Saturday 30 July 2016
Times change. A writer's life changes.
I began Penny Dolan's Diary as a kind of support for my school & library visits, and I know I’ve neglected the poor thing lately.
Recently, sitting out in the garden,
battling with the keyboard of an ancient machine,
I realised why. This Diary doesn’t feel right for my writing now.
So - sadly - I’m packing up my few words and moving out -
but - hooray! - you can find me and my new posts over at:
Do visit! You’ll be very welcome.
NEW BLOG STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
Hard-hats may be worn.
Sunday 17 July 2016
On my Books To Be Read shelf, there’s now a most interesting title: NIGHT WALKING by MATTHEW BEAUMONT: A NOCTURNAL HISTORY OF LONDON: CHAUCER TO DICKENS”, a book which isn’t, I think, likely to be sitting in your local Waterstones.
I haven’t read the book yet so it’s waiting like a little treasure-box waiting to be opened. I found the title about a week ago in an independent bookshop I’d been meaning to visit for a long time: THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP in East London.
It wasn’t the most thorough of viewings. I'd driven all the way from Oxford-shire, got caught in the late afternoon traffic and arrived way too late on a Thursday afternoon. The youthful staff were very kind and polite. I’d heard good things about the bookshop from children’s author Catherine Johnson and others and I’d been following the bookshop on Facebook for a while. I hated turning up that late in the day, not that anyone expected me. My hurriedly low-key visit took hardly twenty minutes - but what a joy it was!
One side of THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP is crammed with a wide range of children’s books. I picked up THE COLOUR OF DARKNESS by RUTH HATFIELD (who I’d met earlier that week) and, planning ahead for the summer holidays, a pleasing and well-designed Usborne Activities book of General Knowledge Quizzes that was just the right size for a bag or pocket. I did ask if they had a copy of the word game TABOO (because I'd played it a a couple of days earlier) but was sweetly and firmly told “We only do books.” Good for them!
I could have looked at the children's shelves far longer but the other side of the shop beckoned. A curved passage from one side to the other offered an excellent selection of teen & young adult books and was just where such books should be, well-placed to lead the older teen through to the stacks, piles and shelves of intriguing books on offer for grown-ups.
I wish I could name more of the titles spread around that small room. The display wasn’t artistically elegant but I’m someone who finds a big generous book-hoard beautiful enough in itself. I glimpsed a good spread of novels I’d like to read, several (non-celebrity) cookery books, some poetry books and a very wide selection of non-fiction books on social issues and a host of books about aspects of the East End and London. I’m sure I spotted a poster for a book of photographs mentioned in The Gentle Author’s SPITALFIELDS LIFE blog.
For a moment, gazing around, I fantasized about sneaking in with sandwiches and a sleeping bag so I could stay there till morning. But I couldn’t. By now, it was definitely four-fifty-nine o’clock and the staff were, discreetly but unmistakeably, needing to close. Murmuring my apologies and thanks, I left, cursing the road-works that were holding up all the traffic around East London and left me with so little time.
Yet the quick trip wasn’t entirely wasted. Now I know where the shop is and what's inside, I hope to make another visit when I’m next in the area, and in funds. THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP is one of those rare and special bookshops that deserve support. And besides, the bookshop puts on a variety of talks and events around the area, including The Wanstead Tap at Forest Gate, so this is definitely more than just a shop.
Meanwhile, here back home in Yorkshire, I'll soon be NIGHTWALKING the London streets alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake and Dickens, and all from my own warm and comfortable bed.
That’s enough blog for today, so bye for now. Will try to be back soon . . .
(The Newham Bookshop website is www.newhambooks.co.uk . The shop is at 745 - 747 Barking Rd, London E13 9ER. Closed Mondays and most Sundays. I suggest allowing time to find parking space.)
Saturday 30 April 2016
Happy May Day!
Today I started tidying up my workroom very, very slowly. I took down two overloaded cork-boards, collect all the postcards, pictures and Thank You For Visiting Our School cards together and put them into a filing cabinet drawer which was quite a squeeze. The drawer is full enough to need tidying too, but that’s for another day. (nb. The noticeboard shown is not mine but has the same spirit about it. One day I will know how to prep photographs for blogposts! )
Then I unpinned the name badges and neck tags, collected them all together and dropped them in a tin. Then I try to find a place to put the tin.
Oh, here’s a handy overcrowded shelf!
I wedge the tin in there, which is, in tidying terms, hardly better than nothing and definitely not Mari-Kondo-esque.
