Summer Holidays Week 1

Planning the Hell out of this Holiday!

Planning the Hell out of this Holiday!

It’s Day Six of the Summer Holidays and we’re all still here.

I have a plan and I’m sticking to it. It helps that I had Friday alone to write – that’s part of this year’s survival plan.

I can’t give up writing for the summer, much as I want to be that kind of parent: Last year I didn’t write properly again until January.

This is how the holidays are panning out so far:

Homemade Messenger Bag and Purse

Homemade Messenger Bag and Purse

Day 1:

Son at nursery, so daughter requested that we spend a day doing sewing on the machine.

We went to the knitting shop and bought three fat quarters (who knew material was soooo expensive!) and found an easy pattern online.

I have to do these activities early on in the holidays when my patience bucket is at its fullest.

Even so, I made the green purse by myself while my daughter did cartwheels. But she did help with the bag, including pressing it and gluing on the jewels.

Monopoly abandoned when crying started

Monopoly abandoned when crying started

Day 2:

Day started with Monopoly, followed by a trip to the Opticians (where daughter screamed the place down. Sigh), then to the sweetie shop and to a local garden centre to hear a friend play in the local festival.

A delicious lunch of pizza and ice cream followed, and I was feeling like a really good parent. Until we got home to pick up the swimming things and son and I fell out big style. I wouldn’t let him sit in the car without a t-shirt because I didn’t want the seat belt to cut him. He sulked and then asked if I was ready to apologise for being rude (or words to that effect).

Result: I exploded!

Ten minutes of screaming and ranting about ungrateful children etc etc. Sigh. We went swimming two hours later, but only so I could wear them out.

Day 3: Raining, but a good day because both children went to nursery!

Even though my daughter is too old now, the staff love her. My son’s keyworker was as excited as my daughter, and she invited her two daughters in to play too! A great day for all.

I wrote 8,000 words and still got the house ready for visiting rellies.

Day 4: Visiting rellies arrived overnight. I managed to stay awake until midnight to greet them. I also put a loaf on to cook at 7 a.m. and presented a breakfast suitable for Italians at 9 a.m. Then karate at 11 a.m. No idea what we did in the afternoon, slept probably. I still seem to be doing a lot of that this year!

Day 5: Invited my parents to lunch, so went for a run at 9 a.m. rather than cleaning the house. Bored of trying to keep the pigsty tidy already. Walked the dog and took kids to the supermarket to burn off some energy. It’s still raining. Cooked curry (dropped a whole jug of curry sauce all over the floor and DIDN’T CRY, despite taking my meds late on Friday. I did growl at the kids for spilling ink all over the table, but I’m only human.) and crumble and watched the kids pretend to be in a band. Slept from 4-6 p.m. Detecting a theme here…

Dog in her happy place

Dog in her happy place

Day 6: Pyjama Day planned, so I could do more writing. The dog got the hang of relaxing, and I slept curled up with her for an hour, but the children don’t really understand how it works.

Kept shooing them away, and we lasted until lunchtime, although the children ended up with me while I worked, so not sure how much I got done.

Quite proud of my latest story though – Moon Pony – and now just need to find someone to read it!

Pyjama Pancake Picnic in the Playroom

Pyjama Pancake Picnic in the Playroom

Lunch ended up being a pancake picnic in the playroom because I’ve given up trying to feed them healthy food already.

The fridge is empty and so is the fruitbowl. I’ve thrown away twice as much as they’ve eaten. I miss school meals when I didn’t have to know whether they ate or not.

We’re now heading off to the park because it’s finally stopped raining and I need to get us out the house. My son is running around in his waterproofs (which happen to be pink because he’s wearing his sister’s) yelling, “Super Pink! Super Pink!”

Only 38 more days to go. Not that I’m counting.

Maybe Children ‘Behaving’ Isn’t So Essential

The Guardian article

The Guardian article

In my last post I complained that even my fictional children won’t do what they’re told. My character ran off and started writing a completely different book to the one I intended. According to a writer’s course I did, this is a sign of bad planning and research.

It turns out that my character might know what she’s doing and, if I let her express herself, she’ll write a truer story than anything I could carefully plan and execute.

