On Being Earnest

Thursday, 23 March 2017

When I was a teenager I had to answer the following question in front of everyone:

'What do you want to be when you leave school?'

And, my answer was this:

'Erm ... a writer.'

Someone sitting next to me said 'What, that's it? That's a bit boring, isn't it?'

'Mmmmbllbmbll.' I said. (I know. I'll give you a moment to cringe.)

Anyway, reality soon hit when I left college and realised a collection of incomplete story ideas on a Word document were not, in fact, enough to pay for our upcoming wedding (or, you know, enough for rent and food and Grown Up Things). Over the years I have occasionally considered actually going for it. Then I would do the research, and come to the conclusion that writing was a scary job for people who could handle all kinds of harsh criticism. I was as soft as a slush puppy, and would melt into nothingness if people were mean to me.

So I didn't ever do it.

In fact I stopped writing altogether for a couple of years. No journals, no nothing. Nothing, after a lifetime of always writing, right up to the stack of journals during my awkward pre-teen years (of which I tore out the pages and literally burned in my back garden in a moment of teenage drama). And I went from job to job to job without really settling on anything I liked, until I got into childcare, which I actually enjoyed. Then at some point, in a moment of deep stress, I began to write this blog.

Since then I haven't stopped. I write all the time. About 90% of it is no good, but for my mental health? It's amazing. Writing is like a brain massage to me. If I'm stressed, I write it down. It's like I'm smoothing out all the knots and tense places. I'm addicted to the point that I get a bit anxious and stressy if I can't find time to do it.

Twice now I've participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, more to see if I could do it than anything else. To my immense satisfaction I wrote a first draft of a novel last July, just over 50,000 words.

I even got to write 'the end'. For the first time ever.

And then people asked me about it. Suddenly I had to tell people about the story that I had grown from my own brain.

Honestly, I wasn't prepared for people actually asking me what I wrote. It turns out I frustrate people because I won't give details: I can't bring myself to tell people the genre or my main characters' name or anything. Why won't I give details?

Because part of me finds it cripplingly, painfully embarrassing that I put my all into something creative that might not be very good.

There you go. I said it. I'm a 'keep it light' person. I make breezy jokes at inappropriate times. To admit that I wanted to do something really, really badly and then did it is one thing: to have people actually know about the thing is another.

But you know what? That's crap. That is a rubbish part of myself that I don't like. Here's a life hint: don't be like me. Be earnest. The world is much better for people who whole-heartedly pour themselves into creative things and then share those things with the world.

In the meantime maybe I'll learn to let my guard down a bit more.

After I've finished the second draft. Obviously. I'm only willing to go so far.

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WHY ARE YOU CRYING? A 5pm lament

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I think the government are in cahoots with the NHS (and parenting books) in order to keep the human race going.

Because they don't tell you what it's actually going to be like. They use words phrases like 'moderate stomach cramps' to describe labour. If you only ever read the information in Bounty packs or whatever, you'd be forgiven for thinking that having children is, at the most, mildly strenuous.

But what they say is not as telling as what they don't say. So, as much as I am also not one for scaring the life out of expectant parents (or people thinking about having a baby), I have to give you this bit of information:

The time period between 4.30pm and 6.30pm are going to be absolute hell for you, every single day, for the foreseeable future.

You're welcome!

Seriously. All my friends with kids say the same, and yet I managed not to hear about it until after we had them: the Witching Hour is a thing.

Something triggers inside small children - a complex biological/psychological reaction of some kind - and then they become completely and utterly miserable and just terrible to be around, from somewhere after 4pm, usually until bedtime.

Why? I cannot tell you. It is a mystery as old as time. Doesn't matter how well-rested they are, or what they have or haven't eaten. It begins in babyhood and lasts for, well, I hear right into primary school.

I find myself joggling Baby Boy around the living room, helplessly patting his bottom, while he cries, again, just at the point where I need to be serving up dinner and my toddler is going to explode from hunger-induced rage.

'Why is he crying?' I find myself asking, even though I know it is fruitless: there is no answer to this question.

'Mmmd?' Chris suggests.

