Gift Guide for Ages 3-6ish

I loooove buying presents for my kids. As in, I’ll cheerfully buy presents in June (like budget experts tell you to), and then continue buying presents for the entire rest of the year (which budget experts do not recommend). Having said that, we don’t do stocking presents in our house, and likely never will. I hate the idea of a pile of low-quality gifts. And I assure you that my kids have plenty of full-blown present-opening frenzies made up entirely of quality gifts (generally around $20 each, although often there’s one gift that is much more expensive).

We also have three Christmases every year: One for my side of the family (usually mid-December, since my Mum runs church services on Christmas Day), one for Chris’ side of the family (usually Christmas Day), and our own private small & special Christmas Eve. We light candles and open 1 or 2 gifts each (usually 1, but of course the kids want to give their gifts to each other and I try not to refuse generous impulses).

You may have heard of the Four-Gift Rule. There’s a few variations, but the idea is that parents can restrict themselves to four gifts. For example:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

 

Or:

  1. Something to play with
  2. Something to wear
  3. Something to read
  4. Something to share

 

I disagree with “something to wear” because clothes are only exciting if you only ever get one new outfit a year. Since there is more than one season in a year, my kids often get new clothes. (You’ll be shocked at the knowledge that I love buying them clothes and I’m certainly not going to only buy them clothes in December. That reminds me… Louisette definitely needs a new pirate outfit…)

But enough prologue. Here’s some awesome loot:

  1. Water. Always a winner, in virtually any form. I like a water table because then I can choose to believe that the kids won’t need their swimmers (until proven otherwise). We’ve had a water table before (which was also fun for collecting ice in winter) but after a couple of years outside it was so brittle it fell to bits. Which means I got to buy another one! A BETTER one!

This particular model was $40 from Woolies. But pretty much any one will do. The kids will love seeing the enormous box under (…next to…) the tree, too. The orange handles on the side turn wheels that make the water flow around the circle. How cool is that!

 

2. Books! It ain’t Christmas without books (for myself, Chris, and the kids). There are a million fantastic books for kids, so it’s well worth having a bit of a google, both for the stuff your kid likes, and for lists saying the best books—then you can click through for a better look at the ones that appeal. And of course this is a great time to go and support your local bookshop, too!

I noticed around this time last year that Louisette has a bent toward engineering, so I bought her books that were specifically geared (heh) to encourage girls to picture themselves in STEM careers (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Maths). Googling “STEM” in combination with “Books” and any other relevant words (age 5, girls, etc) will get you a lot of suggestions.

This particular book emphasises that things don’t work perfectly the first time. It also rhymes.

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This is also the book that inspired Louisette’s House-Car-Plane project, which won her an award.

The same authors have two other books. One is ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and the other is IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. They’re all in the same school, I believe.

ROSIE REVERE and ADA TWIST also have follow-up “project” books. Louisette is going to looooove hers!

For TJ, his grand obsession is puzzles (more on that later). For his books, I googled and then clicked on this list. Easy! Out of those, I chose:

 

A sleep time book (parents can fantasise that it makes bedtime easier), a singing book, and a book about kindness. As you may have guessed, TJ loves vehicles. Also dinosaurs and superheroes.

3. Pets

I dream of one day producing a suspiciously mobile box with air-holes in the lid and a puppy inside. One day. Not sure if it’s plausible. We’d need to have real grass in our backyard first, for one thing.

In the meantime, we recently bought some fish. They’re actually a terrible Christmas gift because the set up and cycling takes about a week (if it doesn’t, you’re likely to have mass extinction—ask me how I know), and it’s such a busy time that it’s hard to get good advice from your pet shop when you need it most. But it could work for a birthday, keeping in mind pets are a huge deal (and fish don’t cuddle, so it’s noticeable that Louisette quite likes the fish but TJ doesn’t care much).

Cats are awesome, of course. In my opinion, they’re easier than fish. You need to think about where they’ll poo (kitty litter? Your yard? The neighbour’s organic vegie patch?) and how much you care about native birds (something like 80% of cats kill at least one native bird and don’t tell their owners).

Pets are always super expensive and higher maintenance than expected. Mice and birds tend to stink. A five-year old can potentially do a small amount of pet-related jobs, but will never be reliable. You’re also taking a risk of experiencing death (although that’s technically an advantage, because it helps kids to understand death a bit better when they lose a human they really love).

