‘It’s good to write badly’ – Writing tips from Alan Dapre

It’s good to write badly. Baldly, in my case.

Back in the noisy days of  typewriters I was indebted to a strip of white tape that I placed on the paper to strike out mistakes. This was replaced in time by liquid paper. Nowadays the computer Delete key is my friend. Though I enjoy drafting my ideas out on sticky post-it sheets, rearranging good ones and throwing away the not-so-good.

Writers produce their best work when they jettison unnecessary words, characters, narratives and ideas. I prefer to be ruthless and self-edit.

Working with an Editor is useful but can be painful too, reminding me of my TV script writing days where directors and producers would wreak havoc with a careful crafted submission. In TV, the editing process is not over until the final cut. Most of the writer’s vision is left on the cutting room floor, or in a computer’s trash bin.

The best publishers use Editors who work alongside writers to eliminate excess bloat – creating a flowing narrative that engages the reader. Bad ones take over – and might as well have written the piece themselves.

So I find it is in my best interest to get a story written and self-edited to a level where I feel bold enough to let it go. If it’s strong enough it’ll fly. If not, it will probably still benefit from a good kicking about.

I tend to write more than will see the light of day – best to have too much than too little. Writers need time to write themselves into a state of consistency. So there is always plenty of flab to cut out.

Giving birth to ideas allows them to take their chances. Sometimes it takes years for them to reach their potential. I once wrote ‘Kenny’ – a play about kids leaving a Care Home. It sat in a drawer for two years until it was dusted off, re-edited and sent to the BBC for their 1991 Young Radio Playwrights Festival. Happily, it became one of the winning entries and kickstarted my writing career.

It helps to write with no fear for half an hour or so. Then have a cup of tea or walk the dog, returning fresh to the work. Skim it and highlight the good sections and strike through the rest. Save the draft. Now delete the dross and save again. Re-read and tinker with any gleaming nuggets you have left.

Now for the hard bit. Look at the work as a whole and strike through anything that doesn’t fit. It may be your best line ever, but if it shouldn’t be there then it has to go. I find this tough. Very tough when I am writing short narratives for children’s picture books. Every word counts. If a word or sentence is out of place, out it goes.

Ouch.

stephen-king

Stephen King has this advice – ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.’

bernard lepton, alan dapre, stranger in the home

Bernard Hepton, a great actor and a lovely bloke, once narrated ‘Stranger In The Home’ – my BBC Radio 4 monologue. Prior to the recording day, we were discussing a certain line – one that I considered to be of great emotional importance for his character.

‘I think I’ll just cut it out,’ he said softly. I asked how he would get the emotion across using the other, more mundane, lines…

‘It’s called acting, darling.’

Bernard gave my play more space – and that gave it greater emotional impact. What is left out is as important as what is left in.

This is true for actors, writers, musicians…dustmen.

A final piece of  advice from Stephen King – ‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.’

That’s what good writing hinges on…

 

 

 

 

Of the 8 million children in institutions worldwide, more than 90% are not orphans.

So says Lumos. A UK based charity dedicated to getting children out of institutions.

Further to my earlier blog about Lumos – the charity chaired by J.K. Rowling – I thought I’d share more about what it is trying to do.

‘Across the globe 8 million children are living in institutions that deny them individual love and care. More than 90% are not orphans. They are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. As a result, many suffer lifelong physical and emotional harm.

Many children are institutionalised because local schools are not adapted to teach children with physical or learning disabilities and local health services cannot provide specialised care. Social services are insufficient to meet the needs of poor families or protect children from abuse.

Decision makers resist closing institutions because they cannot imagine a system of family based care and lack the resources to fund and manage the change. Personnel resist for fear of losing their jobs. Stigma attached to children in care makes communities reluctant to accept them.’

The above quotes are from the Lumos website –  wearelumos.org. The name Lumos comes from the spell in the Harry Potter books that causes light to beam from the spell-caster’s wand.

Lumos exists to shine a light on troubled children, showing the world they exist, and starting a process to free them from the all encompassing darkness.

No child should grow up never knowing what it is to be loved and hugged, nurtured and supported. When a child is born, its mother continues to offer warmth, nutrition and a comforting heartbeat, wrapping her child in love. Or so it should be. Sadly, too many children are rejected and find themselves institutionalised – thus losing the bond they crave.

J.K. Rowling is passionate about supporting such trapped children, wherever they are in the world. She has given the proceeds of her book ‘The Tales Of Beedle The Bard’ to Lumos – so the charity can keep on helping children.

Click here for a video where she talks about her book and the work of Lumos.

I love the fact the people at Lumos care so much for children they have never met. Maybe you can help too?

Lumos urgently needsfunds this Christmas to continue its emergency intervention work with extremely vulnerable children and give them a chance to move out of an institution and into a caring family environment.

Hopefully their Christmas Appeal has been a success and 2014 will be a brighter time for disadvantaged children.

If you wish to make a donation then click here to go to the Lumos website.

Writing for Children – helpful ideas by Alan Dapre

I’ve had over 50 books traditionally published in a range of genres. A few are plays for teenagers and younger children. Some are linked to characters on TV (such as Brum) and are joke, puzzle, activity and story books. Others are picture books or adventure fiction for school age kids. If you look at my website you’ll see examples.

While writing in a range of formats, I’ve seen similarities in my work – and my approach to writing. Here are some ideas that have helped me.

1) Read the genre you are aiming at. Immerse yourself in the relevant books. I used to think that my writing would somehow magically be diluted and weakened by reading the work of other writers. The opposite is true. I was able to pull their words and structures apart, agree (or disagree) with what I read, and get a sense of how the format worked.

I never felt like slavishly copying a certain style – I simply read so much that stuff filtered into my own writing. No man is an island and no writer can honestly say they have not been affected by something they once read.

