Rebel with a Cupcake: Anna’s baking triumphs and disasters

Rebel with a Cupcake: Anna’s baking triumphs and disasters

Rebel with a Cupcake author Anna Mainwaring shares her baking triumphs and disasters

The lure of baking is always the same. It seems like a miraculous process, the closest any of us will come to real magic. You take a few simple ingredients – eggs, flours, butter with bit of flavouring and colour – and a few hours later, a thing of sheer beauty will emerge from your oven, an alchemical masterpiece, blending delicious flavour with immaculate appearance.

At least that’s the dream. And it might be true for the protagonist, Jess, from my novel, Rebel with a Cupcake’who deals with her feelings about being bullied by a teacher by re-creating her school in gingerbread and then eating it. I had in mind that she created something like this, a wonder of baking, engineering and creativity.

But as we all know, and children often have to learn when the first independent baking experiment goes wrong, baking is much more like this. 

We aim for a unicorn of elegance and beauty and end up with a monstrous, many hued mess, an insult to any self-respecting mythological beast.

I am generally considered a good cook. But while I love cakes, unlike Jess, they can be my nemesis. A few months before Rebel with a Cupcake was published in April 2020, (when one could go to a café with friends)  I met some fellow writers for a chat in Manchester Library. In the café, Vimto cupcakes were on offer. As an adopted Mancunian, I love a bit of Vimto and was duly tempted. They looked gorgeous, they tasted spectacular.

So, when I was asked to bake some cupcakes to celebrate the launch of Rebel with a Cupcake, I decided to recreate them. They were tasty, northern and a bit different – they were in fact the character of Jess in cake form. Challenge accepted.

Now the cake part was easy – now onto the icing. I wanted some Vimto cordial to get the full fruity taste but I couldn’t find any – a global pandemic was happening after all. Never to be put off when I’ve got an idea, I decided to buy normal Vimto and reduce it to a sticky, cordial like substance by heating it over the hob. Easy peasy – what could go wrong?

It was all going swimmingly. ‘I’ll let it reduce for a bit longer,’ said I, ‘I won’t get distracted by Twitter, forget about the time and make a stinking, smokey mess of it.’.

But of course I did. Children came running from bedrooms, complaining of the smell of burned fruit. “It smells like death,” one cried. The smoke alarms went off in every room. My next-door neighbour who is an ex-firefighter was looking over the fence in alarm when I ran out with the offending saucepan.

I did not ‘nail it’. I messed it up. From then on, cupcakes have been bought not made … If nothing else, it saves on the washing up.

Firefly Funny Feb: Author Anna Mainwaring talks funny YA

Firefly Funny Feb: Author Anna Mainwaring talks funny YA

So, let me ask you a question – list all the different genres of YA that come to mind? 

Fantasy – yes. Contemporary – yes. Dystopian – of course (though who knew that they would become history and we’d be living through one in 2020/21?). Eventually you’d come to comedy. Whilst funny books are fortunately plentiful in middle grade, there seem to be fewer aimed at teenagers. But why? Don’t teenagers deserve a giggle too?

Well, you might say being a teenager is pretty horrific. There’s really not much to laugh at, is there? Increased pressure at school. Being possessed by a strange cocktail of hormones that change your body and take hold of your moods so that Jekyll and Hyde aren’t two characters you study but a fairly accurate description of your day before you even get to breakfast. So, it’s no surprise that the majority of books written with teenagers in mind focus on the darker side of things to begin with but end up in the light.

However, I do see things somewhat differently. Firstly, I live with two teenagers and if you don’t, then you’re really missing out. Because let me tell you, they are hilarious. In the days of glory when children actually went to school, I would wait with anticipation for an account of what had Gone Down at school. One of my favourite stories was a particularly intense argument that took place during a silent library lesson. Accusations were mouthed to each other, culminating in a book fight before the silent antagonists had to be separated to cool down. Of course, I’m not advocating violence to books and I’m assured no books were damaged in the confrontation, (that would be a tragedy) but a wordless but furious confrontation is as ridiculous as you might find in the highest farce.

