Christmas Poems

Christmas Poems

For me, the greatest gift of the Christmas season is time to read. The offices and schools are closed. The weather is often appalling. The nights are long and dark and seem designed expressly for the purpose of snuggling under a blanket on the sofa with the tree lights twinkling, a glass of something tempting within easy reach and a great big pile of delicious-smelling, beautiful new books. I have small children now, so it’s more of a challenge to find uninterrupted reading time, and I’ve found myself turning more and more frequently to poetry. Unlike a novel, I can easily slip reading a poem into the brief pockets of calm bought with a new colouring book or puzzle. Here are some of my festive favourites – all would make great gifts, too.

Never has the exhilaration of whirling about on ice-skates been better captured than by Wordsworth, in a breathless and beautiful section of ‘The Prelude’ which I included in my second anthology, Tyger Tyger Burning Bright. I speak as a clumsy person, whose few attempts at skating have resulted in the kind of falls that elicit audible gasps from witnesses and some truly spectacular bruising. If Wordsworth can fill me with the desire to sail across frozen lakes under a wide wintry night sky, he can inspire anyone.

The Journey of the Magi can be found in this beautiful edition of selected T. S. Eliot poems (if, like me, you are a fetishist for stylish endpapers, this volume won’t disappoint.) It has an eerie, cold magic to it, perfect for reading and chewing over on a bitter winter’s night.

I love Betjeman’s ‘Christmas’, with its evocation of the pull of family (‘And girls in slacks remember Dad,/And oafish louts remember Mum’) and the seasonal cheer infecting everyone everywhere – from ‘provincial public houses’ to ‘many-steepled London’. Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ perfectly captures how some scrap of childhood magic can cling to Christmas Eve and the vision of the nativity no matter what age we are. On a melancholy note, ‘Blue’, from Di Slaney’s recent collection Reward for Winter, is a moving reminder that Christmas can be an agonising time for some.

A contemporary poem I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed is one for the festive refuseniks: ‘Bah… Humbug’ by Gregory Woods. I love the jolly chaos of a family Christmas – but I can’t deny the allure of a solitary, batteries-not-included celebration with ‘books to the left of you,/gin to the right’. This poem is part of Christmas Crackers, a pamphlet designed to be sent instead of a greetings card – perfect if you’d like to say something more substantial than ‘Season’s greetings’.

I bought this edition of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ a few years ago and am frankly delighted that my four year old insists on hearing it all year old. Clement C Moore’s poem is a nostalgic delight and the gorgeous, admirably sturdy pop-up illustrations are magical. Due to our – frequently unseasonal – repeated readings, I am now word perfect. This confers an additional advantage: I can name all the reindeer (and, no, Rudolf doesn’t feature) and am therefore a splendid addition to any Christmas pub quiz team. Moore was a slightly unlikely Christmas poet, being an academic whose other works were heavy tomes on Hebrew. Legend has it that he composed this, his only famous poem, to entertain his children during a sleigh ride through Greenwich Village on Christmas Eve 1822, basing jolly St Nicholas on their coachman. I hope it’s true.

Whatever you do at Christmas and wherever you are, I wish you happy reading. May your stocking be full of books and your cheeseboard always groaning.

Ana Sampson is the editor of five poetry anthologies including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Poems to Learn by Heart and, her latest, Best-Loved Poems. She works as a freelance publicist and copywriter and tweets as @Anabooks.


5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts About the Natural World

5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts about the natural world

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have become a Christmas institution themselves, as much a part of the festivities as mince pies and the Queen’s speech. Each year, a prominent scientist steps up to deliver a series of lectures on his or her specialist topic, with the aim of enthusing a young audience – both the lucky ones who have seats in the Royal Institution’s famous Lecture Theatre, and everyone else glued to their TVs at home.

While I was researching and writing 11 Explorations into life on earth I uncovered a treasure-trove of fascinating facts delivered by the Christmas Lecturers who over the last century have focused on the natural world. Here are my top five:

  1. Lemurs fight with smelly tails

When Sir David Attenborough gave the Christmas Lectures in 1973, one of his favourite animal guests was quite obviously a ring-tailed lemur called Tammy. Attenborough cuddles the adorable lemur while explaining to the audience how in the wild, in Madagascar, this species will rub their tails over a scent gland on their wrists. Opponents then flick their pongy tails at each other, wafting the stink in battles over territories.

