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Black Holes and Hot Chocolate

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I’ve written my first radio story. It’s about space and mental health and it’s aimed at upper primary school children.

A friend who listened said he thinks it’s a helpful way of talking about mental health for adults too.

I wanted to write about what it’s like for children and families when one family member disengages. Here’s a wee section from the middle of the story, Ben and his mum are stargazing but Dad has stayed at home:

She poured him a cup of hot chocolate and they sipped together. It tasted good.

“It feels like he doesn’t like me” said Ben.

“That must be so hard Ben. But it’s not true, we both really like you a lot – we love you Ben!

Ben sipped his hot chocolate. He didn’t look at Mum.

“When your Dad sips hot chocolate, it doesn’t taste good to him just now. So it’s not just you, he just doesn’t enjoy things like he used to, because of the way he’s feeling. It’s not because of anything you’ve done and we can’t fix it”

“I wish we could. That must be rubbish for him” said Ben “I love hot chocolate”

“But sometimes he does enjoy things though, like the other night when you laughed so much that milk came out of your nose?”

“Yeah, that was gross. Dad really laughed. I wish he was always like that!”

“Me too Ben……         Do you see the moon?”

Ben forgot they’d come here to look up.

“We can only see a bit of it, but is the rest still there?”

“Of course!” said Ben

“But how do you know it hasn’t gone, you can’t see it?”

Ben thought for a moment.

“Well because the crescent is enough of the moon to know there’s a moon. The rest is hidden in shadow but I know it’s there”

“Well it’s the same with Dad. He’s with us but we might just see bits of the old Dad, the one who laughs lots. But he’s still here. And in time – he’ll be back to his old self”

Listen to Black Holes and Hot Chocolate on the BBC Scotland Schools radio website here, play from 9 minutes 20s.

The commission was to write something for KS2 with a stargazing theme and a link to Australia. I set it on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh but it could be any hill near a town or city in Scotland.

Half way through writing the story, physicist Stephen Hawking gave a lecture to celebrate his 70th birthday. He talked about black holes and compared them to depression. I’d pitched black holes as a metaphor to the BBC before Stephen did his lecture (tiny bit annoyed he got there first!) but I loved his beautiful words:

Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.

Stephen Hawking

Read more about his lecture on ‘Image’ here.

Here’s how I wrote about black holes in the story, They’re looking at the constellation signus the swan:

“Signus is where the first black hole was discovered. It’s called Signus X1. The X means black hole…

“And one because it’s the first one?” Said Ben

“Right. It’s kind of darker than the surrounding area – can you see?”

Ben could see a sort of dark shape but he wasn’t sure if he was just imagining it.

“It sucks everything in, even light.”

“Do you think that’s how it feels for Dad?” asked Ben.

They were quiet for a moment, staring at the stars.

“Maybe, sometimes” said Mum “I think sometimes he feels like he’s in a dark tunnel but he’s holding on. Like if you’re on a train – you don’t jump off when it’s dark, you wait until you come out of the other side.”

“Do things come out of the other side of the black hole?”

“Well, not exactly… they get squashed.”

They laughed.

“I prefer the idea of a tunnel” said Ben.

“But things can’t just disappear. No one knows what’s on the other side of a black hole. Energy can’t be destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. There’s always hope Ben.”

The BBC team tested the story in school at different stages and I worked hard to rewrite it while keeping the story to it’s 8 minute broadcast length. We knew this was a potentially difficult subject to engage children on, I was asked to give it a happier ending. We also knew that one in three men in Scotland suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime so this is something children in Scotland will have come across, even if they’ve not talked about it. That’s why it’s important people do talk about it.

So often it’s the stories of people with metal health problems we hear but there’s also the story of those around them. Their story is just as important.

The school curriculum in Scotland has relevant outcomes that all children are required to learn in school from nursery age upwards including:

  • I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them.
  • I know that we all experience a variety of thoughts and emotions that affect how we feel and behave and I am learning ways of managing them.
  • I understand that there are people I can talk to and that there are a number of ways in which I can gain access to practical and emotional support to help me and others in a range of circumstances.
  • I understand that my feelings and reactions can change depending upon what is happening within and around me. This helps me to understand my own behaviour and the way others behave.
  • I understand the importance of mental wellbeing and that this can be fostered and strengthened through personal coping skills and positive relationships.
  • I know that it is not always possible to enjoy good mental health and that if this happens there is support available.

