The Fairiest Fairy

I am so delighted with this review I have decided to reblog it – especially as I am a bit behind on my own posts!

huntingforheroines

The Fairiest Fairy-6471-3

This is a perfect antidote to all those fairy books aimed at girls who want to wear sparkly wings and look pretty. The Fairest Fairy is a joyful read that subtly questions which character traits are of true value.

The premise is that ‘Betty was a fairy who just never got things right’. She’s at fairy school where the other students find it easy to succeed where as she struggles with every task. She can’t perform spells, paint rainbows or wake flowers (who knew fairies had so much to do!) And part of the reason she isn’t very good is that she gets distracted; everywhere she turns there are animals who need help. She removes a thorn from a rabbit’s foot then gives him a cuddle, she gives a pep talk to a blackbird who is too scared to fly and cleverly untangles a butterfly’s laces. The fairy school students takes part in a contest to find…

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The small details

Yesterday I wrote an email to an editor about a book I have written for 5-8 year olds and which will be published later this year. I had realised that I had made a big mistake with what someone was wearing – and it was such a relief to realise this in time. It seems like a small detail – a question of a red sweatshirt  with animal badges rather than the reindeer jumper I had described, but it has big significance for the character and the illustrations, and uncorrected would have made an unsatisfying nonsense of the end of the previous book about the character.

In a few minutes I am going to get back to writing my current novel. Like ‘Girl with a White Dog’, it has involved me in lots of historical research. I am finding that the small details are vital. They are vital for me to understand the story and really inhabit it – and they are vital, in a work of fiction, for truth. It DOES matter if a character in 1916 would have read a particular poem, or been taught a particular thing, or regarded others in a particular way. In one sense, it is perfectly possible to write an exciting story riddled with anachronisms, but as a writer I think it would be so less satisfying, and it would be letting down the reader big time.

Because small details do matter – and sometimes they are not always that small – just unregarded. If we are lucky some wonderful hardworking historian has found them – like Boria Sax in his book ‘Animals in the Third Reich’ – and it is a fiction writer’s  privilege to be able to incorporate them into a story, as I did in Girl with a White Dog

So what are the ‘small details’ in our current culture which future historians and novelists will uncover? What will stand out for them as being unregarded, unreported, dismissed as unimportant, and yet, when looked at properly, will be seen to say so much about our values and how our culture is headed – which if not acknowledged will make a nonsense of our nation’s narrative?

There are many examples – not least, in light of International Women’s Day yesterday,  the treatment of women in our world today and the fact that their needs are often relegated to ‘small details’ – but today I would like to look at the treatment of the disabled and the ill in our culture.

I think that you might deduce that the treatment of the disabled and the ill in our culture is a small detail if you look at the lack of public outrage about it. The money which is being spent by our present government to contest this legal ruling  about the ‘bedroom tax’ is not commented widely on, nor is the distress this is causing people having to be involved with the Govt’s appeal after they thought they had won: here is a story which is huge for the people involved and yet a small detail in terms of news coverage – the story of those families involved

Then yesterday the government ruled in favour of cuts which will mean  that disabled people will lose £30 a week – that is £120 a month – which  anyone who has tried to survive on a low wage will realise is not a small detail at all. This has been widely criticised. by charities working with those involved, yet it seems that it is a relatively unimportant thing for those of us unaffected. If you click on the highlighted blue words you will get to a BBC report on this, and can watch a video clip of a disabled Peer’s consternation about the cruelty of these cuts.

So on one hand the welfare of those who are ill or disabled seems to cause little alarm, and yet the narrative that they are scroungers arouses great interest. Here is an example where big details (£30 a week loss for those who desperately need it) are being seen as small – and where small details (relatively tiny number of people defrauding system) are distorted into being big ones. So we have huge coverage of those who are not disabled pretending to be, and hardly any of those who are in desperate need and not getting the support they need. Just look at this excellent piece in the guardian about phantom cheats:

I love History and the work of historians. Historians can, with dedicated work, discover small details which can illumine our understanding of why things happened the way they did. I have to pay attention  to the small details in my stories so that they have coherence as narratives – so that they are satisfying and truthful. We have to pay attention and talk about the ‘small details’ glossed over or left out  in the mainstream news – in the narrative our media and politicians are writing for our nation  – these details, left out, make an unsatisfying nonsense of our narrative as a caring nation with ‘British values’ – these unregarded details, omissions and contradictions may be the most important of all.

