Sunday, 30 June 2019

A week full of events - schools and festivals - living the best llife

Thank you, Gordon Smith, for photo
LtoR Gordon Smith, Antoinette Moses,
Melvin Burgess & me
Taken at Fly Festival
I have had a wonderful week full of events. It has been joyous and reminds me of all the good parts of being an author. The best bit was the chance to be in touch with my audience, with my readers. What was particularly interesting was that in a week I managed to cover virtually all versions of events you could imagine.

On Monday I went into school on the edge of the New Forest where I did three workshops with two Year 7 groups and one Year 8. They were brilliant, so inspired. The workshop was based on the senses and walking in someone else's shoes. Asking them 'What would you do?' in a certain situation. They came up with some great ideas and were very thoughtful in their processes. The school was taking part in the Wessex Literary Festival, so had lots of activities planned. It was good to see when you hear of so many schools no longer inviting authors in.

It was good fun working with Years 7 and 8. I was pleased to see that I was right in thinking that Flight could be used across the board and up to KS3 as well as KS2.

The students were engaged and often, I apologise for the cliche, but they did think outside the box. I enjoyed getting them to think about what they would feel like if they were a child during the Second World War. What emotions they might experience.

Using a variety of items that I brought in, I challenged them also to use all their senses and not just sight when writing. Developing upon the idea of 'show not tell' or dramatisation, where the reader experiences the story alongside the main character. They certainly embraced this, though weren't too keen on the smell of Wright's cold tar soap!!

On Tuesday I had a chance to do a Skype session with Year 5 at Broseley School as part of their LitFest. I felt very honoured to do this as Broseley School is close to my heart as I am their #BookBuddy. You can check out on my website out the photos of the Book Nook they created.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get up to the school this time for a visit, so instead, we did it via Skype, which was brilliant. We did a Q&A session. The pupils asked some fabulous and original questions. They were obviously well thought out and considered. I confess though, one of them really stood out. The boy who asked it was quite nervous because it could have been perceived as rather a personal question. The class had done their research into me and this boy was intrigued by the fact I was a disabled author. He wanted to know what this meant for me as an author. At the moment, with the drive for diversity and inclusivity, it was the best question ever, as it gave me an opportunity to talk about what it means to be a disabled author.

The pupils were a delight and the Skype worked really well! It was a joy to do. I was buzzing when the call finished because they were so lovely. There is nothing better than working with your potential readers.

The week ended on a high with a trip up to the University of East Anglia and the Fly Festival of Literature for Young People, organised by Antoinette Moses. It is an incredible Festival, it is a week full of workshops and 'in conversation' sessions. I was lucky enough to be invited by Antoinette to be part of the finale and be 'in conversation' with the Festival's patron Gordon Smith. This was Antoinette's last festival as she retired on the last day too. I felt very honoured to be part of that as she has done an incredible job over the years.

I knew both Antoinette and Gordon via Social Media. It was wonderful to meet them IRL. We sat talking and there were so many laughs. You know when sometimes you meet people and you immediately click, it feels like you have been friends for years and years. It was just like that. The best tonic ever after a difficult few months. I was also thrilled because I had chance to catch up with Melvin Burgess. I love Melvin dearly. His book Junk was the starting point of my PhD and he has been so supportive for many years now. It is always wonderful to see him.

The 'in conversation' was fabulous. Antoinette, Gordon and I sat in front of a group of a couple of hundred young people and chatted about writing, our books, other people's books and inspiration. I always find it interesting talking to others about their writing processes. Here are some useless bits of information I gleaned from these discussions (but I found them interesting):

1. Both Antoinette and I like new notebooks when we starting writing novels
2. Gordon and I are 'pantsers' when we write
3. I like doing research. Gordon doesn't.
4. Gordon wrote a book that barely needed editing, so it was virtually the first draft that was published (I confess I had a bit of writing envy at this)
5. Antoinette and I quite like editing. Gordon doesn't
6. We all love that first rush of a new story

The questions once again from the audience were incredible. One question was 'what would you do if you weren't an author?' I think as part of the answer to that both Gordon and I planned to take a year out to drive super trucks in the US...

This was just one week. Thank you to all involved for such an incredible week. Now I am back home (8 hour round trip in the car) and am writing. I am definitely living the dream as an author. It is the best and toughest job in the world.

Advice for doing events...prepare...prepare...prepare

It's a happy day after a glorious week so it seemed right to have a bit of Black Eyed Peas




Friday, 17 May 2019

#mentalhealthawareness

It is mental health awareness week/month depending on what you read. Mental health is something I am very conscious of. It is has had an impact on members of my family in many ways. Some of my family live with its consequences on a daily basis. It is part of my life too. I have been and are being treated for depression and anxiety.

