Education, education, education.

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I’ve endured school. My children have endured school. The best bits, the most informative bits came from inspired teachers who left the format and took us to interesting places, either physically or in the mind. I think my children would say the same. The allegorists, the story tellers, the mavericks.

The worst bits were the teachers telling us stuff from the front of the class, and copying things down from the board.

When I go into schools, I try to remember this. That the moments that stuck were when I was allowed to go outside the straight and narrow – they were the leaps forward.  When I understood about character – that it wasn’t a visual thing, or even a behavioural thing, it was an internal thing – I was 45 when I learned that.  When venn diagrams made sense because it was explained it terms of gang culture.  When we played on the river bank to get all the experience of erosion and sediment and alluvial deposit.  When Dad and I trawled through parish records and saw how many people died before the age of 30 – to do a school project on local history.

I really don’t think grammar schools are going to do this.

I think it’s going to mean even more time in the classroom, learning by rote and the middle classes, for all the best reasons, will try to get their children into the grammar schools.

But there is an answer. Half the class sizes, double the number of teachers. Stop the darn testing and give everyone more time to learn.

That’s it. I’ve had my say.

 

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End of day 4 and I am in awe…

It’s been a bit of a marathon this week. Starting with the fabulous children of Newbridge Primary School in Bath, who between them have bought 101 copies of Murder in Midwinter. Yes, 101. Like the dalmations.  Astonishing.  Credit goes to amazing teachers and a very wonderful mum who got the whole thing going – and some keen, keen children who made the event go like a bomb. I really enjoyed it.

Next was Birmingham, a great inner city school with terrific dedicated teachers and a mixed bag of enthusiastic children, who wrote their little socks off, and who gave me a fabulous welcome. Children who exploded with thoughts and imagination and deserved their terrific teachers.

Then Cottingley – this is further north than I thought. After an horrendous trip up the M5/6/62/ and on… I reached Bradford, then Shipley, and then Cottingley.  A village school of considerable size, I workshopped 180 children (yes it is possible if the staff are astonishing, and they were) and there was some brilliant blood chilling writing, as well as wild and wonderful ideas from the littler ones.  And then I drove back to Birmingham.

All of these visits have proved to me once again, how utterly amazing the huge army of primary teachers are in this country. What absolute saints. We come in, and fly out – we are exhausted by our efforts with children, breathe sighs of relief when it’s all over, but they do it day after day after day.

As ever, I am in awe.

Thank you for having me.

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A year five teacher whose name I failed to catch, dressed as Gansta Granny.

World Book Week – Day 1

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I’m writing this the night before the day it all kicks off.

Overnight I will go from reclusive, sitting on the sofa with my laptop writer, to all singing all dancing author in schools .

Normally, I slope about in gardening clothes, a bit grubby, but ready to respond to a falling tree or leaf at the drop of a hat.

Tomorrow, proper clothes, proper shoes. A powerpoint (just that word sends chills down my disorganized spine).

There will be maps of schools to find. Names to remember and corridors that are all remarkably similar to negotiate. School lunches, and school smells. Smiling teachers, anxious teachers, smiling children, reluctant children. In some cases, hostile children and I have to be honest, at times, I will long for my sofa and my laptop and my gardening trousers.

But then, when it’s all over and I look for photos on my phone and I remember to tweet and I write down the mileage (quite a lot this week) I will long for a trip out. A chance to leave my manuscript hanging, my characters stuck in a cave, half way up a cliff. I will long for someone to make me a coffee, not me. And I will remember the children that laughed, that got excited about books, that stared into space and told me about the best thing they ever read.  And I will treasure the letters like the one above that arrive unbidden from children who have read my books.

And I will be glad of being a children’s author, rolled out for this annual festival.  I will long for the excitement of World Book Week.

Just remember though. We are, like puppies, not just for one time in the year. Most of us like to crawl out of our shells more often. You just have to ask.

 

In Real Time.