Attenborough filled his lectures with a parade of other animals, not all of which participated as he had hoped; his fear of misbehaving animals almost put him off doing the lectures at all, which were broadcast live on TV (nowadays they’re pre-recorded). In the end, there were only a few hiccups, including the porcupine who wouldn’t come out of its box and the chicks that ignored Attenborough’s recordings of mother hen clucks. 

  1. Dinosaurs used to live in Antarctica

2004 Christmas Lecturer, Professor Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey transported his audience to the frozen continent at the bottom of the world, revealing the wonders of life that survive in the coldest place on earth. Today, Antarctica is covered in 30 million cubic kilometres of ice, weighing 30 quadrillion tonnes. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Peck brings out the skull of a three-foot dinosaur that roamed around Antarctic forests 75 million years ago. Back then, the southern continent was still attached to South America and a warm ocean current swept down the coast stopping Antarctica from freezing. When South America drifted away, it left behind an isolated land that grew colder and colder. Now, Peck warns, Antarctica is warming up again, faster than anywhere else on the planet, thanks to effects of human-induced climate change.

  1. There’s no such thing as an exploding beetle

In 1991, Richard Dawkins was the first RI Christmas Lecturer to tackle the topic of evolution. In his usual confrontational style, he doesn’t pull his punches and takes on the creationists who hold up certain animals as proof against evolution.

The bombardier beetle has the extraordinary habit of squirting boiling hot, corrosive liquid jets at their enemies. They do so by combining two different chemicals inside their abdomens. Only a divine creator – so the creationists say – could make a beetle that doesn’t blow itself up; it can’t have gradually evolved, but needs all the necessary equipment to prevent a dangerous accident to be in place from the start.

Dawkins delights the audience by mixing together various combinations of these dangerous chemicals in front of them. He shows that bit-by-bit he can produce hotter, more impressive reactions, with stronger and stronger chemicals, until the lecture room is full of steam. The beetle, he says, could quite feasibly have evolved through the gradual steps of evolution.

  1. Plants scream for help

In only the second botanical Christmas Lectures since their inception in 1825, Professor Sue Hartley introduces her audience in 2011 to the incredible war that’s been raging between animals and plants for 300-million years. Animals eat plants, and plants have evolved ingenious ways of getting their own back.

To demonstrate many wonders of plant-animal interactions, Hartley brings out a string of models including Kenny the caterpillar. She invites an eager member of the audience to come and help her; he pulls off Kenny’s head, reaches inside and brings out a handful of nasty goo and some grubs, laid by a parasitic wasp.

When plants are chomped by caterpillars they release an airborne chemical siren, calling for help from parasites that fly in and attack the herbivores. Parasitic wasps usually only lay eggs in a particular kind of caterpillar, so plants customise their messages accordingly, and send out an SOS to summon the right sort of wasp.

  1. Deep sea squid species were discovered in whale vomit

In his 1937 Christmas Lectures, Sir Julian Huxley (former secretary of London Zoo and co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund) talked about rare and disappearing wildlife. He told a story of the Prince of Monaco, a keen zoologist, who was sailing his yacht when he encountered a group of whalers killing a sperm whale (this was back at a time when commercial whaling was still legal). The harpooned whale coughed up a ball of partially digested food, which the prince gladly scooped up from the sea. Examining the vomit, scientists discovered two species of squid that were new to science.

Huxley delivered powerful conservation messages to his young audience, long before such ideas were mainstream. He warned against the greedy misuse of wildlife, including crocodiles for their skin to make shoes and butterflies to make into colourful jewellery. He even showed a film of seal pups in Canada being clubbed to death for their white, fluffy fur. Huxley also introduced various solutions to these problems, such as persuading hunters to stop killing animals for sport and the need for setting up more wildlife reserves.

11 Explorations into Life on Earth by Helen Scales is published by Michael O’Mara.

The 2017 Christmas Lectures by the Royal Institution, presented by neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott, will be broadcast on BBC Four in late December, produced by Windfall Films.


