Thursday, 30 April 2015

BARBARA: BELL-BOTTOM JEANS AND PLATFORM SHOES!

Another in our fab series about growing up in a different decade… we talk to Barbara, who was a teenager in the 1970s!


Barbara says:
I hit thirteen in 1969 so my teens spanned the end of the hippie era into the glam rock/disco era of the 70s, and the clothes I wore reflected this. There were maxi coats (including an old army greatcoat picked up second hand) to mini skirts; bell-bottom jeans and t shirts bought from Biba in Kensington High Street; and platform shoes! Huge, dangerous-to-walk-in platforms picked up at the local market. I was the eldest of four and my dad was strict. I wasn't allowed out on a school night and on Friday and Saturday my curfew was midnight. If I was late I was grounded the next week, so I spent many Saturday nights running home (platform shoes in hand) to make sure I was home before the clock chimed 12. This curfew stayed in place until I left home at nineteen.

My hair was red, long and very thick and styling it took hours; there were few hair products then so I had to blow dry it section by section - if I didn't, it would be a frizzy mess. I'd style it before I went out and my mother would fuss as she thought that if it wasn't completely dry I'd catch a cold. I lived in Fulham which was not the trendy upmarket place it is now, and went to school halfway across London near White City. I'd leave at 6.45am and catch two buses and two underground trains!
Despite their strict rules, my parents didn't worry about me wandering around London so I had the freedom to do as I pleased at weekends and holidays… and this was way before mobile phones, so no-one could check up on where I was. My friends and I loved to explore London and walk along Fulham Road, Sloane Avenue and King's Road, maybe stopping for coffee at a Wimpy's! My best friend at school and I travelled home together, chatting non-stop. The minute I got indoors I'd ring her on the house phone and carry on the conversation - this would drive my dad mad as he could never figure out what we could talk about for so long. It was exactly what teenagers talk about today.. make-up, friends, boys, music, clothes! We are still great friends today…

Cathy says:
This really brings alive 1970s London… cool! These days, Barbara is a librarian and a brilliant campaigner for libraries… how awesome? Would YOU have enjoyed being a teen in the 1970s? COMMENT BELOW to tell us why - or why not!

JADE: ORKNEY GIRL...

Reader Jade tells us all about growing up on a remote Scottish island…


Jade says:
I grew up on Orkney; it's near the very top of Scotland, with the tiny island of Shetland seven hours away by ferry. There are many historical sites and thousands of tourists flock in every summer. The most popular attractions are Skara Brae (a stone built Neolithic settlement, pictured right); Maeshowe (Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave built around 2700 BC); and the Ring of Brogdar (Neolithic henge and stone circle). These sites are unique - they are protected by Historic Scotland and known as the 'heart of Neolithic Orkney.' There is plenty of Viking history too, such as the St Magnus Cathedral built in 1137 by Viking earl Rognvald Kolson.

Not everything on Orkney is old, of course, but if you are a teen, there isn't too much to entertain you - unless, like me, you are into historical stuff! The Pickaquoy Centre is a combined cinema and leisure centre, and that's about it, unless you count the clothing stores and the smaller ferries running to small islands around Orkney. There is one college on the island, near the biggest town, Kirkwall. The college has a whole archeological department I used to volunteer for, with a little shed at the back to clean bone samples. You can try to work out how old the bone finds are and who they may come from, and in the summer you can volunteer on the bigger digs.

Sometimes, Orkney has 'tourist days' which means one or two cruise ships come in to drop tourists off to explore. On days like that you don't want to pop to your local shop because there will be 'horse and cart' trips in the streets and all kinds of technology outside the cathedral to blast traditional Scottish music into the streets!

Cathy says:
Although I lived in Scotland for 22 years, I have never been to Orkney - and it's an island I'd love to see. Have YOU ever been to a Scottish island? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

CELIA: THE BULLIES ARE RIGHT...

Reader Celia asks for advice on a problem of bullying and self-confidence… and Skye Tanberry offers her thoughts...

Celia says:
I am getting bullied at the moment. I am quite chubby and I wear glasses, and maybe that's why the bullies have picked me out, I don't know. It's not just boys but girls too who pick on me, they say that nobody likes me, they call me names and say I'm fat. The truth is they're right, and I know it. They say I'm a loner too, but if that's true then they are the reason for it. I am sick of being bullied so I am trying to eat less, but now they've told my friend I said bad things about her and my confidence has gone through the floor. Please help me.

Skye says:
Actually, you sent your email to Summer, but I wanted to step in and answer this one. Most people know that Summer suffered from an eating disorder - I suppose she is still suffering from it, but she is doing very much better now. It was a nightmare to see my twin so lost and scared, and to watch her wasting away before my eyes. So when I see someone talking about losing weight to fit in and not be bullied, it frightens me… be careful, please. Who says you are overweight? The bullies? Trust me, a bully will use any label to attack someone, and often the labels have nothing to do with reality. I don't believe you have a weight problem, but if you think you do please see your family doctor for advice and follow a healthy eating plan and NOT a 'diet'. Dieting is dangerous for teens and can lead to eating disorders. I think what you really need to do here has nothing to do with food or diets - talk to your year head and get some help to stop the bullying. Call ChildLine on 0800 1111 for more help and support - but DON'T listen to the spiteful name calling. Bullying sucks, so get some help to sort it; eating problems suck too, so please, please don't let yourself be drawn into one.

Cathy says:
I agree with Skye… I don't think that losing weight would stop these bullies, but speaking out certainly should. Be brave - keep a record of their attacks and slurs and go to the teachers. Have YOU ever been bullied? What would YOUR advice to Celia be? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

HOPE: PERFECT CUPCAKES!

Reader Hope shares her recipe for gorgeous cupcakes… with a neat Chocolate Box Girls twist!

Hope says:
I love to bake… anything, any shape or size, cookies, cake, pie, anything! I'd like to share a pretty-much foolproof recipe of delicious cupcakes… the recipe makes around sixteen, so there'll be plenty for everyone!

