“Introverts can’t succeed.” (Says who?)

Last night, we had the first parent’s evening at my son’s new secondary school. My son is hardworking, conscientious and worries needlessly about getting into trouble. As with his primary, I was expecting glowing reports praising good grades and excellent behaviour.

I was right. To an extent.

The first teacher we saw reaffirmed how bright he was. How he’s working at a higher level. How well mannered and good natured he is. Kind to his fellow classmates and always considerate of others.

So far so good.

‘But.’ His teacher frowned, and sadly shook his head. ‘There is a big problem.’

My son’s eyes met mine and I saw panic slide across his face.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.

A lengthy sigh. ‘He’s quiet.’

‘And?’

‘That’s an issue.’

‘That’s his nature.’

‘We have some big personalities and frankly some disruptive students. He needs to speak up and make himself heard.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you never get anywhere in life being an introvert, do you? If you want to succeed you have to learn to shout loudly.’

Umm. I’m an introvert and seem to have done quite well thank you, as has his father.

This set the pattern for the rest of the evening. Out of 11 teachers, 5 told him he had to be louder. More confident. Be something that he isn’t, because of course when you’re shy and insular someone telling you to be loud and confident is exactly what you (don’t) need.

Outside, in the car, I told my rather forlorn twelve year old that I was immensely proud of him. He has been predicted A’ grades in almost every subject and his behaviour is exemplary. But more important than all of that, I told him that I loved him completely exactly the way he is and that he should never, ever feel that being quiet and introverted is a character flaw. Indeed if he follows his dream career path of becoming an author being insular will serve him well. After all, who’s ever heard of an extroverted writer?

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My school visit – Lessons from Jack Black

There’s a fabulous scene in School of Rock where Jack Black, masquerading as a teacher, gets asked about his methods. Straight-faced he quotes ‘The Greatest Love of All’ lyrics, written by Linda Creed & recorded by Whitney Houston ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’ Anyone who has seen the movie will know Jack’s reasons for teaching are intrinsically selfish at first but ultimately he inspires the kids with his passion for music.

Encouraging creativity in schools is so important. Sometimes I feel it can get a little lost amongst the league tables, the desire for academic excellence, the immense pressure on both teachers and children to produce results that exceed target levels. The younger generation, teenagers in particular, often get a bad press. My sons and their friends are polite, friendly, with a passion for politics and the environment that would put many adults to shame.

School visits are something I am doing more and more of. Not for marketing, my psychological thrillers are entirely unsuitable for children and I never take any to sell, or sign, but to share my experience of life inside and outside of education. I still remember that moment nearly thirty years ago when I sat in front of the careers advisor, palms prickling with nerves, stomach churning as I said out loud the thing I had never dared say before. ‘I want to be a writer.’ I still feel the crushing disappointment when she dismissed my dream with words that hit like bullets. ‘That’s not a career. You can’t earn a living from it. Go and work in an office.’ I often wonder if my school had focused a little more on creativity how different my career path might have been. How, if an author had visited and said ‘Yes, you absolutely can make a living writing. I’m doing it,’ whether I wouldn’t have given up quite so easily.

The last thing I want to do is make it seem is that the children’s dream careers are easily achievable but I want to impart that with hard work, determination and positivity there is nothing you can’t at least try to do and to encourage them to never lose that passion for the things we love, because as adults we often do. The things we enjoyed when we were young, cast as frivolous and time wasting, buried under a mountainous pile of routine, bills and domestic drudgery.

Write, paint, draw, sing, mould with clay. Never lose sight of who you are or what you love. The average life span is 4,000 weeks. Make the most of your precious time.

If just one child during tough times, remembers my visit, recalling how once a disabled mother, with limited education, came to their school and said ‘Yes, you can. Don’t give up,’ they might end up paying it forward one day. Encouragement, kindness and love are free to give and easily shared.

 

50 Happy Things 2018: Bloggers Unite to Flood the Internet with Gratitude

 

Hurrah! It’s one of my favourite times of year again – the annual ‘Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude’ co-ordinated by the fabulous Dawn from Tales from the Motherland. If you haven’t joined in before it’s super easy. Set a timer and write a list of things that you have felt grateful for this past year. Full instructions are below. Here’s mine!

 

  1. My children – I made humans – actual humans! They always make me laugh/smile/my heart swell with pride.
  2. My sister – she’s my hero for many reasons.
  3. My husband – often the one who holds everything together while I write ‘just one more page…’. 
  4. My mum – I wouldn’t be here without her. 
  5. My family – It may be getting smaller but they take up a large space in my heart.
  6. My friends – I value them dearly. 
  7. My puppy – he may currently be chewing his way through EVERYTHING but he lifts my day – always. 
  8. My cat – whoever said cats don’t love has never met our affectionate ball of fur. 
  9. The NHS – it’s helped me literally get back on my feet.
  10. A mattress – a sufferer of chronic pain I value a soft place to lay.
  11. A home – a place I can just be.
  12. My garden – I love the outdoors.
  13. Nature – The world is so beautiful if we just stop and pause.
  14. Mindfulness – my practice enables me to appreciate the here and now.
  15. Food – a luxury I never take for granted.
  16. Words – I adore the English language.
  17. Stories – I’m making a career making stuff up – a dream come true.
  18. Water – we turn on taps and voila – we’re incredibly lucky.
  19. Fresh air – I live near the countryside and it’s lovely to just breathe.
  20. Bloggers – such a supportive community.
  21. Charity – we can all do something.
  22. The animal kingdom – It’s humbling observing them in their natural habitat.
  23. Education – my son is off to uni this year & I’m so excited for his future.
  24. Chocolate – Heavenly.
  25. Readers – I love meeting and hearing from those who read my novels.
  26. My publishers who reach an audience with my books. 
  27. My literary agent who has guided me this past year.
  28. Music – I play piano (badly) and love going to gigs.
  29. Creativity – Art, music, writing – it’s all so inspiring.
  30. A dining table. Nothing makes me happier than sharing a good meal with my family.
  31. My gratitude journal – the last thing I write before I go to sleep.
  32. Kindness – no act is too small.
  33. A smile from a stranger often makes my day.
  34. Literary festivals – a chance to hang out with other writers and readers & I spoke at my first events this year. 
  35. Books – my favourite pastime – always.
  36. Wine – a luxury at the end of the day.
  37. Flowers – Watching bees buzz lazily around the borders.
  38. Colour – makes everything seem a little brighter.
  39. Photos – I still print mine out and stick in an album.
  40. A car – not being too mobile I’d be lost without mine.
  41. Stationery – Nothing cheers me up like a notebook.
  42. Cake – baking is therapeutic.
  43. A hug – human contact has the power to heal.
  44. Medicine – I’m incredibly grateful for the advances we have made.
  45. Random acts of kindness.
  46. Memories – Making new ones every day.
  47. Laughter
  48. Time – the greatest gift of all.
  49. Electricity
  50. Mistakes – I’ve learned & grown & I’ll make them again!

Gratitude is so important. Here you can read how and why I keep a gratitude journal every day.

To join in with ’50 things’ set a timer for 15 minutes. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write things that make you happy, or things you feel grateful for. Don’t think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. If you use the numbered mode and just type what comes to mind, it’s easy. When the timer’s done stop writing; finish whatever sentence you’re on. If you haven’t written 50 things, don’t worry. If you have more than 50 things great; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! Add the photos, links, instructions, etc after you finish the list––the timer doesn’t matter for getting these details down; it applies to the list only. Add your link here.

 

The one thing I loathe about Christmas has taught me this…

There are rolls of sparkly wrapping paper stacked in the corner of my bedroom, a bag of silver bows, shiny red tags. Today, the first of the gifts I ordered from Amazon arrived and I had a fleeting thought I should wrap up the presents as I buy them, before dismissing it instantly. It’s my least favourite job. There’s never enough room cramped around the table and my back screams with pain if I’m hunched on the floor. No matter how careful I am, I can never, ever, locate the end of the Sellotape and making anything beyond a square shape look enticing is far outside my very limited capabilities.

With a sinking feeling, I totted up the amount of presents I’ve yet to buy, calculating the amount I’ll have to wrap, until a slow and sickening dawning crept over me.

Yet again, there will be less under the tree than last year.

The children are older, two of them adults now, and the enormous pile of plastic, noisy, toys we used to accumulate are long gone. Instead, a sleek gift-wrapped gadget or two will replace all the smaller, cheaper presents, they’d shake and sniff, hazarding wild guesses before excitedly tearing off the paper to see if they were right.

It’s not only my growing family responsible for diminishing the pile of presents under our tree, there’s the inevitable, heart-wrenching loss we’ve experienced. One less person to buy for. One empty space at our dining table. One less cracker to pull. And suddenly having lots to wrap doesn’t feel like the worst thing, having nothing to wrap does.

Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine before sliding off the plastic coating from my rolls of paper and think how grateful I am to still have people I love to buy gifts for, and the money to buy them, and you never know, my most loathed job, might just become my favourite.

A day in the life of…Book blogger Joanne Robertson

 

Getting to know book bloggers have been one of the highlights of being published. To meet like-minded people with a passion for stories is a dream come true. Today I’m SO excited to welcome Joanne Robertson whose own blog, My Chestnut Reading Tree is one of my favourites. How do you fit in all the reading you do, Joanne?

I’m an early riser but not by choice! The Grumpy Scotsman always kisses me goodbye when he leaves for work at 0530 bringing me a cup of tea in bed (weak, black and no sugar!) so then I’m awake and straight away I’m on social media sites! I check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then I’m straight into WordPress sharing any posts that my fellow bloggers have posted since the previous evening. Then by 7 I’m up to get showered and ready for the day ahead. By 7.30 I’m waiting for the grandchildren to arrive. It depends which day of the week it is as to how many I’m looking after but I look after all 4 of them while their mummies (my 3 gorgeous daughters!) go to work. They range from 6 years to 10 months and I absolutely adore every single one of them! So after cuddles I then give them breakfast before depositing them at school/nursery then back home for 9.

