29/09/13 - Rocky Horror DIY

I love fancy dress.  If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you've probably noticed.  And my favourite kind of fancy dress costume is one which becomes a project.  I'm not a costume-renting kind of girl and  I avoid those cheap tacky costume shops like a polyester plague.  I always attempt to construct outfits from things I already own, whether that means a bit of thinking a bit outside the box or chopping up and reassembling various items of clothing.  Let us not forget the stylish monkey costume, evidence of which can be found here - you can do so much with a brown T-shirt and some hair bobbles.  There was a previous version of it which also involved a tail made of two belts.  God, I'm good.

No longer being a student means that I have infinitely less opportunities to break out the dressing up box so when I get the chance, I go all out.  And next week, I will be in my element.  I'm heading back to Hull to spend some of Freshers Week with my friends there who still have a year to go before graduation (those lucky people!) and while I'm there, we're going to see the UK tour of the Rocky Horror Show...which naturally means dressing up.  So I've decided to talk you through how I've constructed my DIY Magenta costume, for a chance to do something a little different on here.

In order to reduce the costs of this outfit, I'm not making a carbon copy of the original.  I didn't have a black dress which would be appropriate, so I've adapted it slightly to incorporate things that I already had.  Also, I am no kind of seamstress - I don't have the skill nor the patience to be really good at sewing.  Everything about this costume ended up being a little bit slapdash, but I think it's passable.

I used:
A plain black dress (about £8, H&M last summer)
An old white shirt (free, never underestimate the power of your father's wardrobe)
Lace/broderie anglaise edging (66p a metre, I got two just to be sure)
White ribbon (no idea where this was from, I just found it in my room)
A plain black headband (£1, Wilkinson)

For once, the vision I had in my head actually (sort of) came to life in front of me.  The collar from the shirt fitted fairly well inside the neck of the dress and the rest of the shirt material was plenty to construct an apron and maid's cap.  I even cracked out the sewing machine to make everything faster and a bit neater.

The maid's cap proved to be the trickiest part but using this clever little tutorial, it came out much better than I had expected!

While I realise that this post is maybe a little niche for most readers, it might come in handy if you're looking to whip up a Hallowe'en costume or if you too happen to have tickets to the Rocky Horror tour!  

If you'd be interested in a post about the make-up and hair I intend to pair with the costume to create the finished look, let me know in the comments!

26/09/13 - New Hair!

I get bored with my appearance really easily.  I think that's why I love buying make-up so much; every new lipstick or eyeliner holds the potential to create a completely different face for me to show the world.  Of all the parts of my body which suffer most from this boredom, my hair is the main victim.  I started dyeing it when I was nearly twelve and have only just now returned to my natural hair colour.  Despite this, I've had largely the same hairstyle for a long time now.  There was a point at which I'd just dyed my hair and was so terrified of getting my hair cut, that I got a piercing instead.  A fairly extreme reaction to the idea of having a few inches taken off.

This all changed about a month ago.  My hair colour was back to normal, I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted pierced, and a tattoo seemed like too big a commitment.  Also, for some reason - despite it being months since I'd dip-dyed my hair and having had it trimmed several times since then and dyeing over it - the ends of my hair were still lighter than the rest.  And it no longer looked cool, it looked like what it was; a badly faded dye job.  So a haircut was on the cards.  My hair is very very straight and therefore tends to be incredibly difficult to style and particularly to volumise.  It needed a new lease of life and I decided a long-ish bob was the way to go.

As is always the way, when I washed and dried my hair on the morning I was getting it cut, it was the most cooperative it has been in ages.  I found myself looking in the mirror, stroking its length and thinking, "You're not so bad, maybe I could keep you after all..."  NO!  For one thing, I'd already paid for the haircut.  And for another, I was not going to let myself get dragged into the dangerous territory of hair nostalgia.  I'd been so excited by the idea of new hair, I refused to chicken out at the last minute.

And here it is!  A big change and it'll take some getting used to, but I think I like it.

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments!

