Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cedar goes to the dead church




I find myself in the strange position of having written three chapters of the Ghost Killer today. This means I'm either getting used to being freaked out or my brain is so far past being freaked that I no longer feel it.

Cedar has just had a life-threatening experience and been to the dead church. It turns out the dead church is a husk of a building which no longer exists in the present time. The roof has been ripped away and the top parts of the walls too. There are gaps along the walls where the windows used to be and a big, gaping hole where the door once stood.

Candles line the edges of the church, all burning, their flames dancing in an unfelt breeze. Above the church, hanging in that night or this, is a bright moon. The light of the moon shows just enough to illuminate the edges of the church and to reveal the faint ghost of the housing estate beyond the walls, where today's houses have been built on yesterday's old town.

A dark figure enters the church and follows the candles around to the front, where the altar used to be. He cannot be focused upon, not directly, not until he kneels. Then the houses are visible through him as if he doesn't exist in the place of the church or the present day.

Cedar lingers too long here, driven by desperation to stay past his time. He leaves quickly, hurrying back into town where all the shops have their windows lit to tempt passers-by. For a little while at least, Cedar enjoys the normality surrounding him, knowing it won't be too long before his life sidesteps and he has to face the unnatural again.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Saturday, 29 June 2013

And now back to ghost killing...




The new book is out. I Hate Writing Stories! is now live on Amazon UK and US. I'm so glad to have it done because it means I can turn my attention back to my ghost killing.

This is my latest fiction book, provisionally titled Cedar, the Ghost Killer. I had quite a solid idea of where it would be going when I first started it but it seems to be developing a mind of its own and I'm surprised every time I get back to it.

That's the thing, though, having finished my other projects, I have no excuse to avoid it anymore. And it really is an exhausting book to write.

I couldn't tell you if it's the subject matter or the way the prose is working out or the characters. There is just something about this book which drains me each time I write another chapter. On Monday, I managed a small victory and wrote two chapters, one after the other. Usually this would be no big beans for me, but for this book it's an accomplishment.

I'm hoping I can concentrate on it this time, though I suspect I'll find a new project to run alongside it, just to keep me sane. Being sane isn't always a good thing for your writing, but until I'm off for summer, I need to be at least partly rational so I can go to work.

It seems the closer I get to Cedar and his painted worlds, rejuvenated children, living memories and absolutely terrifying employer, the more I lie there at night, listening to my bedroom breathing.

You'll be relieved to know my bedroom doesn't actually breathe, but there is also a breathing bedroom in the Ghost Killer, so I worried mine would too.

Perhaps that's the problem with Cedar? Perhaps I fret over it and suffer because I can't tell the difference between truth and fantasy? No news there, I've always struggled with that one, but I don't usually have such a full-scale invasion from a book.

I have this image of myself, once it's finished, having gone grey and with my eyes a paler blue because everything is drained. I also have a strange image of other books to come after this one, which almost leaves me with a sinking feeling that I had better learn to cope with Cedar and his world, before his next story rolls along.

For now, I'll concentrate on this one. I have to find out what Mr Fiddler knows and whether Cedar still has his secret life. I also have to go back to the painted world, which even now fills me with dread.

Wish me luck, readers.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Monday, 24 June 2013

Reluctant learners...it's time to hide!




It's coming, readers, the method of choice in a parent's literacy arsenal! I Hate Writing Stories is a work born of pain: my pain and the pain of my students. No, I don't go into lesson with a sharp stick, but I may as well for the reactions I sometimes get.

Children who don't like creative writing and literacy don't just dislike it, they really hate it. They aren't messing about, you know. They really will do just about anything other than writing. And actual creative writing is awful for them. They would much rather put up with me chasing them with the sharp stick than have to think of a story.

I've helped many children over the years and tried to help a few more. Some are never going to like creative writing but most can be shown how to achieve more and often enjoy it along the way. And some are just afraid.

If you have a bad experience early in your education, at school or otherwise, then it stays with you. A lot of the children I meet in later years - and teenage students too - have hated creative writing since they were very young. This hate is often more like a fear of it, a fear of feeling the way they did when they first got it wrong.

I hate the idea of children thinking they got it wrong. When it comes to creative writing, they need to understand how much of it comes from them and is different from what other people will write. Unfortunately, schools usually have a right answer in mind so a nice, creative answer which doesn't match the one they need is marked wrong.

That's it for some children. They don't want to risk getting it wrong again. Or worse, they keep trying and keep being marked wrong, so that by the time they give in and decide they can't do it, their feelings about creative writing are strong and negative.

I Hate Writing Stories is about undoing the harm and helping children find their way back to creative literacy. It is a book which creates a partnership between parent and child, every exercise a joint effort. I have included lots of advice and guidance for parents, as well as full example answers.

All the exercises are flexible for children of different ages and abilities and they can all be re-visited, completed in different ways or already include a good choice of variations within the chapter.

I have also written a chapter dedicated to helping you and your child understand their dislike of creative writing. I felt this was necessary because of all the times I have asked and parents have asked, only to be greeted by a shrug or a mutter. Sometimes children don't want to say why they dislike something and other times they find it hard to put into words, so I'm hoping this special chapter will help clear things up.

I Hate Writing Stories will be available as an ebook first with the paperback coming along later. I have already uploaded a free chapter from the book, for anyone who would like to start now.

Watch this space for more news!

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I Hate Writing Stories! Creative writing for very reluctant learners




I Hate Writing Stories was written after working with various children who really, really dislike anything to do with literacy. These children are all different and have their own reasons for hating literacy, but I've found methods which work and can help them to cope with it.

You notice I'm not saying they'll enjoy their literacy? That's an 'on-purpose' as I don't claim to help very reluctant learners enjoy creative writing. Sometimes, children will never enjoy writing, sometimes they will learn to love it, you can't tell until you try new ways of learning.

With children who have built up a real resistance to writing, whether it's normal school literacy or creative writing, you do need to press the re-set button if you want to help them achieve more. Even the mildest child can be as stubborn as an angry granny when faced with the hated story-writing.

