Sunday, March 29, 2009

Word counts

I've just updated the word count for my novel and am amazed to find I have now written 31%, that's nearly a third of it completed! I don't update the counter daily or even weekly, but perhaps I should, it's a great motivator.

If I add the words I'm writing on my novel to those written for my OU course, then it doesn't look too unproductive. We are in the finishing straight of the course now and I'm looking forward to being able to concentrate on the novel and perhaps even eventually write some shorter pieces to submit to print or online magazines.

Anyway this coming week is an OU week, another assignment due in on Friday. It has been worth it, I am improving my skills all the time and it will be lovely to hopefully come out at the other end with a formal diploma in literature and creative writing as well as another degree. But it will also be nice, just for a while, to be able to write freely on the novel and not within the tight word limit constraints of the academic course.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Science exams

A report has just come out saying that GCSE science exams have been devalued. This comes as no surprise at all. In the last couple of months I have heard the following:

AS Level students in Son 1's old school, a science college no less, having to be sent on a crash course elsewhere to learn the basics of Chemistry that they need to tackle the subject at the higher level.

A university lecturer in a medical related subject saying that even post A level students come up to university with sufficient in depth knowledge and have to take additional classes to bring them up to scratch.

Son 1 hasn't taken science GCSE yet. But I am reliably informed by other parents that were he to sit the new double-weighted Combined Science exam tomorrow, with no preparation, he could easily pass just on general knowledge gleaned over the years from the Discovery Channel.

I'm no scientist, but it's really not good enough, is it?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Mother's Day...

RIP Jade Goody.

I've never been a fan, but no one deserves to die of cancer at the age of 27. And no children should lose their mother at such a tender age, especially not on Mother's Day. In her last days Jade used her 'celebrity' status to provide for their future and no one can blame her for that. She showed an unexpected dignity to put OK Magazine to shame and has left the legacy of an increased awareness of cervical cancer in young women. Hopefully she will be remembered for that and her courage in tackling the illness, rather than some of the less savoury episodes in her life.

To Julie Myerson I would like to say that many teenagers are confused, lazy and have habits we would rather not know about. Some may even have more deep-rooted problems which need appropriate specialist intervention. With the right support, however, even the most troubled can turn their lives around successfully, but the impetus to start this process has to come from them. The path they choose to move forward on may not be the one we would have chosen but it doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

Tough love is not always the best approach, especially with a child who is legally a minor. Washing dirty linen in public is definitely not. It might have been better to wait and fictionalise the experience when it is all less raw. I hope you have a second chance, though if this is correct, it would seem unlikely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Secret

Yes, I know I'm years behind the rest of the world on this.

I was given a copy of the book The Secret a couple of years ago. I had a quick flick through it and realised that it was just the Law of Attraction, as promoted by Oprah Winfrey, Noel Edmonds and many others, packaged up in a glossy pseudo-historic manner to attempt to appeal to fans of The Da Vinci Code. Unconvinced, I put the book away, but for some obscure reason I picked it up again last weekend and read a bit more.

I have no problem with most of The Law of Attraction. It encourages positive thinking, which is a good thing and the foundation of CBT, which is scientifically proven to work. On the whole The Law of Attraction is harmless and little different to the traditional use of prayer, though I am still not convinced that just asking the Universe for something will bring it, unless you put in some personal effort too. After all, the Universe is not going to get my novel published unless I finish writing it first, is it?

The part of The Secret that I really didn't like, however, was the premise that if something bad happens, it does so because you have been thinking about it and negative thoughts attract negative occurences. Now to me that is psychologically dangerous...the truth is that in life bad things often happen to good people for no reason at all, not because they have thought or done anything to attract them. For that reason I do have my doubts about the whole package.


Last night Hubby, out of the blue, commented that we hadn't heard from a friend for a very long time. The husband of my old university friend who died of cancer, we care very much about him and his daughters. Remembering that he had sent a new email address and not sure if I had saved it properly, I said I would have a look today and if I couldn't find it I would post a letter to him instead.

This morning I opened our inbox to find an email from that very same friend, apologising for not being in touch for so long.

A coincidence, or the Law of Attraction in action?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Support Red Nose Day

One of my children has been lucky enough to receive help from a project funded by Comic Relief, so I am now even more of a fan of Red Nose Day.

This year why not buy a copy of TwitterTitters, a charity book of funny stories which was organised through Twitter to support Comic Relief. It even contains stories by two of my lovely fellow Novel Racers and blog friends, Calistro and Lane. Why not have a laugh and support a good cause at the same time?

TwitterTitters can be purchased here and we have a great review over on bookersatz.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Literary loss

I was sad when I read this report about the collapse of an archive building in the German city of Cologne and with it, the expected loss of the archives of the writer Heinrich Boll (apologies for lack of the Umlaut but writing his name as Boell just doesn't look right!)

Now this probably won't mean anything to most of my readers. But for me it holds all sorts of memories. Cologne is a city on the Rhine, famous for its cathedral and of course, Eau de Cologne. It is also the city where, when I lived in Germany, I had to change trains on every journey to and from the UK.

Heinrich Boll was a notable post-war German writer. Many of his works chronicled how ordinary Germans coped in the aftermath of the war, in the painful period of rebuilding and trying to come to terms with the past. One of his books was a slim volume called (in English), The Bread of Those Early Years. A simple and moving love story, set in one day, it uses the leitmotif of colour symbolism to great effect. It was part of my German A Level syllabus and made a huge impact on me. I still have a copy, in German, on my book shelf.

Perhaps his most famous book, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, chronicled how the tabloid press can destroy lives, by stirring false suspicions in a time of paranoia about terrorism. Writtten in 1974, its subject matter could equally be relevant today. I studied that book, and the film adaptation, on my degree course.

Although Boll was perhaps never significantly well known in the UK, he was hugely influential in his own country and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. The probable loss of all his private papers and unpublished work is a tragedy.

I feel a need to revisit his books soon. I wonder if my German is up to it?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Coffee mornings

Oh dear, another week has passed with no blog post. I've been busy catching up after the half term and there was really nothing to say.

I may have forgotten to tell you that I finished the OU Introduction to Counselling course a few weeks ago. The official results will be out later this month but, as there was no exam element, I already know I will have passed.

It was an interesting course and parts of it will be very relevant to my voluntary work at the support group coffee mornings I have helped run for many years. Although we are all volunteers, we represent a major national charity and therefore we have to be as professional as possible. The listening skills learned on a counselling course, even a largely academic distance learning course as mine was, are invaluable. It is not rocket science, these are just the basic communication skills that many of us will have been taught as part of employment over the years, but a refresher is always timely.

We don't pretend to be trained counsellors, we are not. In any case, our branch can also offer a proper counselling service with a professional counsellor for those who need it. But we have to be able to listen to parents who are often distraught after receiving a diagnosis of autism for their child. We have to be able to offer practical information without seeming patronising. We have to forget that we have answered the same questions so many times in the past and not lose patience. We have to remember not to keep bringing the conversation back to our own child. We have to make our members, especially newcomers, feel welcome and to do so we have to gently discourage cliques and attention hogging.

It can be hard to support others when you are going through difficult times yourself. The experience in our small team is that at any particular time at least one of us will be dealing with some sort of family crisis or transition. At these times we may step back and let others cover to allow a breathing space. But because we believe we offer a valuable service, most of us return. I took last year off and just attended the meetings to receive support myself, but I'm back doing more this year.

If I can help just one other parent, it is worth the effort.