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.

 

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!

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!

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!

Putting it off

Today I have to start to re-write the first quarter of The Uncomfortable Glass slipper, not my favourite job as an author. Although I’m much happier with the new plan and know it’s the right thing to do, I’m putting it off. Writing from scratch is much more exciting to me. So, instead of my revisions I’ve done three loads of laundry, gone on Facebook a few times, checked my emails a few more times, and looked up articles on why writers procrastinate. Interestingly, there are lots of articles, so I feel a bit better about it. When I watched a radio interview with David Walliams recently, he said that he has to refuse himself treats until he hits a target eg he won’t have a biscuit or go to the bathroom until he’s finished a chapter. This technique works really well for me, but I’m out of biscuits today! One theory is that writers tended to do well in English classes so didn’t have to really work hard until the last minute while our classmates worked steadily throughout, and we have continued that habit into our working life. That makes sense to me, and I know that when I have a deadline, that’s when I’m at my best. That’s why I am so thrilled that my wonderful editor is expecting my completed manuscript in only a few weeks. Better get writing!

A Writer’s Companion

I am well underway with writing Sabrina Summers’ Second Saga, and having great fun plotting things to do to the Beast and to Witchy Wu. I am being kept company by Cleo, who has taken over the best chair in my study, and Twinkle, who has made a nest from the brown paper that wrapped up a delivery of the dyslexia-friendly version that arrived yesterday.

I recently wrote a short story for the New Zealand Society of Author’s Canterbury branch’s upcoming anthology on Cats. It was a diary of a typical day in the life of a writer who is kept company by her cats (I didn’t have to stretch too far to think of a subject matter!) But it started me thinking about how perfect cats are as companions for writers. They are someone to talk to (because I think it is slightly less crazy to discuss plot points with a cat than to talk to thin air, don’t you?); they add interest even if it is sitting in tiny boxes or standing next to a closed door and then walking away when you open it; and they love and appreciate you. Cleo and Twinkle were rescue cats, and as I say in the print versions of  “The Uncooperative Glass Slipper”, animal rescue centres are desperate for kind and loving homes for their charges, and I am sure that my two cats are happy to be with their forever family. And, because my cats are on an expensive diet food from the vets, they keep me working hard at my writing to pay for their needs!

Words, Words, and longer words

A reader who is almost 13 recently asked me about the third word in “The Uncooperative Flying Carpet” which is “slanted”. I explained it meant that the rain came down in a slant because of the strong wind, but it started me thinking about extending readers by including words they haven’t come across before and using the context to work out the meaning. I chose to use mostly short and familiar words so that readers aged 8 to 12 would enjoy the story, but I left in a few longer words too, such as “noxious”. This was a deliberate decision because I realised that when I was growing up, my own vocabulary was extended because of the books I read. Like many pre-teen girls, I knew that “Titian” was a word used to describe red hair, because some descriptions of Nancy Drew  used that word. I had to wait a bit longer before I realised he was a real person, mind you! So anyway, I hope that some of my readers get to learn some new words or new uses for old words 🙂