I’m so grateful for a school system in Scotland that supports conversations like this one. I really hope you enjoy it. Please pass it on to any teachers you know who might be interested.

Listen to the whole program for a fab space story from author Gill Arbuthnott proceeding mine, it’s called ‘A Long Way From Home’. Black Holes and Hot Chocolate starts at 9.20. Both stories were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 22nd March 2017. Listen to the whole episode here.

Thanks to Rob Pearson, Producer at BBC Scotland Learning; Angela Darcy and Terence Rae who read the story; to the school children who fed back on the first version, to my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone else involved. Finally – thanks to you for listening. 

 
 

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The Enchanted Forest

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I was invited to Riverside Primary in Stirling to be part of their ‘Enchanted Forest’ storytelling session. It was funded by the First Minister’s Reading Challenge Inspiring Classrooms Award. We had a wonderful time and it was something totally different to my usual events so I wanted to tell you a bit about it.

The teacher, Mrs Gemmell and the children in Primary Four decided they wanted to use their outdoor classroom space for the first time – they wanted a magical outdoor storytelling evening and they wanted to invite their families too. The school bought blankets for the event and everyone wore warms clothes.

We’d checked sunset times and worked out we’d start in the light and it would get dark by the end of the session. The children all enjoyed a hot chocolate and then I did some interactive story activities with the group.

We met the animals in the forest and learnt more about their behaviour as we re-enacted it. We created the smell of the forest and there was a football challenge with a giant football pine cone. I shared the story of Can’t-Dance-Cameron and everyone joined in on actions. Then it was time to toast marshmallows on the fire. I got to do one too!

After that I did a few more activities (including a rocket to make the pop sound of a capercaillie and a camouflage demonstration) and we finished on the story of The Grouse and the Mouse.

I know my books off by heart and I realised it would be distracting to turn pages in an outdoor space and much more intimate to share them as a storyteller. This was the first time I’ve told them that way and it worked really well. I used to do a lot of storytelling before I became an author so it felt good to be doing that again.

The whole event lasted an hour and there was such a lovely sense of community. The children and parents were brilliant fun and we all shared a love for stories. I signed books and postcards at the end and everyone headed home.

I’m glad the First Minister’s reading challenge is encouraging schools to come up with creative ways to enjoy stories – I really loved being part of something so special that night! Thanks to Mrs Gemmell and everyone at Riverside for having me!

 
 

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Ollie and the Otter Book Launch

It’s official, this is the window at Waterstones, Prince’s Street in Edinburgh today:

waterstonesdodd(Thanks Keira Brown for tweeting this photo!)

I invite you to the launch of my new picture book ‘Ollie and the Otter‘, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones on Thursday 9th March at  6.30pm! You can collect tickets from Waterstones in person or order them online via eventbrite here. Here is the lovely book cover:

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It’s aimed at children aged 3 – 6 years but lots of people will be coming without children so if you have some they’re so welcome but you don’t need to borrow any if not. Look here’s a Chris Scott photo from the last book launch I did:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

(see, lots of adults!)

Here’s a bit about the story:

Ollie the osprey loves catching fish but he’s useless at throwing them! And if he can’t throw a fish to Isla, she’ll never become his friend. Can Rory the otter help? A fun book about the loveable birds and animals of the Scottish Highlands.

You can take a sneak peak into the book and read more about it here.

There will be wine and nibbles and books and fun! Hopefully see you there! The cat will be staying at home…

If you’re not too sure what to expect, check out the Can’t-Dance-Cameron book launch photos and blog or The Grouse and the Mouse book launch photos and blog

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2017 in Education, Events, nature, storytelling, Writing

 

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Paul Cameron’s Cameron the Capercaillie

My Mum has joined facebook. She loves Scottish Wildlife and follows a few photography pages including ‘Paul Cameron Images‘. I had an excited phone call from her to say he’d posted a beautiful picture of a capercaille as his wildlife highlight of 2016:

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Not only that, she’d commented on this picture, saying how beautiful it was and how lucky he was to see a capercaillie and she told him about my book ‘Can’t -Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’. She then proceeded to tell me the most exciting thing was, he’d replied with this:

Can’t Dance Cameron – my wife bought me your daughter’s book for my Christmas last year. She says I can’t dance but I say what does she know?!! And yes, I consider myself to be very, very lucky to have encountered one of these beautiful birds and even luckier to have had my camera equipment with me.

