Category Archives: Creativity

School Days Reminiscences of D. Avery

School Days, Reminiscences of D. Avery

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am delighted to introduce D. Avery, poet, writer, blogger. I met D. when she rode up to the Carrot Ranch, dismounted and took a lead role around the campfire with her humorous tales and witty conversation. I also try not to miss her posts on ShiftnShake where she shares poetry, flash fiction and short stories sprinkled with philosophical pearls of wisdom and creates characters as like and unlike any you may chance to meet. Whatever the topic, there’s sure to be beauty in her words, wisdom in her ideas and smiles to lighten your day.

Books by D. Avery

I have read and enjoyed all three of D.’s books and was both honoured and delighted when she quoted me on the back cover of After Ever. This is what I wrote:

An interesting and eclectic collection of short stories and even shorter flash stories, this collection has something for everyone. Whether the situation be mundane or mystical, tragic or cheerful, D. Avery records events matter-of-factly, telling how it is or was, and leaves it to the reader to choose how to respond. After Ever is great for reading in bites or as an entire feast.

I thought I’d reviewed all three of D.’s books on Amazon, but all I could find was my review of For the Girls:

After receiving her own pre-Christmas un-gift of a cancer diagnosis, D. Avery unwrapped how the diagnosis affected her personal journey and view on life. Written from her own need and for others facing similar situations, D. Avery explores through poetry, the emotions that fluctuate in intensity from the moment of diagnosis until, hopefully, remission is declared. Anyone who has endured the pain of diagnosis or suffered alongside another who has, will find something with which to identify. None of us are ever free of the fear, but hope has a stronger pull. These poems are food for the soul.

Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow D. Avery to tell you a little of herself:

D. Avery, writer, fisherwoman

Born and raised in rural New England, D. Avery is never quite out of the woods, though she has been in other fields. She has been a veggie vendor, landscape gardener, and a teacher.

Cursed with a compulsion for wordplay and a growing addiction to writing, D. Avery blogs at Shiftnshake, where she pours flash fiction and shots of poetry for online sampling. D. Avery tweets ‪‪@daveryshiftn‪‪ and is a Rough Writer at Carrot Ranch. She is the author of two books of poems, Chicken Shift and For the Girls. Her latest release,  After Ever; Little Stories for Grown Children,  is a collection of flash and short fiction.

Welcome, D. Now let’s talk school. First of all, could you tell us where you attended school?

I attended public school, my first three years at a K-12 school in Skagway, Alaska, then third through sixth grade in a four room graded school in Vermont, before attending a 7-12 regional school that serves a number of small towns.

What is the highest level of education you achieved? What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I experienced a year of small private liberal arts college in Ohio and that was enough of that. After a year off from school I completed a two-year program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst, earning an Associate’s Degree in Science, Commercial Floriculture. This course of study had practical and immediate application for me, and served me well. I spent the off season from greenhouse work and landscape gardening subbing and volunteering in the elementary school and after a few years I decided to answer the call and get my teaching certificate. I got my Masters of Education at Antioch New England Graduate School and switched careers, becoming a fourth grade classroom teacher and more recently a sixth grade math teacher.

What is your earliest memory of school?

I have lots of early memories. I do think back on how cool it was to be in a small K-12 school that was the center of a small (and isolated) community. The entire school, K-12, took part in a Christmas pageant every year for the town to see. Likewise Field Day had everyone involved and the high school kids might be on the team of a kindergartner or would somehow be helping out.

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I was reading before attending school, something I picked up at home. We were read to, and there was plenty of print around. One day while looking through a comic I realized I knew the words. It was pretty exciting. I went through the stack of comics and numerous picture books. By second grade I had read all my brothers’ Hardy Boys books. And we had quite a stack of Classics Illustrated, classic novels condensed into comic book form; I started in on those at this time. When we moved back to VT I read every Vermont heroes and histories books on those dusty shelves of that old graded school. There was a collection of William O’Steele books too, historical fiction for kids, pioneers headed west. Of course there were the Little House books. Then they instituted the Dorothy Canfield Fisher program and our school library got built up with more modern young adult novels. I still enjoyed the historical fiction the most though.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

D. Avery was always confident as a writer

Norah, you might remember when I gave some detail about being taught to form my letters in school. It was kind of fun so here’s a LINK. But school did get better after that. My second grade teacher did a great job of integrating reading and writing. I became a writer the day that my writing was hanging in the hall and some of those high school kids were reading it and even complimented me for it. Throughout my school years some of my writing got some attention and publication. I had encouraging teachers and still remember the Poets in Schools program. I was always fairly confident as a writer, using it to baffle them with bullshit if I couldn’t dazzle them with brilliance.

