Thursday, 8 December 2016

He sees you



That Santa man, he has no hands,
no hands at all, has claws instead,
and slips them in his pockets so,
and keeps them sharp and keen and low,
and when he walks he swishes past,
and when he climbs he's very fast.

And when he comes to your roof top
and sits above the chimney pot,
he laughs and rocks and swings his head,
your fire flares a crimson red.

Your present drops, your lights go dim,
you hear the bells and know it's him.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Saturday, 26 November 2016

The incredible sadness of the faded girl



The incredible sadness of the faded girl
still tossing her hair, failing at catching
and running. Tricking herself
into small displays of youth
as she trusts, in his eyes, she is still 30 years ago.

Turning to smile, she sees
the side of his face and his mouth, open
to say something banal that reminds her she is grown
and the sparkles shine dimly in the bottom drawer.

Tossing the day she stumbles,
catches herself laughing,
feels again the stab of joy,
shining in her hands.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Monday, 14 November 2016

Safe Passage



In the space outside the hull,
lithe creatures twist and snake
about the blackened shell.
They writhe and fight against themselves,
as if in ecstasy, despair, and smooth
one across another and another,
deep and full, wide, high;
in every direction they torment,
only still for the moment
it takes for them to move again.

Living depends
on them feeling no vibration,
feeling no noise or movement
from the small vessel
caught close between them.

If it moves slowly, drifts through their coils, they let it be.
Some days it can be hard not to scream and end it all.




© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Cold Caller



Tap tap tap,
the little raw hand at the door,
no skin, no meat,
no soft, willing flesh
to soften the sound
as it gently, incessantly
taps to come in.

And any gap at the door
will find fingers there,
scraping into the space,
pointed, sharpened ends
cutting the wood in their eagerness
to be in.

A click as the latch gives;
sudden and listening,
the tapping ends,
bald, skinless ears pricked
and the space is filled.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Friday, 28 October 2016

Shadow Cat



Let in the shadow cat.
He sighs in the cold light of the stars,
Hidden on the blank path to your door,
His face sweetly buried in night ashes,
His eyes a feeling as you stand,
Staring into the darkness.

Let him in and watch the shade stretch
From the little tree, touching the step
Leaning into the house and vanishing
In the lit harshness of evening.

Let him in, all the way in,
Then turn down the lights
To see him.

There on the stair,
Shielded by coats,
Secret at the edge of the step,
A little night darkens the wall
And looks at you.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The shifting light of Autumn



The brown-haired boy wakes slowly in the grass,
His eyes squinting in the sun and turns
To bend the trees, to bring
The dark, overnight rain.
Chases summer-soft petals from gentle flowers,
Trusts in the redness, rich and deep,
Of berries bringing colour to his cheeks.

There, in the corner, the robin sits,
Content in every season,
Watching as this boy, this year's child,
Changes the land into a bringer of
Cold nights clear days, hard, driving rain
And the gentle first kiss of frost.

The brown-haired boy walks into the trees,
Touching each of them as he passes,
Breathing their names into the dew-filled air,
Dark eyes raised to the shifting light of Autumn.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Monday, 5 September 2016

trying



walking after you, across the way
towards the desks and do we have
do you have the money?
do we have money?
and this is how much?
did you give me the money?

I wanted to come out and here you are
walking away from me
I'm talking to you
give me it
like quicksilver it fell
all away
I don't know where
my hands, they held it, I don't know where
they're empty again

I need the money and you might as well
have dropped it for me
it's empty and under the desk
and I need it to pay for this
that we left the house for so
we could fill bags
like other people
who go shopping
like when I was little
and the play kitchen and the play shop and
the plastic fruit and all the little boxes
when I thought it would be like with dollies
with me the mummy and some
someone else as the daddy

and then we're in the outside
and it's cold and you stand there frowning
holding bags and standing next to
the bags I leave
as I go back in, back in again
because you forget everything
and my mind just won't do what
it was supposed to
because you forget everything
and if you hadn't waited
we wouldn't be here
at half eight at night
in the shop
when we could be at home

back into the bright, super-bright and full of watching
like people think they should watch me
and my face screwed up
to make me see
and I don't know I'm talking
talking still as if you hear
when I talk to hear me
and know if I am really here
in the shop
walking back across to the desks
and wondering if I left the bag
or not
or if I am standing outside
and it is you in here
without me.

