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Breaking top soil

So, Ivy and the Mole has finally broken the soil and emerged into the light of day, following its publication in June. It’s a children’s book written to help little ones with their self-esteem and believe in themselves, and their own individuality.

It is also the second title I’ve managed to get into print, and it means I really did turn the Big Issues for Little People concept into a literary series just as I (rather recklessly, in hindsight) claimed I was about to do upon the release of my first picture book, Ivy and the Rock.

At the time Ivy and the Rock, as my debut novel, was published I wrote about its release in comparison to the birthing of a first child – the joy, the pain, the anxiety, the pure elation at having created something so special and unique to you.

Now my next picture book is out there it is, indeed, very much like a second sibling has arrived. The day Ivy and Mole finally dropped on to my doorstep after what again felt like an age in the making was just as awe inspiring, just as joyous, and just as emotional as the first time it happened.

But now I’m a mother of two under two, I’m also finding it hard to divide my attentions between them both as equally as I’d like.

In the beginning I nurtured the Mole as much as I could, I gazed at it with love, and I didn’t feel half as daunted or anxious as I did the first-time round. Meanwhile, Ivy and the Rock is out there, it has established its own life and – in the beginning – it also gained all the attention one would expect of a first-born people knew you’d been waiting to meet for a very long time.

So, this time around I’ve not only got a newborn to think of, but an older sibling too – and one who has just started at school. I’ve had a run of sessions in primary schools across Caerphilly County this summer term which I’m looking forward to taking out to foundation phase kids more fully in the autumn and beyond.

But alongside this I’ve now also got the Mole to look after, who, as you would expect, hasn’t had anywhere near enough attention as its older sibling since it emerged into the world. We’ve had some great coverage and support from local press outlets, including the Caerphilly Observer, South Wales Argus, Wales247.co.uk, County Times and more, for which I am truly grateful. But there is also a lot more to do this time, and the push to get people’s attention was always going to be a harder one.

Already I can’t wait for this little seeding to start becoming its own person though. I can’t wait to find out what kind of a journey Ivy and the Mole is going to take me on, just as I had no idea Ivy and the Rock would take me to the national press, television interviews, virtual grief sessions, a reading by Fergie and Friends, and so much more.

And, I suppose, here lies the rub. Impatience is not a quality best suited to the writing/publishing world. So, I’m making lists, I’m marking the little wins, I’m learning to appreciate and admire the differences between my two babies – and I’m reminding myself of the real-world experience that tells me you can’t expect to parent the second one in exactly the same way as the first.

It’s hard though, when you’ve given over all of your earthly energies to bringing something into the world which you cannot help but feel protective of, and that you are just desperate to see fulfil itself to its fullest potential.

And, as ever, if Ivy and the Mole can make just one little reader feel better about themselves, and understand this world of ours a little more fully in the process, then already it will have done what it came here to do anyway.

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Ivy and the Mole is out for pre-order now!

Exciting news at Big Issues for Little People HQ – Ivy and the Mole is out for pre-order now. Here’s a little run down of what you can expect from the second instalment of Ivy’s adventures for your info:

What is Ivy and the Mole about?

Ivy makes a down on his luck companion as she ventures into the Wildest Wood to find ‘Pond Number One’ and together the pair end up discovering as much about their own sense of self as they do about the magical landscape that surrounds them.

Ivy and the Mole takes a beautifully illustrated look at the journey we all take as human beings towards finding and learning to love our true selves – and how identifying that one-off superpower that lies inside each one of us is the key to taking us there.

What and who is it for?

My aim with all of the children’s books I have written (this is the second I will have published in the series) is to help little people make sense of the world’s biggest issues in an honest yet child-friendly way.

Ivy And The Mole is written to help children understand that just as we are all different in life, so we all have our individual strengths. The key to contentment is to recognise and play to these strengths wherever we can. It has always been my aim to be honest with my own two girls, even when they ask me big questions.

This book is an extension of that, and takes a child-friendly look at how our self-esteem can suffer when we view ourselves in the context of the outside world, as opposed to focusing on the person within.  

Where can I buy it?

You can put your name down to receive your copy when it is published later this month now directly from the publisher at Olympia here, from WHSmith here, and from Hive (among other retailers) here.

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Special Days

It was Mum’s birthday this week. She would have been 73, which doesn’t feel like a massive ask, but there you go. Anyway, it got me thinking about ‘special days’ in life. All my life I have been aiming to achieve something ‘special’ – whether that’s in the way we celebrated our wedding, the songs I’ve written and sung publicly, or indeed, the book (s) that I’ve published.

It is always with the view to creating that ‘special’ experience for the guests or the listeners, or the readers involved. I suppose that’s what being creative and making art is really. Nobody paints a picture with a view to it being average do they? So, when the second birthday we’ve spent without Mum came around I will admit to feeling a bit hacked off about it – not through pity for ourselves, but because it felt like a good excuse for me to publicly remember her. And, really, that sucks. Just because it’s a ‘special’ occasion doesn’t mean I suddenly thought about her for the first time in the last two years. I might have gone two minutes without thinking about her if I’m lucky (or unlucky depending on what frame of mind I’m in).

And just because we liked to celebrate our birthdays together when she was alive as ‘special’ days, it doesn’t mean these were the only exceptional times that we were fortunate enough to spend together. It got me thinking, really, that a lot of us tend to think about or aim generally for the next ‘special event’ in our lives – when we get to go out at the weekend, when we get to go on holiday with the girls (me in June!), when we get to take the kids to Legoland (it was awesome tbf). And yet the older I get, the more I realise that every day is special, or can be, in its own way.

