Monthly Archives: April 2012

When it comes to singing live there are few people with more experience than Sir Tom Jones. He’s been there, seen it and eaten burgers with Elvis. So when I chatted to him for the official The Voice UK behind-the-scenes book, the man dubbed ‘cooler than an igloo’ by fellow coach will.i.am was full of good advice for his team as they approached singing live to the nation for the very first time.

The key he said was not to think about how many people were watching. ‘You can’t start panicking about how many millions are sitting at home watching you, because if you do start to think like that you’ll crumble.’ He also stressed the need to be well-rehearsed ‘you don’t want to be winging anything’ and the importance of a good night’s sleep beforehand ‘without that you can get very edgy’.

So this weekend, after casting an expert eye over his crew as they sang for their survival, Tom’s heart must’ve been in his mouth as the public vote was revealed. When he picked free-spirited duo Matt & Sueleen over loveable super-fan Sam Buttery it was an incredibly emotional moment – Sam choked back the tears and was a gentleman in defeat, meanwhile a watery-eyed Matt & Sueleen looked gobsmacked and even Matt’s new ponytail had tears in its eyes.

There was another sob-fest when the talented Sophie Griffin was sent home by her mentor will.i.am and frankly we haven’t got through that many Kleenex since our pet chihuahua, Rufus, died in the middle of Kat & Alfie’s wedding in 2003.

With a career that has encompassed struggles as well as highs, Tom Jones understands only too well the frustrations felt by those leaving the show. He revealed his strategy in our interview: ‘As far as I’m concerned it’s about who’s the strongest person on the night, it has to be. They are hard decisions to make and it’s a shame that someone has to go home. But that’s the nature of the competition and I have to try and explain that just because they don’t get through, it doesn’t mean they haven’t got something special.

And Tom knows what he’s talking about – back in the day he was a regular at local talent shows and reveals in the book he didn’t always emerge as the winner. ‘I used to go up against other people. I mean, one night I was beaten by a bleeding ventriloquist,’ he told us, with a chuckle. ‘And she wasn’t very good either. The dummy was great though, she stole the show!’

Buy The Voice: Access All Areas online for just £6.46 from Tesco Direct!

Bear Grylls’ Survival Tips

Bear Grylls has survived where few would dare to go. His bushcraft skills and endurance have become legendary as a result of numerous television series in which he pits himself, often alone, against the elements. To mark the release of his new book, he has agreed to share with us his top ten tips for surviving in the wild:

- Don’t underestimate the elements. It’s essential that you have a good working knowledge of how to shelter yourself. I don’t just mean tents and sleeping bags; I mean clothes and footwear too. They are your first line of defence against the extremes.

- Fire is your best friend in the field. That said, making a good fire is a bit of a mystery to many people, and there’s nothing more useless than a wet match. Matches can be dried by rubbing them through your hair, but you can also waterproof them before you leave home by dipping them one at a time into melted candle wax.

- Don’t discard the chippings that come away as you are chopping wood. They make very good kindling for the fire.

- Your pack should be as light as possible, so eliminate anything that you don’t really need. Make sure it fits well and is comfortable – you might be wearing it through some unforgiving terrain.

- Any fool can be uncomfortable. Ensure you pitch camp somewhere suitable. Select your campsite wisely, on flat ground and close to the amenities that the natural world provides.

- They say that an army marches on its stomach, and it’s true. If you’re going to spend any amount of time in the field, it’s crucial to understand what kind of food will provide your body with the essential energy it needs. If you’re worried about vitamin deficiency, remember that green grass contains vitamins A, B and C – and it doesn’t actually taste that bad!

- Good hygiene is essential for good health. Dry out sweaty or wet clothes whenever you can – remember the sun also kills bacteria. If you don’t have any soap, white ashes from your fire can be used as a substitute, as can sand and loamy soil.

- To be able to navigate yourself and your companions efficiently, confidently and accurately through all terrains in all weathers can literally be a lifesaving skill. When you’re following a bearing, check it regularly. Each time you check it, locate a landmark along that bearing, walk to the landmark then check the bearing again.

- Good medical training is crucial in the field. A working knowledge of first aid could save someone’s life. It could even save your own. In the wild, the smallest cut can lead to infection, so rinse a dirty wound under clean water. If the water is dirty you may be able to sterilize it by boiling it for a minute at sea level, plus an extra minute for every 300 meters above sea level. Leave it to cool completely before using it.

- It is vital that we learn to look after our bodies. Keeping yourself fit, strong and healthy is vital. Train hard beforehand, as it makes your job of surviving in the field much easier and more pleasurable.

We are offering our readers the chance to win Bear Grylls’ new book, Mud, Sweat and Tears,  along with £100 of Blacks vouchers and a bundle of previously published Bear Grylls books. 