My really favourite method for tidying rooms home here is to take everything off to another room, sort it out and then put the good stuff back again, in an orderly way. A bit like an extended IT Crowd suggestion. However, this feat is not what I haven’t time for right now, or for this month or possibly during this whole summer. But those two notice-boards are now temptingly empty spaces for more stuff . I'm sure I can find some . . .
I’m partly in this clearing mood because I’m also getting my current, big Work-In-Progress cleaned out and clarified. This WIP is a long thing with many characters and a complicated plotline and I really need to be in the zone when I’m working on the text. If not, things get forgotten even if I’ve noted them down on scraps of paper already and pinned them to the two other noticeboards. Cryptic Notes, yes. Unrecognisable Notes, yes. Possibly still Useful Notes? Ah.
I must not, however, complain because suddenly the wretched thing – or that’s how the WIP has often felt – has got going again. This is a good positive feeling although there is still a very huge and scary Big Final Section to go.
Right now, the WIP feels more than a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster lurching awkwardly onwards with all the joins showing and bits in danger of falling off as it proceeds.
Stomp, stomp, stomp into the mist.
Yesterday, with the rain, hail and snow blasting outside, I opted for a bout of book dreaming and came up with a few early reader book ideas. This process is so very different to writing fiction, being much more like like a “poetry” state of mind where you need to use an intense focus and a limited number of words. Not sure any ideas will come to anything, although I am quite fond of one rather surreal forty-word text. Fingers crossed, as ever.
Then, however, all the hours of screen work suddenly reminded my poor eyes that it was time to focus on a different activity - which prompted the sudden longing for clean and empty spaces - or noticeboards, which is where I began this post.
Onwards, even if in a circular fashion.
Have a great May Day weekend!
Sunday 24 April 2016
Thursday today: a peaceful day unpacking my “big books” and talk stuff and everything after yesterday’s school visit to ROSSETT ACRE PRIMARY SCHOOL. The day began with an assembly for all the KS1 & KS2 classes and followed on with story sessions for the EYFS & Key Stage One children, which were good fun. I hope the staff and children thought so too. Thanks, Rossett Acre, for inviting me in as part of your current “Let’s Get Reading” initiative. That’s my title – though it may also be an official title somewhere too. Encouraging more reading is a Very Good Thing, in my mind. Well chosen, Rossett Acre!
Midday meant the long playtime and as the sun was out yesterday, the children were galloping and playing out on the school field over lunchtime too. I imagine there have been far too many wet “indoor” days recently, which is not good for the growth and health of young things.
Or for older things, come to that! Today, as it’s sunny again, I’m away up to HARLOW CARR GARDENS to wander among the trees and spring flowers, and to see what the RHS has begun setting up for the summer. Nigel Dunnett, the designer for the Olympic Park, is now involved up there, helping with developing a masterplan, which could be interesting, although I wish my thoughts weren’t of gigantic plastic statuary. No, please, no! Let the garden be a garden, please! I have only observed the skyline of the park from a train so maybe this is an unfounded Kapoor-fret?
However, I’m wondering if I should be pacing through the other end of Harrogate, away to the east in the once-village of Bilton. I’ve just reached the end of COMMON GROUND by Rob Cowen, a “nature and landscape” writer. (There must surely be a neater category term for such a genre group?)
Over a year, first as an unemployed journalist and then as an expectant father, he spent much time walking through a small area of “edge-land” just beyond Bilton, observing the animals and living creatures and musing on the history of this unclaimed but apparently protected “common ground”.
Cowen writes both as himself - the observer, the witness - and from the viewpoint of some of the living creatures inhabiting the area. I’m not a natural "natural landscape" reader, although I have read Macfarlane and similar authors so I felt, at first, that the text demanded the acceptance of a different pace and rhythm. Or was it that this was a familiar landscape, not the wildness of the Hebrides or mountains?
Yet, after a while, I found I was welcoming the pages; by the end I thought that COMMON GROUND had been a valuable piece of reading. Cowen even manages to make some sense of the council-installed tarmac-surfaced cycle path that cuts across the very ground he’d been exploring.
Besides, I’ve found that Cowen is talking at Harrogate Library in June, probably for the paperback publication, so I’m planning to go to hear what he has to say a year or two on from the writing of this book - especially with all the development planned around many of the edge-lands of the town.
Past noon now, as I write, so I’m off to spend some time with the daffodils.
Ps. Thursday's was a more than fine visit of discovery, followed by a busy Friday and a Manchester Saturday - which is why this post's only just appeared. Oops!
