Happy (belated) birthday, Your Majesty

Happy (belated) birthday, Your Majesty

As I’m writing about recent work I have done, this project seems timely… A few months ago, Scripture Union’s team in the south east of England approached me about writing for the Queen! They were working with Hope, LICC and Bible Society to create a schools’ version of a resource to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. I was sent the text of the book that Hope, LICC and Bible Society had written and asked to select material and write extra bits and pieces to put together a 12-page booklet for people to use in primary schools.

The book focused on the text of the Queen’s Christmas messages over the years. We don’t know much about the Queen’s opinions on politics, as she tries to remain neutral, but her Christmas messages are one of the few things that she writes herself and they clearly show one part of her life: her faith. It was this that the partner organisations were seeking to help people uncover as the Queen reached this milestone birthday.

It was quite a task to slim down all the excellent material that the authors of the main book had written, but arranging some of the most interesting facts, stories and photographs into three or four different categories helped everything fall into place. I added in some questions to help children think about these different categories for themselves, as well as selecting extracts from the messages themselves. Throw in some great infographics from the designer and the book looks quite good. In fact, it seems to have gone down so well that a reprint is on the way!

If you want to get your hands on the book (celebrations go on into June), then go to Scripture Union’s website. And if you’ve got a similar job that needs doing, get in touch!

A tale of two hospices

A tale of two hospices

When you think about the word ‘hospice’, what images come to mind? A grey place where people go to die? A place of sadness, illness and overcooked cabbage? You wouldn’t be alone – these are certainly some of the things that I conjured up in the past.

But I want to tell you about a hospice. Well, two, actually. Children’s hospices. They are places where children and young people with life-limiting conditions go to be cared for and yes, perhaps to die. However, they aren’t drab, they aren’t depressing or oppressive and there isn’t even a whiff of overcooked cabbage.

Christopher’s in Guildford and Shooting Star House in Hampton together make up Shooting Star Chase. These two amazing places serve families across south-west London and Surrey, helping to manage the care for children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and their families. I provide editorial support to the charity (and even voice-over work) – I’ve just finished doing some editorial work on their supporter magazine and my head is full of the tough, but inspiring work that Shooting Star Chase puts in to make the lives of the families they work with immeasurably better.

They don’t only manage and care for the medical needs of children and young people, but their emotional and psychological needs too. Nurses and carers get to know a child’s likes and dislikes, their habits and comforts, as well as their medication and therapeutic requirements. Chefs, maintenance staff and volunteers strive to create an atmosphere of support, relaxation and fun. Social workers, care managers and support staff work hard to make sure children and young people get the best care possible.

I was lucky enough to visit Shooting Star House about a year ago, to see for myself the fantastic facilities, meet one or two of the care staff and even have a fine cup of tea from the creative kitchens. It was a privilege to see everything in action and a help to my editorial work for the charity, to have seen the facilities within which the stories are all set.

I’m writing this partly because my mind is buzzing with the stories of children, young people and families well cared for, but also because their story, and the stories of children’s hospices around the country, needs to be heard more widely. Financially, Shooting Star Chase only gets a tenth of what it needs from government funding, and so has to raise the remaining 90% itself. And when your care bill tops £10 million each year, that’s a big ask.

So, if you live in south-west London or Surrey, why not find out how you can support these two fine establishments? And if not, is there a children’s hospice near you that can make use of your time or money? That places like Shooting Star House and Christopher’s have to rely of charitable support is discomforting, but the work they put in to make the lives of children, young people and their families immeasurably better is worth every penny.

Now I am 2

Now I am 2

No, I’m not getting married, nor do I have a newborn child. It’s my business – it’s 2 years old. 2! When I took voluntary redundancy in the autumn of 2012, I never thought I would be where I am now. In fact, if we’re being honest, I didn’t think much at all. If you’re looking for a model of how to plan a business, then steer well clear of my model of start-up.

However, despite my gung-ho and slightly clueless attitude to starting my own business, things really haven’t gone badly. I set myself a target for this financial year, which it looks like I might just exceed. I’ve done some really interesting stuff – creating stories for virtual worlds, delivering training to groups as small as five and as large as 200, writing for social history exhibitions, compiling books, creating exhibitions spaces, commissioning songs, piecing together magazine articles… And, perhaps the biggest achievement, I haven’t gone loopy working from home.

When I reflect back on the last two years, one thing I can say is that God has been with me every step of the way. If you don’t think much of Christianity, then you’re welcome to disagree, but I truly believe he has.