You will need:
125g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g softened butter
1 tsp baking powder
2 free range eggs, beaten
You can use any flavourings you like… I am a personal fan of honey!

To make:
- This is an all-in-one mix so all you have to do is to sift the flour and sugar into a bowl, then add the rest in and mix it all together!
- Lay out sixteen cupcake cases into a baking tray and use a teaspoon to spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases.
- Preheat the oven to Gas mark four and bake for about twenty minutes, until golden brown.
- When the cakes are done, leave them to cool on a wire rack.

To decorate:
This is the fun bit!
To make buttercream, mix softened butter, icing sugar and a dash of water to loosen. I suggest having a play with your quantities - you want the buttercream icing to be firm but spreadable. You can add a few drops of food colouring to create a coloured buttercream… or add flavourings… the possibilities are endless!

I iced my cakes with designs inspired by the Chocolate Box Girls series. For CHERRY CRUSH, I cut up strawberries to create the cherry shapes and piped on icing to create leaves and stems. For MARSHMALLOW SKYE I iced moon shapes onto the cakes, and for SUMMER'S DREAM I piped on daisies and added halved strawberries onto the cakes. COCO CARAMEL called for a piped-on horseshoe shape and SWEET HONEY was a bee! Some of the designs were quite tricky, so it's a good idea to practice icing your shapes onto the counter top before you try the design out on an actual cake! You don't have to choose the same designs as me… making up your own motif is half the fun! Enjoy!

Cathy says:
Yum! These cupcakes look fab and the recipe is easy enough even for me! I love the individual designs… so cute! Do YOU like to bake? COMMENT BELOW to share your best sweet treat ideas!

Monday, 27 April 2015

WHAT MAKES YOU SHINE?

Reader Tash has some ideas on how to grab life and make it awesome… do you dare?

Tash says:
We hear a lot in life about 'making the best' of yourself, but how is that done? The only way is to find something unique about yourself, something that makes you shine! Break the monotony and dare to be remarkable! Today is the first day of the rest of your life, so make it count!

Finding a look that fits your personality can take time. Don't rush things… give your look time to evolve! Whether it's a smear of your favourite lipstick or a cool belt, try things out, experiment, learn to be your own shining star! Some clothes just make you feel comfortable in your own skin… if you feel special in a sky blue dress, go for it! You're beautiful, don't ever doubt it. You can push the boundaries and try different looks until you find what feels right for you, but don't be pushed into a look that feels awkward or wrong, no matter what your friends say. Maybe they've spent ages giving you a makeover, but if you show up at the school disco in a bikini, pillar-box red lipstick and electric blue eyeshadow, you are trying too hard! Stand up for yourself and make sure your friends stick to your rules… you need to feel confident, not terrified! Sometimes, finding just one detail that people associate with you can be enough to give you a signature look and link with your personality…

Why not try:
- lots of cool badges on school bag or lapel?
- a single, slender plait in your hair, whatever its overall style?
- a series of fun, funky belts?
- a flower in the hair?
- one particular colour you always include in your look?
- an armful of cute, jangly bracelets?
- a favourite perfume or body butter you always wear?
- cool trainers, Converse or cute ballerina flats?
- a big smile?

Whatever you pick, wear it with style and etch it into everyone's minds that you have that spark. Go ahead - knock 'em dead!

Illustration courtesy of reader Ishika: many thanks!

Cathy says:
Great suggestions… in time, we all find the right style for us, but experimenting is definitely part of the fun - and who says you can't change your style to suit your mood, too? COMMENT BELOW to tell us about your fave style statements!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

THE LAST GOODBYE...

Reader Roisin shares a bittersweet account of love and loss…

Roisin says:
My mum is a single parent and I've never known my dad, so my grandparents have always been extra important to me. They were younger than many of my friends grandparents, and quite adventurous and open minded. I remember Grandad taking me sailing when I was little and raising a pirate flag when we got out into the middle of the lake; he taught me to canoe and how to swim, how to pitch a tent and how to climb a tree. When I was seven, he took me on a weekend road trip to Scotland and we camped by a loch and went bird watching, and we saw tons of amazing birds and looked them up in a big book he had brought along. I also remember the time he decided to build a treehouse in his garden for me. Happy memories.

Grandad died unexpectedly last year, when I was thirteen. He had to have heart surgery and didn't come through it, and when he died it felt like the end of everything. He had been so important to me. He always told me I could do anything I set my mind to, and he always listened to me as though my views mattered. I knew he loved me and was proud of me, and we just got along so well, too. We understood each other. When I found out he'd died I thought there was some mistake, because it was meant to be a fairly routine operation and he was only just fifty. It didn't seem fair. I felt like I hadn't said goodbye, like there was so much left to do and say and that we'd never have the chance to do or say it, not now.

Mum was devastated too. I didn't like to talk to her about it in case it upset her more; he was her dad, after all. And Gran was just lost. One day, about a month after the funeral, I went to Gran's house and she wasn't in. I went round the back and into the garden and climbed up into the tree house and sat for ages, remembering old times, crying a bit. Then a bird came and landed on the wall of the treehouse, very still and silent, looking at me, just a few centimeters away from my face. I stopped crying, almost stopped breathing. For some strange reason I felt calm and some of the hurt lifted away from me, seeing this amazing creature so close. It was sort of magical. And then the bird flew away, and I went home, and Mum was listening to a CD by someone I'd never heard of, and the song was all about someone who dies and transforms into a bird. My heart was thumping so hard. I don't believe in ghosts and I know the CD thing was just a coincidence, but I do know something amazing happened that day. I never told anyone, not even Mum or Gran, because I thought they'd think I was making it up… but it was real, and it was a kind of message, I know it was.

Illustrations courtesy of reader Lucy - thank you!

Cathy says:
Roisin's story is very moving… and kind of magical, too. Coincidence or something more? COMMENT BELOW to have YOUR say!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

CHILDHOOD LOVES I LEFT BEHIND...

