Category Archives: Events

Doctor Who Proms 2013

[Click here for Saturday/Sunday comparison.]

In the autumn of 2010, we watched the Doctor Who Proms televised, having been completely unaware that such a thing existed. It was actually the second Doctor Who Prom, the first being in 2008.

In every Spring since (2011, 2012 & 2013), I’ve checked the Proms listing as soon as it was released, in case there was another one. I didn’t think there would be in 2011, as there had been two years between the first two. I had some hope in 2012 but again nothing. We did try to get to a Horrible Histories prom though and learnt a valuable lesson – five minutes after the Prom booking opens is still far too late to get tickets to a free Prom!

This year, I just knew there had to be a Doctor Who Prom. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year and three years since the last one. There had to be… Despite having (still) never been to a Prom in my life I was looking at the Prom program as soon as it was released in April.

Not one, but two Doctor Who Proms! A Saturday night and a Sunday morning. I hate making decisions so took a while working out the pros and cons of which one to go to, and worrying about whether one would be ‘better’ than the other, but in the end the flat £12 ticket cost for the Sunday Prom, and the fact that we could take both children without worrying about how exhausted they’d be at 10pm in London won out.

On the morning the Proms booking opened, I was online over an hour early checking that I could log in and knew how to book. I’d entered a ‘Proms plan’ with the seat selection we’d spent hours agonising over (all the seats were the same price – do you go for the usually most expensive boxes, or the stalls where it was more likely that the monsters would be walking near based on previous Prom?!)

I was there the instant booking opened, and still ended up 136th in the queue, panicking. It then took seven and a half minutes to book. Stress, stress, stress… Except it turned out, most people ended up thousands in the queue and waited well over an hour, and even then didn’t get tickets. Both Doctor Who Proms sold out within two hours.

So after nearly three years waiting, and making sure we definitely got tickets, yesterday was Prom day. It was amazing. I was going to write about the day, but Mr Chaos took the pictures and some video and already blogged them so if you’re interested, off you go… 😉

Doctor Who Prom 2013

MG and DG had a great time too, not just their parents and godfather! DG loved the Daleks best, and MG loved the Whisper Men. Their rapt faces on seeing the ‘real life’ monsters and Matt Smith in person, plus the reaction to a live orchestra was wonderful. I’m so glad we got to take them. They’ve both watched Doctor Who since before they were born, like their mother 😉

Saturday/Sunday comparison

I was worried whether the Saturday evening performance would be ‘better’ than the Sunday one, because it was full price and in the evening, but my fears were unfounded. Obviously I wasn’t at the Saturday one to actually compare but I have listened to (some of) the radio version on iPlayer, and here are my comparisons:

There was no difference in cast members. Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Peter Davison, Carole-Anne Ford, Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey and Nicholas Briggs were all at both performances. Murray Gold was in the audience for both too.

Listening to the scripted parts, I prefer the Sunday version as there seemed to be more ad-libbing.

Example one: Peter Davidson’s script said “You can call me double oh five” which is what he said on Saturday (listening to radio) but on Sunday he said “You can call me number five. Father in law to ten. Grandfather to number fifteen or sixteen according to my daughter…”

Example two: In the ‘fight’ between Ben Foster and the Daleks, the Dalek says “What is that thing in your hands?” and listening to the radio version, it played straight. However on Sunday, Ben Foster forgot his ‘sonic baton’ so at that point had to run back to the middle of the stage and get it, then later when the Dalek was berating him for overacting, Nicholas Briggs added “This is our bit!” (you can see the video of this here)

Personally, I think the Sunday was better. Because we were there! But also there seemed to be more unscripted moments compared to listening to Saturday’s. However, Neve McIntosh seemed to stumble over her lines more on the Sunday compared to listening to Saturdays. She must have been sweltering in all that make-up, and I dread to imagine how little sleep she (and Dan Starkey) got between the performances if it was taken off after 10pm and had to be back on by 10am!

Other than Nicholas Briggs’ wonderful ad-libbing, the star of the show was Dan Starkey as Strax. He was wonderful, interacting with audience members and being utterly hilarious. From listening to Saturday’s he may have been doing something amusing in the background, that he didn’t on Sunday, when Neve McIntosh was introducing the Weeping Angels music, listening to the laughter!

Sunday’s was probably more family friendly due to the timing but had a wide range of ages. It was lovely how both Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton got the biggest cheers when they appeared on screen. I don’t know whether the televised version will only use the Saturday performance or edit the two together but we’ll see in the autumn!

Last, but not least, the musicians, choir, soloists, conductor and radiophonics were perfection. It was an amazing experience.

Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Ed, Tom and Clara Vulliamy

In September I was fortunate to see Shirley Hughes in conversation with two of her children at the Soho Literary Festival. I started writing about it but got sidetracked by a dozen other things and Clara wrote such a wonderful post that it didn’t seem necessary to add my meagre efforts! Today I got to see them in conversation again, this time with the addition of the third Vulliamy sibling and in a larger venue.

