Thursday 31 March 2011


This photo is the properly of
brizzle born and bredPaul Townsend
One old English tradition is the game, and the rhyme,Oranges and Lemons. It is particularly associated with the 31st March.

In olden days, when the River Thames was mighty and wide, barges carrying oranges and lemons from tropical climates landed at the port of London. The docks were below the church of St Clement’s Dane (unless you listen to the counter-claim from St Clement's, Shoreditch.)

On the last day of March, local children attended a special service held at St Clement's Church. After the service, they were presented with an orange and a lemon. This photo, taken in 1944, showed that the tradition was continued even during the most difficult of times.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Although the two St Clement’s churches claim they were the one from the rhyme, as far as I can see there are lots of churches closer to the docks but few with a name that rhymes as well.
There are other regional versions of this rhyme listing other churches in their locale.

We had a teacher, who was determined to make sure the old playground games were encouraged and that they were not allowed to die out. I remember hoards of us playing this game on the playground. Two children made the bridge, that was ready to collapse at the end of the song, and everyone else jostled and ran to get through - under the bridge - and around again before the song got to the end and someone lost their head. ;)


TEACHERS have been told to defy the compensation culture by encouraging children to brave cuts and bruises and get stuck into traditional playground games.

The Local Government Association has issued councils with a top 10 list of break-time games they should support including British bulldog, tag, stuck in the mud, hopscotch, skipping, hide and seek, French elastic and marbles.

Jacob, nine, said: "I play tag, British Bulldog and football at school. We're not allowed to play conkers or marbles because they said it might be dangerous.  

St Clement Danes School, founded in 1551 in Holborn, London, is now situated in Chorleywood. For 11 year-olds in Watford, this counts as one of our local secondary schools. The school houses:Temple, Dane, Clement and Clare all had associations in the ancient Parish of St. Clement Danes.

Wednesday 30 March 2011


Professor Brian Cox painted
 the wonders of the solar system on BBC 2.
How do you start a new project?

For me, the initial spark is visual. The image of a place, in time or space, spins for a moment. I blame documentaries. Who makes a documentary unless they have identified a setting with extraordinary natural beauty or great peril? The obstacle is explained in great detail. No wonder so many of my ideas started off on the Geographic Channel or the many channels of the BBC.

Once the idea has germinated, I look for ways to heighten the tension and make my MC face ever greater challenges. If there is a worst case scenario, that is a good place to start making the situation worse. ;)

At this point I consider possible themes:

  • love
  • coming of age
  • betrayal
  • isolation
  • survival
  • deception
  • alienation
  • loss

At some point between the start of the programme and the end of the debate about themes there are already images of the individuals who inhabit the setting, and snatches of conversations between them, echoing in my head. I play detective:  I don’t think who should be living here? I piece together the characters who are already there. As part of my how-can-I-make-things-more-complicated-for-my-MC process, one of the things I do is wonder who seems to be least well-suited to the setting and consider putting them there too. 

Where do you find the inspiration for your novel?

Tuesday 29 March 2011


usually, children aged 7 to 11 but I did spend nearly three years teaching 5 year olds
I have worked with children who were in danger of, or who had been, permanently excluded from main stream schools
of a son with autism who lacks empathy and a daughter who struggled when others were less than kind in their treatment of her brother
I read a lot - between three and six books a week (Ken Follett slowed the normal rate of reading) 
Wanna-be writer
As one who has no desire to alienate any writer, publisher, agent or app designer already employed in this profession, I have thought long and hard before deciding to write the blog post.

I feel this is a subject that should be discussed.What follows is a long preamble but there is a point, somewhere near the end:

Our youngest children study the story of the Three Little Pigs. The story teaches the nursery age child – in a most enjoyable and dramatic form – that planning and foresight combined with hard work will help us overcome even a most ferocious predator.
The Three Little Pigs provides opportunities for children to think about the importance of respecting the belongings of others and of being kind. By exposure to the story they can develop an awareness of the importance of the home, for people and animals – warmth, security and survival.
For language arts the activities highlight retelling or narration of the story, comprehension of the plot: cause and effect, and basic grammar topics including contractions and verb tenses.
The story can be used to reinforce math concepts including ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) and telling time to the hour. 
Most teachers already use the story of the three little pigs for scientific study – science and engineering: applied physics and the foreshadowing of chemistry - when children are encouraged to investigate the properties of the materials used for the houses. Food chains showing the interdependence of elements within the habitats: producers, prey and predators; including the difference between eating to fulfil their needs and devouring due to greed.

