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Dyslexia-Friendly Storytelling

15 Feb

I’ve just written a wee blog post for Dyslexia Scotland about the BBC’s 500 Word story competition for children – a very dyslexia-friendly competition, as it happens. Who said dyslexics can’t be successful authors?

A life less ordinary

child-writingA couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched this year’s 500 Words competition. 500 Words is a writing competition for children between 5 and 13 years old. Each entrant submits one story of up to 500 words. The three winners in each age category win either their own height in books, the Duchess of Cornwall’s height in books (5’6”), or DJ Chris Evans’ height in books (6’2”).

Entries are judged on

  • originality
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • language

Crucially, entries are not judged on spelling, punctuation or grammar. In fact, the official rules say that entries are judged “without regard” for these potential stumbling blocks for young dyslexic writers.

Entries are also submitted by copying or typing into an online text box. A helpful adult is supposed to do this bit, and to fill out the rest of the online entry form for the child. That removes another potential barrier for children with…

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Robin Hood on the Other Side

20 Nov

I recently had a cross-timezone Skype chat with Mike Huberty, a rock musician who also runs a podcast called See You on the Other Side. The podcast deals with pop culture and the paranormal (fairly interesting, right?) and I was talking to him, naturally enough, about Robin Hood in connection with my new book, Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong.

If you want to listen into to our conversation, and find out my fun facts about Will Scarlett and the dodginess of medieval May Games, you can listen to the podcast on Mike’s site, or on Podbean, or iTunes.

Happy listening!

The wonderful, awful business of being an author

8 Sep

As I obviously have oodles of time on my hands, trying to finish a novel (The Sarcophagus Scroll) while simultaneously preparing a non-fiction book for publication (Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood is Wrong), this must be the perfect time to host a question-and-answer time on AMAfeed (Ask Me Anything).

Anyway, whether I am superhuman, or thrive on challenge, or am simply mad, I have scheduled the Ask Me Anything for Tuesday 11th September at 2.30pm, UK time. You can post your questions before then (and I can answer them), but they won’t show up until Tuesday afternoon.

If you know anyone who’s curious about the business of writing professionally, encourage them to pose a question for me. If it throws up anything interesting, I may post the link again once the Q&A has closed.

Church ministers? Bunch of slackers! 

18 Oct

I’ve just done a blog post for Premier Christianity about why church ministers have the easiest job in the world. Before you start fuming, I should say that it’s not an entirely serious argument, to put it mildly.

It was commissioned because it’s Thank Your Vicar Week. So if you have a vicar (/pastor/minister) why don’t you give the article a read and then maybe send them a nice email? Although I can’t promise they will have time to read it.

The Power of Purple

14 Jul

If you’re dyslexic, you’re close to a dyslexic, or you’re just the curious type, you may want to read my latest blog post for Dyslexia Scotland. Its working title was “Methods of alleviating the symptoms of dyslexia”, but fortunately I came up with something slightly snappier 😉

Rio’s Hug

10 Aug

This blog post is simply going to direct you to another blog post, on Premier Christianity‘s website. But no, I’m not being lazy, because I wrote that post too.

If you have seen the statue of Christ the Redeemer on your TV during the Olympics, and want to hear my musings about its significance, and how it connects to the Games, please do have a wee read:

Christ the Redeemer: Why Rio’s statue is the true God of the Olympics


Photo: Paul Mannix

The compassionate embrace includes everyone, from Olympic athletes to drug dealers, from top politicians to favela kids.

Good Friday Thoughts

25 Mar

Good Friday is an odd one. It’s very solemn and sombre for Christians because we’re essentially pretending (by way of memorial) that Jesus is dead, even though we know that he has been risen for some time now. It’s an opportunity for ecumenical events (meaning joint with different kinds of churches), during which people tiptoe awkwardly around the fact that they know very little of their companions’ practice of faith or the vocabulary that accompanies it (communion/Eucharist/mass/Lord’s Supper; priest and clergy vs minister and leadership team etc.), even though it’s the same faith they’re practising. At post-service snacks, some enthusiastically scoff hot cross buns while others, who are fasting, quietly don’t. A strange time, but a bit of disorientation can be good to snap you out of your usual life and help you remember what this Easter lark is all about, anyway (and it’s not chocolate bunnies or the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, as a historically and etymologically illiterate Facebook meme would have us believe).