To be in with a chance of winning, just leave a comment telling us “What’s the most extreme situation you have ever found yourself in?”

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Almost everyone with kids of a certain age is familiar with the ‘That’s not my…’ range of children’s books – memorable, instantly recognisable and, most important of all, great fun for little ones. They have become a classic series and definitely one of our favourites.

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to send us your ideas for new ‘That’s not my…’ titles and we saw everything from ‘That’s not my ant’ to ‘That’s not my sister’ to ‘That’s not my school’. Many thanks to everyone who got involved, we had great fun going through your suggestions – all 900 of them! The good news is that lots of your ideas are already waiting for your little ones to enjoy!

We sent all of your answers off to the creators to choose their favourite and I’m pleased to announce that the winner, with her answer…

My daughter LOVES these books … she kisses the little mouse on EVERY page! So maybe we could have a ‘That’s not my…. Mouse!’ book :)

… was Catherine Doran – congratulations!

Browse our range ‘That’s not my…’ books on Tesco Direct - available for just £4.79!

Sheila O'flanagan | All For you

Hi everyone,

A few years ago, Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, caused uproar when it announced that it was doing away with the meteorologists who presented the daily weather forecasts and would be using presenters instead. The furore that ensued meant that the broadcaster quickly rowed back on its intentions. Presenters would be used on some occasions, they told us, but for the main evening forecasts RTE would stick to the meteorologists. People take their weather very seriously in these islands. It defines the day ahead for us, it’s our fall-back conversational gambit and complaining about the weather is pretty much a national pastime. (The other national pastime is sitting out in skimpy clothes in the annual three-day heat wave that will occur sometime between April and September, and spending the rest of the week lashing on the after-burn lotion.)

Given the iconic status that both the weather and its forecasting has for us, I wanted to feature a meteorologist in one of my novels. I decided that she would also be drop-dead gorgeous as well as having her degree in physics or maths (which most meteorologists have). And so Lainey Ryan came into being, brainy and beautiful, but with the unfortunate habit of messing up all of her important relationships.

I researched the weather before starting the book, spending a couple of days with the forecasters at Met Eireann and even having a go at presenting the weather myself – there’s no script or autocue, you have to do it all yourself! Writing the book was a lot easier, and at least I had some control over how things would work out in the end – although, as with all my books, Lainey and the other characters just led me along the path and I followed, putting her story into words.

I hope you like it!

Buy All For You by Sheila O’Flanagan from Tesco Direct for £3.86  - or 2 for £7! 

When I signed up to write the official BBC book for new talent show The Voice I never expected to find myself sitting on the sofa sobbing into a jumbo sized kitchen roll watching an equally red-eyed Tom Jones choosing between (a sequinned-gloved) Deniece Pearson from Five Star and Ruth Brown, a shy 20 year old with one of the most insane voices since Aretha Franklin. But here we are and it’s clear I’m not alone in my addiction to The Voice UK. The very first episode was seen by over nine million viewers and now there’s more than 11 million of us out there being awed and emotionally drained on a weekly basis – almost unheard of ratings for a brand new telly show.

For example, the first ever episode of Strictly kicked off in 2004 with 4.6 million and that other mega ITV talent competition (we won’t speak its name here) began with 5.25 million viewers. So why has The Voice‘s audience skyrocketed? Maybe it’s because we’re all ready to see a show that takes its artists (yep, they’re called artists not contestants on The Voice) and its music seriously. Maybe it’s the musically credible coaches (not judges!) and the lack of cringe-making ‘comedy’ performers. Or maybe it’s just those spinning chairs? Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t tried it at home…

Whatever the reason, this weekend’s Battle-fest has been a corker – favourites on our sofa were big-voiced divas Barbara Bryceland and Leanne Mitchell blowing the roof off with their heated ‘Edge Of Glory’, Bo Bruce and Vince Freeman (who was once again shoeless) and their soaring ‘With Or Without You’, Joelle Moses and Jenny Jones’s ‘I’m Every Woman’ and trilbied Max Milner and boy-next-door Bill Downs swaggering their way through an adrenalised ‘Beggin’ by Madcon.

Back in January, I interviewed all of the finalists on a freezing cold catering bus in drizzly East London (oh the glamour) during Battle rehearsals, and what really stood out for me was their irrepressible passion for music. These aren’t fame-hungry wannabes, they’re all gigging musicians who are knuckling down and doing everything they can to get their music heard – whether it’s busking, building a youtube fan-base or playing to three people in a pub.

