Our Top 8 Literary Holiday Wishlist

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetAs a bookish family, we like to tie a reading connection into our holidays where possible and love visiting the haunts of famous authors.  Here are our 8 dream literary destinations.

1. The Fairytale Route

This German trail winds through the landmark places that inspired the Brothers Grimm to write their fairy tales (while staying in stunning castles and palaces).  We’d really like to do this while Martha is still young enough to believe in all the stories.

2. Agatha Christie’s Greenway

We’ve visited Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday home (now owned by the National Trust) for the day, but it would be amazing to stay over in one of the holiday cottages in the grounds.  Aside from the obvious literary connections, the estate is lovely with beautiful gardens, trails and a boathouse.

3. Frenchman’s Creek

Yes you can stay here! Allegedly the inspiration for Daphne Du Maurier’s famous novel, this small cottage is run by the Landmark Trust and is available to rent. First dibs on the treasure!

4. Piazza di Spagna – the Keats connection

Another Landmark Trust property – this time in the centre of Rome overlooking the Spanish Steps.  Keats died on the floor below and this gorgeous rental apartment is identical in layout so he would have looked out on almost the same views as he composed his poems. Pure inspiration.

5. GoldenEye

OK so this one is real lottery winner goals stuff! The GoldenEye resort in Jamaica is most famous for being the spot where Ian Fleming created James Bond but it’s also inspired lots of other creatives.  You can choose to stay in cottages, beach huts or lagoon villas – each in private grounds (we’re not fussy btw).

6. Kardamyli – Paddy’s Paradise

We fell in love with Kardamyli when we visited three years ago.  Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor chose to settle there after decades of wandering and it’s obvious why. Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, this pretty town is full of treasures including the supposed tombs of Castor and Pollux and a fortified settlement. Many writers visited Leigh Fermor during his time here and Bruce Chatwin’s ashes were scattered above one of the chapels on the hillside.  We’re hoping to return in 2019 when the Leigh Fermor house will be open for tours.

7. Gladstone’s Library

Anyone up for a retreat? Gladstone’s Library is the UK’s only residential library and if you stay over, you will have the freedom to explore a collection of almost 150,000 printed items.  If I have one wish this year, it’s to stay here for one night (you reading this Al?)

8. Eilean Shona – Neverland

It’s said that Eilean Shona inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan and you can still rent a cottage on this tiny, car-free Scottish island.  Here’s a list of the activities taken from the website – ‘building camp fires, crabbing, swimming, painting, picnicking, kayaking, nature watching, photography and walking’ – we’re in!

I’m sure that there are many that we’ve missed here so please share your recommendations or wishlists with us so we can bookmark them for the future!

 

7 Instagram Tips for Authors

Reader jumping out of a bookAs a keen Instagrammer, I come across author accounts all the time. Some are brilliant, but it’s become increasingly clear that many writers aren’t sure how to max out their pages. As a marketing tool, Instagram involves more effort than Twitter or Facebook but if done well, then it can reap many more rewards because there’s a passionate community of readers (known as bookstagrammers) on this particular platform.  In this post I’ve stuck to 7 basics which should help writers to boost their Instagram accounts.

1. Only Connect

If I could give one recommendation then this would be it.  Explore Instagram and find readers who enjoy reading the type of books you write and read.  Search for your book and/or genre hashtags and like people’s posts. If someone has given you a rave review then comment and seriously consider following them.  You can choose to follow hashtags so I would recommend following your own title (if you’re published) to make sure that you acknowledge positive posts about your book.

How to follow an Instagram hashtag

2. Be A Reader

I’m guessing that you write books because you love reading.  Post about your current and favourite reads as well as the ones which have influenced your writing.  For many people it’s much easier to identify with a reader than a writer.

3. Maximise Your Hashtags

Big hashtags such as #bookstagram and #currentlyreading are good for finding readers but not so great for finding followers because your post is likely to get lost. When you type a hashtag you should see how many times it’s been used. Go for 5 figures and below. Don’t use #follow4follow or any of the spammy hashtags – this will only attract the bots.

4. Share Crisp, Bright Photos

This really needs a post of its own. As a general rule, shoot in natural light where possible or if not, use an app like Snapseed to increase exposure (not saturation). Bookmark photos that you like on Instagram and try to emulate them (credit if it’s an obvious match).

