A children’s Harry Potter birthday party

My son just turned nine (wut) and had requested a Harry Potter party. Our house is very small with no discernable yard — and it’s winter here — so we decided on a “movie” pyjama party, based on my misguided theory that kids in their PJs would be less likely to run around shouting.

Needless to say, very little movie-watching took place. But fun was had regardless. I thought since it was a book-related party I’d share my experience here, in case it is of benefit to others.

(Note: Check the run time of the movie before you start. I forgot quite how long Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone actually runs — we didn’t quite make it through the movie before the other parents came to collect their kids. It wasn’t a big deal, though, given how little time was spent in front of the TV.)

The Food

Our budget didn’t stretch to actual Harry Potter brand food, especially since I’d have had to order it in from the UK, so I made do. We bought lolly snakes, chocolate frogs and other snacks, but then I gave them a Harry Potter theme by labelling each bowl with Honeydukes-inspired labels. (This also meant I could flag the contents of each for those kids with dietary requirements.)

For example, the snakes became “Basilisk Bites” and our Jelly Belly jellybeans were “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”. My son and I got around the fact they weren’t every flavour by faking it, which the other adults got in on. “Oh, gross, I just got a soap-flavoured one!”

The “Cake”

My son doesn’t like icing (I know, right?) so we decided to do homemade muffins in house-coloured cupcake wrappers instead. I googled “butterscotch muffins”, thinking I’d claim they were butterbeer, and ended up using this recipe from taste.com.au. I found it was a little dry, so added a little extra buttermilk, and because we didn’t use the caramel sauce due to my fear of sticky pre-teens, I added a splash of maple syrup as well. I’m not a baker, generally, so I was pleased at how nicely they turned out.

The one Potter-ish food thing I did order was the cupcake toppers, which were super-easy to apply. I did have to add a very thin layer of icing sugar (with a splash of boiling water to make a paste), just to get the toppers to stick, but I got away with it. ūüėČ

Wizarding Accessories

Wands

Far and away the most time-consuming (but satisfying) part of the party prep was making the wands. My talented friend Craig and I spent hours on these, though the materials themselves were quite cheap: a packet of wooden chopsticks, a glue gun and a packet of beads. Craig already owned the paint, which would’ve been a huge extra expense if I’d had to get it myself.

Each kid got to chose a wand — there were six children and twelve wands, so I get the spares! — and I’d done up a card for each one with a core and wood based on this page, so they all had unique “powers”. The kids spent the vast majority of the party dividing into tribes and flinging curses at each other. It was a little Lord of the Flies, not gonna lie, but they had fun.

Photos, detail work and amazing talent by Craig. Dribbly “organic” wands by me.

Wizard Hats

I painted the party hats black and then used my glue gun to stick stars all over them. Quick and easy!

Party hat graciously modelled by Professor McGonagall

The Games

Sorting Hat

All the kids who came knew their Hogwarts houses in advance (because we’re those sorts of people), but I’d downloaded and printed a couple of origami “sorting hats” from this site, which got quite a bit of use.

Pass the Parseltongue

This was regular pass the parcel, but with toy snakes, lizards and frogs in each layer.

Stick the Sock on the Dobby

I drew Dobby onto a sheet of A3 cardboard and then made socks for the kids to stick on him with sticky tac. I had prizes for those that got their sock into his hand and for the funniest placement (which ended up being an earring).

Musical Statues

As well as pausing the music, I used my wand to cast the charm “immobulus” (the freezing charm). It was a bit of a juggle managing both, so I had to get the other parents to judge who was out each round.

Other Games

I had organised a few other party games that we didn’t get to because the kids wanted to get back to flinging curses.

  • A “Celebrity Head” style game — I had a plain black party hat and some stickers that I was going to write Potter character names on so each child could have a turn at guessing who they were.
  • Memorise the spell — Starting with a “base spell” word, each kid has to repeat what has been said previously and then add a new word to the spell, going around in a circle, so that you end up with a string of gibberish.
  • Transfiguration class — I found a packet of animal noses and was going to get each child to cast a spell on themselves to “transform” and draw a nose from a bag.

