Can cool girls wear pink?

A couple of days ago, I was talking to my neighbour and asked him what he believed his daughter would think of the new cover for “The Uncontrollable Flying Carpet.” His reply was a surprise.
“She wouldn’t like it because the girl is wearing a pink dress,” he said, “and she says that girls shouldn’t wear pink.”
I do get his daughter’s point – traditionally, pink is associated with gender-stereotyping, with encouraging girls to be weak, feminine home-makers. Make no mistake, I am all for smashing down such demeaning and diminishing attitudes. Girls and boys are surrounded by societal expectations of what they should wear, how they should act and speak, what things they should do. And that is why I created the character of Sabrina Summers. She’s a tough girl; she is resourceful and brave, and, by coincidence, she happens to live in sneakers and shorts and she hates her ruffled, pink bridesmaid’s dress. I hope she’s a great role-model for girls who don’t otherwise get told that it’s OK to be who you are and need encouragement do the right thing.
Sabrina does love her pink sneakers, though, and it troubles me that, if this was real life, someone might make her too embarrassed at the ‘girlyness’ of her practical, comfortable footwear. Why, exactly, can’t girls wear pink anymore? Do they think, in order to be accepted at school or in their friend-group, they should be more like our stereo-typed image of boys? In short, do they think that, in order to succeed, they must be like boys? Are they ashamed of being girls? It seems as though, in order to conform to new expectations, they feel that they actually are not allowed to wear pink, nor to like unicorns and kittens or in any way be ‘girly’.
So, what, exactly, is wrong with being ‘girly’? Well, nothing of course. Isn’t the person who loves kittens more likely to grow up to be an animal lover who’ll rescue cats from vivisection laboratories? Isn’t the unicorn-lover more likely to have a wonderful imagination and see things as they could be, instead of passively accepting how things are no matter how bad?
Here’s the thing – pink is just a colour. Anyone at any age should be able to wear it. Girls are allowed to be girls and shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. What matters more is that boys and girls both know that. They can wear whatever they like, in fact, and what matters is that they are true to themselves.
So yes, cool girls, and boys, can wear pink. Or not. It’s up to them.

 

In support of hybrid publishers

If you’ve been looking to get copies of the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers from Amazon or Kindle recently, I’m afraid you’ll have been disappointed, but for a great reason. I have just signed a contract with Morgan James, a well-established hybrid publisher based in the States, who have agreed to publish The Uncooperative Flying Carpet!
So, why Morgan James? Why not a traditional publisher? Well, that takes me back to why I chose indie publishing in the first place – generally speaking, a traditional publisher does nothing to make books available to readers who are dyslexic. Morgan James have not only let me keep the copyright of my own books, but are happy for Shropshire Lass to continue to publish the way I am consulted during a weekly phone call about marketing, editing, the cover, sales etc. They’re keen to actively support me, but best of all, when I was talking to their lovely Fiction Acquisitions Editor, she said they wanted to work with writers who, like them, wanted to make the world a better place.
So, why Morgan James and why not continue publishing independently? Indie publishing is tough (especially the distribution side), lonely and it’s very easy to put things like earning money first! With MJ, I’m in a partnership where not only am I given the support to give me the confidence to get out there myself, they actively promote my books in bookstores throughout the States and the UK (leaving me to focus on NZ and Australia), send copies to be reviewed, provide promotional materials and have a supportive community of authors who have shared beliefs and goals. Of course, they are in publishing to make money, and good for them because so do I, and the cost of having a book edited well, a decent cover designed and promotions is a shared burden with a hybrid-publisher. With so many small publishers going under or being taken over, and with the big publishers being reluctant to take a chance on a new author, they are doing something different to respond to a very fast-changing environment.
Their Morgan James Kids imprint is fairly new, and they only take 12 titles a year, so I’m incredibly honoured to have made the cut this year. I’m looking forward to the journey – watch this space!

Packing my Big Boots

According to Winnie the Pooh, “when you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/97211-when-you-see-someone-putting-on-his-big-boots-you)

Well, I’m getting ready to pack my own Big Boots ready for this northern hemisphere’s summer adventure. After a lot of a lot of research (thanks hugely to my step-dad, Michael Gibson for all his work) I have a rough itinerary of where I’ll be visiting on my pilgrimage. A colleague in the Children’s Literature Hub which I am lucky to belong to said that my journey to the homes of, and sights that inspired, classic British children’s authors was a pilgrimage, not just a journey. The more planning I do, the more I realise she’s right. So where am I going?

Although Agatha Christie wasn’t a children’s author, she’s one of my all time favourites and I read her at the same time as I was devouring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, so her summer home is first on the list.

I loved the Lone Pine books by Malcolm Saville; then I went to live in Shropshire and my Mum still does so I’ll be taking some amazingly beautiful walks on the Long Mynd and other hills where the Mortons first met the rest of the Club.

