Wednesday 30 December 2015

Bedtime Story (30/12/2015)

As you read this, I will be heading off for a mini holiday over New Year.  So, what better subject to write about?!  I just want to say a very big, special thank you to everyone who has read these stories, this year.  Much love to you all and here's to a happy, healthy 2016!

Amelia's Suitcase

Amelia and her family were almost ready to leave for their long-awaited holiday.  Amelia had been so excited, she had barely slept the night before.  She patted her pink suitcase, as she sat on the edge of her bed, with her beloved teddy bear, Hamish.

"You know, Hamish," she told the scruffy little bear.  "I'm sure I've forgotten something."  Suddenly, Amelia started to panic.  What if she didn't have everything she needed whilst she was away?  She jumped off her bed and rushed to her wardrobe.  Flinging the doors open, she began to pull out extra things to go in her neatly packed suitcase.

"I need a raincoat and an umbrella, in case it's wet weather," she explained.  "And Wellington boots, plus a hat, gloves and scarf!"  She opened her suitcase and stuffed the new things inside.  Then, she sat back on her bed.  But still, something niggled at her.  Turning to her bear, she gasped: "Hamish!  What if the beds at the hotel aren't comfy?!  I wouldn't be able to sleep..."  She jumped back up and pulled two cushions from her little armchair, beside her bookshelf, then, just to be sure, she grabbed a thick, warm, cosy blanket from inside her toy chest.

But, as she looked into the chest, more things caught her eye,

"Oh, Hamish," she cried.  "If the weather's wet and we can't go out, we'll need games to play!"

She stuffed a pack of cards and a dusty, old version of Snakes And Ladders into her suitcase.  It was hard to get the zip done up with all the extra stuff inside, but Amelia just about managed.  It was also hungry work, packing so many things, so Amelia headed downstairs to the kitchen. 

And that was where she suddenly realised: "What if I don't like the food at the hotel?!"

So, Amelia grabbed packets of crisps, biscuits and a couple of bananas and rushed back up to her room to pack them in her case.  This time, she had to press down really hard to get it to shut.

"Ooh," she sighed.  "I can't wait to have a rest, now.  It's a long journey in the car, so at least I can..."  Her voice trailed away, as a thought popped into her head.  "Hamish," she said.  "It's such a long drive that I'll need stuff to do in the car!"

Amelia ran to her bookshelf and took off several of her favourite books and shoved them into the suitcase.  She had to sit on it, to get it done up now, but she just about managed it.

"Hang on!"  She shrieked.  "I'll want to write postcards to my friends!"  Amelia rushed to her little desk and grabbed the pencil case she took to school every day.  She remembered that she'd need her address book, too, so she made sure that she picked that up as well.  By the time Amelia had put all of it into her suitcase, she had to pull with all of her might in order to get the zip done up.

Amelia tugged on the suitcase with the little strap on the end.  Slowly. it started to move towards her bedroom door.  "It's ever so heavy," she groaned to her precious bear.  "Perhaps I'll buy another bag whilst we're on holiday, then I can spread everything out on the way home."  Amelia turned and saw her purse on her desk.  "I can't expect mum and dad to buy me everything," she exclaimed, rushing over to get it.  She opened it up and sighed.  "I'm not sure there's enough in here," she told Hamish.  "I'd better take my whole piggy bank, instead."

Now, the suitcase was so full, that Amelia had to shout for her mum, to help her to get it down the stairs.

"Amelia," her mother tutted.  "What on Earth have you got in here?!"

"Only the most important stuff," Amelia promised.

Very slowly and carefully, Amelia's mother hauled the suitcase into the boot of the car.  Amelia ran around and climbed into the back seat.  

"Are we ready to go?"  Her father asked from the front.  Amelia gave him a thumbs up and once they were all strapped in, they set off at last.  

But they hadn't got very far, when Amelia suddenly cried out.  "I've forgotten something!"

Her father stamped on the brake and stopped the car.  "Is it important?"  He asked.

"Yes!"  Amelia shouted.  "It's Hamish!"

Her father turned the car around and as soon as they were outside their house again, Amelia ran upstairs to get her beloved bear.  When she got back to the car, she opened her case and popped Hamish in.  But no matter how hard she tried, the suitcase was too full to shut.

Amelia tried sitting on the suitcase.

She tried jumping on the suitcase.

Her mother tried to shut it.

Her father tried to shut it.

But it was no use.

Finally, Amelia knew what she had to do.  

So... Out came the piggy bank, the pencil case and most of the books.  Out came the broken biscuits, the crisps and the squashed bananas.  Out came the wellies, the hat, scarf and umbrella.  Out came the cushions and the blanket... Until all that remained were Amelia's neatly packed clothes, her purse, one book and, of course, Hamish.

The suitcase did up really easily and Amelia put everything else back where it belonged.

"Can we please go, now?!"  Her father cried, as Amelia climbed back into her seat and strapped herself in.

"Yes!"  She said, happily.  "It turns out that I didn't really need all that other stuff.  Not if it meant I had to go without Hamish.  I just had to make room for the thing I love most."

And so, the family set off on their holiday.  Amelia's suitcase wasn't full.  But her heart was.


Wednesday 23 December 2015

Bedtime Story (23/12/2015)

For my last Christmas-themed bedtime story of 2015, I thought it would be funny to think about what might happen if everyone's Christmas gifts got muddled up...

