Giving Thanks for the Good Days

Digital image of snowdropsIt’s easy to let the doubts, the dark days and anxieties live in the front of your head.  Some days they seem so much stronger than the positive things in our lives.  The last three days have been really good and I’ve decided to celebrate them; to actively appreciate them in the hope that, by doing so, I will remember this feeling when the grim comes knocking again.

On Friday I worked two different jobs.  In the morning I led a workshop at a large local library.  The session was entitled Kickstart Your Creative Writing and I had a lovely group of seven learners.  It’s not intended to be a ‘how to’ course, more an opportunity to try different types of writing prompts and talk about creative writing as a process.  To share ideas, get a little inspiration and have fun with writing – something that so many people have had beaten out of them through their work or school lives.  The feedback at the end of the session as very positive and I felt that the learners enjoyed themselves as much as I did.  For me, though, there was an added bonus.  I realised that I actually know a lot about writing.

Now, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  In the four or five years since I started to take my writing seriously I have undertaken a masters course in writing for children, attended dozens of talks by authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents, been part of several writing and critique groups and been involved with several writers festivals.  However, I still think of myself as someone who is a beginner on their writing journey – an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional.  That changed on Friday morning.  Here were people who were at an earlier stage in their writing – most of them didn’t even know what sort of writing the were hoping to do – and they were asking me questions.  They trusted that not only would I give them answers and suggestions, but that they would be good and accurate.  And, for the most part, I found I could do that.  When I didn’t know for sure I was still able to signpost them to organisations, books, magazines and web sites where they could get the help the wanted.

Friday afternoon was the same – but very different.  This time I was working as a library assistant at a smaller library that plays an active role in the life of the local community.  They have run a Chatterbooks club for some time and, when children grew too old for that group, set up something similar for teenage readers.  I spent a very happy hour with some lively children; we talked about books for children and teenagers; I listened to them talk about the idiocy of some of the grownups in their lives; I lead them on some writing adventures using story dice.  In this group I was acknowledged (and tested) as the grownup in charge, but also welcomed as an equal when it came to creating stories and sharing book recommendations.  The time flew by and I can’t wait to work with them again next month.

Saturday was glorious for totally different reasons.  For a start, I woke early.  At the weekend this would normally mean a groggy trip to the loo before either going back to sleep or snuggling down under the duvet with my storybook of the moment.  Yesterday, however, I was wide awake and full of fizz.  The dogs were startled to find themselves in the park before 7:00 am, watching a scarlet sun rise above the trees and smelling the multitude of scents rising into the air as the frosty ground steamed in the early morning light.  We walked for over an hour then came home for our breakfasts.  The dogs and cats ate in the kitchen, but I brought my coffee and marmalade sandwich straight upstairs to the computer and got on with editing my current WIP.  By the time my OH was up I had polished and printed nine chapters and was ready for elevenses.  Having accomplished so much so early I felt justified in idling away the rest of the day, snuggling on the sofa with my family.  A sense of achievement and of contentment should never be underestimated.

The Song from Somewhere Else, Paperback BookSo now you are nearly up to date with my positive few days.  This morning has been just as good.  It started with three out of the four furry family cosying on the bed while I read a few pages of The Song From Somewhere Else by A F Harrold and stunningly illustrated by Levi Pinfold (I’ve not finished it yet, but so far can heartily recommend it).  Then another long, frosty walk with the dogs and straight to the computer on our return.  I have been falling behind my self-imposed writing/task schedule recently.  Today I have done enough to bring me almost up to date.  Just one task to do before I can get back to my WIP.

I have had a happy grin on my face for the past few days and can recommend a cheerful and positive outlook for promoting productivity and a sense of inner peace.  Grasp the good days and hug them close.  The light CAN drive the darkness away.


Super Sunday Snapshot

Four picture book covers
Before you ask – yes, I have been reading again this week. I’ve read picture books for the day job and have added all of them to posts on the When a Book Might Help blog (although, granted, not all of the posts have been published yet).

Four book covers

I’ve been reading (and listening to audiobooks) for my own pleasure.  It’s been great.  I love to read!  But I’m starting to think I might need to go on a bit of a book diet.  In food terms, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  I am in serious danger of overdosing on the books in my house… and I keep bringing in more!

