The Dream vs Reality

I’ve spoken quite a bit lately about returning to teaching after being home for the past 17 months – a period of illness and then a year’s maternity leave. It’s something that has been worrying away at me for several months – a horrible gnawing in my stomach, my nails chewed to the quick. I have three children and have found the return to work difficult each time, but this time will be the hardest. Because I’ve realised that I’m not able to be superwoman.

And I think that’s the reality for most working mums. It’s a constant sense of guilt. I have to be a good mum, I have to be good at my job. My priority is unquestionably my boys, but I can’t turn up to school unprepared – I have a class full of children relying on me to educate them in the best way possible. So how do I do it? How can I be the best I can be at all of it? And on top of this, I’m a writer (feels a bit strange to say that, I must admit!) How will I find time to write my next book?

I wrote my first book whilst I was working – 12 months of getting up at 5.00 am and cramming in an hour and a half of writing before the real day began. This, I’m sure, is what most writers have to do. At the end of the year, I felt such a sense of accomplishment for having finally written a book, I was overjoyed … and exhausted. It wasn’t the getting up early, I’m a fairly nocturnal person, but added to the stress of teaching and trying so hard to be super-mum … I reached breaking-point. Something had to give. I hated myself for actually telling my son one evening that I didn’t have time to read with him and shooing him off to bed so that I could get the following day’s lessons prepared. I cried myself to sleep that night.

At bedtime the other night my eldest son, teary-eyed, asked if I had to go back to work.

‘You won’t be able to pick us up from school anymore,’ he said. ‘And I thought you were an author now. I thought you could write all day and then be with us.’

Yep, I cried myself  to sleep that night too.

I still don’t have an answer, which is why I’m so worried about this week. There is no way in the world that I will ever rush my boys to bed again without attention because I have school work to do. I am first and foremost Mam. My boys are my world. So that leaves me with my writing and teaching. The latter pays my mortgage and bills. The former is me, my passion.

So the point of this blog? I don’t really know. An off-loading? An ask for advice from others in the same situation? For someone to read it and think, ‘That’s exactly how I feel,’ and feel a little comforted by this? I don’t know.

But come Tuesday morning, my alarm clock will ring at 4.30 am. I will write for two hours. I will get the children ready for school then go to work. I will come home and be Mam. I will go to bed. I will dream that somehow I can make all this work.

Hwyl am y tro x

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The Dragon’s Egg

My last post was all about ‘reading for pleasure’ in the classroom as I’m returning to teaching in a week and have recently been doing a lot of thinking about this.

I read Mike Revell’s fantastic ‘Stonebird’ last week and whilst in a shop on holiday the other day, I spotted some glass eggs. Inspired by the story sessions mentioned in ‘Stonebird’, I became quite excited by the idea that this glass egg was a magic dragon’s egg. I stood there, holding the egg in the palm of my hand, staring blankly as my mind drifted off, for quite some time. The young man behind the till looked increasingly worried at being alone with the statue-like, peculiar lady with a dazed expression and twitchy grin.

Anyway, coming back to earth, I bought the egg and am full of ideas as to how I’ll use it in the classroom. We have weekly ‘circle time’, during which I previously used a small red dragon as the ‘talking stick’. I think my new dragon’s egg will now be used. In writing sessions, I’m hoping that placing the magic dragon’s egg on their table will inspire those who always moan and groan about having to write stories. And like in Mike Revell’s story, I intend to use it as an opportunity for children to share their own stories, whilst holding the egg in their hands – perhaps as we sit in a circle at the end of the day. And perhaps, just having the dragon’s egg perched on the windowsill will bring some magic to the classroom.

On the way home from our holiday, I heard some fantastic stories from my own sons as they took it in turns to hold the magic dragon’s egg in the back of the car.

I’m really pleased with how my list for encouraging reading for pleasure in the classroom is growing. I hope to share more ideas as and when they come to me. A massive thank you to Mike Revell for inspiring me with ‘Stonebird’. And a big thank you to the young man in the shop who allowed me ‘my moment’ without alerting security!

Hwyl am y tro x

Reading for pleasure – life’s greatest joy!