 

 

 

 

The Good Chance Theatre – guest post from Kate Beales

I was lucky enough to meet the theatre director and writer Kate Beales (@katebeales13) at a wonderful writing workshop at @Gladlib run by the novelists Shelley Harris @shelleywriter and Stephanie Butland @under_blue_sky When I discovered that she had recently been to Calais to help refugees I asked her to write this blog post about her visit and the work of Good Chance Theatre @GoodChanceCal

29th February. A day that defies the regular rhythms of annual circularity. A day when events flash into visibility, then disappear again. I’ve always loved the elusive mystery of leap years. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have an anniversary on a day that only shows up every four years.

On this particular leap year, Monday 29th February 2016, I’m caught up in an event which fits with the strangeness of the day, something I can’t believe is happening, something I find so incomprehensible I’m almost relieved that this time next year its anniversary won’t exist. In the Calais refugee camp known as The Jungle, demolition of the fragile, makeshift homes of some of the world’s most vulnerable people is under way.

I’m visiting the camp with two compassionate and open-hearted companions. We’re here to offer our support to the Good Chance Theatre and the rest of the camp. Like many others, we are aware of the decision-making process that has been unfolding in Calais, but we are unprepared for the scale of violence and suffering that escalates over the following days.

When we arrive, we are blocked by a polite but impenetrable line of police, who warn us that there will be no entry to the Jungle today. Journalists on their phones are gazing over the no man’s land dividing the road from the camp. No-one seems to know what’s going on. We drive round the corner to the other side of the camp and find people going in and out as usual. We walk past flattened earth and stationary bulldozers. There’s a single police van with one unmoving silhouette inside. The main street is very still. There’s no sign of trouble, just silence.

At the Good Chance Theatre, it’s not quiet. We are drawn into a riotous game of Pig in the Middle, and now I’m leaping around the tent, trying to hold my own against a dozen young men who all seem twice my height and half my age. They find my efforts to keep up hilarious: the ice is broken in minutes. We play until we are all exhausted. As the group drifts away to rest, we join a seasoned volunteer for lunch in one of the nearby cafes. The food is delicious. We drink hot, sweet chai, as our new friend tells us about December in the camp, a family living in a tent, sinking into the mud. On Christmas day a delivery of wood arrived and he spent the day building the family a house. “It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had,” he says. I try to express my admiration at his generosity, but he waves my words away.

Later in the afternoon, there is a movement theatre workshop, led by a skillful volunteer, another regular at the theatre. We join in, playing games, creating choreography, sometimes laughing, sometimes intensely focused, moving in chorus, singing simple songs, stamping and clapping together. When the workshop is over, I’m invited to lead the following session. I work to build on the rapport we have established, and follow the energy of the group, using circle games, mirroring, shared sounds and actions. There’s very little English spoken, everything is communicated through gesture. It’s an improvisation held together by collective good humour.

During this time, the theatre is filled with a small group of constant participants, and a shifting crowd who ebb and flow in and around the tent. The tent is a haven – a refuge for the refugees, as one of the Good Chance team puts it. It also strikes me as a fixed point, a centre, with a series of concentric circles around it – all the different groups pulled in different ways towards the space and its activities. In the middle, with us, are those who are joining in. Somehow, despite everything that’s happening, these young men (they are all young men) are able to laugh, sing, and play along with us.

https://mobile.twitter.com/GoodChanceCal/status/704792202120192001

 

 

Then there are those who are engaged in watching, intently focused on our activities. If we invite them to join the circle or catch an imaginary ball, they decline with a polite turn of the head, a downward flick of the eyes and a tiny half-smile. They watch from the side with their arms folded: they seem part of the action, but not quite in it. One man stands in the circle, watching from within. When I invite him to make a gesture, his arms remain crossed. “You’re crazy,” he says. I acknowledge that he’s probably right, and leave him in peace. Later, when I glance in his direction, he has started to move with us.