And that’s what interests me – how the elements of comedy and tragedy are aligned. I love exploring hubris, an element of both genres. A character is over-confident and sure of success – in comedy, you wait with delicious anticipation knowing the writer is going to bring them to the ground shortly. In Tulip Taylor, make up obsessed Tulip smuggles an eyeliner on to the reality TV show that she’s somewhat unwillingly volunteers for. She revels in her cleverness at breaking the rules, only for it to work its way down from her bra and poke her in a very painful place. All caught on camera. Tragic for Tulip’s sense of pride, (hopefully) comedy gold for the reader.

Finally, given the last twelve months, I really think that our teenagers deserve some laughs even more so than usual. Give them Holly Smale, Beth Garrod, Jenny McLachlan, you could even give them Tulip Taylor or Rebel with a  Cupcake. So yes, writing funny for books for teenagers is not an easy thing. But in these tough times, I really do think that they deserve at the very, very least, the chance to escape into a book which will definitely make them smile and who knows, there might even be laughter.

Firefly Funny February: Author Huw Davies shares his thoughts on funny books

Firefly Funny February: Author Huw Davies shares his thoughts on funny books

Here are my thoughts on funny writing for children:

It’s always struck me as odd that funny things can be perceived as less serious than things that aren’t. In fact, I think that to be really funny, a funny book needs to be dealing with something serious. Although not technically a children’s book, the first book I can remember falling in love with was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I loved the names, the bizarre situations and ridiculous ideas, but behind it was the idea of a simple man trying to live an ordinary life whilst he has all kinds of absurdity thrust upon him. It is a novel length treatment of Lennon’s ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. It’s deep, but you don’t see that as you read it. (In fact, it completely put me off science fiction – as I read other SF books I’d think ‘I can see the space-ships and the robots, but where are the jokes?’)

And when dealing with children (I’m an English teacher), it’s much easier to sell something to a class if it’s got funny things in it. It would be one thing to introduce a book by saying it’s a text about friendship, fate and race. A lot the class would be half asleep. But if you introduce it as a book featuring characters called Armpit, Squid and a murderous outlaw called Kissin’ Kate Barlow, they’re onside (Louis Sachar’s immense Holes if you haven’t read it). When I wrote Scrambled (Welsh language version – Sgramblo) I was trying to write what I called ‘a daft book for daft boys’. Again, if I said to the aforementioned daft boys ‘hey this is a book about grief, education and the crisis in modern masculinity’ they would have tuned out straight away. However if I say it features someone who can pick up a coin with their own phlegm, someone eating a Ralgex sandwich and someone driving a motorbike into a glass-house, they’re back with me. 

It’s often said that humour is a serious business, but I think when it’s done right it’s the most serious business of all.

The Best Christmas Books for Kids

The Best Christmas Books for Kids

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let us read, let us read, let us read!

Since the start of December, we’ve been starting to feel rather Christmassy at Firefly Press. We love anything that gets us and our families into the Christmas spirit, whether it be films, food, music and, of course, books!

And seeing as having no place to go feels particularly appropriate for 2020, we thought we would share some of our favourite children’s Christmas books that you and your kids can cosy up with this December. Whether it be a bedtime story for the both of you to enjoy, or a book for older kids to enjoy themselves – we’ve got you covered.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

We’re kicking off our list with an absolute classic. The Night Before Christmas is one of the oldest and most popular Christmas poems. Those infamous first few lines are sure to get adults and children alike into the Christmas spirit. A must read at bedtime on Christmas Eve.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Pick a Pine Tree may be a relatively new book but we’re guessing it will soon become a Christmas classic for lots of young children and their families.

This magical Christmas rhyming book tells the story of one family picking their Christmas tree, taking it home, decorating it and then enjoying it with friends and family. A wonderfully illustrated and enchanting tale that the whole family can relate to, a must have Christmas book for toddlers and young readers. 

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

The Clockwork Crow is the perfect Christmas book for middle grade readers to cosy round the fire with this December.

Orphan Seren is hoping for a magical family Christmas in a snowy mid-Wales mansion but things don’t seem to be working out as planned. Tomas has been missing for a year and a day and Seren fears the strange and dangerous Family may have taken him. Armed only with a talking bird, a magical snow globe and her own courage, Seren must stand up to the Family that no one else dares to.

Follow along on the magical Victorian adventure and watch your child be transported to a mystical, mesmerising and sometimes dangerous wonderland this Christmas.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

We couldn’t miss an opportunity to include a book that celebrates Christmas in Wales. In this enchanting storybook Thomas shares memories of his childhood Christmases in Wales in the 1920s.