I'm trying so hard goddammit.


I wrote this poem after seeing a young couple in the supermarket, They were trying to shop, and to act normally at the same time. They were both addicts and not sober, but trying hard to just be there, shopping. The man couldn't speak and the girl kept speaking to him, then for him, losing what she was saying. She ended up dropping the money he gave her and having it collected by the staff. Security went to look for the man when he disappeared and he had walked round the whole shop and was waiting outside for her. She managed to buy their shopping, then once outside she realised she had left some of it inside and needed to go back for it. Her despair was palpable as she retraced her steps, all the while talking to him, even though he was too far away to hear.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The dangerous desire of wanting to be yourself



Being true to yourself is all the rage. It comes in flying colours, golds and bronzes caught in the midday sun as we fall, endlessly fall, towards a shimmering, unreal ground below. There will always be a parachute if we need it, there will always be a way to turn our falling into flying, if only we will be ourselves.

And if we fall? Then we will get up again. There is no giant splat and short-lived moment of realisation; there is only the fantastical idea that we can stand up each time, climb out of the cartoon hole we made and still be ourselves.

Being ourselves is an end unto itself, quite divorced from the reality of paying bills and dealing with the mother-in-law. It is the moment between seeing what we want and getting it, stretched out into a mind-blowing contortion of light separated into all its colours. There is no mediocre in Being Yourself, there must be only greatness.

It is a kind of bullying, then, to be told to Be Yourself. We must excel and to truly excel, we must latch on to that elusive inner Us. No matter how much money you make, or the sheer, gut-wrenching sacrifices you submit to in every loving day - none of that is important next to Being Yourself.

Sometimes you can really achieve it, too. There are people living the dream who always knew what they wanted and let nothing stand in their way. Oh joy to be told of them while you are cleaning out the cat litter tray or going to Tesco for the third time this week. The inspiration we are meant to glean from the absolute success of others is mollified by the very real difficulty of living a normal life.

The trick we have to learn is to be ourselves all the time, while being everything else too. Learning to live the dream while living undreamlike lives is the key to proper happiness. If we could truly live the dream, with sparkles and fairy dust and a castle, would we be happy? Maybe, but it would be a strange life, cut off from all the things we used to do.

Try instead to keep the dream with you and see what can be done. Let's be a little mediocre about it. Let's pretend that we are not superhuman but merely ourselves and that the dream, also being part of us, can be a little super and a little human at the same time. Keep it close and nurture it.

Do not listen to those easy tales of loosely-gained dreams without keeping a pinch of salt handy. Everyone tries a bit, even if it does sound easy. Everyone gives up something along the way, even if they have to look back to see it. Take some wisdom with you for when you need to listen to this kind of thing, and still...

Do live the dream and try to be yourself as often as you can. All the yucky parts of life are so much easier if you are already yourself and not also struggling to be someone else. Be boring, if you like, be obsessive and bad in the mornings, stay up late and grouch when you go to work, get stuck in traffic and forget the peas on that third visit to Tesco.

Be normal and still dream. That way you get to be yourself and be happy about it at the same time. And look forward to the times in between all of it because that's where the dreams live.

And monsters too, but that's another story.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Saturday, 20 August 2016

Closing the curtains



It's not the done thing to close the curtains during the day.

You close the curtains when people have died, or because you're too damn lazy to open them in the first place.

When it's hot you're supposed to keep them closed so the sun doesn't get in - but still most people don't do it.

I love having the curtains closed.

I love sitting in the living room and feeling like it's all my space, that not one part of it needs to be shared with anyone on the outside - and that includes brief passers by.

I love having them closed on dark days as well as sunny.

I don't close them to keep the heat out, I don't close them because someone has died and I don't leave them closed because I'm too lazy to open them in the first place.

I close them, or leave them closed, and sit in my quiet room with the outside world far away, even though it's right on the other side of the glass.

