Book Review: Grub’s Pups

I was very chuffed to be asked to review this book. It’s a delightful picture book that entranced both my four year old son and eighteen month old toddler.

Abi Burlingham has Ruby tell the story of how her dog, Grub is going to be a dad. It’s easy to join in with her excitement through the build up and birth and counting each puppy as it comes out. I really liked though that there was a slightly different angle in that the story focused more on Grub’s reaction to the puppies coming along and I think it will encourage children’s developing empathy.

Emily in particular was very taken with Grub’s Pups and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a lovely story told in an engaging style and I have to say as well, the illustrations are really sweet and gently humourous.

I’ll definitely be getting the first two books, Ruby and Grub and Grub in Love to catch up on Grub’s exploits!

Grub’s Pups is published by Piccadilly Press, and you can buy a copy of Grub’s Pups from here. Have a look at Abi Burlingham’s website or catch her on twitter; she’s a lovely lady to talk to and deserves much success with her books.

Results Not Typical

Today sees the last of my little run of blog tour guests, Catherine Ryan Howard, talking about her latest adventure self-publishing a novel Results Not Typical. Thanks for stopping by My Little Notepad, Catherine!

Can you give us a rundown of your story so far?

I self-published a travel memoir in March 2010 that had been rejected all over town for having no market. I didn’t really know what I was doing but through trial, error and Google I figured it out and eventually sold a few thousand copies of Mousetrapped. Self-publishing was supposed to be just what I did to keep me in coffee while I wrote a novel that I hoped would get me traditionally published, but after I got some sales I decided to concentrate on it a bit more than that. So since then I’ve also self-published a “How To” book (Self-Printed), another travel memoir (Backpacked) and now a novel, Results Not Typical.

 You’ve always said you would absolutely not self-publish a novel. Do you find your words coming back to haunt you now?! Why the change of heart?

Um, yes, definitely! I’ve learned my lesson now and it’s shut the hell up about what you’re “never” going to do… I changed my mind because originally, I thought that while non-fiction could be good but get rejected on the strength – or weakness, rather – of it’s potential market, surely a novel would get published if it was good enough. Therefore if it wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t, and it should probably stay in a drawer. But after submitting Results – a corporate satire/chick lit affair – and getting great feedback about the writing, etc. but being told yet again that it wasn’t what was selling in the market right now I thought, well, my other books are selling so why not self-publish this too? It’s also very different from the book I’m writing now that I hope to submit, so I feel as if I may as well. It remains to be seen whether or not it was a good decision!

Do you find writing a book is becoming progressively easier, since you’ve done four now?

Not a chance. I think it gets slightly worse. Writing Results took three drafts and the best part of a year – of full-time writing. When I think back to the first draft and how it bears absolutely no resemblance to the finished product, I feel a little bit sick. You think to yourself, how can I possibly do all that again? So um, no, sorry!

What marketing advice can you give someone who has self-published a novel, and how is that different, if at all, from marketing a non-fiction book?

I think marketing a novel is much harder. With Mousetrapped, I had a few calling cards I could use. The book featured Walt Disney World, NASA, living abroad, etc. so right from the start I could target people who liked those things. A novel presents an entirely different set of challenges, which I’m still trying to work out! I think the best thing to do is just let as many people know about it as possible – hence the blog tour – and then make sure you have a good cover (which I do, thanks to your talented cover designer husband), an enticing product description/blurb and a convincing price. After that, you’d just better hope luck comes around.

Top hint for a would-be self-published novelist?

Wait. That’s my number one tip. It took six months for Mousetrapped’s sales to go anywhere, and a full year for them to take off. I’ve sold nearly 9,000 copies but the first month I think I sold 60 or something, and most of them were to people I knew. You have to keep plugging away at your promotion, and have some patience. At the very least, wait a year.

And what’s next for you?

Taking some time off self-publishing to work on a novel that I hope a publisher will like. Wish me luck!


Buy Results Not Typical on or

Goodreads Giveaway:

If you visit you can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.

About Catherine:

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at

About Results Not Typical:

The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success…The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.



