Saturday, 25 February 2012

Why Knowing Yourself Is Your Best Protection

      Everyone is under pressure. To conform. To follow the horde. To let others manipulate and control their lives. But not everyone reacts in the same way. How you personally handle such pressure has little to do with circumstances and everything to do with your sense of identity. About knowing what’s right for YOU.
      Take the following scenario and consider how you’d react: An acquaintance, colleague or classmate tries to tempt you into an activity you know to be anti-social, harmful or even illegal. It could be smoking, vandalism, shoplifting, heavy drinking, driving too fast, being coerced into unwanted sexual activity or any number of things but, just for the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve been offered a joint of marijuana. Would you:
(a) Try to wheedle out of it with lame excuses, such as: “Oh, I’m not Dad would kill me....what if we get caught?.....perhaps another time.....”
(b) Reject the offer with a firm, unequivocal statement. For example: “Not for me, I like breathing too much - and you should have more sense as well!” 
      The difference between (a) and (b) is knowing who you are, of having a sense of identity which encompasses your attitudes, principles and, above all, your right to make your own decisions - whether these offend others or not. Some people, particularly youths, are afraid to make a stand in case they appear uncool. Yet, ironically, it’s the very people who stay true to themselves who earn the respect of their peers, not ones who can never say ‘No’ and who yearn to be in with the crowd.

Examine Your Strengths
      A healthy identity is tied up with self-esteem and inner confidence. Unfortunately, there are times, particularly during adolescence, when you feel vulnerable and unsure, so it helps to examine your strengths, talents and abilities. Think of all the things you’re good at – sports, music, art, woodwork, creative writing or even an academic subject – then write them down. You can also add your qualities, like being a good listener, being there for others, staying calm in a crisis, generosity, determination, having a strong sense of justice and other attributes of which you can be genuinely proud. If it helps, ask someone close to you what they perceive as your strengths. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Admit Your Failings
      Now here comes the hard part. Make a list of your weaknesses, bearing in mind that, while no one is perfect, your failings only influence you to the extent that you allow. Knowing what they are is the first essential step to controlling and perhaps even eliminating them. Meditate on how each weakness could be exploited by others, causing problems for you. For example, if you have a weakness for alcohol, would it be wise to mix with people whose main leisure activity is drinking?

Decide on Your Goals
      Having a goal or purpose in life helps you focus on the future. Watch sprinters preparing to run a race. Do you see them gazing absently into the crowd? No. From the moment they enter the track, an athlete’s eyes are firmly set on the finishing post and on winning first place.
      In the same way, you can avoid much that is unnecessary, wasteful and harmful. Having an ambition, or even a small goal, can keep you on track. If nothing else, you’ll be too busy planning how to reach your goal to care what others are thinking about you.

Determine Your Principles
      Principles should be at the core of every human. Knowing what they are and sticking by them, no matter what the cost, will identify you as a person of conviction. Without a moral code, people are like wisps of grass swaying in the wind, unable to control their own direction.
      So take charge of your life. Discover who you are and, like an oak tree, stand firm for what you believe in. That way, no matter what circumstances come upon you, you’ll always stay true to yourself.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Why, for some folk, pantomime's no fairy tale

