JGJ Blog

What I have learned this year…

Last night, I went to my writing group which is made up of teachers from across the region. It is run by a former lecturer/tutor on the course, who is undeniably passionate about writing and in particular, writing for pleasure.

One of the exercises that we did was to reflect on this past academic year (with being a group of teachers, this was our last session). She asked us to consider what we had learned in regards to writing and what we had learned in regards to teaching writing. With my status as ‘former teacher’ I was unsure how to proceed with this latter question and so focused on the ways I have grown as a writer in general, not just within the sessions. After all, my profession may no longer be within the day-to-day education of children, but I feel that the best writers are those whom we can model ourselves after.

And so to my list. It isn’t long or particularly innovative. It is purely a self-reflection on how far I have come since I first sat down at my computer screen and introduced myself to Osha et al.

This year I have learned…

To write without inhibition.

The joy of interesting language.

To respond to what’s around me and be inspired by the mundane.

To view things differently.

To enjoy the writing process not just the results.

The power of good writing.

That less is often more.

To make mistakes, change, write again, change, try a different way, change, before maybe being satisfied???

Punctuation can come last.

To be a writer/author who taught as opposed to a former teacher who writes.

The last one feels particularly of note.

That day, 18 months ago, that I chose to begin my story, and saw in my mind’s eye the little girl staring in awe at a cave painting, I thought of myself as a teacher who had left the profession and was going to write. The difference is subtle but it’s an important one. I am an author and I was a teacher. Both feed off one another and I can draw on skills and ideas which I used in the classroom, but they are two separate spheres. When I go into schools it is as an author not as a teacher; my passion is books, reading, writing, language, plot, character, dialogue and all the rest, as opposed to education and teaching.

Thinking about this year, I can see this big difference in the “pruning” that I gladly did of my book. Ironically, it was the removal of those aspects of writing that we teach children (…thanks Mr Gove!…) that helped the flow and brought the book to life. I let go of the feeling of rigidity of ‘writing to teach’ and instead allowed myself to write a plot which children would respond to. That was the key.

I really hope that a child (or several) will read my book(s) and enjoy them. Yes they can learn historical ‘facts’ and draw lessons from them, but that is not the focus as it once was. Writing Osha, I fell in love with her as a character not as a literary device. She is real to me, as I hope she will be for others and these are lessons that I can take forward as I embark on the next one.

…I just hope it doesn’t take 18 months this time!…

What have you learned this year?

Is there a difference in your writing now than previously?

Comment, like, share. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Announcement: From the Cave Wall available for purchase now!

And so the journey has arrived at its conclusion. Or maybe it’s better said that this section of the journey has. The book is now available at Amazon!

It has been a long labour of love and devotion, and I have loved every minute (mostly!)

I hope you enjoy it. Please leave a review and remember, if you want more then please join my readers’ club: The Source Detectives (aimed at children…whatever age!)

Now comes the hard part!

Facing Fears

I’ve used it before…but it’s a cat on a diving board…

When I first conceived of the idea of writing a curriculum-supporting children’s novel, I has recently left the education world behind me. Making that decision to walk away from my single greatest focus and passion was gut-wrenching at the time, but I do not regret it for one second. Many people still ask me whether I will ever go back to teaching and I categorically reply, “No. Nope. No way.” The education system in Britain chewed me up again and again, that when I was eventually spat out, I was a nervous gibbering wreck who did not know where she was or what day it was – nightmarish! Surviving in the current environment takes a strength of will and character that I just can’t/couldn’t match up to. My admiration for former colleagues and anyone who teaches (many of whom struggle on with mental health issues in tow) is immeasurable. Anyone who has not had to endure teaching in the last ten or so years has no concept of understanding what they face.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be a soapbox rant.