Tea-cosy-hat-wearing Frances Wood, the 18 year old ‘vocal chameleon’ on Team will.i.am, told me she spends every weekend busking around her home town of Wakefield to raise money for piano and singing lessons: ‘I busk, I gig, I play piano, I write my own songs. Everything I do is based around music. I have worked so hard to get to this point and if I have to work 1000 times harder than I have been to be successful then I’ll do it.’

So maybe it’s just this kind of talent and dedication that has been keeping us all hooked – and that’s got a certain Mr Cowell running scared.

Buy The Voice: Access All Areas online for just £6.46 from Tesco Direct!

There is no shortage of children’s books out there and we like to think that when it comes to finding the best, we’ve got something of a knack. We search far and wide to find the pick of the bunch and that’s why when we do find a book or a series of books that we think are a bit special, we want to share them with all of you.

One of our favourites at the moment have to be the Little Learners range from Parragon Books. In fact, we like them so much that a couple of weeks ago we gave all of you the chance to win a bundle of them. All you had to do to win was to tell us the one thing that you value the most in any children’s book.

We’ve gone through all of your answers and even though there were so many really great entries, we had to whittle it down to just one winner and so I’m pleased to announce that the winners of the set of Little Learners books were Bonnie Williams, Joanne Johnstone, Lynsey Bowes and Tracy Kerr! Congratulations!

If you didn’t get lucky this time around, why not try your hand at our ongoing competition to win a bundle of the popular ‘That’s Not My…’ series of children’s books! 

A couple of weeks ago we gave you the chance to put your questions to one of the UK’s most authentic and original artists of the last decade: Mike Skinner. We took all of your questions and sent them off to Mike and he’s come back to us with his answers, and has also picked his favourite question to receive a signed copy of his new book – congratulations to Johannah Carroll for your great question!

As ever, a big thank you to everyone who got involved, apologies if you didn’t get lucky this time, and a big thank you to Mike for taking part!

Was it emotional when you returned to the bus stop from a grand don’t come for free cover to find that it had been replaced? Also what ever happened to Leo the lion from the tours?

I never thought of it as any more than a bus stop but it was nice that people thought it was more important than that. Made me feel nice. Leo left the streets to be on Love Island

What are your hopes for the future?

I’d like to produce lots of good music, make a decent film and then die at a grand age in the south of france.

Who are your musical inspirations?

Thomas bangalter and dr Dre are probably the 2 biggest figures of idolatry for me.

Who were your influences when you were growing up?

Rap and house music mainly. But also rage against the machine.

If you could be any breed of dog in the world – what would you be and why?

I’d be a golden retriever because men have the best luck with woman accompanied by that breed.

“Dry your eyes mate”, absolutely superb, reminded me of so many sad/happy times, why did you choose to write it and who was it based on?

It was part of the story of the album with the bus stop on the front of. It was fiction that I drew from teenage sadness.

Which one song do you ever wish you had wrote?

‘Boy Named Sue’ by Shel Silverstein as sung by Johnny Cash.

Who is your favourite blues player of all time and why?

I don’t have mad blues knowledge, but I love Jimi Hendrix .

Throughout history it’s been said ‘harsh economic times’ inspire the greatest music and art to be created, but do you think the current malaise effecting recording companies have made them play safe and opt for talent that is all a bit samey?

Very good question. Labels have to make money off every they sign these days so they can’t take risks on gut instinct. I’ve always thought people who say the charts are s**t are just old and bitter but I do think the charts are very safe at the moment. But you’ve only got to go on youtube to see how much great music is out there.

If a ‘A Grand Don’t Come for Free,’ Mike, what is the hardest you have ever worked for it?

The hardest I worked for money was a paper round. Music is probably second on the list.

Love love love the streets, and can’t wait to read the book, but when will we be seeing the D.O.T playing live?

We are rehearsing most of the time right now. We will begin touring at the end of summer. It’s very different for me as I’m just playing keyboards really.

Is there anything you had to leave out of the book that you were upset about? And will there be a sequel?

There wasn’t much left out of the book which is why some of it makes me really wince. Maybe in ten years time there will be a story of some film I made.

Who do you rate musically at the moment and what are you listening to?

I’ve been listening to a lot of club music lately because I’ve been DJing. It’s really changed how I make music. Even with the D.O.T. me and Rob started out making kind of radio music really but it’s kind of taken a new road recently a bit.

Making a concept album in ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ was ambitious, but the risk was worth taking. Seeing as you’ve now delved into writing a memoir, would you ever be tempted to write fiction?

I’ve always been daring but sometimes it works and most of the time it doesn’t. I’m proud of when it has worked though.

You were one of the first of your generation to speak in your own voice and about real things – how important do you think authenticity is in music?

There’s a difference between authenticity and realism. I guess I made realism work at a time when it hadn’t worked for a while, but authenticity can come from the most overblown pantomime act if they know what they like and who they are.