What do you remember about math classes?

D. Avery: maths should be accessible and meaningful

I could neither baffle nor dazzle with math. Math was never taught very well, I realize now, and I did not like it. It was a lot of rote drill-and-kill work.

Fortunately, my great grandmother got me straightened out with times tables in one briefing so that helped.

I managed, barely, but never “got” math until a course at ANE Graduate School. Since then I have taken a number of courses. Now I truly enjoy math and have enjoyed demystifying the subject for students third through sixth grades.

I don’t remember ever having fun in math class, but my own math students have had fun. Math students need to see patterns and to make connections, to keep math accessible and meaningful.

I also realize that the best math practice I ever had, and what really built number sense, was not from school at any level but from my summer work as a teenager on a truck farm where there was no cash register or calculator. My mental math got quite good. Working there and earlier helping my dad out with different projects also built my math skills.

What was your favourite subject?

D. Avery: it's the people who make a subject more interesting and more accessible

I have always enjoyed history and social studies, and those were probably my favorite subjects in high school. But I also enjoyed Latin and English (reading and writing). I also was very fortunate to have had some remarkable people as my teachers. That’s what one remembers as much as anything; it’s the people who make a subject more interesting and accessible.

What did you like best about school? 

D. Avery, what did you like best about school

I liked learning. I found most of my subjects interesting. There were some excellent teachers and also an excellent library. School had books and magazines to be read, it was a place to pursue ideas and interests. It was a path to possibilities. And school was where my audience was, it’s where I performed and entertained. But I did manage to learn in spite of myself.

What did you like least about school?

I liked being with friends at school, but people are also what I liked least in school. Kids are always having to navigate the social waters and to find their own balance between conformity and individuality. It’s stressful. I was always grateful and glad to be home at the end of the day, where I could have quiet alone time in the woods.

I feel bad for the kids today who, because of their devices, are never able to be alone and to decompress. I feel bad for people who do not have the outside time and space. I know it was vital for my time in school to have good work and play experiences out of school and time to get re-centered. People now are never alone and never lonelier. I still require lots of alone time.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

School girl D. Avery coming in from skiing

With the pervasiveness of computers and social media parents have an extra responsibility, an extra worry now, and most don’t fully comprehend the depths of that. Technology has made teaching and learning more difficult; it has distanced people from nature, from each other, from generational wisdom- from their selves. “Knowledge” at our fingertips is not lasting; internet access in many ways erodes curiosity and problem solving skills, critical reading and thinking skills, and the stamina required for meaningful learning.

I know arguments could be made in defence of technology, but I rarely see a healthy balance. Gaming addictions, cyber-bullying, plagiarism and general distractions are some of the issues that impact teaching and learning nowadays. That maybe didn’t really speak about schools, but these phones are a huge change in our society and so our schools.

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

Schools have changed, but they are still staffed with people, most often good caring people who are educated in their subject area and also in pedagogy and in best practices based on research. Educators take into account how students best learn, and how to engage them in that enterprise.

More than ever before, schools look out for and provide services for a student’s mental health, their social/emotional wellbeing. A person with trauma or health issues is not the best learner, and schools are learning to take a more holistic approach to all students.

How do you think schools could be improved?

D. Avery "Schools should be creative safe havens"

Our schools don’t always seem to measure up, but what is the measure? Not everyone is measuring up to standardized tests, but if we really want to close achievement gaps, if we really want to leave no children behind then we need to reform much more than our schools.

While I think we should first focus on out of school factors, within school we have to do more than give lip service to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Which means schools need to not succumb to the testing culture; schools need to be less programmatic and prescriptive. Curricula should encourage empathy and build flexible and adaptive skills and strategies required for individuals to pursue their own interests and inclinations. Schools should be creative safe havens that sustain a sense of wonder and curiosity.

thank you for your participation

D., thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general. I would have liked to take your responses to the last three questions and make them all quotes. You express it all so perfectly.  It’s been a delight to have you here. I learned so much from and about you. I enjoyed learning about your own school days and totally agree with what you have to say about education in general.