Snuggle in with A Child’s Christmas in Wales and find yourself transported back in time with nostalgic tales of family gatherings, handmade decorations and Christmas Eves by the fire. Perfect to enjoy with confident young readers aged 6+.

Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse by Jennifer Killick

From a nostalgic Christmas tale to a unique and modern story, Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse is a hilariously funny Christmas book for readers aged 9-12.

Things are feeling festive in the lead up to Christmas until the members of Cherry Tree Lane Zumba class start apparently ‘dying’ and coming back to life. Laugh out loud as you follow Alex, Jess and Dave try to save Christmas from the zumbie apocalypse. Find out why the zumbies are attracted to Christmas lights, what the mysterious octopus sign means and who the evil genius behind it all is.

The Flying Bedroom by Heather Dyer

We think this is the perfect bedtime story for young readers all year round, but The Flying Bedroom seems particularly magical at Christmas time.

Elinor’s bedroom may look ordinary but each night when she goes to sleep, her bedroom flies away, transporting her to a tropical island, a theatre show, a pirate ship or even even the moon! But it always gets her safely home by morning. Join her on the adventure to find out where she ends up this Christmas…

Were your favourite children’s Christmas books included on our list? Let us know what books you and your kids will be reading this December!

Christmas Presents for Young Book Lovers

Christmas Presents for Young Book Lovers

Christmas is on the horizon and for parents that often means one thing – Christmas shopping! Some kids may be asking for shiny new toys, others may want a new Xbox game, some older children may even want new clothes. But if your child is a young bookworm, they want one thing and one thing only – new books!

Here at Firefly Press we were all young bookworms too, and fantastic, gripping and exciting new books are still at top of our Christmas wish list every year.

So, with that in mind, here is our selection of the best Christmas presents for kids and young book lovers to snuggle down with.

The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

You will make Christmas for fans of the popular Clockwork Crow series by gifting them The Midnight Swan. It is the eagerly awaited final instalment in the series.

Join Seren on her most dangerous journey yet. This middle-grade fantasy adventure book will take your young bookworm on a quest to the garden of the Midnight Swan. But with an invisible girl, a parliament of birds, a pen that writes by itself and more – will they ever be able make it there in time?

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith is the perfect Christmas present for children who like Harry Potter and are looking for their next read.

Enter the brave new world of Quicksmiths with this children’s fantasy book about friendship. Join the College of Strange Energy and discover the Mowl, Wormholes, Dark Forces and the alluring riddles of the Ark of Ideas. Help Kip Bramley solve the 400-year-old treasure hunt before his family and the school end up in danger…

Lori and Max and the Book Thieves by Catherine O’Flynn

Lori and Max and the Book Thieves is the ideal gift for a young Inspector Clueso.  This kid’s detective book is the second instalment in the much-loved Lori and Max series, and a Time children’s Book of the Week in October.

Two new mysteries present themselves in the shape of a stolen phone and an unruly dog; and a buried lunchbox and an antique children’s book. Are you intrigued yet? Buy the book to join the girls on their latest funny adventure.

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick

‘Howlingly funny horror’

The Times

Crater Lake has been a standout children’s book of 2020 which was selected by Book Trust for its Bookbuzz school programme, and was a Times Children’s Books of the Week. Don’t miss out on this crazy scary story for Middle Grade kids.

Crater Lake is the Sixth-Year school trip from hell! A bloodstained man, a near abandoned activity centre and strange goings on in the night… this definitely wasn’t the adventure Lance and his friends had planned. Things are starting to get scary and only one thing is for certain, if you want to survive the night – Don’t. Ever. Fall. Asleep.

Wilde by Eloise Williams

Eloise Williams is the first Children’s Laureate of Wales and her novel, Wilde, is a masterful children’s book about witches.

This enthralling tale follows the protagonist, Wilde, as she moves to Witch Point Place. She’s scared that strange things always happen around her and moving in with her aunt has only seemed to make things worse. What’s more rumours about the Witch called Winter are starting to circulate and people are receiving curse letters. Join in on the adventure this Christmas and help Wilde solve the mystery!

My Name is River by Emma Rea

My Name is Riveris a truly original and hilarious children’s adventure book and the perfect Christmas present for the young explorer in your life.

