Monday, 30 November 2009

Lessons in Citizenship

My daughter has  homework to do for her Citizenship  class.  She described it as 'a project about knife crime.' In fact, it is about challenging media stereotypes which label young people as 'thugs' or 'yobs'.
It's a worthy project I suppose, aimed at getting kids to analyse truth and distortion in the media. They also have to look at crime statistics in Haringey, and work out which crimes are most likely in different parts of the borough.
But today I'd much rather they were looking at a true story of three teenagers in the neighbouring borough of Hackney.
I've written before about the killing of Jahmal Mason-Blair, stabbed to death as he tried to break up a fight in Hackney. Today his killer was named and sentenced to six years in detention.
Michael Ematuwo was only 14, just 5ft tall when he went with Jahmal to try and retrieve his bike from an older boy. He was hit over the head with a stick by the boy, and pulled out a large flick knife. Lashing out he accidentally slashed Jahmal's throat. Jahmal had been trying to shield him and stop the fight.
Jahmal's family told the court: “The impact has been overwhelming. We have been physically, emotionally and spiritually drained for what seems like forever.
“The knowledge that such a loving, kind and talented young man will never fulfil his wonderful potential is almost too much to bear.
“We want the boy responsible, and the community as a whole, to realise the long-lasting and appalling effect caused by one boy choosing to carry a knife.
“Only by our communities looking out for one another will we be able to put an end to the needless deaths of our sons and brothers.”
Michael Ematuwo burst into tears when he was sentenced to six years for manslaughter. His counsel asked the judge to show mercy, due to his age and the impact that a sentence will have on him.
She said: “He had no intention of causing any harm to anyone on that night.”
This story makes me shiver. First because it feels so close to home -  Jahmal was a friend of someone I know from my son's school. Second because the story is so horribly similar to some of the events I've imagined in When I Was Joe.
But most of all because of the pointless loss of so much potential -  beautiful Jahmal, a talented young footballer - described by the judge as  'a bright star in the lives of  his family.' His former friend and killer, Michael Ematuwo, who will spend his adolesence in prison and forever have to live with what he's done.

I hope that citizenship classes in the future will teach teenagers about Jahmal and Michael, and encourage them to imagine themselves in Michael's place, crying in court as he contemplates the huge price paid for his stupid thoughtlessness.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Reading Lessons

 I'm in a classroom at my daughter's school and the teacher is handing out a worksheet. She pauses. 'Does anyone read Dutch?' she asks. And I raise my hand. 
No, it wasn't a nightmare. It really happened. I was at school being trained for a scheme to support struggling readers in secondary school. I was keen, partly for selfish reasons. A writer can learn a lot from children who don't like to read.
The worksheet was our first exercise, designed to put us in the place of a child trying to decipher captions to a picture book. Presumably they wrote them in Dutch because it seemed an extraordinarily unlikely language that anyone would understand. Typical.
Anyway, while the other volunteers frowned over works like 'I' and 'books' I scanned the sheet briefly and worked out the two unfamiliar words -  plaatjes or 'little plates' confused me at first, but then I realised it must mean illustrations. Then I sat and remembered how it felt arriving in Amsterdam, unable to understand one word of Dutch. How stressful it was to see words everywhere that I couldn't understand. How furious I'd feel in the supermarket, trying to decide whether magere melk or karnemelk was skimmed -  and then arriving home to discover that a carton of karnemelk was in fact full of -  yeeuch -  buttermilk.
How I tried to learn by watching Bob de Bouwer  but found it completely beyond me -  not great for the self-esteem.  The six months until I learned  basic Dutch  were nightmarish - I felt  helpless, baffled and stupid every day. I never really learned to speak Dutch very well, but I could read and understand a lot. It transformed my stay in The Netherlands.
The trainers came from a borough-wide scheme working in secondary and primary schools in Haringey, north London. They were brimming with enthusiasm. The main thing, they told us, is to chat with the children about the books they read, make them feel interested and relaxed about reading. There would be no goals, no levels, nor targets. One to one attention from an adult might help these children discover a love of reading that had so far eluded them.
We talked about the worry that children might feel stigmatised by taking part in the scheme. One volunteer -  herself not a native English speaker -  pointed out that they were learning an important life lesson, that it was OK to ask for help. We discussed the books available and whether the children could take them out of a library.
I thought about all the things we do with our children to get them to read - reading to them, audio books, a book review blog, making them read a book before they see the film, discussing stories, characters, ideas. How much of that can I reproduce in a 25 minute session in a school library?
Author John Dougherty has written a polemic against the government's Literacy programme which seems designed to eliminate imagination and enjoyment  of reading and writing from the classroom. I wonder how many of the struggling readers have been put off by targets and testing? At the International School in Amsterdam my daughter, aged 10 had a writer's notebook, which she was encouraged to fill with bits and bobs, pictures and poems and stories, somewhere to capture ideas and flex her imagination. I can't imagine such a thing in my son's SATs dominated classroom, where the emphasis is on inserting 'level five punctuation' into prose.
'Do you remember how you learned to read?' asked our trainers. I didn't, but I do remember the horribly dull reading scheme that we had to work through in infant school. The Wide Range Readers were full of short boring snippets of prose, no stories, no characters. I taught myself to speed read and galloped through them, proud to be the first in my class to graduate onto my own choice of book.
I'd hoped that things might have changed in forty years. I fear they may have got worse.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fickle? Me?