The Prizes

Again, I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, so I went for theme rather than brand. As well as the parseltongue lizards etc, I found a cheap pack of dragons at the local two dollar shop. I stuck some googley eyes on pompoms and called them pygmy puffs. I bought a grey Ikea rat to be Scabbers, and a little while owl to be Hedwig.

I had more prizes than we actually needed, so I divided up what was left into the party bags at the end. (Except for Scabbers. He lives with me now.)

Conclusion

All in all, everyone had fun — including me, as the whole thing appealed to my inner Ravenclaw. My boy has already told me he wants a Doctor Who party next year, which I think will be trickier.

For now, I’ll be over here, collapsed in a pile of wizarding robes and left-over lollies.

Advertisements

My 2017 in review

This is the first time I’ve sat down to write one of these year in review posts where I’ve felt like my successes have been qualified. Where I haven’t felt as proud of myself as in previous years.

On writing

The Lucid Dreaming duology, as endorsed by (my) Lara Croft (PopVinyl)

I finished writing, edited and self-published False Awakening, the second book in the Lucid Dreaming duology. But, since then, I haven’t managed to start my next novel, and my promo efforts have been lackluster at best.

I have done other things; I wrote and submitted a short story for an anthology (which I’m still waiting to hear back about), and this month I’ve been working on a novella I originally wrote more than ten years ago. But I had this huge period in the middle of the year where it felt like I didn’t achieve much of anything.

A lot of that was due to real-life pressures. My work has been short-staffed all year, and insanely busy since May. I edit for a living, as I’ve said before, and the idea of coming home and sitting in front of a PC after sitting in front of a PC all day was just too exhausting. As a result, I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing. Blog posts and reviews, sure, but books? Not so much.

I’ve been working on that over the last couple of months, though not with a novel (yet). Still, I will definitely have a couple of releases for you this year. Woohoo!

On reading

This is the first year since I started doing the Goodreads and Australian Women Writers challenges that I haven’t quite met me goals. For the Goodreads one, I set a goal of 40 and read 31. And for the Australian Women Writers challenge, I set a goal of 15 and read 11. At least I got close in both, right? (Right?)

A lot of the blame here goes to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. When I set my Goodreads goal, I didn’t anticipate discovering (and adoring) this series, and each of these books is over 1000 pages. That’s three regular novels for one Stormlight one. I’m currently listening to the audiobook of the third one in the series, and the download is available in five parts. FIVE. If I hadn’t been reading them, I would have nailed my goal, for sure! ūüėČ

Goodreads produced a handy summary, an extract of which is below. If you’re desperate to stalk my reading (and why wouldn’t you be?!), you can find the rest of the blog post here.

My 2017 reads

My resolutions

In light of all this, my writing resolutions for 2018 are very straightforward:

  • Do better.
  • Forgive myself at times I don’t do better.

I figure that’s pretty comprehensive!

What about you? How did you do with your reading (and, if applicable, writing) in 2017? Tell me your triumphs, or commiserate with me on your woes. ‚̧


Marriage Equality: a Non-Bookish Post

Before Isla’s Inheritance was released, when I was a wee baby writer (so, like, four years ago), I did a lot of reading on author promo. A lot of those articles talked about how you shouldn’t discuss controversial topics such as politics or religion, because you could offend potential readers and scare them away.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter¬†will know that’s a piece of advice I follow more in the breech than the observance, especially these days. The world gives me many feels, many of them ranty. But here on my blog, and on my Facebook author page, I have tended to maintain more of a bookish focus.

Today I’m changing that, just for a minute.

The background

#LoveOzYA rainbow

Those of you who are overseas might not be aware, but Australia (to our shame) has yet to legalise marriage equality. Same-sex couples can be recognised as being in a de facto relationship, the same way heterosexual couples can. But marriage confers additional rights to a spouse that a de facto partner isn’t entitled to, mostly around medical issues and death.

