Sunday, December 28, 2014

The fine art of saying thank you


Today’s task is to write thank you cards for all the gifts and hospitality we have received over the Christmas period so far. I have written a list for each child, and for myself, which sets out what present they got from which friend or family member, and there are a dozen different styles of thank you cards laid out on the dining room table all ready for them – cards with thank you printed on the front, cards with their initials, cards with pictures, and cards they can decorate with stamps and inkpads. There is even nice notepaper in case they want to write someone a whole letter. And there are colored pens and pencils for those more artistically driven. There are even stamps and airmail stickers too – for once, I am that organized!

This is something we do after every Christmas and after every birthday, so it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. And I am proud to know that I have three amazing writers here – my kids are already very successful poets, novelists, screen writers, playwrights and journalists – so writing a handful of single-sided thank yous should not tax them at all. Lucky me!

Yet, when I told one of my kids (I won’t tell you which one) last night what we would be doing first today, I was met with, “But writing thank you cards is boring!” and my heart sank. Have I truly failed, in all these years of writing thank yous, to get them to understand what an important life skill to have this is? Clearly I have.

But then I wondered whether I was the same at 13, moaning about wasting a morning saying thank you for something I could have been playing with instead. I must ask my parents about that. And I must also say thank you to them too, not only for the cool jacket they bought me this Christmas, but also for instilling in me the desire to be grateful for other people’s generosity, and to remember to show it. I know for sure that this habit of writing to say thank you was because all through my childhood they set out the thank you cards, envelopes and lists of gifts for me, and coached me on the best kind of wording and the right way to address an envelope. It is because of their teaching that I place such value on writing – and receiving – thank you cards. And I also know for sure that the vast majority of other people were not lucky enough to have parents doing that same thing for them. Sadly.

I know that, because I can tell you straight away of only one person who without fail has written and mailed a thank you card after every single event he came to at our house. In fact, since he moved away to another state this year and therefore did not come to our Christmas party (though 120 other people did), I actually noticed that the December mail did not bring the usual lovely handwritten note from him thanking us for including him in our gathering and saying how much he enjoyed knowing our family and always feeling that he was welcome in our home. James, if you ever read this – I’ve missed you!

Obviously, I have no right to have a go at those non-card writers I know – and of course I was grateful for the couple of texts and emails that I received to say thank you – but I will allow myself the indulgence of some frustration after the two training courses I gave earlier this year to some mature students. In both training sessions, I stressed the importance of saying thank you, both in their professional lives and personally. What little effort does it take to drop someone a quick note – electronically or in hard copy – to say you appreciated their time, effort and hospitality when they had done something kind for you or had included you in their party? And how big is the impact on the recipient of that thank you, to know that someone was grateful and was not too busy or lazy to let them know? In fact, I stressed this point at least five times in each session, and yet, do you know how many thank yous I received afterwards?

One.

So that set me wondering whether these students (not self-centered teenagers, they were all in their twenties and thirties) had actually paid as little attention to everything else I had been instructing them on. Oh well, time will tell.

So I am heading downstairs now to herd my kids to the dining room, cracking the whip while they moan their way to the table. But I also know that once they get going, this exercise in sharing their gratitude will silence their moans and they will begin to realize how much they received, that it is kind to say thank you. What they might not yet understand, however, is that they are also learning the fine art to saying thank you.

But one day, I know for sure that they will be asking me where the cards are kept because they have a thank you they really want to write.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Future Library - a literary treasure trove for the next century

Future Library by Katie Peterson

Recently I heard about an amazing new artwork call Future Library being created in Norway by the Scottish artist, Katie Paterson. But this isn't a painting or a sculpture. This work of art is a forest of trees, and in one hundred years, it will become an anthology of books. Literally! 

Katie Peterson and The City of Oslo have planted a thousand trees in a forest just outside the city. The trees will be looked after until 2114, one hundred years from now.  In each of those hundred years, one author will be commissioned to write a manuscript of some sort and that piece of writing will be placed, unpublished, in a secure and specially designed room in the new public library being built in Oslo. They will all remain unread until the collection of one hundred manuscripts is complete.
Katie Peterson
Then in 2114, the trees will be cut down and the wood will be used to supply paper for a special anthology of books in which 100 years of writing will be published.