Now that my return to teaching is looming ever nearer, I’ve been thinking a lot about my classroom and teaching in general. Being a mum to a reluctant 8 year-old reader, the main area I’ve been pondering about is reading. Not the mechanics of reading … just reading for the pure joy of it.

I made of list of some of the things that we use within the school to promote reading:

  1. My class has a ‘lucky dip’ – when a child has read 5 books, they get to dive in.
  2. We have an end of year ‘Reader of the Year’ award.
  3. Reading diaries are sent home to encourage parents to read with their child.
  4. We have specific group reading sessions.
  5. Every class has a reading corner.

And then I stopped, even though the list could keep on going. I stopped because it suddenly struck me that none of the above points are really targeting reading for pleasure. I’m not saying that they don’t have a place within the school – believe me, my class love the lucky dip – it’s just that they somehow feel cold, empty. I want my pupils (and my own son) to love reading … I want to see their faces light up when they pick up a book … I want to see them reading when I haven’t specified it as a ‘reading session’ … I want them to come and tell me about books they’ve read without me asking them to write a book review. Am I asking too much? Am I wishing for the impossible? I don’t think I am. I mean, what isn’t there to love about books?

So, the second list I’m working on (I’m a great believer in lists, by the way), are ideas that I intend on implementing the second I step foot back into the school.

  1. We need a ‘school library’, not just a reading corner in each class but somewhere central – perhaps an outdoor shed turned into a magical treasure trove of books. Somewhere to chill out with a book at playtime/end of the day/rainy play/time out – whenever. Ideally, I’d love a writing shed too!
  2. More author visits – I don’t think that there’s anything better to get pupils enthused about books.
  3. Give pupils far more opportunities to write and create their own stories – their way using their words.
  4. Get out of the classroom – explore, go on a story hunt.

And that’s where I’m at, at the moment. I would love it if anyone reading this blog would like to contribute their own ideas/thoughts about how to get children reading for pleasure. After all, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasure and for a child to miss out on this … well, it’s just not right is it.

Hwyl am y tro x

Back to the Beginning

I’ve always dreamed of being a writer. It’s always been there, lurking amongst the gossamer cobwebs in the recesses of my mind. One day, I’d say, I’ll write a book.

I wrote a lot of short stories in Secondary School, winning my school’s R S Thomas award for creative writing. I attended a writing workshop at Ty Newydd which was an amazing experience. I studied English and Education at Aberystwyth University and became really interested in Child Psychology. After graduating with a First, I was confused. What should I do now?

I ended up completing a PGCE course and became a Primary School Teacher. And so real day-to-day life began and my writing dream just seemed to drift further and further away.

It took a distressing period in my life for me to make the change that started me on my writing journey. My second son was diagnosed with Meningitis at 6 weeks old. I can honestly say that this was the most horrendous period of my life. I am so thankful that he made a full-recovery. It was after this time that I started to become restless … thinking how precious life is and feeling that I needed to grab opportunities and follow dreams – I know it sounds corny, but that’s how it was.

I wrote my first short story in years and plucked up the courage to send it to a writing competition, which offered optional feedback. I clicked ‘send’ then waited for the e-mail that told me that my writing was rubbish and not to leave the day job. To my amazement, my story was placed second!

There was no stopping me then. I churned out short stories and was placed or shortlisted in several online contests. But I knew that what I really wanted to do was to write a children’s book. I had returned to work by this time and started getting up at 5am to write my story. 12 months later, the book was finished. Now what? I thought.

I sent my manuscript off to Literature Wales who offer a critique service. The critique I received was invaluable and I set about immediately editing my book. Done. I then started thinking about submitting. Agents or publishers? I read the ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’ from cover to cover and started lurking in my local Waterstones, looking at who was publishing what.

I came across Firefly Press quite by chance. They had recently launched at Hay and were releasing their first books. Something from the very beginning struck within me – I just knew that this was the publisher I wanted to work with. So I submitted. As the weeks passed, I told myself that it was good that I’d had the courage to submit and it didn’t matter if I didn’t hear anything, it was only my first attempt after all.