I’ll also visit Oxford to be inspired by an Alice in Wonderland Walk and see where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis lived and worked. From there I travel to Kingsclere, the location for Watership Down. Many years ago, as I student, I was fortunate to host Richard Adams when he came to Keele University to speak, so this is particularly special for me. I also want to visit Crowlink (E Nesbit’s final resting place), Bateman’s (Rudyard Kipling’s beautiful home), the original 100 Acre Woods, Great Maytham Hall which inspired the original Secret Garden, Cookham (Wind in the Willows land) and Great Missendon, location for the Roald Dahl Museum. If I can manage it (and I’m quite worried about fitting all this in, I must admit) then I’ll visit the pub frequented by Enid Blyton, go to the Harry Potter Experience and have a peaceful few days in the Lake District, home to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and Beatrix Potter herself.

Will I get to all these places in the time I have (and I’ll say up front that I’m not the world’s best at following directions, parking and all the other skills a travel writer ought to have) – that’s anyone’s guess. But I plan to have fun trying!

Have laptop, will travel

They say that whatever book you are working on, writers still believe that there’s a better one waiting round the corner, and I know just how that feels. Although I am currently finishing off the formatting and launch of the final Sabrina Summers’ Saga and have the planning and writing of the first Autumn Pugh book scheduled to work on next, I am also preparing for my first ever travel book.

This July, I head back to the UK for an extended trip. As well as spending time with my family, I will be researching my book on the homes of the authors of some of my favourite, classic British children’s books. I’ll get to visit some of the settings and inspirations for these wonderful books too. I’m so excited about this project! I don’t have a working title yet and the structure is still developing in my head, but I’ve started planning my itinerary. Well, sometimes directions are difficult if, like me, you have trouble with left and right, so my lovely step-father is helping me 😉 I’ll be blogging as I travel, so watch this space!

Empty Nests

Empty nest syndrome is when your children grow up and leave home, leaving their parents alone in the family nest. I believe writers have the same emotions when they come to the end of a character. At the moment, the last in the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers is at the editor. I feel as though she has gone away to university and will return to make a few appearances with her bags of dirty laundry in the holidays before that’s it forever. She’ll be back in the new year for me to finish off the formatting and implement any changes the editor suggests, then she’ll be published.

So, how can I deal with my “empty nest”? Well, Autumn Pugh is already being developed but I still can’t let go of Sabrina and her friends. And so, welcome Sabrina’s little sister! When I spoke to a group of Gifted & Talented students in Lincoln, NZ a few weeks ago, one child asked for stories for younger readers. I took her request seriously, and Sally Summers is on her way!

She’ll be starring in her own short story soon, but who knows – she might have her own books too.

Oh yes, one more thing – Merry Christmas!

I write sitting down

I recently shared a Facebook post about the activities other writers do when they are stuck. Dan Brown, for instance, apparently has a device where he can hang upside down. I write sitting at my desk, and I do it all day, every day. When I am thinking something through, I take a trip to the pantry. As you can imagine, writing is not kind to my behind! I needed to do something about it and so I recently completed a one day course run by Rebecca Cragnolini and Imelda Curtin of Click Weight Success in Christchurch, NZ. This is the link to their page: clickweightsuccess.co.nz.

The workshop was incredibly empowering and followed up by weekly emails and meditations to keep us on track. I am half way through the follow-up support and thought I would take stock and see what changes in myself I have noticed.

Firstly, I am sleeping so much better. As a writer I am juggling not just Sabrina Summers but newspaper clients, teaching commitments and a busy home life so I never had a quiet mind. Now, I wake up with energy and clear thoughts, just what I need to get this darned book finished.

Secondly, I’m annoyingly happy! Seriously, all the time. I’m full of beans and take pleasure in little things. I’m even excited about getting the weeding done on my garden because I know that means I can enjoy it afterwards.

Thirdly, yes I have lost weight. Not much, but some, and the great thing about it is that I haven’t gone on any kind of soul-destroying diet or been a slave to the gym. I’ve just got a different attitude – I’ve got the energy to go to the gym and put more effort in while I am there, and I choose to have healthier food.

I’ve got several targets to reach by the  New Year – writing targets, marketing targets, and health targets and I’ll be reporting back on how I do, but thanks to the lovely Rebecca and Imelda, I’m confident I’ll get there. Watch this space!

Hans Christian Andersen

Since my books are inspired by and borrow from characters who were created by or whose stories were collected by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, I was excited to see this free MOOC (massive open online course) run by the University of Southern Denmark: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hans-christian-andersens-fairy-tales #FLFairyTales

I’ve just completed week one which covered the man behind the writer and an introduction to his literary work. If you’re interested in reading his stories, this website has “the most comprehensive edition of Andersen’s fairy tales in English (American) on the internet” http://andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/index_e.html

I had no idea there were so many! Looking forward to week 2 already 🙂

Great advice from J K Rowling

I really love this story from Fairfax Media’s stuff.co.nz on life tips from J K Rowling. I admire her not because she’s a successful author of children’s book (I’m just jealous of that ;), but because of how she respects her success and uses it.

