Not quite a writer

I was hoping that this was going to be a somewhat more positive post: an almost idyllic one, in fact, showcasing a moment of creative bravery.

But it’s not, quite.

I had a really fun few hours the other day. We’d noticed our campsite was having an open mic night – poems, songs, stories – and I thought I might write something to join in.

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As if on cue, Arthur started to come up with some really lovely ideas. And I used them to write a coherent (if sketchy around the edges) story about sea monsters and shadow makers and bravery that he loved.

And then along came the evening, with families gathered fireside, a jovial and self-assured host whose self-penned short story made me think of Neil Gaiman and an awesome performance poet whose words (as they often do in that medium) spoke directly to my soul.

I hung back with my story. I actually had visions, just momentary ones, of kids sat around my feet whilst I told my tale, a tale that was a long way from perfectly polished, but was a good story nonetheless.

But it was not to be.

In the end I never felt enough like a writer to step forwards, never felt confident enough to claim my place on even a relatively humble stage.

It made me realise that I am still a long way off the headspace I need to own if ‘writer’ is going to be a mantle I will embrace fully.

This is at the very crux of my mission to find a publisher: and with any luck by the end of the summer I will be somewhat further on the journey to seeing it accomplished.

 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

At Arthur’s forest school, the entrance to the woodland classroom is marked by Mr Magic Tree. He stands tall over the children as they learn and play, guardian and protector, and a symbol of the respect for the natural world that forest school nurtures and encourages.

We have decided recently that we should nominate a Mr Magic Tree in the woods by my parents’ house, and this one is a strong contender.

It might be a while before Arthur can climb up there on his own though…

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Model learners

The unschooling diaries: week twenty six

One of the things I’m incredibly conscious of as we embark on this unschooling journey is how important it is that Arthur has good role-models for learning.

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The way I see it, there are pros and cons for the social aspects of traditional schooling.

I am ambivalent about the most basic level of socialisation – the interaction with other people in a general sense. Arthur is shaping up to be a very social being, and in the course of our days and our weeks he hangs out with people of all ages. If he were attending preschool regularly he would definitely spend more time with kids his own age, but then he might not be exposed to quite such a variety of social situations.

One thing I’m really not convinced about is the competitive nature of same-age groupings. I watched it unfold as a teacher (and if I’m honest still remember it as a kid myself): the popularity contests, the bullying, the shifting your sense of self to fit in. I get that these are all things we need to navigate as we get older, but I don’t think I want to expose Arthur’s emerging personality to these stresses quite yet.

There is definitely something to be said, though, for learning in a communal environment: for bouncing ideas off others, and for being exposed to the infectious excitement that comes from beginning to master something new.

Without a conventional classroom to immerse Arthur within, the responsibility for modelling learning falls to me and Leigh.

I thought at first that this might mean a degree of feigning the joy of new discovery as I introduced Arthur to knowledge and concepts, but it is actually surprisingly unchallenging to find enough wonder in the world to not have to fake it at all if you allow a three year old to set the agenda.

Beyond that, too, it seems that we are pretty good at embodying the lifelong learner thing which I truly believe is the real crux of a life worth living. I have used the general upheaval of becoming a mum to launch my life off in several new directions, and even more significantly than this Leigh has spent the last five years realising a childhood dream to make his way through medical school.

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It has been tough – all kinds of tough – but in a strange way I love that Arthur has been witness to the long hours and closed study door. He won’t quite be able to compute what it all means, but he knows that Daddy has had a goal, and that he’s been working hard to achieve it. And he knows that Daddy has now become a doctor.

We’ve been celebrating intermittently since the end of Leigh’s course a few weeks ago, and Arthur has known that there’s been something pretty momentous going on. Then this week, it was graduation day: we took Arthur, with both sets of Grandparents, and when Dr Daddy walked onto the stage in his gown and hat Arthur stood up and applauded.