Walking away from something which you have wanted for half your life and fought to achieve for ten years or more, is the most daunting thing in the world. Which was why my having a new focus and passion was (and still is) so important to me. I thrive on challenge and set exceedingly high expectations for myself (the major reason that everything spiraled away from me). A big part of my mental health journey over this last year has been to work on reducing those expectations to more manageable and realistic levels. On the whole, I feel I have achieved this and the strategies I have developed have helped me to manage many of my anxieties associated with “failure” and certainly my association of those failures with my self-worth.

This morning I was reflecting on my mood and I recognised that I am feeling many of the same emotions that I did before. Taking the decision to self-publish and everything that goes with that, means facing the concept of failure on a large, public scale once again. In wanting you, my dear readers, to love Osha and her family as much as I do and enjoy the world that I have created from the historical sources, I am very much placing myself in a position of potential disappointment and failure. Looking at it, there are two worst-case failing scenarios:

  1. No one buys the book.
  2. People buy it and hate it.

Now there are pros and cons to both. With the first scenario – I lose nothing but my time and energy. I will be immensely disappointed but also recognise the realities of these things – self publishing is easy, it’s getting sales that is hard. With the second – I face the criticism and negativity of people which I have also found difficult, but at least people bought it! The reality is that some will like it, some will not like it and some will not buy it…that’s the way things are.

The biggest thing about this whole process is that no one will get to read it if I never publish it. So there we go it all comes down to that old adage: You don’t know unless you try. The most important thing is that I face those fears, those anxieties, those negative thoughts and put them to the test.

…I now have the Pokemon cartoon theme tune in my head…!

…My brain works in strange ways…

Become a Source Detective…?

…There seems to be a new button on my website…oooooh!

If like me you like buttons and are always tempted to push/click/whack them (whether or not you’re meant to) then the latest addition to my site is just for you…lots of things to click on!

I wanted to create a club for all my readers to encourage them to write their own historical stories as well as provide information about the books and characters.

This club is called the Source Detectives and is launching….today!

Look! There’s even a logo and everything!

But the book isn’t published?! No it’s not…but I figure there may be children (or adults) out there hungering for my books so much that they want to receive a fancy email from me prior to launch!

As an added bonus, once the book is published, you will have access to a behind-the-scenes look at all the background information and research I did, where you can find pages that look like this:

Ooooooh sneak peeks – something else I like!

So go on…I dare you!

The countdown begins…

These last few months have been a whirlwind of personal events/issues/things which have significantly taken away from writing time! Well no more!

This morning I have set my goal…

A sneak peek at my very busy month!

In one month,

From the Cave Wall: A Stone Age Story

will be available to buy from all good book-selling websites beginning with A, which offer a ‘prime’ service and are owned by Jeff Bezos!

I am also committing myself to updating my lovely readers/followers/random page clickers on what is going on in my writing life, to ensure that I meet this lofty target. So expect a heavy load of slightly panicky blog posts which will feed my procrastination in place of me actually working on what I need to!

Ah the writer’s life!

Timeline…a fun addition!

I have just added a timeline here on my website – wow it’s interesting. It’s so large that it is almost impossible to read on the screen. Luckily, the page describes what is in the image and there is a downloadable version for a more detailed view.

This has been my project as a part of Behind the Cave Wall: Osha’s World – the accompanying guide that I have been working on for the last few days. I am thrilled with how it has been progressing. The intention is to release it just as an e-book at present (the pages will move by clicking on them – it looks like a real book!) however, if there is enough interest, I may look to have it produced in print.

As a a part of this project, I have been returning to a lot of my research that I gathered over the last year. As I have always said, it is not my intention to ‘dumb down’ (a loathsome phrase!) the history for children. Instead, I will make the ideas in a lot of historical research more accessible, while maintaining the information and facts that are put forward.

In particular this week, I was thrilled to be able to make contact with some people behind the research and images that I have filed away! One of these was the anthropologist Leslie Van Gelder, who very kindly allowed me to use a lovely image of finger flutings from the Rouffignac caves, which I had come across when reading about their use as evidence of children’s involvement in cave painting. Through forensic analysis, they have been able to determine that these particular markings were created by a young girl around 13/14,000ya – perfect timing for Osha!