While writing courses and writing advice is all brilliant, and helps the craft, there is definitely a point to tune out external opinion and trust your gut.

Two articles I read on Facebook recently have made me realise the  same thing with regards to my real life parenting.

I’ve always been a ‘soft’ parent, willing to accommodate my children and listen to them.  I did see a meme this morning on Twitter that said something like, ‘If you always put others first, you teach them that you’re second’ and that is certainly worth considering. I often have to explain to my children what ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ mean after I’ve blurted out a particularly sarcastic comment.

Even so, I’ve never been too bothered about swapping the pink cup for the yellow, or making toast that’s half-marmite, half-jam. This is seen as a parenting weakness. In an article I ranted about a while ago, a nanny said she judged a family badly if they did exactly that. I argued with this view. Why shouldn’t we accept that kids have opinions? I have my favourite glass, fork, plate, bowl and make sure I get them at mealtimes. Woe betide husband making a cup of tea in the wrong mug!

We tell our kids not to whinge or have tantrums or change their mind, but we’re no better. This brilliant article Toddler vs Mum Behaviour: Spot the Difference? on WryMummy.com sums up the hypocrisy. We’re all capable of spilling a drink or napping at the wrong time, and we’re old enough to know better, as the phrase goes. So why yell at a child for it?

The second article that really hit home was on the Guardian website. It’s called Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? My answer would be, Always. Traditionally that’s been the whole purpose of parenting and education. To raise obedient children, seen and not heard, who would go into the Forces, or a factory or an office, and do what they were told.

But life isn’t like that anymore. There are no jobs for life, and the good jobs are about being able to think for yourself – doctors, nurses, scientists, programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, even plumbers and electricians (jobs picked at random!) all require independent thought and problem solving skills. How many times have you moaned because a person in a shop or a tradesman did ‘exactly’ what you asked, without using their brain?

In the Guardian article, the author says, “Imagine going to a friend’s house and you accidentally spill a drink and get shouted at, instead of them saying “oh don’t worry” and mopping it up. And yet…”

The Wry Mummy article

The Wry Mummy article

My kids are terrified of doing something wrong because I yell at them, particularly if they break something or spill a drink. Recently, due to perceived external pressure to make them more obedient, I’ve started started saying things like, “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to hear, ‘yes Mummy’!”  WTF? I sound like a sergeant major at best, a monster at worse.

I don’t want kids who can’t think for themselves. It is tough, when compliant children are so much easier to deal with. But the flip side is the dangers of compliance. The article discusses a book by Alfie Kohn, called Unconditional Parenting. In it, Kohn explains that a compliant child becomes a particular worry when they hit the teenage years.

“If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”

That terrifies me. My son already does what his sister tells him to do, even if that is scrambling onto the shed roof or dangling from the climbing frame – activities she often won’t do because she knows they’re dangerous and she’ll get told off. When he’s in trouble for fighting at nursery his explanation is always, ‘But my friends were doing it…’ He’s 4.

The same goes for children who won’t tell their parents when they’re in trouble or suffering. If I silence them now, will they not tell me when they’re being bullied, or starting to think about having sex?

Hard as it is to be constantly challenged, at least my children aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves or explain their actions. Part of my strong reaction to it is knowing I would never have got away with arguing back as a child. There is definitely a fine line between arguing and answering back (in a rude and stroppy way – something my daughter is a master at).

A comforting thought is written beneath the attached photograph: “A healthy sense of rebellion is a sign that a child’s attachments are secure.” If a child can’t push the boundaries with their primary caregiver, how will they ever learn where those boundaries are?

Reading these articles today has made me more determined to watch for the line, rather than having a blanket ban on all forms of self-justification and expression of opinion.

Who knows, today’s child that learns to fight her corner, justify her position, who knows she is valued and her words count, might well go on to change the world. Or at least enjoy her place in it more.

The Hardest Part About Becoming An Author Is Patience

My children's book

My children’s book

I chose the title for this blog post carefully. Author not writer. Becoming not being. I already consider myself a writer. What I want to be, though, is a published author. Not self-published, great as that is. I want to be able to answer the question ‘can I find your books in the library?’ with a resounding YES.

