Category Archives: Direct Speech

New Year’s Resolution… Read to the Baby

Making New Year’s Resolutions seems to be a bit passe, but I still like to do it. It gives me a chance to reflect on what’s working well or not so well, what I’d like to do more of, projects I’d like to complete. And of course, you could do it at any time, but the New Year seems to offer the perfect timing. The clock ticks over and boom, you’re into working on your goal.

Now, from the title of this post, my New Year’s Resolution might seem a bit strange for a book blogger. What do you mean you don’t read to your baby? Don’t you know the importance of reading to babies and young children?

Well, here’s the thing. I read to Phoebe, my now three and a half year old constantly. From the moment I brought her home from hospital, I read her newspaper articles while she was feeding, books as soon as she was old enough to keep her eyes open to look at them, sang her songs… she had stories for fun in the day, stories before naps, bedtime stories… she loves books and loves to take herself off and “read” by herself.

But the baby…. the baby does not like being read to. Erin likes books, don’t get her wrong. If anything she has a paper fetish, but she sees them more as a snack. Should you leave her unattended with a board book for even half a minute, she will have eaten the spine and you’ll be fishing it out of her mouth. I try and read her bedtime stories but she throws herself backwards howling with rage when she doesn’t get to chew the pages… It doesn’t make for a relaxing bedtime when The Very Hungry Caterpillar has you in tears. So I need new strategies for reading to the baby and my new year’s resolution is to develop a range of strategies to start reading to a baby who doesn’t like books.

This is what happened to one of her Christmas board books when I turned my back the other day….

 

I trained as an English teacher so I have a pretty good understanding of active reading strategies and ways of getting older learners who are reluctant to engage with books to engage with books and I was talking to my MIL who is a primary school teacher about this to see if she had any tips for helping babies engage with books. Apparently their father was the same and would be happy enough to listen to a story if he was allowed to run around like a lunatic while he did it, but wouldn’t sit and cuddle and enjoy one. Apparently her health visitor told her that all children are either dissectors (who want to examine things very carefully) or destroyers (well, you know…) and it would seem that I have one of each.

In some ways that’s reassuring because it means that Erin is at least experiencing the passive benefits of me reading to Phoebe while she plays happily on the floor, so it would be nice to have some devoted one on one story time. I’ve already tried letting her pick the books, reading touchy feely books, trying different reading times and places but all she wants to do is gnaw on the books. I’ve tried making sure she has a teething toy and a fully belly as well!

My next line of attack will be to look at more active storytelling, since she loves being danced with and nursery rhymes which you perform with/on her physically. I’m thinking story baskets and puppets as a first line of attack. In the meantime, her current favourite toy is an indestructible book that my friend bought her for Christmas. They look and feel like real paper but are completely chew proof (and believe me she’s tried) so I might see if I can find more of those as an interim solution. If I’m not allowed to read them to her, at least she can enjoy turning their pages!

We’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, the phrase, “Not in your mouth!!!” is very versatile.

Baby bookworm. She literally eats books. She just won’t read them.

More reasons I’m not reading books

Following on from my post a few years ago about why I’m not reading, allow me to introduce the newest reason I’m not reading books, and not writing reviews of the ones I do get to read.

Erin joined us in April, and between being pretty tired juggling pregnancy, a toddler and work I haven’t had much energy to write blog reviews of some of the excellent books I’ve read. She’s definitely worth it though and her big sister is a superfan.

Cloud spotting with her big sister

I’m hoping to start reviewing some more grown-up books soon, but in the meantime feel free to ask me anything about picture books. I read about ten of those a day. I might even start reviewing them.

I can’t defer book gratification

Something I’ve become increasingly aware of lately is my inability to defer gratification when it comes to reading (and jam doughnuts).

I keep making resolutions to read the books I have on my shelf before getting new ones. To work through a reading list systematically. To read Reservoir 13 that my brother passed on to me in October and keeps asking about. But mostly to make use of my local library to borrow books rather than buying them.

And I try so hard.

I take Phoebe to the library every Monday as that’s my day off work and we have a lovely time sitting with the teddy bears and choosing stories to read to them. Then I let her browse the shelves and pick some books for us to take home to read as bedtime stories. Sometimes, I’ll pick myself something that I’ve reserved up, so today I decided to plan ahead and check the catalogue for a book that I’ve been fancying since it broke out all over Twitter like a rash.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. The cover is so beautiful and it popped up so promisingly in the library catalogue search. I only had to type Mermaid and there it was… probably because 21 people had reserved it before me. 21 people… I’m estimating loaning it for a fortnight each… that would make it nearly 2019 before I got my hands on the seductive cover, all clam shells and gold foil on a matte black background.

Reader, I walked home via W H Smiths and bought a copy there because I have no will power and was too tired and achy to even make it to my local indie bookshop.

 

Five Tips for Getting Bloggers to Review Your Book

Most authors know that approaching bloggers to review their new book is a great way to drum up some free publicity that gives their book a word-of-mouth popularity, but when it comes to approaching blog authors with a query, their emails can be very hit and miss, sometimes just plain rude. Based on the emails I receive every day, here are my top five tips to help get your book reviewed with traditional presses and achieve a higher response rate when approaching bloggers about your book, remember you’re asking them to review your book for free so the least you can do is make your query polite.

 

Tip Number 1 – Check the blog’s reviewing policy

I wrote my reviewing policy so that anyone who asks me to review their book knows exactly what to expect when dealing with me – I don’t do paid reviews, I won’t mince my words, I don’t guarantee a review for books that were just blah  and I don’t review self-published novels. I’d say roughly half of the emails I receive asking me to review books are from self-published authors who haven’t spent the time familiarizing themselves with my reviewing policy beyond lifting my email address from it. If their book looks interesting and I know of another blogger who would review, I will try to link them up, but more often than not I have to delete their email without replying.

 

Tip Number 2 – Personalize your emails

No address is just rude, Dear Blogger is a bit annoying. If you’re taking the time to email bloggers, don’t send a clearly mass email in the hope that someone is going to commit at least three hours to reading your book and writing a considered review. Dear Book and Biscuit is acceptable, but most bloggers will have their name in their About Me section, and they won’t mind you using it.

 

Tip Number 3 – Build relationships

Bloggers can be really busy people. I work and have a toddler. Lots of other bloggers do too, or have other really time intensive commitments. If I’m pushed for time and declining reviews, I’m far more likely to make time to review a book by an author or publisher I have an existing relationship with. I doubt I’m the only one who feels like this. Rather than cold email a blogger, take your time to get to know their site, engage with it, comment on their blog, chat with them on social media. It will set you apart from authors who have lifted their contact details from a book reviewers list that many bloggers didn’t opt in to.

 

Tip Number 4 – Use your existing networks

If you’ve written a book, there’s a good chance that you’re a reader too. What existing networks do you have that allow you to reach readers that you’ve already built a relationship with? Do any of those blog, or would they be able to recommend interested bloggers who specialise in your genre? It’s worth reaching out with a personalized email to ask for their help or advice. It seems to me that there can be a lot of ego involved when people start out writing, but the authors I admire and who seem to be really successful are genuinely interested in being part of a community with like minded readers. I guess it’s all part of really understanding your target audience.

 

Tip Number 5 – Don’t pay for reviews

I know that it may seem tempting. And I know that there are unscrupulous sites which tout themselves as blogger networks who will take your money to arrange a blog tour or similar. I found this out when I provided an honest review after another blogger had begged me to as a favour, and the author became very upset because she had paid the other blogger (without my knowledge) and assumed that she had bought a positive review from me. It caused a lot of bad feeling all round. If you put in the work making yourself a part of a reading and writing community, you won’t have to pay for reviews, and you’ll build a more engaged following for it.

 

Fellow bloggers, is there anything else you’d add to this? Authors, what’s worked well in your experience?

Wait, World Book Day was last week?!

Only kidding. I knew it was World Book Day, just about. I remembered the day before it when the a sign on the nursery door reminded me that children were meant to come in dressed up as their favourite book character. This post is late because I’m too tired to blog any more.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried talking to a toddler about who their favourite book character is, but even a relatively verbose twenty month old can be quite evasive on the subject. Throw in the need to cobble together at short notice a costume that won’t be torn off in a fit of pique and you face a challenge.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Peter Rabbit… or at least, bunny ears and a blue jacket.

 

The costume is, admittedly, not great but I had to admire the spirit in which she wore it. She strutted into nursery and glared at anyone who dared to call her Phoebe. As soon as they called her Peter, she hopped quite happily around the room and settled down quite happily for a snack.

As for me, I’m joining the ranks of parents not quite sure why World Book Day seems to be about dressing up and not, say, reading a book.

Happy New Year

IMAG2643Happy New Year! And only five days late! As you can see, I was spoilt with books over Christmas once again, so coupled with my renewed love of my local library (they have a fish tank, it makes for a great day trip with Phoebe) I’ll have plenty to be getting on with in what little free time I have in 2016.

As regular readers will know, until the safe arrival of Phoebe in late June, the first six months of 2015 were truly awful for me. But from her arrival, the final six months have been the best of my life.

I hope that you all have a 2016 which is as wonderful as my 2015 with my little family has been. Read what makes you happy, even if it is Jane Austen.

And speaking of Jane Austen… I was given a beautiful folio set of her collected works for my 30th birthday, so prepare to bear with me when I revisit the lady I have (possibly) much maligned.

 

Harry Potter Parenting Hacks

True, they may have had five children under the age of seven at one point, but it occurred to me earlier (after three days of disrupted sleep, while singing Morningtown Ride for the seventeenth time in an hour and pacing the house with my overtired, teething baby) that Molly and Arthur Weasley probably had it pretty easy. Why? Magic my friends. Raising a baby is much easier if you can wave a magic wand and get things happening.

Don’t believe me? Let’s review the evidence.

ron weasley baby mandrake

 

Sleeping Draughts

A moral grey area, but need I say any more? The Weasleys had access to safe, effective sleeping potions. I’m not talking your Draught of Living Death type of potion here, just a drop or two of standard sleeping draught on the tip of a dummy and everyone’s happy. No more overtired baby, and the job’s a good ‘un. True, the baby would have to consume a small amount of flobberworm mucous as part of the potion, but let’s face it, babies have been known to put worse in their mouths.

the choice between what is right and what is easy

Time-Turner

You might need special permission from the Ministry of Magic to use one, but if Hermione Granger’s academic record was considered sufficient justification then I’m pretty sure that having five children under the age of seven (and two more not much older) would be enough to get you authorisation.  I’d hate to be the Minister of Magic who said it wasn’t. This one is less ethically tricky than the sleeping draught, your children are taken care of by their parent, but you plan your day carefully so that you can head to a quiet room, turn back time and nap for five hours before moving on to the next crisis. Prison and mortal peril are on their living room clock for a reason, just saying.

ron weasley piss off

Housework Charms

Mrs Weasley’s knitting does itself and the potatoes peel themselves. I daresay she had similar charms for nappy changing, clothes washing and folding. Imagine how much more you’d get done (and how much money you’d save) if you could just tell your garden to get on with growing vegetables which then cook themselves into a healthy dinner, wool that makes itself into clothes which then wash themselves… all while the dusting is getting itself done. I mean, come on, it’s practically cheating, isn’t it? No wonder she has time to make her own toffee and read Witches’ Weekly.dobby finger click

 

The Summoning Charm

I’ve always thought that this was potentially one of the most useful spells in the Harry Potter universe. Especially for the new mother. You left the nappy rash cream downstairs? Accio Weleda! The baby’s thrown up milk and you can’t find the muslin that you had two damn seconds ago? Accio burp cloth. Poo crisis but you can’t leave the baby unattended to get them clean clothes? Accio baby grow! Keep your wand handy and you will never lose anything again. And it’s no trouble if you’re across the room and spot your baby about to put something deadly in their mouth. Just summon it out of their chubby little fists then distract them with a tiny snowstorm you’ve conjoured up.

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Undetectable Extension Charm

Remember Hermione’s tiny beaded handbag? The one in which she packed everything she, Harry and Ron would need to escape the wedding and fight Voldemort? Yeah, well imagine being able to use that. You’d never run out of storage space in the house again. The toy box would never overflow so that you had to stack toys on top and then dig around for ages to find the favourite teething toy of a sleepy baby which is somehow hidden under a rustley sensory blanket, the jingliest jingle bells and a drumkit… Also, you could pack everything you needed into a small, stylish handbag and sashay out with your baby and pram without being bowed under the weight of baby paraphernalia. No need to have that internal debate about whether to take the second change of clothes… you could even take a change for yourself. Not that you’d need it, you could probably magic the milk vomit off your robes.

So, as I see it, the wizards have this parenting malarkey tied up. But it’s all good. My Hogwarts letter is due any day now…. Any day. In the meantime, well played Wizards. Well played.

The reason I haven’t read a book in over a month…

After my post in January, I’m very pleased to be able to report that our little girl Phoebe arrived safely in late June after a short, intense labour which was on the whole a positive experience.

Dreaming about rabbits, probably.

Dreaming about rabbits, probably.

She doesn’t let me spend much time reading, and the sound of pages turning when she’s asleep seems to startle her a lot so I will have to do most of my reading on an e-reader until she’s in more of a routine.

She’s shown an early interest in books and likes to gaze at the living room bookshelf, probably because of the contrast between the white shelves and the colourful books. She falls asleep pretty quickly and doesn’t seem to pay much attention to bedtime stories, but listens with interest when I talk to her about hiring a small dragon to guard her crib and stop the wind sneaking into her belly, the price of baby burps on the black market and the possibility that her toy mouse has been caught embezzling her milk supplies…

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Game of Thrones Colouring Book… not very mindful

Colouring this in WOULD give me nightmares

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but adult colouring books seem to be everywhere at the moment. My friend recently bought one for her partner, and there seemed to be a really wide array of them available (I think she went for something about dinosaurs with day jobs in the end).

I think that it must have a lot to do with a growing trend in mindfulness, because shortly before I went on maternity leave, my employer had started running lunchtime colouring in sessions to promote staff well-being as a part of the Mind, Body and Spirit month we have every June.

So I’m not sure whether to be surprised to read that there will be a Game of Thrones colouring book. On the one hand, I can imagine lots of adults buying it and it would make a great novelty present (I’m still waiting for A Game of Scones: All Men Must Dine to come out) on the other… I’m not sure how mindful it would be to colour in some of the horrible scenes. I’m pretty sure you’d soon run out of red pencil with all the blood and I don’t want to know how you’d recreate the horrible blue of the white walkers’ eyes. I’ve actually had nightmares about those.

A Valentine from Days Gone By

I had a lovely surprise this week when I received this old Valentine’s card from my boyfriend’s grandparents, still in its original envelope. There are so many little details that make this so interesting to me, the copperplate script, the penny stamp, the hand embroidered flowers… I love the idea of all of the stories this card might have seen, I wonder what happened to William and his mystery lady?

old valentine's envelope with penny stamp

old valentines card