World Space Week

My topical article for October was about World Space Week. It was fun to research something that didn’t fall into a health or history category!

It was fascinating to learn about not just the work NASA is doing, but the work being undertaken by private companies determined to help humanity explore deep space, colonise other planets and benefit from the resources the universe has to offer.

In our lifetimes, we may see a team go into deep space on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that Lockheed Martin is building for NASA – opening up the universe and its secrets for us.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s Space X company is already shuttling cargo back and forth to the ISS, set to add crew members to its manifest as early as next year. The reusable rockets it’s working on could revolutionise the way we see space travel by making it much, much cheaper and convenient.

And if Planetary Resources have a say in the matter, we may also see the production of rocket fuel in space (from water-rich carbonaceous chondrites) and the mining of asteroids for precious metals.

NASA itself is not idle, of course, intending to investigate the Kuiper belt and deepen our understanding of ice dwarfs and how they evolve.

As for me, I’m torn between thinking these billions could be better spent here on Earth and acknowledging that many technologies developed for space eventually benefit people right here – and that, with the state of the Earth already, perhaps planning for safe boltholes is an entirely sensible option.

If you’d like to delve deeper, why not visit the World Space Week website yourself, which has links to the projects and companies at the forefront of space technology and exploration.

#Writer Beware: Not All Fame Is Good Fame

From time to time, people contact me to say how much they’ve appreciated one of my health columns. It’s nice to get those emails, social media messages or comments via the website; I like to feel the articles are being read and that they’re helping people. If one of my columns has been published in a local magazine, I sometimes get some rather lovely pleasant face-to-face feedback, too.

However, I was reminded recently that my control over how my humble Word documents are transformed into printed articles in magazines is limited – and that not all fame is good fame…

“They’re talking about your article!!” chirruped a Facebook message from a friend last month. I frowned at her link, which was to a post on the FB page of a local village. What was that image? Why were they laughing about my article? I squinted. Wasn’t that a picture of the short version of my article, printed in a local magazine?

I leaned closer. Why had somebody drawn a circle around th-


World Blood Donor Day Blooper

No. I don’t know how that made it to print, either.

I went straight on the internet to see if I could find digital versions of other print magazines in which it might have appeared.

Phew! Luckily, the article has appeared in other publications with a less embarrassing graphic. People in Birmingham and various parts of Yorkshire have been spared potential blushes, as have many others across the blood donor day 3

Unfortunately, people in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire weren’t so lucky. I would apologise, but honestly, that side of it is nothing to do with me!

The moral of this story? Never write an article with a title that could be turned into something dubious by a graphic designer’s one-letter typo. It’s certainly made me give my titles a second look…


Bugs, Busting and Bug-Busting

Hah. A January post that’s not about resolutions. Never fear – that one is on its way…


Bugs of all kinds have been a theme in the last few weeks. In December a stomach bug tore through the village, leaving everyone feeling distinctly unfestive. Despite one of my beloved preschoolers throwing up quite spectacularly on my shoes, I thought I’d avoided The Bug (having sprayed everything in a 5 metre radius and disinfected my shoes). But no. It hit me the Sunday night and Monday before Christmas, and I still didn’t feel great on the day – so snacking and boozing were very limited and happened more at New Year.

Since Christmas, my laptop has puffed smoke and made a strange popping noise as a dodgy USB port died, my F key stopped working (fixed by Techie Husband. What would I do without him?), my K key is behaving oddly and the printer has suddenly decided to sleep whenever it wants to, and won’t wake up on anyone else’s terms. Useful, not.

Laptop and Stethoscope
One bug-bear (theme stretch alert) is my need for somewhere proper to write – somewhere that’s not dark, poky or a constant reminder of housework I could be doing, and doesn’t involve being unable to pull back curtains because my desk and its hutch are in the way (i.e. the corner of our bedroom). Somewhere I can have my paraphernalia handy, and not have to pack everything up and move it. Short-term, I think I’ll be moving back to the spare bedroom again (which is tiny, so don’t come and stay, anyone – because once I’m in there with my big desk, you won’t fit.) Long-term, Techie Husband and I have decided the answer is a garage conversion, which will hopefully happen in the summer. I’ll keep you updated with the Great Garage Project, but Step 1 is finding somewhere to house all the garden furniture and equipment it contains, so a shed arrives next weekend. I’ll take pictures but  I can guarantee it won’t look like this… .. more’s the pity.



Well, more busted really. The hand I damaged in the Cheese Sauce of Doom incident hasn’t really improved, much as the GP predicted. Currently debating whether to go and get a second opinion on the ‘nothing to be done, come back when it’s a claw’ diagnosis. It limits writing longhand and, shock horror, peeling potatoes (which was completely impossible at first) is doable but very awkward and slow. The loss of sensitivity in the thumb and poor grip means I drop things more often and have to bend down all the time, so it’s no surprise that my hiatus hernia has been playing up again. These things don’t get me down as much as frustrate me. I just want to GET ON!! 😀


I’m afraid that’s the unglamorous subject of my health column this month, as one of the three annual Bug-Busting Days falls on January 31st. Bug-Busting Day: Say Goodbye to Head Lice may well be in a local magazine near you, so if you have school-age children or work with them, have a read – unfortunately you’re a sitting-duck (but don’t need to be a lice-ridden one, if you follow my tips!).

