Friday, 17 October 2014

Spooky stories getting darker!

Well its almost here-the time for publication of my third YA fantasy story Out of Time 3: The Cistercian! The official release date is 28th November but I have advance copies...many of them! Nothing makes the heart skip a beat more than unwrapping the new book for the first time! I am particularly pleased with this one as the cover is even more spectacular and mysterious than the previous two. 

I absolutely love the cover and it is just as I envisaged it-thanks to a talented young man called Stuart Appley who has a company called Comely Media. He is a great historian and is in tune with my ideas-as evidenced by the cover and the promo films he did previously. Equally, congratulations go to Troubador Publishing and their Matador imprint-the quality of the book is excellent once again.

So what of the story? Well without giving too much away (after all I do want you all to actually buy it) this is a darker and more desperate tale. The story focuses on the third sibling in Out of Time and we meet new and old characters. Another time frame is introduced and we explore a real event in the rich history of Furness Abbey, the notorious murder of Abbot L or J depending on which interpretation you use. The story culminates in a fight with the dark side to win the treasure but the end leaves the reader with a cliff hanger!

To celebrate the third book I will be signing at a range of venues; kicking off with Dalton Library and Waterstones in Barrow-in-Furness on Saturday 29th November. I will post further details soon and I will be engaging with schools in the Cumbria area, offering author days and workshops. In 2015 I will hopefully be extending my reach to other areas as well and if you would like me to visit your bookshop, school or group you can locate me on the new website - -again created by another talented person-Naomi Chadd of Windmill Websites.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The demise of heritage and my youth

Its been a funny old week of ups and downs and sadly ending on a down. Photos are coming in on social media of a fire at Parkview School-or as I know it the Grammar School! Its actually not a fire its a total conflagration. I feel so sad to see it end in this way-bad enough that it was to be demolished but to end this way in an arbitrary fire seems disrespectful somehow. I know there are people out there who saw it as a symbol of outmoded elitism-and maybe it was-but despite that and the strict regime we worked under-it holds fond memories for me.

I have a lot to thank my old school for-I loved much of it-and spent the rest of the time I scuttled about like a frightened rabbit. However, it gave me the chance to meet some life long friends and in the last few years we built relationships that cant be diluted or destroyed by absence, distance or time. The building itself was a grand affair that smacked of academia (or at least in my 11 year old mind it did), it echoed with the footsteps of girls who had gone on to do great things and it provided aspiration to girls from all backgrounds. Yes, it was selective, but that was the idea-it might seem flawed to us but it served its purpose at the time. To judge it with post-comprehensive eyes is to do it a disservice.  
Before-Janet my school pal and me outside the Grammar School

Personally I would have liked to have seen it preserved or conserved as it was a splendid building-and the Grammar Schools whether the detractors like it or not were important buildings in the history of the town-indeed two more lovely buildings wiped away-only preserved in photos. 
The fire tonight (courtesy Facebook)

Its a great loss and it pains me to see it go up in flames-one wonders who started it-it will certainly facilitate a speedier demolition and clearance, but whether vandals or others it has removed that final spark of hope that some element of it might be kept and remembered. I just hope that other important  building sites don't suddenly find themselves "accidentally" damaged to allow a speedier conclusion. I would hate to hear of an accidental excavation by a rogue digger up at Manor Rd ... but who knows? But that is another story for another day. So tonight it is goodbye to the old school and good bye to my youth... it kind of signals the final coming of age-bridges (or schools) burnt forever.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Just when you thought it was all over...

I am afraid I have not blogged for some time for a number of reasons-work, family and busy. I had hoped I would be jolly and philosophical but no I am back to being Mrs Angry of Barrow with a splash of Emmeline Pankhurst and Bouddicca! I apologise in advance!

Today three members of the press contacted me re the news that Story Homes had finally put in their planning for houses within the conservation area near to Furness Abbey on Manor Road. The outcry when their first proposal was introduced in March was huge! An online petition reached upwards of 2000 signatures very quickly and then individuals also sent opposing letters to the council planning department. Most local people were horrified that this small piece of green belt-the final piece on the approach to the amazing Furness Abbey was even being considered as a viable building site. At the preview of the plans Story Homes were arrogant in the extreme and certainly had no understanding of the local heritage. They openly admitted that they wanted to break into the Barrow area as we "don't have many homes of quality". Their original plans were for 50 homes with no special measures to safeguard the abbey perimeter wall and West Gate-with no provision for affordable housing.