In the morning of the Oxford event, MG had a minor meltdown which resulted in me phoning the festival and luckily managing to get the very last ticket for the event for her! I knew it was more for ‘grown ups’ but she was so patient at the Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony I thought she would manage the day. She was fidgetty and bored for some of it, and totally fed up in the queue for signing afterwards, but cheered up immensely when seeing Clara Vulliamy and Shirley Hughes to sign our books. To MG, Shirley Hughes is important because she is “Clara’s mummy”, and Clara Vulliamy is important because she is Clara 🙂

Fortunately a festival person queue-jumped us (and other children) as the queue was so very long and MG so fed up, so kudos to the festival for prioritising the children over the adults! This did mean I didn’t get to chat to two lovely Twitter-friends who I’d met for the first time at the event for as long as I would have liked, but we still chatted and it was brilliant as both a me day, and a me-and-MG day.

The host of both the Soho and Oxford events was Mark Ellen who had known the family for over 30 years and was excellent at holding a very engaging and interesting talk with all family members. The first thing I learnt in September was that I’ve been pronouncing Vulliamy completely wrong: it’s more like vol-you-may than the voo-lee-army that I’ve been saying. Ooops!

Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Clara and Ed Vulliamy at Soho Literary Festival 2012

At both events there was a talk through some slides of family pictures and paintings, some of which can be found in the book A Life Drawing, and on Clara Vulliamy’s website. There were a lot of similarities between the content of the Soho and Oxford events for obvious reasons, but I’m glad I went to both as they were still very different and hugely enjoyable. Today’s event was a lot busier, and I suspect the Hughes-Vulliamy family must be completely worn out!

Ed Vulliamy is known as a war journalist, but he vehemently despises war. You could see the journalist in him at the Soho event, as he took notes during the conversations on the back of an old envelope. A very engaging speaker, he talked of his work and childhood. In Oxford, possibly because there were children in the audience, he appeared more muted, but still added my favourite line of how a psychiatrist once said she didn’t envy him getting over a happy childhood!

Middle brother, Tom Vulliamy, a reasearch scientist, wasn’t in Soho (but referred to often in that event) so it was lovely to have his viewpoint included in person in Oxford. He commented how Shirley Hughes’ first picture book included a boy called Tom which he liked! He talked about his research and added to the anecdotes of childhood that the whole family shared.

As a daughter myself, and a mother of daughters, the most interesting people for me to watch and listen to were Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy. Shirley Hughes commented at the start that there is no perfect time to have a childhood and that she is described as having an idyllic childhood, but growing up on the Wirral in the Liverpool Blitz wasn’t that idyllic! Later in the event, the family talked about how television was not allowed much when they were children. Clara added an anecdote of how she wanted a plastic doll which played a tune, rather than the hand sewn toys her mother made her, but she was not even allowed to go into the toyshop where it was sold! “The darker side of our childhood” she joked, continuing “which made me the bitter adult I am today”!

Keeping It In The Family: Shirley Hughes with Ed, Tom and Clara Vulliamy at Oxford Literary Festival 2013

Shirley Hughes said she could tell at a young age what her children were drawn to. Ed was interviewing people on election day with a skipping rope handle aged ten; Tom was racing to school on Saturday mornings to see how his aphids were doing; and Clara had a sense for visual narrative that meant illustration was in her future. But she didn’t push them into anything. Mark Ellen quipped that parents not encouraging children meant they were more likely to do something!

All the Vulliamy children said they didn’t realise that they had a famous mother until they were adults. She was just their mother. Tom told his teachers that his mother was a landlady because they shared their house with a succession of lodgers. Shirley Hughes still lives in the same house her children grew up in. The house used to be in a deprived area with communal gardens where the children played together and she sketched and sketched observations of the children who amalgamated into the children in her books. Bernard from the Alfie books was probably one of those children, she recalled, but now the area is affluent and she is surrounded by merchant bankers who don’t send their children out to play in communal areas.

Being outside, experiencing the world and looking are very important to the family. Tom, Ed and Clara all work in very different fields but they all observe the world meticulously to produce their work. Shirley Hughes said she thinks a lot of that came from her late husband’s family and how they all learnt that really looking at the world is so very important an ability to cultivate in childhood.

It’s hard to do the talk justice in my rambling, but it was a wonderful experience (both times!) Today I took some notes during the event so I will end with some wisdom gleaned from Shirley Hughes:

How to encourage a child with an interest in art: give them decent art materials, leave a sketchbook near them always. In times of boredom they might just start sketching in it. All children go through a phase at about 7 or 8 where the freedom in art that they had previously experienced turns into “I can’t draw”. Some persevere, they just have to get through it on their own but encourage them to persevere. If something doesn’t look how they want, they can do it again. Don’t be discouraged.

On creating a picture book: use minimum words, choosing them carefully. Someone is going to have to read this again and again and again and you don’t want them getting bored. Add something of interest into the pictures to keep adults entertained too, lots of details in pictures for children and adults.

