Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Magic moments...

During a tender moment with Junior this morning we started talking about what would make us happy this Christmas. Junior asked me what the best present I had ever been given was and I replied, without even having to even think about it, that he had been my best and most precious gift. He smiled contendedly and threw himself at me for one of his super cuddles - you know the kind that just melt your heart and make you feel like the luckiest person alive. He wanted to know why he was so special. I pondered this for a few seconds before giving him his reply.
"You are the moon and the stars and the sun and the sky all rolled into one.." I smiled lovingly, "..even if I never got another Christmas present for the rest of my life I would still be the luckiest Mummy on the planet because I had you"
I suppose it was a bit "Hallmarky" but I meant every word of it and it seemed to go down well with Junior. A wee tear sprung to my eye as he squeezed me a little tighter. Hoping to keep the moment alive I asked Junior what would make him happy this Christmas. After careful consideration he brushed my cheek gently and sighed. Here we go, I thought, this is going to be something profound and beautiful - a moment to remember all my life.
"I'd be happy with some Lego Mummy" he said before running off to play with his Transformer.
Oh well, never mind.
We're off to build a snowman in the back garden. Junior thought it might be funny to make a snowwoman (I guess that would involve a couple of strategically placed snowballs?) and I am proud of him for redressing the balance. Wishing all the readers of wordswithhazel a lovely, peaceful and beautiful Christmas. X

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Living in the moment

"We know nothing of tomorrow, our business is to be good and happy today"
Sydney Smith

As I watched the family dog having a good old scratch today something struck me. It occured to me that worry and regret are unique human flaws. Does any other animal dwell on the things that happened yesterday or feel sick about the things that are going to happen tomorrow?
Ellie was so engrossed in 'itching her scratch' that she wasn't thinking about anything other than that exact moment in time. Nothing else mattered to her. I can't remember the last time I did that. Just truly lived in the present. Always, at the back of my mind are the thoughts about what has brought me to this point in my life. Usually the present moment is tainted with a horrible anxiety about what lies ahead. As I watched our dopey, lovable dog's jowls wobble as she fully embraced her itch it really hit me just how much we humans have to learn from our animal friends.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Back to the old school!

Today I returned to my old school to talk to the Primary six class about Bree McCready. It was very strange being back in my old classroom after all these years. What made it even more of a twilight zone experience was that one of my old teachers was there listening!!
It was a special visit. Those of you who have read "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" know that Bree, Sandy and Honey attend Ramthorpe Junior. RAmTHOrpe. See what I did there? When I told the kids how I came up with the name for Bree's school they were thrilled. I was asked lots of really interesting questions. I even got asked one in Russian which was amazing! What a beautiful language. I asked the boy in question (sorry, I can't remember your name) what language he thinks in. He said it changes all the time. Brilliant!
What really made my visit special was what happened when I first arrived. I thought it was very quiet but when I turned the corner the whole class burst into a rendition of "Happy Birthday". I was quite taken aback. I must have mentioned it was my birthday when I made the appointment to go in. A lovely wee girl called Shaye presented me with a handmade card from the class and I was really touched by their kindness. Thanks to Mrs MacAndrew and everyone in primary six who made today's visit (and my birthday) really special for me. x

Monday, 16 November 2009

I've been interviewed!!

Read my interview with The Book Owl here. Thanks McKenzie!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I was in town today...

..and with a few minutes to kill before I got the bus home I decided to pop into Waterstone’s on George Street for a quick browse and a coffee. After I had perused the children’s section and subtly put “Bree McCready” face out on the shelf (doesn’t every author do that?) I went up to Costa Coffee and ordered my skinny latte and orange muffin. I sat down in the far corner on the comfy seats and allowed myself to relax for five minutes. Next thing this guy plonks himself down on the settee right opposite me. He didn’t even say “is this seat taken?“ It felt a bit strange seeing as there were at least ten spare seats left in the shop that he could have chosen instead. Must be my magnetic personality! I suddenly became very uneasy and a bit annoyed. He was practically sitting on my lap! Very intimate indeed. Anyway, I pretended to text someone (something I tend to do in awkward situations!) and settled back to listen to a conversation between two old ladies who clearly had lots of catching up to do. They didn’t draw breath! Weird guy ate his muffin VERY LOUDLY and stared at me while I ate mine. How he could not have read from my wild stare back that he was seriously getting on my nerves was beyond me. At 2 minutes to 11 o’clock one of the staff went round telling everyone that the shop would be observing the one minute silence to mark the end of the First World War. I was relieved to hear this because I was going to have a little quiet reflection myself but it was much nicer to be part of something a bit bigger.
At 11am the hush descended. It was very eerie going from the hubbub of a busy coffee shop to complete silence in the blink of an eye. Like someone had turned the volume down. Everyone stopped talking and sipping except for the two old ladies behind me. One was in full swing talking about wee Betties new curtains and nothing was going to stop her, not even the death glares she was getting from the rest of us. About 20 seconds into the silence it was getting so awful and embarrassing that I was on the verge of leaning back and saying something. But the teenager at the next table took the words right out of my mouth. Dressed all in black with a chain running from his nostril to his earlobe and a colourful array of tattoos the young man turned round and very politely asked the old woman to respect the silence. You could have heard a pin drop after that. I nearly laughed out loud such was the irony of the moment. In this day and age when young people get such bad press and the older generation are so quick to talk acerbically about “the youth of today” it was so refreshing to see the tables turned. Really made my day.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Open wide!

"If suffering brought wisdom, the dentist’s office would be full of luminous ideas"
Mason Cooley