       Terrific fun, of course, but writing pantomimes can be a perilous occupation. Not only do scripts have to be side-achingly funny, but politically correct, issue-aware, community-focused and socially on-message into the bargain!
       And now here’s another factor we scribes need to contend with – choosing a theme that won’t give children nightmares! According to a recent survey by US TV channel Watch, one in five parents have turned their backs on traditional fairy tales, considering the yarns too frightening for young children. Whether anyone asked their offspring what they thought is open to question – I tend to think not, as most kids I know love nothing better than a really good scare!
       Some of the adults interviewed also find certain stories unrealistic, reactionary, and even immoral. Tales such as Hansel & Gretel and Rapunzel, for instance, involve kidnapping, while poor Snow White gets a raw deal from the wicked stepmother and is morally endangered by seven strange little men.  
       Parents involved in the study are also of the view that fairy tale characters should be set a good example which, apparently, the thieving Goldilocks does not. Come to that, neither does the notorious beanstalk crawler and hero of my own epic Jack, who broke into the giant’s castle and made off with his victim's nest egg. As for Cinderella and the Sleeping Beauty - those wimpy stereotypes of the female persuasion - don’t even go there!
       With strongly held views like these, it’s hardly surprising that, rightly or wrongly, a whole generation of under-fives are now being reared on modern alternatives such as Thomas the Tank Engine, the Mr Men series and The Gruffalo, tomes that are considered suitable bedtime reading.
       Of course, many of the original, unexpurged folk tales - envisioned by Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and others - were actually quite horrific, so much so, they could no doubt give your average video nasty a run for its money! Take the Ugly Sisters, for example; in the original version, they mutilated their own feet to fit into Cinders' dainty glass slipper. Snow White involves a rather nasty account of attempted child murder - by a family member at that! And what the Big Bad Wolf did to poor old grandma doesn't even bear contemplating!
       Needless to say, pantomime versions are carefully sanitised.
       Interestingly, many people feel that fairy stories can help children deal with real-life fears. Renowned pyschologist Bruce Bettelheim, for example, believes their far-fetched scenarios offer coping mechanisms for youngsters, enabling them to chart their way through difficult situations in an increasingly hostile, adult-controlled world.
       In his book, Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bettelheim argues: "Fairy tales are loved by the child…..because — despite all the angry, anxious thoughts in his mind to which the fairy tale gives body and specific context — these stories always result in a happy outcome, which the child cannot imagine on his own.”
       Children can also learn to identify human traits and frailties. Take any well-known folk tale and it's easy to parallel even the most exaggerated characters with flesh and blood people they encounter every day.
       Like Mum, for instance. When in conflict with her child, a mother who's normally cast as the good fairy is, to the child's mind, quickly transformed into the wicked witch; Daddy becomes the wise old Wizard, the fearless woodcutter rescuing Little Red Riding Hood from the slavering jaws of the wolf, or (my favourite) the eternal magic money-tree! And I'll give you three guesses who Justin Bieber represents! My own handsome heartthrob will soon be collecting his bus pass, which just goes to show not all fairy tales end happily! Meanwhile, a host of walk-ons in these fantasies i.e. ogres, beasts and pixies substitute for teachers, siblings and various friends or rivals.
       Personally, I find echoes of old fairy tales in almost every book I read, in films, in plays and even video games. It's said there are only 6 (or is it 8?) basic plots for which every writer has a different way of telling, each unique in its own way. Without such tales, there wouldn't be pantomimes - putting me out of a job for a start!
       Which reminds me, it's time to crack on with my tale of Jack, the Beanstalk, and his criminal tendencies!

PS. Watch out for more panto news from

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A girl runs away until she catches him