After seeing the level of public opposition and indeed taking on board some of what was said-they tried to improve or streamline the plans-they had even suggested they would pop in a few affordable homes too. However this was not necessary because in the council housing plans for the district this was already catered for, they have dropped that and reduced it to 38 executive homes with upto 5 bedrooms-for workers who come to Barrow to work at BAE on new large contracts. So-not even for the local community. They have skipped over the heritage and environmental issues with a ludicrous "corridor" to protect the wall. Story Homes said it is confident the layout will alleviate any fears raised by the public about negative impact on the nearby Furness Abbey. Well actually the only possible way to do that is NOT to build at all! As for the flooding issues-these are rarely solved by adding more building which produces 50% more run off-and guess where it will all go? Yes down stream to the abbey itself!

They are trying to sweeten the pill by offering to create a playground in Barrow. Yeah...that will do it! Exchange a playground for a heritage conservation area! Perfect! After all we will all be admiring that in 900 years wont we?

Anyway the battle lines are drawn-so if you want to help please sign the petition and state why you are opposed-or it isn't valid!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Get Gove reading? Get him OUT!!!

Well I was planning a nice positive post today until I read about Gove's "brave new world" of literature! So out with the fluffy and in with the bloody battleaxe! And he has irritated my already painful shingles-I loathe this man-he is the anti-Christ...(allegedly!)

Channel 4 News posted a blog on Gove's prospective unveiling of the new literature curriculum and I could not believe what I read. Tough classics such as Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men", Miller's "The Crucible" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mocking Bird" are to be removed...mainly because "Gove doesn't like them" and because they are American!

Deep breaths while I hyperventilate! I want to scream... I want to shout... I want to rip his head off! What sort of decision making process is that? He doesn't like them? So what? So now education is to be designed to suit the negative, retro-grade and narrow viewpoint of just one man? Surely some civil servant or Junior Minister should be quietly tapping him on the shoulder and saying-"Gove, No! This is out of order!" Does nobody in the education department have a say? Do none of the academics who are involved in curriculum design have the guts to say no? How can a country's curriculum be designed around the whim of one man?

Apart from anything the reason these texts were included in the first place was because they taught life lessons and asked the right questions, giving young people the chance to understand and make decisions about some difficult concepts. I read "To Kill a Mocking Bird" at 14 and it hooked me immediately. This was then followed up by the excellent Gregory Peck film which opened up the idea that human beings can act in many different ways toward each other. The polarisation of the good and bad characters exemplifies what is still wrong in society and the story being told simplistically by the little girl Scout emphasises those themes. Its an amazing book and it opened my eyes to man's inhumanity to man, real danger, bigotry, prejudice, tolerance, fairness and justice. It can still do the same today and if read at  a young age cannot fail to promote empathy and the development of a sense of equality and fairness. To remove such texts because they are "American" is blatantly bigoted in itself.

To return the literature curriculum to mostly British and pre war is to limit and censor! It make literature a sterile subject with nothing current and new emerging! I love the classics and believe pupils should be given a taster, but they are not the whole "story" surely writing is constantly changing and developing  and we should celebrate and embrace all types of genres and authors?

I notice there has already been a retraction and fudging of the facts as written in the Telegraph article! Well I will wait to see the reality-there is usually no smoke without fire in Gove's case...and I still insist and demand somebody in the Department gets hold of him by his scrawny neck and give him a good talking to!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Three Years on

Just realised that its three years since the governmental axe fell on Playing for Success and therefore since I became redundant because Cumbria County Council no longer wanted to support it. Neither the government or the County Council examined the real viability or efficacy of the scheme-despite new research proving it was successful and effective for a wide range of children who needed an extra push. Even schools registered evidence of improvement in these children-but in these times of "austerity", politically based cut backs and an every man for himself attitude-these findings were brushed aside-oddly Mr Gove and co didn't recognise the was such a Labour initiative after all and the fact that it had run successfully for 13 years and there were already 162 centres UK wide was again deemed irrelevant.

