Hamster Babies

Day 34

Mate, I’m really emotional right now.

You might know that I have hamsters, a boy and a girl named Hemingway and Zelda. They’re sweet little things, and on the 22nd January, Zelda gave birth.

She’s got a little house in her cage and since hamsters like a small, dark place to hide, she gave birth in there. I’d known she was pregnant because she got all fat and whenever I put tissues into her cage, she did this:

I kept a close eye on her, removing the top floors of the cage so that the babies wouldn’t fall, cleaning it thoroughly, and adding lots of extra food and bedding. On the 22nd January, the day where Tokyo got all the snow, I heard little squeaky voices coming from her cage.

I’ve done some research on the internet and they say you mustn’t touch the hamster babies for at least two weeks. Every day, I eased into the room as quietly as possible to change the water and add food. Sometimes I couldn’t hear the little squeaks at all and felt alarmed; what if Zelda had killed her babies? Hamsters do that sometimes if they’re frightened.

It’s been two weeks, but it feels like much longer. Today is Saturday, which means that on Monday they I’ll be able to say hello to them and find out how many there are.

Today, as I was giving the little family food and I saw something amazing! One of the babies came out to explore!

But right after I finished taking this video, the little guy stopped moving.

He just lay there, on the ground, eyes closed. I felt like I was falling through the floor and down through the earth. Had I scared him? Had he been weak and crawled off from the others to die? Had he frozen to death without the warmth of his mother?

“No,” I moaned. Only a few days old and he’d already died!

Zelda was rummaging round in the room. I picked her up and put her near the baby. She sniffed at him for a second and then started eating the food I’d put into the cage. I looked at the little baby sadly. I felt horrible, but then…

The little baby moved again!

I couldn’t believe it. He must have played dead, or reacted to the bright light, or even fallen asleep. But suddenly he was as energetic as could be, crawling around the cage until he found their little house again. The pile of bedding was like a mountain for it, but he got inside and I’m sure right now he’s all cuddled up with his brothers and sisters again.

I’m not sure what happened, but I’m so glad he’s all right. I’ll have to start finding a home for these little ones soon, although it would be nice to keep hold of one or two of them!

There’s something quite magical about getting a glimpse of Zelda and Hemingway’s children, seeing their little pink feet and little twitching noses. Well done Zelda, well done babies, and I’ll see you in a few days to start getting to know each other!

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How to Find Beta Readers for Your Book

Day 33

I’ve been asked by a few people how I got beta readers for A Bard’s Lament. I’m not going to lie; it has been a lot more successful than the previous two times I asked (for different books). Quite a few people volunteered, and to my delight, all of them got back to me with great feedback way before the deadline.

Hopefully, my experience will prove useful for other writers who are trying to find beta readers. Here are some Dos and Don’ts I’ve learned.

1. Prepare a Great Pitch

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A pitch is similar to a blurb; it is several sentences that make a person want to read your book. The pitch tells the person a little about your story and makes them want to know more. If someone is genuinely into the story they will be a lot more likely to read it.

2. Build Relationships Before You Need Them

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Social media is powerful. Facebook groups and Twitter, from experience, have proven to be strongest in connecting with readers and other writers. Engage, chat, get to know them and, importantly, genres they like.

This isn’t to say you should go and introduce yourself to dozens of people you aren’t interested in before you “use” them to do you a favour. Connecting with people potentially interested in your work just makes sense, especially if you’re planning on marketing your book yourself.

3. Ask for Volunteers

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Use Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other tools at your disposal to advertise for volunteers. Put your pitch and make it clear exactly what you’re looking for: to give a free book to people who are willing to give honest and constructive feedback.

Only a tiny percentage of people who I thought would volunteer actually volunteered, so don’t get disheartened if people don’t respond.

4. Approach People Who Might Like Your Genre

Very few people are going to make the effort to read your book simply because you wrote it. There’s no use approaching your romance-loving neighbour to read a paranormal horror, or the writer you know from Facebook who specialises in fantasy to read your mystery thriller.

Groups are useful because people who read or write the same genre tend to stick together.