 

Find out more about D. Avery

from her website ShiftnShake

Connect with her on social media

Twitter: @daveryshiftn

Purchase your own copy of her books from

Amazon

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Geoff Le Pard

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

Pauline King

JulesPaige

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Christy Birmingham

Miriam Hurdle

Susan Scott

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

interview-with-jacqui-halpin-author-of-wheres-lucky

Interview with Jacqui Halpin author of Where’s Lucky? – readilearn

This week it is my great pleasure to welcome author Jacqui Halpin back to the blog. In this interview, Jacqui talks with us about her recently published picture book Where’s Lucky, the story of an orphaned joey and his road to recovery and release.

We previously met Jacqui in 2018 when she discussed her first picture book Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse. As we talked with Jacqui in that interview about her writing process, today we focus our discussion on her new book Where’s Lucky?

About Jacqui

Jacqui Halpin’s passion for children’s literature started when reading bedtime stories to her children. They outgrew their childhood books, but Jacqui never did. Jacqui writes picture books, junior fiction and middle-grade fiction. Her short stories appear in anthologies by Stringybark Publishing, Creative Kids Tales, and The School Magazine.

Her first picture book, Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse, illustrated by John Phillips, was published by Little Pink Dog Books in October 2017.

Where’s Lucky?, illustrated by Sandra Severgnini and published in April 2019, is her second picture book with Little Pink Dog Books.

While writing and editing, Jacqui loves to sip tea from fine china and eat copious amounts of chocolate. She also has a love of bookshops and should never be allowed to enter the children’s book section with a credit card in her possession.

About Lucky

Lucky, the orphaned swamp wallaby, has a knack for getting into mischief at the wildlife rescue shelter where he lives.

Continue reading: Interview with Jacqui Halpin author of Where’s Lucky? – readilearn

Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology – readilearn

Today I am delighted to introduce you to Jacqui Murray, the Tech Teacher, who is able to answer all your questions about using technology in schools.

Jacqui’s blog Ask a Tech Teacher is very informative. It is packed with helpful advice for both teachers and parents on children’s use of technology and the suitability of tools and software for use in different situations and with different age groups, especially in the classroom. If I need to know anything about technology, Jacqui’s blog is an excellent resource.

As Jacqui is often asked questions about teaching Kindergartners to Tech, a topic that is dear to her, this is the topic of discussion in this post. Please feel free to ask Jacqui any additional questions you may have in the comment section at the end!

Note: Jacqui is based in the US and the kindergarteners she refers to are 5-to-6-year-olds.

 Welcome to readilearn, Jacqui. Over to you.

When I started teaching technology almost twenty years ago, I taught K-8, three classes in each grade every week. I was buried under lesson plans, grades, and parent meetings. I remember suggesting to my principal that he ease my schedule by eliminating tech for kindergartners. They wouldn’t miss anything if I started them in first or second grade.

And back then, that was true.

Even a decade ago, technology was an extra class in student schedules where now, it is a life skill. Today, my teacher colleagues tell me kids arrive at school already comfortable in the use of iPads and smartphones, doing movements like swipe, squeeze, and flick better than most adults. Many teachers, even administrators, use that as the reason why technology training isn’t needed for them, arguing, “They’re digital natives.”

Continue reading: Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology – Readilearn

Interview with Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Interview with Teena Raffa-Mulligan, author of The Apostrophe Posse

Today, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Teena Raffa-Mulligan, author of a fun story for young readers The Apostrophe Posse.

This interview is part of Romi Sharp’s Books On Tour PR & Marketing and just one of several celebrating the launch of Teena’s book. Please read to the end of the post for details of other posts celebrating Teena’s work.

Note: Mostly, I publish these interviews first on readilearn but, until the readilearn blog schedule is resumed, I am sharing them here first.

About Teena Raffa-Mulligan

About Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Teena Raffa-Mulligan is a reader, writer and daydream believer who believes there is magic in every day if you choose to find it. She discovered the wonderful world of storytelling as a child and decided to become a writer at an early age. Teena’s publications for children include poetry, short stories, picture books and chapter books. Her writing life has also included a long career in journalism. She shares her passion for books and writing by presenting talks and workshops to encourage people of all ages to write their own stories.

