Showing posts with label Megan Rix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Megan Rix. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Elephants... by Megan Rix

As soon as I heard about Lizzie the Sheffield elephant I knew I wanted to write a story about an elephant in World War One. I decided to have my elephant helping on the Home Front and on a farm after reading in the newspaper archives about an elephant that went to live and work on a farm in 1901. The man bought the elephant at a circus auction and initially thought he would start his own circus with her. But when he found out how good she was at working on the farm he changed his mind. He never did start a circus but he did keep the elephant, who he described as gentle and docile.
            I like to use local newspapers from the time to aid my research and another snippet I found was an advert by a farmer in Yorkshire wanting to buy an elephant to work on his farm, having seen the work Lizzie was doing. I thought maybe the ringmaster of my fictional circus could sell an elephant without the true owners knowledge. Two hundred pounds was being offered which would have been a phenomenal amount for a struggling circus.

This is a picture of Lizzie’s commemorative statue close to Steelhenge in Sheffield’s Centenary Riverwalk. There’s also a community bus named after her.

Lizzie was an Asian elephant who in WWI was conscripted from Sedgwick’s menagerie and went to work carting munitions, machines and scrap metal around Sheffield.
She was by all accounts a bit of a character. There’s stories of her eating other carter’s lunches, putting her trunk into somebody's window and stealing their dinner, stealing a schoolboy’s cap, and being in goal during a football match against a rival team.
She was made a special pair of leather boots to protect her feet from the metal rubbish, which littered the ground at the scrap metal yard. They were probably a lot like these elephant boots on display in Northampton museum.
When I started my research for the book I didn't know what a journey it would take me on as I discovered more and more about these amazing animals. I was horrified and appalled when I learnt about some of the cruel ways they’ve been treated and are being treated today. (Did you know that an elephant’s skin is so sensitive it can feel a fly land on it?) But also uplifted and given hope by the many stories of human kindness and elephant awesomeness. All the things the elephants do in the book are based on only a very few of the discoveries I made during my research. I loved seeing Peter the elephant bashing on the piano and this elephant playing with a ribbon. Just playing for the fun and with no one forcing them to.
I spent lots of time reading about elephant sanctuaries like the elephant one in Tennessee for retired circus and zoo elephants. Have you seen this video of two very old elephants being reunited after 22 years

Hopefully the Born Free Foundation is going to be able to raise enough funds for a European sanctuary although of course the best thing is for elephants, who are able to do so, is to be free and live in the wild. (The oldest elephant at the Tennessee sanctuary was born in 1948!) Only a little older than Anne the circus elephant that was rescued in Britain and taken to Longleat Safari Park where she now has a purpose built new home.

Of course helping healthy elephants to remain in the wild is even better and I’m now the adopter of two elephants who I hope will continue to live long healthy lives there. Carol Buckley’s Chain free means Pain free work has helped lots of working elephants to be set free from a life in chains.
I was very lucky and got to meet some elephants at Woburn and spent the day with them. This little elephant is called Tarli and I got to hand-feed her some strawberries.

The Runaways is the story of an old circus dog called Harvey and a baby elephant called Tara who runaway from the circus and embark on a perilous journey in a desperate race against time to reunite Tara with her mum, Shanti, who’s been sent to work on a farm, before it’s too late…

There is still time to enter the PDSA writing competition if you know of a child who likes to write animal stories.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye-eee.... Megan Rix / Ruth Symes

How time has flown. I've just looked back at my blog posts and see I started way back in November 2011 and here we are 3 years later and my last post for now.

I've just finished my latest book tour as Megan Rix. This time it was for my book 'The Hero Pup' and we got to have guide dogs and hearing dogs and medical alert dogs, as well as my own two, Traffy and Bella, coming along to different sessions. It was fantastic! My favourite tour so far :) Back in 2011 I hadn't done any week long book tours and now I have 5 under my belt. I'd also never done a ppt presentation but now when we turn up at a school and they're having problems setting it up I'm (don't want to jinx it) so will just say usually able to sort it out. And requests to speak to 700 children plus staff at once - a breeze - done it twice now.

This year has been amazing. Two children's book
of the year award wins - one for 'Victory Dogs' at
lovely Stockton-on-Tees and one for 'The Bomber Dog' at beautiful Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury even provided a dog to come out on stage with me - not a german shepherd like Grey in Bomber Dog but a lively ball loving spaniel who works as a bomb sniffing dog.

Dogs are so wonderful and I never tire of telling children all the brilliant things they can do as well as showing pictures of the things my two get up to. Fortunately I have lots of pictures and the one where Bella as a tiny pup is trying to bury a sock always goes down well. As does the fox poo one :)

I've been so proud of Traffy coming into our local school with me to listen to children read. She's been such a hit and is always ready with a wag of her tail as a new child coos over her. Her special reading mat with letters on it was a true find and the children who've read to her have shown improvements even more than the school had hoped for.