Did you have a hobby you loved as a child? A hobby you later dropped? We asked readers to share their memories of long lost loves…

Emily says:
I started going to ballet class when I was just two years old. I went to a small academy, and every year there would be exams and performances. As the years went by, I started doing jazz, tap and gymnastics too… I was one of the younger ones, but I was in a group with some fairly advanced dancers. When I was six, a music group came to our school and I was the only child who signed up for it. I loved it, but I was out four nights a week and Saturday mornings with all my dance commitments. It was too much - I just couldn't cope. The dancing was getting tougher, but I absolutely loved my keyboard lessons. I knew in the end that I had to stop dance classes - I had no choice, if I'd stayed I would have begun to hate it. I'm now studying for my Grade Four on a keyboard course; I study with older teens and love being pushed in something I actually enjoy. I know I made the right decision - I'm happy with what I did and what I didn't do.

Abigail says:
I used to do gymnastics three times a week, starting from when I was about five. I liked it but I didn't like all the coaches and I got upset if I couldn't do certain moves. A friend broke her leg on the beam, which really knocked my confidence; I got scared and the coaches lost patience with me. I got moved down a group, but my sister was still in the higher group and we were there most nights of the week. I wasn't happy and we moved club when I was seven. It was better for a while, but I was still scared of the beam and although I was competing in competitions I hated being under pressure. Before a competition I was always scared and tearful, and once I messed up badly and had to stop my routine. My sister had an injury and couldn't perform properly, and finally, aged ten, I quit gymnastics forever. It was totally the right decision for me, but still, sometimes I miss it. I still watch gymnastics if it's on TV and enjoy it.

Ruadhan says:
I wanted to be a professional rider from the age of three. My poster girl was Zara Philips and I watched Black Beauty and War Horse over and over. When I was five, I started lessons, and loved it. I thought it would all end when we moved to the city when I was eleven, but Mum found me a new riding school and I began to lease a horse called Mocha. I often stayed late to feed and groom her. The following year I entered my first cross country event and came second… but it was to be my first and last event. One day I was trekking with some friends. We were riding alongside a stream when something rustled in a bush and made Mocha rear up. I fell and broke my leg badly in two places. Eight weeks later, when I was well again, the riding school asked me to come back again, but I just couldn't - I was too scared. Now, two years on, I really regret it… I allowed fear to take away my dream.

Amber says:
I was really into dance as a child. I was in an after school club for many years  and earned four medals in exams. In every 'wishing jar' and notebook I still have from those times, I can still see the faint handwriting that reads 'I want to be a famous dancer.' Those messages have been erased and written over with a new dream, 'I want to study journalism at Cambridge University,' but traces of that original dream still remain. I regret stopping, as I became quite unfit. I'd devoted so many hours to choreographing dances, trying to make them good enough for me to audition for 'Got To Dance.' Quitting dance was probably the worse decision I've ever made.

Cathy says:
Interesting… some decisions here seem to have been made for the right reasons, and some not. Maybe it's not too late for Ruadhan and Amber to pick up their hobbies again and find the enthusiasm they once had? Have YOU ever dropped a childhood hobby? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

TAMSYN: RARA SKIRTS AND MEN WITH BIG HAIR...

Another in our fun series about growing up in a different decade… we talk to Tamsyn, who was a teenager in the 1980s…


Tamsyn says:
The eighties were such an iconic decade for fashion: Princess Diana style wedding dresses, puffball skirts, pixie boots, shoulder pads the size of houses. Dallas was on the TV, Madonna was in the charts and David Hasselhoff (yes, The Hoff) was fanciable. To quote Charles Dickens,  it was the best of times and the worst of times, although I don't think he meant RaRa skirts and men with big hair when he wrote that. Anyway, you might think growing up in such an era of glamour and sophistication would be amazing, but alas, I was The Girl That Fashion Forgot. I grew up in a small backwater of NW England called Barrow in Furness, made famous(ish) by it's shipyard. We had two clothes shops - one called Jesters, which sold what I can only describe as market-stall chic and another (whose name I can't remember) which sold Pepe jeans and jumpers with sad-faced clowns on. And that was it.

So, I wasn't stylish. Look at the jumper in the picture if you don't believe me… I seem to be accessorising with a koala. I remember going to the Year 8/9 party thinking I looked amazing in my candy-striped baggy trousers and white sweatshirt with a cartoon on it. I did not. It wasn't until I got my first Saturday job that I started to dress reasonably well, because by then the 20th century had finally arrived in Barrow in the shape of Etam and Topshop. There were still disasters, of course… let's not talk about the dungarees or the floral bermuda shorts or my misguided attempt to copy Kylie Minogue's crazy curls on the cover of her first album. Kylie pulled it off… I didn't. Imagine going into school with hair that looked like a poodle caught in a wind machine?

I reckon it took another fifteen years to work out what actually suited me, and I have growing up in the 80s to thank for that. Now, where did I put those rollerboots?

Cathy says: 
Brilliant! Tamsyn is actually one of the most stylish gals I know these days, and is also an awesome writer… check out her book 'Completely Cassidy: Accidental Genius' and her website here… http://www.tamsynmurray.co.uk/older-readers/books.html . Do you think YOU would have liked being a teen in the 1980s? COMMENT BELOW to tell us why… or why not!

VOTES FOR WOMEN!

There's a general election on May 7th, and political parties are campaigning hard to win votes… but did you know that British women didn't have the same right to vote as men until 1928?

Imagine a world where only men could vote; where married women were considered to be the property of their husbands and were not allowed to own land, study at university or make decisions and choices that might change their lives. This was how it was in Victorian Britain, and it's not a world I would want to live in. So how did things change?