Dylan’s family farm is being sold to a global pharmaceutical company and he decides it must be stopped. His mum may think he is on a school geography trip, but Dylan is on his way to Brazil. Whilst on his mission he makes a friend named Lucia (a street child armed only with a puppy and a thesaurus) and together they uncover the scandalous truth of what the company are up to.

Thimble Wonga Bonkers by Jon Blake

Laugh out loud with Thimble Wonga Bonkers, the third instalment of the hilariously funny children’s book series – Thimble Monkey Superstars.

When Mum goes away for the week, Jams, dad and Thimble the Monkey are left to their own devices. With only £30 to do the week’s shopping, dad makes a plan. However, things take a turn for the worse when Thimble gets hold of the trolley. Before they know it, the money is gone, and dad is thinking about selling his soul to make ends meet. Will Jams and Thimble be able to save the day?

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

The Boy Who Drew the Future is a favourite Firefly Teen and YA book every Christmas.

Separated by 150 years, two boys share a unique gift or curse – they can draw the future. Blaze is alone in 1865, orphaned and swapping his pictures for protection from the workhouse and witch trials. Noah lives in the present, ashamed of his powers and shunned by his parents and school. Both boys are fighting their own battles, but will their drawings set them free?

Asking for a Friend by Kate Mallinder

Asking for a Friend is an uplifting YA book about friendship. This feel good story explores the power of friendship in the face of loneliness, fear of illness and social media bullying.

Follow Agnes, Hattie and Jack as the go on holiday for a week. They’ll risk their lives, face their fears and find themselves with the support of each other.

Rebel with a Cupcake by Anna Mainwaring

Jesobel Jones is happy, confident and a terrific baker. Living with her hand-model mum and ex-musician father, she makes no apologies for her imperfect family, her noisy house, her single relationship status or her weight – until a girl at school calls her fat…

Rebel with a Cupcake is a YA novel that explores themes of bullying and self-image and is a great Christmas present for teen girls.

What do you think of our list? Let us know what Christmas gifts for children you’ll be buying this year!

Halloween at home: Ten tricks and treats by Sharon Marie Jones

Halloween at home: Ten tricks and treats by Sharon Marie Jones

Halloween at Home by Sharon Marie Jones

This year there will be no big Halloween parties or Trick-or-Treating – Boooo-Hoooo! But Halloween at home can be great fun too … with Grace-Ella Spells for Beginners and Grace-Ella Witch Camp author, Sharon Marie Jones, Top Ten Tricks and Treats for a Hauntingly Hair-raising Halloween!

So no need to miss out on all the fun. Just grab your broomstick and witch’s hat and keep on reading….

  1. Pumpkin carving

Use your carved pumpkin as a table decoration for a terrifying teatime! Here’s a YouTube video with some top tips for carving. Remember to always get supervision from an adult when carving pumpkins.

2. Dressing up

Get dressed up for the day and give your family a spooky surprise. Here’s me as a child in my witch costume.

3. Decorate

Decorate your house with some ghoulish garlands.

4. Crafts

Find bits and bobs to make some creepy creations e.g. an egg-carton spider, a broomstick bookmark, a magic wand to cast spooky spells.

5. Apply bobbing

Fill a large bowl with water and apples, then using only your mouth, try to get an apple out. You could time yourself to see how many apples you can collect in 30 seconds. Or have a race to see who can collect all the apples in the fastest time. Remember to always gave an adult nearby to supervise.

6. Witch’s Stew

Cut out some spooky shapes then using a straw, suck-up the shapes and place them in the cauldron to bubble and brew. Choose a shape each and have a race – first to suck up all their shapes and drop them in the cauldron.

7. Pin the Tail on the Black Cat

Cut out a cardboard black cat (without a tail). With a blindfold on, try to pin the tail on the cat.

8. Potions

Get outdoors and go foraging for autumn ingredients. Mix up your ingredients to make your own potions. You could pour your potions into jam/small jars. Why not label your potions too … just remember not to drink them as they might be poisonous!

9. Terrifying teatime

Make teatime frighteningly fun with some terrifying treats and spooky snacks e.g. creepy cupcakes, vegetable Frankenstein fingers to dip in scream cheese, spooky-shaped sandwiches, slimy jelly sweets, zombie-bread men, mummy-marshmallows.

10. Spooktastic stories

Choose a scary story to read at bedtime. There are lots of spooktastic stories available from Firefly Press! Go and take a peek-a-boo…

Have a fangtastic Halloween!