I have always prided myself in having really good teeth. I kid you not, the Osmond's would be quite jealous. It's not all been just good fortune, I have looked after them well. I floss and swirl with Listerine every morning and night ( the family name for this is a "noddy". Don't ask, it's just a tradition that both my sister and I have continued with our own children). Even during my heady and often erratic youth I never once went to bed without cleaning my teeth. Not very rock 'n roll but there we go. My mum did a good job on brainwashing me about “the little men who came with their pick axes during the night” which absolutely terrified me as a child. But I thank my mum for it now because that story saved me from a heap of pain and expense. So imagine my horror when last Friday my bottom right molar started to crumble right before my eyes. I have that dream all the time - you know the one where all your teeth are falling out. It’s a classic anxiety dream apparently. But here it was actually happening and I was wide awake! I phoned the dentist immediately and they gave me an emergency appointment for today and a number to phone if the pain got unbearable. Fortunately it didn't come to that.
When I arrived at the dentist I was already in agony with a pulled muscle in my back. I was so doped up on painkillers that I reckoned I’d get away without having the shot of Lidocaine from the dentist. I paced around the waiting room because it hurt too much to sit down. The dentist was running late so I had plenty of time to watch the images of sadistic oral surgery on the massive plasma television that hung from the wall. The graphic computer animation depicting the latest advances in dental treatment did little to calm my nerves. Why not just put the torture scene from 'Marathon Man' on loop and be done with it, I thought. Is it safe? I had managed to build myself up into a right old frenzy by the time it was my turn to sit in Mr Chisolm's chair. I say 'Mr Chisolm' but really he was about 12.
First I got some x-rays taken (not very reassuring when everyone left me on my own with big metal plates sticking out of my mouth) but the picture clearly showed that the decay had reached all the way down to the root of the crumbling molar. According to Mr Chisolm it was a miracle that I hadn’t been writhing around in agony for the last four days. I guess I should feel grateful for that small mercy. There was nothing else he could do but drill all the way down to the nerve and fill the hole. He proceeded to try and explain what was going to happen but I could only concentrate on the 10" injection that he was waving around in front of my face. As he punctured my gum with the tip of the needle and started moving it around I desperately tried to distract myself.
"Mmm, that lamp is filthy, I would use some Windolene on that"
"Why do dentists always have the worst halitosis?"
"River City is on tonight"
"I've had a baby for goodness sake, this should be a walk in the park!!!"
Looking back the jag was probably the worst part of the whole experience. Relax and take deep breaths. Why do members of the medical profession always say that at times when it is impossible to do either???
We’re running a bit late today..” Mr Chisolm informed me “ if you could just take a seat in the waiting room for 10 minutes, we’ll call you back when the anaesthetic takes effect
Now that, I was not expecting. I had only just managed to get a comfortable position for my back for goodness sake and now I was going to have to get up again!
Now, I have never had a filling before so this was all new territory for me. I had imagined just a mild loss of sensation in the affected tooth. That's what all my friends and family had told me would happen. I realise now they were just being kind! Next time guys, just give me the truth, however awful it is! Forewarned is forearmed. Very quickly I started to realise that my tongue did not belong to me and my bottom lip was four times its normal size. I had terrible pins and needles in my cheek and a hot, burning sensation in my lower jaw. The entire right hand side of my face felt numb. I started panicking that I was having some kind of terrible anaphylactic reaction to the Lidocaine and I would be the one in a million people who had some horrendous side effect to the drug. Suddenly I couldn’t breath or swallow. A really nice looking guy sat opposite to me folded his copy of Heat magazine and very kindly asked me if I was okay. I must have looked a bit odd tugging on my earlobe (which by now felt like it belonged to someone else) and doing Maori warrior facial expressions.
Yes, it’s just the first time I’ve ever had this done” I replied, although it came out more like,“Yeth, itch juss da firth ‘ime aff ad thish un
He nodded sympathetically. Embarrassed, I tried to smile demurely and I think a wee bit of dribble came out the side of my mouth. Oh God, beam me up! It felt like ages before the dental assistant came back to get me.
I didn’t feel a thing during the actual process of getting the filling, just lots of pushing, prodding and scraping. When the drill went on I just closed my eyes and drifted off to my safe place. It has taken years of practice to be able to do this but it's been well worth it for situations like this. The suction and air was a bit weird and I hated not being able to swallow when I wanted. But before I knew it the whole terrible ordeal was over. Apart from the numbness down the entire right hand side of my face - which lasted all afternoon. My bottom lip is still tingling now.
You have the best teeth I’ve seen in someone of 40” smiled my dentist.
I think he was trying to reassure me but I had to gently remind him that I was only 38! Talk about adding insult to injury. He nearly got a punch on the nose! The nice man from the waiting room was in front of me in the queue on the way out and I willed him not to ask me anything as I waited to make my next appointment. He must have read my mind because he just nodded his goodbye as I fumbled around for my purse. What are the chances of meeting the love of your life at the dentist, I pondered. I was never so glad to walk out of a place in my life. Well, hobble actually. Between my bad back and my dribble I really did feel old!
What was the first thing I did when I got home? No, not a cup of tea (although I was dying for one but I couldn’t risk getting second degree burns) Nope, no hot beverages. But I did tip the last remaining Kola Cubes from the sweetie jar into the bin. I think I’ve learned my lesson, don't you?

Saturday, 17 October 2009


A lovely review of Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket by the Book Owl - aka McKenzie (all the way from America!).
Thanks so much for this! x

Friday, 16 October 2009

I bumped into a neighbour yesterday...

..and she was asking me about my “latest venture”. When I told her I was writing the sequel to “..Half Heart Locket” she said (with a patronising tilt of the head),
Well, it’s good to have a hobby, isn’t it
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (or just drop my shopping bags and throttle her on her doorstep). I know she didn't mean any harm and she most certainly didn’t realise how much of a raw nerve she had touched but my blood did not stop boiling about this comment until well after the closing drum beats of Eastenders.
It’s taken me a while to accept myself as a writer. Even with a published book in my hand I still find it impossible to award myself that title. Probably because I’m frightened that people will laugh or raise their eyebrows cynically or mutter,
who does she think she is?” under their breaths.
Let’s face it, 'writer' is up there with 'actress', 'pop star' and 'model' when it comes to realistic choice of profession. We are conditioned from birth to think that there are only a few jobs worthy of turning into occupations. I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning the word ‘writer’ in those career workshops at school. I do remember plenty of encouragement for secretarial and shop work though. Funny that?
Those of us who do want to make a living from writing often come up against opposition.
How will you make ends meet?” shriek your parents when you first announce your intentions.
You’re up against it..” people say grimly “ ever makes a living from that
When you are struggling to make ends meet and doubting your chosen career path all of this can be extremely demotivating. And yet there has always been that little voice inside my head that springs into action when someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do something. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember although the voice does seem to be rather loud these days. What you have to remember is when people offer their opinion it is so often coming from a deeply ingrained (and quite often destructive) belief system. Some people think it is only possible to earn a living working in a steady 9-5 office job with a regular income and a decent pension deal. However, they are giving advice based on their own beliefs and experiences and too often we listen to that advice without challenging their assumptions, without considering that there is an alternative to their opinion. Sometimes the people who care about us try to dissuade us from doing something because they think it will make our lives difficult. It is understandable that they don’t want to see us in pain. I try to imagine what I would say if Junior announces at the age of 15 that he wants to be a dancer or play the drums in a rock band! We must be allowed to take risks because if we don’t we are prevented from growing and learning about the world in our own way. Sometimes people can accidentally crush our ambitions under the guise of caring about us.
Ten years ago I was locked into the idea that working in a miserable, dead end job was the only way I was going to be able to live. I knew what I wanted to do but I also knew that you can’t pay the rent with dreams. I decided the only way to escape the dead end job was to go to university, which is exactly what I did. I don’t regret my choice but with the benefit of hindsight and a few thousand pounds of debt to consider I now realise that this option was second best to what I really wanted to do. Which was to be a writer. However, at that point in my life I wasn’t in an emotional or financial position to take that risk. I’m still not in that place but it kind of feels like ‘now or never’ and I’ve been given this once in a lifetime opportunity that would be crazy not to grab with both hands and cling to. Even if I am not reaping the benefits of my hard work I am living my dream. And I do have a plan B because a) I’m practical and b) I’m realistic. I am profoundly aware that anything other than what I’m doing right now could only ever be second best but I might have to accept that, difficult as it may be. It might be that I have to work a 'regular' job and write in my ‘spare’ time. However I do it, one thing is for sure. Writing will never be just a "hobby" to me. It’s who I am, it’s what I’m about and it’s the second most important thing in my life (Junior being first, obviously). It’s too much a part of me to ever just be a hobby.