Brilliant! Thanks Paul, you made my Mum very happy!

Find Paul Cameron Images on facebook here. My facebook Emily Dodd author page is here

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Top Fives: Reflecting on 2016

On new years eve I was having dinner with friends and someone suggested we do top fives. You take it in turns to say one highlight from the year past. It made a change from talking about the state of politics or how many great people had died in a shocker of a year that was 2016.

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There were five of us and we shared stories together until it was time for fireworks. After I’d shared number three a friend said:

Wow, you really challenged yourself this year didn’t you!?

And I realised, every story I’d shared had a pattern.

  • It was something I was scared to do
  • I didn’t think I could do it
  • I did it
  • I enjoyed myself because I realised I could do it after all

I was doing mini Rockys (you know the films with Sylvester Stallone?) all year and the hard work had led to my highlights. Had I never taken the challenges, I’d never have got to the highlights.

I’m writing a children’s book just now about a character who is afraid of something so he just doesn’t do it. And he thinks he’s fine. In some ways he is, he’s comfy enough. But his friend suggests he might be missing out and tries to encourage him to try and do the thing he’s afraid to do.

All through life I’ve been scared of things so I wanted to show children that courage isn’t the absence of fear, courage is something you need because life is scary. It’s not a magic potion that makes fear disappear. It’s a choice to act when you’re not comfortable, you’re not sure you can do it, you’re not sure others will like it and you might look like an idiot. That’s what courage is.

When I write for children my characters have a habit of reminding me of things I need to remember. It’s like in my head I think ‘I want others to know that’ and then I realise I really need to know it myself. I’ve been like the character in the book where I think I’m fine but my world is limited because I’ve let a boundary of fear define how far I’ll go or how much I’ll try. I’ve chosen comfort above courage because I’m afraid of looking stupid or failing or being rejected. That’s not how we start off in life. That’s not how we are made. If it was, we’d never learn to walk.

Looking back over the year was a good reminder that trying new things and learning and growing is what we’re made to do. Our brains make new neuro pathways as we learn, because they’re designed to work inside changing, problem solving creative humans. That’s all of us.

So if it’s daring to be honest or signing up to try and keep trying something new or having the courage to really enjoy the present or just the courage to do something everyday when you’re feeling so bad that just going to a shop seems like a mountain to climb…

Whatever it is for you, you can do it!

TOP FIVES FOR 2016 :

Playing an International for Scotland Writers in Italy (and being the only Woman on the Team)

Image Credit top left: Adrian Searle 

This was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life – starting in a stadium, in Italy in a Scotland kit felt amazing! Also I need to thank the friends who told me over and over I should go. One even texted me every day asking if I had booked flights. I was scared because I didn’t know the guys well and I was the only woman and I thought I wasn’t good enough. But I had the most brilliant time! Also I really worked on my fitness the month before so I could play okay in 29deg heat. Italy had a woman on their writers team too and both teams were lovely. Here’s the captain Doug’s fab match report (warning- there’s lots of swearing in it!).

Chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Totally one of my favourite jobs ever! I got to look after brilliant authors and illustrators TIm Warnes, Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles. Read about it here.

Becoming a Chaplain to Hutchison Vale Semi Professional Ladies Football Team 

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Yes I am wearing a giant manager style coat and look twice as big as everyone else! I really enjoyed supporting the team in 2016.

Mining Memories: Creating Digital Stories with Children via the Perspective of Animals

One of my favourite school projects with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative and Boness Public Primary – read more about it here.

Being a Dinosaur in a play for adults in Edinburgh International Science Festival

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Image Credit: Chris Scott

This was the dress rehearsal. It was like AE but for dinosaurs that have been debunked. We wrote our parts too – as part of Illicit Ink. Read more about it here.

New Challenges for 2017

I wrote three books which are coming out this year – I’m planning events now. You’re invited to the Book Launch of Ollie and the Otter on 9th March, 6.30pm at Waterstones Princes’s Street, Edinburgh.

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I’ve finished the season of chaplaincy so I can work on music related stuff.

I’m working on a new non-fiction book project and I’ve recently written my first radio play for BBC Scotland Schools radio. It’s about space and emotions and will be broadcast in March.

I’m working toward my first illustrated book (I’m an author of other books but I’d like to illustrate too). You can read a bit more about the journey towards illustration here and here. Here’s one I drew over Christmas on my ipad:

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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Education, Events, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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Cover Reveal: Ollie and the Otter

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I’m so excited to share the cover of my new picture book, Ollie and the Otter, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones.

It’s published by Kelpies in March 2017. Right now there’s a big ship full of boxes of Ollie, slowly sailing from China to Scotland. BUT… they sent one ahead by plane, I got an advanced copy already! It was so exciting to see it. I even read it to a very small, captivated (and sleeping) child, baby Zoe:

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Everyone else has to wait until March and that feels like ages away.

The story is set in the Cairngorms and it’s about an Osprey called Ollie and an Otter called Rory. It’s about friendship, fun and fish splatting.

The story begins when Ollie has just caught a fish. This is rather challenging for osprey – check this out this video from BBC Highland:

Now Ollie needs to learn to throw fish because he wants to make friends with Isla, a female osprey. He has to drop a fish mid air and she needs to catch it below him for that to happen. Yes that really does happen with ospreys in real life. How awesome is that? In real life mating follows but never fear, there is no mating in this story aimed at children aged 3 to 6 years.

Rory helps Ollie by making targets for him to aim at and he even dresses as an osprey (with water weed wings) to get pinged through the air via a seesaw branch and MacAntlers the stag:

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Unfortunately, all that focus on throwing isn’t working. The fish won’t go where they’re supposed to go. Will Ollie ever throw a fish to Isla? Will they ever become friends?

The theory behind the story

This book is loosely based on Sir Ken Robinson‘s educational theory ‘the element’. Robinson observes that if you’re not naturally good at something, schools tend to make you do more of it – think extra maths lessons. But actually, the research shows if you do the things you are naturally good at – the things that make you, you – it could be dancing or art or football, as you do more of that creative practice your confidence rises. Then you get better at everything, even the things you find hard, even maths. I love maths so I don’t mean to pick on that as an example, it’s just one of those common ones that gets people at school.

So for you, being in your element is doing something you love and you don’t want it to end, where time sort of stands still and you might forget to eat even. It could actually be maths for you. If that’s your thing then you need to do more of it! And if you’re not sure what your element is, think back to what you loved doing in childhood. That’s likely to help point you towards it. Or you might not have tried it yet – try new things because you never know what might be your thing.

Ollie and the Otter is published on 16th March. You can pre-order it from all good bookstores online. I recommend using Hive because they pay taxes, they’re cheaper than amazon and every time you order from them you support your local independent bookshop – you collect the book from there and they get a commission.

You could also order Sir Ken Robinson’s brilliant book ‘Learning to be Creative’ while you’re at it. This includes all the theory behind his book ‘the element’ but with extras. It’s really, really good.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

New Book: Light

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I’m super excited to say my new book ‘Light’ is out now! It’s an educational book published by HarperCollins and aimed at ten-year-olds. Here’s what’s in it:

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Here’s are some sample spreads:

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I love the way the graphics and layout team at Collins make the book look so beautiful. I’m really proud of it – please buy it for all the ten-year-olds you know! I think adults might enjoy it too.

It includes some advanced physics but explained in a normal way. For example this spread is about light years, looking back in time and the speed of light:

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To read more you can request it from your local library or buy it from all good book stores. I recommend supporting your local independent book store and using ethical online book store the hive.

Happy reading!

Thanks to my amazing Editor Leilani Sparrow and my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone at HarperCollins for helping to make this lovely book happen!

Read about the process of writing non-fiction here.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Education, Science, Writing

 

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