Thursday, 21 August 2014

We're Growing a Zoo!

After six months of my two boys researching dog breeds, pestering for a dog, researching dog behaviours, pleading for a dog, researching dog tricks, pestering and pleading for a dog, I finally took them to Rotherham Rescue Centre to look at a few. My intention was purely to show them how big the labradors/irish wolfhounds/alsations were and to demonstrate how hard they would be to walk and look after. I had every intention of getting a dog of some description over the next few weeks, but something a little more manageable than the ones they'd seen bounding along the beaches during our recent holiday in Wales.
That was Monday.

We entered a Bedlam for dogs. Dogs of every size and shape barked and snarled, whimpered and whined as we were shown around the kennels. I can't imagine how the volunteers can bear the sadness in those animals' eyes. They are amazing people who tirelessly show up to feed them, walk them, play with them and retrain some of the most traumatised week after week.
Some were so frightened of humans after their early experiences, we couldn't go near them as they expected us to hurt them and snarled, their bodies rigid. But some just jumped up to lick the bars and have their tummies tickled by the volunteers they knew and trusted.
There were three old dogs, mongrels I think they were, who I could have taken home then and there. Poor things. But many of them are so used to the routine of regular walks and meal times that they are settled there. It seems strange, but a few would find it difficult to leave the kindness of their carers now.

 The boys were undeterred by the noise and the stories .They just couldn't choose between them.

"The dog will choose us, Mum," Max reminded me as we walked round again.

A little further on,  two little scruffy white mongrels cowered in the corner of a huge cage. They were struggling with this environment after being separated from their owner only a few days before. After a little chat through the bars, my boys asked to go in to the cage to give them a cuddle.
"Okay," I said, "but just for a minute."
As they sat down to stroke them, one jumped on Max's knee and sat down, while the other curled up on Harry's knee and lay her head on his arm.
"Which one would you want?" the volunteer asked.
The million dollar question. Before I could answer, Harry was on to it.
"They're only little, Mum," Harry whispered. "They'd be just like having one dog."
With dog eyes and boy eyes pleading upwards, I was powerless.
A few hours later, that same day, Bella and Jasper were ours. They came with quite the collection of dog beds, blankets, toys and bowls - all from a doting owner who just couldn't take care of them any more.

While our two cats are taking a little adjustment, our rabbit seems unphased by her new friends. These two little pooches are quickly becoming a part of the family.
That first night, they cried a little but at 2.30am they settled. I left them alone after checking twice and that seemed to do the trick.
The second night they slept through and, fingers crossed, they seem to be used to us now.
We have negotiated a corner of the settee where they curl up together on a white wool blanket and would quite happily sit there in betweeen games with the boys and their friends.

We are smitten. There are many aspects to owning dogs that I'm still adjusting to myself - I've set up a lunchtime dog walker for the days I'm working and I'm having to rethink a few days out we had planned to now accommodate them - but I do know we are very lucky that these two little pups chose us.

Musical Stories ...

The Family Festival workshops as part of Grimm and Co's Summer programme went really well - many children enjoyed a variety of activities designed to inspire storymaking and storytelling. We had great fun during my sessions, creating stories which evoked a walk through an enchanted forest and creatures they met along the way - some imaginative and truly inspiring young people took part in and then performed their musical stories to each other during these informal, fun sessions.

Kate O'Brien's photo.
Kate O'Brien's photo.We started by looking through a selection of images all of forests, hidden buildings in woodland settings  and creatures - woodland and fantastical. Using a selection of instruments, the storymakers created sounds to evoke elements of their stories, using percussion, guitar and vocal percussion in some instances too. 
Kate O'Brien's photo.

It is so refreshing to allow students to follow their own train of thought, to allow them to work in their own way without the constraints of a particular learning intention or success criteria and the fear of whether or not they are moving forward quickly enough .
Often, it is equally important to allow students the space to be inspired, to nurture their creativity and celebrate their successes regardless of whether or not a list can be ticked or a target can be highlighted on a given spreadsheet which promises the perfect 'level 4'or 'level 5' when complete.

Kate O'Brien's photo.

That is why places like Grimm and Co, Inspire Rotherham et al are so important. Teachers' workloads are such that many opportunities for this kind of learning are currently being squeezed. I don't for one minute believe that the current education system's incarnation can or will continue, but until children are once more afforded a more holistic, creative curriculum, the opportunities offered to our young people by charities and community groups such as Grimm and Co are invaluable.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Story Making Workshops at Rotherham Family Festival 2014

I am sometimes asked to run children's writing and story making workshops which is something I relish and would like to do more and more of.  I  will run  three sessions during Rotherham's Family Festival taking children through a story-making process where we use the spoken word and musical instruments to develop magical stories through music. I can't wait to see what our creative young story makers come up with!


As a teacher, my two favourite subjects are Literacy and Music so you can imagine my excitement when asked to become involved in this project. Preparations are underway for this exciting venture and the Writers' Attic is being prepared as I write.

Rotherham's Family Festival is being run by Grimm and Co, part of Inspire Rotherham and Ministry of Stories to offer our local children free access to a range of story making workshops over the week beginning 4th August 2014.  The program is as follows:
Photo: Grimm & Co. please look at Grimm's facebook page and follow on Twitter to find out more about the Story Festival coming to Rotherham from next Monday.  Here's the programme for the family festival.  All activities are free, however a donation is always welcome to help with refreshments, etc.  The activities and times are on the programme.  You can drop in or to guarantee a place please contact
Please share with other families and friends on FB.
Rotherham Roar Popup StoryShop Rotherham  Rother Fed Theunitycentre Rotherham
I'll be waiting in the Writer's Attic in Rotherham during the afternoon of Wednesday 6th August for any young story makers wishing to take part. We will create a number of stories together and will endeavour to share them  after the event :)

Changing Identity - Pen Names and More

Driftwood and Amethyst was written over a two year period when I lived a very different life. Without washing my laundry, I was ill, I was someone's wife and I did my best to make a difficult situation better. I failed.Not on my own, I'll give myself that. But it necessitated a huge change for me, one which over the last three years has resulted in a very different life.
I made the decision last year to go back to my maiden name. Not a decision I took lightly, as I have two boys who carry their father's name - regardless of our relationship or should I say lack of it - and I wanted to make sure this did not cause any undue distress. But the boys were very generous and actually were instrumental in helping me revert back to who I wanted to be.
It may only seem a name to anyone reading, but giving up my name was difficult in the first place and done only at the express wish of my partner-to-be who in time lost the right to have a say.
I have just gone through a rather laborious process of changing my author name to match my maiden name and I feel so light as a result. My books are being reprinted as are all the links to my writing name - future novels will have the same name as will my business and business links as my future workshops and works evolve.

The publishing company have been amazing and were able to keep costs to a minimum. As a self published writer, this is such a huge help and I know how much better I feel as a result of having the support of the company (Xlibris) running alongside me.

My next book, The Faerie Plot, an equally dark children's story may be half written, but just the change and joining up of the dots here has allowed me to refocus and work daily on this first draft with a view to having a draft to send to the editor by the end of the summer holidays. Writing is such a reward in itself yet I feel so lucky to be able to make this change and ensure that all my work can be tied together in my own name.

A pen name is a huge part of a writer's identity.I know great writers who have a completely different name for different genres within which they write, yet for me I know I've made the right choice.