There will be another novel.

Keep calm and carry on!

Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony 2013


On Saturday I was delighted to go to the Red House Children’s Book Award Ceremony for the first time, representing Oxford Children’s Book Group. I joined the group (and committee) thanks to the encouragement of Zoe from Playing by the Book and Mélanie from Library Mice who are both on the national executive of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. This is a personal account of MG and my experience of the day, 23rd February 2013.

The Red House Children’s Book Award is owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and is the only award where all the books are nominated and voted for by children. This blog was part of this year’s blog tour, hosting Caryl Hart who I’ve got to know on Twitter as a wonderful person as well as talented author so MG and I were beyond happy to be sitting on her table for lunch.

I didn’t realise that we’d get to have lunch as well as go to the awards, so that was an added bonus to a wonderful experience. Originally I was taking both MG and DG but was then advised that the day was really for children aged seven and up. MG is a bright and (generally) patient child so the fact it was one day after her sixth birthday wasn’t a problem but I am glad I didn’t take DG because she would have been bored and grotty as there was a lot of waiting around which MG only just managed.


A trip to London is a special treat for MG and something we’d only done once before. I’m glad we had that trip because we went to South Bank which is where the Awards were based so we were both familiar with how to get there. On arriving, my anxiety hit because my phone decided to stop working. I have a basic android smart phone but I rely on it far too much it seems: it is my clock, my alarm, my communication, my train timetable… Without it I felt somewhat lost, because I didn’t even know what the time was. Plucking up courage, I asked several people and managed to end up in the right place at the right time and once in the building at 11am knowing the time didn’t matter because everything was run beautifully.

I spied Caryl fairly quickly and we made our way to say hello. MG was instantly smitten, and Caryl is as lovely in real life as she appears. Despite her nerves, she treated us like old friends and during dinner she was sat next to MG engaging with her. Thank-you, Caryl! In the pre-dinner reception we also found Zoe and Mélanie to talk to, despite them both also being incredibly busy. Before the meal all the authors and illustrators were pulled off to signing tables and the children from around the country were excitedly meeting their heroes and getting books signed. It was a lovely sight to see. I would have loved to have brought my copy of A Monster Calls and met Patrick Ness in person but the day was about the children, so we bought new copies of Can You See Sassoon? and Spooky, Spooky House and lined up to get those signed along with the copy of Welcome to Alien School that we already owned.

Sam Usher signing

I love Dog Loves Drawing, but it wasn’t such a hit with my daughters sadly, so we didn’t buy that one or get it signed. To be honest, by the second queue MG was fed up and wanted to sit down again but I was a mean mummy and we lined up to meet the authors and illustrators for the three books we’d chosen. Sam Usher and Louise Yates had the longest queues because they drew fairly complex doodles in each book they signed and therefore took longer for each book. I hadn’t been sent with any requests from my group so we just had books signed for us, but some people had four or five copies of each book. All the authors and illustrators were fantastic for the time they put in, not to mention the organisers!

There were two authors missing. Pittacus Lore, on account of being an alien on the run, and David Walliams, on account of being a ‘sleb. David Walliams did turn up to the ceremony for his part of the awards and I’m glad to see the behind-the-scenes pictures on the FCBG website where the children who should have presented to him during the dinner did get to meet him and present his portfolio in person.

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves recieving portfolios

Before the meal, every author and illustrator was presented with a portfolio of drawings and writing from various school children. MG got to sneakily look through Caryl Hart’s because she was sitting next to her! I thought this was a lovely thing, and really added to the child-centred aim of the awards. Every child who was attending from a local book group was involved in the ceremony in some way. Groups of three or four children presented the portfolios at the meal, and groups of children also presented the awards for each category. As MG was the only person for Oxford, she ended up with a different surprise…

Welcome to Alien School portfolio

The meal was very well organised. Every table had at least one author or illustrator plus representatives from FCBG, Red House, or a publisher as well as the adults and children from local book groups. Every child got a teddy and a goody bag with things to keep them amused like book samples and colouring. The event was all about the children and they could all happily mill with the authors and illustrators, chat and get books signed. Being at the younger end, MG stuck with me, but the delight on the faces of children meeting their favourite authors and illustrators was lovely to see. The food itself came in child-sized portions served on long wooden trays for everyone to help themselves. This was an excellent idea, as the food just kept coming so the adults could eat whatever they needed and the children had a good choice from a healthy and varied selection including the ever-popular mini burgers and ice cream cones!

After the meal, we went into the venue for the ceremony. The various VIPs from the meal (and their parents or carers in the case of the children) were in the front rows getting a great view of everything. The Awards were hosted by James Campbell who also hosts Red House’s Big Book Babble so he’s both very familiar with the authors and illustrators, and with keeping children amused. The event consisted of introductions, interviews, children from Stagecoach performing, and the winner announcements. I could write more, but there’s good write-ups at Red House and FCBG already!

