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Response To Nicky Morgan

Let Our Kids Be Kids

“That is why the campaign led by some of those who do not think we should set high expectations, who want to ‘keep their children home for a day’ next week, is so damaging.

Keeping children home – even for a day – is harmful to their education and I think it undermines how hard you as heads are working. I urge those running these campaigns to reconsider their actions.”

Taken from Nicky Morgan speech at the NAHT annual conference 2016, 30th April 2016

In response to Nicky Morgan’s attack on parents choosing to exercise their democratic right to protest on Tuesday above we’d like to say the following…

Parents supporting this cause, which has the well being and happiness of their children at its very core, are very angry that Nicky Morgan should suggest that they don’t want high standards for their children.

We all want the best but…

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Keeping Abreast

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Many moons ago, I was a breast pump agent for the National Childbirth Trust, which is something not many people know about me and perhaps something not many people know about.

I was heavily pregnant with son number 2 and on maternity leave. As a member of the NCT I wanted to do something worthwhile that wouldn’t be too onerous as I already had a one year old to look after. So, I volunteered. For about a year, I was on hand to hire out the industrial-sized, hospital-type breast pumps. New parents would come to my house, often stressed because of a pre-term baby or illness or somehow struggling to breastfeed, and I would show them how to work the pump. I never used one myself but was told that it was brilliant.

At this time, I had a lot of friends who I met through the NCT and other post-natal groups. One of them had so much milk she became a donor for the SCBU at Kings College Hospital, after being screened. This milk was gratefully received as its immunity-boosting components can be life-saving for prem babies.

Yesterday the media was awash with stories about breast milk – if you’ll pardon the pun. A breastfeeding mother had an operation and was unable to breastfeed her son, so she went on Facebook to see if anyone would step in. She had a huge response and several women were able to help, coming to her bedside and feeding her baby. Some people found this difficult. I had to think about it myself for a while as I confess my natural response was to find it a bit weird.

Which I now see is daft.

Wet nurses, cross-nursing, milk-sharing has gone on forever all over the world. But in the  modern West, we see breastfeeding as a private thing, because breasts are associated with sex and we forget that the job of breasts is to feed babies. For me, breastfeeding was generally a good experience though there were times when I had to feed my babies in public loos. You wouldn’t choose to eat your fish and chips in a bog so goodness knows why it is acceptable for vulnerable babies.

I breastfed all three of our children on demand. I fed the oldest till he was 8 months when I had to return to work and was pregnant again. I fed number 2 and 3 until they were 14 months old. I’d like to point out that I am not a member of what some of the press call the ‘Breastapo’. I just feel that babies have a right to feed when and where they need to be fed. Who cares if you catch a glimpse of breast? Why does it put some people off their food when a baby is also just having food?

Back in the early 90s, I taught in a nursery unit attached to an infant school in Camberwell. There were many children there from Ghana and Nigeria and it was interesting watching the role play. In the ‘home corner’ they would hold the babies to their chests, as this was what they saw their mothers, aunts etc do. When I had my own children, I noticed them and their friends doing the same thing. Breastfeeding is not embarrassing for children. It’s just some adults that find it so.

WHO and UNICEF both say that milk donating and sharing is the second best alternative to breastfeeding in consultation with your health provider. Yes, there are issues over screening for infectious diseases such as HIV (which all pregnant women are screened for anyway). And I believe from reading about it that it’s better to match the age of the baby receiving the milk to the age of the supplier’s baby, as breast milk changes as the child grows. But these issues can be overcome. Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with it. Any reservations I had yesterday were cultural.

And I must just add here that it goes without saying that breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everyone due to illness and for all manner of reasons. Giving a baby a bottle is fine and mothers should never be made to feel guilty. 

Yesterday’s news item is good because it gets breastfeeding talked about. Hopefully one day boobs won’t be news. They’ll be seen as the givers of life that they are.

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#milksharing #wetnursing #BlogoftheDay #Mumsnetbloggers

 

A Day of Waiting

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These are frightening times. I am blessed to have been born in the UK in the 1960s but I fear for my own children, approaching adulthood now. Our government are stripping all I hold dear about this country. Our NHS, our education system, our welfare state – all the wonderful support that was introduced after the Second World War when Europe was stripped bare of everything, except hope for a better future and a deep desire for a lasting peace.

We are told lies. We are told that we have to have Austerity as we can’t spend what we don’t have. Sounds reasonable? What about the fact that our debt has increased while our most vulnerable people have faced some of the worst cuts ever? Where’s the money gone, boys? And after all this, to tell us this is a ‘Budget for the next generation’. What, the generation that will be saddled with debt and never able to afford their own home? My children? That one?

