Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Hogwarts in the Snow ǀ Warner Bros Studio Tour

With all the buzz and excitement surrounding the recent annoucement that this spring will see the addition of the Forbidden Forest to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour, I realised that I had completely forgotten to write about my own recent visit to Hogwarts in the Snow.

This was my first time visiting the Warner Bros. Studio and I was excited to see the festive additions which were made for the Christmas season.  Hogwarts in the Snow is something which arrives at the WB Studio towards the end of November each year and remains until early February.  I went to the experience with my sister, who has been before (and helpfully kept up a running commentary of what had changed and what had not!)

You can read on for photos and thoughts of our experience or scroll down to the bottom for a short video of our weekend break instead.



On arrival we passed through security and were then hurled head over heels into the world of all things Harry Potter.  The first thing we saw was a HUGE Christmas tree, dominating the entrance and, as my eye was drawn upwards, the whole area was surrounded by pictures of the cast and a few other recognisable items hanging from the ceiling as well.


Whilst queuing to go through into the main part of the tour you are offered your first glimpse of the excitement to come with the cupboard under the stairs...there was a real backlog of people as everyone wanted to grab a photo of one of the first places we meet Harry Potter.


You then pass through some large doors and onto a secret thing which you aren't allowed to film or photograph and I won't ruin it by sharing here and then...the BIG moment.  The doors to the Great Hall are pushed open and you step inside and for a fan of the whole Harry Potter world it is just...amazing.


For the Hogwarts in the Snow experience, the Great Hall is dressed up for Christmas dinner and no detail has been overlooked from crackers for the individual houses to witches circling the Christmas trees and flames crackling in the fireplaces; it's a very special thing to wander around and see what you recognise from the films.



Time is limited in the Great Hall as it is the place which each tour begins so we didn't have too much time before we were ushered out and into the next section.

Once you've exited the Great Hall, the tour is basically in two parts; two different, giant warehouses and you are free to take it at your own pace.  The sets, costumes and items are generally separated into different areas and there is just so much to see and do, it would be pointless trying to list it all here!

My favourites from the first part of the tour included:-

*Dumbledore's Office
*The Triwizard Cup
*The kitchen of the Burrow
*Riding a broomstick













There are a number of different interactive elements and activities you can enjoy as you make your way around and there is also an audio tour you can hire although we didn't do this as we preferred to chat and explore on our own.

***

After you have explored all that the first part of the tour offers you then pass through a tunnel and emerge...


...on Platform 9¾! I think this may have been my favourite part of the tour and I will admit that I let out a little squeak of excitement when I turned the corner and saw the Hogwarts Express just right there.



You can board the Hogwarts Express and each of the carriages features a layout from one of the films which is very cool.



In this section you can also enjoy some refreshments (including Butterbeer!), hop aboard the Knight Bus and see Privet Drive.  Unfortunately it was not only dark when we reached this section but it was also hammering down with rain so we didn't really get to enjoy the outside areas as much as we'd have liked to.



You can also wander up Diagon Alley which is very cool and pass through corridors lined with artwork and models from the films which gives you a huge appreciation for how much work must have gone into each and every movie and then...

The finale...


The VAST model of Hogwarts which was used in each film, and for this special season was covered in snow.  I don't really know how to describe it; it was certainly impressive and a real highlight of the tour.


So much thought and detail...and just the fact that it was Hogwarts was enough, really.


The final section of the tour is a 'sort-of' Ollivanders experience.  There is a room filled with wand boxes which have the names of each and every member of the cast and crew who worked on any of the Harry Potter films on them. Again, it goes some way to showing the true scale of the Harry Potter franchise and how many people were involved in bringing the films to life.

There was also a very knowledgeable member of staff on hand who could tell you where certain wand boxes were; she got every single request correct whilst I was in there which must have taken some time to learn!

And then finally it was onto the gift shop and back to our hotel.  I don't think I have even scratched the surface with this post on how much there is to see and do.  I've really only shared my highlights but I would say that for anyone with an interest in Harry Potter and the HP movies then you will really, really enjoy a visit here.  

From one fan to another, trust me.




*All parts of this trip were paid for by me.  Opinions and views expressed are entirely my own; I just really love Harry Potter!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

My Perfect Cosy Night In...

It has to be said that January and February are pretty rubbish months.  We've had Christmas and New Year so there aren't any festivities to look forward to and spring and the warmer weather is still a while off yet.  We basically get to enjoy two months of grey skies, rainy days, blisteringly cold winds and the occasional panic that it might snow and everything will ground to a halt.

