Thursday, 27 November 2014

CHRISTMAS CRAZY!!!

We asked readers what they think about Christmas decorations… should they be tame and tasteful or gloriously over the top? This is what you said…


Karla says:
I like ti when people have lights up and have those light-up characters… reindeer, Santa, penguins, that kind of thing. I think it can be a bit much when there are so many decorations you can't actually see the house, though! Nobody on my street really over-decorates, but a few do go for outside decorations and that's cool!

Stilla says:
I LOVE Christmas decorations. We're decorating tonight!

Stephanie says:
Our cats always try to climb up the tree… and they are known for having endless play fights and nearly knocking it over!

Sydney says:
Decorations are awesome - they let everyone know it's Christmas! I love seeing houses covered in lights because it shows that everyone there is really getting into the spirit of it all. My tree is going up on Monday and I can't wait!

Ellie says:
It's great to see Christmas decorations, although I don't like it when businesses and companies commercialise it all; that ends up being all about money, which is completely the opposite to the true meaning of Christmas. I do love outside decorations, but I like the classic little white sparkly lights best of all.

Hannah says:
I love to see tasteful decorations but NOT before December! You get a bit sick of seeing the decorations going up in October!

Caitlin says:
My cat sits in the middle of the tree and ends up making a big gap! I like subtle lights but we have a red decoration theme this year… we have just put ours up! One of our neighbours has a huge inflatable Santa and sleigh on the roof, which is cool… and a friend has over thirty mini trees!

Jade says:
I loooove Christmas decorations! If it was my choice, they'd go up at the start of November in our house! I don't think there's ever such a thing as 'too much' when it comes to Christmas decorations, but sadly we are on a main road so nobody does too much with outside decorations.

Chloe says:
I love Christmas lights! My family have a tradition of driving around to look out for them all… I think more people should do that!

Martha says:
It's Christmas… it's OK to be tacky and festive as long as it's all lighthearted and fun. It's not all about the deccies, though - it's about coming coming together with friends and family…

Deborah says:
My family have a fair amount of decorations! We out up lights that flash to the tune of Christmas songs, and the house is always full of tinsel. There are so many lights you can still see the living room even when the main lights are switched off! My brother is in charge of the tree… he decides on a theme and the colours have to match perfectly! It's usually gold or silver but there will always be red baubles on there somewhere. I am always the first person to put presents under the tree… it makes the tree look nicer for longer!

Blue says:
We don't put the tree up until well into December… why make the house a death trap for our kitties or an annoyance to our neighbours? Christmas isn't about tacky decorations or flashing lights - it's about family and friends, not showing off. The house across the street has multiple flashing lights which flash and change colour in a most disconcerting manner… why? They can't see it because they're inside… it's us across the road who have to put up with it!

Lucy says:
You can never be too naff! A few people in our street have really great decorations that I always look forward to seeing. We put our decorations up on 7th December. My dog doesn't really bother with the decorations… but last year we dressed him up in a little elf outfit!

Charlotte says:
I adore Christmas decorations! Sometimes people can go over the top but there was a house near where I used to live that had an amazing display of lights outside and along the side of their house. It wasn't too much and it wasn't too little - just right! We used to go round the villages and look at the lights and see which ones were the best. Something changed, though - perhaps the people moved away - because suddenly one year there were no decorations at that house. Sad. We have a tree at home, and we have to be very careful of our dog Smudge - he attacks the presents under the tree and the first year we had him he nearly knocked the whole thing over! That's him in the picture… bad Smudge!

Jasmine says:
I adorrrreee Xmas decorations! It is the tradition in our house to completely fill the place full of them, streamers and all! The tree has almost everything on - it's packed with a little bit of everything. And after recently moving to a house with a porch, we will be filling the porch with reindeers and such too!

Thanks to reader Charlotte for the fabulous photographs!

Cathy says:
I love Christmas decorations… and I remember being taken out in the car as a small child to look at the Christmas lights in town! Have YOU put up your tree yet? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

LAYLA: EVERYTHING HAS GONE WRONG...