21st Century Dodos

If you are looking for something to read that is fun, well-researched and will have you shouting out at regular intervals “Oh my goodness, YES I remember that!” I can recommend nothing more highly than Steve Stack’s new book, 21st Century Dodos. I was lucky enough to read it recently and loved it so much I promptly followed @dodoflip (the twitter account which works VERY well with the iPad – more of which in the book – and gives extra shots of reminiscence) and joined in the conversation as well as telling all my friends about it.

But since I’m also lucky enough to be hosting Steve on his blog tour for the book, I’ll hand over to him!

Hi Steve!

Hello. The lovely Rebecca has invited me on to her blog today to tell you all about my new book, 21st Century Dodos. It is a collection of short, hopefully humorous, pieces about inanimate objects that we all grew up with that are now in danger of extinction. The perfect stocking filler for anyone over 30.

Want to know more? Well here is my son, Ethan, reading two entries from the book about Marathon bars and Opal Fruits.
21st Century Dodos: Marathons and Opal Fruits

Thanks so much, Steve! Now, what are you waiting for you? Off you go and buy it, from here!








Tweet Treats!

You know by now what a huge part of my life twitter is. In this post I can prove that it can really do some good, too!

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Jane Travers’ newly-launched book Tweet Treats today! If you don’t know about this (where have you been?), it’s a recipe book with two differences. The first is that all the recipes are tweet-length. Yes, a full recipe in 140 characters. Crikey. The second thing is that all the profits from Tweet Treats are being donated to Médécins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), so by buying it you’re contributing to a truly humanitarian cause.

Anyway, enough of me waffling on, you can get that anytime. I’ll turn over to Jane now…

You must have been asked this a hundred times, but what gave you the initial idea for Tweet Treats?

It was literally one of those lightbulb moments! On a miserable Thursday evening in April 2010 I was standing morosely in my kitchen staring blankly at a packet of chicken thighs. It was already 6.30pm, my daughter was chewing her fingernails and eyeing the smallest dog hungrily, and I was stumped. I hadn’t time to trawl through long-winded recipe books, so I tweeted:

“Any suggestions for what to do with a packet of chicken thighs? No rude ones please!”

Within a minute I’d received 5 perfect little recipes, each just one tweet long, and an idea was formed…

Why Medécins Sans Frontières?

Medécins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) are an incredible organisation, where medical professionals and volunteers give freely of their time and expertise to bring healthcare to those most in need. I really respect the fact that they are completely non-partisan, they don’t discriminate based on political affiliations, or religion, or social status – if you need help, they’ll give it.

I think to a large extent as well they are the unsung heroes of the charity world. They get on quietly with the business of what they do and don’t blow their own trumpet like some other charities. For that reason I wanted to do a bit of trumpet-blowing on their behalf. I was amazed, while working on Tweet Treats, to encounter large numbers of people who’d never heard of MSF before this. If I’ve helped to raise their profile  and tell people about the fantastic work they do, then I’m happy.

I know you had some enthusiastic helpers rallying their followers to send you recipes, especially celebs. What was your biggest squee moment; who made you go “I can’t believe I’ve got one from…”?

My helpers were incredible! Tweet Treats would have died a rapid and inglorious death if a certain group of people (of whom you yourself were one, Becca!) hadn’t stepped in and insisted on helping. When the self-styled Team Tweet Treats started rounding up celebrity after celebrity, I sat at my computer in shock!

However, my biggest squee! moment came from a celebrity I’d stalked (ahem – asked) myself, and that was Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself). He’s my personal idol and when he first replied to me on Twitter I screamed, gibbered, hyperventilated and had to be plied with strong liquor by my equally star-struck husband! We had a brief back-and-forth conversation, which I copied and have saved for all time like the sad fangirl nerd I am.

Did you have any favourite recipes?

Yes. The easy ones.

Actually, I do have a few. I haven’t tried every recipe in the book yet (with the best will in the world, I haven’t had the chance!) but there are a few that have become favourites already. @SanyaV gave a recipe for watermelon, feta and mint salad which I absolutely love and make all the time now; and @mduffywriter gave one for banana bread which is now a staple in our house. I also love golden syrup cookies from @Chiddle84, to name but a few.