This has been one among several communiques with copyright holders. As I stated on social media the other evening, it’s a lot easier making the stuff up!

The deep end

Having made this decision to self-publish, I am now having to confront my near-crippling fears that I’m not good enough. We all have anxiety (particularly when facing the unknown) but somehow I have managed to convince myself it’s a good idea to throw myself into the deep end and…I have just never been ANY good at diving!

Consequently, I am standing at the edge with the dark abyss in front of me and I wish I could see the bottom. That is always the worst thing for me. Looking down and being unable to see where the journey will end. The greatest fear is not that I will hit the water, but that somehow, like a still from a Warner Bros cartoon, I will land smack on the concrete at the edge and…well I guess you know how that would end…

At this point in time, I am just about climbing the ladder to the diving board. I can’t see the pool, (which is a good thing) but I know it is there…waiting for me.

So that is where I am this week…

A new website…and an apology…

As is obvious if you are reading this, I have dramatically changed and updated the website to reflect my work and the plunge that I am going to be taking in a few weeks…

I have decided that I am going to self-publish From the Cave Wall. This means that I am going to be marketing it strongly over the next few weeks and months – after all, I would like it to gain a decent amount of interest!

I have also started thinking about the next in the series….

I would like to apologise for the lack of posts for a year! This will not be repeated. On that note, if anyone is interested in any aspect of my writing, which I have not discussed here, please feel free to get in touch via my contact page.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Stone Age Research

Over the last week, I have been down the rabbit hole!

I started properly writing last week. I am now at 2 complete chapters. This may not seem much, but my feelings of accomplishment are enhanced by the amount of research and “setting” I have been able to do.

When approaching a story about the Stone Age or any prehistory, you must first work out which epoch you are going to look at? The simplest way to separate these epochs is to split them into 3:

Paleolithic (Early Stone Age)

Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)

Neolithic (Late Stone Age)

This is a very simplistic way to look at this complicated and detailed subject area, but as a starting point it helps.

Due to the nature of the story I wanted to tell, I knew that I would be setting my story during the Paleolithic times. I knew that I wanted to explore the nomadic side of the people of the stone age – more than anything because it is so vastly different from most 21st Century living arrangements. The concept of migration due to climatic and seasonal changes was something that I felt would be an interesting starting point.

Putting it very very simplistically, by the Mesolithic into Neolithic times, this behaviour was not necessary in the same way: the highly changeable climates of the Ice Age were largely over and the climate was more settled. This meant that people were able to begin to develop the skills to build more permanent settlements, create homes and learn the skills of planting crops for consumption; a situation which is far more recognisable to modern children.

The next problem that I faced was deciding which end of the Paleolithic I was going to focus on: Lower/Middle/Upper (again very simplistic). I settled on the late Paleolithic as this fit with a lot of the ideas that I was mulling over. From millions of years of the development of early man, I had managed to bring my focus into about 40,000 years of history.

I was thrilled with this. I could generally place things in Europe and work around the discoveries and evidence of human activity from about 50,000-10,000 BCE.

What I didn’t expect; in fact never dreamed of, was to be able to pinpoint my story down to 1000-2000 years…

…Down the rabbit hole: Into the Wonderland of writing!

 

 

 

Frustrations and progress

So I had managed to write about 50% of the 1st of three books yesterday – and today have decided to scrap the lot!

Still, this has given me a good concept of what it is I need to do to accomplish my goals. Not least start with the longer book first and then work backwards to simplify it. This has then lead to my researching the historical background and coming across some very interesting articles about the lack of children in archaeology and anthropology.

This was why I wanted to do this…leave behind the day to day baggage of the classroom and instead fall in love with history, research and writing again.

So not a bad day overall and tomorrow I can continue with the research and begin to put together the first part of the book.

I will be blogging about the content soon. I am very passionate about this project and hope you will be too – particularly if you are a teacher…!