A movement to campaign for votes for women began in the UK in the 1860s. The campaigners began by writing letters, holding meetings, seeking newspaper coverage and publishing pamphlets and magazines to spread their message; to begin with, their cause was seen as ridiculous, but by the 1900s they had gathered much support and were considered to be a threat. The campaign was no longer just the preserve of wealthy women… women from all classes and areas of life began to support and take part in trying to change things. The 'suffragettes' stepped up their campaign with stone-throwing, window smashing, chaining themselves to the railings outside parliament and Downing Street, hunger strikes and even arson; this did not always help their campaign, but certainly brought them publicity and raised awareness of the issue. Many campaigners were arrested, imprisoned and, if they chose to hunger strike, were force-fed in quite barbaric ways. Parliament passed the Cat And Mouse Act to try to stop the women from gaining public sympathy.

Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia were key figures in the movement, and in 1913 it gained its first martyr when activist Emily Davidson walked out in front of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby and was trampled and killed. Instead of sympathy, her death was reported in the newspapers as a 'suffragette outrage'. Ironically, it was the First World War which made the greatest change; with so many men away fighting, women began to take on work traditionally done by men, and views shifted on what women were capable of doing. Slowly, resistance to giving women the vote began to melt away, and in 1918 women over 30 who were householders or married to householders were given the vote. Ten years later, the age limit was lowered and the law finally ensured that when it came to voting, women had the same rights as men.

When the election campaigning gets dull and annoying, remember the women who worked so hard to gain us the right to vote. Many reading this will be too young to vote, but it's worth knowing that a vote is one way to have your say about the way things are done in your country. Some countries are run by dictators, and the people have no rights at all to change things… let's be thankful to the suffragettes who  helped to give the women of Britain a voice.

Cathy says:
Did YOU know about the suffragette movement? Do you think that voting is an important right, and if you were over 18, would YOU use your vote? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

CAITLIN: I GET TOO SCARED...

Reader Caitlin has a question for Coco Tanberry in our regular problem page series… will you agree with Coco's advice?

Caitlin says:
I really love music. I've been playing piano since I was seven and I've loved it ever since. I want to go on getting better, so I am doing my grade exams, but I'd also like to make more opportunities to play. The problem is that when I find something I could do or an event I could play at, I say I will go along on a certain day and then I get scared and say I'll go the next week instead, and finally I chicken out completely. I think I am scared of failing, or of not being good enough. How can I make more opportunities for myself when I feel so anxious inside?

Coco says:
How I wish I had your problem! I love music and I adore playing, but my family aren't impressed… well, let's face it, nobody is impressed. I may well actually be tone deaf. I think you have talent, because you are doing well with your piano - you just need the confidence to match. How do you get confident at something? By doing it lots, so it doesn't seem like a big deal. Practice makes perfect. The first time I gave a speech to my classmates about endangered species, I was terrified… there's a big difference between talking to your friends and sisters and talking to people who may not be so sympathetic. However, I made myself do it and the fear slowly ebbed away, and now if I have to do something like that I hardly think about it. Start gently. Do a short performance for friends and family, then perhaps for neighbours. Then play at a school event or do a concert at the local old folk's home… they will be so grateful and appreciative, I guarantee! Sometimes you just have to make yourself do the things that scare you… until they don't scare you anymore. Pretend to be confident - fake it till you make it. Don't give yourself the option of wriggling out of things… do what you've said you will do, and do it as well as you can. You'll be brilliant!

Cathy says:
I agree with Coco's advice… the way to conquer nerves is to make yourself do the things you are scared of. You'll survive, honest! What advice would YOU give Caitlin? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

YOUR REVIEWS… FOR LOOKING GLASS GIRL!

More fab reviews for my new book LOOKING GLASS GIRL… have YOU read it yet?

Cathrine says:
LOOKING GLASS GIRL is a young adult book… I am reading it because my niece is, so that we can chat about it. But I keep forgetting that, as the book pulls me in! It is a book about what it is like to be a young adult; how the friends you love and trust turn their backs on you and how perhaps the only way to find your way back to true friendship is to find, not them, but you. Yourself. It's a book about losing friends, loneliness, bullying, wanting to fit in, jealousy, guilt, love, forgiveness and standing up for yourself. And compassion! A book that mirrors what it is like to be a teen, while offering comfort and advice. I love it! If you know someone aged 10-16 (or 44…) this would be a perfect gift! 5/5.


Deborah says:
Wow. That's the only word I could think of to describe this book when I'd finished it. LOOKING GLASS GIRL is a perfect example of why I love Cathy Cassidy's books so much. They literally define the feeling of reading. This story is by far the best story based on a classic ever told - the character of Alice is absolutely amazing and I can relate to how she feels, what she does and how she sees the world. It left me totally inspired. The story had all the elements of the classic book but it still had me on the edge of my seat (well, bed!) desperate to know what happened next! I want everyone I know to read LOOKING GLASS GIRL… it's just so brilliant!


Charlotte says:
I got LOOKING GLASS GIRL last week and read it as soon as I got home. I was excited to read it, because Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland story has always fascinated me, with all the different characters and their personalities. I was interested to see what Cathy would do with the inspiration of this book. LOOKING GLASS GIRL was very emotional - I admit, I might just have shed a few tears! It made me think that what happened to Alice could happen to anybody… just because of an argument, because of jealousy. I was so relieved when the book had a happy ending… at some parts I was really anxious. I loved LOOKING GLASS GIRL - it's a book I will be reading over and over again.

Aleesha says:
Falling down the rabbit hole… or in love with a new book, at the very least. Does it make a difference? Both involve a journey into a new world, and Cathy Cassidy does not disappoint with her revitalised tale inspired by the classic Alice in Wonderland. In a modern parallel to the original story, Alice is abandoned by her best friends when they leave her for high-school paragon Savannah. When Savannah invites her to a Wonderland-themed sleepover, to make amends, things go badly wrong and Alice falls into a coma… and into Wonderland. It's up to her former friends and the boy-next-door to help bring her back. As an older teen, this book brings back Cathy Cassidy related nostalgia almost as strong as the Lewis Carroll-inspired nostalgia I feel for the original book. I recommend this book for older readers - it's good to embrace old memories - and younger readers too, as it's brilliant to make new ones! As for Cathy Cassidy - top hats off to you, ma'am, another brilliant book!

