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.







Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Out of the mouth’s of babes… confidence boosts from unlikely places





Being a pre-published writer is a rollercoaster of emotions. From the highs fuelled by confidence boosting short-listings or full manuscript requests to the deep dive into depression caused by imposter syndrome and rejection. Sometimes the pursuit of publication grinds you down and you doubt your ability, and wonder if you have anything to give or say that readers will find interesting. This can be difficult to circumnavigate.

For a while I’ve bumped between these two emotions, like a jack in the box. However I’ve had a few encounters that have reinforced my confidence and convinced me that my books do have something that would appeal to children.



 

Recently I’ve re-embraced by first passion for illustration, *read about it here* as a consequence I’m setting up an Etsy shop and am running a pop-up shop selling my work. This is the unlikely setting where these encounters took place as I had the pleasure of meeting some incredible children. The children in question were intrigued by my mammoths and we struck up conversations.

One 10 year old, dyslexic boy was fascinated by mammoths, and by my illustrations. I showed him how to draw mammoths and told him about the science that has inspired my latest WIP. His mother has since contacted me to let me know that he (two months later) is still drawing mammoths, telling everyone about mammoths and enquiring about when my book will be published! Editors and agents feel free to contact me!


Look at these AMAZING drawings by the 10 year old I mentioned.



Another 12 year old with dyslexia and dyscalculia was equally enthralled by mammoths and with my illustrations, we made a pact that next time he comes in I’ll teach him how to draw them, and he’ll show me how he draws goats!



 

Another younger boy or 8 or 9, was conversing with me and when I mentioned the ‘Mammoth Rival Project’ and the idea that cloned mammoths could help with the battle against global warming, he got very excited and begun explaining back to me how scientists were looking for mammoth genomes in order to edit elephant DNA ! His mother’s face and amazing, she had no idea how passionate he was about genetics. He was therefore very taken with the concept of my novel.

Amazingly most of the children I’ve spoken to are dyslexic and many have dyscalculia also, and all were very keen to read an own-voice book with a protagonist like them, just like mine!

It bring me joy to know I’ve inspired them in some small way, and they have given me the affirmation I need needed to continue in the relentless endeavour of submissions.




Submissions here I come! 



Friday, 4 March 2022

World Book Day Blues and Dreams


Yesterday was the 25th World Book Day. I love WBD but this year for me it was tainted with sadness and sweetened with dreams. You see I woke up to a Facebook memory reminding me that the last time one of my children dressed up for WBD was on it’s 20th anniversary five years ago.

WBD was a really event in our house, the children, bookworms, who love dressing up would plan weeks ahead, and we’d beg, borrow, steal and fashion their costumes See my post about it here. Also having worked in bookshops, it’d be big for me too, as I attended in shop author events and assisted school visits across the week. Some years, when I had a contract - I actually did school visits as an author, promoting the love of stories, reading and running writing workshops. When I worked at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre we do celebration too.


 

But this year, like the past few years, my children are too old and it’s not celebrated at their school, and I am no longer a bookseller or working at the museum, plus I am still pre-published so no author visits for me. So it feels like WBD is a party I’m not invited to. I found myself avoiding social media, as seeing all the posts of children dressed up, and friends preparing for this school visits was making me down.

BUT THEN I STARTED TO DREAM. (Dangerous I know!)

What if, my current WIP was published, what would my WBD look like?


I would like to think I’d be doing some school visits, to KS2 & KS3, so I started to imagine what my author visit would look like.


 

Firstly - I’d have to look smart – as I work from home in a building site - I dress like a bag lady. This won’t do at all. So either I’d go for my mammoth 50’s skirt with a twin set. Or smart trousers and blazer, with the t-shirts a friend made me featuring the mammoth characters from my book. Either way I’d accessorise with the lovely pin badge my Son’s friend made me of another of my mammoth characters based on my illustrations.

What would I take with me?

