Category: Inspiration


It was the first week back after half term so the usual ‘stepping back on the treadmill’ stuff was happening. Planning, prepping, panicking, etc.

Then on Thursday, I was sent on a course at the last minute. It meant driving through picturesque Wales to Llanrwst, taking part in a drama workshop and, the clincher, a free lunch so, of course, I was on board immediately.

The focus of the course was Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert strategy. Having spent a lot of time researching this particular area of Heathcote’s work as part of my PGCE dissertation, I was really excited to see how a school in Brecon had put the strategy and pedagogy into practice. Mantle of the Expert is all about engaging pupils in a task by adding a sense of theatre. Obviously, this was my jam. After some hands-on examples of how this can be implemented, I certainly left Llanrwst feeling motivated and re-energised. It was a much-welcome boost.

The teachers leading the training were inspirational and it was refreshing to hear their realistic opinions and experiences. These were everyday teachers who experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of us, but were enjoying lots of success after taking a risk with their teaching. ‘Mantle’ involves putting the pupil in charge, whilst the teacher takes more of a directorial role. The pupil is given the freedom to explore and lead their own learning, whist in a role as an ‘expert’. For example, their role could be a leader of an expedition to the Titanic wreckage, or a recruitment agent for a Superhero agency. The trainers shared countless examples of how they have used Mantle in the classroom and I was pleased to see some of the techniques were already being touched on in my class. This term I’ve already asked year one to be wedding planners and party organisers, so I felt like a lot of the ideas shared would fit in with my teaching.

So, on Friday I bounced into class with a new idea. I needed to teach ‘Light and Dark’ to the children and I had an idea of how to introduce it. Using a pop up tent, some leaves and plenty of fabric, I built a cave in the corner of my classroom and set up the laptop to play soft snoring sounds into the class. When the children came in I greeted them with lots of ssssh-ing and gesturing to the cave. Straight away they were in total awe and began questioning what could be inside the cave, all through careful whispers so as not to wake our visitor up. I of course feigned ignorance and conjured up a story of how I’d found this cave when I arrived at school and wanted to wait for the children before I went inside as I wasn’t quite brave enough to risk it alone.

I left them hanging for a bit whilst we carried out our usual morning rituals, then got them all riled up by asking them if they’d like to see what was inside. The answer was, of course, ‘YES!’. So, in my most Olivier-worthy performance, I crept over into the tent and performed my side of a conversation. When I emerged, the children were rapt with interest. I explained that inside the cave was a very friendly bear and the reason he was sleeping was because he had such a terrible night’s rest due to his fear of the dark. The children were very sympathetic and before I could explain further they were suggesting ways we could help. Which is exactly what I wanted them to do. So, following ‘their’ suggestions, we researched light sources on the internet and watched a video clip, dismissing sources which we couldn’t use, such as as the sun or car headlights, and made a list of possibilities. We tested a candle in the classroom, but the children were quick to point out that might not be a safe option for the bear. I then gave the children time to, in groups, test out some objects we’d found in the classroom (some handily placed) by taking them into the cave. If the objects helped them see the bear then they were light sources, but if they didn’t then they were not.

I can’t tell you how excited they were. Most notably, the children who are usually less focused and engaged were fizzing with energy and excitement. One boy was so animated, it was lovely to see him dashing around the classroom and testing things out in the cave, keen to find a solution for the bear. He was also using complex, topic-appropriate language within his investigation. It was fab!

The course trainers had shared how Mantle had not only improved standards of work and behaviour in their school but it had also given the children a sense of value. They knew they were being trusted with their learning so they made sure they didn’t abuse that trust. Differing to our usual Topic-based work, which change termly, Mantles can run for any length of time. In this particular school they stressed the importance of allowing a Mantle to run its course and not feel pressured to squeeze as many in as possible. Some Mantles can last for weeks whilst some can run their natural course in just a few days. It all depends on the children’s responses and the ideas they want to explore.

From my initial experiences with Mantle of the Expert I can already see that it is a powerful tool to enhance learning and self-confidence. After last week’s brief session, I’m going to try to develop the ‘bear cave’ idea to incorporate natural and man-made light, shadows and transparent and opaque materials. It was a huge hit in blwyddyn un and from the responses of the children it is definitely something I’ll be implementing more often in the future.