So, thank you so much for supporting me. No one said I was being foolish by taking voluntary redundancy (and I really thought loads of people would!) – everyone was awesome. And thanks also to those who had enough faith in me to give me work, I’ve loved every minute… well, almost, but that’s the case with any job, isn’t it?

Here’s to the next two years!

Community service?

Community service?

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time eating macaroons, wearing a tight white suit and singing a song about breaking a man’s leg. This strange and questionable behaviour can be explained by the fact that I was in a production of Acorn Antiques – the Musical, produced by my theatre group, Company MK. It’s not ‘my’ group because I own it or run it like a tin-pot dictator, but because I belong to it.

I belong to the group because I share its aim to produce top-quality amateur musical theatre. I belong because lots of my friends are also part of the group. I belong because it gives me the chance to show off perform on stage in interesting shows. I belong because I feel proud to be identified with the group… and I know lots of other people feel the same way.

When we started to put on productions again after a two-year hiatus, one of my objectives was to help build a community that was welcoming, fun to be part of and that gave everyone a fair crack at being cast in a role. By no means do I think we’ve done this perfectly – we’ve got things wrong on the way. We’ve made mistakes and have offended or disappointed people, or just got up their noses (and if we’ve done this to you, we’re really sorry).

However, I think we’ve started to build a group where people enjoy themselves, are stretched artistically and feel welcomed and included. People have stuck with us and the feedback we have had after successive shows has been how much people have enjoyed being part of our community. We’ll probably make more mistakes and be idiots from time to time, but we’ll try our hardest to continue this ethos and produce the best shows that we can, as we look to 2015 and beyond.

Thinking more widely, surely this is the same with any group we’re part of: a church, a sports team, a school… Even if we’re working with dysfunctional and difficult groups (and, given that all groups contain humans, each one is going to have its dysfunctional and difficult aspects), we need to work together to make things better. We need to be generous and gracious when others make mistakes or get on our nerves, just as we hope they will be when we inevitably mess something up ourselves. We need to encourage and push each other to reach higher, to develop skills and to surprise ourselves in what we can achieve.

Talking about groups in this way can sound idealistic and a nice idea (‘it’ll never happen’). But if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know.

Gelatin-based confectionery and other lessons

Gelatin-based confectionery and other lessons

Well, Creative Daydream has been going for 18 months and I’ve learnt quite a lot. Particularly:

1 I have little self-control if there’s an open bag of marshmallows in the house.

2 If you’re going to be part of a meeting via Skype, you’ll spend an hour staring at the top of people’s heads.

3 It’s not going to go well if you put a TV programme on ‘in the background’.

4 Going to the supermarket at 10 on Monday morning means that you avoid the crowds, but also that the aisles will be populated with pensioners who stop suddenly for no apparent reason.

5 Searching iTunes for old Eurovision songs is not an acceptable way to spend the working day. (But you do rediscover beauties like this – I love a song with whistling…)

On the other hand, I’ve had a great time writing, editing, training and generally being creative for companies and organisations such as the Diocese of London, Dubit, Leprosy Mission, Dodo and Co, Shooting Star Chase and Childrenswork magazine. And I’m really looking forward to what the next 18 months might bring!

If you’ve got a project that requires a great way with words, a hundred ideas or a warm presenting style, then get in touch. What can Creative Daydream do for you?

 

One year old

One year old

This week sees Creative Daydream’s first birthday! I can hardly believe where the time has gone, but so much has happened over the past year. I’ve learnt a lot about being self-employed, a lot about what kind of work I do and don’t want to do, and a lot about myself!

I’ve become familiar with the tax and NI system, I’ve created new routines to keep myself focused and I’ve consumed more coffee than is probably good for me. I’ve discovered that I don’t miss being in an office as much as I thought I would, but I do miss the inconsequential chat that you get when you work in close proximity to others.

I’ve really enjoyed most of the jobs I’ve taken on – a bit of editing, a bit of training and some creative work too. But there’s been much more writing than I thought, and a few months into being my own boss, I realised I was a professional writer! So that’s what I tell people when they ask what I do: ‘I’m a writer.’ And it makes me smile every time I say it.

So, here’s to the next year. But before then, a huge thank you to those who have helped me out, given me advice and encouragement, and prayed for me. And thanks to my clients – I’ve loved working with you and I hope we can do more in the future 🙂

 

(To celebrate, I made myself a giant iced bun. It was amazing!)

