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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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The Wave Project

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The Wave Project Scotland started their surf courses for young people this week. I’m a volunteer surf mentor for the project. That means I buddy up with one young person to help them to reduce anxiety and gain confidence through surfing. I’m not a surf instructor – Coast to Coast Surf School provide that expertise. My role is more about high fives, enthusiasm and standing in the water while my buddy learns to surf. It’s about encouragement.

Surf Holiday

I’m going to surf school soon myself. I’m off to Cressy’s Surf Academy in Porthcawl, Wales next month. I’m certain the process of learning will help me to be a better surf mentor and I’m really excited about learning something new.

This is the first proper holiday I’ve had in FOUR YEARS! I know, that is ridiculous. Going on holiday was one of my new years resolutions. I’ve just not had much money or time since I’ve been freelance so it feels extra special to be able to finally afford to make holiday plans in 2015.

Adventure Holidays

I used to go on adventure holidays, before I became a freelancer. I was once snowboarder. An actual snowboarder who did four seasons of snowboarding. This is me and that is snow:

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Then I retired. Mainly because I spent most of the last trip in a neck brace, while everyone else had fun on the slopes.

I remember being ordered by a nurse to ‘Undressa!” in the Italian hospital reception. I looked around at all the other people – was that really how things worked in Italy? They nodded in assurance. She said it again much louder and with her hands in the air and I stared to undress. To be fair I had concussion and she was super scary so I wasn’t thinking straight. She just wanted my address for the computer. Thankfully my friends came to the rescue (and put my clothes back on).

I’m hoping surfing will be less dangerous, less embarrassing and more fun.

Loving Water

I’ve always loved water. I’d spend most of my time on family holidays in the sea or in the swimming pool. Our family holidays were in the UK so that got me used to cold water. I still go wild swimming now (I wrote about that here).

Surfing In Hawaii 

I have surfed once before, ten years ago when I went to Hawaii to meet NASA. I had one day off while I was there and I went for a surf lesson:

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The instructor taught us the basics on the beach. He also explained how the coral reef was delicate and endangered and so you can’t jump off your board feet first. If you touch the coral it dies and it cuts you.

We went into the water. A wave was coming and he told me to try getting up. And I did. I did it just the way he said and there I was, standing up and riding on a wave. He wasn’t expecting me to do it. I wasn’t expecting me to do it.

At first I thought ‘this is brilliant. I’m surfing’. But then I realised I didn’t know how to steer or stop and I was heading for a whole bunch of surfers waiting for waves. I started to shout “Excuse me!” and “Sorry” and “I can’t steer!” as people paddled and dived out of my path (you go quite fast) and in between my polite but loud warning calls and smiles, I was shouting much less politely to my instructor “HOW DO I STOP!?” and “WHAT DO I DO TO STOP?!” and “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP!” I kept thinking I can’t jump off, the coral will die.

The instructor shouted “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!” That seemed like a really bad idea. So I stayed standing for a little longer and said a few more excuse mes to the children who were now being pushed on their blow up beds out of my path by parents. He shouted again “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!”

I was getting closer to the shore and realised I needed to do something. So I jumped. I landed with my legs either side of the board. It hurt a lot. I ricocheted off the board and into the water. I touched coral. I cut all of my legs on the flipping delicate coral. I killed the coral.

And from then onward I didn’t stand up, not properly. I sort of lost my confidence. I didn’t really have a desire to stand up. It seemed like a really, really bad plan. Plus my bum was killing me.

I pretended to try to stand to appease my instructor and I fell off sideways before I got anywhere near the bit with the reef. I just wanted the lesson to be over. My instructor was very keen for me to stand again, I was his best pupil since I’d stood up first time. Here’s a picture of me standing a bit to appease him (the man with the cap).

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No one got a picture of me at the beginning. The photographer comes at the end. There is thankfully no dangerous and endangered coral reef in Wales so I’m hoping I might find my inner surfer once again. If I have an inner surfer that is. Perhaps it was just a fluke?

Surfing Teenagers

I didn’t surf as a teenager but I went body boarding just once. I think I found my inner surfer then too. I remember thinking it was the best day of my life. This is me at the end of that day with my best friend Marianne. We were 14:

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It was properly fun and at the age when all the things you had fun doing are suddenly for children and you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing anymore.

I loved wearing a wetsuit. I think it’s because I used to be fat. When I was around 13 I suddenly grew really fast and went really thin. I hated swimming at school when I was fat because people made fun of me. And then when I went super thin they called me daddy-long-legs. I had big feet and long legs. As soon as I had a choice I stopped swimming. I hated being in a swimming costume.

But that day, the body boarding day, I was just happy. Happy in a wetsuit. Happy with my best friend. Happy learning something new and having fun and in the water.

And now I’ve started swimming as an adult in the pool with a swimming costume. I got a bad back and swimming was good for me. At first I used to need take a deep breath in the changing rooms and say “You don’t have to be beautiful”. And now I swim most weeks. I’ve overcome my fear.

Surf Mentor

And that’s why I want to be a surf mentor. I remember being 14 and wanting to disappear. And I remember being scared. And I remember that day on the body board and being happy and not caring what other people thought and feeling good about myself. So I hope I might be able to help some young people to have fun and feel that good too. It felt like freedom.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Education, Environment, Events

 

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