Friday, 26 November 2010

What exactly is sparkle anyway?

I arrived home from the shops yesterday to the sound of hammering. It made me smile. Rod was repairing a stool. In the afternoon, while he pottered in his potting shed, I settled down to work on some picture books. Life is slowly returning to some sort of normality.

It’s quite some time since I worked on picture book fiction so I dug out some of my guideline notes from way back. In amongst all the bumf about double-line spacing etc it said to make sure the story had lots of sparkle. I had no doubt faithfully written this from a book I was reading or a talk I attended but I don’t think I stopped to analyse it. I mean, what exactly is sparkle anyway? And never mind getting sparkle into picture books. If it’s so important, then I need to know how I can get sparkle into my life.

In my last blog post I talked about how we felt about ourselves on a scale of one to ten, ten being fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I was a ten. A number of you said the same in your comments. If we could work out how to get sparkle into our lives would it increase our scores? An eight would be good.

As far as writing picture books is concerned I reckon that the way we can add sparkle is to write with an easy-to-read rhythm, to include a fine sprinkling of alliteration and inner rhymes, and to feed the illustrators with many and varied spreads so they can add sparkle too....

Hang on a minute! Maybe I can do the same with my life. Maybe it’s all about an easy-to-live rhythm or maybe I have an inner illustrator who needs to be fed? Now there’s a thought.

p.s. I tried to take a photograph of the sun sparkling on the frosty grass but it wouldn't show. However many times I tried and whatever setting I put the camera on, the grass and frost were there but the sparkle wasn't. Sparkle is elusive - official!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

What Not To Wear

On Friday I went to a big, 'dressy-up' do - a charity lunch in aid of Rainbows Children’s Hospice. I know that all charities are worthwhile causes but I do believe that Rainbows Hospice is even more worthwhile. I can’t understand why the hospice receives hardly any government funding. It provides such worthwhile services to ill children and their families... but don’t get me started on these injustices. Visit Rainbows’ website and see for yourself.
All morning I moaned, ‘I’ve got nothing to wear!’ which was especially pertinent as the topic of the after dinner talk was ‘What Not To Wear’. I rummaged through my row of impractical, outlandish outfits bought in the misguided belief that they would make me feel good. I finally found an Adini skirt and top accessorized with silver dangly jewellery and I was ready to face the world.

We were treated to a complementary box of chocolates (which I took home for Rod, of course!) 

...and a big goodie bag. What is it about goodie bags? Everyone dives in, dabbing lip gloss onto lips and moisturiser onto hands as if we’d never seen such luxuries. 

We ate and drank and ate some more and finally the after dinner speaker was announced. I have been known to doze off during after dinner speeches but not this time. Pippa Rees, style consultant, certainly knows how to keep her audience entertained. The BBC featured her in their 2009 ‘The Speaker’ articles and in her Style Boutique she offers one-to-one advice on how to discover our own personal style. [Sadly I can’t include a link as her website is displaying a malware warning.]

She began by asking how we felt about ourselves on a scale of one to ten, ten being fantastic. Some people put their hands up for ten. Wow! When was the last time you felt like a ten? And what were you wearing? Pippa believes there’s a connection, the outfit is crucial.

She asked what we said in the morning when we opened our wardrobe door. She received a chorus of, ‘I’ve got nothing to wear!’ It’s not just me then. Why do we keep clothes that don’t fit, are far too loud/dull or just plain uncomfortable? Her advice was to get rid of the items that we know we’ll never wear again and go clothes shopping with a list, just like at the supermarket.

But when I’m standing in a clothes shop I never know what style to go for. Pippa’s advice is to take a good look at those few clothes that we wear regularly and go for more of the same. It doesn’t mean we’re boring. It means that we’ve found our style. It would be good to think that I could find mine. I’ve spent long enough looking for it. I suppose it’s never too late to try but I know I’m still likely to buy something impractical and outlandish in the misguided hope that it will make me feel like a ten.


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Good Old Leicester

The proofs of my latest book have arrived. The book is called Hometown History Leicester and it’s a children’s history book. It’s exciting to see how the editor has converted my plain text into brightly coloured spreads. She has made my words come alive and it was a delight to check them...

...but the editor has also presented me with a tough task. I have to write a biog in no more than 30 words explaining why I enjoy writing about local history for children. And there’s the problem. Where to start? How to get it all squashed into 30 words?

I’ve lived in Leicester all my life and I’ve always been fascinated by its history. My favourite outing as a child was to the Newarke Houses museum and it’s still a great place to visit. I used to teach history and I love writing for children. That’s forty-six words. I have some editing to do.

Researching and writing this book was a pure delight but I fear I’ve become an LHB – a Leicester History Bore. In fact here are just five of my many fascinating facts.

Fascinating Fact No. 1

Leicester (or Ratae Corieltauvorum as it was once called) was important to the Romans. It was a strategic point where the River Soar could be crossed without drowning in mud and so well worth defending.

(This picture shows the Roman Jewry Wall and remains of the Roman baths.)

 Fascinating Fact No. 2
The Anglo-Saxons established a market in High Cross. We now have a new and glitzy High Cross Shopping Centre not far from that original site. 

 Fascinating Fact No. 3

AND the Vikings, who preferred to set up a market of their own, did so on the same site where our Leicester market is today. 

