A Lesson in Anticipation

In a few days Basil, the evil overlord/cat, will be leaving us and returning to live with my parents after three and a half years, which means that today I had to venture into our shed to collect his things.

Our shed. Draped in cobwebs, as though someone decorated for Halloween a decade ago and just added to them every year, rather than taking them down. Our shed, humming with the last requests of brown bodied flies, dusty moths and bright winged butterflies. Our shed, crawling with eight legged creatures.

And so I clamber up the ladder. The shelf where we’ve bundled Basil’s stuff is just above my eye line. We didn’t bother to pack anything into plastic boxes, instead blankets, beds and balding cat toys are draped in dusty threads of silk. My neck prickles as though eight tiny feet are scuttling over it. Something brushes across my hair and my stomach twists like a balloon animal.

I reach my hand over the edge of the shelf and…

Well actually nothing very spectacular happens. No spiders leap out at me, this isn’t Arachnophobia after all. But I did get a good lesson in the power of anticipation. The fear that, at any second, I would wrap my hand around a big fat spider was much worse than the reality would have been.

Which applies to fiction as well, doesn’t it? Will the heroine escape the psycho murderer? Will the prince fall for the beautiful but outspoken peasant? Will the rocket full of model/scientists disappear into the sun without a trace? We don’t know, but we want to know and that’s what keeps us turning the pages or watching the movie.

Hopefully I’ll remember to apply this lesson to my own writing. Maybe I can revisit a few horror movies for a refresher in anticipation. But NOT Arachnophobia. I’ve had enough of spiders for a while.

Put out your bats…

If you live in a cricketing country then you’ll probably have heard of the sad passing of Phil Hughes. Whether you follow the cricket or not, the loss of a young man in such a random way is heart wrenching, and the grief of people from all walks of life and across generations is a powerful example of our shared humanity.

Personally I don’t follow the cricket, the only thing more boring is golf and televised parliamentary sittings, and it would be wrong of me to pretend that I knew anything of Phil Hughes’ career. But I do know the impact he had on my husband, a man known for his reserve, who is a true cricket fan and an avid fan of Phil Hughes. A man who was truly shocked, stunned and saddened by Phil Hughes’ unexpected death.

From an authors perspective, it’s interesting to observe human nature and behaviour at times like this and, when emotions are new and sharp, to notice feelings and thoughts that you might otherwise have ignored. It’s an education to see how shared grief (or shared joy, fear, anger etc.) is expressed both publicly and on a personal level.

From a persons perspective my heart goes out to Phil Hughes’ family and friends and also to Sean Abbott and his friends and family who are undoubtedly going through a difficult time.

Five Reasons Experience is the Best Teacher You’ll Ever Have

Everyone knows that we learn best through experience and here are my five reasons why:

1) Experience is Patient

Eventually, even the most dedicated teachers have to draw a line is the sand and say that there’s no more time to learn something. Be it because the student just isn’t getting it, or because the end of the year looms and there simply isn’t any more time left. But this isn’t the case with Experience. Experience is patient. It might take you years to finally get the lesson but that’s ok with Experience. It’s in it for as long as it takes.

I’ve written three complete manuscripts in the last five years but only one has ever made it to a point where I would consider it ready for submission. That’s thousands and thousands of words and countless hours but the experience of writing has (and will continue) to make me a better writer.

2: Experience Can Be Cruel to be Kind

Some experiences just suck. That break up, this unflattering orange top, that weekend when you painted the kitchen and dropped a can of paint all over the floor (that was last weekend for me), all these experiences and a thousand more I haven’t mentioned are not nice. But, just like the friend that tells you that your bum does look big in that skirt, Experience knows that sometimes it’s better to take the knock and learn from it now, than to keep making the same mistakes.

3. Experience Teaches the Individual

When I was teaching, my colleagues and I put a lot of emphasis on individualised learning experiences. That’s because everyone learns differently. Experience knows this and naturally tailors its lessons to suit you. So, you’re not the only one in the world who needs to learn that rejection isn’t the end of the world, but your experience of that will be unique to you.

4. Experience Doesn’t Hand Out Grades

Grades are basically a benchmark based on what others think we should be able to do. In other words, they compare us to each other. But Experience doesn’t care about what other people your age can do, it only cares about what you can do. Experience will never tell you  that you’ve failed, because Experience knows learning is about growth, not grades.

