The picture above it from our model railway in our loft. We are building a castle out of old boxes and a kit we bought from the internet for under five pounds. Bert’s Butties sits just behind where the castle is going to go.
This has been a busy month. After a month of not doing much writing in October, I’m back in the flow again. I have changed one of the characters in the book I have been working on forever because he didn’t quite work. So I have made him tougher at the beginning and softer at the end; and that seems to have worked.
I spoke at Child Bereavement UK’s schools conference in Guildford a few weeks ago telling teachers about Helping Children Think About Bereavement, a book I wrote several years ago. The hotel where the conference was had an amazing bookcase in its foyer that went from floor to ceiling.
I also went to a wonderful afternoon tea with Mary Berry that the charity was running. The food was amazing – little sandwiches, scones, chocolate éclairs, strawberries, cakes, meringues, quiche; all served with loads of tea. Thank you Child Bereavement for a wonderful afternoon. I wish some of our American friends had been visiting us because they love afternoon tea almost as much as I do!
I’ve also been to see Paddington 2 which is brilliant. There’s not a shot wasted and the dialogue is wonderful. If you haven’t been to see it yet, I really recommend it!
The photograph immediately above is of me on our granddaughter’s trampoline. I love visiting her and her family in Manchester.
This month felt very disrupted because we arrived home from America to find a flood in one of our downstairs rooms. We have had to dry the concrete floor and get rid of the carpet. We normally keep the wifi router on top of the freezer but had to put it on a stool while we moved the freezer over the carpet. This being the first time we have been flooded, I never realised how long it takes to dry everywhere. Grrrr! Next time we go away, we will switch the water off. BUT… if I ever put a flood in a story, because I am writing about something I have experienced, I shall include loads more details about it.
Then we had 2 of our grandchildren to stay and took them to the Science Museum in London which was great fun. Their favourite place was where concave and convex mirrors on the wall made them look slightly weird. I look weird as well!
So I haven’t done much writing this month. Sometimes it’s good to have a break and return to the story with fresh eyes.
I love doing new things and one of the best new things I have done this month This be a volunteer at the World Rowing Championships held in Sarasota, Florida. We arrived just as Hurricane Irma was sweeping though the state. The plane from London to Tampa, which is about an hour north of Sarasota, could seat 299 passengers; but there were only 75 of us on it because of the gathering storm. Hurricane Irma was scary with wind howling at 90 miles an hour. We prepared our ‘safe room’ – our built-in wardrobe – which had no windows, so if any windows were broken, we’d still be safe – with cushions, snacks and lots of water. We put our passports and other documents in waterproof plastic bags and put those in there, too. We also covered our car with old carpet (to protect the paint on the car) then wheeled it against the car door and put the brake on. This is to stop the door being blown in by the wind. The palm trees had a good workout bending this way and that and rain was horizontal at times. Irma had become a category 2 storm by the time it reached us so there was lots of debris from branches and twigs that needed sweeping up afterwards but minimal damage. We had a lot to be thankful for.
A week later the rowing started. I was helping look after the desk at the tent where journalists and television crews worked. I also helped photographers go to the correct place (inside the little white fence) when they were taking photographs of the end of the race All the volunteers wore orange tee-shirts, white caps and lots of sun screen. Rowers are incredibly strong, work in teams and really do look after each other. In this photograph of me standing between Moe Sbihi MBE and Will Satch MBE, they were not standing on anything and I haven’t shrunk – they’re just six feet six inches tall! The photo at the top of this blog is me with the BBC commentating team – Dame Katherine Grainger, Sir Steve Redgrave and Mathew Pinsent CBE.
While I’ve been out here I’ve done some writing as well. I’ve written the most important things that will happen in my story on post-it notes. Then I move my ideas around to help me plan. My husband helps me to do this as he is a scientist and very logical. He usually suggests I take ideas out to make my plots simpler. And better!
I went to London last week and loved seeing the street theatre in Covent Garden in London. This entertainer climbed up his ladder, which had no supports, and quoted Shakespeare as he did. It was slightly bizarre and very relevant because I was on my way to see Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre. It was THE best performance of Hamlet I have ever seen. Andrew Scott was magnificent as Hamlet and got madder and madder as the play developed. My friend, Madeleine Appiah was acting in it as well. We cheered like mad when she took her bow at the end. Madeline’s at the top of this month’s blog.
I enjoyed a holiday in Bakewell with all my family. It was nice to have a break; I’ve been working on a proposal for a picture book. Lovely to work with a creative senior commissioner. We sit in a coffee shop and play with ideas that might , or might not, work. The sky is the limit as far as ideas go, but they have to fit with what the audience will hopefully be.
And the sun has shone once or twice, so that has been very exciting! I hope it’s shone where you have been as well.
The photograph at the top of this blog is of the beautiful Grand Tetons in America. So amazing!
I like July! The weather usually behaves itself and everyone is getting ready for holidays. This year has brought some special excitement though because Us Minus Mum has been translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil by Nova Conceito. In Brazil, Us Minus Mum is called There Will Always Be You.