Beyond our workshop, there are others around the edges of the tent, having conversations, or playing games of their own. It seems that they are here because the space is welcoming, filled with shouts of laughter, not of fear. People can come here for refuge, whatever is happening outside. Because of course outside, everything is happening. Not far from us, the camp is starting to burn.

There are further ripples – men who stand at the entrance, or just outside, as though looking for something, but too restless to come in. Outside the tent there are wider circles still: those going about their lives, cooking, working, washing, sleeping, eating, like the inhabitants of any city. Then there are those not going about anything at all, other than sitting on a rock or a hummock of mud, arms wrapped round their knees, some rocking back and forth, some with tears on their faces, living out their anguish in the open air. And beyond all this, though I’m not aware of it yet, there are the people at the centre of the real life drama of this day, facing the police, the fires, the tear gas and the water cannons.

So many people work with generosity and compassion to alleviate the squalor and suffering in the camp. At the Legal Centre we meet a young Afghan volunteer. During a break in the workshops we are folding paper, making origami boats and planes, flying them around the tent. This young man sits in a corner for a very long time, head bent, fixed on his paper. When he emerges, he’s holding a beautiful and complex puppet folded in the shape of a chicken. The chicken can be held so its head goes up and down, pecking at the ground for imaginary food. We are transfixed. The chicken is passed from hand to hand and admired before becoming the focus of a game. It’s a beautiful makeshift treasure in our theatre world.

Those of us who work in the theatre rely on the suspension of disbelief, the collective capacity to leave reality behind and enter imaginary worlds where anything is possible. It may be hard to imagine, but this is happening at the Good Chance Theatre in Calais. The Good Chance has created a space where refugees can come for respite from the horrors they have faced and continue to face in their daily lives. Even as the camp burns, they can laugh, play, trust each other, and take refuge in the pure joy of making a story or a song. They can find different ways to communicate. A young man tries to talk to me. We have no shared language. His eyes are burning with anger as he clenches his hands into fists, holds them up in front of me and presses them very gently against my face. I don’t need words to know that he is trying to show me not just anger and frustration, but a desperate desire to be understood.

At the end of our workshop, my son starts to play his harmonica, and soon another volunteer opens his rucksack and pulls out a clarinet. The refugees gather around the music and start dancing. One by one they pull us into the dance. The bulldozers are still here, and the police in riot gear. The fires continue to rage outside. None of us is naïve enough to think we can stop what is happening, or change the terrible reality that is the Calais Jungle. But, just for a few minutes, on this February 29th, we have suspended our disbelief. Hands are joined. We are dancing together in our wellington boots. We have forgotten our differences.

Valuing Children and Kindness: Learning from Betty

Valuing Children and Kindness.

I’m sitting up in bed as I am not very well. I have, annoyingly, got a horrible virus I can’t seem to shake off. I got up and got dressed yesterday and I think I should have stayed in bed – so today I intend to try to properly sleep this rotten thing off.

After I have written this.

As a children’s writer I fully support S.F. Said’s campaign about increasing the coverage of children’s books in our newspapers. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/author-campaigns-more-childrens-book-reviews-321274 It is astonishing that children’s books are ignored so much – and every children’s writer cheered when Frances Hardinge won the Costa prize for her novel ‘The Lie Tree’,

http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Frances-Hardinge/The-Lie-Tree–Costa-Book-of-the-Year-2015/16491266

not just because it is an excellent book and deserved all the praise it got, but because it was showing the wider literary public that children’s books can be amazing and just as brilliant – if not more so – than any written for adults. I often have more confidence that I am going to read and enjoy an excellent story when I pick up a children’s book than an adult book. There are some AMAZING books out there – and I encourage you to browse the children’s shelves in your library or bookshop and see what I am talking about.