Last month, Katie Paterson announced that Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, is the first author to be invited to write and submit something for the anthology which will not be read for a century. Margaret Atwood was born in 1939, but how strange to think that many of the writers who will take part in this amazing artistic concept have not even been born yet (in fact, their parents might not even have been born yet!)
Margaret Atwood and Katie Peterson

The Future Library website has two lovely films about the project.  There is a short movie with Katie Peterson talking about it while searching the forest floor for the tiny trees to be planted, and there is also a wonderful interview with Katie and with Margaret Atwood herself.

I love this idea and hope it does not fall victim the vagueries of local government budget cuts and political posturing. And I so wish that I were the type of person who could have and share the vision for such an optimistic project - optimistic for the future of reading and writing and indeed, for the future of the human race - but I'm afraid I'm just not. I am simply the kind of person to feel enormous disappointment that, chances are, I won't be around to see those beautiful trees become beautiful books around the time of my 147th birthday.

For more information, visit: futurelibrary.no and to keep in touch with the authors as they are invited to take part, Like Future Library on Facebook.
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Friday, October 3, 2014

The Raven Cycle - the joy and the pain of sequels


Don’t you just hate waiting for a sequel? Remember how long we had to wait for the next Harry Potter, and then the next?  Sweet torture indeed. 

A friend of mine told me just this week that she refused to read any of James Dashner’s fabulous Maze Runner books until the final one was published just so she didn’t have to constantly be waiting for the next book to come out.  I certainly can understand what she means because reading a series of books as they are each published can be quite hard work.  


As an example, I absolutely loved Moira Young’s amazing Blood Red Road, the first in the Dustlands trilogy, but by the time that the second book was published, I realized that I had forgotten much of the detail from the first. So I had to re-read Blood Red Road before starting on Rebel Heart.  But then, of course, when the final book, Raging Star was published earlier this year, I had the same problem, so yes, I read (or rather, listened to on audiobook) both of the first two books again.  Luckily both of them more than stood up to re-reading, even for the third time in the case of Blood Red Road, and having the full story so fresh in my mind meant that final book was even more wonderful than it might have been had I been struggling to remember who, what, where and when led to that opening chapter.

Now, however, I am faced with an even worse dilemma.

If you have recently asked me (or even if you haven’t) what has been the best book I have read over the last couple of years, I will have told you without hesitation, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  It is not only my favorite book of recent years, but probably my favorite audiobook EVER! Sadly Maggie has been clear that Scorpio Races is a standalone story, and will have no sequel (boo!), but she has given us another beautiful gift in four parts instead.

The Raven Boys introduced us to the lovely Blue and to the boys with ravens on their school blazers, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah, and to the concept of the ley-lines (paths of spiritual energy) which cross-cross the world. It is on one of these ley-lines, Gansey believes, that the legendary Prince of Wales, Owen Glendower, might have passed from Wales to Virginia.  It is a book of spirits and psychics, of good and of evil, but mostly, it is a book about friendships, and leaves you wishing that there was a seat left in Gansey’s orange camaro for you too. Having lived in Wales and made friends with people to whom Glendower feels like family, and then having crossed the Atlantic (by plane, not ley-line, I hasten to add) to live in the US, this book just drew me in immediately.

Then came book two of The Raven Cycle. The Dream Thieves takes us deep into Cabeswater with Gansey and Blue, and even deeper into Ronan’s dreams. And at last, book three is almost here. October 21st sees the publication of Blue Lily, Lily Blue and there will be one more book after that to round off the series.

But here’s my problem.  I desperately want to read it as soon as it comes out, but to do that, I will no doubt have to re-read the first two beforehand.  But then, when book four comes out, I will have to re-read the first three books in anticipation of its release, just to make sure it’s all fresh.  Given that I have dozens of books sitting in my mental to-read list, and thousands more waiting for me to find them and add them to that list, can I really justify reading the same four books a total of ten times (ie Book 1 – Books 1, 2 -  Books 1, 2, 3 – Books 1, 2, 3, 4)? 