Cathy says:
Thanks for the fab feedback, folks! I am so happy LOOKING GLASS GIRL is doing well and causing a stir… exciting! Have YOU read it yet? COMMENT BELOW to post your reviews!

Monday, 20 April 2015

THIS OLD BEAR...

Much loved teddies from long ago... some of Cathy's friends talk about their favourite childhood soft toys. Naawww!


Sarah says:
This is me pushing my much loved Panda Ted in my buggy when I was about two years old. He was given to me when I was born and he's still going strong - and still my best friend. I am a writer and a book festival curator. I write books for children and often do school events, and Panda Ted sometimes comes with me to talk to younger children - he likes getting out and about! I'm forty-four now and he's older than me. I love him because he's strong, silent and always listens... and he has a very wise face. And he squeaks!
Check out Sarah Webb's 'Ask Amy Green' series of books… or her new 'Songbird Cafe' series… perfect for Cathy Cassidy fans looking for something new! 


Mark says:
This is 'Sailor Bill' and he's about all that is left from my sixties childhood. We have been through many scrapes together and he has never let me down - he's a tough old dog and loyal to the end. He once had his nose bitten off in a vicious street fight - a gang of army dogs had tried to knock the stuffing out of him. The doctors stitched up the wound with blue wool, and it still remains to this day. I'm now married  with three fairly grown up kids but Sailor Bill has never really settled down - you know what sailors are like, he probably has a girl in every port. I run my own gardening business, play guitar and write songs amongst other things; Sailor Bill doesn't get himself in quite as many scrapes these days. He's looking a little bedraggled and floppy - I think it might be his age.

Maggi says:
This is Papa... I couldn't say 'panda' when I was really small... and according to my mum, he was my first ever toy. Obviously I still have him, though he is somewhat battered and emaciated these days! He's about sixty-two years old, which is not bad for a panda! I'm now retired but used to be a countryside ranger and I'm still a wife, mother and occasional writer. If you think Papa is old, I still have my mum's old teddy - he's small and ginger and has only one eye, and he'll be ninety years old next year!

Michelle says:
This is Teddy... he never really had another name, but he was definitely a boy. My dad bought him for me the day I was born and he has been with me ever since. He stays in my bedroom - occasionally if I'm feeling low he comes downstairs, but most of the time he just sits on my bed. He's too big to carry around but he is a constant in my life and no matter what I'm doing or where I live, he'll always be with me. These says I am  community worker, but those childhood ties and values still matter to me and in some ways, Teddy is a reminder of that.

Cathy says:
Naaaww… love the old ted nostalgia! Do YOU have a fave soft toy from childhood? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!



Sunday, 19 April 2015

LORRAINE: I WAS TOO SCARED TO SPEAK OUT...

Reader Lorraine talks about the trauma of childhood abuse in this brave and powerful post…

Lorraine says:
We all have things from the past that haunt us, but often these are minor things that will be forgotten in time; tripping up at school, being laughed at or being the victim of a practical joke. For me, the past was much harder to forget. I always thought I had an OK childhood, but that wasn't true. My stepdad treated me in a way he shouldn't have from the time I was a toddler right up until the time he died when I was ten. I didn't even know that this was wrong, I just knew that it was embarrassing and awkward and I would try to distract myself and not think about it and wait for it all to be over. I believed that as I was just a kid, that my opinion and feelings didn't matter and so I didn't tell anyone. When I went to school I began to work out that what was happening wasn't normal; I still didn't speak out. I was scared of hurting people, of being in trouble, of all kinds of things.

I wish I had found the courage to speak out because even after my stepdad passed away, I was still haunted by what had happened. Flashbacks began to paralyse my life and even then I was still too afraid to tell my mum. I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious mental health issue. In the end, I confided in my doctor who believed me and put me in touch with someone who could help. I went to counselling and slowly learned to let go of the nightmare and live free again.

My message is, if you have fears or serious issues which haunt you, speak out and get help. Talk to an adult you can trust, even if you feel scared. Keep speaking out until someone listens and offers to help you. This is such a difficult subject for us all; schools won't teach us about abuse because they feel it's not appropriate for young children to know about such things. But abuse happens to all kinds of children, and if we don't teach them what to do and say if something like this happens to them, they will have no idea what is going on. They will bottle up the fear and the shame as I did. Abuse is not OK, and we need to speak up and challenge it. If you have something frightening in your life that you are keeping secret, please speak out. People will understand and listen, and they CAN help you.

Lorraine's name has been changed for this feature; the picture has been posed by model Kate.

Cathy says:
Lorraine's post is very hard to read, but it's hugely brave; her words could help others to break the silence and find help. Have YOU ever bottled up a secret from shame or from fear? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts.

Friday, 17 April 2015

AN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION...

We talk to readers who attend international schools... and find out what school is like across the world…

Marianne says:
Recently I moved to Tanzania and I go to an international school here. I am finding it hard to adjust but my parents had jobs in Tanzania so I had to come; my school is a boarding school, but I don't board, although I sometimes wish I did! We have a riding stables at the school, and my favourite horse is called Mr Bean! Overall, my classes are OK but I hate Swahili class… Swahili is the language spoke in Tanzania… 'Jambo' means hello, for example! PE is difficult too, as it is so hot here and it can be very hard to concentrate when you are playing volleyball in the full sun and it's thirty degrees! My dad teaches science at the school, and that is a little bit awkward sometimes! My favourite lesson is English and I wish I was better at French and Swahili as it would be cool to be fluent!

Isabelle says:
I go to school in Belgium. We are here because of my dad's work - we tend not to stay in any one country for more than five years so it's a very different way of life. I love my school because everyone here is different and I have friends from several different countries, and I love learning about their lives and their cultures. I board at school, and I think that this helps to make stronger friendships… you are living with your friends, not just studying with them, so you are bound to get close. I guess it is hard moving on every four or five years, but I am used to it now and I keep in touch with friends from my old school. My favourite subjects are Drama, PE and Readers Workshop, and my least favourite subjects are Maths and Music.