I think this lack of respect for books written for children is not just about underestimating the skill of the adults who write for them, but also about undervaluing children themselves.

Look at us. We are crushing our children from the moment they start school with tests. I was recently with some Foundation Year (Reception) children. I dressed as a fairy and read out my and Rosalind Beardshaw’s book ‘The Fairiest Fairy’ to them, reading my words and showing them Rosalind Beardshaw’s wonderful illustrations

http://nosycrow.com/product/the-fairiest-fairy/

Now, Betty is the main character in my book, and she is a little kind hearted fairy who can’t do any of the tasks she is learning at Fairy School – she can’t wake the flowers, sprinkle dew drops or paint rainbows very well – and she feels very upset about it. LUCKILY (spoiler alert!) Betty IS good at being kind, and the little rabbit, blackbird and butterfly she helps out of various predicaments, each, in turn, then help her to do the tasks she needs to do and which she can’t do on her own. One reception class teacher at a school I went to commented on how much he liked the book and felt it was needed, because he was coming across more and more four year olds who were describing themselves as ‘rubbish’ when they couldn’t do something.

After I had read out the book this time and we had all sprinkled dewdrops, painted rainbows and woken flowers, after we had cheered when Betty was declared ‘the Fairiest Fairy’ because she was kind, after we had sung ‘The Fairies on the bus scatter dewdrops like this…etc’ I asked the children – ‘so – what can you tell me about Betty?’ A bright little girl eagerly put up her hand and said very emphatically: ‘She isn’t very good at doing things and she needs to learn to get better at them.’

AAAGH.

Of course I didn’t say that. I nodded encouragingly and told her ‘Well, you’re definitely right that she isn’t very good at things, so that is true -(the little girl nodded in agreement) but I think there’s something even MORE important about her…Can anyone tell me?’ I then got a lovely little boy putting up his hand who said ‘I think Betty is good at EVERYTHING’ so I said ‘yes, you’re right – when her friends help her she does do all the tasks really well, but is Betty good at waking the flowers, sprinkling dew drops or painting rainbows on her own?’…We finally, as a class, managed to get a consensus that Betty was actually NOT very good at the tasks but that wasn’t the important thing – the most important thing, and the reason why she was voted ‘The Fairest Fairy’ was that she was kind and knew how to be a friend.

Those children are so little. Their job in foundation year should be to have fun, to learn how to be friends, to enjoy stories and playing and making things – and most of all to be loved and to love. The teachers and teaching assistants are trying so hard to communicate this – but they are being given so many targets and tests to put the children through – and some, like that eager little girl, are swallowing the story in our culture that the most important thing about education is passing tests and ‘getting better’ at things – so much so that even though she had just listened very carefully to a book which told her the exact opposite – she still thought the main thing about Betty was that she was failing.

Kindness isn’t exactly being communicated as the most important quality.

OK – so now let’s go the end of schooling. My 17 year old son is currently in Year 13 – and as his mum I do want him to pass his ‘A’ levels and get the highest grades he can so that he can go to the university he wants to go to. I am not against people working hard and using their talents – in fact, I think it is something we have a duty to do. I am very proud of his academic gifts and his love of reading and study – but most of all that he is kind and thoughtful and funny and loving. I would do anything to keep him safe. Like any mum. If we had lived in a war zone when he was 13 or 14 I would have sent him away to a safe country. i would have told him ‘ stay safe, work hard for these kind people who will take you in, and when you can, come back to us. Come home. But only when it is safe.’

And now today I read this.

https://t.co/jr74J3NNSA

And I can’t bear it. My son will be 18 soon. We are looking forward to it. We will be going as a family to hear some Jazz, because he loves Music. I hope that this year he will be off to University. I worry about him, and I will miss him terribly, but I have hope that he will have a wonderful time. He will still be my child.