Father Christmas And The Big Mix-Up

Father Christmas gripped the reigns of his sleigh tight,
As he trundled towards the last stop of the night.
One more family whose gifts needed delivering;
Just one more chimney down which he'd be slithering.

But as he reached in his sack to bring out the gifts,
Father Christmas could see there was something amiss!
The gifts were all there, but when he looked back,
All of the labels were still in his sack!

"Oh, dear," sighed Father Christmas. "Good gracious, oh, no!
I've no clue on which gift each tag's meant to go!"
He sat on the rooftop, for a brief little rest,
Wondering what on Earth to do for the best.

Finally, Father Christmas realised he'd just have to guess
- That was the only way out of this mess!
So, he stuck the tags onto the presents and hoped
That the family would get what they wanted, but... Nope!

On Christmas morning, what a strange sight
As none of the presents seemed to be quite right.
"A tool box for the baby?  How odd," dad cried,
As Mum opened a box with some underpants inside.

Gran had a teething ring, Grandad had roller skates
And little brother Billy had a nice set of dinner plates.
There was a hairdryer for poor, bald uncle John
And Dad's gift was a dress with pink flowers on.

Big sister Betty got a huge, juicy bone,
Whilst the family dog had a cool camera-phone!
Aunt Jenny unwrapped some delicious smoked herring,
Whilst the family cat got some sparkling, gold earrings!

"This is wrong, I'm sure," cousin Vicky said.
"I asked for a doll, but I've got a blowtorch instead!"
Cousin Simon thought that it should be his:
"I asked for that," he said.  "It was on my list!"

"I wanted a blowtorch for making creme brulee,
But I got a dolly," he went on in dismay.
"There must have been a Christmas muddle,"
He mused, as round the tree they all huddled.

"Shall we swap, then?" Vicky suggested.
"If I take a blowtorch to school, I'll be arrested!"
So everyone switched presents with somebody else,
Until the muddle was fixed and they giggled like elves.

In fact, the family laughed and laughed.
"Poor Father Christmas, this mess is so daft!"
Dad chuckled, "I'm glad he made this mistake,
Because it's made us laugh 'til our tummy's ache!"

So, in spite of the muddle, their Christmas was merry.
And so he'd remember it, the dog took a selfie...


A Bridget Jones-style Review of 2015

Unintentionally appropriate gif...

So, it's almost that time of year when every single newspaper prints a cartoon of an old man with a long beard, wearing a sash that says "2015," walking past a newborn baby wearing a sash that says "2016."  Seriously, get a new meme, guys...

In honour of the end of the year, I thought I'd do a review blog.  But, seeing as I have a headache (from staring at this screen for way too long) and therefore don't fancy doing a review of actual, serious world issues and cultural developments in 2015, I'm doing a Bridget Jones-style one of my personal year.  You lucky devils.

Here we go, then...

No. of calories consumed: Roughly twenty million billion.  Diet starts next year.  Maybe.  If my clothes stop fitting.

No. of boyfriends: None.  Zero.  Zilch.  I'm fine, though, guys.

No. of celebrity crushes: Loads.  I may be terminally unattached in reality, but my subconcious gets around a lot.  From Johnny Galecki, James Dean Bradfield and Josh Widdicombe, to people whose names don't even begin with J, the list is long, this year.

No. of real-life crushes: If you don't count the brief "hangover" crush I had from last New Year up until February, then just the one (which I've been harbouring since bloody March).  My subconcious is a right tart with celebs, but I'm bizarrely faithful to real-life people who almost certainly aren't interested.  Good times.

No. of units consumed: Probably too many.  But you know what?  I really love you. *hiccup*

No. of holidays been on: I'm starting to wonder whether Butlin's counts, anymore, seeing as I'm there so often that if I was an MP, I could probably claim expenses on it as a second home.  But then again, if you don't count it, I don't think I've actually been on holiday this year.  It sounds much more impressive if I count my visits to Minehead, so... Um... Maybe six?  Ugh, hang on, this "review" is starting to sound like one of those awful "round-robins."

"Emma has been on six glorious holidays, this year.  Isn't she wonderful?"

No. of blogs written: Including this one and the final two children's bedtime stories I have cued up and ready to post, I think my final total for the year will be 114.  That's a whole lot of rambling for this curly-haired girl.

No. of books published:
Semi-autbiographical novel for adults.  Buy it here. Pretty please.

A week of stories for children.  Buy it here. It's good, I promise.

TWO.  That's two more than last year and frankly, I'm calling that a result.  I'm already planning ideas for the Seven Days... sequel, which I hope to release in Spring 2016, so here's hoping I can either match or better this record, next year.

No. of celebrities met: I think it's hovering at around 12 or 13.  I'm not a stalker, I promise...

No. of concerts attended: Only around 3 or 4, I think.  Not good enough.  Must try harder.  Still, the number of concerts I attended at which I cried my eyes out and filmed my own tears is only at one, so that's something...

No. of daily medications now being taken: Six.  I know.  This is what comes from having the lungs of a ninety year old miner, a belly that can't apparently digest anything without causing ridiculous pain and sinuses that block more often than a poorly-functioning toilet.  Come and get me, boys.

Tattoos gained: One.  I have one half of a song lyric and my bestie has the other.  Basically, I've branded her as mine.  Mwahahahaaaaa.

