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Reflections on Connections…

Hands (2)

11 AM

Now that I have finally been able to ignore the need for my house to be given some much needed TLC in the form of general and quite frankly tedious, never-ending chores, I have found my creative flow. A bit of red here, a bit of blue there and a character, with whom I am already hugely attached to, is becoming more rounded, more solid, more real. I look at him and he makes me smile. Whilst taking a heartfelt moment to connect with this being who I conjured up from the depths of my imagination, a knock at the front door jolts me back into reality.

I open the door to be greeted with the familiar smile and ‘good morning’ of the postman. His smile makes me smile. After bidding each other a good day, I shut the door and it occurs to me just how important such interactions are. After all, isn’t life about interactions and the effect that they have? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to have a bit of time just to myself (especially to have just a tiny break from hearing calls such as: ‘Mummy! Her foot is on my side of the sofa!’ or ‘Mummy! He’s looking at me!’ or ‘Mummy! She’s breathing the same air as me!’) but without the people that have been in my life, are in my life and will be in my life, no matter how fleeting or how permanent, the day to day would not be enriched in the wonderful way that it always has been.

And it is with this in mind that I recall the fondness and attachment that I have formed with the beautifully illustrated book The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.

rainbow-fish

Not only does this book have ownership of a piece of my heart, due to it being the first story that my firstborn ever smiled at when he was just weeks old, (an interaction which brought happy tears to my eyes and is most firmly embedded within my long-term memory, so I can of course tell him and any future partners all about it when he is all grown up!) but its message resonates with the importance of interactions and with forming relationships. Through sharing, and learning that time spent with others can bring happiness, the Rainbow Fish finds a sense of contentment that he hadn’t previously known could exist.

It is exactly this sense of contentment that I feel grateful for. I know that it would not be something that I could have reached had it not have been for every single person that has been, or is a part of my life. From the chit-chat with the worker at the supermarket which causes me to walk out smiling, the wave to a friendly neighbour, a telephone conversation to book an appointment, or to those interactions and relationships who are extremely important to me being my family and friends, they have all shaped my life, just like the Rainbow Fish found those around him shaped his. I must even be grateful for the interactions or relationships which felt negative at the time. Without those my path may have been different.

So, as I sit staring at my latest character creation (goodness, he’s cute!) and reflect upon those that have influenced my life, I feel hugely thankful for them all. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could all try just a smidgeon harder to influence each other’s days more than we already do? If we could inject smiles into others days just a bit more? It is with an inner determination and resolve that this is what I am going to do. We may not have scales to give away, as the Rainbow Fish did, but what we do have is an endless supply of kind words and smiles. Let’s use them. Let’s influence someone else’s day for the better. Let’s feel good about it and by doing it make our own days even better too.

 

 

Walking the Path…

10AM Path (2)

10 AM

The bathroom is calling out to me: ‘CLEAN ME! Clean me quickly, before I self-implode under the pressure of your offspring’s liberal and carefree use of my once white facets!’ Although I can feel every part of my being yearning to scrub until the sheen of the mirror cannot be separated from the shine of the sink, my list says that I must ignore such domestic issues right now and focus on the current illustration which, despite saying so myself, is coming along quite nicely thank you very much!

With an excited fire in my tummy, I wake up my laptop (I can’t help but be slightly envious of its ability to be so perky and ready to digest information the moment it is awoken by the unforgiving prod of a finger), connect my drawing tablet and beckon the latest picture to the screen. I love this bit! I have spent so long on each separate element of it, so to have the whole image impact upon me with fresh, new day eyes, I can see it in its entire state. I like that I like it.

My drawing tablet and art software have become like friends to me. They are reassuringly familiar, they are a comfort and they allow me to express myself without judgement. It is with ease and contentment that I pick up the pen and continue to create an image which I hope will become familiar to others too one day.

It wasn’t always like this though. There was a day when I knew nothing of how to enter the world of children’s picture book illustration or how to begin on a journey of creating children’s books full stop. I saw this as some distant realm where only well-known, established authors and illustrators could visit, or in fact reside permanently. Someone like me had the dream but that was all it was. A dream. I didn’t know how to gain entry into this wondrous land.

It is easy to feel as though our dreams can only be realised by others and that we couldn’t possibly know enough to embark upon them too. It is easy to feel as though it is all a bit too scary and the fear of failure and rejection overpowers our better judgement. It is easy to let go of something important to us and leave it to ‘The Experts’.