5. Be Consistent

The biggest growing accounts post every day, but very few people have time to do this and to be honest, no one wants to be flooded with tons of material. As a general rule, I would say aim to post quality content at least twice a week with a max of one a day (if you love taking photos).

6. Grow Organically

If you’re a writer then you also have a brand to nurture. Don’t chase likes or numbers, but rather focus on building a quality following that’s made up of people who relate to your content. Similarly, try to follow accounts that interest you.  There’s a lot of emphasis placed on having fewer follows than followers but as long as you maintain an equal balance this is fine.  It’s about connection not game-play which leads me onto a note about the follow/unfollow strategy.

For those of you who aren’t aware of follow/unfollow tactics – it’s where Instagrammers follow lots of accounts (usually small ones) so you’ll follow back and then they unfollow you a few days after in the hope you don’t notice. Please don’t do this! Many account holders are wise to these tactics and it can undermine your authenticity.  Better to build slowly and with integrity – this way you’ll gain many more true fans.

7. Link Up Your Accounts

Make sure that you link your Instagram with your other accounts or at least promote it on your other social media pages.  You can then share content across all platforms which will cut down the time you spend on managing your digital presence.

So for a solid, basic Instagram account – you should be aiming for connection, consistency and clarity.  It takes time to develop something meaningful, but if you do it with heart then your audience will be more likely to listen when you have something important to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Read

We’re still at the beginning of our experiment to produce an avid reader as Martha is only five, but she’s already showing an interest in books and reads for enjoyment.  With book-obsessed parents, she’s definitely had a head start, but just like other kids, she’s not always in the mood for reading.  Here are some techniques that have worked for us:

Create a Reading Habit

This only has to be for 10 minutes a day, but create a set time and place where your child can read to you.  We make space for this as soon as we get home from school and sit in the same chair each time.  Afterwards Martha has a snack and a play, but she knows that this has to read her pages first.  It’s much harder to get her to sit down later on as she’s either too tired or distracted. We make this time fun and cosy so it’s not a chore.

Break it Up

When Martha is struggling with a school book, we don’t force her to read it all in one go. Instead we focus on getting her to sound out the words slowly encouraging her for effort then call it a day after a few pages.  It’s better for both of us to finish the activity on a positive note rather than turn reading into a frustrating experience.

Encourage Your Reader

Rather than tell her that she’s got a word wrong, we ask her to try again or sound it out.  This one is pretty hard to do because we know the words so well ourselves, but if we always say ‘no’, or ‘that’s wrong’, we’ve noticed that it makes her wary about reading.  We aim to keep it neutral or positive and motivate her to problem solve on her own. This doesn’t mean praising indiscriminately, just choosing how we point out errors.

Let Them Take Control

Children love to be in charge.  We ask Martha to explain the story to us and point out details. She gets satisfaction from being in the driving seat.

Set An Example

It’s tough to find time to read books when we have busy lives, but if you can show your child that you enjoy reading then they’re much more likely to have a go themselves.  If you don’t have time to pick up a book yourself, then factor in 10 minutes to read to them before bedtime – that way you’ll both be able to enjoy the story together.  Martha knows we love books and so she loves them too.

So for us it’s mainly about keeping it routine, bitesized and fun. Have you tried any of the above or have any other tips for encouraging children to read ? We’d love to try them out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

The Storm Keeper's Island by Catherine DoyleWhen Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

Who could resist such an enticing cover (illustrated by Bill Bragg) and blurb? Not me – that’s for sure! So when Bloomsbury offered me a review copy of The Storm Keeper’s Island I jumped at the chance.

Initially, I was drawn in by the idea of overlapping worlds in this middle grade novel. I’ve always been fan of low fantasy where magic intermingles with reality and the tale really delivers on that score. From the outset we know that Arranmore is enchanted, especially for Fionn and this sense of power is richly developed as the story unfolds.  Doyle casts us into a landscape that’s full of gods, myths and half-buried histories.  At the centre of this, Malachy – Fionn’s grandfather and the current Storm Keeper – is trying to hold everything together from his homely cottage filled with mysterious candles, but his strength is waning and so a successor must be found.  Malachy is a beautifully drawn character, one of my favourites in the book, full of humour and kindness – very much like Fionn who is also incredibly witty.  The sparky dialogue between the characters is a real highlight of the novel. I’d read more by Doyle just for her banter alone!

