District Nurses care for patients who are housebound. Usually these are people who are too frail or ill to leave their homes. Last week the government wrote to 1.5 million people with conditions that put them at greater risk of complications if they were to catch Covid-19, asking them to stay at home. Many of these people will be able to independently manage their conditions in isolation at home, but many won’t. Things have got just a little bit busy on the nursing front.
Here are some photos from a week back in January. I had the amazing luxury of whisking myself off to a teeny-tiny converted barn in deepest-darkest Devon to write and dream and write some more. Back then, Covid-19 was only a whisper on the other side of the world.
How strange to read back my blog post of last week. Was that only last week? It feels a life time ago. Back then, we were planning provisional childcare arrangements but we had imagined the lockdown to still be a couple weeks off. This week we are eternally grateful to the wonderful staff at our children’s school, taking care of our little ones so we can carry on with work. It was an emotional day on Friday when Little Owl effectively had her last day of primary school, without any of the fun activities that normally mark this occasion or ease the transition. I couldn’t stop myself welling up as I washed and ironed her blouses, knowing she is unlikely to wear them again. Such a silly thing to be welling up about under the circumstances but I think everyone is feeling a bit wobbly at the moment.
Even stranger to read the to-do list I had made for myself in my diary for this week. Blog: first ever author event and how it went (hopefully well!). I was due to meet children at a local library to tell them all about The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, and run some Avery Buckle themed activities for them. I was nervous but I had hoped to be able to tell you that it went well, and that I needn’t have been so nervous. Instead I’m posting a picture of me wearing the cat hat made for the event by a lovely friend, so you don’t feel you missed out!
This week I’m also here letting you know that, with my publisher, we have decided to delay publication of Avery Buckle until next year. It was a difficult decision, and I’m disappointed, but it was the right decision in the face of the challenges of Covid-19. Readers will be able to jump on their flying bicycles in 2021.
Just at the moment it seems vitally important to stay in touch with friends and family wherever they are, holding hands in our hearts, and wishing each other safe and well. So I reach out my hands to you too, wishing you and your loved ones safe and well.
Well, these are odd times indeed, aren’t they? I have had my nursing hat on over the last three days, operating under a cloud of contingency planning and training, while running around to make up for the absence of self-isolating colleagues. It was strange to walk out of the office yesterday evening and see life going on as usual. My head was so full of the what-if demands that may be made on clinical staff over the coming weeks, that I half expected the streets to be empty as if we were already in quarantine.
Big Dreamer and I have tried to plan as well as we can, thinking how we can provide childcare while releasing each of us, and particularly me, to remain in our frontline roles. An author event which I was due to do at a nearby library on Saturday has been postponed. We have cancelled Little Owl’s birthday tea at a local restaurant next week, thinking we will buy vouchers from them to use later in the year, or how else are these businesses to survive? I feel as though I have woken up in a dystopian YA novel, yet outside the clematis by the backdoor is sending vigorous shoots skyward and my potatoes are almost ready to go into the ground. The children helped me sow tomato and sweet pea seeds in pots on the windowsill. There was something soothing about methodically filling the pots with warm earth and covering the seeds over. Someone posted this on Twitter today and it was just what I needed, so maybe it will be what you need too…
This year I have decided to be better at lists. Don’t get me wrong, I love lists, and I’m pretty good at them. But my lists are almost exclusively for everyday jobs and chores. I have weekly to-do lists. I have daily to-do lists. I have lists for the children. I have writing lists and nursing lists. I have lists for shopping, birthdays, seeds to buy, allotment plans, and holidays. But I’m going to do better.
On the last day of my Return To Practice course for nursing, my mentor gave me a few pieces of advice. One of them was to keep a notebook, and after work each day, write down some of the good things I had done as part of my nursing duties. It only needed to be a smattering of words, not an essay. She explained that it’s so easy to sit in the car on the way home stewing away about the one thing that went wrong, the one thing that I could have done better, rather than focusing on all the things that had gone well. She explained that it doesn’t take long to have pages filled with good things and eventually a notebook full, a whole book bursting with positivity that can nourish you on a particularly tough day. So I gave it a try.
Now, nine months after starting back as a Registered Nurse, I have a notebook filling up with good things. Over the months it has expanded too. I have found myself noting down things that I have done well as a mum or a writer too. It’s such a cheesy idea but it’s been really helpful. I already feel excited about the day when I will have completed a full year and can look back on each day, letting all that positivity feed into my present. And it has got me wanting to write lists about other good things in my life.
Some of you faithful readers may remember my attempt at a walking diary a couple of years ago. I started with good intentions, then the weather got bad and we didn’t walk much for a bit, and it fizzled out. So I’ve started it again! Sticking in little maps with coloured lines showing where we went, noting down the weather, where we had our picnic, the wildlife we saw, and the funny things that happened or the children said. And I’ve already enjoyed looking back on the two or three walks I did manage to put in the first time round.
