Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A wee break

Last week was half term and time for a wee visit to London. Now I may have mentioned this before, but the Frog and I regularly joke/jibe/moan about my addiction to the computer and technology in general.  I will straight up confess that I am a little addicted to Facebook and check every day what my cousins three times removed that I've never met before have have been up to. And then there's Zuma blitz, although I have got much better with that addiction since I realised I could bank my unused lives.

Anyway, apart from the dreaded FB, I also read blogs, write this blog and well, write.  Dropbox, Scrivener and Word are like my personal holy trinity and being without them is a like leaving a little bit of myself behind. But you know you can always pick things up on the mobile version of Dropbox, except last week I didn't. I left EVERYTHING at home.

It was torture. The second we got on to the Eurostar I was surrounded by MacBooks. The bubba announced at the top of her voice that 'Mummy has that computer' and I felt compelled to explain that I had left it at home. A complete stranger left me in charge of his when he went to the toilet and I may have stroked it for a few moments.

As the train raced away from Paris, my mind kept shooting back to the little words I had left unattended at home and I tried to lose myself in someone else's. And then we arrived in London. We went to the park, we went shopping, I bought a bunch of books. We went to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History museum. We went to see The Muppets. The bubba somehow managed to find another French/English little girl in the soft play area. We went to the Tate Modern and contemplated Tacita Dean's Film. I think I made a breakthrough with my camera and even took a few pictures on the A setting before panicking and going back to the automatic setting. In general we had some fun, even though the words were always on my mind.

But sometimes you have to let the words go. Sometimes you get so close to them, you can't see them anymore. They mean nothing and tell no story. And I find it really hard to do, but for five days I did it. And I went back to them and every awkward phrase, bad bit of punctuation and silly bit stood out like a sore thumb. It was time to make those words sing.Sometimes, it's good to have a wee break.

Now I was going to leave you with a photo of the pile of books that came back with me, but I've had no time. So here's the list: Beware of the Frog by William Bee, Jack and the Beanstalk by Stephen Tucker and Nick Sharrat, Slinky Malinky by Lynley Dodd, Dinosaur More by Henriette Stickland, Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke, Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott, David by Mary Hoffman and 15 days without a head by Dave Cousins (more about that soon).

And finally. This shop opened after I left home, but it's there right at the top of the street where I grew up. Do you think this means something?

Monday, February 27, 2012

A book review: We the Children

Title: We the Children
Author: Andrew Clements
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011)

Synopsis: Benjamin Pratt’s school is about to become the site of a new amusement park. It sounds like a dream come true! But lately, Ben has been wonder if he’s going to like an amusement park in the middle of his town—with all the buses and traffic and eight dollar slices of pizza. It’s going to change everything. And, Ben is not so big on all the new changes in his life, like how his dad has moved out and started living in the marina on what used to be the "family” sailboat. Maybe it would be nice if the school just stayed as it is. He likes the school. Loves it, actually. It’s over 200 years old and sits right on the harbor. The playground has ocean breezes and the classrooms have million dollar views…MILLION DOLLAR views. And after a chance—and final—run-in with the school janitor, Ben starts to discover that these MILLION DOLLAR views have a lot to do with the deal to sell the school property. But, as much as the town wants to believe it, the school does not belong to the local government. It belongs to the CHILDREN and these children have the right to defend it!
From Andrew Clements website

Star parts: I really liked Frindle, so I'll just start by saying if you haven't read it do. This book was purchased with the possibility of being a Grade 3 book club book. As a result of this I was reading it with a doubly critical head on; my writer head and my teacher head. As a writer this book is a great example of 'show not tell'. There seems to be just the right balance of action, in the characters head. The chapters are about the right length for a book club. The main character is very much Ben, but Jill is definitely the brains of the outfit. I like the fact that his best friend is a girl and the difficulties Ben is having with that now that he's a 6th grader. The other issue with Ben is that his parents have split up, but his adolescent take on it seems authentic to me and adds humour to the book. 

The premise of the story is really exciting, this ancient pirate like character who has left the school to the kids. There are hidden clues and riddles that need to be solved. I loved it. I like the way the kids come to the realisation that amusement park is going to be a problem in many different ways, but without being too preachy. I like the way that the obstacles really seem insurmountable, because it kept me reading. How can they possibly beat the big corporation?

Then the tension that is built up around the baddies, both Lyman the evil replacement Janitor and Robert the annoying bragging kid is good. We're not quite sure what role both will have, but we know that somehow they will be involved in the bigger picture. 

And if I haven't made this clear, I couldn't put the book down. Which leads nicely to...

Black clouds: This is going to be a six book series. Which is fine. Harry Potter was seven books, so were the Keys to the Kingdom and then there are trilogies and quadrolgies (is that what you call them?) and sequels, but each book finishes. As I raced towards the last part of book one, I kept skipping ahead to the last page (not reading it mind) and scratching my head. My big problem with this book is that it doesn't finish. Yes, yes, I know it wasn't supposed to finish, it's a six book series, but there's no finish to this book. Everything is set up, but there is no satisfying finish to this book. Everything is still left hanging. OK there is this exciting boat race, but frankly I read the whole build up to that as sub plot. I finished this book feeling somewhat cheated because I'd been left in the middle of a very exciting story arc. Going with my writer head now, I've got nothing against series. I may even have mentioned that I've read one or two and each and every one had the overarching series, but each book had a satisfying beginning, middle and end. 