Of course, where there are heroes, there are also villains.  The island has a motley crew of unlikeables topped by Morrigan, an evil sorceress who wishes to rise again. This is where it got a bit more complicated as different timelines began to interweave but I enjoyed the intricate plot and will be interested to see how the author brings everything together in the sequel (out July 2019).

A compelling summer read for 9-12 year olds and fans of old-school novels such as The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

 

 

 

 

Bookshop Tour: Exploring Addyman Books

A visit to Hay-on-Wye wouldn’t be complete without a trip to our favourite bookshop in the town – Addyman Books.  We visit every time we’re in the area and love the cosy, creative feel of the shop with it’s many themed rooms so we made sure that we had time to pop in during our time at the Hay Festival.

The Vintage Penguin area at Addyman BooksThe most famous nook has to be the much-photographed vintage Penguin book shrine which is beautifully decorated with antique panelling from a Transylvanian church. It’s crammed full of fascinating titles and one of the highlights of this wonderful bookish town.  If you can tear yourself away, there’s also a children’s book room and a well-stocked science-fiction and fantasy s section on this floor – enough to keep everyone happy while you browse to your heart’s content.

The adventure continues upstairs with plenty of alcoves and corridors to explore (and almost get lost in!). The shop stocks every single genre so I recommend factoring in some time to work your way around the different zones. For me, the spooky Bat Cave and Celtic corner stood out because I love all things mystical whereas Al found his ideal spot in the comfy classics room.

But that’s not where it ends! Climb higher and you’ll find a true adventurer’s cabin (a model of Captain Scott’s) at the very top filled with books on exploration. I found an excellent copy of French caver Norbert Casteret’s Ten Years Under the Earth under the eaves so if you’re looking for inspirational journeys, then do venture up there.

A replica of Captain Scott's cabin at Addyman Books

After our quest, we all came away feeling as if we’d found hidden gold. The shop sells a selection of new as well as old so we bought a good cross-section and then went to the Addyman Annexe and bought some more! On this occasion, we didn’t manage to make it to the third Addyman store, Murder and Mayhem, but it’s a must-see for crime lovers.

All three shops are open 10 – 5.30 every day of the week and if you are on Instagram, then I highly recommend following Anne’s account – @addymanbooks – which has to be one of the best bookshop pages in the world.  You can also buy stock from them online (I have bought a few and the service is fab), and contact them via Facebook but nothing beats an afternoon in the shop. We’re already planning our next visit!

 

10 Tips for Planning a Successful Visit to the Hay Festival

Hay Festival LettersImagine a whole site dedicated to books – a programme filled with talks by your favourite authors, the biggest bookshop tent ever, deckchairs made for lounging, fresh food from all around the world…well that’s the Hay Festival and if you’re a book lover then you have to add it to your travel plans immediately!

We visited this year after dreaming about it for decades. There always seemed to be an excuse – not enough cash, a small child, other holidays, but now that we’ve been it’s going to be a firm fixture in our family calendar.  This time we only booked a few sessions over three days – Cressida Cowell, Andy Stanton, Joe Todd-Stanton and Judith Kerr – all child-orientated but fun for adults too.  The loose structure also gave us a chance to work out the logistics of the event – not quite as easy as the venue can get VERY busy.  Here are my top tips for making your visit as enjoyable as possible:

  1. Book your accommodation early.   Staying in Hay can be expensive so unless you are camping, it’s best to look outside of the town. We booked a weekend at the lovely Canal Boat Cottage in Crickhowell and were glad of the peaceful surroundings after the buzz of Hay.  Sugar and Loaf have a whole selection of cottages on their website (2019 Hay Festival will run 23 May to 2 June).Canal Boat Cottage Kitchen Crickhowell
  2. Join the Hay Festival mailing list for ticket notifications. We booked as soon as the programme was released as big names sell out very quickly. Prices average at £7 – some more, some less.  If you want to get in before the crowds you can pay extra to become a Friend of Hay Festival.
  3. When packing for the festival include wellies, umbrella, sunglasses and suntan lotion. We saw all sorts of weather during our short stay. Take fold-up tote bags to minimise baggage.
  4. There’s plenty of parking in town, but we booked the parking via the Hay Festival website when we purchased tickets.  It’s more expensive than other options but part of the fee is donated to Macmillan and it’s right next to the venue.
  5. The festival suggests that you arrive at least half an hour before an event, but I’d recommend getting there an hour before if you’re driving.  Traffic can be slow-moving near the town and there are bag checks at the entrance.
  6.  If you need to buy books for signing then visit the shop straightaway and purchase all of them in one go.  The queues can be long, especially after headline talks.  The signings take place in the book tent too so try to get there quickly after the author session has finished.  You can buy pre-signed copies but the big names sell fast!hay book tent childrens
  7. If you have kids then there are free crafting activities available in the Make and Take and Mess tents. Our daughter is 5 and was just old enough to enjoy the experience, but I’d say that kids aged 7+ would get the most out of the programme.
  8. The food hall is fantastic with dishes ranging from pizza to paella to falafel but incredibly busy.  If you decide to go, then try to avoid peak times and find a seat beforehand – either in the tent or under one of the canopies outside then send out a foraging party!Food Hall Hay Festival
  9. If it’s simply too busy to order in the food hall, there are little snack shacks on the road into Hay-on-Wye. There are also water fountains on site so you can fill up bottles.
  10. You have to visit Hay-on-Wye while you’re at the festival.  It has tons of fantastic bookshops and is very pretty.  My favourite is Addyman Books and everyone pops into Richard Booth’s bookshop at least once.  The town is a good 15 minute walk from the venue but you can catch a shuttle outside the festival entrance for £1.50 each way.Hay on Wye StreetWe are already excited to start planning for next year.  Do you have tips that you’d like to add?

 

A Penguin Book Pilgrimage to the Ironbridge Bookshop

Vintage Penguin Books

We’ve wanted to visit The Ironbridge Bookshop for ages after hearing about the legendary Penguin book wall (see photo) and chatting with Meg the owner via her Instagram account so last weekend we finally made the trip to this picturesque Shropshire Town.

The bookshop is located opposite the famous Iron Bridge which crosses the River Severn. The bridge was covered for renovation when we visited but we didn’t mind as it gave us a good excuse to return! We were warmly welcomed by Meg, who has created the perfect space for bibliophiles. The downstairs room is packed with a staggering array of second-hand books – from classic to contemporary, plus lots of non-fiction including a stack of vintage Observer guides which I passed quickly knowing that I’d want to buy them all if I looked too closely!

secondhand classic books for sale in the ironbridge bookshop

I’ve been looking for a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! for ages and luckily found a copy in the sizeable Pratchett section,  as well as pretty paperback edition of The Go-Between by LP Hartley.

To reach the second room you climb the best bookish stairs ever. I’m afraid I couldn’t get Martha out of posing mode but you get the general gist!Processed with VSCO with l4 presetThe upper room contains the vintage Penguin bookshelves, the children’s area and a small selection of modern collectables such as the Vintage Minis, Penguin Mugs and Journals.  Meg also sits upstairs so we had a chat while poring over all the amazing titles. If you love the older Penguin editions, as well as Ladybird books then you HAVE to come here – it is a collector’s feast.  While we were having a field day, we were concerned that Martha would get bored. No fear! She made herself right at home.

little girl sits in book corner

Meg’s prices are very affordable so we ended up buying more than expected and were  very, very happy with our book haul. We didn’t have anything particular in mind when we went, but if you would like something specific then Meg will try to source it for you.

vintage book haul ironbridge bookshop

There’s plenty more to do in Ironbridge if you are staying for more than a day. We didn’t have time to see everything on this visit, but will definitely be returning to the bookshop and the town when the bridge is unveiled.  For lunch we ate in the White Hart Pub which is only a few minutes from the bookshop and found the staff friendly, and the food tasty.

The Ironbridge Bookshop is open every day of the week 10am to 5pm.  You can also follow the store via Instagram,Twitter and Facebook. We highly recommend a trip – it is now one of our very favourite bookshops and we thank Meg for making our visit a great one.

Ironbridge Bookshop Exterior