My foot, her arm.

No. of statues/funny signs/inanimate objects I have insisted on posing with for a photo: Too many.  Somebody needs to stage an intervention.


No. of times I've said I'm giving up on writing: Probably at least a thousand.  Every writer does it.  Very rarely do we ever mean it.

New Year's resolutions: 
  • Lose slightly more weight and do slightly more exercise.  You know, slightly.
  • Grow my bloody fingernails, so I can finally stop putting this on my resolution list.
  • Plan more girly days with Mum.
  • Plan more, er, blokey days with Dad?
  • Write more.  Publish more.  Make EL James' sales look pitiful.
  • Will find nice, sensible boyfriend and stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts.  Okay, I stole that one from Bridget...
  • World domination.  Actually scrap that; sounds like too much pressure.
  • Be happy and healthy in 2016.
Thanks for sticking with me, everyone.  I wish you all a very merry Christmas and here's to a fantastic New Year.  xx

Saturday 19 December 2015

What a novel blog post...

I would apologise for the title of this post, except... I'm not sorry; we all know I can't resist a pun.

Anyway, this post is essentially something of a celebration.  To explain what we're celebrating, I'll tell you a story...

Back in 2012, I was recovering from an abusive relationship that had threatened to completely destroy my life.  I'd been in a really bad place in the first few months since leaving, but, as 2011 gave way to 2012, I was starting to turn a corner.  I began to have counselling and my counsellor eventually suggested I contacted a charity called Women's Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre (or WRSAC for short).  I was massively hesitant about calling them.  I hadn't ever been raped and I felt like a fraud; I was still in a place where I didn't fully believe that what had happened to me had even been abuse.  But I called them.  And making that call changed - possibly even saved - my life.

Unfortunately, it was also during that time that lots of people I knew started banging on about a book called Fifty Shades of Grey.  They kept saying how "hot" it was.  How "romantic" they found it.  How every woman should have a man like Christian Grey in their life, if only they could be so "lucky."

I told my mum that I was going to have to read this fantastic book and bless her heart, she came back from a trip to the supermarket with a copy for me.  To this day, I feel a sense of genuine guilt that the book was a present from the person I love most in the world, because reading it... Well, reading it was akin to being smacked over the head with the relationship I was literally just beginning to get over.

It felt like I was being told I should be grateful to have been with someone so wonderful.  It felt like I was being told that I just wasn't perfect enough to "cure" my abuser with my amazing love, the way that we're supposed to believe that Ana cures Christian (which is bullshit on so many levels).  It was as though EL James had taken my experiences of abuse and rewritten them as a love story.  I felt sick.  And EL's silencing of abuse survivors and charities who tried voicing their concerns - not to mention the nastiness doled out from legions of Fifty Shades fans to anyone who dared to criticise the trilogy (and yes, I've read all three books) - only worsened that sick sensation in my belly.

And yep, I got my "angry writer" hat on and wrote to the press about it.

Then, one Summer evening, as I sat with my new support worker from WRSAC, I found myself blurting out: "Someone should write a book that tells the truth about men like Grey.  A book about a girl who meets this sexy, passionate guy with a dark, tragic past, but instead of romanticising abuse and making it sound as though you can "cure" it with love, the story should actually show emotional and psychological abuse for what it is."  And then, given how I was already making big, blurted statements, I made another: "Do you know what?  I'm going to bloody do it myself."

That's how Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections was born.  And it's why the very top person in the list of individual dedications at the start, is Chloe from WRSAC - my support worker.  The first person I ever told about this book, before I had even started writing it.

It took me well over a year to write the story.  Partly because I'm so used to writing children's fiction and partly because I was trying to juggle a day job, as well as other writing at the same time.  But mainly because the story is semi (and I emphasise that word) autobiographical.  Some of the cruel jibes Richard North (the Christian Grey of this tale) makes are words I've had spat at me from the person I loved.  Some of the situations are ones I found myself living in.  All of the pain that Jenna - my lead character - experiences is pain I went through myself.

Even the title comes from personal experience.  When I went to see my GP to ask for counselling - four months after I left my ex - I caught sight of myself in a mirror on his desk and I didn't recognise the reflection.  I thought of those funfair mirrors, where everything is distorted and you don't look like yourself.  Then, because I was in such emotional pain, I thought "no, those mirrors are fun.  This is more like when a mirror is cracked and your reflection is bent out of shape."

I revisited that experience not only to gain the title for this novel, but to try to explain the trauma that Jenna is going through, when she seeks help.  Towards the end of the novel, she explains to her own support worker:

“When I went to the doctors, I saw my reflection in a mirror and I looked so different.  It felt like I wasn’t looking at myself.  It was like... You know when you look into a mirror that has a crack in it and your reflection is distorted?  It was like that, only the mirror was fine.  It was me that was broken.”

- Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections, chapter 33

The subject matter is such that it's unlikely this book will ever be "beach-reading."  It's not always an easy read, but it's an important one.  And, I hope, a powerful and moving one.  If reading this book makes one person realise that abuse doesn't have to just mean hitting, or raping a person, then it's done its job.  