Another in our series of problem page worries - as answered by the Chocolate Box Girls. This week Honey replies to reader Layla…

Layla says:
I am keeping a massive secret and I don't think I can go on like this. All my friends are happy and excited about Christmas, but my life is literally falling to bits. My dad has lost his job and my mum only works part-time in a cafe. Dad says we might lose the house because we won't be able to make the mortgage payments unless he gets another job fast, but he isn't getting any interviews and he is really stressed. My friends are talking about expensive Christmas presents and I am crying myself to sleep every night because never mind the presents, we might not even have a house by then.

Honey says:
The first thing is, PLEASE don't keep this a secret. Your friends will support you if they know what you are going through; they'll be more tactful when talking about Christmas, too. It is scary when things go wrong like this. I was very upset and angry when my dad left, and as well as all the emotional stuff we were very skint for ages. We thought we'd lose Tanglewood, but Mum turned it into a B&B business and we managed like that for a while. I am not saying that would work for you, obviously, but what I mean is that although things may change you CAN find a way through. Perhaps your dad will get a new job or your mum will be able to go full-time and you will be able to stay in your home; perhaps not. Things may change and that will be difficult, but if you stick together and support each other you can survive. I am the first to admit I was not very supportive to my mum when things went wrong - I wish I had been less of a drama queen because the last thing she needed back then was me going off the rails. So be smarter than I was - ask friends and teachers for help and support, and remember that no matter what happens, you are an awesome and caring family, and you WILL weather this storm.

Cathy says:
Do you agree with Honey's advice? What would YOU say to Layla? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

SWEET HONEY: MORE READER FEEDBACK...

Your feedback on SWEET HONEY is still coming in… here are a few more reader reviews to tempt those of you who haven't read it to take the plunge! It'd make a fab Christmas prezzie, y'know! ;o)

Imogen says:
I finished reading SWEET HONEY during a long car journey, and my eyes were glued to the pages with all the suspense! I loved seeing yet another side to Honey Tanberry - her true personality shines through and she has some very serious problems to overcome. Although the books may be aimed at a slightly younger audience, the language is mature and beautiful… I had to look some words up! SWEET HONEY has really opened my eyes to the dangers of the internet, much more than any website or video has ever done. Since coming home I have double checked my security settings! Thanks you for a wonderful read! I've been reading Cathy Cassidy books for a few years now and needless to say, they're all great - but Honey's story is the best addition to the series ever. I am so looking forward to FORTUNE COOKIE now!

Sara says:
Honey Tanberry: wild, carefree, born to be a rebel. Her life is a mix of ups and downs, just like any other. And then she pushes things too far. SWEET HONEY is about a fresh start, a new life. A chance to show your inner self in a new way. The book shows how you can change your way of life, break free from the usual. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It was engaging, watching a rebel get hurt emotionally. This is definitely my favourite Chocolate Box Girls book - I'm a big reader, but this book stood out for me. It taught me to follow my dreams but not to get carried away. Life won't change for you - you have to change life and the way you live yourself.

Hailie-Jade says:
People always ask me why I read so many Cathy Cassidy books… I always seem to have one in my hands. The answer is, I find them full of excitement, dramas and cliff-hangers, so I never want to put them down. When I discovered the Chocolate Box Girls series, I found myself reading each book in a few days. It was great to read about characters going through the same issues any teenager might. The book that stands out for me is SWEET HONEY - I'd looked forward to it so much as I just couldn't figure out what I thought of Honey. I wasn't disappointed, not one bit. The book means a lot as it looks at cyber-bullying, an issue that I'd been through myself a year ago. Like Honey, it mattered to me what others thought of me and when I found nasty things about me on the internet, I felt the same way she did - devastated. Just as Honey made true friends in Tara and Bennie, I too made new friends, Hayley and Kathryn. I feel it's so important that there are authors like Cathy Cassidy out there who show us that we don't have to go through hard times alone.

Cathy says:
I love these reviews… and I love how my readers are connecting with Honey and understanding her just a little bit better! Have YOU read SWEET HONEY yet? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

MY STYLE - MY WAY!

