Author Archives: Siobhan

How to Make a Paper House Lantern

It’s day three of my blogmas and I’m really excited to share today’s bookish craft with you – an easy DIY tiny paper house. I’m going to show you how to make a tiny paper house step by step so you can have your own (free!) lantern.

This was great fun to make and it’s made my mantlepiece look really Christmassy. I’ve got a feeling that I’ll be making a lot more of these before December is out, so my currently minimalist Christmas display will turn into a bustling paper village.

An important point to make, but one that bears saying, is if you do make a paper lantern, don’t put a real tealight in it as a candle is obviously a massive fire hazard. I’ve used an LED tealight in mine and these are widely available to buy. They are pretty much all I use with small children in the house. Speaking of small children, an adult will need to help them with this because the detail work requires a sharp craft knife.

To make a paper house lantern you will need:

  • Cardboard (I used watercolour paper for the main building for the texture and gold cardboard for the roof)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Right angle
  • Scissors
  • Sharp craft knife and a protective mat
  • Glue
  • Paper clips
  • Any embellishhments that you’d like to add- I used a strip of printed paper on the eaves of the roof to give the appearance of bookish snow

How to make a paper house lantern

    1. Draw out your paper house template carefully on a piece of card making sure that all of the supporting walls have right angle corners (unless you’re making a model of The Burrow for a family of tiny Weasleys to live in). Each of my walls is 6cm wide and 8cm tall, so the base of my house is 6cm square with space left for gluing flaps. The apex (if that’s the word?) of the roof is 3cm up from the central point of each wall, as you can see in the picture of my template, so it was just a matter of joining the corners of the walls to this upper point on the reverse of my building while sketching out the design. As long as you know how to make a cube, this is pretty easy.

      Step one, plan your build- my template for my tiny paper house lantern

2. When you’re happy with the shape of your template, add in the features that you will cut out for the light to shine through. As you can see in my template above, I’ve roughly sketched out windows and a door at the front, and two large windows on either side. I left the rear wall solid since this side won’t display to the room and it makes the paper house a little more robust. It doesn’t matter if the pencil sketching is a little messy as this will be the inside of your paper house so isn’t visible when you’ve folded the cardboard template together.

3. Cut out your house template, scoring the lines between walls gently with a craft knife so that they fold together smoothly but you don’t cut all the way through the card. Check that you’re happy with how your building folds together.

Check that your happy that your paper house folds together well

4. Using a very sharp craft knife cut out the detail on a protective mat. I used our plastic chopping board because I have no idea where my cutting board with measurements has gone during our house move. If your glue tab is going to obstruct a feature when your building folds together (as mine does above) trim this out of the way now.

This is the slow part

5. Use your glue stick to apply glue to your tabs and then stick your paper house together! Use the paper clips to secure the building in place while it dries.

Paper clip holding the paper house together, I also used them either side of the doorway to hold the small tabs in place while the glue dried.

6. Measure and cut your roof to have a little overlap. I made mine 7 x 11cm long and scored a line at the centre so it would fold smoothly. It holds itself very well but if you want a tight join you could probably weight it or use some washi tape inside.

7. Add any embellishments that you like, pop an LED tea light inside and put the lid back on. Voila, a wintry house in paper lantern miniature.

I’m looking forward to making some more of these. I’m even tempted to go wild and make some houses and buildings from literature. Hogwarts sprang to mind but that would be a lot of tiny windows and doors!

How to make a bookish 3D star ornament

crafts for kids 3d star ornament christmas decoration or placemarkerFor day two of my 12 days of blogmas I wanted to make some bookish star place holders that were inspired by these lovely thanksgiving pumpkins. A larger star would make a good photo holder.

What I really like about these is that you could make tiny versions to hang from the tree. They’d be good to make with older children as a STEAM craft activity as they’d have to work out the best way to rotate the shapes and how to coordinate the cut lines to create a 3D shape. Thicker card is best for this to ensure that the final star decoration keeps its shape and stands up independently.

Younger children will probably need a lot of help with this and an adult to do the cutting. When I made them, Phoebe decorated her own 2D shapes that I’d cut out ahead of time while I sat with her and made my 3D stars.