About The Apostrophe Posse

Trouble comes to Tea Tree Bend…

In cowboy movies the sheriff forms a posse to round up all the bad guys. Cam and Ellie from Daisy Cottage and their friends Billy and Louisa have formed a different posse. Their mission is to find and fix all the signs in Tea Tree Bend with missing apostrophes. The summer holidays are almost over so they have just nine days to complete their task.
How can doing the right thing go so wrong?

My thoughts

I couldn’t resist reading a book with the title The Apostrophe Posse. Many writers, children and adults alike, have difficulty with apostrophes and I could just imagine a posse going out after all the missing or misused apostrophes. I see so much of it myself and would love to round up all those apostrophes and put them where they should be.

I also found the consonance and assonance in the title appealing. It hinted that the book would be fun, and it is.

The book would be a great stimulus to discussions about the placement of apostrophes, but it’s too good a read to be limited to that alone.

Let’s find out what Teena has to say.

The interview.

 Hi, Teena. Welcome to my blog.

Thanks for inviting me.

Teena, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I grew up in an English/Italian family, surrounded by natural story tellers whose tales about their lives captured my imagination. Once I learnt to read, books opened a wonderful window into the world of make believe and I knew from a very early age that I wanted to become a writer. I also wanted to be a ballerina, so I thought I’d write novels in the dressing room between performances while travelling the world. Reality woke me from the dancing dream, but I didn’t give up on the ambition to become an author and began submitting short adult fiction and poetry to publishers in my late teens. When I became a mum at the age of 21 and began sharing books with my small son, I realised I wanted to write for children.

Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?  

Teena Raffa-Mulligan's roll-top desk

I write in the lounge room in my recliner chair near the front window, in bed, at the kitchen bench, on the back patio, out on the deck overlooking the back garden, and I also have the luxury of my own office at home. When my children were small, I wrote anywhere around the house in snatched fragments of time. I didn’t have an office (they needed somewhere to sleep!) so I had a gorgeous timber roll-top desk in the kitchen that I bought with my first earnings from writing stories. It wasn’t quiet or peaceful with the business of the household going on around me and that didn’t seem to matter then. Those days are long gone, and I have become accustomed to my peace and quiet. I don’t even play music while I’m writing.

What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?

Teena Raffa-Mulligan's writing process

I like to get started with pen/pencil and paper… a few paragraphs, some dialogue, a scene or two. Being confronted by a blank computer screen sends my words into hiding. They don’t come out to play until they have some friends to join. Once I have something to work with, I prefer to stick with the computer. I write, revise, edit and proof on screen.

When do you write?

Not often enough! I spend hours every day on writing related activities but not necessarily on progressing my current WIP. I’m volunteer coordinator of the local writing centre so that keeps me busy. I also visit schools, libraries and community groups to present author talks and writing sessions whenever I get the opportunity. I recently ventured into indie publishing, releasing some of my own books and also my late father’s collection of spiritual writing. Then there’s social media to keep up with, plus reading blogs and watching videos to develop new writing and publishing skills. My new writing happens around all of that. I do set myself deadlines each week but they’re rather elastic.

When do you get your ideas?

They can come anytime and anywhere. The best ideas often arrive unexpectedly in the middle of the night, especially in winter when the last thing I want to do is leave my cosy, warm bed. I’ve learnt to keep notebooks handy after losing some wonderful stories because I thought I’d remember them in the morning. Once I have an initial idea, I don’t plan my stories. I start writing and see where they take me. This means I often don’t know what happens next. Walking, driving and washing dishes are great times for figuring that out.

Do you think of the story in your head before you write it?

Always. I compose sentences, mentally write paragraphs, describe scenes and devise conversations.

What gave you the idea for The Apostrophe Posse?

Teena Raffa-Mulligan's thoughts about apostrophes

I’ve spent most of my adult life working with words, as an author, a journalist, a sub editor, an editor, a proof reader. I cringe at the widespread misuse of apostrophes and itch to correct them. I love the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. I was driving to my job at the local paper one morning after dropping my children off at school when the idea for The Apostrophe Posse popped into my head. I watched quite a few cowboy movies as a kid and the sheriff often gathers his posse of men to ride out of town to catch the bad guys. In my story that’s Cam and company and they want to find and fix all the incorrect signs around town.  Perhaps there’s a secret part of me that would also love to go out under cover of darkness armed with my editor’s pen and make a few corrections.

