Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

GP June July 2017

The June/July edition of The Green Parent magazine includes the latest in my series of interviews with parenting authors and experts.

I spoke to Milli Hill, the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, about The Positive Birth Book and how women can be empowered to have the birth they want.

You have rights and you have choices. You can be in the driving seat and decide what feels right for you. You have options and it’s worth exploring them. And finally, you can do it! You CAN do it.

I was very taken with this book and have since been recommending it to all my pregnant friends. It contains everything you might ever want to know about birth and is written in a relaxed, chatty style. I wish I had read it before I had my two children! Whatever a positive birth means to you, this book will make you believe you can do it.


You can read the feature here (PDF).

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I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately. Oh, don’t worry – nothing is actually WRONG.  Everything has just seemed a bit difficult. You know the sort of thing – keeping on top of the house, looking after the boys, thinking about my work direction, trying to get time to be me rather than Mummy. When something as mundane as forgetting to buy olive oil is enough to make you snap, you know it’s time to take a hard look at yourself.

But as they say, when the student is ready the teacher appears, and help has recently come from two directions, one more unlikely than the other.

I recently interviewed the artist and author Lucy H Pearce for The Green Parent‘s August/ September edition (I work quite a way ahead for them – put it in the diary!). Lucy is the author of five books (and is working on her sixth and seventh as we speak) and we were chatting about her first, The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood. It’s been a long time since I thought of myself as a creative person (have I EVER thought of myself that way?) and while I was reading the book I struggled to see myself in the “Creative Rainbow Mother” archetype that she describes.


But somewhere along the line a little spark of creativity has been kindled deep inside. Since reading the book I’ve had my hair dyed an array of “mermaid’ colours, and after speaking to Lucy by Skype, I have even, perhaps more profoundly, been drawing a bit (not to mention filling page after page with labyrinths). And trying out a bit of lettering. This might not sound like much to you, but when you consider that my bullet journal generally just consists of very unfancy to do lists in my usual scrawl, this is a big change.

I won’t spoil the forthcoming interview (!), but Lucy highlighted the difference between creativity and “artistic-ness” and gave me a whole new way of looking at the blank page with a sense of excitement rather than terror. Thank you, Lucy!


In that vein, the picture at the top of the page is of a spread I did in my bullet journal of my new mantra (you can see the cover of my bullet journal in this post). When everything gets on top of me, I sing this quietly to myself: “Back and forward flows the sea, back and forward flows the sea, back and forward flows the sea.” If you want to hear the tune, go to the BBC website and listen to the Beachcombing episode of CBeebies Radio show Waterways. Waterways is a really charming and calming listen – I recommend it! And yes, CBeebies is still playing as big as a part in my life as it was when I wrote the “Iggle Piggle is a dying sailor” blog post that ruined In The Night Garden for so many people.

I love the sea – despite living more or less as far from the coast as you can in this country – and this gentle melody, ebbing and flowing like the tide, helps to ground me and stop me feeling overwhelmed. How can you feel stressed about forgetting to buy olive oil when the waves are always crashing onto the shore, pulled by the moon?

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Books I finished in March 2017

I’m still not doing too well with that “finishing books” resolution but here are the ones that I completed in March. I’m nearly at the end of a few though so hopefully April will be a bumper month!


The Unmumsy Mum – Sarah Turner

I very rarely laugh out loud at books but I LOLed numerous times at this one, until I got to the chapter where she talks about losing her own mum, and then I most definitely got something in my eye. This book is so true to life, and just so incredibly British! If you like The Unmumsy Mum Facebook page you will love it.


The Unmumsy Mums: A Collection of Your Hysterical Stories from the Frontline of Parenting

This is a little Kindle freebie companion piece to The Unmumsy Mum, and will definitely appeal to fans of the Facebook page. It’s pretty amusing and quick to read, and will raise a few embarrassed chortles of recognition and horror.


The Children of Green Knowe – Lucy M Boston

I have mixed feelings about this classic children’s book. It starts off so well, with a deliciously creepy setting in which a young boy goes to stay with his great-grandmother in an old manor house surrounded by floodwater. And there are other children there, children who lived there hundreds of years before. Are they ghosts? Presences? Energy imprints? We never find out, and actually nothing much really happens. Even the great showdown with the sinister “demon tree” Green Noah passes by in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. I wanted to love it, but I was left disappointed. One of the sequels (The River at Green Knowe) came bundled with it, but I’m not sure I will bother.

Also on the go

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GP Apr May 2017The April/ May edition of The Green Parent includes the latest in my series of interviews with parenting authors and experts.

Distinguished anthropologist Robert A LeVine, co-author of Do Parents Matter: Why Japanese babies sleep soundly, Mexican siblings don’t fight, and parents should just relax, told me about the almost five decades of international parenting research he and his wife Sarah have conducted – and what Western parents could learn from mothers and fathers around the world.

Parental practices in non-Western societies are full of surprises, if you’re a middle-class Western parent. For most parents, it is hard to imagine ways of child-rearing other than those that are conventional in their communities. They are amazed, sometimes outraged, that anybody could do things differently.

You can read the feature here (PDF).

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Am I allowed to use shouty capitals in the title of this post? I think so, because choosing favourite books is always a minefield. Favourites often change with your mood, the season, the time of day and so on, but these books, these are the ones that have stood the test of time with me. The ones that have influenced me, even changed my life.

There are a few runners up at the end of the list, but these 10 are the ones that truly make my heart sing.

And no, I don’t care that it’s cheating to include series or trilogies as one entry. It’s my list, my rules.

So here we go, in no particular order:

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – this book knocked my socks off when I first read it because it was just so me. If I remember rightly I more or less read it in one sitting. Despite being in my mid-teens at the time, I really saw myself in Rob, the thirty-something record shop owning protagonist. I’m not saying this is a good thing though. I talked about this book in my Oxford interview and have read it many, many times, although not for a while. I wonder what I would think of it now that I am in my late 30s? I expect I would still love it. (And the John Cusack film? I quite like it.)

Yes Man by Danny Wallace – I’m not 100 per cent sure if this book belongs in this list but it earns its place because it literally changed my life. Influenced by Danny’s decision to say yes to everything, I picked “say yes more” as my New Year’s resolution for 2006. I was invited out for a friend’s birthday celebration a few weeks later, and although I had been ill and didn’t feel like going, I decided that I couldn’t break my resolution as early as January. So I said yes – and ended up meeting the man who would become my husband. And the rest is history.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne – this has been hugely influential in how I bring up my two children. I discovered it when I was pregnant with my first son, and I like to re-read it often as a refresher. I was honoured that Kim John Payne was the first interviewee for my series of features in The Green Parent magazine.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – basically I would like to be Gretchen Rubin when I grow up. Until then, I just ask myself “What would Gretchen do?” She is smart and witty and a delight to read. And her podcast, Happier, is a great listen too.

The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper – Welsh myths, Arthurian legends and much, much more. The five books – Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree – are all quite different but fit together beautifully. I have a wonderful memory of listening to the audiobook of The Grey King while driving around the Cadair Idris area of Wales, where the book is set. (If you’ve seen the film version of The Dark is Rising, don’t let it put you off!)

faves2The Wind Eye by Robert Westall – I remember buying this at a school book fair and being totally captivated and creeped out. I read it again recently and it still completely gave me the willies. That bit where Beth sees a monk waving to her from the garden – oh, it gives me goose pimples just thinking about it!

The Owl Service by Alan Garner – another enduringly creepy children’s classic and more Welsh myths. She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls. You must not complain, then, if she goes hunting…..

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – is it complete heresy to say I prefer the films? Even so, there is something so special about this work that keeps me coming back to it. Yes, it’s overly wordy in parts (many parts) but the world Tolkien built is so perfectly imagined. It’s a great story with so many layers.

The Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin – I discovered this series as an impressionable teenager thanks to the television series – Mary Ann will always be Laura Linney to me! – and fell completely in love with the characters. As soon as I finished one volume I would be straight down to WH Smith the following weekend to spend my pocket money on the next one. We have completely lost that delicious sense of anticipation in the “buy it right now” Amazon world, haven’t we? There were six novels at that point, and Armistead Maupin has since written three more. I’m sorry, Armistead, but I’m not keen on the final three. Let’s just pretend it finishes at Sure of You instead.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – this is another perfectly crafted and imagined work of art. I loved the parallel universes which were so similar and yet so different to our own. I especially loved the Oxford setting and remember actually yelping out loud with glee when Lyra ran down Norham Gardens. I can’t wait to read the latest instalment when it comes out later this year.

And here are a few runners up:

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

On Writing by Stephen King

The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx

The Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery

What are your favourite books?

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