It is definitely true that it is more difficult to make a living as a writer than it is to go into an office every day (unless you are JK Rowling of course!). You are your own boss which might sound great but it can be challenging. You must devote yourself unrelentingly to your craft. That requires lots of discipline and drive. Some people might not like what you write and getting a bad review is always a possibility. You discover a lot about yourself during the process of writing - what you’re good at, what needs attention. You become familiar with writer’s slump (kind of like writer's block except you have all the ideas it just feel like an effort to get them down onto paper) I’ve learned a few things about myself which I didn’t know before. Firstly, I am okay with rejection. I don’t like it but I’ve realised that as a writer you have to put yourself out there and that is always going to involve rejection. The one great thing about having a drawer full of rejection letters is that it reminds me how many knock backs I have had and how I managed to pick myself up from them all and keep going regardless of the constant criticism. So I am prepared (albeit nervously) for negative comments. Secondly, I like my own company. A lot. Writers often complain that it gets lonely and mind-numbing being on your own all day. But I never feel lonely. I have all these brilliant characters keeping me company, vying for my attention. Bree, Sandy and Honey came to life the minute I started writing about them and they haven’t been able to shut up since! How could I ever be lonely with them around?
And I’m used to being very skint and living on a tiny budget so I am prepared for the small dribbles of money that may or may not appear at the most inconvenient times.
There is so much more to being a writer than people appreciate - risks, rejection, financial hardship, toil and tears. To label it as a "hobby" just demeans it beyond belief. Without writing I would just shrivel up, like someone had turned off my life support machine. Words are my oxygen.
So, sometimes risks have to be taken. We can choose to live a life that’s a bit uncertain and frightening or we can choose to allow someone else’s (narrow minded) view of the world to inhibit and control us. Living life on your own terms is the best revenge! Dare to live your life they way you want, go against the grain, shock the people who thought you would never do it. Going to work in a steady 9-5 job is probably easier than the challenges of following an artistic dream. But you have to ask yourself, are you happy? If your passion and your heart is somewhere else my advice would be to follow that dream however risky it might feel. It is much harder to stay true to yourself than it is to take the well-travelled path but trust me it is miles more enjoyable!

Friday, 9 October 2009


I lift the lid from a box filled with memories,
home to a clutter of paper mementos and ghostly remnants of a lost love -
A faded train ticket, a pressed flower, a dog-eared photograph.
These are the remains of you.
Your fingerprints must linger along with the fading smell of sadness.

When you left, a door slammed shut and extinguished a dying fire forever.
You abandoned me on the quietest road where no-one could hear my cries.
I walked for miles.
You set me adrift in the loneliest ocean
and for a while I thought I might drown in a sea of desolate souls.
I existed in a half-lit world where everything felt like engravings through tissue paper.
Only shades of pain.

I close the lid just as I closed my heart
and the echoes of the past are locked away for another time.

Suddenly I am caught up in a whirlwind of carefree laughter, unruly hair and jam stains.
In him I see the best of me but he also has your eyebrows and lopsided smile.
Such undiluted light shines from within, and I force myself to bask in his warmth for this borrowed time.
He is my antidote to pain, anaesthetic in human form.
A solitary flower poking up through the foliage of regret
he is absolute proof that beauty can be found in even the darkest of places.
It was our son who reminded me to breathe
and who helped to glue back together the remains of me.

Lunging at me with untamed love he challenges me to smell his feet -
which, of course I do willingly -
relishing a brief snapshot in time where only this moment matters.
We are separate and yet connected by an invisible, unbreakable thread.
I kiss his sticky forehead and my lips seek out the untrained down that decorates his brow -
Soft and strong
The remains of you.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Part of the reason...

...I wanted to be a children's writer was to inspire young people to put pen to paper themselves. Sometimes it just takes a 'connection' with a certain character or an ability to relate to a situation in a story to motivate a child to have a bash at story writing. Encouraging literacy skills in children is crucial since reading and writing provides the tools that might help them cope with the more difficult aspects of their lives - to broaden their horizons and to make them aware that there is more out there for them. It's nice to think that it might be possible for them to make their own escapes with the sweep of a pen. I asked Junior recently what it felt like to be able to read and he said it felt "fizzy". I loved that description! I am forever encouraging children to read for fun. Not because they have to but because they want to. Just read for reading sake.

When I was writing "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" I was determined not to ‘dumb down’ my writing purely because of my target audience (9+). I strongly believe that as adults we so often make the huge mistake of underestimating young people. Children should be treated as clever, intuitive beings and in my opinion the use of complicated, expressive language will not only encourage an extended vocabulary but it will also inspire a thirst for knowledge. So considering all of this, imagine my delight when I received this email last night from "a happy mum".

"Hi Hazel, i went along to parents night tonight and came home a very proud mum. I was reading one of (my little girl's) most recent stories and was convinced she must have copied it out a book. On asking the teacher he informed me it was all her own work! you have most definitely inspired her and when i get a copy of this story home i will send you a copy. thank you for giving (my daughter) a new found confidence in writing"

Amazing! This makes me so happy because it's exactly what I strive to do when writing about Bree, Sandy and Honey and their adventures. Just knowing it's possible to make a small difference makes all the blood, sweat, tears and grey hairs seem worth it! I can't wait to see a copy of the story. Thanks 'happy mum' for the fantastic feedback. : )

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Lack of light, lack of hope

OK. A bit of a depressing one today, I’m afraid. I can’t help it. There’s something that’s been bothering me for a while and it came to a head yesterday when I heard the tragic news about the two teenage girls who jumped off the Erskine bridge together in a suicide pact. Scotland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
I’ve had my own theories for some time about why this might be. It is well known that a deficiency of daylight can cause depression and let’s face it we are not renowned for having much of that in sunny, old Scotland. But there is more to it than that. We know that social inequality is closely linked to suicide. Then there are changing gender role expectations, increasing unemployment, drugs and alcohol misuse. We now know that both Neve Lafferty and Georgia Rowe came from troubled backgrounds. It saddens me beyond description to think that there are so many young people out there who think there is no hope. A life without dreams or prospects. How heartbreaking to think those two girls, at just 14 and 15 years old thought there was nothing ahead for them, that they had no alternative but to take their own lives. How terrible to think that they never realised their full potential. What a sad reflection of our society today.

