Something You Want, Something You Need, Something to Wear and Something to Read

Christmas book

Ahh Christmas. It’s all about giving and my goodness don’t we all know how to give! The more we give, the better we feel about ourselves. Right?

All that money, all that organising, all that shopping … and for what? For your child to rip off the paper, casting it aside almost as quickly as the toy, as they start on the next present. And the next present. And the next present. Before you know it you have a wrapping paper mountain, and scattered toys already separated from their instructions, batteries and any other important components.

Boxing day – a day for you to have to do all that tidying, all that recycling, all that charity bagging. It feels like we just bought anything to make it look like we bought a lot. Somehow, despite our best intentions, the act of giving is no longer as much fun, or as appreciated as much as it should be. There’s simply too much of it.

I hadn’t heard of the saying “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read”, but now I have heard of it, it makes total sense. Personally, I’d much rather have four great gifts than 100 rubbish gifts! And truthfully, I think our children would too.

I remember watching my son one year – every time he opened a present he wanted to play with it and I was saying, “you can play with it later, open the next one. Hurry up or we won’t be on time for Christmas dinner!” How ridiculous. Even as I said it, I knew I was wrong, but he had too many presents and not enough time, so we had to keep rushing through.

There’s really not much I want and I know I certainly do NOT want tat so I’m going to ask my husband for the “four” and the older members of my family to donate to my chosen charity.

Of course the last one is the one I’m most excited about. Something to read. Hmmm, thinking about it, a book actually covers three of the four, but I’m not sure I can wear a book, so perhaps that will just be a pair of comfy furry socks for when I curl up on the sofa with one of the three books I get for Christmas 😊

 

 

Anti-Bullying Week – is Protecting the Victim Enough?

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Anti-Bullying Week is a regular focal point on all school calendars. Very few schools deny they have bullies, they accept the problem and deal with it in the best way they know how. Lessons are based around empowering the victims, explaining how to stay safe and the importance of sharing concerns with a safe adult.

But what about the bully?

It is our responsibility as parents to raise our children to be calm, kind and caring. To make sure that they neither fall victims to bullies, nor become the bullies. This is great in most families. Most families care greatly about their children and raise them responsibly.

There is another group of children however, who are not as fortunate. These are the children who suffer neglect, intimidation, bullying, abuse … from their own parents or family members. This often results in aggressive, abusive behaviour by the child.

Sometimes, I think helping the victims, becomes like constantly mopping up water from a leaky tap. Surely it’s better to fix the tap? If we could help the bullies, there wouldn’t be any victims in need of help.

The bullies need friendship and understanding too. They are rarely happy children. They’re acting out the pain inside. In “The Boy Who Couldn’t” (which was initially called “Bully”), the readers witness Greg’s terrible home life and see how it affects his actions outside the house. We don’t have to like him, but I challenge you to read it without feeling some sympathy for him. Then James’ mum does what I wish I had done … in a very subtle, understated way, she invites Greg into her family. She doesn’t interfere. She doesn’t judge. She’s just there. And without anything being explicitly told to him, Greg knows she cares. This is hugely important in his life. I hope we can all learn not to be judgemental, but to seek the real child hiding behind the guise of a bully. James’ mum, in her own quiet way, makes our world a better place. #notallheroeswearcapes

Society is broken?

kitty-551554_960_720No it’s not!

Teenagers are hooligans!
No they’re not!

Kids today – they don’t know they’re born!
Erm…

It was better in my day!
No it wasn’t!

Old people are always whinging!
No they’re not!

Mental health is at it’s worst!
You may have a point.

I want to correct a few myths: there are no more violent criminals, sex offenders, murderers, losers or wasters than there were before. Read a Shakespearean history or tragedy and you’ll see that those times were far more dangerous than now.

What is different is that we are all better educated. We’re literate. And my goodness that literacy has gone wild – it’s everywhere, newspapers, magazines, social media, posters in shop windows… In addition, we’ve made leaps and bounds with technology and again wow – news on the television, radio, social media again, emails…

So what has happened is that we all know far more than we did before. Back in Shakespeare’s time, if someone murdered somebody in London, it was unlikely a person in Newcastle would hear about it. Not only did the news not travel far enough or fast enough, but the murders were likely to have been far more frequent and therefore not as shocking as it is today.