10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About The Suffragettes

Author Sally Nicholls

When I started writing Things a Bright Girl Can Do, a young adult novel about three teenage girls and the Suffragette movement, I knew little about the Suffragettes beyond what I was taught at school. These are some of the things I learnt as I researched . . .

  1. There was no such thing as a single ‘suffrage movement’. Like the environmental movement, it was made up of lots of smaller organisations. Some were local groups like the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, some religious like the Friends’ League for Women’s Suffrage, while others were organised by profession like the Actors Franchise League. More militant groups were generally members of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, while those who preferred peaceful methods generally joined Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
  1. The colours of the WSPU were green, white and violet – which stood for Get Women Votes.
  1. Suffragettes weren’t all white and middle-class – although Emmeline Pankhurst preferred to recruit from the middle-classes as she thought educated women with time on their hands made better soldiers. East End women and Lancashire mill-girls were some of the most active Suffragettes, however, as were women like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. In 1920, Sylvia Pankhurst hired Britain’s first black journalist, Claude McKay, to work for The Worker’s Dreadnought, (formerly the Suffragette newspaper The Women’s Dreadnought.)
  1. Suffrage campaigners weren’t all women either. There was even a Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage who participated in many marches and rallies. Famous male suffrage supporters include HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and the Labour MP Keir Hardy.
  1. Modern feminism tends to concentrate on the ways in which men and women are similar, but Edwardians saw men and women as very different creatures. Men were more rational, more brave, but also more impulsive and less morally steadfast – women were encouraged to forgive drunk husbands, for example, because they ‘couldn’t help it’. Women were more timid and weaker physically, but they were also angels of patience, virtue and negotiation. Men argued that it wasn’t fair to taint these saintly figures by allowing them into the rough-house world of politics. Women argued that if they really were so steadfast, virtuous and good at finding peaceful solutions to problems, why the hell wouldn’t you want them to have political power?
  1. You might have heard that women were given the vote as a ‘thank you’ for their war work. This, however, simply isn’t true. It was already clear in 1914 that women had won their battle – the only thing left was for the government to find a way to concede without looking weak. The war provided that. Under previous legislation, men had to be resident in Britain for the twelve months before an election in order to vote, a law which disenfranchised most of the armed forces. Since it was clear that the law would have to be changed, giving women the vote as a ‘thank you’ was simply a way of saving face.
  1. In fact, many Suffragettes were vehemently anti-war. Emmeline Pankhurst came out very early on in favour of the war, as, somewhat reluctantly, did Millicent Fawcett. However, one of the tenets of the movement was that once women got the vote there would be no more war, as women would never vote to send their sons to be slaughtered. Many suffrage campaigners felt betrayed by Pankhurst and particularly by Fawcett, and many resigned their membership in protest.
  1. The International Woman Suffrage Alliance did more than just campaign against the war. They organised a Women’s Peace Congress in 1915, with representatives from neutral countries and all countries involved in the war. Over 200 women from Britain were supposed to attend – but the British government cancelled all North Sea shipping to prevent it. The women who attended the conference arranged meetings with government representatives up to and including Woodrow Wilson. The warring nations agreed that – in principle – they would try to negotiate a peace if a neutral nation would facilitate and Sweden agreed – in principle – that they would. Sadly, however, nothing came of it.
  1. The Suffragettes had many grand ideas about what would happen when women began using their vote. Equal pay rights for men and women! Pensions for spinsters! Old age pensions for all! State orphanages! Financial support for carers and parents! Divorced women to have the right to see their child, and even retain custody! Reading it now, they sound like fantasists. Except . . .
  1. . . . In the hundred years since women gained the right to vote, every one of those predictions have come true.

Hive Talkin’ with Author Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware

Ruth signing copies of The Lying game.

We caught up with best selling author Ruth Ware talking about her writing life as she marks the release of her brand new book The Lying Game.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Wow, ok I haven’t actually been asked that before! I think the answer is probably both, when it’s going really well it’s amazing and I get really fired up and really into the emotions of the characters. In fact, if I’m writing an argument or something I come down and find myself snapping at my poor husband because some of it over-spills! However not every day the words come that easily and there are days when it feels like, you know, you are just joylessly grinding away – it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. Those days are definitely quite exhausting!