Well, given that the four books are The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, the answer has to be ‘Hell, yes!’

And if you haven’t yet read Raven Boys or Dream Thieves, by my reckoning, with three weeks to go until publication date, you should have just enough time to read them both if you start right now! Go on, get on with it!

To see more of what writer, musician and artist Maggie Stiefvater gets up to (including a video painting a really cool graffiti knife onto her own car, just like the one in Dream Thieves) visit her at: maggiestiefvater.com

And you can also visit You Tube to see the unnerving new trailer for Blue Lily, Lily Blue.


Friday, September 19, 2014

HubDot comes to Houston



Through my Inspiring Houston Women blog and because of my love of storytelling, I recently became involved with a new event called HubDot which was about to launch in Houston.
Simona Barbieri,
HubDot's founder

HubDot was founded in London in 2012 by a remarkable Italian lady, Simona Barbieri and it is now spreading across Europe and the US.  The central mission for HubDot is a simple one:

“When we put women together in the same space and put storytelling at the center, incredible things happen.” 

HubDot’s networking events for women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds have one striking difference to the events we have all been to at professional conferences. First, they take place in somewhere women are generally very comfortable – a clothes store – with the beautiful Anthropologie stores joining HubDot to host these events on the shop-floor in their vision, allowing wine, nibbles and shopping to form part of the experience.

Secondly, no one wears a label with her name or her job title or company.  Instead, each woman chooses from a selection of five colored dots (hence the name) which serves as a means of introduction to other guests. For example, if you wear a yellow dot, it means “I have an idea, can anyone help?” or a green dot means “I’m here to be inspired”.  This makes it easier for you to approach someone wearing perhaps a purple dot and ask, “What is your story?” rather than, “What do you do?”  

For those who are really looking for an evening with absolutely no pressure at all, there is even a blue dot for “I am here to socialize and shop”. To get the storytelling between the guests flowing and some ideas sparking, each event also has a handful of speakers, given only one minute to present their story, and also some music, often from a musician who has her own story to tell.  


Leslie Loftis,
Houston Organizer
This week saw the US launch of HubDot here in Houston, organized by a team led by Leslie Loftis, a native Texan who met Simona when they both lived in London and who decided she wanted to share the HubDot philosophy in her home town. 

I was so proud to have been one of the storytellers invited to speak by Simona and Leslie. Because we were only given one minute to share a story we wanted to tell, I focused on the amazing women I have interviewed for InspiringHoustonWomen.com.  

I was delighted too that one of my IHW interviewees, Anita Kruse of PurpleSongs Can Fly at Texas Children’s Hospital, gave one of the most moving speeches of the night.

Anita talked of her work with young cancer patients at TCH, helping them to write and record their own songs during their treatment programs in the Cancer Center.  She had brought along with her Christian Spear, herself a cancer survivor. Christian sang an excerpt from the Purple Songs single No one fights alone (you can watch the full music video here)

Other speakers included Dorothy Gibbons, founder of The Rose, a breast cancer charity which provides mammograms and cancer treatment to women without medical insurance. For every three insured women who have a mammogram at The Rose, they are able to give another mammogram free to a woman who cannot afford one. Dorothy told us, ‘No woman should die of breast cancer because she could not afford $150 for a mammogram.’

Another speaker, Elizabeth Pudwill, told the assembled group of her battle against a series of addictions which led her to time in jail. Determined to put her life back together again, she founded I Know Somebody – Houston, an organization which aims to connect women to each other so that someone in need of something can find help.

Simona opens the storytelling with story of HubDot
at Anthropologie City Center

We also heard from two young chef/entrepreneurs, the founder of a non-profit organization which aims to help those with chronic headaches such as migraines, and from one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Air Force who then became a stay at home mom, and then found her third vocation as a pastor.

I was not surprised to find any number of inspiring women in that room who would be perfect subjects for future interview, and I will be contacting them in the next week or so to invite them to take part.