Tuesday 12 April 2016
Tuesday 12th April 2016.
I had a wonderful time over Easter, which was full of dressing-up and happy smiles and confetti and good food and meeting nice and interesting people, followed by idle lazing, egg-hunting and walks in Wanstead Woods. Yes, Easter was blissful and good and such a joyful time after all the wedding preparations.
Then, getting home, we hit pause, as they say. We went down with A Bug. I have to say that I didn’t really care: to have had the wedding go merrily and without any hitches was more than enough for me.
However, the horrid cold laid us low. Worse, it filled the brain with thick mists of stupidity and the chest with nasty stuff. Groo!
Was I surprised? Not really. I have a half-belief in The London Miasma – an invisible airborne soup of bacteria and germs and suchlike - that dwells within the London Underground and seeps out of grates and drains to attack all passers-by. The constant Londoner is, of course, immune to this onslaught, but visitors are swiftly invaded and felled.
Even though the original Miasma theory may have been refuted by Dr Snow back at Seven Dials, as explained in THE GHOST MAP, I am keen on my current interpretation, especially when hacking and coughing in a feverish bed. As for the “air” circulating not in trains but in planes . . .
But this week – and aren’t you glad of a change of subject? - I’m moving on. The nasty coldy thing has cleared and I can do now more than waft about like a gloomy grey shadow. Moreover, I am feeling a teeny bit optimistic, a bit more able to handle things, which I seriously doubted back in the dark clouds of last week.
So here I am, back at the desk and blog-face, keying these words in as a sign of good faith for the future. More, I hope, anon.
Have just read THE MURDSTONE TRILOGY by MAL PEET. An interestingly satirical angle on the writing of best-selling fantasy “nobbles”. There is Philip the pathetic author, other slightly overblown characters, a powerful amulet and an added Faustian pact, all enthusiastically written and enjoyable. However, alongside the romping plot, Peet is very pointedly “ouchy” about the writing life and the publishing world. I wasn’t sure whether his humour boosted my hopes exactly, but I’m glad I read it – and when I was feeling a bit brighter too: all too true in places.
Sunday 13 March 2016
Another great day on Wednesday at KEIGHLEY ST ANDREW’S PRIMARY SCHOOL.
I was very glad there was no snow this week, as I had to drive across the moors to tell stories, share books and have a good time with all the Nursery, Reception and Key One classes.
Big thanks, as ever, to all the people involved with arranging the visit, including AUTHORS ALOUD.
An aside: I haven’t seen any animals in schools for quite a long time and - although I’d state that any “pets” must be looked after carefully, regularly and well – I do feel children should have real experience of living creatures and of the outdoors world, especially with the hours that many parents have to work these days.
Well, these last two weeks of visits have cheered me up. I’ve seen hints that schools might have moved towards some “natural world” learning.
I’ve been shown duck eggs quietly hatching - constantly monitored by a webcam – which fitted very well with THE LOVELY DUCKLING.
I also came across two handsome and well-cared for guinea pigs in a Reception area – Iggle and Piggle – and that was on top of hearing about outdoor discovery walks, pond-dipping and veg-growing for KS2 pupils last week. If schools are moving towards a more hands-on and less screen-centred view of the environment, that can only be good news for the children? Of course, the real world can mean extra work, so hooray for the grown-ups involved in such fine schemes.
The week ahead? There are no bookings and unusually little admin to do, so I’m hoping for a few days of real and much-needed writing time.
I will have to be very strict with myself, so that I don’t get lured into some of the new books I’ve just bought.
Railhead by Philip Reeve, that, especially, means you! Temptation, temptation!
I'll let you know who and what wins!
Bye for now . . .
Friday 4 March 2016
I'm here, back at my blog to post about two lovely school visits I've made for World Book Day 2016. What a pleasure they were!
But first, I’m thinking about an Author Visit back from very late last year, when I went to ALANBROOKE PRIMARY SCHOOL near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. That felt a very fine visit too, but a particularly busy Christmas came straight afterwards so I had no time to open this blog up at all. Apologies! I am sure Alanbrooke will have had a very good World Book Day week indeed, despite the snow, as the school, staff and pupils had plenty of links to people and places around the world.
I recall being very impressed by the inclusive and encouraging way that Alanbrooke used computers within the curriculum, and rather wanted to know more about how and what and why and more, but during the day there wasn’t time. Having a still-professional nosiness about classroom practice can be quite frustrating at times.