I Hate Writing Stories is a staged process, aimed firmly at parents, full of advice and guidance on how to ease your child into a new attitude to creative writing. Each chapter has a different activity for you to work through with your child, often involving parents taking part as well. These activities are mostly broken down into more than one part, so you start with a simple idea and build to a full creative exercise by the end.

Don't be put off if you, as the parent or carer, are not very keen on creative writing either. I have included lots of help and also example answers, to show you how you can approach the work. You are not left to get on with things and definitely not expected to know how to do the work without being told.

I have focused on creative writing, rather than simple literacy, as most children who struggle with normal literacy find creative writing even more difficult. This is sad because creating stories is a way to help children enjoy English, which helps them enjoy school more and definitely benefits them later in life.

So, here is the sample chapter. All the exercises can be personalised to suit you and your child, so don't be afraid to change anything you feel is not quite right for you.

I Hate Writing Stories is available on Amazon in the UK and the US. Please see the signatures at the end of this post for other ways to buy.

As usual, please respect the copyright. Do get in touch if there is anything you think might be useful in forthcoming books, as I'm always looking for more ways to help children enjoy creative writing.


Quick-fire and almost painless

I say almost painless because in this chapter we will be doing some writing. Not too much, not proper stories, so don't panic!

As an exercise in thinking on the spot, this chapter is designed to show your child they can come up with ideas for themselves, even if they don't turn those ideas into fully-fledged stories. All stories start with an idea and often if a child decides they hate creative writing, it is linked with the belief that they can't think of any ideas.

The vicious circle completes when the pressure to think of ideas means none are forthcoming and without ideas there are no stories, so the child thinks they can't write stories.
You see how this can keep going round, preventing forward movement and perpetuating a feeling of failure and disappointment, which then turns into a stubborn determination not to like writing stories. Ever!

Thinking and writing


For now, we'll have a little bit of fast thinking, with no pressure to get it right or create more later. This is a simple set of quick idea-starters. If your child doesn't know anything about one of the subjects, miss it out. Pressure is being left outside, alone, in the hall today.

For each word or phrase, your child should think of as many things as they can which link with it. Time them for this, with a starting time of about 20 seconds. Make this time longer if you think your child needs it, or start with longer and shorten it as they try each word, so it becomes like a game.

Don't start with longer than a minute though, as it becomes too much like work if you make it too long and then stress creeps in.


Words


unicorn, stars, whales, bicycle, school, tea time, brushing, footsteps, wonder, fire light, petals, dancing, cold water, dog food, laughing, sneeze, kitchens, heat, banana, tremble, rhino, leaf


Thinking and doing


Now, using a similar method, we're going to expand the 20 second quick-thinking to another activity. Give your child another 20 seconds to search the house for objects which relate to words you make up yourself. These can be anything, but have the list ready before you start, so that everything is kept nice and quick (see further down for examples of this).

For instance, you might want to keep it simple and choose colours of the rainbow. Once your child has returned with a ‘matching’ item, such as a blue sock, for the colour blue, get them to write as many words as they can which link to the object they brought back, not the colour.

So, as you start with one idea, such as the colour, you then swap to a different idea, based on what was found. This is another way of making your child think on their feet, coming up with ideas in the safe environment of the home, in the form of a game.


Example thinking and doing


Starter idea of animals – child returns with a teddy, bunny slippers or a leopard-print top.
Teddy – bear, cuddly, soft, brown, bedtime
Bunny slippers – warm, black, cute, funny, a present
Leopard-print top – silky, yellow, black, summery, smooth


In depth


This exercise helps your child to see what they can do when the pressure is off. It's always different at home, compared to school, but they have the same abilities in both places, if they are relaxed and confident enough to access them.

By creating activities at home which help your child to think of ideas for themselves, you are helping them to gain confidence so that they can do the same thing at school, where there is always more pressure.

The timing of this activity makes it more fun, as they have to think quickly. At school, time is also an issue and it is not usually fun! It becomes pressure instead. The trick is to help your child access information quickly, for fun, which will help them get used to picking out ideas with less hesitation, so helping them once they are at school.

Sometimes there is a lot more going on at school that is contributing to the problems your child has with writing. This can be bullying, or feeling generally unhappy in the classroom, or feeling left out. You can't solve all these problems by practising creative writing at home, but by making one difficult area more manageable, you may also be helping your child to see that other difficulties can also be overcome.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Monday, 17 June 2013

Creative writing & literacy for reluctant learners - how parents can help




I want to talk about how parents can help their children enjoy creative writing and literacy.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not being fluffy here: I know some children would rather do just about anything than write a story. This dislike of writing, or creating, or both then extends into all areas of literacy until they come to the attention of their teacher.

Sometimes, parents are unaware there is a real problem until months have passed and parent interviews loom. This is a real shocker when it happens as you find that little Jimmy or Jilly has been struggling for ages and no one said anything.

As parents, we are somehow expected to know, psychically, what happens at school - while we're not there. I'm not sure how we're meant to do this, I guess we are failures as parents if we missed out on this extra-sensory gift that allows us to be at home or work, but also at school, watching our child's every move.

Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn't be ranty (silly of me, really). I've heard it time and time again, though, when I start working with a new student. The parents often know their child doesn't like literacy or struggles with writing stories, but they don't know the extent of the problem until it has got out of hand.

In some cases, the teachers do flag it up quickly, which is great and exactly what you want - but as a parent, what are you supposed to do then? How are you meant to know what to show your child? What should they be learning these days? What counts as literacy? What level should they be if a 3c isn't good enough?

At this point, a word in defence of teachers: if your child is having any kinds of problems at school, go in and talk about it but don't expect the teacher to use their extra-sensory perception to know what you really wanted to ask.

If your child needs help with something and you know they do, then ask the teacher for a detailed plan of action that you can follow at home. Make notes when they tell you things, ask for suggestions of books or websites. Use their knowledge.

If none of this is forthcoming, or is blurry and vague, go online and Google. There is so much out there, so many great sites to help panicking parents and struggling children.

