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Learning Lessons

 

The last few days have been busy with schoolwork. The central government and local governments have been trying to figure out how to organise the end of the school year.

Some people want every student to pass. Some want kids to go to school in July.

The instructions the dept. of Education have given schools are so vague they’re like the bible – you can interpret it any way you want. We have to decide and defend what we decide to do. To anyone who gets their back up if things aren’t the way they want. Usual shite.

We are trying to decide now, how many percent each term gets, how much up or down a kids grade can go if they don’t hand in the work we’re doing now …

But, really, there are more important things.

They’ve only now figured out how they are going to organise letting our kids out to go for a walk, to feel the sunshine on their faces, to feel the breeze on their skin, to look up at the sky and clouds, to see the trees already in leaf and flower, to run and jump and roll in the grass. Compared to that, who really gives a toss about their grades?

This is the hamster wheel.

They want us to keep worrying about the things they tell us are important, keeping up, getting ahead, cramming our days with lessons and assignments for fear others will leave us standing and we’ll loose out in the rat race.

It also stops us from pausing and thinking, what is important in life? All the consumerism and getting bigger cars, or seeing our loved ones, going for a walk?

There were paediatrics and psychologists on the TV the other day, saying kids are fine inside for a few more weeks. That they’re adaptable.

Well, that’s as maybe. Kids in refugee camps adapt to life there, but that doesn’t mean they’re not profoundly and negatively affected.

I fail to see how in 2020 these experts haven’t read about the need for kids to experience nature, to throw sticks and stones in the river, to climb trees, to pick flowers and chase pigeons, to dig (mud or sand) and build imaginary castles. To follow, and perhaps squash, ants, to interact with the world around them.

Kids who do this are much happier than kids who only see concrete and streets and screens.

We need to rewild our kids, and keeping them cooped up has been a step backwards.

Worrying about how to decide who’s passing or failing because they missed out some weeks of school is a disservice to kids, when compared to wondering what they’ve learned about life – what they’ve learned about helping in the home, being nice to one another and their family, if they’ve read books they might not have had time or inclination for otherwise. We should wonder if children have been able to use this pause in normal life to see how unnecessary some of our normal life is, how easily we take things for granted, when they actually are the fruits of many labours, trials and sacrifices (like having a public health service and unemployment payments) in the past, of their own family, of themselves now.

It’s been a few weeks. They can make up all this over the next few years without any problem. Hell, the government effectively took weeks off the school year by changing the repeat exams from September to June in the last three years. Perhaps they can fling that great idea out the window in light of this situation?

It’s not as if the Spanish curriculum wasn’t already overloaded with too much information to memorise and not enough time for understanding.

The government has a responsibility to make sure our education system works for everyone, true. They also have a responsibility to make life – not “normal”– acceptable, worthwhile, enjoyable and beautiful for us and our kids.

That’s why we have public parks and gardens, playgrounds and ensure natural amenities like riverbanks and beaches are clean and healthy to visit.

When asked about taking kids to grass, one government spokesperson said it was better not to, because cats can get coronavirus and might have shit in the grass.

I shit you not.

Where are the feral cats going to have got coronavirus from?

yamaguchi 2

Long grass in the local park. Perfect for kids to get back to nature rolling around in. Notice absence of feral cats.

Denying green spaces to kids has been necessary, but the depravation of those, in my opinion, is more detrimental than the deprivation of 6 or 8 hours a day sitting in a desk listening to me and my colleagues talking about the world, however interesting we make it.

If the government wants to ensure that every kid can get their required education while we are going through this crisis, well, ensuring every family has enough money to buy a personal computer, and have decent internet access, would have been nice prior to this.

Decent wages and proper housing policies will go a long way to making everyone in society more prepared and able to adapt to these crises, and I say that in plural because this is neither the first nor last crisis to be dealt with.

We will spend the next month teaching the bare essentials of the courses. The minimum content so that kids can continue in September with the next year’s course without holes in their knowledge. I can’t see why we don’t trim down the course for every year.

As for grades. Well, I’m finally giving quizzes where the points aren’t collected. They are just for the kids themselves, their parents, and me, to see if they understood the material, what they had problems with, and what they should try to revise. The numbers 5, 6, 7 or 8 out of 10 aren’t so important. Everyone will go on to learn more stuff next year. The way it used to be.

My own kids won’t be going to school in July. They’ll be in the village, listening to the birdsong they can’t hear now, running in a garden instead of the hallway, plucking flowers they can’t now see, rolling in grass rather than the floor, looking at the clouds horses and dogs and cats and birds rather than the TV all day – doing puzzles only because they want to, and not because I’ve turned off the telly on them, reading a book in sunlight and not inside.

Five things I learned writing the Silver Nights Trilogy

So, I know it’s been a while, but things have been as hectic as a 2-year-old in a new playground. Literally.

My final chapter of the Silver Nights Trilogy is out now, and so I thought it a good time to recap what I learned in the process of writing it.

