Monday, 31 December 2012

Creative Writing Tips: World Mechanics


Applies to Fantasy and Sci-fi

Looking at:
Access to magic or training
Wildlife


This post looks at how the fantasy aspects of your world work;
technology and advancement are mentioned in another post.


"Apply logic in places where it wasn't intended to exist. It assured that the Queen of Fairies has a necklace made of broken promises, ask yourself what it looks like. If there is magic, where does it come from? Why isn't everyone using it? What rules will you have to give to allow some tension in your story? How does society operate? Where does your food come from? You need to know how you world works.
   "Fantasy works best when you take it seriously. Taking it seriously means that there must be rules. If anything can happen, then there is no real suspense. You are allowed to make pigs fly, but you must take into account the depredations on the local bird life and the need for people in heavily over-flown areas to carry stout umbrellas at all times."
- source: Writers and Artists; Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
   He then goes on to say that we're trained while young not to question these things. Magic may well have a source, but you don't need to know that to enjoy the story. It's also generally accepted that if there were 100 people in a room, perhaps only 5 of them would wield magic.
   The above is an excerpt from Terry Pratchett's input in the Writers and Artists' Yearbook 2012. I had always believed most of what he had said, and I was so proud of myself when I read it and thought to myself 'I've already done most of this', because it is important, and if anything can happen, it does lack suspense, because how would you, as a reader, know what they were doing was wrong? Yes they could be murdering people, but is it frowned upon in those societies? Or is it a frequently occurring thing that no one wishes to think about but no one has the intention to stop? Maybe it's a religious or "righteous" thing to do. These are the kinds of things you need to know.

   I sat down a few months ago with my boyfriend (he is a massive help in such areas) to come up with other places magic could come from, and I came up with a few good ideas. This means that I can write other worlds where magic exists, where magic comes from other sources, where it may be a physical thing, or simply a trick of the mind, and also makes it unavailable to any Tom, Dick or Harry who want to wield it so they can indulge their laziness or trolling habits.

   The best place to start with this is thinking about your characters and how you envision them wielding their powers, or their fighting style if no magic exists in such place. Or, as mentioned above, flying pigs and other unlikely wildlife.
   I'm obsessed with magic, so we'll start there.
   I don't like wands. I really don't. I don't like the idea that this power that isn't available to everyone anyway is still only available to those who are able to wield it and have wands. Plus, watching Harry Potter, only Voldemort seemed comfortable holding one. I personally prefer hands, shaping magic from the palm of the hand and directing it with the palm and fingers. If I have to use physical items, I'd always opt for staves, they have a far more elegant and wise look to them, and also look like they could channel much more powerful spells. But in this case, I also have to decide if staves are absolutely necessary, or if they just increase the intensity or improve the handling of spells.
   Consider other things with magic too: do spells need to be spoken? Is there a chant or incantation to be read aloud? Are items required? Or can it simply be a flex of one's will like telekinesis? And if spells are to be spoken, are they spoken in their native tongue, or some old, long-forgotten language?

   How about creatures? Are there any animals there that are unique to the world? Can they tap into magic of some kind, on a more primal level? Or maybe even a higher level? Do these animals, magical or not, have some kind of tie to civilisation? Messengers or mounts, or simply large and unruly pests? Or animals that live alongside them due to some kind of religious belief, or because they can offer something other animals can't that they need frequent amounts of?
   I don't often create creatures, but in my trilogy, I've created a bird I'm particularly proud of. I've also found that creating creatures can be great fun, too - you can experiment with new shapes and colours that would be more difficult if you were building a humanoid race. I really enjoyed creating her, and though I have no intention to create others for this trilogy, I certainly will in other works.

   This post doesn't look at technology, that's another post altogether. Instead, this post looks at how the fantasy aspects of your world work. These things may not all be planned out together. You may add smaller details that may need equal explaining further into your work - I do it all the time. I can't count the number of times I've rewritten my plans while writing my story to accommodate a new idea I've had while vaccuuming. But things like magic that may play a large role in your work and world, and likely decided to include before you even realised it, are important.
   I do realise that I've had a lot to say about preparations before writing, and I've doubtlessly made it sound far more complicated than it is. When it comes down to it, you use your imagination, and then fill in the gaps like 'how' and 'why' - or, that's how I do it, at any rate. It works differently for everyone. Remember while reading these posts that you do have the option of just picking up a pen - or even opening Wordpad on your pc right now - and just start writing. That's exactly how I started Kysharok. The details were an afterthought, but, again, not an afterthought I've put much time into. I know how I work when it comes to writing, and after writing for 9 years I know what works best for me, so I also know that my characters and story will unfold at a pace I can keep up with, and that when I need to stop and think, I can do so, and still pick up right where I left off.