       Everyone has crushes.
       My first crush was a rather neat little boy called Gregory - blond, blue eyed, scrupulously clean, stylishly dressed and impeccably groomed - a genuine prototype for Justin Bieber.
       As I remember we were 6 or 7 years old at the time, so it was all very innocent. Every playtime, the whole class would join in an enthusiastic chase – ‘girls after boys’ and the next day, supposedly, ‘boys after girls’. Unfortunately, the boys preferred being chased as the alternative was too much bother - and this is a pattern their older selves have followed ever since!
       Let’s face it, how many lads tweet quite as obsessively about – ooh, let’s say Emma Watson or Keira Knightley or whoever the current Miss Dream Girl happens to be? Do any of them have 44million followers on Twitter? But I digress.
      Back to the chase. I definitely felt Gregory was the love of my life and was sure he felt exactly the same about me. That’s why it was hard to understand just why, on the rare occasion when the boys were actually persuaded to run after us for a change, no matter how much I tried I could never get caught by Gregory!     Perhaps he was just too slow!
Turning to the dark side
       Since then, of course, it’s been downhill all the way. Once the teens kicked in, my tastes changed radically. No longer did I sigh over neat, WASP-like young gentlemen. Such outdated specimens were now relegated to the Mills & Boon-inspired, all-round solid, good guy with a responsible career like 'doctor' or something equally 'caring'. (Strangely enough, Gregory became a dentist which is sort of caring, I suppose.)
       No, from now on only bad boys would do. There were a couple at art school who were the coolest guys in college by leagues. One of them, Trevor was everything a really, really bad boy should be and in his prime would have given Ricky Retch (the wild rocker from The Runaway Children 2) a fierce run for his money.
       Slightly bohemian, hugely creative, at eighteen he’d already lost one of his front teeth – not through gum disease, you understand, or anything weedy like that, but in a bout of fisticuffs with someone who'd offended him by trashing his paintings. But Trev didn’t care about appearances. He was far too cool to let a minor thing like a missing front tooth worry him. It only added to his bad boy image. 
       In every respect, Trevor was a hard guy; he liked to drink, he liked to fight and few females could resist him. He did, however, have one thing in common with Crush-Mark-1-Gregory - he never, ever chased after girls.
       Was this because he was too conceited? No. Neither was Gregory. The fact is, they just couldn’t be bothered. When it comes to relationships, many modern day men are too lazy, especially if they're good-looking. Why bother when so many girls will run after you?
       Oh, there used to be a time when young men ‘pressed their suit’, so’s to speak, should a likely young lassie catch their eye. Not out of chivalry or Darcy-style romance, mind. In the old days, nice girls were so carefully protected, any man who expected to marry one of them had to make a little effort. Like asking for a date! But in this day and age, they simply don’t have to!
       Is Justin Bieber ever going to beg for some girl's phone number? Will Robert Pattinson ever join a dating agency? Is Shia LaBoeuf walking past the same bus station every day in case SHE's there? Or does Leo di Caprio have to wrestle each new girlfriend into submission? I doubt it.
       Good guys, bad guys, wise guys, any kind of guys – they’re quite happy with their football/playstation/booze/cars/fights/ fishing or whatever. Because, unless they’re seriously unpleasant or Olympic sprinters, it’s usually girls who do the running.
       So what about Gregory? You may be surprised and even a little pleased to know he eventually came round to my point of view and we went out together - briefly - until circumstances and university drew us apart.
       As for Trevor. Well, he never asked and I was afraid to. Truth be told, had he just inched a little too suddenly in my direction, I'd probably have run for my life!

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Biggest Bully in the world

       Can't say I've ever really been bullied. Apart from getting whipped at primary school by a nun with an overangelical zeal for times tables and a determination to make me smart! Oh, and being used for target practice by a karate-kicking older brother. 
       Yes, I've had my share of threats, put-downs, snubs and slights but hey, that's par for the course, isn't it? What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that.
       Except for some people it DOES kill. In recent years, the media have highlighted trolling - a nasty trend for online bullying which has driven some youths to suicide. Why? Did these teenaged victims merit such abuse? Or were they just particularly vulnerable?
       Actually, ALL teens are vulnerable. Show me an adolescent who doesn't obsess about his or her appearance, who doesn't suffer paroxyms of angst about their popularity, or who never views unwitting slights as out and out rejection.
       The average 13-18 year old may be difficult but, be fair, they have a lot to contend with - homework, hormones, hostile teachers, jealous rivals, indifferent crushes and parents who fail to understand them. There's a whole army out there, waiting to ambush them and lynch their self-esteem from the highest branch. No wonder so many are driven to harm themselves by mocking or downright vicious texts or tweets from manipulative, so-called 'friends'. Easy prey.
       Yet, for sheer unadulterated sadism, none of these enemies (actual or perceived) holds a candle to the biggest bully of them all...the willing accomplice, the arch critic, the merciless judge: Just look in a mirror.
       A recent survey showed that the longer we look at ourselves, the more fault we're liable to find. Our noses seem larger, our eyes smaller, our hair frizzier and our spots more prolific than those of anyone who ever strode the planet! Woe betide you if your mirror's magnified....Leave those blackheads alone!
       And it isn't just teenagers who suffer from real or imagined flaws. Ask almost any new Mum and she'll admit to feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. Having spent many a happy hour trying to remove the bubbles from my baby's sterilised bottle, or receiving disapproving looks from friends and relatives when she wouldn't stop crying, I can certainly vouch for that. It didn't really matter what others thought or said; my own inner bully would set to work with gusto, undermining everything and anything I did. My first year of motherhood was shrouded by guilt, shame, fear, and a total lack of worth. 
       Qualified Trainer of NLP and Master NLP Coach, Karen Clarke of Powerful Positive People knows a lot about bullies and what makes them tick, and the ones she's found the hardest to cope with tend to be ourselves.
       Karen also has an antidote to all those negative feelings. "If you choose to reach deep inside yourself, forgive yourself your frailties, mistakes and perceived failures, forgive others their frailties, mistakes and perceived failures, and see the deep beauty that lives in your heart of hearts and the value and potential that you bring to this world; all external antagonists will pale in comparison. It is indeed as simple as that."*
       So don't listen to that carping, critical voice inside yourself, move on from your fears and let nothing and no one stop you being the wonderful person you are. 