5. Don’t Ask Directly

If you directly message someone and say “HEY! Want to beta read my book?” The person, depending on their personality, will either say yes because they want to, say no, or worst, say yes because they feel they should. An awful lot of time is wasted when you send them your manuscript, they mysteriously disappear or become extremely busy, and you sit there waiting for feedback that will never come.

Instead, say “I’m looking for beta readers for my new book, [Title]. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” If they ask for more information, give them your pitch. Even if they aren’t interested themselves, they might know some readers who might be. This way, you are not upsetting anyone by being pushy.

6. Make it Clear What You Want

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Some readers may be interested in your story, but still say no because they’re worried that they aren’t qualified.

Make a list of questions that you’d like them to try and answer. Nothing technical – that’s the editor’s job. Here are some example questions you can use for your beta readers.

  • Does the story open well? Did it make you want to read further?
  • Does the plot make sense?
  • Is there anything that is unclear?
  • Are the characters interesting? Do you care about them and their decisions?
  • Are there any questions you feel still need answering?
  • Was the ending satisfactory?

Questions like these make it a lot easier for your beta reader and avoids them just telling you things like “Yeah, I liked it,” which may be nice to hear but won’t help you at all.

7. Give Them Enough Time

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After you’ve sent your manuscript to beta readers, give them a reasonable deadline, preferably a couple of weeks depending on the length of the story. I gave two weeks for my 13,000 word story but if you’ve written a lengthy novel, it might be better to give them longer.

If you have a deadline, make it clear to the readers from the beginning so they won’t suddenly tell you they can’t do it anymore. People are busy and remember that they are doing you a favour.

8. Be Patient

It can be easy to start chewing your nails and spam the “inbox” button in your email while you wait for responses. However, it will be quite rare for people to get started right away. Give them a week, or maybe give them several, and most importantly, don’t nag them. There’s nothing more of a turn off than someone pestering you saying “have you finished it yet?”

Making what you want clear and making your book sound interesting and engaging will greatly increase your chances of getting people volunteering to read it! Beta readers are an essential part of self-publishing as they can spot errors before publication and before you fork out for an editor. What kind of book are you working on right now?

Spoiler-Free Review: “Eyes of the Hunter” by Rosa Marchisella

Day 32

‘Sup, everyone! Hope you’re staying warm.

I recently read a book called Eyes of the Hunter, a new fantasy novel by Rosa Marchisella.

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“Prince Erin, heir to the throne of Simanthea, spent a lifetime protecting a dangerous secret no one can know. Not even Caley, Erin’s best friend and devoted bodyguard. 

But even the most tightly guarded secret can’t be kept forever. 

When Caley discovers the depth of Erin’s deception, his rage explodes like wildfire and devoted guardian turns to terrifying bounty hunter. To survive, Erin must outrun the past and evade the Eyes of the Hunter.”

As a lover of fantasy, I gobbled this one up.

After birthing six daughters, Queen Marianna is terrified that if she fails to produce a male heir to the throne of Simanthea, her life will be forfeit. The kingdom rejoices when the birth of a baby boy is announced, and the queen insists that only she care for the baby, whom she names Erin.

She hires a boy, Caley, to protect her son with his life. I truly loved this beginning to the book. I sympathised with the queen, a kind soul who had been basically used by the king “as a breeding mare” for his desire to have a son. Caley was also introduced well, being a shy and quiet boy but delivering when it mattered most. He won the right to become Erin’s guardian.

As a child, Caley was blamed for something he didn’t do and we get a taste of the king’s merciless heart and lack of empathy. When the secret comes out and Erin is forced to run, the atmosphere of the story goes from quiet contentment (if tense) to full-blown excitement and fear.

Caley goes from solid protector to hunter. We see Erin survive, a feat which would not be easy for a pampered member of royalty. However, with Caley’s teachings, Erin can find ways to get through some tough times, which is a little ironic for Caley since he’s now chasing the person he taught.

Rumours fly like wildfire through the land about the hunter, some far-fetched and some not far from the truth, keeping us on our toes as to what Erin will do to shake Caley off, because he always seems closer.

I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and Marchisella creates vivid descriptions. I know when I’ve read a good story because my mind wanders to think about the characters at times when I’m not reading, and as this happened a lot, I know the writer did extremely well in creating a world into which I could invest my time and heart.