To make a 3D star place holder or ornament you will need:

  • A star template if you don’t want to draw free hand (I used a biscuit cutter)
  • Gold card
  • Decorative paper (book pages in this instance)
  • Scissors and/or craft knife
  • Glue stick
  • A needle
  • Fine wire to mount a piece of card or string to hang

How to make a 3D star:

  1. Trace matching star shapes onto the wrong side of your gold card and cut out.
  2. Smear the wrong side of the card shape with glue and stick on your decorative paper so that the gold side of the card is facing up. Allow to dry.
  3. Cut around the stars on the decorative paper so you have a star that is gold on one side with decorative paper on the other.
  4. Take two stars and sing a scissors or craft knife, carefully cut a line half way through the star- one from the top to the centre of a star, and on the other star from the bottom to the middle.
  5. Slot the two stars together through these cuts so they stand up by themselves.
  6. Using the needle, carefully poke holes through the top of the star, then thread with wire or string.
  7. To make a place holder, curl the wire in a spiral and then flatten as in my picture so that the name for the placeholder can be slotted in between the wire.

How to make a paper bird ornament

Five minute paper bird craft christmas robin easy for kidsAs part of the twelve days of blogmas I wanted to make some book themed Christmas ornaments, and I’m hoping to post one a day for the first twelve days of December.

I wanted to start with these simple paper bird decorations, which require no origami skills whatsoever but look really cute when the are finished. They’re a perfect craft for children as they really are a five-minute craft. I’ve given my paper bird decorations literary themed by covering them with pages from a damaged book, but you could easily use coloured card and bright embellishments to make them appealing for children.

 

 

To make a paper bird ornament you will need:

  • A bird shaped template (I drew around biscuit cutters)
  • Cardboard
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Two old book pages
  • Gold pen
  • Padded double-sided tape
  • Decorative thread
  • A yarn or embroidery needle

 

How to make a paper bird ornament:

step by step guide to making a paper bird ornament

 

  1. Trace the shape of your bird template onto a piece of card then cut this out
  2. Smear glue all over the one side of the cardboard and stick it to your book page. Allow this to dry then cut out the shape. Repeat this using the plain side of the card.
  3. Cut tear drop wing shapes out of the remaining paper.
  4. Edge the bird and wing shapes with the gold pen.
  5. Using the padded double-sided tape, stick the tear drop wing shape onto the side of the bird to give it a 3D effect.
  6. Make two small holes with the yarn needle and thread the bird for hanging on a tree, I found that two holes gives the bird better stability when hung on the tree.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Review

“The stories are of men who, walking on the shore, hear sweet voices far away, see a soft white back turned to them, and – heedless of looming clouds and creaking winds – forget their children’s hands and the click of their wives’ needles, all for the sake of the half-seen face behind a tumble of gale-tossed greenish hair.”

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar is one of those books that you see and have to buy in hardback. It’s so beautiful that waiting for the paperback (currently due to publish in January 2019) seems impossible. And I suppose this is how the book begins to help you understand the allure of the mermaid. It had 21 reservations at my local library when I tried to reserve it.

Set in the Georgian era, the story follows an array of characters who find their fortunes changing after encountering a mermaid that Jonah Hancock has acquired. The description of the mermaid makes it sound just like P.T. Barnum’s Fiji Mermaid, and it causes a similar sensation in Georgian society, making Jonah Hancock a fortune, and drawing him into the Georgian demi-monde as Mrs Chappell, a madam in a high-end brothel, hires his mermaid to provide her clientele with a new novelty. At Mrs Chappell’s house, he makes the acquaintance of Angelia Neal, a notorious courtesan who is seeking to secure her future following the death of her protector. Hancock finds himself powerfully drawn to Angelica Neal, who rejects and ridicules him. Nonetheless, he finds himself inspired by her, and drives himself to improve his fortune to catch her attention, risking his fortune and the safety of those he cares for in his quest for her approval.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. The verbosity of the novel which reflects its Georgian setting initially holds the reader at arm’s length, only to pull you in forcefully when you realise that the quiet Mr Hancock is fully living with the son he never got to know, haunted by a life that he never got to leave which lightly touches all aspects of his everyday reality. He’s a rare thing in novels, a genuinely kind character who always attempts to behave well to those around him but who is simultaneously capable of commanding a reader’s attention. Likewise, the beautiful Mrs Neal, who is somewhat reminiscent of Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp with her taste for the highlife and scheming to find a man who will elevate her to a suitably lofty position in society, but all the while lacking Becky Sharp’s wiles and ruthlessness, risking everything for an unsuitable love affair.

