Thursday, 15 September 2022

Write, Read, Play. Pen, Books, TOYS!

Writing kid’s books comes hand in hand with reading kid’s books, whether you are published or pre-published. It’s like breathing, reading is inhaling, and writing is exhaling. But here another thing which I believe to be intrinsically linked to with writing books for children – PLAYING WITH TOYS.

It’s about two things, firstly channelling your inner child in order to write a more authentic children’s voices. The second is far more particle as toys can be utilised in the writing process.


Toys are a kind of time machine, helping your mind to travel back to your younger self. In fact for my birthday I was given a He-Man and Skelator, which I had wanted since I was six, and I instantly felt that I was that age again!

This is why, when you look at the places I write, they always indulge my inner child. In fact we have one very grown up steam-punk style bookcase (kindly made by my husband out of scaffolding poles and 1930’s floorboards that we saved from landfill), but despite the fact that at a glance its appears very adult, when you look closely you’ll see Garfield lazing about, Orinoco taking a nap and even a dodo. Plus other toys and characters from the 1980’s. I even have the top draw of my desk stuffed full of toys. I do this as I find that being surrounded by tangible motifs of my childhood really helps me reconnect with my younger self, and therefore aids me in creating a more convincing child’s voice.


But toys are more than time machines; they often help me when I am stuck. Toys can be the ladder out of a plot hole, the device that saves you from the abyss of uncertainty, or help you navigate your fictional world, or even be the tools that construct it in the first place.

Recently I was doing some edits on a WIP and I came to screaming halt, and stayed there stuck steadfast. It was a gapping plot hole that hinged on the motivations of the antagonist, and after struggling for weeks, I got the toys out. I started to play with toy animals and plastic soldiers. Within no time I’d worked out the solution and how the protagonist figures out who the baddy was. Maybe this was the freeing nature of imaginative flow. Maybe it was just the key which released what was already there. Either way it got out of the rut I had been stuck in for weeks.


I also use toys for world building and understanding the geography of my world or in a recent case – the EARTH. One of my current WIP is about cloned mammoths living in the arctic tundra. So playing with mammoth figures on an old map helped me understand just how close Russia is to Greenland, and aided me in plotting the herd’s migration routes. I also used toy figures of artic animals to think about what other creature the mammoths may meet and interact with on their journey.


All in all I find toys a very useful tool in the children’s writers’ arsenal. If reading kid’s book is inhaling, and writing them exhaling, then playing with toys is that peaceful moment between the two where you relax and see things with clarity. They can help you craft believable children’s voices, and aid in world building, character development, break through the barriers of mental block, and raise you out of plot holes. So if you write and you don’t already, I urge you to grab a toy and play!

Happy Playing. Happy writing!

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Neuro Diversity, The Preverbal Swan, and the Humble Mobile Phone

A few years ago, when I was working front of house at a museum, I attended a course on Deaf Awareness. The course was run a lovely man who was profoundly deaf. It was very illuminating, as there were so many things that caused deaf people issues that seemed so obviously but that we’d hearing people had never thought of. At one point he explained how mobile phones had revolutionised communication of the deaf community. This caused some stifled giggles from some of the older attendees, largely those that can recall the ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, Rowan Atkinson, Deaf Telephone News Skit – (it you know you know – and like me you’re old!) Thankfully the course leader laughed too, and said he’d had the exact same response when a deaf friend advised him to get mobile phone. However, it was not the ability to make calls on the go – but the innovation of text messages that had the positive impact. And of course this was greatly improved with the advent of smart phones and video calling meaning it’s possible to have conversations in sign language that has had the positive impact.

Now I am not profoundly deaf (I am a little bit deaf) but I’d never compare myself to that or my Neuro Diverse issues with what the deaf community faces, but there are some similarities. For example how the mobile phone can help neuro diverse people navigate the modern world, and how many neuro-typical people are largely oblivious to their difficulties.

I have dyslexia and dyscalculia. Most people have some idea of what dyslexia is, but few people have heard about dyscalculia or know that it affects your ability to process and understand numbers. Living with dyslexia and dyscalculia is a challenge in a world that is increasingly reliant on password, passcodes and pins numbers. Many of which are a sequence of letters, or letters and numbers.