  Do I recommend it: Despite the major beef I have just mentioned, I did enjoy the book. I don't know whether I'll get round to reading the other five books, but I'd like to know how it ends and as it's a Clements story it's bound to be a hell of a ride. As a teacher, I gave up the idea of using it as a book club book because they the children would just kill me. I'd build up this great writer and book and then, OK I've already mentioned the lack of end. So, with that it's back to the drawing board with book club books. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordfeud and giving up

As it's a month since I wrote my resolutions I thought I'd have a wee looksie to make sure I was keeping on task. The swimming is going OK, although I have been ill pretty much non-stop since January. It's little things but the evidence seems to point to a person who is a tad run down, so instead of swimming it seems that there will need to be a more general and balanced getting 'healthy' thing to do with the swimming coming back asap. 

I wrote a synopsis. OK, I'm not saying it's a great synopsis or the best synopsis I will ever write, but it's a damn sight better than the one I churned out in a panic in November. Then I also wrote a query letter. This I have to say is very weird, but it was a lot easier condensing my story to a paragraph then a one page synopsis. As for the rest of the letter I think I tackled it too business like, but again this is something that I plan on getting better at. The revision is knocked on the head, but, oh there are always some buts. I'm doing some final edits. Well it was meant to be edits, but it seems that there are a couple of chapters that could go. Not started that first draft yet. Crit group is good. In fact can I gush for a moment? They're fantastic. Signed up for a SCBWI thing, more about that later, after this year's run of illness, I'm still a little worried about my 'itis' curse and SCBWI events. And I've been very good with the social networking thing too.

And finally to the post title, I warn you that I'm about to get a little cryptic. I'm a bit addicted to scrabble like games. In fact there was a while when Nicky Schmidt beat my butt quite regularly. I almost friended a complete stranger on Facebook because we were pretty evenly matched scrabble wise. Did you know that qi is a word? Yep, I was pretty addicted. A few week's ago a challenge to  play Wordfeud was put forward. It's a complete ripoff of Scrabble and I'm sure it'll get pulled soon, but in the meantime I'm in the middle of ONE game. You see I took up the challenge and after a couple of goes she gave up. Then I started a game with a stranger and the same thing happened. On both occasions we had played a few goes and I was winning (at the time). There's another girl (she's actually an egg and may be a he) but I am beating the pants off her. I like her, because she is persevering and even though I am well and truly thrashing her she hasn't given up. You see, people like egg girl are important to me, because they don't give up. Even when things get tough. Maybe they are naive, and a little over optimistic, but maybe she'll also get better as I did when I was regularly whooped by Nicky. So as I head off to London* for a peaceful week away, my words to you are don't give up. Don't give up the little things like Wordfeud and don't give up the big things either.

*Actually I'm already in London, but I'm going armed only with a camera, notebook and an iPhone (almost tech free!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

A book review: Junonia

Title: Junonia
Author: Kevin Henkes
Published: Greenwillow Books (May 24, 2011)

Synopsis: Returning to the beach cottage—a cottage named Scallop—where she has always celebrated her birthday is a special occasion for Alice Rice.
Who will see the first dolphin this time? The first pelican? What will have changed? Stayed the same? And will this be the year she finally finds a junonia shell?
Alice's friends are all returning, too. And she's certain her parents have the best party planned for her. Alice can't wait. If Alice is lucky, everything will be absolutely perfect. Will Alice be lucky?

Star parts: I read the first few pages on Amazon. As Alice Rice crosses the bridge to Sanipel Island the story is full of promise. Will Alice find the rare junonia shell?  Will she enjoy her birthday, she's turning ten and I have to admit that I too had this kind of weird pleasure of reaching an age with double digits. All these things made me want to read on, as well as elegantly framed sentences. Henkes creates very realistic characters. Alice, Mallory, the Wishmeier's, all of them had their little quirks and characteristics which made them individuals and realistic. 

Black clouds: But... that promise of something special never came through. In the end I found Alice a little spoilt and got a little fed up with her. When things didn't go her way she was couldn't shift her perception (which I suppose is how kids are). Things that could have given the story a little oomph such as why Mallory's mum was in France were never explained. And when the aforementioned mother calls and causes Mallory to have a meltdown, they leave and it's never explained. The junonia thread is a little disappointing too.

  Do I recommend it: I hate saying no, because for every book I don't like there's an equal amount of people who love the book. Trust me I went through good reads and saw that people either loved it or hated it. But in the end this is what I really think is that problem with this book. It's a book about a kid. It's a very realistic portrait of a ten year old child from a ten year old child's point of view, but I don't think it's for kids and it's not a book I would readily recommend to kids. If you like reminiscing about childhood maybe this is the book for you, if not pass. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Moments in Love

Today I should be going to have my 'submission package' critiqued, by my critique group but because it's THAT day of the year, the bubba and I will be supping on jacket potatoes and beans. It's not just because the Frog is on a business trip this year that I'm a tad moany, it's that actually I'm just not a big fan of Valentine's Day. I've never bought it. As a teenager it was a popularity contest and the one and only time I got an anonymous card, I knew who it was from and my feelings were not reciprocal. To me it is yet another excuse to give money to hallmark and chocolate companies, but is that love? Not in my book.