Not like those poor children. They came here out of unimaginable terrors. Nobody can argue that, for example, Afghanistan is a safe place for a young boy to grow up in. So they come here, and they go to school in their adopted country, and they make friends, and they feel relief at being safe. And then a 17 year old like my son turns 18 – and they get sent back.

How is that kind? How is that loving? How is that really loving other people’s children, rewarding their faith in us – if we say – OK – you can be safe for a few years and then we will knowingly send you back to danger, to fear and to possible death? Because, you are not our child.

And it is so stupid too. In ‘The Fairiest Fairy’ Betty isn’t kind to Rabbit, Bird and Butterfly for ulterior motives – but her kindness to them inspires gratitude – they want to help her when she needs help, and they do. In years to come we will need good relationships with the new governments of these war-torn countries – if we have been kind to their children, just imagine the goodwill we will store up. I would do anything for someone who is kind to my children. The children themselves, if we allow them, having educated them, to give back to the country which gave them refuge, can, with their cultural knowledge and language skills, help us forge positive relationships with other nations. It makes sense. It makes sense to value children – our own and others. It makes sense to be kind.

Carers and the burden of Expectations

Carers and the burden of Expectations.

I want to normally write in reference to my work as a children’s writer, but I have been awake in the night after reading a tweet by a highly influential academic urging relatives of those with dementia to take responsibility for their feeding in hospital. I have even read the comment that this would free up nursing staff to look after those who have no relatives.

I understand the context of this. I  was a carer for my mum for 5 years until her recent death in 2014. I understand the horrific reports of abuse and neglect. I understand the financial demands on the NHS. I understand the frustration and fear that comes with leaving a relative with dementia in hospital, and why some carers seem to be welcoming this idea. But I strongly disagree with this proposal, and now that I am no longer a carer for someone with dementia, I want to talk up for those who still are.

I was a carer for my mum, who had many medical problems in her old age, one of which was vascular dementia. I was a carer for five years before her death whilst at the same time bringing up four children with my husband. She lived directly across the road from us with my dad. In the week before she died she said to me that I was the best daughter she could have hoped for. I say this feeling rather a fraud, and not to boast, but as a sort of reference for myself, to give me a defence or authority for what I am about to say. I shouldn’t really have to, but I fear that only those who were ‘the best daughter or son’ are being listened to – those who are NOT coping are not having the input they should have into the formulation of policy. And they are carers too.

I found the day to day demands of being a carer a real struggle. I did not enjoy it. Actually, even with the support of my lovely husband, the Age UK dementia outreach nurse, and a therapist, it nearly broke me, physically and emotionally. I am still dealing with the aftermath. I am not even a hundred percent sure I did the best thing taking on the role of a full time carer, but, as with many people, I felt I had no choice. I did my best. I’m still not sure it was good enough, but my elderly parents were utterly unable to cope, and my siblings were not in the position to take on the role. In many ways I felt I had no choice, but even with the most supportive husband in the world and four lovely children, the experience was often awful.

The experience of being a carer was often awful for me because of exhausting bureaucracy, because of non-dementia, non-elderly- people – friendly encounters with professionals and systems. I spent many hours fighting for my mum. I fought for her in hospitals when she was admitted, asking for assessments for her, fighting for her to have the right medication, the right attention. I remember arguing for hours with one doctor who, after she was admitted to hospital after a fall, took her off her heart medication and only listened to me when she was literally at the point of death. I keep telling him that if he did not give her the medication she would die, but he kept insisting that he had to monitor her without it – and it was only when she became very ill and I was told she might not even survive the night that he gave in.

But it was also awful because I was socially isolated, I was worried sick about money, because I had left my job, that because I found it overwhelming trying to look after my four children and my mother and the needs of my father too – who whilst living with mum was also struggling with cancer and recurrent chest infections, who always had relied on my mum for the every day transactions, and who was often in denial about her capacity.