And what was your most disgusting recipe? More importantly, did it make it into the book?!

I think you know the answer to that one, Becca (stern look). A certain Andrew Brown gave me a recipe for kippers with strawberry jam. I can barely type those words. And no, it bloody well didn’t make it into the book – MSF have enough to do without treating vast numbers of cases of kipper-related food poisoning! [I absolve myself of all responsibility. I only married him, I have no control over his eating habits – Becca]

The recipes you put in – how hard did you find it to come up with a recipe and fit it all (ingredients, method, everything) into 140 characters? Including the #TweetTreats hashtag!

Actually, that wasn’t too hard – or maybe I just got very used to it! Sometimes people would send a recipe spread over three or four tweets and claim they couldn’t get it any shorter. I would edit it down and send it back to them to approve, and they were always amazed at how concise one could be.

The hardest part was explaining what I was doing in 140 characters at a time, several times a day, every single day, to new people who’d just heard about the project. That was when it was invaluable to have a blog that I could link to where they could get a full description.

How about publication? Was that a struggle or a doddle? And how was it actually compared to how you expected it to be?

A doddle, in hindsight! Much easier than I expected, but I’ve since learned that it’s considerably easier to get a work of non-fiction published than a work of fiction. I was lucky to have Vanessa O’Loughlin of (a fantastic resource for writers, and not just in Ireland!) in my corner. She put the proposal on Michael O’Brien’s desk in O’Brien Press and he phoned me ten minutes later to say he wanted to publish it.

Working out the contract, layout of the book, format, etc took a few months longer, but I was stunned at how relatively easy it was.

As someone who is primarily a writer of fiction, it was a real eye-opener for me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been a really good way to get my foot in the door of the publishing industry. I now have a working relationship with a major publisher and I even got an agent out of it, too!

You’ve got a special guest foreword. HOW did you wrangle that one? 😉

I asked! No really, it was as simple as that. I’ve learned a lot from doing this project; that if you don’t ask, you won’t get, but that if you do ask, you might be surprised how willing people are to help.

First of all I approached Knorr and asked for sponsorship for the book (this was before I had a book deal, even!). They very graciously agreed. Later, I asked them about the possibility of a foreword from their spokesman, Marco Pierre White. They had no say over Marco beyond a certain amount of work he does for them annually, but they kindly gave me his contact details. I wrote a letter to his agent outlining the project, and after a few back-and-forth emails, Marco agreed to donate the foreword. I was over the moon!

What’s next for both Tweet Treats and yourself?

I’m working on a Young Adult paranormal romance at the moment – rather different from Tweet Treats! I’m hoping to finish that soon and get it out there. And I wouldn’t rule out the idea of doing another Twitter book at some point…

Ooh – another Twitter book, how fabulous! Thanks so much for coming on Jane, and I know my hordes of fans wish you and Tweet Treats every success! 

You can buy Tweet Treats here and visit Jane’s Tweet Treats blog here.


Adaptation Troubles

After my rants of recent posts, this one is a little more light-hearted, you will be pleased to hear. Or maybe you won’t. Anyway.

I’ve recently finished re-reading all of the Harry Potter books. I do love that series. I have to admit I resisted reading them until they’d been out a while (I think it was when The Prisoner of Azkaban was out that I read the first one) as I have a bit of an aversion to hype, and I’m generally more likely to avoid something that’s massively raved about. I know, I’m awkward. But when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I was hooked and have been ever since. The reasons WHY I like Harry Potter so much could fill another post (and probably will at some point) but I imagine they’re the same as most people.

THIS post is not about the books in themselves but more about adapting books for film. Or vice-versa. There’s four specific examples I’m going to talk about here – Harry Potter, A Little Princess, Disney, and The Polar Express. 