Most mornings I’m free to do some work on my blog (Baby tv and naps for the 10 month old if I have her for a couple of hours!) I blog most days and my posts go live around 8 each morning. So once home I will then share that post in a multitude of FB groups, catch up on Twitter and do another WordPress sharing session. Then I check my emails and this can take a while as I respond to review and blog tour requests that have come in since the day before. I check publication dates and pop reviews on Amazon etc and share reviews again of any books out that day.I am obsessed with my blog and love raving about the many brilliant books I get sent to read and review. I’ve always loved reading so I’m so ecstatic to have finally found my niche in life. Since starting to blog 18 months ago I’ve achieved over 6,000 followers across my sites plus I’m an Amazon top 500 reviewer and Goodreads top 100 reviewer so I work hard to maintain those!

At 12 I’m childfree so I go off to work. Although I’m not really childfree, as I work at my local primary school as a “midday assistant” which I absolutely love! By half 1 I’m home again and have a quick lunch. If I’m childfree I will do either work on my eBay business selling preloved children’s clothing, do some housework or I will read for an hour or so. If I have my grandson then he needs a nap so it’s into the pushchair for him, dog on lead, audio book on my iPhone and we go for a lovely long walk. I live in a gorgeous little village in Cheshire where everyone knows everyone so we often stop to chat to people! My postman arrives after lunch as well so if I have book post I take some pics for Instagram and make sure their publication dates are logged in my diary.

Then it’s school finishing time so everyone is back to Nana’s house for homework, playtime and tea until all the mummies come to collect them and I reach for a large G&T and some Twiglets!! Until recently we had one daughter and one grandchild living with us but now it’s back to just me and the Grumpy Scotsman again which is weird! He loves it but I miss the hustle and bustle of busy family life. After I cook us a meal, he’s off to walk the dog while I sit to write reviews and do another catch up on the social media side. The other wonderful thing about blogging is the friendships I have made and it’s in the evening that I like to catch up with those friends too. I’m not a huge tv watcher but I do like a good crime drama so I will watch if there’s one on with a cuppa (I’ve given up coffee this year due to palpitations!) and a Twirl! But by 10pm I’m ready for bed! Unfortunately my brain isn’t and I don’t sleep very well so normally this is when I do most of my reading. I read on my kindle at night so as not to disturb the Grumpy Scotsman who is snoring within 2 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I have always been a fast reader and I can read a book a night, usually dropping off around 12 although I’m often awake till 2 in which case there’s a very cold cup of tea waiting for me the next morning when I

Family & books. I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy after reading this. Thanks so much, Joanne. You can find Joanne’s fabulous blog here and follow her on Twitter here

A writer, a mum & the end of an era. What now?

 

Nineteen years.

That’s how long I’ve been doing the primary school run for.

Nineteen years ago my eldest son was in his first year of ‘little’ school and now my youngest son is finishing his final year. A full circle.

Nineteen years of spelling test practice, egg and spoon races, school discos, times tables pinned to the fridge, Christmas concerts with homemade costumes. Nineteen years of knowing all the kids in the school, calling the teachers by their first names, school trips, fun facts and endless questions about stuff they’ve learned over dinner. (Yesterday Finley watched a birth video and that was enough to put everyone off their lasagne).

It’s been an emotional week for me. The end of an era. Primary has been part of my life for almost half of my life and I’ve been building up to today’s leaving assembly with a mixture of denial and apprehension thinking ‘what now?’ My children are growing up, forging their place in the world and admittedly I’ve worried whether that place will still have room for me.

I’ve watched Finley’s two brothers transition into adulthood with a sense of amazement and awe. Knowing I’ve raised such well-rounded young men is a constant source of pride and wonder and I know it’s Finley’s time to gain some independence. Dip his toe into the world. It’s been hard not to feel anxious about him making this leap to ‘big’ school, unfairly assuming he must feel the same sense of creeping dread I do.

Today, I sat in the school hall that always smells of rubber and disinfectant for the last time. Cramped on one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs which are too big for kids and too small for adults, trying desperately to keep my emotions inside.

The children were called to the front one by one and presented with a book. Behind them a screen showed their image with two speech bubbles, one saying what they wanted to be when they grow up; the other saying who has most inspired them in the world. Finley’s photo flashed up and I leaned forward, straining to read the words that had come from his heart. “When I grow up I want to be an author of fictional stories.” The walls of my throat constricted as I swallowed hard. The next speech bubble stated “I am most inspired by my mum who is a brilliant bestselling author.” And this was my undoing. Tears streamed unchecked down my cheeks as I fumbled for tissues in my bag.

With a rush of relief I realised that Finley is excited for the future and it was only then I could look at today as a beginning rather than an end. Secure in the knowledge that whatever the next stage brings we will face it, as we always do. As a family. With love.

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me.