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I’m conscious not to make these posts all about me. I know that that is sort of the point of some blog posts but I do try to steer the content away from myself whenever I can. Trouble is, I am all I know at the moment, so it makes it quite difficult, particularly when I’m in need of a good vent. Blogging is cathartic. Yesterday, I read something that was such a blatant massaging of the writer’s ego that it made me audibly shudder and make noises I was even embarrassed to make in an empty flat. I really hope this blog is never seen as self-indulgent, because that’s not my intention, but for the time being you’ll have to put up with the ramblings about half-written stories, experimental classroom content and rants about EastEnders until my life takes a more adventurous turn.

Anyway, last week was half term. A chance for a much needed recharging of the batteries before it’s full throttle into killer Christmas season (which, of course, I secretly love). By the end of half term my mind was typically racing and I was crawling towards that Friday finish. The problem with this job (and, I’m sure, many other jobs) is that you can never drop the ball. It’s impossible to switch off. I’ve spoken to teachers who say that feeling of unrest doesn’t leave you until well into retirement. You’re constantly feeling like you need to be doing something and the guilt that follows a duvet day is unreal. It’s one thing I’ve struggled with, as I appear to have lost the ability to relax. I was always a bit tightly strung but since starting the PGCE, it’s just been impossible to chill. Even on a Spanish beach, drink in one hand, book in the other, I had to take frequent breaks to go for a walk, check my emails or just do something! It’s relentless. And dangerous. Because, along with every other member of staff and the children, I was ready for a break.

Now for someone who enjoys being active, it’s not necessarily a bad thing (at the moment, but I’m sure in a few years’ time I’ll feel very different). I’m so precious about the time I have ‘off’ that I’ve started making a list of all the things I want to achieve over the holiday (that’s right. I’m setting myself targets. Welcome to the system.) On the list last week was; a blog post, work on a new story, edit an old story and another little project which I’m not going to talk about yet, but have been meaning to do for a long time. All little jobs that I’m sure mean nothing to anyone else but they’re important to me because, as I’ve said before, I’m finding it hard to express myself at this stage in my life, so I wanted to take advantage of the break from work to explore my ideas.

Guess what. Very little of it happened.

It’s frustrating because I know I am to blame. I make the choice. But a contributing factor is the many online distractions. I’ve ranted about the online world before and I don’t want to run at it with a pitchfork because, obviously, it provides a lot of support for people, including myself. It’s bloody hardwork though, when you’ve got an idea, but you can’t quite pin it down because your phone is buzzing, or an email comes through, or you find yourself scrolling through Instagram without even remembering opening the app. I’ve heard interviews about the online world being an addictive space and I believe that is true. I can’t help opening up these apps in the hope that something will interest me or that someone has got in touch, when 9 times out of 10 those things don’t happen. So instead it’s just a big waste of time.  Time where I could have been writing.

I worry that it’s not just my written work that is suffering. I’m craving a book that I can be absorbed into. A world where I can just sink in and forget the real world. I’m a constant reader but, even with something I’m so passionate about, I’ll gladly interrupt my reading to reply to a whatsapp or a snapchat or check my twitter. I hold stories so highly yet I’ll stop to check my phone. What the hell is that all about?

At times I feel like I’m losing the ability to connect. I’ll choose the saddest film, because I want to feel sad. Just to know I’ve felt something. But lately, I’ll find I’m bored after ten minutes and reading old whatsapp messages. I’m desperate for a new TV series that will absorb me and distract me from my smartphone, but after watching introductory episodes of lots of programmes, I just can’t get into anything. I long for the days when I was obsessed with Doctor Who, Torchwood, Lost…..this was about ten years ago when I didn’t have the access to the internet that I have today. I used to just sit and binge and enjoy and feel. I worry that I can’t do that anymore. Nowadays I’m checking Twitter during ad breaks of American Horror Story to see how everyone else feels about the episode. Who cares?

A safe retreat from all this is the theatre. The theatre is different. That is a space where I can immerse myself and I can connect. And, what a coincidence – phones are not permitted.

I’ve heard of people going unplugged and I think there’s a lot to be said for it. It’s a brave thing to do in this era where we’re so dependent on technology but I’m sure it would be good for the mind and the soul. I long for a quiet space, physically or mentally, where I can just sit and think and write and flow, but I’m struggling to see where that would fit into my life at the moment. My goal for next year is to figure it out, express myself and find the time to be unplugged.