There were some things that I wasn’t sure about; for example, some skills and knowledge that Erin had were not mentioned before so they could have been foreshadowed. I also felt that another character got the raw end of the deal towards the end of the story but, as we know, life is unfair, and that is possibly what Marchisella was trying to convey.

I recommend Eyes of the Hunter for lovers of fantasy, especially fantasy with rich worlds. I found myself wanting to know more about the kingdoms, what lies beyond the oceans. I’m hoping for a sequel to this engaging tale! Overall, I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

Get Eyes of the Hunter on Amazon US
Get Eyes of the Hunter on Amazon UK

Wholesome Memes For My Friend Rowan

Day 31

Hey everyone! My friend Rowan has been feeling really down lately.

I first met Rowan when we both worked for an English school in Tokyo. I was in training, and was about to watch another teacher so I could learn how things were done. Before entering the classroom, I heard the Irish voice of another teacher kindly saying “You’re doing really, really well and I’m so proud of you! Keep trying!”

Wow, I thought. What a sweetheart.

I met the smiling teacher just a few minutes later. He was dark-haired and all smiles, and greeted me with such enthusiasm that soon I was grinning back. He told me he could speak five languages and asked me to have a great day. He’s back in Ireland now, and I miss him a lot.

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Rowan is one of those people who is just nice. To everybody. All the time. He always shows great interest in what other people are doing. I’m proud to call him a friend. I’ve collected some of these wholesome memes to put a smile on everyone’s faces.

Keep going, buddy. Your friends and family love you and you are a precious gem on this earth.

Keep scrolling for wholesome!

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Get well soon ❤

10 Steps to Take to Pick Yourself Up When You’re Feeling Depressed

Day 30

Whether it’s long-term clinical depression or a perpetual bad mood triggered by a traumatic or upsetting event, depression affects thousands of people every year and should be taken seriously. Failure to acknowledge, address, and tend to this issue can lead to physical problems and thoughts of suicide.

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I’m not going to tell you to snap out of it, tell you that everyone feels this way sometimes, or worst of all, urge you to think of your loved ones. I don’t know how you feel; only YOU know that. However, I’d like to suggest some steps you can take to hopefully make yourself feel better. Let’s try it.

1. WANT to Get Better

This may sound bizarre to people who have never suffered from depression, but it can be something of an odd comfort to feel so down all the time. It’s twisted, but it feels like it would be easier to stay in perpetual darkness than to turn on the light. This is probably the hardest step of all.

You need to be 100% determined to make yourself feel better, not by force but with healthy steps. Ready to kick depression’s ass? Great! Move on to step two.

2. Address the Problem

Some people suffer from depression throughout their lives, and it isn’t triggered by any unusual event or person. If this is you, move on to step three.

However, for some people, depression comes along in the wake of something bad that happened to them. No matter how trivial you tell yourself the problem is, it can easily make one feel rough. If that sounds like you, you need to think carefully about what the problem might be and how to address it. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.

Book the therapist appointment. Talk to the person. Find a solution to your problem. It’s hard, but you’ll come out of it so much better.

3. Get a Shower and Get Dressed

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In depressive episodes, some people have trouble going outside or even getting out of bed. If you’re reading this from your couch or bed and you haven’t done anything else today, get a shower.

Then get dressed. You don’t have to wear anything fancy or wear makeup unless you want to – just wear something comfortable and clean. Wash your hair and brush your teeth. This is step three; don’t skip it.

4. Clean Your Room

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With zero motivation and that dull ache in your chest, cleaning anything at all might seem impossible right now. However, if cleaning your room or your house is too difficult, take these small steps.

  • Make your bed.
  • Put your dirty clothes in the washing machine.

Already, you’ve made huge steps. If this is all you can manage now, that’s completely fine.

  • Turn on the washing machine.
  • Pick up stuff from the floor.
  • Take out the trash.

Fantastic work! Already, the house/apartment is starting to look and smell better. Bonus points if you can:

  • Vacuum your room.
  • Hang up/dry the clothes after they’ve been washed.
  • Wash the dishes.
  • Organise your books, games, and DVDs.
  • Clean your desk.
  • Change your bed sheets.