4. Building kits.

We have loads of duplo and about five sets’ worth of wooden train set (which has a near-infinite number of possible permutations). But I wanted something a bit older for Louisette (and I fear the dreaded Underfoot Lego—Louisette has some lego, but she has to bring it out and put it away in one session at a time). Then I stumbled across this amazing thing:

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That’s right. It’s a building toy designed for six-year old girls THAT HAS A MOTOR. It’s made by a company called Roominate. This set has three permutations (helicopter, submarine and plane), and it also fits with their various other sets (which, disappointingly, do not seem to have a motor—although you can buy it separately).

I’m buying another set from the same range for Louisette’s birthday, so she can combine sets in unique ways. When I tried it out for myself, the motor was great but the pieces were a little hard to put together. Still, I like the curves and colours.

And it’s under $30. I really like that it has a person (particularly a girl, particularly a non-Caucasian girl—she is Hawaiian) and a rabbit. Not just because it encourages imaginative play, but because engineers SHOULD be thinking about what their machines are actually FOR. Are they big enough for people? Are they comfortable? Are they safe? Can she see out the window while she’s flying? Etc.

I also bought this Melissa & Doug building set for $40 on ebay:

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I look forward to seeing Louisette do weird and wonderful stuff with it. (Following instructions to build a specific shape is also a fantastic skill set that’s well worth developing.)

It’s a little silly to buy two different building sets for one Christmas, but here we are.

5. Speaking of personal obsessions… TJ and puzzles. He does puzzles every day, over and over again. He is very good at puzzles. Although he’s three (and a half), he is well above average when it comes to puzzles.

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Given that he’s just discovered (and begun obsessing over) WHERE’S WALLY? this was the obvious choice. It has 35 pieces, which is challenging but possible for TJ—and then he can amuse himself finding every single one of the items in the border. It’s $25 here.

That particular website gives free postage for non-bulky orders over $100 (I found them because they sell Roominate stuff). This was not a difficult task (although I have several very kind relatives who I tend to source gifts for, that they pay for and then give to my kids—I get to “buy” more presents, and my relatives save a bunch of time and brain effort).

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This is a simpler puzzle (also a floor puzzle, which is great for younger kids). It’s $27 and out of stock (apparently I bought the last one) here (same online store as the above). The genius thing about this is that TJ will learn his continents and several animals while doing this puzzle (over and over again). There are LOADS of puzzles that educate kids about various things (letters, numbers, maps, animals, even spelling).

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This is a 30-piece puzzle that is trickier than it looks. There are holes in the back that TJ will LOVE using to poke out the pieces (also solving a classic issue with new puzzles—pieces that don’t come out!) Every piece is a slightly different shape so it’s hopefully developing a slightly different part of TJ’s brain. It’s $14 here.

6. Trains. Wooden trains are seriously awesome (except for the crawling around on the ground part—we’re WAY past tables here). Pretty much all wooden sets will fit together in lots of different ways. Other than a $30 set that popped up at Aldi this year, they are super expensive. This tunnel is cool (the dinosaur on the top is a separate piece, which will be handy for attacking the trains below), but that one thing cost $20 (here), which is pretty standard.

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7. Active stuff. Any list of four gifts should include “Something Physical”. Some things are super expensive, like a trampoline or bike. Some not so much. This is very much billed as a Summer toy (it floats) but I thought it was a great toy for cold or rainy days when the kids need to do something silly and active… and inside. Even the rings are inflatable.

It’s $35 here. (I bought it when it was on sale.)

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8. Bath letters. Cheap, awesome, and educational. I guarantee Louisette will use these to teach TJ more of his letters. He can already count up to 12 and recognise ten or so numbers and letters—because he worships Louisette, and she loves teaching (which of course also helps her own knowledge). When wet, they stick to tiles. How fun is that!?!

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These were $4 on ebay, and I bet they’re a favourite on Christmas morning.

9. Tradition.

We have a special Christmas tradition in my family. Each year, I buy a small conifer to be our live Christmas tree. I take a picture with it and the children, so that as they grow they can compare their size to that harbinger of Christmas Day.

And every year, it dies. Before Christmas even comes.

I’m really not that good with… keeping things alive.

