how did we end up singing monkey songs?

I’m really not sure how it came about. We were having a nice afternoon, quite noisy but productive, and suddenly we found ourselves in a situation with some angry monkeys, that is, our characters did.  The children from Years 5 and 6 at Sidcot had created bit-dipsy Cissy the Singer and clumsy-footballer Taylor but through some unfortunate events the protagonists ended up in a rainforest surrounded by a monkey mob. There was obviously only one thing for it, Cissy had to sing them to sleep. Now when we’re making up stories in my workshops I do like to take advantage of all opportunities so surely we needed someone to sing. I had a go. Poor. So I looked to the audience. Luckily there is no lack of confidence amongst the children of Sidcot. By the time we’d wrapped up the story three children had joined me at the front to attempt a version of the putting-angry-monkeys-to-sleep song. Here is the first to take up the challenge:-

She did a grand job. As did the other monkey warblers. It took some determination to get back on track after the singing, but I read an excerpt of Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks and thankfully all was calm again. After a Q&A where we debated the use of ‘said’ as opposed to ‘remarked’ or ‘exclaimed’ there was book signing, and as can be seen from the pic, the book I’d read from was the most popular choice.

two days, two schools, three entirely different workshops

It’s been a busy couple of days. I was very pleased yesterday to go and see the wonderful teacher that is Bridget Norman in her new school. I met two Year 6 classes and we had a good time making up characters to star in our story. We had a goth, and a punk with green hair and piercings. It’s a non-uniform school, as you can see, and had a happy vibe. I read from the Tribe book,  Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks, and then in answer to a question told the true and tragic story of how my Olympic hopes were dashed by a catastrophic knee injury. I left out the gore as once before I went on a bit too much and a child had to leave the room!

After a meeting at my children’s school I finally managed to complete the edit of my next book and sent it off to my agent at David Higham. Always a good feeling.

Today I drove down the M5 in the pouring rain to a very pretty school in Wellington that oozed calm. It was unbelievably quiet. I watched the KS1 children leave assembly in complete silence, smiling, but quiet. Whatever it is they do in that school to make it so tranquil, they should bottle it. I saw Years 3/4 first and was pleased to discover they could make a noise when requested. They were excellent story makers, used all the information about the characters and laughed at my jokes. Result!

Years 5/6 came next and we started off a story with a chameleon and a pipe. It’s not easy to know where to go from there. Luckily there were hands up every second of the hour we spent together so they sorted it out themselves. Despite being in the same school the two workshops were very different in flavour. The younger ones wanted to get it right, and the older ones wanted laughs or destruction.

So, three workshops in two days. In the Q&A at the end, children always ask me which of my books is my favourite. Like my workshops, they’re all my favourites.

can’t resist the call from netmums for birth stories . . .

Like all first-timers I didn’t know how bad the pain would get, but I did know I wasn’t having an epidural. No way. Don’t confuse me with a faith-in-nature mummy, my decision was wholly based on the fear of being paralysed. Whilst I objectively know that epidurals are safe, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to move my legs, run if there was a fire, or wee to order, was more terrifying than the fear of pain. So that aspect was sorted. No needles in the spine. But . . . my first baby was OP (occipito posterior or back-to-back). This means he was looking up, not down. It also means, anecdotally, that the labour is very painful as all the contractions go up your back. I spent most of the first part of labour on tiptoes trying to get away from them (if that makes any sense). The other irritating characteristic of an OP labour is that the contractions aren’t regular as the baby’s head doesn’t press evenly on the cervix. They were two minutes apart and then twenty, and then back to three. As the pain worsened, the midwives explained that the baby had to turn or he’d get stuck. No one explained that to the baby. I was getting tired and probably near transition when it all got a bit much, not helped by burning calf muscles thanks to the tiptoes. The gas and air wasn’t enough, so having rejected the epidural, I was offered pethidine. Heaven. I gather it doesn’t suit everyone but it suited me very nicely. I became much more able to deal with the contractions, and in between was positively jolly. Some time during the pushing, I took away the mask to report ‘I’m quite enjoying this’. Oscar arrived, face down, having turned on his way out. My husband cried. I was more interested in the tea and toast.