Today it rains and it feels like Autumn, though it's only August. The rain pours down the window, beating onto the windowsill and I have the curtains closed so I can enjoy it. The sound mirrors the curtains themselves: it encloses me, brings up a soft wall between me and the rest of the world.

It reminds me of days spent as a little girl, tramping the streets of my home town with an oversized umbrella and my curly dog, Sweep. We barely met anyone and I would go through the puddles, watching the rain fall past the umbrella, watch my welly-booted feet get wet when the rain blew sideways. I was enclosed and separate under the umbrella, having little girl adventures in a town I knew off by heart.

That's what it is with the curtains too, an adventure. With the world firmly kept outside I can live my world in here. I can take out the book or open the laptop and be alone with my adventures, swept up into other places where there is no real life waiting by the door.

Some days I don't get to close them at all and I need to pick up real life and go on. When those days are over and the dark is coming, I close the curtains with a sweet sigh of relief. It is done, I can shut it all out again and the place I am in is my own.

There is nothing so homely or exciting as a lamp-lit room with the curtains closed, when that room belongs to you.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The living world



Nightmares and dreams are enough but sometimes imagination makes it seem as if the sleeping world seeps into this living one.

My bed is against a wall, so only one side can be used. That's the way it's been for years. I know that, it's not difficult to remember, it's a proper, all-the-way-through fact.

It was a restless night and I finally woke up enough to have a drink of water. It wasn't quite full dark, that time before dawn when everything is turning grey.

As I came back into my room, filled with the pre-dawn gloam, I glanced at my bed and there was an instant where everything stopped.

At a moment, a point in the middle of the floor, with one foot down and one foot raised and my eyes fixed on the very part of the wall where the light hit it just right -

to my pre-dawn eyes it seemed as if a person sat on the other side of the bed, their back hunched, their face hidden, hands resting either side of them on the bed and legs unseen over the other side.

I took it all in as my foot wavered over the floor, holding my breath, filled with the kind of dread you only feel when something completely unusual and impossible is there right in front of you.

Then as my foot came to rest on the boards I moved that infinitesimal distance and the spell broke. It was the light on the wall, the shadow from the curtain, the deep well where my covers bunched up when I climbed out of bed. It was nothing.

There was no person sitting on the other side of my bed where the wall left no space. There was only my bed as I had left it, no hands on it, no unseen face hanging forward as if they too were very tired and in the middle of a restless night.

I breathed out, a catch in my throat, having been unaware of trapping the breath until I could let it free again.

Climbing into bed I fixed my eyes on the spot where the person had sat, then physically shook my head and determined to recognise the real world, this one time if none of the others. There was no one, I was alone and the wall still held the place where the bed came to an end.

I slept then, only for an hour, and was still alone when I woke.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Friday, 15 July 2016

Waiting



Through a crack in the curtain I see
a white-robed figure in the street,
standing listless
next to my neighbour's house.

They gaze off, away from here;
you almost feel they don't see
the nearby door,
don't have a hand on the post,
don't lean towards the place
where people live.

And looking again, hoping not to be seen,
steeling my face in case I meet their eyes,
I see the figure is gone.
There is no white shape,
or long leg turned in a moment's pause.
An empty street and no light
is left where they stood.

Staring at the place
I let the curtain fall:
this one veil is solid and real,
the other is stretched and torn.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Saturday, 9 July 2016

There is no such thing as time



when it comes to creativity.

I have just re-started writing a children's book, a nice little ghost story full of creepy stuff and a few laughs too. I love this book, it has an enduring appeal to me and I often think of it. I just didn't realise how long it had been since I worked on it.

Looking for the latest draft on the laptop I could only find one from April 2015. That couldn't be right! Of course it was. Despite me feeling like I know this book inside out and often think of ideas yet to be written for it, it had been over a year since I actually wrote anything new.

Guilt set in and I quickly scanned ahead to the final couple of chapters. Reading them it felt like only the other month, yet somehow I'd lost over a year!

The boys facing the ghost, the little sister who is haunted by her, the old doll, the wax, the broken-down shed and the pitiless, wrapping thorns: there they all are, as if I turned away and looked back soon after.