Writing is a huge part of my coping strategy. When I was first taken ill when things went wrong following the surgery and I couldn't eat. My world was tumbling down around me. I had to keep going, I was a single parent with three children. My escape valve was to write about it at the time. No one ever saw those scribblings, nor will they ever. But it rekindled my love of writing which is why I went to university and my life changed.

I am lucky in that I don't have to write because my world is falling to pieces anymore, but there are times I have to write because I am facing difficult and stressful situations at work or with my family. Those are snippets and witterings, not focused and dedicated writing. It is the focused and dedicated writing that I love doing.

I was lucky enough to have a novel published last summer (Flight published by Firefly Press). It was the fourth novel I had written, the first one to make it to the finishing post. I feel so well mentally when I can write regularly and get into writing a novel. I feel a great weight lift off and a good friend always says to me, 'I know when you are writing because you are in your happy place.'

It sounds simple then, doesn't it? If it makes you feel good then write every day, but it is not that easy. The nature of my job means that my head is full of other people's words. I am up against tight marking deadlines often. I am pressurised and the jobs are stressful. Not exactly conducive for sitting down and getting into the right headspace for writing. My head feels fractured.

I think I have mentioned this before, if I do get a moment to write, I take what I see as a Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending using precious metal like gold, whereas in my case I mend my fractured mind by reading poetry before I start writing. Poetry is my precious metal.

I know if I can write I will feel better. Stronger, brighter, happier. More able to cope with whatever life throws at me. Find the strategies that help you. Don't be afraid to self-care. It is not selfish, it is a right. Note to self: Listen to that last sentence and carve out time to write!

At our worst times, my daughter always said this was our anthem. This is dedicated to her, as she was quite right. We did make and we did fly high. Lighthouse Family High

Thursday, 2 May 2019

New story, new research - my favourite time

I am at the beginning of a new book - no I can't tell you what it is about yet so don't ask- I love this part of writing though. Letting my imagination run free and allowing the story to evolve and develop as I write. Yes, I
Time to start research...
am a bit of a 'pantser', what I mean is that I don't plot intently before I start. I know what happens at the end but am never quite sure how I am going to get there. I was relieved to see on Twitter that Philip Pullman and Frank Cottrell Boyce do similar things. (As a writer you will know that we always look for our methods to be validated by others!!)

I also write cold and edit hot. I have spoken about this before. What I mean is that I get the basic story down so I know it works as a structure then go back in adding in the colour and detail. I am also lucky enough to have used the Golden Egg Academy 'Book Map' and as I write I do think in terms of that which does help too with the structure etc.

Please don't think I am telling you this is the only way to write. I am just telling you about how I write and what works for me. It may well not work for you. You have to find the way to write that works best for you.

I am hooked up in all the research I am doing. I love that bit. I am not sure if it is the academic in me but I find it very satisfying to research and find a tiny detail that there's a good chance that no one else will notice it in the book, but I'll know it is there. I try not to interrupt the flow of my writing when I am on a roll though and the words are tripping off the tips of my fingers. If I know I need to do extra research or expand an element following research, I highlight the section in yellow and may put a comment at the side to remind me, particularly if it is something specific I need to check. I can then spot it easily when I go back. I continuously research during the writing process, it never stops for me.

I am doing all sorts of research at the moment. Reading books, looking at the internet, YouTube and also talking to people. So important. However, a quick word of warning do remember to tell the person you are talking to this is for a story. I had an incident recently where I was asking a friend at the school gate if I could have a chat with her husband, who happens to be in the police force. I was explaining why by telling her part of the story. Trouble was I had forgotten to tell her it was fiction! Her response was shock and concern as to whether the child was all right. It was at this point I realised she thought I meant a real situation. I had to confess it was in my story.

This new story is going to take a lot of research, which is going to be interesting, but it is really important I get it right. This relates particularly to one of my characters, it is not a main character but it is a character with issues that needs to be handled appropriately. Luckily I have experience through close family members but also another relative teaches similar characters. However, I won't stop there. I will be referring to appropriate charities, lots more research and also Inclusive Minds.

There is no true story to inspire me this time, it is all down to me...I hope you are going to like it. Can't wait to immerse myself in the writing and doing more research...just need to finish the marking first!


The moon was important in Flight but I think the sun will play more of a role in the new book so thought we'd have a bit of 'Don't let the sun go down on me.' Thank you George Michael and Elton John!