   To make it simpler for you, write down all the fantasy features you're including - magic, dragons, other races, perhaps even beliefs if you wish to go this far, though another post covers things like this - anything important that you feel you ought to be able to explain if someone were to press you on it. Write them all down, then brain storm. And make sure to write down even your bad ideas. I find I can't come up with anything new or better if there's an older and worse idea floating around. It generally won't leave me alone until it's on paper, but it helps to clear my head. I think it's partly due to worry that the idea may be of use at another time or in another work and when I finally have use for it, I'll have forgotten half of the important detail.
   I am partly insane, so I talk to myself out loud on a ridiculously frequent basis as well - basically, whenever I am alone. I realise this makes me a bit mad, or hints at some kind of mental instability or something, but it is a truly massive help with coming up with ideas. My train of thought is clearer when I talk it out to myself, I can expand my ideas quickly, and adequately, and I can come up with 'why' and 'how' with little trouble. Of course, the trouble then is remembering it all. I've wanted to get a voice recorder for some time for this - it would be worth the money since I've talked to myself all my life, and while I've tried to stop, it's only grown stronger since I started this trilogy in 2010, so I've given up trying to stop and I'm embracing it instead. I'll introduce you to my friend Lawrence soon, too. He's part goldfish, part  spaghetti and part quartz. His humour is a bit dry, though.

   But no, I do encourage you to get some kind of idea as to how things work in your world. You won't necessarily need to write it all out and include it in the story, but you may end up mentioning it in passing at some point anyway. I did, and it wasn't distracting or too wordy at all. The sooner you think on it, the longer you have to simplify it into a bite-sized state in your mind. It can also help to dictate what can and can't happen in your story. Sometimes it can be an inconvenience, but you need to set limits. You may be the god and creator of the world, but without limits it'll just be a sludge of colours, magic, rainbows, dragons, explosions and pretty dresses. All at once. This is how I pictured it, yes. Lawrence is looking at me like I'm mad now. And Seeg is looking at me looking at the air beside me like I'm even madder.



2012

   By no means of jumping on the band wagon, I actually do want to sum up this past year. It's been a good one. The number alone is a lovely deep red, which gives the year a nice backdrop as it is. But the events of the year - while dull by a lot of people's standards - have been wonderful for me. But before I get into all of that, I want to start on a more personal note:
   Seeg: I realise how lucky I am to have you, someone who can always make me laugh, and is very smart and shares all the same interests as me. While you are capable of annoying me from time to time, I have never loved you any less. You're honestly more than I could ever hope for, and I really would be quite lost without you, especially with the things we've been through, and deal with daily. I'm so grateful for having you. I love you.

   I'd also like to say that I'm pleased to have met some wonderful people this year, and I'm glad to call them my friends. The artist Connie of Constantly Constance, the blogger Krysten of Why Girls Are Weird, Sarah of Last Sarah Ann, and the wonderful Vicky of Vivid Please. I appreciate all of their support and friendships, and I appreciate the opportunities I've had to bounce ideas back and forth with some of them, and that my ramblings are (hopefully) not as tiresome for them. Yet.

   Now, onto the year:
   I feel it's been successful. My blog is presentable, my shops are doing very well, and I feel like I've taken risks, as far as my outlook is concerned. I may have opened Peaches and Pebbles in July 2011, but it was this year that it came into its own and better established itself. I also took the chance and opened a second shop, Grumble Cave Monsters, which, despite my expectations, managed to make some sales in its first week, rather than first month. Sewing is not something I've ever been strong at, but I really tried hard with my first few monsters until I was confident that they were a sellable quality. I've sold a few on Etsy, and a few off, and I'm so proud of them. It would be wonderful to get a sewing machine, however, because my enthusiasm for my monsters has dropped considerably since it takes 6 hours to make a single one. I decided to raise my prices for that fact, and as soon as I get a sewing machine, they will drop again. It might seem like a bad move, but 6 hours of work that results in an aching back is worth more than £15-20, in my mind.

   It's been tough looking after my mum this year, as she has a tendancy to lean to one side of her chair when she gets tired. This can result in her falling out of her wheelchair, and she is next to impossible to straighten up, because her muscles more or less lock into position. This usually happens most in the summer due to the heat, but unfortunately, this year it's carried over into the winter, and is likely to only get worse when summer returns.
   But we do our best, and I'm grateful for Seeg being here. It means that I can take a break if it gets too much for me to handle, which it does from time to time, but it also means I have constant companionship, and someone to pick me up if I start to get down.
   My dad is equally stressing himself out, but we're doing what we can for him. The Xbox we gave him for Christmas was wonderful, and is giving him something to look forward to on a night once my mum has gone to bed.


