Monday, December 7, 2009

Facebook and social networking

I recently joined Facebook. I'd avoided joining for ages, sensing that it would probably result in me wasting a lot of time but eventually I succumbed. It is great to be able to find all those people you've long forgotten and at times a bit surreal; sometimes I feel I've awoken from a very long coma as I discover that friends have new partners and new children. Collecting friends becomes addictive too, like collecting top trumps and as predicted, I do have to stop myself spending too much time on the site.

When you work for yourself, every second counts. Whilst I take plenty of time out to relax in the evening away from my desk, when I'm on the computer, I have two aims; to write to pay the bills and to get my novel finished. Incidentally, it's getting there..............

However, I recently came across a social networking forum that I can legitimately claim is helpful to my writing career and hence I don't feel quite so guilty about spending time there! In fact I'd recommend it to other aspiring or published children's authors. Access the forum via their website,Wordpool ( It is the brainchild of established author Diana Kimpton and her husband. The site is packed with loads of useful information on authors, books and publishers and the other forum members are a mine of useful information. Enjoy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Enid Blyton - living with her was no picnic.

Last night I watched a programme recounting the life and times of Enid Blyton. The programme, produced by the BBC with Helena Bonham-Carter in the lead role, was beautifully put together. However, in a funny sort of way, I wish I hadn't seen it. You see, Enid Blyton was a part of my childhood; whilst I never really got into the Famous Five, I loved her school based books, especially The Naughtiest girl in the school series. I also had a friend who must have made present buying for her relatives a doddle as she collected the entire Famous Five then the Secret Seven series. I know my mum grew up adoring the Noddy books. As an adult, I've re-read some of her books and have winced at just how middle class and snobby some of them seem but still, her books hold a place in my heart.

So, there I was last night, half expecting that the details of Enid's life would reveal someone rather snobby  but eccentric and likeable. Talk about illusions being shattered. Enid's parents split up when she was a child. You sensed this would colour her future but I wasn't prepared to find out that she turned out to be a rather hateful figure; all she cared about was writing and her many young fans, she ignored her own children, her family and sent her husband packing (in favour of a married man). She then denied him contact with the children and successfully managed to ruin his career.

In most cases, I'm a great believer in searching out the truth about people but, fascinating as the programme was, it breaks my heart to think that those books that brought happiness to my childhood resulted in the neglect and misery of her own children, not to mention her husband, who, incidentally had commissioned her first book..............

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wot no crime?

I love English language newspapers. They fulfill an important niche for ex-pats, telling us all we need to know about what can, at times, seem like a baffling nation. Writing and researching my articles has given me a fascinating insight into how France and particularly the Dordogne ticks.
However, if I were to have one teensy niggle about the English language national papers, it would be this - they rarely report on crime, particularly violent crime. Now, I'm not suggesting that these monthly papers should become gruesome crime digests but it does frustrate me that almost every ex-pat I speak to believes that France is far safer than Britain; a view gleaned in large part from the English language papers. I think it is easy when you write the news to forget that for many of your readers this is their only source of information. Their readership don't, by and large, watch the French news or read French papers.
Round here, where most of us live in the serene Dordogne countryside, it is pretty crime free but still, and I'm sorry if this bursts your bubble, murders do happen, bodies are found in lakes, petrol stations are robbed and youths do still stab each other.
In fact, whilst most crime does occur in the cities, France has pretty much the same crime figures as other European nations (such as the U.K ) though more women (160) are killed each year by their husbands and violent robberies in the cities are rising fast..............

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spell-checkers - are they really good for us?

Until I started teaching again, I hadn't realized just how dependant I've become on my spell-checker. I gave my eldest pupil a 'tricky words' list and told her to note down any words she habitually had trouble spelling. Following an old adage that you should never ask a child to do anything you wouldn't be prepared to do yourself, I printed out a sheet for me and kept it by my desk as I typed. So far, there are five words on it but I anticipate more. What is of even greater significance is that many of these are not difficult words - address is one of them - they're just words that I have let the spell-checker spell for me so often that my brain has forgotten how to spell them unaided........
But does it really matter? Outside of teaching literacy skills, do we really need to know how to spell when everything is done on computer?
I was talking to someone recently about calculators and how children can't really use them until they have a firm understanding of numbers because they need to be able to discern whether the calculator has come up with a plausible answer. Now I'm beginning to think the spell-checker fulfills a similar niche in the literacy world; of course you need to know basic spelling rules and be able to read competently but that's about it.
Pretty soon, I reckon students will sit exams on computers. Then, just as when I was at school and adults were horrified that we were allowed to take calculators into Maths exams, I bet that spell-checkers will be permissible in English exams. The need for perfect spelling will become a thing of the past. But will that really be such a bad thing??????