I remember doing research for an essay when I was at University and I came across an article that outlined statistics showing that Scottish children have the lowest self esteem in the world. As a mother of a Scottish child I find that deeply troubling. I happen to think that kids get a rough ride. That might make me unpopular, but I don’t care. I know there are some children out there that do terrible things. I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve been on the receiving end of it more than once. But I’ve never stopped believing that there is so much that can be done to make a difference. I believe in the good side of people and when I struggle to see that I try at least to understand why they are ‘bad’. I think it’s just a cop out to label them as rotten to the core. Children are so often used as scapegoats, demonised when there is no-one else to blame for our “Broken Britain”. Yet I meet so many wonderful children during my travels - inspiring and funny and polite and clever. Why do we never hear about them? It must be so difficult growing up under this shadow of negativity.

On this sad day I find myself wondering what made two young, beautiful girls think that their future was so bleak that they had no other option but to link hands and jump? I know it sounds cheesy but I’m with Whitney Houston on this one. The children are our future. Maybe it’s time we started investing in them a bit more.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A busy day!

Many thanks to everyone involved with my sessions at Stepps and Moodiesburn Libraries today. I had a lovely time and you all made me feel very welcome and treated me like a true star.
Well done to all the children who came (and there were LOTS of you!). You listened really well and had some terrific questions to ask me at the end of my presentation. Very thought provoking and interesting. And your behaviour was impeccable. Give yourselves a pat on the back!
I hope to see you all again very soon. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket", I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Teacher's Resource Pack - Out NOW!

The FREE Teacher's resource pack to accompany "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" has arrived!

Thursday, 1 October 2009


For the month of October "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" is Scottish Book Trust's Book of the Month!
I am delighted : )

Monday, 14 September 2009

The trials of getting published

Hello y'all! I know, I know! It's been rather a while since I spoke to you but things have been pretty hectic since the launch of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket". I will do my best to post something on my blog as much as I can but no promises!
Anyway, I've been planning a talk I am giving in October as part of the North Lanarkshire Works Festival. I thought it might interest some of the young people there to know what it's like to work towards getting your book published. Here is a rough outline of what I'll be saying if you fancy a read:

"Once I had finished writing “Bree McCready” I had absolutely no idea where to start getting it published. I didn't know anyone in publishing. I didn't even know anyone who knew anyone. All I knew was that I had a good book that I felt certain children would like. So I set to work. My first stop was the internet. I got the names of some well known publishers and I sent them a copy of my synopsis and the first three chapters of the book. After that I thought I had nothing better to do than to sit back and wait for the offers to come flooding in. What I hadn’t realised was that hundreds of other aspiring writers were doing the same thing! This is a very competitive market, you see. There are lots of children’s books out there and even more coming along every day.
When I started getting rejection letters I tried not to let it bother me. Everyone knows that even J.K Rowling got rejection letters. However, after the twentieth "thanks but no thanks" I started to feel a little downhearted. I started to anticipate the depressing thud of the returned manuscript every morning on the doormat. Was I doing something wrong? Nobody ever came right out with "this is absolute rubbish, don't give up the day job!" but at the same time nobody was knocking down my door to get me to sign that exclusive contract. Many of the letters I received were very positive - along the lines of "We really like this but.... or "Some great ideas and excellent writing but..." Always a but! It seemed that despite my having a good story full of terrific ideas this market was already saturated and highly competitive. Still, at least I was getting feedback. I had read somewhere that for every one manuscript that is read, two are filed under B for bin. I hadn't considered rejection on this scale but undeterred I kept going, sure that one day I would laugh at my run of bad luck. And on the bright side my pile of rejection letters would be something to talk to the newspapers about when I was mega famous!
One kind publisher (at the foot of their rejection letter!) advised me to invest in a copy of the 'Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook' which I immediately did. This was very helpful not least because it advised me how best to structure my covering letter to publishers and how to lay things out so my manuscript wouldn’t get chucked in the bin before it had even been read. I re-wrote my synopsis and trundled off to the Post Office with another pile of bulging brown envelopes (*see foot note). I did a lot of waiting and experienced a lot of disappointment before my luck finally changed.

A lovely lady at Strident Publishing called Alison Stroak read my manuscript, as it was - very raw and in paper form. A pile of paper as thick as a doorstep and with lots of mistakes. But she loved it. Alison saw something special, something promising and she really believed in me and my book right from the beginning. That was all it took, just one person to see the potential and then the ball started rolling.

In the run up to Bree being printed there was an unbelievable amount to think about! The first priority was to consider the volume of the book. What I had written was almost three times the size of the finished book - which might have put some younger readers off. So my editor, a great guy called Graham Watson got to work. Editing was quite a long process which mostly took place via phone conversations and email but luckily Graham and I agreed on what was best for the finished article.

Then we had to decide on the cover for the book. Time was ticking on and we couldn't quite get the result that we thought would do the book the justice it deserved. With less than 6 weeks to launch I was starting to sweat that we would be having a launch night without a book! Graham reassured me that all would be fine and he was right (although he admits now that he was sweating slightly too!). I ended up with a cover that I could only have dreamed about (thanks Lawrence!) Then the different fonts were chosen and decisions were made about margins and where the page numbers and my name would go etc. Then there was the blurb to think about because that is as important as the cover. Proof reading was crucial - lots of different people checked the grammar and spelling and made sure that there were no big mistakes before the book went to the printers.
So, the next time you pick up a book spare a thought for all the hard work that goes into getting it just right!"

(* - I will always be eternally grateful to Carole at the Wester Hailes Post Office for her unwavering patience and support during that time. Not once did she ever loose her cool/roll her eyes to the ceiling/sigh deeply/swear/be rude/all of the above -even when I plonked my huge pile of envelopes down on the counter to get weighed and asked for individual receipts of postage for each and every one of them. She showed an interest in what I was doing and always had a smile for me. She never hurried me along even when the queue behind me snaked all the way up to Poundstretchers. To show my appreciation I popped in on Wednesday last week with a signed copy of Bree for her. She was thrilled.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Everyone's talking about... book!
I came across this display in the Stirling branch of Waterstone's on Sunday. Bottom shelf, left hand side in case you're struggling to see what all the fuss is about!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Become a fan!