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I’m really boring when it comes to writing (laughs). I have two small kids so I drop them off at school and then I come home and I sit in my chair at 9:30am and I write until I go and pick them up. That’s pretty much it but I do have an alarm because sometimes if I’m really into a scene ill just write through the school pick up and completely forget to go and get the kids!

Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.

Well, my heart would like to say a beautiful library with lots of shelves, you know, the lovely shelves you would need a ladder to get to the top tier! That was always my dream as a child but in reality my ideal writing space would be somewhere that is as boring as possible. I mean we have a beautiful view from where my study is over the Sussex hills and it’s a really exquisite view but my desk is in a corner facing the wall. It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out. So yeah, my ideal writing space would be a padded, sound proofed cell!

It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out.

How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends, in a Dark Dark Wood I did quite a lot of research as there was quite a lot of technical stuff like the memory loss, police procedures etc. With the Lying Game it was much more about the emotions and what was going on in the characters head which wasn’t as much research. However I did spend quite a lot of time tracking down people to check that it was plausible and that I’d got the details right. Usually I think about a plot for about 3 or 4 months before I actually start writing and kind of mull it over and do a bit of googling. Most of the research is done then but inevitably stuff crops up once you start writing and sometimes it’s the really small stuff that’s hardest to get right. Things like would this policeman be able to do this? and no one seems to know, Google’s not helping and then you have to take a pragmatic view of well, if none of the police officers I’ve spoken to knew, then what percentage of the readers are going to be able to figure it out?

What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for a book?

Basically my Google search history is like every intelligence officers nightmare! It’s basically a litany of bullet wounds, shootings, poisonings, substance abuse and then what sentences are handed out in the event of all these terrible occurrences! The weirdest thing is probably the vast amount of very specific drug stuff that’s in the current book which is hard to describe without spoiling the plot! To do with the different types of effects overdoses – I probably know more than I should do about the effects of heroin in the system!

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

I should say my kids really… well, my kids and my current book, obviously!!

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Social media. It’s so addictive. The one thing as a writer it’s quite a weird, lonely existence and you don’t have that kind of comfort necessarily as you do in an office. If you have a frustrating day you can go chat about it at the water cooler and get it all off your chest and for writers the only way to do that really is on social media. But inevitably you go on there for some factual reason or to off load something and you get sucked into endless debates about Brexit or something that has nothing to do with your writing life! So yeah, sometimes I will have periods where I will de-register from Facebook until I’ve got 30,000 words down on this new book.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Have Faith. I was convinced that I wouldn’t get published. I wrote for years and years and years and literally all the books went under the bed, I always wanted to be a writer but I think I just thought that it didn’t really happen for people like me. So it would be nice to have someone tap you on the shoulder and say ‘it’s probably gonna be ok , keep going!’.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Its’ very different writing as a job than it is writing for fun. Part of that was getting published and part of that was when I gave up the day job and began writing full time and then I realised I just had to write what was fun and what sold.

I think I’m probably not alone in this but my only way of getting the courage to write a book is to pretend that nobody is going to read it. I just pretend I am writing for me and put in all the ridiculous stuff and not think about the fact my mother in law is going to be reading the sex scenes. The further you get down the publishing path the harder it is to maintain that illusion because it becomes not just probable but certain that this book is going to see the light of day. The mother in law will buy it and so will all of your friends so that definitely changes things!

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I used to be a press officer so I guess if I hadn’t published I would still be doing that. When I gave up my day job to become a writer full time, I told myself that if it didn’t work out I was going to retrain as an accountant. I love numbers, I love spreadsheets and I love the satisfaction of finding out about weird quirky bits of legislation and making it all fit so I think I would be good at it.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Because I write stand alone’s, (I think this is a problem specifically for people who write stand alone’s) and I write a book a year at the moment I have to start the new book before I finish editing the old book. Each book has a different narrator and a different voice and a different kind of feel to the book and coming up with that whilst simultaneously editing in the voice of the old book is really, really difficult – it’s a process. I kind of liken to rubbing your stomach while patting your head or someone singing a song in your ear while you are trying to sing another. It’s hard and that’s the bit I least enjoy.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I believe people get it, but touch wood I haven’t so far, I’ve probably jinxed myself now! I believe it’s as real as depression or any state of mind that you have no control over. Why people get it and what you can do to combat it I think is a myriad of different answers because I think it’s a symptom rather than a single thing but yeah it definitely exists.