*Extract from "From Bullied to Brilliant"

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Runaway Children Volume 2 - The Astonishing Mr Smyle

"The Astonishing Mr Smyle"

Following on from my first volume, "Flight from the Nunjas", the next book in The Runaway Children trilogy is now available from Amazon and other ebook sites. This latest episode introduces Alazon Smyle, a man of truly astonishing wealth who promises to help the Hadwin children find their missing parents.

In the meantime, Alice, Miles and Joe, along with Odi Rogers and their friends from the forest - learn to live in the lap of luxury with fame and fortune on tap and as much conspicuous consumption as the world can offer.

But does having it all bring happiness? Will material riches make the children forget what really matters? Can they morph into A list celebs and still be nice people?

Read on and meet some extraordinary new characters: Justin Bieber's alter ego - Ricky Retch the rock star; superstar crew Digger Dogger Doo; Captain Catastrophe, the world's worst sailor; and, of course, the amazing, magnetising, truly astonishing Mr Smyle!

You can find out a lttle more about these characters here:

Captain Catastrophe
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be a little more specific, Joe, if I’m going to get you there,” said Captain Catastrophe. “My navigational skills are not so clever at the best of times.”
This, as it happened, turned out to be an understatement. In fact, it took the three of them at least half an hour to decide which way up the map should go. It then took another half hour to decide where Australia was, Joe having decided that was the country his parents were most likely to be in.
“Right!” exclaimed the Captain. “So at least we have the right continent."

Ricky Retch
"The very mention of that name set her heart quivering. Not only was Ricky Retch THE rock phenomenon of the twenty-first century, but his smouldering dark eyes and the carelessly tousled hair that curled adorably into his neck had catapulted him to the top of every young girl’s wish list.
“Huh!” replied Odi, for once stuck for a reply. “He coming to your party then?”
“Not only is he coming” crowed Alice, “but he’s giving a special, never-to-be repeated performance in my honour. He’s even written a song for me! So there!” Instantly, she regretted this last exclamation, realising, too late, it would merely encourage Odi to retaliate.
“What’s that then? ‘Bout how you fell out of the ugly tree?”
Alice smiled weakly. It was hard to get offended by this silly child when everyone, but everyone, admired her. Hadn’t she recently appeared on the cover of Vogue as the Face of the Future? "Yes, very witty, Odi. Now do be a dear and go away. I need my beauty sleep.”
“You can say that again!” Odi waited for the usual hard stare, but even this was a rare occurrence these days. Just how far did a guy have to go to insult somebody? Anyway, he wasn’t going to let things lie. “Well, if you have Ricky Retch, I’m going to have Digger Dogger Doo…”

Alazon Smyle
“Come on, Miles. Let’s see how good a financier you are. We’ll just log on here, take a look at our prospects and…..Eureka! We’ve bought a company.”
“Wow!” If Mr Smyle was trying to impress, he was succeeding. “Just like that?” said Miles.
“Just like that.” said Mr Smyle. “The ultimate reality game, one that makes you millions in minutes at the mere touch of a mouse. Here, you try.”
Miles needed no persuading. Five hours later, he was still there, having acquired several corporations and bought and sold most of the toys in Europe. Mr Smyle was delighted. “You have a definite flair for the market, Miles!” he remarked encouragingly. “I’ll have to make you a director.”

The Runaway Children Trilogy - all three books are now available for download: