Illustrations Inspired by Spring and Summer

Dandelions by Britta Jensen

“Dandelions” by Britta Jensen

by Britta Jensen

“Mermaid’s Gold” by Britta Jensen

by Britta Jensen

“Princess Kaguya” by Britta Jensen

by Britta Jensen

“Bavarian Sunset” by Britta Jensen

by Britta Jensen

“Flowering Trees” by Britta Jensen

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Best teen read of the summer

The-Manifesto-on-How-to-Be-Interesting-by-Holly-Bourne-UK-cover-230x360

When I visited the newly updated Foyles on Charing Cross Road I came across dozens of titles that I would have never discovered on amazon.co.uk alone. (Yes, I am shamelessly pitching for bookstores to remain open).  Since I live in Germany, the opportunity to come across new young-adult and middle-grade titles is limited to what amazon posts as trending, or other websites and twitter.  However, when I was able to feel and thumb through the pages of this book, it immediately captured my interest.

I highly recommend this book to anyone 14+ (yes, even adults) because it follows the life of Bree, who unfortunately in some blurbs is labeled as a “loser”.  I’ll leave that up to you, but I disagree.  She is a free-thinking, lonely young-woman who takes on a writing challenge in order to improve her prose, and her life.  Her desire for change is fueled, at first, by her longing for her writing work to become something more than suicidal drivel.

The strength of Bourne’s prose, Bree’s voice and the various adventures that Bree encounters rival that of similarly themed films such as “Mean Girls” and “Easy A”.   Instead of being a morality tale, I felt a kinship with Bree’s life (though fictional) and the true-lives of the adolescents I teach.

Though there are some mature themes and actions, The Manifesto will not fail to uplift and enlighten you.  I look forward to reading more of Bourne’s books, once I’ve finished with the rest of the lovely titles I acquired whilst being in London.  Please post your comments about The Manifesto and how you feel it depicts modern teenage life. 

What does it mean to be a boy?

by J. Robby

Being a guy means you’re always competing to see who’s better than who. It means you have to be number one.

It means you compete at saying who’s the fastest runner or who’s the best at football or basketball. You’re looking good for the girls or playing tough to be the dominant one. You gotta stay strong and be the best you can be and not get broken inside:  if you do, don’t let it show.

 When you’re a guy, you are taking on more responsibilities and more actions to keep you, friends, and family in line. It means you can’t be afraid of something you know you are.

Up until stuff goes wrong: you lose your friends or a relationship goes bad or family passes away, then you don’t know what to do. You stay so strong for so long and think you can’t be broken until you are. Once you are, its the end of the world. It seems like it, at least.

I believe personally that being a guy or boy means to just stay strong, even in hard times

 

The Dark Side of Being a Girl

 I asked my teens (all 120 of them): what does it mean to be a guy or girl (pick your gender only)?  What do you want authors to write about you, that they aren’t right now? Here is one of the responses from Celina S.

                                                     BEING A GIRL, THE DARK EDITION

                                                                           by Celina S.

To be a girl, it means to be everything. I honestly believe guys couldn’t exist without us girls. Being a girl also means to be a pro at personal hygiene.

                What it means to be a girl is that fear of being regarded badly. It means being very fragile but oh-so-strong. It means that hardened shell with the weeping girl inside. Pretending to be stronger that you really are.

                That need for praise because you can’t convince yourself of your worth. It means having to be that stereotypical girl for people to like you, and to live yourself in secret.

                That unique thing about you everyone hates because it makes you different, better even, so they try to destroy that seed of true beauty. It means having to nourish that seed secretly and not being able to show it, otherwise that beautiful flower it’s become will be torn apart by people.

                Being a girl means getting destroyed piece by piece and having to endure verbal abuse, because of course, most of the time girls are viewed more critically that guys judging by looks and weight.

                It means being taken advantage of, not being overly smart (its unattractive) or overly nice (its faked). It means doing everything but no one gives. It means being “useless” and underestimated.

                Being a girl means having to live in hiding, hiding not only from everyone else but from yourself, too. Because you’ll constantly be pulling yourself down. You’re not like the others: pretty enough, liked enough, kind enough. Perfect enough.

                You’re not perfect. Being a girl means that need to be. That trying to be what you are not for the sake of not having to deal with the sneers, laughs, pointing fingers. Those whispers, too.

                “Did’ya see her clothes?”

                “Her hair, ewww.”

                “She’s so mean!”

Those whispers. Girls like to be perfect. Don’t treat them that way because they’ll remember. Forever.

                You don’t ever want to be a girl. Because it’s not just rainbows and smiling faces.

 There’s a dark side to being a girl.

Walk & Write Retreats by Retreats West

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imagine sleeping in a cozy former railway car? (It was the best sleep of my life that I can remember).

I had the opportunity to attend a Walk & Write Retreat held in The Dodo in West Wittering.  We were blessed with perfect weather, excellent company and a wonderful workshop by Isabel Ashdown, concentrating on how to utilise the details of place in our fiction writing.  

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I could see the ocean from my window and the sounds of the sea lulled me to sleep. Divine!

The location could not be more ideal for concentrating on place, especially for a daughter of a naval officer.  Prior to Isabel’s arrival all retreat attenders were able to work on their own projects, discuss them at length with each other–which was extremely valuable.  

The Dodo was situated a few skips and jumps from the ocean.  Although it was too cold for swimming, the ambience was divine, and the sounds of the ocean calming as I tried to tease out difficult  parts of the two manuscripts I’m trying to prioritise.

Isabel Ashdown’s workshop helped me to recall wonderful and “exotic” locations I have felt at home from my life as a nomad.  It was especially soothing to discover I wasn’t the only one: there were other writers at the retreat who had also lived unconventional lives and it was delightful to be in good company!

Overall, I thoroughly recommend attending a Walk & Write Retreat before word spreads and they get booked up for the rest of 2014.  Amanda has retreats in a variety of genres, so you can explore various locales while working on your writing away from the normal stresses of daily life.  It helps that Amanda is a genius in the kitchen.

(Also, if you can, do book a manuscript critique with Amanda, I cannot speak enough how much she has helped my first novel, a YA fantasy novel, hopefully to be finished & ready for agent submission by the end of summer 2014).

I hope you’ll enjoy photos of the retreat below:Image

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Walk & Write Retreat

Interview with JM Bartholomew, author of Three Fat Singletons

ImageAlmost a year ago I met the vivacious JM Bartholomew at The Writer’s Workshop “Getting Published Day”.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to follow the rise of her new book Three Fat Singletons, which has just been released on Amazon here. (Available both in paperback and kindle edition).

I’m really excited to share JM’s journey with you in the following interview:

 What is the main premise of Three Fat Singletons?

 Three Fat Singletons is a story of friendship, love, loss and hope.  We journey with Jesse, Dotty and Mary through the often hilarious, sometimes painful, obstacle that being overweight can bring to the pursuit of love after thirty.

 Where did your writing journey begin?

 Twelve years ago I switched from writing a murder mystery to Three Fat Singletons after a visit to the Barnes Murder Squad put me off continuing with my first novel.  I remember being sat on a balcony in Greece with my friend Maria, glass of wine in hand, saying how I was no longer able to be a writer, and she simply said ‘write a comedy then’.  And that’s what I did – kind of!

 Which character are you especially fond of and why?

 I’m especially fond of all three main characters to be honest but Jesse I enjoy as she speaks her mind and Dotty for her complexity.

 What or who inspired you in writing Three Fat Singletons?

 My own journey and experience as a thirty something looking for love in a body that wasn’t how I wanted it to be.  I spent many months accompanying various friends around London’s Big Ladies clubs and they were such a shock to me that I had to write about them!

 What made you decide to self-publish versus go the traditional publishing route?  What advice do you have for other authors who wish to self-publish?

 I am still hopeful to one day go down the traditional publishing route, but I wanted to self publish as I’ve already been told by an agent that I need to change my name and the title of the book, so self publishing gives me an opportunity to get the book out there under my own name and the title I originally chose for the book.  The most important piece of advice is proof your work several times over when you’ve loaded it to the site you have chosen and get a hard copy proof.  The amount of mistakes I spotted on the hard copy proof that I never saw on my computer copy I can’t begin to tell you!  Also, take time with the cover…the cover is what has held up my book being released by over two weeks now!

 What are your writing habits?  What or who tends to keep you going on a project?

 I have terrible writing habits as I have a full-time business an eight year old daughter and a house to run!  I had to go to a retreat to finish my book, which I highly recommend as I had it finished on day two and I thought it would take at least four days to finish.  When I start writing I’m very productive, but finding the time is my downfall.  I do enjoy going to a hotel local to us and sitting in the busy reception area to write; the constant noise and bustling atmosphere seems to help me focus.

 What other projects do you have in mind?

 I have already started Three Skinny-ish Marrieds and am a good way through a romantic thriller which I am yet to have a title for.  I think it will depend on the response to Three Fat Singletons as to which one I focus on next!

 What advice would you give to aspiring authors or those who are thinking about writing a book, but haven’t yet harnessed the courage to start?

 Just do it!  Don’t worry about what your friends or family may think.  Write what you are passionate about.  Go to a couple of writing events if you reach a plateau but keep writing.  My biggest mistake was editing as I went along.  I won’t be doing that going forward, the trick is to write and get the entire story on paper and then edit, edit, edit.  Google Ernest Hemingway quotes if you get disheartened!

You run your own business, are a mother and a wife, and volunteer a lot in your community.  How do you do it all and still manage to have a smile on your face and keep going?

 I go through seasons.  The season I’m in at the moment is running my business and trying to be around for my daughter.  In January the balance is likely to shift to spending more time with my family, volunteering and being able to focus on writing.  March will see a change again where my business will become my main focus.  I have a smile on my face as I have a wonderful husband and daughter and a strong faith.  I recognise I am blessed to be healthy and have a roof over my head when so many others don’t.

 From reading the first three chapters of your book, I feel that Three Fat Singletons has an essential perspective of women and dating that isn’t currently represented in women’s fiction, or literary fiction at the moment.  Would you agree or disagree and why?

 I would agree and I think, at the moment, there is nothing out there that deals with this topic in quite the way I have.  All of the situations that are specifically to do with being overweight I have personally experienced so don’t feel I need to be careful about offending anybody and am able to find the humour in even the most dire situations.  Where humour is not shown then compassion is evident.  This is not a fat shaming book and neither is it a self help book or a pro-fat book; it’s a glimpse through the eyes of three very real characters who are on their journey to find love in all the wrong places. 

(As a final note, if you ever have a chance to go to a book-signing with JM Bartholomew, it is well-worth it.  In addition to writing a terrific book with a wonderful premise, she is incredibly warm and inspirational.  I can’t wait to finish reading Three Fat Singletons!)  

The Key to Success? Grit (Angela Lee Duckworth at TED)

For years I have struggled with the emphasis, in ages 12-18 education, on the teacher’s role, teacher development and the variety of ways that teachers must motivate students. Very little pressure is applied to families to teach children the power of consequences and changing ones mindset to use failure as a teaching tool, to acknowledge and understand disappointment as a transitory state.

Thus, I was reasonably excited this morning to find actual research to support my hypothesis that hard-work, determination, and treating life, as Duckworth states “as a marathon, instead of a sprint” ensures that certain students meet their goals whilst others– better off in terms of IQ, socioeconomic status and other factors– fall behind.

A writing colleague and I recently discussed how this phenomenon in teaching translates to unrealistic expectations by adult learners. We both attended a writers conference three months ago. She and I are working hard to turn our first novels into something worthy of agent representation. We were sorely disappointed to encounter other writers not taking full advantage of advice given to them by publishing editors and agents at this conference.

I noticed that many of our fellow participants fell into four categories:
1) The Socializers: they had already determined that they weren’t going to get published so they might as well take advantage of the social opportunities and were often seen lingering in the hallways chatting up fellow writers and gazing out the long glass windows in the meet and greet rooms. There was nothing wrong with this attitude, as I gleaned a lot of great information from these friendly participants, but it was obvious they had talent and had thrown in the towel too early by choosing to skip out on workshops in favour of socializing and telling jokes.
2) The Overconfident: their only mission in coming to the writing conference was to receive kudos for their novel, novella or film script. They weren’t terribly interested in learning anything, they just wanted to hear that they were a genius and were ready to be published. When such praise wasn’t forthcoming (especially considering most of their lack of literary knowledge, background, or education) they tended to grumble very loudly, proclaim that the agents and editors were wrong, and that they were determined to do things their own way, sharing their discontent with anyone who would listen.
3) The Dejected: they thought for sure that their work had some merit. To hear that it is riddled with errors has put them off publishing altogether and they have decided to give up forever, determined that their dream of becoming a published author or screenwriter is doomed to failure.
4) The Gritty-ones: they took the advice and critiques of agents and editors on-board, jotted down notes, listened, consulted with colleagues, and let the critiques they received settle in slowly, to see what was workable and what might change their work in a way that they were uncomfortable with. They were determined to continue the quest and networked with other writers to create a support group of fellow “gritty-ones” to join them on their quest.

Having just returned from London where I was able to meet with three of my gritty-friends from the writing conference, I was inspired to keep going on a path that many believe might be doomed to failure. Nevetheless, like Duckworth, I don’t believe failure is a permanent state of being: it is a waypoint on the road to success.