The experience was also awful because of the nature of dementia and the depression that my mother suffered from. Most days during those five years, nothing was good enough. I used to steel myself to go over to her, as many, many days I would be told how miserable she felt, how I didn’t understand that she was dying, that I was heartless. I was distressed by her distress, and not able to distance myself. At times my mum thought I was stealing her money, lying to her. I remember feeling desperate when she point blank refused to pay me money for a month’s amount of groceries. For those who ask – ‘why didn’t you have power of attorney – why didn’t you use her cheque book to pay for the food?’ – you have no idea. I did have the power of attorney but I couldn’t have used it without causing utter meltdown. Even before my mother’s dementia she was a fearful person. My parents avidly watched Jeremy Kyle and any programmes with ‘…..from hell’ in the title. My mother was terrified by stories of daughters cheating their parents, taking all their money, and then banning them to some hellish care home, and the fact that I had always tried to be a kind loving daughter and was doing exactly the opposite to the people on TV made no difference. Any mention from me of cheque books or cards and all the years I had tried to be the perfect daughter were wiped out – I was the daughter from hell, stealing from her. My father didn’t want to upset her, so I would pay for all shopping from my own money, and then my mum would take her cheque book from her handbag, and I would write a cheque for the amount in front of her. My mum would suspiciously scan it in case I had added money, and then sign it. She would not let my father near the cheque book, as she didn’t trust him either, and as he had never written a cheque in his life, he was happy to go along with this.

I am a practicing Christian, and I have found myself wondering why God gave me enough strength to be a carer, without the satisfaction of believing and feeling (even if others told me) that I was a good one, without the selfless joy or sense of vocation and fulfilment that I see documented in so many carers’ blogs. In case this lessens the impact of my words – I would like to say that doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and my own family and friends, all commented on me being a good carer, so on the surface, at least, I succeeded. I try to be a good person. I didn’t run away from my responsibilities. I was there when I was needed. But only just.

And now I think that the reason why God gave me just enough strength to get through these years and to enable my mum and dad to feel cared for, but not the strength or personality to feel inspired or energised by my caring, is so that I can stick up for those carers who aren’t coping now. Because they need help. And I fear it is not economically or politically convenient to acknowledge this.

There are important, inspiring and influential people speaking on behalf of carers now – one person looked after her father who had dementia for many years – and whilst they do a vitally important job pointing out any problems in the system, many people speaking about caring are often quoted as saying they don’t personally regret a single moment spent looking after their family member, that they loved it and cherished the experience and would do it again in a heart beat. This is great and inspiring – but please PLEASE don’t formulate policy – like the one proposed about family being responsible for feeding – based only on lovely people’s experience of loving their relatives and not regretting a single moment helping them. Everyone has a different history. Carers are often not given a choice about caring – and they have no control about what they bring to the table – their past history with their relative – their own emotional resilience and self-confidence, their personality. Please don’t only listen to carers who loved caring – who are good at it – who get awards for their inspirational work and writings about their experience. Please can you listen to the ones who feel or felt they were – or are indeed rubbish at it – who are shamed into silence – who aren’t coping or only just – who are trying their best but don’t feel good enough – who really shouldn’t be left to carry the burden alone – or even carry the burden at all. And for whom, being responsible for feeding their families in hospital would be the last straw.

Because in these days of austerity, for many carers there just isn’t a large network of other family members who can take turns to help feed a relative in hospital. Many people are struggling on zero-hours contracts, or working for agencies or on temporary contracts. Such is the awful nature of our benefits system that those who are unemployed could often, in practice, not commit to taking turns at feeding their relatives for fear of being sanctioned. If you make it part of the expectations of a hospital that relatives are responsible for feeding patients with dementia, in effect it will be the same care-giving relative that has to carry the burden, regardless of the other demands on their lives, regardless of how they are coping with being a carer full stop. If I had had to feed my mum on one of her hospital admissions as well as travel to the blooming hospital every day, fight for Mum’s care, AND look after my family, I would have had to have been admitted myself.