When I went into labour with my second baby I was already looking forward to the injection of pethidine. Knowing there was a tried and tested way through labour made it less forbidding. Once again the baby was OP. Once again it refused to turn. Once again there was the threat of either a C-section or a stuck baby. I asked for pethidine. The midwife wasn’t mad keen on giving it to me. I don’t know whether it was a change in policy, as it can effect the baby’s respiration, or the timing, but I wanted my pethidine. Luckily she realised I’d go to pieces without it and it duly arrived. This time I punctuated my gasps of gas and air with nonsense. Nobody seemed bothered as it was very good-natured nonsense. Felix slid out. My husband cried. The tea was once again, delicious.

The third labour was the same. OP. Pethidine. Dad crying. Tea. Except it was a daughter.

I loved giving birth. And I love watching One Born Every Minute and cry every time a baby is born. I keep trying to persuade my daughter that being a midwife would be a nice job – they get to drink quite a lot of tea.


ten writers

What an excellent selection of writers. I’ve just received this photo showing the winners of the short story competition, the organiser – a farmer and writer – and me. This is the third year that I have judged the entries and not only has every year produced entirely different themes, structures and surprises but every awards evening has had its own particular flavour. This year we had hecklers – very enjoyable – and rather too much horror. Honiton and District Writers Group have extended the competition to include  older children, hence the darker nature of the tales. The 2011 winning stories are to be assembled in a book. I can’t wait to see it.


In which I am the judge of the Honiton Writers’ Children’s Storywriting Competition

The Honiton and District Writers’ Group short story competition for children has been running since 2009, the same year my first book was published. So I like to think we’re in it together. I’ve judged all three events and enjoyed both the reading of the entries and  the presenting of the awards. The 2011 event was held on Monday evening at the “quintessentially English” Deer Park Country Hotel –  a charming, entirely hidden away venue in Weston, near Honiton. I was told by the organiser (the awesome John Carter, farmer, writer, very nice person, wearing an Irish weave waistcoat for the ‘do’) to be there for 6.30pm to get the Tribe books and certificates signed. I was on time. Unfortunately everyone else was early so the invitees had the pleasure of watching me concentrating on getting the names right while trying to keep up some sort of banter. You really can’t stand at the front of an audience and not speak, even if they are early. I read a little from each of the winning stories and you could see the crowd were very impressed by the ideas, the excellent openings, the clever structures and the dialogue. We had an evil clock, a wicked noblewoman with mysterious attire, an unexpected dinosaur encounter, goblins, a shed with a ghost, mermen, a spooky piano teacher, a monster and a dog called Bravo Plums. The children were very excited to have won a prize and seemed rather pleased to meet me as well, so that was a bonus. After the formal prize-giving, there was a buffet with everyone’s favourite – hot sausage rolls – and much more. I hope I talked to all the children and their families. I certainly had lots of photos taken which is the worst aspect as I can’t smile naturally, unless I do it naturally, if you get me. I met a champion swimmer, a chemist, an illustrator and a runner who’d just broken a record. I left with a bunch of flowers and the memory of another great evening with nine prize-winning authors, all between the ages of 8 and 14. I’m already looking forward to next year, John.

at last, I’ve been to the O2

As a Radio 4 devotee I’m completely detached from all music trends, except when something up to date gets selected for Desert Island Discs. No wonder then that I haven’t been to the O2 to see Rihanna or whoever else treads the boards these days. (I realise I sound like an octogenarian.) But on Friday I finally made it to the arena to watch tennis. I booked on line (is there any other way?) and picked my seat using the map provided. I was in Row EE. Fine. Clutching the tickets my friend and I made our way through Gate H, Level 1, Entrance 106, and hurriedly looked for our seats. We went down, and down, and down. I tried to oust someone out of his seat in Row E, assuming there was a misprint on the tickets. “No,” he assured me. “EE is at the front.” Crikey. How I managed to book the front row without realising no one will ever know but it was a wonderful surprise. We had an excellent vantage point. I did rather better than the line judge on our side, helpfully calling “Out” at various moments of high drama. We watched Doubles and then Djokovic. The crowd warmed to the battle between the two Serbs, his opponent being Tipsarevic. The world No. 1 was the loser, but the match was fantastic. And my impression of the stadium – well, it’s not Wimbledon, but for winter tennis, perfectly fine, except for the irritating TV screens announcing BREAK POINT and ACE. We’re tennis fans, we don’t need subtitles.

my version of pinchitos

When my pal and I went to Barcelona we loved those little bread things with deli stuff on top. One evening we stopped for a Cava and munchies at a bar with the most fantastic display of what I think are called pinchitos. The deal was that you eat as many as you like and pay based on how many cocktail sticks are left on your plate, as each has a stick securing the delights to the bread. They brought out hot spicy sausage ones, pork and something ones and much more. Divine. I decided to have a go myself. Hot things were too tricky for me to tackle as I’d already committed to a beef and pepper stew and almond torte. So here is my display.