Look at the crowds, no wonder MG was shy! Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

From a personal viewpoint, the main part of the ceremony for us was during the interviews of the Younger Children shortlisted authors and illustrators where everyone was invited to try to find Sassoon under their seat. It was under MG’s seat. We’d actually had a bit of a head’s up on this and when I saw it was there when we sat down I talked to MG about going onto the stage and whether she wanted to do it. This is the girl who refused to have her picture taken at the table, but she said she would go up and when the time came she held up Sassoon, smiled excitedly and ran to the stage.

I found Sassoon! Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

Image (c) Dominic Turner from FCBG

At this point, she realised how big the place was and how many people were there and became very, very shy. I probably should have gone down and held her hand but I was stuck to my seat with nerves too. Here James Campbell showed how good he is with children. He spoke to her on her own level at all times; he found her name tag so she didn’t have to say her name out loud; he tried to get a smile out of her; he didn’t force the Sassoon model on her (we got it after the ceremony!); and he carried her back to her seat! She was in tears so we had a huge snuggle and she asked to leave but she only cried for a minute because it was a huge thing for her and then she was happy again. She stole my camera and started to film the end of the ceremony, her favourite part being this tiny snippet where James Campbell asks after her:


Sadly we don’t have too much of the ceremony filmed, my camera stops filming at ten minutes so we completely missed the part where Patrick Ness repeatedly used the work b*ll**ks in order to avoid using the word b*ll**ks. I did find this amusing, especially when MG said to her dad: “I’ve learnt a new rude word. But it’s not from mummy, it’s from an author.” I have a different opinion on swear words than my husband 😉

Here is some near the end. Patrick Ness does say the b-word: it’s so noisy you don’t really hear it, but I feel I should add that warning! Bear in mind all of this was filmed by a newly minted six-year old, it isn’t great footage.


The memory card in the camera ran out too, and after I deleted some pictures to make space MG didn’t press the record button hard enough. But she loves the part she did record, and watches it to remind herself of the day out. As soon as the awards were finished, we rushed off to catch a train because MG was feeling very worn out by this point. Looking at the pictures on the FCBG site, it seems that most of the book group children got their pictures with Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish, the overall winners, but we didn’t stay to congratulate them sadly. MG did drag me to say goodbye to Caryl, who lifted her up for a big goodbye hug. We also went to ask for Sassoon but just missed Sam Usher to thank him in person.

In summary, it was a wonderful experience and MG enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a little too much for her at six but she did really well and I’ll hopefully take her again next year; and DG in a couple of years’ time. We may not be representing Oxford CBG for a few years, as other children will get a turn, but the ceremony alone was good fun too.

Both MG and DG chose Spooky, Spooky House as their first choice so they’re very happy about the winner. As I said in my summary review of the four picture books, it was so hard to choose between them myself but I had a feeling Spooky, Spooky House would at least win the Younger Children’s category given the reaction of the children we tested on locally. Congratulations Andrew and Lee, and to all the other winners, shortlisted authors and illustrators, organisers and children. Well done all.

Overall Winners, Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish. Image (c) Dominic Turner, from FCBG website

The top five photos and two video clips were taken by myself or MG; the bottom four photos are from FCBG, copyright Dominic Turner.

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting

This is not a review of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton because I haven’t read the book yet! However Mostly Books held an evening with Noël speaking which was very interesting and I will ramble about that and throw in a picture book recommendation.

Noël is a powerful, effective and interesting speaker. Based on last night’s hour in her company I can see why she has such a good reputation. She was especially good at getting parents to think about specific examples of their troubles, and most people found that very hard – “Oh, then she gets sarcastic”; “In what way sarcastic?”; “She says she won’t eat her dinner.”; “That’s not sarcasm.” Noël also silenced two middle-aged women chatting as if they were schoolchildren, asking them to listen to her instead of moaning about their children. I enjoyed listening to her very much.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to this event was to take Mr Chaos. Mr Chaos learns more effectively from listening to a subject than reading and I wanted him to see what kind of parenting I’d like to be able to do so we can support each other more effectively. The three main principles that Noël talked about, on top of answering specific queries from the attendees, are covered in the paragraphs below. This was a short event, not a training course, so she didn’t cover all her methods but it was a great introduction.

“Commit to never doing anything for your children that you know they can do themselves.”

It is common sense, but it’s also exceedingly hard. Noël covered the example of getting everyone out to school and letting the children dress themselves – something that is one of my biggest stressors! How can we manage this? Start 20 minutes earlier. I tried this morning and ended up with MG stomping and tantruming all over the house, pretending she couldn’t dress herself and screaming for attention.

“Note that it is called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting. Not Calm, Easy, Happy Parenting. There’s no such thing, it’s all in the ‘er'” I should probably read a section of the book before trying to apply it though!

Letting children do things by themselves empowers them and gives them self-confidence and autonomy. Always doing things for them may make them feel that you don’t trust them to do anything or that you should do everything for them. “Teach me to do it myself” is also a central tenet in Montessori philosophy and “Never help a child unless they ask for help” is something that has been told to us since MG started at Montessori nursery at 5 months old and yet I still don’t seem to manage, stressing over timetables to get places and the mess when they do do things themselves!