Despite the vivacity of the major characters, it’s the brilliantly drawn minor characters who make the novel. Capable Sukie who could be so much more if she wasn’t a woman living in Georgian England; the neat but merciless Mrs Frost; and poor Polly, who has come from somewhere and has gone somewhere and you want to know her story but can never fully follow it.

If you’re looking for a book to read for yourself, or a Christmas present for a reader (no spoilers, but has a relatively happy ending), I would highly recommend this. It’s not often that I’ll say that something is a must read but this is a heck of a book. I could easily see The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock being adapted as a showpiece drama for the BBC at Christmas, or being picked up by Amazon or Netflix in this brave new world.

How to Make a Book Advent Calendar

It’s one month to Christmas Eve and my mind has been turning to advent calendars. I always seem to end up panic organising these at the very end of November (or worse yet, buying small advent calendar fillers a day or two ahead throughout December, one step ahead of the sher-elf) so this year I decided that I would be organised and make sure that I had things ready in advance.

Behold, my book advent calendar.

Now I know that this might look a little excessive, but advent calendars have become big business in recent years, so I’ll sometimes buy a beer or beauty advent calendar as a gift for a relative who is very into a particular hobby, so I thought, why not a book advent calendar? While I’m sure that you can buy a book advent calendar, making your own book advent calendar allows you to tailor it to the recipient’s genre preference, for example, a crime fiction advent calendar, young adult fiction advent calendar or romantic fiction advent calendar… the ideas are endless while buying the books second-hand saves a lot of money while making it a gift for your friend and giving a nod to worthy charities at Christmas.

For my advent calendar, I scoured a local charity shops to find recent fiction paperbacks and on average these cost me 50p each, so you can easily buy the books for under £15 if you hunt around for bargains. The brown paper was inexpensive, and you could use string instead of ribbon, or do as I did and buy a large roll of cheap organza ribbon that can be used for the rest of your Christmas wrapping.

You will need:

24 books, wrapping paper, ribbon or string, coloured markers, decorations.

How to make it:

  1. Wrap the books (tip, pre-cutting the paper makes this faster)
  2. When the books are wrapped, try out different stacking formations until you are happy with your design.
  3. Once you’re happy with your final design, number the books with a coloured marker so that you can remember their final position in the stack.
  4. Once the books are numbered, take the stack apart and decorate them with any string, ribbon or embellishments that you want to add.
  5. Restack the books.
  6. Go wild with the Christmas decorations, have a cookie and a cup of tea.

NB. This is to make a 24 book advent calendar but you could easily customize this for a different time period, or do the twelve days of Christmas instead.

 

2018 book advent calendar 2018 24 days christmas for bookworms

 

Circe by Madeline Miller, a review

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Circe by Madeline Miller

I was a huge fan of Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (read my review here) so you can imagine I was thrilled when I received a copy of her new book Circe to help while away the hours while I waited for my very overdue baby while I was on maternity leave earlier this year.

In Miller’s retelling of the Circe from Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is the unloved daughter of Helios, the Titan sun god, and Perse, a sea nymph. Overlooked by her mother for lacking the beauty that might secure her a marriage to a god, and thus her mother’s social standing, she is left to her own devices and mocked by her more attractive siblings. When the abandoned brother she has raised from infancy rejects her too, she is desperate for any affection and discovers that she has the power of witchcraft. But this sees her banished from her father’s palace and placed on an island in complete isolation, where she truly comes to know herself and her power.

While I very much enjoyed reading Circe, and Miller’s writing is on point as always, I thought it was interesting that it was branded as a feminist retelling of the Greek myth. For me, even throughout Miller’s version, much of our perception of Circe is derived from her interactions with the male characters. We see Circe’s struggle to find her place in her powerful and abusive father’s court; the terror she strikes into Glaucus, the human she falls in love with but who abandons her when she gifts him divinity; Apollo who takes her as a lover, but for the novelty more than anything else; the men who rape her and set her on her course of turning men into pigs…the only men she feels comfortable with are brilliant humans like Daedalus and Odysseus, but even then her relationships with those are complicated by the existence of their sons. Even when she seems to achieve a degree of freedom, it is always the result of having to bargain with the male world, I suppose that you could argue that that’s the system that every woman operates within but even when Penelope comes onto the scene and in scenes with Parsiphae, I’m not convinced that Circe would pass the Bechdel test.