If you can manage to clean your living space, it can equal a clearer mind and a better mood. Now you are clean and so is your home. This isn’t a depression cure, but it certainly helps.

5. Cry

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Crying can let out a lot of anguish and emotional pain… for some people. If crying isn’t something you want to make yourself do, feel free to skip this step.

However, if you’re the kind of person who feels better after a good cry, put on a movie that you know will have you reaching for the tissues (Titanic, The Notebook, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, Ghost, and Schindler’s List are all good choices) or listen to some “emo” music and let the tears flow. You may feel surprisingly light afterward.

6. Make a Plan for Self-Improvement

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Depression strangles you and stops you from finding the fun in anything. Your motivation takes a kick and you find yourself thinking that you’ll never find joy ever again.

If you can, try to remember when you were a kid and what hopes you had for the future. For example, you may have always wanted to be an actor or travel the world. Make a plan, including all the steps you have to take the achieve your goal, even if it’s a really big one. This can be anything: write a song, learn to play an instrument, start learning a new language, travel to another continent, etc.

You don’t necessarily have to carry out the plan, but making one can make you feel optimistic, excited, and give you a glimmer of hope for the future. Don’t worry about the plan being too abstract or difficult; it’s making the plan that can make you feel good.

7. Do Something Nice for Someone Else

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A lot of negative thoughts that come with depression include self-hatred, a low opinion of oneself, and the belief that the world would be better without you in it. Words won’t change this, but actions can.

Think of someone who needs help. Do something for them, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to them. Listen to their problem. Tell them they look nice (as long as you mean it). Watch their YouTube video and leave a comment. Read their book and leave a review. Take care of their baby for the afternoon while they take a break.

Doing something nice for another person can really boost your self-worth, and even if it does nothing at all to make you feel better, at least you’ve made someone else’s day.

8. Call or Text a Family Member

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Got an aunt, cousin, or grandma who you haven’t spoken to in a while? Pick up your phone and contact them. If you’re not up to a phone call, a WhatsApp message will suffice. They will be glad to hear from you and you’ll be able to get your mind off things while you catch up.

You could also do this with an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Check your Facebook, Instagram, or any other account and see if there are people you haven’t hit up in a while. They will appreciate it and you’ll be strengthening relationships, too.

9. Talk to Someone

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If you’ve done all these things and you still feel rotten, try talking to someone close to you about how you’ve been feeling. Be sure to choose someone who you know has empathy and who will give you their full attention. Offloading can help a lot, and sometimes by saying your problems aloud, you can even figure out your own solution.

10. Make Use of Online and Anonymous Help

Still feel terrible? First of all, I’m really sorry nothing on this list helped. It’s tough when you’re feeling really down and nothing seems to work. Here are a few resources you can make use of if you need someone to talk to anonymously.

  • 7 Cups of Tea, an anonymous online chat site with volunteer helpers and paid therapists
  • A suicide hotline (all countries) for if you’re in immediate danger
  • Samaritans. It’s British but you can email them from anywhere.
  • ElderWisdom to talk and get advice from seniors

Hopefully you can start to feel better as quickly as possible, because there are a lot of good things in this dark world. If you’re feeling down, please leave a comment or tweet to me and I’ll try and help you further. I’m not a professional, but I’m a human who is always willing to lend an ear! Good luck. 🙂

Pretty Yokohama

Day 29

Yesterday I met some people from university who I hadn’t seen for years. We went to Yokohama, the second biggest city in Japan and a short train ride away from Tokyo. Yokohama is relatively quiet, spacious for a Japanese city, and has an awesome Chinatown selling goods and food from (where else?) China. It also has a pretty big presence when Chinese New Year comes round in February.

The port is also really pretty and, like that day, we could see some ships getting ready to port. It’s much nicer on a sunny day but still made for a pretty impressive view.

We had lunch in Chinatown and then tucked into some coffee and pie at a cafe. It was a lot of sugar and calories but hey, it was a special day. We passed the small theme park, including the large Ferris wheel. It’s something which I always look at and think “that’s pretty,” while refusing to get on.