2) Grow up surrounded by books. This is riffing a bit on my first point. Obviously you can’t go back in time and surround yourself with books but it really does help if you have had a childhood love of reading. Fiction, non-fiction, who cares. Just getting words into you is a positive benefit. Obviously, if you have been starved of this as a child then grab loads of second hand books, trawl libraries and steal from friends (well, ask nicely actually).

Get yourself a real feel for narrative and story, for text and picture layout. It’s never too late. Books gave me a fantasy retreat from some rather dire stuff that was happening to me in Children’s Homes. Books created amazing worlds that I could inhabit for a while. They energised and enthused me and helped me become literate, confident and, er, me.

3) Get empathy with how kids think. Watch and you will learn. The secret here is to listen to the way children talk and think. Resist the urge to step in – any interaction from you will screw the dynamic and truth of what you are seeing.

By hearing children converse you will become aware of the rhythms and patterns that children adopt. It will make your own writing sound more natural. Children tend to say only what they need to say. They may repeat phrases and rework their sentences as they speak – go with their flow. It’ll make you a better writer.

4) Love your work. There is no point writing something and getting all worked up about it before the ink is dry. I tend to write my stories in chunks then go back and edit. This can work but only if I know the plot, the characters and have got myself to a stage where I can write without fear. If I am too uncertain then it shows in my writing which gets edited to death. Best to write a chapter and edit afterwards than write a paragraph and edit that.

Rash editing can simply be masking your lack of preparation or understanding of the story or characters. If you ever think your work is rubbish then it will be. Be constructive and pull out what works. Look for the strengths. Print it off, go for a walk, come back and read it at arm’s length. If you think it is going nowhere then stop and start writing something else. The urge to get back to that piece of work will return.

5) Buy a load of sticky Post-It notes (other makes are, of course, available). When I have a story idea – be it a picture book or prose, I always start by drawing the main story arc. It gets me into the characters – and stops me from fussing too much with the plot.

I draw ACTIONS – nothing else. If a character is not doing something then they should not be in your story. Stories are about DOING. Post-Its can be easily rearranged, drawn over, replaced, etc. They are brilliant. You can do the same using virtual notes on your computer desktop or tablet screen. Trust me, it works.

6) Don’t get scared or defeated. Life for a writer is tough. You are always going to have knock backs. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent something to a publisher for it to be rejected but then that publisher comes up with a very similar idea not long afterwards. Part of me says it’s coincidence – it’s probably just bad luck. For every rejection send your stuff out to three, no ten, more publishers.

7) Your work is probably as good as the next man/woman. Who is to know why someone gets lucky and is published. It could be that they have written the best kids’ book EVER. Or  they were the best of a bunch and had approached the agent/publisher at the right time. I think the key is to build relationships. Get known as a hardworking, imaginative writer and your reputation will stand you in good stead.

I read rubbish kids books all the time. I roll my eyes and despair how something so awful could make it into bookshops. That’s life. It doesn’t mean your work is bad. Hey, we can’t all be at the right place at the right time.

8) Publishers don’t always know best. I’ve had books rejected by one publisher only for them to be accepted by another. Keep trying.

9) When you get rejections – and you will – channel your writing energy into new projects. Following a rejection, I resolved to take some ownership of some of my ideas and created my Wee Panda Bear Books – Cuddle MuddleWiggle Jiggle & Eggy Leggy. Out of despair comes creativity.

eggy leggy, wee bear, alan, dapre, panda
Eggy Leggy – Wee Bear Series

9) Be nice to everyone. A) It’s a nice thing to do and B) You never know who is on the way up. Publishers and Editors and Agents move about, get promoted,  lunch together, etc. Some may talk about you – most will not. But if you stick in their minds as that rude individual who needs a slap then you probably won’t be getting much paid work in the future.

10) Write. No, really. Write as much as you can. Don’t show it to anyone – just write. If you want to get involved in a Writers’ Class then fine. But be aware that your words will be filtered through the minds of others and you’ll probably start rewriting to please other people. Not a good idea when an idea is so raw it’s bleeding out of your ears.

By all means listen to constructive criticism by someone you respect who has just won the Nobel Prize For Literature. Personally, I’d rather just write my own stuff and see what happens.

When you write, magic happens. Doors open. People smile and the world is a better place. 

Good luck.

 

[If you want to use any of the above blog for non-commercial reasons then feel free to do so – but mention my full name. Link back to my blog please. Anything else? Simply click ‘Comments’ & drop me a line.]

Beating Writer’s Block – tips by Alan Dapre

Pesky apostrophes.
Writer’s block affects one person but we all know WB affects all writers at some point so maybe Writers’ block is more accurate.

So how to cope with it? Easy. Never pick up a pen again and become a hermit atop a wind turbine. Hmm, that might make you dizzy and fall off.

I have no block today just an inability to concentrate due to a wee two year old blocking her tin teapot with plastic George and Peppa Pig toys every two minutes.