Now, onto a blog post list I took from The Curious Pug! Let's see if I can manage it!

Most Beautiful
Winter Wonderland - photos from my trip to The Netherlands this past month.

Most Popular
Penny For Your Thoughts - my free templates for Mini Moos, a new way to request feedback on Etsy.

Most Controversial
A Little Blogger Disappointment - a rant about how most (not all) popular bloggers piss me off.

Most Helpful
Creative Writing Tips - the collection of posts I'm putting together to help aspiring writers like myself construct fictional works; though most posts revolve around fantasy writing, most of them can be applied to science fiction writing, and some to general fiction.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me
Origami Love Notes - a DIY tutorial for making origami hearts, posted around Valentine's

A Post I Didn't Feel Got The Attention It Deserved
Paper Mache Ship - a tutorial for making a ship out of paper mache. I love this thing, I still have the ship hanging from my ceiling. It's one of the best tutorials I've done. In truth, this spot is, however, a toss-up, between this ship and my xbox clock. I'm just as proud of each, but I think the ship should have attracted more views, given its nature compared to a repurposed console.

Post I'm Most Proud Of
Creative Writing Tips: Antagonist - I would have chosen a piece from Kysharok to go here, but to be honest, I believe I failed with it. I only managed to write 10 or 11 parts, and the story was nowhere near finished. I put it on hold to focus on my actual writing that I want to get published, and it just ended up never being thought about again. So instead, this spot goes to one of my favourite writing tips posts: antagonists. Antagonists, in my opinion, are one of the most important characters you can have, and in my post I tried to get across the idea of having a deep villain rather than one that was just evil through and through and you never learn much about.



And now a final list of things I put together myself:


Best Blog I've Followed
The Curious Pug - a real, honest blogger; Alycia will swear when necessary and is completely open and honest. Her "what's in my bag" post is the most believable that I've read, and, unlike almost everyone else out there, she greatly disagrees with the need to bring out more and more ipads and similar items. I love reading her blog, and I know that whatever I read is her honest opinion, and not shaped to please the masses.

Best Etsy Purchase
Trilobite Fossil Plush - this is something I've wanted for a very long time, but when I finally went to get one a few months ago, they'd all gone! I happened to check back recently and I contacted her asking when they'd be back in stock, and like the wonderful seller she is, she actually sent me a message once they were listed. I bought one immediately. Admittedly I don't have it yet, since I only bought it on the 29th, but I'm postive, given the nature of the product, that I will not regret it.

Favourite Item (From My Own Shop; 1 Each)
Peaches and Pebbles: Fox in a Jar - this is doubtlessly my most popular item, and I have a new one lined up for Valentine's Day. But I love it regardless of popularity, and the piece that comes a close second place is my dinosaur skulls - which are not popular at all! But the reason the Fox in the Jar is my favourite at this point is simply because I'm still in love with foxes.
Grumble Cave Monsters: Paisley Baby Monster - I love this little guy, and a lot of others do, too! I love all of the white, and frankly, I love these little guys' faces. They're so cute! I haven't made one for myself yet, I've just kept my first attempts at the adults, instead. But I love them. The close second is the 3-eyed rabbit.

Best Experience
The Netherlands - I'd never been abroad until Seeg needed his tooth cut (shattered) out, but it's an experience I'm glad to have had (though Seeg disagrees, and for fair reason). I'd been very apprehensive about going abroad - it wasn't the plane that worried me, just being so far from home, but since we've done it once, doing it a second time would be much easier. Though, I'd still rather stay at home.

Dumbest Mistake
Xbox and tinsel - I was putting the decorations up this Christmas while Seeg was playing on his Xbox. We'd discovered that you can't be wearing gloves to turn it on or off, or to eject the disc, since it's touch-activated, but it turns out that tinsel will turn it on and off. I was reaching past it to put up some tinsel along some shelves while Seeg was playing Skyrim (Dragonborn DLC, hells yes, bloody brilliant), and a piece of tinsel hit the eject button, and it took the disc out. Fortunately, it had autosaved recently, but that was probably the stupidest thing I've done. Lately. I don't remember much else.





Have a safe and wonderful
new year!



Sunday, 30 December 2012

Seeg's Birthday

   Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye. I got so excited for months, and it was over just like that. Needless to say, I am certainly suffering the post-Christmas blues. However, I am quite lucky. My lovely Seeg's birthday was on the 28th of December, and my own birthday comes on January the 9th, which means the festivities spread over the course of 2 weeks, so, fortunately, my post-Christmas blues are not as bad as they could have been.

