Showing posts with label Steve Way. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Way. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Adventures with languages. Part One; Welsh by Steve Way

Thinking about how our blogs are generally about how we use language, predominantly in our case to bring stories and situations to life, I thought it would be interesting to write about my experiences and musings about other languages.

My first girlfriend was Welsh and when it began to look as though our association was going to become serious, she decided that she would like me to learn her mother tongue. At the time, back in the early 80s, a series of books, a precursor to the [Difficult subject you want to learn about] – for dummies (who aren’t really dummies) range, called [So and so] made simple, such as Einstein made simple or Genetics made simple, seemed to be very popular. All of these tomes alleged to make the complex comprehensible and were of a reassuringly consistent length – or outer thickness at any rate. (I certainly never read the contents other than a few pages of the forthcoming example.) They were all just under an inch wide. The only exception was Welsh made simple, which was nearly two inches thick. Einstein eat your heart out.

Despite the daunting thickness of the tome I volunteered to master this apparently straightforward language. I sat outside her parents’ house on a sunny afternoon (it wasn’t raining!) and began wrestling with Welsh.

As luck would have it the first chapter taught how to say, 'I like coffee' or for the truly ambitious, 'I like tea'. Despite the wrestling match taking a couple of hours or so, with the Welsh language definitely winning, I did manage to absorb the knowledge, made simple in this beginning chapter – the only one I was ever to read. Just as my head had stopped spinning, by remarkably brilliantly timing, my girlfriend came out and asked if I might like a cup of tea.

Dramatically I slammed the book shut as though I had fully absorbed the contents of Welsh made simple and boldly declared, ‘Rwy’n hoffi te’. She nearly fainted.

I learned a few more words and phrases, such a ‘good morning’ (‘bore da’) etc but the only other sentence I acquired from my book was, ‘Rwy’n siarad Cymraeg’ i.e. ‘I speak Welsh’. It occurred to me that on its own this is a profoundly useless sentence to learn in virtual isolation from the main body of the language.

Imagine the scene.

An accident has occurred; several of us rush over to the injured party. The first to reach the victim looks up at us and declares, ‘I think he’s Welsh. I think he’s trying to tell us something… does anyone speak Welsh?’ Instinctively I cry out, ‘Rwy’s siarad Cymraeg!’ Everyone turns to me hopefully, even the injured party raises his head a little. I back off slightly… perhaps the only useful contributions I can make at this point is tell the victim that I like tea… and possibly, though not completely truthfully, that I also like coffee. Let’s hope the accident occurs in the morning or conversation will soon run dry…

~~~~~

A couple of times we visited the ancient welsh capital proudly bearing the name Machynlleth. I have a sneaky suspicion that the ancient warriors of Wales, so often at odds with the English, created this name in an act of genius. It’s pretty much as sword in the stone scenario. Unless you are truly Welsh – and even then, it’s not a guarantee – you definitely cannot pronounce that name.

Imagine another scene.

The English King’s tent on the border of Wales. Inside, the king and his generals are pouring over a map of Wales.

King: So where be the capital of this rebellious nation?

Norfolk: (Pointing) It be here my lord…

King: Situated where it be, it should be an easy target. What name have the revolting natives given the place?

Norfolk: I believe it be called ‘Mac on Leith’ M’Lord.

Northumberland: No, I was told it be ‘Mick un Luff’.

Essex: My noble lords ye both be in error, it be ‘Mick in Leaf’ I believe.

The king’s generals begin quarrelling.

King: Forget it we’ll invade Wrexham.

Norfolk: Be that not ‘Wrecks ‘em’ M’Lord?

King: Shut up and raise the army!

~~~~~

Happy New Year everyone!

Or as Google Translator would have it (I definitely wouldn’t know) Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus pawb!

~~~~~

Recent publication ‘I’m going to be a Computer Programmer (Careers in STEM)’ One of a series of books for children exploring careers in STEM subjects

ISBN 1910828904

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Creative Christmas writing ideas for children (and adults?) By Steve Way

 

I thought you might find the example ideas below useful for stimulating children (and maybe adults) to do some Christmas related creative writing. I’ve used them in schools and in other contexts and they seem to have gone down well! Just a possible tip; since the children invariably ask how many letters to Santa etc that they have to write I generally tell them that they have to write at least two but no more than six million (in which case we have to inform the police.) If the children are responsive to my daft humour I also let them know that I am going to let them write on the special modern, ‘new-fangled’ (I bemoan the fact that we never had any when I was at school) DOUBLE SIDED (Gasp!!) paper. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see how many of them get the joke!