What has stayed the same is that bad news makes great gossip. Nobody cares that a teenager held the door open for me today as I struggled with too many bags of shopping, but they all want to know about the teenager who threatened another with a knife. Just as in the 1500s bad news is the news that travels. The difference is that it now travels at lightening speed all across the whole world. Therefore, it feels like our lives are constantly threatened by evil. Sometimes it feels that the whole world is wicked and nothing good is happening. On top of that, the wonderful computer algorithms can exacerbate that feeling. Yesterday, I was looking on line for a new bed – now, whether I’m on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Google or wherever, I keep getting adverts for a new bed. The same happens with bad news – if you open a document about a dog being stolen, the algorithms will suddenly inundate you with stories of stolen dogs until you feel it’s no longer safe to have a dog and make you completely paranoid if you already have one.

I don’t know if mental health is worse now, because it used to be a taboo subject. I’m sure it’s always been far bigger than we ever realised, but I do wonder if it’s even worse now, due in part to the way we are inundated with news (almost exclusively bad news) from waking first thing in the morning (I always check my updates once I’ve turned my alarm off), to going to bed (I always check my updates once I’ve got into bed). I know I’m not the only one obsessed with my phone!

Well that’s all pretty miserable isn’t it! But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be. Remember those algorithms? They can work in your favour too. Search for a happy kitten and you’ll be inundated with happy kittens, search for a hero story and you’ll be inundated with hero stories. Top tip: I love the Good News Network on Facebook for this. You can play a part too – try to share lots of positive thoughts. If you’re having a good day, let people know. It will make someone else’s day and then they too may share something positive for you to see. It will pop up in your Facebook memories and make you smile again on that day each year for the rest of your Facebook life. 😊

Of course, if you’re having a bad day, we all know it can negatively affect your mental health to keep it to yourself. I’m definitely not saying to hide your feelings. If your way of dealing with it is to share on Facebook that’s your decision, personally, I find it more beneficial to speak to a friend or family member face to face when I’m struggling. But you know you and you need to do what’s right for you.

However, when we are having a good day, how can we make sure our perception of the world avoids negativity and focuses on positivity? It would be nice if, upon finding something we don’t like, we thought what we could do to make it better instead of just complaining and feeling down about it. Helping others and fixing problems raises your spirits and your self-esteem. If your local school committee is not doing enough for the children, join their committee. They are probably desperate for extra helpers. If the town’s full of litter, organise a litter-picking group – our borough council supply litter pickers and bags for the local town group.

If you do have to make a complaint about a business, be sure to balance the karma by sending a letter or card complimenting another business. You’ll make that business’s day and you’ll feel much better too. 😊

Take back control. Make your own little world a better place and watch the love spread. That reminds me of this awesome little video. Clearly designed for very young children but I love it and I’m a not-so-young grown-up! The Pig of Happiness

Keep smiling folks and spread the love. 😊

Your Guide to Buying Indie-Books

library-425730_960_720There is a wealth of books out there that will give you joy, terror, heart-break, fear, ecstasy, laughs, sorrow and every other emotion you want to feel.

There are also a lot of books that will simply bore you or annoy you.

Buying any book is always a risk; you may or may not enjoy it, but hey, it’s a very low cost risk – most paper books are well under a tenner. Nevertheless, you don’t want to waste your hard-earned cash, so when you decide to buy a book from an indie-author, how do you know if you’re backing a lame-horse?

There have been many times when I’ve picked up a book and not enjoyed it. Perhaps I haven’t liked the writer’s style, or the plot doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe I didn’t buy into the main character or it was just wasn’t my favourite genre. That’s okay, I can deal with that. I don’t buy another book from that author or in that genre and I move on. There are no hard feelings – art is subjective.

What makes me furious though, is when the writer has not even tried. If I read a book and find spelling mistakes and grammatical mistakes, or the plot doesn’t make sense, it makes me furious. I feel that the writer has not respected me as a reader and then I feel cheated. It’s no longer about the content of the book – it’s become personal. Readers deserve respect and writers who don’t give respect don’t deserve respect in return.

So how do we find the really great indie-authors? The professional indie-authors? It’s easy. The first thing I do is judge the book by its cover. Does the cover look professional? If it doesn’t, I guarantee the contents are not professional either. Many indie-authors spend hundreds of pounds commissioning professional covers to make sure the reader gets the full experience – after all, there’s nothing quite like looking at the front cover of a book and knowing that you can’t wait any longer to read it. You were saving it for the weekend but…

Secondly, look inside at the back of the title page. Has it listed an editor? No? Wow! There is no author on earth who can produce a professional book without an editor. This includes traditionally published authors who are given an in-house editor and it includes editors themselves. It’s impossible for a writer to edit their own book, because they know exactly what they meant, so they cannot see the pitfalls, from plot-holes to spelling, punctuation and grammar. And no – asking their very clever friend or English teacher to read through is not enough. Editors are professionals and highly trained in their specific area. If the indie-writer does not respect the reader enough to have their book professionally edited then that is a big red flag.