The fact we haven’t gotten it done here is due to a whole lot of reasons that boil down to a lack of intestinal fortitude on both side of politics — but, most recently, the extreme right-wing members of our right-wing government have orchestrated a new delaying tactic: a non-binding, voluntary postal survey to see what Australians think of the idea. Let me just repeat that, so you can really appreciate it for what it is. A NON-BINDING*. VOLUNTARY. POSTAL. SURVEY.

*Non-binding as in members of parliament can choose to ignore the results and vote however they want to.

The consequences

Opponents of such a survey have worried about the kind of campaigns the no vote folks will put out, and the effect that those will have on LGBTQI kids. The first of those ads, sponsored by a coalition of Christian organisations under the guise of “concerned mothers”, aired this week (before the government has gotten around to passing laws to ensure that the advertising around this campaign can’t be misleading or deceptive; best get on that, pollies!).

Unsurprisingly, the arguments put forward by the ad weren’t about why we shouldn’t give equal rights under the law to couples who choose to get married, regardless of what’s in their pants. They were the “thin edge of the wedge” argument: if we allow gays to marry, this will mean that schools will suddenly start educating our children in things we don’t approve of (presumably like empathy and kindness?).

You can read a brilliant deconstruction of the ad here.

The thing that infuriates and upsets me most about this particular ad are the implied judgements. That a kid who is trans and wants to wear a dress to school is somehow deviant (based on the assumption that a man who wants to be female is weak and wrong, with all the glorious sexism that entails). I feel awful for all the trans girls (and cis girls) who see and internalise that message.

The arguments

One thing I keep reading (when I read the comments, which, I know, is stupid) is that supporters of marriage equality don’t respect religious folks’ rights to equality and to speak their minds. But someone’s opinion that another person doesn’t deserve rights the first person has is not equal to the other’s opinion that they should be treated equally. One is¬†about protecting privilege; the other is about asserting that a citizen of this country has the right to be treated fairly under the law, regardless of their sexual preference.

And people have the right to judge the first person’s exercise of free speech accordingly.

It’s also telling that the cases being made for the no vote are red herrings (horror at school programs promoting tolerance, defence of “free speech”, rejection of “political correctness”). The postal survey doesn’t ask about any of those things; it asks whether people of the same sex should be allowed to marry. But the truth — that some people are religiously or personally uncomfortable with the idea of gay people — is much harder to defend in a way that sways votes.

No one is saying that Christians or followers of any other faith have to marry someone of the same sex. No one is forcing them to officiate a gay wedding, or to attend one. They can regard marriage between a man and a woman as a holy sacrament till the end of days.¬†But they don’t have the moral right to deny others access to the same legal rights under the law that they themselves enjoy. That is the height of arrogance and the definition of privilege.

And, frankly, I’ll never understand why some people are so desperate to interfere in the bedroom lives of other (consenting) adults.

The personal

I am a cisgendered middle-aged woman: I identify as the gender I was born with. My awareness of my sexuality has changed over time, from being unquestioningly heterosexual to recognition that I am at least a little bit bisexual. I mean, have you seen Kate McKinnon and Gal Gadot?! (I expect that will be a surprise to anyone in my family that reads this — hi, Mum!) I describe myself as “heterocurious”, generally.

Still, I don’t consider myself to have a direct vested interest in the outcome of the vote postal survey, because I can’t imagine a situation in my life where I’ll choose to remarry (to either a man or a woman). But, regardless, the result of the survey affects those I love. I have many same-sex attracted friends: gay, lesbian, bisexual and pansexual. I know polyamorous folks who have more than enough love to go around. One of the most amazing children I know is genderqueer (I am learning to say “they” as a singular personal pronoun, something my grammarian heart never thought I’d be able to adapt to). And I know an intersex person — one who was born with genitals that were neither male nor female.

All of these people are valid and almost all of them are potentially affected by the marriage equality vote (with the possible exception of the heterosexual parties to polyamorous relationships; if polygamy becomes legal in my lifetime I’ll be shocked). That makes it my fight.