What’s in store for the future?

Hopefully finishing book four which hasn’t got a confirmed title yet otherwise I would tell you! I have the finish line in sight now so I’m feeling a bit better about it!

Bill’s Blog – Come on Chelsea!!!

How well I recall my first visit to The Chelsea Flower Show. As I was leaving ,a young lady from local radio stuck a microphone in my face and asked me : “So was this your first time?” Yes, I replied. “And what did you think? Just a quick comment”. Not enough gnomes I said firmly. “Seriously? “ Yes, absolutely. I didn’t see a single gnome. At first I thought maybe Chelsea didn’t go in for bad taste and silliness, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case at all. For a start, if you want a good giggle just clock some of the ridiculous hats women wear. I presume they only get worn twice a year : Chelsea and Ascot , and a Royal Garden party if they are invited, as I assume most of them are. No doubt they would consider garden gnomes to be cheap and vulgar. Maybe traditional gnomes are banned ,from Chelsea, but this doesn’t mean that so are all manner of humanoid garden creatures. Some are inoffensive. Some are hideous. None of them are cheap.

Gnome corner. No vacancies

Bill Oddie with his pet owl

Dunnock perched on Purple Heron – a frequent sight in my [Bill’s] garden.

In recent years, gnomes have been usurped by woodland folk such as faeries- with an e to denote that they are magical- pixies, nymphs, goblins and sprites. The standard type wears tights, a Peter Pan jerkin, and a perky little cap with a feather , so twee that even Robin Hood would be embarrassed to be seen out in it. Most of them have an expression on their faces that I expect purports to be cheeky or mischievous, but is in fact more of a lascivious leer. Presumably their ardour is directed at females of their kind, though it seems that all pixies, goblins and sprites are male, whilst all the females seem to be faeries- or fairies if you prefer. Come to think of it ,I have never ever seen a lady gnome. Presumably it is all done by magic.

Actually ,it is all done by “craft” companies, who constantly wrack their brains to come up with this years hot ornamental garden creature.  They have of course taken a frightful bashing from Meercats. I am in fact a considerable aficionado of fake garden animals, but I have very strict rules. Principally, that they have to be realistic and really do look like they are supposed to. A rummage through my new book will reveal much much more about the menagerie I have accumulated.  There are some really accurate resin creatures, ranging from a  piglet to a gorilla (neither fully grown).  The best ones are almost exclusively made by a company called Vivid , who no doubt exhibit at all the big flower shows. Moreover, they are by no means exorbitantly pricey, which cannot be said about many of  the work on show, which would have to be carved from gold to justify their price tags. The amazing thing is that at Chelsea there will be people who can afford to buy them.

There are some people who would consider contorted creatures fashioned from copper, tin cans or scrap metal to be art. And some of it certainly is . However, surely no one could claim the same about the ‘comical captions’ section that delights those who have a sharp and eloquent sense of humour. Oscar Wilde would have been jealous. “ Never mind the dog, beware the husband.” “ Or beware of the wife.” “ It’s a bad day, piss off.”  (Wow that’s a clever one.) “ I am down the pub”. Why is that funny? “ Gone hunting” I am reporting that one to the League against cruel sports).At least they are cheap, in both senses.

But surely -you may be wondering – I do have a browse round the flowers? I do, but only outdoors. The massive marquees give me claustrophobia , and the flower displays look like a massive funeral parlour. I far prefer gazing at the “wildflower” gardens ,which happily seem to improve and multiply each year. Natural colours are delightful ,so why on earth is it becoming a fashion to spray blooms in your flower bed to change their colour!. My  wife recently came home with a large hydrangea and a spray can of flower paint to enhance its natural pink! Heathers and rushes seem to be popular targets in parks and flower shows. The natural purple of wild heather looks wonderful, spray it gold or silver and it looks ridiculous.

I don’t know if this little piece -or my book -is helpful or a  harangue . The fact is, the only rule about my gardens has been ‘anything goes ‘. My only advice is”Do your own thing.”

Bill Oddie OBE


Nature’s Party Starts Here – by Author Mark Ward

Mark Ward, author of Wildlife on Your Doorstep published by Reed New Holland this spring, reveals the wildlife delights you can find close to home this spring.

