Thursday, 22 October 2020

Morgan Charmley Blog Tour

I'm a huge fan of the Morgan Charmley books, and I loved the new instalment! They're such fun teen reads that are perfect for fans of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch. For the Morgan Charmley: Spells and Secrets blog tour, Katy Birchall is sharing her favourite witches from popular culture. 


The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)


As far as costumes go, your traditional witch-look would entail a long black dress, black pointed hat, broomstick in hand and, should you go all out (which you should), the classic green skin. And just who, may you ask, made this exquisitely daring ensemble a staple of the Halloween wardrobe? The Wicked Witch of the West, that’s who.

A culturally archetypal witch, the moment the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in The Wizard of Oz, she became an instant icon of movie history. With a name that says it all, she is an unashamedly cruel, oppressive and tyrannical leader, having conquered the Winkies and enslaved them. She spends the film hunting down the innocent, wide-eyed Dorothy so that she can nab those magical ruby slippers and conquer all of Oz once and for all.

Look, you have to give it to her, she’s not afraid to be who she is.

She doesn’t go around pretending to be anything but evil, fully embracing all the best bits of being a villain, what with her appearing and disappearing in a plume of mysterious, red smoke; that fiendish, surprisingly-hard-to-nail cackle she revels in as she calls Dorothy, “my pretty”; and, of course, her casual army of winged monkeys ready to do her bidding.

And any chance of redemption or earning our sympathy is completely scuppered when she threatens Dorothy’s adorable little dog, Toto.

The fact of the matter is, she’s a witch we love to hate, and were it not for her all-consuming greed and unabashed ambition, I’m not sure, quite frankly, this classic film would be quite so classic. That magnificent cackle is a scene-stealer, what can I say?

Her influence on both cinema and fictional witches today is undeniable, and no list of all-time great movie villains would be complete without her. The Wicked Witch of the West is truly as wicked as they come.

And we wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thanks so much for sharing one of your favourite witches Sophie! If I had to choose a favourite witch, I'd have to go with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's smart, hilarious and goes through such an interesting character arc.


 Check out the banner for the other Morgan Charmley tour stops!

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

BBC Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award winners

Due to the current covid situation, this will be the first time in three years that I've not attended the BBC National Short Story Award as an ambassador. Still, I'm delighted to announce the winner of the adult and Young Writers' Awards! There are details below of where you can find the stories online. As usual, they're incredible reads. Congratulations to the shortlistees and winners!




Four-time nominated Sarah Hall has won the fifteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) for the second time with ‘The Grotesques’, a ‘timeless and unsettling story’ set against a backdrop of privilege and inequality in a university town. Exploring themes of powerlessness and privilege, dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, covert control, identity and scapegoating, the judges praised Hall for her ‘extraordinary’, ‘layered’ and ‘masterful’ writing and cited her second time win as ‘recognition of her standing as the country’s foremost writer of short stories’.

The first double win in the Award’s history, the news was announced live on BBC Front Row on Tuesday 6 October by 2020 Chair of Judges Jonathan Freedland in a special programme celebrating 15 years of the Award. ‘The Grotesques’ is available to listen to on BBC Sounds and appears in Hall’s latest collection Sudden Traveller, published by Faber in 2019. Its titular story was also shortlisted for the Award in 2018.

Sarah Hall, winner of the 2020 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University, said:

“I’m stunned to have won. No one expects to repeat a shortlisting, let alone be honoured with an award like this twice. It’s an incredible privilege and reward. And with this prize comes a tremendous amount of support for the form itself - from tenacious, passionate advocates at the BBC and Cambridge University, to expert judges, and the writers who continue to innovate, experiment and create astonishing, vital, questioning worlds within stories. We can see from this year’s shortlist the diversity and range showcased. In the hands of these writers, over only a few pages, so much is possible and words become utterly potent. It’s hard to turn a good story, it requires the compression and alchemy of so many aspects, ideas, details, experiences and observations. I truly love the form, its disproportionate power, disquiet and refractive metrics, its ability to stir the reader or listener, even, at best, to overturn our secure notions of who we are and what we believe. There are days when we are lost, when not much makes sense and answers to the vexing human question seem impossible. On those days nothing is as companionable as a short story. That goes for writing them too.”.

Hall beat stiff competition from an extremely strong shortlist that included established and new voices, comprised of: 26 year old British-Ghanaian writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson whose eagerly anticipated debut novel Open Water is released in 2021; James Tait Black Prize winner Eley Williams; poet and newcomer Jack Houston and EU Prize for Literature for Ireland 2019 winner Jan Carson.  

 Alongside the BBC NSSA, BBC Front Row also announced the sixth annual BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, an award created to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers. Open to 13–18 year olds at the time of entry, it is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 1. The award was won by Lottie Mills, 19, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire for ‘The Changeling’. Lottie was previously shortlisted for the BBC YWA in 2018. Her story is also available on BBC Sounds.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Books Polished guest post

On this special publication date of A Snowfall of Silver, I'm thrilled to host a guest post from Demet. She shares some insights about the process of creating her amazing nail art, but you'll have to head over to her Instagram Books_polished to see the finished result! Thanks so much, Demet. 

Hello everyone!

My name is Demet and I am the human behind the Instagram account Books_Polished, where I post nail art inspired by book cover. 