   Seeg's birthday was wonderful (I'll get to Christmas eventually in another post, I'm sure). We stayed in all day, since that's what we're happy to do (but we'll be celebrating both mine and his when we go out to see The Hobbit on the 4th, and then go out for dinner), and he had all his presents quite soon. I made him cakes, since he prefers my small cakes to big ones, and, following the accidental oriental theme of the day, I decided to make them Japanese Cherry Blossoms - or as close as I could get.





   I used fondant, pearlescent white and silky peach lustre dust, and some sugarflair pens (liquorice, peach and sundae pink), then plonked them on top of the cakes. I know he doesn't much like decorated cakes, so I didn't fix the fondant down with anything like you should, that way he could just take it off if he didn't like it. He was impressed with my design, and as my dad said: "I bet you think you're really clever now, don't you?" (Yes, I do a little bit.)
   Considering that cake-based things rarely go right for me, I am dead pleased with how they turned out. The picture below is a bit poor, though, because of lighting, so it seems a bit busier than they were.


Cherry Blossom trees, floating blossoms, and "二十三" which is 23 in Japanese (2 x 10 + 3)

   The presents were very well-received, too. I was so pleased! I felt that one of the three I bought for him was a gamble - he might have thought it was awesome, or he might have thought it was sort of "meh", so I gave him that one first. It was a sake set I bought from Mount Fuji, after seeing some while looking on other websites for swords, but after also finding sake on their website, too, I decided to add more to it. I ended up buying a sake set, 3 small bottles of sake, and 3 different packs of rice crackers, all of which have been imported by the website from Japan. He loved it, because he said it was very unexpected.
   He loves the sword, too, but he said that that one was expected, which was why I never let him see the wrapped box until he could actually open it. I also bought him a t-shirt from Red Bubble of a Kabuto mask. Not a huge number of presents, but it meets the budget we set of 3 gifts each :D You can see them all below (sorry for the poor picture, I didn't know where to photograph any of it!)





I hope you all had a great Christmas, and have a lovely new year. I doubt I'll be posting much at the moment because I'm swamped with...well, not much work. I'm working on some very limited edition Valentine baby monsters, I have an email that I MUST write out at some point, and I also recently decided to try and play Mass Effect (note: I cannot shoot for wine gums, so I've never played a gun-based game before. Fortunately, in Mass Effect, there are 2 NPCs with you, so it's not all on me. I expect Wrex and Liara will be my team mates, and either Thane or Legion in ME2 with Kasumi or Samara, and Liara again in ME3 with...Garrus, I guess. Most of the cool guys are either dead or preoccupied.) and I also braved a strategy game. I started simple with Warcraft 3 and got on well enough! So I'm keeping myself busy over this holiday period!



Monday, 24 December 2012

My Christmas Day Plan

1. Wake up. Try to keep myself calm and wait for an appropriate time to get out of bed. Note: I am not 7 anymore, 5am is not an appropriate time. At least wait for Seeg to wake up. But if he takes too long then it just can't be helped.

2. Grow impatient waiting for Seeg and either drop a present on his face, or pretend to kick him in my sleep. Proceed to give and open presents with eachother because I cannot possibly last much longer.

3. Get up! Try to keep voice down so as not to squeal so loudly in excitement that I deafen not only the house but myself in the process.

4. Go through normal morning routine, but miss out the scrutinizing stare in the mirror. I don't want to be negative on Christmas Day!

5. Give parents their gifts - but not the super secret special one for Dad.

6. Make a cake from a box mix because it both tastes better than mine, and because it actually comes out of the pan and cooks right through without burning the top. Slather it in chocolate. Eat some of that chocolate. Put more chocolate back on it to cover up the "bald" areas.

7. Clean up the mess and make the party food, which for some reason is almost always Chinese food of some sort. Retrieve the chocolate tree and display it proudly before chowing down on party food.

8. Open the door and hopefully only greet sister and her son. Surprise visitors will not be warmly received. Happily share the chocolate tree, and reluctantly share the party food.

9. Give them gifts and quietly sit with a smug grin as Riley screams in protest while opening the clothes my grandparents got him because, for some reason, old people think kids like that as a gift.

10. Get back to a nice, quiet afternoon, though by this point it feels like most of the gifts are done with, which kind of makes me sad and wander around aimlessly for the next few hours. Perhaps watch a movie with Seeg.

11. Help dad make dinner, and probably get more presents, most likely the ones my grandparents left. He probably won't let me help, so at least by asking I won't feel bad while I sit down and surely stuff myself with chocolate at the worst possible time.

12. Try to make room, curse myself for eating so much delicious Christmas chocolate, and eat dinner. And then dessert. Which is Devil's Food Chocolate Cake.