5. Experience Really Does Want What’s Best for You

No matter how loud you yell at Experience or how hard you slam your door, Experience is still on your side. It may seem mean and unfair but Experience is pushing you to grow. Spent three hours putting up shelves only to find they’re as level as a slide? Next time you’ll use a spirit level. And while you may be cursing Experience (and shelves, your spouse and gravity in general), Experience has taught you a valuable lesson.


So, what has Experience taught you?

So…Here’s a weird question…

I have a strange question, and if you’re a medical professional or someone with experience in this that would be even better…

In a survival situation (let’s say lost in the wilderness or something along those lines) how is a woman’s menstrual cycle affected?

I know this is a strange question but Bear Grylls doesn’t stop in between eating bugs and making rope ladders out of vines to say, “and ladies, if it’s that time of the month…” so I would appreciate your ideas.

I have done a little bit of research which has alerted me to just how lucky I am…women living in refugee camps and women living in prisons in some parts of the world really struggle without sanitary napkins and other things my mum always referred to as ‘essentials’.

But there is no information (that I can find) about the menstrual experiences of woman who are forced into a survival situation.

So what do you think? And, why do you think it? Do you have experience in this area (either academically or personally). I would love to hear all your thoughts.

Do you swear?

Do you swear?

Most of us do although there may be different contexts. An accident, a flaring temper, fear, excitement, a few drinks – these things can make even the most mild mannered person drop a four letter word.

The company we find ourselves in can also influence our choice of language. I would never swear in front of my grandma or my children, I would only swear in front of my parents if no other word could convey the feeling I wanted to get across. I swear pretty freely with my friends and they with me. When I meet up with friends who are also mums, and without the children, we use language that could shock … well probably no one would be particularly shocked these days but still, it’s pretty bad. I suspect it’s a relief valve, we’re so careful around the terrors darlings that when they’re not around we can let fly.

And, of course, teenagers swear – probably for the same reason as the mothers of young children. I have yet to meet a teenager (and in a past life I was a high school teacher) that doesn’t swear amongst their peers, even if it’s only occasionally.

And so, here’s the question – should there be swearing in books aimed at young adults? When your seventeen year old protagonist is running from murderous thugs, is it acceptable for him to drop a few dirty words? Or is swearing in young adult fiction a no go? And if it is, what do you replace it with? I would love to hear what you think.



What Makes a Family?

I enjoy writing children’s picture books. B1 in particular gives me any number of ideas for new stories and I can then share them with my own little ones.

Invariably though, if I write a story with a family, there’s a mum and a dad. This is probably because I grew up in a ‘traditional’ family. My parents have been married for over forty years, and when I say ‘parents’ a mean my mum and my dad.

But there are lots of different types of families. Families with two dads or two mums, families with single parents, families with grandparents as guardians. All sorts of different families providing children with happy, healthy, loving homes.

So, does that mean there should be more diversity in the families portrayed in children’s picture books? I think so but I’m curious what you think.

And to be honest, I’ve never written a story with same sex parents. I’m nervous about hijacking a story, which is aimed at entertaining children, with a statement aimed at parents. But that said, it would be nice if diverse families were represented more…

…and didn’t even make us blink.

Pieces of String is Changing…

When I started this blog it was with the intention of posting stories for children and young adults. I hoped that parents would find free stories that they could share with their littlies here. But, as is often the case, Pieces of String evolved in a different way.

For one thing, I just couldn’t keep up a constant flow of stories which were also of a quality that I would feel comfortable sharing. Not between writing a novel and caring for a family. For another, some of the ideas I had for the blog were never really fulfilled, they became little more than menu headings.

So, Pieces of String is going to go through a bit of a change and become more of an author website. Hopefully, one day, I’ll have people who have read an actual book that I’ve written visiting the site. Let me take a minute to picture that…YES!

The stories and crafts (or should I say craft) are going to be moving to my other site but my observations, writing progress, and questions will remain and be ongoing.

To all those people who followed my site from the beginning – I can’t tell you how grateful I am and I hope you stick with me.


Today is my mum’s birthday (happy birthday Mum!) and I suspect Mum has had a wide range of birthdays. This year she is celebrating in England with my dad (who is also her husband, so that’s handy) and her twin sister (hi Aunty Trudy), but she’s spent plenty of birthdays without Dad, who works away, and plenty of birthdays with her kids – which I suspect was not always the gift you’d think. After all, even on your birthday, children demand need attention and care. Not just love, which is fairly easy to dish out any day of the year, but they need to be clothed, fed, woken up (if they’re teenagers), sent to bed (if they’re little ones), bathed, played with, refereed. The list goes on. So while I’m sure she would love to have us all with her (especially now we’re adults and can more or less feed, dress and bathe ourselves) I’m also sure she’s enjoying having a day that really is all about her (and Aunty Trudy of course).