~~~~~

                                                 Pongos Circus of Wonder,

                                                 The Big Top,

                                                 Wherever it is we’re at this week,

                                                 Tuesday 16th December 2021

Dear Santa,

         I hope you are well. Giggles the clown here. For Christmas could I have some enormous trousers? I need them for my fellow clowns to pour custard down. I’ve had to wash my current pair of enormous trousers so many times they’ve shrunk – I think the custard makes them shrink faster for some reason.

         Also, could I have a new car for our act? Our old one is so worn, the pieces of it stick together when they are supposed to fall apart. Why at the end of one act the stupid old thing was running perfectly and still had all its doors on – ridiculous!

         Finally, unlike last year, please don’t send me any more new jokes. We’ll stick with the old ones, like we always have.

         Yours sincerely,

Giggles

~~~

                                                          Germany,

                                                          Germany,

                                                          Wednesday 16th Dec 2021

Dear Santa,

         It’s Germany here. I hope you are well. For Christmas please could I have a few more mountains? Although I’ve got quite a few high bits, no one ever talks about my mountains. Lots of nearby countries are famous for their mountains and as you know I like to be the best at everything.

         It’s also occurred to me that as well as having a huge “Black Forest” how about letting me have a “Green Forest” or an “Orange Forest” or even a “Stripy Yellow and Blue Forest”. That would be a bit of a laugh – and you know how much I enjoy a bit of a laugh! … As long as it really is only a bit.

         Best Wishes,

                              Germany

 

~~~

                                                          9 Liquid Street,

                                                          Water Avenue,

                                                          Drinktown,

                                                          DR14 8WW

                                                          Friday 13th December 2021

 

Dear Santa,

         I am writing on behalf of my carpet. My carpet has been in my house for over forty years (it was put in the house by the person who first moved into it.) In all that time it has never received a Christmas present. As you might imagine after forty years of being walked over, having dirty shoes cleaned on it, several muddy dogs rolling on it and quite a few cups of tea spilt on it, it is very threadbare. Is there any chance you could send it a couple of rugs to cover the most worn out and dirty patches, I’m sure it would appreciate them?

         Also, while I think about it, my old fridge could do with a couple of new drawers and a plastic thingy to go in the bottom of it. Finally, just to mention, my toilet roll holder needs a new middle bit.

         Thank you for your help.

         Yours,

                  Tony Turtlesoup

~~~

                                             The Round Table,

                                             Camelot Castle,

                                             Camelot,

                                             Fair England,

                                             Tuesday 4th December Time of Yore

Dear Santa,

         I hope ye be well. For the season of Christ Mass, would ye be so kind as to send me some more knights for my round table. Some of them have been killed by dragons before others have slain them (the dragons that is.) Also, some of the victorious knights have married the fair maidens they’ve rescued and so that leads to an even greater shortage of knights. It’s depressing, especially at this time of year when the nights are drawing in. The nights are short and I’ve a shortage of knights.

         Oh, and did I mention that some of my knights have gone off on quests and never come back?

         Yours knight-shortagely,

                                               King Arthur

 

~~~

                                                               York Castle,

                                                               York (where else?)

                                                               14th Dec 1649

Dear Santa,

         I hope you are well. The Duke of York here. I was wondering if you could send me ten thousand more men? The ten thousand I’ve got at the moment are hopeless!

         All I did was march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again. And when they were up, they were up in arms about how hard I was making them work and when they were down, they were down on their backs snoozing the minute we’d got back to camp. I can’t have an army as useless as this! It wasn’t even much of a hill! Why if I try and take them over the Pennines to invade Lancaster, they’ll take all year to get there and be no more use as soldiers as a bunch of school children!

         I look forward to hearing from you and hope you’ll send me some real soldiers.

         Yours sincerely,

                                  The Grand old Duke (of York)

 

                        ~~~~~

                                                      Buckingham Palace,

                                                      The Mall,

                                                      London

                                                      Monday 16th December 2021

Dear Santa,

         Could One please have three hundred new corgis for Christmas? The palace seems so empty with only two thousand of them running around the place and knocking over the statues.

         Also, could One have some more guards and things covered in gold and jewels.

         Yours sincerely,

                                    Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

 

P.S. A few pairs of warm slippers would be appreciated too.

 

P.P.S. And a new crown if you’re running out of stocking filler ideas.

 

~~~~~

The Stables,

                                                    Behind the Toy Factory,

                                                    LAPLAND,

                                                    Wednesday 16th Dec 2021

 

Dear Santa,

         Rudolf here. I know I ask for this every year, but this year please can I have a year off. It’s exhausting flying around the world pulling your heavy sleigh. It always makes me laugh to think that children think your sleigh is magic and floats of its own accord. As you know if we didn’t pull on your sleigh fast enough and hard enough, it would fall down.

         Well frankly this year I really am exhausted. OK the rest of the reindeer and I have had a whole year to rest… but so have you and you aren’t getting any lighter.

         Finally, another thing I don’t want is a silly red hat with a white bobble on it. Reindeer don’t wear hats – how many times do I have to tell you.

         Yours red-nosedly,

                                       Rudolf

 

~~~

The Moon,

                                             Earth Orbit,

Above Turkey at the moment, oh now its Greece… ah Italy… um France… oh forget it…

Thursday 16th Dec 2021

 

Hello Santa,

                We hope you are well. It’s the Lunar Reindeer here. From the colony that got started when a few of our forefathers (and foremothers) escaped from the harness attached to your sleigh.