Pretty sunset

We did purikura, a photo booth where, as you can see, you can edit your photos after taking them. At just 100 yen each (400 yen per session), it wasn’t an expensive venture. LEP refers to the group we were in at university, and since it was 2012 since we all first met, we called that day the LEP Reunion.

Yokohama has a completely different vibe to Tokyo. In Yokohama, I always feel more relaxed with that “weekend feeling.” Still, I’ve never worked in Yokohama which is probably why. Still, everyone who has been to both cities would probably agree that Tokyo is the more hectic, if equally charming, of the two.

Oh, yeah. I also broke my shoe.

If you visit Tokyo, be sure to take a day trip to Yokohama, it’s a really cool place 🙂

Playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Again

Day 28

Guyyyyyyys. It finally arrived.

Hnng.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a fantastic game and one that was played for thousands, probably millions of hours worldwide in the late 00s. As a lover of fantasy roleplaying games, I did my fair share of exploring, Oblivion gate closing, questing, and guilding. My younger brother, Calum, fell in love with the game and that was the first of many he ended up playing.

Upon finishing Skyrim and Dragon Age and listening to the Oblivion soundtrack I knew I needed to play it again. I never knew until recently (which might have saved me a lot of trouble) that the Japanese and the American PlayStations are the same; as in, you can play an American game on a Japanese console and vice-versa. I found Oblivion for a fairly reasonable price on Amazon, waited several weeks for it to arrive, and was suddenly jumping on the spot.

Would it be just as magical as when I first played it? Video game graphics have come along way since 2006. But as the music played, I was a happy teenager again, ready to dive into Tamriel and close shut the jaws of Oblivion.

Sometimes when you play a game for the nostalgia, it ends up being a bit disappointing. Last year, when I still had my Wii U, I downloaded Pokemon Snap which, to my delight, was available on the virtual console.

I finished it in about two hours thinking was that it? As a kid I spent weeks exploring the levels, taking photographs, collecting items and wondering where I needed to go to unlock new stages and new Pokemon. I’m not saying that it isn’t a good game; I just didn’t get the joy out of it that I did as a child because now I already know where all the secrets and items are.

Oblivion, however, is still as perfect and awesome and insane as it was twelve years ago, and I’m ready to waste time I could be spending reading, writing, or having a social life completing quests and helping Martin Septim realise his destiny as king. For the Emperor!

A Bard’s Lament Cover Reveal!! Take a Look!

Day 27

Hi, everyone!

I just went to see Kingsmen 2: The Golden Circle (yeah I know it came out last year, but everything comes to cinemas months later in Japan). It’s awesome! If you enjoyed the first one, definitely watch the second if you haven’t already.

I finally found a cover for A Bard’s Lament! As some of you might know, I had a vote on three pre-made covers I found, but after someone honestly said they didn’t like any of them, I realised something important: neither did I.

I got approached by two very talented designers who made me a cover each. Both of them were great, but I ended up choosing the following:

What do you think? 😀

I’m personally very happy with it; it’s exactly what I had in mind and Maria Spada did an excellent job of bringing the concept I had to life. The other designer, Sanja Balan, also did a great job and I’m using the picture she used as promotional material.

If you’re an indie writer and you like the above design, definitely consider utilizing the skilled and very affordable Maria or Sanja, who were both extremely attentive, speedy, and helpful!

The release date for A Bard’s Lament is coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled! The blurb is below.

Ella and her sister, Lucinda, are doing what they can to survive in the wealthy village of Veilig. Though it is respected for its flourishing blackstone trade, Veilig has a dark secret that the nobles and guards protect, a secret known as “the Rathole” where captured Elf girls are imprisoned in a nightmare of drugs and prostitution. With debt hanging over her head and the captain of the guard keeping an ever-watchful eye over the village, what can Ella do to help? After all, she is only a bard…

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of the cover. See you tomorrow, and have a fantastic weekend!

Reading “The Illustrated Mum” as a Child VS. Reading it as an Adult

Day 26

What was your favourite book when you were a child? I remember being about six or seven and getting a box set of Jacqueline Wilson books from my auntie. I read all of them many, many times and ended up getting even more of Wilson’s works. I was a big fan of hers; I still am.