But I may just have found the only silver lining to this whole scenario in that these winter months lend themselves perfectly to cosy days and nights spent inside, snuggled under a blanket and reading a good book or getting lost in a new box set.  We have recently just finished watching the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy on blu-ray (unfortunately not on a Ultra HD 4K TV Panasonic but still pretty good quality) and there was something perfect about an epic fantasy which really fit this time of year.

That said, there are a few things which make up a perfect night in, in my opinion.  I love to create an atmosphere which is inviting and warm, and makes you want to dive right in so lamps and low lights are a must.  I might light a couple of candles or use my LED ampersand to give the room a bit of ambience.  


Next up we want a heap of soft and snuggly blankets; luckily I have been slowly adding to our blanket collection (I'm not sure whether James has noticed or not yet...) and it's great to get one or two out and throw them on the sofa ready for burrowing under.


If you know there is no possibility of someone randomly knocking on your door at 7pm then I'd also change into my pyjamas or lounge gear and pop on some soft slipper socks as well, especially if the weather is a little on the chillier side and grab a warm drink; hot chocolate is obviously a favourite or, if I'm being good, a decaf or herbal tea.

And then finally it's the entertainment.  Anyone who has been here before will know that I really don't think you can beat a good book to dive into but I have been equally known to pick a familiar movie which I can relax to or find a new boxset and end up watching five or six episodes after saying I'll only watch the first one...

I know as parents it isn't always that easy to hide away and pretend that the rest of the world doesn't exist for a prolonged period of time but I find that trying to plan one night a week when I switch off from everything else and just get cosy can do wonders for my mood at this time of year.

And really, is there anything better than burrowing down into a soft blanket whilst listening to the rain beating on the window outside?  That might actually be one of my favourite pastimes!



*This is a collaborative post

Friday, 27 January 2017

Cosy reads, Interviews and The Help...#LittleLoves

Another week of January done and dusted, can you even believe it?  This week has seen a return to the wintery grey days and blisteringly cold weather; as I write this it is minus 4 outside!  Whilst it isn't so nice when you have to stand on playgrounds and walk dogs and generally emerge from your cosy, warm home...it is the perfect weather for snuggling under blankets with hot chocolate and a good book or movie which I have definitely be doing this weekend for sure! 

But onto the week just gone and I am joining in with Morgana and Little Loves again this week:-

Read
I finished Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas this week.  It's not my favourite YA fantasy series ever but I appreciate what she has done with the story and it has me intrigued enough that I will be picking up the 5th book shortly.  I'm currently reading Burial Rites which has been the perfect pick for such chilling weather; it's about a young girl who has been sentenced to death in Iceland and whilst she is awaiting a date for her execution she is sent to live with a family and a priest so she can absolve herself.  That's pretty much all I know at the moment as I haven't got very far with it but it's very atmospheric and a little creepy!


Watched
I'm late to the Sherlock train I know, but we watched the last episode this week and OH.MY.GOODNESS.  I don't know whether I loved it or I hated it.  I spent pretty much the entire episode with my hands over my face.  It was definitely an intense experience.  On the more light-hearted side of things, I've been watching 'Freddie Down Under' this week as well, about Freddie Flintoff on a road trip in Australia.  I've been a fan of Freddie ever since he joined A League of Their Own and although the new show is pretty random it does make me smile.

Made
This weekend we are going to (hopefully) be decorating Meg's room so I've been spending lots of time pinning and gaining inspiration.  I don't know how it happens but we sort her room out and then it just slowly descends into chaos again so I'm feeling determined to get it to a manageable place with enough storage solutions and places for her to hide her little notes and random trinkets that I don't find them in every single nook and cranny.  I'm actually really looking forward to the finished room which I'm sure I will share over here at some point!

Wore
So after saying in my recent resolutions vlog that I wasn't going to look for a job, I had an interview land in my lap for this week.  Unfortunately I didn't get the job (which is not the part I love!) but I did enjoy digging out my old corporate gear and dressing smartly for the day, even if my feet wrecked by the end of it.  It was a good experience to have as well and I'm sure it will be useful as I decide what direction I want to take my work in this year.


Heard
I've been listening to The Help on audio book this week.  I have never really been into audio books but someone told me that The Help was a really great one to get into and I actually started it on the plane when we went to Malaga back in October and I haven't listened to it since.  I've been spending a lot of time in the car this week however so it seemed like a good time to get back into it.  I'm just over halfway now and if you do like audio books then I'd really recommend it.

And Lastly...
I was doing my tax return this week (nothing like leaving it to the last second...) and I realised that this spring it will have been two years since Secrets of the River was released.  I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by!  Part of my plans for this year is to not only finish the current book I am writing but to also continue to promote Secrets which is definitely something I have been lacking in...so if you haven't picked up a copy then why not give it a whirl? It's only £1.99!  Or if you have read it and enjoyed it then please recommend it to someone.  