       Now, we hear you’re finding it hard to find flying reindeer to help pull your sleigh. Well we’ve got a few young bucks up here keen to volunteer. So, all you have to do is give us the Christmas present we want - namely LOTS OF CHEESE!!! There’s absolutely none here and for some reason it’s the only thing we want to eat all the time! We think about nothing else!

       Hope to hear from you.

       Yours sincerely,

                                  Rudolf Armstrong

 

P.S. Any chance of also buying us a lottery ticket? Ta.

 

~~~~~

Revolt in the Christmas factory.  

 

We of the Working Everyday Elves Party (WEEP) hereby issue the following demands.  If they are not met by you Father Christmas, we will not make any more presents.

 

1) We want some heating on in the factory. It's freezing!

 

2) Stop coming up behind us and saying, "Ho Ho Ho!" when we're not expecting it.

 

3) Why should we have to change out your reindeer? … Yuck! … It's about time you did some of the dirty jobs.

 

4) GO ON A DIET!!  We're fed up of getting squashed in the corridor when you walk by. Also eating so much makes you burp all the time, which we think is very unprofessional.  Children look up to you, you know.

 

5) We want pictures of us working in the factory on more Christmas cards - so people can see who really does the work around here.

 

6) Buy some new sacks for goodness sake! They're hundreds of years old! They're all about to collapse. You'll look a fool if they split open and the presents fall out all over Poland, won't you?

 

7) Do we have to listen to a tape of Christmas songs all year round while we're working? Can't we have Radio One on - at least for one month?

 

8) Why do you still insist on having Christmas cards showing you coming down a chimney? No one has chimneys anymore! Cards showing you using your huge bunch of skeleton keys to break into people’s houses would be much more up-to-date and accurate.

 

~~~~~

Ways to make Christmas easy.*

*Abridged version of ‘400 ways to make Christmas easy’ which first appeared in What kind of fool would buy this ridiculous magazine magazine.

 

1.    Go to the moon. You can have Christmas on your own.

2.   Find out how to become an octopus and swim under a rock and hide for a month. (See explanation above.)

3.   Arrange for all your relatives to be abducted by aliens or kidnapped. Then you won’t have to send them cards or buy them presents.

4.   Hire someone else to be you and go on a world cruise.

5.   Tell everyone that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, that Jesus was actually born in March and that pagan festivals never took place in December.

6.   Spend all day swallowing carbon dioxide so you cause drastic Global Cooling causing it to snow so much that no one can go anywhere and certainly not come to your house expecting Christmas dinner.

7.   Travel back in time and send everyone such an awful present last year that they won’t want anything to do with you this year.

8.   Steal all the clocks, diaries and calendars in the world. (This may be a little difficult, only attempt if all else fails.)

9.   Teach turkeys the rudiments of language and social unrest and hope they organise massive nationwide escape attempts.

10. Use the ideas from the book “Frankenstein” to reincarnate Scrooge and produce thousands of clones, each to be manager of every workplace in the country.

