36

It’s two in the morning and I’ve just finished writing. I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately and that’s something that’s making me happy. And then I spent about half an hour writing a blog post I’ll probably never publish. I think birthdays do that to me. They kind of throw me off. I’ve never liked my own.

But, here I am. 36 years old (as of a couple of hours ago), and thinking of the past twelve months. Blimey. Where did they go? And all I want to say is But they’ve been good. They’ve been hard and disappointing at times (but that’s life) but, mostly, I’ve a lot to be happy about. We’ll catch up properly soon but, for now, I wanted to say a I’m grateful for everyone who’s been lovely to me when I was 35. To everyone who’s helped, put up with, organised me. To everyone who’s been a friend and listened or told me off. To people who’ve given me lifts to train stations (Christine…) to people who’ve said nice things or asked me to do things, or been nice about my work. To those who’ve simply been kind – and not just to me. Because kindness is everything. Please don’t stop.

So, that’s it from me for now. I’m going to read for a little while. Let’s catch up properly soon.

 

Empathy Day

A little under a month ago (seriously, where does the time go?) I set up camp at the Children’s Central Library in Sheffield for an evening for Empathy Day. It was good. No, it was brilliant. It was made up of young readers from Sheffield’s amazing Chatterbooks reading group network and they came from all over the city and beyond. It had sold out very, very quickly too, which is always a lovely thing.

So we looked at the books they’d been reading and we put ourselves the characters’ shoes and that made for some really interesting discussion and, ultimately, some really amazing work because the subject matter was so varied (and makes me love what’s happening in YA fiction (and what has happened – one of the books was a Judy Bloom novel)). We had characters with OCD, autism – we had bullying – all sorts. And I often say that one of most important things we can do as people is think about what other people might be feeling – it’s a sort of an essential kindness that we all deserve, and something we’d all want if we were struggling. Actually, we don’t have to be struggling – it can be just as important for us to appreciate why someone might be happy about something.

I loved the evening. It was something different and interesting and I met brilliant and talented and caring young people who made brilliant art and stories. And, once we were done, we converted the stories into word clouds for display (thank you Alexis and Tina).

And here they are… Stay caring, people. And be kind.

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Yorkshire Life

The very first piece of writing I was paid for appeared in Cheshire Life magazine. It was about myths and ghosts and things like that. If memory serves, I got the nod at the end of 2003 and the feature went into the April 2004 issue and I was paid £80. There’s still a copy of the cheque somewhere. I framed it because it felt like such an important thing – someone with a considerable readership was prepared to put their name and reputation to what I’d written – and pay me for it, and whenever someone I know, have taught, have edited or mentored gets their first thing published I always tell them how important it is that they mark the occasion because it’s a huge achievement and it only happens once. It’s one of the times in your life where you feel the proudest. And, for me, it was the beginning of, well, all of this. It meant a lot.

Last week (I think it was last week – the weeks are blurring together) I got a call letting me know that I was in another county magazine. This time it was Yorkshire Life and, aside from a quote, it wasn’t about my words. And I was delighted, and I still am, that they gave page space to cover the huge project I’d been involved with, for Hear My Voice and Barnsley Museums, for over six months – and even more pleased that it was about those who’d taken part in it.

And here it is. I hope it’s the start of very good things for others.

 

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The Ironworks

I’m sitting here at just after one in the morning and I’m feeling very proud. I’ve been wanting to post this for a couple of weeks but I’ve had website problems and work and life are often louder voices than the blog but the voices are sleeping now and the gremlins have been appeased.

So, a couple of weeks ago I was at The Ironworks – an enormous building at the Elsecar Heritage Centre – with around 250 primary school children and their teachers and the then mayor of Barnsley and it was one of the proudest moments of my career. Since November I’ve been working in schools for Hear My Voice – an amazing project for the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, and Barnsley Museums. We’ve been writing about home – and all that that means, and I know I’ve mentioned it on here a few times now so I’ll not go into too much detail but we looked at what home meant – it’s not just the buildings we live in, or the towns those buildings are in. Home can be anything. Where we feel dafe or happy. Where our friends are, or families. Or not, as the case may be.