This year I found this. With postage, it was about $40 from ebay, which is quite a lot—but we can use it every year. There are loads of fun chocolate advent calendars out there, and loads of beautiful reusable ones (often with little drawers to put 24 small gifts in). I don’t want to make over-eating or buying-24-crappy-junk-gifts part of our tradition, so I was excited to find this. Each bauble has a different design, and is magnetised. Then there’s a star for Christmas Day. I think the kids will love it (so long as no one tells them about the chocolate variety), and I’m almost certain I can’t kill it. Although wooden toys DO burn really well…

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10. Something that definitely isn’t useful.

At the steampunk fair, flush with the knowledge that my pirate trilogy would soon be published, I saw someone with a half-goggle. Genius! And only a few bucks to get my own steampunk pirate patch on ebay.

So I guess this is more a present for me than for the kids. I can live with that. In my defence, Louisette specifically asked me for goggles after the fair.

11. Tech

A good friend of ours bought Louisette this talking (and programmable) toy dog for her first birthday. Since then we bought the other one for TJ (“from” Louisette). They’re called Scout and Violet.

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You can choose your child’s name from a list when you program it, and the dog will say things like, “I love you… Louise” (since “Louisette” is not common enough to be on the list). You can also choose volume, and switch it off at any time by squeezing the “off” foot. One of the paws plays “Bedtime music” which is a very useful feature.

These dogs have been a consistent favourite toy for a long time (although if it wasn’t for her computer Louisette would be over hers, I think).

Which brings us to… computers. For children.

I thought the entire concept of computers for children was madness—until I saw a four-year old drawing with her finger on an ipad screen. There was no mess, no stains on clothes, no eating crayons, no sharpening pencils, and no dropping fifty-seven textas on the floor and then wandering away. It blew my mind. Since then I’ve seen a bunch of fantastic, innovative games that make the world better. In my opinion, computer skills are vital, and it’s worthwhile to get kids started early. Plus, of course, when you need the kid to be quiet and still in a public place, a computer + earplugs is magic.

I did a bunch of research and then bought Louisette a LeapPad 3. That was back in 2014, so I think there are new models since then (and I imagine that the Leappad 3 will become obsolete at some point).

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It comes in either green or purply-pink (and so do the gel frames, as pictured). It costs somewhere between $100 and $200, plus $25ish for the gel frame (which protects it from breaking when it’s dropped).

The good: It’s designed for age 3 and up, so a lot of it is set out with pictures that make navigation easy for non-readers. (Louisette was often frustrated and not too fond of it for the first six months after she got it on her 3rd birthday; TJ took to it immediately when he received his on his own 3rd birthday.)

It has camera and video, which kids LOVE. (Caveat: Images can’t be taken off the computer, so it’s impossible to save or share them.)

It has a white-listed internet (which can be switched off and on via the parental settings), meaning that everything the kids can access (and there’s a lot) has been watched and approved in advance.

It has really excellent, educational games, that are tailored to the main user’s age and skill level. (But they usually cost around $20 each.) We’ve only bought a few games (and a book that “reads” to the kid as they touch the words) in almost three years. Plus, each new game (and switching the internet on) is a fantastic gift on its own.

When you have two LeapPads, the kids can actually message each other (using pre-written messages—so bullying is impossible—and a bunch of animated emoticons). It is hilarious to see my two kids with their heads together, screaming in laughter as they say, “I sent you a message!” “I got it!”

It has a lot of branded stuff—Disney and so on—which the kids adore.

The bad: It has an inbuilt game that is literally poker (spinning pictures which reward the user when they match, and can then be spent on features)

It also has an entire section that just advertises LeapPad games, and can’t be removed.

It doesn’t connect to other devices in any way (except, of course, LeapPad devices—it even has games featuring Scout and Violet).


 

Bonus points

Are you buying a gift for a child who’s not your own? You’d ideally check with the parents if you buy something on this list (I’m NOT aiming this at anyone specific, by the way! Please don’t think my kids dislike anything they’ve ever been given):

*Alive (including plants. Parents are very, very tired and even a plant can be too much to care for. The kid is definitely not going to look after it properly.)

*Larger than your head (or the kid’s head, if yours is unusually large). Kids have a lot of toys, and their parents probably don’t have enough places to put them all.

*Involving work for the parents eg craft or science projects.

*Messy, such as paint or play-dough (yes, play-dough is messy).