Bug-busting Day

At the moment this is the only thing  of mine published in print this month, I think. And that’s all I’ve got time for, folks, because self, Techie Husband, Arty Daughter and Constructo Boy are off to a birthday party. Arty Daughter’s best friend (K the Cat)’s mum has a Significant Birthday. For a real step back in time, I’ll end with a photo of K the Cat and Arty Daughter in their Cosplay gear – nearly 4 years ago now, at the Spring London MCM Expo in 2011.

Arty Daughter (right) and K the Cat.
Arty Daughter (right) and K the Cat.

They’ve grown up a lot since then…

Before We Say Goodbye To Christmas…

Before we say goodbye to Christmas, I thought I’d (somewhat belatedly) share one of my favourite projects this year – researching the Christmas Truce of 1914. The resulting article was my most syndicated yet, and appeared in more than 15 different magazines, which I was very chuffed with!

Christmas Truce Harpenden NowI particularly liked this layout used in Harpenden Now magazine, because I thought the image of soldiers used behind the text was very effective. The layout below is from The CM21 Connection, who seem to have bought the full length version rather than the edited one.

Christmas Truce The CM21 Connection






Christmas Truce handy mag
The Handy Mag designers used some charming Christmas imagery to illustrate the article, shown here on the left. I like the snowy background effect.

When researching the article I used many letter excerpts, including some from letters written by Henry Williamson – yes, the same man who went on to write Tarka the Otter, a book that made me cry when I first read it around age ten. If you would like to read letters from this period, I can heartily recommend the amazing Christmas Truce website, “borne out of research conducted by Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park in 1999 for a booklet on the Christmas Truce called ‘Plum Puddings For All'”.  Alan and Lesley became “aware of the vast resource lying dormant in newspaper archives: original personal letters from participants describing what happened and the effect it had on them”. Alan, Lesley and other volunteers have since made it their task to seek out and transcribe these records, and it’s a stunning resource, so do visit.

Several magazines had obviously noticed the emphasis on personal letter excerpts and the mention of carols sung by both sides, and chose to to illustrate Christmas Truce the article with letters or German music scores, as Community Spotlight did (see right). The photos used were very touching too and provide proof that it wasn’t all swept under the carpet; the Christmas Truce events were reported in the UK just days later, with letters and photos appearing in national newspapers. While there was some disapproval in the higher ranks, it wasn’t the national disgrace it’s sometimes made out to have been.

If the experiences of WW1 soldiers interests you then there are dozens of books to read, but some I’ve dipped into recently are The Soldier’s War  and The Quick and the Dead by Richard Van Emden, and also Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan. Corrigan’s book raised a few hackles when published due to his determination to bust what he saw as some of the most troublesome and persistent WW1 myths.

If you would like to read my article, you can find it here on page 52 of the digital version of Yes magazine – if you’re interested in vision correction, my article on that is in the same magazine on page 36!

De-stressed by The Teenage Guide to Stress

A new book coming through the post is always a reason to celebrate. But when it’s on your mat when you get home from an unexpected and rather stressful stint at work, it’s even better. And when it’s a book you’ve wonand it’s a good’un! – what could be better?

Not a lot (yes, that’s the right answer. You can put your hand down at the back). Coming home to a signed copy of Nicola Morgan’s The Teenage Guide to Stress on Monday was a great start to a busy week, and as you’ll see…

Teenage Stress

… Nicola sent three lovely signed postcards too, featuring her book covers; one for me and one each for ArtyDaughter and ConstructoBoy. I asked for the book to be signed to them because, well, they’re teenagers. I thought it might be very useful for them. ConstructoBoy was alerted to the book’s presence by TechieHusband muttering approvingly about it as he turned it over in his hands.

ConstructoBoy (glaring, jaw twitching, fingers drumming an irregular beat on the table): What? Why have you got us a book on teenage stress, hmm? So what are you saying? That I’m STRESSED?

Walks off stage, grinding teeth.

I jest. That’s artistic licence gone mad. He did make a fake unimpressed noise, though, and asked why I thought he needed it.

Of course, nobody needs a book on stress solely because they’re a teenager – and it’s not only teenagers that may need a book on stress, either! But I’ve already had a dip into several sections and read enough to know that firstly, it’s really good and full of sound, non-judgemental advice – I found myself nodding a lot – and that secondly, I wished I’d had a book like it when I was a teenager. When I was a teen, I didn’t know that I was stressed, but looking back, I’m not sure how I survived with my marbles intact (always open to debate, that one).

I do remember saying once that I wanted to go to the doctors because I thought I might be suffering from depression. I was asked what on earth I had to be depressed about. I didn’t mention it again.