Overflowing bookshelfShelf full of books


In my front room I have two full shelves of books waiting to be read.  These are all books I have been given as birthday and Christmas gifts, books that I really wanted.  There are also some that I have picked up at shops, in library sales and at various author events.  Books I am longing to read.    How lucky am I?!

Three stacks of booksIn my bedroom are the books that are higher up the ‘To Be Read’ list. These are the books that have a ‘best before’ date, like library books and books for work. Some are for reading groups and others are for college.  You have to be a book with a purpose to make it upstairs in my house.  I do try and slot in books from the front room every now and then but, as you can see, I’ve got lots of books in my three ‘priority’ stacks.

In theory, this is my idea of heaven. Books as far as the eye can see! Unfortunately, reading has to be slotted in around other things like work, sleep, walking the dogs, laundry, and a whole list of other stuff. You know how it goes.

15 book coversBelieve it or not, my book stacks have gone down a bit over the last couple of months. Since I handed in my last assignment for college I’ve been able to catch up on some of my reading for pleasure. Then I had a birthday and this lot arrived.  I don’t want to sound ungrateful, I’m really thrilled to have every one of these books.  On the other hand, I’m very pleased that I have read two of them before and four of them are for study.  It makes it easier to find room for the others on the TBR shelves.

Three open books showing signatures

I am especially delighted with these three books.  My best friend bought me The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce and I received a personalised book-plate to put inside – Twitter is a wonderful thing!  My lovely partner bought me a signed copy of Four Stories by Alan Bennett.  I nearly always hear his stories in his voice when I read them.  She also found a shop that has close links with Jackie Morris.  They arranged for a copy of East of the Sun, West of the Moon to be autographed for me.  I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find a personalised message and a drawing of a polar bear on the title page.  Her illustrations are stunning!

I would like to say thank you to my family and friends for all the wonderful books they buy me, to the booksellers, to the libraries who lend me more books every week, and to the magnificent writers and illustrators (and their agents and publishers) who produce them in the first place.  Please forgive me if I don’t write about the books I’ve read this week.  I’ve had a look at the next book on my priority reading heap and it’s about fairies – I’m off to curl up with a book.

Sunday Snapshot on a Monday

Oops – Sunday has been and gone without me posting.  That’s what happens when you’ve been out having a nice time.  Sorry if you missed me.

Four book coversIt’s been another busy reading week.  In the car I’ve listened to Flood and Fang, the first book in The Raven series by Marcus Sedgwick.  It is superbly performed by Martin Jarvis and made a journey both ways around the M25 more than bearable.  I’m all set to start listening to the second in the series (narrated by our hero – Edgar the Raven) and have the third in hard copy waiting to be read.

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond is a strange, wild, beautifully written book about being young and full of life; about love and music and death.  Set in the North East of England it uses the language and the landscape to illustrate a version of the Orpheus story.  It’s one of those stories that makes you sit and think about it after you’ve finished.

There aren’t very many books for teenagers that cover transgender issues.  The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson introduces the reader to David Piper, a boy who, for as long as he can remember, has wanted to be a girl – a girl who likes boys.  His parents think he is gay.  People at school think he’s a freak.  Only his two best friends know the truth.  It is a touching story with some unexpected twists although, at times, these feel a little too convenient.  When I picked it up I was expecting to read a book set in the USA, so it was very pleasing to find it set in the UK.

The fourth book in this picture, Trouble by Non Pratt, was our SCBWI book group read for this month.  It is well written and a very believable story, but it made me very sad.  I know there are 15-year-old children who use sex to define their position in the social structure.  Reading about it was uncomfortable and depressing.  The story, however, was very strong and handled the two main story lines in a sensitive and realistic manner.

Three book coversFor work I have been reading more books to include in the When a Book Might Help (WABMH) segment of the Hampshire Libraries blog.  Football Academy: Reading the Game by Tom Palmer is about a boy juggling the demands of school and football whilst struggling to read.  His inability to read creates more and more problems, until eventually he realises he needs to ask for, and accept, help to improve the situation.  This will go onto the Dyslexia book list.

We will be including a section in WABMH simply called Medical Conditions.  This will include stories about conditions which are seldom seen in children’s books.  Pea’s Book of Holidays by Susie Day will be going on this list as one of the characters has condition called Hemiplegia.  The story is not about a disabled boy, however, but about a girl trying to support all her family.  It is fun and funny and part of a series about Pea and her sisters.

