Saturday, 3 December 2022

RESEARCH ON FIRE by Sharon Tregenza

One of my WIPs 'THE WHISPER WOOD' features a fire-setting child and I was told that publishers would probably be a little twitchy about that. 

I still liked the idea, so I wondered if I could flip that concern around by getting some feedback from the professionals. I contacted Avon Fire and Rescue Service and explained my problem. I got the most enthusiastic and helpful reply.

A meeting was set up at the Bath Fire Station with Rachel Stewart, the Children and Young Person's Advisor, Risk Reduction Avon Fire and Rescue Service.

When I got there not only had Rachel read the whole ms she had printed it out and marked places where she thought she could help. I had a tour of the fire station and came away with lots of invaluable nuggets of information and knowledge.

When she couldn't help with questions about the psychological aspect of fire-setting in children, she sent off an email to CAHMS and this week Dr Andrew Newman, the Consultant Clinical Psychologist Community Forensic CAMHS, had a zoom meeting with me to answer those. That these professional people took the time out of their busy lives to answer my questions was amazing. That they did it with such enthusiasm, was a joy.

Friday, 2 December 2022

The folly of youth By Steve Way


I was recently reading a compilation of articles by former school inspector Gervase Phinn, which included many examples of the innocent but hilarious sayings of some of the primary school children he had come across. It made me think about a time when I caused my primary school head teacher to fall backwards, helplessly laughing as a result of something I said. I would be interested to know if you remember naively and unintentionally causing merriment for the teachers or adults around you. (I note that Mr Hayden was crouching down on the grass in front of us, where we were all sitting, so he came to no harm – it was more of a backwards roll than a fall.)

There are usually more disadvantages than advantages in having a surname that begins with a letter towards the end of the alphabet. Perhaps if I’d had less time to stew on my conundrum, I might not have uttered such nonsense… perhaps.

“I need you to remind me what colour your house is,” Mr Hayden had said. Mr Hayden was often responsible for teaching us maths, so I thought we were doing some kind of a survey. Only very rarely at our school did we split into one of four ‘houses’ of different colours, mainly only sports day in fact (which at the time was only a few weeks away hence, as it turned out the Head’s question.)

Of course, right from the start, I had got the wrong end of the stick but I had an added dilemma. My parents, well in this case my dad, had recently repainted the outside of the house. Naturally, I had no say in the matter but even at my tender age I didn’t like the nondescript boring colour they had chosen. Not being one of the standard primary colours I wasn’t sure how to describe it.

While I was struggling with this dilemma, I became vaguely aware of two things. One was that my classmates seemed to live in houses that were painted in only a narrow range of colours, all of them primary and that at least one of them appeared to have got the colour of their house wrong. One lad who lived in the same road as us answered ‘red’ but I was certain that each day on my way to school I passed a blue coloured garage and front door.

Another corner of my fevered brain was struggling with the idea that Mr Hayden had asked to be ‘reminded’ of the colour of our houses. He was a conscientious teacher, one of the best in fact, but I couldn’t quite fathom why at any time he needed to know what the colour of our house happened to be.

Eventually, it was my turn to answer. I thought I had at last found a solution to my primary quandy. I’d decided upon a way of describing the new colour my parents had used.

“Well… it’s a sort of coffee colour…” I said warily, still wondering how Mr Hayden would be able to incorporate this unusual shade into his survey.

It was as Mr Hayden was falling backwards helplessly and my classmates were either laughing at me or looking at me wondering what planet I was actually inhabiting at this moment (I think they often wondered that) that the penny dropped. Finally I understood why Paul, or whatever his name was, said his house was red when it was definitely painted blue.

Of course by then it was too late.

My answer, should you be at all interested should have been yellow.

Though I sometimes wonder if I should have been able to represent ‘a sort of coffee colour’ house all of my own.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

SOUNDING OFF - OR ON? by Penny Dolan

The first of December, and my mind is full of music. After no live music for ages, three events come along almost at once. Must be the season.