Hopefully any teens out there experiencing similar problems to those I had (problems that unfortunately I can’t really go into here) will borrow, buy or download this book and not only be reassured, but steered towards getting the right information and help too.

The Teenage Guide to Stress is my favourite kind of non-fiction – the kind that genuinely helps, informs and makes the world a teensy bit better. If you want to scoop up a copy for yourself, try your local bookseller, or WHSmith, Waterstones,, the Hut… or those other South American river people if you must. You know who I mean.

If you’re in the Peak District, you could pop into the lovely Scarthin Books, which I wrote about here, to buy a copy. In the Marches/Herefordshire? Then pootle along to Aardvark Books instead (recommended here). You’ll get a warm welcome at both places and delicious food, too (plus, probably, several other books you didn’t budget for). What more could you ask for?


In Which I Admit That Alex Gazzola @HealthJourno And @Simon Whaley might have a point :)

Confession time.

With fiction, I feel I know what I’m doing. Roughly. I have a uni Diploma in creative writing. I’ve had a small amount of fiction success. So hopefully I understand the principles of telling a good yarn, even if, like all writers, it takes me a few rewrites to sieve out the grit and get to the gold. And non fiction shouldn’t be a problem, should it? My OU education tutor, very well-respected and much published, urged me to do a Masters because he felt I wrote well at that level. I happily chunter on in my monthly column about preschool happenings in the village mag, and had a history article accepted by a Huntingdonshire magazine editor (she never ended up publishing it, mind, or commissioning the series she wanted me to do, but that’s another story).


But here’s my CONFESSION: generally, as far as non-fiction goes, I’m a bit scared. I’ve always felt I’m not worthy. Yes, I’ve dabbled in a few careers, but never risen to any professional prominence in them; I have hobbies, but haven’t pursued anything obsessively. I don’t even OWN an anorak. So why would anyone want me to write about education, childcare, inclusive practice, equality and diversity, history, medicines, children’s literature, books, or the genius that is Stargate in all its permutations, when there are hundreds of people out there more qualified than me?

I’ve read advice about writing non-fiction in magazines articles and on the blogs of writers like Simon Whaley and Alex Gazzola. I’ve learnt about finding my niche, expanding my niche, twisting topics in my niche so they fit into other people’s niches and venturing out of my niche. It all made me feel very buoyant. But when I had snuck away  and thought about it for a while, the only thing I felt confident writing was a comment, preferably in size 6 font, on the end of their posts: “I haven’t got a niche. I don’t know quite enough about anything.

Alex Gazzola @HealthJourno
Alex Gazzola
Simon Whaley @simonwhaley
Simon Whaley

I’n not the only one. I know this because on Alex’s blog, Mistakes Writers Make, he has charts showing  most popular posts this month and most popular posts ever. Guess what? His post on this very subject -‘Mistake No. 12: “I can’t write for Yachting Monthly!”‘ is the top post this month and no.6 in his all time greats. Simon’s posts on this subject, which include Taking small steps and You’re the best person to write this piece because … are on his tutor blog Simon Says because he knows these concerns are shared by a lot of his students. But readers, I listened to their words of wisdom but did not quite believe. Forgive me, father, for…

Then this morning I sat down armed with pen, notebook, this month’s Writer’s News. I intended to read all the market news but in all honesty was only intending to note down fiction markets. Because, remember, I don’t Know Anything.

I started down the first ‘Flashes’ column. Pah! The top item was about Farm and Ranch Living,  a U.S. bimonthly. Yeah, right. What do I know about farming and ranching in the U.S? Then BING!

Yellow light bulb

I don’t know a lot about it, but I know a woman who does. Mary O’Hara.

I know what you’re thinking. The Irish harpist? Really? No, silly. Mary O’Hara the musician, screenwriter and author, who amongst other things wrote My Friend Flicka which was turned into a film and was all about life on a ranch. Not surprising really as she lived on a ranch for 17 years with her second husband. And my fascination with her books made me research her and read her autobiography… hmm. Perhaps I could write an article about her life as a rancher’s wife. Or the way she represented ranching in fiction. Or compare the life of a rancher’s wife in the 1930’s and 40’s to the life of a contemporary rancher’s wife – or indeed lady rancher. Ok. Star that one and write details in the notebook.

Next down, The Aviation Historian. Well I don’t know anything about…
Hold on. I live in East Anglia in the midst of a very hotbed of current and historical RAF activity. I live just over a mile from an RAF base. This means the local papers often feature historical photos and items about RAF history. It was one of these, an item about the extreme bravery of a Lancaster bomber crew member, that sparked my as yet incomplete novel, Forgive and Forget. The first chapter got me a very pleasing mark as my ‘exam piece’ in the first year of my Diploma. And even though that was a few years ago, I did lots of research, all of which I have tucked away. Hmmm…

So sorry, Alex and Simon. I see your point now. I need to think a bit more widely and have more confidence. Perhaps I’ll turn these musings into a filler or a letter, as well! *Whispers* “Ahem… you were right.”