Sunday, June 29, 2008

And now to Dr Who: The Stolen Earth

Oh my god, Oh my god. OH MY GOD!!! Was that not the best ever ever episode of nu Who??? It was even better then The Parting of The Ways (my previous favourite).

Please be prepared here for a lot of over excitement and general squeeing. (A new word I learnt recently from visiting other DrWho Fan blogs, and one which fits my general mood to a T).

You have to hand it to RTD, he certainly knows how to take you on a roller coaster.

So first we get the Doctor and Donna arriving on Earth. So far so good. Except. It isn't. Because within seconds of going back inside the Tardis the Earth disapppears, leaving no trace behind. Cue lots of puzzlement from the Doc before he decides to whizz Donna off to the Shadow Proclamation (Police Scifi style) to find out What Is Going On?

Meanwhile on Earth, all the Doctor's pals are also wondering What Is Going On? Martha's in Manhattan with Unit, Jack and his Torchwood team are stuck in Cardiff and Sarah Jane and her improbably alien adopted son are in Ealing, while wonderful, brilliant, sassy Rose is strolling about London with a fuck off gun and lots of attitude.

It doesn't take long for them to discover that Earth has been stolen (along with 26 other planets) by der. der. der.... The worst kept secret in this series of Who, the Daleks. Led by none other then Davros, the evil genius who created them.

Now I mentioned here recently that the daleks were the first thing that I remember ever being terrified of on TV, and Davros is just brilliantly scary. So I loved the combination of both, and old and all as I am, that first Exterminate! Exterminate! still sent shivers down my spine. Although I was slightly less then impressed to see Jack's immediate response was to give up (oh god and did he have to kiss Ianto and Gwen - pass me the sick bag, please.), and Sarah Jane's was to respond to wimpy type and burst into tears. I was so impressed with the way they reinvented her when they brought her back, but turns out she's still the same wet she always was.

Luckily, Rose held her own with that gun, and good old Harriet Jones came out of the woodwork to save the day with her improbable subwave machine, which allowed them to get a signal to the Doctor.

This was just as well as after discovering The Shadow Proclamation wanted our hero to lead the charge in a war against the daleks (presumably, his been there done that, lost all me mates credentials were the reason he declined their kind offer), as well as uncovering such imponderables that this series has thrown up (what's happened to all those bees, and aren't there a lot of planets disappearing?), the Doctor and Donna found themselves stuck in the middle of the Medusa Cascade, which is some kind of time rifty thing which I didn't quite understand (but that's ok, cos I don't think you're supposed to understand anything much in a RTD episode, just go with the flow), but which prevented them finding the earth, let alone reaching it (No 1 rated this the scariest part of the episode as she found the idea that the Doctor didn't know what to do pretty appalling.), but luckily Harriet Jones' invention led to that call getting through (even if she got zapped by a dalek as a result).

So suddenly we're on full tilt for the Doc and Donna to get to earth, while Martha managed to escape Manhattan, Torchwood is about to be overtaken and Sarah Jane and Jack simultaneously decide to find the Doctor (rather selfishly leaving their companions to face the music). Meanwhile poor old Rose is the only one NOT to get through on the trunk line, instead of which Davros did, so he and the Doc parried views as ever and you realised just how great he is as an adversary for the Doctor. Oh what fun we had (and hopefully will get to have next week).

And then it was cue the dramatic moment when the Doctor and Rose are finally reunited. C'me on don't tell me that you haven't ALL been hoping for that moment since the end of series 2. I know I have. But.... whilst I am a serial romantic, I also love my romance to be tinged with a bit of pathos, so the bitter sweet way it was left in series 2 was perfect for me and I was CONVINCED that Rose wasn't going to meet him. Or at least not in the same world. And THEN I was convinced when they started running towards each other she'd disappear or something.

And then FUCK ME SIDEWAYS. This bloody dalek appears from the shadows and shoots the Doctor. I mean Talk ABOUT Messing With The Canon. In Dr Who terms this is practically sacrelige isn't it? A DALEK killing the Doctor? NOOOOOO.... but YESSSS, because it was so unexpected, and upped the tragedy, and now we don't know what's going to happen, and oh my god, do I really have to wait till next week to find out???

I was certain last night that he was going to regenerate as the Master, but then today I have read so many conflicting views, I really don't have a clue. Which is much much better.

Because it looks like they've really pulled a rabbit out of a hat and to quote a character from my new book, we should expect the unexpected.

All bets are off now. I haven't a clue how it will end.

And that's just the way it should be...

Race for Life report

We've just come back from running Race for Life again.

This year, I ran with the big ones, while my friend's mum walked with the little ones. As it turned out no 3 ended up running with SOF and her daughter.

It was hotter then last year, and bleeding disorganised, so we didn't set off till 11.34, but...

Am very pleased to report that no 1 for the first time didn't need me to motivate her. She got round with the help of her ipod and lashings of determination. In fact she left us at the halfway point and stormed in two minutes ahead of me and no 2. Go no 1 as all my girls would say.

