Monthly Archives: January 2015

Testing the boundaries

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It seems our easy-going, gentle, kind, baby boy is morphing into someone different. Terrible twos, I guess: though being only one month into that third year I’m reluctant to just resign myself to that.

It’s been building for a while. His independent streak is getting ever stronger, and though he doesn’t ask the questions I can feel them buzzing around his head.

Why is it ok to hit a drum with sticks but not a person? Why do you praise me when I throw a ball at you, but flinch when I throw a train? Or food for that matter. Or even, as we had this week, a glass bottle – which by some physics-defying miracle didn’t break when it hit the slate floor. 

Why is it funny when I splash water in the bath, but not when I soak myself at dinner time? Why do you encourage me to draw on paper, but take the crayons away when I draw on the wall?  Why do you clap when I jump on to the mats at gym but gasp when I throw myself from the sofa to the wooden floor?

For myself, I’m trying to find ways to explain. To teach him which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. I am not afraid to tell him no, but I want to do it quietly and calmly rather than being the one who shouts. I want to set boundaries, but I don’t want to hammer them into him through naughty steps and time outs. We’ve come so far with our attached and baby-led approach, and I am loathe to throw that all away for quick fixes and easy wins.

But we’ve had a couple of horrid incidents recently, where he has hit and bit and hurt his friends. He hasn’t meant to I don’t think: he hasn’t seemed angry or malicious. When faced with the tears and indignation of his victims he has crumbled himself, afraid and confused. But that doesn’t change the fact it’s happened, that he’s behaved badly and someone else has got hurt.

Right now I’m pretty clear on what I don’t want to do to tackle this, but I’m still scrabbling around for the alternatives.

How do I show my son I respect him, whilst letting him know that some of his behaviours are simply not acceptable? How do I help him develop his curiosity whilst making sure he doesn’t hurt himself or others in the process? How do I hold my nerve and follow the path I believe is right when I can feel myself being judged by my friends and family for not doing what they think I should?

I realise there are a lot of questions here. And it’s not like I’m an amateur in dealing with challenging behaviour: ten years working with teenagers has taught me a lot. But suddenly, now, I feel like I know nothing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: on what has worked for you, and what has not. On how to gently ease a toddler into a social world without destroying his confidence or individuality.

I guess as much as Arthur’s testing his boundaries I’m discovering my own as well. I hope it won’t be too long before we get this next phase of things figured out.

Our word of the week this week is boundaries.

The Reading Residence

An occupational hazard?

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So the edit’s progressing pretty well, which is good. I’m falling into a fairly productive rhythm, and whilst it’s not so easy to hold on to my clarity of thought now that I’m swimming in the words again I think things are heading in the right direction.

I’m definitely feeling like I’m getting deeper into my protagonist’s head, understanding more clearly why she’s acting the way she is (and actually sharing that with the reader rather than hoping they’ll work it out for themselves). I’m feeling the presence of my antagonist more keenly too, though he hasn’t explicitly made an appearance yet. And this is where the slight downside of all this comes in.

Having spent a week immersing myself in some incredibly tense and creepy thrillers, and now trying to layer that growing sense of dread into my own writing, I’m finding my relationship with the real world has gone a little bit off-kilter… I’m seeing things out of the corner of my eye, hearing noises that I’m pretty sure aren’t actually there, and at times feeling almost as on edge as poor Grace herself.

There was a particularly ridiculous night last week when Leigh was away in Exeter. I’d managed to get Arthur down to sleep reasonably early, and had stayed up a bit too late watching unnecessary TV. By the time I finally headed to bed, with revision ideas for the novel still whirring around my mind, I was overtired and a little too open to suggestion. It had just gone midnight, and Leigh’s bedside light was on when I got to our room. I’m still not entirely sure why (it hadn’t been when I’d gone upstairs earlier I swear), and at that moment in time I convinced myself it was because there was someone in the house. Heart racing, I cautiously checked the top floor was clear. I then crept downstairs and got Arthur from his room, waking him up in the process, and took him up with me to hide under the duvet. There was nothing rational about all this – and I knew that at the time, though it didn’t stop the creeping terror. I’m just glad I stopped short of calling Leigh and insisting he came home before I finally fell asleep!

It hasn’t got quite that bad since, but I’ve still been pretty jumpy. I’ve been prone to anxiety in the past, and it seems that letting my imagination wander into the recesses of a psychopath’s mind might just have awakened that… And I’m still only a few chapters in, so who knows what’s going to happen when things really start hotting up.

Ho hum… An occupational hazard I guess. Anyone else find their imaginary worlds seeping into reality, or is that just me?

 

Writing Bubble

Meeting Merlin

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Last weekend we took Arthur to meet my parents’ new dog.

It was the first time Leigh and I had met him too, but Arthur was seriously excited. He loves the idea of dogs, but he hasn’t actually got up close to very many. So as soon as we started to talk about Grampa and Mimi’s new dog his interest was piqued.