*Noisy or annoying (electric toys or certain high-pitched TV shows).

*Junk food. (And check for food intolerances if you’re bringing food that kids are likely to eat—food intolerances are on the rise, and some are deadly. Parents are not making this up for attention, I assure you. Peanuts in particular can kill, even if the allergic kid never directly touches the food item.)

If you buy soft toys, you’ll get a great reaction on the day—but by the age of 3 every child has at least twenty soft toys, and probably more like fifty. However, certain toys will be VERY beloved (especially those linked to a TV character the child already adores). So think carefully and talk to the parents. Kids are amazingly specific about their brands, even for intellectual properties they have never watched (such as Star Wars or Superheroes).

However!

Toys that get used up, such as textas (there are washable ones), coloured paper, colouring books, etc are good for homes that really don’t have much space.

When someone has a set of something—duplo, lego, building sets, train sets—you can buy a new set or part that goes with it. That’s brilliant for both kids and parents.

Pretty much everyone loves books (although probably not enormously long ones, which leads to trouble at bed time).

Kids and parents will both most likely adore you for taking the kids for some kind of outing.  Zoos, Questacon (if you’re in Canberra), and those trampoline places are all fun for everyone. Or you can simply take them to a playground they haven’t been to before (or even that they have). They will love you forever.

Also fantastic as gifts that don’t take up space—removable wall stickers. (If your friend lives in a rental, definitely query first; they may not be as removable as one hopes.) There are some gorgeous quirky designs here (I met the artist yesterday, so I’m a little excited).

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You do NOT need to spend a bundle on kids!

So here’s my Four-Gift Rule:

  1. Something to read.
  2. Something creative.
  3. Something educational.
  4. Something physical (fitness and/or coordination)
  5. Something silly.
  6. Something that interacts with an existing toy (lego is almost always a safe bet; duplo for younger kids).

Okay, that’s six. That’s what relatives are for. Or siblings. Or, if all else fails, an inability to accurately count to four. Or you can combine them in various ways.

It’s also vitally important (and easy) to get kids involved in the fun of giving gifts to others. My kids LOVE discussing, buying, wrapping, and giving presents to all their relatives, especially each other. They also love Christmas Shoeboxes and TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop (both of which are specifically Christian, which may or may not work for you), which are a nice tangible way of giving to others and being aware of the rest of the world.

(99% of charities benefit from cash more than physical gifts. Physical gifts are mainly useful for kids to get into the habit of giving, rather than for the charity itself. I really like TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop because it IS a cash gift, that the charity interprets in practical ways.)

PS This site did a very comprehensive review of nerf guns. Enjoy!

Pictures worth thousands of words

I’m not a visual artist, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of influence I was allowed to have on my books covers (Odyssey Books has a top-notch cover game).

It’s a good thing they go through a few drafts, too.

Can you see what’s wrong with the first draft of SILVER AND STONE?

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Thank goodness for Chris, and for my fellow ‘Oddies’ (we Odyssey authors are constantly talking book stuff together), who noticed what I didn’t.

So that was changed.

I was SO PROUD to finally have the finished cover, and to be able to put the two covers side by side on facebook. Only to realise (due to facebook’s arbitrary cropping) that half my followers were wondering why I’d called my first book “Fart of Bras”.

Does one’s underwear usually fart? If so, why? And how?

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In unrelated (but still vaguely visual) news, I was amused by the juxtaposition of these two reviews on the “Choices That Matter” Google Play app. The first made me laugh out loud, and the second was just icing on the cake.

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That’s an excellent screenshot summary of the review-reading experience.

There’s reviews on iOS too, but barely any (and they get deleted every time there’s an update). I gather it’s a lot easier to leave a Google Play review, since there are several new ones every day.

Dancing, Duelling, Delicious: The official book launch for HEART OF BRASS

You know what’s cool? Nurofen tablets are sugar coated.

*

HEART OF BRASS had her official Book Launch yesterday as part of the inaugural Canberra Writers Festival, an absolutely huge event. I was written about (with a cover image) in Canberra Weekly magazine (96,000 readers!) and in the Canberra Times, as well as various other places.

The launch took place in the National Library of Australia (pictured behind the kids and I), in the Ferguson Room. The Ferguson Room overlooks the foyer of the National Library, which gives it a grand air and means one can watch guests coming in. That was particularly fun for me, since I’d encouraged steampunk/historical garb and was well rewarded for my efforts. My kids loved it too. Louisette got to talk into the microphone before anyone else showed up, and she imitated my own test speech by saying, “I wrote a book”—which in her case is quite true (if you haven’t read “The Adventures of Pirate Captain Louisette”, just scroll down a couple of entries).

 

I’m usually a very confident public speaker, but I was intensely nervous (enough to have patches of time when I was breathing funny) before this event, even though I was rationally confident it would go well.

The best and most important thing is people.

I was very lucky in that regard. The Ferguson Room is meant to seat forty people, which is rather a lot for a debut author—but within a day of setting up the facebook page (and SMSing and emailing various people to invite them personally), I knew I had at least twenty people. The phrase “book launch” is haunted by the horrifying spectre of a desperately awkward room of four people sitting in a sea of chairs and wishing fervently that they were elsewhere (none more miserably than the author). By the time the big day rolled around I was slightly nervous that the room would be unpleasantly crowded or that we’d run out of books for people to buy (what wonderful issues to have!) I estimated 50-60 guests beforehand, and I was exactly on the money. Someone had added a few more chairs to the room, which was useful. We sold a very healthy number of books without selling out altogether (my publisher and I both had extra stashes of books just in case). I would have liked to sell more, but this means that the National Library bookshop still has copies on the shelf (excellent promotion in itself).

50-60 people is a lot. That’s a larger number than any event I’ve hosted before (with the exception of my wedding), and it was in a location I didn’t know well.

I get panicky in new places. The National Library as a whole is somewhere I’ve been to many times, and I visited the room before the launch to get a sense of the space, but the technical equipment was new on the day. It all worked well (strange but true), including the book trailer and the dancing music. I really enjoyed the location and I wish I could start over so I could have that confidence from the beginning. Bring on Book 2!

Robbie Matthews is a friend, a writer, and a generally charming and funny person who’s well known to the Canberra writing community. He was MC at my wedding, and I was very pleased with myself for thinking of him again for the launch (especially as it prevented me from haranguing other authors who I don’t know as well).

At my wedding reception one of the tables was “the minion table”—full of people who’d helped decorate, give lifts, take photos, etc. As MC Robbie was on that table and he made friends. Then he made a highly memorable speech about the wide range of colourful threats I’d made to all my sweet innocent minions in order to let them know what would happen if they didn’t do their assigned jobs. I vividly recollect how impressed I was at the time that I’d subconsciously tailored original threats to each person.

As the book launch drew closer I wondered what Robbie would say about me, since I hadn’t threatened anybody this time. He got up and explained how we’d met: We did Live Action Role Playing (LARPing is like a play where all the players have a general character and plot outline and then improvise to amuse one another), and I was his fictional daughter. “By the end,” Robbie explained, “she was wearing my spine as a necklace.”

Oh yeah… I’d forgotten about that. (To be fair, my character was under a lot of stress at the time.) One may draw one’s own conclusions about my general mental health…

A lot of book launches are introduced by the writer’s publisher. It’s a very neat way to do things, but I always felt it was a bit sad since the author and publisher are the people who are the most desperate to sell the book. Having Robbie meant that we had a disinterested party recommending the book (which he read before the launch). That made me feel much less like a grasping novice.

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I realised belatedly that the reason I was so nervous was that I was, in the most literal sense of the phrase, “selling something” (and to an audience that was trapped for the duration, too). It’s impossible for a writer to truly know if a book is good or not (although being published certainly helps) and that’s why I always find book launch speeches so horrifying. I acquitted myself well enough, I think.

I’d described the launch to Louisette in advance, and she said she wanted to help with my speech, so when I got up I summoned her as well. She is an adorable child and was adorably serious about the entire process—but she stood bravely (by herself, because I needed to stay near the podium microphone). She was very pleased afterwards with her own courage. Hopefully this will lead her to be a confident public speaker, rather than turn her into a full-time writer (creative jobs have a high personal cost that I wouldn’t wish on anyone).

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Clothing is tricky while I’m still waiting for my stomach muscles to be put back together (not helped by weird sensory overstimulation stuff that tends to give me panic attacks if I wear new clothes), but I’d had an idea (on Friday) to adjust a favourite skirt, and that very much improved things for me.

My other main panic was that I’d simply forget to bring something essential. I started putting things in the car last Thursday, and although there were certain things I meant to do and didn’t, all the important pieces (such as a copy of the book to give away to the best costume, and having my kindle prepped on the podium for my reading) were in place.

This was all very much complicated by the fact that I’d gotten overenthusiastic and decided to write and run a Live Action Role Play game inside Questacon after the launch. But that’ll need its own entry 🙂

The tea duelling and catering was complicated by the fact that no outside food was allowed, and no food was allowed in the room. That meant paying a huge sum to the cafe (which reserved tables for us and did a great job from beginning to end) and having biscuits that were fresh and delicious but not the right kind for duelling. Although the cafe staff were excellent and the location classy, the lack of ability to bring in a pack of plain dry biscuits was annoying. Still, it was entertaining and it looks great in pictures (useful for media coverage, which is useful for selling books, which is the point). And even though we under-catered, most people were so distracted by the duelling that they didn’t eat or drink at all.

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The waltzing was a huge highlight. I had one couple primed to lead the way, and Louisette is an enthusiastic amateur. I figured I’d waltz with Louisette while my dancers hopefully lured a couple or two to join them over the course of the piece.

Actually, I danced with Chris the second the music started, and several other couples willingly took to the floor in an instant. The space was perfect (everyone moved the chairs back); roomy enough to dance without feeling either crowded or lonely.

It’s been a long time since Chris and I waltzed, and it was a lovely moment for both of us. I found out later that one of the other people dancing was stepping out (invited by a nearby acquaintance because Canberra is like that) for the first time since major surgery, and it made her realise she might be healthy enough to dance regularly again soon.

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Adrenalin does wonders in carrying my wreck of a body through things (in fact that’s probably part of why I do things like this—for a while, I feel normal). My muscles were freaking out last night as the adrenalin wore off, and today I’m weirdly sore in a dozen places (hence the nurofen). Luckily I’m not involved in the rest of the Canberra Writers Festival so I don’t need to do anything more strenuous than writing and napping for the rest of the day.

I still can’t quite believe how many people came.

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The launch was as close to perfect as it could be. The festival, venue, and volunteers were all top notch. Ultimately I wouldn’t change a thing.

“Worst one I’ve played”: Reviewing the Reviewers

It’s finally happened: my first interactive (that is, Choose Your Own Adventure-ish) Australian steampunk novel is wandering unsupervised in the great big world, gathering reviews near and far (and scaring its mother half to death).
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My very first review was the hilarious comment “Worst one I’ve played”, accompanied by one star. I’m genuinely delighted by such a start to proceedings, and could only be happier if a major lobby called for it to be banned.
Moments ago, the very clever and well-respected Emily Short published her review, and said, “All in all, then, this is both the biggest and the best of the Felicity Banks games I’ve tried so far; the worldbuilding is more extensive and the plot better structured.”
She also said the beginning was nicely paced while the end was rushed… which is funny since another reviewer said the beginning was boring but don’t worry because it gets better once you get into it.
People say, “Don’t read your reviews” but with material like this, how could I resist?
It’s on Amazon (after 20 reviews – positive or negative – Amazon will start promoting the book for me for free!!), Apple itunesGoogle, and Google Chrome.
 
Or you can play directly through the publisher’s web site, here. That’s the simplest if you’re not tech savvy (although you’ll need a credit/debit card there).

On most sites, it LOOKS like the game is free, and has in-app purchases. This is just a backwards way of saying, “You can read the first bit before you pay for the rest.” It’s a one-off $5 payment.

I’ve started up a facebook page just for this specific gamebook (discussion, reviews and steampunk/Victorian-era fun), at https://www.facebook.com/attackoftheclockworkarmy/

And of course the Sydney Launch is at the Freecon at 11am today/Sunday (Garry’s even promised me wine, and I know there are lollies because I brought a huge pile). If you’re in Sydney, you can just show up:
O.E.S. Amenities centre, 190 William Street EARLWOOD, Clemton Park shops, next to the ‘Thai-in-a-box’ shop, about half way between the Bexley Rd. / William St. intersection and Main St., Clemton Park.
Bus routes M41, 400, 412, 423, and 473 all pass near the Freecon venue, Campsie (Bankstown Line) and Bexley North (East Hills line) stations are nearby.
I’ve been working non-stop to get the rumbling engine of promotion moving, and I now have a weird feeling that I’ve managed to start something I can’t stop. That’s the entire point of the whole thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary to see the train suddenly belch fire and clatter off beyond my control.
Good luck, little e-baby. I know your friends are out there.

