Showing posts with label Ruth Symes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ruth Symes. Show all posts

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.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Talking about Books - Megan Rix

I've been having a nail biting, train zooming, speed-writing, brain tingling time recently. Deadlines have loomed and thankfully been achieved. Awards received (thank you Stockton-on-Tees and Shrewsbury) and talks and presentations for children and adults given.

My first Hay Festival talk went well (even though my dogs who'd been given special dispensation to come along too decided to lie in muddy puddles just before and had to be washed off with bought bottled water from the Co-op.) They're appearing in Edinburgh next.
I got final edits done and lots of emails from my website replied to whilst on the train to Roehampton University to talk to final year teaching students for Reading Zone and more done on the train up to Manchester to talk to teachers and student teachers with Andy Seed, Kate Pankhurst and Jon Mayhew about Reading to Inspire. We were invited by the lovely Nikki Gamble from Just Imagine. Andy told everyone how when he was a teacher the books he pitched to the children were the ones that were most read and it reinforced how important it is that adults show how much they enjoy reading and talk about books they love to inspire children. Our enthusiasm rubs off.
I love days when I can cuddle up with a good book and be transported into another world. It's just the best. I especially used to like Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle as a comfort book.
But my favourite book of all time is Charlotte’s Web. It was read and re-read more than once when I had whooping cough as a child and had a whole term off school. Every week my mum would bring me back all the books she could from the library and I went from a non-reader at the start of my illness to a child with the reading bug by the end.

Thumbs up to the brand new reading group for 8-12's  @suttonlibrary that launched on Saturday 7th June. Hope you all keep on having a brilliant time.
At the Shrewsbury Bookfest the children were so passionate and knowledgable about the short-listed books. They even made book trailers and had videos of them talking about their favourite books.
This week I received a letter from a school I visited during my last book tour:

'Every time we go into one of our classrooms, we see someone reading one of the books that they bought when you visited- Even one of our teachers, who isn't an animal-person, read your book overnight and loved it. 
When we knew we were going to write to you we wondered what our friends thought of your books -so we asked them! Ben in year 6 said they took me into another dimension in my learning about World War 2 and I found it hard to escape. Year 3 came up with words like 'awesome', 'epic' and 'can't wait 'til the next one.' And finally, Jessica in year 5 actually made up a new word - 'AMAZEYBULLS!'

Nothing beats letters and emails from happy readers.

I've been taking Traffy in to listen to children read at our local school. She loves it and the children love it and I'm very pleased to say that the children who've been seeing her each week have shown significant improvement in their reading. 
I'll be at the Higgins Museum for the first Bedford Bookfest on Saturday 5th July at 11am talking about 'A Soldier's Friend'. Sadly Traffy and Bella won't be allowed because of the risk of dog fur on the exhibits (probably just as well!) :)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

School Dinners - Ruth Symes / Megan Rix

 The other day three of us were talking about our favourite primary school puddings and butterscotch tart was right at the top, along with pink custard and jelly and ice cream. 

We'd all gone up for seconds on butterscotch tart days although other aspects of our school dinner-times weren't quite so enjoyable. My poor husband was made to stand on a chair in the middle of the dining hall when he refused to eat his peas. My sister-in-law (actually this is disgusting) refused to eat her fish one day and when she lined up for her dinner the next day she was told to leave the queue and go and sit at her class table. When she did she was served up the fish from the day before, now dried and congealed, on the same plate, and told to eat it. She's still not sure if she'd been singled out because she was the only black child in the school. But thank goodness she didn't eat it and end up getting really sick.

In my own school dinner horror story I'm not quite as blameless as the other two, and it's possible that the dinner ladies were right not to admire the creative salt mountain I'd poured over my vividly green peas in the hope of disguising them. I too was told to sit there and eat them up, I too, did not.

As adults the three of us laughed about those long ago days but none of us had even once thought of telling our parents what had happened at the time. I hope nowadays no one's ever forced to eat congealed meals at school or humiliated in front of everyone and if they were they'd tell someone who'd stop it.

But I know children don't always think that they can speak out or be listened to if they do and that worries me.

Amazingly butterscotch tart is still being served in schools today and currently enjoyed by my six-year-old niece. 

I made it the favourite pudding of witchling Bella Donna in my Bella Donna books. The fifth in the series 'Witch Camp', has just been published and sees Bella heading off to camp and feeling homesick. 

I can remember going off to camp myself at about her age, not a wild magical camp of course, although the Isle of Wight can be very exciting. I didn't like being away from home and phoned my lovely step-grandfather to tell him so (we didn't have a phone in our own house). 

He told me just what I needed to hear: 'I'll come right now if you want me to but why don't you give it another two days and if you still want to come home then I promise I'll drive down from London and come over on the ferry and bring you home.' I never had a moment's doubt that he would do exactly what he said and once I'd spoken to him I started to feel much better and lasted to the end of the camp.

In 'Witch Camp' Bella Donna has to face everyone else's nightmare creations chasing her. So she's a bit too busy to have time to feel homesick for long! 

Anyone else remember butterscotch tart? And what on earth did they put in those peas to make them such an un-natural colour?

Ruth Symes' website is She also writes as Megan Rix.