Friday, 19 June 2020

Black Lives Matter – Supporting in my own Subtle Way



So I have on my to-do-list for this week – write blog post – followed by a load of blog topics.

  • People misconceptions about dyslexia – mostly the view that it can remedy by spellcheck (bless!)
  • Keeping productive during chaos
  • Writing research tips.

And so the list goes on. But none of them seem appropriate at the moment. In fact with corona virus and the Black Lives Market, all of my topics seem well – unimportant –frivolous even. So instead I’m going to talk about my Little Free Market that I mentioned in my last blog post – which was all about how my village have used stories and generosity to raise community cheer.

So in my last post, I boosted about how my village was so supportive of each other in the current corona virus predicament, using the local Facebook group to communicate any Little Acts of Kindness, and how the how community was coming together. However recently a less pleasant side of the same community has raised its head. On the same Facebook group – any mention of Black Lives Matter, discussion or even just talking about Kneeling for BLM, has been deleted or comments muted. The admin, has stated it because ‘the group is for local matters NOT national or International’, forgetting that our community is multicultural, and that BLM is as local a matter as international.




This revelation, of the racism and ignorance that is ingrained in my community, really un-settled me, but what was worse, was that the chance to talk and discuss and promote learning was silenced. The fact that there are people who want to change, but the community FB page has made that so much harder. So I got to thinking, I already have The Little Free Market, so why not use that to provide to the more social conscious members of the community resources to help them learn.

To back track a little – The Little Free Market – my family set up at the start of lockdown. We made an old fashioned market stall out of an old pallet and put it on our driveway. On it was, books, games, craft kits, seedlings and other things that may make peoples time in isolation easier. All free to whoever wanted it. Pretty soon, people were donating things, and it took on a life of its own. People actually began planning their hour walks to pass the stall to pick up books.

starting to collect books.

So, my plan was simple, fill the stall with books by black authors and illustrators, everything form picture books to adults. Plus games, and puzzles, for children featuring black charters, and creating craft/activity packs.

I started to collect books, firstly seeing what books we had around the house that we were happy to donate. Then I managed to buy some second-hand collections off of Facebook market place. A few people have also let me know they have sent some donations via post –which I’m eagerly waiting for. But also approached the brilliant Knights Off, who passed me to Round Table Books, who have picked out a selection of books to the budget I gave them, that are also currently in transit. UPDATE - HAS JUST ARRIVED!

Exciting delivery for Round Table!


I started to think about the activity packs, so I looked at Empathy Lab UK, and printed out some of their free family activity sheets, and then found some BLM free colouring resources which I’ve printed out. I’ve combined these with colouring sheets of black charters from popular kid’s movies, and added in a selection of paper people of different skin tones, and colourful papers so children can dress them up.



So now I’m just compiling everything, ready and hoping that the weather will change from the constant rain and thunder so I can actually put the Little Free Market out, and hopefully subtly make a difference (no matter how small). Even if it only reaches one person, or one family, then this endeavour will be a success. 



So when the weather cooperates, and the Little Free Market is out – I promise I’ll update you and let you know how it goes.


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

One Village Spreading Cheer during Corona Virus Chaos with Stories.


After weeks of lockdown and uncertainty and for those with younger children – home-schooling and working from home, often in a confided space, spring 2020 is proving to be chaotic. During all the madness, and with so much darkness in the world, stories are more important than ever. Stories of hope. Stories of flight and fantasy. Stories form escapism. Stories that give us strength. Many of which come wrapped up in the exquisite form of books.

And to quote Mason Cooley...

 “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

With high streets and libraries closed, distribution unsettled, getting access to books can be difficult. However I do have to do a shout out here to all the Indy bookshops that are providing great home delivery and postal services! So it is really soul-lifting to see individual’s and communities coming together to spread cheer through stories. From online communities, like the Our Corona Diary project, to smaller physical communities. Here is a little post, about how one small village is spreading the joy of stories.

The Village – (the aptly named) Penn in Buckinghamshire.


The community has like many others has risen to the emergency in multiple ways; displaying rainbows in their windows, making PPE for the local hospital and care homes, collecting donations for The One Can Trust, clapping for NHS and so on. But it has also embraced stories.

Since the lockdown began many people have started to put boxes of books outside their houses - free to whoever would like them, so people can pick them up on their daily walks.



We as a family were one of the first, making a market stall out of an old pallet, and offering free books, and toys and extra plants and seeds. It soon became popular and getting donations from locals, and the library. We are ideally located next to park, and close to a popular dog walking route, so on sunny days, there’s lots of foot traffic. From my writing desk, I often look out the window to see children and adults browsing and picking books.

What is lovely is many people are doing similar things, so wherever in the village you live there’s a little free book stall nearby.



Our village was also home to a world famous second hand bookshop, which is rumoured to have inspired Discworld’s Library. Sadly in 2018 it closed after 70 years – (Press here to read by post about it closing). But the building is still there and is apparently still full of books. During the recent weeks, it has been putting books outside – for donations which are going to support the NHS. It is lovely to see the bookshop open in any form, and there is always people social-distantly browsing the stock.

One lady in the village, is making story sacks, and selling them for really affordable prices on the local Facebook page, with all proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Corvid Appeal. Thereby helping parents with providing fun educational tools for home-schooling and supporting a great cause. 



Also, out local town university of High Wycombe is running a project collecting local people short stories about Corona Virus and lockdown, and publishing them on their web-site. Both encouraging people to write, which is therapeutic, and great for maintaining mental health, and sharing stories that may help others to navigate through the chaos, by knowing they are not alone.

Lastly, the call out of people to put up bears in their windows for children to spot on their daily walks has been embraced my many, many people. As you walk around the village you see so many cheerful teddies smiling back at you, that it really does bring cheer to you heart. #NationalBearHunt



So here it is, one small village, an a whole load of stories about the gifting and giving of stories., in a time of struggle.



Thursday, 7 May 2020

Keeping Focused in Lockdown – Sketchpads and Spreadsheets





I’m finding that during lockdown keeping focused is both easier and more difficult.

It’s easier as there are fewer interruptions to the day. No school runs, no meetings, no coffee mornings, no other stuff – it’s just one long expanse of time.

But it’s more difficult because there are more distractions – physical ones like, kid’s bickering, dog’s pestering for a walk, and the noisy singing lessons and conference calls. But also internal ones, as my attention wonders down dark alleys in my mind, meandering into despair.

So keeping busy is actually good for my mental health, but keeping focused and on task is more challenging than ever.

In order to keep focused and productive I’m utilising tools. More specifically sketchpads and spreadsheets.



Sketchpads, to use to keep my creativity practised and fresh. It’s where I compile my world building and character profiles for new projects. I tend to draw mind maps and settings and doodle characters. There’s something about using a sketchpad, rather than a noticeboard, or mood board or notepad which is liberating. Firstly it seems less intimidating and more fun. Plus by its very nature, it’s somewhere to keep initial and rough concepts, sketchy images and notions of a world and story yet to be. Also as it being essentially art – it also severs as a therapeutic exercise.

I love spreadsheets. I use them for everything. I’m dyslexic and have an awful short term memory. I often ask my husband if he wants a cup of tea, upwards of half a dozen times in ten minutes, and still forget his answer or to actually make it! So my whole life is organised with spreadsheets.

Sometimes the spreadsheets are just lists…

  • Daily objectives and tasks
  • Weekly To-Do-List for writing
  • Weekly Family To-Do-List
  • Monthly goals
  • Yearly ‘Thing’s To Remember List’ – you know the boring ‘Adulting’ stuff like, tax returns, insurances, MOT’s, Passport renewals, Epi-pen replacement reminders, the list goes on and on and on.
  • Annual events list – birthdays anniversaries and alike.
  • Annual list of writing competitions so I don’t miss submitting to any!

But I also use them to keep me grounded, focused and positive.

For writing I plot using spreadsheets. For first drafts I do a target spreadsheet. It has a timeframe in which I want to finish the novel. The target final word count, and tells me how many words I need to achieve a day to meet the deadline. Much like NaNoWriMo it makes me write – even if it’s rubbish. But the thing is unless you have a finished first draft you can’t edit and improve it. Also seeing how many words I written a day, and how the word count is rising is really good for morale. 



Currently I’m editing, so I have created a target spreadsheet for scheduling, planning and keeping track of my edits. Which is keeping me focused and means I’m achieving the tasks I want to each day. It also monitors how many words I’m cutting or adding. It means at the end of the day I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I actually have a way monitoring progress, which keeps me motivated, and editing each day. It may seem daft but it really is a lifeline for me at the moment, keeping me working and sane.

In short if you are struggling to write in lockdown, why do having a dabble with a sketchpad, or spreadsheet, it may help.