Preparation: Who Needs It?

There’s always at least one in every group who doesn’t follow instructions.


Last Friday, I gave my History class an essay question half a week in advance of their assessment task.

They were to prepare a plan and notes to use while writing the essay in class this week. I advised them that they could use their handwritten notes and their textbook while writing, but they were not allowed the use of any devices. All the information about the task was given to them in writing as well as my explaining everything in class.

I expected that today, when the students came to class, they would be ready to start. Happily for me, most were.

And then, because nothing ever goes smoothly, this happened:

Student A: “Can we type this?”

Me: No. No devices.

Student B: “My notes are at home. Can I use my iPad?”

Me: “No. No devices.”

Student C: “Can you write the question on the board please?”

Me: “I gave you the question on Friday.”

Student C: Yeah but I didn’t write it down.

Me: That makes me happy.
Bemused, I wrote the question on the board.

Student B: “What page is it in the textbook?”

Me: “Do you mean the pages you were supposed to read and study last week?”

Student B: “Yeah.”

Me: Speechless, I allow The Eyebrow to speak for me.

All the kids except two commenced writing. Students B and D, though? They’re still reading the textbook.


How Getting Pushed Around Changed My Perspective.

You see things differently when you’re in a wheelchair.

Today we went to a very large store that specialises in flat-pack furniture of Nordic design. It’s an amazing store full of very interesting things to look at.

Including me, apparently.

Being on crutches with an injured foot, I was anxious about how long I was going to last before I was exhausted, so my friends asked for a courtesy wheelchair. And thank God they did. I would have fallen over in tears before I got through the first section.

It came as a shock to realise, though, that when you’re in a wheelchair, people don’t look at you the same way as they do other people.

Sometimes it’s a look of sympathy. Sometimes it’s an expression that says, “You look surprisingly normal”.

And then there’s the occasional person who looks at you with fear and contempt, like you’re dangerous, or they might catch whatever it is that put you in the chair.

One woman gasped audibly, glared at me and pulled her child away from the aisle I was in, although he wasnt actually anywhere near me. What an appalling display of ignorance!

Seriously, folks. It’s my leg that doesn’t work properly, not my mind. And with limited mobility, I’m certainly no threat.

Then I had a sobering thought. Is this what people who are in wheelchairs permanently or long-term experience every day?

How absolutely awful.

It has never entered my mind to look at other people so differently. A disability or physical limitation does not define one’s character or personality. To me, a person is a person is a person.

Apparently, that is not the case for everyone.

Some people seem to think it’s acceptable to look at a person differently, or treat them differently, or pull their children away just because they look or move or get around differently than you most people.

I’m pretty sure that in the 21st century, we can be more decent and open-minded than that.


Books, Authors, Double Standards and Snobbery.

There remains a commonly held view that all Indie books are somehow sub-standard. This perception could not be more wrong.



I am perpetually frustrated by the disdain that many have for Indie authors. Indie artists, musicians, and filmmakers are applauded for daring to step out, break the mould and do their own thing in defiance of the industries that are perceived to have grown too big, too powerful, too rich.

Nobody hesitates to go to a doctor or lawyer who owns their own practice. People don’t think twice about having their car serviced by a mechanic who runs a local garage. They’re independent practitioners within their industry, too. Let’s face it, there are some shonky ones out there – in any industry – but they are the vast minority, and their behaviour should never be used as the yardstick by which all others are measured.

So why is the double standard against Indie authors still not only acceptable, but so widely endorsed?

woman with bookI won’t deny that I’ve picked up two or three books that I just couldn’t finish because they were either poorly written, poorly edited, or just not very good at all. But two or three out of more than 150 is a very small percentage, where the others have consistently ranged between very good and excellent quality in terms of both writing and production.

Having been an avid reader all my life, it’s also true that I’ve read – or rejected – a number of books that weren’t so great in the traditionally published world, too. Some I just couldn’t get into – even among the most famous and widely commended are certain ‘literary greats’ whose writing I just don’t appreciate. There are also traditionally published books that remain popular among less discerning readers and sell quite well, despite the fact that the writing and/or story lines really are… well… rubbish.

I’ve read almost exclusively Indie books for more than a year. I am continually impressed by the originality of the stories, the high standard of writing, and the depth of creative talent. I’ve posted countless book reviews for these books, and have shared my appreciation of both books and authors far and wide, because those books deserve to be read and appreciated.