I’ve also taken the plunge and joined Good Reads. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a way of keeping track of what you’ve been reading. Yes, it’s essentially a digital list. To the right, here on the blog, the beady-eyed of you will have noticed my Good Reads plug-in. It’s currently not working (and I’m not too sure why!), but when it is up and running, it will show the books I’m currently reading. Good Reads is also a nice way of connecting with other people who love reading, and getting recommendations for your next read. I’m hoping it will help me find book recommendations for Little Owl. She’s a very sensitive reader and will often abandon a book half way through, unable to go on for fear of what is going to happen next. I’ve been reading tons of books for her age group to find things she might like (my latest haul from the library are pictured above), and having read a book, to be able to reassure her that things turn out well and she can keep reading to the end! It’s also lovely to be able to leave reviews for authors whose books have really hit the mark for Little Owl. I understand these things make a big difference to how well a book does…as I’ll find out for myself come June!
Anyway, do you keep lists of ‘good’ things? What are they? Do you find it helpful?
It is light now when I come in from my morning bike rides. The riverbanks are full of bird song and lolloping bunnies. In the streets near us, front garden shrubs explode with sparrow chatter as we pass on the way to school. One family of sparrows have been flitting in and out of our neighbour’s extractor fan outlet that has lost its cover. It would make a cosy spot for a nest.
Today is World Book Day, which means parents all over the country madly scrambling to find costumes to represent favourite book characters. Of course that black bin liner will do for a Harry Potter Hogwarts cape! Not in our house however! Finch has been planning his costume for almost a year. He will be going as the Beast from his favourite comic, Cardboard Kingdom, all about the imaginary adventures of a group of friends and their cardboard boxes! Highly recommended reading for any kids who, like Finch, love to while away their days making freestyle cardboard models. The final cardboard costume has been ready for at least a month. We’re hoping it stops raining by tomorrow!
World Book Day is also the day How Billy Hippo Learned His Colours hits the shelves! There is a launch event happening at the wonderful Portobello Bookshop in Portobello, Edinburgh. If you’re likely to be in the area, here is a link to their Events page where you can scroll down to book free tickets (https://www.theportobellobookshop.com/events). I wish I could be there but alas, not this time.
Despite the wet and wild weather we had a lovely half term and a great trip to London. Here is Finch and his cousin scrawling on a giant chalkboard at the South Bank Centre. When Finch saw it, he couldn’t resist shooting me a mischievous look. This was because he and I have been butting heads over his creative outpourings recently. He wrote his own, and his sisters names, in big letters over his bedroom wall the other week. The writing was beautiful but, I explained to him, we don’t write on walls. He nodded and said “Yes Mummy”, but there was a blankness behind his eyes that told me that this rule wasn’t really hitting home.
A couple of days later I found three familiar names written in familiar handwriting on the wooden computer desk. I explained to Finch that we don’t write on walls OR furniture. “Yes Mummy,” he said, nodding emphatically, a fog of incomprehension still behind his eyes. I explained that it’s not ideal to put permanent marks on something we had bought to last a lifetime. I explained that the piece of furniture had been thoughtfully and carefully designed to look and function the way it was, without his writing on it. And I explained that it wasn’t respectful to write on furniture OR walls without permission.
A couple of days later I was carrying a pile of laundry up the stairs when I noticed a stick figure and the word ‘daddy’ had been drawn onto one of my ornaments on the staircase shelf. It was clear I was going to have to change tack. “Finch,” I said. “We don’t write on walls OR furniture OR ornaments. We only write on paper.” Which isn’t true, but was the best I could come up with on the hoof.
Another couple of days passed and I was putting our library books in a bag to take back. I happened to flick through one of Finch’s books. He had only written in the book and coloured in some of the pictures! And you can imagine what he said when I asked him about it…”But it’s paper and you said we only write on paper!”
Are you all safe and dry? I hope so. It’s been a wild one, hasn’t it? We got off lightly down here, although I haven’t been over to the allotment to see how the greenhouse has fared yet. Still, no flooding or power cuts. Watching the news, we feel very fortunate.
Our postman looked like a hero from a Greek saga this weekend as he handed over our bundle of post, battling the elements to get to our front door. I peeled open the packages addressed to me and the effect was like that of a washing powder advert, radiant sunshine lighting up my face as flowers floated upwards on the air and lambs gamboled from between the folds of the cardboard. My seed orders! I could almost smell Spring!
In amongst the seed packets came another very special package, equally full of pictures of glorious blooms. My advance copy of Billy Hippo 2…How Billy Hippo Learned His Colours! Written again by Vivian French, and published by Little Door Books, it will be out on March 5th. It’s wonderful to get the real book through and hold it in my hands. The production is great on this edition, fantastic colours. Very exciting!
I waved Billy Hippo and my seed packets through the window at the grey skies of Storm Ciara as a warning. Winter, you are on your way out!
We are away next week for half term, on a jolly jaunt to see family in London, so no blog post from me, but I’ll be back the week after.
New work I did for the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) went live last week. Their conference theme this year is The Faces of Transition. As part of this commission I used imagery from the Roman god Janus to explore ideas of conflict between people and within a person. As always, it was great to work with the team again for such a good cause. You can see the illustrations live, and find out more about the conference on the SCCR website here.
I love that I live in a city that switches the streetlights off at night. You’re welcome to have a pleasant evening in Exeter but, anyone out and about after the streetlights have gone off had better have a good explanation. On Saturday I was up before the streetlights came back on again and my explanation is a good one. I was heading to St David’s to catch the train to London for a course aimed at debut authors about school visits and events.
Here is the front entrance to Goldsmiths University where the course was held, hallowed ground for art college students because of its notable alumni. The course was put on by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and hosted by the brilliant Sara Grant, Mo O’Hara, and Candy Gourlay. These three ladies have written a lot of children’s books between them and are tireless volunteers for SCBWI. What they don’t know about being a children’s author is probably not worth knowing.
One of the big reasons for me attending this course was a serious lack of confidence on my part. I find it nearly impossible to tell people that I have a children’s novel coming out in the summer. I might just as well be telling them I’ve killed a kitten. And I know it is utterly, utterly ridiculous. Having a book published is a really wonderful thing and I should be super proud. Instead I want to hide under a rock. For me there’s something toxic about the combination of sending the book I have put my heart and soul into, not only out in front of strangers for their approval, but attempting to sell that book to them too! And you know what, I would feel exactly the same if I had crafted a beautiful wooden bench, and definitely do feel the same about my illustration work. Now, if I were a skilled plumber offering to install a toilet, I would feel very different.
One of the questions Sara Grant asked us was about our values. What values underpin my writing? And that question stuck to me like loo roll on the sole of my shoe for the rest of the day. I couldn’t shake it off. What am I saying about how I value writing and books, if I can’t bear to tell people about my book? I’m saying that it, and they, don’t have any value, not in monetary terms anyway. Not like fitting a toilet. And the bizarre thing is that’s not what I think at all! I looked around the room at these marvelous writers there, many of whom are award-winning, and I thought how wonderful it is that these brilliant new books are going to be read by children up and down the country, if not the world. I absolutely believe that well-written, carefully edited, wonderfully illustrated children’s books change lives. So maybe I should start acting like it!
Of course, it hasn’t helped that when I have finally plucked up the courage to mention my book to someone, I’ve had a few thoughtless responses which sent me scurrying back under my rock. Here follows my top three things not to say to a debut author…
1. If you don’t know of any other publishers than Penguin and Harper Collins, DO NOT ask a debut author who their publisher is. When they tell you the name of their publisher and you pronounce, “never heard of ‘em”, it feels awkward to explain that from tiny indies through to global giants, there are tons of great publishers, who you will not have heard of, doing amazing work. For the record, I am being published by Discover Kelpies, an imprint of Floris Books, a large independent publisher based in Edinburgh, who publish an array of dazzling books 🙂
2. DO NOT tell the debut author about your friend who ‘dabbles’ in children’s writing/illustrating, and subsequently turns out to be a Carnegie Medal winning writer who the debut author idolizes. If Carnegie medal winners only dabble, the work of this little debut doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
3. DO NOT tell them about your children, who are voracious readers, but will only read J.K. Rowling or David Walliams. You may as well have said your children love to eat but will only have white bread. Authors write books for readers and there is a feast of great books out there.
On the other hand, here are some great responses…
1. Tell the debut author what an exciting time it is for children’s literature, a golden time in fact…because it is!
2. Remind them how well they have done to a get a publishing deal, especially in such challenging times for publishing.
3. Ask about their book. They will be excited to tell you, because it means they don’t have to talk about themselves…and it might actually be quite a good book.
4. Put a note in your diary of the publication date (June 18th by the way) and then, if you like the sound of it, go out and buy it or borrow it from a library.
5. Tell people about the book. Only if you liked the book once you’ve read it of course. It’s really hard for authors without a celebrity profile to get the word out about their books.
6. Go to author events and book festivals with your children to support debut authors. Hearing that a child (or parent!) has genuinely loved a story lights up authors’ lives. And you might also enjoy the event.
7. Find out about the amazing children’s authors out there who write marvelous books that don’t make awards lists and don’t get featured in the press, but are often some of the most borrowed books in libraries.
I’m not going to say anymore about the course because Sara, Candy and Mo were super kind and generous with their advice, and you will just have to get along to one of their courses to find out more. Suffice to say, I came away enthused, full of ideas, and ever so slightly more confident in talking about my book.
I have gone with Duke of York for my new potatoes again this year. Despite initial reservations they were delicious last year, and much better than the Charlottes I tried the year before, which are always so nice from the shops but were thick-skinned and tasteless when I tried to grow them. Our windowsills are full of chitting potatoes, or “chatting”, which is what Wren misheard, and is a funny thought.
We have had a frosty, sunny spell here, which has been lovely. My favourite sort of winter weather. The mild, damp is set to return however. It was already on the turn on this morning’s bike ride. A light, icy rain speckled my glasses making it almost impossible to see where I was going without multiple stops to wipe them on my trouser legs. As I cycled back through Exeter’s historic quay I caught a whiff of freshly-baked goodies from the bakery based down there. It spurred me on home with thoughts of breakfast.