As for the happy ending that Circe is said to receive in both myth and this retelling, her character certainly deserves it. But I couldn’t help but feel that it was another example of her giving something away for a man.

Oh and if this leaves you wondering, as I always have, “How do you say Circe?” The correct Greek pronunciation would be Kirky, but Miller says that she finds Sirsee to be more accessible to the modern reader.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

“Science can save a man’s life, but imagination makes it worth living.”

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

In 1883, civil servant Thaniel Steepleton returns to his depressing flat in a grey boarding house to find that it has been broken into. Nothing has been taken but his dishes have been washed and put away, and a beautiful but apparently broken gold pocket watch has been left on his bed. A short while later, that same pocket watch saves Thaniel’s life during a Clan na Gael terrorist bombing, but makes him a suspect for the policeman who sees how it forewarns him of the blast. Desperate to prove his innocence, he goes in search of the maker, and soon finds himself drawn into an adventure he could never have imagined.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is the first novel of Natasha Pulley, though I actually came to it having read her second novel, The Bedlam Stacks which isn’t a sequel as such to the series though it does operate within the same universe and features the character Keita Mori at an early stage of his life. The books can be read out of sequence, and the second was enough to bump the first right to the top of my to read list.

I find Natasha Pulley’s writing to be a bit like stepping into a warm bath. It engulfs you and is instantly comforting, her style is so fluid and natural, there’s no hesitance in suspending belief. As soon as you begin reading you are in the old broom cupboard at the home office, with the smell of tea and cleaning salts. The whole novel has vast sensory appeal, drawing you in even further to the world of Lipton tea, cream cakes, lemon soap and whirring machinery.

Part of this is Pulley’s clever characterisation as well. Thaniel experiences synaesthesia and sees sound, which not only enhances your experience of his world, but invites you to see the exceptionalism in a character who sees his existence as wholly ordinary and who has, out of a sense of obligation and decency, given up his dream of being a pianist and settled for a life whose pleasures amount to being able to afford ten candles and two baths a week.

There is a deceptive gentleness to the novel, both the watchmaker Keita Mori with his kind eccentricity, tinkering away in his workshop making fascinating steampunk creations; and scientist Grace Carrow, desperately seeking to prove her theory of the luminiferous ether to buy her independence from her overbearing parents seem, on the whole as characters that we can sympathise with. But when Thaniel finds himself caught emotionally between the opposing geniuses, who both wish to be the center of his world, we become shocked at what each might be prepared to do in order to secure the future that they hope for.

I admire any novel which managed to include a clockwork octopus with a penchant for stealing socks and shiny things as a character without wandering into the ridiculous, but The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is such a joyful mixture of steampunk, magic realism, thriller and historic adventure that I’d recommend it to anyone. I’ve already bought two copies to give as Christmas presents and I haven’t ruled out buying more.

And if you do know of a clockwork octopus of that nature, ideally answering to the name Katsu, please send it my way. My sock drawer is warm and welcoming.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street spoilers section

Some of my thoughts on how the ending explains the character of the watchmaker

Pulley successfully raised my hackles against Grace Carrow when she had her declare that women shouldn’t have the vote, considering herself a typical to most women and feeling that her sex generally weren’t capable of thinking rationally, preferring to focus on politician’s sideburns instead… but in some ways, you do have to wonder if she has a point about Keita Mori’s ability to see possible futures and nudge events to ensure a certain outcome. A person who could do that could be incredibly dangerous and would be able to control you without you really realising. And the novel provides numerous examples of Mori doing just that, slightly manipulating events to save his friend Ito, or chillingly failing to act but making sure that he was in position to witness his cousin dying in a wall collapse, an event that we know he could have predicted.

But Grace is controlling herself. We see her lie frequently to ensure that Thaniel does what she wants him to do, or to hide the truth from him when she has deliberately acted in a way that she knows will hurt him. She extends the offer of a marriage of convenience to solve both of their problems, but then changes the terms of this to want a full marriage when she sees that Mori will make it difficult to control Thaniel. She also frequently underestimates Thaniel, which she acknowledges is because she has seen him as being her intellectual inferior. She is ruthless and will go to horrendous lengths to get her own way, which doesn’t make her a reliable judge of character when she gives an opinion intended to sway Thaniel to her way of thinking.