I heard that the school had, fairly recently, been without any IT for more than a year. An earlier round of York floods meant the school had to move into "un-wired" premises and the teachers had to get used to teaching without electronic back up. Perhaps that break was why they were able to use IT in such an easy spirit? I know they had an enthusiastic mentor-and-mechanic there most days which must have helped things along.
Thank you, Alanbrooke Primary School, for a good day and one that restored my confidence about the use of computers within education!
Now, on to March and the start of World Book Day celebrations for 2016.
Wednesday was an early start, with a drive down the M1 and across to OVERTHORPE C.E PRIMARY ACADEMY, high above Dewsbury. The school was very welcoming, the children and staff friendly, and the whole day so competently arranged. Although everyone was dressed up, the fun was balanced by a nicely calm atmosphere, and there was even a book stall at the end of the day. What a joy!
There was some extra excitement when thin snow started falling outside and even more when thunder boomed at just the right moment in my story.
By lunchtime the storm had gone and I peered out at the sun streaming through the brisk clouds, lighting up the grounds. This was when I heard all about the outside life of Overthorpe, and the double ponds and the grass and the bulbs and the tree-planting and the poly-tunnel and other gardening plans. I always feel so cheered when schools make the natural world some part of their pupil’s own lives.
Once, I was told, you’d see slag-heaps and pitheads from the top of the hill but in between there were green places to play and roam. I felt glad that Overthorpe was able to open up some sense of space and freedom for their children.
My destination on Thursday was a bit closer: I was at HUNSLET CARR PRIMARY SCHOOL in Leeds. The travel went well – still no snow – but my satnav was in a crotchety mood. It delivered me accurately for the postcode but into a series of cul-de-sacs and dead-ends where streets that once joined up, leading through to the school gates now didn’t. In the end I and my car and talk-bags got there, got parked and got into the school itself. Phew!
From then on, the morning improved. I was very impressed by my glimpse of a rumbustious Book Character assembly, with lots of laughing and dancing and dressing up, both staff and children. Then came my sessions, and even a moment for a quick nursery storytime, and I hope that everyone at Hunslet Carr enjoyed the visit as much as I did.
At Hunslet Carr, I was so focused on the getting-in with all my talk stuff , on the glass-fronted entrances and reception area and the bright new look of the school interior that I hadn’t really noticed the place. Then, pausing in the hall as I set up, I suddenly saw the beautiful beams holding up the roof and there, on the mezzanine corridor – a hanging banner from the long ago Hunslet Labour marches. This was a school with, despite all the paint, a fine sense of history. All the way up the main staircase – and it delighted me to see them – were objects from the school’s past life and a collection of playthings from the last centuries.
The most poignant was an old slightly faded photo, showing the victorious Hunslet Carr AFC team 1910- 1911. I looked at the faces off all those young players and their Headmaster, and saw the words “The Unbeaten Team” and a list of their winning matches and goals scored. Then, uneasy, I stared at the dates again and realised those boys may well have been among those sent to the battle fields of Flanders a couple of years later. I couldn’t help wonder if those lads had stayed unbeaten?
The second delightful thing was the library area: a small but cosy room, with carpets, cushions, a gentle light and plenty of new and inviting books. Thankfully, one teacher has time out to look after the library stock and to run library sessions, as well as support from Leeds Schools Library Service. All this care showed in the very atmosphere of the room; I could almost feel the sense of pleasure the children gain during their sessions there. Thank you, everyone at Hunslet Carr, for making the day such a good visit. Thoughtful architecture – and I don’t mean vast atriums – really does affect the feel of a school building.
Thinking over these descriptions, I’ve realised that each of these three schools offered something extra, something beyond the rigours of the National Curriculum. Each school, and members of staff within, had planned for a wider view and so enriched their pupil’s lives: a thing to be very happy about.
(There may, of course, be other things I didn’t notice because my attention was mainly on my work. If so, apologies for anything or anyone I’ve missed out.)
It's Friday today, and I’m hoping the greyness outside will mean I can do some writing inside during this weekend, as well as looking forward to next week’s visit to a school in Keighley.
Should be interesting getting there as one route across has been closed all summer because of a rock fall and another has been blocked by the sudden white stuff.
I must look and see if there's another route will be open, and trust to my AtoZ of West Yorkshire as well as that tricksy satnav . . . wish me luck!
Meanwhile, many good wishes to all of the children’s writers, illustrators, librarians and book-people travelling around the land, Have a happy World Book Day day/week/fortnight or month, and I hope the snow and cold of March doesn't stay to haunt your fun.
Bye for now!