What do you like best about The Apostrophe Posse?

The way Cam, Ellie, Billie and Louisa want to put something right, but everything goes wrong.

Do you like the way Veronica Rooke illustrated the cover?

Teena Raffa-Mulligan's thoughts on Veronica Rooke's illustrations

Veronica has illustrated three of my picture books and created covers for four of my other books, so I was happy to have her create the cover of Posse. She’s talented, versatile, creative and professional. I usually give her a couple of vague ideas and she works her magic. I’ve never been disappointed.

How did you feel when you wrote The Apostrophe Posse?

It was fun coming up with what could go wrong when a group of well-meaning country kids set out to do their good deed for the community. Of course, everything worked out happily in the end, as it always does in my stories, so I sat at my computer with a big smile on my face.

How do you hope readers will feel?

It would be great if my story brought a smile to their day and left them with the feeling they’d made some new friends.

How would you like teachers to present The Apostrophe Posse? to children?

I hope it will be presented first as a book to enjoy, a fun story about a group of kids whose good intentions get them into trouble. Discussion could follow about community, cooperation, consequences and, of course, punctuation and why we need it if we are going to communicate clearly with each other.

Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?

Cooperation and the importance of working together to achieve something positive. Facing the consequences of our actions. Children could also think about why we have rules and guidelines in our communities and what might happen if there were none.

Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?

If you’re excited about books and language, students will pick up on this. Create a spirit of adventure around writing stories and encourage them to explore where words can take them. A lot of kids get stuck at the start because they’re convinced they don’t know what to write or how to express the ideas they do have. It’s important to stress that they don’t have to get it right, just get it down. In the beginning, it’s all about creating something to work on.    

Do you have any advice for children as writers?

Teena Raffa-Mulligan's advice for children as writers

Writing stories is fun. You get to create characters, put them in weird and wonderful situations and then decide what happens next. In your imagination you can be anyone, go anywhere and do anything at all. What will you be today? A super hero? A detective? An astronaut? Where will you go? Deep beneath the sea? To the top of the world’s highest mountain? To the farthest stars? It’s up to you! Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is an amazing story. Just play with the words. Let one follow another and see where they take you. It’s an adventure.

What is your favourite children’s book?

I’ve read so many wonderful books for children over the years and it’s impossible for me to choose just one. Books I loved reading when I was in primary school were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, E. Nesbitt’s Five Children and It and The Railway Children and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. What Katy Did also struck a chord, as did books by Elizabeth Goudge. As a teenager I discovered John Wyndham and read all of his books including The Chrysalids, Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes. Fantasy also captured my imagination, particularly Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series.

Who is your favourite children’s author? What do you like about his or her work?

When I visit schools and children ask me which of the books I’ve written I like best, I always tell them I have three children and they are all special in their own way. I could not choose one ahead of the other. I feel the same about authors. I am in awe of some of the writing being produced, from picture books to YA novels, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve come to the final word in a story and closed the book on the thought, ‘Wow! I wish I’d written that!’

When my children were small, I enjoyed sharing the Dr Seuss books with them. I loved the way he played with words.

thank you authors and illustrators

Thank you, Teena. I enjoyed meeting you and finding out a little more about your writing process, your fun book The Apostrophe Posse and your purpose for writing it. As you said, there is much more to your book than a lesson in apostrophes. It is a lesson in life. You have shared so many valuable thoughts with us. I found myself nodding along with you and thinking, “I wish I’d said that!”

 

Find out more about Teena

from her website: Teena Raffa-Mulligan

or her blog: In Their Own Write

Connect with her on social media

Facebook: Teena Raffa-Mulligan.Author

 

The Apostrophe Posse blog tour schedule

Check out other posts about The Apostrophe Posse on the Blog tour schedule:

Monday April 1 – Friday April 5: www.justkidslit.com/blog

PLUS!

Tuesday April 2: www.instagram.com/thebyrdandthebookworms

Thursday April 4: www.authorjillsmith.wordpress.com

Friday April 5: www.littlebigreads.com

SPECIAL FEATURE!