Having been an avid reader all my life, I’ve read – or rejected – a number of books that weren’t so great in the traditionally published world, too. Some I just couldn’t get into – even among the most famous and widely commended are certain ‘literary greats’ whose writing I just don’t appreciate. There are also traditionally published books that remain popular among less discerning readers and sell quite well, despite the fact that the writing and/or storylines really are rubbish.

Indie authors are, more often than not, Indie by choice. For many, the first foray into traditional publishing has ended up being a very negative and traumatic experience. For some, their publishers have closed down, leaving the author without their rights, unpaid and unable to sell or market their work. Other companies have published books and then done nothing, leaving them to languish in obscurity unless the author does their own marketing.

Sure, that hasn’t happened to J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin. People need to understand, though, that they are the exceptions, not the rule. That kind of success doesn’t just happen for everyone who writes a fantastic book or series, and it’s well-established fact that it almost didn’t happen for Rowling either.

Last week, I saw someone comment on social media platform in a most derisive tone that “traditional publishers won’t touch anything that’s been self-published”. My response was that it’s their loss. And when it comes to my own work, they’re not welcome to.

Like many others, I choose to be Indie because I control my own intellectual property, I retain my legal rights to my work, and I earn the royalties for my books. My hard work is not lining the pockets of some faceless company that pays a small fraction of the earnings of a book to the author and gets fat on the rest, without actually doing much in the way of marketing or promotion. Marketing and promotion is really hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But if I have to do the schlepp work anyway, why would I let someone else have control of my work? And I can take pride in the fact that I have earned every review, every award, and every cent, on my own.

In the end, I choose to be Indie because there is nobody in this world as committed to my books or my career as an author than I am.

It’s time we got rid of the double standard that celebrates Indie music and art, and which takes pride in supporting local and artisan businesses, but considers Indie books and authors to be something less than their traditional counterparts.

Indie authors are doing their part by writing and producing excellent books.

Readers are doing themselves a gross disservice by accepting the kind of intellectual snobbery at the heart of this double standard. I’m confident they will be more than pleasantly surprised when they finally choose to set prejudice aside and find out what they’ve been missing out on.

Promo Indie And Proud



What Will Make Me Refuse To Review Your Book?

You can’t promote anything worthwhile with bad behaviour.


This is a Public Service Announcement.

I find myself to be in an awkward situation: there are some individuals who have decided that it is appropriate to send messages to my inbox and to my email, asking with varying degrees of insistence that I might read and review their books.

I know everyone wants reviews and sales. I do, too. It seems they have overlooked the fact that I, too, am an author. Perhaps they think I am a professional reviewer – I’m not.

I read and review as much as I can, but I can’t and won’t take requests or demands from authors. I read and review what I want to, because it interests and entertains me, not because I am asked to, and certainly not out of any sense of obligation.

If it’s okay – and it is – for people to not want to read and review my books because they don’t read either of my genres, it has to be okay for me to make that same choice.

For that reason, there won’t be a lot of certain genres on my TBR list or book blog. I just don’t want to read them.

I don’t accept free books. It is only on a very rare occasion that I ever have. I buy books so that I can give a verified purchase review. In fact, I buy a LOT of books, and I’m more than happy to do that.

But I will not buy something I am not interested in. I work too hard for my money and my time is in too much demand for that.

So please, don’t embarrass us both by asking, or insisting, or nagging me to read and review your books. If I am interested in them, I will. If my inbox is full of your repeated demands, there is absolutely zero chance that it will happen.

I’m disappointed I had to write this post. Sometimes, though, one has to make a stand in the interests of self-preservation.

Those responsible should consider themselves warned: the next step will be a permanent block.


My New Years Resolutions for 2018.

My goals for 2018 are realistic and achievable… so here goes!


I’m not the world’s biggest believer in New Year’s Resolutions, because I’ve seen plenty of people make ridiculous decisions that fall over before January 5th.

Even so, I decided at this time last year to write down a few things I needed to do, and I did fairly well at achieving them.

So, I’m doing the same thing for 2018. Here are my goals for this year, in no particular order:

2017-12-31 23.16.59

1. Beat the TBR Backlist – read and review the books in my kindle that I have not yet read. I haven’t counted how many books are on it… but I know it’s a lot.