11. Invent aerial speed cameras so that Santa gets caught for speeding so many times he has his flying sleigh-riding licence removed.

~~~~~

It’s been around a while but I’ve only just discovered this link to stories on cutalongstory.com; https://www.cutalongstory.com/authors/steve-way/1172.html

 

Monday, 2 November 2020

The Joy of Reading by Steve Way

Long, long ago… about 1987, before we started a PGCE junior course we were expected to spend about a fortnight in a junior school on a voluntary basis. It proved to be one of the most enjoyable fortnights of my life.

The school was in a fairly deprived area of Canterbury. I learned a sobering lesson when, wanting to do some science work with the children linked to the topic of food, I asked one the children what she ate for breakfast. You can probably guess the answer. The school dinner was her first – and very likely - main meal of the day. What was most charming and heart-wrenching was they way in which she accepted my question with such good grace and not the slightest hint of embarrassment or resentment. She was in fact one of the most delightful and cheerful children in the school.

Once the word got round the staffroom that I liked to write for children I soon ended up finishing the last half-hour of the day reading to three classes at once while the appreciative teachers earwigged from their classrooms and got several jobs done while the kids were off their hands.

I’m not sure that I’d ever read stories to any children by that time and I found the fact that the sea of children before me sat attentively listening to my tales, many of them seemingly enthralled and none of them starting a riot or rebelling in more age-appropriate ways, astonishing and wonderful.

I went home intoxicated with pleasure and pride. My devilishly clever plan to become a teacher and therefore have an abundance of free time to write my books at the end of each short working day and during the regular and lengthy holidays seemed to be working! My (sure to be) generous salary would also no doubt sustain me well until an eager readership discovered me!

Ah, blissful ignorance!

The main point I wanted to make though was that 1987 wasn’t that long ago. A time it seemed when class teachers were perfectly happy for their children to spend half an hour a day ‘just’ listening to a story. I still remember enjoying storytime when I was at school – I can still recall significant segments of the stories over fifty years later.

I know I’m a little out of touch but do children still have the opportunity to ‘just’ listen to a story for half an hour each day anymore? Would that be allowed or would the children have to spend most of any such half hour showing how much they ‘comprehended’ a small isolated section of a story, or hunt down all the adjectives in that segment… or…

An exasperated teacher once told me that there were so many requirements to meet each day (that didn’t include a half-an-hour story) that, as she put it, ‘even if a baby elephant walked passed the window, we would have to ignore it.’

Who knows… one day someone brave rewriting the National Curriculum might be courageous enough to dictate that the children should ‘just’ listen to a story for half an hour each day.

~~~~~

Now reader, let’s see if you’ve been paying attention. Turn to your worksheet.

Question One: …

~~~~~

Recent publication: Measures and other puzzles and the stories behind them.

ASIN: B08HS74NF1 One of the Magical Maths series of (hopefully!) fun resources for exploring various areas of maths for juniors.

Friday, 2 October 2020

From the sublime... By Steve Way

 I owe a debt of gratitude to my youngest stepdaughter, who initially gave me the idea of visiting schools to share my work and give workshops etc. My first book had been published and I’d visited the local primary school to read it to the children. It never occurred to me to take the matter further but Charlotte asked me if I’d thought of visiting the school she and her sister had been to.

Finally, the penny dropped.

Of course, it took a while to find my feet in this new venture and one of my first visits was to a private primary school where the teacher who’d kindly invited me kept hinting that I could charge more than I’d requested. I was simply intoxicated by the fact that a school was prepared to pay me anything for sharing my work.

I started in the infant class. I read the class my story entitled Gary and the Invisible Goats, which as you can probably guess traced the trials and tribulations of a schoolboy called Gary who is followed everywhere by a herd of invisible goats who uncritically adore him. Having read the book, I asked the children if they had any questions. Several arms shot up. I pointed to a girl near the front and she asked, “Does your book have a blurb?” Goodness, I thought (or words to that effect) if these are the kinds of questions the five-year-olds ask, how will I cope with the juniors!

Fortunately, one of her classmates brought the intellectual debate back down to earth. Looking back, I think I’d been slightly aware of how, as I was reading, he’d been staring at my arms with a mixture of fascination and horror. “Why are you so hairy?” he demanded in a tone that seemed to suggest that being hirsute was indecorous and inappropriate in such a refined seat of learning.

I of course thought this was wonderfully funny as well as relieved. It seemed that I wasn’t going to be interrogated all day long with challenging questions that only a proper writer was qualified to answer and not an unworthy imposter such as myself. I could see that the teachers sitting at the back were embarrassed though for not only am I hirsute I am also bald so in a different context the boy’s question could have been taken as a sarcastic insult. Being, as I’ve said, inexperienced in such matters, rather than brushing the question aside with a smile, like a fool I concocted a story about how my hair had migrated downwards.

Later on, when one of the junior teachers saw that I was the author of Gary and the Invisible Goats she told me that it was the favourite book of one of the girls in her class. She was clearly looking forward to introducing us.

I do need to explain that while the series of books, of which Gary was one, was being prepared for publication the editors decided that they wanted to add a photo and a short biography of each author inside the back page. I managed to persuade them to use of picture of me when I was four years old. (“Steve has grown up a lot since this picture was taken but only on the outside.”) I was standing in front of a huge cactus wearing a cowboy hat and for the only time on my life looking vaguely cute.

As the teacher began to introduce me, she picked out the girl in question. When her teacher revealed that I was the author of Gary you could have seen her face drop from a mile away! I clearly didn’t match her image of how the child in the picture would have grown up “only on the outside”! For the second time in a day the teachers in the room with me looked very embarrassed!

Writing this reminds me that I eventually received three letters of appreciation from children who had read Gary. “Don’t let it go to your head,” my friend John advised.