Naked Truth Chocolate Bars

I stumbled across these in the lolly aisle at Coles. The name reminded me instantly of “nudie” juice drinks – another deliberately cute, expensive company that pours heart and soul into being the very best in its field (and charges accordingly).

There was a wide variety of options, so I chose three.

1. Sweetie Pie: Lemon Coconut Cream Pie White Choc Bar.

This was my first taste of the Naked Truth company’s wares, and it was exquisite. The flavours of lemon, coconut and creamy white chocolate were perfectly balanced. The soft centre was a delightful surprise – I’m a sucker for different textures in food.

I regretted sharing this with Chris. (He is merely human, after all – and this is chocolate). I dream of the day when I eat another.

Five stars. If you see one, buy it for me. And another for yourself, because I ain’t sharing next time.

2. PG: Coffee Beans and Popping Candy Milk Choc Bar

I hate coffee, so I confess I really bought this for Chris, who loves popping candy, coffee, and of course chocolate (he is merely human, after all). He commented that the coffee taste was paramount – he wouldn’t have noticed the popping candy if he didn’t know it was there. For people who love chocolate coated coffee beans, this is the biz. It’s got that particular “bean” taste, but without the risk of the occasional too-dry or otherwise imperfect bean.

3. Get Naked: Fig and Macadamia Milk Chocolate Bar

I was a little disappointed that the block didn’t have the soft centre that delighted me so much in the “Sweetie Pie”. Most of the fig and macadamia pieces were on top – as if they were sprinkled on when the chocolate was partly set. It looks particularly attractive, and the chocolate was lovely, but I prefer larger macadamia pieces so the taste can be truly enjoyed.

Still a very nice chocolate block – similar in quality, cost and size to a Lindt bar, but without being divided into blocks. So you’ll either have an awkward task breaking it up… or you’ll have a serious chocoholic eat it like a bar.

How did I choose to tackle it?

Do you really need to ask?

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Kindle Review

I’ve owned a Kindle Prime (the old, black and white version) for more than a month now, and I luuuuurrrve it. I’ve been rolling my eyes at e-reader devotees for years, but when my Dad asked me to look at his I was converted in an instant, epiphany-style. One glance and I realised, “Oh. It’s a book!” (All the best epiphanies sound stupid when said out loud – I love him! What if we took bread and sliced it?)

The Kindle is just….books. A portable library that aims to simply let you read the stories and forget it’s there. And it succeeds almost instantly. I understood how to buy and read a book on it in about thirty seconds, and after five minutes more I was proficient in a few features. I actually use it to check my email (it can JUST access Hotmail, telling me I have email from so-and-so but not letting me open it – on my first few attempts it’d crash and at one stage I thought I’d broken it).

The page-turn buttons on each side are great, except I’ve had to teach myself not to accidentally press them whenever I pick it up or shift position. It also takes a little while to get used to a screen that’s not a touch screen (and having seen an amazing interactive children’s book on an ipad, I realise the lack of touch means missing out on a whole world of awesome), but these days I’d much, much rather own a book on my kindle than on paper.

I’ve recharged the battery only once, and was delighted that my kindle told me (in heaps of time and repeatedly) that the battery was running low. So if my book ever does run out of batteries, it’s definitely not the book’s fault.

I’m still getting used to the sense of how long a book will take to read. I know how long it takes me to read 100 pages, and I can instinctively adjust it for the size of the book and the typeface. But the Kindle is different. If you push a button, it will display “Location 456 of 987” (or whatever) but these make very little sense. I guess there are bugs to work out. Luckily, there is also a display bar at the bottom of the screen showing where you are up to in a book with a lengthening black bar and a percentage. This is brilliant (especially because it has dots for chapter divisions) but/and it changes the timing for each book. By now I’m starting to get the hang of it instinctively, but it’s definitely not as accurate when it comes to the inevitable, “Should I try to finish it before going to bed/work?” question.