HubDot will be continuing its events in London, Milan, Naples, Luxembourg and Houston and over the coming months, will also launch HubDot chapters in Oregon and Barcelona, as well as in South Africa and Gambia.

It was a fantastic evening, and even if I say so myself, I rather summed up the general feeling of the gathering in the last ten seconds of my one minutes speech:

“I know that I am preaching to the converted here when I say that this amazing city, and indeed, this room, is full of truly Inspiring Houston Women, so I have a long job ahead of me to talk to them all.”

If you are interested in finding out more about HubDot in Houston, or in one of the other cities above, please visit the website at www.hubdot.com.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why do I write? Come join me on a blog hop to find out!

I was very excited to be invited recently to take part in my very first blog hop by Mimi Vance, another Houstonian author.  In case you hadn't come across it either, a blog hop is a virtual equivalent of a chain letter, though far less threatening. Just as well, really.

Mimi is a language specialist and writes gorgeous picture books about baby-signing. Her new website and blog at www.wordsbythehandful.com is full of great information about how you can open up the world of communication to your baby long before he or she is old enough to talk. 

Baby signing is something close to my heart since I used to sign when my twins, who are now 13, were little. You can read more about that, and even see pictures of my twins signing, on my blog here.

Mimi's blog hop post on her own website is HERE, and having done it herself, she set me and our friend Chris Cander, a few questions to answer about our writing.  So here goes with my reply:

What am I working on?
Right now, I am madly spinning a number of writing plates, trying to keep them all from smashing down around me.

I am almost to the end of major revisions to my Young Adult novel, Never Met, Never Parted, which is set in Scotland at the end of World War Two.  It’s about Lorna, a farmer’s daughter with two older brothers away in the army.  When a German prisoner-of-war begins work on the farm as a farmhand and shepherd, Lorna discovers that in wartime, your family and your allies might not be your real friends, and your enemy might just turn out to be the love of your life.

I received some valuable feedback on the opening chapters and the synopsis from a New York editor earlier this year and she particularly suggested that I strengthen Lorna’s voice and her relationship with her those around her.  It has taken me a few months to sort Lorna out, but I feel like I now know her so much better than I did when I finished the previous draft, and I hope that will be reflected in how the reader connects with Lorna too. 

I am also getting back to blogging at www.carolineleech.com, about my writing, reading and research, and about things which interest me.  I haven’t posted much on there over the last year because I have been too busy interviewing inspiring women for my Inspiring Houston Women blog. I took a break on that blog over the summer, but hope to post the next interview before the end of September.

And if all that wasn’t enough, I am also going back to my first writing love – non-fiction articles for magazines and newspapers.  This was something I did a lot of when I lived in the UK, but I have been concentrating more on writing fiction since I arrived in Texas.  I have so many ideas for interesting articles, now I just have to find an editor or two who will let me write them.

Why do I write?
For the buzz! I get the biggest thrill when I am writing, when words are flying round my brain in random patterns before crashing onto the page in some semblance of order.  It’s the thrill that comes from finding just the right word, or creating just the perfect phrase to capture the image in your head so that others can share it. It comes from hearing a character’s voice so clearly in your head that all you have to do is take down what they say as dictation and put quote marks around it.  It comes from planning in detail a scene where two people are standing talking to each other in a farmyard, only to find that when you start writing it that a delivery boy suddenly appears up the road on his bike. He’s uninvited and unexpected, but he takes the whole story down a wonderful path which you would never have found without his help.

I can get that same thrill from reading a really good book, and the two are undoubtedly connected. I love to write because I love to read, and I love to see others love to read too.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
I don’t think I really want to be different from other writers. Of course, I want to create my own unique characters, plots, dialogue, and settings, but really, I work hard to be just like those writers whose books I love to read. I want to fascinate and inspire readers just like they do, I want to thrill and to move, to interest and to educate my readers in just the way those wonderful authors have for me.  So while I hope no one will ever accuse my writing of being formulaic, familiar or just plain dull, I do want people to say that my writing has connected with them just like the other writers that they love.

