Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Marginalia


The other day I picked up an old book of mine and found a whole range of notes I'd written in the margins. Thoughts wound up in little scribbles and scratches across the pages. Collections of penciled-in question marks and lines. Marginalia. The printed text the sturdy frame around which were wound tendrils of thoughts and reflections. 

My rediscovery of this marginalia got me thinking about recording my thoughts and reflections in life's margins, underlining the day's significant phrases, the key points that carry meaning. My writing has always happened in the margins of the day; the early mornings that belong to just me because the rest of the house is still sleeping or in between tasks where a gap opens up like the space between paragraphs. 

From this formed the idea of a newsletter; a kind of intersection between my own accountability to keep writing, a desire to grow and nurture a community and to (hopefully) provide a little spontaneous inspiration or joy to others in the same way that discovering marginalia in a library book might suddenly provide a new perspective or insight. 

So, please sign up if you would like to join my exploration of life's marginalia, writing, books and general updates (there are a few exciting things coming in the hopefully not too distant future). Let's see where this goes!


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

On not reading


I've felt strangely paralysed over the last couple of weeks - unable to pick up a book, sit down and just read. All over the world people have been (and continue to be) locked down in their homes, cut off and isolated from their normally busy lives. I kept reading about "the big pause", of finding stillness, of learning new skills, baking, meditating, following-through on projects and of course, reading that pile of books one doesn't usually get to. 

During pretty much every other crisis in my life, I've read. I've managed to find even just a few stolen moments to get lost in a book. So, I had to ask myself, what was wrong with me? Why was I not getting it together? I've tried to tell myself how privileged I am - I have a nice home to be stuck inside, I have an income, while many, many had it so much worse. 

And yet, still nothing. Still this paralysis on reading and creativity.

Going into lockdown I expected (rather unrealistically) to be able to make a big dent in my TBR pile. I guess the reality was a bit more jarring and unexpected. Firstly, just the practicalities of being thrown into multiple roles so suddenly - full-time mom to two young girls, homeschooler, housekeeper, carer for unwell parents (my mom's cancer returned and my dad needed a triple bypass in the middle of it all), while still working full time - eroded the hours of my day. 

I was (am) exhausted.

Secondly, I underestimated the psychological strain of lockdown and the impact that has on my mental space (and my ability to read as usual, or even write and create). Anxiety and worries (from the personal to the national to the global) sit like big rocks in my mind, displacing everything else. Coupled with compulsive scrolling through coronoavirus-related news feeds on my phone, this has all had a negative impact on my reading. Sadly, reluctantly, I have to admit failure as a reader (Coronavirus - 1; me - 0).

Of late I have been reading poetry, which has somewhat filled that need for words a little. I've particularly enjoyed William Sieghart's anthology, "The Poetry Pharmacy" and "The Poetry Pharmacy Returns", which Stephen Fry so aptly described as "a balm for the soul, fire for the belly, an arm around the lonely shoulder... matchless compound of hug, tonic and kiss." 

It has done that for me. While I don't have any answers and I can't say it's all going to be okay, here's to reading just a little bit of poetry.






Thursday, 23 April 2020

Download for free



The world has changed so much in such a short space of time.

Lockdown has been tough - everything has paused, plans have dissipated, the everyday rhythms have been disrupted, and above it all hangs a sense of disaster - the toll this virus is taking on health and people and economies and basic survival.

I'm sure many of you are in the same position that I find myself in: balancing work with entertaining and schooling children. Libraries have closed, books are not considered essential items and therefore cannot be purchased during lockdown, resulting in a dwindling reading supply for story-hungry kids.

So, in light of that, I would like to make my first book, Witchfield (an adventure story with a magical twist aimed at 8-12 year-olds) available for free. I hope it brings a few carefree hours of being lost in a book.

You can download it in ebook format from Amazon for free from 27 April - 1 May. If you have a moment, a review on Amazon would be much appreciated! And if you'd like to know a little more about it, you can watch me read an excerpt here.

Stay safe, stay home, read!


Sunday, 15 September 2019

"Tilly & Thandeka" is here


Sometimes it really feels like I'm just winging it, running on caffeine (and a glass or two of wine) trying to hold on to dreams and reality at the same time, desperately trying to not let anything else drop. It's been exhausting, it's been exhilarating, and yet finally, here it is: Tilly & Thandeka: The Crown of Ancient Ghana.

This is the first in a series of adventure stories about these two brave girls, set in South Africa and is aimed at 7-9 year-olds. There's a lot more I want to say about them, so I think I will reserve that for another post. At the moment it's only available in South Africa. You can buy it here.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The apparent simplicity of language: the text and its shadow


I am a reader.

An avid reader of children's books and an avid reader of books about children's books. This means I often get myself bogged down with particular details about writing that is aimed at children and what exactly makes it "literature for children" and not "literature for adults" or just "literature".

One of the things I like to do in order to find some answers, is explore the boundary around what we call "children's literature". At first this seems obvious (and a waste of time), but once one begins looking more carefully, varied and less-firm territory appears.(For example, if "children's literature" is a body of literature read by children, then what about Harry Potter, who has a large adult fan base too? Or Winnie The Pooh with its sophisticated double address that amuses children and elicits knowing smiles from adults?)