If we are to take Mori at his word, he finds Thaniel hard to anticipate because he is indecisive, which would clearly be a character trait which would appeal to a man who can instantly and clearly see all possible futures the second they become possible. This is why he has chosen to make himself a pet octopus which is robotic and controlled by random gears rather than get the puppy that Ito suggests. He wants something in his life which is beyond the sphere of his control.

I think that Mori flipping the train bolt in the air for Grace Carrow to see after Akira Matsumoto has returned to see Thaniel receive his award for bravery is something of an olive branch, as well as making good on his threat to wreck a train earlier in the novel. By wrecking the train that Akira Matsumoto has caught so that it will break down in time for him to see the newspaper cover about Thaniel, it allows Matsumoto to return to Grace and gives them an opportunity to confess the feelings for one another that they have clearly been unable to admit all through the novel. Yes, his ability to sail the tides of chance is sinister, but he’s used it to effect a happy ending for someone who has been his rival.

 

 

The Witches of St Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones a review

The Russian Empire is on the verge of collapse. Revolution is in the air. The starving stalk the streets of St Petersburg and yet the Imperial Court still commute between their estates and organise their lavish balls.

Two sisters arrive in the city. Princesses from Montenegro; they are famed for their wild beauty and mystical powers. Initially ridiculed and outcast as the daughters of a provincial ‘Goat King’, they react in the only way they know how. They befriend the isolated Tsarina Alexandra and, using their gifts, they help her in her increasingly desperate quest to give birth to a son and heir. The circle closes. The girls are the gateway. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools and charlatans all try their luck. Then in one last, doomed, throw of the dice, the sisters introduce Rasputin into the Russian Court…

Based on the true story of the lives of the Princesses Militza and Anastasia of Montenegro, The Witches of St Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones is an interesting read for presenting the build up to the Russian Revolution from within the very heart of the Imperial Court. The murder of Nicholas II and the Imperial family during the Russian revolution feels like one of those historical moments that everyone has an awareness of, with much popular culture dwelling on the fate of Anastasia before the discovery of her remains, so a book which hints at the build in tension towards this while focusing on another aspect of the story- the rise of Rasputin- gave me some understanding of the wider historical context and tensions that lead to this point.

The Witches of St Petersburg benefits from being set against the backdrop of an incredible period in Russian history, but in many ways has been constrained by this as well. While I found the characterisation of the novel fascinating, and in particular thought that Imogen Edwards-Jones had captured the brittle stubbornness of the historical Tsarina Alexandra, I also found that there were many occasions during which the narrative seemed to hover somewhere between the historical and fictional worlds without being able to commit fully to either.

At times we were to believe that the sisters are powerful witches, but very often they seemed powerless, or their only power was to empower men to act on their behalf. I didn’t understand their motivations as to why they attempted to “help” the Tsarina conceive a son- surely they would have had more to lose than to gain at many points in the novel. Similarly, I could never decide whether we were to see the character of Maître Phillipe as a genuine mystic or a charlatan and the authors perspective seemed to equivocate between this. Likewise, the author filled Militza with such a revulsion for the character of Rasputin that it was difficult to believe in her desire for him at points in the novel. Was he intended to be a cult figure with no real power beyond charisma, or was he intended to be an occult figure with a genuinely dark power behind him?

I don’t normally give a trigger warning for books, but I did find that this had a fixation on pregnancy loss that was somewhat unnecessary, and if I had read this closer to the loss of our little twin I would have found this very upsetting. The Tsarina’s struggles to conceive a son are relevant to the story, and historically accurate, but the book dwelled on Militza’s loss of a twin at birth in a way that seemed very much at odds with the scant reference to her surviving children throughout the book. The most upsetting part for me though was the graphic description of a miscarriage of twins in the early stages of the novel which the author has clearly intended to be horrific (and she succeeds in this) in order to give the sisters the physical material to pay the “price” of creating Rasputin later in the novel. I understand why the author has done this, but the sisters also make reference to there being a price for saving the life of The Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna after she lost the twins, and it is unclear what this is, the two prices seem to be separate.

The issue of the way in which the depictions of pregnancy loss were handled aside, I do think that this is an interesting novel for gaining a feel for the atmosphere of the Russian Imperial Court. However, if you are a purist in terms of historical novels, you may well find that the conflict between source material is too much for you.

Other readers may well feel differently about the book to me, so check out the rest of the Witches of St. Petersburg book tour to see what others thought. Thanks to Midas PR and Head of Zeus who sent me a review copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.