How does my writing process work?
Where do I write? I’d like to tell you how organized and disciplined I am about sitting down in a peaceful office at a tidy desk where I can write to a set daily word count.  But in reality, most of my writing is done in the buzz of Barnes and Noble cafĂ© in whatever hours each week I can grab. I often go to our local Starbucks at 6am on a Sunday morning, so I can get a good three or four hours’ work done before my household gets going for the day. Although Starbucks is always deserted when I arrive at that time of the morning, I have often found that I get so focused on what I am writing, I can look up suddenly and discover that the place is packed and its 9am.

How do I write? I am most certainly a planner and not a pantser (a writer who likes to fly by the seat of his or her pants, with no plot plan as a guide). With both my novels, I have not started writing until I have created a full chapter breakdown of the story and rough character sketches of the main players. I might not know how my character navigates his way through a scene, but I must know where he needs to get to by the end.

Even with this kind of detailed planning, however, sometimes I have reached a fork in my plot road and haven’t known exactly which way to go. Just recently I wrote a conversation which was interrupted by a knock at the door. I discovered that I didn’t know who was knocking (I know that might sound weird, given that I was in charge of the knocking!) It could have been one of two people but I wasn’t sure which it should be and I felt rather panicked.  I could see a rough path which would take me from each person through to the next chapter where I needed to be, but I just couldn’t take that first step on one path by typing the name of one person standing on the doorstep. It took me two days of fiddling around with another part of the manuscript, letting my mind wrestle with my door-knocker dilemma, before I could go back and type that name.

I’ve spent most of this year revising one of my novels, rather than writing something new. And that has introduced me a whole new learning curve. Letting someone else read your novel (a friend, or a professional service, or getting a critique done at a conference) can give you some very useful feedback on what still needs to be done to make your plot, your characters and your setting shine.  But it is daunting to stand over perfect piece of literature with a big carving knife in your hand. This is something you have tweaked and polished over weeks, months or even years, and now you are expected to hack it to bits, rip out some bits of gorgeous writing, or think up new bits to push the pace or fill out a personality? That, to me, is so much harder than writing on a blank page.  But as a friend of mine once told me, “being a published writer is less about being good at writing, and more about being good at revising.”

And so the revision continues, and fingers crossed that the published writer bit comes soon.

So who is blog-hopping next?
I’d like to introduce you to two wonderful writers, two all-round amazing women, and open the door for you to their lovely blogs.

Melissa Buron has for the past twenty-one years worked as an author, librarian and teacher in Africa, Europe and the United States.  She is, like me, a member of Houston’s chapter of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators.  I met Melissa at my first visit to an SCBWI conference two years ago and she was immediately welcoming and encouraging, had friended me on Facebook within the hour and made sure I was introduced to other useful people. Since then, I have followed her excellent blog on which she posts details of her writing process as well as interviews with other writers.


If her work as an author and educator wasn’t enough, in January 2014, Melissa launched MAB Media, an indie publishing company that specializes in high-quality trade fiction and literary non-fiction. MAB Media will release its first books in Summer 2015.

You can follow Melissa on her personal blog at www.melissaburon.com. And for more information on Melissa’s publishing work, you can check-out the website at www.mabmedia.net, follow MAB Media on Twitter, or “like” MAB’s Facebook page. 



 Bethany Hegedus holds the key to stay in paradise – for me and numerous other Texas writers, anyway. As well as being author to a string of books, Bethany is the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn, the most gorgeous space for writing retreats, workshops and book-related events in Austin, Texas.  I won a weekend retreat there in an auction last year and frankly, I could have easily and very happily, stayed a week. No, a month!

When I stayed with her at the Barn at the end of 2013, Bethany was gearing up for the publication of her first picture book, the beautifully written and illustrated Grandfather Gandhi.  Bethany co-authored the story with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, and it was illustrated by Evan Turk.

Bethany’s other books include Truth with a Capital T and Between Us Baxters and she has served as the Young Adult & Children’s Editor of the literary journal, Hunger Mountain, since 2009. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults and a former educator, Bethany speaks and teaches across the country.