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (another book I own but haven’t read) is written by a Montessorian and is based on the philosophy of Alfred Adler, who also influenced Noël. I think it may be interesting to read Positive Discipline and Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting together.

Descriptive praise is a concept that comes across in many of the books I have(n’t) read. Again, it is used in Montessori classrooms and is discussed in How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and in Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It’s probably covered in Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, but I haven’t finished that yet either…

The idea of descriptive praise is to stop saying things like “well done, fantastic, amazing, good girl, clever boy!” and to instead describe what you’re seeing: “You got dressed in time this morning”; “You put your cereal bowl in the sink”; “You didn’t bite your sister”. Okay, I’m not so sure on my last example but Noël did say to praise what is good and what is not bad, to look for the positive in all situations.

The third main concept Noël covered was “think-throughs” to prepare for success. At a neutral time, have a short conversation with your child in which you ask questions to get them to think about how they should behave in a particular situation. The idea being that each time you discuss this (and let the child do the speaking), an image of themselves doing the correct thing forms in their mind. Repeated “think-throughs” reinforce the mental image which then reinforces the actual action. Talking about the positives and imagining future successes encourages children to be that success. On the flip-side of this, if you constantly tell a child that they’re messy, lazy, nasty, etc then they will become this horrible person that they are told that they are.

Which leads nicely to Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Burningham.

Edwardo is an ordinary boy. Sometimes he does naughty things. But every time he does something naughty, an adult tells him he is always naughty so he continues to get worse. Until, one day, he is given a positive comment…

I think this picture book perfectly encapsulates the effect of negative and positive words from adults on children. If a child is constantly told they are horrible, then they will live up to that expectation. This book should be in all primary schools to help children understand the power of words and to engage them in discussions of how we can make other people feel by the things that we say. Parents can learn a lot from its message too.

I will be reading Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting because flicking through it looks like a nicely laid out book with sensible and useful ideas to put into actual actions without seeming daunting despite the 400+ pages. It’s aimed for 3-13 year olds but the ideas can be applied to teens, although there will be a teen-centred book out in the future. Huge thanks to Mostly Books for arranging an enjoyable, useful and motivating event.

And finally, another comment from Noël in answer to the question on what to do in dangerous situations: “You just act. If it’s danger, you don’t want to stop and think what parenting strategy you should be using.”

Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration 2012

One of the beauties of Twitter, for me, is that because I follow people / organisations I’m interested in, I find out about events that I would have missed otherwise because of not signing up to the right mailing list or looking in the right newspaper… One of these events was Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration, part of Oxford’s Art Weeks.

This was a whole day of author/illustrator workshops and other fun, which I planned to take MG and DG to as much as they could manage. We arrived just after 11am, with Emma’s talk starting at 11.30. She was setting up so we started to wander the children’s section and hit the Animation Station, where we got stuck for the next hour and a half!

MG loves drawing, although she is a little shy and takes a while to warm up. But once she got started, she was lost in the drawing and concentrated on it for over an hour. She got upset at one point because another girl drew a sun, but the point was to be a collaboration except because everyone was watching Emma she got the sole control until Emma finished! The video below is from the event, MG takes up the first 2 minutes 32 seconds with her drawing! The animation is a lovely idea, I find it fascinating how she approaches drawing and am thrilled to have this memory of part of her development.


I occasionally peeped in at Emma’s talk where she read the first Wagtail Town and a Blue Kangaroo book, plus drew pictures and there was colouring for the children. It looked like a great session from what I got to see!

It was now 12.30 so time to get food into MG and DG if they were going to manage any more of the day. Just as we were leaving we bumped into Clara and the lovely Rosi from Harper Collins who were about to set up for Clara’s session at 1.30. There’s a Wagamama just a couple of streets away from Blackwell’s and both girls love noodles so off we went. Yum 🙂

We got back to Blackwell’s in time for Clara’s session where she drew Martha, Monty and Pip (and Paws!) but having forgotten to bring a pink pencil, coloured their ears and noses with lipstick instead.

Clara then read Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School, which MG had to listen to all the way through despite being desperate for the toilet! I managed to get her away after the story so we missed the instructions on how to make bunny ears but it was straightforward and the girls picked it up in no time. Sadly I neglected to take any pictures as we were all too busy making, and then we left the bunny ears somewhere *sniffles* but they were lovely.

MG and DG are big fans of Clara’s books, especially DG so we were all thrilled to get to chat to her afterwards. The girls completely ‘adopted’ Clara and were genuinely upset when we had to part. It was an utterly fantastic day. We completely missed Louise Yates because MG and DG were too tired for more sessions and needed to stretch their legs more. DG had a great time twirling with Martha Bunny, and somehow my girls managed to charm Clara into taking Martha home with them 😉

A great day, and I hope there’s another festival of illustration next year.