I am thankful to Jez Alborough for highlighting this issue of ‘misinformed’ fear in his beautiful books ‘Where’s My Teddy?’ and ‘My Friend Bear’.

where_s_my_teddy[1]   My Friend Bear

The stories link and where both a boy and a bear were once afraid and unsure of each other, time spent with one another results in finding comfort and happiness. Such a notion reminds me of the way in which I find comfort and happiness from the writing and illustrating process. Uncertainty and lack of knowledge is now replaced with determination and awareness, and a massive dash of hope that my books will become cherished household stories now exists in place of the fear of rejection that once was. The grizzly bear now seems somewhat cuddly!

As I share Jez Alborough’s stories with my own children, I am sure that their young minds digest the concept of facing what they may be unsure of. I like that they can apply this message to many aspects of life, but I would be particularly delighted if it helped them to begin upon a path which they would like to walk, just as the bear and the boy walked their woodland path, smiling side by side.

And it is with a smile that I look upon my current illustration. I’m glad that I rejected the worry of being rejected. I’m glad that I found out what I needed to find out. I’m glad that the fear of the unknown is now replaced with resolution and resolve. Who knows where this wonderful, colour-infused and creative path may lead. One thing I am certain of, however, is that I shall keep walking it until I find out!

To Plan Or Not To Plan..?

9AM Ollie

9 AM

Only 9am? Really? It feels as though a day’s work has already taken place. Surely by now I should be ready for my evening meal and winding the day down? Evidently not!

“Don’t be so ridiculous!” Time itself tells me. “Of course you can squeeze a thousand and twenty-seven tasks into the space of just two hours, whilst I watch with hands on hips, frequently tutting reminders at you to hurry up.”

Well, it seems that Time is right. Each day sees us at the school gates on time, despite the plethora of hurdles that repeatedly lay in our path, mainly in the form of child-led activities such as: Transferring as much toothpaste as possible from our mouths to the freshly washed, white towel hanging in the bathroom; insisting with all the diplomatic prowess of a three year old that today is in fact the day to wear ill-fitting, plastic, heeled dress up shoes to preschool (“They will help me to climb really well when we go outside for playtime Mummy!”); retrieving a rather old party bag toy from beneath the sofa and of course needing to investigate its potential velocity within the realms of the front room, and many other activities of such a nature. It is pointed out to me by my offspring that these tasks are of much greater importance in their completion than anything loosely related to at least looking and smelling (yes, smelling!) even slightly presentable for the day.

So, now both children have been delivered to their educational establishments without being late, I take a well-earned deep breath and soak up the silence, which appears delighted in its rare moment of being able to frequent all rooms without interruption. I glance towards my daily ‘To Do List’. I haven’t yet decided whether the list writing tendency, which appears to be part of my intrinsic self since childhood, is a positive or negative attribute. The success of completing each item, which are all currently staring back at me, will no doubt determine just how uplifted my mood feels at the end of the day. It is with champion like emotions that I tick, tick and tick again until there is nothing left to tick. Hooray! I win! Sometimes, I may even add an accomplishment to the list after it has actually been done, just so that I can enjoy the smug satisfaction of the all-fabulous, big, fat tick!

Today’s list in my daily planner is somewhat of an eclectic mix. From washing school uniforms, making phone calls, ordering a replacement door handle (courtesy of child number two), making a batch of meals to put in the freezer so that when friends come to stay I can at least look vaguely as though I’ve got my domestic stuff together, but most importantly, reaching a stage in my current illustration so that I can finish it by my self-induced deadline.

I guess I have always been a ‘Planner/Finisher’ (confirmed in black and white whilst partaking in one of those, shall we say ‘interesting’, team days during employment of the past). As much as I tick my way to the end of a task and I complete it, I can’t help but feel slightly envious of those who throw their to-do lists, along with their caution, to the wind. I sometimes wish I could join in a spontaneous activity without feeling some kind of angst in that I should be doing something else, something that I had planned for that day, even though it could most probably wait.