Middle Grade Mavens Podcast: www.middlegradepodcast.com

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Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

the benefits of play and using imagination

Let’s pretend — play and imagination

If the title conjures up images of children playing dress-ups with forts and castles, saving princesses and defeating dragons, that’s good. Such was my intention.

Pretend play, in which children use their imaginations, allows them to try out different roles, experience different possibilities and enact a variety of solutions to problems they encounter.

But play and imagination isn’t just for children. It is through playing with ideas that new discoveries are made, inventions are created, and innovations implemented. Without imagination, everything would always stay as it always was. Science wouldn’t progress and stories wouldn’t get written.

Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Eminence

When Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses the word eminence. It’s a rich word full of different meanings. Explore how it sounds or how you might play with it. Go where the prompt leads!, I knew that imaginations the world over would be employed to respond.

Every week when Charli sends out a prompt, writers play with ideas to engage readers with unique and imaginative perspectives on the word or phrase. When all have been submitted, Charli searches for threads that bind the diverse stories together and compiles them into a connected whole.

Charli’s use of the word ‘eminence’ in her flash fiction story was unfamiliar to me, so I opted to stay within my comfort zone. With such a serious and imposing word though, what could I do but play? I hope you enjoy it.

Your Eminence

She glided in, regal robes flowing, loyal subjects lining the path.

“Your eminence,” they bowed as she passed.

She occasionally extended her gloved hand to receive their kisses of adoration or stopped to bestow a gift of royal chatter. Though her crown and responsibilities weighed heavily, she held her head high as she proceeded towards the throne. Decorum dictated every move. She dared not breathe out of sync. Her subjects depended upon her.

When seated, she motioned for all to sit. They obeyed, listening respectfully.

“I decree– “

“Lunch is served, Your Majesty.”

“Aw, Mu-um!”

“You’ll reign again later.”

Thank you blog post

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Geoff Le Pard's reminiscences of school days

School Days, Reminiscences of Geoff Le Pard

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Geoff Le Pard, author, blogger, humourist and all-round nice guy. I met Geoff through Anne Goodwin, if I remember correctly. We engaged in conversations on Anne’s blog first, then followed each other and engaged in conversations on each other’s blogs too.

Anne and Geoff had already been lucky enough to meet in person on a writing course, but I hadn’t known either for long when I visited family in London for the first time in 2014. I very timidly emailed Geoff and asked if he’d like to meet up. (This was prior to the Bloggers’ Bash of which Geoff is now on the organising committee and I didn’t yet know of any other instances of bloggers meeting up.)

I was both anxious and thrilled when Geoff, Anne and Lisa all agreed we’d meet up at the British Library. I think we were all wondering if these ‘strangers’ were who they said they were or if they might be potential axe murderers. Fortunately, though some of us may have a been a bit stranger than others, none were axe murderers and we had a very pleasant afternoon together.

Norah, Anne, Geoff, Lisa beside the lock

Since that auspicious occasion, Geoff has entertained thousands, if not millions, of readers with his blog posts that are sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious, often compassionate and always with his own tangent on life, love and anything in between. He has published four novels, three anthologies and one memoir. I have no hesitation in recommending them to you.

But perhaps we should get to the real purpose of this post, which is to provide Geoff with an opportunity of sharing his reminiscences of school.

Before we begin the interview though, I’ll allow Geoff to tell you a little of himself:

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

Welcome, Geoff.

Let’s talk school. First, could you tell us where you attended school?

My schooling started at 3 at Miss Stark’s nursery school in a large house about half a mile from home (mum walked me everyday). From there, at 5, I went to Maple Road Primary in Whyteleafe, in leafy Surrey this time about 2 miles away (I caught the bus – until I was 6 with mum, after that with my older brother (he was one year older). At 11 I moved to a local Grammar school, Purley Grammar school for boys, about 4 miles from home (I cycled) until I was 12 when the family moved to south Hampshire and joined Brockenhurst High School, also a Grammar, where I stayed until 16 when I moved into the adjacent sixth form college until 18 (the school was seven miles away and involved a daily train journey after a cycle ride).

