Sunday, 1 November 2015

How to carve the perfect pumpkin, Disney-style!

Happy Halloween everyone! As you probably know, Halloween is one of my favourite times of year. Although I grew up in Australia, I spent some of my formative years in the USA, which is why I believe Halloween is a justified celebration. In the States, we’d visit a pumpkin farm and pick the perfect pumpkin, just like hunting for the perfect Christmas tree.

Halloween is slowly becoming a recognized holiday in Australia and this year Coles, Woolworths and Aldi all sold carving pumpkins. I couldn’t contain my excitement and bought a pumpkin two weeks before Halloween. Inspired by a visit to Disneyland, where designers carved into the pumpkin’s skin without breaking through to the middle, I decided to put my rusty carving skills to the test.

While I was happy with the results, this method wasn’t as easy as I’d thought! So yesterday I attempted my second jack-o'-lantern, armed with the knowledge from my first effort. I thought I’d document my process as many people asked how I made the first Disney castle jack-o'-lantern. So read on for tips! :)

Step one:

Find/create a stencil. I wanted to create Beauty and the Beast’s enchanted rose as it’s one of my favourite Disney films and the glass cloche would make for a perfect silhouette for the rose. Unfortunately, there weren’t any free stencils online so I had to make my own. I designed the below stencil in Photoshop from an image in the film:

Step two:

Cut out the stencil and stick it onto the pumpkin with hobby glue. Some sites recommend drawing the stencil on the pumpkin’s skin with a whiteboard pen, this seemed like it could wipe off too easily. Hobby glue sticks well to the skin without sticking too well.

Step three:

Time to cut off the top of the pumpkin! For this, I used my biggest knife, making sure to cut away from my hand. Note: make sure you cut on an angle so the top doesn’t fall back through.


Step four:

The messiest part! Scoop out all the gunk from the inside. I mostly used my hands and a small ladle. This takes time and feels completely gross but it’s quite fun. If you have kids, this is the part they’d enjoy! 

Step five:

Now onto the carving! Cut a section along the stencil with your smallest and sharpest knife. Create a small rectangle, making sure not to cut straight through the pumpkin skin—only around 3mm into the flesh. Next slide the knife under the skin. It will easily lift away, leaving some of the flesh underneath: 

Step six:

Continue cutting and lifting small sections around the stencil. Don’t worry if it’s not all the same depth—as some will lift easier and deeper than other sections.

Step seven:

When you’re finished cutting around the stencil, use a sculpting tool to scrape at the exposed inner flesh to smooth it out .

Step eight:

Remove the stencil and make any final changes and additions. I added the outline of petals so the rose didn’t look like a large blob!

Step nine:

Pop in a candle. And voila! Your jack-o'-lantern is ready for prime position in your home.

Did you make a jack-o'-lantern this year? What did you carve? I'd love to see pictures!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

I'm still here... Are you?

Hello! It’s been so long. Is anyone still out there? Well, this could get awkward… Me talking to myself…

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I have a good reason. I’ve been spending every moment I can on my next book. It’s a YA fantasy (again, although epic fantasy this time) and it’s been all consuming. But the good news is I’ve finished! Huzzah!

I started my new novel during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) as a side project, something to work on while I was querying agents with my other manuscript. Then something happened. I couldn’t get the story, characters or world out of my head. So I dove in headfirst, dedicating my spare time to getting the story right, pummeling the pages (and keyboard) until those words were something worth reading, enjoying, loving.

I then spent six months workshopping and rewriting and editing and (mostly) banging my head against the wall. But now it’s ready. Ready to be sent out into the world! Well, the world of agents, that is. :)

And it’s a scary moment, but thrilling. It’s the time when I obsess over whether it’s good enough. Whether the story will sink or swim. Whether the last year of writing will be worth it. I think it is, but only time (and agents) will tell.

So wish me luck friends! Back into the querying trenches I go!

So many pages!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Pages: 432
Published: 01-05-2015 by Bloomsbury Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher):

Feyre's survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price ...

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre's presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
The start of a sensational romantic fantasy trilogy by the bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series. - See more at:


A Court of Thorns and Roses is a majestic tale of passionate romance, dark magic, brutal sacrifice, mysterious creatures and cursed kingdoms. Based on Beauty and the Beast, it is a strong start to a new trilogy by talented author Sarah J. Maas. It’s a tale that will capture you in its web, and refuse to let go—even beyond the final page.

The novel begins with Feyre diligently providing for her family, which is often a thankless task, but she is the only one who capable of protecting them. In A Court of Thorns of Roses, a wall separates the mortal lands from Prythian, the faerie lands, and humans know better than to venture north or interfere with the dangerous and powerful faeries. 

It’s not long before Feyre shatters the treaty between the lands by mistakenly killing a faerie in wolf form. Her punishment is to live above the wall in a High Fae’s estate, never to see her home or family again. Here she meets her “beast”, Tamlin—a faerie with a jeweled mask permanently attached to his face, a short temper, and who hides a cursed past.

Like Celaena Sardothien from Maas’s Throne of Glass series, Feyre is tough and often abrasive, but still empathetic. Although, I wished there had been a deeper connection to her family, as this would have made her punishment more poignant. The faerie characters of Tamlin, and particularly Lucien, were a delight. They were, at times, both animalistic and chivalrous, and their bejeweled masks added to the level of mystery and magic in the novel.

As I read on, Tamlin and Feyre became more than just characters on a page but people with real thoughts and feelings, and I feared for their future in a world that seemed to conspire against them. It is a rare book that manages to live and breathe between the pages, and A Court of Thorns and Roses was that kind of book for me, a testament to the strength of Maas’s writing.

Towards the end of the novel, the plot turns bleak and frequently bloody and brutal, yet it was all the more exciting for it. Sarah J. Maas’s imagination seems to know no bounds; her faerie world is equal parts beautiful and disturbing and I found myself wishing my time within this world would not end.

My one caution with this book would be that it is being shelved with other YA titles, where I believe it reads much more NA (New Adult). A Court of Thorns and Roses should be read by those looking for something a little darker, and steamier, than most YA novels.

Sarah J. Maas can do no wrong in my eyes. She has proven time and time again that she is a master of fantasy: building sumptuous worlds to be lost in, complex characters and unexpected plot twists and turns. I loved my journey into the world of Prythian, and cannot wait to return.

I give A Court of Thorns and Roses 5/5 stars.

*Many thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the advanced readers copy.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Pages: 270
Published date: January 2015 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher):

From the bestselling author of If I Stay - this summer's YA blockbuster film.
This characteristically powerful novel follows eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend's shocking suicide.

As Cody numbly searches for answers as to why Meg took her own life, she begins a journey of self-discovery which takes her to a terrifying precipice, and forces her to question not only her relationship with the Meg she thought she knew, but her own understanding of life, love, death and forgiveness.

A phenomenally moving story, I Was Here explores the sadly all-too-familiar issue of suicide and self-harm, addressing it in an authentic way with sensitivity and honesty 


I’ve heard only good things about Gayle Forman’s books, specifically for If I Stay, which has been on my TBR list for a few years. It’s one of those books people tend to gush about and even the I Was Here proof copy included If I Stay praise such as: “intensely moving” and “Forman knows how to write emotion”. So I dove into I Was Here—with its very similar sounding name—expecting comparable results. Unfortunately, I was not as enraptured by the tale as I'd hoped to be.

Starting I Was Here after Meg’s suicide means we’re only told of Meg and Cody’s friendship through dialogue and flashbacks. And while we only get a glimpse of Meg, I felt invested in her story, wanting to know more about the girl that had decided to take her own life. I Was Here takes a rather dark turn about a third of the way through and I felt more engaged with the mystery surrounding Meg’s suicide than Cody’s journey through her grief. Why had Meg chosen to take her life? And why had she kept her best friend in the dark about her depression?

Forman has a very distinct style, almost impassive and detached, in I Was Here. This cleverly mimics Cody’s numb response to her best friend’s suicide. It’s clear to the reader that this is just Cody’s coping mechanism, and not related to her close connection to her best friend. We know that Cody is going to eventually break, and when she does, she’ll shatter. Unfortunately though, this distance from her emotions for most of the novel, makes Cody difficult to relate to.

Where Meg leaps off the page, Cody feels too removed from the reader. I understand Forman’s intention by writing Cody this way, as this is the way she was dealing with her grief, however I felt like I needed more of her feelings, to feel immersed in the story. I wanted to cry with Cody. I wanted to get angry with her. Unfortunately, I did neither.

I found I Was Here a difficult book to read. It’s somber and sad and only a little bit uplifting towards the end. There is an element of romance in the book, however it felt unnecessary to the plot and was therefore not as meaningful as it could have been.

Yet there are many important messages in the book, which shouldn’t be overlooked. To me, the most important message is to not treat depression like an ugly secret, something to be hidden from friends and family. Instead, depression should be dealt with openly—and without judgment. I really admire Forman for tackling mental health issues in this way and she navigates the tricky subject matter with care, without shying away from the darker content.

While I Was Here was not the book for me, I would recommend it to those who don’t mind a more quiet, somber tale where the happily ever after is tainted by the often harsh realities of the world.

*Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for the advanced proof.