~~~~~

Recent publication: (20 Aug 2020) Codes: and other puzzles and the stories behind them (Magical Maths) ASIN: B08GG6R31M

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Separate thinking by Steve Way

I’ve not really noticed the phenomenon in other cats, but our cat Bella literally chases her own tail. She seems to have two separate brain functions; one that causes her tail to move and one that locks onto any nearby moving object and activates her hunting instinct. It is the funniest thing to watch, especially when she’s lying down. To begin with she glares at her tail as though it is affronting her dignity by waving around so freely and disrespectfully in her close vicinity, like a mouse dancing around nearby and sticking its tongue out at her. To begin with she flicks at the tail with one of her front paws, as though trying to swat an irritating fly but as this doesn’t seem sufficient to prevent this independent tail of hers from continuing to taunt her, this only serves to increase her sense of annoyance. She then lurches towards her tail with the front part of her body and does a summersault because of being prone to begin with, in her failed attempt to catch her errant tail. This either leads to more unsuccessful attacks or a period of self-cleaning, her displacement activity for whenever she makes a fool of herself – I recently saw her charge up the garden at the peg basket that was still bobbing up and down slowly after Jan had got the washing in, only to find of course that the basket was high above her when she reached her target.

I mention my cat’s apparent double-brain function, where there seems to be no communication between the two separate sections, as it’s made me wonder if the same disconnection occurs in people – specifically in this case teachers – and in search engines – especially the one used by Amazon.

A few years ago, I was responsible for taking my eldest grandson to primary school in the mornings. I mentioned to the infant teachers responsible for him that I was a children’s author and offered to work with the children for an hour for no charge. The staff asked to see some examples of my work and I lent them a couple of my science story books. When I returned the next day, still holding my grandson’s hand, one of the teachers affirmed that they’d appreciate a visit and then in the next sentence declared, ‘Oh and by the way we photocopied your books… you don’t mind do you?’ Now if I hadn’t had a small hand in my own at the time, I may well have suggested that actually, both my publishers and I would mind rather a lot – but I did, so I didn’t. To add further insult to injury when I turned up to work with my grandson’s class – and the parallel class – it turned out that the teaching session was two hours long, rather than just one. Still, I didn’t mind – did I?

I’ve had a few similar experiences where schoolteachers have blatantly photocopied my work – or the work of other authors – and in each case have been placed in an awkward position, either by protesting or biting my lip.

This is where my disconnected brain theory comes in. Having been a class teacher I understand the unrelenting pressure to collate – essentially aggressively hoard – material and resources to use with the children. That brain function I sympathise with. The disconnect seems to be with the part of the teacher’s brain that must know that what they are doing is not only illegal but immoral. I’m an ardent defender of teachers in most instances, my book Escape from Schoolditz about four teachers who attempt Colditz-style methods to escape the school they get locked in every night, is testament to that. Whilst teachers’ salaries could never be described as excessive, they can rarely have them robbed or reduced by the actions of others. Surely everyone knows that on average full-time teachers earn considerably more than full-time authors – and of course don’t necessarily have to buy the book themselves, since – hopefully – a portion of the school budget is spent on books!

Thank goodness for organisations such as ALCS that help ensure that we receive some compensation for our material being photocopied.

That brings us to the Amazon search engine. Now I realise I’m not in the strongest of positions having abbreviated my name to Steve. Just shout ‘Steve’ in a crowded place (when you can again!) and watch half the people turn around. Even if they aren’t called Steve themselves the know someone who is. Then there’s my surname – ‘Way’ – which of course is a common word, often integral to the sub-titles of tomes dealing with religious or spiritual issues. Nevertheless, you would think that when typing a name into the ‘book’ category of the Amazon search that it would initially focus on where these two words are found adjacently. Apparently not.

First on the list now is a dog training book by author Steve Mann. Second a motivational book that includes the word ‘way’ in its long title, followed by another motivational book authored by Dr Steve Peters. So it goes on  – the tenth in the list is the most interesting as it’s a book by Billy Connolly, the title of which is entirely devoid of the words ‘Steve’ or ‘Way’. Not that I particularly trust search engines of course but supposedly the most common female name in the UK is Mary. I wondered if I was named something like Mary Quest I would suffer the same problem being located as an author by Amazon. (I tried it and I suspect my imaginary Mary would remain as obscure to searchers as I clearly am already.)