Friday, 1 February 2019

Branford Boase Joy

Being a published author can be a bit of roller coaster particularly now with social media. Social media is wonderful but it can also be a cruel mistress if you are not feeling on top of your game.
Yesterday, however, as my dear friend and fellow author, Vashti Hardy, so eloquently put it, was a
big hug of a day. It was like that for both of us and that was because we were both longlisted for the Branford Boase Award.

The Branford Boase Award is in its 20th year. It was set up to reward the most promising new writers and their editors. It is named after Henrietta Branford, a gifted novelist and Wendy Boase, Editorial Director of Walker Books. Both of whom died of cancer in the 1990s. Walker Books have recently confirmed their continued support of the Award. It is an Award that not only acknowledges an outstanding first novel but also marks the important contribution the editor plays.

This Award means a huge amount to me. Another dream come true. Not only am I thrilled that Flight has been nominated but also that my editor,  Janet Thomas' hard work also gets to be acknowledged. Janet, from Firefly Press, was an absolute joy to work with. This is an Award that I have been aware of for a very long time. My great friend, colleague at the Golden Egg Academy and first editor of Flight, Imogen Cooper won it in 2012 with Lucy Christopher (another friend) and her book Stolen. Firefly's wonderful Penny Thomas won it in 2016 with Horatio Clare's Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. Fellow Egg, MG Leonard won it in 2017 with Beetle Boy and of course, my hero and huge support, Meg Rosoff won it in 2005 with How I Live Now. This was just as I had begun to write for children and had noticed what was going on in the children's literature world. It is so inspirational to be longlisted for something that Meg won.

I was about to start lecturing yesterday morning when I noticed an email had come through from Janet. I quickly glanced at it and she had forwarded on the email from Brandford Boase informing us of the long listing. It was very hard to remain professional and not squeal. As that came through so I got a message from Vashti asking had I seen the long list as we were both long listed along with another Egg, Rowena House. I had a very quick look at the list to see some incredible books on there. I don't envy the judges their job. I am thrilled and honoured to be on that list. As I said it is yet another dream come true. My watch is broken so I use my phone to check the time while lecturing. Every time I checked the time there was a notice of how many notifications on Twitter there were as the news broke. It was wonderful. Once again everyone was so happy and celebratory. That is the best thing about the children's lit world everybody shares in everyone's successes. I feel very lucky and grateful. Whatever happens next I am a very happy author.

I hope you have a day like ours yesterday that is one big hug. This might be predictable but it needs to be done




Monday, 31 December 2018

Farewell 2018 - it's been a good one!

What a year 2018 has been. I have seen my dreams come true (and a son get happily married). I have spent years wondering what it would be like to have a book published and many a dark moment thinking it would never happen. Well, I was wrong and it did. Last summer Firefly published Flight.

Wonderful cover designed
by Anne Glenn
This was a novel I started working on after a long discussion with Imogen Cooper about how a previous novel was just not working and we agreed it was time to walk away. This had been a difficult decision as I had been working on the previous novel for several years but it was definitely the right decision. A friend, Annaliese and I have decided Imogen is the 'Book Whisperer' as she has this innate ability to get under the skin of books, to get to the nitty gritty of them, to really understand them. As do many of my colleagues at the Golden Egg Academy.

It being published was just the beginning though. Some of my fabulous author friends said incredible things about Flight, which I was truly humbled by. Then the reviews started coming in and they were amazing. People I have respected and admired for years like Amanda Craig and Charlotte Eyre loved it. The wonderful Megan, who does the publicity at Firefly, would let me know that there was another good review in and she would laugh at me because each time I was genuinely surprised and grateful. She kept saying 'You do realise it is a good book?' I think (and still do) I kept expecting to wake up from this dream or for someone to turn  around and say 'Only Joking - we haven't published your book!' There are of course the Book bloggers, like  BookLoverJoMy Book Corner and Fallen Star Stories who also published lovely reviews. The teachers and teaching assistants have been amazing with the work they did with the story. Telling me tales of reluctant readers becoming totally engaged in the story - isn't that one of our dreams when we write? Thank you in particular to Scott E, David K, Dan M and Jo for their constant support and encouragement. Scott E even included  Flight in his #PrimarySchoolBookClub vote which was thrilling and helped raise its profile. I made a surprise visit to a school book club where they treated me like a celebrity. This is why I write books - not to be treated like a celebrity - but to see their faces when they talk about the book.