Maybe that’s silly. It should probably be enough that I’ve self published four novels, they’ve each sold a few copies (some over a hundred, which some say is the benchmark for a new author). They’ve all had good (and bad) reviews.

But it isn’t enough. I want validation. I want an agent to say, ‘you’re just what I’m looking for.’ I want to have a poster in the library and give talks to schools about my journey as a writer. I want my family to be proud. I want my daughter to know I did something other than raise babies for a decade. Not because raising babies isn’t a worthwhile job, but because I want her to know there’s a choice.

I want to write the books my daughter wants to read but can’t find in the library. I want to write books for my son that aren’t about animals and fairies, because – quite frankly – there’s a massive hole in our library where books for early-reader boys should be.

I want all that, and I want it NOW.

I tell my children that you get nothing without practice and patience. When my son is frustrated at learning to read or my daughter can’t draw as well as the YouTube video she’s watching, my response is always “you just need to practice.”

But we’re all hypocrites right? I’ve written one children’s book and I’m already looking for agents accepting submissions. Even though I know it isn’t going to pass muster.

Actually, it’s the second children’s book I’ve written. The other one has been (almost) wiped from my memory after I (arrogantly? Naively?) sent an early draft to an editor and was hurt and surprised when she told me (nicely) that it was awful.

Children’s books are hard to write. I knew that before I began the writing course I’m doing. I know it even more now. (Plus it’s really hard to find beta readers – any ideas?)

I also recognise that, more than any other genre, it’s all about the market. It’s a business. Books have to sell. Which is possibly why there is a gap in the boys’ market, although I’d say that was a catch 22. You can’t buy what isn’t available.

So I’m writing this as a public declaration of my intention to be patient. I will write at least a dozen children’s books before I approach an agent. I will practice my craft, I will continue to read a book a day. And I will try not to be hurt when my target audience (my daughter) thinks Mummy’s book is rubbish and she could write it better.

After all, practice makes perfect, right? Or at least better…

P.S. If you’re in the UK, Happy Mothering Sunday and I hope, like me, you’re in bed with your ipad writing blogs because Daddy has told the children Mother’s Day doesn’t start until 8am

How Knitting is Like Writing

Can you tell what it is yet?

Can you tell what it is yet?

Two days in to assembling my 38-piece fairy doll puzzle, and I am beginning to see how creative endeavours are all the same. What looks like the hard part is often the easy bit, and coming up with a finished product that shines takes a lot of painstaking detail that is lost on the person who recieves the final product.

I thought following a pattern and knitting my 38 pieces of doll was the hard part. It turns out that, like childbirth, that was the easy bit. The impossible part is putting it all together so that it resembles the pattern or – failing that – at least looks a bit like a doll.

I’m learning that not all DK wool is created equal, so some of my pieces are bigger than others. I’m discovering that fluffy wool doesn’t sew all that well, and that pillow stuffing isn’t a patch on the proper stuff. Most of all, I am learning that it’s worth the effort to polish and take time to make the end product as good as it can be. Not something I’m always good at in writing.

So many people say, “I’d love to write a book,” – almost as many people as have said to me recently, “I wish I could knit.” The answer is the same for both – anyone can. I only started knitting in August but, through passion, practice and a willing audience cheering me on, I’m now creating something I can be proud of. The same goes for writing.

I started my first novel six years ago and now I’m writing my fifth. And in that time I’ve learned that it isn’t the rush rush bit of making the raw materials that makes you a writer, it’s being prepared to take time putting it all together. Slowly, carefully, with consideration and a willingness to pull bits apart. Actually I haven’t got there with my knitting! I should have redone the hair piece and the wings, but it takes me so long to knit something I haven’t the willpower to pull it down again. But with my writing I do – that’s what five years has taught me.

Next time I watch my very talented mum pulling down a piece of knitting that would have taken me a week, because she didn’t like it, or the wool was wrong, or there was a mistake, I won’t wince. I will just think – there is someone who is such a master of their craft, they know what it takes to create a masterpiece. In the mean time, I’m still practicing, learning. And, more importantly, having fun.