And that's probably my self-promotion done for the next year...

Have a great one all.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Shades of Gray, Mild Days and No Plans...#LittleLoves

Every year I promise myself that when January comes around I will join in with a blog linky which I really enjoy and every year, without fail, I completely forget until the third or fourth week of the month.  As is exactly the case here!  

I think it is probably a lot to do with the fact that this month as felt like something of a whirlwind; I can't believe that the month is almost over.  I feel like it has only just begun and we are just finding our feet and routine again after the Christmas break.  But, enough of the excuses.  I am going to try my best to join in with the Little Loves linky each Friday and bring you something of my week as we go along.

So without further ramblings here are my Little Loves for the week:-

Read
I started January strong, reading four books in two weeks but this week has definitely slowed right down.  I finished Between Shades of Gray which absolutely devastated me.  It's about a Lithuanian family who are sent to a work camp in Siberia during WW2.  Such a moving story and I'm so glad I read it.  I am currently reading Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas; this is the fourth book in her Throne of Glass series and I'm not loving it.  I find the main character really tricky to like and I know that is a very unpopular opinion to have but there it is.  I've only got this book and one more to go and then I am done and I can start her next series which I've heard much better things about.


Watched
We caught up with the first two episodes of Sherlock this week (is anyone else as perplexed as I am?) and will hopefully get the final one watched this evening.  I'm hoping it finishes strong as it feels like we've waited forever for this series!  I've also been watching a lot of Youtube this week...particularly tutorials on how to curl hair with a wand.  I was sent a wand for review and it's supposed to be foolproof but I don't think they had quite accounted for this fool...I do feel inspired though to try something new with my hair and not just have it straight all the time.

Made
I'm going a little bit sideways with this one and choosing to say that I made an effort...I had made plans to go out on Thursday evening but by the time Thursday evening rolled around I couldn't think of anything worse than going out.  My friend sent me this image which cheered me up and I did actually make myself go out and, you know what?  I had a really nice time!  Just goes to show that sometimes making the effort is worth it.


Wore
I don't know about elsewhere in the UK but this week has been really quite mild weather wise which I have loved.  I've been living in this blanket jacket; it's perfect for the school run as you don't get too hot in the car and as long as you aren't standing around outside for too long you don't get too chilly either.  It's also super soft which is a win.


Heard
I'm probably way behind the times but I have just discovered the Daily Mixes on Spotify.  I like to listen to Spotify whilst I work at home and I often bring out the same playlists (which I know won't distract me into singing and not concentrating) but the Daily Mixes are great.  It's a little bit of stuff you usually listen to with new songs thrown in as well.  I've discovered some great new artists through them.

And Lastly...
I don't really have any big news to insert here other than a big cheer that it's Friday.  I am very ready for this weekend; we don't have any plans other than to chill out which will be very welcome.  





Monday, 9 January 2017

For The Love of Writing... ǀǀ Books & Writing

In 2015 I set myself some very definite goals for the year and achieved exactly ZERO of them.  So in 2016 I decided I wasn't going to set myself anything specific but just have a general gist of what I wanted to achieve.  Whilst I did pretty well at that, when I was reflecting on the past year I was surprised to find that I was disappointed with the results.

Now it might seem fairly obvious but I had clearly set myself some goals, only to pretend that I hadn't, to do nothing about them and then feel disappointed when they didn't come to fruition.  Which also seems pretty daft to me now that I think about it!

So this year I thought I would set myself some definite goals.  I took a good look at my social media networks and saw what was working and what wasn't.  I looked at my personal life and my work life and thought about what I might want to (and importantly) what I might realistically be able to achieve.

One of the major points is the completion of my second manuscript.  In May this year it will have been two years since the release of Secrets of the River and two years since I began work on my second book.  I have seriously lacked momentum to keep the writing going although the characters are still very much wandering around in my imagination.

The trouble that I have found is that whilst working as a freelance writer gives me the freedom to be at home and pursue my writing career...I spend that much time writing content for other people that there is no brain space left to sit down and write creatively.  When I have finished my work for the day, I can't bear the thought of having to continue staring at the computer screen or trying to force out something interesting to write down in my notebook.


What I want is to curl up with a good book and lose myself in someone else's writing for a prolonged period of time but that doesn't really help me, let's be honest.

So what to do?

One of my goals for this year was to get on top of my freelance work.  I mentioned a while back that I was thinking about returning to the office and (typically) I had just given up on that being a possibility when a potential opportunity landed in my lap.  I don't know yet whether this will come to anything but regardless, whether I go back to work in an office or whether I remain freelance, I need to have set days when I am working and set days when I am not.