                            - Broadside by Bellowhead (2012-10-30) - Music

All the evenings are different, in style and in location. The first was the twelve-piece folk band Bellowhead bringing their magnificent Broadside Album Anniversary Concert to our local Conference Centre. The second, Frost*, was a four-piece prog-rock band, who noodled impressively at a rambling social club in a run-down area of Leeds while the third is a duo: the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist/collaborator Harry Baker, with a mix of folk, jazz and classical piece, in a trendy bar beside Leeds College of Music.

So much music, so close together. The host of sounds and songs floating through my head will take a while to separate and settle and so I am glad I have this post to write today. 

Doing any “real writing” when music is playing is almost impossible. I need to hear the sounds of the words in my head, to listen to the cadences and the patterns, to the rhythm and flow. I like working in silence in a place of peace and quiet, where anything that happens is on the page or screen, not in the living space around me. Such a silence is, I know, an impossible luxury for many.  Also, if something unexpected is happening, or someone is about, I really do want to know. Is this a basic insecurity or the effect of too many scary books and movies? I like silence.

On the other hand, some writers seem to need music for the work to happen. They love having sound about them. They have favourite musicians and pieces that inspire them, that sets the writing mood. I have heard writers talk about create playlists for a specific project, of choosing tracks to match the themes, characters or period of their story and seen that it is clearly an essential part of their creative process.

Does the music create the right mood to begin work or do the sounds act as aural guidelines while they work, or do both purposes become one?

Of course, music can also have a very practical purpose. Music creates a wall of sound or auditory block between the writer, writing, and the real life happening beyond that circumference. Music acts as if it can protect the writer from all the uncomfortable demands and surprises that affect the flow of ideas., allowing them to escape into their own thought and process. Ah, the blessed power of modern headphones . . .

                                        Music Piano Keys · Free image on Pixabay

Then there’s also the matter of “sound” itself. - or sounds, human or natural. Some people who like working alone do not like to feel alone. They like being by themselves but not by themselves. They prefer having the sense and sound of an undemanding noise going on around them, an indication of a social world around them, and subtle signs that they are not locked into solitary confinement.

Before the pandemic, writing in coffee shops was a Thing to Do. Confined, some writers began writing to sound effects. They commented on the quiet clink and chatter of an illusory coffee shop, or the sounds of rain and water and the sea while among domestic comfort or wide woodland spaces without the unexpected peskiness of insects. A more comfortable "reality."

                                                    forest glade in shade of the trees Free Stock Photo | FreeImages 

While such sound effects didn’t work for me, there were and still are wonderful Writing Room zoom groups, where real writers greet each other on screen and then write for a set period of time with a fifteen minutes of chat afterwards. These, I have found in the past, are enjoyable and useful - and maybe a practice for after the festivities? Oddly enough, even though the sound button is muted, I am sure I can hear all the ideas gathering and ticking their way down into everybody’s work while we are together. And that is an encouraging and inspiring sound!

So now I'm wondering:

Are you someone who uses music around your writing? While you are writing? 

What do you listen to? What do you rush to turn off? 

Do you create personal playlists for your books or simply use a genre to inspire you?

Are you still stuck with a coffee shop app or do you welcome the sound of a real world library space? Or avoid any accompanying real world chatter?

All I know is that as I sit alone in my workroom early on the first of December, I hear the hum of the desktop, the as-yet disappointed click of the cat flap, and the creaking wheels of the much-welcomed oil radiator tucked tightly at my back. Silence is rarely silence.

Have a happy, peaceful and maybe musical December.

Penny Dolan


Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Something to think about

It's been a rough few weeks of late, and inspiration is currently low.

I wanted to write something though, however short, and as I was hunting around, I came across this quote from William Maxwell.* He's best known for being a fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine from 1936–1975. I've found it both a comfort and a strange source of inspiration. It's certainly given me something to think about.

'I don't think writer's block is anything more than a loss of confidence. It certainly isn't a loss of talent.'

* His full name was William Keepers Maxwell, which I find rather lovely.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Five-Minute Magical Journey by Kelly McKain


I love oracle cards. I use them a lot for myself, with friends and family, and in my other role as an intuitive guide and energy healing facilitator. I'm just about to add breathwork facilitator to that side of things too, as I've almost completed my training!

I also love oracle cards when I'm in author mode... especially cards with gateways, portals and paths in them.