Above all else, there are a couple of things you should be doing though. Firstly, be patient. Oh my, it is hard sometimes, I know. When your little treasure will not, under any circumstances, do what they need to do - won't even pick up the pencil - you must not give into temptation and get all aeriated and start dancing round the living room. This, surprisingly, does not help your child with their literacy, though it may give them a few ideas for stories.

And the other thing you can do, is be there. Don't just leave your child with a workbook or a printout or an instructional video from Uncle Ted's Learning Library (don't Google, it's from my brians). Be there. Bottom on seat, parent! Sit down, cup of tea in hand and leave everything else to its own devices.

Do not start by making it a timed activity, even if it's accidentally timed by you saying, 'Right, let's get started, I've got Grandma's toenails to clip at 4.30'. The only good sort of timing is when you tell a worried child that you're not going to sit for a long time, just until you have done a little bit of something.

Pressure off, parenting on and bottom on seat next to child: got it?

With all that in mind, I'm putting the finishing touches to a new book which should help you through some of the pain. It's based on my own pain, as a personal tutor and mother to an aspie son who could not write anything for years, due to bad school experiences. My son is now writing his first full-length book and has written short stories, comic strips, poetry, you name it.

I use my son as an example to show you I know this problem from both angles, as an educator and a parent. My current book, A Month of Stories, is also aimed at reluctant writers, but is a workbook, with non-scary exercises and activities to help children enjoy creative writing.

The new book, I Hate Writing Stories!, will be much more for the parent to use, along with their child. I decided it was time for an in-depth approach to parents helping their child with literacy, while also showing them how to get to the root of these problems.

The book has a series of chapters which take you and you child through different types of activity, from ones with no writing but lots of creativity, to full stories written by your child, after preparing them with the other chapters.

I'll put a preview of the new book on here shortly, but until then, do take comfort from the fact that you know your child better than anyone so you are the one best placed to help your child achieve their potential and pick up the pencil with no more tears or clenchy tummies.

And parents, don't worry if you hate stories too...I can help with that!

(I Hate Writing Stories has been published since this article was written and can be bought in the UK and the US)

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Reading and writing what's right for you...





An online friend of mine and fellow writer, Julie Day, has just blogged about a workshop she attended, to help people write stories for Woman's Weekly magazine. I was really interested to read this as I've often wanted to write something for this magazine and similar ones, like People's Friend.

At this point, I usually wince, as I'm used to people having a 'face on' when I talk about this kind of magazine. They are seen, by most people, to be magazines for ladies of a 'certain age'. To be coy, I'm not yet at that certain age and neither is Julie, but we had a small discussion about how this type of magazine is perceived.

I remember reading them when I went on holiday with my mother. As part of the holiday treat, we would each buy a few magazines and settle down with them, enjoying the pleasure of immersing ourselves in what we saw as little luxuries.

I'd be reading Cosmopolitan and hoping for a life where the advice might be vaguely useful and my mother would read The People's Friend, usually treating herself to the summer specials as well as the weekly.

Then we'd swap. She'd glance through Cosmopolitan with an occasional laugh or an excruciatingly honest explanation as to why an article had got it all wrong about the female body. I would read her magazines, going for the short stories first and seeing them as a kind of guilty pleasure.

I knew they weren't aimed at me and I doubted they were even aimed at my mother. After all, we bought special offers from them for my Grandma every Christmas and birthday. So, why did I enjoy them? And even then, wonder if I could write for them?

The answer is pretty obvious now: these magazines are appealing to women who have some life experience and who know how things work. Their readers don't need to be told how to behave on a first date, how to make your man wild or how to dress for success. They don't particularly want to be told anything, they want to be welcomed, entertained, informed.

Reading Cosmo is a bit like going into a cafe with your friend, then meeting up with another group where all the talk is a bit loud and you either shout to get heard or you listen, with growing envy and astonishment, to their tales of dating accomplishments.

Reading The People's Friend is just that, a meeting of friends. Real ones. You don't have to go into a noisy cafe or even meet face to face. The feeling when reading these magazines is like relaxing with a friend for a catch up and knowing you're in a safe place.

As you get older - and you don't have to be very old to feel this way - you value the quiet and steady love of a good friend over the noise and perceived excitement of being in with a group. How many of us, in times of need or happiness, reach for the phone to tell a friend? How many of us, in those in-between times, count our friends as blessings, proof we don't have to travel alone.

Readers, I still haven't written a story for these magazines, but I no longer feel I have to be secretive about my love for them. I have reached the stage where I don't care what other people think and am more concerned with what is right for me. Fashion is what you make it and so is life experience.

I'm inclined to pass on a few copies to my younger friends, the ones who think they still need to be told how to do things and watch as they fall, gently, softly, happily into stories which have more to do with real-life than anything that ever started with 20 ways to tease your work-mates.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Friday, 14 June 2013

the rain comes - a melodic & unusual story about how no one is really lost to us


A melodic and unusual story, the rain comes bridges the gap between the past and present, showing how we never really leave anyone behind.

'Glorious, angry rain! It’s like Heaven came to me as I slept. The rain is like my memories, my thoughts, my feelings, it’s like my whole life, thundering against the window.'

When Maria wakes to find herself confused and trapped, not able to hear or see anything, she has no idea what has happened to her. As her mystery unravels, she follows her memories and leads herself out of her darkness.

'the rain comes' is the story of Maria and the people whose lives she touches, now and in her own past. Her journey is not over until she can feel the rain on her face and see the rainbow of her life.

'the rain comes' is split into three main sections. The first part of the book is Maria's story, from the moment she becomes aware of her surroundings to her release into the next part of her journey.

The second part follows the people who touch her life, spanning the decades from her youth to the present day.

The third part of the book belongs to Maria's great nephew, James, as he unwittingly plays his own part in Maria's story, leading to the end of her journey.

'the rain comes' is also included in my English GCSE study book, found here.

This book is available in paperback and ebook form, in the UK and the US. I am including the first two chapters here. As usual, enjoy but please respect the copyright!


Maria

1


I can hear wind. Strange, how everything else fades away, leaving me with the sound of trees soughing outside. So, I suppose I can hear the trees really, when I think of it. I don’t often think of it, though.