You can follow Bethany on her personal blog at www.bethanyhegedus.com and please do visit her at The Writing Barn, online at www.thewritingbarn.com or even better, in person!




Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Eat, drink, please, thank you - what more signs could a baby need?

I have a new writer friend in Houston, Mimi Vance, who is a language specialist and writes picture books about baby-signing. She suggests that using basic sign language with your baby and toddler is a great way to open up the world of communication long before he or she is old enough to talk.  

Baby-signing is also something close to my own heart since I used signing with my twins (who are now 13 and sometimes I wish they would still sign because it might make my house a little more peaceful at times!). I am sure it reduced a lot of their frustration as they became conscious of having needs and desires but were as yet unable to make them clear to the adults around them.  There is research too which suggests that children who sign early also develop their spoken language skills faster and at a more advanced level.

I had studied British Sign Language (BSL) at evening classes for a year when I was first working, but had never really had the opportunity to use it.  But then I read about signing with babies in a magazine when my twins were around a year old, so I began to teach them a few basic signs that I could remember. 

On her website, Mimi suggests that the first signs you should teach your child would be eat, drink, more, all done, please and thank you. And funnily enough (considering I hadn’t read her books at the time) those are roughly the first signs that my twins learned.  They certainly used signs for milk, juice, eat (yes, and specific signs for cake and biscuit/cookie too), as well as signs for each other’s names and for their older sister.  Interestingly, neither twin could exactly replicate my sign for their sister’s name (I used the BSL sign for pretty), but they each created their own version of it and used it regularly to ask where she was or to answer a question about her.  I remember too that Daddy’s name was the sign for man and Mummy’s name was the sign for woman.

By the time the twins were starting to talk, however, they had around forty words, including animals and places, and signs for the people close to them.  Some of these were BSL signs, but some I just made up.  As I began writing this post, I remembered that I had taken some photos of them signing, and so I went rooting around in my photo archive and found these, taken when the twins were around 18 months old.

Doing her sign for elephant
(see her lifting her trunk into the air?)


And this is squirrel
(well, it was actually the sign for 
rabbit – two waggly ears – 
but she was in the park looking at squirrels
so it's close enough)


And here is ice-cream –
he’s licking his finger as if it were an ice-cream cone.

Just check out that pleading look in his eye!

Of course, you have to be careful not to get so over excited with the fact that your kid at 18 months is clearly and politely asking for ice-cream, please that you give them everything they ask for. Saying no can still cause a fuss, but having a clear sign for later can often dispel the oncoming tantrum.

If you are interested in signing with your baby or toddler, but are feeling unsure about where to start, please trust me, it really isn’t hard to do and you don’t need to know lots of American or British Sign Language before you start.  Just start with a few signs - there are pictures on Mimi’s website here of basic ones to start with.  

But remember to be consistent.  Every time you ask your child if he would like a drink or something to eat etc, use the sign, and I promise you will be surprised how quickly he/she starts to sign it back to you.  Make sure that you also teach the signs to everyone caring for your babe. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for him or her to be madly signing “I want my lunch” (eat) to Grandma, only to be complimented on how well he is pointing to his mouth, clever boy?

There are great resources for signs you can use in Mimi’s books and online, but if you don’t know a sign for something, you can always make up your own. As long as you and the other carers are consistent with it, it really won’t make a difference.  Children who have hearing impairments or other issues which will mean they are likely to use sign language to communicate throughout their childhood and adult life will need to use the appropriate sign language of their country, but a baby with no problems of that sort just needs to communicate with you and his or her carers.

If you are interested in starting to sign with your baby, here are some useful links both for British and American Sign Language baby-signing, and of course, you can always buy Mimi’s fabulous books and instructional cards right here!

Mimi’s new website and blog at www.wordsbythehandful.com is full of great information. Please visit her there.