Exasperated I started to work, then realised it really was as if I had only just turned away. It was all there, all remembered, and I was ready for the next chapter.

Some books write themselves and others are already written in the imagination: I think this is the latter. It waits for me to type it up, even as the story unfolds in my mind. To me what is a surprise is done and dusted somewhere and I have already thought of the last word.

It is like being two people at once, the reader and the writer. The writer side of me keeps her secrets very close - it is left to the reader to expose the story, line by line, hoping that this will happen and that the other will not.

Perhaps the real secret to finishing these books is not to feel exasperated and force myself to work. Instead I need to decide today I will read The Ghost Nanny, reading it as I write, so that each new part of the story is enjoyed like I was someone else.

In fact, doing what I always used to do, writing something because it fills me with excitement and anticipation.

So I will read the Ghost Nanny and hope it all turns out well, even though somewhere the dark figure at the window has already faded and her touch is only a memory to the little girl with the raggedy doll.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Fading Voices



I hear it every day,
your voice at the door,
going by the window
as I leave the room.

And hearing it I miss it,
the very ends of words,
drifted, obtuse, unwhole,
stunted memories and younger days.

The garden, awash with colour,
encloses us. I follow, losing you ahead,
glimpsed and lost, glimpsed:
your shades mingling,
your colours a moving part
in the frozen moment.

The sound of your voice carries from the gate,
talking as I reach the path. A click and it closes,
your hand on the latch. Voice fading,
I stand in the garden and wait.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Monday, 30 May 2016

Clean




The sweet rightness,
the love triangle
of me, the tap, the world,
where every hurt and burn and need
can be washed away,
glittering on dampened wings
and down the drain.

The cleanse, a creature of forever,
a holy touch that leaves
my sodden human skin
a thing of wonder
for those moments
when the water,
fallen with my sin,
sheens angled fingers
held out straight
to admire the clean.

Some small time later destiny reasserts
and I am unclean again,
the degrees of dirt a detail
in the grand cosmic tale
played out over the familiar stainless shrine.

Wash me clean, my fingers say
and tingle as I stretch
towards the cold flash of heaven.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016


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Monday, 9 May 2016

Make Me a Story!

Make Me a Story! is a great new way to help your child write their own stories without feeling like they have to do it all on their own.
Each section in the book follows a simple yet effective formula: a fun and inspiring picture with lots of ideas and tiny plans building to bigger plans and then the whole story!
The pictures have been carefully chosen to be very different from one another and with lots of details to help the story grow.
There are robots, animals, real people, scary things, unicorns, naughty children, strange new worlds and lots more.
Available on Kindle
and in print.
© Amanda J Harrington 2016

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bridge



It was meant to be a bridge
and was so, right up until I saw
the log across the deep, narrow stream.

Only as far over as I was high
and if I stood, my shins would
just have been wet.

It was a log bridge,
wide enough to walk safely
from one side to other -

depending on you walking it right,
in a straight line,
no slips
or silly, childish accidents.

A dead old log,
worn, strong, used,
firmly set in both banks,
unmoving but somehow living to the touch.

I knew it waited to spin me into the stream,
take me to the water
like so many dreams
of drowning.

My small feet touched the very start and wavered.

I was sure the bridge moved,
the stream below stricken and gurgling,
caught in motion I could not help but watch.

The log bridge on a shallow water,
inviting me to trust, to balance perfectly
my own length.

Fraught panic and balance shied at safe, small waters.

I found a path around,
wending my way back,
beginning all over.

Darkened trees framed the bridge,
the banks hid the stream,
water rushed on oblivious.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Why children are always heroes



We all have our favourite stories from childhood and most of them feature a brave little character battling against the odds in a way we identified with when we were small people too.

Our hero faces down a challenge, tries their best and often succeeds - but sometimes, heartbreakingly, fails. You may grow up to read action, adventure, romance, sci-fi, whatever makes your pulse race, but the memory of that child hero lives on and if you come across them again as an adult you smile to see your old friend.

There is something about the child hero which plays a special kind of music. Is it that they are so small and vulnerable yet still fight? Is it that we wanted to be them when we were small? Or is it that every child identifies with them?