After a sluggish start in March, nature moves into top gear in the months of April and May. Spring has well and truly sprung and all manner of birds, bees, bugs and beasts, many fresh from hibernation, parade their finest colours and set about finding a mate. It is a riot of colour and activity and the great news is you don’t need to travel far to get in on the action.

Frogs are back in ponds in spring and looking for love (Image by Mark Ward)

You can find hundreds of different species within walking distance of your home. All you need to do is to get out there and get looking and listening!

Feel the buzz
Start in your garden where many insects are looking for nectar as flowers burst into bloom. Queen bumblebees are busy looking for places to set up a new colony after spending the winter months hibernating underground.

You could find half a dozen species of bumblebee in your borders in spring alongside marmalade hoverflies (image by Mark Ward).

It’s not just the bumblebees that are on the wing though – there are around 270 species of bee in the UK and dozens of species live in gardens.

Leafcutter bees reveal their presence by leaving perfect semicircles cut out of leaves and use the sections they carry off to seal their nest chambers.

Solitary bees excavate tunnels in soft ground at the edge of your paths, patio and flowerbeds. Look out for tiny holes suddenly appearing, fresh excavations and the inhabitants coming and going. Mini bumblebee-lookalikes include the Tawny Mining Bee and the wonderfully-named Hairy-footed Flower Bee.

The number of butterflies increases dramatically as April progresses. My favourite is the gorgeous male Orange-tip. It is a white butterfly and has the brightest orange tips to its forewings and a mossy-green pattern on its hindwings.

The Brimstone butterfly (below) might be your first of the year though. If ever a creature lived up to its name, this butterfly does it with its bright butter colours that leave you in no doubt that spring, and warmer weather, is here!

Will your first butterfly of the year be a beautiful brimstone? (image by Mark Ward)

Back from Africa
Garden birds have laid claim to any nestboxes you have and many migrants, fresh back from a winter in Africa. Watch for white-rumped House Martins from around mid-April, but the all black, screaming Swifts won’t appear until a month later.

The dawn chorus peaks in late April and early May when the voices of the Cuckoo, warblers including the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and many other African migrants join your resident songsters.

It’s also the time to start looking for baby animals with Fox cubs to be found from April and Badger cubs appearing above ground in May.

Wildlife on Your Doorstep by Mark Ward is published by New Holland Publishers and is available at Hive.

A Badger literally on my doorstep on a May evening (Image by Mark Ward).

This extract from Wildlife on Your Doorstep captures one of my most magical spring moments.

Diary Notes: 30th May – We have Badgers!

Nine in the evening and Springwatch had finished on TV, filling me with inspiration about the wildlife-watching season ahead. With a good hour’s daylight left, I went into the garden to gaze over the hedge into the field, hoping to see an owl. In one of the moments when you sense rather than see, I turned my head left to see a low-slung shape, blazing black and white stripes on its head, barrelling up the field edge, before scurrying into the hedge surrounding the garden next to ours. I wanted that garden to be ours more than anything at that moment. We have Badgers.

The next night I hopped over the fence to put out food on the track next to our hedge. I picked up a bag of dog biscuits from the supermarket, a bit worried that my choice of the cheapest range of biscuits might attract some disapproving glances from pet owners.

I eagerly waited, watching those biscuits, but nothing came. The following night, the sound of crunching as soon as I stepped outside saw me approaching the hedge with the lightest footsteps I think I’ve ever made. I’d done it – a Badger was feeding there. It immediately accepted me watching from eight feet away hidden behind the privet hedge and hardly daring to breathe. It stayed for 10 minutes, enough time to gobble the lot before turning and scurrying off back up the path.

From Mother to Mother: Recipes from a Family Kitchen with Lisa Faulkner

Lisa Faulkner joined us at Hive to catch up and share some insights and her favourite recipe from her new book From Mother to Mother: Recipes from a Family Kitchen.

Do you ever take inspiration from places you have travelled, or visited?

Everywhere, I take inspiration from everywhere. It’s my favourite thing about going anywhere that I haven’t been before. It’s finding people that live in the place, finding out about different foods, traditions, people fascinate me and food fascinates me so going somewhere different is a bonus.