I worked with eight schools: Dearne Goldthorpe, Ivanhoe, Holy Rood, Ladywood, Summer Lane, Cherrydale, Worsbrough, and Hoyland all over the Dearne Valley – from Barnsley to Doncaster, Grimethorpe, to Rotherham and we talked about home. And then we wrote about home. And not how we wrote! Poems, stories. And they were all amazing. And we made them into books. Over 50,000 words were written and typed up and the best thing was, the thing I was most proud of was that every single thing that every young writer produced was brilliant. That’s well over 200 children – over 200 individual voices – 800 pieces of literary brilliance.

The teaching side of being a writer is something I love – that’s why I’ve been doing it for so long. Because, for once, it’s not about me or my words. It’s about other people’s. And the best thing about teaching? Meeting people, hearing about how they see the world. Giving them the means and the confidence to write about it. Helping them to realise that we all have something to say and that we can all say it well and that what we want to say – our voices – all deserve to be heard. Or maybe it’s the opportunity to actually change lives for the better. I know there were writers there who wouldn’t have wanted to share their work before, or who might not have thought they were good enough, or doubted they had anything to say.

And so, back to The Ironworks. All the children, the teachers and assistants (it’s a shame the receptionists couldn’t have been there because they were brilliant with me too) – the team from Barnsley Museums (Alison, Jemma, Vicky – thank you!) – and everyone else. They were all there. And the writers received copies of their books and they received their Arts Award certificates and they read their work in an enormous venue to an enormous crowd and not one faltered or fluffed a single line. And that takes some doing when you’re a professional, let alone in Year 2, or 3, 4, 5, or 6. (And I’ll be honest, I’d love crowds that big when I read!)

So, yes. I am proud. And you, young writers, should be too. You were BRILLIANT. No – I got that wrong. You are brilliant. Don’t you dare stop.

 

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Added: And you can read ALL of their AMAZING work here.SaveSaveSaveSave

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Cousin Manchester

I am in a city for the first time since Friday. On Friday I was in Leeds and it was the first time I’d been in Manchester (I rode a train to Piccadilly to get there) since the bomb. It still feels weird saying it. There’s still some strange disconnection, some weird feeling of there’s this other world where kids and teenagers went see a show by a pop star and ended up dead.

When I heard, I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. We’re a week further on and I’m still lost for words. I’m still devastated. I’m still reeling. I’m still upset. Yes, there’s anger, but that’s not a healthy thing to dwell on because anger doesn’t lead to redemption and it puts nothing right. People died. And it was only a matter of time before I heard that a friend of a friend was one of the victims.

 

I’ve often found it odd that people who grew up where I grew up say they’re from Manchester. They’re not. Manchester city centre is a twenty-five minute train ride from there. But there is a familiarity. Manchester’s a place I know well. It’s on my doorstep. I have been in that arena so many times before – I even saw my first gig there as a fourteen or fifteen year old (Pulp – a couple of days after Jarvis got his arse out at the Brits – they were wonderful and he was hilarious) so I can picture things. It’s a horrible thing to happen full stop and it’s affected an awful lot more people than me; but it has affected me and I think it’s always going to when it’s somewhere you know. Somewhere you’ve trod; laughed, danced – even felt slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the place and the amount of people there. So, while Manchester hasn’t been home – not like a brother or a sister, it’s felt like more of a cousin you really like and, after seeing the reaction of the people of Manchester this past week – it’s a cousin I’m so, so proud of and one I love more than I realised because they were brave in the face of something despicable. There was so much pulling together and help and support and blood being given and lifts home and shelter being provided (by ALL faiths and ALL creeds and races) and so much and so many amazing thing by our police and medical staff and, no-one, it seemed, lost their temper. And that’s the part I’m most proud of. Yes, I’ve read hate crimes have increased (STOP IT! PLEASE!) but, what I’ve seen the most of is unity. And that’s a good thing. It’s the best thing.

 

And I’m not really sure what I’m saying in this post, to be honest. I’m not sure I’ve got anything to say, or even if I had that it’d be worth listening to. I doubt I’ve got anything to say that’s going to change anything (if I could, I’d be saying vote Labour when it’s time because, among many other things, last Monday would have been one hell of a lot worse had the NHS’ systems been hacked while the incredible staff were dealing with that, which would have been avoided if Theresa May hadn’t decided it wasn’t worth investing in security for the system).