I've only gone and flippin' broken my hand in two places! What a real pain (quite literally). I just haven't got time at the moment for injury or illness and this could not have happened at a more inconvenient time - what with the massive promotional tour for Bree McCready happening all over Scotland this weekend. I cannot even do the simplest tasks like clean my teeth or get dressed without experiencing gut-wrenching, sweating pain and picking up a pen is impossible. How am I going to do signings in just 4 days time?! I will ice and elevate (as recommended by the nice doctor at the Royal Infirmary A&E department) but who knows what the weekend will bring.
I would love to say I got my injury from something really exciting and adventurous but I actually got it from getting off a double decker bus yesterday afternoon. When I heard the sickening snap of bone I knew something bad had happened. I'm trying to stay positive and think, "It could have been worse". I might have fallen down the steps of the bus and broken a leg or worse. Oh! and I got chatted up by a gorgeous guy as I waited to go in for my x-ray this morning. It's amazing how people can bond over their broken bones.
Thanks to my fantastic friend Caroline who dropped everything this morning to drive me to hospital and do a spot of childminding while I had my wounded hand x-rayed. What am I going to do without you when you jet off to America...X

Monday, 17 August 2009

As promised.... is a bit more about launch night. It's an abridged version of a blog I wrote for the Scottish Book Trust which should appear on their website in the next few days (the blogs only stay up for a day or two and then they go into the archives so you might have to hunt around for it if you're reading this after August!)

"In 1979, when I was eight years old I wrote to “Jim’ll Fix It” to ask if it would be possible to make my dream come true and lock me in a book shop late at night when everyone else had gone home. Now, for anyone under the age of 25 “Jim’ll Fix It” was a television show hosted by Jimmy Saville - a man who made the dreams of thousands of children come true every Saturday teatime. Sadly, my letter was never answered and I didn’t get my “Jim Fixed It For Me” shiny medallion to show off at school.
Fast forward thirty years… I am standing alone in Waterstone’s book shop on George Street at the end of the launch party for my debut novel “Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket”. All is quiet, the lights are dim and it’s just me surrounded by row upon row of books. It wasn’t quite how I imagined the scene when I penned my letter to Sir Jimmy but it was as close as I could imagine to perfection.
August 13th 2009 was without a doubt the best night of my life. It’s not every day you get to have all your friends and family in the same room celebrating something as amazing as the publication of your first book! I signed so many copies of “Bree McCready” that by the end of the night my signature had gone from the usual legible loops to a sloping, spidery scrawl. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my mouth was as dry as an astronaut’s slipper. But I was floating around on cloud nine and nothing was going to get me off!
It’s taken me quite some time to get to this point you see, so it really is quite a big deal. When I was younger and I was asked “that” question - “What do you want to be when you grow up?“ I always had the same answer. A writer. However, having been brought up in a family that valued the old-fashioned work ethic, writing was never encouraged as a career. I was told repeatedly that only the very best get to earn a living doing something they actually enjoy! At school I was complimented for my colourful imagination (or scolded for my daydreaming!) but on the whole my talent seemed to go unnoticed. Despite this I always knew I had a novel in me somewhere...
...During a particularly challenging time in 2006, when I found myself thrust into the unexpected world of single parenthood, writing seemed to organise the chaos in my life and helped to make me feel whole again. Suddenly I was grabbing every spare second I had to scribble down a few paragraphs here and there. I took to carrying a notebook with me for those flashes of inspiration that inevitably occurred in the oddest and most inconvenient places. I began to take my writing seriously and within two years I had a manuscript that was worthy of sending to publishers. It was certainly far from easy getting accepted. I have a head full of grey hairs and a drawer full of rejection letters to prove that! But I would never have given up on my dream. No matter how often I doubted myself I never stopped believing in my book.
I have never been motivated by the thought of fame and fortune and quite honestly I don’t expect it. I am just delighted to see my story in print. It gives me such a thrill to think that young people are reading my book and perhaps escaping some difficult times by immersing themselves in Bree’s story. My greatest pleasure comes from thinking that some may even feel inspired to write down their own thoughts and feelings as a result of reading my work... ..It took me until I reached the age of 34 to even consider trying to write the novel that I knew was inside me from an early age. This has been a most important journey, pursuing the one thing that has always mattered to me. On that humid Thursday evening, as I stood in the deserted Waterstone’s book store I had the chance to reflect upon the journey that has brought me to this point in my life. A shiver ran up my spine as I imagined my dog-eared, yellowing letter still lying, unread under a pile of thousands more like it in the archive boxes at the BBC. And it occurred to me in that moment that some dreams are worth waiting for…"

Brilliant photographs by my good friend Caroline Harvey. She's a total star!!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Right, before I start...

