Monthly Archives: March 2014

The real threat to Christian values.

Tonight I am feeling very sad. I know that it is a mistake (greatest understatement of the year!) to think you are God, and can sort out the world’s problems, but there are things on the internet and off the internet that are not good, to put it mildly.

I feel very sad  tonight about the way that the Government has announced that a young student called Yashika, my daughter’s age, just about to take her ‘A’ levels, is going to be deported on Sunday, alone, and back to a dangerous domestic situation, and how in spite of a heart warming and inspiring campaign by her young fellow students and the support of her M.P. and Head teacher and thousands of people, the Government seems to be intent on placating and pandering to racist groups and intends to rush through this decision, regardless of Justice, just to show they are tough on immigration. It seems so petty and callous to not even let her take the exams she has worked so hard for and which might give her a chance for a Future. 

And I remember other people I have prayed for and campaigned for, who had genuine cases and who were deported. And I pray that somehow they have found blessing and safety in spite of us.

And I don’t understand how intelligent, educated people like our Prime Minister, who has rightly pledged support for ‘Holocaust awareness’, can be so wilfully blind to the lessons of History and the type of culture they are encouraging just to ensure that they keep and gain votes. How is that ‘Holocaust aware?’ The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum. It did not appear out of nowhere. It was only possible because of years and years of politicians demonising and belittling individuals and groups of people in a time of financial crisis and unemployment – devaluing and distrusting ‘the other’ – attributing the worst motives to the best people, creating a society where everyone is suspected of being untrustworthy or lying, except those in power. Contemptuous and gratuitously cruel acts against individuals, done in the name of the State, lead to a culture which eventually accepts unspeakably cruel acts against whole groups of people. We don’t want that ever again. 

Secondly, if the Government, and, ironically, those groups who claim that our Christian culture is being ‘threatened’ by immigration, are really serious about Christian culture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ they would treasure and revere every example of Goodness they encounter in our world. This ‘Christian culture’ they claim to be so worried about defending is about Love and Goodness and they would therefore be inspired and  happy to hear about Yashika, this lovely, gentle girl, who works so hard and has gained scholarships to study Maths at University. They would rejoice and be extremely proud of our lovely country for enabling her to escape an abusive situation, they would be INCREDIBLY proud of the young people in her school giving up their time to campaign for her release from detention in Harmondsworth and they would trust in her gratitude which, I am sure, would lead her to repay the debt to our country over and over again.

So I’d like to ask for prayers  and thoughts for Yashika and her family, and for all frightened people throughout the world , who seek to escape abusive situations and warzones that are none of their own making. And I’d like to remember Goodness. Because this evil, corrosive, mean attitude drags our beautiful country down, and I would like to say, as a Christian, that this attitude has nothing to do with my religion, the Christianity, whose values and culture are being cynically cited as something which are ‘under threat’, and nothing to do with Jesus, who said ‘in as much as you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me’.

‘Hard working people’ doesn’t work for me…

I really like this blog – and this post is so well written. We have to value people for more than their economic ‘contribution’ .

Paul Bernal's Blog

There are few expressions that annoy me more than ‘hard working people’ – and few that we hear more in the current political climate. There are so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to start…

What is ‘work’?

That the first question for me. What is ‘work’? What does it mean to work ‘hard’? Is paid work the only work that counts – because that’s the way that it often sounds. Certainly the implication is that housework, caring for kids, caring for relatives, for older people, for people who are sick or disabled, doesn’t ‘count’ – and yet for anyone who’s ever done much of that (and I doubt that many of the people who roll out the trite expression ‘hardworking people’ have ever experienced much of this) it’s every bit as ‘hard’ as any kind of paid work, every bit as stressful, every bit…

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Books and Beyond – it’s really ‘Worth’ going! (sorry about the joke!)

m so excited. I am going to the beautiful island of Lindisfarne in April for 5 days with my family, and then leaving them to go for a weekend to Worth Abbey. I have been to both Lindisfarne and Worth Abbey before. They are both gorgeous places associated with spirituality and retreat but also, for me they are now associated with writing. I want to make notes for a future children’s book when I am visiting Lindisfarne this time, and then, when I go to Worth in April it will be for this:


It’s for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference and it runs Friday April 11th 2014 until Sunday April 13th 2014.

I am so pleased there were places left on this fantastic conference.

Look who will be there on Friday evening- CRESSIDA COWELL no less, of the brilliant ‘How to Train your Dragon’ fame. I have never met her – but I LOVE her books (and illustrations) and my friend Virginia and her children have seen her several times at book talks and say she is a great speaker and really lovely.

