For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to sign up and read it yet – Love, Lies & Mince Pies is now free to download from my website!
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
This makes me very happy, as Jasper is one of my absolute all time favourite characters I’ve ever written, too. (He’s also very loosely based on my youngest brother, but don’t tell him.)
Anyway, when I started thinking about putting together a little festive short story as a Christmas present for my readers, I realised it was the perfect opportunity to write from Jasper’s point of view for a change!
And so, Love, Lies & Mince Pies was born. I won’t tell you too much about it, because it’s only short and I don’t want to spoil it. But I will say that, given Jasper’s history of Grand Gestures, coming up with a Christmas present for his girlfriend is proving problematic… and his Bake Club friends aren’t helping.
This week, I’ve been doing one of my absolute favourite things – starting to write a new book!
The beginning of a new story is always exciting. Even if I’ve got it all mapped out in my head, or on paper, there’s still that huge sense of possibility. Anything could happen, once the words start appearing on the page! It’s like going on a road trip with new friends, and getting to know them as you journey along.
This is the notebook I’m using to keep track of my ideas, thoughts and research. It seemed perfect for my main character – and she’s so much fun to write already!
I didn’t always enjoy this part of writing, though. Once upon a time, the idea of starting afresh, of staring at a blank screen or notebook and trying to think of words to put down on it was kind of terrifying.
So, just in case you’re struggling with starting your story, here are my top five tips to make it fun.
Yes, you’re going to be spending a whole story with these guys, and there’s plenty of time to figure out what makes them tick – but I find it really helpful to know some basics beyond their name before I start. Here’s what I need to know:
– What they want or need most in the world
– Why they want or need it
– What or, even better, who is stopping them having it
If you know these three things, you’re halfway there. Your whole story is going to be about your main character trying to get what they need, and other characters either helping or thwarting them.
This one is really two points. Firstly, it’s about your setting. You don’t need to know every detail of the world you’re writing about before you begin, but deciding if your story is set in a jungle or a high school is the sort of thing that makes starting to write easier! If it helps you to visualise the story, map out a really simple plan of the main places your characters are likely to go. Just knowing that you have these different sets available in their world might make it easier to think of what happens next.
Secondly, it’s about your starting point. Your story starts when something happens to make your main character chase their dreams. What makes it vital they take action right now? Whatever that thing is, that scene is your starting point.
Sometimes this one works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. But in general, having an idea of what will happen at the end of your story gives you something to write towards. It might be as simple as knowing if your story will have a happy ending, a tragic one or an ambiguous one. Or, you might be able to see the whole final scene in your head – in which case, write it down now! Then it’s just a case of figuring out how to get there from your starting point.
One of the best ways I know to get excited about my story is to think about the scenes I’m desperate to write – the ones that fly into my mind whenever I think about the story or the characters. It might be the revelation of a huge secret, or a first kiss, or a fight scene. Whatever it is, jot down all the scenes between your starting point and your last scene that make you itch to write them already. Juggle them around into a logical order and suddenly you have a series of checkpoints. Then, as you write, you’re just thinking about what would need to happen to get your characters from one checkpoint to the next.
The thing about writing is that no-one ever has to see your first drafts! Don’t worry about whether a scene is perfect, or what a reader might think about such and such yet. When you’re starting a story, all you need to think about is relaxing and enjoying the ride. Tell your tale, find out what your characters were really saying all along, and get it all down on paper.
After that you can think about making it your best work. That’s a job for revisions, not first drafts.
I love Bonfire Night. I love wrapping up warm and going out into the dark to see the night sky lit up. It’s such a wonderful autumn festival, welcoming the winter with fire and sparkle.
But we’ve been celebrating this time of year since long before Guy Fawkes and his pals tried to blow up parliament. Fires have been lit in the autumn for centuries – to guide travellers home before the snows set in, or to lead ghosts and spirits into the next world, or even to help young couples find love!
When I was younger, we always spent Bonfire Night at my best friend Beth’s house – because they threw the best fireworks parties! There’d be a bonfire, complete with Guy, and seriously impressive pyrotechnic displays. Of course, there was also that one year when a Catherine Wheel chased Beth’s dad around the garden…
There was always plenty of food, too, to keep us warm. It’s hard to beat a baked potato wrapped in foil and cooked in the bonfire. But the recipe I have for you today does it: my Mum’s Famous Bonfire Toffee!
This is the perfect sweet treat to boil up, let cool then break into bits to take out with you to munch at your local fireworks display!
The last project in Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines might take the longest to make, but it might last the longest and get the most use, too, making it well worth the effort. Who can resist a cosy patchwork quilt to curl up under on a winter’s night, or to lay out on the grass to stargaze on, one warm summer’s evening?
Photos still to follow on this one, I’m afraid, as I’m still in the process of making a woodland themed quilt for our latest addition!
7 different complementary patterned fabrics
Plain backing fabric
Cut 56 squares, measuring 22cm each, out of your patterned fabrics
Lay your squares into eight rows of seven squares, in the order you want them to appear in your quilt
Start with the first row. Take the first two squares and pin them right sides together, then stitch a 1cm seam on the side where you want them to join
Add on the third square to the second square in the same way, and repeat for the rest of the row, making sure your seams are all exactly 1cm.
Repeat with the other rows.
Line up the rows in order, then pin the first two rows together, lining up the seams exactly. Stitch in place with a 1cm seam allowance again, then add the next row and so on until the end.
Iron all the seams flat.
Measure and cut your backing fabric and wadding to fit the patchwork
Lay the patchwork and lining, right sides together, then add the wadding on top. Pin all four sides, leaving a 30cm gap on one of the short sides.