So how do I overcome Writers’ Block? …

  • I open a drawer and pull out a random object and write about that in a style of my choosing. Breathless Mills & Boon prose about a stapler anyone?
  • I write a list of things I dislike about my main character – and that seems to always generate some positives and add balance.
  • I get away from my computer keyboard and use a pencil and some post-its – sticking ideas into a small notebook. You can always remove the rubbish ones the next day.
  • I sniff the way forward by imagining what the location of my story smells like. Throw in unusual scents to generate a sense of place.
  • I give characters and places a potted history – no more than a paragraph written on the fly. (Just hope that the fly doesn’t buzz off.)
  • I ask a question – ‘Why?’ and try to think of a situation that gives me an answer.
  • I write a verb and get the computer synonym maker to chuck new words out at me – a different or unfamiliar word may get the character talking or acting in a different style.
  • I turn on the TV and grab a headline (one that is positive) and think about my characters and how they would react to it.
  • I write a note for my character – the sort you’d find left on a fridge.
  • I revisit first lines from books in my house – and play with them. This is best done after a few pints.
  • I time myself and try to write 200 words in 10 minutes – anything. Best shred it after.
  • I think about what my character most needs at the moment. Then I try to get it down, jousting its needs with other key characters.
  • I flip the issue over if it’s a problem that’s stumping me. If a character is too dull I try to make them too interesting but going OTT.
  • I nick ideas from friends & family either by telling them I’m stuck, or by eavesdropping on their conversations. Amazing what you can pick up and play with – just don’t use real names when it comes to publication.
  • I use rhyme – forcing myself to think of simple rhythmic sentences and, often, a narrative will come. Whether it is any good is besides the point.

The idea here is to just get something down … to clear the blockage. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. And if that does not work then, er, do a blog …

Works for me!

**Updated 29th Dec 2013**

 

So my daughter will have to work ’til she’s 77?

Thanks George Osborne. I don’t see myself as a particularly political animal. I tend to vote for policies not parties. I’m fairly liberal-minded – well, I was until Nick Clegg made it a dirty word. All parties have their (few) successes and their complete and utter ‘what were they thinking’ disasters. The Bedroom Tax is a disastrous idea, as was Gordon Brown flogging off the national silver (gold actually).

Two days ago, we had gout ridden Torys whooping and a hollering during the 2013 Autumn Statement – thrilled beyond belief that they have faced down Austerity and made the world a better place. Ignoring the fact that anyone born after 1990 will have to work ’til they drop. If you have a manual job then you had better hope your health lasts for sixty years. It’s okay for Politicians – they only have to stand a bit before getting into their 1st class train carriages or chauffeur driven limos.

 

Though the poor dears do have to cope with all the hassle of flipping their properties so they can then rent out at £10,000 a month. (Nice if you can get it, eh George?) Most of us don’t have whopping great Trust Funds (or houses registered abroad, mentioning no names – Maggie). So we have to grind our way through life building up assets.

Get a pension, I was told – it’ll come in handy when you retire early at 58. The reality is that I got a pension so someone could cream off excessive charges and eat away the dwindling pot. And politicians could keep changing the rules so I get less anyway.

To see George Osborne declaim that he has been right all along made me almost as red in the face as Ed Balls – who bears not a little responsibility for the mess we are in as he advocated easing bank regulation, paving the way for the financial crash.

My daughter is going to suffer because some ‘elected by default’, trust funded, Bullingdon Club joining, tax avoiding, over privileged politicians have deemed it appropriate action. Yes. £500 Billion will be saved by this action in the next 50 years, but we should have been tougher on the Bankers & their Bonuses culture. They are still raking it in while little kids starve. 170% rise in people using Food Banks in the past 12 months.

Yet still they fuel the house market – letting rich people buy big houses with help from the rest of us. Stoking up a market that helped cause the last crash.

All this closing of libraries, shutting of hospitals, privatising assets we already own, etc, is so we can reduce the deficit. We are not going to reduce the National Debt though which will apparently hit 1.5 trillion by 2019. That is reckoned to be a low estimate and some say the real figure is multi trillions when the UK’s indebtedness to credit cards is taken into account. The finance sector has trillions of debt too but seems able to create money from nothing, with help from the Bank Of England…bonkers.

Makes me rather angry that little kids suffer through ill thought out policies. My child will have to pick up the pieces from all this. And yours…

eBooks for sale by J R Hartley, I mean Alan Dapré

Do you remember that advert where an old man rings round bookshops until he smiles – puts on his hat – and nips out the door? He is looking for a book by J. R. Hartley and the twist is he is after his own book. 

jr hartley - yellow pages

Well, that wouldn’t happen these days – now that online booksellers are on the scene. He would just have to do a quick Google or Yahoo (is that now a noun too?) and his dusty old book would appear. Selling second-hand on the Used section of Amazon.

It wouldn’t be long before he could read his masterpiece at home, his heart richer and his wallet poorer by £0.01…

It is weird seeing my 63 books selling online. Many are still being sold by the original publishers but some are second/third/fourth-hand and making an income for online sellers. I wish there was a way that I could retain a 10% percentage of such sales but perhaps getting £0.001 is probably not worth it. Of course, some are advertised for ridiculous prices such as £27.79.

So it makes sense for me to try and compete and sell a few books online myself. That brings me to – Cuddle MuddleWiggle Jiggle & Eggy Leggy. Three books for preschoolers, each sporting a playful rhyme and funny narrative.

If you believe in supporting good writing and have a cute pre-schooler who needs a cute ebook then why not give my ebooks a try? I’ve made them dirt cheap – and it would be great to have them read & reviewed.

Click the links to see my colourful illustrations – oh, and a loveable Panda who just needs a Cuddle 😉

P0_Cover_Cuddle_Muddle_4608_3072_uncropped

Cuddle Muddle Wee Panda Bear tumbles out of bed and needs a Big Bear cuddle, but without her wee black glasses she gets in a cuddle muddle! First she hugs a hippo then cuddles a surprised croc! Until she gets a big Bear cuddle … cute sleepy wee bear just won’t stop!’