Sometimes the wind has been blowing for a long time before I turn my face towards it, turn my face away from the door.

Turning my face towards a window? I don’t know that either. We always expect sounds to come more clearly through a window. I can’t see a window, or the walls, I only see the door. Sometimes, if I try very hard, I can hold up my hands and see glimpses of them, as if I blink, very slowly, the darkness creeping over me. It’s like I fall asleep when I blink, only needing that momentary darkness to slip away. No dreams though. Never those.

When I hear the wind, the trees, I think of rain and storms lashing against the house at night. Then I fall away again. But for that moment, I can feel the way it used to feel to be here, in the house, alone, the weather beating its way in and me, laying in my bed, waiting to see if tonight, it would come to me.

When Jessie used to knock on the door, afraid, I’d let her in and gently chide her for being silly. I’d never been afraid of the storms, just wary. You have to respect the elements, I would say. God gave the earth to us, but we are small creatures still.

That was a long thought for me. I haven’t remembered Jessie in a long time. I wonder, if I could see my hands, would they have tears on them? Would they be my tears?

Yesterday, I’ll call it that, I heard something else and then blinked myself to sleep. I haven’t been awake enough to hear anything. Like the thoughts of Jessie, it was something new. I tried to turn my head, found I could not. I tried - I don’t know what I tried, I was gone soon enough.

Today, I still can’t see my hands. Why is it important? I can feel them. I feel them there, at the ends of my arms, I think. I can’t make them touch, though, so perhaps they are in my imagination? Perhaps I don’t even blink.

I heard the wind today, but no rain. I want to think of the rain. And Jessie. I want to be able to -
I heard the wind and it wasn’t the trees. Like a moment of waking, I heard the wind blow in through a door! If I could move, I cannot move.

Was it today that I heard the door? Is it raining yet? If I was able to snuggle down in my bed, would it be night and the storm? Would Jessie come and it would all be as it was?

Can I see my hands? Are they my tears?

I can hear the -

I turn my head. I see no window, but I hear the window. I hear the rain hitting the glass. I have a window. I can hear the rain.

I hear the door.

2


I can see him now, in my mind. It was Edgar. He came to me and -

Edgar likes me, Mother said. I can’t bear it when she says that. I wanted to go away, with Jessie, but Mother said I wasn’t to go. Jessie cried.

I wonder, does she cry -

Mother said Edgar liked me. I don’t want to think of Edgar.

I liked my room, sometimes. It was pink. I remember the walls, all flowers. It was pink on the bed, I can remember, soft. I can turn and the window-

It’s the rain. Where was I then? Small thoughts, after so long. How long has it been? Can Jessie hear me? I wanted to tell her -

I can hear the rain today, hitting against the glass. The door is close, it was always close. I used to wonder at how close it was, how far away I seemed.

The door, not my door, it’s the door. I can’t remember which door it is. I recognise the sound.

Upstairs, there used to be bats. I was more afraid of them than the storm. Jessie liked them. I was afraid. How could I forget the bats? Did I forget Jessie?

The noise of the kitchen door, flapping shut as Mother came out. Did it flap shut when she came out to the parlour? When she came out at night, to go to bed? Did it only flap when she came out to me?

I remember the sound, I remember each time, imagining the kitchen -

It was a pale green, I never liked the colour. We could have had yellow. It was new. Father-

The tray was green. It didn’t match the kitchen. Always cold. Warm food is hot to you, Maria. Her voice, like the flapping of the door. Did she flap for anyone else?

I used to wonder what the kitchen might be like with me in it.

The wasted days, my eyes too weak to read, my head too light to think, my heart too sorry for anything.
Edgar read to me.

I was worried, Mother liked Edgar.

Flap-flap-

The door! Is it Mother? Can I remember her back to me? Is she here again?

I’d forgotten fear, I would rather have left it behind. Could I not remember more of Edgar instead?
We do not choose, we only think we do.

No footstep, no sound at all, not even the rain.

I think about settling back, relieved. Then I realise, I don’t know if I sit or stand. I remember I can’t see my hands.

With an effort, I imagine lifting them, imagine looking at them, will myself to see them raised before me.

I remember my hands. They did not look like this. I can’t make them out. I almost see my hands. A blur that could be fingers, if I was stronger.

I hear the rain against the window and turn towards it.


Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Don't worry if Tom does nothing today...creative writing and SEN children




I was thinking about some of my school visits the other day. One of the best parts is when you meet those children who are absolutely living and breathing creativity. You can see it coming off them in waves and they sit, vibrating gently, waiting for you to start the class. They just cannot wait to put pen to paper and start writing stories. What a joy they are.

You know, readers, they're the easy ones. If all children were like that, my job would be a simple one and we could all rest easy, knowing that the future generations of writers, readers, poets and all-round creative superstars were on their way.

You have these golden children, waiting to write and then you have the majority of the class who are interested but don't really have a passion for writing or reading. Most of them are willing to have a go and enjoy the novelty of a visiting author. You often get some surprises among this bunch as they discover they can think of stories and they can write them and, the biggest surprise, they want to do it again another day.

So, you have the enthusiastic ones and you have the most of the class, waiting to see if you'll do anything interesting. And then you have the little boy at the back of the room looking grumpy, disinterested, angry, bored, pulling faces at you and - my personal favourite - already pretending to write so you won't come over and bother them.

Now, don't get me wrong. I say boy but this can also be a girl. At least, once it was a girl. Unfortunately, the child avoiding me and looking like they want to run off into the distance has almost always been a boy. And usually, I get one of two possible introductions to them.

The main introduction I get is a quick 'don't worry if Tom does nothing today, he has problems'. The 'problems' aren't usually explained. Fair enough if they are personal but if I knew whether Tom was dyslexic or autistic or had aspergers, then I could adapt the workshop to suit.

The other introduction I get is - ' don't worry if Tom does nothing today, he has aspergers'. I'm filling in aspergers as I'm an aspie too, some of my family are aspies, some of my best friends are aspies and some of my most favourite students have been aspies too. You can pretty much include any number of SEN (special educational needs) in here, the first part of the sentence is almost always the same.