Before my kindle arrived, I had a notion of happily reading in bed, not having to break a book’s spine to see words close to the margin, and not having to support the weight of the book with my arm when reading the “wrong” side. (Yes, I really am lazy enough that these things annoy me.) It’s even better: I can prop it up on its cover ($40 for lovely leather with a gorgeous look and charming tactile feel that appeals to my steampunk self) and use no hands at all. Oh, I like. (Speaking of steampunk-friendly aesthetics, I really like the black and white screensavers too.) Also, the book keeps my place for me and can bookmark other bits wherever I like. No more losing a vital scrap of torn paper and trying to figure out where I am without accidentally reading ahead.

Unlike the ipad, it’s certainly not designed to be multi-functional – but it DOES handle glare beautifully: better, in fact, than paper. And because the original Kindle is so old in tech terms, you can get one for under $100. And when your book is done, you can buy another one without getting out of bed.

I really, really love my Kindle.

(No, sadly they’re not paying me to say this.)

Beginner’s Guide to Steampunk Lit

Yes, it’s finally here! My idea of what a map of steampunk might look like. Harangue me on my choices and omissions below! Post it wherever you like, with a link back here. Caveat #1: This is only books (I tried to make it only novels, or at least novelists). Caveat #2: I’m only one person. This was a big job, and I chose to oversimplify rather than make it my life’s work. Also, there are some errors. And, as you can tell, I chose to finish the map this year rather than take longer and make it bigger, prettier, and funnier. And yes, I read and write mainly young adult, which is also obvious at a glance. Caveat #3: More is being written all the time. Tell us about your favourite steampunk in the comments! My reviews have all been moved to Comfy Chair, where I get paid for them:

“The Sky Village” by Monk & Nigel Ashland

“Pastworld” by Ian Beck

“Soulless” by Gail Carriger

“Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare (1 of 3)

“Girl Genius” graphic novel series by Phil and Kaja Foglio: Incredibly manic hilarity. You can find them online here and get a thrice-weekly fix.

“The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

“Worldshaker” etc by Richard Harland: Brilliant and satirically funny.

“Burton and Swinburne: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man” by Mark Hodder

“The Affinity Bridge” by George Mann

China Mieville: Sheer imagination from a brilliant and complex mind.

“The Nomad of Time” by Michael Moorcock

“Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel

“Dreadnought” by Cherie Priest (not the first book in the series)

“Blaze of Glory” etc by Michael Pryor: Funny and action-filled. I’ve read the whole six-book series, so clearly I liked it – but I often found the hero annoying.

“The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (1 of 3)

“The Subtle Knife” by Philip Pullman (2 of 3)

“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman (3 of 3)

“Ruby in the Smoke” by Philip Pullman (1 of 4 Sally Lockhart books)

“Larklight” by Philip Reeve (1 of 3, though they can stand alone quite well)

“Starcross” by Philip Reeve (2 of 3)

“Mothstorm” by Philip Reeve (3 of 3)

“Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve: Very very dark (in marked contrast to his kids’ books). Also brilliant. And violent. The prequels aren’t as good.

“Ichabod hart and the Lighthouse Mystery” by James Roy

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick: Yep, the book on which the movie “Hugo” was based. Pretty clocks and pretty pictures.

“Warship at the Bottom of the Sea” by Oshikawa Shunro: I haven’t read it, but apparently it’s fun and has pirates.

“The Hunchback Assignments” by Arthur Slade

Jeff Vandermeer: I only read one story (the first in “City of Saints and Madmen”) because, although it was wonderfully involving and the sensory detail was exquisite, it was far too violent and dark for me to read any more. I also thought the twist at the end was stupid.

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne: Good, but too much technobabble for my liking.

“The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells: Still readable and interesting (or, if you prefer, horrifying) today.

“Leviathan” and “Behemoth” by Scott Westerfeld (1 and 2 of 3)

“Goliath” by Scott Westerfeld (3 of 3)

“The Machine Maid” by Diana Wynne-Jones: A true steampunk short story (which I wasn’t able to get my hands on).

Edited to add: My own novels are Aussie-written with an Australian setting; crossover fantasy novels. The first is HEART OF BRASS. It’s on Amazon etc and various Aussie bookshops. You can get the ISBN off that link to request it from your local bookshop with ease. Or you can order it directly from that link (it will be printed for you in Melbourne, the US or the UK, so most of you won’t have to pay ludicrous amounts of postage).

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