The writing

Both of my book series have LGBT elements, although in neither case is it the main plotline, and the main characters in each case are straight. But the next book I write will be a F/F fantasy steampunk. So I guess this post will have served one purpose if it drives offended readers away from my books: I’ll have filtered them out before I released that book and earned a slew of bad reviews. #winning

Seriously, remember, Australian peeps:

VOTE YES!


Merry Christmas, with a song

I’ve blogged a little less this year than I did last year¬†— mostly book¬†reviews, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed — but I absolutely can’t miss my tradition of a Christmas wish and a song.

This is the fifth year I’ve done one of these posts. And it’s not the first time I’ve used a Straight No Chaser song, but I only discovered¬†the below today and I’ve been playing it¬†… rather a lot. Not only does it have amazing a cappella, but it has Kristen Bell, who is always a delight. ‚̧

This year has been quieter for me than 2015 was on a publishing front, though that’s not hard. I self-published Melpomene’s Daughter after the closure of my small press. I also finished writing my Greek-inspired fantasy, and wrote the vast bulk of False Awakening, the sequel to Lucid Dreaming. (I have half a chapter left to go. It’s so close I can smell the champagne and chocolate!)

I can’t wait to¬†sink my teeth into something new. ūüėÄ

As I’ve said previously, I’m not a religious person, but I do love the tradition, sharing and joy (primarily my son’s) at Christmas time. We’re going to my parents’ place; most of my family will be there. There’ll be music, pavlova and prawns (not together).

As always, thanks to everyone who has supported me this year — my beta readers, designer, editor, friends and family. Thanks also to anyone that has bought and/or reviewed any of my books. May your Christmas cracker jokes be not too terrible and may your food bountiful and delicious. (Or if you’re not Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, have a wonderful day anyway! There’s a new Pokemon Go event starting — go out and catch¬†all the gyms while the rest of us are busy. Except my gym. You can’t have that.)


My name is Cassandra, and I’m a Pokemon GO addict…

Vaporeon Pokemon GoI was on holidays when Pokemon GO¬†came out. But I still had my smart phone, so I saw the flood of posts on social media. At first I was¬†bemused by the idea, because I never really got into Pokemon¬†as I was growing up. But my son is seven and a mad Pokemon fan;¬†he got about 15 Pokemon plushies for his birthday (including the Vaporeon pictured above). He’s seen a lot of the TV show — like, a lot¬†— and has some of the old games, though he hasn’t played them much due to the amount of fast reading required.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of the idea of Pokemon. How is going out and capturing wild animals and then using them in battles for sport a good idea? (Where is the RSPCA in this universe? Not to mention all the ten year old kids leaving home to go on adventures to catch said wild animals! And do the Pokeballs have toilets? So many questions!) Still, Pikachu was cute, and my boy enjoyed it and absorbed the various names and evolutions like a sponge.

On the other hand, once I learned¬†more about Pokemon GO, I was fascinated. I found the idea of augmented reality games, something I hadn’t really encountered before, strangely compelling.¬†So when my son came home after our holiday (via Sydney, where he stayed with his dad for a few days), I wasn’t exactly upset that he had a Pokemon GO account and was already level 14.

Of course, he doesn’t have a phone, so I have to play it with him. Right?

Seriously, this game is so much fun — and, more than that, I love how easy it is to get my couch potato of a child out of the house. On Friday I got a tip-off from someone at work of a good place to catch Pikachu. Normally my boy would prefer to sit at home and watch Pokemon on TV, especially after school, but instead we scooted down to the local lake and spent an hour stomping around, playing at the park and making friends with people’s dogs.

There is a spectrum of people who play Pokemon GO, as there is in any other endeavour, but for the most part I’ve found them to be friendly and open. Sure, we’ve come across the¬†occasional pack of swearing teenage boys (something I wouldn’t have an issue with if my boy weren’t listening), and after we captured a gym the look on one young man’s face as he stormed up gave me pause. Boy, was he pissed!