Now, you'll perhaps have noticed there is a link between the two statements above. Our friend Tom has his problems or his aspergers or his gammy leg or his tortoise just expired. But, for whatever reason, I'm not to worry if Tom does nothing today.

Readers, if there is a red rag to my school-visiting bull, it's when I'm told not to expect anything of a child. It's lucky I'm small and non-violent and not given to public outbursts. Usually, I greet this statement with a thinning of the lips and clenching of the hands, before diverting in the opposite direction then winding my way back round to Tom once the teacher has stopped looking.

Sometimes, our Tom is a right little toad. It's funny, but I've never been a fan of letting someone off the hook for toadiness just because they have a learning-related problem. If their tortoise has just expired, then I'll be much nicer and probably have a small cry with them. If they have a gammy leg, I'll probably forget and stand on it.

Toadiness is not an option, though. Any child, large, small, sweet, obnoxious or variations in-between, will not get away with doing nothing in my school workshops and they will not be allowed any amount of horridness.

After all, readers, I know how well being a horror can work when you want to avoid doing anything. I know that Tom has issues with writing, or reading, or putting his thoughts onto paper. I'm not a monster, I understand the pain involved. That doesn't mean he can't be creative and enjoy the workshop.

Once, in a small village school, I was left to look after the whole class. This is not unusual, you do sometimes see staff disappearing faster than a cat on worming day. I was with the oldest class in school, so half of them were taller than me and they were a loud, happy, naughty lot.

Then, bless her, the door opened and a mild-looking teaching assistant ventured in. She hadn't been sent to help me, she was assigned to a couple of the students in class. She came up to me and said, 'What should I do?'

The bliss of those words to a visiting author! Not, what is this meant to teach them, or what do you expect out of today, or what should the children think about while they're working. What Shall I Do?

I told her what we were doing and asked if she'd help anyone who looked like they were struggling. She helped the children she had come to see, then moved round the room, showing enthusiasm for small, scribbly stories and letting children talk to her about their ideas.

She held up pictures some had drawn, so that others could see how they had done it and I saw her giving encouragement wherever she went. Occasionally, she'd direct a child to me so they could show me their story.

This was one of the best workshops. Thanks to the sensible, kind and delicate handling by this lady, I was able to give the workshop in the right way. The students who needed extra help, the Toms, they responded because she was there, a familiar face who already helped them every day.

With her help, the class was one whole group, enjoying creating their stories, a happy buzz in the atmosphere and everyone contributing in their own way. Doesn't this sound like the perfect classroom?

I often think of this when faced with other classes and other Toms. I know it can work both ways, if it is allowed to. The Toms can be helped to enjoy writing and story-telling, if it is approached in the right way. I can help them, one-to-one, in the middle of a crowded classroom. The people familiar to them can also help, like the teacher they see every day. Some of the best help has come from children sitting around them, who see that Tom is supposed to join in and work to make that happen.

Not everyone is going to have a well-written story at the end of the time. Some will have written nothing and their story will live inside their heads, where no one else can touch it. Others will have created pictures that tell the story for them. And more will have written one or two lines which, to them, summarise the whole tale.

The important thing is that the story is enjoyed, even if the child is the only one who knows what happened in it. We are not put in this world to earn the gold ticks given by other people, we are here to learn about ourselves and to do what we can, according to our talents.

Sometimes, all you need is the right words to start that journey.

'This is Tom, he might need some extra help today, but he's really looking forward to it. Aren't you, Tom?'

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Boy Who Broke the School - a funny and exciting adventure for ages 9-12


When Daniel, the school bully, is given the gift of a stone, he doesn't realise that every time he does something wrong, the stone will grow. When the stone is big enough, it will come for him.

If he can learn his lesson in time and change before the stone grows too big, then he can still be saved. Otherwise, this bully will find out what happens when you do exactly what you want.

The Boy Who Broke the School is the story of Daniel, the school bully who thinks he is tough enough for anything. It takes a little bit of real magic to show him how wrong he can be.

Daniel is a funny, resourceful, cheeky and genuinely brave character who needs other people a lot more than he realises. He finds himself in unexpected danger and must change in time to save himself.

Along the way, he needs the help of his former victims and new friends, as well as locking horns with his teacher, headmistress and even the school itself.

The Boy Who Broke the School is a funny and exciting adventure for children aged 9-12.

This book is currently available as an ebook and will shortly be in paperback too. I'll update the blog then. I've included the first chapter as it gives a good flavour of the book. I will probably include another chapter when the paperback becomes available.

The book is available in the UK and the US. As usual, enjoy the extract but please respect the copyright!


A gift for Daniel

Daniel was cycling on the pavement, travelling fast enough for the race track. He bumped who he wanted to bump, and used the pavement because he felt like it. He was pedalling so fast the wind blew his dark hair back from his forehead. His brown eyes caught the light, and they glittered in the winter sun. He grinned wolfishly and let out a savage howl as his bike careered past a gaggle of old women, making them scream.

He turned the corner too fast on purpose, hoping to catch someone unawares. The street was empty. He had a clear run past the bus stop, all the way down to the traffic lights. If he timed it just right, he could speed across the road as the traffic lights changed, and terrify anyone waiting to cross.

Daniel cycled past the bus stop and the broken seat. As he reached the old flower bed, he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He just had time to think, ‘Is that a doll?’, when the doll’s leg stuck out, touched the side of his bike and sent him flying.

Daniel had only once fallen off his bike when it was not his fault and that was the time he made Craig Jackson’s face bleed. This time he jumped to his feet, rubbing his arm where the pavement had torn his sweater, and turned to see who had dared to kick his bike. There was no one there.

He spun round, scowling, ready for action. There was nowhere to hide, somebody must have done it. He did another circle, then a voice said,

“You’ll be spinning like a top if you do that anymore.”

Daniel did spin, in the direction of the voice, and there on the wall next to the sad flower bed was the thing he had thought was a doll.

It was a very small, ugly man, about as high as Daniel’s hand and dressed in paper bags. He peered closer. The bags had been made into clothes. Daniel rubbed his eyes.