Some loyal readers may be wondering how my mad attempt to write a novel in a month is going...and how I'm managing to blog frequently at the same time.
Well now. How do I put this?
I knew that November was not going to be a great month to take on a writing challenge. For a start I was still working on final revisions of Almost True -  which I finished on the stroke of midnight on October 31. (My editor didn't like the ending  -  I suspected that was coming, and I much prefer my new version -  and he had problems with chapter 17.  Now he likes the new ending, but we're still debating chapter 17. I decided today..but haven't confessed to him yet...that the book can probably live without it altogether. But let's see what he thinks).
Then I got to work on the new book. I knew I wouldn't get much done in the first week -  I was working for a newspaper -  but thought I would catch up as the story gathered momentum. I plunged in. I gave my main character a stroppy younger brother. Her love interest  -  a sexy chauffeur -  waited in the wings.  I was poised to fall in love with the story.
But I didn't.
 It felt static, dull, irritating. I didn't warm to my main character. I didn't seem to have much to say about her or her family. I pined for Ty and his mum.
I slipped some poison into someone's tea, in an attempt to spice things up a bit. He frothed at the mouth and writhed on the floor. I yawned, switched on X Factor.
And then, ten days or so into November I had a new idea. A simple but great idea. My sort of idea. An idea that seems full of possibilities and fun and questions and could lead in all sorts of exciting directions.
An idea that killed the other novel dead.
So, I abandoned Novel A and began to think about Novel B. I thought about how to tell the story. I worried about it for a week -  how to avoid predicability -  and then I got it! Title, structure, form. I'm not quite there with a plot, but that'll come. Whooo...I'm completely in love with this idea.
So, November wasn't the month for writing. November turned into the month for thinking. What I want to know is whether the abortive attempt to write Novel A opened me up to finding the idea for Novel B. Or was it just a coincidence?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Vampires, Zombies and Coincidences

I’m not exactly a teenager - although I do seem to have a few lodged in my brain - but I do spend a lot of time reading teenage fiction. Some of it is brilliant, up there with the best books I’ve ever read. Some of it is crappy but compelling. And some just doesn’t do it for me - even though these are books which have won prizes and have a devoted readership.

When I came across this list of things that make the author groan and stop reading in YA fiction, then I found myself nodding wildly in agreement with virtually every point (especially the one about everyone being rich) while also thinking ‘Yes but…there was this book…and what about…’
What she’s generally saying though is that she hates shallowness in YA fiction, characters or plotlines that are there just because, with no depth or proper exposition. Anything - even sparkly vampires - can be done well, it’s just irritating beyond belief when it isn’t.
Anyway, of course I have my own current list of things that irritate me in YA fiction. And of course it is completely unfair and as soon as I post it I will think of exceptions in every single case.

- Dead people as main characters. I really don’t want to read about the love lives of zombies, ghosts or annoying girls stuck in heaven and watching their family and friends from afar (No, I will not be seeing the movie of The Lovely Bones)  I’m not that keen on people in comas either. I want living, breathing main characters please. (I specifically exclude Neil Gaiman’s superb The Graveyard Book from this, although would point out that the main character is alive.) What I hate is the idea that even though you're dead you still have a life. You don't.

