Thursday, 15 January 2015

Author Interview at Not Compulsory (Jon Mayhew)

Today (15 January 2015) sees the publication of the rip-roaring teenage read entitled The Curse of the Ice Serpent by author, Jon Mayhew. Published by Bloomsbury.

author photograph- Jon Mayhew

I recently engaged in a Question & Answer session with Jon Mayhew for publication here at Not Compulsory. You can read the interview below (to the right is Jon pictured in a staged photograph setting).

QUESTION: I realise there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to writing fiction, but do you feel you are entering your own adventure when you write, or, as a teacher, are you quite structured in your approach?

JON MAYHEW: I’m pretty structured in that I do plan out each chapter and like to know where the story is heading and how it will end. However, once I’m into an action scene or a crucial part of the story, I do get lost in it and the story can change. I just adjust my plan!

QUESTION: I recognise that the quality of my own writing dips when I work in the twilight hours; it’s a common question between writers but I would really be interested to know if you have a particular time in the day that you are more creative and have more ideas?

JON MAYHEW: Not really. I tend to write during the day, not in the evenings. Sometimes when I’m in full flow, I write on. I try to leave my writing on a cliffhanger or appealing scene so I come back to it excited and raring to go!

QUESTION: I think I might know the answer to this question, but can you tell me which aspect of the writing, the publishing world and the public facing work do you most enjoy?

JON MAYHEW: Alan Bennett divides ‘Writing’ from ‘Being a Writer.’ The first bit is getting the actual words on the page, on your own, then the editing etc. The second bit is meeting the readers. I love getting the words down and telling the story for the first time. I do like meeting readers and talking to school groups too. If I lived inside my head day-in, day-out, I’d be impossible to live with!

QUESTION: Now I am going to reverse my last question/ and ask you what it is that you find to be the most daunting?

JON MAYHEW: Probably the redrafting once the first draft is down. When you first tell your story, it seems like the best thing ever. Then you notice the flaws and imperfections and you know you’re going to have to rewrite it. Groan!

QUESTION: As a child you enjoyed comic book drawing and sketching. Do you illustrate your work at all? Have you any desire to produce a graphic novel?

JON MAYHEW: My drawing ability is very limited and there are people out there who are so much more talented and skilled. I wish I could draw, maybe I would. I’d love to write a graphic novel of Monster Odyssey, though, I think it would suit that medium very well.

QUESTION: Dakkar is the main character of all three of your Monster Odyssey books. What was it about the Jules Verne’s character, Captain Nemo that was the trigger for you to include him, in his youth, in the form of Dakkar?

The trigger was a flaw I noticed in Verne’s explanation of why Nemo built the Nautilus. He says that Nemo lost his wife and child in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and this drove him to hate mankind, build a submarine and live under the sea for the rest of his life. I wondered where he got the knowhow to build a submarine, and I also thought that a deep-seated mistrust of mankind would already have to be in place for him to turn his back on mankind. He is a hot-head, surely he would have sought revenge. So I assumed other things had happened to him when he was younger. Verne tells us only that between the ages of 10 and 30, Dakkar went to Europe for an education. Lots of scope there for the story to unfold.

QUESTION: MONSTER ODYSSEY are categorised as fantasy adventure stories, they include fearsome monsters and a young man on a mission and are set in the 19th century. In your view, who is the main reader audience for these books?

JON MAYHEW: Probably me when I was a teenager. I deliberately included Georgia Fulton as his companion because I didn’t want the books to be classified as ‘for boys.’ I know for a fact that Dakkar has quite a loyal female following too!

QUESTION: The intriguing interest for readers of your latest novel ‘The Curse of the Ice Serpent’ is the inclusion of the bizarre combination of a ship that can fly, namely Nautilus. Did you always have intention to bring it to life in your master plan for the series?

JON MAYHEW: Yes, Verne wrote a lot about amazing journeys, whether that was to the centre of the Earth, or flying around the world, to the poles or even to the moon. Hopefully, I reflect that a little in the books.

QUESTION: I must congratulate you on your title three title choices of the Monster Odyssey books ‘The Eye of Neptune’ ‘The Wrath of the Lizard Lord’ and, of course, ‘The Curse of the Ice Serpent’, they have the feel of the Victorian Melodrama about them. I’m sure these books will not stop at a trilogy, are you able to release any news and future intentions in relation to these reads?

JON MAYHEW: The fourth book is with my lovely editor as we speak and sees the culmination of this particular story arc. Deserts, scorpions and other creepy-crawlies is all I’ll say!

QUESTION: You’ve done a number of school and library talks in recent years. What is the most memorable question you’ve been asked?

