Tag Archives: magic

Home for Christmas

The unschooling diaries: week forty-nine

For the first time since Arthur was born, we spent Christmas Eve at home this year. And it was wonderful.


The day began with a treasure hunt, starting with a clue in the last advent calendar pocket and ending with Arthur’s Christmas Eve bag – complete with new pyjamas and bedtime books, a bag of reindeer food, and a little elf for him to share the Christmas secrets with that by this time were almost exploding from his head.


We settled down after that with a fire and a movie, Arthur building lego and me putting the finishing touches to his birthday Peter Pan costume whilst Leigh power washed the deck ready for his party! There are definitely challenges to having a birthday to consider so soon after Christmas, but having a few hours to chill and get things sorted took the pressure off a bit.


There were still Christmas jobs to be done too though, and after a lunch of cheese and mince pies Arthur and I went off to deliver the last of our cards to the neighbours. He even treated one of them to his rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – nothing like a bit of impromptu carolling!


Then it was down to the pool for a cheeky snowball fight…


I had to pop down anyway just to make sure everything was ok, and it was the perfect opportunity to try out Arthur’s pom pom snowballs.

We had a quick scramble on the rocks first…


And then ran off our excitement on the green overlooking the sea.



Finally it was back home for some final Christmas baking followed by a festive family supper of pan fried local gurnard. Yum!


The next morning we were downstairs before dawn so that a very excited little boy could open his stocking.


He especially loved the bow and arrow he had requested in his letter to Santa.

We opened some bigger gifts too, including the humungous beanbag we’d bought Arthur for his reading corner, before heading over to my parents’ to enjoy the rest of the festivities with family.

The next couple of days were lovely, hanging out with my folks and my brothers and my new niece. But there was something very special about imbuing our home with a little bit of festive magic – and maybe beginning some festive traditions that will become our very own…




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

We went to the most magical grotto today: having met one Santa on the train at the weekend this was another quite lovely experience.

The wait was longer than we expected, and the boys were bouncing off the walls by the time we got in. Watching them, though, transfixed by the fairytale forest and hanging on every word spoken by the youthful elves as they readied themselves to meet the man himself, was a powerful reminder of just how young and impressionable they are.

It is going to be a very special Christmas.

The ping game

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-nine

It started with a stick.

Seeing as most sticks, lately, get made into guns and swords, I thought I would try to imbue this one with more gentle powers. Especially as it was so beautiful.

Arthur had found it on a walk at my parents’ house: it was gnarly and strong – hazel I think.

With the help of some treasures from my mum’s haberdashery collection I crafted it carefully into a wand. There was something enormously therapeutic, actually, about wrapping thread around its form, and teasing on beads to add to its magic.


By the time Arthur woke up from his nap, his wand was born.

I’m not sure who started the game – the pointing with a ‘ping’ to use this magical stick as a tool for transformation. It might have been me, with pedestrian suggestions of a frog or a bird.

Since then, though, Arthur has taken the concept and run with it.

With an imagination that would put most drama students to shame, he pings me into all sorts of things. A cannonball, a barbecue, glitter, a corkscrew: you name it, I’ve had to use my best improvisational skills to create it – much to Arthur’s amusement.

He currently prefers to do the pinging rather than be pinged, but he is growing in confidence, and when he does dare to take the stage comes up with brilliant (and hilarious) manifestations of whatever idea is thrown at him.

The wand has actually become superfluous now in the execution of this game. It is just a way to pass the time, to dispel boredom or to liven things up. It can (and does) unfold whenever or wherever we happen to be, and I love it.

Imagination, creativity, drama, communication, laughter: and all because of a stick.

Animal magic

The unschooling diaries: week fifteen

Sometimes you plan for learning: gather resources, anticipate interests, provide inspiration. And sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, it just happens. I guess, fundamentally, that’s the beauty of unschooling – especially because going on adventures (small or large) is a particularly good way of throwing up those unexpected learning opportunities.

I like adventures.

We went on one last weekend, to the countryside near London where some friends are about to embark on the ginormous adventure of building a house. I love living by the sea, but there is something quite wonderful about being somewhere properly rural too: seeing bunnies hop across the fields and horses trotting along the lanes.

There were horses living in the field next door to our friends and one of them, Tommy, was particularly friendly himself. Arthur was transfixed.


He’s not really met horses before, not close up. Tommy is a very small horse – a pony really – but to Arthur I imagine he seemed huge. We went to see him first in his stable, just to say hello, and he was incredibly tolerant of all of these people invading his space – especially the curious little ones.