- Books where only one character has a problem and that problem is the ‘issue’ and everyone else is ‘normal’ and the eventual solution to the problem is that you talk to a counsellor who will somehow magically make you ‘normal’ as well. I honestly think you’d be better off reading the agony page of Mizz magazine, where at least you’d get the idea that lots of people have problems and ‘issues’ are just life.

- Books where everyone is white and middle class.

- Books where the main character loves music and films that someone in their thirties or forties would love…oh, could that be the age of the author? How strange…I especially hate this when it’s presented as a plot device  Do they think we’re completely stupid?

- Books where people waffle on for pages and pages analysing themselves and their feelings and their families.

- Books where the action never stops for long enough for anyone to react to anything, and the author obviously hasn’t thought about any emotion deeper than the blindingly obvious.

- Books where coincidence follows coincidence, and then someone says something lame about what a coincidence something else was, and you’re screaming at the page: ‘Yes! You are a lazy, lazy author!’

- Books where all the teachers are horrible except one (Sudden worry that maybe I’ve already committed this crime against literature. Hmmmm…)

- Completely obvious rip offs of other successful novels. Which means no more vampires, and no more angels pretending to be vampires, and no more schools for wizards and no more bloody brooding lab partners and meetings in clearings. Unless done for the sake of irony (you’ll see what I mean when you read Almost True, which I hope you will do in August).

At this point I think I’d better stop because I’m already worrying that I’ve broken several of my own rules - oh, whoops, there is a lab partnery science lesson scene in Joe - although absolutely not the one about coincidences, I promise faithfully that I will never ever knowingly allow a coincidence to seep into a plot. Unless I think it's absolutely neccessary. Ahem...

PS..when looking for an image to illustrate this post I typed coincidence into Google images and came up with this. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for..but how could I not share it?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The joy of blogging

Six months ago I only had a very hazy idea about blogging. I thought it was for people to record their cute kid’s witty quotes, or their anonymous sex lives, or some other boring solipsistic rubbish.

I despised the whole idea, to be completely honest. I was a professional journalist, an aspiring author. I have been paid to write for nearly thirty years. Why on earth would I want to work for nothing?

Then (after spending a year writing  books for absolutely nothing except the joy and hope of it) I got a book deal. My first book was going to be published in just under a year’s time. I began to investigate ways of raising my profile, letting people know about me and my book.

A website was my first idea, but I knew I couldn’t afford the flashy site of my dreams. Then, one day, I was reading Candy Gourlay’s great blog on marketing children’s books. Candy had been writing for nine years, had snared an agent but had no publishing deal. One could completely understand if she had become bitter and despairing. But no, she carried on generously handing out advice to techno dimwits, about how they can use the internet to sell themselves. ‘I really can’t understand why a published author wouldn’t have a blog,’ she wrote one day. And - at last, duh – I got it.

I’d been thinking that writing a blog was writing for free. It wasn’t. It was completely free marketing for me and my book.

So I started this blog back in May, with the idea of writing bits and pieces about the background of the books, news stories about related topics, and perhaps some posts about the interesting journey of becoming a published author. I didn’t exactly keep to my own brief. Before long I was writing about everything and anything. The blog is a little bit book-pushing, a little bit writer’s journey and an awful lot of whatever springs to mind at the moment.

I had no idea at all how much I’d enjoy it. It’s like having a diary that talks back, that goes out and meets people, that can link to other interesting and funny stuff and be illustrated with pictures. After a lifetime of writing to prescribed lengths in a newspaper’s style, I have total freedom. If I want a post to be long, it’s long. If I want it to be short, it’s short. The feeling of liberation is extraordinary.

What have I achieved? I’ve been linked to on some great blogs, and been quoted on an email that goes out to everyone in the UK publishing world. I’ve made some new friends - friends I haven’t even met yet, but friends nonetheless. Hopefully I’ve sold a copy or two of the book.

This is my sixtieth blog post. I’ve written about witness protection and knife crime, and being a writer. I’ve written about the world of children’s books. But I’ve also written about chance encounters, and stories from my past.  If it's solipsistic or self-indulgent, I don't really care. I just aim to make it interesting.

I've had lots of witty and interesting comments from readers, some of whom have become followers. I never imagined having followers of any kind, and I love it. But the sweetest response came from my dad. ‘I really enjoy your blog,’ he told me, ‘I’ve learned a lot about you that I didn’t know before.’ My dad is 81 and I am 46. If that was the only thing that I gained from writing this blog then  it was worth it.

 The two books I've written so far are told  in the first person, in the voice of a teenage boy. Ty’s voice isn’t my voice. His language is very flat and uncomplicated, he uses ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’ a lot, he says ‘like’ instead of ‘as if’ and his grammar isn’t always what it should be.  Ty’s voice was very easy for me. He almost took over. This blog has given me a place to use and develop my own voice. I hope it’ll make it easier for me now it’s time to move on from Ty and adapt to a new narrator for my next project.

Anyway, Candy Gourlay inspired this blog and I’m exceptionally happy to say that all the good karma she’s put out into the world, not to mention her hard work and enormous talent has been rewarded with a publishing deal. David Fickling will publish Tall Story next summer. Here's Candy's video response to the news - essential viewing for any as yet unpublished writer.  Well done Candy - but please, don’t neglect your blog!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Edward Cullen and the Female Gaze

The trailer for the eagerly-awaited film of Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon can be summed up quite simply as lots of hot young men running around without their vests. Some of them transform into fluffy wolves. One slowly unbuttons his shirt, exposing his skinny white torso, just above the dangly bits. Another one leaps through a window.

The link with feminist art theory may not be immediately apparent.
However, bear with me. As a sometime student of art history (I absolutely love art history, particularly all the mad theories and I fully intend to finish my long-running Open University degree course. Perhaps next year) I would argue that this trailer is an absolutely classic example of something rarely acknowledged, the Female Gaze.

Feminist art theory – please excuse the massive over-simplification - has generally tended to concentrate on asking good and important questions about why men have traditionally dominated the art world. Believe me, it’s not because they have all the talent.

It also examines the way we look at art. Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey suggested that throughout history most art was produced with a male viewer in mind - the Male Gaze - which objectifies women. Mulvey said that the Gaze could not be reversed because "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification.”. When the male body is clearly the object of desire in art, the work is often conceived as and described as homo-erotic.

Very few commentators allow for the Female Gaze per se, and tend to suggest instead that in the rare event that men are presented for women to admire and enjoy, then women are copying a male point of view. They have in mind male strippers and teen pin ups. The Female Gaze rarely seems to make it into mainstream art.

Well, feminist art theorists, take a look at the New Moon trailer (you may need to watch it several times as I have done in the writing of this post.) Fully dressed women, half naked men. Men who are clean and shiny looking. Men in need of help - physically and emotionally, but who also display strength and who want to protect women. Strong emotion underpinning every scene. Tenderness mixed with the toughness. It’s all clearly designed to appeal to the Female Gaze. There’s almost nothing there for straight men -  our heroine Bella is wearing the world's ugliest anorak -  and the emphasis on the top half of the male body means it’s not even classically homo-erotic.

The books on which New Moon and the previous film Twilight were based have been a phenomenal publishing success. Stephenie Meyer has sold millions of copies and made a fortune. She has passionate fans, all of whom have fallen in love with the book’s hero - sparkly vegetarian vampire Edward Cullen – and identify with Bella, the klutzy girl he falls for.
The books have come in for much criticism however. There is the strange stalker-ish behaviour of Edward, who breaks into Bella’s house at night to watch her sleep. There’s Bella’s passivity and self-destructive worship of Edward - she’d rather die than have anything bad happen to him. There’s the clunky prose, the double adjectives, the lack of plot. And then there’s the fourth book Breaking Dawn which is in a whole critical category of its own.

Watch Twilight the film and most of these questions are taken care of. Yes, Bella is a bit daft - but no more so than your average teenage girl in love. And Edward is not just completely gorgeous, but also tortured – prone to embarrassment at his own perfection and anguish at his potential to harm. Even the creepy night-stalking comes across as just about understandable, given his messed-up life. It’s a real tribute to the script-writer and the actors, Kristin Stewart and the very lovely Robert Pattinson that they iron out the book’s problems and create a powerful love story.