British Sign Language:

babies-and-sign-language.com – British resource on baby-signing

britishsignlanguage.com – free BSL video dictionary


American Sign Language

wordsbythehandful.com – Mimi Vance’s website and American resource on baby-signing

signingsavvy.com – free online ASL video dictionary

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Birthday books!

"You are the most impossible person to buy presents for!" said my son a few months ago.
"No, I'm not!" I replied. "You know what I like most.'
"Yes, but I can’t just buy you a book every time I have to get you a present!" he moaned.
"Fine, just buy me two books then!" 

And so today is my birthday, and how thrilled was I that he, and his sisters, took me at my word and all bought me books? Pretty darn thrilled, that's how much!  



Interestingly, they all steered clear of buying me fiction since they claim to have no idea what sort of books I like or have already read. But that's okayI'm very happy with what I got, which was:

Writing Fiction for Dummies
OK, I might have been insulted by this, given the courses I've done and the reading I've done and the actual writing I've done. But actually, I know from experience that you can be trawling through a book about the craft of writing, and you are thinking, "yeah, same old, same old," when boom!  Suddenly you see that one tip or trick which makes you see exactly what you have been getting wrong/trying to resolve in your work-in-progress. Or even better, in the bottom-drawer novel which you had expected never to see the light of day again, but which now seems easily resurrected.  And really, until I walk into Barnes & Noble or Waterstones and see a whole shelf devoted just to my books, I won’t stop reading books about the craft.

Writing Great Books for Young Adults – Regina Brooks
I’d come across snippets from this book in something else I read not so long ago and had been meaning to have a look at it.  Having done two courses in writing “for children and young people” I feel I am fairly well versed in the differences in writing for adults and for kids.  But the whole YA field had developed very quickly and very recently – and is still developing into new areas like New Adult – so I am looking forward to seeing what more this one has to add.

Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
and
I’ve still got it… I just can’t remember where I put it by Jenna McCarthy
I love reading funny books, though I’m glad that my days of getting strange looks from people as I laugh out loud on the London tube are behind me.  WE are about to go away on vacation and since we are changing places every few days with a couple of hours driving between each place, there’s not going to be huge swathes of time where I can settle down with an enormous novel.  So these two should be perfect!  And in response to that second title – not only can’t I remember where I put it, I’m not actually sure if I ever had it in the first place!

It’s gonna be okay – a journal to reassure myself when I’m overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster… (An inner truth journal)
Not only is this possibly the longest book title I’ve ever come across, it is possibly also the most challenging for those of us who have hit our mid-40s and find our eyesight is failing as fast as the muscles which once fought to protect our stomachs and bottoms from the sinking effects of gravity.  I am happy to report that I was still able (just) to read to the very bottom line of the cover without diving for one of the numerous pairs of reading glasses now placed around the house and in my bag.

This inner truth journal gives me a wry and thoughtful quote with a blank page opposite, at the top of which is a date box, and the title, What I’m hanging my hope on today:.  At the bottom is a thumbs up, thumbs down, OK sign and fingers crossed sign.  



So perhaps it is time to go back to something I used to do years ago – a Thankful Diary.  Every evening at bedtime, I would fill in a few sentences into a diary about something from that day I was thankful for.  Sometimes, when things were wonderful, it was hard to cram it all into that little space and sometimes, when things were hard, it was difficult to find even one thing to write about, but I forced myself to do it every night, because I knew that I would always find something that I was thankful for.

So perhaps this journal will give me a new regime – not a daily Thankful Diary, but a daily Hopeful Diary.  One of the quotes in the book is from Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
and sings the tune without the words –
and never stops – at all.

A new Moleskine notebook
Can’t ever have too many, so ‘nuff said!

Barnes & Noble giftcard
I love listening to audiobooks when I’m driving, cooking, walking, working out, ironing etc, and mostly I download them through the brilliant Houston Public Library website on Overdrive, or get them from the library on CD and transfer them onto my iPhone that way. But sometimes even HPL’s huge catalog lets me down. So this gift card will be kept for that very special audiobook that I just have to have NOW instead of waiting for the library to get it!


So it’s been a lovely book-ridden birthday, and I have been very lucky!  Thanks, kids!