21/09/13 - 'Cruel Summer' by James Dawson

If you're someone with detective tendencies and think you have any kind of skill at solving murder mysteries, I challenge you to get your hands on Cruel Summer by James Dawson.  Recently, I've started to think of myself as a right little Sherlock Holmes - minus Cumberbatch's sweeping coat and Downey Jr's cheeky confidence.  Either all murder mysteries are a little bit obvious or I really am something of a genius...but Dawson had me stumped right up until the big reveal.

A year after tragedy struck their little group in the form of their friend Janey's suicide, Ryan is looking forward to a relaxing catch-up with his friends from school at Katie's father's Spanish villa.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for their secluded sun-soaked paradise to become the setting for their very own horror movie nightmare as things start to unravel rapidly.

The best word I can think of to describe the experience of reading Cruel Summer is 'exhilarating'.  I read the whole thing in the time it took me to get to and from Birmingham by train, and my fellow passengers must have thought I was certifiably insane if they'd been watching me read.  My face couldn't hide my shock at each little twist (of which there are plenty), I was physically leaning forwards in my seat and devouring the book as quickly as possible, and often grinning like a loon at the brilliance of Dawson's writing.  The characters are utterly believable, right down to the way they speak and behave, and you immediately feel like one of their little gang.  Will good girl Katie and heartthrob Ben get back together?  Will wild child Alisha stay off the booze?  Who is Erin, Greg's wannabe-WAG girlfriend?  You'll find out all that and much more besides as secrets and lies come to light.  However, don't get too attached to anyone - James Dawson is not averse to a bit of a blood-bath.

Sometimes you read a book which just makes you want to write, which inspires you and makes you desperate to grab your laptop or a pen or a stick to scrape words into the sand - whatever's closest, just to do something creative.  And then you think, "With books like that in the world, is there any point me even bothering any more?" so you decide just to reread it again, feeling no motivation to compete with such excellence.  That's what Cruel Summer did for me.  It's probably the most exciting book I've read for a while and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone, to the point where I am tempted to buy an actual copy to go alongside my Kindle version for the sole purpose of easing the lending process to friends and family.

James Dawson will be in conversation with another fantastic YA author Maureen Johnson regarding 'The Gender Gap in YA Fiction' at Waterstones Piccadilly on October 7th - I'm pretty sure there are still tickets left, so you can find the details here if you scroll down.  If you're going, let me know and I'll see you there!  Please come and say hi, as I won't know a soul.

Do you love a good thriller as much as I do? Give me your recommendations in the comments!

12/09/13 - Skinny Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

Now I'm home for the foreseeable future, I should be doing much more kitchen experimentation.  I mean, I have the house to myself all day and lots of time on my hands - no excuse not to, right?  Wrong.  My main stumbling block is that I'm lazy, and I tend to avoid exciting cooking or baking as it means more washing up than something simple...yes, I am that lazy.  But I'm determined to break out of that rut and here is the first step on that journey.  And these were a bit messy to make, so I threw myself in at the deep end.

The name is a bit of a mouthful - Skinny Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies.  I prefer 'Little Bites of Healthy(ish) Heaven'.  Peanut butter and chocolate can never be wrong and I always assumed, until now, that they could never be good for you.  While I have no idea about the calorific or fat content of these, they seem to be fairly healthy - nothing dodgy and no ingredients that are particularly bad for you on their own.  The use of banana as both binding agent and sweetener lightens it right up!

Again, I can't take credit for this recipe...I came across the original here, but I found myself adapting it as the process went along.  Adding a little milk here, having to compensate for not having enough honey there, you know the drill.  

These look a little different from the photos on the original recipe; I think I lost control of the food processor a little when I was blending my oats and ground them a little too fine - aah well, it doesn't really matter.  I replaced the chocolate chips on top for dried cranberries to add a little sharpness and to introduce a different texture.

They're not hard to make - made easier by the process of refridgerating them rather than baking - and they're really tasty!  Great to fulfill a little sweet-tooth craving mid-afternoon without feeling too guilty afterwards.  And the washing up is never as bad as I think it's going to be.