We have all been heroes as children. Little humans are meant to be cared for, taught how to cope with life, sent out into the world a bit at a time. This isn't true of every child but it is what is hoped for when our tiny ones take their first steps.

Yet for all the protection in the world, the most loving parent cannot shield their child from life's dangers. And sometimes those dangers are very far removed from the monsters of a children's story.

While brave Jack is fighting giants, brave Ben is walking into school every day. Jack might need to climb the beanstalk but Ben has to walk into the playground and never know what might happen. Giants are to be expected on beanstalks whereas playgrounds can feel like a different danger every day.

Children can suffer and need to be brave in the most mundane circumstances. It doesn't have to be actual danger to make a child feel unsafe: if school is their dreaded place and they have to go there all the time, then how safe do you think they feel? The idea of facing giants instead can seem really appealing.

In story-books, children know what to do - they are heroes after all. If danger comes, even if they are scared, they try to fight it or get away. In real-life, a child often has no idea what to do. So they can face what feels like danger and not have an answer. Imagine if Jack climbed the beanstalk and instead of outwitting the giant he stood there, frozen in fear until he was eaten? Not such a good story then!

Children need their heroes to be real enough so they feel their pain but they also need them to think on their feet and reach the answers so the real child is reassured that life can be managed, even if it feels scary and lonely.

Without the book heroes who cry in corners, your real child might think they always have to seem brave. The best heroes waver, they trip and go in the wrong direction, they lose their temper or turn to other people for help. Real heroes do all the wrong things in their desire to make it right again.

Children know all about making mistakes because they are still learning so they don't mind a faulty hero, they understand that doing it wrong means you do it right the next time. A hero is no less heroic for not getting it right first time.

And on top of all this, that hero is a child as small and unfinished as the child reading the book. The hero child wakes up and rubs their eyes with little hands, they jump out of their story-book bed and are excited for the day, they find a blood-thirsty dragon and still consider being their friend.

In the end, a child hero in a story is very firmly a child. They must be as close to a real child as your imagination can take them because real children know the truth when they see it. If that hero is always brave and never gets it wrong the story will be enjoyed and then forgotten; it is the hero who stands on the threshold of the darkened room with their shaking hand and beating heart who stays in the memory of the ordinary, real-life hero child.

In this life, as in books, all children are heroes. Some of them get to read books and see what other heroes do and some only see their heroes on TV and in the movies. That is fine, just so long as they can see themselves reflected in the beautiful, shining eyes of the imaginary child who looks back and is their friend.

Remember, sometimes a story can start with, 'Ben went through the school gates' and still be a story about a hero. There don't have to be dragons.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Where have the soft feelings gone?



Where are the soft feelings gone to, child?
Are they in the corner in the hall,
shy and waiting to appear?

No, they are gone from there
and from the pantry where they hid
in chocolate cakes and tea;
gone from the blind coverlet
on the little bed of squares
and from the seat under the apple tree.

No shadows left of them
on this old path right to the door
or down by the old orange berry bush
with the hidey space on an earthen floor.

The soft feelings have vanished
as if their tiny feet never trod here,
were heard in another room,
living another life, imagined.

Where are they gone to, though?
I'm sure I did know them, that they were here,
that only a few moments ago
I had them in my sight.

The wind sighs in the apple tree,
the berries fall
and the path basks without shadows
in the autumn sun. Silence answers.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

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Friday, 25 March 2016

Let's be blissful about this

Blissful, a feeling of great joy


I have a track record of saying the wrong word. Mostly confusing, at times hilarious, often frustrating, the substitute word usually has nothing to do with what I was trying to say. Think of taking the hoover for a walk or finding the keys for the kettle. Sometimes I get close and it's 'Please take the clothes out of the dishwasher'.

Today I was thinking about the writing jobs I have to do and it's a choice between useful books which actually make money or story books which make a small amount but keep my soul alive.

I walked through the house, lining up the jobs in my mind, and found myself saying, 'Let's be blissful about this'.

I stopped and looked at the cat. The cat looked back and we both considered.

'I didn't mean blissful,' I told the cat, 'I meant...organised? Positive?'