But there have been a lot of people¬†like me, taking their kids out for a stroll and catching Eevees. We’ve seen a lady taking her parrot out for some air, randomly met¬†some kids my boy knew from school, and commiserated with strangers when their Squirtle¬†ran away. We’ve also been out to a lot of local tourist attractions, hunting for Pokemon. (If you’re visiting Canberra,¬†get a friend to drive you around all the Poke-stops in the arboretum. Wow!)

I’m not a Pokemon expert yet, by any stretch of the imagination,¬†but luckily I have¬†a small consultant to hand. I’ve¬†finally figured out how to throw a decent curveball, and¬†we’ve evolved a Raichu. I’m still not 100% sure about the “wild animals battling” thing, but it bothers me less in game form, where they are impersonal elemental forces, rather than in the TV show, where they can emote, and snuggle their owners. (I am suspicious of what the professor needs all those spare Pokemon for. Is he¬†feeding them into a¬†compactor to make candy? Building a Pokemon army?! Again, so many questions!)

Do you play Pokemon GO? Have you found it a positive experience overall?

Pokemon


Cass Goes Walkabout

Cass at Uluru

You may have noticed that — prior to the review of Cinnamon Girl that I posted on the weekend — I vanished off the radar for a week or so there. Or maybe you didn’t, given my posts on this blog can be sporadic at times. Either way, the absence¬†was because my son and I went north (where the warmer weather is in Australia) for the winter.

Okay, for nine days.

Good friends of ours moved to central Australia at the start of the year, so we went to stay with them¬†and do local touristy things¬†— the biggest of which was a two-night stay at Yulara, the resort near Uluru.

You’ll probably guess¬†from the above photo that it wasn’t as warm as I might have hoped. The weather was interesting, I don’t know, maybe it’s typical for a desert, but it seemed to change from day to day without much sense to it. One day it’d be cold — coats and scarves weather — and the next it’d be shorts and T-shirts weather. We got fewer of the latter kind of day than I might have liked, and two of them were the day we arrived and the day we left again. Typical!

That being said, the lowest maximum temperature we got while on holidays was still higher than the highest maximum in Canberra during the same period, so I shouldn’t complain. And¬†it was wonderful to catch up with our friends. They have two girls,¬†the younger of whom is close to my boy, so he had a lot of fun having¬†a playmate in his pocket. Of course, I also got an insight into what it might have been like if I’d had two kids. So. Much. Bickering. Gah!

And Uluru was … well, it was everything I could have imagined, and several things I hadn’t. There’s something about seeing a cultural icon, a popular landmark, in the flesh for the first time.¬†You’re so used to it being on postcards or the TV that, when you see it with your own eyes, it’s¬†both unfamiliar and so familiar that you feel like it’s the landscape equivalent of an old friend. I’m positive at least part of my awe of the place was that feeling.

Another significant part was the overwhelming sense of the Aboriginal history. Cave art, sacred spaces where photography was discouraged, rock formations that looked like snakes or spear holes and so became them in dreamtime stories. I could easily imagine young hunters stalking across the dunes, spears in hand as they hunted for prey.

The rest of my awe was at Uluru itself. Not only is it one of the world’s biggest rocks, it stands out in the middle of¬†a¬†sandy plain — the terrain makes it even more striking. There were a few things that really struck me about it. Because central Australia has had a fair amount of rain recently (relatively speaking),¬†there was a lot more greenery than I’d imagined, the rust red sand dunes covered in clumps of grass and low shrubs.¬†We also visited a couple of waterholes at the base of the rock during our day there — they weren’t lakes by any stretch of the imagination, but there was more water than I’d imagined in a desert. One of them was swarming with tadpoles, and the other had water trickling down¬†into it from the top of the rock, probably the remnants of overnight dew, despite it being mid-afternoon.

Finally, despite Uluru from a distance looking exactly as I’d dreamed it would,¬†when I got up closer I was surprised at how many crevices, caves and protrusions there were. Later I discovered that, from the air, it looks sort of like a fat, wrinkly, reversed¬†comma.¬†(Someone make a font for that!)