Stitch all the way around, except the gap. Turn inside out and hand sew the gap closed.
For a quilted effect, sew along each of the seams between squares, sewing through all three layers.
Grace says: Pin one of these to your top or jacket for a springtime bloom, or add several to a bag or coat for maximum effect.
Long scrap piece of fabric
Badge back pin
Cut your fabric into a long rectangle, 8cm by 50 cm
Fold in half, with the wrong sides together, and tuck the ends under. Sew a long, gathering stitch 1cm in from where the edges meet.
Gather your fabric into tight ruffles, then starting at one end, start to coil it up into a spiral, sewing it in place by hand as you go. Keep wrapping the strip around your centre and sewing in place, until you reach the end.
Sew your button in place at the centre of the flower.
Cut a circle of felt to cover the back of your flower and hide your stitches
If you want to add a broach pin, sew it to the centre of the felt now, then glue the felt circle securely in place on the back of your flower.
Grace says: Add a splash of jazz age glamour to your day with this sparkly headband!
Katy says: This is one of those projects you can make as glitzy or as simple as you like. Go crazy with sequins, beads, feathers, jewels – whatever takes your fancy! Or else, keep it simple with a pretty fabric and a pretty look that goes with everything. I went for a classic 20s feel with whatever I could raid from my daughter’s craft box!
Matching thick elastic
Feathers, sequins and sparkly buttons to decorate
Measure from the bottom of your left ear, over your head (where you want to wear the headband) to the bottom of the other ear.
Cut your velvet into a rectangle to fit this length, and twice as wide as you want your headband to be, plus 2cm.
Fold your rectangle in half lengthways, with the right sides together, and pin then sew in place with a 1cm seam allowance. Turn the right way out.
Figure out where the middle of your headband is, and sew decorations either along the length of it or to one side, for an authentic 1920s look
Measure around the back of your head, from ear to ear, and cut your elastic to that length.
Tuck the ends of your velvet inside for a neat finish, then slip one end of the elastic into each to complete your headband circle. Pin and sew in place.
Grace says: A pretty way to keep your clothes clean while baking, this apron also makes a lovely gift for any wannabe Bake Club members in your life.
A rectangle of thicker fabric, 80cm x 65cm for the apron
A rectangle of complementary fabric 35 cm x 20cm for the pocket
2m of 30mm cotton tape, cut into 4 lengths of 50cm for the ties
Fold and iron your fabric in half lengthways and sideways so you have a cross in the middle of your fabric. Open back up and lay out portrait.
On what will be the top of your apron, measure 15cm to the left and right of the fold and mark.
Draw a diagonal line from these points outwards to each side crease, halfway down the edge of the apron. to give you your apron shape. Once you’re happy with the shape, cut along these lines.
Hem the apron all the way around.
Pin two of your ties at the outer edges of the top of the apron, and the two at the waist (where your diagonal line ended). Sew firmly in place.
Zig zag stitch all the way around your pocket piece and hem all four sides. Pin into place on your apron, using the cross in the middle as your guide..
Sew around the sides and bottom of your pocket to hold it in place, then sew another line up the middle to split it into two sections.
Wear and go bake!
Grace says: This can be a little bit fiddly in parts, but it’s probably the simplest dress you’ll ever make! Pair a plain t-shirt or vest with a patterned fabric in complementary colours for maximum effect.
Katy says: I love making this dress for my little girl – she has several of them in various pretty fabrics! I kept the skirt long for her, because she has a habit of outgrowing them faster than I can make them, but with a longer line t-shirt and shorter skirt this could be a really cute tunic to wear over leggings or skinny jeans too.
Plain jersey t-shirt
Measure your waist and the length from your waist to your knee
Measure out your ironed fabric so you have a rectangle twice as long as your waist measurement, and as wide as your waist to knee measurement.
Sew a zig zag stitch all around the edges of your fabric to prevent fraying
Fold in half, right sides together, and sew a 1cm seam along the short side, to give you a wide tube of fabric.
Sew a gathering stitch around the top of the skirt, around 1cm in. Pull the threads to gather the skirt together, until it has almost halved in size.
Slide your tshirt inside your skirt upside down, so that the right sides are together and the bottom of the tshirt is lined up with the top of the skirt.
Pin in place, first at the seam, then opposite it, then splitting the skirt into quarters, then eighths. You may need to adjust the gathers to fit the tshirt.
Stitch together, making sure that the skirt and top are lined up all the way around.
Trim any loose threads and turn the right way around.
Try on to check the fit, then hem to the desired length.
A lovely, snuggly, simple gift for any family member or friend expecting a new addition to their family. Or make a bigger version for yourself!
1 piece of soft cotton 75cm x 100cm
1 piece of fleece or plush fabric 75cm x 100cm
Iron your cotton and place it pattern side down against the right side of your fleece
Align the two pieces of fabric so they match exactly, then pin in place
Tack around the outside to hold them together using a loose running stitch, and remove the pins
Using your sewing machine, or backstitch if you’re hand sewing, sew all the way around the rectangle, about 1cm in from the edge. Start on one of the short sides, and stop 10cm before you reach the end, leaving an unsewn gap
Cut through and remove the tacking stitch
Turn the blanket the right way out through the gap you left. Then fold the loose edges of the fabric in the gap inside to match the rest, and pin in place
Iron the blanket again to make sure the edges are neat.
If you’re hand sewing, neatly sew the gap closed using slip stitch or whip stitch
If you’re using a sewing machine, sew another line of stitches all the way around the blanket, about 7.5mm in from the edge, making sure you catch and sew up the gap as you go around.