The thing is that to all intents and purposes Merlin is a toddler too. When we arrived he pretty much knocked Arthur off his feet, whilst simultaneously giving him kisses all over. Arthur thought this was hilarious, and whilst I’m very glad he wasn’t scared I was more than a little nervous…

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Despite (or maybe because of) the somewhat boisterous introduction, Arthur was pining for Merlin the minute we separated them. Merlin soon came back to play too, and as we grown-ups busied ourselves with lunch they were busy chatting and bonding through the glass door.

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Once lunch was out of the way, we took the two toddlers out to play. We started out with Arthur in the sling and Merlin on the lead, but gradually gave them a bit more freedom. There was a particularly lovely moment up in the woods. Both boy and puppy needed constant reminding not to be too over-enthusiastic in their investigation of each other, but still they clearly relished each others’ company.

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I have a be a feeling that Arthur and Merlin are going to be very good friends. I can’t quite get my head around owning a dog for various reasons, but with this beautiful creature not far away for woodland walks and beach fun we should have the best of both worlds.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Train tracks

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“Baby play train tracks.”

Almost unfailingly the first words Arthur utters when he wakes up for the day, or as we finish a meal, or when we come in from our adventures in the outside world.

Usually swiftly followed by “Mummy play train tracks” or “Daddy play train tracks”. In fact I think pretty much anyone would do. He almost roped in the plumber today.

It’s seriously cute watching him become so obsessed by something. And he really is obsessed. He was given a brio train set for his first birthday and since then it’s been added to incrementally with new trains and pieces of track so that there is now some seriously good potential for imaginative play.

I’ve surprised myself by how much I’m enjoying joining in. Constructing different worlds so that Arthur’s trains can go over and under and through. It’s like a puzzle putting all the bits of track together. We generally freestyle rather than following any particular pattern, and it’s brilliant fun seeing where the different connections lead.

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The freestyling is spilling over into some of his other toys now too. Combining the train tracks with his wooden blocks and duplo (very important for building Tidmouth sheds), as well as his stacking rainbow which makes great tunnels and his new wooden farm set which provides the perfect destination for the milk train.

It’s clear that these little trains reside almost permanently in his mind. He woke up at 4.30am the other day – unusually for him, but what was even more unusual was that he was perfectly content to stay in his room and was just running through his rolling stock, filling his bunny rabbit in on anything he may have missed: ‘the magic train, it goes choo choo! And the steam comes out, on the train tracks.”

He chatted for about half an hour and whilst Leigh and I probably should have been making the most of the time to sleep we actually lay there in the dark wide awake, listening and giggling softly as his little voice came over the monitor.

There’s something pretty awesome about being able to create such an all-encompassing world without even leaving our front room. I cannot wait to see where Arthur’s imagination takes us next.

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The Reading Residence

 

Writing, and belief

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By the time I hit publish on this post, I will have begun the process of reworking the second draft of my manuscript.

I’ve been laying the foundations for the redraft over the past couple of weeks: getting my head into gear, taking on board the feedback I’ve been given, reading some awesome novels for inspiration and filling my little grey notebook with strategies for moving forward.

The crux of the problem with the novel as it stands is that there’s still too much there which makes it not quite believable. The main characters don’t quite ring true. The plot is not quite watertight. My prose does not always fully command the reader’s attention, giving them small but vital opportunities to notice the edifice of my craft.

I’ve written a lot about confidence in recent months, but I think again it is my belief in myself that I must examine here.

There are a couple of key ways in which I think the lack of this might be holding my novel back. Firstly, I think I’ve become a bit too tied to my own experience – like a safety raft if you will. There is a lot of me in this novel, the mistakes and insecurities of my younger self. That gave me the confidence I needed to write the early drafts – I knew there was a truth underpinning my words that made getting them onto the page seem worthwhile, important even. There is plenty in the plot that is entirely fictional, but I think I got a bit trapped in my depiction of the emotional worlds of my characters. And now I think it’s time to branch out – to have the confidence to paint with broader brushstrokes, to allow my imagination a bit more freedom, to trust that I can create new emotional truths not just replicate the ones I know.

Secondly, I want to be a bit more daring with the details of the plot. To take more risks as I bring the story to life, to take conceits and events to their logical conclusions without worrying if the results of that appear at first to be far-fetched.

Thirdly, I want to loosen up when it comes to my actual prose. To let myself open up the inner workings of my main character rather than worrying about stating the obvious and hoping people will guess what’s going on in her head from the clues I’ve left them. To immerse myself more fully in scenes rather than telling them from the outside. To trust that what’s happening is interesting and worthy of deeper exposition, rather than just trying to brush past things to get to the main events.

There’s a lot of ‘more’ here I realise, and I’ll need to be ruthless in my cutting to create the space for it. But again this is an issue of trust – to believe that I can communicate the mood I want to in fewer words, that spelling out every descriptive detail doesn’t necessarily make a world more believable.

I think, if I pull all this off, then I will have a manuscript which is much tighter, much more engaging, much harder for my readers to put down. And if I don’t – well, it’s just another redraft isn’t it? I will get there in the end.

 

Muddled Manuscript