..this picture was not taken today. Blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Pah! What are they? When I arrived at Charlotte Square this morning there was not a glimmer of August sun poking out from behind the iron grey clouds.
Oh the glamour!” I thought as I sheltered under the awning, decaff latte in one hand, spindly old brolley in the other. Now for some strange reason, I can’t imagine JK Rowling wading through ankle deep puddles in her summer pumps and dodging the tidal waves of water created by thoughtless taxi drivers. When I arrived at the entrance to the Edinburgh Book Festival I looked like a drowned rat. On the positive side the organisers of the festival had clearly considered the fact that this was Scotland in the summer so everything was under cover. Great! I made my way to the Children’s book shop where I was meeting Keith from Strident and one of the other authors from the team, John Ward. I spotted our display immediately - and there was "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" staring me in the face! My book, on sale at the Edinburgh Book Festival! Another landmark moment. I sauntered over to take a peek and tried my best to listen in to the conversations of people who were perusing the books on show. I willed them to look in the direction of my book! When John and Keith arrived we got to work signing some of the copies that would be placed on the “signed by the author” display shelves. The tent was fast becoming a sauna - steamy and sweaty - and I began to wonder why I had bothered to straighten my hair that morning. Between the rain and the humidity I had began to resemble Russell Brand (only without the beard). Next stop - Waterstone’s at the West End of Princes Street to do some more signings. Then we were heading all the way along to the opposite end of town to their other branch.
I’m glad I wore comfy shoes” I thought to myself as we marched briskly towards our destinations. Maybe this time next year I’ll have my own personal chauffeur?.. With all this walking, combined with my “too busy and excited to eat” diet, by my estimations I should be able to join the Hollyoaks cast sometime late 2010! Turned out the branch at the East end of Edinburgh were still waiting for the copies of Bree to arrive so I had a last minute reprieve. I left John and Keith for a bit and went to theee most horrible pub/restaurant for a cup of coffee. I had imagined sitting somewhere airy and trendy, maybe a bit of jazz and some interesting people to watch as I prepared myself for the next stage of the promotional tour. I had an hour to relax and soak up some of the festival atmosphere before Keith, John and I met up again back at the Festival. The pub I went to shall remain nameless. Now, to be fair the minute I walked in and caught the faint whiff of sick I could have turned right around and gone somewhere else but by this point I was dying for a coffee and a wee seat. Really, without sounding too cruel this place was truly horrible. They didn’t have decaff coffee either so I settled for a (flat) lime and lemonade which came in a glass like the one you get at the dentist. I sat in a gloomy corner on a beer stained seat and signed some copies of sampler Bree’s (the one chapter tasters that are designed to whet the appetite. They are fab by the way) while I tried not to come into contact with the table. To put it kindly, I was glad I had brought my antibacterial gel with me. I nearly said to the staff “Do you know who I am?! Get this table cleaned pronto!” but I just sat quietly and smiled politely whenever they caught my eye. By this point my tummy was rumbling but I daren’t have put my life on the line by eating anything. And no interesting people to spy either. Just a wee old man nursing a pint and arguing with himself in the corner. I didn’t finish the juice, it had a sinister after taste but I did use the time to catch my breath and write some personal comments inside the “wee Bree’s” which I am now calling them. Time to leave the grotty pub - I nearly left my shoes behind because they got stuck on the tacky floor!
Back to the book festival for round two! Now this was my favourite part of the day. I had a whole pile of ‘samplers’ and this was my chance to meet the public and introduce myself to potential readers. I wandered around taking in some of the atmosphere (the sun had made its long overdue appearance by this point) and trying to spy children who looked like they might enjoy “Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket”. It was such fun giving out the “wee Bree’s” and meeting so many great kids - who were really enthusiastic and chuffed to get a freebie. I even got chased for an autograph by a charming young lady called Emma. “Now that’s more like it!" I thought as I looked round to see where the paparazzi were hiding. My first request for an autograph, wow!
After a while I met up with Keith and John again and we wandered over to the author’s area which was the most amazing, hippy style tent with woven rugs scattered on the floor and fairy lights draped all around. I half expected to be asked to sit cross legged on the floor and light an incense stick! Luckily I wasn’t asked to do this - would have played havoc with my sciatica. I met some people from the Scottish Book Trust and then it was time to hand out some more samplers. I thought I had done really well to shift the pile of 30 copies that Keith had given me so imagine my face when he handed me his (rather heavy!) satchel full of hundreds of them!!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way” I thought as I bravely struggled to put the bag over my shoulder without toppling over. We all went our separate ways after that. I thought it made good sense to head back to the children’s book shop and the timing was great because just as I got there a whole load of kids came pouring out of the event tents and made a beeline for the shop. I managed to hand out all the samplers and I got the opportunity to meet lots of children who will hopefully decide they like the first chapter and buy the book. It was a buzz to see their faces light up when I told them I was the author and offered to sign it for them! So, not theee most glamorous day in the history of glam. I have blisters on my feet and writers cramp, a sore shoulder and muddy shoes but I also have a huge smile on my face! Another great day. Roll on next week for the mammoth tour!

Friday, 14 August 2009

The best night of my life!

Thankyou to everyone who came along to the launch party for "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket". It was a wonderful night. The best ever. I would like to write a lengthy blog entry outlining all the great moments but I am absolutely shattered! I have run on empty today, getting along on pure happiness but it has suddenly hit me that I need to stop for a minute. Tomorrow is another hectic day, book signings and the book festival in Edinburgh. I am looking forward to it immensely but I think it would be wise for me to have an early night.
So, here are a couple of photos from last night to keep you going and I promise there will be more soon. Thanks again to everyone, especially team Strident who are the most terrific people on the planet.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Check out the book that changed my life...

..on the Scottish Book Trust website:

An excerpt from...

..."Dear Fatty" by Dawn French

"That's the key, you know, confidence. I know for a fact that if you can genuinely like your body, so can others. It doesn't really matter if it's short, tall, fat or thin, it just matters that you can find some things to like about it. Even if that means having a good laugh at the bits of it that wobble independently, occasionally that's all right. It might take you a while to believe me on this one, lots of people don't because they seem to suffer from a self-hatred that precludes them from imagining that a big woman could ever love herself because they don't. But I DO. I know what I've got is a bit strange and difficult to love but those are the very aspects I love the most! It's a bit like people. I've never been particularly attracted to the uniform of conventional beauty. I'm always a bit suspicious of people who feel compelled to conform. I personally like the adventure of difference. And what's beauty anyway?"

I just love Dawn French. Do you know what would be a dream come true? If Ms French agreed to read the audio version of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" that would really be the icing on the cake!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A day to myself (at last!)

"When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they're finished, I climb out"
Erma Bombeck

During the week I find myself yearning for some time to myself. I crave some peace and quiet and a break away from always having to focus fully on Junior.
"just give me 5 minutes!" I hear myself saying on a regular basis, "that's all I want!"
But I never get it.
Maybe in a million years from now children will have evolved to include a volume control and a pause button....
Junior is a lovely wee boy but he is very demanding - not naughty, just full on and sometimes (particularly during the six weeks of summer holidays - how have I survived?!) it just gets a bit too much. It's like I reach saturation point - I simply can't take any more ninja moves or somersaults or high-pitched squealing or flying missiles or...well, the list is endless. Sensory overload.
Why is it then that when he is away from me I miss him so much? I have the prospect of a Junior free weekend ahead of me, where I can write and cook and read a book without distraction and yet if I'm honest, I feel a bit lost. I find myself pottering about Junior's bedroom smiling at the way he has arranged the teddies on his bed or rolling my eyes at the dirty clothes that have been stuffed back into his drawers. I even (and I can't believe I'm admitting this) sit on the end of his bed and sniff his pillow. Ok, ok! I'm a sad specimen.
I think it's just because when Junior is around he is like a human tornado. He simply never stops moving and talking (even in his sleep) so when he isn't here the void he leaves is huge and silent. I am usually so busy that I only really notice his absence when I sit down for a cuppa or at night when I go to bed and I can't hear his breathing through the wall. I can't imagine being away from my wee boy for more than a day or two (at the very most).
And then before I know it he's running back through the front door with all his dirty washing, spinning and jumping on the settee and leaving a trail of destruction behind him and suddenly I'm willing it to be the weekend again!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Bree has landed!!!.......

"Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" arrived through my letterbox at 10am this morning! This picture doesn't do the book justice as I took it myself (with shaking hands) but you will all have the chance to hold one in your hands this time next week!
I am thrilled with the end result. It feels like all the hard graft and persistence has finally paid off. Bree feels like my second baby. Yippeeeee!