“I must’ve been knocked on the head,” he said to himself.

“I think you must’ve been dropped on it, when you were a bairn,” the little man said, and cackled.
“Stop that!” Daniel shouted. He didn’t care how weird this was, no one laughed at him.

Stop that! Stop that!” mimicked the little man and cackled again.

As usual, Daniel’s temper did the thinking for him and he punched out. The little man shot off the wall backwards and landed in the dried up flowers. As soon as he did it, Daniel realised two things: the little man was real and Daniel was afraid of him.

Fear was a new experience for Daniel and he didn't know what to do about it. He would not run away, that was for cowards, so he stood there, his feet shuffling, rubbing his sore arm.

“There now,” the little man said. “I hurt you and you hurt me. I guess we’re even, eh?” He cocked his head on one side and a petal drifted down.

Daniel looked away, still unsure of himself, and his eye fell on his bike. There was a scrape up to the seat, showing the pale blue underneath from before he painted it yellow. His face darkened.

“No, we’re not!” he cried, pointing accusingly. “You’ve scratched my bike! You’ll have to pay for that!”

“Do I look like I carry money?” the little man asked calmly, spreading his hands.

“I don’t care what you look like, you’ve got to pay!”

Daniel was feeling more sure of himself now. He was loads bigger than this little weasel, what did he have to worry about? Anyway, he was in the right.

“Do you know what I like?” the little man said, as if to himself. “A nice bit of birdseed.” He looked at Daniel and added, “Aren’t we even then, sonny?”

“No. Look at my bike!”

“Hmm.” The little man looked at the scratch, one hand on his chin. “I’ll give you what you’re worth,” he said, finally.

Daniel, never the best of listeners, thought he said ‘what it’s worth’ and nodded.

“You’d better,” he said, sticking his chin out.

“It’s a deal then?” the little man asked, rustling in a pocket on the back of his paper trousers.

“It’s a deal if you pay up,” Daniel said, holding out his hand.

The little man put out his hand, folded up as if he held something. He placed it over the one Daniel pushed in front of him and before he let go of what he was holding, he said,

“This you take, I give it ye, ‘til you’re acting pleasantly.”

Daniel screwed up his mouth to ask what that meant as the little man dropped something very small into his palm. Daniel held up his hand and peered into it.

It looked like a piece of black grit, hardly big enough to see. He pushed it with one finger, then looked up.

“What’s this meant to be?” he asked, pulling a face.

“That’s what you’re worth,” the little man said, backing away. “Don’t lose it, not everyone gets a gift from an imp.”

“Why shouldn’t I lose it? It’s worthless.”

“Ah, that it’s not,” The imp waggled a finger at him, backing further into the flower bed. “You put it somewhere safe or it’ll grow in value. Look after it well, lest it looks for you.”

With that, he turned and ran. Daniel clasped his hand over the grit and ran after him. The imp was quicker than he should have been, even too quick for someone like Daniel who was used to chasing people. He reached the trees which ran along the edge of the car park, and then he was gone.

Daniel stood in the car park and stared about him. There was nothing to show for the encounter, only a piece of grit in his hand. He still held onto it, and, as if he didn’t know what he was doing, Daniel put the grit in his pocket and walked back to his bike.

Daniel picked up the bike and shook it a bit, as though he thought the scratch might fall off. It didn’t, and after glaring at it, and the car park, he got back on and rode home.

On the way, he made an old man hop off the pavement and drop his shopping. This cheered him up and he came to his street with a smile on his face.

Mrs Sewell from next door was weeding in her front garden and she looked up as Daniel’s shadow passed her gate. She shook her head without speaking, and went back to her gardening. Daniel narrowed his eyes and said,

“Smell you later, Mrs Sewell!”

She stood up, her hand going to her back and pursed her lips at him.

“Do you have to be so rude all the time, Daniel?”

“Do you have to be so old all the time?” Daniel said, in a mock pleasant voice.

“Oh!” Mrs Sewell was shocked. “You’re a horrible child!” she exclaimed.

“And you’re a stinky old woman!” Daniel yelled as a final taunt before trotting off to his own gate.

He could not see Mrs Sewell past the high hedge between them but he could imagine her shaking her head and wondering whether to come see his father. Daniel felt safe enough. The last time she complained, she got another earful off his dad. Dad was too busy with his own life to bother about some old whinge.

Daniel wheeled his bike round the back and stuck it in the shed until he wanted to fix it. He still had some yellow paint from when he did it the first time, it was no big deal.

He let himself in the back door and looked around the kitchen. Two cupboards were half off where his dad had started to refit the kitchen. Next to Daniel’s bike in the shed were the flat pack boxes full of the new cupboards. They were older than Daniel’s bike and the cupboards had been resting against the wall and floor for the best part of a year.

Daniel reached in to one and took a packet of crisps off a leaning shelf. He walked up the stairs, munching on his crisps and kicked the door to get into his bedroom. He fell back onto the bed and lay there, crunching and staring at the ceiling. When he had finished he flung the empty packet in the direction of his bedside cabinet, where it ricocheted off the rubbish already balancing there and fell to the floor.

Daniel spent a few minutes picking out his teeth, not minding the mixture of crisp and grubby in his fingernails. He licked his lips, and sniffed as his nose started to drip. He gave in after a few sniffs and stuck both hands in his pockets to look for a hanky.

He thought he found one but it was just the fluff that had built up in his pocket. While he was scrabbling about he came across a little stone. He frowned and took it out, only realising what it was when he held it up to his face.

The light glinted off the shiny black surface of the grit the imp had given him. He quite liked the way it shone, like a tiny, sharp, black eye, gleaming at him from his hand. He smiled, then frowned. Had it been this size before? There seemed to be more of it now. That could not be right.

Daniel sat up on his bed and looked closely at the stone. He held it this way and that, between forefinger and thumb. It was still just grit, there was no doubt about that. It was not big enough to be called a stone really.

And yet...

Daniel shook his head. He was not used to letting himself think about things for too long. He looked about the bedroom for something to do, and his hand put the grit back in his pocket without him knowing it.