Having Dyslexia I have a dreadful short term memory. I can remember exactly three telephone numbers

  • My mobile phone number – but only if I recite in a particular rhyme.
  • My childhood telephone number - as it was the same for twenty years, but due to relocation is no longer belonging to anyone I know.
  • My parent’s landline, which they had for over nineteen years. However they disconnected it a few weeks ago.

*I also do not know any pin number/passcodes. And if I do I can’t input them correctly.

So I rely on my digital Swiss Army Knife (to quote someone much cleverer than me), and use my mobile as a database. I save my codes and passwords on it, so I can easily find them or even copy and paste them. This is fine until something happens to your phone.

Recently I was on holiday in France, with my son, and my friend and her son – and I lost my phone. I was stuck in foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I couldn’t contact anyone as I don’t know any telephone numbers, and I can’t get any money out or pay for anything by card if a pin is required. Essentially I couldn’t function. This didn’t make for a relaxing holiday at all.

The reason I’m writing this post is that many people didn’t grasp the impact of not having a phone had on me, and seemed to think I was overreacting. I had a lot of well-meaning comments like…

“it’s annoying but… it’s only stuff, it can be replaced.”

People don’t see. It’s not a mere inconvenience, it takes away my ability to be independent and participate in modern life. It’s like taking away someone’s glasses.

Having penned this blog on holiday. I was umming and erring about posting this blog. However earlier today another ND friend broke her phone and going through a similar ordeal. So I decided to be brave and put this post up. To highlight, that although neuro diverse people are articulate, intelligent and together people many of our struggles go unnoticed, like the preverbal swan, its invisible – nothing to see on the surface, and yet we have many many coping mechanisms set up so we can function. And so a broken or lost mobile phone may indeed be a whole lot more than an inconvenience.

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Inspiration from Unlikely Places - The Humble Toilet Roll

The humble Toilet Roll. Source of inspiration and medium of creativity. From the main ingredient in a Halloween Mummy costume, to the staple of every junk modelling arsenal. It has inspired thousands of people with it’s versatility for years.

One small cardboard toilet roll inner tube has countless possible futures… plant pot, pen pot - (thank you Blue Peter), bat, dog, crocodile. Kaleidoscope, rain-maker, telescope, binoculars, towers, turrets, hamster adventure playground. The possibilities are endless.

A toilet roll is a lesson - no a masterclass in inspiration and that it can come from the most unexpected places.

You’d think maybe a toilet roll muse would only be for children, parents and childcare professionals. I am a parent but one child is now safely into adulthood, and the other almost there, and I am not a childcare professional. But earlier this year I did find that a toilet roll became my muse.

I was on a retreat on my own. I had meant to be going on a retreat with my awesome critique group but covid had other plans, so I booked a couple of days away on my own to Holland House, to actually get my edits finished. While I was there unhindered by the to-do-list or nagging teens or needy builders I managed to get my edits completed, but I was also touched by inspiration whilst in the bathroom.

You see Holland house is dedicated to being as earth friendly as possible and uses bamboo toilet rolls which are individually wrapped in bamboo patterned paper. One of the patterns struck me as looking like fish scales. So when I unwrapped a new roll I saved the wrapping.

While as was having some down time I was looked at the paper and reached for my my pens, pencils and glue, and doodled a mermammoth. I used the paper as the scales on the tail. I was having fun, so I thought why stop there? Soon I had a notepad full of unimammoths, pegumammoths and other mammoth-mythical creature mash-ups.

These mythical-mammoths sat in my notepad for months until one day I they unexpectedly burst into my brain in a story, which I have now penned and in the process of editing.

I didn’t think much about it until last week while I was away on holiday with several teens that didn’t belong to me (and one that did), when one of them came down poorly and had to stay a day at the apartment. They were feeling down, but are very arty, so I told them this story, and we looked around the apartment until we found something that could inspire them - a french language wild-west comic. They used the illustrations as the basis for many amazing fantastical beasts.

So to bring this full circle, a humble toilet roll gave me the inspiration for a new story, and inspired me to help find the best in a less than ideal situation that in turn inspired another creative. Reminding me that inspiration can come from the most mundane of muses.