The link to the original is: http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/celebrities/10451034/15-life-tips-from-JK-Rowling

In short:

  • she believes in paying taxes because in the past, she’s benefited from how taxes are used; she is paying forward to those less fortunate.
  • she knows she has enough and doesn’t care about making more and more money.
  • she never, ever gave up on her dreams and went for it. It’s easy to think ‘this is too hard, it will never get anywhere,’ believe me. Go her for being so staunch.
  • after winning the prestigious Nestle Smarties book prize three times in a row, she withdrew to allow other upcoming authors (hopefully like me 😉 a chance.
  •  she’s fine being a little dark, talking about death etc. I agree – kids are interested in dark stuff, some more than other. Some might find some of the scenes in The Uncontrollable Slingshot a little grim, especially the scene I am working on right now where Sabrina battles rats, but that’s how life can be – books are a great way for young people to ask questions.
  • she’d rather be a grown up than a teenager. Um, well I quite liked being a teenager – I had very different worries then than I do now (mortgages, cleaning toilets, that kind of thing) but I was lucky to have such a great family. I also thought that it was possible to change the world, and I’ve lost some of my mojo there!
  • she battles on and finishes stuff, even though it’s a ‘chore’. Hey! I am writing this blog instead of book 3 in the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers and yesterday I tweeted and Facebooked about the Emmy red carpet fashion!
  • she loves books. Enough said.
  • she knows it’s hard to stand up to our allies – family and friends in particular. I have Olive in particular standing up to Sabrina, and I’m glad to say Sabrina appreciated it.
  • she believes in being kind to those who are seen as our inferiors. Watch this space for the ending of book 3. I absolutely endorse this belief and take it even further and say why stop with people when we can make such a positive difference in reducing suffering by being kind to animals too.
  • she says we shouldn’t worry about the future. Having lived through the Christchurch earthquakes over recent years, I know that whatever comes our way, we generally cope.
  • she says we shouldn’t care what other people think of us. Easier said than done, thanks to social media, but I’m working on it. People who try to cut us down are generally jealous, and they’re jealous because they are unhappy so perhaps compassion is the key.
  • she gives a lot to charity. We sponsor a child through Childfund and contribute to World Animal Protection. I recently was privileged to hear Peter Singer, the great philosopher, speak about ‘effective altruism’. He suggested we put our charity dollars where they will do most good globally.
  • no matter how smart we are, fate can still make fools of us.
  • we can’t please everyone. So please the ones who matter – yourself first.

 

 

On Belonging

Yesterday, my book group (The Redcliffes Book Discussion Group, part of the Book Discussion Scheme) won tickets to see Patricia Grace in conversation with Paula Morris in Christchurch. It was part of this year’s Word Festival. It might have been a bit of an ‘ask’ to get us all there by 10am on a Sunday morning, but it was a fascinating listen. The theme was ‘On Belonging’ and reflected on where people come from, how they arrive at places and whether they belong there.  It certainly got me thinking, which is, of course, the purpose of these events! My brother and I grew up in a Royal Air Force family, and like all our friends at the time, we moved from country to country. We both consider this a blessing, and I lived in England, Singapore and West Germany before I was 13, and I now live in New Zealand. Yet, when people ask me my nationality, I tell them I am Welsh, because my dad was from Old Colwyn and my mother’s family were mostly from Merthyr Tydfyl (a familiar name to my readers, of course). I don’t entirely ‘belong’ anywhere in the same way that people who are born, raised, live and die in the same town do, but that’s OK with me. I’m glad to have had the exposure to other countries and to have the sense of adventure and ‘anything is possible’ that travelling has given me. I wouldn’t be taking the leap of faith that I am to become a full time writer without thinking that my life ‘belongs’ to me and that I make of it what I choose.

Witchy Wu

I’ve recently been asked about Witchy Wu, the out and out baddy of the Dralfynia sagas, and why I made her a Chinese shaman instead of a Grimm Brothers witch. The name popped into my head first, and I looked up the meaning afterwards. According to Wikipedia, a wu is a Chinese shaman who is a spirit medium practising divination, prayer, sacrifice, rain making and healing in Chinese traditions, dating back over 3000 years. Like European witches, they can use powers for good (healing) or bad (sacrifice). In the case of my character, Witchy Wu starts her life at school planning to use her powers for healing, but after a specific event (detailed in The Uncomfortable Glass Slippers, which I would hate to spoil here), the taste of her bitterness becomes so strong, only the taste of sugar (and children) can temporarily relieve it.

In effect, I’ve combined the mythology behind two types of witch; as a writer, I wanted to flex my creativity and develop a character that was an evolution of the ones in stories I grew up reading, making the books bi-cultural. The more I have written her, the more I adore her! Of all the characters in this trilogy, she is the one I planned the fate of first. I hope you like what happens to her!