And as for the USA, well, I can’t even bring myself to talk about what the heck is going on in that country. Toddlers with guns, a Nazi with bad hair taking the limelight from an even bigger psychopath, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, greed… And this from the country of opportunity and the land of the free. (Just so long as you are white, male, and rich.) But then, as history has shown us time and again, empires rise, empires fall…

It’s been a sad week. People have been killed, not just in Brussels, but all over the world. Senseless, pointless murder. Fundamentalists trying to take what isn’t theirs to take. On this Easter Saturday, a day of waiting and mourning, I know that tomorrow will bring something better. I know that love wins over hate. Light wins over darkness. Hope wins over despair.

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That’s why I love Jesus. He was full of compassion, a rebel, a feminist, a friend of the poor, the disabled, the outcast and the disenfranchised. He lived in an occupied territory, he had no material possessions, and he not only preached about love, but he acted on this.

Love wins.

Top Nine Doggies!

SophieCol-Matt-Austin-55.jpgI love my Tibetan Terriers. They are known as untrainable but they will do pretty much anything for a piece of people food. The one on the left is Millie and the other one, Susan, is her daughter.

I have spent the weekend looking at dog and cat videos on Facebook as I’ve been a bit poorly. I should be cracking on with my novel. And I will. Once I’ve blogged about my top nine famous doggies.

1. Petra. She was Peter Purvis’s dog and appeared on over 1100 Blue Peter programmes. I remember when she died, how upset he was (and the nation’s children). They made a sculpture to put in the Blue Peter Garden. Anyone know where it is now?

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2. Shep. If we have Petra, then we have to have Shep and her companion, John Noakes. One of the phrases of a 70s childhood, and one we can still say without shame, is ‘Get down, Shep!’.

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3. Marley. The hero of John Grogan’s book, ‘Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s worst Dog’. Who hasn’t read this book or watched the film to the end and not cried? No one. ‘You are a great dog.’

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4. Buster. This is the Buster who owned Roy Hattersley and wrote his diaries. A goose belonging to the Queen is involved. Brilliant.

 

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5. Pudsey. Winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2012. So clever! Pudsey_2218034b

6. Hachiko. A true story of loyalty. This Akita used to wait everyday to greet his owner on the way home at Shibuya Station in Tokyo. One day the owner didn’t return as he’d suffered a fatal cerebral haemorrhage at work. Hachikco came back every day for the next nine years to wait for the same train in the hope his owner would appear.

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7. Greyfriar’s Bobby. Another tale of loyalty and the bond between human and dog. A Skye Terrier from Edinburgh who spent 14 years guarding his owner’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard until he died himself in 1872. Have you touched his nose?

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8. Appollo. The first search and rescue dog to arrive on site after the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. One of the fearless rescue dogs who worked so hard to try and find survivors at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. There are so many dogs who have worked as rescuers and many who’ve given their lives. Brave doggies.

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9. Judy. World War 2 hero. There are many animals who serve in wartime. Judy was one of these remarkable dogs.

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I could go on and on but I do need to get on with my novel now…Only my dogs need a walk…

 

 

Who is going to be the next James Bond? And does it really matter? Here’s my top ten.

Whoever replaces Daniel Craig as the next James Bond will have a hard act to follow. There’s much talk in the media right now. Will it be Aidan Turner, he of the groomed chest wielding a scythe as Ross Poldark? Will it be the less manly but very twinkly Tom Hiddleston currently making a splash in ‘The Night Manager’ on Sunday evenings? Or James Norton who’s shown us within a few weeks his versatility in ‘War and Peace’, ‘Happy Valley’, and ‘Grantchester’ (not every actor can play a Russian Prince, a psychopathic sex offender and a 1950s vicar). Or will it be Idris Elba, the first black Bond? How about the first ginger Bond, Damien Lewis? The German (and ginger) Michael Fassbender who did a jolly good impersonation of Daniel Craig coming out of a chilly loch in ‘Macbeth’? How about a young, gay Bond? Daniel Radcliffe showed he could carry the Potter brand, why not Bond? How about the first woman Bond? Jaime Bond?

Does it matter who it is? To lots of people, yes. To the wider world, yes too. White European men, speaking the Queen’s English (even with a slight Scottish/Welsh/Irish burr), are not the only ones who are kickass. And if Ian Fleming were writing now, who would he have in mind?