Yes, there are sex scenes.  Because abusers are charming, clever, passionate.  They don't waltz into rooms like pantomime baddies, accompanied by a thunder clap and eerie, dramatic laughter.  They could be the most gorgeous person you've ever laid eyes on.  They could be the funniest person you've ever met.  They could be the best sex you've ever had.  It's important to write that into a story 
like this, because too many people are convinced that they'd spot abuse in reality, when the truth is, even when you're going through it, you don't necessarily recognise it for what it is.  I didn't.

So, yes, this is a big leap from anything I've written, previously.  And no, this isn't a story to share with your little ones before bed (seriously, don't do that).  But it's an important book and it's one I hope you do share with your friends and loved ones.  Because when we educate ourselves on what abuse really is, we hopefully protect ourselves from it that little bit more.  And that can only be a good thing.

Once the story was written, I spent a long, long time editing it.  It was massively important to me to get it right.  Eventually, after two years of cutting bits, adding bits and deleting words here and there, I came to realise that I could carry on editing forever and never think it was perfect.  So, after one last edit, I decided it was what it needed to be: Real.

It's not my story.  It's heavily influenced, obviously, but I didn't want to just write an exact account of what had happened to me.  Instead, this book is half-autobiographical and half-fantasy.  I think it works better that way.  

I said at the start of this that this blog post is something of a celebration and I meant it.  We're celebrating the completion and publication of my first adult novel.  But much more importantly, we're celebrating the fact that I was free to write it in the first place.  

There are no "cracked mirrors" in my life, anymore.  When I look in the mirror these days, the woman staring back at me is one I recognise and am proud of.  

And I'm proud of the book she's written, too.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Bedtime Story (16/12/2015)

I had an early Christmas with my friends, yesterday.  It inspired this week's bedtime story.  Hope you enjoy it!

Pippa's Christmas List

Every morning, when she arrived at school, the first thing Pippa did was find her best friend, Phoebe. Together, they'd chat and giggle until their lessons began.

With only a week to go before the Christmas holidays, Pippa was more excited than usual when she rushed into the classroom on Monday morning.

"Phoebe!"  She exclaimed, slamming her bag down onto her desk.  "I saw the coolest doll, yesterday!"  She frantically opened her bag and tugged out a well-thumbed toy catalogue.  "Look, here it is," she said, as she skipped to the right page.  "Her hair is really long, so you can plait it and she has three different outfits that you can put on her, too.  There's even a little make up case that comes with her!"  She sat back in her seat and sighed, dreamily.  "Isn't she perfect?  She's definitely going on my Christmas list."

Phoebe rolled her eyes.  Pippa had been coming up with new items to go on her Christmas present list for weeks, now.   She craned her neck to see the picture in the magazine.  "She is cool," she agreed.  "But look at the price!  Over forty pounds.  That's a lot of money, Pip.  You said you wanted a bike last week and they cost loads!"

Pippa shrugged.  "It's Christmas," she replied.  "It doesn't matter how much things cost!"

Phoebe didn't look convinced, but she managed a smile, before the bell rang for classes to start.

The next morning, Pippa practically danced into the classroom.  "Hi, Phoebe!"  She cried, with a broad grin on her face.  "Did you watch that show last night, with all those people doing roller-dancing?"

Phoebe shook her head.

"Oh, it was amazing!"  Pippa went on.  "They had these awesome roller skates and the wheels lit up!"  She drummed her fingers on her desk.  "I reckon I'd be good at roller-dancing," she said.  "That's why I've added a pair of funky roller skates to my Christmas list."  She nudged her friend.  "You should ask for some too, so we can go skating together!"

Phoebe let out a long sigh.  "I finished writing my Christmas list ages ago," she insisted.  "Anyway, Christmas is a really expensive time of year.  I don't need lots of new things that I'll only get bored of and chuck into a cupboard.  I just want to have a nice time with the people I love best."

Pippa pulled a face.  "Well, yes, obviously that's important too, but...  Christmas is about getting loads of new things.  That's part of the reason you have such a good time!"  

"Not one of the important reasons," Phoebe began, but she could tell that Pippa wasn't really listening.

The next day was Wednesday and the girls arrived together.  Phoebe slung her school bag from her shoulders and carefully unzipped it, to remove her packed lunch.  "This zip is definitely breaking," she sighed.  

"You should ask for a new bag for Christmas," Pippa told her.  

Phoebe frowned.  "I told you, Pippa; I've finished my Christmas list already!  I'm not going to start adding loads of extra things."

"Oh, a Christmas list is never really finished," Pippa scoffed.  "I've added loads to mine.  And anyway, if you get a new bag, we'll be the same, because I'm going to ask for one, too.  I want one like Jenna Jenkins in Year 6 has.  You know, with the purple key chain on it?  It's so cool."

Phoebe stared at her old school bag and bit her lip.  "Jenna's bag probably cost loads of money," she said.  "Besides, mine still works okay."

For the rest of the day, Pippa noticed that Phoebe was very quiet, but she put it down to tiredness.  After all, it was almost the end of term and everyone was looking forward to a break...

On Thursday morning, Pippa arrived at school before Phoebe.  When her friend entered the classroom, Pippa gave her her biggest smile.  "Phoebe," she shrieked.  "Guess what?!  I finally had the best idea for a Christmas present!"

Phoebe smiled, hopefully.  "Go on?"

"I want loads and loads of vouchers to spend," Pippa beamed.  "Then I can choose whatever I want!  And if I get enough vouchers, they might last for ages, so I can buy myself presents all year long!"

