Tag Archives: Writing

Dear Mr Letters

This post is inspired by last week’s guest blog from young writer Natalie Cherry, who ended with an apology letter to her Year Five Teacher (go and read the post to find out why). This got me thinking about teachers who influenced me during my school years and the first one who came to mind was my English Teacher, Mr Letters. Yes, that really is his name.

Mr Letters was a young teacher (although I didn’t think so at the time), who taught one of my English classes when I was in the second year at school (I think that’s known as year eight now! Showing my age…). With his dark floppy hair and round glasses – slightly too big to be considered ‘hippy’ style but that sort of design, he could have been the subject of many a schoolgirl crush. Perhaps he was. I certainly had a crush of sorts on him but it was more of the ‘wow you’re so clever I wish I was as clever as you’ type crush than the usual infatuation teenage girls (and boys!) tend towards. I saved those crushes for my peers. Anyway, if anyone did have a crush on Mr Letters they would never have admitted it as he was considered too ‘old’ (he was probably about 25!) and too ‘geeky’ to be attractive. So, what was the attraction for me – other than his obvious intelligence? It was passion. So few of my teachers at the time had the same passion for their subject, with two notable exceptions (unfortunately one of these turned out to have a habit of snorting coke between lessons so I’ll leave their names out of this, lest the wrong teacher be accused). They both taught maths though, which was of little interest to me. However, the way Mr Letters wielded his words… It didn’t make me want him, it made me want to be  him.

To be honest, despite this idolisation of my former teacher, I only actually have one memory of him that really stands out for me but perhaps it is this memory* that sums him up.

One afternoon, we all sauntered into his class and sat down, waiting for the lesson to begin. Mr Letters waited until everyone stopped talking (proving, as Natalie recently pointed out, that it’s not necessary to shout to get a class to pay attention) and then, with a flick of his hair and a flourish of his hand, he began to speak:

“`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

As he recited the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, I was entranced.  I had no idea what these nonsense words were supposed to mean but under his command, they came to life. I saw the wabe, with it’s slithy toves gimbling, and felt the outgrabe of the mome raths. I have no idea what the rest of the class thought as they faded into the background. I expect some of them continued to pass notes and poke the girls/boys they fancied with pencils as I lost myself in Mr Letters (well, Lewis Carroll’s) words. I once again entertained by secret dream of being a writer, of creating words like this for another teacher to bring to life. Curious now, with hindsight, that it didn’t make me want to be a teacher… Like Natalie, I guess  I must have known.

I thought of Mr Letters again years later, the first time I stepped on a stage and wielded my own words at a poetry open mic night and wondered whether I would be able to pull the audience in the way he did me. I still think of him now, especially when I hear any kind of nonsense poem. That day, Mr Letters’ homework for the class was simply to memorise the Jabberwocky ahead of the next lesson. I say ‘simply,’ because for me, he had already given the poem meaning so all I did was play a movie of each stanza in my head and I could easily recall the words. I’m lucky to have a pretty good visual memory, I know this method doesn’t work for everyone. I enjoyed this ‘easy’ assignment. I did, however, wonder at the point of the homework. Memorise a poem? For what purpose? Well, I will end with a short letter to Mr Letters, with apologies to Natalie for stealing her style…

Dear Mr Letters,

I get it now. The purpose was for us to give the words meaning, that we would remember them and understand both the power of words, and the importance of their delivery.

Thank you for sharing your passion, and igniting mine. I hope you continue to do the same for all the future writers who cross your path.

With respect,
Rachael

How writing crept up on me (A guest post from Natalie Cherry)

This is a guest post from a talented young writer Natalie Cherry, who I recently discovered when she wrote a post over at SJB Teaching on the teacher stereotypes she would like to see less of. I enjoyed her laugh-out-loud descriptions of the PowerPoint addict (I know, they’re everywhere!) and the Shouter,  so I popped over to her blog to read some more of her work and was impressed with what I found. I got in touch and asked her is she would be interested in sharing her thoughts about writing so that you, too, could discover this young talent. I’ll let Natalie take it from here… 

Natalie CherryIt started, unbeknownst to me, in Year Five. In my feverish nine-year-old brain I was convinced that my class teacher hated me. There was no proof, but I just knew it. I saw looks that weren’t really there and heard a distasteful tone of voice that seldom existed and for that whole year I spent day after day playing out a ridiculous battle in my head.

The funny thing is, it turns out that this teacher, my great villain, knew me better than I did. She saw what others didn’t see. She knew that I would write.