For example, If I had planned to clean out a cupboard in my house (and goodness knows they could all do with it), I would love to think that I could go with the flow depending upon what I would find, just as the boy in Oliver Jeffers’ ‘The Way Back Home’ did. How wonderful! He doesn’t continue with his daily plans, that is if he actually had any at all, but instead decides to fly his find of an aeroplane (yes…an aeroplane in his cupboard!) to the moon. I can’t help thinking that this is metaphorical in its meaning. If we are to just take a chance of the moment, maybe we can discover new skills, new lands and new friends, just as the boy did in this story.

The Way Back Home

I have read this marvellous book so many times, to both of my children, and I smile every time that I do. I hope that my children will not be as restricted in their daily life as I seem to make myself. I hope that they will embrace the moment, just like Oliver Jeffer’s boy, and see where the unknown takes them. After all, isn’t that how we discover ourselves too?

So, to some extent I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I need the security of my lists to ensure that essential tasks are completed without missing anything out. But equally, I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity of flying to the moon! Maybe I need to be a bit of a contradiction in terms: I shall add the same item to my list each day and that item will be to embrace the spontaneous (if it is possible to do so). Leave the washing, leave the phone call for a replacement handle for another day and go take a look at what I can find in my cupboards!

Catching Rainbows

8AM Ollie B

8 AM

Child one. Check. Child two. Check. The supposedly responsible adult that is myself. Check. A paraphernalia of bags, bottles, lunch boxes and coats. Check. I can hear my inner voice being torn between wanting to take a moment to congratulate myself on the huge achievement of loading up the car, in time, with all necessary people and items (including some of which lean towards the more luxurious in the shape of half a packet of car mints and a Will Young CD), and wanting to strongly urge me to get my foot on the accelerator so that I can take on the challenge of what is widely known as ‘The School Run’. ‘Run’ being the operative word here; there is nothing ‘meandery’ or ‘leisurely stroll in the country’ about this point of the day.

So, within this hour, I shall morph into something of a delivery person, distributing my precious homemade packages to other establishments so that they can thrive and develop essential life skills without me. I’m not sure how I really feel about this…but that’s a whole other blog post! As I wave my eldest off, calling “I love you, darling” far too loudly towards the back of his head, I prepare myself for part two of the drop-offs.

At what point did my baby become a pre-schooler, my pre-schooler become a nearly Junior and myself become an adult? Such thoughts on the insistence and impatience of time are interrupted by my darling little one, who is now sat in the back seat of what is becoming rather reminiscent of a mobile skip, as opposed to the respectable automobile that I am sure is owned by the mummies who are good at staying on top of such things.

“Come on, Mummy,” she orders, “Let’s go catch a rainbow.”

Wow! Catch a rainbow? That would be a fantastic way to start the day. Random, but fantastic. It fills me with utter delight to hear such comments from my children, yet it also saddens me slightly to think that such thoughts do not freely pass through my mind in the way that they used to when I was young. My to-do list this morning definitely did not incorporate anything rainbow related.

I am sure that our inner child still lays active within each of us but we’re just not always aware of its presence. The responsibilities and all that goes with general adultness can somewhat suppress such fantastical and dreamlike notions. So…I ask myself: How can we access the awe and wonder which lies within our inner child? And the more I think about it, the more I realise that I actually manage to do this more frequently than I initially thought.

Although I could name a variety of activities, including spotting shapes in the clouds or rolling down grassy banks (not on my own I might add…that might draw attention that I would be more than happy to avoid) or shouting as loudly as I can along to songs on the radio when I am on my own in the house, the main outlet for my inner child, apart from being with my children, is all to do with children’s literature: writing children’s books, illustrating them and of course reading them.

Any book which encourages the imagination to run free is a winner in my eyes, but those which give us an excuse to tap into the ridiculous have to be amongst my favourites. My current book of choice for such an outlet is most definitely ‘Oi Frog!’ by Kes Gray and Jim Field.

Oi Frog

When all the strains of the modern day have taken their toll, one can simply put all aside to focus on the all-important subject of which rhyming matter various creatures have to sit on! Hilarious, cleverly written and a tonic for the soul! ‘Cats sit on mats’, ‘apes sit on grapes’ and ‘lizards sit on wizards’. I somewhat regretted asking my children what mums sit on! I feel I did incredibly well to refrain from snapping back with ‘No we don’t! Mums don’t ever get to sit down as we’re far too busy doing stuff for you!’ Instead, I delved deep, found the small child buried deep within, pulled them up to the surface and giggled at the words my six-year-old finds funny. It felt good.