Phoebe's smile disappeared.  "Pippa, you're really selfish," she snapped.  "All you keep talking about is how many presents you want to get.  Christmas isn't only about that, you know!"  And with that, Phoebe turned on her heels and marched across the classroom, to sit at a different table.

All day long, Phoebe didn't say a word to Pippa.  As the hours dragged on, Pippa's excitement for Christmas got smaller and smaller, until she didn't feel excited at all.

When the bell rang for the end of the day, Pippa waved goodbye to her best friend, but Phoebe simply turned and began walking home without her.  Suddenly, every single thing on Pippa's Christmas list seemed unimportant.  All she wanted in the world was for her best friend to talk to her again.  

As tears began to prick the backs of her eyes, Pippa began to run.  She ran and ran, until she finally caught up with Phoebe.  "Hey!"  Pippa panted.  "Wait!"

Phoebe span round.  "What?  Have you thought of something else you want for Christmas?!"

"Yes!"  Pippa cried.  "You!  I could get all the presents on my list, but they'd be rubbish without a best friend to share them all with."  She flung her arms around Phoebe and hugged her tight.  "You were right," she said.  "Christmas is about spending time with the people you love best and that is more important than a doll, or a pair of roller skates.  Can we be friends again, please?"

Phoebe grinned.  "Of course," she giggled.  

On the last morning of term, Phoebe arrived at school before Pippa did.  She sat back in her usual spot and waited for her best friend.  When Pippa finally arrived, she was carrying something big, wrapped up in sparkly paper.

"What's that?!"  Phoebe asked, as Pippa placed the present on the table.

"It's for you," Pippa explained.  "I emptied out my piggy bank after school and mum took me shopping."  She smiled at her friend.  "I bought presents for Mum, Dad and my little brother and guess what, Phoebe?  It made me feel really happy!"  She nudged the gift on the table.  "And I had a little bit left over, so...  I wanted to get you a present."

Phoebe ripped off the paper.  Inside was a brand new school bag - pink, with glittery white stars on.

"I'm sorry it's not as cool as Jenna Jenkins' in year 6," Pippa sighed.  "But you were right, her bag is expensive and I couldn't afford one like that."

Phoebe gave Pippa an enormous hug.  "I don't care," she squealed.  "It's brilliant!  And it means so much more, because it came from you."

"You look so happy," Pippa beamed.

"I am!"  Phoebe cried.

"Me too," Pippa told her.  "It turns out that giving people presents can feel just as good as getting them."  She grinned at her friend.  "And I promise, whatever I do get on Christmas Day, I'll bring it to school and share it with you."

"I hope you get everything you want," Phoebe said.

"Oh, Phoebe," Pippa laughed as she gave her best friend another big hug.  "I already have."


Sunday 13 December 2015

20 Wishes For 2016

So, I think I blinked or something and suddenly 2016 is going to be here in less than three weeks' time.  I'm pretty sure last time I checked my calendar, it was still May, or something.  Maybe that's why I keep missing appointments...

...Anyway, it's that time of year when bloggers tend to review the past twelve months.  Me, I like to hone my position as the black sheep of the Internet family, so instead, I've decided to come up with 20 wishes for 2016.

Who knows, some of the things on this list may actually come to fruition in 2016.  Stranger things have happened...

1. World Peace
Because duh.  It makes sense to get the big one out of the way first.  We all want a nice world, free from fighting, right?!

2. Health & happiness for all my family and friends.
Again, because duh.  I'm pretty sure that's a fairly universal wish.

3. To sell lots of copies of my books.
I write books.  My latest is a children's book, called Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang.  If you buy it, you never know, you might be contributing to the day when I finally stop being a woman in her 30s, still living with her parents...  

Seriously though, I'm so passionate about writing and I genuinely think this latest book is the best I've written.  I promise if you check it out, I won't shamelessly self-promote anything else in this blog. 

I have an author page and everything!

4. For the guy I still have a ridiculously huge crush on to actually reciprocate (or to just, you know, not be terminally single).
You know, I'm pretty nice, really.  I can cook, I'm kind and funny (or at least, funny looking) and I know the offside rule.  Frankly, a bloke could do a lot worse.  Sure, I'm cool with being single - I'm never going to be one of those women who can't seem to cope without a man on her arm - but it would be quite nice to have someone special in my life, again.

5. For someone to invent a cure for cancer.
Imagine a world in which a diagnosis of cancer wasn't a scary thing, anymore.  A world in which a doctor just had to give you antibiotics for it, or something.  I want to live in that world.

6. To develop the ability to eat whatever I want, whenever I want and for the weight to only go to my boobs.
Okay, so I'd end up making Katie Price look flat-chested, but it's a small price to pay.  Mmmm.  Food.

7. To somehow invent time travel.
I mean, come on.  How cool would that be?!

8. To own a Shetland pony, like the one in the Amazon advert.
Because seriously, LOOK AT IT:

9. To become some kind of tester for Irregular Choice shoes.  
I'll write blogs reviewing them or something and in return, I will have the greatest collection of footwear EVER.

10. For someone to finally invent "meat" that can be grown in a lab (cheaply and quickly), which tastes exactly the same as real meat, but which doesn't have to be obtained by killing anything.  
I love meat (and yes, I am now giggling at how dirty that sounds) and I also love animals.  It's possible, guys. I support ethical farming practices, but I genuinely do wish we could have meat without any animals having to die.  If we can grow fully functioning human organs in a lab, how come we can't "make" a steak?!  Sort it out, science.