That night, as Daniel lay in bed, there was a minuscule scraping sound in his bedroom. It was too small to wake him up, only a cat could have heard it, but there must have been something disturbing about it as Daniel began to frown in his sleep and mumble to himself. His dreams had turned bad but he could not wake up.

In the corner, where his trousers had been flung for the night, one pocket came alive for a moment as something moved about in it. The tiniest shape threaded its way out of the fabric and gleamed in the moonlight. It stopped for a moment and there was silence. Daniel relaxed in his sleep. Then it moved again, rolling and slipping across the floor, too quiet to hear, too nasty to ignore, until it reached the open wardrobe. Once there, it was lost in the darkness of Daniel’s school clothes.

Daniel turned over in his bed and one arm fell over the side. Even in his sleep, instinct spoke to him and he pulled his arm back under the covers. A part of Daniel’s mind that he never listened to did not feel safe in his room tonight.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Monday, 10 June 2013

Doing things for free...



On this website, I offer free resources. Sometimes I also offer free advice and, if you came round for a cuppa, that would be free and you might even get a biscuit. Otherwise, writing is my living. Not my hobby, not my way to make Aunt Elsie proud and not an excuse to ask me to fill in every form you get from government departments.

I'm not rich, I'm not even making very much money from writing. I do it because I love it and I want it to be my sole income one day. I do it because it's a passion as well as a job. Having said all that, it is a real job and the money it pays is real too.

I'm making this point because I'm in the middle of a discussion on Facebook about writers offering school visits for free. Some people do, some don't. The ethics of giving your time and energy for nothing are being debated, the main camps being the ones who think you should never do anything for free and those who think reaching out to your community should take precedence.

Let me be really clear: if you are comfortable enough to do things for free then knock yourself out. I just hope you don't mind if people always expect things for free from then on. Also, while you may be able to work for nothing, think of others who come along after who can't afford to but who might be faced with a school who think writers don't eat and can spend hours at a time, helping children appreciate creativity, without expecting any recompense.

Perhaps I come across as angry? I don't mean to, I just remember the times when I needed that money to pay the rent - paying for food came second some months. Or the times when I had to rearrange other work to fit in the writing workshops.

In case you're thinking, what a fuss, it's not the same as building boats or working in a bank, well, no, it isn't. But it is work, you see. For every book I write, I have spent hours and hours, translating into weeks and months of concentrated, specialised, completely individual work.

It is not being big-headed to say that no one else could write my books - this statement is true of every single writer in existence. The whole reason for being a writer is to express yourself and as no one is the same as anyone else, then neither are the books.

School visits can be simple readings, followed by questions. You may think these ones are nice, cosy affairs that cost me nothing. I refer you back to the time spent writing the book I read from, not to mention time spent afterwards, editing, proof-reading, re-writing, then promoting.

And to answer those questions at readings, I do have to be a real writer, who can talk to people about writing.

Then the other workshops I do, based around creative writing. I have done these for all ages, from small groups to large classes. These are my favourite as you get to know children well over a few visits and see them transform their ideas and their own approach to writing, leaving them inspired to carry on without you.

This is not a magical process, that requires the waving of my wand and all is done. It can feel like magic, when what you say hits the spot and you see a child smile as they zoom back to their paper, ready to write a story.

For the practical side, every school workshop takes its own preparation time, not counting any travelling and so on.

It is a great experience, to do school visits of any kind. Children are great, there are lots of wonderful teachers who make you feel welcome and inspire you as much as you hope to inspire them. It's not all roses, but mostly it is, you see. Mostly, I come away from a school with the kind of buzz I usually only feel when writing the books themselves.

Yes, I can see why some people do it for free. But, despite all this, even if you don't need the money, it is a skilled, professional job to be a writer, to transform your ideas into something which touches your readers and helps them see new worlds.

Don't ever short-change the process, even if the end result feels so right it might have happened by magic.

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Friday, 7 June 2013

Creative Writing for Adult Learners: literacy and writing skills for people returning to work and study


For anyone needing help to improve their writing skills or inspiration on how to express themselves, How To books can seem either too simplistic or too intense. This book is designed to be fun and challenging, offering a real boost to your creativity while giving you lots of practice in writing techniques.

The exercises in this book have been used by job hunters, adults taking entrance exams or functional skills tests and adult learners who have left English behind at school and want to enjoy creative writing. Some exercises are more complex than others, but guidance is given throughout.

For the first two parts of the book, there are also examples with every exercise, showing you how they can be done. This book is intended as a guide for those who have not been used to expressing themselves creatively or who want to return to creative writing after a break.

Creative Writing for Adult Learners is available in paperback and as an ebook, in the UK and the US.

The extracts below are examples from the book, but the book itself guides you through the exercises, so that you are challenged gradually as you work.

As usual, use and enjoy the extract but please respect the copyright!

Letter 3: Uncle Arthur

Uncle Arthur has been stuck in his bed for three weeks and is getting very fed up. Write him an upbeat, friendly letter to take his mind off things. Include a mention of his car and tell him when you can visit.

Here is my letter:

We’ve been busy at this end, getting ready for our visitors. We’ve had to redecorate the spare room and we found Jennifer’s old roller blades - you remember, the ones she lost when she was six. Amazing what turns up when you’re not expecting it.

Sorry to hear the little car hasn’t been well but at least it will be ready to drive again once you’re up and about. Imagine how pleased you’ll be once you’re both back on the road!

I’ve got a present for the car as I know you won’t want me to bring presents for you. I’m not telling you what it is. All I’ll say is that Jennifer chose it so I hope the car likes it - I’m not sure you will!

We’ll be through to see you this Sunday and I’ll bring you pictures of the trip on the boat. Hope you’re feeling better by then.

Where I was

Now I want you to describe somewhere from your past. It can be from years ago or yesterday. The main thing is to explain, in words, how the place made you feel. So this time, the details are there to support the way you felt, as a person. Anything you include should help the reader understand your feelings, while setting the scene of the place you were in at the time.