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

The nursery was private but the remaining schooling was Local education authority funded. Grammar schools were an attempt by the post war governments to give the best equivalent of a private education to those who couldn’t afford it. To enter you had to pass your 11 plus. I failed mine, had an interview as I was ‘borderline’ (makes it sound like it was a mental health issue) and was granted a place – I still think Paddington Bear was my saviour – this post explains my reason for thinking that.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

I went through the sixth form, took four A levels (two maths, history and French plus S level maths – not sure what the ‘S’ stood for but it was meant to be equivalent of first or second year at uni – I managed 100% I was told – get me, much good it did me) and then attended University (Law, at Bristol University), and later in life went again for a masters (Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam)

Geoff Le Pard's highest level of education

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I chose a law degree at Uni that lead to a career in the Law. I can cite the following influences from school:

  • One of my school friends had already chosen law and it sounded cool;
  • I went to a careers’ evening organised at school and the two reps from Southampton University were law lecturers and they were the coolest people there
  • My maths teacher wanted me to go to Cambridge and do maths and he was anything but cool

What is your earliest memory of school?

The sandpit at nursery and the leather indoor slide and being made to stand in the corner for running when told not to.

I recall the terror of my first day at primary school, the sun in my eyes through the high windows and all the other children; I also remember the old fashioned radio speaker on the wall – a large wooden box with a brass speaker in the middle and listening to a story on it. There was a separate playground for the first and second forms (years 1 and 2 nowadays) with a high wire fence around it, like a tennis court that we stared through, like caged animals, at the older children in their playground

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I’m pretty sure I could read before I went to primary school but unlike my older brother I didn’t really enjoy it. I have to thank him for inadvertently (in the sense that I was an irritating little shadow who he needed to rid himself of) persevering in finding me books to read and converting me to the joys of reading. This post may give you a sense of my journey

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Ah me! Handwriting has never been a strength – a school report, noted in the post above, said I achieved a B in my handwriting exam and the remark from my teacher was ‘I don’t know how he managed it’). We had lined books in which we repeated our own take in cursive writing and mine were not things of beauty – again, perhaps I should indulge another post, here with examples of my work.

What do you remember about math classes?

I was always ‘good’ at maths (if you ignore the geometry report cited above – ‘utterly confused in exam – good term’s work’). I didn’t always grasp a concept immediately like some but it didn’t take long and I generally could work back though to first principles if taught properly.  For some time it looked as if maths was my way into university until I was lucky enough to have an inspirational history teacher in the sixth form (years 11 to 13 now) who taught me to widen my horizons. He was cool.

What was your favourite subject?

History and the more modern the better.

Geoff Le Pard tells what he liked best about school

What did you like best about school?

Play time, friends, being praised, winning badges, some school dinners and certain teachers. In secondary school I would add in sport and, after the age of 14, learning.

What did you like least about school?

Geography, biology, any sense I was in trouble, shepherd’s pie, girls until I was14 (my terror was different from there on) and certain teachers.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

Harder work, more pressure put overtly on children to perform (we had exams that were as difficult, we just weren’t bombarded with how important they were meant to be), a more rigorous structure to what they learn, less scope for great teachers to go off topic, far more Big Brother is watching you – we had scope to break rules, places to subvert – it seems today the rule breaking has to be in public and so is more likely to be chastised. I hear evidence that in certain places behaviour has degenerated but good teachers have always controlled classes. The punishment regime is less physical today and children are believed more than before. Perhaps the biggest changes are children are listened to more and teachers have less time to teach (or should that be to educate?)

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

When they do it well they inspire lifelong learning and in my experience that comes from the spark of an individual teacher capturing a child’s imagination. They give a child tools to learn, to teach, to educate him/herself – reading and writing and, no doubt today IT skills and after that to be inquiring, not to accept what they are told is the answer but to question – the ability to frame the right question is perhaps the greatest gift a teacher can give a pupil.

Geoff Le Pard says teachers need to teach children to ask questions

How do you think schools could be improved?

They can spend more time educating and less teaching. The tyranny of the curriculum is one of teaching’s greatest challenges. The notion that if you learn to a script and regurgitate that script and you will succeed is one of life’s top five fictions; no actor worth their salt merely delivers a script – they have to understand it, live it, get beneath and inside it. That is precisely the same with learning. Get beneath the surface, go round the back, take off the lid and see the workings and that way so much joy will be had and so many avenues will be opened. Good education acknowledges the world is round and that all we can ever do is proceed to the next horizon and see what’s there; bad teachers are education’s flat earthers.