The cat said nothing and continued to stare at me in that way people have when they think you might be dangerous.

All the jobs we do, or tell ourselves we have to do, and all the alternatives which create some wonder, suspense, comfort and yes, joy, in our lives: these are what drive us forward and make us into human beings who move and create. Why shouldn't we feel blissful about them?

I know we often have messy jobs to do, dirty jobs which make our faces scowl or hard jobs that knot stomachs and clench hands. Jobs we put off for years and end up changing our lives. Jobs no one else can do and which many, many people do alongside us.

Why not be blissful?

Rather than think of bliss as a serene, saintly state of smiling unreality, why not think of it as a change in attitude? We can find something hard and still shine or we can cry as we work and still grow as people.

I know jobs can be hard! They can be so very hard that we feel we will never be the same again once we have done them. Be blissful, take yourself by the hand and move forward. Sometimes bliss is not the pursuit of perfection, rather it is the sense that today I was fully me, I did what had to be done and here I am, right at the end of it. Today I was more than myself, even when I sat on the ground and could not get up again without help.

Let the light in, let the feeling grow and understand the job doesn't matter so much as the way we do it. Today, in small ways, be blissful.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016



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Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Lying Daughter


The lying daughter has no love for anyone but herself.

She stands above, her sly face showing between the parapets,
just tall enough to show the bright eyes, the poking nose.
She looks down, peering harshly against the sun
to see targets approaching.
Readies the spear in one hand,
uses the other to pull up further into the wall.

Her armour clinks then grinds sorely on the old grey walls,
the speckled metal of her breastplate, decorated by hand at age 12,
covered in spots and dull places.

There in the distance something comes
and winds down the lane to the castle,
too far yet to see.

One hand lets go, the other grips the spear,
both fly together so that fingers touch
and the lying daughter tries her hardest
to prepare for the blow,
the busy hand tracing the thin, light handle of the spear,
the other touching the breastplate next to her heart.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Winter Light




That open-curtained bliss of someone else's life
glimpsed squarely for a second passing by.
A lamp burning orange under its tawdry shade
turns red to gold as day fades.

The room around rests in darkness,
the light of home never enough
to glimmer far.

Passing, unaware of anyone
in that bronzed, lamped,
desked room,
its empty seat
and ready light
left burning.

Imagining only myself as if I am them,
waiting for footsteps to fade
before I draw the blinds
and turn towards
lamp-softened edges
and soothing shadows.


© Amanda J Harrington 2016

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

What you should know when choosing a private tutor



I've been a private tutor for many years and had fun with the idea of how you should handle a private tutor but this time I want to give you some more serious advice when it comes to choosing a tutor.

How much should you pay?

If this is your first question, you're doing it wrong. Go to the next one in the list and come back.

Yes, I know cost is important and for some families hiring a tutor means doing without other things but if you base your whole decision on cost, you may not get what you think you are paying for.

A tutor who charges less than other local tutors may not be worse - they may just be starting out or in the middle of their degree. They may be FAB. But if they aren't inexperienced, or new, or partly-qualified, why are they charging so little? And will paying less mean you get less?

And if they charge more, then they must be great, right? Be careful of chasing a more expensive tutor in the hopes of getting the best. Can they talk to your child? Can they communicate what they know? Will you get an amaze-a-mungous tutor just because they charge a third more than anyone else?

Our Barry can do it for free

If you have a friend or relative who will tutor your child for free, then let them, I'm sure it will be fine. Don't contact a prospective tutor then say you have a Barry who might do it for free and expect the tutor to beat themselves down on price or justify why you should choose them instead. Let Barry do it and all the best to you.

Not all tutors are created equal

All tutors are different just like all students are different. What does your tutor do that others don't? How will different tutors deal with little Johnny's love of squealing or quiet Helen's fear of strangers? How can this tutor get through to young Ben when every teacher from Year 7 has failed? What can this one particular tutor do for your child that others cannot?

If in doubt, ask. Perhaps best not to say, 'Sell yourself! Why should I hire you?' This is not The Apprentice. Try telling them what your child's issues are and asking how they would help. A good tutor will say what they might do to help or suggest what has worked in the past. They shouldn't make promises though. It's good to be confident, but every child needs a slightly different approach and if it seems the tutor isn't going to see your youngster as an individual, then worry.

