Friday, 17 February 2017

Refuge for Ruskin Readers

11 Months ago Ruskin Readers, along with several other community groups, were ousted from Carnegie Library by Lambeth Council.  The council had made little effort to engage with the groups to ensure they would be safely housed and accommodated elsewhere. It was left to the community group leaders to find new premises and endure the agony of how they would do that with limited funding or none at all.

As a Ruskin Readers tutor I found myself in the midst of the anxiety faced by our Lead Tutor (Caroline Knapp).  I was angry and astounded at Lambeth for their lack of thought regarding this matter.  And you know from my Private Protest post in January how I went about dealing with my anger.  But the fact still remained that Ruskin Readers was effectively homeless.

At The Cambria

For a while we had to split the club into two with the Monday night group putting up shop at The Cambria and the Wednesday group parcelled off to Norwood Library.  Our resources (two cupboards worth of games, dictionaries and teaching materials as well as hundreds of easy readers) languished behind the locked grill of The Carnegie Library. 

Caroline was forced to keep a selection of hastily gathered necessary resources stored in boxes and bags in the front room of her home. This involved her carting books, reading lamps and stationery to and from The Cambria.  She will not mind me telling you what an arduous task that was as she doesn’t own a car and is also a disabled pensioner.

It was always obvious The Cambria could only ever be a very temporary solution.  Caroline was scouring the internet, calling contacts and posting desperate messages on Facebook to secure us a new home.  St Faith’s was suggested and we were warmly welcomed by Reverend Susan Height who offered us the use of the main church. 

The Monday group in St Faith's

She was very happy for us to install our now parred down, retrieved resources, in a cupboard and book shelf. Unfortunately not long after settling we began to think our stay there was becoming precarious as it was difficult to heat the large space sufficiently for our small group. Once more Caroline agonised over what to do.

Moving our cupboard from the church
to the upstairs room of the community centre
But St Faith’s came to the rescue yet again.  It turned out they had a community space on the top floor of their community centre.  We investigated to see if it could work and were wildly excited to discover it would. Ruskin Readers has finally found a more permanent state of refuge.  We’re settling into the top room of St Faith’s community centre and relishing the warmth, easy access to resources and integrated kitchen where we can prepare goodies for the crucial tea break.  Now all that remains is for us to find a suitable cupboard or bookshelf to house our stock of books and we’ll be all set.

A jubilant smile from Caroline
as the cupboard reaches its new home

And where has Lambeth Council been in all of this?  The funding for rehousing of the evicted community groups which was promised is still to materialise.  I cannot speak for the other homeless groups but Ruskin Readers has received the most significant help from private donations, an outside agency grant and the kind generosity of a church in a neighbouring borough.  Lambeth Council – this is what we call Community Spirit – something which seems decided lacking at #mylambeth Council.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I had to read A Monster Calls in a bit of a hurry as one of my students is studying it at school and only let me know last week. Luckily I had a bit of training in speedy reading last year when I foolishly took on my 100 book Goodreads challenge. 


For me, the most effective element of A Monster Calls is that the monster is introduced as soon as the story opens.

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

This leaves the reader in no doubt about the fact that something is seriously amiss with our protagonist Conor.

I would have liked to see more interaction between Conor and his mother, especially at the start of the book but perhaps Ness tackles it in this way to indicate that she is slipping out of this world.

Naturally, I found myself thinking about other books related to grief as I read this and couldn’t help but compare it to Skellig and Savage by David Almond. I confess that I have a slight preference for David Almond’s writing, particularly the way Savage is tackled with the combination of text and image. However, Patrick Ness joins Almond in my recommended books for boys having to deal with tragedy. Our children need to know that grief is a part of life, especially in our very precarious times. But more than that, they need to know that it is important to grieve and there is no right or wrong way to do so.

To find out what I'm currently reading, you can follow me on Goodreads or see updates on my Facebook page.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Happy Birthday Me

It's that time of year again. I love celebrating my birthday and have never placed much store in chronological age. I'm as old as I care to feel. My annual birthday list has become a bit of a feature, particularly on my Facebook page. But this year, as I’m celebrating a significant birthday – half a century – I thought I’d up the ante and ask for things I really really want.
For some of you who’ve been following the blog for some time now, you may recognise a theme and also see a recurrence of past sort after gifting ideas.

Firstly, buying and reviewing any of my books is always a terrific present to give me.  I am after all a self-published writer and every sale increases my current single figure royalty total.

Secondly, as can be seen from my pre-birthday 2014 post, the humble gift voucher still remains a firm favourite for me.  And I feel will remain so until the day I’m packed off in my fully recyclable coffin.

Next. I’m also not averse to the idea of cold hard cash.  It does of course do what it says on its plastic coated, hopefully soon to be fully vegetarian paper and comes in very handy indeed.

As with all my wish lists I like to include things which are almost entirely impractical.  These wants have not changed much since my February 2015 post but I think that with age and wisdom I’m becoming a little more of a realist so would also like to add the following:

  • Watching endless reruns of Timothy Olyphant striding off into the distance in Justified. It is a visual delight and I cannot stress enough how much you should indulge in this given the opportunity.
  • Meeting, recognising and having a lasting relationship with my perfect partner
  • A front cover design for any one of my novels by Andreas Preis
  • Top ranking book sales on Amazon for all my novels
  • A posture chair from The Wave Seat Company
  • Warm toes and fingers all year round
  • A villa on an Italian island

Now is that really so much to ask for?  I have reached the ripe age of half a century after all.

