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!

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 for just £7.99!

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.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Figure 1

This is a hardback book by Bloomsbury, recently published (September 2014) entitled ICONIC DESIGNS (50 stories about 50 things), and it is a really nice book to possess. I think you will agree that the cover design (Figure 1) by Alice Marwick is pretty cool.

I have read a few of the stories behind the designs that have particularly interested me and the photography enhances the detailing and the reading pleasure. As you flick through the pages one can visually identify with almost, if not all, of the 50 design classics from across the world that feature there.

The word Iconic was once a word that was withheld, and was used only when something or someone had earned and deserved the right to be described as being so. I think the 50 items in the book represent ‘Iconic’ in the true sense of the word, and the stories are backed up and the many contributors do very well in showcasing.

Subjects range from the largely impressive to the smallest of items, like the humble, yet at the same time the hugely ICONIC paperclip! Included in sections devoted to the development, the innovation, and the uniqueness behind the design model of the Eiffel Tower, Coca-Cola, the Swiss Army Knife, Lego, and the Apple iMac G3 to name a few.

I’ve included some photographic images of 'things' that are in the book, and I have been deliberately obscure to illustrate them, but I believe these items are too deep set in ones psyche - so I don’t expect for one minute you will be fooled! Confirm your answers by finding them illustrated above on the cover design pic in Figure 1

Monday, 20 October 2014

Book Review – LOVE OBJECTS by Bloomsbury

LOVE OBJECTS – Edited by Anna Moran and Sorcha O’Brien
ISBN 978-1-4725-1719-7
(published August 2014 by Bloomsbury)
RRP £19.99
List of Illustrations
Notes on Contributors
Editors’ foreword
Four Main Sections
Fifteen contributors: consisting of doctorate and degree holders, and academics, who all use the literary writer’s style of language which is channeled in essays with particular intention. An anthology then (a collection of literary works), but remaining a book that will sit in the non-fictional category of any book seller outlets. 166 Pages of lengthy text (in small fonts) where commentators are critically exploring, with great intensity and insightfulness, the emotional relationship people have with objects.
Photographic Images: there are a fair few, half page in the main and printed in black and white.
For anyone studying or having avid interest in Art History and Family Histories, people observation; symbolic representation (religious or otherwise); arts and crafts; the material world, sexualized goods; vintage and retro goods, heritage and memory tracing activities – you will find the content in this book candidly revealing.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Modern and Classic Recipes using Alcohol Free Wines

I was forwarded a couple of classic, winter casserole recipes which I thought I'd share, as the summer eating recipes I posted in May was popular with my readers.

The first is a sausage hotpot that includes pearl barley; a pulse that is a little underused these days. If you've not tried pearl barley before, follow the instructions around its preparation and include it in soups 'n' things because it adds a lovely soft texture as it soaks up and retains the liquid and juices of those comforting winter dishes of the savoury kind. 

There is also a flavour-packed spaghetti bolognese recipe, plus a sophisticated, yet straightforward pear dessert recipe, and a couple of mocktail drink recipes. All of which includes one of four Eisberg Alcohol-Free Wines. The four in the range are: a Rose, a red CABERNET SAUVIGNON,  and two whites: A Chardonnay and a Riesling. Eisberg is made in the same way as favourite wines but has the alcohol taken out, so is particularly apt for the current Go Sober for October campaign and for the up and coming party season.

Sausage Hotpot

Serves 4-6
Approx 50 minutes


400g (about 6 large) good quality sausages
1tbs light olive or vegetable oil
1 red onion, cut into wedges
100g pearl barley, rinsed
½ tsp dried oregano
pinch dried crushed chillies or chilli powder
1 vegetable stock cube, plus 500ml boiling water
3 carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally into 3 or 4 pieces
1 red pepper, roughly diced
400g carton/tin chopped tomatoes
150ml Eisberg Rosé
black pepper
few sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/Gas 5
Place the sausages on a baking tray and cook for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and golden then set aside
Meanwhile heat the oil in a large saucepan or lidded ovenproof dish and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes then stir in the barley, oregano, chillies and 400ml of the stock. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid then either place in the oven for 20 minutes or turn down the heat and cook on the hob for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and add a little more of the stock if required.
Add the carrots, red pepper, chopped tomatoes and Eisberg Rosé, re-cover and cook for a further 20 minutes
Check that the barley is tender. Slice each of the sausages into about 3 pieces and add to the dish with the parsley and a good grind of black pepper. Heat through and serve

Slow Cooked Beef in Red Wine

Serves 6
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: Approx. 6 hours in slow cooker

2tbs plain flour
salt and black pepper
1kg casserole steak, diced
1tbs light olive or vegetable oil
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
500ml Eisberg Cabernet Sauvignon
1 beef stock cube plus 300ml boiling water
1tsp dried thyme
2-3 bay leaves
1tbs tomato puree
10 shallots, peeled and left whole
200g baby button mushrooms
100g smoked streaky bacon, chopped, or lardons

Place the flour in a bowl and season with a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper, then add the beef and toss well to coat all the pieces of meat.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan and add about a third of the beef. Cook quickly just to seal on all sides, then tip into a slow cooker. Repeat this process with the remaining meat.
Add the carrots and garlic to the frying pan and fry for one minute then add to the slow cooker.
Pour over the Eisberg wine and stir then add the stock, thyme, bay leaves and tomato purée. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 4-5 hours.
Turn the heat to a high setting then add the shallots and mushrooms. Fry the bacon in a small pan then tip into the cooker and cook for a further hour.
Check that the meat is tender and add a little more black pepper if desired (but no salt as the bacon is salty).
Garnish with fresh thyme and serve with mashed potato and green beans.
Note: If you don’t have a slow cooker, use a casserole with a tight fitting lid and cook in the oven at 150ºC for about 3 hours, ensuring that there is enough liquid in the dish. Once you have added the shallots and mushrooms, turn up the heat to 180ºC for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves 6
Preparation time: Approx. 15 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes

500g lean steak mince
1tbs light olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1tsp dried oregano
200 ml Eisberg Cabernet Sauvignon
1 beef stock cube plus 500ml boiling water
400g carton chopped tomatoes
2tbs tomato purée
salt and black pepper
few fresh basil leaves
parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat a large deep frying pan or sauté pan and seal the meat in batches until just browned then remove to a bowl.
Wipe the pan then add the oil and fry the onions, carrots and celery over a medium heat for 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and oregano, fry for another minute then pour over the Eisberg wine and stock. Return the beef to the pan, season with black pepper and stir. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and tomato puree and cook uncovered for another 20-30 minutes until reduced and thickened.
Serve with spaghetti or your favourite pasta shape. Grate over a few Parmesan flakes and scatter over some fresh basil leaves before serving.

Poached Pears with Orange Mascarpone

Serves 4
Preparation time: Approx. 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

4 pears
500ml Eisberg Chardonnay
2tbs honey
1 whole vanilla pod, split almost all the way lengthways
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange, zest and juice
For the orange mascarpone:
a little orange zest and juice
2tbs mascarpone cheese
1tsp icing sugar

Find a saucepan in which the pears will sit neatly with their stalks up and without too much room around them. Peel the pears but keep the stalks attached and set aside.
Pour the Eisberg alcohol-free wine into the pan and add the honey, vanilla pod and cinnamon stick. Using a vegetable peeler, peel most of the zest into the pan, then remove the rest using a zester or grater and set aside for the mascarpone.

Squeeze most of the juice from the orange into the pan but keep 2 teaspoons for the mascarpone. Turn on the heat and stir gently until the honey has dissolved then add the pears. Simmer very gently for 15-20 minutes until the pears are tender then remove them onto a plate.

Turn up the heat to high and boil the liquid until reduced and thickened to a glossy syrup, which will take about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the mascarpone into a small bowl and stir in the reserved orange zest and juice with the icing sugar.

Serve the pears with extra syrup poured over and a dollop of orange mascarpone on the side.

Winter Fruit Cobbler

100ml Eisberg Alcohol-Free Cabernet Sauvignon
3 orange slices
3 blackberries
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 tsp caster sugar
Crushed ice
Sprig of mint

Take 100ml of Eisberg Alcohol-Free Cabernet Sauvignon and add 2 orange slices and 2 blackberries to a large wine glass. Lightly muddle the mixture together.
Add the juice of ½ a lemon and 1 tsp caster sugar and stir all the ingredients with crushed ice.
Cap with extra ice and garnish with a mint sprig, orange slice and a blackberry.

Gingerly Sip

100ml Eisberg Riesling
½ lemon
1tsp of sugar
Cubed ice
Ginger ale
To Garnish:
Twist of orange
Cinnamon stick

Pour 100ml of alcohol-free Riesling into a short glass.
Add the juice of ½ a lemon, 1 tsp of sugar and lots of cubed ice.

Garnish with a twist of orange and a cinnamon stick to stir with.

Friday, 10 October 2014


Illustration Meeting The Brief 
by Bloomsbury (Feb 2014) - Cover Design by Eleonor Rose

Illustration - Meeting the Brief (the book) by Alan Male (*the author).There are a lot of books about illustration, written by professional illustrators, or people who lecture on the subject. The author is a writer, illustrator and an academic, he includes examples of his own work in this book. The wonderfully titled 'Carboniferous Faunascape' (see below) was one that caught my eye particularly.
Alan Male Carboniferous Faunascape

There are four key chapters: 

1.The history of illustration 
2. A working art 
3. Interpreting and meeting a brief  
4. A New Practice:Illustration and Research

160 pages with artworks used as examples to back up that detailed in the text, these illustrations being the work of many illustrators and artists (using a variety of illustrative styles and approaches) are peppered throughout the pages.  Almost 40 pages dedicated to the history of illustration alone and as you will notice by the chapter headings above, Chapter 3 is the only part that really gets to grips about meeting a brief as the book's title suggests. The book is described as an educational guide and that it will act as a guide to anyone thinking about the needs of a client in one hand and also considering the best illustration for the audience, in both an artistic and commercial sense. This book is an ideas generator and will do well for someone requiring inspiration, but, again, the content gives little clues as to how any of the illustrations were actually composed or processed. I'm sure the book will be useful and sometimes enlightening for many. The author's choice of illustrations is expert.
I thought I'd reach for my artist's pens, watercolours and inks and communicate certain highlights within the book.

My sketch work is always original, even when I adopt a copy cat style of illustrating. I presented examples of doing this in the body of a part review of another Bloomsbury title called Understanding Illustration. I link back to that post here

Re: Figure 1 and Figure 2: Photographs taken from the book entitled Illustration Meeting the Brief by Alan Male for the purpose of reviewing 

Figure 2

This time I've chosen three illustrations to emanate, the first is from Chapter 1 under sub-heading 'Where has it come from?' The author includes the work of Jonathan Gibbs entitled Woodcuts (see figures 1 & 2 above) and it was originally produced for the cover of a poetry book by Robert Frost. Gibbs is conveying the traditions of wood carving, using his own way of styling his artwork rather than cutting designs into wood. Like he, I am portraying in a similar way this ancient form of naturalistic art in Figure 3. The kind you find at it most popular in medieval times and reminiscent of cave paintings dating back many millennia; some of my pictorials and symbols are from history that is a little more recent!

Figure 3: Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

A little break in proceedings as I show you, from Chapter 2 of the book the work of illustrator, Clare Elsom just because I like it.
 Figure 4Photograph taken from the book entitled Illustration Meeting the Brief by Alan Male for the purpose of reviewing 

On a more sombre note, the preview page of Chapter 3 shows us a full page illustration by Tobias Hickey called Work Stalker (Figure 5). The author demonstrates how Hickey really nailed it in terms of producing a visual accompaniment to an article about a television producer who received abusive emails and telephone calls on almost a daily basis. This article appeared inThe Mail on Sunday (You Magazine), and we really get a sense of worry and isolation that the individual had to endure. An example of Hickey gaining an understanding for the subject matter and being accurate with message. The key to meeting the brief.

Figure 5: Photograph taken from the book entitled Illustration Meeting the Brief by Alan Male for the purpose of reviewing 

Figure 6

Figure 6 only matches Hickey's illustration in Figure 5 in the respect that it portrays a high rise building. I'm not trying to report or transfer any serious message in this one. You simply might enjoy seeing some big art that I did with my children, where we used some used and dried up old tea bags for windows. My point in showing this in relation to the book and the work of an illustrator is that you can cross with other media practices by including photography, not just of physical objects and real material pieces amongst the more formal art and design work, but straightforward graphic house style will do the job very well sometimes. The author does little more than a mention of this aspect in Chapter 2 under the sub heading Illustration and Industry.

I had great fun with this next page I chose from the book, because this work by, Joe Ciardiello called Rock & Roll HALL OF FAME displays his talent for drawing something which signifies characters that are especially conforming to cultural sensibilities; I've found doing much of the same thing a way of entertaining myself. So here goes! What follows in Figure 7 and Figure 8 is Ciardello, and then myself, promoting a broad genre of music that millions of people around the world will identify with. This work by Ciardello features on pages 92-93 of the book His illustration includes Little Anthony & The Imperials, Run D.M.C., Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack and Metallica. What follows is my version which includes The O-Jays, Madonna, Lady GaGa, Cher, Johnny Marr,  Michael Buble, and Muse
Figure 7
Figure 3: Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

and close ups of both
Figure 9

Note: Photographs shown in Figures 7 and 9 taken from the book entitled Illustration Meeting the Brief by Alan Male for the purpose of reviewing. Figure 10 Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

Figure 10

"This is an opinion piece, but it is professional opinion. I have been reviewing stage for 7 years now, and more recently consumer products and services, and, of course, books. As an ex arts worker I'm a regular blogger of arts and crafts. 

by Debra Hall

*Alan Male has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 to be identified as the author of the book entitled Illustration Meeting the Brief