Just before Christmas I was aware that I was living through the days that take place in MURDER IN MIDWINTER. There was no snow though. And no murder and no actual thrill. Life was the adult whirl of Christmas preparation with just a hint of Christmas magic but rather too much shopping.

Now we’re on the other side, and I’m about to live through the real time of Bus Stop Baby, and this time, the weather’s obliging with frosty nights, too cold to leave a baby in a bus shelter and the promise of spring and days getting longer to follow.

I’m hoping, that given time, I can fill the whole year with stories.  DEAR SCARLETT, soon to be re-issued, is end of summer term.  THE YOGHURT PLOT is late spring. SAVING SOPHIA is the summer holidays, SHRUNK is Halloween.

Perhaps I need to think about September next.

Happy New Year.

The daft things we do…

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This is me and Maudie a week ago. Full of excitement. But now it’s now and what seemed a good idea at the time seems a bit scarily close.

In just over three hours time, we’ll be bookselling at Waterstones in Salisbury – testing our expertise in kid’s lit.

You can test it too.

Come and join us.  3 – 7 the two idiots at the back of the shop.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff that holds you up.

Now I’m not doing Nanowrimo – which for those who have never heard of it is a group of people who all try to write a novel in a month.  It leads to massive word counts and finished novels and is probably a thoroughly good thing, but personally, not for me.

I am though, trying to write a novel in a month. Or at least, finish one that I started a while back – I’m motoring through, huge word counts, massive chunks of plot down on virtual paper and the end is in sight.

But then I get stuck.

And its the silliest thing.

Two girls get into a boat and look for some food.

Olivia reached out for Grandpa’s lunch package.  Oh no. Innuendo.

Olivia rummaged around under the seat and found Grandpa’s sandwiches. Now I can’t stop the innuendo.

Chloe handed Olivia Grandpa’s packed lunch.  Even worse.

Reaching into a bag Chloe took out the lunch that Grandpa had given them.  Too  long.

“Time for lunch” said Chloe, digging out Grandpa’s package.  Arghghgh!

At which point, I go and have lunch and spend all afternoon looking for an old photograph.

 

As you were….

Being the lousy horse rider.

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Murder in Midwinter has more than a passing reference to ponies – Children keep asking me about it, so it’s time to come clean.

There were two things I loved when I was a kid, adventures, and horses.

What I didn’t love, was adventures on horses.

I wasn’t terribly brave, even though the rest of my family seemed to think I was, and although I completely loved riding in a calm controlled environment, and I adored caring for a pony, I was utterly useless at the whole riding out there in the world thing.

On more than one occasion a pony came home without me. Once it left me in a field not far away, the other time a larger, scarier horse ran across the main A33 dual carriageway and I had to walk several miles wondering where it was.

This was all before mobile phones.

There was the time my pony sat on a car.  The people were terribly nice about it.

There was the moment when I was tipped head first over a jump in the middle of some ill advised competition and tore a gash in the seat of my jodhpurs.

There were the anxious nights spent sleeping on the floor of the weighing room at Tweseldown Racecourse before enduring hours of my own incompetence and humiliation at Pony Club Camp.

Just thinking about it makes me blush.

But I kept on, because I thought I loved horses. Incomprehensible really.

I would return, sore and grubby from each episode of horsemanship to my bedroom and sink into a book, curl up in the corner of my bed, as far away from the horse as possible and escape from the awful pony reality.

it was a repeating ritual.  Put myself through some physical or emotional agony, and then retreat into reading in order to forget about it. It took me years to realise that books were kinder than horses.  That, no matter how many times I put myself up there to fail, I was never going to master riding. That really I should give it up.

And more than that – I never told anyone how difficult I found it.  My parents must have despaired, but they were nice enough to say nothing.

And then I sort of grew up.  I realised I didn’t have to do this any more. I could do other things, like go for a walk, stroke a pony over a fence, watch someone else fall off.

You’ll be glad to know I haven’t been on a pony since 22nd November 1990 – and I have no intention of getting back on one.  But I still watch the racehorses gallop up the field opposite every morning, and I still kind of wish, I could ride. I mean, really ride.