Now, as much as I’m sure you’re loving hearing me ramble about my holiday, there is a point to all this. Research is great. I’m a huge fan of Google street view¬†and Wikipedia. Huge. But, where you can swing it,¬†there¬†is no substitute for actually going to the place you’re writing about. I’m not writing a book set in central Australia — not yet. But visiting there sure made me want to try.


Adventure Time: geeky, wonderful storytelling

Fiona

Fiona is the gender-flipped Finn. (The books are there because they look good together!)

(Note: If you’re new to Adventure¬†Time and care about spoilers for kids TV, this post¬†is not the one for you.)

I don’t normally blog¬†about TV shows, mostly because I¬†watch hardly any TV these days, aside from Doctor Who. (I used to watch Castle, but the most recent series lost me.) The shows I do see tend to be kids shows, because that is what my seven-year-old is watching.

I got into a discussion with some other parents of kids who are a similar age to my boy¬†about appropriate television, and there seemed to be a consensus¬†that Adventure Time was not appropriate television for pre-teens. The arguments mostly revolved around the violence — the main characters, Finn and Jake, do spend rather a lot of time¬†beating up bad guys, and¬†occasionally said bad guys can be hella creepy and kind of gross.

However, the stories that this strange little cartoon tells are geeky, complex and deal with real-world issues in a fictional way, providing a great opportunity for kids and parents to discuss them. There are gender-flipped episodes (featuring Fiona and Cake rather than Finn and Jake), and so many Dungeons and Dragons-references that this is basically my favourite show too.

Adventure Time is set¬†on Earth, in what I suspect is continental USA, though the land is called “Ooo”. A thousand years ago there was the terrible “mushroom war”, when mutogenic goo was spread across the land and and civilisation as we know it was wiped out.

Finn the Human is¬†one of the only humans in the show. He was raised by his adoptive family, that of Jake the Dog. Finn is a traditional D&D paladin — he is honourable and defends the weak, something that often gets him into trouble. He spends a lot of time trying to find himself and figure out the complexities of love. At one point in the¬†show he struggles with depression, after he meets his real father and discovers said father is an amoral, hardened criminal.

Jake the Dog¬†is Finn’s adoptive brother and best friend. He has “stretchy powers”, meaning he can change into whatever shape he wants. His D&D alignment would be true neutral — he tries to do the right thing because¬†of Finn, but is largely in¬†it for¬†fun. He’s lazy and has a criminal past¬†that Finn doesn’t know about.¬†He has children with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn.

Princess Bubblegum is one of the main characters; she is ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She’s a loner,¬†mad scientist and genius, and has a complicated friendship with Marceline the Vampire Queen. (Almost all the kingdoms are ruled by princesses, to the point where, when Bubblegum is¬†temporarily ousted from rule by a pretender calling himself the King of Ooo, he declares¬†himself princess and stars wearing her clothes. Marceline is an exception, but she’s also the only vampire. The Ice King calls himself a king but only rules over penguins.)

The Ice King is the original villain of the show; he likes to kidnap princesses and wants to marry one. However, as we get to know him, we discover he has a tragic past (there’s one particular episode that makes me bawl every time I see it). His overall storyline is a parallel for dementia: he¬†has forgotten who he is and his princess obsession is his subconscious mind’s way of trying to reclaim what he once had.

Lumpy Space Princess is homeless (she lives in the woods, in boxes or hollow logs) and looking for love. Marceline is so old that she struggles with morality, often acting like a selfish teenage girl. BMO, the robot who lives with Finn and Jake, has a vivid imaginary world and is gender fluid (though uses the male pronoun).

Other examples of geekiness include the Prismo wish spell alternate reality plot;¬†discussion of Flame Princess’s alignment (and how acting out of alignment will affect her experience); and a dungeon-crawl episode where Finn gets lost, seeking more and more powerful loot. It’s glorious!

I guess for parents who¬†won’t get the geeky references and would prefer their children experience a more Disney-like world,¬†I can see why Adventure Time wouldn’t be their¬†thing. But I for one love it. ‚̧