P.S The postie was too quick so he didn't get the shower of grateful kisses I had planned to give him - never mind!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

It's been a funny old day...

...starting with me setting up camp underneath the letterbox. Today was the day that "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" was due to arrive through the post in book form. I was all prepared to jump on the postie and smother him with grateful kisses (whether he liked it or not). After about 10 minutes I heard my email alert 'bing' so I dragged myself over to my laptop, making sure I kept one eye firmly on the door just in case I missed anything. It was Keith from Strident informing me that Bree had returned back from the printers yesterday but because he had got stuck in a horrific traffic jam he had missed the postal pick up and as a result Bree would come a day late to me. Oh well, I thought, I've waited my whole life for this, another 24 hours is not going to kill me. And at least I would be able to prize myself away from the front door to make myself a coffee. As I pottered around in the kitchen the local news came on the radio and the newsreader cheerfully announced that exam results were due today. Agh! Back to the letterbox, coffee in hand and heart in mouth.
With everything going on recently it had completely slipped my mind that my maths results would be making their appearance on my doormat sometime early August. Talk about a roller-coaster ride! Sometimes life is like waiting for a bus - you hang around for ages and nothing much happens then ...well, you know the rest. I waited for ages for the post - pacing the room, peeking out of the window - but at around 11am I gave up hope of being put out of my misery. I was getting used to the waiting game! A watched pot never boils so I returned to the kitchen to start the washing up. Just as I plunged my hands into the soapy water I heard Junior's excited voice wafting through from the living room - "Mummy, it's the postie!"
When I saw the envelope I just knew. With shaking (and soapy) fingers I ripped it open and carefully pulled out the contents. Scanning down the text I searched for my grade....A!
A.A Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh) once wrote that, "to the uneducated, an A is just three sticks" Sorry Mr Milne but I don't agree. This A is my reward for a year of struggle and tears, recognition of all my hard work and dedication and proof that no matter how difficult you find something if you want it badly enough it is within your grasp.
It's nice to own those "three sticks" and to feel proud of my achievement. Hearing Junior tell people today that he had a "clever Mummy" made all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. Ain't no stopping me now!
Anyway, must dash, I've got to prepare myself once more for jumping on the postie in 12 hours time. I can't wait to hold my book in my hand! I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Turbo hamster!

I promised Junior after I was finished checking my emails we could look at anything he wanted on the internet. He chose funny hamsters on youtube and we came across this wee gem!

Much hilarity...

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Quote for today

"Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second! Such things are not going to affect one's life ... but 1932 the 'Mars Bar' and 1936 'Maltesers' and 1937 the 'Kit Kat' - these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country"
Roald Dahl

Friday, 24 July 2009

Today is...

I am not afraid of tomorrow for I have seen yesterday and I love today
William Allen White.

..a very special anniversary for me. I began working on “Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket” the day after my relationship with Junior’s dad finally fell apart. 24th July 2006 - it was a Monday. With the benefit of hindsight I know it was for the best but at the time it felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me.
I had toyed with the basic concept of the novel for some time and I could see clearly in my mind all the characters and their individual personalities. I had just never managed to get around to seriously putting anything down on paper. I wanted to be a writer from the first moment I held a pencil. It was the only thing I was good at and the one thing I could see myself spending my life doing. I won several awards throughout my school years for story writing but despite being complimented regularly for my colourful imagination (or scolded for my daydreaming!) on the whole my flair for words seemed to go unnoticed. Over the years I reluctantly accepted that writing would have to be a hobby and one that I could only pursue in between a real job. So I floundered from one occupation to another- soulless jobs that paid the rent but did little for my sanity or my well-being. After I got my degree in 2003 I decided to take some time out of my career to dedicate myself fully to being a mum (my favourite and most challenging job so far!) How could I ever have prepared myself for being thrown into the unexpected and chaotic world of single parenthood?

Writing a children’s novel had always been a dream for me but one which had gone on hold so many times for so many different reasons - lack of time, want for motivation, fear of failure. My personal crisis seemed to crack open something that had been buried deep inside and suddenly the idea of writing just felt like the right thing to do. It offered me a way of escaping an extremely difficult period in my life, a chance to release negative and destructive emotions, whilst offering me some much needed hope for a new beginning. It was as though with every word I wrote I could feel the darkness lifting. Bree’s world provided me with a trapdoor out of my own painful existence, a place where I was able to escape my problems and take back a modicum of control. For a while I became the master of other people’s destinies and gradually the fact that I was no longer the master of my own did not feel quite so bad. Certain features of the story reflect my own circumstances and emotions at the point that I wrote them and in many ways I wore my heart on my sleeve throughout the writing of my novel. I found the experience of incorporating my own feelings into those of the characters very therapeutic. Without wishing to sound over dramatic, writing “Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket” saved me. Looking back, it was such a positive thing to do under such desperate circumstances, almost as though I was not prepared to go down without a fight. Putting pen to paper was a last ditch attempt to stop me from unravelling completely. Writing seemed to organise the chaos in my life and helped to make me feel whole again. Suddenly I was grabbing every spare second I had - and spare time was a rare luxury as any single mum with a hyperactive two year old will tell you! I can remember rushing downstairs when Junior went for his afternoon nap hoping to scribble down a few paragraphs while the house was semi-quiet. I took to carrying a notebook in the back of the buggy along with the spare nappy, wet wipes and the soggy, half eaten biscuit - for those flashes of inspiration that inevitably occurred in the oddest and most inconvenient places - the supermarket checkout, the bus stop, the doctor’s waiting room. My book started to feel like my second child.
It took me until I reached the age of 34 to even consider trying to write the novel that I knew was inside me from an early age. It took something terrible to happen to shove me in the right direction. This has been a difficult but most important journey, pursuing the one thing that has always mattered to me most.
I try not to do this very often but when I look back to July 2006 I realise that if somebody had told me then that I would be living my dream in three years time I would probably have laughed and rolled my eyes to the ceiling in that way we do when what we’re hearing is truly unbelievable. If I had been told that on July 24th 2009 I would be only 3 weeks away from the launch party for my first novel I would have thought I was hearing things. It was hard to imagine at that time climbing out of the black hole I had fallen (or been pushed?) into. But what do you know? Extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people…
I’ve waited all my life for this and I am determined to enjoy every single second of it. Now when Junior says, “I wonder what will happen to me when I‘m a big boy” my response is “Who can tell? Just never give up on your dreams and above all, prepare to be surprised!”

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul"
Linda Solegato

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Bang goes the diet...again!!