What are your future plans about relaunching your ‘The Beats’ label?

‘The Beats’ is really fun. We are taking it a release at a time but it’s nice when you have that feeling that anything is possible.

The Streets have taken you a lot of places, and made you famous world wide. What was the highlight of your career? What was your favorite place to visit?

We did roskilde in 2008 which was unbelievable. The go low was 70,000 strong. Everyone came off stage in silence.

Who would you love to duet with?

I’m not really about performing now. That’s kind of what I’ve given up with the streets. I’d love to make a beat with bangalter though.

Click here to buy ‘The Story of The Streets’ by Mike Skinner for just £13.29 from Tesco Direct!

“About Last Night” is the story of Steph and Pip, best friends for thirty years. They think there’s nothing they would not do for one another, until Steph – eternally solid and dependable – begs Pip to lie to the police and won’t explain why. She’s desperately trying to conceal not one but two scandalous secrets. Pip, self-consigned to the role of scatty hot-head, is overwhelmed; she’s normally the one asking for help in a crisis. Will she do it? Would you?

I loved writing this dilemma and throwing it at my readers. I sat down and worked out that I have five incredibly close friends who I’d lie for but there are caveats. I’d lie to their bosses (reasonably easily), parents (I did this often enough when we were young) or even partner (this is less comfortable but I have done it). But could I lie to the police? No, I couldn’t. Does this make me moral and upstanding or a wuss, lack-lustre friend? I want my readers to engage with this question. Put themselves in an uncomfortable place.

A combination of circumstances create a best friend. Ideally it’s someone you trust, respect and love. Someone who you laugh with but can turn to when you’re down, someone who you do things for ungrudgingly, whose happiness is genuinely important to you. That’s quite a big ask when you think about it; almost as illusive as true love. Friendship is so important, especially to women. It can be a huge comfort or pretty toxic. Either way it’s absolutely fascinating…

Buy ‘About Last Night’ by Adele Parks for just £3.86, or 2 for £7 with another title in our 2 for £7 range, over on Tesco Direct!

The Hollywood film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling novel The Lucky One will be hitting cinema screens on May 2nd in the UK and Ireland.

A page-turning tale of lucky charms, secrets, soldiers, heartache, friendship, new beginnings and falling in love, The Lucky One tells the story of ex U.S. Marine Logan Thibault (played by Zac Efron) whose luck begins to change when he finds a photograph of a woman half buried in the dirt whilst serving in Iraq.

Back home, Logan sets out to find the woman from the photograph, who he believes holds the key to his destiny, and when he finds her a passionate romance begins . . .

To celebrate the release of the film tie-in edition of The Lucky One this month, we have a pair of tickets to the movie premier on April 23rd to give away.  So if you’ve ever wished you could walk the red carpet and rub shoulders with the likes of Zac Efron and internationally bestselling author Nicholas Sparks (the author behind The Notebook, Dear John and The Last Song) enter now!

Do you believe in lucky charms like Logan Thibault, the main character in The Lucky One?

Whether it is a lucky number, an item of clothing or even a special person –  all you have to do to be in with a chance of winning this once in a lifetime prize is tell us about your good luck charms and what makes them so lucky.


Click here to buy ‘The Lucky One’ film tie-in from Tesco Books in paperback for just £3.86.
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Someone recently asked why my CHERUB books are so popular. I think it’s because CHERUB feels like a real spy organisation. My books are an attainable fantasy. There aren’t dragons, or magic spells and readers feel that the stories might happen to them.

I love writing, but it can be a bit sad if you just sit at a computer and write the whole time. So once in a while I peel myself out of my chair to get out there and see some real people.

Most are really nice and pleased to see you, but you get all kinds from kids too shy to speak, to burly lads who want to give you a bear hug. I even have one fan who got the logo off my books tattooed on her leg. Apparently her mum went mad when she saw it!

I was at an event last year, and got talking to an eleven-year-old while I signed his stack of books. We chatted about how he’d read the whole series, which agents were his favourites and what he wanted to see in the next book.

When I talked to his mum, she said that she used to be worried about him having a low reading age, and no interest in books. After he’d been persuaded to try out CHERUB by his best friend, his reading age shot up and his mum reckoned he was doing better at school too.

The last thing I signed was his Most Improved Reader certificate. It was such a great feeling to have had that effect on a kid that I went all soppy and had to dab my eye before speaking to the next person in the queue!

You can WIN lunch with Robert Muchamore – check the latest CHERUB book, People’s Republic, in store for details or visit this link to find out how!

Buy People’s Republic by Robert Muchamore for just £2.86 over on Tesco Direct!