If you've got five minutes, I invite you to come on a magical journey with me (yes, you can bring a cup of tea, and the biscuits LOL!).

I was recently gifted these beautiful cards - the Earth Alchemy Oracle by Katie-Jane Wright and Nikki Strange. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and they seem to have a really strong atmosphere around them. I felt connected with them right away, and that connection keeps unfolding layer by layer as I get to know them. 

So, grab a pen, we're going into the secret garden...

Take a few deep breaths and feel your body on the chair, or whatever is supporting you. Give yourself permission to have five minutes of creative play, with no aim or attachment to outcome. You don't have to find your next middle-grade novel LOL! As you take the journey, just go where you're led and allow whatever comes to you to come to you. You don't have to answer all the prompts, they're just there to help you. OK, off we go...

Stare at the card for a little while, breathing. You're in this beautiful garden. Feel it around you. What are the sights and sounds, the smells, and sensations on your skin? What are you wearing? How old are you? Take it all in and write it down for about a minute.

Now, you're going to walk through the gateway. How do you feel as you prepare to do this? What or whom do you think might be on the other side? Write this down for another minute. Let whatever comes to you pour out of you, it doesn't have to make sense.

Walk through the gateway. Describe what it's like on the other side. What do you see, smell, hear, and how do you feel? Is someone, or an animal, waiting for you? Do they have a message for you? Write about all this for a minute.

Something in the garden catches your eye and you go and investigate it. What is it? What happens when you pick it up? What does it do? What does it mean? Write it down...

Now, bringing the thing with you if you like, say goodbye to anyone you met in the garden, and step back through the gate when you're ready. Feel yourself fully back in the chair, in the room. Write down anything else you would like to. Take a deep breath, stretch. Feel more magical, creative and alive than before!

It can be fun to do this with friends and then share your journeys together, and having someone read out the instructions works well too. 

Have fun! Happy magical journeying!

Loads of love, Kelly xxx

The Feeling Good Club out now!

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Summative and Formative by Claire Fayers

 I was wondering what to write for my blog post this month when my husband mentioned the terms summative and formative. People who work in education will probably know what they mean. A summative assessment is a means of measuring how much a student has learned, while a formative assessment measures how well the student is learning. Because formative work doesn't count towards a student's degree, the academics often complain that students don't do it. From the student's point of view, summative work means something you get a reward for doing, and formative work is the stuff you can safely ignore.  

We were talking about this because I happened to mention writing competitions. Are they summative or formative? Competitions offer a reward and everyone enters hoping to win, but the act of creating a piece of work to a specific brief and sending it out into the world, is surely formative, especially for writers early in their careers.

I ran a workshop for teenagers recently. Many of them had been writing for years and were at the point where they could really benefit from the experience of sending their work out. Competitions are an obvious route for them, but they were frustrated at the lack of competitions for people in their age group. Many of us work with young people so I wondered if this is something we can help with. (If anyone knows of any writing competitions for young people, by the way, please put them in the comments and I'll pass them on.) 

 Then, if competitions for young people are primarily formative, then wouldn't it be good if the prizes were formative too? A cash prize or the more dubious prize of free publication, might give a much-needed confidence boost but it would be even more valuable to offer a prize that would help develop the writer's skills. Earlier this year, I helped judge the Abergavenny Writing Festival's competition for young people. The prize was an afternoon of workshops with three leading Welsh authors and poets. Twelve young people receiving intensive writing coaching - I wish I could have sat in on it myself. 

We tend to become more focussed on summative rewards as we progress in out careers. Contracts, advance payments, fees. They are necessary things if we want to make some sort of a living out of writing. But I'm pondering two questions this morning. What can I do to help young writers develop their skills, and what am I doing for my own development?

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Elizabeth Goudge - by Sue Purkiss and (mostly) Carol Lefevre

 A few weeks ago, I was in Wells, my nearest (very small) city, when, walking past this beautiful house, I noticed a blue plaque on the wall outside it. As you see, Elizabeth Goudge once lived here. 

People don't talk about Elizabeth Goudge much these days. But I remember reading some of her books years ago and thoroughly enjoying them: Green Dolphin Country was one, and The Dean's Watch was another. I'd always imagined the setting of the latter to be Wells, but I didn't realise that it actually was.