No 2 having been really enthusiastic last year, flaked out a bit in the heat, but she ran all but the last kilometre, and had to be bullied to the finish line. I did manage to get her to run the last bit though....

No 3 walked/jogged all of it and no 4 walked the lot.

They all did fantastically well and I am dead proud of them.

Roll of honour goes:

No 1 41 mins

Me and No 2 43 mins

No3, SOF and daughter 55 mins

No4 and friend's mum, 1hr 10 mins

Way to go girls!!!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

All. Partied. Out.

Although my meticulous family planning has ensured that my children were born two years apart, it wasn't quite meticulous enough to ensure that the birthdays were evenly spaced throughout the year. So nos 1-3 have their birthdays within six weeks of each other (all I can say is I must have been having a lot of fun in August when I was in my thirties, but I can't quite for the life of me remember any of it now...)

So since May I have hosted a party for 12 year olds (barbecue, several 12 year olds sitting around pretending to be grown up while the others ran around like lunatics in the garden, fairly easy); one for ten year olds (party food, karoake, and much pet stroking. Apart from one drama queen child, also fairly easy); and yesterday we had the eight year olds.

Now no 3 in general is a fairly well behaved and biddable child. She has invited the same group of friends since reception, and they have also always been fairly well behaved and biddable.

Lulled into a false sense of security by the generally good behaviour at the 10/12 year old events, I forgot that 8 year olds probably need a bit more structure. Ok, actually, the real truth is I was all partied out, and far too complacent about Having Done This Before (ad nauseam, I might add).

First mistake I made was not to have organised games when they arrived. I suggested to no 3 they do some dancing in the lounge, and no 1 put Amy Winehouse on very loudly (it is a truth unviersally acknowledged that music at children's parties gets less and less appropriate for the younger ones as their older siblings grow up). By now mil had arrived, and was sitting in state in a straight backed chair we have for her as its more comfortable. I made her a cup of tea and realised, that while there was music playing very loudly, children were there none. They'd all gone mental and run in the garden.

Fair enough, I thought, then realised half of them didn't have their shoes on. Given that foxes are a bloody nuisance round here (bring back hunting, say I), my offspring are unfortunately banned from going shoeless in the garden. I instructed no 3 to tell them to put their shoes on. She came back wailing that no one would listen. I then went down and told them all to get their shoes on. After much moaning most of them complied bar two. One is the daughter of my RforL running buddie from last year, the other is the daughter of my Super Organised Friend who regularly saves my life. SOF's daughter thinks she's at home in my house, which is rather flattering, until you realise that this manifests itself into very lippy behaviour. So we had to have Words on the subject of her shoes and she and RforL friend's daughter ended up sulking on the swing seat.

No 4 (who does a fine line in telling tales) then came to inform me that three kids were on the trampoline, which is two more then there should be. I went to tell them off, and witnessed one child suddenly collapsing on the floor clutching her leg, which is precisely the reason I NEVER wanted a sodding trampoline in the first place. Said child then limped for the next HOUR, and complained that she couldn't straighten her leg. Why couldn't one of mine have injured themselves?? (Terrible the way as a parent you'd ALWAYS rather have your own child injured on your watch then someone else's...)

No 3 by now was getting grumpy that none of her friends wanted to play games, so I suggested we did the Treasure Hunt which I had scrabbled together about five minutes before all the guests arrived. I've done Treasure Hunt's before, but I have to confess this wasn't my finest hour and the clues were, well , rather crap. So the children had found the treasure in next to no time. The treasure was in the form of little boxes of smarties and prompted two children to inform me they couldn't under any circumstances have chocolate, one child that she was banned animal fat plus I knew a fourth was diabetic, so I had to watch her sugar intake. I'm sure things were simpler for my mother...

By now Pizzas had arrived, so all the children sat down to eat, and I tried to ensure that no one was too greedy, no one had too much coke (and in the case of the diabetic that she ONLY had diet coke), while checking surreptitiously on the injury and hoping against hope that it wasn't serious.

As soon as food was done and dealt with I suggested they sang karaoke, which only met with approval from half of the guests who piled down the garden again to play in the fort Spouse lovingly built the children a few years back.

At this point no 3 who is absolutely knackered (see previous post) totally lost the plot as she wanted them all to play games. I cunningly got her wayward friends back inside by dint of producing the birthday cake, but then remembered once I'd got them all to sing Happy Birthday that no 4 and one of her friends were playing upstairs. As she'd had a paddy on a previous occasion that we'd sung Happy Birthday without her, I stopped no 3 from blowing out her candles, and got her to do it again. Cue no 3 bursting into tears again, as I'd accidentally given her relighting candles so they popped back into life again anyway. One of her friends then helpfully offered to blow them out again, which caused a veritable flood. By now no 4 had come down, we sang Happy Birthday again, but no 3 refused to blow the candles out and no 4 then burst into tears because she'd missed it all, and I chucked all the flaming candles into a bowl fo water.

I hastily persuaded no 1 to organise a game of Dead Lions (only now of course you have to call it Sleepy Lions) - through which no 3 sobbed uncontrollably. This was followed by Tongue Murder (same as Murder in the Dark, but the murderer sticks out his/her tongue at people, and then they die). Most of no 3's friends hadn't played it before, so it took a while to get the instructions sorted - in fact in the first game half the victims thought they'd been murdered when they hadn't, but hey, it kept them quiet for ten minutes, so I wasn't complaining.

I took this opportunity to retreat into the kitchen and cut and wrap cake, willing it to be 6.30 so the party would be over. I can honestly say the last quarter of an hour was one of the longest of my life.

To my relief, no one was late for pick up, the three children I took home were all despatched without a murmur, limping child miraculously recovered well enough to walk through her front door, and I sat down to a large glass of wine safe in the knowledge that I don't have to do that again till next February...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You know it's nearly the end of term when...

... You need an explosion to get everyone out of bed.

... Your six year old reverts to baby mode and needs help getting dressed.

... Your nearly eight year old suddenly wimps out on you and announces she needs a day off school

... and your ten year old loses her shoe (just one) five minutes before it's time to leave for school, at the same time as the six year old demands you find clips to put in her hair (what has happened to the ones you were wearing yesterday? You might well ask, but you'd be asking in vain...)

... you realise when you DO get to school you are nearly last in the playground for the second day running (and only the second time all year).

Roll on the holidays....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dr Who: Turn Left

I loved this episode so much I watched it twice...

This was Russell T Davies at his sheer brilliant best. I love parallel universe/time slip/what if? kind of stories, and one of my favourite things about New Dr Who is the way they've played around with Timey Wimey stuff.

The idea that simply by turning right instead of left Donna not only changed the course of her own life, but that of the world's because she never got to meet the Doctor, so wasn't there to save him from drowning when he defeated the Racnos was fabulous. I also liked the way all the companions and people associated with the Doc kept popping off while trying to sort out all the problems that he would have solved in the alternate reality.

I also really liked the parallel with story from series one when Rose tried to save her dad and couldn't. This time around she was unable to save Donna, who's only means of reverting the fateful decision she made was to throw herself under a truck, thereby causing a traffic jam and making her other self turn left as she was supposed to.

Rose herself was something of a revelation. Maybe it's the fact we've got used to her not being around, but boy had I forgotten how good Billie Piper was. She really is an almost impossible act to follow (though against my initial reservations I think Catherine Tate has been pretty good this series, particularly when they stop her shouting) I know there's been some mocking about her speech impediment, but that aside I loved new tough Rose, and the look of pain in her face when she realised she'd come too late to save the Doctor/and Donna asked if they had had a thing going on was a reminder of the power and pathos she brought to the role. The kids are all clamouring for her to come back now, and I can't say I disagree. Shame Billie Piper is so sodding talented she presumably has lots more fish to fry. But hey if she pitches up occasionally from her parallel universe I don't care.

Am absolutely dying to see how it all pans out next and hope that the series finale doesn't end up feeling as much of an anti climax as last year, but retains the power of The Parting of the Ways (my favourite episode from Series One) and Doomsday (which made no 3 cry for weeks afterwards).

Also wondering what the Darkness is and whether I'm right that the ghosts that the Torchwood team see are in fact coming through the Rift from parallel universes (which was how I thought Rose was coming back). My guess is that she will keep appearing and disappearing but that she and the Doctor will never meet properly - or meet and not be able to touch or some such poignant thing. My money is also now on Donna making some big sacrifice to save the Doctor as she knows how important it is to keep him alive, and that Rose already knows this....

And if I've got that all wrong I don't really care anyway because that means RTD has pulled an unexpected rabbit out of the bag, which is much more fun.

Last year I ended up reading far too many spoilers, so I really really don't want to find out what happens next, if only to replicate that moment on Saturday when Donna repeated the words, BAD WOLF.

I so didn't see that coming.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Time of Singing

Elizabeth Chadwick is a writing friend who like me uses rock music to inspire her writing. In her case, it inspires some rather fine writing set in the mediaeval period. I have yet to read a book of hers I haven't enjoyed, and I long to emulate her ability to write bitter/sweet tragedy. She writes fabulous heroes and wonderful love scenes - the most tender and senuous lovemaking I have ever read takes place in Shadows and Strongholds, William Marshall, hero of The Greatest Knight and the Scarlet Lion is incredibly inspiring, and Elizabeth's grail mystery book, The Daughters of the Grail (written long before The Da Vinci Code and heaps better then Labrynthe) is one reason I am excited about going on holiday to the South of France this year. We're planning to visit Mont Segur and Carcassone, home of the Cathars who were ethnically cleansed by the Catholic Church in the 13th century. Spouse has long been interested in their story, but Daughters of the Grail really pulled me in.

Elizabeth's latest book, The Time of Singing isn't coming till October, but she's just posted this rather brilliant teaser ad on You Tube, which has ensured that The Time of Singing is top of my Christmas wish list (Spouse thoughtfully provided an Elizabeth Chadwick box set last year). I'm fairly sure that the castle in the pics is Framlingham - whose history I know from a later period as the home of the Howards, the slippery Catholic Dukes of Norfolk, some of whom escaped Tudor wrath, but one or two of whom lost their heads. Elizabeth's story is set in a much earlier period, as it is the story of Hugh Bigod, First Earl of Norfolk - about whom I know very little apart from things Elizabeth's mentioned - so I am looking immensely to finding out. Elizabeth's books are now so highly regarded that at least two Phd students are studying them, which I think is the epitome of cool for a writer.

And if you read her books it's not hard to understand why...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's summertime and the livin' is easy...

Actually it's not if you're a mum of four. I thought I hated the run up to Christmas more then the endofyearitis which is currently afflicting me, but at this precise moment I think the summer term is much much worse.

Basically work has already stopped. No one is studying very hard. The kids are all knackered. And every week there seem to be a plethora of events I have to attend.

Some of it's my fault. Last week I mistakenly offered to help on a school trip to Wisley. I have offered my services three times this year and every time there have been enough mums so I've not been needed. Trust me to draw the short straw and get the six year olds. Never. Ever. Go on a school trip with six year olds. They're not nearly as malleable as reception children and haven't learnt to behave as well as Year 2 children. Consequently the majority of the day was spent running after/shouting at small children as they legged it in different directions all round Wisley which has vast and beautiful gardens which are like a red rag to a bull to small people let off the leash.

This week I have a school open day on Thursday, next week it's Sports Day for no 4 on Monday, plus the same DAY as Race for Life no 1 has to rehearse all afternoon for Under Milk Wood and nos 2&3 have a picnic at their school. I've been asked to do face painting, but am probably going to decline. Much to her annoyance we've already missed no 4's Summer Event (when no 1 started school there was an unwritten code that the junior school put on a summer event and the infant school put on a Christmas event, now they both ... do both. Which is fun.), as it coincided with her granny's birthday and no 1&2 taking part in a cooking competition for Guides.

I am beginning to hate Guides and Brownies with a passion. Apart from my natural antipathy to women in uniform, I find the amount of paperwork both activities seem to generate, and the demands that are put upon me in order for the sprogs to take part are tedious in the extreme.

I spent most of yesterday morning fruitlessly trying to buy kit for nos1&2 to go to Camp at the weekend. You'd think they were going away for a week the amount of gear they have to bring. All clothing has to be blue, but no jeans as they are difficult to dry. Do you know how difficult it is to BUY blue trousers that don't look like they should be worn by someone who normally wears their trousers halfway down their bum? Nearly impossible in my town I'd say.

I also have to provide two groundsheets, two mats, nappy pins (you ask me), kit for them to wear if they get wet, different kit (presumably not blue) for them to wear for the disco on Saturday evening... The list is endless and I can't fulfil most of it. Plus I don't really have time to try. Argos didn't have groundsheets, nor did Millets. I couldn't find any mats, so ended up with two apparently selfinflating airbeds. Except when I got home they didn't. Inflate I mean. I also managed to rip the bag putting the sodding thing back together, but luckily when I snuck it back into Argos today they didn't notice. I tried to go for camping mats again, to discover there was only one in stock. Someone is trying to tell me something.

I was frustrated ENOUGH about all this last night, I can tell you, and then I took no 3 and her friend to Brownies. Last week I remembered at the last minute that there was a big Brownie and Guides barbecue on 4 July, was about to take the form with me, but had no money to pay for it. Never mind, I thought, I'll do it next week. Wrong. I presented the form and the wretched £3 to be told I was too late, the forms had gone off and there was no way they could fit one extra child in. No 1 has been to this great event for the last two years and the WHOLE of the district goes. I have to fess up here and say I was a tad stroppy, and have probably been struck off from Brown Owl's Christmas Card list now (slightly better then the response I got from no 4's intimidated - by me, apparently - ballet teacher last year who practically accused me of verbal assault, but that's another story), but what the hell. I DO appreciate all these people give up their time etc etc, but I wish THEY'D appreciate that I have a little bit more to occupy my brain then what is going on at Brownies in any given week...

The upshot of it is that no 3 can't go, while nos 1&2 can (as I had £6 on Thursday when they went to Guides). As that night also coincides with their end of year Drama performance I think I decided this morning I'd vote with my feet and send them to that instead, except now No1 wants to go to the barbecue and no 2 wants to go to the performance. Never a dull moment in my house I can tell you.

To make my life even more complicated then it already is, we (that is nos1,2 and I) have just joined a fledgling Ladies Cricket Team, which takes place AFTER Brownies has finished and no 1 has had her swimming lesson, which makes Tuesday evenings a bit tight. But what the hell it is enormous fun, and after the day I had yesterday it was great to vent my frustration with a cricket bat. I have only ever played cricket in the back garden with my brothers (one of whom is a pretty talented cricketer), but to my surprise last week I discovered I was reasonably ok at bowling and batting. I even got a wicket. Last night I got three (including no2 - oh dear. I don't think one should really bowl out one's daughter). The best thing about it though is, sharing an activity with the sprogs, and watching no 1 get engaged with sport in a way I have never seen before (one year at secondary school and she's already gone off it. I despair.)

However, yesterday being a bad day, I also managed to pull one of my quad muscles, so now I am limping about and hoping that it will be better by next week so I can still do Race for Life. Mind you... if I'm not, I suppose that's ONE less thing to do in June...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Race for Life

It's now two weeks till the girls and I do the next Race for Life. Life being what it is, though I am managing to run in the week, I've only done one run with the girls, so I fear rather more walking then running will be involved, but hey ho.

I don't want to do a hard sell on this, but... it is for charidee. And Cancer Research is an incredibly worthwhile one. I doubt that any of us have been untouched at some time or another by this dreadful disease, and the more that can be done to find a cure the better.

There are two people I think about when I do RforL, both of whom died far too young. Maybe if we can keep raising money, the people who follow on will have a better chance of survival then they did.

So... if you can spare a few pennies, the girls and I will be incredibly grateful. And if not, think of us on 29 June, and pray it isn't too hot. The first year I did it with no1 it was boiling, the event organisers ran out of water, and my friend and I were nearly demented by the end as our daughters griped the whole way round...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Age Banding and Children's books

A subject that is much discussed in children's editorial departments is how to get the right books to the right children at the right time. When I was at Scholastic we discussed it endlessly. Children don't learn to read in a linear fashion. You cannot say at the age of 7 all children should be reading Enid Blyton say, because child a might not have progressed beyond picture books yet, and child b might have already found Roald Dahl. (That's true of all sorts of other things - no 1 was slow to learn physical skills but she's caught up in the end).

The general consensus has always therefore been that age ranging children's books is a bad idea, because older kids who are struggling to read will be put off reading books they perceive as being for younger readers. As these are generally the readers who need the most help in finding suitable books in the first place, this can only be a bad thing.

This could be all about to change as there is a move afoot to age range children's books. With my commercial hat on I can understand the thinking behind this move. With the growth of supermarkets as an outlet for books, new markets are opening up, and books are being bought by non traditional bookbuyers. There is a shocking statistic that less then 10% of the population actually go into/use traditional bookshops. Many feel intimidated by them, and the supermarkets have allowed them access to books in a way that was previously lacking. This in my view is a very good thing (and as one who's made most of my sales on Pastures New via the supermarkets I'm not complaining).

One of the downsides of the new markets is that alot of the punters come in not having a clue what is a suitable book for little Johnny aged 6 or little Jane aged 10. In a normal bookshop, the books are shelved according to age/suitablity, and there will usually (certainly in decent bookshops) be someone knowledgeable on hand to give you helpful advice. But if you aren't a regular bookbuyer, and buy your books in Asda, that particular option is closed to you. Age ranging books is the solution the industry has provided for the reality of the new world we are living in.

Undoubtedly this WILL give grannies and aunties and uncles who haven't a clue a much much better idea of what to buy little Johnny and little Jane and may well pull in more sales,


And this is a big big but, it is going to do nothing at all to encourage kids to read. We are currently in the National Year of Reading. A laudable enterprise to get more kids reading. I don't think it, or age banding books is going to make one iota of difference to getting kids reading books. In fact I think the age banding is going to be positively detrimental.

As well as angsting about age ranging on books, children's editorial teams are always searching for the Holy Grail, namely books that boys will buy.

I am a mum of four girls, all of whom luckily are good readers. But I know plenty of friends with boys who don't/can't read. They are poorly poorly served by my industry. Partly it's the lack of men in it - publishing doesn't pay very well. Children's publishing pays even less. If you are an ambitious male you aren't going to hang around long. There aren't that many men in publishing in the first place, let alone on the children's side. I think this doesn't help in the search for books that boys will enjoy.

From what I have observed in the last eight years since my oldest daughter started school, the educational system doesn't help either. There are far too few male teachers in primary schools, and however well meaning and dedicated the female ones are, from what I have seen they fail to understand often that boys don't want to sit around reading a book, when they could be out climbing trees, kicking a football etc. So very often it is boys who are failing to progress through the education system and who fall badly behind with their reading. And what does my industry have to offer them? Not a great deal. I have a good friend whose son struggled through the primary school system. He's a bright lad but not hugely good at academic stuff - when he was eight or nine years old, he was still coming home with books about Floppy the Bunny. Kill Floppy the Bunny, became his mother's motif for a while.

Boys like him, are not going to be enticed to read a book which is their reading level, but has a big number on it proclaiming it to be suitable for a child two years younger then they are.

I still edit children's books for an educational company, and am currently working on a series for reluctant readers. It's edgy, contemporary, and I hope will give weaker readers something to get their teeth into , which is actually relevant to them. I would absolutely hate to see them age ranged as I think it would be patronising beyond belief to kids who need to be encouraged not discouraged.

During my time at Scholastic I was privileged to run the Point Horror list, which at the time was the top selling list for teenagers, although it was read by kids as young as 8/9 and as old as 14 - hence my point about the wide ranging nature of children's reading abilities. We sold over 7 million copies of Point Horror in my time at Scholastic across 50 or so titles. I regularly got letters which began, I never liked reading till I found Point Horror. For a while there, I genuinely felt we were making a difference. But, I quickly discovered when I went into schools, there were kids for whom even a Point Horror was too difficult. I always wanted to edit them down and present a version that a reluctant reader could have picked up with pride, but it was hard to know how to present it without them feeling they were being patronised. Plus, the feedback I always got from our sales department was that the reluctant reader market was too small and not worth the candle.

I firmly believe it is worth the candle. There are kids out there who are leaving school at eleven unable to read. They come out of the school system at 16 already disenfranchised and disadavantaged. To break that cycle we need desperately to get them while they are young, and provide them with reading material which is relevant and fun. I don't think they should all be reading Dostoevsky (we don't after all expect all our children to be David Beckham), but they do need to be literate to cope with the real world.

And that's why I'm against age ranging. While it may help parents find suitable books, their children will reject them if they perceive they are being given a book too young for them. Instead, I suggest, this age ranging experiement is linked simply to supermarkets, and doesn't become generic. Or, the supermarkets themselves need to work a bit harder at employing people on the shopfloor who actually understand books, and can offer proper advice, so that the right books do get to the right children.

This issue is being hotly debated right now by a number of writers, librarians, teachers at al, and they've launched a protest/petition which you can find out about here. I urge you to do so, because, though I can see the reasons why age ranging is being suggested, in my view it's going to do more harm ultimately then good. Which would be a great pity.,

Dr Who: The Forest of the Dead

This is a quickie as much else to do...

But I thought this was great. I was genuinely spooked by Donna getting stuck in the virtual world, and spent half the episode not knowing whether Dr Moon was a benevolent presence or not. Even by the end when I know he was an antivirus programme, I thought not, really. There was something a bit too creepy about him... I loved Donna getting suspicious and then being sucked back into it too. AND, the fact that she met and lost the love her life in the blink of her eye. And the business with the kids was heartbreaking.

As for Alex Kingston. Oooh she was awesome. She punched the Doctor! She tied him up! She sacrificed herself for him... Am rather hoping he will come up with a better solution to saving her then bunging her in a virtual reality world though. I don't think that's my idea of heaven.

I did think they woefully underused Steve Pemberton though. He could/should have been creepy. But I loved Miss Evangelista's mixed up face, and I liked Cal having a tantrum and nearly destroying everything, and I particularly loved the Doctor/Donna exchange How are you? Alright. What, is alright Time Lord Speak for not being alright? How are you? Alright.

Kids were all on the edge of their seats, no 3 was thoroughly confused by the end, and no 1 admitted for the first time ever she'd gone to sleep with the lights on after an episode of Dr Who.

I thought it was fantastic.

Roll on Stephen Moffat's tenure at the helm of the franchise. I think we might all be doing quite a lot more hiding behind the sofa....

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ooh another inspirational song...

Which really really should have gone in the spring time list, but due to a slight aberration of my brain cells it slipped my mind. Can't think why as I've been listening to it endlessly thanks to Radio 2...

Anyway. Here's another singer who I'd dismissed as a 70s no hoper. It's all those terrible shirts, which apparently, so he now says were a joke that went badly wrong...

And. I've talked before about songs inspiring me, catching my emotions, but this one suddenly ripped right through to the heart of a character who wasn't even going to have much of a role originally. Then I heard this and thought, WOW... that's who Noel is.

If I tell you I've also been watching It's A Wonderful Life, you might guess where I'm headed with this.

So hear for your delectation and delight is Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond. I don't think you have to be religious to get it. And as a bonus as this is from Jonathan Ross you also get Love on the Rocks, which I thought was really naff as a teenager. Which just goes to show you need to grow up sometimes to understand some things...

With a skip, a jump and a hop...

When I was a child, my mother would never let us have pets. I always thought this was most unfair. Until now...

We have acquired a pet. Two to be precise, a bunny called Dandelion and a guinea pig called Marmite. This despite dire warnings from my Super Organised Friend who suffered for years as sole carer to pets while her offspring wandered by regardless.

Well all I can say it wasn't MY idea...

We have had a pet before - a hamster called Georgie who we inherited from the nanny and who went to Hamster Heaven quite some time ago now. I was quite fond of Georgie, who wasn't too much trouble, (until the end of his days, when he got grumpy and bit me) but I was quite content not having another pet. Spouse, however, made the fatal mistake of promising replacement.

No 1 would like a cat. So would I. Far less work. Spouse isn't keen on cats.