I had a lovely day at Disraeli School in High Wycombe where I’m writer-in-residence. I was at Woodside Juniors in Amersham and Ofsted inspectors decided to visit as well.
Have good summer holidays. I’m looking forward to reading some books including Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent for my book group. I’ve started it and so far I’m really enjoying it.
There are lots of places on the amazing planet where we live that are spectacular. I visited several of them in America a few weeks ago when I went to the Grand Canyons, Monument Valley and then Yellowstone Park. The photo above is of me at Monument Valley with huge sandstone rocks standing out in the desert.
Bison wandered along the road as we drove round wonderful scenery – mountains covered in snow by lakes.
We kept our eyes wide looking for a moose. According to the internet there are only about 250 of them wandering round a huge, huge area; so the chances of us seeing one was pretty slim; but on our last day, we came across this…
If you look carefully at the bottom of the strut holding the bridge up, you can see a baby moose. It had walked across shallow water to the middle of the river, but then became too scared to move. We watched two rangers and a sheriff rescue it. Using a raft, the rangers rowed out to the baby moose. It saw them coming and tried to get away, heading for the deeper water behind the strut. The rangers plunged after that little moose and rescued it, bringing it to land. They wiped it in a towel, took photographs of themselves with it, then let that baby moose loose near where it’s mum was. There were about 20 of us watching and we cheered. It was a really special half an hour with a happy ending.
I am sure that moose will appear in a book somewhere!
Now I’m getting back to work now, working on a picture book for 3-5 year olds. I’m enjoying thinking of families who will appear in the book and how each person in the family does things different things. The little toddler does cheeky things all the time. He appears on every page and reminds me of my grandchildren! I love this stage of working on a book proposal.
What a great school I visited the other day – Woodside Juniors in Amersham. I talked about how I think of ideas for stories. Sometimes I think of a story and know what is going to happen in it straight away (like with Us Minus Mum). Other times I take random things that happen to me and use those as my starting point – as with The Milkshake Detectives. About 60% of the children at Woodside Juniors said they thought they’d choose to use random objects to start writing.
They asked me some great questions as well; like which is the funniest book I have written (has to be The Milkshake Detectives) and has my writing changed. It has changed; it’s improves as I learn more and more about plotting and writing every time I write a book. My favourite character is still Ryan in The Milkshake Detectives. It used to be Theo and George – a joint first – in Us Minus Mum, but Ryan beats them. Just!
I was sorting out some photographs the other day and came across this one from when I led a family writing workshop at Scargill near Skipton. A space ship landed with a clutch of aliens who escaped and Bob the Builder turned up and… the children had to write about what happened next.
The photograph at the top of this blog is from my trip to Venice. I loved how everything was carried round the city in boats!
I have just joined a book group. I’ve been meaning to be part of one for ages, but now I am. Six of us read The Help by Kathryn Stockett then we met to talk about it. I found book reviews on the internet. It was interesting reading other peoples’ views. The book is set in Mississippi in the 1960s and comments written by people who were alive then were fairly critical. Interestingly, people who weren’t old enough to remember, nearly all thought it was a wonderful book; but we had a really good discussion about it in our book group.
I like April because the dreary winter days disappear; and this year we spent a few days in Venice in Italy. It’s a beautiful city and there aren’t any roads, just canals, water taxis and stunning buildings. We visited museums and art galleries and I took so many photographs it was ridiculous. I loved going to the glass works on one of the islands. The flowers in this photograph were made out of glass. A lady stood patrolling them in case anyone got too close and broke them. When I took this photo, she crept forward and told me to keep back from them. The day before, three flowers had been broken and she didn’t want any more being damaged. There were lots of masks for sale, like these. The Venetians used to wear them.
On Palm Sunday we went to the English speaking church and joined in the service with palms and olive branches being waved, remembering when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. It was a very special service; the church was full and everyone sang really loudly.
Remember to look out for details about what is happening around you. I was very struck by all the sounds we heard in Venice – water, pigeons, tourists speaking every language under the sun, boat engines; and no car engines. I rather enjoyed that!
What a glorious start to March, being involved in schools doing exciting things for World Book Day. I loved the schools I went to in Dartford, Hemel Hempstead, Bristol and Poole. Thank you for inviting me!
We made up stories, I heard children read, answered great questions about what it’s like to be a writer and it was lovely to be part of some great school communities.
I was also working with Author In Me. Children come for 6 weeks and write a story which is then designed and published by Author In Me. The books look great and the children were really proud of what they wrote.
And the weather has improved! Yay! I can go out in my garden and not shiver; but more exciting than that is… my book has gone off to Penny, my agent. All 61,000 words of it. By the time it was finished, I was so ‘inside’ the story I could think of little else. It’s done though, and now I have to wait and see what Penny thinks of it.
Enjoy whatever you are doing and remember – keep observing and being nosey!
I’m not doing much this month except writing! The book is 60,000 words long and I’m loving working on it because the characters are dancing across the pages.
Enjoy your month!