Here is my yesterday:

I wanted so desperately to be at home. I had come out, with my little boy in tow, to show support for my husband as he visited a group of people he knew.

They were all strangers to me and as soon as I arrived, my husband left me alone and went out with them. I was left, a painfully shy young mother, with the two people still in the house. None of us knew what to say and they weren’t very child-friendly, so my son didn’t help with the conversation.

In the end, I could have sat and cried, but all I did instead was sit and suffer. I had gone there to be a good wife and came away vowing never to put myself through anything like that again.

You see how my feelings lead the whole piece? It can be really good writing practice to talk about how you feel, but sometimes it also means putting aside the need to keep things private.

Even if you write for yourself and no one else, it can feel like you are opening up your feelings to the whole world when you write them down. But, by doing this, you learn how to express yourself and also become less self-conscious about your writing, so do try it.
Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Thursday, 6 June 2013

World domination by bamboo



I think I may need some motivation today. It's far too sunny and nice outside to work really hard, but perhaps I could do something useful? Eventually?

Maybe what I'll do instead is plan activity. What I'm planning at the moment is Bamboo. This is a badddd thing. Bamboo itself is not inherently evil, but, well, the results of it can be. I'm planning, no, resisting (no, really, I am planning) to use bamboo as a screen around the whole garden. Heh heh.

A screen, readers. Not a defence or anything else that implies I want to create an impenetrable barrier between myself and all my neighbours. I worry a little the defence may then backfire and take over my garden - and everyone else-s - but there's no room for silly little worries when you're planning.


I also may plan to let it encroach slightly in the local area. I do like the idea of something alien, spreading, gently, inexorably, through this West Cumbrian town, so used to dog rose and hawthorn. I especially like the way it would pop up, unexpectedly, for years to come.

Is this a terrible thing? Is it not eco-friendly, in its own way? Anyway, it may come to nothing, as other people have bamboo in their gardens without any danger of world domination. Obviously it can be planted innocently, without danger.

Where would the fun be in that, though? And why stop at bamboo? I have a few other plants in mind that I would like to see proliferate in my local area, just for the sheer naughtiness of the thing.

It occurs to me at this point that I may have too much time on my hands. Better get planting then?

Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Creative Comprehensions - comprehension, writing & reading practice for ages 8-14




A set of original and complete stories, with comprehension questions, creative writing activities and general literacy exercises, as well as some drawing activities. The stories can be used for reading practice, or read to your child so they can answer the questions. Answers are included, with full explanations of how the questions and activities can be approached. Suitable for children aged 8 years and up.

This book has been consistently popular and is one of the most used books in my tuition work too. The stories are mostly funny, with characters who misbehave and get themselves into trouble. Each section of the book contains a story, questions based around it and creative writing work.

The extract below is one of the shorter stories, The Blue Flag. this is a good one to start with, for children who find it difficult to draw meaning from stories.

Creative Comprehensions: Getting into Trouble is available in paperbook and ebook form, in the UK and the US.

As usual, please use and enjoy this extract but don't forget the copyright!

The Blue Flag

The Blue Flag was my Dad’s boat. When I was ten, I went out in it. It was a great day. The sun was hot and
the sea was clear and bright. We spent the whole day together.

The next time, he went out on his own and I had to stay at home. I felt really sad about it. Then I felt angry.

Why shouldn’t I get to go out with him? I should be out with him every time. It wasn’t as if I was a little boy
anymore. If I had the chance, I could steer that boat!

I was sure I could steer the boat. I was a lot smaller than my Dad, but the boat was small too. By the time my Dad came home, I had a plan.

The next day I set off for school but I didn’t go. I went down to the harbour instead. I had the keys for the boat and no one knew I was there. It was my turn.

I set the boat off across the harbour, steering for the open sea. It was a sunny day and the sea was flat. This was going to be easy!

I was okay until I steered the boat into the harbour wall. With a horrible crunch, the Blue Flag crashed into the wall and started to sink… and I wasn’t wearing a life jacket!
     
I tried to stay on the boat, but it was sinking too fast. I had to jump out into the dirty harbour water. An old tin can floated past me and I drank some of the nasty water.

I tried to swim to the wall, but the Blue Flag was in the way. I swam away from it while it sank, to another bit of wall, and tried to hang on. The wall was slippy and slimy and I couldn’t hold on to it. I kept slipping off, back into the water.

Just when I was feeling really scared, a man shouted above me. A big life ring landed in the water next to me. I shut my eyes as dirty drops splashed all over my face.

After that I was pulled out, dried and taken home. My Dad didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he found out what happened. He told me off, then hugged me, then told me off again.

A few weeks later, he got a new boat. This one was the Gypsy Sun. He let me ride on it with him but I never tried to steer it by myself again.

The best part of riding in a boat is not crashing into the harbour wall and sinking in the dirty water. No, the best part is going out onto the waves, with the sun all above me and the sea all around me.

The very best part is being there with my Dad. And one of these days he’s going to let me steer…

The Blue Flag: Questions & Activities

Quick-fire questions:

See if you can answer these without looking at the story.

1. What was the name of the new boat?

2 Where was the boat kept?

3. What was the name of the boat?

4. What did the boy forget to wear?

5. What was thrown down to save him from drowning?

6. Where was the boy meant to be when he was on the boat?

In depth questions:

These questions should be answered with full sentences. Some of them might have more than one
answer.

1. Think of the emotions in this story. Which feelings can you find in the story?

2. “He told me off, then hugged me, then told me off again.” Why do you think the Dad did this?

3. Think of some differences between the harbour water and the sea water. Why do you think they are different?

4. What sort of person do you think the main character is?

Activities:

1. Write a short story about your own boat and what happens when you sail in it. Will you have an adventure, or will the boat be your home?

2. What name would you give a boat of your own?

Design the flag you would fly on it, then draw the whole boat, with the flag raised in the wind.

In Your Own Words:

Now imagine you have to describe the story to someone who has never read it or heard of it. Keeping it simple, describe what happens in the story. Don’t forget to explain who the main characters are and what they do.


Amanda J Harrington

My books!
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog

A story somewhere