The Importance of Baking Cupcakes by Anna Mainwaring

The Importance of Baking Cupcakes by Anna Mainwaring

On 2 April my first novel, Rebel with a Cupcake, is being reissued by Firefly Press with a beautiful new cover by Niki Pilkington. It’s about a confident teenage girl, Jess (short for Jesobel), who loves to cook for her friends and dysfunctional family. But one fateful Own Clothes Day, a wardrobe malfunction sets off a chain of events which leads Jess to re-consider everything she has held dear. Jess has to learn to make her own way through a family, school and society that seem to think she’s just a bit too much

I’m not a great baker but I do love to try. Whereas Jess can make a gingerbread version of her school in one afternoon, if my cakes were to appear on The Great British Bake Off they would definitely be described as ‘rustic’ if the judges were being kind and ‘a total mess’ if they were being honest. But what Jess and I do share is a belief that food is a great pleasure and a brilliant way of bringing people together. Food and life should be full of flavour! All the best celebrations, whether personal, cultural or religious, all seem to centre on the sharing of tasty dishes and treats. So Jess bakes cupcakes for her friends, throws an impromptu party for her grandmother who rarely leaves the attic, and helps mend her sister’s broken heart. 

To celebrate the publication of Rebel with a Cupcake, if you have time, inclination and most importantly in these strange times, the ingredients, perhaps you might like to bake a cupcake or two to share with those you love. Here’s a basic cupcake recipe that has never let me down. Jess would probably make elderflower and rosehip cakes, for me lemon and poppyseed are my favourite. What would be your perfect cupcake flavours?

Ingredients for the cupcakes:

110g softened butter or margarine

110g golden caster sugar

2 large eggs 

½ tsp vanilla extract

110g self-raising flour

Optional food colouring of your choice … go subtle or go bold!

Ingredients for the buttercream:

150g softened butter

300g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp milk

Optional food colouring … possibly match the beautiful colour of Rebel with a Cupcake’s spine!]

To decorate:

Sprinkles or any edible decoration you prefer

Optional pin badge (just don’t eat!)

Method:

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and fill a 12 cupcake tray with cases. White ones are fine but coloured ones are best.

Beat 110g softened butter and 110g golden caster sugar together until pale and fluffy then whisk in 2 large eggs, one at a time. An electric whisk saves time but using a spoon is a great work-out!

Add ½ tsp vanilla extract (or alternative flavour), 110g self-raising flour and any colouring, whisk until just combined then spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases. Aim to fill each case half way or just over. If you fill to the top, then the mixture with expand in the oven.

Bake for 15 mins until golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. (I don’t have a wire rack – I just improvise)

To make the buttercream, whisk 150g softened butter until super soft then add 300g icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract (other flavours can be substituted). Whisk together until smooth. You might want to do this really slowly to start off with as the icing sugar has a tendency to create a cloud. Now would also be the time to add the colour if you want. Of course, you can always use ready-made buttercream to save time and washing-up if desired.

When ready, either spoon on or if you’re up to the challenge, use a piping bag for a more professional look. You can add sprinkles and/or other decorations. Then present to those you love and see how much they enjoy them! 

Writing The Darkness for Young Adult Novella Collection Three Strikes

Writing The Darkness for Young Adult Novella Collection Three Strikes

by Lucy Christoper

This was a lovely project to be involved with. Here my novella, THE DARKNESS, is part of a collection of three darker-themed YA novellas, together with authors Kat Ellis and Rhian Ivory. It’s quite long for a novella at about 32,000 words. I even toyed with the idea of making it a whole novel by itself.

Here’s how publisher Firefly Press summarises Three Strikes:

The Darkness by Lucy Christopher: Kasha has answered the advert for The Tribe. Now she sits writing alone in the darkness of the jungle. Is she the only one left? Then she spots a red light blinking at her from the darkness. Cat’s eyes? A camera?

The Twins of Blackfin by Kat Ellis: Every evening Bo visits her best friend Sky’s grave. One night she hears a girl’s voice. Following it leads her to a journal and a crypt.

Matchgirl by Rhian Ivory: A modern YA retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Busking, runaway Nia is mugged and left badly hurt in a tunnel. All she has is three matches, and she starts seeing pictures in the light… A story of grief, love and music.

I really love my story in this collection. In some ways, I think it’s the best story I’ve written! I wrote this version of it very fast, over the course of one hot summer month.  But that doesn’t mean this story was easy to write! I actually started it almost a decade before while on a trip to Cross River National Park in Nigeria. I wanted to write about a reality show going wrong; I wanted to talk about the dynamics of troubled teenagers dealing with this. I also wanted to explore another story: a teenage girl’s grief, confusion and guilt over the death of her mother. I wanted to do all this with the backdrop of the most amazing natural environment – the rainforest of Nigeria. I think I sat on this story for so long because I didn’t know how to tell it; I also didn’t feel like I knew this environment well enough for the story I originally wanted to write. When I found the trip journal device, together with Kasha’s voice, the story suddenly was released in a torrent of words and emotions.

