Falling in love again – with myself

One of the fabulous things about being published by Morgan James is the sense of community between the company’s authors. Cindy Mazzaferro, author of “Powerful Beyond Measure” kindly reached out and got in touch, and I’ve spent time the last week not only reading her book but using the resources that come with it.
First as a teacher, then as a writer, I’ve been prone to “imposter syndrome,” the feeling that I am just pretending to be a grown-up. Cindy’s book has put paid to all that nonsense, and I feel comfortable in my skin and proud of my voice.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we shape girls and boys as they grow up, and how important it is to let them know they “are unique, important and can play a beneficial role in the world” (Cindy’s words, not mine). The steps in Cindy’s books are designed to teach us how to be true to ourselves again. A key factor for me was putting my past behind me by acknowledging it and learning from it. I especially loved the fact that I picked up a pen and a piece of paper to do some of the exercises, instead of using a keyboard. I teach creative writing and one of the techniques I pass on is freewriting – I had just forgotten what a powerful tool that is!
Overall, an affirming, even changing book and workbook – I feel a lot more confident and centred as I begin my journey as Morgan James published author, and what’s more, I actually believe in my success at last, too.

Happy International Women’s Day

When I first started teaching, back in the 1990s, I mainly taught teenagers. It used to grieve me to see so many young women behaving as they and their futures and careers were less important than those of the boyfriends they so desperately wanted. Those experiences coloured my writing, making Sabrina Summers the leader and a character long in development, Autumn Pugh, a potential role model for young adults.

Fast forward almost 30 years, I see another young woman who is highly intelligent, strong, capable and athletic choosing to diminish herself to make her boyfriend feel more important than her. Just as bad, I see him letting her and believing himself to be superior.

Compared to domestic abuse, glass ceilings, sexual abuse, overt sexism in the media and industry and so much more, it may seem like a small thing. In fact, it is fundamental. It is the building blocks of why men and women perceive themselves so differently and why they behave differently to one another.

I’d like to say to this young woman that she is kinder, wiser, harder-working than her boyfriend and that he is lucky, very lucky, to be dating her but I am reasonably certain she will think that it is she who is the lucky one. Yes, there have been great changes in the rights of women and girl in terms of the law, in the opportunities available. Yet, it seems to be, there is still such a huge amount to do in terms of changing our perceptions and self-beliefs. Here’s hoping that International Women’s Day 2018 will be the start of some of those changes.

Listen to the young people!

The courage of the young students at a high school in Parkland, Florida in standing up to be heard against the US’s powerful pro-gun lobby has filled me with hope. Hot on the heels of their stories, I read about a British young man who sits on his local council (an achievment at 20 years old in itself) and gives up his weekends to work with others to stand up against fox hunters.

That is why listening to young people matters so much. The older generations ‘have always had access to guns’ or ‘have always gone fox hunting.’ To say something has always been a certain way isn’t a good enough reason for it to continue. Young people know that. They know the older generation is leaving behind them a terrific mess and they want us to stop. Let’s face it, they really do have nothing to lose.

So let’s listen to them. Let’s hear their suggestions – maybe some of them will be naive, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work. Maybe they will be a bit black and white, but maybe we need to cut through the gray. Let’s give them a voice and, more importantly, let’s give them the education and confidence and freedom to speak without parents, teachers and other authority figures criticising them.

In short, let’s listen to what the next generation has to say. It’s starting to seem as though it will be worth hearing.

Dates for the diary


All of a sudden, 2018 is here and being a published author is actually real! So, dates for the diary so far:
May 1st – the e-book of The Uncooperative Flying Carpet is launched.
TBC – the world launch of the book will take place in Timaru, New Zealand – details to come.
July 4th – celebrate Independence Day in New Zealand at Writers Plot, Readers Read, a fantastic independent bookshop in Lower Hutt with a book signing, prize-giving and free magic wands for all copies of The Uncooperative Flying Carpet sold.
August 7th – world wide launch and books will be available in the US and UK.
Woo hoo, can’t wait to see what else happens this year 🙂

Faith

To quote the late George Michael, you “gotta have Faith,” and as I delve deeper into the lives of the wonderful children’s authors who I am writing about for Big Boots, that certainly seems to be a running theme.
Firstly, I explored the life and works of Hesba Stretton, a Shropshire-born pioneer whose successful faith-based books resulted in the kind of fame we associate with rockstars today. She was a driving force behind the founding of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and many of her books were written for two audiences: children and those responsible for their care, specifically to encourage kindness.
I then moved onto C S Lewis, a convert to Anglicanism, whose Narnia books are designed to give children a better understanding of the Bible stories – I gave a set to my niece at her Christening when I became her Godmother.
J R R Tolkien, of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fame, was partly responsible for inspiring faith in C S Lewis, and was a life-long and committed Roman Catholic.
Malcolm Saville, author of the Lone Pine Adventures and so much more besides, was also passionate about his faith and in wanting to encourage children to be good people.
I am currently researching Richard Adams, author of The Plague Dogs and Watership Down, another Christian who became involved in animal rights.
While I have a long way to go in my research for Big Boots, I’m fascinated at the emerging theme that writers of books that were famous or have lasted as classics have, so far, had one thing in common: faith.

Looking forward to an amazing year!

Every writer’s dream is to be published. Mine was to be published by the kind of organisation that shares my values and will meet the needs of dyslexic readers too. 2018 is the year when my own writer’s dream comes true, thanks to the team at MJ Kids. The Uncooperative Flying Carpet has been through some tightening up and editing, and hits the virtual shelves worldwide as an e-book on 1st May, and the bricks and mortar shelves as a paperback on 7th August (noteable as my friend Nadean’s birthday!). To mark the occasion, I’m working on a schedule of school and book-shop visits, a launch party in Timaru and a free e-book (Tales from Dralfynia) available to everyone who signs up for my newsletter. There’s more creative writing teaching, which I love to do, and I’ll be working on Big Boots too. It’s all exciting, awe-inspiring, slightly scary and I’m wondering when I’ll get time to sleep, but bring it on, 2018 – I’m ready for it!!

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!