13. If I have not popped yet, it has been a successful day.

14. Retreat for a last few quiet hours of Christmas. Wait for Dad to come upstairs with our 3rd and actual last "last" gift, which, as previous years have proven, he surely will. If by 9pm he hasn't done so, we shall go downstairs and give him his xbox which we "forgot about", then eventually try to go back upstairs to let him use it, rather than us setting it all up for him and probably playing on it while he sits to one side, watching sullenly.

15. Try not to cry because the Christmas Day I've waited all year for has finally finished. I may well feel down, but fortunately my awesome boyfriend's awesome birthday is 3 days later. Turn all attention to that.

16. Sleep restlessly.



Friday, 21 December 2012

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Most Disappointing Gift, Ever

   You're a 17 year old photography fanatic. You think you could be the next best thing when you play around with filters and composition with your gorgeous little Canon, which you saved for months for and nicknamed "Baby".
   But your family just doesn't seem to understand your passion. They look at your photographs with a clearly untrained eye, with a nod, a smile, and a "that's good!" - but never any word on the photograph's formation. They're just looking at a picture.

   But on Christmas morning, your parents, whom you are adamant "don't understand" you or your passion, give you a small but slightly weighted box.




   You've been brought up properly, so you smile, you thank them, and you unwrap the gift expecting, from the weight of it, another figurine of some sort of marine mammal. Still, a gift is a gift, and whether you like it or not, you must be thankful, at the least.
   You remove the paper, and open the lid of the box, expecting polystyrene snow to burst out and cascade down to the floor to be vaccuumed up later, as is often the case with these things.




   You frown. That's not a figurine. In fact, something about the pouch you've removed from its cardboard prison gets your heart racing, but you bury that insane hope deep down, knowing full well it could never be - they would never get. But still, you can't help but wonder just what is inside this familiar little bag.
   Your heart beats faster, and genuine excitement has washed away your teenage, melancholy disinterest. What could it be?




   Oh sweet Jesus. How? How?! Your parents have never shown any interest in your photography at all! Because, afterall, saying "it's wonderful!" to every photograph you've ever taken isn't true support, is it? You silly little teenager! How wrong can you be?! Perhaps it was just an act! Perhaps they truly did see your wonderful work with light, negative space and one or two pretty bokeh pieces you took when the Christmas decorations had just gone up - perhaps they know more than you think!
   You can barely keep your heart from jumping out of your throat in excitement, but the profuse thank-you's and how-did-you-know's don't give it a chance to get free anyway, as a sort of last-minute failsafe to keep your heart in your body.
   You shake your head to yourself in delight. But there's one last thing, aside from attaching it to your camera, that can truly make you happy: laying your eyes upon the sweet, clean, greenish glass that is the lens.




   You look down at the piece of steel and plastic in your hand for a moment, wondering just where the glass had gone. Had your parents been ripped off? Did they know there was no glass in the lens, and that they'd been sold a fake, for most likely hundreds of pounds?
   You look up from your gift to see your parents faces, both grinning at you in sheer delight. You smile back - or try to. You really can't tell. It isn't until your mother utters the words: "It's a cup!" to help you along, as if you were two years old again, that you realise the true error of your judgement.
   No, they hadn't bought you a lens. It's a cup. What do you do? They tricked you - but had they meant it as a joke, or had they genuinely believed it would be a wonderful present? You've shown such excitement up until now, that if it were a totally serious present, they would surely be just as disappointed as you.
   You smile at them as warmly as you can. "Thank you," you say, with a tone that conveys final satisfaction, hinting that it was time to move onto the next gift while trying to push aside the humiliation and disappointment that are creeping across your peripherals.


   In all seriousness, though, it is fabulous. Seeg and I got it for my dad for Christmas, to throw him off of the trail of the Xbox. He knows we don't have lots of money, so a gift like this is usually all he expects, and we had to get him something, or he would suspect something all day long.
   I found it on Amazon. I'd seen a camera lens cup before, and it was like £15, but I read time and time again that for like the first 5 cups of anything in it, it tastes like plastic, so I was put off by that, and it also looked a bit cheap. But when I was searching it up on Amazon for one final look, to make my final decision, since it was just a gift to throw him off anyway, I noticed another sat beneath it (of course, at that point, it was only £9.98 - I've just seen that the price has increased to £18.99 - ouch!). It was supposedly Canon, and the best part was that, aside from the low price, it seemed to have a metal interior, not a plastic one.
   I searched for Canon lens cups outside of Amazon and found that most of them had plastic interiors too, but some didn't. Still, I did see someone's suggestion on Firebox.com - soak it with warm water and baking soda and the plastic taste and smell would come away, so at least it was fixable if that was the case.
   I decided to take the risk and bought it from Amazon, and when it arrived, it was the same as the one in the picture - stainless steel interior, "Canon" emblazened onto the lens cap, and all the lovelyness along the edges that make it look authentic:



   In truth, the only thing wrong with the exterior are the two horizontal lines on the switches, pictured in the second image. They look like they were painted on by hand with silver paint, badly. But at the same time, I really do think I could look past it. Honestly, it's definitely worth the new price of £18.99, and only now I've received it can I appreciate what a bargain I found. There's also a Nikon one. But I'll tell you, what surprised me most (other than the fact that, hand on heart, it really does look like this was once an actual lens that has been repurposed) was the fact that it was supplied with that there lens pouch. That is what got me wondering just how many Christmasses and birthdays have been ruined by how real it looks and the disappointment that probably ensued afterwards.

   Honestly, as well, I do believe my dad will love this. He has a Canon camera! But I also know that he'll be relieved that it's not real, because I know that I wouldn't want anyone to just buy me a random lens. There are sizes, distances, and focus types to keep in mind, and some people can be very picky about brands. And my dad also doesn't like us to spend so much money on him. Nevermind, he's still getting that Xbox!


   Have you got anyone anything snazzy? I really want to hear about it!



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

What I Love About Christmas



   I'm not at all religious, so Christmas doesn't have much religious value to me. But it seems that, when you really look at it, Christmas has been commercialised to death. But that's the kind of Christmas I celebrate, and I'm sure most of you do, too, whether you'd care to admit that or not. We don't pray at dinner, we don't go to church - or even really think of it for a second - and we don't put any religion-based decorations in our house except perhaps a star on top of a tree. It's mostly tinsel, little snowy houses, snowmen candleholders, glittery deer and polar bears and so on. But see, I love that. You don't have to be religious to enjoy Christmas.

   While I was a child, I would have told you that it was presents I loved the most about Christmas. Mostly getting them. But then over the years, I've become even more excited about giving gifts than receiving them. I put a lot of thought into what to give people - it doesn't always seem it, I know. Post-it notes, no matter how cute I think they are, or baseball hats, no matter how well I paint them, are not shockingly amazing. But it's not always easy to buy for people, especially when some people are disabled and can't do much with their time, or if you don't want other people to feel pressured into getting something for you because you know full-well what they do at Christmas, but still want to give them a little something, something so little they won't feel compelled to return the favour, you know? (By the way, I apologise if this post isn't as "eloquent" as my others - hah! - but I have Christmas songs blaring right now, and I am singing at the top of my lungs and trying to contain my excitement)
   But I just love giving presents. I love seeing their faces if I've gotten it right, and I also like to see how well they can fake it if I get it wrong - not that I ever try to get it wrong, of course. In fact, this year, I think we've outdone ourselves. Barring my mum, of course. She's hard to buy for, afterall. But my dad is getting a camera lens cup, and then we're surprising him at the end of the day with a brand new 250gb xbox and racing games; my sister, who we usually get crappy shower stuff for lack of a better idea, has got a rather nice pair of shoes instead; my nephew is getting a monster I made, but only because he expressed his like for them; Seeg - well, he reads this blog, so I can't say anything yet, but thought went into it, and it's more evident in some pieces than others. But I think we did damn well this year! I am so excited to see what everyone thinks!!


   Decorations are another thing I love. After a week in The Netherlands with nothing but snow around us, I seriously got into the festive mood, and really hoped that when we got back on the 8th of December that there would be Christmas decorations up. There weren't, and I was so diSO HERE IT IIIIS, MERRY CHRISTMAAAS, EVERYBOOOODYYY'S HAVING FUUUUN, LOOOK TO THE--SHH!! And I was so disappointed. Ahem. But on the 15th dad went up in the loft and got them all out. I was so excited it was all I could do to stay at the bottom of the ladder and not climb up into the loft to help. I had waited to put our tree and decorations up in our room until he was doing the rest of the house, because I wanted to step out from one Christmassy room and into another. I'm quite pleased with what I've done. It's small, but I'm happy.
   But as soon as the decorations come out in the shops - usually September - I get quite excited. I usually end up buying some lovely bits and pieces because I get entranced by the glitter. I'm sure Seeg is pleased, though, because usually we go to this amazing garden centre (yes, those words CAN go together) called Cadbury Garden and Leisure, and they have the BEST Christmas displays, and the biggest range I've ever seen. We didn't go this year, though. I'm a little gutted, but after obsessing over Black Friday and Cyber Monday and then immediately going off on "holiday" for a week, and then getting back 2 weeks before Christmas and having to catch up on the mass of orders that have taken place across my shops, I haven't had time to even think about it. Of course that didn't stop me from buying online.