“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there's a large kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mum”
Barbara Costikyan (22/10/84 New York Magazine)

I decided to do some home baking with Junior this afternoon. Quality time, just mum & son. Nigella Lawson meets the Brady Bunch. I chose one healthy recipe - carrot and sesame seed squares (which taste delicious!) and one indulgent recipe - chocolate tiffin (otherwise known as chocolate fridge cake). I had this wee dream in my head of the perfect scene - perfectly behaved child stirring the bowl calmly while mother, wearing homely apron serenely wipes her face, leaving behind a streak of flour. She smiles down proudly at her offspring and ruffles his hair. A bit like the advert for Dr Oatker chocolate brownie mix. It didn't quite turns out like that but Junior had fun anyway! There's loads for a five year old to do with the tiffin recipe so it's a good one to try if you've got kids. Junior's favourite part was smashing the digestive biscuits. To be honest, it was mildly disturbing just how much he loved this....
"Pay back time!" he shouted, wielding the wooden rolling pin above the bag of innocent biscuits.
"Take that! And that! I will destroy you.."
By the end of the process the recipe, which recommended "leaving some lumps for texture" had flown out of the window and it looked like a bag of sand. Anyway, I'm sure it will taste lovely.
"Is this a WeightWatchers recipe?" Junior asked innocently.
"Eh, not really" I replied as I piled the butter, sugar, syrup and chocolate into the saucepan.
Tiffin features in chapter 2 of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" and this is the recipe that Bree's Mum uses!

225g/8oz Digestive biscuits
150g/5oz raisins
100g/4oz butter
25g/1oz brown sugar
3 tablespoons of Hot Chocolate Powder
4 tablespoons of Golden Syrup
225g/8oz Milk or Plain chocolate (we used Dairy Milk)

Place the crushed biscuits and raisins in a large bowl.
Melt the butter, sugar, chocolate powder and syrup over a low heat.
Combine this with the biscuits and raisins.
Mix well then press down into an oiled square tin. Leave to cool.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water until smooth.
Spread over the top of the cooled biscuit mixture.
Leave to cool for a wee while.
Mark into squares and refrigerate.

Right, I'm away to clear up the scene of devastation that is my kitchen!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Joy, Joy, Joy!

This really made me and Junior laugh tonight so I thought I would share it with you all and hope it brings a smile on this rainy Friday night!

Hello Dolly!

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of

Children’s Nursery Rhyme

I’ve always been fascinated by the nature/nurture debate. Are girls and boys intrinsically different? Is gender biologically determined? How does environment and culture influence gender roles in early life? It was an area of my work with children that intrigued me and I chose to specialise in the subject during second year at University. When I had Junior I was excited at the prospect of putting all my knowledge into action and I was adamant that my son would play with toys which would traditionally only have been for girls (if he was interested in doing so). Hence the reason I feel mildly despondent when I watch my gentle wee boy playing with his power rangers and action men.
Pow! Take that you evil baddie, I’ll strangle you and rip your arms off!”
I sigh deeply at this behaviour but accept that it's probably a normal 5 year old boy thing to do.
Why can’t they just have a cup of tea together and chat about last nights Eastenders?” I plead after being exposed to a relentless half hour of Kung Fu fighting and disturbingly inventive ways for action men to kill each other. Junior looks at me like I’ve lost my mind and resumes his killing spree. I have never encouraged this kind of play. Even before I became a mum I felt very strongly about children playing with guns and we have a strict no-gun policy at home. This doesn’t stop Junior making guns out of Lego or any other available method. Once I even watched him make a bit of toast into a gun.
Junior had a variety of toys as a baby, a healthy mixture of Thomas the Tank Engine, jigsaws and cooking utensils. He played happily with them all and continued pushing his buggy along the pavement even after an ignorant neighbour came out to tell me I was going to “Turn my son strange”. Thanks for your advice mate!! Starting school definitely changed Junior. He suddenly became aware that pink was “for girls” and for a while he would even screw his face up at strawberry Angel Delight. It didn’t help that the school toilets were decorated blue for boys, pink for girls. What century are we living in?! And his play got a lot rougher. Survival of the fittest I guess. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality. I frequently had to question my own values in the first few months of school. I strongly believe that violence breeds violence. Hitting someone is not an effective way to win a fight. Violence is an unacceptable way to solve a dispute. However after months of Junior coming home covered in bruises where people had kicked him my advice changed from “Just walk away, be the better man” to “Hit them back! As hard as you can!” Perhaps my hippy, pacifistic way of thinking had been a bit naive?
Don’t get me wrong. Junior is a lovely boy. He loves babies and plays very naturally with them. He is gentle and caring with Dizzy, his hamster and he regularly compliments me on what I’m wearing. He always notices if I’m wearing new earrings. I even caught him singing “Dancing Queen” the other morning. So it's not all blood baths and ninja death moves.
Last night I told Junior if he behaved really well I had something very special to show him after his bath. I often use this as a bribe because it really works! We had a peaceful bath time and he left all his dirty clothes in a neat pile as opposed to leaving various articles scattered over every corner of the house. He was a paragon of virtue so I had to think fast about a truly terrific prize. I spotted my old doll on top of the wardrobe. Would Junior be disappointed with this as a reward? What the heck, I’d give it a bash.
Fiona, the doll is 35 years old. She is an old style Tiny Tears (probably worth a fortune now but I wouldn’t part with her for anything) She is in perfect condition apart from some chewed toes and a missing clump of hair (I was 5! I didn’t understand that it wouldn’t grow back) She is very special to me because I have lots of happy memories of playing with her. I think I was really old when I lost interest in her. Maybe ten or eleven. I can’t believe I said that out loud, but there you go.
When Junior was all dried and in his pyjamas I stretched up to lift Fiona from the wardrobe.
“I have someone very special for you to meet” I said trying to build the moment up. It was touch and go whether Junior would have a tantrum when he saw his ‘reward’.
“Ah Mummy, she’s beautiful
We lay on the bed and I told him stories about what I used to do with Fiona - doll’s hospitals, trips round the block in her pram etc and he listened intently as he gently touched her moveable eyelids. He was smitten!
“Can I take her to bed with me, Mummy?”
I was a bit reluctant about this. Chances were high that I would wake up the next morning to find one of her arms missing or a pudgy leg hanging off. But he was so keen I couldn’t resist. I tucked them in together and went downstairs for a cup of coffee.
When I retired to bed much later I went in to check on Junior and my heart fell to the floor. He had made a wee bed for Fiona beside his bed (see pictures above). He had laid her carefully on a pillow with a blanket over her. He had even gone to the bother of giving her Bruno the dog to cuddle and he had laid her booties neatly beside the makeshift bed. Tears of pride pricked my eyes as I bent to kiss his cheek. Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails? Pah!!