The school was also the first one to hear a very early first chapter of 'Cornflake the Dragon' my new Secret Animal Society series that I'm writing as Ruth Symes. The Ruth Symes books tend to be for slightly younger children than the Megan Rix ones and I love getting letters from readers and pictures of the toys that have been made of the characters. I especially treasured an email I got recently about 'Dancing Harriet' and how the book was being used at a school in India to help teach tolerance and inclusion.

I'm going to miss not writing for ABBA for a while (other than hopefully an occasional guest post) but I've just got a bit too overworked what with running two careers as Ruth Symes and Megan Rix and so it's best to step out rather than find blogging a chore rather than a pleasure. But I'll still be reading it and looking forward to catching up with what's happening  :)

PS Just found out 'A Soldier's Friend' is one of the nominated books for 2015's Carnegie medal - yahoo! Good luck to everyone with books in it xx

PPS Thanks so much to Carol Christie for saying her son got switched back on to reading by The Bomber Dog I hadn't seen the comment at the end of my Dog Days posts until I looked back at the old posts I'd done yesterday. That's what it's all about :) and and

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Writer's Guilt…. Or Have I Done Enough? by Megan Rix / Ruth Symes

What I love most about writing, and thought I would love most even before I was published, is the freedom it gives you. Freedom to write when you want and where you want, about what you want and how you want to.

For a few years I probably averaged a 1,000 published words a year (this was when I used to spend 6 months in the UK and 6 months travelling round the world). Now my average is more like 1,000 words a day. (I try not to work weekends unless I’m really behind on a deadline or so desperate to tell a story that it just can’t wait. I’m writing this on Saturday though - so I probably write more often at weekends than not.) If I've written a 1,000 words in a day I stick a sticker on my annual wall chart. I like seeing the stickers build up only... only there never seems to be enough. Not every day’s got a sticker and I want to write more. I always think I could do more, if I was more focused more, more disciplined yaddah yaddah yaddah.

I call it writer's guilt but really an average of a 1,000 words a day is good.... isn't it? I’ve won two children’s books of the year this year (Stockton and Shrewsbury) and will have had 3 novels out this year in 10 days time.

'The Hero Pup' is written under my Megan Rix pseudonym and being published by Puffin. It follows an assistance dog puppy from his birth until his graduation as a fully-fledged Helper Dog. Anyone who knows me knows how close this book is to my heart and I'm very much looking forward to working with guide dogs, medical alert dogs and PAT dogs on the book tour.
But not only do I have ‘The Hero Pup’ coming out under my Megan Rix pseudonym on the 1st of October I also have the first in a new series of books about the Secret Animal Society coming out under my Ruth Symes name. 'Cornflake the Dragon' is being published by Piccadilly. It’s about a school lizard that turns into a dragon when it’s taken home for the holidays.

How many words do other writers write each day? I don't know. They probably all do much more or maybe they do less but every word they write is pure gold.

And what about the thinking time? You've got to have thinking time, or I have. I like to mull over the story for a month or so these days. Not forcing it to come. Just researching and thinking about characters until I know, absolutely KNOW it's the story I want to tell. I don’t get a sticker for thinking but it’s just as valuable.

Then it comes to the talks at schools and festivals – meeting your target audience. In the past year I've spoken at 16 schools and 5 festivals - an average of little over one a mouth. Is it enough? It feels like the right amount for me but I know of other writers who do lots more. Should I be doing lots more? I don’t know.

And that's what comes with having a career where you choose so much for yourself. There's so many choices that it's hard to know if you've made the right one. But better to make the mistake yourself than be living someone else’s mistake. Maybe there shouldn't be writer's guilt or writer's goals maybe we should just have the aim of improving every day.

Chris Rock (excuse the swearing) has a very funny sketch about the difference between a job or a career His main point, and I agree with him, is if it's a career there's never enough time for all you want to do to advance it but if it’s a job there is always far too much time and you can’t wait for it to be over. Writing is definitely a career and I wouldn't have it any other way :)

My website's are: and

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Animals in War - Megan Rix / Ruth Symes

I'm busy researching my next book about animals set during WW1 and working out locations and timelines. But back in June I was asked by the Guardian to list my Top 10 animal war heroes, not just from WW1, as part of the promotion for my story set during 1914 about a cat and a dog who get sent to the front called 'A Soldier's Friend'.  Of course animals don't choose to go to war or be heroes but their stories are none the less inspiring and poignant and show us how to be heroes. Researching them was so fascinating and their stories so moving and needing to be told that I share it here: 

Top 10 Animal War Heroes by Megan Rix
There are so many animals that deserve a mention that it’s impossible to list them all here but I’ve tried to shout out for as many as I can. No animal chooses to go to war but their selfless acts of unconscious heroism show us how to be true heroes:

l. The dogs:

Sergeant Stubby was just one of 20,000 dogs serving Britain and her allies in WW1. Messenger dogs, mercy dogs, guard dogs and mascots did their bit for King and Country. Stubby even warned of impending gas attacks. Dogs were the first domesticated animal and have been used in battle throughout history. The Roman Army had whole companies of dogs wearing spiked collars around their neck and ankles.