Find out more about Lucy on her website: www.lucychristopher.com


Reviews 

“The Darkness’ by Lucy Christopher is such a beautiful story – mysterious, exciting, deeply emotional and with a rare spiritual depth. It stays in the mind like a prayer.” Melvin Burgess

“A raw tale, reminiscent of Black Mirror, with compelling characters stranded in a stark landscape, all bound together in gritty, gripping writing.” Joanna Nadin

“YA as it should be – dangerous, dark and daring. I loved it.” CJ Skuse

To celebrate Crater Lake, Leonie looks back at sci-fi with Firefly

To celebrate Crater Lake, Leonie looks back at sci-fi with Firefly

by Leonie Lock (Bookseller and Firefly Intern)

Join Lance and his friends Katja, Chet and Maksym on their spooky school trip to Crater Lake. Tense but hilarious, Jennifer truly lives up to her reputation as a fantastic author exploring complex themes of truth, friendship and bullying as the gang team up to save the day.

Strange and scary things are happening … whatever you do DON’T FALL ASLEEP.

I absolutely adored losing myself on this school trip with Lance and his friends, Jennifer’s writing is so inclusive and tangible that you become a part of the story.

To celebrate the launch of Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick, Firefly are offering a fantastic deal on upper middle-grade / teen sci-fi trilogy Lost on Mars, The Martian Girl and The Heart of Mars by Paul Magrs. All three books are £5 each, or only £11.99 for the set which you can buy here. Limited time offer.

The Lora Trilogy

Paul Magrs, author of several Doctor Who books, creates a well-defined world for settlers on Mars in this exhilarating story of survival. I’ve always been a fan of Paul’s amazing characters and I fell in love with Lora and her family immediately. From Grandma leaving behind her cybernetic leg (and the funeral that ensues) to Toaster, the family’s loyal servant and friend, this is such a vivid world and story that will leave you longing for more. And, fortunately, there’s two more to sink your teeth into. 

And here’s some other great sci-fi titles from Firefly, all just £5.00 for a limited time only…

Mo, Lottie and the Junkers

Selected for the Summer Reading Challenge 2019, this is the hilarious tale of peculiar neighbours and missing persons. Recommended by Chris Callaghan, Jennifer Killick doesn’t disappoint. Mo moves into his new stepdad’s house with his mum and has to learn to get along with his new stepsisters, Lottie and Sadie. But the new occupant of their old house, just across the road, becomes increasingly peculiar and Mo suspects that not everything is quite as it seems. Perfect for children craving mystery and giggles. Click to buy.

Purge

In a world where punishment for bad behaviour is a purge from resistance, you have to follow the rules. But what happens if you have a habit of getting into trouble? With Harrow Lake being published by Penguin Random House this summer, this is the perfect time to explore this futuristic thriller from Kat Ellis. I adored this brilliant story following Mason and Noah, thrown from very different worlds into each other’s lives. Alone, they’d both surely be purged, but together… they might just stand a chance. Click to buy.

Alien Rain 

Requested for a mission back to Earth, Bree finds herself stripping the planet of its resources and must make a huge decision between home or Earth. With gorgeous descriptions of a post-apocalyptic Cardiff, this is a must for any sci-fi fan, from author Ruth Morgan.

Click to buy. Signed copies are also available at full price (£7.99) here.

Chanukah and teenage homelessness by Miriam Halahmy

Chanukah and teenage homelessness by Miriam Halahmy

Miriam Halamy

It’s the time of year when everyone is thinking about festivals of light which give a warm glow to our homes at the darkest point of winter. Many people in the UK are getting ready for Christmas, putting up the tree and stringing lights outside the house.

My family are Jewish and we are preparing for Chanukah which begins this year on December 23rd. Our festival involves the lighting of candles for eight consecutive nights and of course, the children get plenty of presents.

But what about young people who don’t have a home and family to spend the festivals with? What about teenagers who find themselves homeless over Chanukah or Christmas? Our televisions are pumping out good cheer and shops are stuffed to the brim but if you are on the outside looking in, my heart is breaking for you.

According to the charity Centrepoint, 103,000 young people in the UK presented to their council in 2017/18 as homeless or at risk and over 50% “left home because of family relationship breakdown.” Reasons vary but include mental health issues such as hoarding.