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (UK link)
Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (US link)

SCT0_KF8_WJCover_EXT_600_863_126kb_72r_TITLE_MASTER_USED

Wiggle  Jiggle – It’s Wee Panda Bear’s Birthday and she has grown an inch in the night. She wiggles and jiggles but her black coat is too tight. When no friends come to play Wee Bear sets off to find them, but nobody is at home. She goes back to her room full of gloom … and gets a brilliant surprise.
‘Wiggle Jiggle’ –  available on kindle (UK link)
‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – available on kindle  (US link)

 

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre
Eggy Leggy – Wee Panda Bear finds a big egg that suddenly sprouts legs and runs off. It surprises Croc and sails over Snail, buzzes by Bee and bounces on Hippo. Soon Eggy Leggy is stuck in a tree so Wee Bear hatches a plan to set her free. And find out who is inside.

‘Eggy Leggy’ –  available on kindle (UK link)
‘Eggy Leggy’ – available on kindle  (US link)

Captcha? – Captcharrgghhhh!

It’s bad enough not remembering a password and having to drag it out of the back of my memory. Even worse when I can’t fathom if it needs a capital in there somewhere or a number, or both, or neither. Or…

It’s worse still when I riff on a certain word and have unlimited variants on a theme – Bond 007, 007Bond, 007boND, etc.

So it gets beyond frustrating when that irritating Captcha page pops up and I have to type in some unreadable scrawl … You know, the ones that look like this:

captcha

 

I appreciate this is all part of a website’s security, and possibly/maybe/perhaps is for my benefit so that my profile/page doesn’t get hacked by the NSA or FBI or B&Q.

But it is truly annoying. Usually the words I am meant to read and type in are written in pairs – one is readable and the other is from Mars or beyond – scrawled in some alien language with symbols my keyboard won’t recognise.

I then spend the next ten minutes clicking the Captcha reset button trying to come up with words that I can decipher and type in. Eventually the computer gets bored and tells me that I am not who I am and that I have to wait ten minutes/an hour/eternity to have another try. By then I am equally bored and have decided that updating WordPress or browsing Facebook is not a priority.

Sometimes I am desperate and resort to a list of passwords that I keep far away from my computer – somewhere mere mortals cannot access – like Waitrose. Sadly this list is on a crumpled piece of A4 covered with faded printed lettering and appalling handwriting.

Handwriting that is even worse than the scribble displayed by Captcha. I sit for hours trying to decipher my writing, unfathomably scrawled in pencil and now fading  out of existence. Why haven’t I allowed my iMac to remember my passwords? I mutter. Because I don’t trust computers, that’s why.

I am nearly half a century old and like paper too much – it feels far more permanent. I have had too many backup discs fail on me to allow electronic trickery to do my remembering for me.

So I am now saddled with incomprehensible scrawl on some creased A4 and equally bad scrawl on my computer screen. And still the Captcha thingy won’t relent. It mocks my very being, tugs at my patience and silently chastises me for being so forgetful.

Why can’t someone invent something better? A clear system with easily inputted security measures. I can’t wait for the day when all the computer has to do is scan my unique eyeballs/nostrils/buttocks to let me in.

No more will I rant at an inanimate screen or slam my mouse down so hard it squeaks. But that’s a dream not for today, but for…

tomo copy

School daze.

Two minutes into her first day at Big School and my daughter gets a big graze on her knee. Off we go to the medical room for some tender care from a helpful teaching assistant. Of course, only water is used to wash the grit out – it’s been a longstanding policy of schools not to use antiseptic creams. As a former Health and Safety Rep at school, I have never really understood why there’s such a broad brush approach. The usual reason is that some kids react badly to creams. My view is that if they help stop bugs getting into a wound then use them. I’d happily sign a form to that effect.

Many years ago, while still teaching, I was advised/ordered not to use Vaseline ON PAIN OF DEATH … and woe betide any teacher who slapped on a plaster.

Things must have changed a bit as Isla got a plaster – phew – which kept her new white socks clean… and she hobbled off to join her new class. Accidents will happen. And the plaster came off painlessly in the bath later that evening.

A few days later, she was back in the centre again after a passing boy decided to give her a push. She said she was just walking along in the playground when it happened out of the blue. Not sure why bigger kids want to target little ones – it seemed like a spur of the moment thing, not sustained bullying. That said, if a kid pushes lots of different children then there’s probably some issues – and need for tissues. At the end of school, Isla showed off a fresh plaster covering her new graze on a graze. Ouch.

Chatting to other parents, the consensus was that ‘these things happen.’ Children get pushed, mud gets thrown, etc. It is part of playground life and kids have to get used to it. I suppose whether this becomes an issue or not is down to how much time school staff have to be detectives.

I remember it sometimes took ages finding out who had done what during a break time, with valuable lesson time used up in the process. Based on my knowledge of the children I could generally get to the truth. It was then a matter of deciding if the situation was serious enough to tell the parents. Some were desperate to hear about every tiny incident, while other were extremely relaxed.

I suppose, as a Dad, I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t want to go up to the Office every time something happens, but I’d like to be informed about the big stuff. There is a system in place just for that. Texts are sent to parents when head injuries, fractures, etc occur. And stickers are sent home saying that a child has received medical aid that day. All very sensible.

Bad stuff happens in schools and outside of schools. It’s how we respond to it that matters.  That way bullies get dealt with effectively. A recent study suggested that bullies who get away with bullying grow up unaffected by their actions, while victim-turned-bullies have issues.

BBC Bullying Damages Adult Life
Warwick University – Bullying Studies

Obviously those bullied  have problems too, often with self-esteem and confidence which can lead to lack of job promotion and suchlike.

I’m writing this happy in the knowledge that my daughter is in good hands. She knows that the staff are there for her if she has a problem. I just have to pick up the phone. I shall try not to. The last thing my daughter needs is a Dad peering through the window and trying to solve all of life’s ups and downs for her. Far better for me to stand behind the white line and let her get on and deal with stuff her own way. I suppose all this is really about me letting go. Not easy after 4 and a half years.