2. The Pigeons:
Pigeons have been used as message carriers for over 5,000 years. Their vital messages saved the lives of thousands in WWI and WW2. Cher Ami was given the Croix de Guerre for her heroic message delivery that saved many soldiers’ lives, despite being shot at and terribly injured.

3. The Horses:
Humans began to domesticate horses in Central Asia around 4000 BC and they've been used in warfare for most of recorded history. They are prey animals and so their first reaction to threat is to startle and flee. Despite this, against their natural instincts, they’ve raced into countless battles, carrying their riders. Over 8 million died in WW1.

4. The Donkeys:
From Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli to Jimmy ‘The Sergeant’, born at The Battle of the Somme, donkeys have saved soldiers lives and given their own. More suited to green fields than battlefields, donkeys have been to War for as long as horses have.

5. The Camels:
1915 saw the formation of the Camel Brigade, but camels have been used in battle since the Roman Empire. A bonus was that the smell of the camels spooked the enemies’ horses.

6. The Elephants:
Hannibal was one of the first to use them in battle and they've been used ever since.
WWI saw Lizzie the elephant helping out at Tommy Ward's factory and being a star goalkeeper in a match against a neighbouring team. Some elephants were sent to the battlefields but more took up the heavy lifting slack in towns and in the countryside when the horses were shipped to the Front.

7. Cats:
Morale boosters and rat catchers. Trench life was a little more bearable thanks to the moggies at the Front.

8. Tortoises:
The tortoises that were brought back from Gallipoli, like Ali Pasha and Blake, will be commemorated next year. But tortoises were used as mascots before WW1. Timothy, who turned out to be a female, served as ship's mascot in the Crimean War and Jonathan, a giant tortoise, is pictured with prisoners in the Boer War.

9. Dolphins:
Military trained dolphins are able to find underwater mines and rescue lost naval swimmers. Their training is similar to how military dogs are trained, and for a dog or a dolphin mine detection is simply a game rather than a matter of life and death.

10. Baboons:
Jackie the baboon was the mascot of the 3rd SA Infantry in WW1. The baboon drew rations, marched and drilled, and went to the nightmare of Delville Wood and Passchendaele. He was injured whilst desperately trying to build a wall of stones around himself as protection from the flying shrapnel. Jackie’s leg was amputated but he got to go home at the end of the War. Millions of humans and other animals didn’t.


While I was doing my research I came across the sad fact that poor Anne the circus elephant rescued from cruelty in a circus a few years ago and moved to Longleat is now expected to live out her days alone there as it's been decided it would be better for her to be a solitary elephant despite elephants being one of the most social family orientated species. It makes me feel sick especially when you see the wonderful reunion of elephants that have been rescued, most of them old and having suffered abuse like Anne, at the Tennesse sanctuary on You Tube 

Ruth Symes's website
Megan Rix's website
Megan's book 'The Victory Dogs' is the 2014 Stockton-on-Tees Children's Book of the Year. Her book 'The Bomber Dog' has won the 2014 Shrewsbury Children's Book Award.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Me-Cramp by Ruth Symes

 My husband's been doing a lot of website and photography work recently and watching a lot of You Tube videos - especially about different photographic techniques. But one of the videos I walked in on and caught part of really surprised me:
'That sounds exactly like writer's block!' l said.

The speaker was talking about problems that photographers face and questions they’re burdened by.

Will it be good enough?
Am I good enough?
Am I secretly kidding myself that I’m good enough?
Is everyone else’s work better than mine?
Are they more talented than me?
Will my photos (writing) be original/creative/stylish/professional enough?
Will other people (Mum, Dad, teachers friends someone who was a bit critical once and I’ve never forgotten about it - ad infinitum) like my work? And really I suppose – will they like me?
Have I got it right, not just right, exactly exactly...perfectly completely utterly right.

They called it Me-Cramp but I think of it as the Photographer's Writer's Block. And I expect there’s the same thing for every creative job – Artist’s Anxiety, Dancer’s Dilema, Actor’s stage fright…(Although I like the Me-Cramp term best as it says exactly what it is and is so spot on.)

As well as the Me-Cramp talk there were lots of discussions about the importance of putting heart and passion in your work. Being true to yourself  owning it.

But the Me-Cramp question asked loudly and boldly or in a tiny weeny voice always seemed to be the same:

'Am I good enough?'

And the answer is: 'Of course you are.' J

Ruth Symes also writes as Megan Rix winner of Stockton-on-Tees children's book of the year 2014 and Shrewsbury Bookfest 2014.