History is featured when the development of human habitations in highlighted: from a lean-to shack to a wooden house, finally to a house of solid brick.

Psychology gets a look in because the pigs' actions show progress from the dominated personality to the superego-influenced but essentially ego-controlled personality. ;) Only the third pig postpones play, and predicts what may happen in the future if he doesn’t work hard first.

Grief is often touched upon during the study of the book because even in their celebration of the third pig’s victory, children are aware that other members of the pig’s family were not so fortunate. In most versions of the traditional story the first and second pig remain dead as a result of the wolf’s actions. Then, for the religiously minded, there are the versions where the pigs get to rise again.

Crime, and appropriate punishments, can be a natural thought to consider after reading this text: this is one of the first instances where pre-schoolers are taught about the acceptable face of capital punishment.

The wild and destructive wolf stands for all great anti-social threats - this story shows the predator approach and attempt to groom, seduce and to trap the unwary.

In the primitive sense of justice – the simplistic, child’s view of justice - those who have done something really bad should be punished. The wolf is a bad animal, because it wants to destroy. Children can identify their own worst excesses in the wolf's behaviour and some show anxiety about possibly suffering such a fate. Smart teachers ask children to contribute alternative behaviours for the wolf at various points in the story. They enable the children to find constructive and active behaviour modification for him.

My Dad told us this story, when we were small. I remember trying to prevent him blowing down the house. My hand and my mind both remember the feeling of Dad’s wet lips and nipping teeth when I tried to block his mouth to protect the pig cowering inside the flimsy house.

I believe that, using the iPad’s unique capabilities, a digital 3-D book has been designed. Each page of the story has multiple options for viewing the content. You can tap on the pad and participate in the story.

With so much already layered in this amazing story, why would anyone want to offer the children the choice to be a predator? In this app they invite the children to identify with the wolf and actively participate in blowing away the walls that protect the pigs. I don’t understand what they hope to gain (apart from a germ enriched environment.) Perhaps, it is a handy diagnostic tool: Unsure if your child is autistic? Do you believe your child has latent socio-psychopathic tendencies? Check their ability to empathise by offering them the choice of working with the …..

I’m all for interactive opportunities for children to become enthralled by the world of stories and reading but this one element – of what, I am sure, is a fabulous product – has blown me away… in a bad way.

It has been suggested that the inclusion of this element offers choice and stimulates debate. If children are, as could well happen, using the i-pad unsupervised does it stimulate debate? Even more than discussion, this group learns by seeing the world around them and unconsciously absorbing our cultural norms. Does this element reinforce the same notion that underpins bullying that - as long as you are stronger - exercising power over a weaker opponent is not only acceptable, it is fun?

Should books targeted at very young children offer every possible option? Fancy the 18 certificated version of Grandma and Little Red Riding-hood? I wouldn't want to buy  the story of Cinderella either.

Monday 28 March 2011


I normally read my books in a strict rota – adult, YA, MG – but, I overlap the books I’m reading.

I had to read for hours last week to get to the end of The Pillars of Earth by Ken Follet (Genre: historical)

Last night, when I reached for my MG – Jane Blonde Sensational Spylet by Jill Marshall because it was time to read and I needed to finish it, I found I couldn’t do it. I was reading the words on the page, but my brain was somewhere 49 years 200-some days away from a brave new world. I’d reached Chapter Sixteen of Beth Revis’ Across the Universe at the point when I was supposed to be about page sixteen.

So, I am reading:

Jane Blonde Sensational Spylet by Jill Marshall - (MG – genre: action adventure)

Across the Universe By Beth Revis  (YA– genre: SFF)

Next I will be reading:
Hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick   (YA– genre: paranormal 

Mortal Engines Philip Reeve   (MG – genre: SFF)

What are you reading, at the moment?