3 months later came the e-mail requesting the full manuscript. I screamed and ran into the kitchen.

‘I’ve done it. I’ve got a full manuscript request!’

‘Does that mean you’re getting published?’ my husband asked.

‘Well, no. But it means that maybe I’m doing something just a little bit right.’

Fast forward another couple of months and I’m supping coffee with the lovely editor and publisher of Firefly, trying my best to keep my bottom on the seat. We chatted about their ‘Dragonfly’ series and how they envisaged my manuscript fitting in. I left absolutely soaring.

Some edits later and a signed contract and ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ truly existed. I cried. I squealed. I danced. I leapt about. Luckily I was in the privacy of my own home, not at a meeting with my future publishers.

It is now a matter of waiting. The book will be illustrated, which is what’s being worked on at the moment. It’ll publish next year, I’m not certain of the exact date yet.

In the meantime, I have written an early-chapter book for 5-7 year olds and am close to finishing another young MG story. My biggest dream is to be able to write full time and although most days I despair that this will ever happen, I remind myself how I’ve already achieved one dream and that anything is possible as long as I don’t give up.

So, if you’re an aspiring writer and haven’t yet found the courage to submit, I hope this blog will give some inspiration. Believe in yourself and go for it!

Hwyl am y tro x

Lightning Sparks and Rolling Tumbleweed

tumbleweed (2)I’m a ‘fits and starts’ writer, which is odd as everywhere else in my life I’m neat and organised – always on time and an intense planner. But my writing is strangely unpredictable. When the lightning spark strikes, I’m away, oblivious to my surroundings and drowning in my words. This may last days, weeks if I’m lucky. Then it’s gone. And where yesterday words flowed freely, now rolls tumbleweed in a barren landscape.

When I first experienced this I went into panic overdrive. ‘My god, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I write? Am I dead?’ I would sit at my desk and stare teary-eyed at a blank screen. This could last days, weeks if I was unlucky. It terrified me.

But the more this happened, the more I came to accept that it’s just a part of me, a rather annoying part, like my fear of spiders and feet. So whereas I scream for my husband to remove a spider and make sure that I avert my eyes from any bare-footed soul, I knew I had to try and take a little control over this non-writing situation. In my head, these were my options :

  1. Just give up (NO WAY!)
  2. Just keep writing the WIP, even if it’s a load of foul-stenching rubbish (nope, I didn’t even have rubbish words in me).
  3. Leave it and start a new manuscript (can’t … once I start a job, have to get it finished before moving on).
  4. Leave it and write something completely different (hmmm …)

I started my writing journey with short stories, but always, always knew that I wanted to write for children. So whilst I wrote my first book I left my short-story writing to roll wistfully with my beloved tumbleweed. I then got caught up in the human-combustion levels of excitement of achieving my first book deal. Once I settled a bit (because I still find myself letting out a little squeal and doing a jaunty little skip every now and again) I got going on a new manuscript. The words flowed magically for a couple of months until I found myself once more in that lonely, crippling wilderness of self-doubt. The words were gone. Sucked out of me. And that’s when I grasped onto my fourth option.

So for the past two months I’ve been writing short stories. One, I’ve entered in a competition and it’s been shortlisted, some I’ve posted here. I also decided to give ‘flash fiction’ a go. I once won a competition for a 6-word story, so thought that 500 words should be achievable. It was tough but I enjoyed every second of the writing, hacking away till I was left with 498 words. To top it all off, my first attempt has been longlisted in this quarter’s ‘Flash 500’ competition.

With the buoyancy of these small successes, I found that my WIP started niggling away at me again. Then the lightning spark struck once more and I dived back in – energised and excited to be back. Can’t wait now to get the story finished. So, if you find yourself staring at a blank screen, maybe writing something completely different, something you’ve never tried before – a short story, a piece of flash, a poem, an article – may well be the impetus you need to get back into your rested WIP. I mean we all need a break from those we hold dearly every once in a while, don’t we? And they do say that ‘good things come to those who wait’ – as a writer, you so have to believe in that!

Hwyl am y tro x