My novel, Behind Closed Doors, was inspired by the rising statistics on teen homelessness and I decided to focus on the reasons why this happens. In my book, Josie and Tasha are both fifteen. Tasha is already homeless – she is sofa surfing to avoid the unwanted sexual advances of her mother’s new boyfriend. She is no longer safe at home. Josie’s mother is an extreme hoarder and has filled up every corner of the house, including her bedroom. There is no room for her at home anymore. Josie and Tasha form an unlikely friendship in their hour of need, but will they end up sleeping on the streets as things come to a head?

The festival of Chanukah celebrates a perceived miracle following the ransacking of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Greeks. After the Jews fought back and reclaimed Jerusalem, they found the Eternal Light above the Ark where the Torah scrolls were stored was running out of oil. It would take eight days to get more supplies. They lit the Light and miraculously the oil kept burning for the entire eight days.

Lighting the menorah in my home each night, with my children and grandchildren safe and cared for around me, my thoughts often turn to the teenagers who have no idea where they will lay their head that night. Both Festivals of Light have stories of miracles behind them. But the greatest miracle for our time would be that every young person who needs a safe berth for the night would be automatically provided one by the council.

I will be donating to Shelter, as I have been since it was founded in 1969 and I would encourage you to donate to a homeless charity this year if possible, to help spread light and warmth for our homeless teenagers.

On celebrating family and kindness this Christmas by Jennifer Killick

On celebrating family and kindness this Christmas by Jennifer Killick

The concept for Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse struck before the first Alex Sparrow book was even published, and I remember, four years ago, hoping that I would get to write it one day. When the opportunity to develop the idea finally came about, I soon realised that this story would be about family. We hadn’t seen much of Alex’s family in the first two books, but we had watched him create a new, tight-knit, group of friends around him: Jess, Dave, Bob, Mr Prickles, Miss Fortress; all of them a hugely important part of his life. I wanted to delve into Alex’s home life, to get to know some of the people he has grown up with, and also explore the idea that a family isn’t limited to the one we are born into.

Setting it at Christmas – a time when our focus adjusts, temporarily, away from work and routine, and onto home, and the people around us – fit so perfectly that I couldn’t resist. I have always loved Christmas, and I have spent a lot of time trying to work out why, exactly, other than the presents. I’m an idealist at heart, and view the world through twinkle-lit glasses. I believe in magic, and I believe that kindness will always win. Christmas amplifies all the wonderful things in life. Magic is closer, tinkling in every Christmas tree bell and nestling in waiting stockings. And people are kinder – embracing loved ones tighter, forgiving more easily, and giving – to people they know and to people they don’t.

But while Christmas allows wonder to flourish, it also intensifies some of our negative feelings. The pain of loss is sharper at Christmas. The deep ache of loneliness can be overwhelming. I wanted, through Alex, to face the good, and the bad, and to encourage readers to think about how they might help to make Christmas magical for everyone. Donating money or time to charities like Age UK can help to ensure that there are fewer people spending Christmas alone. Giving to BookTrust’s brilliant Christmas appeal, which raises money to send special book parcels to children in care at Christmas, could help to make what might be a difficult day for someone, a little brighter. Or by reaching out to people who are suffering, and offering friendship and support, we can all make a difference.

So this Alex Sparrow book celebrates family – in all its weird and wonderful shapes and flavours – and kindness, always kindness. I wish all of you a Christmas full of twinkle lights, bear hugs, delicious food and lots of laughter, and I hope that the new year brings hope and love to everyone.

Author Catherine Fisher on writing The Velvet Fox

Author Catherine Fisher on writing The Velvet Fox

Writing The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox has been a real pleasure. It was great to write for a younger age group and to try and create a satisfying set of stories that had all my favourite things – legend and folklore, a Welsh landscape, a strange old house, frost, snow and Christmas, and then in the second book the reds and golds of autumn, fallen leaves and deep woodland. Above all it is fun writing the characters, especially the Crow and Seren, with their tetchy, humorous (I hope!) relationship. And in The Velvet Fox I had a few villains too, the odious governess, Mrs Honeybourne, and the silkily dangerous Velvet Fox himself. One of the interesting things about writing for this age group is having to use simple and direct language that engages the reader and keeps them breathlessly turning the pages, without stripping the story of atmosphere or description. It’s often a fine balance and involves a great deal of cutting and deleting, always a good thing for the self-indulgent writer, and I am one. Also there has to be plenty of action but that should not overwhelm the characters and their desires and fears and problems. Another thing I enjoy is weaving in elements of fairy tale and folklore; often parts of plots or transformations that readers will recognize. In these books the Tylwyth Teg, the faery folk of Wales, are always plotting to snatch away the children or even the Crow himself, and I enjoy creating Their tricky, beautiful allure. I hope readers of the books will have as much fun as I have writing them! And look out for book 3 The Midnight Swan, coming next year.
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