11. For someone else to invent a product called "Cellulite Bang!" to use on your thighs.
"Bang!  And the cellulite is gone!"

12. For all horrible "isms" to disappear off the face of the Earth.
Racism, sexism, homophobia-ism...  Oh, you know what I mean.

13. To become the Doctor's next companion.
Me.  In the TARDIS.  With the Doctor.  Hell, yes.

Make this happen, BBC.

14. For every copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed and Grey to spontaneously combust, never to be reprinted.  Ever.
I think we all know that this is for the good of humanity.  And if EL James could show some kind of remorse for peddling a stalking, coercing, manipulating, threatening, controlling bastard as a romantic hero as well, that would be just dandy.

15. To form a band.  Or join a choir.  
Basically, what I'm saying is, I'm a frustrated diva who needs a stage to sing on.

16. For TV to stop making people famous for doing nothing.  
I'm looking at you, producers of TOWIE, Geordie Shore, Made In Chelsea and so on.

17. Actually, for a lot of reality TV shows to finally die the death they've been crawling towards for years.
Does anyone give even the slightest shit about The X Factor, anymore?  And if so... WHY?!

18. For all humans to suddenly be able to use basic grammar, so my brain won't have to explode, anymore.
"Should of" doesn't mean anything, people.  It's "should HAVE."  Don't make me hate you.

19. To visit DisneyLand in Paris with my bestie.
It's planned, so bring it on.  I need to meet Olaf.

20. To just be happy.
At the end of the day, life is short.  We make of it what we can.  So let's make 2016 a good one, eh?!

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Bedtime Story (9/12/2015)

Christmas is, without a doubt, my favourite time of year.  I'm really loving writing special, Christmas-themed stories at the moment and I hope you and your little ones are enjoying reading them!  If you're still shopping for Christmas gifts for the children in your life, my new book, Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang is available for Kindle, or as a paperback and is ideal for children aged 5-10.  UK readers can order it here and readers in the US (or worldwide!) can order it here!

Okay, boring marketing bit over!  Here's this week's story...

"What Is Christmas?"

Twas the night before Christmas
And there in the house,
One creature was stirring
- One little, white mouse.

"I heard them say 'Christmas' again,"
The little mouse said.
As her mother tucked her in
And kissed her sweet head.

"What does it mean?" She asked,
tucked up, but still restless.
"Can you tell me please, mummy?
Just what is Christmas?"

Mother mouse gave her baby a smile,
As she perched on the end of her bed.
"Christmas is wonderful, that much I know,"
The Mother mouse dreamily said.

"Christmas is waking up early,
With a smile on your face,
To see if there are presents
All over the place!

It's laughing and sharing
With the ones you love best.
It's getting that warm feeling,
Right there in your chest.

Christmas is good food, 
Warm from the oven.
It's turkey and sprouts
And mince pies by the dozen!

Christmas is playing games
And having such fun,
That you almost never want
The day to be done.

It's being so thankful
For the ways that we're blessed,
With family and food
And our warm, comfy nest.

Christmas is carols, 
Sung by the fire.
It's staying up late,
Even though you feel tired.

It's twinkling fairy lights,
tinsel, baubles and glitter.
It's a new festive jumper
from your family's chief knitter.

It's building a snowman,
With a carrot for a nose.
It's walks in the crisp air,
Where the cold nips your toes.

Christmas is warmth 
When it's cold outside.
It's greeting your loved ones
With arms open wide.

Christmas is feeling
Overcome with sweet bliss.
It's hanging up mistletoe
For one, gentle kiss.

It's a time to wish,
For yourself and for others,
That peace, health and happiness,
Is what we'll discover

When this year ends
And a new one starts.
So we look to the future,
With hope in our hearts.

Christmas is special, 
With love and good cheer.
And if you keep that love in your heart,
Little Mouse, Christmas lasts the whole year."


Sunday 6 December 2015

Why Is Being Nasty Suddenly So Acceptable?!

Before we get into this post, here's a quick disclaimer: No, I am not about to go into masses of detail,  re-hashing arguments that have already been played out on television and no, I'm not about to go into who was right and who was wrong in the now infamous row between Tony Hadley and "Lady" Colin Campbell on ITV's I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

But I am going to talk about whether being nasty has suddenly become far more acceptable, in recent years.  In short, I don't care about the cause of the row.  I care about the aftermath and the reaction from the public.

For my overseas readers and for those of you who don't watch the show, I will summarise very briefly: A socialite called "Lady" (and I use the quote marks for reasons that will become clear) Colin Campbell - better known as "Lady C" - had a blazing argument with Spandau Ballet's lead singer, Tony Hadley, on a reality television show.  Now, if you want to, you can quite easily Google the events and find out exactly what happened and why.  But, as I said, the actual root cause of the row isn't what's important, in terms of this blog.  What's important is how it split the nation, in terms of the response to "Lady" C's general persona on the show.