Christine says:
I live in Sri Lanka. My dad is white and English is his first language and my mum is Sri Lankan and speaks Sinhalese. They wanted me to improve my English so they send me as a day-pupil to one of the international schools. I love it - you get to meet a lot of people from all around the world and you open your eyes to other cultures and diversity. You learn new languages, visit new places, eat exotic foods and meet and make the best of friends. The only thing I don't like is constantly having to say goodbye when friends from overseas move on again… that can be hard. My favourite subjects include world language and music, and when I grow up my biggest wish  is to travel around the world!

Cathy says: 
Love these little interviews… how cool? Would YOU like to study in an international school overseas? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

BETTY: THEY CALLED US BOBBYSOXERS...

Another in our fab series of growing up in a different decade… Betty tells all on being a teenager in the 1940s!

Betty says:
We were called 'bobbysoxers' by the American soldiers or GIs. Newport, the nearest town to the village in South Wales where I was an evacuee, was over-run with them, all seeming so relaxed, chewing gum and leaning against shop windows. We evacuees were received with mixed feelings by the Welsh residents of Caerleon - although we made friends with the Welsh children, they couldn't resist making fun of our south-east accents, calling us Cockney even though we were from Dover. Our lessons as an evacuated school were timetabled in scattered venues in the village: Baptist Chapel, Infants school, Training College, Church Hall. In spite of rationing, the uniform had to obey strict rules and even the 6th formers had to wear the hideous hat with its red band, the tunic and blouse, stockings (there were no tights then!) and regulation black shoes. My saturday attire was a skirt, blouse and jersey, or, in summer, a cotton dress. No jeans, no trousers!

Our spare time, when homework was finished, was spent at the Lido or the Youth Club where we danced the Paris Glide or the Quickstep. We went for long walks and played tennis. I was given a bike which lacked a bell or any chromium trimmings, as it was the wartime 'utility' version. I was a girl guide and on our return to Dover I became a Ranger, with a grey jersey and beret as uniform. We tentatively experimented with make-up, lipstick and (daringly!) mascara, which came in a box which you had to moisten with saliva (spit, in other words!) No make-up of any kind was allowed in school.

Our heroes were the stars of Hollywood musicals - we went to 'the pictures' nearly every Saturday. On the wireless (nobody called it the radio back then) we listened to dance bands like Geraldo, Jack Payne and the American Glenn Miller. An exciting development was being linked as pen-pals to four French girls in Orleans, a French town much battered in the war, just as Dover had been. We eventually went over to visit and meet our pen-pals… what a thrill to go to newly liberated France and speak French! Our life back then was certainly severe and restricted by today's standards, but we were perhaps content with our simpler lifestyle!

Cathy says:
Wow… I love this account of growing up in wartime Wales and post-war Dover… brilliant! It sounds amazing to me, and I'd love to time-travel back to see it all. How about YOU? Would you have liked being a teen during wartime? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

CHLOE: FIRST DAY NERVES!

Reader Chloe gives us the low-down on what it's like to start your first ever part-time job…


Chloe says:
The idea of getting a job was exciting but also pretty scary, and when I was first told I had got the job (waitressing in the restaurant of a local golf club) I was happy but very nervous! On my first day, I had a really sick, anxious feeling in my stomach but I took a couple of deep breaths and decided to take the day as it came. I didn't want to mess up and let anyone down. I arrived on time and met some of the staff, who were really nice, but the day did not go without a hitch, alas. About half an hour in, I broke a bowl - thankfully nobody minded. I hoped this would be my first and last mistake but I was wrong again!

As time went on, I began to gain confidence and I found I was always in and out of the kitchen. Maybe if I had taken a second to gather my thoughts or slow down a little, or taken the glass of water I was constantly being offered, the next event may not have occurred but the way I saw it was I had things that had to be done and I was determined to do them. I was asked to make three black coffees and I did this, but what happened next was a bit of a blur. I moved to pick the tray up and it flipped over, spilling coffee on my shirt and jeans and covering the floor in coffee. Ironic, considering I don't even like the stuff! I was told it was fine, but I actually just wanted to burst into tears there and then. Instead, I pulled myself together and remade the coffee. I went out into the crowded dining room and fixed a smile on my face, and I served the coffees. I was still a bit shaky and kept my head down, but I held it together until I got back into the kitchen, and someone asked me again if I was all right and I just couldn't help but start to cry which of course I was SO ashamed of!

Someone took me outside to get some air and asked if I wanted to go home… I thought, YES, I wanted to go home and never come back! I also knew that I couldn't give up so easily. I knew I would regret it if I did. My dad has always said that when you get knocked down, you have to get up again, brush yourself down and carry on… so that's what I did! I finished my shift and by that point I felt much better and proud of myself for not running away. You should never let the fear of striking out stop you from playing the game. If you get upset over messing up it just means you were trying hard and got upset when things didn't go to plan. Everyone messes up sometime! You know the saying, 'don't cry over spilt milk'? Well, it was coffee in this case!

Falling down can be hard and getting up can be harder still, but once you do you will be stronger for it. On my first day I broke a bowl, two cups and a saucer, but I survived! I learned that you don't always get everything perfect at first shot, which was a good lesson to know. You learn more from your mistakes than from anything else, and it makes life a little more interesting, trust me!

Cathy says:
I love Chloe's bravery - it is always hard to start a new job, and waitressing can be very tough, but if you keep going you'll soon get the hang of it. Have YOU ever learned from a mistake or overcome embarrassment to keep on going? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

ELISE: I'M ALWAYS EXCLUDED...