I decided I should find out more about her, realising that I knew practically nothing. Then a few days later, imagine my surprise when an email dropped into my inbox about a new book, a sequel to another of Goudge's books - one I remember my daughter loved listening to: The Little White Horse. Would I be interested in hosting a blog post by the author of the book? Yes, I most certainly would.

Here it is - and it's fascinating. Many thanks to Carol, and to Emily Beater for arranging.


When The Last Page of a Cherished Book is Not The End

Carol Lefevre

By writing a sequel to a famous, prize-winning, classic children’s book, I may appear to have come to children’s literature via a sneaky back door, but I can promise, hand on heart, that from start to finish The Silver Moth was a labour of love. When I began writing it, I was so carried away with my plan that I hadn’t even realised I would need permission. However, I quickly learned that I couldn’t just return to Moonacre many years after the original book was set (by which time Maria Merryweather had grown up and become a sprightly, still-elegant grandmother) to begin my own telling of what took place there during the First World War.

With this realisation began the process of approaching the Trustees of Elizabeth Goudge’s Estate for their blessing, which in time I received. And it was a great thrill to be given this chance, because as a child The Little White Horse had been more to me than a book: it was a private world I partly lived in.

I think what affected me most as a child reader was the romance of the room that belonged to the orphaned Maria MerryweatherI don’t know how many times I read the chapter in which she is introduced to her tower bedroom with its child-sized door, its vaulted ceiling that culminates in a sickle moon and stars, but it worked its magic on me then, and it still has power over me now.

In those days my family lived in remote parts of Australia. Photographs from that time show that the houses we occupied were plain, and there were few luxuries. Playmates, too, were scarce, so books became my friends. As a solitary child, pets were also valued companions, and I was quick to bond with Elizabeth Goudge’s enchanted animal characters.

The Little White Horse and I became inseparable, for with Elizabeth Goudge’s love of beautiful places and her genius for detail, she had conjured another world for me, one in which houses and food and clothing were never utilitarian but were transformed by her pen into a kind of poetry. When you love a book, and inhabit it thoroughly, it becomes part of you, and the last page is never really the end.


Born in England in 1900 in the cathedral city of Wells, Elizabeth Goudge was twelve years younger than Virginia Woolf, though from her writing she might have been a good deal older. Her father was a theologian and her mother a native of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and the combination of this with being an only child seems to have instilled in the young Elizabeth the Edwardian sensibility she would retain for the rest of her life.

A theologian’s genteel daughter she may have been, but it is inconceivable that, as a female novelist writing in the early 20th century, Elizabeth Goudge did not read Virginia Woolf. In 1928 She may even have attended Woolf’s Cambridge lectures at Newnham and Girton Colleges that would be published the following year as A Room of One’s Own.  What convinces me of this is that in her own quiet way Elizabeth Goudge made such rooms a real possibility for both her female heroines and her readers.

Not only did Maria Merryweather take ownership of the room with the sickle moon and stars, but in Linnets and Valerians, written twenty years after The Little White Horse, Nan Linnet, a classic Goudge heroine – brave, sweet-natured, adventurous and yet reflective – becomes the recipient of a perfect little parlour. And it was through such gifts that readers like me (still too young to have heard of Virginia Woolf) began to dream of something for ourselves that, until then, would have seemed an impossible extravagance.

Elizabeth Goudge wrote The Little White Horse through the dark days of the Second World War. It was said to be her own favourite of her books, and perhaps this was because of the escape that writing it must have provided her from the awfulness of daily life at that time. As it turns out, daily life in our own time is no less alarming, and we could all still do with a good dash of magic.

What better place to adjourn to then than a valley where a unicorn still lingers? Throw in a gathering of gypsies, a little aeroplane hidden in a farmer’s field, and a forbidding castle that a young heroine must brave alone for the noblest of reasons. Although The Silver Moth is set during the First World War and does not ignore its immense darkness, there is still plenty of loveliness at Moonacre. I hope it will bring new readers to The Little White Horse, and that in time it will become well-loved for its own magic.


The Silver Moth, a sequel to The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, was published by SPCK on the 23rd September 2022, and is available to purchase here