I felt I had to write this for the sake of those relatives who are expected to be like saints when they are struggling to just get by as decent humans, but even writing this today and re-living my recent experience has made me feel awful. I am so very glad my mum felt loved by me and I cared for her until the end – that she only had her last fortnight in hospital and had a good, gentle death, but I am so, so glad I am not caring for my mum any more, and I strongly oppose any further (and economically convenient) idealisation of the role of relatives in the caring process – this puts intolerable burdens on those already stretched to the limit. Carers need more help, not less, and hospitals need more caring, trained staff, not relatives plugging the gaps.

If you are a foot, don’t wish you are a hand.

Yesterday I was on a dog walk and worrying in a rather anxiously self absorbed way about how useless it is to be anxiously self absorbed about whether I am doing the right thing. Then I started worrying self absorbedly about the fact that I was worrying self absorbedly about how anxiously self absorbed I can be about doing the right thing! Luckily I then got home from my dog walk and had a cup of tea and broke the increasingly miserable chain of thought, but the fact remains. I do want to do the right thing. But it isn’t always easy to know what that is, and then knowing what that is, to do it, and being anxiously self absorbed about that doesn’t help anybody, least of all me.

I find it so difficult to work out what the right thing is. Life is complicated, and people are fascinatingly complicated too, with different gifts and viewpoints and personalities and histories and needs. There is the golden rule ‘treat others as you would have them treat you’ and I have a religious faith in a loving God to whom I can pray and from whom I can ask help, but it doesn’t change my personality. I have strengths and I have weaknesses and any loving I try to do, or ask God to help me do, has to be done bearing in mind this fallible mixture.

Sometimes I wish I was different. I went to see ‘Suffragette’ last night. I cannot understand how anyone can sneer at that film. I am so grateful it was made. It was so sobering and awe inspiring to see the bravery of those women. They were amazing. I admired them for their clear sighted devotion and guts – I was so shocked to see force feeding and the brutuality of the way they were treated to get what so many of us take for granted now, and for which those heroic women gave their lives. And I knew that there was no way I would have been brave enough or strong enough to be a suffragette.

I live in Kent. Across the water from me I read in a newspaper that there is a teenage boy, younger than my own son, whose parents sent him from Syria to find safety and to earn money to send back to help his little brother, who has a hole in his heart. And that boy had a horrific journey to get to Calais, and keeps trying to get into England, and has been beaten and has had his shoes taken off him, and is now thinking about going the long journey back to Syria and maybe, in his bitterness and suffering, will join a terrorist group when he gets there. And he is alive, and suffering so near me, and I don’t know what to do about him and his family except pray.

Sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed by the endless enormity of suffering everywhere. I really don’t need Professor Dawkins and debates about Evolution to rock my faith – just the sheer unfairness of life for so many people is enough for me. But at the same time I feel that faith in Love is THE thing which makes sense. It isn’t a platitude. Everything good in this world has come from love.

So I would like to remind myself today, and any of you reading, that we need to honour and revere and treasure and be happy about every incident, every example, of love we find. A friend of mine has recently adopted a rescue dog. The love she has for that frightened animal is inspiring. That love comes from exactly the same source as the love which inspired Wilberforce to work for years to abolish slavery, which inspires an artist to paint a beautiful picture, a charity to help refugees, a musician to practice a piece of music, a nurse to nurse, a writer to write or an adult to read a bed time story to a child. I would also like to remind myself to honour everybody’s gifts, including my own. In my bible there is a passage from one of the letters of St Paul, ( I Corinthians 12 1- 31) where he says everyone has a unique gift, and that it is no good a foot wishing it was a hand, or an ear wishing it was an eye. It says we are all one body, and we need to do what we can, not wish we were somebody else.

Hope, Faith and Love.

I haven’t blogged for ages – I’m not sure why. Partly it is because I have been very busy with family life and writing stories and reading books, partly because there are so many things going on in the world – so many other stories, and so many so sad – that I have felt a bit tired and overwhelmed. I felt very helped last week by this blog post. It is by a Christian blogger, but its central message, about needing to take time out to eat and drink and sleep – is so true and I think will also help those who do not see themselves as religious but care deeply about loving others. Somehow we have to get the balance between helping others and not burning out – between realising that ‘no man is an island,’ as John Donne reminded us, and realising that we are not omnipotent or God. I think some of us are more likely to have delusions that we are God than others – maybe not so much from arrogance but a habit in childhood of taking on more responsibility than we should have, which has become part of our self image and, mixed up with pride and fear of letting people down, is a bit toxic. It is so easy to look at the world and despair. ANYWAY. I feel a bit better. And I think I feel more Hope now – and I would like to share why.