It’s strange really, because looking back now I can’t understand how I didn’t realise that’s what I wanted to do. I blundered about for so long, oblivious to all the signs quite plainly telling me that my life was centred around writing. Piles of books and magazines teetered on my bedside table from about eight years old, while reams and reams of list after list scaled the walls and filled up small scribbled notebooks. I wrote a daily diary (and continue to do so), documenting every day down to the most insignificant of details.

Natalie's diaries

Then came the stories – scenarios focused around that year’s crush that played out in my head, written down in the Disney-esque hope that they might spring off the pages and into reality. Needless to say, these have been thoroughly hidden.  I once started to write a film based on a Katy Perry song and I even used to bring writing into my everyday life, using letters to say sorry to my family after big arguments, leaving them outside the door like an overly emotional postman. I always loved English at school too, and every year I started a new project, story or series of books that led me along a long literary trail where anything was possible.

I’ve always read books, often older than my age group, naturally enjoying the way language moves across the page and into my life. My window of education on the world of the teenage girl world came from the Princess Diaries; my understanding of the opposite sex limited to Harry Potter. Most of all, though, I loved to tackle books that I had to really think about when reading – my beach read at fourteen was Barack Obama’s autobiography, and I picked up a battered copy of Little Women at around twelve. The big jump into reality happened when I started reading newspapers, however, and now I access the news obsessively in every available format. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the stacks of travel magazines that sit waiting, calling me to their glossy pages.

My childhood threw just about everything it could at me, and yet I still didn’t know writing was the path I would take until last year. Of course, my Year Five teacher did. Yes, after seven years of believing that she hated me, I have discovered the truth. My mother revealed recently that at parents evening my teacher had told her that she believed I had great talent in literacy and should consider becoming a writer someday. I was shocked. My mighty enemy, my grand opponent, my fictitious foe was really a friend? Excuse me while I look sheepish for a while.

Once over the disbelief, I couldn’t help but think that I may have realised my potential sooner if I had let go of my deluded misgivings. Of course it’s always easy to say that with hindsight, and perhaps I needed to pass through my life completely clueless in order to develop, unaffected by pressure or expectation. Either way, I’ll never know for sure. There is one thing that I do know for sure, however, and that is what I must say now;

Dear [my] Year Five teacher,
Apologies for my dishonourable daydreams – especially the unfriendly ones.
I didn’t know.
Love,
Natalie.

Natalie is 16 and a bit busy working through her A-levels at the moment but she hopes to become a journalist and write everyday. In the meantime, she blogs over at Life as a unicorn. If you enjoyed this post, why not head on over now and hit ‘follow’?

Ordinary People – Interview with Julia Skinner

I’ve been blogging for just over three years now (how time flies!) and throughout, my focus has been on writing, people and poetry. The focus switches from time to time but everything here should fall under one of those categories. Back in 2009, I launched a series of interviews under the ‘People’ category. If you’ve been reading for a while you may remember it, I called it ‘Ordinary People.’

I’ve always been interested in people, and what motivates them to do what they do, especially when they do it well. Each interview in the series was with someone I admire – usually for creative reasons. This year I have decided to re-launch the series.

For my first interview, I caught up with Julia Skinner of Julia’s place.  Julia is a retired (but not retiring!) headteacher (primary school) who is not wasting a second of her time. Since handing in her headteacher’s hat in 2008, she has taken on a variety of creative projects. She manages three blogs – her main site, one about her experiences as a headteacher and one that showcases her Project 365 photos. She also contributes to various creative writing websites. In addition, Julia is a school governor and the founder of the 100WC project, is a weekly creative writing challenge for children under 16.

Did you have any plans of what you wanted to do before you retired or was the plan just to rest..?
Julia SI had presumed that ‘life’ would fill in the days. I thought I’d do some consultancy work with schools, catch up with my reading, get fit & ‘do lunch’! I had intended to learn to play the piano. As it was, the first six months were hell. I cried EVERY day. I just didn’t have anything or anyone to worry about. I suffer from anxiety & the vacuum of no school meant my demons came flooding in. My wonderful hubby got me through it, together with twitter!

You’ve taken on quite a lot since then, and I’m sure you have other personal commitments too. How do you manage your time?
Not well! I do sometimes forget to ‘check the diary’ & find myself chasing my tail. I start the day at the PC & have a routine for each day that includes cleaning, shopping & spending time with hubby. We try to go out on an adventure every Wednesday and even take a picnic with us.