It’s an even stranger one than usual this year, because Good Friday (the memorial of the crucifixion) lands on the same day as the memorial of the Annunciation (when the angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus), meaning that (if you’re in a church that takes note of these things) we’re celebrating Jesus’ arrival as a baby whilst also mourning his death. I had only recently found out about the tradition that the Annunciation and the crucifixion were both on 25th March (to keep things nice and neat), so it’s quite serendipitous for me that in the year I find this out, the memorial of the crucifixion (which depends on the lunar calendar, thus a literally moveable feast) falls on the anniversary.

(There’s also a superstition that their coincidence is supposed to presage national disaster, such as the death of a monarch. Given how many famous people have already died in 2016, that wouldn’t be terribly surprising – but let’s hope it’s only as true as superstition usually is.)

Anyway, the article that drew my attention to this nice syncronicity is very well written and interesting, with lots of lovely pictures and (if you keep going to the end) a brilliant poem by John Donne called, rather unimaginatively, Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling upon One Day – so I will simply link to it so that you can enjoy it:

This doubtful day of feast or fast – Clerk of Oxford

Happy Easter!

Serving Others

23 Feb

This post will seem strangely familiar to any followers who also attend my church. (Hello, Sheila!) It is actually a reflection I wrote for Adelaide Place Baptist Church, but it seemed fairly popular so I thought I’d pinch it for my blog, too. (NB: It’s not plagiarism if it’s your own work 😉 )

It’s from the series Sacred Rhthyms, whereby church members start the day with a Bible reading sent by email, pause to say the Lord’s Prayer at or around noon, and theoretically in the evening reflect on the day. I always forget that bit. On Sundays, instead of a Bible reading there is a short meditation or homily, and that is where the the piece below comes from. Enjoy.

Cinderella, by Anne Andersonn

Serving Others

If the story of Cinderella teaches us anything, it’s that it is better to be served than to serve. Cinderella was rescued from a life of drudgery by her prince, who took her to live in the palace – where, presumably, other girls did exactly the same work that Cinderella had been doing in her home. And that’s the happy ending.

Things aren’t like that in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our ‘prince’ left the palace and came “not to be served, but to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s our happy ending, and it’s also the example we’re to emulate.

It’s easy to feel put-upon, especially when family, church or work seems to be making a lot of demands on our time, and no one seems to recognise how busy or tired we are. It would be much easier to step back, relax and let other people do the serving. However, our God is a God who not only asks us to serve others, but who regards it as an act of worship. A poem by George Herbert, called The Elixir, says,

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

This week, when we get the opportunity to serve others, let’s take it as willingly as we can manage, and remember that it’s not just others we’re serving – it’s also Christ.

Beware of the Customers

29 Nov

My friend Jackie McLean is a fellow writer, who also used to run a pet shop. She had told me plenty of hilarious anecdotes about her workplace, so when we decided to do a blog swap (my question and answer post will appear on Jackie’s blog soon), I asked her to tell me some of the best stories from her shop:

You’d think running a pet shop was all about the animals, but often as not, during our six years of running our shop, it was the owners who took us aback.

Sometimes it was heart-breaking, like the old lady who was desperately ill but refused to go into hospital because there was nobody to look after her cat. A neighbour came to the shop for help, and we managed to arrange foster care for the cat.

Sometimes it was shocking, like the woman who ran into the shop with a cat under each arm, looking for pet carriers. She was fleeing domestic violence.