Writing this has been quite aggravating – I think I need to go and watch Bella chasing herself!

~~~~~

Escape from Schoolditz ISBN 978-1720047940 Inspired by the prisoners in Colditz, four teachers attempt to escape from the school they are locked in every night.

PS If you’re at all interested search the book title not the author 

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Bittersweet moments - by Steve Way

This time round I’ve decided to write about a couple of bittersweet experiences I’ve had in relation to my writing. My decision was partly crystallised this week when I accidentally discovered that back in 2012 a series of twelve non-fiction books that I either authored or co-authored had been published in India. I’d worked on commission for a publisher who tries to license books to different countries, so in one sense – but purely a financial one - my interest in the books had ended. Whilst it was an exciting surprise to find out about the books – I may even (at a fair cost!) be able to order a copy of one of them from the USA via Amazon! – it seemed incredibly mean minded of the publishers not to inform me about this, let alone send me some copies!

I suppose I should have known. For that self-same publisher I and a friend I enlisted did some voluntary research for a children’s science book published under the name of a very famous American author. Neither of us got any recognition, or even the promised copies of the book!

Still, one day, a few years ago, I was delighted to see what confronted me when I arrived at the headquarters of the education authority based in Huddersfield’s council offices. The authority, along with the council, had decided to have a crack at the publishing lark, and commissioned six ‘big books’, one of which was a maths-based adventure written by me and illustrated by experienced teacher and artist June Norris-Green. The idea was that in Hillary’s Yorkshire Adventure Hillary would be set several mathematical challenges by the ‘Mathematical Maestro’ (boo!) for the children to solve. The designer and I carefully worked on the layout, incorporating June’s wonderful illustrations, seeing to it that each challenge was laid out on one double spread, followed by a double spread explaining the solution. This of course meant that when used as a teaching tool the double-page spread of the challenge could be presented to the children, without any clues being given away as to how to solve it. The following double spread would confirm whether their solutions were correct or not.

On the day in question the published books had all arrived at the council headquarters before I did and so stacked up on several pallets just inside the entrance were copies of my book! As I raced up the stairs to the designer’s work area I could look down on the tall stacks from above! How exciting! 

When I arrived at his desk, the designer was looking through one of the copies. It didn’t take long before I realised something was amiss. Instead of the challenge being laid out on a double spread, one half of it started on the right-hand page. To read the rest of the challenge it was necessary to turn the page, on the right had of which was the first page of the solution. The dispirited designer explained that just before being sent off for publication one of the Huddersfield Councilors had looked at the draft and declared that there should be a blank page on the first inner page of the book. The designer didn’t dare contradict her. You don’t question a councilor – not if your job ends up on the line for doing so. God bless politicians. This meant of course that the layout of the whole book was out of sync and in my mind largely ruined. As I walked down the stairs looking down on my books, I felt very differently about them as I had going up.

Further insult to injury was added about a year later, when the educational authority finally realised that it didn’t actually know how to successfully operate as a publisher. Every school in the authority had been presented with a copy of my book and the five others but after that they had several books that they had failed to sell. Rather than allowing me to have them – I managed to buy a few - with the aim of distributing them to other schools in Yorkshire* (and beyond!) they insisted on incinerating them instead. As I mentioned these were big books – what a waste! Still perhaps it warmed up Huddersfield for a while, a not uncommon necessity!

*Something they could also have done of course!

~~~~~

Recent book; Spy by Accident. ISBN 978-1676604969 Simon’s mum Mary is a spy though neither he nor his father know this. Simon and his father inadvertently become embroiled in Mary’s latest case, causing even more intense concern and problems for Mary and her colleagues.


Thursday, 2 July 2020

Flexible Thinking by Steve Way


It’s an interesting responsibility we share as adults writing and working for children. Naturally, we want them to enjoy and benefit from the work we produce and the lessons we teach them. I don’t always believe that arbiters of the decisions, such as the educational authorities, in deciding what and how material should be presented to children always get this right. The knock-on effect I’ve observed is that this then leads to some publishers, teachers and others being misled but influenced by these edicts in their actions and thinking. Despite good intentions these ideas appear to be as fickle as changing fashions and sometimes as disastrous. Most importantly they seem to me to be of no great benefit to the children we are all trying to support.

Several years ago, an educational publisher was showing interest in some of the pieces I’d written incorporating ideas about mathematics. I’d created a character called The Wise Wizz of Woo, who amongst other achievements (allegedly) determined the shape of the numbers we use. The publishers were vehemently opposed to my Wizz. According to them it was completely unacceptable to use witches or wizards, or references to magic, however oblique (he was only a ‘wizz’ after all) in modern publications as apparently this would be unnatural and unrealistic and confuse the children. The theory seemed to be that the children would have difficultly recognising that magic of an imaginary kind doesn’t exist and that it might confuse their understanding and appreciation of their own or others religious beliefs or sensibilities. Wizards and witches were definitely a no no. For me this was doubly a shame as I’d also been writing a couple of stories about a couple of gormless wizards who were the least able students at their school of wizardry.

Unbeknown to me and the staunch anti-magic brigade at this particular publishing house, elsewhere in the country the first edition of a series of stories about a young orphan with a distinctive scar on his forehead was being discovered by an enthusiastic readership. Curiously, even though a few religious zealots made a fuss about it for a while, most children seemed to cope emotionally and spiritually.