Sunday 27 March 2011


Neil Gaiman Tweeted about his friend's death early on Saturday, saying, "Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest, writer and the finest friend" and adding simply, "I miss you."

In honour of the writer whose book -Enchanted Glass - was nominated for the 2011 Carnegie Medal, I wrote a review of my favourite Diana Wynne-Jones' novel. This is the wonderful Howl's Moving Castle.

Diana Wynne-Jones humour was blended through novels thick with the  woven strands of carefully crafted plots. The first book I remember reading was Howl’s Moving Castle. (Sophie in her boots made a big impression.) Jones identified the fantasy tropes but gave each a unique and creative twist including slipping the narrative from her fantasy setting to the present day so we could see ourselves from the characters’ point of view.

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters, which means she is the one who should try first, and fail most spectacularly; isn’t it always the youngest who come out on top? Sensible Sophie insults a customer in the hat shop. Unfortunately, for her, this woman is the Witch of the Wastes. Seeking revenge, as only witches can, she ages Sophie into a 90 year old crone. No longer able to live in her shy and retiring way, an unfortunate case of mistaken identify, Sophie journeys to the castle of the evil wizard, Howl. He has a reputation for stealing the souls of young girls; in her current condition, Sophie has no fears on this score.

Arriving at the castle, she encounters Howl's apprentice: a contracted fire demon, Calcifer, who is desperate to be freed. In her new role of cleaning lady, Sophie unsettles Howl and drives Calcifer to distraction. She searches for the discarded hearts of the girls, but that isn’t what she finds.

In Howl’s Moving Castle, there are witches, wizards, demons, seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility, but not as you know them. Timid and dull, Sophie isn't much of a heroine. As a crone, way outside her comfort zone, she becomes interesting and pushy. The evil wizard, Howl, has tantrums over important stuff like hair dye and his attraction to passing females is as effective as a Cullen’s. Jones’ creative genius is seen when she combines a less than evil wizard, his harried apprentice, and a wrinkled heroine.

The average nine year old may get lost in the convoluted, and cleverly contrived, plot lines but older readers would find it a change from the predictable norm.

As well as Enchanted Glass, I am desperate to read a Tale of Time City.

Diana Wynne Jones died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer. Her death is a loss to readers everywhere. She wrote right up to the end - a work-in-progress and another in planning - she had an indomitable spirit.

Friday 25 March 2011


People across the world will be taking part in 
As much as I wonder about planets far across the universe, I know of only one that will sustain human life. Good job, we are already there.
In terms of our carbon footprint, over the last 100 years people have gone from tip-toeing across the planet to stamping on it. Since records have been kept, scientists can prove that the Earth is warming, sea levels are rising, more areas are prone to droughts, the intensity of hurricanes are increasing and the sea is more acidic.
Reducing the impact our energy system has on that planet must be a good thing.
On 26 March 2011, 8:30pm, the WWF urges everyone  to switch off their lights - for an hour. 

In 2010, 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Lights on famous buildings and landmarks, from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas, were switched off. People across the world. turned off their lights. I did my weekly shopping, which might be considered to be cheating.

Earth Hour is organised by WWF, one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organisations. Its 
mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and build a future where people live in harmony with nature. The alternative is not a pleasant thought.

WWF hope as many people as possible will join them and mark the hour by turning out their lights. Parties, to celebrate doing this as part of a community, are an optional extra.


I'll be reading Beth Revis' Across the Universe, by candlelight.

Thursday 24 March 2011

What goes up does not always come down?

Space travel has been on my mind, both the kind we can only speculate over (the visitors from somewhere else) and the tangible and proven variety (the chunks of metal and sensors that we have thrown up ourselves.) I have researched more of both kinds than I am happy to admit too: Nerd or Geek? I try to side-step both labels. “Writer of (Scientific) Speculative Fiction” is the perfect length to fit on the sticky note I’d be happy to wear.


Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 to explore the outer solar system? And that a few weeks before Voyager 1's launch, NASA launched Voyager 2 so it would take the scenic route: past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune? Do you think they muddled up the numbers and labelled the spaceships the wrong way around?