Isn’t that what life, and school, is all about?

 

A brush with the past.

Yesterday, I accidentally head-butted a tree branch while laying down garden gravel. A few days ago, I burnt my arm on the metal edge of my hot waffle maker. A month back, I smashed a lump hammer into my left thumb knuckle, while last year I mashed my little toe against a rendered wall. All rather painful and rather par for the course.

I have Clumsy Adult Syndrome. I wheel about like Matt Smith in Dr Who and end up bashing into things. I once cleared a table of full beer glasses with my flailing arms while dancing in a nightclub. I remember slicing down into my middle finger with a Stanley knife  at least a centimetre. When I tried to play guitar a few weeks later my split fingernail caught in the strings and ripped off.

I suppose the most dangerous clumsy thing occurred when I jumped off the steps of a bus. I cracked my head on the door lintel and fell onto the pavement, minus glasses. They were under the far side of the bus by a rear wheel. I shouted to the driver to wait and ducked under the chassis. I retrieved the glasses and scrambled back, head inches from the nearside wheel. As I sat up, the bus pulled away and a passenger said. ‘He didn’t hear you mate.’ I was lucky – just a heartbeat away from being roadkill.

Was I always this clumsy? Well, yes.

I never made it into the school first team for Football. I was a defender, big and stocky. Often too late in my tackles though to be any good. As for Rugby, I could bring down an ox but I was rubbish at getting into the right positions. I liked Cricket and could whack the ball miles – the few times my bat actually connected with the ball. I never made it into the reserves. I consoled myself by doing track and field events in Athletics. Shot Putting was a good choice, though I once dropped it on my toe. Very painful, but not as painful as Pole Vaulting a height of seven foot and landing on the rim of the concrete sand pit instead of the crash mat.

My fine motor skills are excellent and I can create oil paintings and sketches with a good level of skill. My gross motor skills are useless.

As a kid I fell off my bike, out of trees, etc.   I didn’t feel all that clumsy, though people would remark on it occasionally. Cycling into the back of a Black Maria police van got quite a mention. As did accidentally pulling the handlebars off my bike while on a steep hill…I rolled backwards down the slope and ended in a wheel-spinning heap at the bottom.

In my pre-school years I lost all the nails on one foot by opening a door onto them then pushing it away. The sight of five throbbing squashy toes is one I remember to this day. Falling off the top of a bunk-bed is another memory. Actually I have quite a few memories of doing that.

So what can I put all this clumsiness down to? Did I have Dyspraxia? – Clumsy Child Syndrome. Part of the condition is that children might have trouble speaking and I didn’t talk until I was two. Or maybe it was due to the fact that I wasn’t getting proper physical stimulation as a baby and toddler, left to one side in a large Foster family. My social worker often found me dumped outside in a pram unsupervised, regardless of the weather.

I don’t want to make excuses. but I would like to make it through the day without breaking things.  My wife has lost nearly all her precious mementos of trips abroad. I once picked up a Kenyan figurine and accidentally dropped it, breaking its neck. I balanced the head back on the body and apologetically offered to glue it on – whereupon it fell off and shattered into smithereens. Now our souvenirs tend to be plastic fridge magnets that will hopefully last the test of time.

I have heard that clumsy children can be helpedby a process called ‘Brushing’. A friend tried it on his child with good results. I am not sure if any scientific studies have taken place so it is all a bit hearsay. Apparently, brushing limbs and fingers stimulates the nerve endings and gets a child aware of their body and its place in space.

A similar touching technique is used on animals to get them aware of their bodies too. Look up ‘Tellington Touch’ – it worked on our bonkers dog. You place the fingertips of one hand lightly on the fur and slowly make circles clockwise – going round ‘an hour and twenty minutes’ then you lift off and lightly repeat nearby. This calms the animal and, if done on limbs, gets them aware of their limbs. Skye loves it – and will immediately go catatonic – or should that be dogatonic?

I was determined that my wee girl wouldn’t end up as clumsy as her dad so she received regular baby massage until she became a wriggly toddler. These days my daughter is encouraged to play outdoors in adventure playgrounds…(we went to three different ones yesterday!) Plus she goes to Gymnastics and is learning to swim. Today we’ll be in the local pool and I’ll try not to fall in.

Er, but that’s another story for another day…

Cereal Mash-Ups – a tasty way to start the day

Youngsters today mash up their music, mixing two tracks to make a third.

Well, oldsters like me mash up their cereal. I have done since my student days when I discovered that Alpen tasted better mixed with sugar puffs. These days I push the boundaries and mix porridge oats, mini-shredded wheat and shreddies – shreddies as in extra-fresh out of the box rectangular pieces of malty goodness rather than extra-stale off the floor underpants.

Sometimes I break new territory and add AllBran to the cereal mix. Though I think things tend to go pear-shaped when five cereals are mixed together. Too much wheatiness in one bowl for my liking – a sure fire trigger for IBS – Irritable Bowl/Bowel Syndrome?

Sometimes I really do mash my cereals up (before adding milk) to recreate that bottom of the packet experience. There is nothing better than pouring on a crunchy wave of crushed Weetabix/Shredded Wheat/Bran flakes, etc., then flooding the bowl with milk. I never use skimmed milk – makes the whole thing too unappetising. I try to ensure that one of the cereals I’m using has a certain sweetness to enhance the other cereals. Though there are exceptions such as Rolled oats + Puffed Wheat + All Bran = slightly bitter, crunchy texture.