'WHAT?' I can't hear him over the crying. He is standing about a foot away from me.

'WIND?' he yells.

Occasionally it is wind but mostly it's not. It's just what happens. Besides, my daughter is still like it at three - I can hardly blame wind for her grumpiness at this stage.

This is what life is like with small children. That is what they should prepare you for in antenatal classes: The Witching Hour. After the lecture on how to deal with a poo-covered baby and before the slideshow named Birth: It Really Is Disgusting.

Are you glad I don't run parenting classes? Maybe you should be. I'd end every session with a short speech though, the main message of which would be 'despite all the horrific physical pain they put you through and the heart-wrenching worry you feel about them and the bone-aching tiredness they will bring upon you, they will be so flipping cute that you will forgive them and they will remain the best thing that ever happened to you.'

You know. Just to soften the blow a little.

But don't worry too much! They're adorable (most of the time)

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The Importance of Bedtime Stories, and a book review!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Bedtime stories are one of those things I imagined before I had kids - children snuggled into bed, all pink-cheeked and fresh from the bath, clean-pyjamaed and wide-eyed, waiting for the next instalment of whatever we were working on.

The reality with little children is, as usual, not quite how I imagined it ;) Sometimes all the stars align and I have a pink-cheeked, clean toddler waiting peacefully for a bedtime story - other days I have a bath-avoiding toddler wearing mismatched and slightly-too-small pyjamas and clutching the same flipping Paw Patrol book again

In preparation for this post I started researching and I found out this: bedtime stories are more important than you might think. 

Experts believe that the benefits of reading aloud to children begin even from babyhood - there has been extensive research into the way reading impacts language development and academic success. Reading aloud to young children may help strengthen the area of the brain that dreams up images to accompany stories - and children who have stories read to them are being exposed to a wider range of vocabulary than they otherwise would be. 

As well as that - and this is the most important thing for me - it reinforces reading as an enjoyable activity. According to this article, "children ultimately learn to love books because they are sharing it with someone they love."

This is so important that, in the UK, we have Bookstart, an independent UK charity who believe so strongly in the power of reading for pleasure that they give free books to millions of children across the country, right from birth.

So: bedtime stories. They seem like a natural fit in a busy life. Even though I'm at home with Jellybean and the baby, some days are so manic that we don't get time to sit down and read. This problem is bound to be compounded later on, when I go back to work and the kids start school. Reading stories aloud as part of the bedtime routine ensures that we fit quality reading time in no matter how crazy our days become.

(And frankly, anything that helps get kids into bed is a very very good thing).

Now that Jellybean is older she is ready for longer stories - which means we get to enjoy bigger books. When Sarah Keeler kindly sent us some Usborne books to review, I picked out 10 More Ten-Minute Stories as my favourite.

It's a collection of ten minute classic stories - Jack and the Beanstalk, the Gingerbread Man, that sort of thing. We've actually got a couple of fairytale collections already, but this one had stories we hadn't come across in children's collections before, like the Tinder Box and the Emperor's New Clothes.

I like this book because the stories are well written. We've read some classic stories for children before that are kind of half-hearted in their retelling, and it makes it really unenjoyable for an adult to read. I actually enjoyed reading this one! Also, the illustrations in this volume are beautiful, with different art styles for each story.

Jellybean's verdict: she likes it. A lot. She often brings it over for me to read throughout the day (usually at inconvenient moments when I'm cooking dinner or something, but still). Her favourite is The Gingerbread Man. She dealt with the Gingerbread Man's eventual doom surprisingly well ;)

So, if you're looking for a good bedtime story book for children who can handle slightly longer stories, I'd definitely recommend this one.

If you want to take a look, Scholastic have a good article about how to get back into bedtime stories if you've fallen out of the habit. What books do you enjoy reading at bedtime with your little ones? Leave me a comment and let me know!


I received this book from Sarah Keeler, independent Usborne book seller in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in purchasing this or any other Usborne books, check out her page. Also, be sure to check out her VIP group, where she runs competitions and holds special offers on lots of lovely books. Thanks Sarah! :)


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