There is more than one kind of private tuition

There are different ways to be a private tutor. I have put the main three here, mainly for comparison. The cost and quality of any of these in your local area should be researched before you commit.

The independent private tutor

I tutor people in their own homes. This works very well for them and also suits me. Children especially work better in a familiar, safe environment with mum or dad to hand if needed. Anything I need, I bring with me (I usually arrive swinging a giant bag full of books!). Families provide pen, pencil and some paper and that's about it.

Costs

If you employ a tutor who works for themselves they set their costs based on their level of qualification and on the level of study required for the student. There is more work involved in tutoring GCSEs, for instance, than basic literacy and numeracy and a different set of skills required from the tutor.

Also, their costs will probably include a little extra for travel. This shouldn't make them much more or less expensive than other kinds of tutors, though as I have become busier I have been able to charge less for travel costs because this cost was 'shared' more between students.

Be aware that all money paid to an independent tutor covers your child's lessons (plus travel) whereas money paid to other types of tutor will be split between the tutor, their agency, building hire and so on.

Tutoring within a company

Some tutors work for a company and from a base, such as a community building or offices. There are various franchises sold to local businesses to do this and there are also privately owned local companies who source their own tutors.

If you prefer this type of arrangement then your child will go to the centralised location and will usually be taught in a communal setting, so although it is still one-to-one, there will be other tutors and students in the same room.

This can work if you prefer not to have lessons at home or you like the security of dealing with a company.

Costs

The costs of a company tutor are usually more than an independent as a 'cut' is taken by the company. So, for instance, a tutor may be paid £20 out of the £30 you are paying for the lesson. This extra cost takes account of the building hire and all the admin/marketing tasks needed to keep the company going.

If you miss lessons in this kind of arrangement you will usually need to give a long notice period or you will still be charged for the lesson, whereas an independent tutor can often rearrange or be more flexible.

Tutors from an agency

This is slightly different from the company described above. Whereas with a company the tutors are all in the same place, an agency tends to send them out into people's homes but then deal with the admin/marketing side just like a company. This means the tutor will come to your home in much the same way as an independent tutor but all the organising and contact beforehand will be with the agency and not the tutor. Hopefully you will be able to speak to the tutor as well, before signing up, but the agency tutor is still drafted in by someone else as if they are working for a company.

Costs

The price you pay to the agency will still be split between the tutor and the agency, with the extra costs going towards marketing the agency business, dealing with official checks, paying for advertising etc..

How to find your tutor

My students find me in three main ways: Facebook, word of mouth and the Tutor Hunt website. Over the years I have tried different ways to make myself known and these are the ones which work for me. Facebook is almost perfect as people can check me out and exchange messages before even picking up the phone. It also doubles up as a word of mouth arena.

The Tutor Hunt website is a paid for service where tutors list themselves for free but students need to pay to access contact details. Before any payment is made you can email back and forth as much as necessary, without giving any contact details. Tutor Hunt also allows tutors to list their prices, subjects, information about themselves and so on but does have some glitches with the site whereby references and proof of qualification that I have sent are not shown - so if you see a tutor you like, ask them about qualifications etc as the site might also have glitched for them.

Another bonus of bigger websites like Tutor Hunt (I have tried others but like TH better) is that you can see a range of tutors who cover your area, along with their prices and other details. This is a good way to make a comparison but shouldn't be your only comparison tool. Do get in touch with tutors to see what else they have to offer which can't be quantified into a box on a website.

Word-of-mouth

Best Thing Ever. Trust me, if you want a good private tutor, ask around. Do find out if someone is recommending a tutor because they are related in any way though, but usually anyone who recommends a tutor is spreading the love. Bad tutors do not get passed onto other people, even if those other people are complete strangers on Facebook. Good tutors are shouted from the roof-tops - you will have random strangers send you names on Facebook or be surprised to find friends have been employing a tutor for ages and didn't make a fuss about it until they knew you needed someone.