Voyager 2 is currently about 8.8 billion miles (14.1 billion km) from the sun and is traveling about 3,000 mph slower than Voyager 1.

After years of pootling along, sending back data that was, basically, the same old/same old, Voyager 1 just got interesting. It has entered a region of space where the speed of solar wind (charged particles streaming from the sun) is effectively zero. NASA scientists theorise that the solar wind has been blown sideways by a more powerful interstellar wind that blows in the spaces between stars .:/.:/.:/.:/    (This is my visual aid ;) )

Voyager 1 has crossed a boundary known as the termination shock.

The region immediately beyond the termination shock, where Voyager 1 is now, is called the heliosheath. The very edge of the solar system is a border known as the heliopause.

Once Voyager 1 travels beyond the heliosheath and crosses the heliopause, it will officially be in interstellar space.

NASA is counting down to the day when Voyager 1 starts sending back information from the space beyond.

But, what goes up must come down. I hope Voyager 2 comes complete with a message that says, "Ooops! Sorry!"
If I went to space I would miss the comfort of predictability... that and my family.
What do you think you would miss? 

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor grew from a precocious child star until she became one of the world's most famous movie stars.
A publicity magnet, she appeared eleven times on the cover of Life Magazine. Success is a great deodorant.”
She received five Best Actresses nominations and two Oscars. If someone's dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.”
She was married eight times to seven different husbands. “I’ve only slept with men I’ve been married to. How many women can make that claim?”
At one point during her life-threatening illness – pneumonia - while filming Butterfield 8 (1960), she was pronounced dead. Richard Burton believed she suffered from becoming too famous too early in her life – and that it lead her to befriend others who experienced the difficulties brought on by early fame.  I haven't read any of the autobiographies about me.”

“It is very strange that the years teach us patience - that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

When I was twelve, I saw a re-run of Jane Eyre on TV. I identified with that movie totally! I started reading the book the next day.  

Tuesday 22 March 2011


Writing, like dancing, is all about the technique. 
Your work will be judged on how clean and precise your manuscript is executed.
Star quality?

There are a few transferable requirements that will wow the judges - the literary agent of your dreams:

Swing dance showmanship consists of presentation, creativity, costumes, and difficulty, so does writing

Presentation    Double line spacing and 12 point Times New Roman is the classic   
                      Indenting for speech and new paragraphs, but not at the start of each chapter.
Creativity      Take a basic storyline, one of the seven (J)  will do, but craft a great idea
   Use a fresh and engaging voice, one that is a perfect fit for its genre.

Costume       Almost a stretch, but not – the costume is YOU!
     Professional, well-informed, and fascinating YOU, on the top of your platform J

Difficulty    Competent in spelling, grammar and storytelling?
Well paced and lean?
     Perfect for the pigeon-hole but unique?
    A powerful hook pitched in one or two sentences?


Thanks to Nicola Morgan and to Swing Dance judges everywhere for their inspiration. :)

Monday 21 March 2011

WRITER, PLAYWRIGHT, MEDIC, SPY - William Somerset Maugham

"There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."  ~ William Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham was born in the British Embassy in Paris.

By the time he was ten, both William’s parents were dead.

His uncle, a Minister in the Church of England, took him in.

Maugham became a medical student.

His first novel sold well, so he decided to abandon medicine and become a full-time writer.

Maugham found fame when his plays about marriage and manners became popular.

At the age of 40, during WWI, Maugham joined a Red Cross ambulance unit in France and served on the Western Front

Sir John Wallinger, head of Britain’s Military Intelligence (MI6) recruited Maugham act as an agent.  

He acted as a link between MI6 in London and its agents working in Europe.

Between writing and spying, Maugham had time to form long lasting relationships with both men and women.

I should think he found a lot to write about. :D

Sunday 20 March 2011


"Bud Steffans was the first to spot this UFO. On his suggestion he has picked up Burroughs and is driving through the forest when he sees the thing on the ground flashing multi-coloured lights. It is already on the ground. Therefore there is no way of knowing whether it has landed or crashed - or indeed whether it has ever been airbourne. Yet when Penniston is interrogating Steffans, moments later, Steffans says, 'Nothing crashed, it landed.' How could he know? How could he possibly know?"