There have been many lessons learnt in all of this: the value of perseverance, the importance of following your dreams whenever life presents you with the opportunity, the joy of celebrating success in learning with the people that you love.

Whatever path Arthur’s life follows, and whatever his dreams might end up to be, I hope that he takes these lessons with him and knows that learning is not something to be put into a box constrained by time or space but something that is an honour and a privilege – and one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.

 

Crocodile tears?

So there is something that’s been bugging me, and I haven’t said anything because it’s all a bit contentious. I can hear the arguments already: about how I’m cold-hearted, or blinkered to the concerns of others, or so biased that I just can’t see the hurt some people are feeling. But do you know what? I’m going to say it anyway.

So here it is: what on earth is going on with all these female MPs being reduced to tears lately?

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It started with Labour leadership challenger Angela Eagle, bemoaning her ‘agonising decision’ to resign by insisting that ‘it’s just not working’. A couple of days later we had Margaret Beckett, again pleading for Jeremy Corbyn to resign by comparing him unfavourably to the eight previous Labour leaders she has felt able to be ‘loyal to’. And then of course there was Ruth Smeeth, who left an antisemitism event in tears after being accused by a supporter of Corbyn of ‘being part of a media conspiracy’.

As a woman, I am embarrassed.

This is an incredibly stressful time for our politicians, I get that. The disastrous EU referendum project brought out the worst in everybody, breeding hatred and animosity that has been felt at every level of our society. My social media timelines have been filled with anger and with grief, and I have no doubt that many tears have been shed behind closed doors over what is happening to our country.

But to do it in public, when what is happening to our country is actually your job, your responsibility? No, that does not sit comfortably with me at all.

I know what it feels like to be pushed to the edge, to be beaten down by the system and by the task that lies before you. As a teacher and a leader in secondary schools I felt that biting pain of tears behind the eyes both in the classroom and in meetings, but I did not let my smile drop until I was alone – or at least alone amongst the most trusted of my colleagues. It takes strength, but keeping those emotions at bay is vital not only to maintain a semblance of professionalism but also to be able to continue to act professionally.

These women who have let down their guard have not been overlooked in some private place: they have let their emotions rise to the surface in front of politicians and journalists. And I do not believe they have done it because they are weak. If I did then I would not be writing this. These are strong, powerful, empowered women – they are choosing to let themselves cry.

The reasons why are to me pretty clear. There is a narrative at work here, a narrative which is placing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in role as bullies. There are undoubtedly within the people who have flocked around Momentum (as with any political cause) those that give the whole movement a bad name. But to blame it on the movement itself is laughable. Jeremy Corbyn is a peacemaker, a champion of kindness and equality, a speaker of truth. He is not a bully. He is being bullied, that much is certain, by the PLP and the media. But I have yet to see his emotions show in public beyond a flicker of resentment and a determination to continue with the job he was elected to do.

And this steely resolve is being used against him. Women are crying as they say his name, and he is being aligned with the bullies. And I do not think that is fair.

It is not fair on him, and it is not fair on us.

Just over a year ago, Tim Hunt and Boris Johnson were at the centre of a furore over gender discrimination: Hunt said, and Johnson agreed, that ‘when you criticise [girls], they cry’ – that ‘it is a scientific fact that women cry more readily than men’. They were despicable comments to have made, and revealed a truth about the underlying misogyny in our society that women have to battle against every single day in order to be taken seriously.

I cannot help but feel that, with their tears, Eagle, Beckett and Smeeth have taken us back even further.

 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Arthur has been fascinated by the remnants of charcoal in our outdoor fire, so I thought he might like to have a go at drawing with it… If you’re going to make a mess it might as well be a beautiful one, right?

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Very hungry caterpillars

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-five

After the success of our tadpole project, I’ve been on the lookout for another opportunity to explore metamorphosis in action. A couple of weeks ago one appeared, in the shape of several very hungry caterpillars eating their way through our lettuces.