Arthur just loved being next to him, and giggled when he nibbled at his hair. It does, admittedly, look an awful lot like straw.

The next day Tommy came out of his stable, and again Arthur delighted in having him close. He rested his hand against his flank and then, getting braver, rested the other hand on him too and went in for a kiss.



He took the opportunity to get involved in grooming very seriously, gently brushing Tommy’s coat. Arthur has a tendency to get a bit overexcited around animals, but he visibly calmed in the presence of the horse. I was so lovely to watch – a glimpse of a more centred place for my little man.


It didn’t entirely last: the offer of a ride on Tommy’s back seemed to freak him out completely. He swung between wanting to and not wanting to at all, and in the end we just followed down the road on foot as his friend enjoyed a ride herself.

I’m not really surprised he was overwhelmed. The proximity to this animal was already an awful lot for him to digest, and the experience was clearly an important one for him. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what he learnt – there were practical things, like the way his behaviour shifted and an awareness of the dangers of standing behind a horse – but the deeper learning is less tangible. He was absorbing so much from just being there, making whole his perception of an animal he had only previously seen from a distance or in books.

It was a reminder of the magic animals hold for children, and how important it is to include them in their experience of the world. I don’t think we’ll be getting a pet just yet (the tadpoles are plenty for the moment), but I am looking forward to seeking out opportunities over the months to come for Arthur to feel that magic again.



The magic of storytelling: part two

So as well as thinking about how magical storytelling is for the reader as I watch Arthur discover how much he loves stories, it’s also been on my mind how incredibly magical it is for the writer.

Stories have always been a hugely important part of my life. From those early days devouring them as they were read to me and soon after, as a reader, staying up long into the night, hiding under the duvet with a torch and a pile of Enid Blyton. Later as a teacher I watched astounded as a class of challenging teenagers was silenced by the simple pleasure of listening to someone read aloud; I relished in the power of stories as entertainment and as vehicles for so much more. And now as a writer I feel enormously privileged to be consumed by stories and (almost) be able to call it work.

The magic of stories and of storytelling is something I explored thematically in Lili Badger. The folk tales Lili was told by her grandmother as a child return with renewed vigour in her teenage years, their metaphors seeping into her burgeoning understanding of what’s happening around her, helping her make sense of an otherwise opaque and unfriendly world.

What I didn’t realise then, though, what’s only really beginning to dawn on me now as I move deeper into my second novel, is that as a writer I’m not really here to tell stories. I mean, that’s part of it of course. Relaying a story in a form and a style that captures peoples’ imagination and makes them want to read on. But ultimately I’m beginning to see myself a bit more as a vehicle for a story that wants to be told.

When it comes to writing anything I’m definitely a planner. I’m not very good at just sitting down with a blank piece of paper and waiting for inspiration to strike, though I know that’s the way lots of novelists work. Before I started writing this novel, as with the first, I’d basically mapped out each chapter with a little summary to work from – something to inspire me, and something to keep me on track through the brain melt of motherhood. That bit of the process really isn’t very magical – it can feel like a bit of a slog just mapping everything out, and what seemed like great ideas in theory start to feel insubstantial and incoherent. But once I’ve worked through that, once the overall story arc is there and it’s time to actually get on with the writing – that’s where the real magic comes in.

Moving from those little summaries to the actual written chapters has been an amazing process this time round. I don’t know if with the first novel I was just too tired or too excited to notice it, but as I write the second I’m struck by it almost every day.

How I think I know what’s going to happen, and then as the words flow from my mind to the page events subtly change. How I think I know a character, and then they do or say something that surprises me but ultimately fits much better overall.

There have been some very specific incidences of this recently. Like my main character opening a drawer to get something out, but finding something else entirely different. She’d forgotten it was there, and I had no idea at all. But actually it explained a lot, and suddenly made the plot a lot less clunky.

Then yesterday lunch time I was sat describing a scene I was about to write to my husband, explaining how in control Grace was and how she absolutely definitely wasn’t going to cry. And then I sat down to write, and as the scene unfolded she felt tears pricking behind her eyes and ended up sobbing. Again it actually made a lot more sense than what I’d thought was going to happen – and I suspect the writing rang truer for me being taken aback by it as much as she was.

It’s taken me a while to write this post as I wasn’t quite sure how to put it without seeming entirely bonkers. Even reading it back now it all seems a bit improbable. Those ideas are coming from somewhere, and I guess that somewhere must be hiding in my subconscious. But it’s strange and exhilarating how they won’t reveal themselves to me when I think but only when I write. It makes the mantra I began this project with even more important, and it makes me really very excited about the story I might discover over the weeks to come.