The socialite started off hugely impressing me with her quick-wit, composure and gutsy attitude to the eating trial she had to endure early on in the show (for those who don't watch, she was made to eat cockroaches, turkey testicles and other such vomit-inducing fare).  However, it quickly became apparent that if anyone got on the wrong side of "Lady" C, they would be subjected to a seemingly endless tirade of insults, swearing and deeply personal attacks.  Whoever was right or wrong in the argument she had on screen with Tony Hadley, her decision to spit venom about his family - including suggesting that he surrounds himself with tarts (he's happily married) and making nasty comments about his children - was frankly unforgivable.  Once the argument had taken place, any further comment from Tony was greeted with a barrage of increasingly personal insults - his weight, his lack of talent as a singer, his supposed low intelligence... Nothing was off limits, as far as this "Lady" was concerned.  

And it wasn't just Tony.  Anyone deemed to have "earned (her) disregard" found themselves on the receiving end of "Lady" C's vicious tongue.  Former Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding was referred to as a "rabid dog."  Ex Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne was described as "an ugly old goat."  She even referred to the viewing public as "oiks," yet claimed that she was a victim of "reverse snobbery" - cruelly judged because she has a title.  Methinks the "lady" doth protest too much.

Of course, she's now out of the jungle and claims she left to protect her emotional health, following the "bullying" she experienced at the hands of her campmates.  Playing the victim is a common tactic of those who can never admit to having gone too far with their own nastiness, so it doesn't surprise me that it's happening, here, especially since "Lady" C (a title that came to her through a very short-lived marriage) has a habit of conveniently accusing others of things she herself is guilty of; let's not forget that she point-blank refused to get involved in a challenge, because she didn't know what reward she'd gain, before refusing to carry out any further trials at all, yet she was very quick to accuse Tony of not playing the game properly when he wouldn't carry out a challenge for her).

But all of this is moot, to be honest.  It's happened and she's gone from being a little-heard-of socialite, to an apparent reality TV star.  The reaction from the public is what's been addling my brain.

Because, whilst - as you'd expect - plenty of people have been appalled by her constant personal attacks on her campmates and the arrogance she displayed on the show, there are seemingly just as many rushing to praise her.

When she violently laid into one fellow camper with a tirade that left him seemingly on the verge of tears, a massive number of people flooded onto Twitter, to cheer her for "slaying" him.

When she made her row with Tony personal by bitching about his family and his weight, thousands cheered her for "just saying what she thinks!"

People praised her constantly, with many openly saying they wanted her to win.  Why?  "Because she tells it like it is!"

Now, I am in no way in favour of being forced to keep your views to yourself.  I have a blog because I want to air my views.  We should all be open and speak what's on our minds.  But there are ways of doing that without resorting to nastiness.

For example, I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who.  I'm still in two minds as to what I thought of last night's season finale, so I went online to a fan page on Facebook, to see what other people were saying about it.  One guy had said that he wasn't a fan.  He said "the programme would've been better without that last scene at the end."  Immediately, someone bit back: "The show would be better if YOU didn't watch it."  This person went on to insult several others who shared the first guy's view.  Her comments had several "likes."  Apparently we "like" it when someone reacts with childish insults to a view they don't share.  Stop the world, I want to get off...

There is nothing wrong with speaking your mind.  We should celebrate and praise people who are strong enough to say "no, hang on, I don't agree with the majority opinion."  It takes guts not to follow the herd, after all.

But the second you start hurling personal insults at people, any praise is no longer deserved.  You can disagree with a view without slamming a person's looks, family members or intellect.  In fact, if you have to resort to making personal attacks in a debate, I'd argue that you've started to realise that you're losing the argument and are thrashing around helplessly, when you should be keeping your mouth shut.

At the end of the day, flinging metaphorical shit at someone because you've had a petty row, or because they have a vastly different opinion from you, says very little about that person, but a whole lot about you.

And yet, we rush to heap praise on people who throw insults.  "Lady" C was "slaying."  She was "hilarious."  She was "fantastic."  

This is someone who, when told by one of her only friends in the camp that "everyone has a right to express their opinion," replied: "He (Duncan Bannatyne) has no right to express his opinion in front of me."  Which most people with fully functioning brain cells will realise is utter bullshit.  EVERYONE has the right to voice their opinion.  That's what free speech is.  We don't have to agree with them, but we certainly can't stop them.  This is also someone whose only friends in the camp (due to her poor attitude, before you rush to her defence) begged her to stop throwing out "hate" and even referred to her personal attack against Tony and his family as "indefensible."

But a large number of people still think this woman is "a QUEEN!"

Why do we praise people who are capable of such nastiness?  Why do we so admire what is, essentially, bullying?  It's not just "Lady" C - there are plenty of people out there, famous for being cutting.  We praise arrogance.  We laugh at people who make deliberately nasty remarks about others.  I'm not saying - in any way - that we should all be overly (and falsely) nice at all times.  That would be ridiculous.  I'm just saying that heaping praise on the "hilarious" nature of someone who insulted a person's children because she didn't like their dad is a very sad indictment on society.

People cheered "Lady" C for being able to hold her own in an argument, but the fact is that she couldn't.  She couldn't argue her point without sinking to name-calling and nastiness.  Doing that is the fastest way to lose an argument, rather than win it.

There are two sides to every story, of course.  And I will always praise people who speak their minds and have a gutsy attitude to life.  But let's praise people who can do that without resorting to childish name-calling.  

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Bedtime Story (2/12/2015)

We're into December, so the Christmas stories can officially begin!  And if you've got children to buy Christmas presents for, what better gift than a book? (shameless plug...)