 

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Geoff. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you. I enjoyed hearing your perspective on education and agree with much of what you had to say about it.

Find out more about Geoff Le Pard

on his blog

TanGental: Writing, the Universe and whatever occurs to me

and his author page

Geoff Le Pard’s Amazon Author Page

 

Geoff’s Books:

My Father and Other Liars by Geoff Le Pard

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Grain of Sand by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Salisbury Square by Geoff Le Pard

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

This is available here

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Buster and Moo by Geoff Le Pard

Buster & Moo is about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Flash by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Smashwords

 

Apprenticed to My Mother by Geoff Le Pard

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Conversation by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Conversation is an anthology of short and super short fiction that explores connections through humour, speech and everything besides. If you enjoy the funny, the weird and the heart-rending then you’ll be sure to find something here.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

 

Jacqui Murray blog hop Survival of the Fittest

Blog Hop: Jacqui Murray — Survival of the Fittest

This week I am delighted to introduce you to Jacqui Murray. I’d been following Jacqui’s blog Ask a Tech Teacher for some time before I realised she had other writing achievements in her portfolio. I had always enjoyed keeping up with what was new in technology for the classroom and reading Jacqui’s advice for teachers and parents as well as the general technology user. Now, I’ve discovered she has much more to explore.

Jacqui and I have found that we share a lot in common. She recently hosted me at her blog here, and soon her guest post Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology will be shared on the readilearn blog.

This post is part of a blog hop celebrating the launch of Jacqui’s latest prehistory novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray header

The Book

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest

Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available in print and digital at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Short Blurb

Five tribes. One leader. A treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.

Summary

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

Questions for Jacqui

Setting a book in the days of prehistory must present a number of challenges for writers. I asked Jacqui to explain how she approached some of those challenges.

How did Xhosa tell time?

Xhosa’s People had no need for the exacting time that we today have. It was enough to know that events happened around certain other repetitive events (like a full moon or a sunrise). They could peg daily events to when the Sun reached a certain point in the sky (with a good guess if it was overcast).A popular way of telling time which I borrowed from societies that predated clocks, sundials, and any regimented ways of telling time is measuring time by sun’s movement. A finger of time would be about fifteen minutes and a hand of time would be bout an hour.

How did Xhosa count?

Xhosa and her People also had no need for counting. This is true even today with primitive people. Many count only to two (which is the method I’ve adopted for Xhosa). Beyond that, numbers may be described as handfuls or how much room they occupy in relation to something else. Counting people was unnecessary because all Xhosa had to do was sniff, find everyone’s scent, or notice whose she couldn’t find. 

Did Xhosa have any type of culture—art, music, that sort?

This time in man’s prehistory predated art, music, and most culture. There is very little if anything known about earliest man’s (850,000 years ago) interest in art and music. In Xhosa’s case, I extrapolated from what we do know about these early iterations of man. They appreciated colors but didn’t think of applying it to themselves. Their brains could imagine things unseen but that didn’t extend to painting themselves, wearing jewelry, or tattoos. Since clothing was only for warmth (or in Seeker’s case, to protect his sensitive parts), no thought was given to designing or decorating these.

Music—They did appreciate bird songs but considered it an animal voice, not something that they could replicate for their own pleasure. They could replicate it but it was to imitate the bird, not express creativity. They also appreciated rhythm but that was to set a running pace or sooth people.

Most scientists believe Homo erectus couldn’t talk. How did Xhosa and her People communicate?

These early humans were highly intelligent for their day and possessed rich communication skills but rarely verbal. Most paleoanthropologists believe that the ‘speaking’ part of their brain wasn’t evolved enough for speech but there’s another reason: Talking is noisy as well as unnatural in nature which attracts attention. For these early humans, who were far from the alpha in the food chain, being noticed wasn’t good.

Instead, they communicated with gestures, facial expressions, movements, and all the body language we-all still use but rarely recognize. They talked to each other about everything necessary, just nonverbally.

thank you for your participation

Thank you, Jacqui. You’ve obviously worked hard to make your novel ring with authenticity.  I wish you success with it.

About Jacqui

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Connect with Jacqui on social media

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

 

Jacqui has generously provided us with Chapter one as a preview of her novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

Chapter 1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

 

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader.

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

 

 

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.