Of course I wouldn’t claim that my scribblings concerning The Wise Wizz of Woo and his associates are in the same league as Joanne Rowling’s stories about Harry P but as the absurdity and irony the situation became clear it did seem irksome that my publisher’s thinking about what was acceptable fare for children’s consumption seemed unnecessarily limited. As well as returning The Wizz to the drawing board!

I was amused once, shortly after the Literacy Hour and Numeracy Hour were strictly imposed as each morning’s fare for children – no cross curricular activity allowed! – when after being invited to do a school visit to present my maths stories that this seemed to pose a worrying dilemma for the class teacher. ‘I don’t know whether to have you in the Literacy Hour or the Numeracy Hour,’ she wailed. Goodness, how confusing for the children! It was certain they wouldn’t be able to cope!

I was less amused on another occasion when I was presenting a story about rounding numbers to a class of eight-year-olds. The idea is that Kings Hundreds, Tens and Units go to war and due to rounding numbers differently the army with the least men is mistakenly thought the largest causing the others to retreat. In order to show how this worked I needed to use the board to calculate how many soldiers each of the kings had in their army. There were only three numbers in each case, for the cavalry, archers and infantry. I began showing the first calculation in a column when the story was interrupted by a scream from the back of the classroom. Seconds later the class teacher had run to the board and practically wrenched the pen out of my hand. ‘We don’t add up that way!’ she cried hysterically as seemingly alarmed as if I’d just inappropriately exposed myself to the class. This was when the fashion was for the children to learn to add up sideways rather than in columns. (And at the time in no other way So Help Us God!)

This dramatic mathematical event seems to me to highlight two different schools of thought when it comes to children. One insisting that children can only be taught in certain ways or exposed to certain ideas and characters, the other camp, including me, that believes that children are infinitely more flexible in their thinking than we usually give them credit for. There are many classic children’s books in which the language is highly complex. Is it likely that the children understand the meaning of every word, reference, idea? No. Has that prevented them from gaining an infinite variety of benefits and joy from the novel? Also no. Will they later gain different insights when they read these books again – perhaps as adults to their children – definitely yes.

Instinctively and intellectually I refute the idea that children should be taught in only one way. I’m glad to hear that these days in many schools children are shown a variety of ways in which to carry out calculations and then allowed to use the method which they are most comfortable with. I’m sure this encourages intellectual flexibility, particularly most recently after teaching a couple of eleven-year-old girls English here where we live in France. The girls couldn’t be more normal for their age but like all students in France they are taught only one way to carry out calculations and that is very definitely it. When I started teaching them language related to maths I was astounded at how poor their mathematical skills were, far behind those of similarly able children their age in the UK.

Another educational fad that fazed me was the ‘only teach from the children’s experience’ idea. I was in an international school in Lyon and during the lunchbreak described the science-based sketch I was aiming to present to the children, covering the concept of friction. The idea is that Professor Crackpot visits the bank to ask Mrs Friction, the manager, for funds to finance his inventions that contradict the law of friction, such as bumpy slides and smooth tyres. The teacher was horrified, certain that the children wouldn’t appreciate the piece since it broke the golden rule of only teaching from the children’s experience.

I was very tempted to suggest that if we were only supposed to expose the children to learning based on their own experience that we should immediately send them all home, since the home environment was presumably what they had experienced most up until now. Since the children were around eight or nine-years-old I strongly suspected that they knew what money was, were aware there were places called banks, which some of them may even have been inside in the company of the adults who sometimes have to visit them in the course of their daily lives. I was even more strongly tempted to warn the teacher away from exposing them to any popular children’s books on the off chance that they didn’t actually teach magic at this particular school, or that the children didn’t have bedroom furniture without a back that led into Narnia or… (obviously here we could all have a field day so I’ll leave it at that.)