When it’s my birthday I also like to give as much as I receive.  And as this is a significant birthday I’m giving away a FREE extract of my short story series 6 Degrees.  To get the extract just click on the link below.  Happy birthday me.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A Very Private Protest

Shortly after Lambeth Council shut Carnegie Library and before I became a trustee with the Carnegie Library Association, I felt such utter helplessness in the face of a government body and its relentless disregard for what local residents actually want and need.  Yes, I’d supported The Occupation.  Yes, I’d gone on the marches.  Yes, I’d inundated my Twitter feed with anything and everything to do with loving my library.  But I didn’t feel it was enough.

As a tutor with Ruskin Readers I was in the midst of the plight faced by community groups ousted from Carnegie Library.  While I tried to assist our lead tutor Caroline Knapp as she emailed and made Facebook appeals for us to secure a suitable venue, I quietly seethed within.

I wanted to do SOMETHING.

Then I got a notification email from my Google Calendar to renew my library books.  I made a sudden resolution.  

I would not return any of the library books I currently had in my possession unless I was returning them to a reopened Carnegie Library.  And so began my very silent, very private protest.

My work schedule leaves me little time to visit a library.  Having the Carnegie almost on my doorstep was a boon.  It meant that after work on a Monday I still had time to have supper before heading over for my tutoring session at Ruskin Readers.  As well as this, it meant I could return books and order or loan new ones before spending time with my Ruskin Readers’ student. I could use the library resources to plan my lessons and organise resources.  And whatever strange new idea I had for teaching my student, the wonderful library staff were always on hand to advise and assist.

Now that Carnegie Library is shut my closest Lambeth libraries are Brixton, West Norwood and Streatham.  None of these are conveniently placed enroute to and from work.  And when I have managed to find the time to get down to Brixton it’s been so crowded I’ve just turned tail and run next door to the calm of the cafĂ© of the Black Cultural Archives instead.

The opening times of West Norwood library just happen to be such that they do not accommodate my restricted schedule.  Then there’s my perverse reluctance to enter a library which is not Carnegie.  I simply feel disloyal, foolish as that may sound.

So I resolved to maintain my private protest and find books in other ways.  Remarkably, without anyone being aware I’d made my silent vow, I suddenly began receiving a load of books from people.  

It all began when I informed some of my students I’d embarked on a 100 book reading challenge for 2016.  They began to thrust copies of their favourite books at me and urged me to read them.

I also did book swaps with another person who’d begun his own silent – no return – protest.  Before I knew what was happening, I had a stack of books to read and hadn’t bought a single one nor had I violated my sense of loyalty to Carnegie Library.

Now I simply renew my loans online and set myself a reminder on my Google Calendar to renew again.  This is a tiny and insignificant thing in the whole scheme of things, but it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction none-the-less.

The 11 books I currently have out on loan are due to be renewed on 20th January. I’ve set my reminder.  My very silent, no longer so very private protest continues.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Bring it 2017!

I managed to finish ahead of time
which was a small miracle to be sure

So last year I foolishly set myself the challenge of reading 100 books in a year.  I wasn’t really thinking clearly and the number 100 just popped into my head when I spotted the challenge on Goodreads.  

I won’t be doing that again because it was an almost impossible task and I hate setting myself up to fail.  Luckily, I didn’t fail but that was predominantly down to the help of my wonderful students.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do try to do something different or learn something new every year if at all possible. This year I’m opting to do things a little differently.  I’m giving myself a very practical challenge combined with one I know is going to be filled with fun. 

So firstly I’ve decided that if I want to fulfil my ambition of eventually retiring to an Italian island I’d better improve on the smattering of Italian I currently possess:

Buongiorno, buonasera, grazi, signor, signora – all valuable words for obvious reasons

Allora – learnt from my wonderful aromatherapy masseuse Anna who hails from Rome, as does my other favourite Italian person, Elisa.

Baci – a necessary word for me as it features in my book Six Dead Men so I’d better know what it means.

Scarpe – even before I started tango I have always had a mild obsession with shoes.  I blame my mother for all my expensive habits.

Mmmm, as you can see, the Italian tutor whose class I’m due to invade is about to wish I didn’t exist.

Well, after I completely bamboozle the living daylights out of an Italian tutor I will need the comfort of reading to compensate for my poor linguistic skills. 

Learning Italian will no doubt involve much swearing and crying so laughter therapy will be required.  Therefore, my aim this year is to read every Pratchett ever written.  

I’ve read some of the Disc World series and quite a few of the Tiffany Aiken books.  But I want to try and tackle them in the right order.  So with the help of Sheffield friend’s son and his collection of Pratchetts, I’m hoping to do just that.

Naturally, in between all this I’m still planning on editing, completing and starting new novels.  Don’t worry, that’s still my main agenda.  And so you know I’m not kidding here is a list of my Works In Progress:

Palindrome* – The Prequel to Six Dead Men

Six Degrees* – short stories based around characters in Six Dead Men & Palindrome

When Rainbows Cry* – The sequel to Where Rainbows Hide

The Witch Adoption Project** – the sequel to The Lonely Dragon

So that’s it for my 2017 challenges.  I reckon that’s about enough to be getting on with for the moment. You can keep tabs on how I'm doing by checking out either my Facebook or Twitter page.

currently editing
** currently writing

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

Wishing all my followers a very happy New Year.  May this one be a lot better than the last.

May you find the key to happiness
May your dreams be full of promise
May your heart be filled with love
May you prosper

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Seasons Greetings

Wishing all my followers 
much Joy, Love & Peace 
this festive season