We asked readers with a distinct personal style to share their views on what it's like to stand out from the crowd… this is what they said!

Lauren says:
I'd call my look 'flower-child style' and I like dressing this way because it makes me feel different, more free and unique! I love to mix vibrant and earthy tones to create a look that's very arty and cool. The skirt is my favourite - I love the rich pink, and all the patterns and textures! My long hair works well with this look; I can pin it back with little butterfly clips, make little plaits or just leave it loose and wild. Sometimes when my sister is looking for me in a crowd, she asks if people have seen 'the girl with the long hippie hair,' and even if I'm not dressed this way, people know exactly who she's talking about! This look is so individualistic… there is no right or wrong way to do it, so anyone who is drawn to it should go ahead and try it! That's how our own personal styles develop, after all… a bit of experimenting and working out what works for us!
Chloe says:
I live in Australia and my style is a goth/punk mixture. It evolved a few years ago when I was given a few of my sister's old printed t-shirts, which she no longer wanted. I soon came to realise that they were exactly the kind of thing I wanted to wear, and slowly my style developed from there. I phased out dresses, trainers and long skirts and bought black jeans, leather jackets, net skirts, frayed tights and black boots instead. I've never really had any negative reactions, though I do get a few odd glances, especially in the summer! I wear rock/metal band merchandise from bands I like listening to, like Shinedown, Slayer and Alter Bridge… I love alternative metal, and the clothes I wear make me look as if I'm permanently heading to a metal concert! I love the accessories, too… I have skull jewellery, chain bracelets, black nail varnish and a spider web pocket watch, to name but a few! This style just feels like me!

Eve says:
I enjoy standing out. I mostly wear hats - my school has a uniform but I try my best not to be taken over by it! I put badges on my blazer, my Doc Marten boots, my black glasses and even my skull fedora! I once attempted to make cat ears out of my hair, but that didn't quite work! I used to get lots of remarks about my hats, such as, 'Who do you think you are, Michael Jackson?' Original, huh? Some kids once took my hat but I just sat there stone-faced and they got bored and gave it back. My style shows that even if there are rules, you can still make them your own!

Blue says:
Punk, lolita, goth, casual boy's clothes… where do you want me to start? I don't have just one style, I have lots of them. They're all very important to me because they are a part of me and my identity. When I'm dressed up in my favourite clothes I feel confident and invincible, and I look good too! People wonder how someone as shy as me can dress so outlandishly, but weirdly, I feel like my clothes help me to blend in and feel less conspicuous. If I strolled into college in a skirt and vest top, everyone would stare at me, gobsmacked; but in my platform boots and oversized jacket, nobody actually gives me a second glance. It's what they expect from me! I like that I can use clothes and style to project all kinds of different images… and that they are all me!
Gemma says:
Well… I am going against the tide here, but I actually don't think that fashion style is all that important. It certainly isn't to me, anyway! Sure, it makes you look 'unique' and 'you'… but not everybody wants that. I prefer not to have a distinct style - I just dress in whatever is clean! Even if this means wearing yellow leggings, a black skirt and a fluorescent pink t-shirt. No kidding, I actually did wear this once! My usual outfit is either shorts or a skirt and leggings, or jeans or jeggings with an abundant supply of t-shirts. I honestly don't care what I wear unless it's a really big occasion. I have nothing against others following their own style, but I guess I'm just not a fashionista! I wear what I like and I enjoy the freedom of not having to follow fashions or styles to the letter.

Cathy says:
Interesting stuff! Do YOU have a distinct style you'd like to tell us about on DREAMCATCHER? Or do you agree with Gemma that comfort should be more important? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

I HAVE TO HIDE THE REAL ME...

We had so much response to our first feature on readers who 'hide' their true selves behind a mask that we decided to continue the discussion… with different readers, this time…

Charlie says:
At school, sometimes people comment that my hair is horrible or that I'm ugly. I laugh it off and pretend to just be weird and crazy so that people don't make comments like that - they just think I'm weird, and that is better than being branded 'ugly' or 'big'. Not many people know that when I go home I carry the hurt and pain with me and feel really upset; they only ever see the fun, crazy side of me.

Carolyn says:
Charlie, I so identify with that. At school I act so happy when I am with my friends that it would be impossible to guess at what goes on behind that bubbly persona. Every so often, at lunch or break time, when nobody is looking, I sneak away and lock myself in a cubicle in the loo and cry rivers. Sometimes I even punch or kick the walls, missing lunch because I feel too lost and too angry to face the world… and I don't even know why. Then, as soon as the bell goes for whatever the next lesson is, I wipe the tears away and wash my face and make up an excuse for where I disappeared to… I say I've been in the library, for example. I pretend I am happy and normal until I go home and sit alone within the four walls of my room. I pretend to do my homework but really I am just sitting there, hugging my legs and wondering why I have these terrible feelings. I'm scared.

Yasmin says:
Carolyn, there have been times when I have felt that way too, but ironically I feel like I am myself with my friends at school, and at home I have to pretend to be something I am not. It's like I am a jigsaw piece and someone is forcing me into the wrong place in the picture, but I have no choice but to try to fit. I am grateful that I have a group of friends who accept me for who I am, even though that is not perfect in any way, and care about me. I know my family love me too, but they have such high expectations that I  cannot even hope to try and live up to them any more. I have to hide the real me. At home I  play the part of dutiful daughter, hard working pupil, helpful sister. Nobody bothers to look beneath the surface and see the real me, which is so much more than that. This has been going on for a few years now and the strain is really getting to me. I have done exactly what you have done, Carolyn - shut myself in my room and hit the walls with my fists until they hurt. Screamed into a pillow. Cried until there are no more tears left. It feels like I am two people, or that I have two lives… and I live in terror that my family will find this out and if they do I don't think they will ever forgive me.

Jennifer says:
Yasmin, is there somebody at school you can talk to about this? A counsellor maybe, or perhaps a sympathetic family member like an older cousin? I hope you can find a solution to this. Me, I hide behind a 'fake' happy face to mask the fear and the desolate wasteland that is my mind, so as not to show the pain that is hidden there. I don't want people to see the pain. If people ask how I am, I switch on a big smile and say, 'I'm fine!' when in reality I should answer 'I am not OK. I just want to hide away from the world.' I have been doing this for a while now… I just mask the pain I feel in the hopes that others don't see.

Megan says:
I understand what all of you are saying. I hide behind masks. I live in a world of masquerade. I've been building a wall around myself for years. I am the shyest girl at school, the quiet one who never speaks. Well, I am quiet because I am scared that if people find out about the 'real' me they will hate her, even more than they already do. Each time I get hurt, I build my wall higher, make it thicker, and my mask seems to mould itself to me more than ever; it becomes me. I have been bullied, which is the reason for my mask. I am quite insecure. I wear a 'mask' because it is my way to hide, my way to survive.

Yasmin says:
It is like living a lie, isn't it? It feels some days like it is choking me, that it will destroy me or drive me mad. Jennifer, we do have a school counsellor and once I went up to her door and raised my hand to knock, but lost my courage and walked away. Maybe I will have another try, because there has to be a better way than this, doesn't there? I really hope so, because this really is no way to live.

Names have been changed to protect privacy; thanks to Charlie, Carolyn, Yasmin, Megan and Jennifer for their honesty.

Pics posed by model Autumn.

Cathy says:
These readers feel they have no choice but to hide away their true selves, but we cannot grow or form strong relationships until we learn to be honest, at least with those we trust. Have YOU ever hidden behind a falsely cheerful mask or concealed important things about yourself? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more or offer ways to change things...

Friday, 21 November 2014

ALL THE FUN OF THE (VINTAGE) FAIR...

Lots of you love vintage, but have you ever been to a vintage fair? There are lots of bargains to be had… here's what to expect!