Tell us a bit about the 100WC challenge and your motivation behind it
It started as an idea to get more people visiting my blog ‘The Head’s Office’. I used to do a similar challenge with an American blogger and thought it could be adapted for schools. As it’s grown it has become my second career!

You now have a team of volunteers behind 100WC, to ensure every child receives comments on his/her work. How did you manage when you were doing it by yourself?
When I started 100WC I said that if the children posted, I would comment. That was fine until it got to around 150 each week and I was eating & sleeping 100WC! I now have some volunteers who follow a set of guidelines and between them, they leave a comment for each child. My aspiration is that each child gets three to four comments from a grown up but with an average of 700 entries each week, I need lots more volunteers. If any of your readers have an hour to spare do get in touch!

I love the weekly prompts on your main blog, the 100WCGU. Tell us how this came out of the 100WC project.
Well, it seemed an obvious extension. Originally, both the challenges were coming from the same blog but as the grown-ups could be a tiny bit saucy and the children might stray into the wrong place and read stories that are unsuitable for a younger audience, they now have their own spaces.

You write, bake, and dabble in amateur photography, what’s the appeal of each of these creative outlets?
I’ve never considered myself creative in any way. I think I associated creativity with art and art with painting. Joining in with some of the memes* and the blogging world in general has given me the confidence to have a go. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that I really enjoy it.

Do you have a preferred creative channel?
No. I’m happy to have a go at most things. I do need to get out the keyboard that we bought when I retired & have a go at playing it!

What or who inspires you to create?
Other bloggers. If they can do it – so can I!

Tell us a secret (or something surprising about yourself)
I have very low self esteem but my wonderful third husband (yes – I’ve been married three times!) really keeps me going each day.

Thanks taking part Julia! I hope you enjoying answering these questions as much as I enjoyed learning more about you.

Daff big (1)To find out more about Julia, head over to her main website and/or follow her on twitter.

If you would like to find out more about (and get involved with) the 100WC project, head over to the website to find out more.

*What’s a meme?

The plant (a small stone)

This plant sits silently in a shiny white pot. It’s taller than most of the people that pass it and the pot reaches head height. I wonder if the soil goes all the way down. The plant itself has long leaves in varying shades of green. Dark in the middle, with a lighter hue around the edges. Most of the leaves are shiny but some have cracks in them. The cracks have brown edges. The plant lifts this whole area between meeting rooms and changes it from a cold and clinical space to one that supports life.

*What’s a small stone?

Be  more

Be more

Let’s not talk about the novel

Ah, the novel…

A lovely blogging friend  commented on my absence from blogging/twitter etc. last month, saying that I was ‘probably busy writing.’ I wish that were true. Well, I suppose I was writing a bit, but I’ve barely touched the novel in over a month.

Friends have asked about it and I’ve started to say ‘let’s not talk about it,’ because, well, there’s nothing new to tell – not really. However, I promised to update you and haven’t done since December so it’s about time I came clean…

Since December, I have barely added to the 10,000 words I had written during NaNoWriMo. Yes, I’m disappointed with myself. I had intended to write a certain amount of words every week and it fell by the wayside. I’ve been taking on a little too much lately (not all of it necessary, perhaps I was diverting my attention deliberately…) and something had to give. The novel was the first thing I stopped. It was stalling anyway, I was starting to wonder what my characters were doing and feeling a little distant from them. I thought that taking a break from the story might help. I’m still not sure whether it has.

After about a month, I returned to my initial draft and re-read it. The first couple of thousand words are ok, I think. Then the story seems to wander off, away from what I originally wanted it to say. I’m not sure whether I’m writing two novels or if I’ve just lost sight of what the novel is supposed to be about. I still will write it, but what I have here isn’t it. On the advice of a friend, I won’t trash it, just in case. I will, however, take the first part – the part I’m happy with – and start the story again from here. Continuing where I left off is a bad idea, I feel, as it would be too easy to meander back into the irrelevant story and get frustrated with where it’s going.

So – that’s where I’m at. Starting over. I will be revisiting and reviewing my original plot outline to make into something tighter, more likely to help me stay on track, and then I’ll start over. I don’t know how much I’ll write each week but I will definitely take a blogging break again as soon as I find my ‘flow,’ to make sure I don’t lose the momentum this time. I’ll be sure to let you know how it’s going as soon as there is anything to report! In the meantime, let’s just not talk about it 😉

Are any of you working on a big project at the moment? If so, how’s it going? What do you do when you find it stalls or goes in a direction you’re not happy with? Please share your advice and experiences below!