By the way, I'm aware I have readers from both sides of the Atlantic, so I'll be switching between "Father Christmas" and "Santa," in my stories over the coming weeks, just so that everyone feels at home. ;)

The Hole In Santa's Sack

Snow began to fall outside the workshop, turning the world a sparkling white.  Santa yawned and helped himself to an extra mince pie for the long journey ahead.  "All around the world in one night, eh?" He smiled to the elves, as they wrapped present after present in beautiful, crisp wrapping paper.  He shook his head and laughed.  "Never gets any easier, I can tell you!"

When the last present was finally wrapped, Santa began loading them into his famous, old sack.  Finally, he dragged the enormous sack to his sleigh and climbed aboard.  "Ready for the off?"  He asked his trusty reindeer.  As they all nodded in response, Santa gave the command and whoosh, they shot up into the starry sky.

For hours, they flew around the world, delivering presents to all the sleeping boys and girls.  But each time Santa returned to the sleigh, he found himself worried.  His sack was getting lighter.  Of course, it always got lighter as he delivered presents, but he wasn't even halfway through the job and the sack already felt much too light.  "I hope I haven't forgotten any presents," Santa sighed, as he threw the sack into the sleigh and climbed back into the driving seat.  The sleigh took off once more, but when it landed again, Santa was sure something wasn't right.  He delivered his next few presents, but as he returned to the sleigh, he glanced behind him and to his horror, he saw a trail of neatly-wrapped gifts, strewn across the snowy ground.

"Oh!"  Santa gasped, as he rushed to collect what he'd dropped.  "I knew this sack felt lighter than usual!"  He hurried back to the sleigh where, to his horror, he realised that the sack he'd been using had a big hole in the bottom.  He blinked at the hole and shook his head, sadly.  "I bet I've lost hundreds of presents," he sighed.  "I'm going to have to go back and look for them all, aren't I?"

Rudolph and the other reindeer all gazed back at him, with glum expressions on their faces.

So, Santa and the reindeer turned and began heading back in the direction from which they'd come.  The trouble was, the snow was falling so hard and so fast, it was almost impossible to make out any of the presents they'd lost on the way; they were being buried by the soft flakes as they fell to Earth.  The sleigh landed gently on the roof of a small house and for a while, everyone sat in miserable silence.

"This is useless," Santa said, at last.  "Christmas may as well be cancelled!"

"Cancelled?!"  A small voice cried.

Santa spun round.  A small boy was leaning out of a rooftop window.  His big eyes looked sad and Santa swallowed, hard.

"Well... It's just..."  Santa sighed and held up his sack.  It was almost empty, now.  Presents had been falling out as the sleigh flew through the sky.  "I've lost the presents," he explained.  "What am I going to tell everyone?  Whatever will the boys and girls think, when they wake up in the morning?"

The boy shook his head.  "They can still have some presents," he smiled.  "You could make some!  Or you could write them little notes...  Who wouldn't want a letter from the real Santa Claus?!"

Santa frowned.  "But...  They've asked for dolls and footballs and remote-controlled cars," he said.  "I happen to know that you're called Alex and you've asked for a robot toy."  He glanced into his near-empty sack.  "I had it for you, as well..."

"But now I've met you!"  Alex exclaimed.  "I've actually met Santa!  Nobody else I know can say that.  If you leave a little homemade gift for everyone else, with a handwritten note, or a photo to prove it's you, I promise it'll make every little boy and girl's day."  He grinned.  "Besides, I hate to burst your bubble, but presents aren't the only thing that kids like about Christmas!"

Santa cocked his head to one side.  "Really?!"

"Of course not!"  Alex continued.  "We get to see our family and friends, eat loads of delicious food, play games, sing special Christmas songs, go to parties, stay up late...  It's brilliant."

Santa scratched his long, white beard.  "But...  The presents are a big part of it, aren't they?"

Alex smiled.  "We do love getting presents," he confessed.  "But the best present of all is being with the people you love most and getting to have lots of fun with them.  Please don't cancel Christmas just because you've lost some presents," he begged.  "There's so much more to it!"

Santa scrambled around the back of his sleigh.  He pulled out bits of sparkling material, shiny snowflakes and other magical jumble.  "I could probably make some little gifts from these things," he grinned.  "And I can write every little boy and girl a letter... if I start right now!"

"I can help!"  Alex beamed.  "And that can be your present to me.  After all, what other kid can say that they helped Santa save Christmas?!"

Santa smiled.  "Are you sure that makes up for not getting the robot?"

Alex nodded.  "It's better than the robot."

Together, the pair worked on the brand new presents, until Santa's sack was full to the brim again.  Santa gazed down at his watch.  "If I set off right now, I think I'll just about get all of these delivered," he said.  "Thank you for helping me," he told Alex.  "You've given me an amazing gift."  Santa took off his famous red hat, still glistening with freshly fallen snow.  "Here," he offered.  "I want you to have this.  That way, you'll never forget tonight."

Alex flung his arms around Santa's neck.  "Thank you so much!"

He put the hat on his head and watched as Santa's sleigh rose high into the frosty air.  "Ho, ho, ho!"  Santa called.  "Merry Christmas!"

And as Alex slipped back through the window, into his warm and cosy bedroom, he knew it would be a merry Christmas - with or without his toy robot.