   Food. Who doesn't love food? I work out so that I can keep eating. I'm not losing any weight, but I'm not gaining any either. So it balances out! I'm not keen on turkey, but the gravy, stuffing, veggies, roast potatoes - oh god I love it. We're having duck on boxing day, so I'm REALLY looking forward to that one! But the chocolate that pops up everywhere, the biscuits, the party foods - Christmas is a wonderful time for my stomach, but hell for my waistline. Advent calendars are also the bee's knees. I bought myself a Mars one this year (it was great - I missed 7 days because we had gone away! That was nice to come back to :D) and am greatly enjoying the questions that come behind each door. Though some of them I have to cheat on. I can't believe that I didn't know the answer to "What is the name of the famous snowman that lives in the North Pole?"
   Also the amount you can get away with eating - at Christmas it is so much more socially acceptable to stuff yourself silly on chocolate, just the same as it is more socially acceptable to stuff yourself with cake on your birthday. In fact, if you don't do it, you're strange. So I'm looking forward to that!


    The music. I'm just boogying away right now. I love Christmas songs. Though, I suppose, in truth, I'm very picky about them. Most of them I hate. I just have 4 playing on a loop right now: Slade, Jona Lewie, Shakin' Stevens and Paul McCartney. I do like In Dulci Jublio, but there are no words. I tend to jump around through that song. Seriously, I can't sit still, but I can't dance either, so I just jump. It's an extra Christmas workout :D But if any kind of Christmas song comes on the radio I will sing along badly every time. Whether I know the words or not. I'm sure everyone around me hates it but I enjoy it so much.
 
   Family. We don't got for big family gatherings. I don't like people to come round on Christmas Day. The only people I can handle coming round is my sister and her son. Anyone else, or, god forbid, surprise visits, are too much for me to handle. I just see them as intruding on my special, favourite day, the day I wait all year for. And I don't like it. So I love that we keep it quiet, just immediate family - and Seeg, of course, we don't shut him in a cupboard for the day. In fact he gets just as many presents as I do. He's properly part of the family, even if he doesn't feel it.

   Presents. Obviously I love presents. Who doesn't? Presents are awesome, especially if they're good. I love unwrapping them. But at the same time, I LOVE the sight of a pile of presents all wrapped up and untouched. I just want to look at it all day and see how long I can last before ripping them open. This year's warpping was great fun!
   I am terrible with keeping presents, though. Last year Seeg and I set a limit to the number of gifts we get each, and I ended up buying him extra, and then giving him some early because I got excited. This year, we set a limit and a budget. Of course, we ended up giving eachother 2 gifts early again. He gave me How I Met Your Mother Season 7, and Michael McIntyre's Showtime DVD. I gave him a copy of the movie Zatoichi, and a Japanese music CD. I promise you all I didn't just buy him Japanese stuff :P Hand on heart. But this year, I've not felt the need to give him gifts early. This year it was him that got them out early, not me. In fact, I just this second realised that it is only SIX days until Christmas, and nine until his birthday. I think I can last. I think.


   Seriously, I love Christmas. We don't need kids, I get excited enough. If we had kids I'd only end up stealing their toys, and throwing a strop when Father Christmas brings more presents for them than me. I already got a bit moody when I saw that most gifts my grandparents brought round were for Riley than me xD I'm just awful, I know, but at this time of year, my age means nothing, and I regress to an 8 year old. I recently found out that I used to shake when opening my presents because I got so excited. I have the shaking under control now, but my good friend at Vivid HQ has suggested that I bring it back xD

   I'll cut this ramble of a post off here. I'm honestly having trouble keeping the lump of excitement in my throat from bursting out. I genuinely want to scream I'm so excited. Oh gawd I hope I actually sleep on Christmas Eve...

   What are you looking forward to the most? You can be honest ;P if it's presents, just go ahead and say it. Safe space.



Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Chocolate Topiary Tree DIY




   A leaflet came through my door a month or two ago, advertising "chocolate explosions". It was effectively a ball of chocolate, and they had a starting price of £20 for 40 chocolates. I considered buying one for the family at Christmas, as a sort of chocolate family gift, but after visiting their website, and finding that their brochure had the significant majority of their products already in it, it also dawned on me that I could probably make it myself.
   Still, I sent an email, enquiring as to how much it would cost for a mix of Ferrero Rocher and Lindt Lindor, but they told me that it would be £30 for either chocolate, and they could not mix them due to a difference of size. Yet they advertised that they could do any chocolate and combination you wanted, and since both of those are popular chocolates in the household, I decided to go ahead and try it myself and prove that the, frankly, little size difference was of no consequence.