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We picked out two, and created a little habitat for them in the fishtank, complete with the remains of one of the lettuces they had been munching so that they could continue to prepare for their transformation.

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They were already pretty big when we found them, and it wasn’t long at all before they each settled into a crevice in their new home and began to spin a web of silk around themselves.

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This was fascinating to watch, as was the way their bright green bodies slowly went brown and hard as they pupated.

Whilst we waited for them to hatch, we read up about the process – Usbourne Beginners ‘Caterpillars and Butterflies’ had lots of interesting facts, and of course we re-read Eric Carle’s classic. I also did a bit of googling to try to find out what sort of butterflies we might expect, and discovered that actually the silk cocoons suggested that we were more likely going to be welcoming moths.

And indeed about ten days later first one then the other broke out and spread their wings.

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We watched them for a couple more days, and when we were sure that their wings were strong enough Arthur reluctantly agreed to let them go.

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Once they had flown away, he was keen to have a closer look at the empty cocoons. He felt the sticky silk, and prodded at the shell of the pupa within.

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And after that, whilst I attempted to tidy up our overgrown veg patch, he even washed out the tank, ready for his next pets.

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As it happened, he didn’t have to wait very long. I had a feeling that the latticed spinach and calendula might be hiding some more little creatures and, in fact, it was teeming with them.

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It made for some very interesting conversation, around how these bugs are interesting to watch and study but are also pests, especially when they’re competing for our vegetables! We transferred some of the caterpillars we found to another part of the garden, but because they looked different to the first ones we’d found we decided to keep a few back so we could observe the metamorphosis process again and see if we noticed any changes.

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After this lot I think we’ll be done though, at least till next year…

Anyone have any ideas how we can make the remains of our crops slightly less attractive to the very hungry caterpillars? After all, it would be quite nice to be able to enjoy some of our vegetables too!

The perfect fit

So I have finally this week managed to begin the process of getting my head around this whole getting published malarky.

It hasn’t been easy: my to-do list seems to be expanding almost as enthusiastically as my veg patch, and I am still finding the political car crash so horrifically compelling that it is taking almost all my energy to secure the headspace to think about anything else.

But part of my post-Brexit survival plan was to be just a little bit selfish, and with that in mind I sat down in the garden one sunny afternoon with the two books that have sat forlorn and unopened since they arrived in those innocent pre-referendum days and took a look at what they had to offer.

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A lot, is the answer.

I started with the Mslexia guide to Indie Presses (thank you Teika for the recommendation). The world of independent publishers is fairly new to me, so I was keen to see what was out there. I scoured each description, marking any that seemed a good fit for either of my completed novels to come back to later.

Once I was sat at my computer, I started a spreadsheet. I wouldn’t normally be quite so rigidly organised about something like this, but the careful structure of the columns and rows helped to still my chaotic mind, and made me believe that I might just possibly be able to do this.

For each publisher, I noted down their web address, the relevant genres they were interested in, submission guidelines, and whether they were in fact currently accepting unsolicited submissions. That last column narrowed things down a bit, but of the ones that were left I explored their websites a little further, deciding which of my novels I would approach them with before adding that to the table. The final columns, yet to be filled, are for the date I submit, the date I intend to follow up, and what feedback, if any, I receive.

Its funny, but even just going over that process here has calmed and focused me again. If feels like a big thing, to be preparing to submit my work to people who might be able to help me get it out into the world. There is still lots to be done before I actually get to the point of submitting – honing and re-honing those crucial first chapters, reworking my synopses, crafting an elegant and engaging covering letter. The more I think about it, though, and the more I discover about independent publishers and why they are there, the more I believe it is the right route for me.

My writing is not mainstream. It is not easy to fit into a box. I can completely see why the ‘Big Five’ publishers might not think that my novels are worth the punt.

But I do.

And I’m sure, with time and effort and plenty of willpower, I will eventually find a publisher who is the perfect fit.

 

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