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The Grouse and the Mouse Book Launch

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Earlier this month I launched my new picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones. Here are the highlights of the launch thanks to photographer Chris Scott (and to all of you who tweeted your own pictures too!).

We arrived at the venue to discover these amazing birds were already waiting for us:

Eyebrows were painted red, just like Bagpipe the black grouse by Katie Smith. Katie is the friend who the book is dedicated too – read more about that here:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

My lovely editor Eleanor Collins introduced the evening:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch
I introduced the audience to the characters from the story, Squeaker the wood mouse, Bagpipe the black grouse and also some of the minor characters – this is the fox from the story:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I had some help to demonstrate how camouflage works:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I introduced the highland cow from the story, MacMoo with a true of false quiz:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Most of the audience think what I’m saying to them is MacMoo True:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

But this statement is definitely Poo False:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Then it was time for the story with actions (Squelch Squelch):
The Grouse and the Mouse launchRound of applause from a lovely audience: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was a Q and A hosted by poet and friend (with red eyebrows) Elspeth Murray:
The Grouse and the Mouse launchThanks to everyone who asked questions: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And there were lots of thank yous to be said:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was book signing, I got to meet my illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones for the first time that night too! We signed books together:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Here are some of my favourite tweets about the event:

Huge thanks to everyone who came along and made the evening so lovely! Special thanks to the children, seeing your reaction and enthusiasm for the book made my night.

Thanks to photographer Chris Scott for these wonderful photos. You can see more photos in the album from the book launch here

The Grouse and the Mouse is published by Floris Books in the Picture Kelpies range. It is for sale now at all good book stores. Help your local independent book store by buying it online from the Hive. If you enjoyed it, please review it on Amazon! You might also enjoy ‘Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story‘.

 

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Ready to Launch

Tomorrow I launch my second picture book, The Grouse and the Mouse:

Grouse-and-the-Mouse

I don’t want to say to much about the story in case you’re coming tomorrow, so for now I’ll just share the text from the back cover:

back cover

Today I’ve felt pretty nervous, I went for a swim earlier to try to swim off my nervous energy. That helped a bit. My friend Katie arrived later today, that helped a lot! This is Katie:

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She’s the friend I’ve dedicated the book to. She cried when she first read the book (in a good way). The Grouse (Bagpipe) thinks he knows what’s best for the Mouse (Squeaker) and keeps trying to get him to change the way he’s doing things

“It must be awful to have such a bendy tail, you need a stick to straighten it out”

and so on. But he’s looking at things from a grouse perspective and his advice isn’t right for a mouse. Squeaker, thankfully, is happy with the way he is. He’s confident enough not to let his friend’s strong opinions persuade him to be anything he’s not.

I’ve not always been confident enough to stand up for myself like that, I’ve found myself being shaped by other people’s opinions (especially people that matter to me) but to the point where I’m not being me. Which isn’t good! It’s something I’m working on – I guess I’m trying to be more like Squeaker the wood mouse. And that’s a journey Katie has been on too, she’d been becoming more and more like Squeaker so that’s why I’ve dedicated the book to her.

Earlier today the stickers arrived, they’re to remind everyone to ‘Be yourself’

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Stickers via schoolstickers.com

I’m more or less ready for tomorrow. My presentation includes Laurie Campbell’s beautiful wildlife photos, here’s a sneak preview of one of them:

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

And I’m excited to be using this piece of audio at the launch too – Martin Garnett’s black grouse recording. They sound quite spooky don’t they?:

(click the orange play button)

There will be a chance to get your eyebrows done in grouse red or any other colour you like. And there will be wine and nibbles and black grouse style bum wiggling and an opportunity to hear the story. The illustrator, Kirsteen Harris-Jones is coming too so you can get your book signed by her and me. Hopefully see you there!

If you don’t have your ticket already, get one here.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, nature, Science, Writing

 

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What I learned on Retreat

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I’m back in Edinburgh after a month writing in Italy. In a week’s time I launch my second picture book, The Grouse and the Mouse. I’m moving house the following weekend. So I’ve gone from having no urgent agenda to having a long and urgent to do list. It feels a bit overwhelming. So I thought I’d write about my retreat to try to take some of the lessons learned back to everyday life.

What were the best things about being on retreat?

1) Time to reflect

Sometimes we’re so busy doing things, we forget to look up and think. Here’s some cherries I spotted above me on a walk. To remind me to stop and look up.

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2) Wild Swimming

I was with Ali (week two retreat buddy) and we weren’t planning to swim. We were walking along a river through the valley with mountains on either side of us. Every now and then there was a roar of a small waterfall and we trecked through the undergrowth to find it’s source. One of these waterfalls had hollowed out a natural pool – it was so perfect I decided I was going in. Ali said she would come back another day – when she had swimwear. I undressed and spent a while procrastinating – apologising for my too small pants (so I had a builders bum). I sat on a rocky ledge with my feet in the water willing myself to be brave enough to jump. It was freezing. Ali got so bored of me counting to three and not actually jumping that she decided she might as well join me. Also apologising for her not-the-best underwear. And we jumped in. It was amazing – freezing cold followed by that tingling I-am-alive warmth. So this is to remind me to go for it. You might not always have the right clothes (or be ready) but sometimes it’s good to take a leap.

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Read about wild swimming adventures closer to home in Scotland here.

3) Walking in the mountains

There’s something so calming about time and space outside in nature. I know I don’t live in the mountains, I live in Edinburgh but I live by the sea. I can go for walks there. The highlands aren’t far away.

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John Muir says this better than I could:

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(taken from Tales from Our Wild Park)

So this is to remind me to go outside.

4) Retreat buddies

Being creative brings joy and life. But it’s also lonely and scary. The act of creating is taking a risk, the act of sharing it with others puts you in a vulnerable position. But if you don’t take that risk, you won’t get the feedback you need to improve or know if you’re on the right track. So one thing I loved was sharing work on retreat. I shared writing with Sian (week three retreat buddy – that’s me and her below). I enjoyed being useful and constructive and encouraging to her and her feedback helped me massively to work on and improve my work.

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With week two buddy Ali, we swam and walked lots as well as doing some drawing. One afternoon we were walking along a path where a whole load of butterflies were drinking from some puddles. As we walked they took off – around 40 butterflies flying all around us as we passed through their puddles. It was like a film. Here’s one of Ali’s drawing’s from the retreat. It makes me think of moments like the butterflies – the magic of retreat:

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So this is to remind me to not create in isolation, artists need other artists.

5) Food and sunshine

It was also really lovely to have someone to share meals with and we took it in turns to make food for each other. I loved the food – it was all so fresh that everything we cooked tasted amazing! It was lovely to have sunshine too.

What were the worst things about being on retreat?

1) Insects

I got so many bites. They itched. I took pictures but I don’t think you want to see them.

2) Being propositioned

You say you’re not interested and that you have a boyfriend they say “why is he not here?” and “you should finish with him”. You say you need to get on with your work they say “you have been working for three hours already, I have been watching you. When will you stop working and go for a drink with me?!” and so on. It gets very tiring. Especially when you’re on your own and you’re trying to work and they won’t leave your table.

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3) Heat

It was a bit too hot. Like at night in the last week it was too hot to sleep. So that made me less productive in the day.

4) Being cut off

There was wifi every now and then at the cafe in the square. And in some ways – that was great. I was less contactable and this gave me time and space. I wanted to write without the distractions of every day life and work. But there were some proofs for a book that was going to print and it needed to be looked over. And my time slots for the Green Man Festival needed to be finalised. I needed to check in for my flight home. I had to send a list of email addresses for book launch invites to go out. And so on. So when I needed to do something it often took a few days because I was waiting for wifi to work – so I guess not being able to be distracted properly became a distraction.

5) Loneliness

I was on my own week one and week four. I started to find it hard to cope near the end of week one. Partly because of point 2 above and partly because I was trying to deal with a challenging situation in the UK and partly because I was in a village with no-one to talk to in my own language. Here’s one of the stray cats from the village demonstrating how I felt:

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And do you know what I did eventually? I wrote a blog I’d never publish and sent it to a few friends and I told them how I was feeling. I asked if people could say some encouraging things or funny things because I needed cheering up. And they did. I was sent cat photos and dancing videos and emails from people who shared how lonely they’d felt on retreat and cheery texts and words of advise and one friend called me. It was so good to actually speak to someone! And thanks to that and texts and emails, I knew I wasn’t alone and that people cared and it totally cheered me up. And I realised I was really lucky to have such lovely friends and lucky to have an opportunity in a beautiful place to do some writing. So this cat is to remind me, if you’re feeling rubbish and alone it’s okay to ask for help.

Did I get work done?

Yes. I wrote a middle grade novel (for age 6 – 9 years) I first started on retreat two years ago. It’s about an otter who’s an artist. Many of the experiences I had while I was out walking became part of the novel. I also rewrote a couple of picture books I first began six years ago, one about a frog and one about a worm. And I did some sketches for another book I’m writing. And wrote a first draft for a version of sleeping beauty (with cryogenic freezing) that I’ll be performing at Unbound at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Would I do it all over again?

Yes definitely, but I’d prefer to do it here, in Scotland.

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Posted by on July 10, 2015 in Events, illustration, nature, Writing

 

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Making Space in Italy

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I’m staying here, in the mountains in Italy for a month. I’m on a writing retreat. I’ve been here a few days now and I’ve been thinking about what it means to have space and slow down.

Claudia
I was working in the piazza earlier in the week when a girl asked to draw in my notebook. She was about five and her name was Claudia.

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She started her drawing with a line at the top and bottom of the page. She smiled at me and I said “very good” in Italian. She continued to draw a figure at the bottom of the page. She explained it was her and she wrote her name. I smiled and went to take my notebook back. She pulled it back and started another picture on the next page, with a line at the top and bottom. She explained in Italian, this was her friend Bernadette:

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She turned the page and explained she now needed to draw Stephanie. At this point I turned the page back and pointed to the space above her self portrait. She could draw Stephanie there.

She shook her head and smiled and turned the page again. I turned it back. There was loads of space and this was the only notebook I had. 

She said something Italian in a loud annoyed voice and shook her head. So I said okay and she turned the page and grinned. She left a page defiently and grinned again before drawing Stephanie. And then she left me to play with her friends.

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We All Need Space
And I realised the thing she wanted was space. It was part of the picture. Yeah there was room to squeeze Stephanie into her first drawing but she wanted to use more pages. That’s why she marked out the top and bottom first – the whole page was part of the picture, space included. And even at five,  she wasn’t going to let anyone take the space from her.

Boundaries
When we’re busy our space gets less and less. We’re not always good at drawing lines to mark our boundaries like Claudia did. We squeeze things into every gap and we miss out on the space in life.

Space to rest. Space to think. Space to create. Space to notice others. Space to love. Space to be.

I had an email from my literary agent Lindsey earlier today. It was reminding me that I had the luxury of time and space. Normally I’m writing to deadlines, this trip was something different. Lindsey said:

give yourself room to breathe

So I’m going to try to do that here. I’m listening to Lindsey and I’ll try to be like Claudia, the kid I met who used lots of pages and knew she needed space.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in illustration, Writing

 

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The Grouse and the Mouse

I’m super excited to share the front cover of my new picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ with you!

Grouse-and-the-Mouse

‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ will be published on the 16th July. I added a countdown to the side of my blog!

I’m also super excited to let you know I’ll be taking ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ to the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the 1st September. Here’s my page in the schools programme:

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The Book Festival released their schools programme last week and schools can book tickets now.

I had a lovely time taking my first picture book ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ to Edinburgh International Book Festival last year so it’s wonderful to have been invited back with my second picture book.

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Thanks to Alan and the team at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park for their help researching black grouse for ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’. I wrote about black grouse in a book for grownups called ‘Tales from our Wild Park‘ so that really helped me to find out more about this iconic Scottish bird as well as giving me a setting for the book.

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Thanks to everyone at Floris Books for their help with ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’, especially to my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins and to Kirsteen Harris-Jones for the illustrations!

Pre-order a copy of ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ at Waterstones, Amazon or on my personal favourite ethical book store – The Hive

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Writing

 

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Writing Science Shows with Young People

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I’ve been working with secondary pupils to help them to write and perform science shows in a project called Museums2Go. The pupils were based in Apex inclusion units in Braeview Academy Dundee and Dunfermline High School. I was working for the National Museums Scotland and in partnership with Science Made Simple.

The National Museums Scotland have just published a new video with some highlights from the project:

Museum2Go2 from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Project

The pupils trained to become science communicators, they chose the science demonstrations from a menu (put together by Science Made Simple and based on the themes of the new galleries) and finally they wrote their own scripts. They also practiced and performed their science shows at the National Museum of Scotland.

I worked directly with groups of pupils through several school visits and day visits to the museum. My role was to facilitate the choosing of demonstrations, writing the scripts and practicing / performance too.

Challenges

I think the main challenge for the pupils was one of confidence – these pupils had to leave mainstream education for various reasons. I kept telling them that they could achieve something brilliant if they put the work in.

Rewards

The pupils worked hard to write and practice their shows. They came up with brilliant ideas for the stories to link the show together, they had ownership over their shows. There were a few fall outs but that’s all part of working in a creative team and relying on each of the team members to do their bit. They presented to and entertained a live audience in the National Museum of Scotland with a show that they had written – that’s a huge achievement!

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I enjoyed getting to know the pupils throughout the project and seeing them improve in confidence and build ideas as a team together. I also loved working with the National Museums Scotland and Science Made Simple.

Pilot

I was part of a pilot for this project where we trained Holyrood High school pupils to become science presenters. They didn’t write their shows but they did do an awesome job of presenting Alex’s Amazing Adventure at the museum. I wrote about my experience of the working with the pupils here. There’s a lovely video on this stage of the project too:

Stanley Mills

The exciting thing is I’m now about to run science communication workshops for a new age group – this time it’s with primary school pupils at Stanley Mills in Perthshire. I’m excited about sharing science communication skills and tips with younger ones – some as young as age five. I’ve been planning fun ways to get basics across and also to make them laugh by doing things well and then doing things wrong (obviously safely – I mean like talking really fast or folding my arms and looking grumpy) and getting them to tell me how to improve. I’ve planned some fun games to cover the basics of presenting and they’ll all get a chance to do some science presenting too. I’ll be running workshops at Historic Scotland’s Stanley Mills tomorrow and Thursday.

The Museum2Go project is funded by the Robertson Trust. Read more about Museums2Go on the National Museums Scotland website here.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Film, Media, Science, Writing

 

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Travelling in Time and Space

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On Friday a mad lady scientist took her time machine through history to pick up some lady scientists and bring them to the Dundee Women in Science Festival. The resulting ensemble was called the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch. This was the fourth performance since the Illicit Ink spoken word show began a year ago at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

I’ve loved being part of it – sitting in a sewing circle with such wonderful characters. These wonderful characters are wonderful writers too – they each researched a character from history and wrote and performed a piece as that character. I’m mostly quiet during the show while the scientists talk about who they are and why their achievements matter. I play Emma Darwin, she is brought along by accident (The mad lady scientist was going for Charles but he was stuck in the privy). The other scientists dismiss Emma but right at the end I speak to question if any of it matters. I talk about having kids and knowing loss and about the fear of loving someone who has completely different views on the most important things in life. I wanted to get to the heart of what really mattered to Emma:

“I’m not a scientist, does that matter? I am a woman, does that matter?

Read about the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch in the Dundee Courier here.

Lost Among The Stars

And now it’s happening again, a collaboratively written Illicit Ink show. But this time I’m lost in space, not time. Again I say very little until the end. Again there are many different beautifully written characters. Some performed by the writers and some performed by actors. I’ve written and am performing as Tara the astronaut. She’s the one who gets lost. In Space.

Getting Into Character

I found it quite challenging – trying to imagine I’m alone in space and about to die. I listened to astronauts talking about their experiences on Radio 4. I looked at pictures of the earth from space. I had to record a few audio sections ahead as part of a conversation with mission control – but it didn’t smell right (I was slow cooking sausage casserole at the time – space shouldn’t smell of sausage casserole).

But when I read the heartfelt, beautiful monologues written by Tara’s boyfriend Jeffrey (I keep calling him ‘my imaginary boyfriend’ but that sounds a bit odd! His name is Ricky in real life) and the piece by Tara’s sister, who’s kind of half hates her but also loves her too (that’s written by Mel and acted by Roanna) – when I read their work I realised, it isn’t about being lost in space. It’s just about being human. So I managed to write a response to other human’s beautiful words with space as a geographical location. It’s about being real with stars. And I’ve always loved stars. I studied physics, I’m a planetarium presenter, I’ve written space episodes of Nina and the Neurons, I was making rockets on mothers day – I’m still kind of geeky with all things space. Maybe I’m more like Tara than I realise.

Space Wobbles

I’m pretty nervous about my writing and the performance. We had a rehearsal last week and I was totally impressed with everyone’s pieces. There were proper professional actors who were really good. Even the voice of mission control sounds like he’s actually working for NASA! I’m hoping I won’t spoil it with my bit. I’m hoping I won’t pee in my space suit. If I were an astronaut, that would be okay – they wear giant space nappies. The thing is, I will actually be wearing a space suit. But not a giant astronaut nappy. I expressed my fears to show producer Babs, she reassured me that they asked me to do this part because I can write sentimental without being crass. I keep trying to remember what she said.

ANYWAY, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a last address to the world, just before gruesome death. Last time it was for another collaboratively written Illicit Ink show during a zombie Apocalypse. You can read about that and see a video here.

AND this isn’t the first time I’ve written about being lost in space. Here’s a comic, created by me age 11. Okay so it’s about a dog going into space but use your imagination. I needed to go somewhere after giant nappies and zombie apocalypses. Meet Space Dog, yes I know – classic school ending to the story too (sorry!):

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Sadly there is no happy awakening at the end of Apollo 21. And no dogs. There will be space and music and humans. I may or may not make it back to Earth. 

Apollo 21: Lost Among the Stars will be performed on the evening of Wednesday 15th April at The Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Get Tickets from the Edinburgh International Science Festival website here. The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch sold out at the Science Festival Last Year so get your ticket early to avoid disappointment! 

 

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