT in a toaster, before you ask.

The plan is, by October I will be able to make a three course dinner and bake a show-stopper five-tier chocolate cake. I will be the hero of my student flat, and always in demand to cook student dinner parties, and they'll nominate me for Masterchef or Bake-Off or something. Move over, Nigella, I am on my way!

Illustration by Cathy Cassidy

Cathy says:
Ruby's post really made me laugh - and it struck a chord, too, as I am no great shakes in the kitchen either! I wish her well! Are YOU a kitchen queen? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

ANA: TIPS FOR CREATIVE BLOGGERS!

Ana is a successful creative blogger - with some great tips and advice for new and would-be bloggers! Read on...

Ana says:
I write about many topics such as crafting, tutorials, fashion, creative hobbies, photography and much more! In this post, I'm going to write about how to be a successful creative blogger and I will give you three of my top tips too! Blogging is a fun, creative hobby which improves your writing skills, helps you to come up with ideas fast and also helps your computer skills! Blogging has mad me more creative and inventive. My photography skills have improved and I've picked up many valuable computing skills along the way. My blogging career began on New Year's Eve 2016 and along the way I have made many online friends and fans, to whom I am eternally grateful! I've also discovered many lovely blogs which give me so much inspiration!

TIP #1: Organise Your Blogging!
In the photo above, you can see a piece of paper which I use to brainstorm creative post ideas. I like to concentrate all of my future post ideas on one pretty piece of patterned paper - you could try to do the same. Get a pen and paper and ask yourself   questions: what should I write that will make me and my readers happy? Which posts do I enjoy writing the most? Which posts are the most popular with my audience? Base your post ideas on these questions - or try making a survey for your readers to complete! Buying some post-it notes, stationery and notebooks all for blogging can help organise things further - you can draft out whole posts or parts of them in your notebook and then type it up onto your blog. It also helps to have a calendar which highlights the days you post - scheduling your posts can help you to get used to writing posts in similar time spaces!

TIP #2: Take Beautiful Photographs!
When I first started blogging, I mostly used images from the internet, but now I only use my own photographs whenever possible. When taking photographs for your blog posts,you need to first get a nice background which matches to the topic/ season. You don't need professional backgrounds - it's more unique to use what you have. In the photograph above, you can see lots of pens in a pack, a pile of books, my glasses, my bracelet and my pocket mirror all laid out in a pretty pattern - the background is a patterned picnic blanket! In the photograph to the right, you can see some stationery on a bright background - but although it looks professional, all I used for the background was a patterned raincoat!

TIP #3: Refresh Your Blog Look!
Every season, I refresh my blog's look by changing the background - you can give your blog a whole new look by giving it a makeover. There are plenty of online apps which create beautiful backgrounds - I use Canva to create my seasonal backgrounds but another alternative is PicMonkey. The picture is just one example of a seasonal background. As a creative blogger I think it adds a special touch to your page to add in unusual backdrops. Fill your blog with things you like, such as a sidebar that leads to different links, and choose the right font for your blog too, choosing one that is easy to read! Your colour scheme can reflect your content, so mix up pastels and brights if your blog has many topics!

Cathy says:
I love Ana's tips and hints - I think I've learned a lot, too! Have YOU ever thought of starting a blog? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 15 January 2018

CURL UP WITH A CLASSIC... THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE!

Reader Louise has a favourite classic book to share with you... and it's one with a real wintry flavour!

Louise says:
THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis is my favourite children's classic ever. I read it from the local library when I was in primary school and I was totally enthralled by it, the imagery of hiding in a wardrobe filled with fur coats and moving through the coats to find the crunch of snow underfoot was so, so powerful for me, I will never forget it or love an image as much! Things just keep getting better, too - a magical land where it is always winter and never Christmas, an evil witch on a sleigh who gives you Turkish Delight, a faun who invites you to tea, a heroic lion who makes you into a pre-teen freedom fighter... it's a perfect book.

Once I was hooked on the book, I read it several times and found out that the book was part of the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and there were others in the series... they fitted both before and after THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE. There was one with guinea pigs that I was obsessed with for a while, and one with a flying horse... they are all amazing in their own way, and completely magical. There was a film as well, and I got a DVD of that and watched it over and over. I got a boxed set of the books for Christmas and that was possibly the pivotal moment I went from enthusiastic reader and library user to geeky bookworm girl and would-be writer.

I am at uni now studying English and I am writing an essay on British children's literature. It makes me smile that I can write about the book I loved so much as child, and study he way it was put together. Mostly, though, I am just thrilled that I picked that book off the shelves when I was ten or so, the perfect age to begin to understand it, and that I had the series to dip in and out of all through my teens. Children's books are not just for children, you see, they are for everyone who needs a little bit of magic in their lives... and no book is better to open the door to that than THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE! How many marks would I give it out of ten? Eleven, at the very, very least!

Cathy says:
I absolutely love this book too... I know exactly what Louise means about the magic! Have YOU read it? Or do YOU have a favourite children's classic book you'd like to tell us more about? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

JENNA: THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY

Reader Jenna writes about the pain of losing a parent in this bittersweet and heartbreakingly honest post.

Jenna says:
Losing anyone that has a huge impact on your life is tough. Friends, family - they are the people who are there for you, during the good times and the bad. They pick you up when you fall down, brush you off and help you to try again. If you have someone like that in your life, you're a very lucky person. But when they're gone? Well, that's a completely different pain.

My dad passed away six years ago. He was my best friend and meant the world to me. He was the best man I ever met, always there for me when I needed him, when I struggled, when I was happy, no matter what - he was always there. Teaching me things about life, lessons I still keep with me today. Losing him was hard, but at first I coped by pretending he'd gone away for a while and would be back, he just couldn't contact me right now. It worked, for a few years.

As time went on, little things happened that I needed my dad for, or wished he was there for: birthdays, Christmas, school work, just reassurance that things would be OK.The fantasy world I had built began to fade and I began to truly realise he was gone, and then the grieving came on. I would go to school crying, feeling numb, wishing my dad was back beside me, that it was all a trick. But it wasn't, and I knew it wasn't, and that was the most difficult thing of all... knowing that he wasn't coming back.

The friends I had at the time didn't understand what I was going through. There's a quote that says 'hard times reveal true friends', and I definitely learnt who my true friends were. Rather than supporting me, they said I was attention seeking. 'I don't understand why she's still crying over her dad, it's been three years - she should be over it by now!' They never knew I overheard this, didn't understand what it felt like. Letting these people go was the best thing I ever did. Here is something I want you to know in case any of you are going through the same situation... there is no end time to bereavement; the pain will never fully go away. It may die down a little but it will always be there. You've lost someone who had a huge impact on your life, and that's not something you can get over straight away. It's about you and time. If you have people in your life that say hurtful things, they are not your friends... but remember they haven't been through what you have In time, some may come round and begin to understand.

Life now, six years on, is still difficult. I miss my dad - I always do. Like I said, the pain never fully goes away, but it does become easier to deal with. I think about my dad every day, remembering the memories we shared. Some days are more difficult than others, some days I wish he was here to give me a hug, some days I cry and get upset, but it's OK. No one is alone in this.

Artwork by talented reader NIAMH, age 12.

Cathy says:
This is such a brave and powerful post. Losing someone close to you is huge at any age, but as a young teen it can turn your world upside down. Have YOU ever lost a loved one? Or do YOU have any words for JENNA? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.