Progress on the novel front

Progress on the novel front

A few months ago I blogged about writing a novel (well, rather ambitiously, I announced my intention to create a seven-book series). I have been writing since then, but I’ll admit that it’s not been very regular and I’ve only written 6,000 words so far! I’ve had so much other writing to do (both for work and stuff I do in my spare time), that fiction writing has been relegated to the ‘not yet’ pile of things to do.

So, I’m going to try and write a bit more regularly, and not view it as a luxury. And in November, I’m going to give National Novel Writing Month a go, particularly as all my theatrical productions will be over by then and I’ll have no rehearsals to go to. This is an approach where participants try to write a 50,000-word novel in a month! You can sign up on the website and get support and inspiration from others doing the same thing.

Doing something quickly like this may not produce the most well-tuned piece of work, but it certainly focuses your mind and stops you getting bogged down in small details. Once words are down on paper (or on screen), then you can go back and cut, edit, rewrite, expand, kill off, resurrect…

There are times when it’s good to look at detail and decide on the minutiae, but at other times, we just need to get things done. Where are you at?

PS Look out for Equestus, City of the Sea soon…

Solving a problem

Solving a problem

A while ago, Emma Coats, a Pixar Story Artist, published a list of 22 top tips for storytelling. There are some great ideas in there (check it out here, though it’s been widely reported and reblogged, so is available in a variety of places). Many of them, though, are applicable to lots of different contexts.

Suppose you’ve got a decision to make. It’s an important one, and making the wrong choice could cost you in terms of money, reputation or time. The fear of making the wrong decision can be scary, paralysing even. Here’s where one of the storytelling rules might help.

Take a look at rule number 9: ‘When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.’ So, think about the decision you’ve got to take. Reiterate the boundaries of your project and then make a list of all the possible choices you have, even the ones that seem faintly crazy or out of your reach. Go through all the options and rule out the ones that are unacceptable or don’t fit within the scope of your project.

What have you got left? Are any of the choices left acceptable decisions? If not, why not? What do you need to change to make it more positive? Or are you going to have to make an uncomfortable decision?

 

Photo: Coolcaesar (CC)

Letting your imagination run wild

Letting your imagination run wild

I’ve been working on a proposal for a virtual world recently. The brief is to outline some initial thinking about a virtual world and how a child might interact with it. It’s been a tremendous exercise of letting my imagination run wild! Granted, there are parameters within which I have to work, but there aren’t many and they haven’t curtailed creativity yet.

I’ve been really surprised how excited I’ve been about the chance to do something so creative and free. Many of the things I’ve done so far as Creative Daydream have been enjoyable and creative in their own way, but this is the first project that has completely lived up to my company name!

And it’s something that discovered I’ve really needed. In the rush to create the business, set up the website, tell people about the new role and start to work on projects, I’ve not had the space to be truly, outlandishly creative. There’s a thrill attached to following an idea and not really knowing where it might take you, a thrill that’s different when you’re fulfilling quite a focused brief.

So, whatever projects the future holds (and if they’re similar to those I’ve done already, then I’ll have a varied workload), I’ve learnt that once in a while, it’s great to let your creative hair down. What shape that takes, I’m not sure – a new novel, a painting, a musical – but I’ll be setting aside some time to give something crazy a go!

I think a lot of us have some crazy stuff we’d love to try, but other things seem to get in the way or we feel too nervous to give them a go. Why not give something new a whirl this week? After all, as Dr Pepper* said, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

*Other brown carbonated soft drinks are available.

Despicable lesson plans

Despicable lesson plans

I spent a very creative hour or so recently with a primary school teacher, thinking through the use of film clips in teaching literacy. She was due to be observed by her head and some of the NQTs at her school, both for her own assessment and as a training session for those newly qualified teachers.

We chatted about various films before settling on Despicable Me. Lots of ways to use this crazy story in a classroom setting were thrown about before we settled on the idea of writing diary entries for the characters involved. Developing this further, we discussed the different viewpoints that each character would have had and the spread of emotions and thoughts each one would be experiencing. Each child would have to think carefully about their chosen character before starting their writing. We chatted through creating a different environment for the children to encounter the story and how best to make use of the space as well as the subject material.

The result of this creative free-falling was a lesson that was rated as outstanding in every category and a lesson that will go on to influence teachers throughout the school. (The lesson was observed not only by the head and four NQTs, but also the deputy head and three other teachers!)

It was great fun to help foster the creative process for this teacher and help her come up with a lesson that knocked the socks off the children and the observing teachers alike!