Reader Elise asks Summer Tanberry for advice on friendship and self-esteem matters…

Elise says:
I'm fourteen and I'm shy and quiet and often excluded by my classmates. They say I am weird and make fun of me, although other people say I am skinny and pretty. Even my friends can be odd with me, so I feel left out with them also. I've tried several friendship groups over the last few years but I am always excluded in the end and I feel like my self-esteem and confidence is in tatters. People have said things to me like 'Nobody likes you,' and 'You have no friends.' I often feel like crying and telling someone about this but the truth is nobody cares, so I sometimes ending up making myself sick in the girl's bathroom. I feel like people might like me better if I was skinnier, although I know I am pretty skinny already. I feel so lonely; nobody likes me or cares about me.

Summer says:
Well, first of all, I care… and if I do, others will, too, I promise. You're trapped in a cycle of zero confidence and self-harm, because making yourself sick and denying yourself food to get skinnier all the time is a form of self-harm, believe me. Being thin won't solve your problems, it will only add to them - I am speaking from experience. It is hard to have strong, lasting friendships when your self-esteem is so low… I think this is what others are picking up on. If you don't like yourself, you cannot expect others to. How to change this? Cathy's book LETTERS TO CATHY has lots of tips on building confidence and self-esteem, but one tip that has helped me is to look in the mirror every morning and think some positive thoughts towards yourself, as you might to a friend you really like. Be kind to yourself… believe in yourself. Right now, I think your should talk to your family doctor about the way you're feeling and about the vomiting; these things cannot be ignored. Talk to your parents, to a counsellor, find some help and support. School days are supposed to be the best days of our lives but sometimes they can feel like the worst… luckily, though, they won't last forever.

Cathy says:
Good advice from Summer… would YOU add anything? What would you say to Elise to help her boost her confidence? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

WORLD BOOK DAY DRESSING UP FUN….

Did your school dress up for World Book Day? We talk to readers who took their inspiration from CC characters for their cool costumes…

Ebony says:
I dressed as Scarlett for World Book Day… from the CC book SCARLETT, obviously! Scarlett is one of my favourite books and I thought it would be fun. Scarlett has red hair and O have red dip-dye on the bottom half of my hair, so this made it easier to dress as her! I like Scarlett because she is a bit of a rebel and learns at the end of the book that not everything can be as you want it to be. My mum helped me put the costume together and I bought a new top specially for it. My day was fun, but lots of people were asking who I was, mainly because I had a fake lip piercing instead of Scarlett's tongue piercing… I wasn't going to go that far! Overall, it was great to spend a day dressed as Scarlett!

Edie says:
I dressed up as Coco Tanberry for World Book Day. I chose Coco because when we were told about the non-uniform day I was reading Coco Caramel… it just seemed like a good character to pick! My favourite part of the book is where Lawrie says he will never forget Coco… awww! For my costume, I bought a t-shirt that says 'I love pandas' and a hat. For everything else, I used things I already had. I had a great time!

Carly says:
For World Book Day I chose to dress up as the character Storm, Dizzy's mum from the book Dizzy. I picked Storm because she's a hippie and I think hippies are cool and love the way Storm is described in the book… she's really popular and everyone loves her (except when she is angry!) I chose the clothes I was wearing as I could imagine Storm dancing with the floaty top on and the flowers in the hair just seemed to fit too. It was fun to be a hippie for the day and all my friends loved it! So far the only CC book I've read is Dizzy but I have most of them as my sister has read them!


Cathy says:
Love these costumes… did YOU dress as a CC character for World Book Day? Which character would you dress as if you had the chance? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 13 April 2015

CHOCOLATE FAIRIES: THE INSIDE STORY!

Gracie and Aimear, who were chocolate fairies for me on one of my February tour events, spill the beans on what it's like to help out at a Cathy Cassidy signing…


Gracie & Aimear say:
We were chocolate fairies at Cathy Cassidy's recent event in Milton Keynes and we really enjoyed it! We had not met each other before the event - we had both applied to be chocolate fairies and Cathy thought we might get along, so she gave us both a chance. We had a great day and we have developed a really good friendship and chat often! We love all of Cathy's books and safe to say, she is our favourite author!

At a signing, you can talk to the author about their books and get your copies signed. Chatting about your favourite character to the person who created them can be truly amazing! Asking questions is key and a great way to find out more about your favourite book… it must also give the author lots of ideas! As chocolate fairies, our job was to chat to people in the queue and hand out chocolates. There were bookmarks and samplers too! It was fun and we soon settled into it, and even though we had not met each other before the day we soon began to work as a team. There was no time to be shy! It was good to see the readers meeting Cathy and getting their books signed, and we felt like an important part of the day, helping everything to run smoothly and making sure the readers were happy!

By the end of the signing the two of us were so friendly we decided to exchange phone numbers and now we text all the time and talk about Cathy's books (amongst other things!). Signings are cool, and if you get a chance to be a chocolate fairy, take it! If you want to know where Cathy will be on her June tour, check out the EVENTS link over on her main website, www.cathycassidy.com for more details… new dates are added all the time. Gracie and Aimear signing off… until next time!

Cathy says:
Gracie and Aimear were excellent chocolate fairies and I love that they made a firm friendship that day, too! Have YOU ever been a chocolate fairy or been to a CC book signing? Or ANY book signing? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Sunday, 12 April 2015

LOOKING GLASS GIRL: WHAT YOU THINK...

The first reader reviews for LOOKING GLASS GIRL are flooding in… read on to see what the verdict is!