There will be dinner. Which I won’t have to cook. Hooray. And I will go to bed in a tidy bedroom. I know this says more about me than the conference, but it is a real selling point.  When I was a student I used to go on retreat every year to Worth Abbey’s sister monastery in Yorkshire, Ampleforth, and the clean, tidy room, comfortable beds and yummy food made the chaotic student who was me glad St Benedict was famous for hospitality rather than penance. I am still pleased about the whole Benedictine hospitality theme. We may not see any monks at the conference, but I  think the Federation of Children’s Book Groups were inspired when they chose this venue!

Next, Saturday and breakfast. And no chasing children to do music practice, or homework, or sort out rooms.


Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre  – YES! I have hopes of fantastic hats and amazing stories!

Meg Rosoff – OOH! Talk about a major author….!

Anthony Browne and Helen Oxenbury – FAINTS. I went to an EXCELLENT exhibition of the wonderful Anthony Browne’s work at the Beaney Library in Canterbury  and I think Helen Oxenbury is brilliant and I have loved her work for years and years and years.

Lyn Gardner HOORAY! As someone who devoured ‘Ballet Shoes’ etc when I was young and who has a daughter who is very keen on acting, I really enjoyed her recent Olivia books ( I read them before I knew Nosy Crow would be publishing my picture books, so I feel uncorrupted by influence here! Still, part of the pleasure of knowing my first two picture books will be published by Nosy Crow is because people like Lyn Gardner are published by them.

This is all before lunch. And then it will be lunch. Which I won’t have to make. And which, inspired by faith in FCBG AND in the traditions of Worth, will be delicious.


I am going to hear from some writers I don’t know yet, which is also exciting. It’s what I love about twitter and the great bloggers on it – the recommendations and the introductions to the work of authors I haven’t heard of. At a conference, you are introduced to the work AND the authors. In this case:

Cate Cain, whose book ‘Jade Boy’ got this review from ‘The Times’

This looks  v interesting.  I love historical novels.


Damian Kelleher (I read about him here: has a v impressive list of awards to his name, so I shall be making sure I have read work by both of them before I go.


Then there are seminars led by

1) Holly Smale: Her book ‘Geek Girl’ is v famous, and I’ve just read this:  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read it yet. This conference is definitely going to educate me!

  1. Julian Sedgwick , an article about whose book I tracked down HERE: This looks excellent.

3) Damian Dibben: This series looks great!

  1. Megan Rix. I need to read her books as a) they are about dogs and animals and b) she has two golden retrievers so obviously has INTENSE good taste.
  1. Lastly – I REALLY want to go to the seminar run by Abie Longstaff because I talk to her on twitter already @AbieLongstaff and she is lovely, and to base picture books (with the illustrator Lauren Beard) around a fairytale hairdresser is nothing short of GENIUS!

So, these seminars will go on all afternoon and then there is tea and then there are COCKTAILS. I cannot tell you how far that is from my normal life…..I would be intimidated if it wasn’t for the children’s booky atmosphere ….

Then a GALA dinner with Ruth Sepetys

(another book I must read)

and a RAFFLE.

I always have great hopes of raffles. When I was 8 I really believed I was going to win a connemara pony from a raffle I entered when I was on holiday in Ireland. I even asked a little Irish girl I was friends with if I could put my pony in their field, as there wasn’t really room for one in my council house in Hemel Hempstead. Sadly, I didn’t win. Still – who knows what will happen at the conference….

Then bedtime followed by another amazing day….but I think I am so tired by writing about the excitement of Friday and Saturday I will have to leave that to another blog post!

Suffice it to say these amazing names:

Anne Cassidy

Sarah Crossan

Ian Beck

Justin Somper

Lauren Child (Did you see that!!!?? Squeaks with excitement!!!)

Then – just LOOK!!!

an illustrator panel with Mick Inkpen, James Mayhew, and Guy Parker Rees.

At 12.30-1.15 Atanuke is scheduled – and I found THIS about her:

Then there is lunch – and, quite frankly, I will definitely need to go home to recover.

AMAZINGLY there are still places going on this conference. Having only just booked myself I am ASTONISHED at any who haven’t. ‘Don’t they KNOW who will be there?’ I said snootily and self righteously after I had sent off my email, and then I realised – maybe they don’t.

But you do now!

A delight-filled Lent

Life is a miracle.



I am beginning to realise that I need to re-read my own book, ‘Girl with a White Dog’. Often. Particularly the bit in it which says not to despair.