But the thing is, because my mum was the sort of mum who gave me (and my siblings) time and energy and attention and affection and love, every single day of the year, I really miss her. Today especially because I would love to give her a present and have a meal with her. It’s something I’m really looking forward to when she and Dad are finally in the same time zone as I am. Which makes me wonder, will I ever stop needing my mum? If I need her now, when I’m thirty and have children of my own, is there ever a time when I’ll have outgrown my mum’s hugs and chats and advice?

I hope not.

And I hope B1 and B2 never do either.

So happy birthday Mum. Have a wonderful day. You deserve it.

And Dad, I miss you as well.



Books that make me cry…and why that’s ok.

When I was a kid, probably about ten or eleven, my mum sat on the hard wooden floor in my bedroom and read The Lord of the Rings to me and my younger brother. For much of the book I sobbed my little eyes out. From the moment Sam has to leave the pony, through each harrowing description of death and deceit, I balled. Gandalf falling into the Abyss? Almost. Broke. Me.

And that’s why I love the Lord of the Rings. Because it had me by the heart.

Little Woman is my favourite book of all time (that may say something about me) and when Beth dies…I can’t talk about it.

The Animals of Farthing Wood…a group of animals making their way across England to a wildlife sanctuary. What could go wrong?

The point is, getting emotionally involved in a story is what makes it worth reading. In many of the books and programs that my own children now enjoy conflict of any kind is kept to a minimum. Races always end in a tie. Arguments always end in an apology. Naughty, rude, little piggies characters always end up gently reprimanded and then jump in muddy puddles are given ice cream. And this is fine for now because B1 and B2 are only 4 and 2 years old.

But I’m looking forward to the day when we can enjoy a good book together…and cry over it.

p.s. Thanks Mum, by the way.

I’m a bad person because…

I’m a bad person because I want to get off Facebook because I don’t really care about other people.

I know. Of all the dark and despicable deeds in the world it’s hardly worth mentioning. But the realisation that I’m just not that interested in others and their lives goes against a basic assumption that I’ve always made about myself – that I’m a selfless, caring, person.

Partly I know it’s a personality thing. While it might seem a ridiculous claim for someone who blogs to make, I don’t really like sharing my private thoughts and feelings in a public forum and I find the comments and status updates of those who do a bit unnerving. I know this is simply a personality clash – online as in the real world there are people who gush like a tap on full blast and then there are those people more like a tap that’s been rusted off for years. They’ll only open up given the right lubricant (usually wine or beer). I fall somewhere in the middle. I can overshare at times but not to a complete stranger on the bus.

On Facebook I don’t share pictures of my children because I feel this opens them up to people I don’t know and who might use those pictures in unsavoury ways. I try to steer clear of being political or controversial – my mum always told me not to discuss politics, religion or money with people and I apply to this rule equally to Facebook as I do to my real world relationships. The exception being good friends and family, because always agreeing would be so dull. And I rarely comment on other people’s status updates simply because between B1 and B2, my husband, my writing and the evil overlord cat, I don’t have a lot of time.

But other people, of course, are different. They share their hopes, dreams and worries. They share photos of their kids, their accomplishments, their illnesses, their failures and how crap (or otherwise) their teacher is. They make political statements. They condemn some and laud others. They make annoying philosophical comments which then encourages others to make comments like, ‘oh hun. wots rong?’ *shudder*

And the artificial intimacy created by a forum such as Facebook maintains relationships that might otherwise have fizzled out. It’s like thawing and refreezing and thawing and refreezing a friendship. And we all know how that well that works out with chicken.

So why, you may be screaming at your computer, don’t I just pull the plug? After all, no one is forcing me to read other people’s Facebook posts.

Partly it’s because I don’t want to be a bad person. Or, more accurately, be seen as being a bad person who doesn’t care about the lives and interests of others.

And partly it’s because I don’t want to miss out. Increasingly friends, actual friends who I actually see in real life, communicate only through Facebook. Party invites, birth announcements, job promotions, and the list goes on, are all put on Facebook. If I’m not…how will I know these things? This poses some difficult questions about friendship that I’m not ready to face yet…but will wake me up at 3am.


So, tell me, how Facebook savvy are you? And how much do you share or not share? And do you have any tips for me on finding Facebook zen?