Megan says:
A modern-day retelling of a classic story? Yes please! Looking Glass Girl is such a quirky yet heartfelt story which touches upon the issues of bullying and friendship as well as carrying the theme of Alice in Wonderland throughout the story in such a clever and interesting way. My favourite part of the story was the narrative perspectives; it reminded me of an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds the way that it switched from past to present. The scenes from before Alice's fall were almost like clues to the crime… Although this story is sweet it is actually a lot darker than most CC books, with twists and turns that made me gasp. I definitely recommend picking up a copy - you'll find yourself falling down the rabbit hole with Cathy Cassidy's amazing writing style. You will also fall in love with the gorgeous book cover - I certainly did!
Blue says:
I finished LOOKING GLASS GIRL at 4am… like I could go to sleep without finishing it! When you pick this book up, make sure you have a lot of spare time because you will not be able to put it down once you start reading. From the very start, intrigue grips you; this book contains mystery, shocks, thrills, disbelief and just a dash of romance. Forget the twist ending, this book twists and turns the whole way through! Every time you think you have a character or situation pinned down, there's a twist, however small, and the story veers off in a way you'd never expect. It's so exciting to read. Although it's billed as a 're-imagining' of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' & 'Alice Through the Looking Glass', this is very much its own story. This book is more surreal than Cathy's previous books. Her writing style switches between first person and third person narrative and also between the past and the present, which gives the book a Wonderland type feel. I love Cathy's descriptions… when she describes a location, you feel like, if you can drag your eyes away from the book, you would find yourself transported there. When she describes a person, you feel as if they are standing right in front of you and you know them well. I'd give LOOKING GLASS GIRL 4.5 jam tarts out of 5… yup, jam tarts are the measurement of choice now. Appropriate, not to mention delicious…

Jess says:
I was drawn in right away… the story really captured me. I know how it feels to drift apart from a best friend, just as Alice does with Lainey and Yaz. Luckily for me, I made new friends, but Alice's situation helped me to see just how serious drifting apart from friends can be; when you end up on the outside looking in and become isolated. I love how LOOKING GLASS GIRL drifts between everyday narrative and Alice's dreams… it creates a sense of unreality, and you start to share Alice's thoughts and feelings too. The element of surprise at the end was a great twist too… I cried at that bit, it is so powerful!

Cathy says:
Awww! The reviews so far are looking good… what will YOU think? Grab a copy of LOOKING GLASS GIRL and find your own Wonderland! COMMENT BELOW to share your own reviews of the new book...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

LOOKING GLASS GIRL IS HERE!

Finally… my new book is out, and the reviews flooding in tell me that you are loving it! Find out why I wrote LOOKING GLASS GIRL… and why I think YOU will love it, too!

Cathy says:
I first read the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland aged about eight or nine, from my local library. I thought it was a weird, wonderful and fantastical read, and I remember loving the pictures of Alice with her sticky-out dress and wavy hair. I read the book again as a teen and found it was a much darker, spookier read… a little bit scary, even. As an adult, I've collected old vintage copies of my favourite childhood books, and I have several copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When my editor asked if I'd like to write a modern-day story with a link to the original Alice, I jumped at the chance.

This year is the 150th anniversary since the publication of the original Lewis Carroll book, and it was the perfect time to release LOOKING GLASS GIRL. We had a big launch party in Coventry Central Library, one of the libraries I loved as a child; no less than seventeen Coventry libraries are now threatened with closure, so holding the launch there was a little bit of library love. There was a Mad Hatter vintage DJ, a Mad Hatter cake and lots of amazing readers and their families… a few rabbit ears, too! The book was launched in style… and already readers are telling me it's their favourite CC book yet.

What can you expect from LOOKING GLASS GIRL? A dark, gripping story full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last moment. Alice is being bullied at school, so when she is invited to a Wonderland themed party by one of the most popular girls in her year, it feels like a second chance… but can she trust Savvy? Can she trust her old friends, Lainey and Yaz, or even the boy she knew from primary school who stuck by her side when nobody else did? When the party goes badly wrong, Alice finds herself trapped in a surreal world where nothing is as it seems… Who is to blame, and can Alice find her way back? I think you'll like LOOKING GLASS GIRL… grab yourself a copy and get ready to fall down the rabbit hole too!

Have YOU read LOOKING GLASS GIRL yet? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!

Friday, 10 April 2015

BEV: I BOUGHT A RED LEATHER BIKER JACKET...

Another in our fab series all about growing up in a different decade… we talk to Bev, who was a teen in the 70s/80s.

Bev says:
My thirteenth birthday was in 1978. I'd like to say that my main priorities in life back then were school work, my future and my family, but I'd be bending the truth somewhat. In actuality, my life was pretty much taken up with music, mates and boys! I had three close friends and we went everywhere together, travelling by bus or train as only one set of parents had a car. If you made arrangements to meet someone after school you had no way of letting them know if you couldn't make it - no mobile phones - so you had to make sure you turned up! We loved the cinema and there were two films I saw multiple times, Grease and Saturday Night Fever. We were all in love with John Travolta! If we didn't have money for the 'flicks' we'd hang out at each others' houses playing records and chatting. At home, I spent lots of time being a typical moody teenager in my room, only venturing downstairs if there was something I wanted to watch on TV. We certainly didn't have TVs in our rooms!

I did a lot of reading, always have, and my genre of choice was horror - I loved Stephen King and James Herbert. Later I went through a serious phase and read Herman Hesse and DH Lawrence, but still had a weakness for books that scared me silly. I was reading Stephen King's The Shining one night when we had a power cut and all the lights went out, plunging me into darkness; I sat glued to the armchair, petrified, until Mum came home from work! Music wise I loved Abba and then moved on to rock - I went to see Kiss at Wembley Arena, one of the last gigs they did in full face make-up.

At sixteen I started my A levels but decided I wanted to go out into the big wide world… Dad said I could only leave school if I got a job first and two days later I landed an office job at London Bridge. That was it for school. With my first wage packet I bought myself a red leather biker jacket from Carnaby Street - I loved that jacket and still have it now. I didn't have a boyfriend until I was fifteen - I went to an all-girls school and fraternising with the boys from the neighbouring school was strictly forbidden. Still, there was an awful lot of giggling whenever we had visiting sixth formers around!

Cathy says:
Awesome! These days, Bev is a Literacy and Technology Consultant, so that love of reading certainly stood her in good stead! Would YOU have liked growing up in the 70s/80s? COMMENT BELOW to tell us why - or why not!