One of the best things about a word of mouth recommendation is that you can ask those awkward questions you would feel embarrassed to ask the tutor themselves. You can find out how much they charge before you call, how quickly their students improve (that's a piece of string question, by the way), how nice they really are, are they like a teacher and how they might react to your pack of border collies/live-in relatives/bomb-site of a living room.

And word of mouth leads me to...

References

I can always give references, either from current or past students. I can give people references from relevant families, so if you want me to tutor for SATS I can put you in touch with a student I helped through SATS etc.

The strange thing is, hardly anyone asks. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been asked for references in the whole time I've been tutoring. One hand, and that's without using my thumb or little finger.

If you find a tutor by word of mouth this gives you confidence in the person you are hiring but if you choose someone at random from Tutor Hunt or a jolly Facebook page, they might not be what you want or need.

Do not be afraid to ask for references.

I know it's not a very British thing to do and it might feel awkward and you might worry about offending the tutor, but far better for all concerned to find out now if you are going to match well. A great tutor will have a choice of referees at the tip of their tongue and more once they think about it. Ask. You wouldn't let someone fit your kitchen without finding out more, would you?

This isn't about finding out if you are inviting a safe person into your house (though it is connected); it's about discovering more about the tutor, how they work and what to expect.

Go on, ask.

And if there's any reluctance or the much-feared offence taken, run a mile.

Eavesdrop

or sit in on the lesson. Or camp in the doorway with a cup of tea and a magazine.

If you want to find out how the lesson is going, don't wait til the end, listen in. Normally, it's your home where the lessons take place and you are within your rights to stick an ear to the door and listen.

If it's a lesson in a public place, like a tutoring agency, sit in on the first lesson. If there's an issue with this, then why is there?

Yes, I admit, it is distracting to the student to have mum sat there trying to look nonchalant - and children always detect you listening at the door too - but it's an acceptable event for a first lesson. No matter the age of the student, if you feel happier being there or listening in for the first lesson, do it. I would.

But don't interrupt, if you can help it!

Does it feel right?

Tutoring isn't all about facts and figures. As a private tutor, I have sometimes felt very uncomfortable in certain situations without knowing why. We are human beings and instinct and feelings always play some part.

If you get in touch with a tutor, or even hire them and have them over for lessons, then feel something isn't quite right, consider this carefully.

Sometimes you feel discomfort because the experience of having a stranger in your home is a bit weird: it can take time! But sometimes you just don't feel happy and can't put your finger on the reason.

Maybe you are just on a very different wavelength from your tutor and you don't hit it off. In this case think about whether your child likes the tutor and if they seem to get along. Does it matter if you wouldn't choose the tutor as a friend? Does it matter if they leave you puzzled? Is your child happy to see them, happy to learn, doing well? Then it's probably going to be fine.

However, Life is a big, messy bundle of stuff and if you feel the situation isn't right and can't push it away as just not being used to having a tutor, or not really clicking with them, then think carefully. When all is said and done, it is your decision whether to continue with lessons and a good tutor will always respect this.

Saying goodbye

Please don't be afraid to say goodbye. I have had truly awkward experiences where it became obvious that a parent wanted to discontinue lessons but didn't know how to make it happen or felt too uncomfortable in telling me. It's much better if you say than leave for your tutor to bring up!

The reasons for ending lessons are as many and varied as the students themselves. Sometimes it can be a relief for all concerned when lessons end and sometimes I have cried in the car afterwards while the child cried in the house because I had gone.

A good tutor, a popular tutor, gets to say goodbye a lot and mostly because our job is done. If we do our job right then we say goodbye because the student doesn't need us anymore. Goodbyes are part of the process and how you do it is up to you. Try to give notice if you can, try not to worry, be honest if you would like us to come back when things are better or smile and have a chat about how good it has all been.

It's good to be friends with your tutor but it is still a business arrangement. I've known students and their families, past and present, who I would count as proper friends but in the end the lessons still end and sometimes you don't see each other again - it doesn't mean you weren't friends and it doesn't mean you don't say goodbye.

Lessons end, students move on, families change and tutors drive off into the sunset. Don't be afraid to say goodbye.

Good luck!

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog!

A story somewhere