What I Used:
Polystyrene ball, approximately 6 inches in diameter
A pot roughly the same size as the ball (so ball sits in it as above)
A wooden stick cut to the appropriate length (guesswork!)
A hot glue gun and glue sticks
Tissue paper coloured to fit the scheme
Scissors (for cutting! Yaaay!)
Food-safe toothpicks and a clean needle
250g Air Dry clay (not pictured)
Chocolaaaate! I used 60 pieces.


Time Taken: 1.5 hours



   First of all, make a hole about 1 inch deep into the bottom of the ball. It doesn't need to be tidy, and prepare for a "snowy" mess. Use the hot glue gun and put a generous dollop in the hole, then fix the stick in place. Add more glue around the edges to fill the rest in. Once you've done that, hot glue the other end of the stick to the inside of the pot, in the middle. If the stick is flat and level at the end, it should stand easier as the glue is drying. Though this won't take long. Once the glue at the base of the stick is dry, get out your air dry clay. This was an afterthought for me, because I thought hot glue would do it, but as soon as I started putting chocolate onto the ball, the stick toppled over. I wasted literally 5 hot glue sticks before resorting to clay. Now, you don't have to let the clay harden first. I cut the block into large squares and pushed them to to surround about 3-4 inches of the stick, and to cover the entire bottom of the pot. The clay and initial glueing should be enough to keep the stick in place while working.


    Take your first piece of chocolate and pierce it with a tooth pick. There's a possibility that you might need to make a hole with a thick needle first, so do that before destroying sticks/chocolate. I thought that, due to the shells of Ferrero Rocher and Lindt Lindor, I would certainly need a needle to make a first incision, but that turned out to not be the case. I used the needle for about the first 6 chocolates, but found that the cocktail stick would go through just fine on its own shortly afterwards, and proceeded this way instead.


   Take your tissue paper. Most tissue paper comes folded up, so to save time, I would suggest cutting squares from folded paper and cutting off the folded edges that keep them joined. Once you've got your squares (or circles, if you prefer), pierce the middle of one of them with the tooth pick and slide it on up to the chocolate.


   Bunch the paper around the chocolate - this will give you a firm grip, and will shape the paper - and push the stick into the ball. Be careful at this point, however: Ferrero Rocher were not as thick as I had thought, and on several occasions, the stick ended up pocking its way right through and out of the other side of the wrapper, pricking my hand. I used the flat side of a pair of scissors to push it on properly, and to push the stick back in so as to not injure myself. This was a frequent problem with the lovely golden chocolates, and much less so with the Lindt. Only twice did the stick break through the Lindor wrapper, and the way it came out was through the other end of the twisted wrapper.
   If you're using chocolates wrapped in the same manner of Lindt Lindor (wrapper twisted at both ends), unwind the end that will be against the tissue paper. I usually chose the end that wasn't wrapped as perfectly as the other. Unwind that end and push the stick through, then twist it back up. Once it's twisted back up, turn the end bits inside out so that instead of the excess wrapper sticking out like the other side, it was folded over and cupped against the chocolate. I'm sure that makes no sense, but when you try to figure out what to do with the twisted end, you'll know exactly what I mean. If it helps, picture it like an umbrella: while it's normal (ie: the twisted ends sticking outwards like it should be) it's like an open umbrella, but when you fold it upwards, it's like the umbrella got caught in the wind and turned inside out. Does that help? Probably not.

   Be wary when putting chocolates at the bottom of the ball. I had a couple of Rocher fall off. This isn't a problem further up, but the bottom of the ball is holding them upside down. If you have a problem like this, push the stick into the ball with the tissue paper, and once the stick is secure, then attach a chocolate. That way the chocolate won't have as much time to move around on the stick to widen the hole and make space to fall off of it. You obviously don't want to use glue, afterall.

   Anyway! It's simpler than it sounds. Do this for all of your chocolates. I found that 60 chocolates (20 Ferrero Rocher, 20 standard Lindt Lindor, and 20 hazlenut Lindt Lindor) was adequate, but if I had bunched them together closer, I probably could have fit in another 10.
   I bought a box of 24 Ferrero Rocher on Amazon for £8.80- easily found in the shops - and after Seeg snatched the few I said were spare, I was down to the 20 I needed. I also bought a pick and mix box of 40 from the Lindt website, where I was able to choose exactly which chocolates I wanted, and how many, up to 40. They would have cost me £15, but I was able to use the code FacebookFan20 for 20% off, knocking it down to £12. Lovely. They were the perfect number.


   However, Ferrero Rocher and Lindt Lindor are all available in the shops, so you can still put all of this together last minute for Christmas, or you can use whatever chocolates you prefer. The tissue paper easily covers the bare spots from where I may have been able to fit a few more (which I didn't have anyway) had I bunched them up more.