But I’m not saying that. (Well, I am, but that’s not the point.)

What I’m saying is I’m still coming to terms with what happened and it’s affected  me a lot but so, so-so much less than so many other people. And I’m saying, keep your tempers, even when angry feels like the only thing to be or do or get. And I’m definitely saying I’m proud to be Manchester’s cousin. Manchester, our kid, my mate: you did good. You should be proud.

 

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The Doll’s Alphabet

I’m always happy to be sent books, and I’m even happier when I’ve got the time to read them. And I’m even happier still when they’re things that I love. And I do love Camilla Grudova’s The Doll’s Alphabet. It’s a remarkable collection. It’s weird and it’s grimy and it feels like it carries the smell of the sea, or dust, on its pages. The stories are like fairy tales – the best sort – the beautifully ugly ones,  the sort that surprise and veer into places you would not have expected; and these stories might not provide you with happy endings. Or middles.

 

The writing is excellent, unnerving, entertaining – hugely imaginative but it’s the stories and the characters that I loved the most. These people feel very real – they live in a world like ours and, though their problems might not be what we’d expect to encounter, they feel very real too; just like their not so perfect, unbalanced relationships. It’s been a while since I’ve found a new collection to love, so I’m very happy to have found this one. The Doll’s Alphabet is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, and it’s out now. I think you’ll like it.

Shakespeare Week 2017

Most of last week was spent in libraries around Sheffield, celebrating Shakespeare Week. I visited Chapeltown  on Monday, and then I hopped on a tram and a bus to Stocksbridge on Tuesday, finishing off (until Ecclesall next week) at the Central Children’s Library on Wednesday. And I was met at each of them by a sellout crowd of terrific young writers (and illustrators). We talked about Shakespeare and (my favourite bit about him) was the range of things he wrote about and the range of characters in them: love stories, tragedies, monsters, fairies, kings and queens and witches…

 

 

And we wrote. We wrote a lot and it was brilliant. And we illustrated too – as you’ll see, there are some really fantastic cauldrons and potions and spells…

Massive thanks for everyone’s help – to mums and dads and brilliant library people. It was a brilliant few days, brilliant to see some familiar faces, brilliant to meet new people but, best of all, it was brilliant seeing so many young writers having fun writing.

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New Story for Comic Relief

 

It’s Comic Relief THIS Friday, which is good because they do all the good things they can to try to get us all closer to a world without poverty and that’s something that’s hugely important to me.

And to help, the wonderful Ash and Peter at Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press have put out today a collection of very short and, mostly, very funny short-stories.

It’s called Funny Bone.

There is a story of mine in it called Dump and I can’t tell you much about it other than, despite all the work I’ve been doing in schools recently, it really isn’t for children. And it’s very short.

And there are loads of other great writers in there with me. (I’m not saying I’m a great writer, of course.)

And you can buy a copy here. I know I don’t need to tell you what a really, really important cause this is. Go on, help it.

 

 

World Book Day

 

I’m a little late in blogging this because, true to form, I’ve been here, there and everywhere, and writing too. And scanning. There has been lots of scanning.

I’ve worked at Summer Lane Primary in Barnsley a couple of times now and it’s always delightful and it was a delight to be invited back for World Book Day. There were some amazing ideas and some wonderful things written and it’s always such a good thing to see everyone, teachers, staff – the whole school – enthusiastic about stories and books and writing. A huge thank you to them for that, and their support – especially the brilliant Mr McDougall, and a bigger one to the young writers there who, again, did brilliant things. It was an absolute pleasure.

 

Shakespeare in Sheffield

It’s Shakespeare week next week, which is brilliant and to celebrate it I’lll be running a series of after school workshops in Sheffield for young writers (7 years old and upwards) where we’ll be having fun with words, making up our own stories and poems, and getting to know a little bit about Shakespeare and his work (and possibly finding out that we already know it).

 

Monday 20th March – Chapeltown Library 4 – 5:30 (click for website.)

Tuesday 21st March – Stocksbridge Library 3:30 – 5:30 (click for website.)

Wednesday 22nd March – Children’s Central Library 5:30 – 6:30 (click for website.)

Places are limited so if you’d like to come along then drop the relevant library a line. We had a genuinely amazing time last year doing this, and lots of fun, and I can’t wait to start again.