A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

Image result for Pink Ranger gifWhen I was a child I was obsessed with Power Rangers. Many weekends were spent high kicking and karate chopping in the garden attacking imaginary Zed Putties. My favourite ranger was the Pink Ranger. I thought she was awesome and kick-ass. I didn’t even think about her suit colour or the fact I was a different sex to her.

I just thought she was great.

My mum and dad did not approve and I was bluntly pushed towards the blue ranger with all the subtlety of Rita Repulsa’s transition to Dad-Eye-Candy in the new film. (Whole different blog post there.) But regardless of what my parents thought, I still thought she was great and, in a very child-like way, she was a bit of hero for me (until I grew out of my Power Rangers phase).

And then as I got into my teens the Doctor came along, bringing with him a range of heroes and role models for me to fantasise about (Errm…excuse me. Not like that.). How awesome was Rose? Loyal and quick-thinking. Donna Noble – hilarious, sensitive, self-less and selfish at the same time. Awesome characters – I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like them just because I’m a guy.

I was sixteen when Torchwood started and I was instantly obsessed. Part of the pull for me was the relatable characters – including Gwen and Toshiko, both fearless and flawed, making terrible decisions but fighting their way back on top and learning from their errors, however painful.

I didn’t think that because they were women I shouldn’t admire them. And who wouldn’t want Storm’s powers in X-Men? She’s brilliant!

So, my point is, it shouldn’t matter what gender your favourite TV character is. I’ve got girls in my class who love Spiderman, but somehow that is a bit more acceptable in society than a boy who likes Wonder Woman or Elsa or Clara Oswald. It shouldn’t be. One girl in my class LOVES Doctor Who, she’s actually obsessed with Matt Smith and David Tennant. If a six year old child is able to look past gender then so should adult fans of the show. A female Doctor has been on the cards for long time and, judging by how incredible Missy turned out to be, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s take on the time lord. A role model is a role model and gender should not be a factor. We admire these characters for their personalities and their responses to various situations, so there’s no reason we should be discouraging boys from watching Doctor Who now that the main character has changed sex.

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Last weekend I finished my first ever set of reports. It was a scary process, reviewing each child’s progress and writing my little summary at the bottom. It gave me a chance to think about each child, how they’ve grown, their little quirks and characters, and how they might continue to progress next year. Dangerous territory for a Sensitive Sidney like me.

My biggest fear in September was that we’d reach this point of the year and the children will have learnt nothing! Thankfully, that isn’t the case, and each one has progressed in their own way. They’re not alone, as I’ve picked up a few pointers for my own personal development too. I always knew that organisation was a key to this role, but I underestimated just how organised I needed to be. We’re talking way beyond the Monica-Gellar-Organised that I operate with. I’ve certainly upped my game this year and still feel like I’ve got a way to go.

Despite all the courses and meetings and observations and paperwork, my biggest learning curve has come from the children. It’s fascinating to see how their brains work and, as well as lots of laughter, we’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments too. I’ve learned so much about how a child thinks (and I’m sure this is far from the end of my learning) as well as how I operate. They’ve taught me that there’s no point being stressed or grumpy or miserable because it all works out in the end. On the (rare) days that I’ve stomped into work under a thunder cloud, they’ve helped me bring the sunshine back by 9.15am. When I’ve been flapping round amongst the paperwork, they’ve calmed me down. And on the days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t carry on, they’ve sung a song, told a joke, pulled a face, or come out with a cracking one-liner that has made me remember why I became a teacher. They always make me feel proud.

What has surprised me the most is just how much I’ve loved being in the foundation phase. I was tentative at first, being so used to working in KS2, but this is definitely my jam. I love the scope for fun (as well as learning) and watching the children grow and achieve has been a privilege. In September they were fresh into the system, coming in from Reception where things are a bit less controlled, but they settled in quickly and now they’re heading into Year Two with an exciting enthusiasm for learning and being creative.  We’ve had tears, hysterical laughter, wails of despair, cheers of joy, a missing aubergine, a magical postman, giant toilet paper, a wandering tortoise, terrible jokes, the odd tantrum, silly faces, serious faces, grumpy faces,…

…And at the end of it all, I’ve realised I really don’t want them to go.