And as I sit (on my ‘what rhymes with mum’) in my car, ready to take my youngest to a place where she can continue to see the world through her oh so young eyes, I make a promise to myself to make time to allow my imagination to also wander today. Once I have negotiated the queue of cars ahead without accidentally bumping into them, tried my best to listen to just a snippet of what is happening in the world on the radio without being interrupted by a song, a command or an anecdote about fairies from the back seat, sneaked a mint into my mouth without being seen (a task which requires such fine motor skills, precision and timing that it is surely worthy of becoming an Olympic event), I shall be on my way.

Could today be the first of many where the essential, the stressful and the mundane are intentionally pushed aside for an important moment (or two) so that we can say hello to our inner child? So that our minds can feel free again? So that the positive effect of being lost in creative thoughts helps us to feel better about the not so creative tasks that need to be done? Let’s give it a go and, who knows, maybe we can all catch our very own rainbow.

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A New Day…A New Beginning

7AM Ollie Final

7 AM

A medley of ‘Let It Go’, ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ emanates from my youngest’s bedroom, whilst my eldest lays silent in slumber. Another day begins. I know that the ensuing hour will be crammed with the same calls of ‘BREAKFAST!’, ‘TEETH!’, ‘SHOES!’ and ‘COATS!’ as every other school run morning, but should I actually stop to take a moment out of the rush that is getting a three and six year old out of the house by 8.10am (an achievement which quite frankly deserves recognition of the highest accolade in my humble opinion), I would allow my thoughts to drift to the possibilities of what this day could hold for both myself and for my children. Will it bring new ventures? Will it bring new opportunities? Will it bring new accomplishments?

What lies ahead, I feel, is two-fold. It is fused with what could be seen as sheer luck and with the kind of luck that one makes for oneself. I firmly believe that some things simply happen at the ‘right time’ and others only occur due to the effort that we put in. I guess it is just as Winnie the Pooh once said: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” What a wise bear! Or should that be ‘What a wise Mr Milne?’

It seems that Winnie the Pooh isn’t the only bear in children’s literature to have had an impact upon me. David Litchfield’s ‘The Bear and the Piano’ has become one of my favourite children’s picture books for so many reasons.

The bar and the Piano

Firstly, it’s about a bear and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a story about a bear? Secondly, it’s also about…you guessed it…a piano! However, this book delves deeper in its story than simply placing a bear (dressed in the finest tuxedo I might add) in front of a piano. It touches upon the wonder and reality of a new beginning, of following a dream. I can relate to this tuxedo clad bear sat in front of his instrument, and not just because I would like to play the piano in the heart of a forest, as I am sure that such an experience would be rather super indeed, but because I am also following my personal dream of being a children’s picture book author and illustrator, for always. As the bear gets absorbed in creating the beautiful melodies which are seen to entertain all that hear them, I too become absorbed in the stories and characters which I create. It would be wonderful to think that children are just as captivated by my books as the bear’s audiences are by his musical talent.

If I could sit down and share a cup of honey-infused tea with this fabulous creature, I would be sure to tell him just how much I admire his determination to do what he loves and to not necessarily feel that he has to do whatever is expected from the bear community! This notion of pursuing a path which is filled with what we love to do is one that I hope to instill into my own little people.

Should I ever be headlining author and illustrator events (hmmm…well, if you don’t have a dream and all that), I shall be sure to take a leaf out of David Litchfield’s book (not literally of course…I can’t BEAR to see books being mistreated – sorry for that terrible attempt at a pun). Bear does not let go of what is important to him and returns to the forest to play the piano for his fellow bears. He kept those who were dear to him in his heart.

As for those who are important and held dear in my heart, I shall now concentrate on getting them out of the house. However, before that front door can be opened I shall ensure that I have repeated myself many times, not because I like the sound of my own voice but because there must clearly be some kind of malfunction in airwave frequency between myself and my children’s ears. I shall also clear up a multitude of food items from the floor, including some that may have been woefully sat there since the day before. I am sure that Cheerios breed and multiply when I am not looking! Finally, I shall look frantically in each room for my eldest’s water bottle to eventually realise that it has been left in the car!

It is almost time to go. It is almost time to start a new day. It is almost time to see what is going to happen. It is almost time to try to make things happen. Let’s fill this day, as much as possible, with the things that we love to do.