What Others Think

A brief moment of co-operation

A brief moment of co-operation

My whole life seems to be ruled by what other people think of me. Apparently that’s a personality trait of Highly Sensitive People, a category I discovered through one of my blog followers from Setting the World to Rights. I took this online test and, unsurprisingly, scored very highly. At least it’s nice to know there are others who are so sensitive to noise etc and it’s not just me being difficult or highly strung.

This week has been all about other people’s opinions. First I got a one-star rating on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes – but with no review to tell me why. I don’t mind one-star reviews – in fact I expect them, because most of the time I don’t rate myself as a writer – but I worry what people think and I want to know what they hated.

The same is true of my next two novels. Class Act is with an editor but only one other person has read it and I’m really worried the story is weak and is going to get terrible reviews. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone else to read it and give me an honest opinion, so I’ll have to wait for the public to tell me (assuming they do! Reviews are hard to get: I’ve had 4,000 downloads of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes on Amazon and still only have 8 reviews.)

My poorly knight

My poorly knight

The children’s book I’m in the process of writing is even worse, because it’s aimed at a target market I have no personal experience of. I love reading MG fiction myself, but I’m not 7-12 and when I was I was reading either Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High or Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I have no idea if the language is pitched right or if the story is authentic and entertaining to that age group. And I really need to know: I need external validation to make up for a lack of self confidence.

Parenting is the same. Yesterday I kept both children home from nursery/school. The youngest had a sky-high temperature and couldn’t go to nursery. The eldest complained of also feeling poorly. She only had a slightly raised temperature and on a normal day I would have taken her to school. But we were all feeling rough and I didn’t want to do the school run with poorly kids. I also foolishly thought if they were both home I might be able to rest as they would entertain each other.

But I did feel bad, so I wrote something on Facebook about having slightly-poorly children home and how they seemed to be instantly better once I’d called them in sick. Some friends came back and said ‘relax, enjoy the day with them’ (!!) while others said, ‘I send my slightly-poorly children to school’. In both instances I felt awful because a) I wasn’t enjoying having them home and would have preferred to be by myself, writing and b) I was a soft mama for not sending them both in to school (like I normally would!). By trying to get a second opinion all I got was a feeling that I was doing it all wrong.

Not so poorly girl

Not so poorly girl

As it turns out we’ve all learnt something: my daughter has learnt not to say she feels poorly just because she wants to stay home from school: a poorly premenstrual mummy and cranky ill brother don’t make good company; and I’ve learned that having two ill kids at home is different to having two happy, healthy children. Because even though they were well enough to play, they bickered and fought and cried and whimpered and had tantrums ALL DAY. Poor hubby walked into a maelstrom when he got in from work. I’ve got just one home today and he’s happily watching TV while I work. Much better.

I know I’m in good company, both with other parents and other writers. We all care and so we worry about getting it right. These posts on parenting – Mother’s Guilt and None of Us are Perfect – could have been written by me on a different day (and you can see I wrote an essay in the comments on both). And I know most writers struggle to appreciate their own writing. In fact, as I’ve been working on my children’s book I’ve been reciting to myself, “Just keep writing – Every first draft is sh!t,” over and over and over. But of course, I still need a second opinion!

Women’s Cycle Tour and On a Writing Roll

Watching the start of the bike race

Watching the start of the bike race

I had a slow start to writing this week. I’ve been struggling to sleep, and our local town was all caught up in the inaugural Women’s Cycling Tour, so my brain has been fried. Add to that spending all day Tuesday walking round town due to road closures and staying late to attend the festival to celebrate the race, leaving me aching in places I never expected, and it hasn’t been the most conducive environment to write.

I spent Monday and Wednesday breaking the writing rules by editing what I have already written on my WIP. Generally writers will advise you not to edit as you go, because editing uses a different part of the brain and can kill creativity. But I was in full editing mode after working on Class Act in April so it made sense, and allowed me to figure out where I got to with it before stopping at Easter. I also learned how to curse in Middle Grade fiction.

The best part of going through the first 25,000 words was that I actually enjoyed what I’d already written and got excited about the story again. I also spent time on Wednesday, before going off the watch the start of the cycling race (including seeing Laura Trott up close), brainstorming ideas for where the story might go next. I’d come to a squidgy stop in the soggy middle right before the children broke for Easter and it had given me a bit of writer’s block.