Other Worlds at The Story Museum

The Story Museum centre opens in Oxford in 2014 but before then they’ve starting putting on events in the building. Other Worlds is open for the whole of May and is a series of art installations in rooms in what was the post office and telephone exchange. It is somewhere that needs at least a couple of hours of exploring, which I certainly didn’t get with a 3 and 5 year old but here are the highlights of our little exploration.

We visited on Sunday 13th May in the morning because I knew Korky Paul would be there for a workshop. He will also be there Sat 19th May in the afternoon and Sun 20th May in the morning (check with The Story Museum for times).

Firstly, all the staff were absolutely wonderful. They greeted everyone enthusiastically, spent time chatting with the children and were completely approachable to talk to. They made the whole visit a delight (even with slightly clingy small children!) MG spent most of the time saying “can we go now?” until we left when she said “when are we going back?” Typical five year old?! DG explored, she likes exploring. We missed out at least half of the exhibits.

MG’s favourite was the Word Storm. We didn’t go in properly and read the walls but the room with its thunder and lightning was intriguing enough and the peephole in the wall to look through was great for the children.

The second favourite was A Crafty Fag, although I have no idea what was going on because I didn’t get to look for more than five seconds! But the girls climbed the ladder and looked through a periscope to see a video which seemed very curious. I think the ladder was of more interest to my children though!

Both of these were on the first floor, we didn’t go in any rooms on the ground floor but the main entrance had audio and paintings so you walk straight in to the experience. The portaloos (very important when you have small children, we had several visits!) were behind some bean poles with tags that looked interesting and I loved the notice in the courtyard about smoking!

The second floor housed Korky Paul’s PlessieOsaurus and the workshop, where the children were free to draw and paint an underwater scene on the walls and floor with Korky drawing outlines of Plessie and fish for everyone (not just the children) to colour plus giving impromptu advice on how to draw fish, how to make the paint more watery to look underwater etc. He spent the entire time engaging with the children and if I wasn’t totally shy I would have said hello as it was a very informal and intimate workshop. I think there were about 20-30 people there so it wasn’t overcrowded. There was a bit of drama when the Plessie fell over when the staff tried to move it to make space but no one (including Plessie) was hurt.

DG, being DG, happily painted the walls, looking for me when she wanted to change colours and when she wanted to stop. MG, being MG, clung to me at all times and didn’t do any drawing at all (which is a shame, because it is her favourite occupation usually). So MG and I kept out of the way and looked at the other exhibits in the huge room that we were in while DG happily painted, looking out for me on the odd occasion (I kept an eye on her at all times, in case she got stressed.)

There were tables with books spread around (which of course I couldn’t resist) and posters, postcards etc to support the museum. I bought a small handful 😉 It was a lovely trip and although the girls had their ‘bored’ moments while we were there, we did stay for about an hour and a half and they said they really enjoyed it afterwards and wanted to go again.

This review is a tiny taster of what Other Worlds has to offer, it really deserves a longer visit. Other Worlds is open until 27 May on Thursdays to Sundays (see website for details) and costs £3 per person, children under 2 are free.

Making Hats at Pitt-Rivers Museum

During the Easter school break, I took MG and DG to Oxford Natural History and Pitt-Rivers museums, something I don’t do nearly as often as I should considering how easy they are to get to. This turned out to be a fairly short trip in terms of looking at anything in the museums, because we found the craft area and the girls spent most of their time there making Wellington Soldier hats, or Pirate hats as DG has it – Arrr, mateys!

I shall write about how awesome both the Natural History and Pitt-Rivers museums are in another post at some point, but in summary they are wonderful with supportive staff, lots of interesting things to see and regular family-friendly events. As MG and DG get older, we’ll go to more events as they’re still quite young.

These Wellington Soldier hats are so simple to make and look great.


  • 2 pieces of black A3 card
  • one long strip of card (any colour, about 5cm wide)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • lots of bits and pieces for sticking

Firstly, you need to cut the shape in the picture above from the two pieces of A3 card. It takes up most of the card length but a little less than the height. There were templates provided at Pitt Rivers for the children to draw round and cut. (I tried to create the template on my computer but I have zero artistic talent so failed miserably!)

Once the two sides of the hat have been cut, they need to be decorated however you wish. There were lots of beautiful parent-designs on the day, but I like to let my girls do their own crafts so they may not have perfect hats, but they’re theirs 🙂

Once each of the two hat pieces have been decorated (one side only), put them together with the decorated sides outwards and staple the top edges together. Take the long strip of card and measure the child’s head, stapling a circle that fits the child together, then staple the circle card into the bottom opening of the hat.

Such a simple and effective craft, MG and DG thoroughly enjoyed it. Huge thanks to Pitt-Rivers’ for an idea for an easy craft we can modify and do again and again!

Little Pirate Wellington Soldier (who didn’t want her picture taken!)

I’m linking this up to A Mummy’s View’s #ArtAttackTuesday.