First of all – the blog post. I am so grateful for it. http://tanyamarlow.com/when-the-journey-is-too-much-for-you-1-kings-19/

Secondly – giving a presentation to 200 student teachers at Canterbury Christ Church University. I find it so moving and inspiring that young men and women care so much about children that they want to spend three years training so that they can spend their lives teaching them. They will make such a difference to the children they teach – they are so vitally important – literally life -changing and it was a privilege to meet them, and I am so happy they bought my books!

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Thirdly. Thinking about and honouring my own vocation. I was thinking admiringly of the young teachers, and wondering about my own vocation to be a writer – and I realised that a vocation isn’t just about being called to help others – our vocation helps us too. Hopefully the trainee teachers will learn so much for themselves as they teach others. My vocation is to write – and the reason why I have this vocation is not just because (hopefully) it can help and give joy to others, but because I really need to do it and it helps and brings joy to me! For some reason I have so many thoughts and feelings that I need to write in order to cope with them – writing brings me Peace – and writing for children means that I also need to write stories with Hope in them – and finding Hope for children also finds it for me. So when I try to write the best stories I can for others to read – I am also writing them for me. When I try to tell stories full of Hope I am telling those Hope-full stories to the scared or hurting or puzzled child inside me.

When I say Hope I don’t mean sentimentality. This is the big temptation. Somehow I have to keep reminding myself that true Hope, as opposed to wishful thinking, is found and exists in the world as it is, even though the world as it is can be a desperately cruel place. As a writer I don’t want to gratuitously expose children to that cruelty, but neither do I want to sugarcoat it. I need to write stories with true Hope in them. This is a very hard job, even with a very good agent and editors , but the difficulty of it – the fact that it is really beyond my reach – paradoxically makes me feel that this really IS my vocation, and I know that it brings me great Joy. I think fundamentally, Hope exists in a suffering world alongside Faith and Love – if we keep all these three things in mind – if we realise we can’t do it on our own and we need to draw on and honour something beyond us – looking out for the realities of Love and Hope and Faith in situations and people we wouldn’t expect to meet them – then maybe we can keep going. But we will need to take breaks in order not to burn out, and look beyond ourselves – for strength.

Fourthly Friendship and Love. I have just been away for a night with my husband, and we met up with two very good friends and celebrated my dear friend’s birthday. We, as Tanya Marlow’s post says, ate and drank and slept, and it was good.

I would like to end with a difficult story which hasn’t got an ending yet, and which makes me very sad but also gives me hope because it is beautiful and full of love. I woke up thinking about this boy last night – and the only way I can cope with this story is to pray for him and look for Hope, Faith and Love and there is so much of that in this story. If you are feeling overwhelmed already then please first of all look after yourself and rest and eat and sleep. But if you feel in a good place, please watch it – and if you pray, please pray for this lovely boy and for his story to have a happy ending. This is just one story amongst millions – and the number of suffering refugees is one of the reasons why I have felt despair and been overwhelmed recently. However, the fact that this loving teenage boy exists and that this individual teenager is so brave and tender and has retained such gentleness in such adversity gives me Hope in humanity. Hope isn’t about knowing the end of a story- or it wouldn’t be Hope – and it is coupled with Faith and Love for a good reason. But I really pray that this boy refugee – who could be my son – will find safety – and that people will honour the heroic tenderness in him that he has shown towards his dog – and let them stay together. I wish I could just go over to Kos and bring them both to my home, I thank God for all the wonderful people who are trying to bring Hope into refugees’ lives.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/sep/19/syrian-refugee-dog-video