What’s it all about?

treesThe church isn’t always very Christian. Rowan Williams led a march to say sorry for slavery because churchmen were once so blind to equal rights under God that they profited from the blood, humiliation and misery of other human beings (who happened not to be quite like them). Sorry isn’t enough but sometimes it’s all we have. It means we accept our wrongdoing and want to do better. The trouble with being human is that we’re capable of recognising the importance of love – i.e. of other people – while putting ourselves and our little spheres first. And we’re very good at judging others for doing the same. Jesus understood us. He knew Peter’s passionate loyalty would make him raise a sword (which he had to be told to put away) and that the same loyalty would be overwhelmed by self-interest before he learned better. Most of us have heard the cock crow. The ideals of love are impossible for human beings to live. But without them we’re sunk. And it’s never been more important to recognise them because they’ve never been so deeply submerged. Continue reading

Why I luv Bruv

Dave  and Jon PorrittThis is a General Election blog on behalf of … well, I make no secret of my Green Party membership, but this is personal. My brother Dave is GP parliamentary candidate for Beaconsfield and he’s been my hero for a long time. Jonathon Porritt has endorsed him already so he hardly needs me to sing his praises, but I love and admire him very much and I want to! As our friend Steve Press says, he’s “a great good man”, a man of conviction and principle, courage and absolute commitment – to a better way than this, for the sake of people and planet. Continue reading

What’s the idea?

Painted in 1914, this vivid painting is described in THE JUDAS DEER: "The rainbow deer had no reason to be afraid."I’m often asked where my ideas come from and whether they’ll ever run out. Of course my experience of Alopecia fed into THE WATERHOUSE GIRL and its forthcoming sequel, CRAZY DAISE, but both are adaptations from life. The plots are pure invention but the stories are underpinned by emotional authenticity. The seed that became THINNER THAN WATER was a news item, a couple of sentences long. Instead of playing the journalist heading off to Russia to investigate for a documentary, I allowed empathy to lead me on my own journey – through the creation of two girls who came to me, in imagination, just as whole and vivid as anyone I know. I couldn’t love them more if I were their blood mother – and I do know that’s weird! Continue reading

Mums in the mix and why they matter

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Mum and the poorly author

As a child in the Sixties I found Enid Blyton stories just as bizarrely divorced from my own life as an ancient myth with a monster in a labyrinth. What seemed to me even stranger and less plausible than the sleuthing and crime-thwarting exploits of the Famous Five or Secret Seven was the role of their parents. Absent both from the plot and the psyches of the children, they existed only to be absent – thus leaving the children to their own heroic devices. I was horrified by the idea of being separated from my own parents, and couldn’t understand why these children didn’t cry themselves to sleep. My mum and dad were such huge people in my life that a world without them seemed unimaginable.  So writing THINNER THAN WATER, I felt deeply for Fizzy and Kim – whose parents are not in fact theirs – hoping readers will empathise with their psychological turmoil. Continue reading

Red Nose stories: writing something funny for money

In Mary Casserley's illustration from GORILLA DREAMS, Gilbert irons his dad's very large, spotty underpants.I’m always uneasy about school bookings that fall on Red Nose Day – and not just because my customary red look loses its impact. I feel under an obligation to be funny and read exclusively humorous extracts from books like FRANK, GORILLA DREAMS, HEADCASES, THE LINCOLN IMP and ONGALONGING. Yes, I have quite a few funny stories and it’s great as a writer to make myself laugh as I tap away at the keyboard, but he truth is, I’d really rather cry! Continue reading

(You may say I’m) THE DREAMER

frontThe dreamers of this world are the visionaries, the free thinkers with imagination. They’re individual, enormously brave and (almost) unstoppable. Look at Martin Luther King and hear that speech again. He had a dream. So did Mandela, in jail on Robbin Island. So does Polly Higgins, the barrister who wants the United Nations to identify another crime against humanity: ecocide. These dreamers don’t lie around wishing the world was kinder. They change it.

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Why Believe?

Pet DragonAs an author in school I sometimes pass round an invisible dragon so that children too young to read my books can observe it on the palms of their hands, describing what they see, hear and feel. Imagining. Most do, bright-eyed and captivated. Once I finished by telling them how outrageously naughty my dragon had been in another school. As my narrative ended, a small boy asked intently, “But did he really?” He’d seen that there was no dragon to see. Yet part of him believed.

I find that thrilling. But as adults we’re not so different when we read fiction. I recently returned to a Young Adult classic after about eleven years: Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses. It’s important, vivid, tragic and shocking. First time round I found it so compelling that I read it in the street – and yes, walked into a lamppost! But would my reading experience be different this time?

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New Year, new world: change is coming

New Year, LondonMy mother-in-law remembers first footing at New Year in the north-east – by a dark-haired man with coal. Very bizarre! New Year’s Day only became a public holiday in the UK in 1974 but more than that, New Year’s Eve was a low-key affair except for those living close enough to Scotland to catch the spirit of Hogmanay. Now it’s globally competitive, and another reason to spend and consume. But it’s as positive or negative as the individual chooses to make it, with or without the fireworks.

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The Spirit Of Christmas Past

Aliens-And-AngelsALIENS ANGELS was published last winter but I hope that my trio of Christmas stories will be enjoyed again each December: a new feature in the special ritual of a family Christmas. As I get older my own childhood Christmases seem like something out of a movie, the kind where the women have carved hair and wear heels and gloves indoors, and the men live in suits and smoke between dances.

Not that anything like this happened at my house. We were a jim-jams or cardigans family. But as I rerun it, minus all today’s technological gadgetry, it looks so long ago and faraway. Even though I live it again, as if the child in me never changed.

Clock Showing 4:454:45 I wake and hiss along the landing to make sure my brother isn’t sleeping. We feel our stockings in the dark as if we don’t know exactly what’s in them.
Clock Showing 5:325:32 Singing Away In A Manger as sweetly as we can, we pad downstairs and hover at the doorway of the big bedroom, to be told, “Happy Christmas!”. And to come back at six.
Clock Showing 5:515:51 Christmas begins in Mum and Dad’s bed, with matching stockings unpacked to reveal a satsuma, chocolate money in a net bag, a pencil and a larky sharpener. Maybe a Pez dispenser, tricksy pen or Knitting Nancy. My parents know better than to include bows, ribbons or decorated hair slides because I hate my wild hair as much as my turned-up nose.

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Why I write for kids

entry 1entry 2When GORILLA DREAMS was published I invited children in fourteen local schools to use their imaginations and ask themselves what gorillas might dream of doing or being. They could show me in an artwork, poem, story or dance – and they did! Illustrator Mary Casserley and I were amazed by their creativity and commitment. Some clearly spent hours creating their entries – patiently and skilfully – and the delight shone through. I wonder what adults would find to say if you asked them what gorillas might dream about.

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Gorilla Dreams Promo Tour

Baby GorillaI’ve been wearing a gorilla mask a lot lately – in Waterstone’s, at shows and in school halls. And this morning in my living room, to see how practical it is to do an on-the-spot gorilla dance without falling on my large rubbery nostrils. The GORILLA DREAMS promo tour has been crazy, hectic fun, and with a competition encouraging kids to be creative, it’s not over yet.

I haven’t created animal characters before – unless you count Oops the ongalong and Nimmo the mobe along with a small dragon called Mayerling (“Maya, Maya, can’t breathe fire!”). They’re complete fantasy; sometimes reality and magic intersect. Of course I did research on gorillas.

Did you know a male gorilla has an arm span of up to 2.6 metres?!! They have unique fingerprints like us and they’re desperately endangered. It was all really fascinating background but I knew my gorillas at gorilla school would be at least a little like kids. So there’s Gertie the Scrabble champion who uses long words like finesse but doesn’t actually have any.

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Alopecia UK London Awareness

Alopecia UK logoI went to the Alopecia UK London Awareness Event recently, and gave a little speech over lunch introducing myself as ambassador for a small charity doing wonderful work.

I was also there with books and a display about what I can offer as an author with alopecia visiting a school where a pupil has alopecia too. That’s a small but important word: too. Being among 200 other alopecians was a new experience and I loved it.

There’s something great about people who’ve lost their hair, young or old, male or female, whether or not they’ll vote Green like me or share my passion for George Eliot or peanut butter. I love getting to know their stories, all of them different. Every conversation I had was an education.

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