Oxford Literary Festival: Clara Vulliamy and Emma Chichester Clark

Despite living in or near Oxford my entire life, and the festival running for 16 years, I’ve never been to an Oxford Literary Festival event before. I have truly been missing out. It was hard choosing just one event, but also a no-brainer: how could I turn down the opportunity to meet Clara Vulliamy? The day of the event dawned grey and dreary, after a week of lovely weather. It also came with a small child who whinged constantly about everything from the moment she woke at 7am until eventually cheering up slightly on the bus into Oxford at about 10.30am. Given that the event was at 12pm, we made a pit stop for snacks and drinks to minimise extra whinging. We arrived about 15 minutes early but there was already another family waiting and it wasn’t too long before we were all invited in.

I’d actually been so nervous at meeting Clara, and wondering how to introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Child-Led Chaos”?! But then I remembered she does know my name, so I ended up saying “Hello, I’m Anne-Marie.” and was greeted like an old friend before she had to rush off to find some pens!

Firstly, I must say that although Clara Vulliamy is lovely, friendly, amazing and welcoming on Twitter; she is even more lovely in real life, talking to everyone as if they were the only person there and yet taking the time to talk to everyone. I’d never actually heard of Emma Chichester Clark before (ooops) but I also managed to have a chat with her and she was also very lovely, talking to everyone. All the people involved in the event were friendly and approachable and I’d recommend anyone who gets a chance to go to an author event in Christ Church JCR to go, it’s a lovely intimate venue (I guess you can pack more in but because this event included crafts, half the room was taken with tables).

My daughters were in a clingy mood, so although there were cushions set out for the children at the front and chairs for the grown-ups, I had to sit with them on the floor. I wasn’t the only parent on the floor, but the others at least managed to get more than two inches away from their children! Sitting down, surrounded by bags (spare clothes, wipes, snacks and drinks) and coats I felt like I was taking up half the floor but wasn’t really, and there was plenty of room for everyone. The event started with the housekeeping notices, which started with “no photography”. So I dutifully put my camera away, only having the one picture of the front of stage. I wish I could have taken more.

The first person to talk was Emma Chichester Clark who went through slides of all the characters from Wagtail Town, which was really nice to see them all separately. There were a lot more characters than included in the first book, Lulu and the Best Cake Ever, but there is another book ready for publication next year and possibly a third in the works (I asked while she was signing our book). After going through the characters, she read the book (which I will review later in this post).

After Emma had finished reading, Clara came on with a large cardboard cut-out Martha which she hid behind the sign for the children to guess what it was. She then read her book (which I will review later in this post) and showed a felt rabbit that all the children could make.

During the readings, MG and DG were very well behaved. They did ask for drinks and snacks and I tried not to rustle too much as I got things out of my bag, but considering how whingy the rest of the day was, they were on their very best behaviour for the whole event.

MG’s artwork on the left, DG’s on the right.

The craft session was centred around making the felt rabbits, although there were also Wagtail Town badges for the children to colour in. The four tables were covered in felt shapes, buttons, ribbon and pens. I was in heaven 😆 I had to help DG quite a lot with her rabbit, but she did all the decoration herself. MG managed to follow the instructions more, but still needed some help. I was somewhat trapped behind a table with them, so saw David Melling getting books signed and leaving without managing to introduce myself (although it wasn’t his event, so a bit of an invasion of privacy therefore I didn’t try too hard!)

The rest is somewhat of a blur. I got to talk to Clara for a while, the girls ran around getting in everyone’s way, I got both books signed to both girls and I gave Clara a very silly little gift as a thank-you for how kind she is which she was very nice about! We were probably the last non-event people to leave the room, although I could have talked to Clara for hours!

The girls were fidgety so instead of going out for lunch as planned, we got the next bus home and DG fell asleep on my lap almost as soon as we were back and slept for three hours (she stopped naps seven months ago, so this is very unusual but explained the grotty morning). Sadly this meant we missed a live drawing event with Clara and Emma that afternoon, although apparently it wasn’t well advertised and I didn’t know about it until after it had finished.

The picture above was taken by David Melling who kindly gave me permission to include it in my post. He also tweeted finished pictures by Emma Chichester Clark and Clara Vulliamy, Chris Riddell, Korky Paul, Emily Gravett and Joe Berger. I am utterly gutted to have missed all of this, but MG and DG weren’t in the mood for being out that long on that day so it wouldn’t have been a good time even if we had managed to see.

Wagtail Town: Lulu and the Best Cake Ever by Emma Chichester Clark

The story is about Lulu, a little dog with big ideas who gets carried away with wanting to make the best cake and disappointed when the cake she makes isn’t a winner. But that doesn’t mean Lulu isn’t a winner in other ways and all ends on a happy note. Emma certainly seems to know her dog breeds and all the characters in Wagtail Town have accents befitting the country the breed comes from, for example Lulu is French and lives in a house that looks like the Eiffel Tower. There appears to be a huge amount of background to this book – each character has a name and personality, there is a map of the town at the front and a final page that feels like the end of an episode. I get a feeling that this could easily be adapted into a TV series and I wonder if there are any plans for this. I think it would be very popular. The book also educates because of all the different breeds and any child with an interest in dogs will love looking up more about them (I will have to get a copy to send to one of my nieces who adores dogs!)