If you have any other healthy treat recipes, leave them down below or let me know if you think these might find their way into your kitchen!

08/09/13 - Have books, will travel

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Travelling is one of my absolute favourite things, and something that I never get to do enough of; if I have a job, I don't have the time and if I don't, I can't afford it.  Reading is another of my favourite pastimes and thankfully, it's a much cheaper hobby.  The best thing about reading is that it can transport you.  This slightly cliched description isn't just relevant to Hogwarts and Mordor and Narnia.  Reading can transport you around the world, help you explore countries you've never been to and introduce you to people you've never met.  So without further ado; my favourite wanderlust-inspiring books.

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

When Ginny is given a parcel of letters from her wayward aunt, her life is about to change forever.  Following Aunt Peg's instructions, she embarks on a journey which takes her from her home in the US to London, Edinburgh and onwards to most of the major cities in Europe.  Along the way, she discovers a lot about herself, her aunt and the world in general.  She is dragged kicking and screaming out of her comfort zone and finds herself much better off for it.  While the idea may seem a little contrived, the story manages to stay original and engaging, and it's an absolute must for anyone who feels a little constrained by their usual routine and dreams of just taking off on a whim to see the world.  I recently bought the second book and I'm looking forward to getting started on it when I need a little light-hearted escapism.

Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves

This is one of my absolute favourite books and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.  This travel memoir spans fifteen years of globe-trotting and documents Eaves' insatiable hunger for new places and new experiences.  It's not only a "love affair" with the countries she visits, but also a documentation of her journey of self-discovery and the romantic liaisons she encounters along the way.  The title is entirely apt as Eaves seems almost incapable of staying in one place for long before the itchy feet kick in.  The adventurous and often almost dangerous situations she gets into seem to thrill her more than concern her, and that's a trait that I sometimes wish I had more of.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to trek the jungles of Papua New Guinea, sail from New Zealand to Tonga, and generally soak up all the experiences life has to offer.  I've never been much of an 'adventure holiday' kind of girl - I much favour a cultural city break over anything too outdoorsy - but even I found myself a little jealous of Eaves' incredible journey.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I'm not generally a huge Hemingway fan.  I find his prose to be a little dense and rambling for my liking and I much prefer other writers from the same period.  However, I love this book.  Well, of course I do...it's about Paris in the 1920s.  Everyone in the English-speaking world probably knows by now that that is my current favourite place and period of history to read about.  In the preface, he suggests that "if the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction" and reading it can almost make it seem that way.  From teaching Ezra Pound how to box, his stormy friendship with Fitzgerald, and living on $5 a day with his first wife yet somehow affording skiing holidays and boozy nights out, it almost seems too much what you would expect it to be like, to be real.  Hemingway really captures the spirit of the time in this slim memoir, and it's a must for any Francophiles and wannabe-flappers like me.  Not only does this book make me want to travel - there's basically never a time where I don't want to go to Paris - it makes me want to hop in the TARDIS and go back to a city which was playground to so many amazing figures.

In a previous review post, I mentioned Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard and there are several books along the same lines that I can mention here.  

Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford is the Australian's memoir of her time in Italy, documenting the fascinating people she meets and the incredible food she eats along the way.  Interspersed with recipes and also Italian proverbs with English translations, it's a fun frolic through Tuscany, Umbria and Perugia which will make you want to give it all up and move to an Italian hillside villa.  

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano is a fascinating read - although technically a diet book, it's so much more than that.  Although I am yet to fully commit to eating like a glamorous slim French woman - oh, how I yearn for a world in which I could eat decadent chocolate and luscious fresh bread and drink wine without feeling guilty - there are other elements that I've already started to incorporate into my daily routine.  This isn't a typical diet book; it gives you practical ways to adapt your entire lifestyle in order to make yourself healthier and happier.  The recipe book by the same title is also fantastic for the recipes mentioned in the original book and more besides.

And if you're after a quicker way to get your travel-envy fix, prepare your green-eyed monster and click over to World Tour Stories.  Taru and Alex are a couple, very much in love with each other and with this big beautiful world we live in, and they're living the dream as they sail around having adventures and documenting them on their blog.  Seriously, it's an amazing read.

I'm not going to pretend that this list is at all definitive and I realise that it's a very narrow view of the world.  For this reason, I would love love love any recommendations you can give me in the comments!  Any and all are welcome, but specifically books which make you want to jump on a plane/boat/train/time machine and explore.  If anyone could recommend some good travel memoirs or novels set in foreign lands spanning beyond the continent of Europe, I would be most grateful.

04/09/13 - Cabaret UK Tour at the Liverpool Empire

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When I'm on the market for theatre tickets, I tend to favour shows I haven't seen onstage before.  This is a product of a tight budget and tends not to be too restrictive, as it means that as a result I end up seeing a variety of performances rather than sticking with old favourites.  However, occasionally a production will convince me to fork out for a show I'm familiar with and this week was one of those times.  When I saw that 'Cabaret' was touring, I couldn't miss it as I wasn't able to get down to its West End run.  My brother was happy to accompany me after we both saw the 2009 production starring Wayne Sleep as the Emcee, and it was interesting to see how this tour differed from the last.

Cabaret is a fascinating musical in many ways.  We follow American writer Clifford Bradshaw (the wonderful Matt Rawle) as he arrives in Berlin at the start of the 1930s seeking inspiration for his novel and, as you can imagine, these are fraught times he's stepping into.  On his first night in Germany, he goes to the sleazily decadent Kit Kat Club and meets the inimitable Sally Bowles (Siobhan Dillon).  A romantic friendship blossoms and Clifford is drawn into the glittering and tawdry underworld of a society on the edge of destruction.  The plot is narrated by Will Young's fabulously bizarre Emcee and interspersed by the troupe of sexy and flexible dancers performing impressive cabaret-style musical numbers.  It swings schizophrenically from manic highs to devastatingly brutal lows, ending with a chilling image which will stay with you long after you've left the theatre.

Will Young was fantastic as the Emcee.  At first, I was a little worried that he wouldn't be as good as I was hoping he would be; it can be difficult to judge with celebrity castings.  However, he really excelled my expectations, playing the exaggerated character aspect of the role really well and not shying away from the extremes of the role.  The poignant 'I Don't Care Much' near the end is a perfect chance for him to show off those beautiful vocals, showing the emotion behind the almost clownish white makeup.  And I have to say, he looked a damn sight better in those leather shorts than Wayne Sleep did.


Siobhan Dillon was incredible as the flamboyant Sally Bowles, with her rendition of 'Cabaret' probably being the highlight of the production.  The combination of vulnerability and ballsy resolve was perfectly balanced and when combined with a cracking set of lungs, it really was perfect.  While her acting might have lacked a little of the depth that the character really needs, her voice more than made up for it.

As a whole, the production was visually stunning and chock-full of talent.  I can't complete this review without a mention for the creative and versatile set, always finding new ways to utilise the space to great effect, and the insanely ambitious and acrobatic choreography courtesy of Javier de Frutos.  

It's in Liverpool until Saturday 7th September and the rest of the tour dates can be found here so if you can get to see it, I highly recommend that you do.   It was an absolute feast for the eyes and ears, and not to be missed if you can help it.

Have you seen Cabaret? 
Let me know what you thought in the comments!

[I do not take any credit for the photos marked '*' - courtesy of Google]

02/09/13 - "Out on the wiley, windy moors...": Exploring Brontë Country

I didn't get a real summer holiday this year.  My family had a week in Kent, but I had to work so that was a no-go.  With my current lack of employment (and therefore lack of funds) and most of my friends being in a similar situation, any chance of me going anywhere at all seemed to be slipping away.  Then my wonderful parents came up trumps with a fantastic idea.  While my brother was off trekking Snowdonia for his gold Duke of Edinburgh award, myself and my parents went for a night in Haworth, best known as Brontë Country.  While this may not be everyone's idea of a satisfactory summer holiday, it was more than enough for me.  

Quaint is the best word to describe Haworth's main street.

Despite having lived not too far from Haworth for the past three years and being an English student is the perfect excuse for literary-themed weekend jaunts, I had never been before.  It is possibly because - and hold onto your hats here, prepared to be shocked - I've never really read much by any of the Brontës.  I've only read the first three chapters of Jane Eyre and I studied it at GCSE, A-level and degree level.  Oops!  However, I am a big fan of that Kate Bush song, so it all evens out...right?

We stayed at the Ashmount Guest House, formerly the home of Amos Ingham who was doctor to the Bront
ë sisters.  The room we stayed in was actually Ingham's bedroom and it was stunning.  Utterly gorgeous.  Any room with such an amazing view is alright by me, but the four-poster bed, fluffy dressing gowns and complimentary sherry were the icing on the cake.

We spent Thursday night wandering up and down (and up and down, and up and down) the hilly cobbled streets in search of somewhere to eat before settling on a nice old pub.  Friday morning consisted of a cooked breakfast at the hotel (delicious) and then out to get our Brontë on, starting with the parsonage in which the sisters lived with their father and brother.  The small cottage has been largely restored to how it's believed it would have looked when the Brontës lived there, and is open to the public as a heritage site.

I found the museum to be fascinating, full of original documents and pieces of furniture such as the actual sofa on which Emily died, still in the sitting room where the sisters did much of their writing.  I enjoyed not having too much prior knowledge, as it meant that everything I saw was new to me.  It was a lovely little slice of history, well-restored and with lots of interesting facts as you go around.  The staff all seemed really friendly and clearly very knowledgeable, which is always positive!  Photography inside the house isn't allowed, so I suggest you venture there yourself if you're interested.  It's very good value for money and definitely worth a visit, whether you're a huge Brontë fan or not.

After the museum, we explored the church where Patrick Brontë was parson and where most of the family are buried.  It was awfully picturesque as we were lucky enough to stumble upon some good weather, but I can imagine it would have looked rather bleak in typical Yorkshire rain - it's almost no surprise that the Brontë sisters' works are so tinged with tragedy, with this as their inspiration!

After all this literary and historical exploring, it was time for a browse down the high street.  Cue a lot of time spent in the variety of secondhand bookshops (always a stalwart of our family outings), me pining for a totally impractical vintage dress which cost £220, and a thorough forage through the well-stocked traditional sweet shop.  We stopped for a delicious lunch at the almost painfully adorable Cobbles and Clay, a little cafe with an impressive range of vegetarian options and a really interesting of ice cream menu; elderflower flavour?  Check!  Liquorice flavour?  Check!  Amazing.  If you're in the area, you'd be a fool to miss out on this gem of a place.

And what Brontë pilgrimage would be complete without a wander on a moor?  I've never been a big fan of the great outdoors and normally the idea of trekking through a field would fill me with dread, but I was inexplicably excited to get out there.  Although I was maybe not dressed entirely appropriately for more than a casual stroll, I really enjoyed it.  Fortunately, the weather was fairly tame but I can see how the dramatic landscape could get a little more 'wuthering' in the right conditions.  Next time I venture to Haworth, I intend to go properly equipped and walk the eight miles from the parsonage to Top Withens, the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.  And it's not every day you'll hear me get excited about exercise and nature, and particularly not the two combined.  I'm an urban girl at heart.  But if Emily Brontë can do it in all weathers, I'm sure I can too!

Not exactly the outdoorsy type.
If you're ever in the area or if you're a fan of the Brontës and their work, I can't recommend a trip to Haworth enough.  It's actually inspired me to crack on with expanding my literary horizons, and I intend to start The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as soon as I finish my current book.

And in the meantime, you can do some wuthering of your own...whack on the song below and imagine yourself on a moor.  There's nothing better in my opinion.  If you have the time and inclination, teach yourself the dance Kate does in the video.  The pay-off is worth it; it makes a wonderful party piece, trust me.

Have you ever been to Haworth?  Let me know in the comments!