Pate and Mum’s 2007 pickle.

Manchego and sun-dried tomatoes.

Parma ham, pesto and black olive.

The general consensus was that they were very nice, but by making six each I hadn’t left room for the previously mentioned stew etc. No matter. I’ve got the idea. Next time there’ll be hot options. Pinchitos rule.


some might say it’s a bit early for reindeer . . .


The Cairngorm reindeer have travelled all the way from Scotland to Bristol. My oldest son spent the summer working with them and looks pretty happy to be reunited with them today. Not sure how happy he is about the jumper they’ve given him for the festive celebrations that kick off today at Cribbs Causeway with the ice rink opening. Later on all the family are going up to gawp at him. Probably won’t don any skates though. Doesn’t seem right at 15C.

lots of made-up stories and a real one, mine

I set off for Glastonbury at 7.45am, having Googled the journey and added an extra 30 minutes as I don’t like to be late. I was late anyway, thanks to the snake of vehicles slithering through Knowle towards Wells. I chucked my car in the Head’s space and dashed in to find the Head standing in front of me. All good. He was nice. Didn’t mind me stealing his space. And carried my box of books. I did the talking-impossibly-fast thing I do when flustered, which is often. Luckily the lilt of his Valleys’ accent both shut me up calmed my mania. Year 5 trooped in with the lovely Mr Ranger. I know a Yogi song with Ranger in it so I started singing. Bit odd. Who cares? The children didn’t. We got to know each other over discussion of what I wanted to be when I was their age. As soon as everyone was revved up we got on with storymaking. Assuming forty brains are better then one, that shouldn’t have been a problem. And it wasn’t. Although too many ideas can get a little difficult to manage. The hour raced by as our protaganists battled armies of monkeys and raced round a Formula 1 track. Unfortunately in the excitement of the ending we forgot to make up a title. If you’re out there, St. Benedict’s, make one up.

Year 4 came next. As usual the two sessions were entirely different, although in common were the glut of suggestions, hands up, laughter and very well behaved children (and the wig in the photo). In our made-up story the characters were trying to scramble out of a scrapbook they’d accidentally fallen into, to get home for stew and veg cooked by one of the dads. In no time at all, real life took over and it was lunchtime at St. Ben’s too. I read the beginning of Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks, answered some excellent questions, signed some books and fled. I wasn’t running away, as much as running to, as I had another appointment to open the new library at Broomhill Junior School. It’s all go for a children’s author.

Broomhill is on a hill. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. The view from the playground is amazing: Cabot Tower, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, general city buildings, parks. Lucky children. I was met by a lion. It was on further investigation the dressed-up Head. I stumbled upon Captain Underpants, Hannah Montana, several Hogwarts’ pupils and Dennis the Menace as I wandered the corridors towards the new library. Before the official opening, red ribbon and all, I took assembly. Assemblies aren’t my favourite events as I don’t like me talking and two hundred children listening, so I asked a few questions to break it up. And I told them the story of me and how I became an author sort of by mistake. It was fun. And I was rewarded by a beautiful bunch of flowers. Wow! That doesn’t usually happen. I felt like the lead ballerina in Swan Lake, but a bit clumsier and not wearing feathers. A healthy selection of governors arrived to witness the library opening which had a few false starts thanks to the enormously robust ribbon. Eighth time lucky the room was opened by Archie, and library monitors, staff, governors, the Evening Post photographer and me, piled in. It’s a cheerful space with bright rugs and more importantly, books. And possibly most importantly, my books. I had a chat to several of the excited children, and promised to come back and run a workshop. I’m looking forward to it, Broomhill Juniors.

jottings of a writer and cyclist