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Favourite books

I came across a blog recently asking people to name their favourite children's book. For me this is tricky; I read constantly as a child, have read even more when teaching and, now, of course, keep an eye on all the competition. Charlie and the chocolate factory would definitely be on my list as would Matilda - another Roald Dahl classic but there are just so many.....
For further inspiration I took a look at 'banned books' on Amazon; a bizarre list of books apparently banned by the American Library Association ranging from Judy Blume's Blubber to Orwell's 1984. I was pleased to discover I'd read most of them (and don't think they've resulted in any lasting damage!).
I spent a while browsing the titles, pondering on what was so wrong with the listed titles before coming to the conclusion that for me, choosing a favourite book is like choosing my favourite song - it all comes down to my mood.
Today I'd say my favourite is Dogger by Shirley Hughes - a tale about a small boy who loses his beloved toy at a jumble sale and a kind big sister who retrieves it for him. It's a picture book tale to warm anybody's heart . Ask me again tomorrow though and I'll probably say something very different.........

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A new school year begins

Today is the first day back to school in the Dordogne. Crowds of excited children and parents gather at the school gates, many for the first time, waiting to meet new class teachers and classmates. For British parents here, it is not uncommon for them to find that their children soon acquire more French language and literacy skills than they have; this is, of course, fantastic. It is always surprising how quickly they acquire these new skills and there is no harm in speaking two languages fluently.
However, one thing that has niggled me for a while is how ex-pat parents support their children's learning in their first language; of course, they are speaking to them in English but what about developing their reading and writing skills? Many expats feel they will never return to the U.K but that doesn't mean their children might not want to. Besides, in the world today, a good grasp of the English language (in all its forms) is an important tool in getting ahead.
Last week, whilst researching an article on farming (long story), I stumbled across a forum post looking for an English teacher. It was posted by a British family keen to maintain their children's skills. I answered it straight away, met the family yesterday and start teaching next week. I can't wait! Whilst I love writing more than anything and would never abandon it to return to teaching full time, I have to admit I have missed teaching. The English language is so important to me that it is a joy to pass the skills on. It also makes me feel good to know that at least I'm helping some ex-pat children to keep in touch with their native tongue; having English as a first language is a real boon in the world today, to let it slide seems such a terrible pity ......................

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Now is the time to go green

Time flies when you're having fun and the last few weeks have been fantastic. We've had loads of visitors, took a trip to the coast and I've written eight more chapters of my novel. What's more, the sun has just kept on shining!

I've been learning a lot in the course of writing my book. Most works of fiction involve some research and with a central character deeply committed to saving the planet, there has been a lot to find out about. Staggering statistics about the amount of waste we throw away each year (around 600kg per person in France, more in the U.K) and how much energy we could save if we switched everything off stand by (around 10%) have heightened my awareness. I'm now fervently switching things off, avoiding packaging and plastic bags whilst trying not to be too boring about the whole thing.

This bbc site is brilliant for getting you thinking and offers a plethora of ideas for tiny changes we can make that together could make a huge difference: - one of the other up sides of going green in the current cash strapped climate is that it actually saves you money! Now, there's an incentive............