Cathy says:
The other weekend I went to a vintage fair with my friend Fiona… we were looking for retro goodies and offbeat Christmas prezzies. Fiona took some fab pics as we shopped, and I thought I'd share them - if you've never been to a vintage fair, these should give you an idea of what to expect! This particular vintage fair was in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool, which was a fab venue - and there was a vintage tea room, which we just HAD to sample! Then it was on to the serious task of treasure hunting…

This fair was very reasonably priced… the dresses were priced from £10 up to around £50 for the really  special pieces. We spotted a pink tulle ball gown and lots of velvet 1920s and 30s dresses which were just stunning. Skye would have approved! The stall holders were VERY cool, too… the lady in the pic above was goings for a very 70s look with the turban hat and fake leopardskin coat! My fave stall of all was run by a lady in an awesome Edwardian hat made with little silk flowers and netting and glazed dark straw, pictured right… she'd bought it that day from another stallholder!

I was instantly drawn to a stall selling lovely vintage children's books and annuals… I collect these, so i had a good rummage through, though I didn't buy anything this time. I was interested to see that some of my collection, books bought for 50p in junk shops long ago, are now worth £10 or £15! At a vintage fair, you need to be prepared to go through rails and rails of  items in search of something unique; sometimes, you just fall in love with something and that's that!

My friend Fiona had a good time too… she was on the hunt for Christmas prezzies, and we both agreed that these stunning 1950s mirror compacts (once used to hold loose facepowder) would be fab gifts for any vintage lover. There were lots of amazing silk scarves, too, often on sale for £1 each… also perfect gifts and the ideal way to add a taste of vintage to a plain outfit.

I ended up buying a black velvet coat, a diamante brooch of a fawn and a charcoal grey beret… I was tempted by lots of other things too, but I managed to hold back! The most jaw-dropping thing we saw at the vintage fair was this men's shirt, printed with pictures of lurid panettone - a kind of Italian Christmas cake. It was so hideous it was actually quite cool, and Fiona almost bought it (£10) for her husband as a change from the usual dodgy Christmas jumper. She didn't in the end, and she still hasn't forgiven herself!  Me, I'm still having nightmares about it…

Have YOU ever been to a vintage fair? Would you like to? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

HOLLY: A BUSHY TALE...

We meet young illustrator Holly whose first published book might just set her on the road to stardom…


Holly says:
I'm a lifelong vegetarian and have always loved animals. At school, I loved art and English and have always loved doodling and writing stories. I left school last year with three A grade A levels, but chose not to go to university because of the rising student debt situation. Instead, I took a part time job as a barista and launched my own mural business. For some years I've worked Saturday's at Formby Books - I even painted a mural on their wall with a fairy tale animal theme. My boss Tony has always encouraged my artwork and the manager, Bob, said he felt the characters in my mural had a story to tell. I think the mural is where the idea for the book started!

Red squirrels are famous here in Formby, and one of the main attractions for visitors. I designed a logo of a squirrel saying 'Save Our Shops' for local businesses to display; Tony nicknamed him 'Squish' (I wasn't too happy about that to start with!) and Bob suggested writing a story about him. Bob was easy to work with - he didn't give me deadlines for the illustrations, but I always had a new image to show him each Saturday. It was great feeling to finish the book and see the artwork alongside the text… it's a children's adventure book with a conservation feel so I think it will be popular. Copies of A BUSHY TALE are available from Amazon for £6.99 and from Formby Books, 5 The cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby, Liverpool L37 3PX.
We can sign and post copies to anyone who is interested for that personal touch! On Saturday 22nd November we are having a book launch at Formby Books… if you're local, do come along!

My dream is to become a children's author and illustrator; it's what I have always wanted to do. When I was little I used to write books about animals and illustrate each one. I'd like to see my mural painting business take off, too… I've had some great commissions from schools and individuals so far. It's lovely to paint characters on the wall, bringing a room alive… and to see children choose their favourite parts of the picture! My long term dream is to open an animal sanctuary for rescued animals, have a little cottage and write and illustrate my books in a lovely countryside setting.

Cathy says:
I've met Holly and seen her fabulous bookshop mural… and I will be ordering a copy of A BUSHY TALE, too! Have you ever dreamed of illustrating a book? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!