Thirdly, check out their website and social media. You’ll quickly get a feel for what kind of person they are. Do they have a professional presence? Do they live and breathe reading and writing, or are they just putting anything out hoping to make a quick buck? Do they care enough about their readers to interact with them or do comments go ignored? If relevant, are they an expert in their field, or just someone who once did something? It’s amazing what you can learn about someone just by looking at the memes and photographs they upload. If they interest you on-line, they’ll more than likely interest you in their book too.

So what are you waiting for? Now you know how to buy indie-books safely, without buying drivel, you have millions of books just waiting for you to read!

Why I Wrote About Badgers in my Story

badger clan

Badgers seem to be one of the most misunderstood animals in the British countryside. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred – I believe that’s where a lot of racism, sexism and disableism stems from. Badgers are secretive animals that mainly only come out at night and live below ground, therefore, very few humans have had the good fortune to see a real live badger with their own eyes. On top of this they have frighteningly sharp claws and powerful jaws making them sound like a terrifying Gruffalo rather than the peaceful pacifists they really are.

Like any wild animal, a threatened badger will fight for its life, or to protect its young – they’re just more capable than the average animal. Sadly, to blood thirsty individuals, this makes it an exciting rival for fighting dogs. Thus, the reputation of the badger as something wild, aggressive and dangerous has spread across Britain like a belligerent cancer. Without people being able to watch them regularly and see how they really behave, this rumour has continued unchecked.

When badgers were blamed by the government and some scientists for spreading TB among cattle this further fuelled the unfounded hatred of badgers. Farmers losing livestock were told that the badgers were to blame and a cull began. There were small pockets of resistance but with the badgers’ baseless reputation, the sympathy did not spread far. Of course, farmers need to protect their stock, but there are two big issues with the cull: 1) it has not been 100% proven that the TB is spread badger to cattle rather than cattle to badger 2) there are vaccinations available – why on earth kill when you can vaccinate? I refer you back to the aforementioned ignorance, fear and hatred.

Farmers are wonderful people. I grew up in the countryside and know many farmers. They are the custodians of the countryside. Without them, we would not have so many well-tended meadows, hedgerows and woodland, ergo we would not have such rich and varied flora and fauna. (Indeed, without them, we would not have food!) If farmers can be assured that the badgers will not harm the cattle, many would not support the cull. Unfortunately, the people at the top who decide whether to cull or vaccinate do not have the farmers’ or badgers’ best interests at heart.

I did a lot of research into badgers and discovered all sorts of fascinating facts – not least that they’re really loving and playful towards each other and make a variety of gentle noises as they groom each other or play. Also, that badgers are very clean and regularly air their bedding! Importantly, if a badger senses danger, it’s first instinct is to run away and hide – not an animal that is looking for a fight.

It struck me that there are a lot of similarities between the misunderstanding of a badger’s true nature and the misunderstanding of many young people, boys in particular, who are also assumed to be aggressive by nature and therefore feared and hated. I already had the idea of a story of one such unfortunate boy in my head and by including a badger clan, I hoped I could dispel both myths at once whilst also educating the readers about such boys and badgers.

Returning to my theory that ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred – I used to be scared of butterflies! Yes, I know it seems strange, but the fluttering unpredictable movements sent me into a blind panic leaping and yelping like a mad woman whenever one came close. As a childminder, I liked to do projects with the children during the summer holidays and one summer I decided to teach the children the rather interesting life cycle of a butterfly. We began with a trip to Butterfly World, where another childminder had to take my children round because I was too frightened to go in. To cut a long story short, we studied butterflies intensely, discovering different types of caterpillars, their movements, their plant preferences, the chrysalis and then all the most common varieties of butterfly in the UK. We made some up of our own, built them from playdoh and bread, decorated cakes like them, etcetera. By the end of the summer holidays we visited Butterfly World again and guess what … I managed to go in. I was still a bit jumpy, but what a massive improvement. I credit my progress solely on the education and familiarity: I was no longer scared, and I no longer hated butterflies.

I truly hope that readers of The Boy Who Couldn’t will learn to love badgers and want to protect them. Vaccination is such a kinder option than killing. If you would like to learn more about badgers, there are lots of fantastic websites: the best one to start with is https://www.badgertrust.org.uk/

(Illustration credit: Michael Douglas Carr)