Storytellers Project-a poetry walk

I was passionate about the job-as were my colleagues, we literally mourned the loss of this amazing project. Nobody could help-all expressed sorrow and dismay from teachers, pupils, parents to the football club we lived in and the local MP. So we moved on... a bit.

Two of us tried to continue with the help of Barrow AFC- but the sustainability and the funding was not there and we ended up with a half life. This had to be terminated, but we all gave our best but it just didn't work-nobody wanted to- or could pay...and as much as I was committed to the ethos-oddly I needed paying for work done! So my colleague and I went freelance. We run a small education business New Horizons Education Ltd  which has gained a good reputation for running small projects and training Teaching Assistants-but is limited in range.
Reading at Chipping Storytelling Festival

The day following redundancy my first book was published. This has been an exciting roller coaster ride-a total innocent in terms of understanding either publishing or book selling I went in blind! I have learnt much and now at book number 4 I am more aware of the pit falls and have isolated my deficits-marketing being one. I have discovered that as a 50 something woman I have the same self-esteem issues as the children I helped via PFS! Strange- because out of my comfort zone I am just as vulnerable as they were. I am about to publish number 3 in the Out of Time series and realise the necessary things I have to do. I have been advised to sing my own praises-something I have never been comfortable with-but apparently nobody will believe in me if I don't myself! Its not that I don't believe in me-but I find it a bit crass and rude to mention it out loud! A bit... American? A bit boastful? Well here goes...lets bite the bullet-
I am a popular (yes you are... at least Cumbria wide) author (yes-you do write and have published books-so that's an author isn't it?) and I write really good books that people love and enjoy (no bad reviews (good reviews), constant sales over 3 years, "fans" adult and children alike, a good following, a publisher who believes in me...So, now to the next stage-onward and upward...

Do you want to buy a book? or

Briefing FAF volunteers before the Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey

Evaluating the last three years-some good some bad-done things I would never have done while still in full employment, met lots of new and interesting people, visited amazing schools and children, I drive the work, I follow many personal interests and have developed fantastic partnerships-although not from an employment stance- I am working in heritage(alongside and with English Heritage) for a place I'm passionate about- Furness Abbey and Barrow in Furness which is rewarding. Ok its not so financially secure, but its never dull, I'm always busy, but I have flexibility so can follow my dreams, spend time helping with grandchildren, and can learn so much more and try new things. So although I'm not keen on the "self-employed" idea-on balance-the experience is exciting if terrifying- a bit like a roller coaster ride. Well everyone should be scared at least once a day!
 Having fun at the abbey with grandsons

Oh and don't forget DYSTONIA-a charity I've worked voluntarily for over 16 years... about to do the 9th Keswick to Barrow Walk for dystonia... and its going to rain...but on the bright side you can STILL sponsor me for the 40 miles of sheer hell that it will be in torrential Lakeland rain

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Drowning in a sea of litter

Picnic detritus
I was walking to Furness Abbey yesterday-picture it-blue sky, green grass, blossom emerging and families taking advantage of the sun. I walked past a group of young people who were picnicking with their children. Laughter rang through the air, children played and ran freely and safely-a picturesque scene! As I neared the group of about a dozen people I shrank a little... foul language and expletives filled the air... unfortunate! However, I decided not to be judgmental and gritted my teeth hoping my 4 year old grandson didn't hear or repeat any of the words-after all it was lovely to see families enjoying the sun.

We continued on and enjoyed our trip to the abbey. On the way back-at about 4-30pm the amphitheatre had cleared and was quiet again. Imagine my horror when I approached the scene above. No family... but every item of picnic rubbish left exactly where they had dropped it. I was furious and at the same time incredulous! If you appreciate a place for its beauty and visit it, why would you leave such a horrible mess? Once again I despaired of my fellow townsfolk!

I posted on Facebook about this and the response was overwhelming. Everyone deplored it-everyone taught their children to pick up rubbish, a range of names was used to describe the culprits and generally suggestions for punishment ranged from the cane to tazering!