(This is Leicester Market, the biggest covered, outdoor market in Europe.

Fascinating Fact No. 4

The Guildhall was built by the local religious guilds. When Henry VIII abolished them, the Leicester Corporation bought it for their town hall.

It’s still in use today. You can visit the Victorian cells or stand in the Great Hall where the Tudor Mayors held huge banquets where indecent amounts of food were served up while the Leicester poor were most likely starving in the streets.

 Fascinating Fact No. 5
With the Industrial Revolution came a need to improve our transport system. George Stephenson attended a meeting at Leicester’s Bell Hotel. (I remember that pub. It was opposite Lewis’s.) His son, Robert Stephenson worked on The Comet, Leicester’s first steam engine, and George brought it to Leicester on a canal boat and then drove it on its maiden journey from the brand new West Bridge station.

Are you asleep yet? There’s more and if I’ve wetted your appetite then the book will be out in May/June 2011. (Watch this space. I may mention it again!) It’s aimed at 8 to 10 year olds but it makes a good read for any age (a completely unbiased opinion!)

And now I’m off to edit my biog. “I’ve lived in Leicester all my life and...


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Save the Words

90% of everything we communicate is done with only 7,000 words. I just read that on a fascinating website called The screen is filled with words that are slipping out of usage and in risk of disappearing altogether. The words are animated and keep calling out ‘over here!’ and ‘choose me!’ It's hilarious but you'll have to visit it for yourself to obtain the full amusement value.

The Guardian Newspaper ran an article about the site this week. They urged us all to adopt a word, slip it into our conversations, emails, letters, reports, blogs and all manner of places to save it from extinction. 

It’s not hard to see why some words are on the way out. They’re not exactly relevant. [If they’re relevant to you then apologies but please start using them!] Here are just a few:

Stiricide = falling of icicles from a house
Sevous = like tallow
Frutescent = looking like a shrub

On the other hand, there are many words that deserve to be rescued. Here are three of my favourites:

Blateration = blabber or chatter
Woundikins = mild profanity
Piladex = a game where an inflated bag is hit with the hand across a table

Of course, it’s us lot who make it difficult for people to use obscure words. We’re apt to make fun, tease, say,
‘Oooooh, get him! He’s swallowed a dictionary for breakfast!’ 

As I write this, BBC Radio 2 is playing in the background. The language used by the DJs is simple and uncomplicated. It’s the sort of language that the majority of us hear and use every day. We have not only allowed, but have played a significant part in the dumbing down of our own lovely language. Isn’t that a shame?

I think we should join forces and try to turn this trend around. I’m going to adopt my three favourite words. Blateration describes the way I talk on the phone – I know it does! Woundikins is so cute even if it does mean a mild profanity, and piladex sounds like my type of game, not too energetic but with a bit of competitiveness to spur me on.

Anyway, enough of my blaterations. I do hope you’re all going to visit and adopt a word or I shall have to resort to woundikins! And now, anyone for a game of piladex?


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I'm a writer not a teacher

I dreamt last night that I was still teaching. I’d made the decision to hand in my notice but had left it too late and would have to wait until the following term. I should (and in real life would) have been devastated but I wasn’t. In my dream I was worried about:
  • losing my identity
  • the absence of a daily routine
  • What would I say when people asked, “What job do you do?”
That third point is one that really hits home. People treated me differently when I said, "I'm a teacher." I get such varied and strange responses now when I say, “I’m a writer.” Why is that? I've been asked all of the following questions, some many times over.
  • “Why are you a writer?”
  • “How do you write a book?”
  • “What do you do with yourself at home all day?”
  • “Where do all your ideas come from?”
  • “Aren’t you ever going to do a real job again?”
You wouldn’t dream of asking a teacher questions like that. Why should writing be so different?

I've been a writer, not a teacher, for many years now and yet fragments of that dream won’t leave my head. It’s made me feel flat. I guess I miss the companionship of going to work and the rhythm of a working week, but I’m writing this with the radio on in the background. The London Underground is at a complete standstill due to strike action. There are severe hold ups on all roads in and around London, and even though I don’t, and never have, lived in London, it reminds me how lovely it is to get up and ‘go to work’ in my comfortable, warm home and if I need companionship I know I can chat with all of you, even if some of you live over ten thousand miles away... especially as some of you live over ten thousand miles away!

[Example of me chatting with people who live over ten thousand miles away!] One of the comments to my recent blog about bird feeding got me thinking about whether there are different varieties of birds in gardens around the world or do you all have sparrows, blue tits and pigeons like here in Leicester?

Talking of bird feeding, my good friend, Pippa Goodhart, popped round the other day. [You can find Pippa’s website here and the interview I had with her is here.] She's bought me a fabulous present, a super-gourmet bird feeder. It contains every nut and seed the local birds could possibly want and my Yew tree is now a regular pit stop for green finches, chaffinches and a beautiful thrush, as well as the usual flocks of tits and sparrows. It’s brilliant and I certainly wouldn’t be able to enjoy it if I had to dash off to school every day.

Rod update: Rod is home from hospital yet again. Hopefully he’s going to stay home this time. He’s certainly eating better and, although he’s very weak and suffering from flu and virus infections due to his reduced resistance, he’s starting to look more like my lovely husband again.