If you have been here for a while, you might have heard of me before.

Two years ago for the publication of Laura Woods A Sky Painted Gold, Amy graciously allowed me to write a guest posts for her blog showing the behind the scenes of my nail design. 

With the publication of the sequel A Snowfall of Silver happening this week we have been talking about repeating the experience.

So here I am! Showing you even more nails 😊

Before I start anything, I usually spent a good amount of time prepping my nails. This includes taking off any old polish from my last design, pushing back cuticles, cutting hang nails and filing down my nails. Due to the fact that I am currently living a much calmer life than usual (thanks Corona??), my nails have been getting quite long. And I have learned over years that there is a point where my nails will just break if they are getting too long, so I rather file them regularly to try and avoid that 😉

A big part of starting a new design is finding a good base colour. Blue is one of my favourite colours which is why I own a few too many blue polishes that are all slightly different. Finding a colour for this manicure was also a bit more complicated, because I sadly wasn’t able to receive a review copy, which means I did not have a chance to see the actual book in person, but had to rely on pictures I could find online… For this step I like to take out all polishes I think could work and paint a small square on a silicone baking mat. That way I can see how the colour changes when it dries and it also allows me to judge it’s opacity.

As a nail artist I don’t actually own that many nail polishes, compared to other people.
And I especially don’t buy many new ones these days. Many of the polishes in the second picture are up to 7 years old. One is already 11. 

Having a good nail polish thinner at hand is a must to keep your polishes working. Whenever I come across a polish that does not have a good consistency anymore, I drop a few drops in them to revive them again. A bottle like this costs about 6 GBP and lasts me about a year and has saved me much more money over the years. 

(Side note: this is not an ad, but simply the bottle I currently own, because it was cheap and had good reviews online. You can easily use other brands, but do not use nail polish remover! As it will slowly destroy your polish rather than revive it.)

These are the polishes I ended up choosing:

p2 Color Victim: 191 gigantic
Barry M: Liquid Chrome – Rain on me
Seche Vite: Fast drying top coat
Not pictures: essence: extreme last base coat
(Again, not an ad, just what I own.)

First up:
2 layers of the blue to get to full opacity
1 layer fast drying top coat
The top coat helps smooth everything out, makes sure the base is completely dry before I paint over it and gives it an extra layer of protection, in case I don’t like what I paint on top it and have to remove it.

As much as a plan and try to be logic up to this step. When it comes to actually painting a design, I more or less wing it? I try to pick an element that seems the least amount intimidating and start there. In this case it was the head of the girl.

And then I go from there an roughly sketch in the other elements. I knew already I would be going back and forth with the details, so this step was more about getting the different lements where there were supposed to be.

Spoiler: I did not quite manage that. I realized that the head of the girl was too big in comparison to her body and especially to the boy's head, which on the cover of the book is much bigger than the girl's head.

So I do what I always do. I dig out the 100% acetone and my brush and remove what I think doesn’t match.

In this case that means I took away her head, but I also went in and slimmed down some of the lines, for example on his head. With different polishes I might have just gone in with the blue again to cover the silver where I didn’t like it, but the blue was a bit too sheer and I didn’t want the layers to get too thin. So going in with acetone and different size brushes was the better plan of action.

But you have to be very careful in those cases, as you only want to take off the top silver layer and not destroy the blue layers below. As you can see in this picture if you look at the top left corner, I did not quite manage that all the time. But I just went back in with a bit of the blue to cover it up. And the top coat I use is very good in evening out layers like this, so the end result still looks smooth. 

You can also tell in this picture that I went back in at the dress as well and took away some of the excess silver, as well as adding a bit more of the blue to make the lines more refined. 

Added a new head! Looking back I am still not quite happy with it, but there is a finite number of times I can go in with acetone to take parts off. So if I didn’t want to start completely new, I had to make it work. So I just hope it’s one of those things that’s only annoying to me, because I have been staring at the cover design for too long.

On to other nails! There are after all 5 of them and we have so far only covered one. To be fair the design on this nail and the ring finger took me probably about 5-10min, after I had spent about an hour just on the middle finger. This is in part because I decided to not stick to the design too strictly and just imitate the idea of it.

I even took a few creatively liberties by simplifying the small round baubles that are all over the over and just transforming them into dots. But I just thought that trying to imitate the more intricate design on the scale I am working would be a lost cause. (At least while painting with nail polish! I know a few nail artists that paint with acrylic paint and therefore adhere to entirely different rules.)

Went back to the middle finger and added a part of the umbrella, because I felt like the top was too empty and then I ran into a creative block trying to decide what to do with the empty two fingers.

Whenever I don’t know how to proceed, I kill some time by cleaning up. I remove any nail polish that got on my skin and add top coat to any nails that are completely finished. I also add some cuticle oil around any finished nails, as acetone is very drying to your skin. 

(Note: ONLY add it to nails when you are done with them. The oil layer between nail polish layers would make then peel very fast and unsatisfactory)

Another thing I like to do these days, when I don’t know how to proceed is ask the internet.
Sometimes I listen to what the internet tells me and sometimes I make up my mind and do whatever I want.

As I was holding back all behind the scenes pictures for this blog post, I had to be rather vague, but the answer was still very helpful!

To see the end result, check out my Instagram: Books_polished

And if you have any questions about books or nail art, I am always more than happy to chat 😊