What I’ve never understood though is the appeal of Edward in the book. I tried, really I did. I wanted to fall in love with him, experience the attraction felt by the obsessive millions. But Stephenie Meyer kept ruining him for me. I liked the bronze hair, golden eyes and alabaster skin - but then he smirked. Urgh. And even worse, Edward  ‘snickered’. Maybe in America attractive men snicker -  perhaps it's not as camp and high-pitched over there -  but in England it’s strictly for Graham Norton. If you're not familiar with Graham Norton then the picture here sums up what he's all about. I mean you don't want even a glimmer of that in your romantic hero, do you?

Then there are Edward’s clothes. Most of the time Bella is too busy swooning over his gorgeous face and body to notice his clothes. But when she does he is wearing “a light beige leather jacket…underneath he wore an ivory turtleneck sweater.” Yuk! He sounds like David Cassidy circa 1974. I mean what man wears a turtleneck? If you do a google image search for  'ivory turtleneck' you find pages of not very nice versions for women and only one for men -  which in fact is gray. Here it is. I mean, he's a nice looking guy, but he's clearly put on his granny's jumper. And that's without the beige leather jacket.
And he drives a Volvo. Perhaps for Americans this means exotic and European (a Ferrari though might have been a safer choice)  For Europeans, Volvo spells safe, reliable and deeply boring.
The biggest turn off though is the way he talks to Bella. ‘Bella, you are utterly absurd,’ he says. He calls her a silly girl. By this point Meyer had lost me. What reader likes a snickering hero who speaks to a girl - as she puts it - ‘as if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped.’ Attractive? I don’t think so.
So, I try and put the books out of my mind and concentrate on the films. Only ten days to go before New Moon is unleashed before an admiring Female Gaze. I can’t wait to go and run my feminist art theorist's eye over it.

UPDATE: Look at this..New Moon by action figures. Pure genius.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Knife crime update

The justice secretary Jack Straw has announced an increase in the minimum tariff to be served by knife murderers, bringing it more in line with guns. I wonder why it was ever different in the first place.

Missing Amsterdam in November

Amsterdam is at its most beautiful in the spring, when the tulips bloom and the sun comes back and it’s warm enough to sit outside and drink milky coffee. But it’s dark, cold, grey November when I miss it the most.

November in Amsterdam is just fun, fun, fun - for children anyway, especially of the expat variety. First comes the American celebration of Halloween, which generally goes off without anyone being shot. Then there’s the British Society’s glorious Bonfire Night event, which was held at a watersports centre in deepest west Amsterdam - I  got lost on the way every year - and was hugely enjoyed especially by non-Brits who would marvel at British delicacies like parkin and goggle in amazement as we ‘threw our effigies on the fire’.

After that injection of true Britishness for the kids we were free to enjoy the sheer Dutchness of the next two events. First St Maarten’s Night on the 11th, commemorating a saint best known for hiding among a flock of geese when he was appointed bishop and later sharing his cloak with a blind beggar.

In his honour children make lanterns and carry them in a parade around the Vondelpark (a bit dark and muddy as parades go, but nice to see the lanterns threading round the lake) Then it’s time to beg for sweets at neighbours' houses by singing special songs.  ‘St Maarten, St Maarten, the cows have got their tails, the girls have got their skirts on, here comes St Maarten’ runs one. Unfortunately one year we got it muddled up and sang ‘The cows have got their skirts on’ much to the amusement of the Dutch family listening. My children were mortified. After that they refused to sing.

St Maarten is easily eclipsed though by the real star of the Dutch winter. Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas, is the original Santa Claus, but he’s very different from the red-coated guy with the reindeers. Sinterklaas wears a bishop’s garb and mitre, and rides on a white horse. He arrives in Amsterdam mid November, supposedly from his summer home in Spain and parades through the city. Children and adults line the streets, enjoying marching bands and floats and waiting for the magical white horse to appear. When he does they cry out for his attention - ‘Sint! Sint!’- while Sinterklaas waves graciously to them.

Swarming all around are crowds of Pieten - a startling sight to visitors from more politically correct nations. ZwartePiet - or Black Pete - is Sinterklaas’s servant, and he looks very much like an old-fashioned golliwog toy. The sight of massively tall Dutchmen - the tallest nation on earth – blacked up with huge curly wigs causes huge disquiet to outsiders, especially when Piet is leading Sinterklaas’s horse in a servile fashion. Piet is childlike and mischievous. No wonder there’s a movement to change him into BuntePiet – Multi-coloured Piet- to avoid offence.
For outsiders November is a strange month to be in Amsterdam. The main department store, the Bijenkorf, one year had as its main decoration a massive Piet head, hanging above the shoppers. Every shop window display seems to feature him, including the cake shop which features chocolate cakes with marzipan lips. It's shocking enough to Brits. Americans can hardly believe their eyes. When my friend from Boston visited me in hospital after my son was born she nearly fainted when she saw a huge ZwartePiet striding through the children's ward. She grabbed her camera. 'No one's going to believe me without a picture.'