Here’s my alternative, (slightly more) diverse top ten:

10. Ewan McGregor.
He’s classy and a blooming good actor, reminiscent of Sean Connery.
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9. David Tennant
Quirky, charismatic, slightly loopy verging on manic as ‘Doctor Who’, though he’s shown the brooding side in ‘Broadchurch’.
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8. Sam Heughan
I know he’s far too busy with ‘Outlander’ but he’s good at brave and tough. And there’s the kilt.
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7. Michael Sheen
Always more than meets the eye with this one.
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6. Emma Watson
She’s kickass, classy and clever.
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5. Kate Winslet
A woman of experience and depth, with a cut glass accent.
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4. Andrew Lincoln
Ever since playing Egg in ‘This Life’ back in the day, I’ve liked this actor. He’s my wildcard.
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3. Thierry Henry
Can you have a French James Bond? Hell, yes, if he speaks like this. Plus he’s super fit (physically, I mean). I have no idea if he can act but he has va-va-voom.
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2.Jennifer Lawrence
Funny, clever, tough. Hard to beat.
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– she’s badass.

1. Tom Hiddleston
Ok, so I had to have a number one and Mr H. has won me over with his b… eyes. (Yes, I am that shallow.)
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Who would you choose?

Brideshead Revamp

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I was sent an email today from the lovely author (and mentor of mine and founder/patron of Words for the Wounded) Margaret Graham, telling me I had a review in the Daily Mail for ‘Bright Stars’. So of course, I Googled and found the review by novelist Wendy Holden who likened it to Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’. (And I dashed out and bought a copy for my mum.)

The comparison, of course, thrilled me as ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is one of my top ten novels and the TV production one of the best ever. I even blogged about campus novels a few months ago and had to include Brideshead. Just because.

So if you were ever a student, if you are a student, if you’d like to be a student, if you remember the 80s, or if you don’t, or if you weren’t even born, you can download Bright Stars for £2.79 and see if the comparison rings true. Is Cameron a modern day Charles Ryder, in a kilt rather than tweeds? Is Tommo anything like Sebastian Flyte, with an electric guitar rather than a teddy bear?

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‘…from balls and Bollinger to sweaty discos and the Nelson Mandela Bar.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-3400416/POPULAR-FICTION.html#ixzz3xJvIqiXr

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Author Interview: Sophie Duffy

RAZZ.

Sophie Duffy lives in Devon, and became a writer after taking a creative writing evening class and then a Creative Writing MA. Her first novel published was The Generation Game in 2011, which has won several prizes. She also published This Holey Life in 2012. Bright Stars is her third novel and follows the life of Cameron Spark as he struggles both to move on from and to accept traumatic events in his past. Sophie is also involved with CreativeWritingMatters, a writing school in Exeter. We send Rachel Stubbs to find out more…

Your website says that you studied your MA at Lancaster University. Are any parts of Bright Stars that are based on your own experiences there?

I studied for my MA at Lancaster University by distance learning from 2002-2004 but I was an English undergrad there from 1986 to 1989 and that is where the inspiration came for Bright Stars

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You are all Bright Stars!

 

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As the 2015 draws to a close, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who read ‘Bright Stars’, to all those who came to the launch, to everyone involved in the publishing of it, to all those who took the time to post reviews, to everyone for their support. I hope it won’t be too long before the next one is finished… Please be kind, 2016, to all of us.

P.S. ‘Bright Stars’ is on sale on Amazon as part of the 12 Days of Kindle until January 5th at 99p.

Moving House, Letting Go, and What to do with the Cat’s Ashes.

View from the Shoffice
View from the Shoffice

Moving house would make the most laid back of people score high on a stressometer. I am not the most laid back of people. If Jeremy Vine was recording me right now he would be getting very excited. In fact he would most possibly be exhibiting signs of stress too. Wakeful nights, palpitations, tears, are just some of my symptoms. You don’t really want to know the other ones.

In two days we are moving out of the house we have lived in for ten years. During that time a lot has happened:

We had one mega extension and the worst cowboy builders.

Our three children have had their teenage reign here and several rites of passages – some that we know about, some that I suspect we don’t.

Our dog Millie gave birth to seven Tibetan Terrier puppies (one sadly didn’t make it) right where I am sitting now. We kept one of the puppies, Susan, and she is sitting on my feet as I write this.

Pups.
Pups.

My husband has had three jobs and a year of no job. He now works in London.

My three novels were written here and the most recent Bright Stars was written in my beloved room of my own, a.k.a. the shoffice (shed/office).