Parents of readers shared their fabulous stories. One told me how their son had read it multiple times since buying it only a few days previously. Why? Because he loved it so much. Another parent only yesterday tweeted a picture of their daughter refusing to interrupt their reading in order to eat dinner. I remember being like both these readers and when I started writing it was one of my dreams to write a book that would inspire children to get as lost in my stories in the way I used to get totally lost when I used to read. I think maybe I have done that. I have pinched myself several times this year to prove that dreams do come true.

It has been an amazing year but it is also a year full of doubts as you constantly worry you are not doing enough. Social media is a wonderful thing but it can also make your life miserable if you let it as you watch the world shouting about what they are doing and all their successes and the places they are going. Matt Haig has a very pertinent line in one of his books 'Do not compare yourself!' This is my mantra because I can't do everything. I have three jobs. I love what I do and I will do everything to the best of my abilities.

What will 2019 bring? Lots more exciting things I imagine. I have school visits planned. I know of schools that are using Flight. I have writing planned. I have an article coming out and another two planned and maybe a feature to pitch. There are masterclasses to organise for Golden Egg Academy.  It is going to be an interesting year.

I want to say thank you to everyone who made 2018 so incredible and also wish you all a very happy 2019 and I hope it brings you the dreams and joy you are looking for. See you next year ;-)

I am posting this song because it reminds me of a happy time in 2018 and just because I love it: Jack Johnson - Better Together



Thursday, 27 December 2018

Labels

I have been thinking about this blog post for many months. It first came to mind when my friend Alistair Green highlighted a brilliant campaign his company was involved in. The campaign was #Labelsareforclothes by River Island, which was outstanding. They turned stereotypes on their heads
Signing my debut novel Flight
Photograph by Candy Gourlay
while highlighting that labels are for clothes, not people.

This campaign came at a time when I was getting used to attaching a label to myself again. A label which for many years I haven't really spoken about yet now I was shouting about it...and with good reason. 

Like so many before me I have had lots of labels attached to me over my lifetime:

Daughter
Sister
Wife
Mother
Ex-Wife
Divorcee
Single Mother
Businesswoman
Carer
Student
Doctor
Lecturer
Senior Lecturer
Consultant 
Mentor
Grandmother
Writer
and then the label I mentioned above
Disabled Writer

I've been disabled for nearly twenty years. If my body hadn't misbehaved there's a good chance several of those labels might not have happened. Becoming disabled opened doors for me so I don't regret it happening. I have spoken about this before here.

In the main, I have kept quiet about my disability whilst working in academia, rightly or wrongly, proving to myself that I can achieve regardless. However, in the world of children's publishing where inclusivity is so important, it is vital that I shout loud about my disability and say, if I can do it, so can you. I must be honest this does not come naturally and has taken quite a bit of adjustment. I have spent my life fighting against any label I was given not just the disabled one. I never want labels to define me. There have been many ready to prejudge because of labels they were far too quick to attach.

There is a risk with any label that it will define you too much particularly if attributed by others, putting you in a box while potentially feeling limiting. Perhaps that's why rather than a disabled author I would instead see myself as an author who happens to be disabled as that is something I feel comfortable shouting about. I know it is all about semantics, but sometimes that is all it takes to give you the power back.

As we move rapidly towards 2019 make sure you define yourself the way you want to be, but be proud to be that person, whoever that might be. Don't hide it away. In the same way don't be so quick to attach labels to others. Give everyone a chance. #labelsareforclothes, not people.

A classic but it seems appropriate Gloria Gaynor's I Am What I Am



Sunday, 22 July 2018

Recipe for a good book launch

It was my book launch last Thursday and it is has taken me a few days to process the event because it was so AMAZING! I thought the best way to approach this was a recipe.

You need to collect all your ingredients including a lot of wonderful friends and I mean A LOT. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to celebrate with me the launch of Flight. So many friends from far and wide. The room was full of happiness and love. It was incredible



They even flowed out into the road


While adding spice be prepared for emotions to run high. Sorry, Imogen, I didn't mean to make you cry...


But you will include a good sprinkle of laughter too



Following a recipe for a book signing is hard work. Do your stretches ready for your book signing queue. (I was thrilled when David from P&G Wells said mine was as long as Jacqueline Wilson's!) Yes, I did begin to forget how to spell my name by the end!


Cake is an important part of the mix (Made by the brilliant Beth)


Add in a great friend to read your story - thank you Sally Ballet x
Fold in a brilliant publisher who has believed in your story right from the beginning - Thank you Penny and Firefly


And then the first and final ingredient a great big dollop of crazy family - love you all


And that is my recipe for a book launch. Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated the launch of Flight with me. I am certainly flying high still. You are wonderful people.

This is a song we would play years ago for many reasons but now I am putting it here because I love it: