Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Will you help me to make a stand?

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I am joining The Big March against bullying! Organised by international bullying prevention charity BeatBullying, we will be marching across cyberspace on 11th June 2014. My avatar is wearing a yellow top hat! Want to join us?

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You can find all the details here:

http://bigmarch.beatbullying.org

Nobody who has gone to school has avoided bullying. Either being bullied, being the bully or witnessing bullying.

It still breaks my heart to remember the way one girl in my class at school was treated when we were about eleven or twelve and just starting secondary school. Little, nasty things that were done to her, just because she was slightly different. They made up stories about her. They laughed at her. They said that she smelt.

Now and again I would try to do something, but to my shame because I was shy and lacking in confidence I did not make a real, proper stand. Worse, now and again I would laugh at some joke which was at her expense, or agree that she was ‘really weird’. By doing this I will have reinforced the bullies’ behaviour.

Bullying taints everybody who does not stop it in its tracks, everybody who does not stand up and say ‘this is wrong’. I did not make a stand on behalf of the bullied girl in my class and to this day I regret that.

Other things happened at my school at around the same time which I still feel quite horrible remembering. My form teacher was bullied by our entire class. She probably had other things going on and she was clearly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The more she lost control of the class, the worse the class behaved, and the more inventive and cruel the ringleaders became. They locked her out of the classroom, put blackboard chalk on her chair, and much worse. It was not quite ‘Lord of the Flies’, but what happened at that time made the book an uncomfortable read a couple of years later.

Bullying happens everywhere, to all sorts of people – young and old.

A friend of mine who went to a different school was bullied by a group of boys who made fun of her for needing a bra long before any of the other girls. They were incredibly cruel, and it affected her self esteem for years.

Over twenty years later she went to a dinner party and one of those boys was among the guests. He was now a perfectly nice man, with a very nice wife. My friend said that when he realised who she was she could tell that he remembered because he went quite pale, and was very quiet, to the extent that other guests asked if he was unwell. To his credit he must have felt considerable shame remembering what he did to her – the endless taunting and the pinging of her bra strap when they were children.

This is what often happens with bullying. The bullied (like my friend who is incredibly confident and successful now) eventually move on and realise that they are SO MUCH BETTER than the people who bullied them. The bullies have to live with what they have done, at some level, for the rest of their lives.

Cyberbullying is now the most common form of bullying. It is a new and nasty way to ‘get to’ people. It used to be that bullying was confined to school and home was an escape, but now the bully can follow their victim home. Cyberbullying is evil. At its worst it causes suicides. It ruins lives.

I was moved to bring cyberbullying into my teen novel ‘My Big Fat Teen Crisis’. I wanted to show that cyberbullying can happen to anybody.

The central character, Sam, is bullied online by a girl in her class at school who is jealous of her, with the cyberbullying incidents escalating as the story develops, until the bully goes just one step too far, and Sam’s friend Lucy (who has cerebral palsy) also becomes her target.

I hope that by showing cyberbullying happening to a central, very likeable character, it helps girls who read the book to see that the problem and the dysfunction is always with the bully, NOT the bullied.

So, will you join me on 11th June? I didn’t make a stand when I was eleven years old, and I will always regret that, but I am making one now. Let’s march against bullying.

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The fight against cyberbullying

I am pleased to report that the cyberbullying element of My Big Fat Teen Crisis seems to be helping teenage girls.
The central character, Sam, is bullied online by a girl in her class at school who is jealous of her, with the cyberbullying incidents escalating as the story develops, until the bully goes just one step too far, and Sam’s friend Lucy (who has cerebral palsy) also becomes her target.
I am hoping that by showing cyberbullying happening to a central, very likeable character, it helps girls who read the book to see that the problem and the dysfunction is always with the bully, NOT the bullied.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Big-Fat-Teen-Crisis/dp/1407115952/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395311208&sr=1-1&keywords=my+big+fat+teen+crisis

Want to write? Never give up

As I approached my late thirties I was pretty sure that my dreams of being in print were well and truly over.

Encouraged by my English professor at University, the poet Philip Hobsbaum, I’d had poetry and short stories published, and I tried to write a big ‘serious’ novel in my twenties. The novel I wrote was structurally a mess and didn’t fit any recognisable genre, and so unsurprisingly it did not win me an agent or a publishing deal, although I had a very kind letter from Robin Robertson at Jonathan Cape encouraging me to ‘keep going’.

What went wrong? I became unsure of myself, I lost my confidence for a while. Then stuff happened. My dad died. I had my first child. I had my second child. There was always an excuse not to put myself on the line again, not to make myself vulnerable, open to rejection.

I could never stop writing altogether. I wrote lots of short stories (which I never sent anywhere), but I pretty much gave up on every being published, which was quite heartbreaking. Wanting to write had been part of my identity since I’d been about four years old. It was how I justified to myself all my daydreaming, it was why no other career had ever completely ‘grabbed’ me. If I wasn’t ever going to be a writer, then who was I?

One day a friend said ‘You’re funny. Why don’t you write funny?’, because she knew I was a huge comedy fan and I went to a lot of stand up. You could call me a comedy nerd, following lots of comedy from here and the US, the quirkier the better (I love ‘Episodes’, ‘This is Jinsy’, ‘Black Books’, ‘Gavin and Stacey’, ‘Inside Number 9’, ‘League of Gentlemen’, ‘Nighty Night’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Seinfeld’, ’30 Rock’, the list goes on and on.) It did seem odd that I’d never tried writing humour before, since I love it so much.

Although I’ve always read and loved all types of fiction from all genres, I’d always felt that I should be writing something very serious and ‘important’. Was this the curse of studying English Literature? I don’t know. But I had a word with myself and decided to loosen up and have some fun, instead of trying to write the next ‘Ulysses’.

I bought Carole Blake’s book ‘From Pitch to Publication’ which helped me to understand the nuts and bolts of writing a book for a particular market. I decided to try teenage humorous fiction. Carole Blake’s advice worked, because a few years later I had two teen novels published by Scholastic –  ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ and ‘My Big Fat Teen Crisis’ for girls aged 11-15, both humorous but with serious issues in there too.

Then I was lucky enough to have ‘The Abominators’ published by Little Brown Young Readers. It is a series for children aged 6-11 which I wrote for my own sons. It is about a very posh boy called Cecil Trumpington Potts who wears silk pants with the family crest embroidered on them. He has never met any other children, he wears his hair in a centre parting and he talks in baby talk. When he joins Grimely East Primary school he decides that he wants to join the most mischievous gang in Year 5, ‘The Abominators’. What could possibly go wrong…?

Today I am sitting pinching myself because not only has ‘The Abominators’ series made it into print (in 2013), but last week on World Book Day a primary school pupil dressed up as Cecil Trumpington Potts, and today his teacher sent me the photo below (with permission to use it).

This is year 4 pupil Ben, I can’t say where he lives and what school he goes to, but he has absolutely MADE MY DAY. He recreated Cecil’s bow tie and his centre parting – and the family crest on the panty wanty woos!

If someone had told me when I was on the verge on giving up on writing, that a child would be going to World Book Day dressed up as a character from my imagination, I would never have believed them. Thank you Ben, and thank you to all the children who have read and enjoyed ‘The Abominators’ and my other books (including the 6000+ children who have borrowed them from UK libraries). You have made it all worthwhile, and I’ve had SO MUCH fun along the way! I’m glad I did not give up.

The Abominators

Year 4 pupil Ben dressed as Cecil Trumpington Potts on World Book Day

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