Once there was a girl… a challenge?

Last night I had dinner with Rochelle, which is always a sensible thing to do. Not only is she lovely and very funny, she never fails to be inspiring. She’s had about fourteen careers already, and she’s not even quite in her mid-30s, and she just doesn’t let things hold her back. Sure she feels fear, and has the occasional wobble, because she’s human. But she also sees something she wants to do, logically works out how to achieve it, and then just does it. Given I’m still learning how to ask for stuff, you can imagine why seeing her always feels like a shot in the arm.

We got talking about challenges, and I bore everyone to tears about make no secret of the fact that my #100forchildsi challenge really changed me. Since then, I’ve kept drawing, and even experimented with putting one of my designs on a t-shirt. I’ve got vague but gradually coalescing plans to do more with this, and another design developing in my head. I really do want to progress this to the point where there is an actual physical product available, potentially even to sell. Whether or not anyone wants to buy it, well… that’s another issue.

But before I was drawing, I was writing. And I still write. But not nearly as often as I could or should. But a blogging challenge just didn’t appeal somehow. I liked the idea of a theme (getting too nebulous creatively can be as problematic as being too limited), but I also wanted to stretch my fiction-writing muscles which are seriously flabby and creaking, but for the occasional stretch.

So I thought, what if my theme was ‘once there was a girl*’? If that was the first line of every story, and each story was maybe a tiny complete tale or a short fragment, and I tried to do it every day for, say, 30 days? I have the feeling I should do it sooner rather than later, so maybe I’ll start this weekend. And this time, I’m not accountable to people raising money for charity (though if you’d like to support Childsi anyway, my JustGiving page still exists). And I am really going to have to put my money where my mouth is on the asking front, because I’d be asking anyone who’s sweet enough to read this blog on occasion to spend time looking at stuff that would be quick and unpolished, and that I wouldn’t feel very confident about. And that’s terrifying, though here I take inspiration from another marvellous woman, Jenni, who recently launched her fab book vlog.

So… I think I’m going to do it. It might be soon. It might be very soon. And I invite you to gently take my hand and give it a squeeze and be constructive, but kind. Because you’re wonderful and I have faith in you. Yes, you.

*Yes, always a girl, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tom and his paper cats, and he came into my head as a man, and a man he should stay. But while I’m challenging myself, why not add a more female voice among the many, many male stories? I might change my mind and bend my own rules, but we’ll see.

Edit 08.02: Well, it looks like we’re off and running! I’ll add pieces below as they appear…

1. OTWAG: Once
2. OTWAG: The Thunder Tree
3. OTWAG: Am (Not) Writing
4. OTWAG: Library
5. OTWAG: Holding the Leash
6. OTWAG: Resolution
7. OTWAG: Bedtime Story
8. OTWAG: The Pink Paper
9. OTWAG: Watching
[Edit 19/02: A slight interlude of fail. I my defence, I’ve been working full, long days and then had evening plans that have seen me busy until at least 11pm. Yes, if I was really dedicated I’d get up even earlier than 6am or write until 2am, but I’m clearly doomed to eternal lack of ‘really wanting it’ or something when it comes to the decision between writing and seeing my child, or sleeping. I shall return this weekend, however, with a genteel, finger-tapping vengeance.]

I am Squarehead – Simon Frank and Margit Mulder

I am Squarehead book coverIt’s always awkward writing about something created by people you know. For the full record, Simon Frank is someone I’ve known for a fairly long while as part of former third sector agency Beautiful World; furthermore, my graphic designer husband Ashley was employed by them and still works with Simon on occasion at Bats in Belfries.

None of that, however, is why I’m writing this blog post (and I certainly wasn’t asked to). While I admire I am Squarehead greatly, I wouldn’t have decided to put my thoughts out there if my daughter hadn’t recently fallen in love with it after being given a copy by our friend, and Simon’s business partner, the inimitable Rochelle Dancel.

The thing is, it’s actually really difficult to get Ramona to like anything. Sure, parents can influence, show approval or outright ban stuff. But that doesn’t always come to much; both Ash and I absolutely love Jon Klassen’s beautiful and wickedly brilliant I Want My Hat Back but Ramona has gone from being gut-wrenchingly terrified of it to merely being deeply suspicious of it. Also, I swear she can sense enthusiasm and just says no to wind us up sometimes. Some books she has never taken to, or been scared of – Mog in the Fog, Edwina the Emu – others she has loved instantly – all the other Meg and Mog books, Possum Magic, The Day the Crayons Quit . Still others she has suddenly flipped from hating to loving, dependent on God knows what – like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. So for her to so quickly, passionately love a book with a deliberately scary moment in it – albeit one that is quickly turned on its head – is something we always find worthy of note.

See, Ramona is definitely a kid who does some round thinking in a square world – just like Squarehead, who has to leave town and make some friends who also don’t fit the spaces they’re being forced into before coming back to change things for the better for everyone. She’s always been immensely good at dealing with the things that I know often throw kids for a loop – changing nurseries, starting school, moving into a big girl bed – but she can also find some apparently innocuous things very hard. Sometimes this has included introducing new books, where she is very wary of scary moments. School, where she burned through the reading scheme and is now allowed to choose books written for kids two or three years older than her and reads them mostly independently, has really helped with this as her confidence is constantly climbing and she changes books almost daily. Still, she’s one of nature’s overthinkers (can’t imagine where she gets it from).

The thing is that, as Squarehead points out, once you’ve had a thought, you can’t unthink it. But, as Squarehead discovers, you can sometimes be accosted by something you think is utterly terrifying, only for it to turn out to be something you love very much.

I don’t know whether I am Squarehead appeals to Ramona because she sees herself in it at some level, as I do. I don’t know whether she just likes the idea of a story written by someone Mummy and Daddy know (Simon has since signed it, and now she reads the dedication aloud to me). I don’t know if she’s just charmed by Margit Mulder’s deceptively simple illustrations – my personal favourite is the bathtub with square bubbles. Maybe it’s all of those or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it just seemed so perfect to me that I wanted to record this moment; too soon she’ll abandon this and move on to the next thing. For now, awkwardness aside, this is a snapshot I wanted to keep.