JON MAYHEW: I’m always available for school and library visits! One boy, once asked me if I’d ever had a fight! He looked a bit taken aback when I said, ‘yes, but it ended badly.’ I think sometimes students imagine authors come from rarefied backgrounds and didn’t go through the rough and tumble of normal school life.


Many thanks, Jon - good luck with it all and best wishes!


My business (TSS) is currently hosting a competition. The prize consists of 1 x copy of The Curse of the Ice Serpent by Jon Mayhew, plus another Bloomsbury title (also released today) called Apolcalypse Bow Wow (a graphic novel for children from 9 years +) by author James Proimos III. It is easy to enter - Details here 

You can purchase either of these new titles in Paperback below, and in ebook form at Amazon

Wednesday, 14 January 2015



First up is a tried and tested  cake recipe from Marriage's (flour millers). It is a classic, carrot cake that has a moist, rich texture, but is not too sweet. the creamy topping and filling are flavoured with orange

Spicy Carrot Cake from Marriage's ( The Master Millers)


WHAT YOU WILL NEED to make a large cake – 12 slices

225g Marriage’s Finest Self Raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
225g soft light brown muscovado sugar
Grated zest of an unwaxed orange
100g walnut pieces
3 large eggs, beaten to mix
150ml sunflower oil
250g grated carrots (about 3 medium size)


200g cream cheese (full fat)
50g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
Grated zest of ½ an unwaxed orange (plus extra to decorate - optional)
2 teaspoons orange juice
2 x 20.5cm/8 inch sandwich tins, greased and base-lined


Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and all the spices into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the orange zest and nuts then add the beaten eggs, sunflower oil, sugar and the grated carrots and mix until thoroughly combined.
Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins and spread evenly.
Bake in the heated oven for about 25 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Turn out the cakes onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.


Beat together all the ingredients until very smooth and creamy. (In warm weather you may need to chill the icing until firm enough to spread.)
Spread almost half of the mixture onto one of the cakes. Top with the second cake and spread the remaining mixture over the top.
The cake can be decorated with extra orange zest or left plain.
Store in an airtight container in a cool spot and eat within four.
Marriage's view of the craft is:


so here is another tried and tested recipe you might like to try if you are feeling adventurous, this time it is a flavoured bread, which also appears on the Marriage's website. It is a plaited loaf, packed with apricots and hazelnuts. Serve it buttered, or try eating it with cheese

Honeyed Wholemeal Loaf (with Hazelnuts and Apricot) from Marriage's


WHAT YOU WILL NEED to make one large loaf

500g Marriage’s Strong Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
15g fresh yeast or 1 x 7g sachet easyblend dried yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
100g ready to eat dried apricots, chopped
70g hazelnuts, toasted and halved
350ml milk, lukewarm
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg, beaten for egg wash


Mix the flour with the dried yeast (if using), salt, apricots and hazelnuts in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre. If using fresh yeast crumble it into the milk, and stir until smooth. Pour the milk and honey into the well in the flour, then gradually work the flour into the milk to make a soft but not sticky dough. If the dough is dry and difficult to work add a little extra milk. If the dough feels sticky and won’t hold its shape, work in a little more flour.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 10 minutes until it feels very elastic (the dough can also be mixed and kneaded in a large food mixer – using the dough hook, and low speed, knead for five minutes only).

Return the dough to the bowl, cover tightly or slip the bowl into a large plastic bag. Leave in a warm spot until doubled
in size – this will take about an hour.

Punch down the dough to deflate then divide into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a sausage shape about 40cm long. Plait the three strands together, tuck the ends under neatly then transfer the plait to a lightly greased baking tray. Slip the tray into a large plastic bag and leave to rise until almost doubled in size for 40 to 60 minutes – do not let the loaf get too big as it will lose definition. Meanwhile heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Before putting the loaf in the oven, lightly egg wash. Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes, until a good golden brown, and loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a cool bread bin. Best eaten within four days or toasted.

the specialized bread flour below, and other ranges of Marriage's products are available to buy at Amazon

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

HAPPY DAYS, BRIGHTON - A jigsaw puzzle by Ravensburger

The Artist
Artist, Kevin Walsh produces beautiful oil paintings depicting British culture and town and countryside scenes, mostly from the middle decades of the last century. As I mentioned in a previous Happy Days' jigsaw review entitled 'Happy Days, Blackpool'  published here, is that Walsh often includes a mechanical/motorized vehicle from the 1950s in his artwork. Vintage vehicles appearing within a nostalgic topic have attracted interest from collectors worldwide in many of Walsh's designs, and in the various formats on/in which they feature; including jigsaws.