Other mighty mash ups include:

Rolled Oats, Bran Flakes, Cheerios (for extra sweetness)
Muesli, Cornflakes and Rice Crispies (for extra crunch)
Cheerios, Sugar Puffs and Frosted Flakes (for an extra trip to the dentist!)
Mini Shredded Wheat, Curiously Cinnamon, Rolled Oats (for extra spice)

Now my daughter has cottoned on to the benefits of creative cereal making. Each morning I put out five or so cereal packets and she selects her favourites du jour. This morning starred Rolled Oats, Shreddies and Cheerios. The Cheerios are actually Morrison’s own brand which lowered the goodness a little. Why are the supermarket own brand cereals always full of extra salt and sugar compared to the original brands?

I spend ages comparing the packets to see if an own brand is better. This is made harder when portions are deemed to be 30g or 45g. I have to browse the 100g column and compare from that.

As I said earlier, my preference is to have only one sweet cereal in the mix. I offer a word of warning. Never add a chocolate cereal to any others. The chocolate seeps into the milk and turns everything chocolately – not a nice chocolate taste but a sickly over sweet one – as if I’m licking a bar of cooking chocolate.

Today I noticed we had run out of Bran Flakes, the mini-shredded wheat had gone stale (thanks to our new £2 containers from ASDA that don’t shut properly) and the Honey Hoops are soft. It doesn’t bode well for tomorrow.

Scrambled egg on toast will be on tomorrow’s morning menu. With added beans and mushrooms. All mashed up. Mmmmm.

I wonder what the wee one will make of that?

 

 

 

Wimbledon’t. Things Dads Really Say To Daughters…

John Inverdale, BBC Sports commentator, put both feet in his mouth when he started to describe the looks of Marion Bartoli, 2013 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Winner.

He said – and I quote from The Guardian – “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker… You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5 feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that… You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen.'”

Oops. Okay, maybe he was trying to say that winning Wimbledon requires effort not looks – and that today’s Media is obsessed with each player’s appearance. I’d expect a commentator to get his words right but live TV does strange things to people.

wimbledon

Marion Bartoli’s father leapt to her defence and stressed his daughter was beautiful and he had always had an unbelievable relationship with her. Well said, Dad.

I think my little girl is beautiful, in personality and looks. The positive, caring way she acts around others fills me with pride. Okay there may be the odd falling out with friends but that is part of growing up – and a small child has to learn by her mistakes. She did not ask to come into this world. It was a choice Kate and I made, wishing to be parents.

With no mother or father on the scene, I grew up looking longingly at my friends. They had Mums and Dad and loving homes to go to. Meanwhile, I had a children’s home that favoured beating children with wire brush handles or filling their mouths with bars of white soap.

It’s with that in mind that I strive to be a good Dad. I want to encourage my daughter to try new things, to express herself freely and to empathise with others. I really don’t care what job she does when she grows up, rather that she is happy doing it – whatever it is. I am keen to help prepare her for the Big Bad World after school – to give her experiences that build her confidence and communication skills. I want her to aim for the stars and not to worry if she only gets as far as the M8 outside Glasgow.

If my daughter does her best then that’s all I can ask. There is no point pushing a child or young adult in one direction as they’ll only go in the other, or end up feeling resentful. Obviously, Marion Bartoli was encouraged to try tennis. She excelled and is now at the pinnacle of her sport. She seems very happy with that – as does her father.

So John Inverdale really got it wrong when he imagined that a father would point out all his daughter’s faults as a way of offering encouragement and support. Any Dad stupid enough to criticise his daughter’s looks would only have to glance in the mirror to see where they came from.

When my daughter is in her teens I will dig up this blog post and invite her to read it. I want her to know that whatever the future holds I will be there. I will challenge her to try new things, to push herself and to see things from the point of view of other people.

Most of all I will say –

“Go For It. Whatever it is. Be the best you can be. Be yourself. Be happy. Know that we are behind you, ready to support you if you fall. Know you are loved.  That you are never alone. That Life is for Living.”

Then I will say Dad stuff like  – “Tidy Your Room Before Your Mother Sees It, Do You Really Need A Boyfriend/Car? Are You Actually Going Out In That?”

And she’ll just say. ‘Oh Daaaaad!’ and get on with her own thing.

Like she does now 🙂

 

Village Nursery Stories …

My daughter left the Village Nursery school today. Really left it. After a hectic morning of bouncing on an inflatable castle, eating party food and singing songs. (Yesterday she spent ages carefully covering her black plimsols with glitter to ensure they sparkled at the party.) Today she chose a pretty frock that matched her glasses.

Parents were welcomed in early and listened while the children riffed on a theme and sang an emotional song called, ‘We’re on this road’ – about them starting on a journey through Big School and beyond. First heard by me at the class graduation last Wednesday. By the last verse, teary-eyed Mums were quietly crying as granite faced Dads with quivering lips took a sudden interest in the rain-streaked view of the car park.

Isla began Nursery the week after her 2nd birthday. She was just a wee totie thing with a cheeky smile. The years flew by, punctuated with process reports, good natured banter with teachers and my growing appreciation of the dedication shown by all staff at the West Kilbride Village Nursery. As you may know, I’m a former Deputy Head and rather cynical about school and nursery reputations. For instance, I have been in beacon schools where fiery Head Teachers are easily put out when quizzed about actual attainment and pupil well-being. So I am not easily swayed by glossy school websites and thick folders full of a so-called Curriculum for Excellence. What matters is how the staff treat my child. How they interact and informally educate, gently building on her skills and interests.

West Kilbride Village Nursery certainly did that. My admiration for the teaching staff at the Village Nursery now runs deep, specifically Mrs England and Mrs Masson. Two outstanding professionals who deserve praise, and whopping great bonuses. Isla’s Folder of Attainment that she brought home last night was equally deep, crammed with photos and paintings, stories and, yes, interesting  statistics. She loved the topic about Vikings and enjoyed learning all about Pirates.

copyright West Kilbride Village Nursery

Pirate Ship at West Kilbride Village Nursery

What I like most about the folder’s content is that the teachers’ comments are considered, accurately reflect my child and show a real empathy. I can tell the staff have engaged well with my daughter, are interested in what makes her tick, and have really tried hard to motivate her in a range of subjects and situations. She has developed her understanding of things through active learning in partnership with the Village Nursery. I see no evidence of force feeding, rather a series of gentle nudges in various directions.

My wife and I didn’t want our child’s formal education starting early and sapping her natural creativity. We wanted her to really come into class each day buzzing with excitement. And she did. If ever there were issues they were sorted promptly.

Our daughter shed a few tears recently, being rather hesitant about going to Big School. After her latest visit there, to the local Primary school, it really did all seem BIG. Big classes, big rooms, big playgrounds, big everything.  But I got good vibes and reckon she is the type who will settle down – and, hey, be destined for big things.

The thing is, as long as she’s happy that’s what matters. I really believe that. As for my early years, I didn’t get heaps of parental support. Er, none in fact. It would have helped to have had two parents present. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out for me if I’d been in a traditional home instead of a foster home run by a woman who looked, and acted, like Mrs Twit. A mawkish bully with a cruel streak that ran through her like blood red letters through a stick of Margate rock.

I made a point of saying farewell to Angela Pisani, who runs the Village Nursery with care and dedication. She battles daily against loads of paperwork, funding issues and educational commitments, all the while raising the bar for kids’ learning. The Village Nursery has a mission to provide high quality child care in West Kilbride. In my opinion they do just that.The indoor classrooms are bright, busy and fun places to explore. The outdoor trips children go on are entertaining and well-matched to children’s needs. On Isla’s last visit to the Glen she swung on ropes, fished in the burn, made potions, played in hammocks and ate marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate digestives. Brilliant stuff.

Now how do I match that during the lo-o-ong Summer holiday? I wonder if the teachers’ want something to do on their time off?

***

A few hours after Isla left she spotted some of the staff in a nearby car park.
‘Look Daddy. There are my old teachers.’

Bring on the new.

 

 

Arggh. Not another Dad Blog!

My we’re all at it now. Not long ago a few embarrassed Dads were lurking in the corners of Mumsnet or NetMums or whatever Mums-focussed site existed at the time. Everything on the sites was Mum-this and Mum-that, with the occasional nod to Dads.

A few years ago, when I read comments by Mums about Dads they could be broken down into the following categories;

  • Useless Dad – who wouldn’t know one end of a baby from the other, even if it pooed on him.
  • Absent Dad – who wasn’t there for the child and could therefore go to hell in a handcart.
  • Absent Dad – who was there for the child, but only on Tuesdays and Fridays, or whenever ‘the other woman’ let him out.
  • Cool Dad – who could do everything with babies apart from give birth – eliciting pangs of envy from Dads (and Mums).
  • Cocky Dad – who thought he knew everything and ended up handing back a screaming toddler before sloping off to the Pub.
  • Doppleganger Dad – who would act the same as his Dad did – resulting in a child who knows the times tables up to 12 even though everything is in decimal these days.
  • Grumpy Dad – who never seemed to enjoy the time he has with his child, preferring to be on the golf course or watching paint dry.

There were other examples that slipped my mind. Most of the Dad stereotypes centred on Dads being a) useless and b) not as good as Mums.

This was mirrored by adverts on TV where the joke was always on the hapless Dad. I can’t stand those type of adverts – mainly because they are created by all-male advertising agencies who are trying to pander to the female demographic – not realising that women are actually smarter than them – and can see through the product-pushing tosh.

Okay – so why was there such a knocking of Dads on Mum orientated sites?  I suppose the obvious point is that women have been dealt a poor hand over the years. There has been rampant sexism against females who have been repressed at home and work. Even now there is not equal pay in the workplace for qualified women – and I suspect that the ‘glass ceiling’ is still causing quite a few bruised foreheads.

Maybe it was to do with men encroaching into territory where Mums feel they have a natural superiority – borne out of everything that comes with giving birth. Mums know best is often said – probably true, but now Dads were trying to chip in too.

Or maybe it has to do with women being fed up with having to justify themselves, such as always being subjected to glossy magazines – and their depiction of what is ideal in a woman. You know, stick thin twigs with bodies – airbrushed to perfection. Images that men see and wonder why they are not borne out in reality. A woman who has just gone through child birth has enough on without having to worry if her skinny jeans still fit. Which brings me onto Barbie. Arghh!

Tonight my daughter bemoaned the fact she did not have Barbie’s long blonde hair. That hers was ‘rubbishy brown’. I pointed out that Barbie’s hair wasn’t real and felt horrid, whereas hers was soft and a beautiful natural colour.

Barbie. Where do I start?

  1. Barbie has ridiculously small feet that are unbelievably bendy, with a hole in the sole. Ouch.
  2. Barbie’s limbs look like she has been stretched on a mediaeval rack. Her weedy legs are longer than mine!
  3. She has moulded on pants to cover up her dignity. Okay, I get the idea that she has ‘rudey bits’ but such modesty is at odds with her desire to flaunt her boobs. No nipples I note – so breast-feeding is out then, eh Barbie?
  4. Barbie has a freaky wide-eyed stare that implies she is about to go off and boil a few bunnies.
  5. Barbie elicits unreal benchmarks for what is beauty.
  6. Barbie has some words stamped on her back – Ouch again.
  7. Barbie can’t hold things with her hands – she can just karate chop at things.
  8. Barbie’s head swivels 360 degrees which is something I’ve only ever seen in horror films.
  9. Barbie was launched – born – in 1959 which makes her 54. She looks like she has had tons of plastic surgery, but then again, she is plastic.
  10. Barbie is a formidable role model regarding jobs. She has done everything over her five decades. She’s been an Ambassador For World Peace, President, Astronaut, Palaeontologist, Cashier and Cow Girl – the list is endless. Amazing what you can do without any joints.
  11. Barbie is a bully who is distorting my lovely daughter’s idea of what is good in this world. My wee girl is a star!
alan dapre copyright my wee star

My Wee Star – photo (c) alan dapre 2013

Ahem. Moving on.