I had incidentally already shared that sketch with hundreds of children all over the UK and elsewhere and they all seemed to come out of the experience unscathed… as did the children in Lyon.
~~~~~
You may be interested to know that The Wise Wizz of Woo did eventually see light of day with different publishers. A cartoon poem can be seen at http://www.counton.org/explorer/wise-wizz-of-woo/sound/  while this and further exploits can be read in Using Stories to teach Maths Ages 4 to 7 ISBN 978-1-90986-002-5

However the inept wizard students are still languishing in a bottom drawer…

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

What you do and say speaks loudly. VAVs? by Steve Way


At a time when someone’s car journeys have generated debate about what that action represents for ordinary people trying to support their community and when Twitter have finally had the courage to suggest that some of the President of America’s dirges may not be backed up by robust fact-checking, I’ve been thinking about the various ways ideas and opinions are communicated to us in positive and negative ways.

A few years ago, I worked as a ‘Writer in Residence’ for a group of schools located in disadvantaged estates in south Leeds. In one school I was asked to work with a group of boys. As has long been the case there was concern that boys were lagging behind girls in showing skill and interest in reading and writing, so I directed my workshops towards subjects likely to interest my group of ten-year-old boys and we wrote about orcs, trolls and other gruesome creatures. Everyone in the group engaged with the task and we all laughed and ‘urred’ in roughly equal measure as each one of the boys read out their piece. We all particularly enjoyed the description one lad had written about a wonderfully vile being.

 The boy was beaming when he finished reading as it was clear how much we’d appreciated his work and it was almost certain that he had never before written anything of this length and quality that he had enjoyed producing and then presenting to his friends. By chance, while the frisson of the moment was still in the air, the headteacher of the school flounced importantly through the hall, where we were working. As the lad in question was still practically glowing with pride, I asked the head if she had a moment to let him share his piece with her. We all beamed back at him as the hero of the moment and the head leaned of to listen. I sensed the excitement and collective pride buzzing around the whole group of boys. They were anticipating the praise that they expected to be heaped upon their friend. The boy’s gory description ended and the headteacher jerked upright as though she’d stepped on a live wire. ‘Oh dear!’ she declared. ‘Why can’t you write about something nice?’ She then flounced off faster than before as though trying to distance herself from this insult to civilised ‘nice’ writing as quickly as possible. As I watched her disappear, I felt the group’s new-found enthusiasm deflating faster than a popped balloon. So much for getting boys interested in writing.

A similar thing happened in another school. As often happened while I was doing a workshop with a class of children the teacher and teaching assistants mysteriously slipped away. Totally illegal of course – but what could I do, leave them all completely alone without adult supervision!?! Lucky I’m a qualified teacher.

We were writing about ‘Silly Superheroes’ and amongst my other superheroes of that category that I’d read to the children to stimulate their won writing I’d described the erstwhile ‘Ear Wax Man’. You can probably guess how he caught villains. This piece inspired one of the boys to create a character called ‘Mr Poo’. No guessing there either I should imagine. He had started reading it out to us, to the great delight and amusement of all of us, when one of the teaching assistants returned. Having interrupted him she asked him to start again. He didn’t get much further than the title before the TA practically became hysterical and soundly admonished the boy for writing what she clearly saw as a disgusting and inappropriate piece of work. It was almost as though I wasn’t in the room. Fortunately for the poor boy, I think he was still aware of the appreciation for his piece that the rest of us had shown. And one advantage of having been completely overridden by the oversensitive TA (you would think she had never worked with children before!) was that I was able to give him a very obvious encouraging wink behind her back. I imagine this TA would also have preferred it if he’d written about something ‘nice’.

Whilst I’m still annoyed about these two examples of negative communication, there’s one that occurred at another school that still makes me smile. I was talking to a class and we got to the Q&A stage. One child asked me what I sensed was a rehearsed question, ‘How do you write a new story?’ I replied that it varied but that if I had an idea I would just run with it to see where it went and if I liked what I’d written I would then put together a plan for the story. The children seemed surprised by this answer and instinctively all looked over at the class teacher. “’Oh’, she said. ‘I told them you always made a plan first.’ Clearly, she hadn’t wanted to go to the inconvenience of asking me first!

I’ve written before about teacher’s and other adults behaving in a way which sent a clear message that they didn’t see an author visit as being important (and therefore presumably writing in general) as, for example, in the disappearing act described above. I participated in a day when authors in the area would briefly visit several schools. I had just sat down in front of a class which I was only going to work with for half-an-hour. Standing behind them the teacher chirpily asked, ‘You don’t mind of I do a few jobs while you work with the children do you?’ Well of course tidying up library books and sorting out pencils is far more important than joining the class in engaging with an author - isn’t it?

He certainly did.

~~~~~

Of course most school visits are an absolute joy and I hope that between us we’ll soon be able to do many more. In the meantime, during these challenging times I’ve been wondering about promoting the idea of ‘VAVs’ – standing for ‘Virtual Author Visits’ – whereby we work with the children using platforms such as Skype and Zoom. I would be interested to hear your opinion of my acrostic acronym and more importantly any experiences of engaging with children in a virtual way!

Recent publications; 
The Real Story Series Volume One It turns out Goldie Lock is a reluctant trainee burglar and that ‘The Princess who does PE’ is also a pretty good winger. 
The Real Story Series Volume Three Despite thinking he’s tricked the other goats into believing an ogre lives under the bridge leading to the field full of delicious grass, it turns out that he’s right. How is the Grand Old Duke of York going to fend off The Grand Young Duke of Oldham and The Grand Middle-Aged Duke of Newcastle? His wife suggests teaching his men to knit!