  • Obviously my PowerPoint on a USB.
  • Some markers to draw. 
  • For KS2 a mammoth plush (I have many to choose from!)
  • Some elephant poo paper.
  • I’d probably get some inexpensive (black ink on coloured card) bookmarks printed with the book name blurb and my name on, and sign for each child. This way every child gets something even if they don’t buy the book, and if they want to buy it later they have all the details. This is a tip I learnt from Jane Clarke on one of the SCBW Professional Series (now industry insiders) session years ago.
  • Time line tape measure. 
  • Maybe a small fragment of mammoth fossil.



What would my talk be like?




Obviously I’d read an extract from the book. Then I’d do my interactive PowerPoint presentation. Now my current WIP is a STEM Cli-Fi adventure. With an own-vice neuro-diverse element with the main protagonist having dyslexia and dyscalculia. Here’s the Pitch…

Ash and her friend’s, Ruby an escapologist, and Jack a technical whiz, must save the herd of mammoths that have been cloned to help slow global warming, from an evil big game hunting obsessed billionaire with unlimited resources. The children must work together and use their talents and their secret weapon – Ash’s ability to talk to the mammoths - to save the herd, themselves and the world.

The talk would cover, mammoths facts, cloning, how cloning mammoths could help slow global warming. How STEM solutions can help with climate change and to save endangered species. Also about Pliocene Park, in Siberia, where they have reintroduced animals that were native to the tundra to help stop global warming. I’d also cover a little bit about dyslexia and dyspraxia.


 

I would as I go along, draw illustrations to explain points and use a combination of my own illustrations and other images for the PowerPoint. To end would be Q&A. this is where the elephant poo paper comes in because guaranteed there’ll be a question about Mammoths not being good for the environment due to the amount of farts they do, and I shall say, but with farts comes poo, and look what we can make from it!

Anyways, this is just my little dream of how potential a future WBD may look like or me, and also how a school visit may be! Although I am a long way off, it was nice to spend a bit of time dreaming which made me feel a tad more connected with World Book Day.


 









Friday, 21 January 2022

Resolutions Déjà vu!






So another year - be it three weeks in! Another list of resolutions. But this year I’ve shaken mine up.

A few years ago we started a new family tradition. We go out for brunch between Christmas and New Year (pandemic permitting) and we all write our ‘aims’ for the New Year. We than create a family list of New Year resolutions, along with our individual ones.

My individual list is always the same. A rehash of every previous year. There are some differences, depending on what’s going on, like this year which is a BIG EXAM year for both kids, so I have ‘support kids through exams. And ‘Help them tradition to their next step’. But my person stuff is always the same. ‘Eat better’. ‘Look after myself’.

My writer’s resolutions could be copy and pasted from any year. In fact whilst brunching we found my New Year’s Resolutions form 2017, they included…

  • Finishing editing book.
  • Enter more competitions. – (get long-listed!)
  • Submit to agents - (sign with agent!)
  • Submit to publishers – (sign a contract!)
  • Read more
  • Blog more.
  • Attend more writer events.
  • Social media.


In fact these were EXACTLY the same as I had written down for 2022 –well apart from the book I’m editing is different – but other than that identical. Actually it is pretty much a carbon-copy of every New Year’s resolutions list I’ve done since 2011.

This is actually rather depressing. It means that for over a decade I haven’t actually achieved any of my resolutions. So for 2022 I have decided to simplify. Obviously I still have my list of aims and dreams, but I only have one resolution, which is simply…



Be move creative!



Why? Creativity is good for the imaginations - it feeds it, which is great for a writer and it’s good for mental health.

SO WHY NOW?

Well in September I succumbed to Covid. It was horrible. So was the isolation. One of the things that got me through it with my sanity in fact was drawing. This is a return to my roots, as I studied Art and originally came to the world of kids lit by a desire to illustrate. Re-embracing this part of me really made me happier.

So my resolution for 2022 sis be more creative. Simple. Achievable. Of course I am still writing and pursuing publication, but hopefully when 2023 rolls around I will have at least one resolution that I’ve nailed!

Happy New Year too you all. Good luck with you resolutions, dreams and aims for 2022! We can do it together!