Perry Nodelman is a widely respected critic and academic in the field of children's literature and in his book The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature he traces these boundaries. One of the points he discusses is children's books and their apparent simplicity of language. On the whole it is accepted that children's books should be written with a slightly less sophisticated reader in mind, a reader who does not yet possess the skills and the vocabulary to fight their way through long, complex, Proustian sentences. Let alone have the attention span. (This may be true, but it doesn't have to mean "talking down" to the reader.) Anyway, this rule is not set in stone (no one told Charles Dickens this when he was writing Oliver Twist) and sometimes is deliberately broken (think of Lemony Snicket's informative, context-specific asides to the reader about what difficult words mean in A Series of Unfortunate Events).

However, I would have to agree with Nodelman, that children's books imbue words with a kind of magic that makes them communicate far beyond their immediate meaning. This is what Nodelman refers to as the "shadow text". The writing is simple, yet the shadow text is not. Nodelman states, "The simple text implies an unspoken and much more complex repertoire that amounts to a second, hidden text." Here lies the magic of children's literature.

Of course one can argue that adult texts also have this shadow text, but the disjunction is clearer in children's books because we accept and expect their simplicity of language. The existence of this shadow therefore means that the simplicity of the story actually requires the reader to have more knowledge than the story actually contains. We, the reader (adult and child), must tap into our repertoire of past experiences, knowledge and understandings of the world in order to read the shadow text.


As a result, when we read David Walliams' first line from The Boy in the Dress: "Dennis was different", our repertoire of playground and classroom memories allows us to fully comprehend the story behind that experience. The prose is simple and straight-forward, but the story is not.


Similarly, Eva Ibbotson's first line from Journey to the River Sea, "It was a good school, one of the best in London" doesn't bog the reader down with long-winded and elaborate descriptions of the school and its standing. That introductory line tells us everything we need to know not because of the  text, but the shadow behind it: Maia's privilege and also her limitations.

Good children's books maintain the simplicity of language, but have carefully selected words that have the ability to throw magical shadows.


Sunday, 19 May 2019

"Children are made readers in the laps of their parents"


I always like to begin my classes on children's literature by asking students to reflect on their own experiences of being read to as a child, to look back at the books that built them. 

But you know what? Every year I'm taken aback by how few have this experience, reminding me that it is not something to be taken for granted. And for those who did have the privilege of being read to, the experience pretty much ended sometime during Grade 1 or 2 when they had acquired the skill of reading. 

And every year that makes me kind of sad, because that early reading process is so incredibly important. And special. And magical.



Recently I was asked to contribute to a short article on encouraging young children to read and that got me thinking. Here are some of the things that came to mind and which, for me at least, make all the difference:

As writer Emilie Buchwald stated, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents”. This sums up the incredibly powerful role parents play in establishing a love of reading in young children. Books represent quality time with mom or dad, be it with cuddles before bed or to calm down and bond after a tantrum, or to giggle and laugh about together during the day. It’s about so much more than just a book or a story at this stage, so it’s important to foster the relationship as well as a love of books.

Books should be everywhere in the home (not just neatly stacked on bookshelves) – on coffee tables, on beds, on the couch, on the kitchen counter, even on the floor. It may seem contradictory, but when children see books everywhere, they become part of their daily lives which is more likely to foster a love of books later on. Bored, in need of distraction or just curious – just grab your nearest book!

Young children, in particular, relate to books as objects first before they fully understand how they work or what they do. They are attracted to the bright, cheerful covers, they want to explore them in a tactile way – what do they feel like? Are they heavy or light? Perhaps even, what do they taste like? There is nothing wrong when toddlers treat books like objects to play with. Learning how to treat a book gently comes later, so for now, books are about fun, exploration and learning. This is where tactile books, books with holes, pop-up books or books with flaps become very popular and can provide endless entertainment for curious fingers and curious minds.

Reading to toddlers and young children should be about interaction, so mom or dad should get creative for story time! There’s no need to stick to the script – much amusement can be had when a familiar story is told with a new twist. The ensuing argument is a great opportunity for language development. Repetition, rhyme, word play and prediction are all part of the parental tool box when it comes to story-telling and language. The child can complete sentences, guess what will happen next, think up reasons why something happened, repeat words or phrases and, in a general sense, let story-time become more of a conversation than about making it from beginning to end.

Probably the most important, yet often forgotten, element of fostering a love of reading in children is for parents to show an interest in books themselves. Little eyes are always watching and they notice the objects that occupy the hands and minds of the adults around them – is it a cellphone or is it a book? What fascinates mom or dad is more likely to draw the attention of children too. Parents should remember, that buying lots of books doesn’t automatically encourage reading, becoming a reading role model does.

Monday, 22 April 2019

What is more generous than a window? Some rainy afternoon reflections


Sometimes it's the simplest things that matter the most:

  • The aural pattern of rain against the paving, dripping through the leaves. 
  • Two little girls keeping themselves busy, enveloped in imaginary worlds.
  • The folded-up comfort of a cat snoozing.
  • A drink, good company, conversation that digs up memories.
  • A stack of books found in an odd second-hand store with someone special.
  • Soup bubbling on the stove.
  • A good book turned over on the table, paused, but just for a moment.
  • The gleam of clean dishes on the sink, an ordinary task completed.
  • The unbreakable beams of support offered by friends.
  • The greeting of a pink hibiscus flower when I open my bedroom curtain in the morning.

These are the things that stand out against a busy world and which mean everything. I have a lot to be grateful for at the moment. Despite the difficult months. Despite everything.

And in celebration of that sentiment, a poem that has always spoken to me:

The Patience of Ordinary Things
Pat Schneider
It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?


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