I quite happily watched all the Harry Potter films until The Order of the Phoenix. Granted, there were things I had seen differently (Sirius just wasn’t Gary Oldman in my head, I’m sorry, and the floo network didn’t quite work in my humble opinion), and The Goblet of Fire was rather different. But then The Goblet of Fire is an incredibly long and densely-packed story so obviously they had to change it to fit to the strict time limits of a film. After all, isn’t that what ‘adapting’ something for film is all about? That’s fine, I’ll allow that. But when it got to Order of the Phoenix, I have to admit I was very disappointed. It wasn’t just that they’d cut stuff. They didn’t rearrange what they’d left to make it work. It felt like it lacked cohesion and depth, which I emphatically argue the books do NOT. It just did not do the book justice, not by a long shot. And I’m not talking about effects and ‘magic’ here; that was there in bucketloads. The special effects were pretty good and it sorted out the problem I’d had with the floo network. My problem was it just didn’t have the emotional punch of the books, and that’s not because it was on film as there are countless films that have the same gut-pulling heart-socking effect as the Harry Potter books. Now, it’s ages since I’ve seen The Half-Blood Prince and I haven’t seen either of the Deathly Hallows yet so I’m hoping they’re back on form. A problem with little children and a lack of nearby grandparents is that you see films about a year after everybody has finished talking about them.

A particular bugbear of mine is A Little Princess. This has always been one of my favourite books and when I watched the film I wanted to cry. First of all, why change the setting, both place and time? What purpose did that solve? The book was perfect in Victorian London and the distinctions of class and money and the skydive of Sara’s social status made absolute sense. Don’t change things for the sake of it, PLEASE! And another thing – Sara’s father is dead. Not missing, dead. She is orphaned. It makes her strength stronger, her pathos more pathetic and her eventual rescue more wonderful. Children can cope with this. You do not need to keep her father alive to make it more suitable for children. Here, they’ve diluted the magic (magic does NOT equal special effects, I think I was quite firm about that with Harry Potter) and juggled things around for no reason. Pah.

The problems aren’t just one way though. Grolier produce storybooks of the Disney films which make me want to rip out my eyeballs and conk my head off a cement floor. I like Disney films. They may be diluted versions of gruesome fairytales and they may perpetuate stereotypes of girly-girly glittery princesses (again, a debate for another post…) but I like them. I like the songs, the magic, the stories, most of the characters. Beauty and the Beast is my favourite, The Lion King, The Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone follow behind with Cinderella taking up the rear. I also like reading books to my son and I love fairytales, so you’d think this would be a win-win situation. Unfortunately the books are dull, turgid and far far too long. They’re no good as picture books or reading aloud books, they take so long to read that you’ve fallen asleep before you’re half-way through. They’re no good as early readers as they’re so boring to read that the same thing happens. Basically, it’s taken the bare bones of the story and stripped away the magic.

I know I’ve talked about magic in all three examples so far. But it’s important; whether we’re talking about actual magic, conjuring like in Harry Potter’s world or Sara Crewe’s or simply the key ingredient that makes you sigh happily at the end of a Disney film, magic is the secret part of the puzzle that grips you when you read or watch a story and makes you want more. And that, surely, is why we turn books into films or films into books. So are there any examples where I think they’ve (the mysterious They!) got it right?

The Polar Express. We watch this every year with Daniel – the first year we didn’t realised it had been a book first; last year we did but it was just a little too advanced for him but this year he’s devouring books by the dozen and when he saw Polar Express in the library last week he just had to have it and we’ve read it together nearly every day. The film was enchanting. The animation was really good but also the characters were charming, even the annoying one (ask me if I still think that when it’s been on fifty times by Boxing Day), and the story was a nice balance of action and reflection. It’s a full-length film, so obviously they’ve had to stretch it out a bit from a picture book but it didn’t FEEL stretched. The book, when I read it, was a joy to read. It used lovely lyrical language and the main character was engaging. Comparing the film to the book you could understand why the extra characters and scenes had been introduced but the essence of the book was still in the film. That’s the difference, in my opinion, between this and the other examples above. The people responsible for the adaptation had lost the essence of the story . I understand that changes have to be made but it’s no good losing the soul of the story along the way. I guess that’s something I need to watch out for in my writing – the soul of the story. The thing that if it were lost would ruin the magic.

Anyone got any thoughts? Or any examples of book/film adaptations that have worked either spectacularly or spectacularly badly?