My character, Jessie, in ‘Girl with a White Dog’, is a bit of a worrier, and so am I. On one hand that capacity to worry about things which might happen, or about what I would have done in the past, is a useful capacity for a writer. On the other hand it is a bit of a liability for every day life. I get a bit tired and worn out. I am very lucky that I have a husband who never indulges in worry about hypothetical situations. He points out that there is no use in my worrying about whether I would do the right thing in certain future situations, because I won’t know until I am in them, and I may never be in them.


But I can guess.


I can guess that if I am in a situation where I am tired, or cold, or hungry, or  frightened, I may not behave as well as I would hope. I may not be as kind as I would like to be.


But I’m not the only one like that. And there are lots of people, for all sorts of reasons, doing bad things in this world right now. There are wars, there is poverty, there is cruelty. And I read and hear about it and see it on the internet and papers and TV and radio. Every day.


And I think that it might be a good idea for us to try to make a world where there as few people as possible who are tired, cold, hungry or frightened. Or disadvantaged or lonely or miserable or humiliated or insecure. So they won’t be put to the test. And others won’t suffer.


Then my next trap is that I think I can singlehandedly create that myself. Funnily enough, I tend to think that most often when I am already tired.


And I spend hours signing petitions or writing letters or, as I did yesterday, phoning and emailing embassies and tourist offices asking for changes in legislation or release of political prisoners, trying to stop wars, climate change, food poverty…


Which makes me tired and hungry and cold and frightened at the horrible things happening which I can’t stop…


Which again, doesn’t bring out the best in me.


I’d like to be a fearless campaigner, or a politician. But I just get worn out. Then I beat myself up for being worn out and think how rubbish and self indulgent I am for being a worrier. 


Which isn’t a very nice thing to do to anyone.


So today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I am going to try to make sure that this Lent is not a ‘beat yourself up for 40 days’ extravaganza for me.


Because even though I seem to think I am lazy for not solving all the world’s problems before breakfast, I don’t expect it of others.


I DELIGHT in the lovely creativity of others. I delight in the way that funny, gifted, talented musicians and artists and writers and actors and all sorts of creative people bring Joy into the world. I am so grateful for the gorgeous illustrations and films I see, the stories I read and listen to and the music I hear.


The oldest Holocaust survivor in the world recently died at the age of 110. her name was Alice.


Here is a lovely article about her:


And here is more about the Oscar nominated film.


It’s wonderful how Alice steers the conversation to something outside herself – to Music. And, very touchingly, after all she has been through, to the music of German composers. I love the way she plays one hour of Bach every day. And that helped her forgive, and radiate Love and Joy.


So this Lent I am going to try to steer the conversation – internal and external – away from myself and my ability to do ‘good’ and I am going to try to stop thinking I am God. I do know I am not really, but you wouldn’t know it sometimes from the way I behave. Yesterday morning I was like ‘Bruce Almighty’ in the scene with the emails. Overwhelmed.


I am going to think about something other than me (Hooray!) Something bigger and better. Infinitely better.


This Lent, every day, I am going to try to think not about whether I am ‘being’ good enough, but about things which truly delight me. Children’s books and illustrations and tea and chocolate and cakes and funny, comforting adult novels and TV programmes and dog walks in the country and people I love and children and  colours and skies and tea rooms and sparrows and ducks and hens. And sticking bits of paper on other bits of paper. And listening to Music. Every day for Lent I am going to do things that delight me, and thank God for them. I am going to hug my husband and my children and contact my friends. I am going to pat my dogs, and delight my hens by giving them mealworms (I won’t think about the mealworms in this vision). Because somehow, being involved with delight-full things and actions is, I believe, being involved with God. I have no answer to the Cruelty I wrote about in ‘Girl with a White Dog’. I cannot explain the Holocaust. I will never forget the things I read about in the course of researching it. I really pray that somehow my book will contribute in a small way to help create a better world, but I know it won’t solve the world’s problems. What I do know, however, and have to remind myself, is that what I say in ‘Girl with a White Dog’ is true – that we mustn’t despair or think that little acts of kindness don’t make a difference. And what I do know also, is that being delighted is Holy whether we think we are religious or not – and living delight-filled, love-filled lives, being involved, (officially as religious people or not), with the reality who is God-who-is Love – a loving, delight-giving God, is not selfish. It’s essential. 

We can’t prepare for Easter – the triumph of Love over Evil, Life over Death, (and the loveliness of chocolate easter eggs!) if we spend 40 days of Lent -knowingly or unknowingly- with an idea of a petty, nasty God. If we think, whether we are religious or not, that it is virtuous to habitually hate, judge or punish ourselves or reject who we are then we are, in effect, spending Lent with a false God. And we will probably go on to think it is virtuous to hate, judge, punish and reject others. Which, looking about the world we are in, is far too prevalent. We need to give that false God up. Not just for 40 days. For ever.