Sometimes amazing, like the builder who was sitting on scaffolding high up on a building, eating his lunch, when a cockatiel flew over to him. It sat beside him, turned its head towards him, and said, “Hello.” The builder said he almost fell off the scaffolding, but the bird stayed with him from then on.

We soon got used to some of the things people would say, such as:

“Do you have fat balls?”
“Have you got pigs’ ears?”

Or, the one we got the most frequently (upon picking up a bag of dog food), “What does this taste like?”

Sometimes, however, it just wasn’t possible to keep a straight face. When the wee old lady walked into the shop, and asked our assistant, “Where’s your nuts, son?” there was a pile-up on the floor as we laughed until it hurt.

One of my favourites was an older man who came in, telling us that his male pigeon was laying eggs. Breaking all the rules, I answered back, “No, he isn’t.” The man was insistent – his male pigeon was laying eggs. I tried to explain the basics of the underlying biology, but to no avail. His male pigeon was laying eggs. Definitely wasn’t a female. Couldn’t be – the breeder had said it was a male!

The pet shop was often a focal point for reporting strays and injuries. One day a group of schoolchildren piled in, traumatised to have seen a seagull knocked down by a taxi. The gull was badly injured and in its distress was flapping around all over the road, causing traffic mayhem. Word about the gull spread quickly, and I’ll never forget the sight of Allison charging out of the shop, armed with a box and a big net, and followed by the schoolchildren and several customers. Off they went, following the gull’s progress along the road (lots of squawking and yelling, and crowds began to gather), until it flew over a garden fence and managed to get inside a shed. Undaunted, our heroes…er…broke into the shed and retrieved the bird. Fortunately the shed owner was pleased to have unexpectedly helped in the rescue.

It’s the animals, however, who must have the last word. They constantly surprised us:

We bought in a group of piranha, and fascinated by their fearsome reputation, we were astonished when they all fainted! So shy are these creatures, that the appearance of a human face in front of their tank scared the living daylights out of them.

Sometimes they caused us panic:
We were cleaning out the rats’ cage, when a customer came in and asked us for some advice on fish food. We realised we hadn’t closed the cage properly, when we saw one of the rats casually climb out and drop onto the floor directly behind the customer’s feet. Helpless, we distracted the customer while the rat plodded by and into the back office. As soon as the customer left the shop, oblivious to the goings-on behind her, we locked up and raced through to the office to search for the rat. Fortunately it quickly gave away its whereabouts by noisily munching on the business accounts.

And sometimes we were left awestruck:
Frances the leopard gecko was a young lizard with particularly beautiful markings. But only days after arriving in the shop, she was missing from her vivarium. We hunted high and low, but there was no sign of her. The viv doors were properly locked, and when the rep from the reptile supplier showed us how easily the doors could be removed and that theft of reptiles was rife, we accepted that she had probably been stolen. Fast forward one full year. I was opening the shop one morning, and was reaching for the light switch, when I became aware of something long and stripey hurrying past my feet. Alarmed, we began a detailed search, and there behind the heated tropical fish tanks, was Frances the leopard gecko! She had kept herself fit and well on the loose in the shop for a year – hats off!

Jackie’s novel Toxic has recently been released by Thunderpoint Publishing. Just to warn you, though, it’s not about charming but poisonous geckos 800px-Juvenile-leopard-geckoor something. Instead it’s a gritty crime thriller, with a very nasty villain who does some very nasty things. In Jackie’s words, it’s “at least a 15 certificate”. Suitably warned, please feel free to buy the book from your bookshop of choice, or on Kindle, or pop across to Jackie’s blog to find out more about the Bhopal Disaster that inspired Toxic. A proportion of the profits will go to the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

All’s Well That’s As You Like It

13 Aug

My good friend Rebekah Holden (who is the same person as the actress Rebekah Harvey, since actors are supposed to have unique names) had kindly posted guest post by me on her lovely blog. It is a simple, 5-step guide to writing a brilliant Shakespeare comedy. Just add genius. And comedy.

All’s Well That’s As You Like It; How to write a Shakespeare comedy