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Be happy, be simply

When I first moved to France, I confess I found the mis-use of English words irritating; I don't mean poor translations - they still bug me - but the use of expressions such as
're-looking' (meaning make-over) and 'burps attitude' (alcohol induced vomitting). These days I'm pretty relaxed about it. In fact, I find them pretty funny. My favourite at the moment is the name of a nearby supermarket. It's called 'Simply Market' and it's slogan is 'Be happy, be simply.' Of course this means nothing to a native English speaker but with the number of second language English speakers rising fast, I can't help wondering if these expressions may one day find their way into the language.
In the world of motor sport, Formula One is a shining example of multiculturalism. It's multinational nature has led to a universal adoption of English as the common language. Listen carefully to the drivers speaking; it's similar to the English spoken in Britain but there are some differences; note the very heavy sprinkling of 'for sures' used by all the teams. It may well be the English we'll all be speaking within a few generations and that doesn't phase me; the English language is constantly evolving which is at the heart of it's world-wide success.
Constraining a language doesn't work; the Academie Francaise, the french body which oversees the french language, decides what can and can't be included in the dictionary and has tried hard to prevent the use of English. But as 'simply market' shows, it simply hasn't worked............

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring is here!

I can't believe it's been so long since I last blogged. I'm now in the middle of writing copy for the third edition of The Advertiser and have just finished a really interesting article about pregnancy and birth in the Dordogne. I have a lot of niggles about life in France but you really cannot fault the standard of healthcare; this is great of course but from a journalistic point of view it does make articles on the subject look a bit one sided!

I'm also waiting with bated breath to see if the publishers like the first three chapters of my book. I'm itching to get on with it, to get it finished and to get it in the shops!

I've received a lot of messages of support from other writers recently and want to say a big thank you to any who I haven't managed to reply to - at certain times of the month my inbox just fills up. I try to put personal messages to one side but the system doesn't always work.

At a time when newspapers are on the decline, with titles folding all the time, I feel very lucky to be riding a curious wave of good fortune here in France. A few months ago, when it became clear French News was about to fold I must admit I did feel pretty down on my luck. I guess that's life; you just have to keep the faith and take it as it comes. To anyone out there waiting to get published or facing an uncertain future in any field, just keep smiling and keep on keeping on.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What a busy few weeks

Well, what a busy few weeks. I find February a fairly miserable kind of month so there are worse ways to spend it than tapping away at the keyboard - which is pretty much all I've done since my last blog!

The Connexion decided to launch a new regional supplement for the Dordogne and asked me to contribute. It's estimated that there are about 25,000 permanent British residents in the region so a local paper in English is definitely needed. Even when your French is pretty fluent, reading a whole paper in French isn't easy. Over the last few weeks, I've spoken to fishermen, mayors, teachers, reptile keepers, factory owners - hopefully the resulting articles will prove an interesting read.

I've also managed to complete the first three chapters of a Children's novel I've been commissioned to write. I'm going to send them off to the publisher now to see if it's what they're after then get going on the rest of it. They're a small but growing publisher. Hopefully, I'll be able to play a part in their success. I have my fingers firmly crossed. Keep on smiling and keep watching this space ...............

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy New Year one and all

I have to admit, I didn't shed a tear when I saw George W Bush leave the White House. In common with many in the World I wasn't a fan and I look forward to a future with Barack Obama at the helm. So far I've been blown away at his honesty and the vigour with which he has begun his presidency. I have my fingers firmly crossed. However, one thing George said has stuck with me and it's this: "The trouble with the French is they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur'". Now, aside from the obvious comedy inherent in the comment, behind it there lies a grain of truth; 'entrepreneur' may be a French word but French entrepreneurs in France are hard to come by. Recently, I've been interviewing French entrepreneurs - individuals who have risen from nowhere and whose drive, determination and ability to think outside the box has made them ultra successful. Whilst their stories are all different they are united in their frustration with their fellow Frenchman and, more crucially, with an entrenched system which makes it hard to alter your profession once you've chosen it. If you've ever seen Futurama you'll know what I mean. They express great admiration for the British; their ability to experiment, try new things, explore new business ideas and take chances. They are full of praise for the British government who they see as supporting the entrepreneur ....... They tell me it's well known in France that if you want to try something different you'll have a better chance in Britain. Apparently, there are around 300,000 French citizens working in London alone.
It's food for thought and one of the aspects of living abroad which I find truly fascinating - the ability to see your nation from another's perspective. So, wherever you are in the world, take a step back and look at your country; each has it's strengths and weaknesses and we're all guilty of thinking the grass is greener on the other side but if you look hard enough you can nearly always find something to smile about. :0)