About two years ago, I started my Dad blog with little fanfare. In fact, I wrote a hurried little post that I hoped no one would notice. No one noticed. Seventy five posts later and I get a small but steady stream of readers. I look at other blogging Dads and envy their ability to stick to task. One writes about the practical sides of being a Dad, another about what it is like to bring up children as a widower, another about life with twins, etc.

I tend to ramble on about the funny things my daughter says, or moan about not getting enough books published. If I have nothing to say then I’ll review a book or come up with tips on Writing for children. I suppose I write what resonates with me. I try to have one eye open for the reader but as I feel that I don’t have an audience as such that I am free to witter on any way my keyboard takes me.

But one thing I am proud of is this. I’m proud to be a Dad – and delighted to show that Dads can be sensitive without being weak, kind without spoiling, nurturing without smothering, educational without dictating, and fun. Without fun then parenting is nothing. Mums and Dads should not seek to differentiate each other – we should play up our similarities – how much we love our children, wish them to grow into happy, well-rounded individuals who care for each other and the world about them.

So this is not another Dad Blog. It is my Dad Blog.

I’m the Daddy.

(And Mummy’s fab too!)

Father’s Day – life’s ups and downs…

I’m calling it Father’s Day – with the apostrophe before the ‘s’. I’m sure that there are lots of Fathers out there but my wee girl is only concerned with one – little old me. Though not so little these days.

Alan Dapre

I’m apparently smelly with a fat belly. And I’m the only Dad around here with no hair. Except on my feet and in my ears. Oh yes, my daughter takes a lot of interest in my appearance and general well being. It’s in her interest that I am in peak condition to be able to take her swimming, to gymnastics and do a lot of general ferrying about. And she wants me to be able to catch her when she is tossed in the air.

Yesterday we were at a garden centre and I ended up purchasing a see-saw. Isla and her two friends had been grumpy because there were not enough outdoor toys to play with in our garden. My desire to get three girls picking daisies or gardening met with frowns and silence. Sometimes Isla is all for exploring Nature in the raw – she recently stroked a toad that I’d found in a pile of bark, and laughed uproariously when it pooed on my shirt! Whining girls don’t usually win but I thought maybe a see-saw would be a good match for the swing.

As I paid for the see-saw, the young assistant spotted Isla sucking her thumb. We had a chat and she explained that she had been required to wear a brace for two years and now wore one each night. This would be necessary for another 5 years! Isla took note and agreed with a suggestion that if she stopped sucking a thumb in the day she could get a lolly at the weekend.

By the time we arrived at the car Isla was backtracking (and sucking her thumb) like mad.
‘I can’t get to sleep without sucking my thumb,’ she said sadly. ‘I’ll never get to sleep again.’
More discussion followed and we agreed that she could suck her thumb until seven o’clock at night.
‘So can suck my thumb when I am lying down?’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘When I am lying down on the sofa watching television?’
‘No. You have to be lying in your bed after seven o’clock.’
‘That’s a rubbish plan,’ says Isla, sucking soulfully while twiddling her hair. ‘I can’t twiddle my hair without sucking my thumb.’
‘You’ll get a lolly at the weekend.’
She eyes me despondently.
‘Two lollies,’ I add, a hint of desperation in my voice.
‘Okay.’

We journeyed along in silence until Isla asked, ‘Why is it called a see-saw?’

Good question. I mumbled something about being able to see something when you are up high and  when you can’t see it down low – you just have to remember you saw it. She seemed satisfied with that.

Well, that was yesterday. Today my daughter hasn’t sucked her thumb. Yet. I am still in her good books and she talks animatedly about a secret surprise on Father’s Day. Isla is not the best at keeping secrets. When her Mum was about to open her main 40th birthday present Isla piped up, ‘It’s a watch.’ I reckon I am on track for some aftershave or a pair of Homer Simpson socks. Or a mug saying ‘World’s Grumpiest Bald Dad’.

It is a day of mixed emotions for me. My birth certificate has a blank space where my father’s name should be. Rumour has it that he was about to get married, and I was then conceived during a drunken party last minute fling. My middle name is apparently his too. So thanks to my irresponsible birth-mother’s actions I haven’t a clue who he is. Maybe he knows about me and gets a twinge of regret each year. I doubt it. He’s probably busy with his own kids.

The Child Support Agency wasn’t about in the 1960s. Too late, I suppose, to ask him for a few quid. Would be nice to be able to buy my wee one a slide too. But – in truth – I’d rather fork out the money from my own pocket. Life without a biological mum and dad alongside does have its positives. I know how to graft, to love deeply and to give freely. Once I trust someone. Life in Care and Foster homes can lead to insecurity. It’s what comes from some adults not taking their responsibilities seriously.

That said, I’m damned if I’m going to roll over and let things get to me.

Life, like a see-saw, has its ups and downs. Just remember to hold on and keep rocking.

You can quote me on that.

I know I am lucky. Lucky to be married to a great person and to have a fab wee girl. Our dog’s not too bad either. And many people have stepped in to help me on the way. People who did not have to look after, nurture and guide me as I grew up. I won’t name names but they know what they did and who they are.

So Father’s Day is special. It’s a day where my daughter shows she loves me, and I show her I truly, madly, deeply love her back.

Just like any other day of the year really.