 

 

A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

The new trailer for series 10 has landed and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a while since the Doctor was on our screens (except for the Christmas special) and I’d forgotten just how much I love this programme. With the latest hype over the new series and a new Doctor on the way, it’s all change, and my excitement has been regenerated. I’ve spent Sunday watching some of my favourite episodes (be warned – NuWho only.  I only started watching in 2005. Sorry!) and I couldn’t resist revisiting some of the most gasp-inducing moments! I cannot believe I’ve only ever blogged about Doctor Who once – ridiculous! Allow me to rectify that.

(Oh and I’ve split this blog into two parts. Partly because it’s massive but also just to be uber-annoying. Enjoy!)

Number 15 – Daleks! Bad Wolf, Series 1.

We’d already seen one Dalek in NuWho and, perhaps I was naïve to think we wouldn’t see them again for a while. Just as we were recovering from Rose being murdered on live television, we were even more shocked to discover she is alive, but being held in a Dalek fleet ship. The cries of ‘Exterminate’ were genuinely terrifying. This episode also revealed the story arc of Bad Wolf. I remember being totally blown away to discover the messages Rose had left the Doctor throughout the series and had to re-watch immediately to spot them all over again. I think this is when I really began to admire RTD’s work….

Number 14 – The Doctor is killed, The Impossible Astronaut, Series Image result for the impossible astronaut gif6.

There was something about this series that felt very different from the start. We knew one character was going to bite the dust but we didn’t realise it would be The Doctor, who was murdered at the side of Lake Silencio. Watching him get shot in the distance as Amy, River and Rory react in horror was very grim and a moment that haunted us for the rest of the series. (Note: The clever resolution in The Wedding of River Song should also be mentioned. Well done. Bravo. *claps*)

Number 13 – Skaro and Davros, The Magician’s Apprentice, Series 9.

Well we didn’t see this one coming. The opening story of series 9 was packed with twists and cliffhangers. Davros’ return was kept a secret until transmission, a decision which certainly paid off. The moral focus of the storyline, as the Doctor struggles with the decision to rescue or abandon the young Davros, kept us thinking throughout. The moment Skaro materialises around Missy and Clara was also a skin-tingling moment and refreshing to see other characters react in horror to a reveal, rather than the Doctor.

Number 12 – The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, Series 9.Image result for the zygon invasion

Two of my favourite episodes to date. Subtly topical, this double bill acts as a sequel to the 50th anniversary episode and explores what happens when the 20 million Zygons hiding as humans on Earth begin to revolt. The parallels drawn between modern political issues make for a thrilling and thought provoking set of episodes and Peter Capaldi shines during a powerful speech on fairness and consequences of decisions. We also have the return of fan-favourite Osgood, who acts as a welcome source of morality in what can be a pretty grim set of episodes. Another underrated story that deserves much more praise.

Number 11 – Eleven Regenerates, The Time of the Doctor, Christmas special.

It’s a bit annoying that Eleven happens to revert back to his younger state before Image result for eleven regeneration gif amyregenerating, but that aside, another powerful moment. Murray Gold does it again with an excellent score. The riff of ‘The Long Song’ as Amy reappears to the Doctor still brings a great big lump to my throat. And then he takes off his bow tie! Who would have thought such an action would leave millions in total despair?! But, I think what really pushes your emotional buttons in this scene is the Eleventh Doctor’s last speech…

‘I will always remember when the Doctor was me.’

You can’t help think there’s a bit more Matt Smith in that speech than the character he’s playing.

Number 10 – Amy and Rory’s deaths, The Angels Take Manhattan, Series 7.

Just when you thought Amy and Rory have survived their final episode, Rory is touched by a Weeping Angel and sent back in time to live out the rest of his life. A devastated Amy sacrifices herself to be with Rory and the Doctor is left bereft. *sniff*

Number 9 – The Master Returns, Dark Water, Series 8

Trapped in the Time War way back during The End of Time, we thought we’d saw the last of The Master. So, it was quite a shock to discover Michelle Gomez’ bonkers Mary Poppins-esque Missy was in fact The Master in female form. Gomez injected new life into the character and plays Missy with devilishly mad style. Even though she’s ‘bananas’ we can’t help but love her….even if she did kill one of the Osgoods.

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Half term. I’m sat in the window of my apartment at a newly created workstation strategically placed so I can look out over the busy road, the commuters bustling through the train station and those handsome Welsh mountains in the background. I’ve been meaning to set this spot up since I moved in almost 15 months ago but only now have I managed to take action.

The last half term, in October, was a bit of disaster. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to half terms. Christmas, Easter, the Summer – they’re all great, but it’s these week long holidays in between that I can’t seem to handle properly. I always end up with cancelled plans or no plans at all. I just can’t do half terms! This was one, however, was going to be different.

For a few weeks I’ve felt myself bubbling. Frustration tightening a knot around my waist (but for more of that, see last week’s rant!) and I knew that this half term I needed to fix it. The most prominent activity in my busy schedule is ‘writing time’. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to grab quality writing time. A run of a few hours where I can lose myself in an idea. In fact, since September I have only managed to write for the odd hour here and there. And that’s not enough for me.

Saturday night, I settled down in my new spot and began to type. I’ve barely thought of anything else since. I seem to be having some sort of inspiration overload. Closing the gates on work for a week has unlocked a boxful of ideas and I am loving the luxury of time.

My first project to hit was the big one. Reset. I’ve been working on this since 2010 and I’m finally at the stage where its feeling polished. It’s ready. It’s my pride and joy and I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.

After a few re-workings of Reset, I bounced over to my second pride and joy – After Caitlyn. Shorter than Reset by a country mile and totally different in tone and style (hmm…perhaps I need to squeeze some poetry into this week) but I couldn’t be prouder of this story. Although it brought unwelcome reminders of the real-life elements that run through the story, I enjoyed being reunited with these characters and adding tweaks to the story here and there. This one is almost ready.

A project that has taken me by surprise this weekend is something I didn’t think I was ready to do. In September, I agreed to lead Performing Arts Club at school. We have lots of fun and the children are buzzing with creative ideas and energy. When the time came for us to consider our big production I was adamant I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write it. We’d have to order a script in. End of.

Well, here I am, 16 pages into an epic tale of Welsh Myths and Legends. I have to give credit to the children for their inspirational passion. I just couldn’t stop myself and I hope my script provides them with the material they deserve.

And on top of all that, I’ve even had time to re-visit that sitcom (the sitcom that’s not a sitcom. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as to what it is at the moment) I’ve been talking about for years. If I can get the pilot done by the summer, I’ll be very happy.

So, I’m at an inspirational peak. I find myself thinking about a Reset sequel in the car and those first stirrings of excitement leave my fingertips tingling. I listen to a soundtrack – RENT, some of the most raw, evocative lyrics you’ll ever hear – and I start to think about the characters in After Caitlyn. I look down at the road bringing people to and from my town, and I start to think about a new project altogether, the characters already having a blazing row in my head. I finish The Girl on the Train and I’m in awe of the storytelling. This is what I want to be capable of. My mind is bursting with ideas and I’m relishing the process of channeling them into words. I’m feeling creatively rejuvenated and after a very dry few months, it’s about time too!

 

‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.’

I remember reading those final words nine years ago and feeling utterly lost. I had grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and when they finally left my life I mourned them. All these years later, I experienced the same feeling as I finished my re-read of the whole series – a testament to the power of Rowling’s work.

Hallows is not only the perfect ending to an epic story, but a heartfelt love letter to fans. It has everything. Everything! Just when you think Rowling can’t cram any more action packed twists, emotional reveals or heartwarming nostalgia into the book, she pulls something else from her bag of tricks.

I could easily write an essay listing all of the fanstastic moments within Hallows, but I’m going to try and fit it all into this one post.

It’s always been clear that Rowling has the upmost respect for her fans, but I think Hallows is solid proof of this. It can’t have been easy, tying up a story that spans seven books featuring hundreds of beloved characters, but Rowling tackled this with perfection and her hard work shines through every page. I first read this book when I was 17.  I raced through it in just a few days and it never left my side. 9 years later, I feel like I was able to appreciate it even more, taking in every reference and moment but still rarely straying far from my copy.

Hallows is littered with references from previous books – characters, locations, events, objects – it’s almost as if Rowling has challenged herself with squeezing every ounce of Potter into one book. Saying that, the references never feel unnatural or forced. It’s a great feeling when you recognise or revisit something. The visits to the Chamber of Secrets, the Forbidden Forest, the Shrieking Shack, Godric’s Hollow, The Ministry of Magic and Gringotts Bank all bring back welcome memories of the previous stories, like revisiting a childhood den.

But Rowling doesn’t just re-tread old ground. This book ventures out of Hogwarts and sees our friends journey around Britain. Plenty of new characters turn up, including many that have been mentioned before but never seen. Xenophillius Lovegood, Ron’s Aunt Muriel and Tonk’s Parents all make long awaited, if brief, appearances, each progressing the plot in some way.

From weddings, to duels, to undercover missions, to breaking out of a bank on the back of a dragon – the story rockets a long, hopping from tense scene to another. Soon, we’re back at Hogwarts, where the magic all started, for one final battle.

It’s not all fun though. The stories have got progressively darker and this is book with the highest death rate. Hedwig and Mad-Eye start us of in dramatic fashion as they bow out during an airborne battle , leaving us distraught pretty early in the book. The pang of losing Hedwig, Harry’s loyal owl, matches the foreboding doom that comes with Mad-Eye’s death, who was Harry’s last remaining protector. Many characters are picked off throughout the book as the drama escalates but one of the most painful deaths is that of Dobby the House Elf. Loyal friend to Harry since book two, Dobby’s final heroic act is followed by tragedy as he is hit by Bellatrix’s knife (making us long even more for her demise! First Sirius, now Dobby!). Dobby’s death is a beautiful piece of writing, a moment that will have life-long fans snuffling into their pages.

I’ve said before that Rowling is incredibly skilled at writing dark, tricky themes for younger readers. These books tackle so much – death, torture, discrimination, power, teenage angst and jealousy. The list is endless. The scene where Bellatrix tortures Hermione is particularly harrowing to read, not to mention the earlier chapter where a snake is found to be inhabiting Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse. We’re not dealing with Enid Blyton here. Rowling flexes her talent by including these dark moments but never over stepping the mark. She doesn’t mollycoddle her reader, she exposes them to the dark side of the world, but always stops just short of traumatising her reader. I find that incredible.

However, to counter that darkness, Rowling sends a very strong message on the power of love. Love as protection has a strong presence in Hallows particularly that of a mother’s love. Harry’s survival is all down to his mother’s sacrifice for him as a child and Lily Potter’s presence is certainly felt throughout the final book, even more so at the end where she appears to Harry to reaffirm her support of him. Narcissa Malfoy also protects Harry, in a surprising move, by lying to Voldemort in order to protect her own son. So desperate to save Draco, she buys Harry the time he needs to overthrow Voldemort. And then there’s Molly Weasley. I think every reader cheered when she fatefully cried ‘NOT MY DAUGTHER YOU BITCH!’. Mrs Weasley’s fearsome protection of her daughter leads to her killing one of Voldemorts closest companions, Bellatrix (hooray! Justice for Dobby!).

Another kind of love is revealed as we learn that, after all these years, Snape was in love with Harry’s mother and has been protecting him as penance for (accidentally) playing a part in her murder. Snape is one of most wonderfully written characters as his true intentions have never quite been known from book one, but now the truth is out it all fits in to place. His whole story arc is a testament to the subtlety within Rowling’s writing. Snape’s patronus is revealed to be a doe, the same as Lily’s, and in book six we hear small references to Tonk’s patronus changing to reflect her love. Rowling plans every single detail.

I’d forgotten how much I loved these books and just how much they meant to me as I was growing up. Re-reading them over the last few months has transported me back to my teens and I’ve found myself looking forward to my pre-sleep read every night. Rowling makes you care about these characters and the world they inhabit, making it the perfect form of escapism at the end of a long working day. When I finished Hallows, I was eager for more. I spent last night searching Pottermore and can’t wait for the eighth story to be released in July. If its predecessors are anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing.

As a writer, I find Rowling’s dedication, subtlety and ability to make the complex accessible so inspiring and hold her high on my list of role models. As a teacher, I can see the endless lessons these books can teach children, generation after generation. As a reader, I find them utterly magical, with a story I can revisit over and over again, and still find something new. I really can’t imagine life without these books. They bring just as much comfort and wonder to me now as they did ten years ago. They have become classic books which will be read for many years to come and I hope Rowling realises just how many lives she has touched with her stories. She has brought magic to an ordinary life, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

 

 

 

I’ve got a phobia.

Now, it’s not Whales or lifts or peas or anything like that. (I am genuinely wary of those things but this fear is far more serious. I class this as another level of terrifying.)

It’s not something I really thought about until I was a teenager. Then it slowly started creeping in and over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The resulting thoughts have given me nightmares, pushed me to the verge of panic and had me questioning my every action.

I’ve got a phobia of turning into my mother.

Well, sort of. It’s a fear of turning into either of my parents, but many would agree I am more like my Mum than my Dad (*shudders as he types*). We’ve had a turbulent relationship. I won’t air the details publicly but I left home when I was eighteen and I vowed never to go back. Eight years on, we’re still in touch, thankfully the relationship wasn’t damaged completely, but it’s not your average mum-son set up. I would never want to upset her, but she bloody winds me up at times! (as I’m sure, I do to her). It didn’t bother me as a teen but as I’ve grown up it is something that hurts me, as I start to realise just how important that mother figure is in adulthood as it is in childhood. At 26, I still find myself in situations where I just want a mum. Thankfully, I have plenty of surrogates.

My mum has many positive attributes – she can be very thoughtful and funny and, when I was ill a few weeks ago, she came to my flat and cleaned! But, as I’m sure she’ll agree, she can also be very difficult. I find myself querying whether or not it’s inevitable. Will I one day realise I have morphed into one of the people who created me? Will we share adjectives? Will people think of me as they do her? Will I behave as she does? The thought of turning into either of my parents, is not very appealing. I want to be Me.

I’ve got a friend who has expressed similar concerns. His mother was not very kind to him as a child and he ended up leaving, just as I did. He’s still in touch with his mother, but communication is very rare, and he often finds himself avoiding her just to maintain a quiet life. His mother is a trouble-maker. She is notorious throughout the family for causing upset, chaos and drama. She appears friendly and fun to those on the outside, but she is far from kind to those who are close to her. She talks down to her elderly parents and makes very little time for them. On the rare occasion my friend visits, she sits texting on her phone or reading through facebook, barely acknowledging him. At Christmas, my friend was the only one of her children to visit her, and she spent a lot of time in a funk that she wasn’t out partying with her friends but was instead begrudgingly sitting through a meal with one of her sons – a ‘waste of time’ if the others weren’t there! She made many comments about not needing family and being happier on her own. This has left my friend feeling pretty low and he can’t help feel that pang of envy when he sees other people doing things with their families. He longs for a good relationship with his mother – to be able to share things with her, ask for her advice and take her for meals to spoil her – but he knows that is not going to happen because the relationship is too badly damaged. His mother is just not that kind of mum and that sometimes leaves him feeling like an outsider, especially on occasions like Mother’s Day.

Me and my friend were talking recently and the fear became very real. The thought of turning into that person fills his blood with ice. To be regarded as his mother is would be too much to bear and he worries that he might struggle to resist his genetic destiny. He worries that over the years he will push people away and become the lonely person his mother has become. He worries that, without knowing, he will begin to treat people as she does.

Many times I’ve opened my mouth and my mother comes out. I remember the time I laughed and my Grandad told me I sounded just like her.  I remember the time I delivered a sarcastic comment to my brother and clasped my hand over my mouth in horror, because that is just what Mum would say. Are these just things we have picked up from being around these people or are their traits infused in our blood? Is it genetics or environmental?

My answer is…I don’t know, but I suppose I need to accept that, naturally, I am going to pick up my parents’ traits. Good and bad. I might be very thoughtful, but I might also become obsessed with whinging about the weather (it WILL be cold in the Winter! Why complain?!). I might be very jolly around my friends, but I might also be grumpy and unsociable at times. I hope that I can take on board their positives and pick out the good from those around me. To tell the truth, I don’t spend much time with my parents now that I live alone, and I’m far more likely to see my Godmother, or the caretaker at school who wants to adopt me. Is it possible that I can become like them? Bubbly, fun and full of kindness? Can I magpie traits from others as well as my parents? I don’t see why not.

I think my main worry is that I will take so much from my parents that I won’t end up being Me.  I’ll be a mash-up of Mr and Mrs H. I hope that, in years to come, when I’m no longer here, I can be remembered for being a product of the goodness of both of them. But, most importantly, be remembered for being Me.