But the Dutch in general don't want a multi-coloured Piet.  They argue that he's a Moor from Spain and anyway, how can he be seen in a negative light when everyone loves him? The children adore him at the parade, calling his name and grabbing handfuls of sweets and pepernoten - spicy biscuits - from his sack. They sing songs about how much they love him. He is an ancient part of Dutch culture. In a time when so much of European heritage is being Hollywoodised and Disneyfied surely he’s worth preserving.

I held out against Piet’s charms for years. But it’s hard to dislike someone who your children love so much. The year I found myself arguing with an American friend against Bunte Piet and for the genuine article was the year I knew I’d crossed over. I was thinking like a Dutch person. Perhaps it was time to move on.

As I was about to post this my son came to say goodnight. 'Why are you looking at pictures of Zwarte Piet?' he asked and then began singing, in perfect Dutch, a song about Piet.  We left the Netherlands two years ago when he was just seven, but my Amsterdam-born English-speaking boy still thinks he's really Dutch.. And my kids always called the Sint's friend Smart Piet.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The week that wasn't

So the quest to write a novel in a month made a stumbling start this week – have written just 1,751 words…that’s about six thousand short of target. My characters sit around and drink tea in two locations so far. Not the most exciting start, I have to admit...but it’s early days. Just warming up to them.

In the middle of the week I had an enthusiastic email from a friend. ‘You’ve inspired me!’ she wrote. ‘I’m signing up for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to write a novel in a month too.’

‘Great,’ I wrote back. ‘I’ve had a very slow start.’

‘Never mind,’ she replied, ‘Just make a start on November 1.’

‘I can’t,’ I told her. ‘Today is the 4th.’

Anyway, the best blog I’ve read on the subject is this one by Emily Gale. Read and be even more inspired.

I didn’t get much writing done, because I was working this week. As well as foreign editing the Jewish Chronicle, single-handed - seven pages - I wrote a leader, a news story about hippos and a comment piece about Anne Frank and the boundaries of humour. Such a difficult subject to judge - the headline doesn't really reflect my views - in general I’m anti-censorship, but I’m also anti puerile offensiveness too. Thoughts anyone?
UPDATE David Mitchell has written a really good piece in the Guardian about edgy humour, explaining his Anne Frank joke . Read it here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Award time

Another day, another award...yeah, right...but today it is true, because kind Fish who writes the hilarious dating blog plentymorefishoutofwater has passed on the Superior Scribbler Award

Of course, there are the inevitable award conditions, so here goes.

*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass the award on to five most deserving bloggy friends.

*Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom s/he has received the award.

*Each Superior Scribbler must display the award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains the award.

*Each blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr Linky List. That way, they'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honour.

*Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

That's the boring bit out of the way, and now to my deserving blogs.

Anna Bowles at The Chocolate Keyboard  - a new really interesting and intelligent blog by an editor.
Judah at The Books I Read. A nearly 10 year old's fantastic book review blog (OK, he's my son. Do you see any rules against nepotism up there?)
Saviour Pirotta's Sword and Sandal Kids A brilliant idea this -  reviews of historical books and films for children.
Brian Keaney Dreaming in Text A veteran children's writer with a great blog about writing and life.
Kate's Secret Office Confessions. Like The Office but funnier.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Remembering Jahmal

I never had the privilege of knowing Jahmal Mason-Blair. But he was friends with someone I know and I woke one morning to find his untimely death mourned on my Facebook page.
Jahmal was only 14 when he died. A talented footballer, he was much loved by his family and friends. He died because he tried to protect his friend when a youth attacked him. The friend pulled out a knife and started waving it around. He caught Jahmal in an artery and he died almost immediately.
If anyone needs a reason to think twice about carrying a weapon, they should look at Jahmal's beautiful face and imagine losing a friend like that.
The boy who stabbed him is awaiting sentence. Jahmal's family are serving a life sentence of grief and loss.