Plate spinning at the Women's Tour festival

Plate spinning at the Women’s Tour festival

Anyway by Friday all of my strategies seemed to have paid off, as I sat down and had a five thousand word day. I haven’t had many of those in the last two years – last year was all about writing small amounts every day for Claire and the daily blog, and before that I was rewriting and editing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues. I’d forgotten how nice it feels to get on a roll.

Unfortunately, doing that on a Friday has taken me into the weekend a bit distracted. I even added another thousand words after the children were in bed last night and this morning while they watched TV – unheard of, as I rarely write unless I’m by myself. Then Grandad came round for tea and cake and this afternoon we’re all off to a 70s fancy dress party. Not much chance to write.

I still have at least thirty thousand words to write to finish the novel, and I want it done before I go to Italy at half term (two weeks away) because the Independent are running a competition I want to enter it into, which requires the first 5,000 words and a synopsis. Pantsers can’t write the synopsis until the book is finished because they don’t actually know what’s going to happen. It only means I have to produce five-thousand-word days on each of my six nursery days between now and then.

I can do that easily, right? 😉

How Do You Tackle Swearing When Writing For Children?

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

This morning I’ve been researching the interesting world of swearing, for my MG fiction book. This is the first time I’ve written for pre-teens and I hadn’t realised how many mild swear words litter my writing, or how different words have different shock values depending on the country.

For example bloody hell and bugger off probably wouldn’t cause too much consternation in the UK, although there is obviously more impact on the written page than in the spoken word. I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid at crap or oh my god or good heavens. But then I come from a non religious family and I’m sure the latter two would worry religious families more.

Interestingly my children are more shocked by ‘rubbish’ and ‘stupid’ than ‘shit’ because we as a family have given the words more power, although I do try and distinguish between saying ‘that shot was rubbish’ and ‘you’re rubbish’. I’m not even going to discuss the reaction I got from nursery when my son repeated my stressed-out-end-of-tether phrase ‘shut up!’ to another child. Let’s say they would have been less disapproving if he’d said f-off. Maybe.

Swearing, after all, is all about shock value. You only had to see my unfortunate and accidental (and instantly-regretted) reaction when my daughter mispronounced ‘can’t’ during a recent reading session. Having to explain why even Mummy wouldn’t use that word probably gave her the ultimate weapon against me. But I digress.

Some level of exclamation is needed when writing, to show emotion and make dialogue sound realistic. Unfortunately I don’t yet have Tweens, so I don’t know what they say when they’re upset/shocked/scared/angry. And I’m sure what they say to each other isn’t what their parents want to see them reading in a children’s novel.

Scouring several websites this morning, it seems the safest thing to do is to make up your own swear words. But how to do so without sounding twee? In Elizabeth Kay’s lovely book, Ice Feathers, she uses phrases like ‘for the Wind’s sake’ and ‘flapping’. Unfortunately they make me think of all the phrases I hear on Cbeebies like ‘galloping guinea pigs’ and ‘flapperty flippers’, ‘jumping jellyfish’, or, my favourite, ‘Well, I’ll be a sea monkey’s uncle.’

I think I will use foodie words for my male protagonist, as he loves cooking. Things like ‘fried tomatoes’, ‘pancakes and crepes’ and possibly ‘shiitake mushrooms’ although apparently that’s from a Spy Kids movie and I don’t want plagiarism issues. My female lead is a fairy and lives in the woods, so phrases like ‘eggshells’ and ‘creeping caterpillars’ might work. Is ‘bird poo’ too much? I’m sure I’ve borrowed books from the library for under fives that have the words poo and pants. Does it become unacceptable if Mummy isn’t reading it?

Who knew writing for children was so much harder than writing for adults, especially when you’ve had a colourful upbringing. Well, me actually. But it will be worth the effort I hope!

What are your favourite non-swearing cuss words? What do you let your children say and not say?

Related Articles:

Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog: Danika Dinsmore ~ Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers

From the Mixed-Up Files… Of Middle Grade Authors: Is it Okay to Curse in MG Books

AbsoluteWrite: Acceptable Swear Words for Children?