Being part of a ‘Master’ Chef household, do you both do your fair share of cooking? If so, who would you say is the better cook?

Obviously John is the better cook as he’s the chef (and he’s brilliant) but we both cook all the time, we both share the cooking and love cooking together. It’s lovely!

What is your favourite flavour (of anything)

Oh god, I love butter. The flavour of butter maybe one of my favourite things, oh and coriander!

Do you have any tips out there for aspiring baker?

The tip I got from Mary Berry was read the recipe three times. The first time you read it you don’t really take it in or you are just looking at the ingredients and nothing else. So if you read it three times before you do it you will be able to prepare yourself much better.

What is your favourite recipe from the book?

There are so many favourites! I was looking at them yesterday and keep changing my mind on them. I love the peanut chicken satay balls at the moment they are my favourite thing but it changes on a daily basis!

Is there anything you really enjoy making with your daughter?

Pizza. She loves making pizza. She loves making soup – there is a tortilla soup in the book that she loves so yeah quite a lot of things. She would much rather make savoury things than sweet so we make the big crab linguini on the front (of the book) she likes doing that as well.

Are there any foods you really dislike?

Liver, Kidney…so offal, basically, is awful!

Marmite – love it? Hate it?

Love it. Love it. Love it!

Do you have any tips our there for busy working mums?

I think that we all feel so guilty and I think that we just need to give ourselves a break. Sometimes you can’t cook, sometimes you can’t be there, sometimes you wake up late and we give ourselves a hard time trying to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect and that’s what makes us brilliant at our job because you understand all the little bits that make you imperfect.

Do you have a favourite meal as a child that you like to make now?

Chicken tarragon. It’s in my first book but it’s my favourite and in fact there’s two recipes very similar in this book because I absolutely love it. It was one of my mum’s favourite dishes and she used to make it for our birthdays and it’s still my favourite thing to make.

What is your quick fix when you get ‘hangry’?

Oh it depends, I mean if it’s a quick dinner then it’s something like a broccoli pasta which takes no time at all. It’s also Billie’s go to recipe that he asks for dinner!

What would you say is the one item that is totally invaluable in the kitchen?

I love my kitchen aid.

Do you have a baking ritual? 

No I don’t have a ritual but I do listen to music. I love to put on some music and cook all day, that’s my favourite thing.

Traditional Malaysian Chicken Satay Balls


Serves 4

A traditional satay sauce is quite thick, but for this dish John loosens it with coconut milk to make a more liquid sauce for the chicken balls and noodles.

My other half, John, is a chef and an Aussie. Ever since he came back from working in Malaysia and made this dish for Billie and me I have been pestering him for this Chicken Satay recipe. A traditional satay sauce is quite thick, but for this dish John loosens it with coconut milk to make a more liquid sauce for the chicken balls and noodles. I don’t think you will ever want to buy a jar of ready-made satay sauce again, but for those among you who have no time but want to make the balls and noodles, you can cheat and use shop-bought sauce and then loosen it with coconut milk, I won’t tell!

If your children are reluctant to try spice, satay is a great way to introduce them to it gently. There’s only a mild hit of chilli, and most kids just love the sweetness of the peanut butter mixed with the coconut milk – which is seriously moreish – so they don’t even notice there’s a bit of kick behind them.


  • 1 x 400g tin coconut milk, chilled for a few hours or overnight
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 400g minced chicken or turkey
  • 200g medium egg noodles
  • To serve
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Handful of chopped coriander
  • Lime wedges


  1. Without shaking the tin of coconut milk, open and scoop the solid layer of cream from the top into a pan. Add the curry paste and cook over a medium–high heat until the sauce splits. Add the peanut butter and soy sauce and a third of the remaining coconut milk, mix together then bring to the boil and bubble away until thickened. Keep the sauce warm over a low heat while you make the chicken balls.
  2. Add a heaped tablespoon of this sauce to the minced chicken, stir to combine, and shape into balls – about the size of a ping pong ball. Heat a frying pan and brown the chicken balls all over, then add them to the sauce with the remaining coconut milk.
  3. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain and add to the chicken balls and sauce. Toss everything together then serve scattered with the sesame seeds, spring onions, coriander and lime wedges to squeeze over.