This isn't always possible but for the most part, I should be able to guarantee myself one day a week which I can give over to just writing creatively.  I adore writing, I adore following the pattern of my thoughts and seeing where it takes me.  I never really have a set outcome for my plot lines, I just follow the characters as they leave and appear on the pages in front of me and that is really quite exciting.  Better yet when you share those thoughts and notes and scribbles with other people and they really enjoy reading about them too!


Whether I get the manuscript finished this year is a rather large question mark but I certainly intend to give it my best shot.  Cue me, last Friday, sitting in a posh coffee shop (my first time there) trying to pretend I wasn't the only person there, trying to pretend I wasn't just hanging around like a billy no-mates for two and a half hours, trying not to get distracted by just about every other conceivable thing...and lo and behold I managed to write a whole 4,000 words!


Granted, it cost me £15 in pots of tea and possibly the nicest poached egg on toast I've ever had but I did it.

I just need to keep the momentum going now!


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

January TBR ǀ Books & Reading

It is probably safe to say that I crawled over the reading finishing line in December.  I don't know whether I had just exhausted my brain (I read 71 books in 2016, beating my Goodreads challenge of 50!) or whether I just chose the wrong books to read in such a busy month but of the huge TBR I set myself back in November, I don't think I read any of the books on the list.

So when I was thinking about the books I'd like to read in January, I was naturally a little hesitant.  I'm not really into setting what I want to read in stone as I'm too much of a mood reader.  One day I might be feeling melancholic and choose all dark books but when it comes to actually picking something up, on the day I may be in a completely different mindset.


All that said, there is a definite theme to the books I am suggesting this month for my TBR.  For some reason all the covers are blue...interpret that in any way you wish...

Heroes of Olympus, The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan
I finished reading the last Percy Jackson series in early 2016 and James has been bugging me to pick up the Heroes of Olympus ever since.  These are middle grade (8+) books and are very light-hearted easy reads.  They are the kind of book which you just have to accept for what they are; they will make you smile, maybe teach you a bit about Greek history and offer some light entertainment if you want a quick and easy read.  This book is set in the world of Percy Jackson but features three new characters: Piper, Jason and Leo who must complete their own quest and stop the end of the world as we know it.


Black Rabbit Hall - Eve Chase
I chose this book because the premise sounds very similar to the books written by one of my favourite authors: Kate Morton.  It is a dual timeline story following one family during the 1960s and one family in the present day.  Black Rabbit Hall was the country estate for the Alton family, the place they spent many idyllic summer days until one tragic event in 1968 changed that forever.  Decades later, Lorna and her fiance are searching for the perfect wedding venue when Lorna comes across the crumbling remains of Black Rabbit Hall and is drawn to the building in a way she can't explain.  There she begins to uncover the dark secret.  This sounds like a family drama/thriller to me and I can't wait to read it.

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
Another one I wanted to read in November but never got around to was Between Shades of Gray.  This is a historical fiction novel set during World War Two and follows the story of a 15 year old Lithuanian girl whose life is turned upside down when she is taken by Soviet soldiers to a work camp in Siberia.  I believe this is an incredibly moving, but incredibly hope-filled story.


Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
This book was on my TBR back in November and I didn't get around to picking it up although I am absolutely determined to this month.  It's about Agnes, a young woman who has been accused of murder during the 1820s.  It is set in Iceland and whilst Agnes is awaiting her execution date she goes to live with the family of a Priest.  There she begins to reveal her story and it is full of dark twists and heartbreak.

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
Next week I will be sharing my book reading resolutions over on my Youtube channel and one of those resolutions is to read a classic book in 2017.  As I was recently gifted this stunning version of Sense and Sensibility for Christmas, it only seemed right to pick that one.  I have read a couple of other Austen books but never this one so I'm looking forward to it.  I find that Jane Austen is quite an accessible classics writer, if you aren't good with the flowery and rich language of many classic authors.


Still Life - Louise Penny
It has been a while since I've read a good murder mystery story and Still Life was recommended to me by a friend so I have really high hopes for the story!  It is the first book in a series about Inspector Armand Gamache, and his team of investigators.  They are called to a rural village south of Montreal called 'Three Pines' to investigate a murder.  It is the type of village which appears quiet on the surface but which has lots of hidden secrets if you delve a little deeper, which Gamache soon discovers.  I have to say that this is probably the book I am most looking forward to reading over the coming weeks.

So those are the books I have chosen to hopefully read this January and possibly going through into February depending on how the month goes.

And, of course, do let me know if you have been reading anything good and you can purchase all of the books I have mentioned here on Book Depository and Amazon as well.

Currently Reading: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan


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