2. Write and publish three more books.

3. Be kinder to myself. I am probably my own harshest critic and most demanding taskmaster. That needs to change.

4. Unleash the Squirrel! Grow his profile with Twitter, Facebook and the Book Squirrel blog with continued reviews, featured author interviews and a regular mailing list.

5. Build my Twitter list to 5000.

6. Be more consistent in posting to Instagram.

They’re certainly achievable, so here goes!


Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)


Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.


Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?


Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

The Barbarians.

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.


If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 


Keeping Yourself Nice.

Every now and then I stumble across a social media post that really disappoints me.

How hard is it to be nice?


The Indie Author community is one of the most incredible groups of people I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of. Support, encouragement, commiseration and shared victories are the order of just about every day.

However, every now and then I stumble across a social media post that really disappoints me. Those posts fall into two groups.

1. Posts that rant at others for a perceived slight. 

I’ve seen authors abusing people for not buying their books, not sharing their posts, or generally being less than 150% supportive.
How is this fair?

We’re writers. Most people have day jobs. Most people have families. Life is demanding. I don’t know anyone who can  afford to be on social media 24/7, supporting others and buying six copies of every new release.

We cannot expect that all our friends and family are going to buy, read, and review our books. I can tell you from personal experience that this simply isn’t realistic. Shaming them on public media is hardly going to encourage them to change their ways.

2015-12-06 15.59.46


2. Posts that demand people do something. 

This morning I saw a “request for support” that was phrased as “do it now” and “I need this” and “you’ve been told, so do it”.  There wasn’t a please or thank you in sight.

Am I likely to give my support? In all honesty, no. I scrolled past.
This is not my habit – anyone who knows me can affirm that I do everything I can to support my fellow Indies.

I felt belittled and taken for granted by that post. I don’t even talk to my dog like that.

2015-12-10 10.56.57


It’s important that our public presence on social media is seasoned by good manners. 

If we want to present ourselves as a public identity whose product – be it books, music, handcrafts, beauty products, or whatever – we want others to buy and enjoy, we have to make that engagement a positive thing, or it will never follow through.

I am in no way advocating being a doormat or accepting poor treatment. But that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about keeping ourselves nice.

There is no place for arrogance, selfish demands or rudeness. Nobody is doing anyone, including themselves, any favours by carrying on like that.

My final piece of advice is one I apply every day in both my professional lives: you’ll get a lot more with honey than you do with a stick.


Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.


I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.


This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  

And there’s no better time to start than today.

The Importance Of Minding One’s Manners On Social Media.

The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated.

I was motivated to write this post by an experience I had a few weeks ago.
I posted a question on a blog post by someone who presents himself as a successful and popular author.  He probably is, but his response to my question was quite scathing. When I explained why I hadn’t read every blog post he had posted, he was so rude that I took screen shots. Of course, he had no idea that I took screenshots, but it made me feel better because I had evidence to support my increasing dislike for him and his condescending attitude. Who did he think he was, anyway?
ScreenHunter_410 Mar Asshat Identity Concealed 2
(I’ve concealed his identity here because I don’t feel like getting sued or anything like that.)
At this point, I made a decision to never buy his books, nor to help promote or encourage him in any way. I suspect several others probably made the same decision. When a friend went to read the exchange between us, he had deleted the whole thing, so I am sure he realised it wasn’t a good look for him. I highly doubt that it might occur to him to apologise for his rudeness, but I will never know, because I had promptly unfollowed his blog, deleted him from my twitter feed and blocked him on all social media.

Sure, my question might not have been the brightest or best he’s ever read. Even so, his response was condescending and made me feel really low. Who needs that kind of negativity in their life? I certainly don’t.

As an author who uses social media to build a following and hopefully sell my books, I can confidently state this is the least desirable outcome from interacting with others.
There is a valuable lesson that, whatever our profession might be, we can all take from this: never, ever, be an asshat to someone on social media. It’s far too easy to damage a reputation or a brand that you’re trying to establish and promote.
The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated. If people ask a question about your book, your blog, or your dog’s hind leg, simply be thankful they are interested enough to ask. Engage with them. Being friendly doesn’t cost anything, nor does it mean you have to pledge eternal friendship.
You will walk away with your integrity and your potential readership intact, if not a little more loyal towards you. As a writer, you can’t put a price tag on that.
*My original working title for this post was, in fact, “Why One Should Never Be An Asshat On Social Media”. I tidied it up a little. You’re most welcome.