The Theme
Motor bikes and Scooters entered the fast-paced world of the 50s and 60s, when a happy day, for many, was spent hanging out with friends at a British seaside resort. In the forefront, of Happy Days, Brighton is a couple of rocker pals with their motorbikes, chatting with a young girl at the road side (see figure 1)
Figure 1
While the rest of the busy scene includes other road vehicles, famous Brighton landmarks and people promenading.

The Product
This, as always, is a premium jigsaw consisting of 1000 pieces and which demonstrate soft click technology. As with all Ravensburger puzzles for 12 years to adult, there is a leaflet included in the box with the artist’s biography plus an additional picture. This jigsaw is rectangular on completion, and measures 700 x 500 mm approx. Not suitable for children under 36 months (small pieces).

The Promoting
There is a range of ‘Happy Days’ themed jigsaws available with artwork by Kevin Walsh. As well as Brighton and Blackpool mentioned, the seaside range includes Sidmouth and Weymouth.

Happy Days, Brighton will soon join others from the Happy Days range including Happy Days, Blackpool
that are currently selling on Amazon

This review will also appear at Ravensburger Puzzle club

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Carbon Monoxide Detectors for the home

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The presence of fully functioning Carbon Monoxide Detector(s) within the home can save lives. 
Carbon Monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas and so without a detector it is particularly hard to identify that an appliance, generator or boiler may be seeping CO, and so be deemed as being unsafe.

CORGI HomePlan is campaigning for every home owner, from a mansion to a mobile home, to get equipped with a carbon monoxide detector. Ideally, it is good safety practice to have a CO detector in any room that has any of the following:


NOTE: the items listed above are the more common CO sources in the home, there are others; everyday things like lighted cigarettes and barbecues and burning candles made from paraffin wax.

Whether you are a private house owner, landlord or letting's agent, it should be imperative that gas (and electrical) systems and appliances meet specified safety standards and that regular inspections of fuel burning appliances are carried out. Unfortunately, at present, there is no legal obligation on anyones' part, in the UK, to provide carbon monoxide detectors inside rooms containing fuel burning appliances.

However, The Corgi Home Plan microsite has been specially devised to raise awareness. It has easy to follow advice and is a good first port of call and reference resource for any homeowner to become more conversant of the dangers of gas appliances. 

Taken directly from the aforementioned site, from an article entitled ‘know the dangers’ , are the following, important, warning signs to be aware of:
  • The flame on your cooker should be crisp and blue. Yellow or orange flames mean you need to get your cooker checked
  • Dark staining around or on appliances
  • Sooty marks on the walls around boilers, stoves or the cover of gas fires
  • Pilot lights that frequently go out
  • Increased condensation inside windows

Symptoms relating to CO poisoning depends on the level of exposure. The portable, CO-9X FireAngel detector (pictured above), with its own integrated power pack, monitors the level of CO as parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere surrounding the detector. The maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure for healthy adults in an 8-hour period is 35ppm

Symptons at
200ppm Slight headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea after 2-3 hours

Symptons at
400ppm Frontal headaches within 1-2 hours, life threatening after 3 hours

Symptons at

800ppm Dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes, unconsciousness within 2 hours, death within 2-3 hours

Available on Amazon

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Christmas Creative Writing Competition - The Winners

“I loved reading the children’s stories - where they get some of their ideas from is beyond me! I’m always taken aback by the creativity that children of all ages show and the theme of Christmas clearly provided lots of inspiration. They really let their imaginations run wild' Comment by competition judge Sam Hay, author of the Undead Pets series of books. 

Here are the details:

Online retailers Cartridge Save recently set up a Christmas Creative Writing Competition called 'I'm Dreaming of a Write Christmas'. Almost 200 entries were received. Entries were judged by representatives of sponsor and Sam Hay. Winners were found in three age categories, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-11. 


4-6 years Angharad Turner, 5, won with her story 'Christmas Boy'. Angharad, attends BlueCoat Primary School, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire. Her tale was of a magic experiment in North Pole Primary School and how a boy called Sam Christmas landed a new role.
Sam Hay says: “This story hooked me from its brilliant first line. It is a great concept and made me smile, a lot!”

7-9 years Sam Perkins, 7, who attends Bramhope Primary School, Leeds, took the honours for his story Sky Guy And Santa, a tale of adventure featuring Santa’s reindeer and the inflatable wobbly man from the local car wash.
Judge Sam Hay comments: “This is written in a punchy style that keeps you wanting to know more. It’s a great story that really shows off the imagination and creativity of its writer.

10-11 years Hannah Lillis from Grafton House Primary School in Ashton under Lyne,  Manchester aged 11. Her story was a simple and stark reminder to time-pushed parents that all their children want this Christmas is love and attention. Hannah's story is called ‘A Christmas Message’ and it is about hiding her parents smartphone chargers so they would spend more time with her over Christmas. She says  “My mum and dad are nowhere near as bad as the parents in my story, although they do spend a lot of time on their phones! I like it best when we all get to spend time together with no distractions, which is where I got the idea from for the story.” 

Mum, Caroline, adds: “I’m really proud of Hannah’s writing, although I’m glad that she’s said I’m not as bad as the mum in the story. I’m sure there’s not a parent who doesn’t check their Facebook, answer emails or send texts when they are meant to be giving full attention to their children. However, phones are banned from now on in our house after reading Hannah’s story!
Hannah Lillis pictured with Dad, and her Mum, Caroline

Judge Sam says:In among the hundreds of wildly imaginative entries that I read, Hannah’s story was unusual and poignant. The message was short and punchy and really powerful in the way it used a modern affliction many parents are guilty of – myself included - to remind us of simpler, happier times. I loved it!

I guess it'll only be a couple of years on, Hannah and Caroline, and you'll find the problem will be the other way round, but a great idea nonetheless and has that moral message attached, which is popular in children's fiction writing 


Note: The three winners each received £50 prize bags, plus £500 for their schools to put towards creative materials.

The top 50 entries have been compiled into a free to download e-book and can be accessed here:


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mulled Fruit Juice Recipe (alcohol-free)

PG tips has created an exclusive alcohol-free mulled juice recipe using their Spices and Mint pyramid teabags as a base. This will help to keep you warm and cosy through those cold winter evenings. I know a good few Not Compulsory readers who will love this!

Also available at Amazon here

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Ludicrous Library - WIN

I really like this latest Ravensburger jigsaw that has recently landed my way, as I think it is particularly cool for young teenagers. It is called The Ludicrous Library and has 500 pieces, enough to keep boys and girls intensely occupied over a couple of days, or something that could take the whole of the holiday to complete if they are allowed table space so they can dip in and out of the activity.

The picture conjures lots of thoughts: old whimsical stories, dreamlike imaginings, mad professors, flamboyance, scholarly interests, master crafted construction, Harry Potter characters, and, yes there is definitely a flavour of the Hogwarts about it.

It is a quirky library scene with lots of angled stairways and various hidey holes housing hundreds of antiquarian, heavily bound books that are a little skew whiff in their positioning, and it doesn’t matter one bit that there appears to be no right way up to the books, the layout or to the puzzle itself – a great image for jigsaw construction.

The artwork is by one of my favourite artists whose work I have come to know well, Colin Thompson. Thompson has included little strange, ‘off the wall’ illustrations which he is really good at i.e. books with legs, monks with beaks, little cloaked figures all of which would appeal to the interests of a lot to young people. I've seen it selling on Amazon 

prize draw item
I'm running a prize draw from this blog.


Competition question: What is the most ludicrous gift you've ever given or have ever received?

Terms and conditions are: 

Competition is open to UK residents only and entrants must be over 18

This competition is run independently from Twitter. The competition is not connected, supported, operated or endorsed by Twitter

Only one entry per person

The Competition will run for one week from Friday 14th November 2014 18.00 GMT until Friday 21st November 2014 18.00 GMT   

Entries received after the closing date will not be considered

Entrants must follow me on Twitter @Norries_girl and tweet about the competition or RT any of the competition tweets ensuring to include the hashtag #ludicrous ALTERNATIVELY entrants must answer the competition question above as a comment on this the competition blog post and include their names

A minimum participation threshold needs to be met, across the two platforms, failure to engage at least 10 participants will result in the withdrawal of the competition and the prize winning opportunity

The participant must agree to part of any reasonable promotional activity surrounding the competition

It is the responsibility of the participant to ensure their entry meets with entry requirements and is submitted online successfully

The winner will be announced on this, the competition blog post and on Twitter shortly after the close of the competition

The winner will be required to provide additional information such as a name and address

If we are unable to contact the winner within 14 days of the closing date, then we will reserve the right to select a new winner

The prize is one new and complete The Ludicrous Library jigsaw (500 pieces) from Ravensburger

The competition winner will not be able to exchange the prize for a cash alternative, or any other reserves the right to exclude from the competition any entry that does not meet criteria, and also to change, suspend or terminate the promotion and entry period at any time. Disqualification of participants will be carried out if, for any reason, the promotion cannot be carried out fairly or if they suspect any person is manipulating entries or results, or who has acted unethically in any other way.