 

1) Things take longer than you think…

Especially when you think you can squeeze side projects in there between…

I always knew I’d finish my trilogy (I advocate the finish your shit mantra) but I thought I’d have it done a couple of years ago – around six months after the first novel came out and I realised just before publication that it was going to be a trilogy. The nuclei of the second two parts came to me very clear and I reckoned that I’d have them both done by Christmas – I had a part time job and summer in between, after all.

But then I got the idea for a novel about Loch Ness, and that just grabbed my attention like a talon clutching my balls, insisting I go along with it. So I thought it best to comply. The first draft spun out easily, but then there were drafts to go over before I submitted, and another project popped up. This was going to be easy – my publisher put out a call for erotic romance novellas set in one night in any city, for a series called City Nights. Well, I had a long short story set in Madrid that could be refitted in a jiffy. Or not. The challenge of writing erotica wasn’t half as hard (fnarr!) as shaping it into a longer story that was still under 25k words. Anyway, despite it taking me several rewrites I got the bug and did 2 more cities since, Pamplona and Boston (for these the story was simple, starting from scratch always is simpler) published under the name JD Martins – yes, I am a school teacher. Then there were edits for a YA paranormal and a children’s fantasy novel to go over for publication (yes, I’d a drawerful of old novels that I finally found willing publishers for). And of course, real life did it’s usual trick of getting in the way. Our daughter was diagnosed diabetic at two and a half, so I spent a lot of time cycling across town to inject her at lunchtime, we had another sprog six? months ago… all that great stuff. But the sequels kept simmering away in the meantime, slowly taking shape… of course, people kept asking when they’d be ready and I kept telling them a date not too distant in the future – three months or so, by this Christmas, as soon as submissions reopen, I’m sending both books straight away…

 

2) Think before you decide to write a trilogy.

At least, think before you tell everyone, and have the second and third pretty much ready to go before you tell everyone. Sure, the idea for the second and third novel might come to you real quick and seem pretty safe and secure, but they need to tie together like a trilogy, and, more importantly, people are going to be waiting on them – some won’t even read the first part till they know the second and third are written and out there for them to read straight after – hands up who’s waiting on Game of Thrones to finish it’s run before even starting? Only me? Oh… anyhow, though the ideas might seem pretty solid, they have to lead directly from the first to the second and into the third and though there might be three books, hence trilogy, a series can have three books, too – you just don’t write the fourth book, and nobody’s going to feel cheated. Are you? It’s not that the second and third novel aren’t solid, but the challenges facing the characters can’t be the same, and things that happen in the sequels need to have a coherency with the first, so perhaps write them all at the same time, rather than have one done and decide to add two more

But definitely write part two and three together. It might piss off those waiting impatiently for the second to come out, but it’s better in the end. Also helps keep all those characters in your head at the same time – werewolves have big families, dammit, especially when they’re trying to build up their numbers after centuries of persecution.

 

3) Stick to your original vision

I wrote the first novel in this trilogy, Leaving the Pack, twenty-five years ago. The time in between turned out to be very useful. I was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s novel Wulfen, and to honest, I never really read much about them since then. I liked my werewolves (almost as much as Strieber’s) and I didn’t much like the movies I occasionally saw or the few books I read. Having a book out before you write the next leads to the temptation to take reader’s opinions into account as write. But making everyone happy isn’t a possibility and if the reader didn’t like the first book, it’s pointless to try please them in the second, or the third. Besides, when I looked around at some of the other werewolf novels out there, I realised their tastes were more aligned with the books I wanted my story to stand out from – the real tribe who engendered the original myth.

 

4) Don’t bother reading in-genre – it’s probably not your genre, and there’s some weird shit out there.

I did read a few other books over the years, but reading other werewolf novels was a bad idea. They filled my head with stuff that I didn’t like, making me second-guess the world I’d created – a real world where shifting is just as physically impossible as it is in ours.

In tandem with their physiological lunar rhythms, these people worshipped the wolf, had an affinity with their four-legged brethren that had led their enemies to assume they turned into beasts.

As a zoologist, I knew that wolf mating is similar to dogs, where they are unable to separate afterwards for a while. I went to double-check the term (knotting) in the final edit and discovered a sub genre of werewolf novels that was eye opening, let’s say.

 

5) The real world has changed, and so must your characters.

Even though my werewolves are first found roaming the city during the late Eighties, when homosexuality wasn’t nearly so visible in our cities, and I have no interest in writing gay sex scenes – and I doubt I could make them hot enough for the readers of werewolf knotting – I totally agree that we need more diversity characters in our novels. The werewolves are an ancient tribe, and the poster boys for patriarchy, but even they have to evolve to deal with the way things are nowadays, including equality for their daughters. But such changes are a joy to write, to put your characters in awkward situations. One thing that has not changed for the pack, however, is they still hate vampires, and real vampires are not so nice as they’re made out to be.

You can get all three books here….