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School by Clara Vulliamy

I was so excited about getting to read this book (see I [Heart] Martha Bunny) that there was a chance it could have been a disappointment. I needn’t have worried, this is a lovely book and already a favourite with both my girls (especially DG who is already the biggest fan of Muffin and the Bear with Sticky Paws). Martha is a very sunny bunny who loves everything and is very excited about her first day at school. But she has to leave her two little bunny brothers behind which makes them all feel sad (bunnies put their ears down when sad, and Clara has captured this perfectly). The book is full of lists and side notes, and text that bounces around the pages. Each page has so much to explore, and cute little moments like Paws the puppy appearing in the corner of (almost) every double page. One of my favourite parts is the realistic breakfast with small children: all three have a different breakfast, one bunny brother will only eat his wearing a cardboard box on his head and the baby (toddler) is squeezing egg through his fingers delightedly saying “Mud!”. It’s a beautifully observed moment in a book full of such great observations of small children’s habits. It’s a book that children will understand because it speaks to them, and one filled with moments that parents will relate to. I still [Heart] Martha Bunny, her brothers and her creator.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of both Wagtail Town: Lulu and the Best Cake Ever and Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Love School by Harper Collins for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post and bought the tickets for the festival event myself.

Kennington Literary Festival 2011

Back in October I was fortunate enough to take Mighty Girl to the Kennington Literary Festival. Kennington is a village just south of Oxford which has a wonderful tiny library in the village centre which is threatened with cuts on an almost daily basis despite the huge number of people it supports, mainly through voluntary work as it is…

It also has its own literary festival, the second of which was in October 2011. The festival started on a Friday evening with a film showing and talk and continued throughout the Saturday with various author events. For such a small place, the festival organisers did brilliantly attracting SF legend Brian Aldiss, Joshua Files author M G Harris and Winnie-the-Witch illustrator Korky Paul, among others.

As a picture book fan with two small children, of course we went to see Korky Paul so this review is purely about that part of the festival. For other reviews and information, please visit the sites of: Mostly Books (review), Brian Aldiss (review), MG Harris, Save Kennington Library, The Oxford Times.

I really do love Korky Paul’s art, it is so detailed and funny. First introduced via Winnie the Witch, we have quite a collection of his books. He is also a very nice person in real life as we found out at the festival.

Obviously with a lot of experience of doing events for children, Korky Paul directed the staff to what he needed: which was basically a flip pad, two glasses of water for cleaning his brushes and a hat for putting raffle tickets in. Each child was given a raffle ticket, which was for a very special purpose (and a great idea).

To start with, he asked the children his name, and then pretended that one of them had said “Snorky Snorl”. He got one of the children to write how they thought that was spelt, and then talked about how the word sounded like a creature which he then sketched and painted whilst also talking about how to just experiment with colours and see how things turned out. Once the picture was complete, a raffle ticket was taken out of the hat and the child with that ticket got to keep the painting. What a fantastic idea!

Then he read the first Winnie the Witch book, taking time to talk about the words chosen by Valerie Thomas and how he thought they were just right, e.g. “Winnie was furious.” He really appeared to be enjoying reading, despite the fact he must have read it so many times at different events (we’d actually been fortunate to hear him read earlier in the year, also in Kennington, after a march protesting the library cuts).

After this, he used the raffle ticket system again to draw dinosaur portraits for each child selected. He managed to do four or five in the time allotted. I think this raffle ticket system was a very fair idea. He obviously would never have enough time to paint a portrait (he’s the world’s greatest portrait painter, didn’t you know…) for all the children at every event and this system is completely fair. We didn’t get one, but I think MG would have been too shy to stand at the front while he painted.

Finally, he gave out some prizes for a local children’s poetry and art competition and then was available for signing books. I said I didn’t think he would have time to paint a picture for every child, however he did take the time to sketch in each book he signed.

He is very approachable and chatty, and I really wish I wasn’t so shy in real life. This also sadly is rubbing off on my children although I do try, and they are more naturally confident compared to me. MG handed over a picture she’d drawn of Winnie, a pumpkin and Wilbur and Korky Paul accepted it graciously (although I’m sure he gets hundreds of these!)

All in all, it was a fantastic event. I’d absolutely recommend taking a child to a Korky Paul event if you ever get the opportunity. He will be at the Oxford Literary Festival in March, details can be found on the Oxford Literary Festival website. We won’t be going as I could only afford one event and we chose to see Clara Vulliamy and Emma Chichester Clark, which I’m really looking forward to.

Kennington also have more children’s book events, including one with Cressida Cowell in March, which I must sign us up for… I really enjoyed the Kennington Literary Festival, and would have loved to have seen more of it. I very much hope they have another festival this year.