The last book this week is an Early Reader written by Jacqueline Wilson and illustrated by Stephen Lewis.  Monster Eyeballs shows how Kate deals with the class bully, Mark.  The clue is in the title of the story, but I won’t spoil the fun for you.

Sunday Snapshot – 17 May 2015

After all the excitement and intense work of the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to make a tiny dent in my ‘To Be Read’ heaps.  My heaps contain books in four categories:

  1. To be read for college
  2. To be read for work
  3. Books I’ve borrowed from the library for fun
  4. Books I asked people to buy me for birthday and Christmas that are still waiting their turn.

This week, for the first time in a long time, I ditched the first category.  The majority of this week’s reading comes from section two, but I did manage to sneak in some stories from section three.  Those books in the fourth category are, as usual, the Cinderellas. It’s worse than that, they weren’t even invited to the party.

A display of eight book covers

To make up for it, I read a picture book about Cinderella – Give Us a Smile, Cinderella by Steve Smallman & Marcin Piwowarski.  In this version of the well-known tale the step-sisters are ugly because they are too lazy to brush their teeth.  The Prince is not attracted to their smelly, gappy smiles but Cinderella, who brushes her teeth night and morning, wins his heart.

The other picture books this week are 15 things NOT to do with a baby by Margaret McAllister & Holly Sterling – a comical set of rules for things you really shouldn’t do when your new baby arrives – and Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne & Max Lang.  This simple book is full of families of every shape and size.  It has one simple message: If you love each other, then you’re a family.  Both these books are great for families to share together and will be going on the When a Book Might Help book lists.

The other WABMH books this week were Blabber Mouth by Morris Gleitzman and Not As We Know It by Tom Avery & Kate Grove.  In Blabber Mouth we meet Rowena Batts.  She can’t speak due to having ‘some bits missing from my throat’.  This, her tendency to stuff frogs in people’s mouths and her outlandish father, can make it difficult to make friends.  This is a fun, funny, positive story and makes me want to read more about Rowena.  Not As We Know It is much darker.  It is the story of Ned and Jamie, Star Trek obsessed twins.  They do everything together, but Ned has Cystic Fibrosis and the prognosis is not good.  One day they find something strange on the beach after a storm.  They take the creature, who Ned names Leonard, home with them and hide him in the garage.  Jamie hopes that Leonard will somehow cure Ned’s illness, but Ned has listened to the stories about merfolk and has a different interpretation of how things will end.  A moving and beautifully illustrated story which some adults may find disturbing.

From my ‘fun’ heap I read the eighth book in Alex Scarrow’s Time Riders series, The Mayan Prophecy.  I have enjoyed following the adventures of Liam, Maddy, Sal, Bob & Becks as they try to unravel the mystery of who they are and what they are doing.  Book nine has already been requested from the library and I think that will be the end of their journey.  At the same time I’ve been listening to The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke.  Written in 1956 this story felt quite old-fashioned in the way it was written – lots of exposition, both in the text and dialogue.  The ideas, however, were interesting and the ideas about man destroying their environment and isolating themselves from the natural world seemed very relevant.

I’ve kept the best to last.  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a beautifully written, lyrical coming of age story.  Dante and Ari have different skills and abilities, different temperaments and different family backgrounds so it seems unlikely that they will become best friends – but they do.  I loved this story.  Despite the occasional violence, it is a very gentle story about a friendship that gradually develops into love.  We so often read about gay people knowing about their sexual preferences from an early age but this was much closer to my own experience.  Looking back, the clues were there and some of my friends were quicker on the uptake than others.  I wished they’d told me!  When I finished this book it took me a while to come back to the real world.  I felt sad that I could never again share Ari and Dante’s story for the first time, but really happy that I had got to know them.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is questioning their sexuality, who has friends who may be going through the experience, or who revels in a good love story.


If you go down to the library today…

When I’m not studying at / for college, walking the dogs, reading, carrying out domestic duties or checking out my social media sites in front of the TV, I have a job.  Well, Kim A Howard cuddling the big blue Bookstart bearactually I have two – I am the Bookstart Co-ordinator for Hampshire and also a casual library assistant at some of the libraries in the north of the county. From time to time I write articles for work – this is my latest guest blog.  It was for the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years – known as PACEY – and is about the activities child minders, carers and parents might find in their local library.

Click on the PACEY logo to follow the link – I hope you enjoy the post.  If you have a young child and don’t take them to the library, I hope this might inspire you to do so.