So what is happening to society? Surely everyone can appreciate a tidy clean environment? I cannot imagine how anyone can stand up and walk away from empty pop bottles, litter and other rubbish without shame, embarrassment or guilt! So where is it going wrong? What can we do to remediate this? Some suggest more education-schools are already overwhelmed. Others suggest penalties-fines and the like...but you have to catch people first. Then there is the litter pick idea-which we will have to resort to-but then that is devolving responsibility to others who are not to blame for the mess in the first place. Its quite sad that people cant see the value of caring for the countryside. SO next time you see someone littering-shout at them! I will!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Lets educate the embryos

Oh dear... just when I thought I could be positive and blog nicely- Mr Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw comes out of the woodwork and announces that pre-school education is failing the poorest children in the UK. He goes on to say that pre-schoolers are unprepared for school, have poor language and can't hold a pen properly...oh and they can't identify numbers!

Dreadful isn't it? Or is it? What exactly does this mean? The assumption that most poor children are badly served by pre school education is a little bit simplistic. We are assuming that the lack of preparedness is all down to the provision... of course lack of stimulation and support at home might have a teeny bit to do with it... or lack of opportunity from financial limits within the home... or parents who have never had adequate role models as children themselves-so perpetuating the issues above. Admittedly, these issues need addressing but its the parents who need the help as much as the children-and we did have something called Surestart for this didn't we?

Moving swiftly on-wouldn't want this to become political... are we wishing to eradicate childhood completely? We are seriously talking about formal education from two years are we? With testing and assessment no doubt? I feel that we are forgetting those children who are not ready-or are immature. I have varying views on pre school-mainly drawn from experience with my own children and grand children and from my teaching career. Certainly, there is a place for it and many parents have to rely upon early years provision because they work, but should we be forcing toddlers into formal learning? Whatever happened to experiential child centred learning? Oh I forgot...Mr Gove happened! My three children all nurtured in exactly the same way produced three very different responses to nursery and Reception education.

Number 1 son- was shy, quiet and lacking in confidence-not great at socialising. We lived in the East End of London and in a multi cultural multi ethnic environment. He began nursery at 3. He took to it like a duck to water. He enjoyed it, interacted, learned to be sociable, grew in confidence and when Son number 2 arrived two weeks after his 3rd birthday he relished the time away and never missed. He struggled in Reception but then fond his feet higher up the school and is now a communicator and journalist. So one point in favour of pre-school education.

Number 2 son-was outgoing, boisterous, inquisitive and demanding-we moved back north to a lovely local pre-school, rural setting not much diversity. I had to drag him kicking and screaming every single day. Socially he was fine, educationally a kinaesthetic learner, a bit of a disparity between verbal learning and written-but hated every moment of pre-school-indeed only really enjoyed school at Sixth Form level. He was found to have dyslexic tendencies at age 17-always seemed to under achieve-until University and then came out with a good 2:1-like his brother.

Daughter-late addition-went to pre-school at 2.5years. Loved everything, confident, quick, read at 3, counted added, subtracted by 4-a natural! Socialised well and enjoyed her time. Now at University in 2nd year Journalism degree.

I can't account for any of these reactions-we did the same things with each, they all had opportunities and child centred provision-but had either of the boys been channelled into a regime of formalised learning we would probably have lost them. Its all a matter of readiness individually and remember these children are very young-plus each cohort has a wide year age difference so why would we expect them to have the same bench marks and achievements? I realise my children had the advantages many are not lucky enough to have-but the variety of maturity and readiness is immense without the socio-economic problems many are beset by. Many have never eve learned to play and to experience things-they haven't been read to, or played with-Wilshaw is correct in this-but surely the problem must first lie with remediating the parents? Surely much of the input in early years must be their job not pre-schools and minders? Some of these parents are products of the exact same issues their children are experiencing and the pattern of inadequate parenting must be addressed by educating the parents-not formalising pre-school education.

I have grave doubts that Mr Wilshaw has even considered talking to the many excellent professionals who lead Early Years. Let them take the lead-I don't oppose nursery and pre-school education but please let it be child-centred rather than data driven and formal! I don't want my grandchildren processed like meat in a sausage factory-I want a safe, inspiring, interesting environment for them to play, experience , experiment and enjoy-let early years education have some of that old sparkle and magic-a little bit of awe and wonder. Or is that too much to ask? Perhaps we ought to hothouse babies as they leave the womb and get them working... and then there's the embryos....
                                          Creative and imaginative outdoor play Early Years