I am learning to let go. I’ve had to de-clutter on a massive scale, prioritising pieces of the children’s work, pictures, clay diva lamps (there were eight of those and I could only relinquish the one that was furry). We gave our family tent to Calaid and have had numerous trips to the tip and charity shops. (The dartboard went to the tip but came back again. Just in case I take it up as a hobby.)

DS1 went to university in September. All the way from Devon to London, to SOAS, to study Japanese and Linguistics. He is a hoarder and I have had to deal respectfully with his collection of Manga books, Pokemon cards and every single train ticket he has ever bought.

DS2 who is on his (second) gap year has had to be held at gunpoint to clear his room. He’s done very well at the eleventh hour, but is hanging onto the pretty much complete collection of Harry Potter lego that we bought so that one day he might sell it on eBay.

DD1 has deforested her room and we can now see the carpet which had to be replaced a year ago as you could still smell the bottle of vinegar she spilt during her ‘shop’ years. ‘I’m going minimalist in my new room, Mum,’ she said. ‘We’ll see,’ I thought.

And what about the stuff I left behind at my mum’s when I left for university in 1986? She gave it back to me when I got married and it has stayed in a box. The box has followed us from house to house and I look in it every time we move. And every time we move, I think about getting rid, but I can’t quite do it yet. Though I did make some progress: I binned the legless Sindy doll with the bouffant 70s hair and the normal sized boobs.

There are some things that cannot be taken to the tip or recycled. Memories. And the bodies buried in the garden (two guinea pigs and one puppy under the cherry tree). The cat’s ashes are coming with us.

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Cherry Tree

See you on the other side.

RIP Buzz
RIP Buzz

Review of Secret of the Song

Secret of the Song
by Cathie Hartigan

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‘Why don’t you marry Jon, Mummy?’ Mollie, Queen of Barbie-land, and resplendent in her twinkly pyjamas, sat up in bed glaring at me. ‘Then he’d be here all the time, and you wouldn’t need so many minutes on your phone.’
‘That’s absolutely the worst reason to get married I’ve ever heard.’ I kissed my magenta monster goodnight. ‘Now lie down and go to sleep.’

Published by CreativeWritingMatters
October 2015

Summary
When a song by the mad composer, Carlo Gesualdo, is discovered in Exeter Museum, trouble descends on the group asked to sing it. Lisa is full of enthusiasm at first, but she soon becomes convinced the song is cursed. Can Lisa find out what mystery lies behind the discordant harmonies? Will she solve the song’s secret before her relationship with Jon breaks for good and harm befalls them all?

In Renaissance Naples, young Silvia Albana is seamstress and close confidant of Don Gesualdo’s wife. When Donna Maria begins an affair, Silvia knows that death is the only outcome. But who exactly will die? And where is Silvia’s own lover? Why is he not there to help her?

Review

‘Secret of the Song’ was a complete revelation to me. With its two distinct time frames and a potentially cursed piece of music that connects them, I had no idea how the novel would pan out. But there was no time to think about this as I was completely hooked from the start. This is a great example of the time slip genre.

‘Secret of the Song’ could also be classed as a crossover read, accessible to both young adult and adult readers alike. Its two protagonists – a young seamstress from Renaissance Naples, and a contemporary thirty-something Exeter musician – are both well-drawn characters who share the simple dream of being happy and in charge of their own destiny. This is a book that plunges you into a dark and mysterious 15th century Italy, but pulls you back to modern day Britain with its equally compelling story. Mystery, murder, music, lust, love and longing weave the two threads together.

I particularly liked Sylvia, the Italian – she is flawed but strong and talented and I think teenage readers will relate to her. She reminds me of the heroines of Tracy Chevalier’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’. A young woman who has no power but who uses her wits to avoid becoming a victim of circumstance and class.

The theme of music is cleverly woven throughout the dual narratives. With its different tones and shades of light and dark, this novel is like an opera, both dramatic and intensely human. The beautifully realised settings, in time and place, paint a vivid background against which the action plays out.

Dual narratives are very hard to pull off as often one of the stories is more powerful or emotionally charged than the other. But Cathie Hartigan uses great skill to achieve a fine balancing act between the two and to give the reader a deeply satisfying read. The entwined narratives zip along with two equally compelling voices and I felt I knew both leading characters so well by the end of the novel.

And such a charming portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship between Lisa and her ten year old, Mollie…

‘Secret of the Song’ is perfect for fans of Tracy Chevalier, Sally Vickers, Kate Morton and Daphne du Maurier with its attention to the smallest of details and its sweeping emotions that cross all barriers of time, background and culture. A read that will keep you in its grip until the last page.

First published on Serendipity Reviews on 3rd November 2015