Nos2&4 would love a dog. I am terrified of them. I've learned to control my phobia over time, but it remains nonetheless, and the thought of being alone in the house with a canine is more then I can bear to contemplate, even if I've known it from a puppy.

No 3 is semi keen on a pet, but not sure quite what.

So we've ended up with Dandelion and Marmite.

I hate them already.

Don't get me wrong. They're cute. Dandelion has a sweet way of rubbing his nose with his paws, Marmite on first discovering the ramp that went down into the run was charmingly skittish.

It's just... the MESS they make.

I was nearly demented on Sunday when the sprogs (who are over the moon and spent the whole day in and out of the run) were tramping straw and god knows what else over the house. But that was nothing to my maniacal behaviour last night when it came to cleaning the hoppers out.

We'd had one go on Monday, but since then it's rained really heavily, so despite my clever wheeze of lining the roof of the run with black plastic, they seem to have spent two days pooing in their bedroom. Which was nice.

So yesterday it was clean up time.

The children have all assured me solemnly they'll help. But it isn't quite as easy as I thought.

For starters, we're currently having to keep the animals on the patio as they're too young yet to eat grass. Apparently the rabbit could get a very bad tummy bug, and SOF tells me this is to be avoided at all costs...

The patio also contains: a large swing seat, a huge wooden table, and an even bigger paddling pool (of course the minute we got it out the sun disappeared), and now a hutch which Spouse has cunningly attached to the pen he made, together with a little ramp the hoppity things can skip and jump down.

The hoppity things seem to think there is nothing more fun then bringing all the straw/hay from the hutch down into the run, where it can get stuck in the chicken wire which protects them from foxes (they also have to have to be covered up at night otherwise we might find dead bunny in the morning - apparently seeing a fox can induce a heart attack, and the chances of that happening in our garden are 100% likely. Bring back hunting say I.)

In order to clean out the bottom area we encourage the hoppers back into the hutch, lift the whole thing up, shake as much hay off the bottom as possible and then move it all to one side, so we can sweep the rubbish off the side of the patio into newspaper. So far so good...

Last night Spouse got as far as the first bit before taking nos1&2 off to guides, while nos 3, 4 and I were left to do everything else.

Underneath the hutch is a tray which catches all the straw, bedding and crap. In theory, this makes for easy cleaning. You simply remove the tray, tip it out, clean it and put it back. Which would be a piece of piss if we had the run separate from the hutch, as we could put the animals in that while we clean out the rest of it.

Unfortunately, thanks to a piece of fiendishly brilliant, but rather impractical, engineering/carpentry on Spouse's part, it's all one thing. So while I was pulling out the tray, no 4 was holding up the ramp to stop the animals getting back in the hutch, as there is a neat guinea pig sized gap at the bottom once the tray's removed.

On top of that the tray itself is long and wide, and I was now working in an area of about one square inch, trying to stop no 3, who helpfully kept offering me hay from wandering into all the crap and straw in her flip flops. (Why is it only me who seems to get that this is all rather unhygienic?)

In the meantime, no 4 managed to drop the ramp on the animals who nearly jumped out of the pen. Then she couldn't hold it up anymore, so they both escaped into the hutch. No 3 being more antsy round animals then her sister, stood dancing about saying, I can't get them, while I was stuck to my armpits in poo and couldn't reach them either without letting go off the huge parcel of crap I was rolling, so no 4 came marching round, straight through my huge parcel, and all was merry mayhem.

I was screaming like a banshee throughout most of this, I believe my six year old was probably heard by the neighbours to say This is shit (she was not wrong) on more then one occasion, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the language I let fly.

By the time we were done it was half past eight, way past their bedtime, and I then had the fun of dumping everything in the incredibly full compost bins (Spouse had just mowed the lawn), which were now buzzing with flies, to make my cup of happiness complete.

When the others arrived home I was frazzled beyond belief and cursing the day we'd bought the wretched animals. We've only had them a week, god knows how I'm going to feel in a year's time.
On the upside, I do have now a rich seam to mine for book 3, although I'm not quite sure its worth it...

Rabbit pie, anyone?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Not quite the soundtrack for spring, but...

It's not one of my seven, but bubbling away in the background for a book that may or may not ever see the light of day. It's quite different to anything I'm currently writing being a time slip/parallel universe darkish fantasy. So there's going to be lots of fighting probably, and this song sooo fits. Well the song does. Not sure about the video which probably demonstrates why most pop artists don't write novels, but I do love these lines:

Come ride with me on the veins of history
I'll show you a god, falls asleep on the job


Don't waste your time or time will waste you...

which always sends shivers up my spine - one of my criteria for having a song on my book playlist. The others so far for this book are: Blackeyed Boy by Texas, Somewhere Only We Know by Keane and Who Wants to Life Forever by Queen.

But for now I leave you with Knights of Cydonia by Muse. Enjoy....

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Music Meme

Lovely Persephone who hangs out at:, and with whom I have regular Dr Who discussions on other people's blogs has just tagged me for this music meme...