With the Kindle and Kindle app, it’s great hunting down old books you loved and getting them on your e-reader within seconds. I’ve just finished The Illustrated Mum again, but the reading experience was pretty different from when I was eight.

If you’ve never read this book, it’s about a ten-year-old girl called Dolphin who lives with her older sister, Star, and their mother manic-depressive mother, Marigold.

Reading it as a kid, I saw the world from a child’s perspective and completely understood that Dolphin was confused and upset that Star was showing less and less interest in Marigold as she got older, angry at Star for leaving her mother and sister behind, and terrified alongside Dolphin when Marigold had rough spells of drinking or crazy shopping. Dolphin did her best to not let anyone, even her friend Oliver, see just how bad Marigold could get when she was in a state.

As an adult, I felt so much pity for the poor little girl we read about, her youth and unconditional admiration and love for her mother clouding the fact that she was much better off without her. I wanted to take care of Dolphin, to feed her and wash her properly and give her a warm and safe home. Reading as a kid and reading as an adult were two entirely different experiences.

Jacqueline Wilson has a remarkable gift for writing from the perspective of a child who really doesn’t know better. What does a ten-year-old know about bipolar disorder? Or about hospitals? She feels so bad for calling the ambulance when Marigold finally goes over the edge, yet we all know as readers that she did the right thing.

There are a few more really depressing (but awesome) Wilson books that I now can’t wait to read again. No doubt the experience will transform from an adult’s eyes, too.

A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

Day 25 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

What’s your favourite childhood memory? A lot of the time, experiences from younger, more innocent times seem not only far away, but sort of magical because you know you’ll never get them back or feel that way again. One great memory I have is when my mum, her best friend Clarky, and my brother all got into the car one day. When we asked where we were going, they said it was a surprise.

This happened more often than you’d think. One time, we drove all the way down to Windsor to go to Legoland. Other times we’d go to bed on a normal night and wake up in the car park overlooking the pebbly shores of Portree for a surprise holiday on the Isle of Skye.

So when my brother and I got into the car at seven and nine years old, respectively (if I’m correct in thinking that this was 2002), we were pretty excited, making wild guesses all the way to York. I hadn’t been there before, but of course it would go on to be the city in which I went to university.

We arrived at York Station, and I remember thinking, even as a little kid, “why are we going to the train station when we just arrived by car?”

Our view was something like this:

Except there were a lot more people. Some, to mine and my brother’s bewilderment, were dressed as Harry Potter characters.

Then it happened. The scarlet steam train pulled up, so long I couldn’t see the end, and stopped before us. The exact train that takes Harry Potter to Hogwarts every year. The Wizard’s Express.

“Surprise!”

We went insane.

In short, the Wizard’s Express took us to Scarborough. We sat in a compartment, did a special Harry Potter quiz (I think only up to book four at that point), and bought a mass of Potter themed sweets, such as chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Acid Pops, and a ton more inside a little cauldron.

It was the best. Now when I look back at all the effort my mum and Clarky put into it – back then, we didn’t have a computer, so it’s likely they looked it up in a magazine or newspaper – spent their hard earned money on tickets, packed everything we needed and then took us there, it makes me so warm and happy inside.

It isn’t possible to do a trip like this now, which I think is for several reasons:

  • In 2002, Harry Potter was popular, but not the billion-dollar industry it is now.
  • Tickets for a trip like that would probably be hundreds of pounds and have years of waiting lists.
  • Another reason, as some of you might know, is that the actual Wizard’s Express currently only has two carriages and is at the National Railway Museum.

Even back then I was writing books, and I briefly had a story in progress that involved a school trip where the kids travel around the world on the Hogwarts Express, a sort of mixture between The Magic School Bus and a Jacqueline Wilson book.

That trip is still a hugely fond memory. No one else I knew had done it, and I never saw it advertised again after that. After The Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out in 2004, Harry Potter gained a massive following, so it wasn’t really special and personal anymore. That’s OK though, because as far as I’m concerned, only me, my brother, Mum, and Clarky, as well as a few other people who were there that day, have ever taken that magical journey from York to Scarborough and back on the Hogwarts Express.