But you know, that doesn't stop me from being a big soppy romantic. I believe in those special moments.  

Gustav Klimt's The Kiss - Those snuggly moments on the sofa on friday night, as you doze in each other's arms while there is some tosh on TV. 

Art of Noise Moments in love - There's just something about that moment when you take out a record and hold it carefully, ensuring no fingerprints are transferred onto the vinyl. Then you slip it onto the turntable. I had a 12" of Moments in Love and this amazing record player that would clunk and then brrrbuzzclunkchunk to the other side of the record. You could stick it on repeat and listen for hours and hours and hours. 

(I never ever saw the video, but I have to say my teenage fantasies did not include tortoises)

Alain de Botton On Love - I don't agree with all of it, but the part on falling in love is classic. 

Pablo Neruda Twenty love poems and a song of despair - erotic love poetry, not really to be read on the bus. 

And coming in at number one for me Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters. The half chapter is called Parenthesis. I once wrote a poem about it. And here are some quotes from Parenthesis to whet your appetite: 
[I love you] We must keep these words in their box behind glass. And when we take them out we must be careful with them.  pg. 277
And so it is with love. We must believe in it, or we're lost...If we don't then we merely surrender to the history of the world and someone else's truth. pg 296 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A book review: Igraine the brave

Title: Igraine the Brave
Author: Cornelia Funke
Published: Chicken House (2007)

Synopsis: An adventure is what Igraine wishes for most in the world – and on her twelfth birthday she finds one! 

Everyone at Castle Pimpernel is looking forward to Igraine’s birthday. But when her magical present goes wrong and her parents turn themselves into pigs, it’s up to Igraine to put things right – even if that means facing giants, three-headed dragons and a particularly spiky Knight.
Chicken House website

Star parts: Well I could just be completely biased and say it's by Cornelia Funke so of course it's good. But no. Igraine may be a spunky little 11/12 year old, but she has faults. She does want to be a knight, but she forgets the spells she's supposed to learn and she's terrified of spiders. She's also very kind and thoughtful. In fact, considering that ALL she wants to be is a knight, she's pretty well-rounded. And she gets scared and worries about stuff. I like the fact that if anything, Igraine isn't hung-ho. She's passionate about the thing she wants to be and then she's a kid. 

I like stories with action, but while there is action, it's not 'action-packed'. There's a good ole story there as well: kid needs to save parents and protect her home and the books of ... (oh no I shouldn't give away the plot). I like Funke's take on quite traditional fairy tale elements, the knight is a girl, there's an ogre, but (well, you'll find out about him if you read the book). There's another Knight, there's the magic. Her parents are really lovely, even if they do get turned into pigs and it's all kind of amusing and nice. 

Black clouds: I've moaned about this before, but it seems that if you're writing books for younger reader's nowadays you have to put little bios of the characters in the front of the books. What, you think 8 year olds can't remember who's who? And you give away parts of the plot! I'm sorry, but I find them a waste of paper, they give away key points of the plot and as when I read it with kids I tell them NOT TO READ IT. WE READ THE BOOK TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS! 

There were a few bits where Funke got carried away with description or stuff about Knight's, but not enough for me to sigh and roll my eyes or anything.

  Do I recommend it: It's Funke, so of course I would say yes, but I've also read enough Funke now to have a pecking order. So bearing that in mind that, it's after Inkspell, Inkheart, Reckless (to be reviewed), and Dragon Rider. And also reminds me that I must read Inkdeath and ...

Monday, February 06, 2012

Well, I wonder...

Before the holidays a young man visited the school as he was thinking about being a teacher and I may have been a little less than positive about teaching. It's not that I don't like being a teacher, but sometimes I just wonder what it would be like to have done something else. The only ever job I considered seriously apart from teaching was being a journalist, but then I didn't think I could be ruthless enough:

And I did do some voluntary work for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

But sometimes I just wonder. You know, sometimes I browse the 'What's hot' pages of Google+ before going to bed. Not for the cat videos I'll have you know, but to catch some images like this:

or this:

I just wonder what it would be like to discover some of these amazing things. To look out into the universe and wonder what's going on out there. 

So in the end I may have only ever been a teacher, but I'm one with a bit of an imagination and although I won't be a journalist, or a conservation worker or an astronaut, or astrophysicist, I can imagine whole new worlds and books and... 

And for many reasons and no reason at all, I'll finish with this:

Book cover images are from Google image search, Nasa very kindly GIVE THESE PHOTOS AWAY. Aren't they lovely? And the video, well I was going with the title and there is much wondering in this clip, although the version of Please, please, please let me get what I want is actually by The Dream Academy, but this is film is great isn't it?


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