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

Well, music as I've mentioned before plays a big part in my creative processes, and I'm currently dabbling round the edges of book 3 before diving in. So my first choice is an incredibly cheesy and most unspringlike Last Christmas by Wham, as a) it's the title of the book and b) I am trying to get myself sufficiently Christmassy to write about it in the summer. Bloody hard I can tell you...

Next is The Hills are Alive from The Sound of Music, which we saw last week. Emily, the heroine of Strictly Love is a fan, and I nearly came a cropper having another character quote from it. (I shall be blogging about our trip over at the Other Place)

Thirdly, well... not exactly the sound of my springtime, but more like part of the soundtrack of my life, which Terry Wogan played first thing this morning. Another cheesy one, but it was the song Spouse first asked me to dance to, far too many years ago to care to contemplate. I had pitched up very late to an end of term disco, and was in blissful and ignorant conversation with him, not realising his friend was poking him in the back, saying, Go on, ask her to dance... Had we known then that here we'd be over twenty years later with four children, I think we might both have run a mile...

Anyway it's Drive by the Cars. Check out that mullet... Weren't the eighties fab?

Fourth, is Behind Blue Eyes by the Who. We've managed to watch and video the same documentary on them twice in the last couple of weeks, and this song always makes me weep.

Fifth is a song for the new book. I wasn't a fan of the BeeGees and disco in the seventies, but nostalgia is a wonderful thing and they've grown on me. And it wasn't till I heard this song, that I realised just what a talented bunch they were. This is Where I Come In is from the album of the same name, which is the last they made before Maurice's untimely death. I love it, and it's perfect background for the mood of this book...

Sixth, thanks to Persephone I found this by the Mumm-Ras which was driving me mad...It's called She's Got You High and is the perfect song for describing falling in love. So here are the Martha and Doctor again (any excuse to show pictures of David Tennant on this blog I can tell you...)

And finally. My musical tastes are not my own anymore. Thanks to the children I get to hear all sorts of things I wouldn't otherwise. I absolutely LOVE Mercy by Duffy....

Oh and the other part of the meme is that I have to tag people, so....and apologies for not doing the links properly. Still have trouble with that, and at the minute I don't QUITE have time to do it properly. So... Here goes, I tag, Liz Fenwick, Nic, Expatmum, Dulwichmum, Amy Appleton, Rivergirlie and Mad Twin (I know you don't have a blog MT, but you can leave your comments here... instead)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dr Who: Silence in the Library

I appreciate I have been rather silent of late... but it's been half term, so I have a bit of catching up to do.

I know I don't always blog Dr Who episodes, but... ooh, I had to blog this one.

For a start it's by Stephen Moffat who writes all my favourite episodes, but also, it was properly scary this time.

I can remember the very very first thing that ever scared me on television. I was about five years old, so old enough to vaguely understand that not everything I saw on the screen was real, but young enough to be convinced if something was realistic enough that it must be true. Predictably, it was a Dr Who episode which did for me. Can't remember the series, but I think it was Jon Pertwee days. Anyway. The daleks had invaded Earth, like they do. And part of the episode featured a news flash and pictures of the daleks going across Westminster Bridge. It was the news flash that did for me, adding an authenticity to the whole thing which made me miss out on the whole wobbly sets, it's really only the same two actors going round and round in a metal dustbin reality of it all. I was truly truly terrified, and I can remember taking some convincing that the daleks weren't about to pop up in my bedroom...

There is something very satisfying about being scared in the comfort of your own home (or from behind the sofa), so from that point of view, this week's episode was great. I always like my horror films to leave a lot to the imagination (Angel Heart remains the scariest film I have ever seen, mainly because you don't actually SEE anything, but imagine so much) - and The Silence in the Library, worked brilliantly. What was scary here was not just the dark - not just every shadow - any shadow where the eebie jeebie parasitic things live. So you never quite know what to trust, or where the next pirhana like attack is coming from.

But not only was it really creepy (if owing a little too much to the equally brilliant Blink), there was so much going on in this episode, it nearly made my head explode. Who is the little girl with a library in her head? Is the psychiatrist treating her benign or evil? Who is Dr River Song, and how does the Doctor know her? I'm not even convinced she's totally on his side. Is Donna dead? Can she escape from being a head on a stick? Is Proper Dave going to kill them all with his spooky-dark-swarm-inside-his-helmet-which-has-eaten-his-flesh-off-leaving-only-a-skeleton -with-zombielike-strength?

For the first time in a long time on Dr Who I really haven't got a clue how it's going to end. Which given all the injokes about spoilers (dontcha hate them? I know I do. I really regretted finding out online last year that Mr Saxon was in fact the Master.) It's so much more fun when you don't know what's going to happen next. I enjoyed this episode so much I watched it twice, and I had no more clue at the end then I did at the beginning, which was really great.

So roll on next week say I... Even if I do have to watch from behind the sofa.