I am fortunate enough to share special moments with my children if not every day, then most in some way or another. A quiet night in on the sofa with a bottle of wine might end up being special if it leads to a meaningful conversation with my other half about something which makes us laugh, or think more deeply about, or discover something about each other that we didn’t know before (which still happens even after almost two decades together).

I used to think that to feel or be special you had to do something ‘big’ in life, and the older I get the more I realise that it’s the little things which are the most special of all. The people that have known you and loved you, and supported you, for the longest time. The time we spend together on a daily, weekly or annual basis as friends and family, they feel more and more special as life goes on. It also led me to this poem, which I jotted down while I was watching the final instalment of Derry Girls (love you mum!).  

Special Days

It doesn’t take a special day to make us wonder

What we might have done

Or, where we might have gone

Anniversaries are not required

We don’t need a prompt

It’s not like we can just bring them back

Those special days

The ones that were yours too

But we can still, and always will,

Remember to celebrate you

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Untangling Grief

I’ve teamed up with the folk at Untangle Grief to run a virtual session looking at what’s involved in moving through grief and past bereavement as a family with young children. It takes place on April 5th at 7pm and will work through the various challenges that as parents we can expect to experience with our children throughout the bereavement process – funerals, school, visitors and more.

Untangle Grief is a great little online platform which basically takes all the faff and guff around bereavement away, offering guides, forums and other practical bits and pieces of info that are all handily organised into sections depending on your stage of bereavement, and the issue at hand. It’s a kind of ‘one stop shop’ of bereavement info that anyone can access free of charge and find help with issues including probate, counselling, funerals, finances, and a whole lot more. It’s also a place for people to share their own stories of loss, and for others to hear them in return, which is where I come in I suppose.

To be sharing in my experiences for the potential benefit of others is always a welcome opportunity, and is really what a lot of the Ivy journey so far has been about really. So far, however, I’ve not found the actual ‘speaking’ aspect that appealing to be honest, even though I should be doing far, far more of it! It’s not because I don’t enjoy hearing from others and what their experiences have been, I’m just not as good with words that come out of my mouth as I am when they’re written down!

I wonder if all writers find this bit hard – when you’re under pressure not to write (although I really need to be doing more of that too), but to get out there and shout about what it is that you have written, and where it comes from, and what it means to the world that it is in? I know I do, even though I used to perform regularly as a singer/songwriter in my younger years. I don’t know why these kinds of events, and getting my schools sessions out there, have become such a big thing in my head, but they have.

I’ve also made contact with my first school about going into see the children there soon too, so I’m getting there but I don’t think it will ever be my favourite bit of being an author. What I do love though, is sitting here, putting my thoughts and feelings down on the page, and thinking about what I might like to write about next. I’ve also had a few conversations around this recently, too, however, and hoping to bring you more news on more books soon too.

I constantly feel like I could and should be doing more to develop the Big Issues concept, but some days, I just want to sit with my kids and enjoy their little faces and soak up there personalities. Sometimes I just want to read what everyone else has been writing.

But, I am still moving – at what speed I should be I know not – and for now, that’s all I can do, and all that matters. I hope you manage to appreciate that element of life too in this world of madness.

If you want to join in the virtual session on Tuesday, you can book your space for free here: https://untanglegrief.com/event/navigating-bereavement-and-grief-as-a-family/

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What’s Good To Do – An honest review!

Image: www.whatsgoodtodo.com

Ivy And The Rock Book By Jess Childs Review

This book melted my heart for so many reasons. The author of this lovely book is Jess Childs and has been brilliantly illustrated by Heather May Williams who wrote the story for her 2 children to help them understand why her own Dad is no longer with them and how her Dad was her rock.   The story and illustrations are both lovingly heartfelt and written in such a beautiful and simple way; that helps and covers the subjects of love and the loss when loosing someone.  So much so, that it is much more comforting to young children.  It reaches out and really does touch your heart, along with your mind and soul.  Even if your child has not experienced the loss of a loved one as yet, this is a great story to read as it will help them to understand and even talk about.

My granddaughter has recently lost her great nanna on her mums side and whilst she’s 7.5 years old, she has struggled to understand why someone she loves so much is no longer around.  Since her loss, she has been very confused and everyone around her has been there for her, no matter how many questions she has asked.  After reading this book, she now understands her thoughts and feelings so much more now and talks about her great Nanna in such a different way.  The book has helped her parents and myself to explain her loss in a way we never thought of.

THE STORY

It is about a beautiful little girl named Ivy Jones who walks the path on a journey of adventure and most importantly, self discovery.  With the security from a rock she adores and loves so much, it gives her a lot of security, safety, trust and confidence.

Ivy has gorgeous blonde hair, dressed in a blue and white polka dot top, and a pink dress, along with brown bootie shoes.  She has gorgeous brown eyes, rosy red cheeks, a really cute button nose and her hair has a cute bun on the top of her head which is tied up in a bobble with green leaves and berries. 

The rock is beautifully illustrated with so many dazzling colours such as yellow, teal, purple and pink.  The way it is drawn even looks like it is sparkling.  Such lovely art work.

The story also makes reference and illustrates flowers such as pansies, snowdrops, hollyhocks, hibiscus and roses.  These played a very important part of the story for my granddaughter as now, when out walking, she says to me ‘look Nana, flowers, flowers like Ivy has and their roots will keep growing and look beautiful, just like great Nanna’. This melted my heart and naturally made me cry. I was so proud and uplifted by her own take on her loss and how she has taken the story of Ivy and the rock and made it a positive one.  She likes to draw the rock and calls it ‘great Nanna’s heart’. She even has her own drawing of it up on her bedroom wall and every day she says ‘good morning/good night great Nanna, I love you so much and I will always love you’.  Just some of the words she has taken from the story and uses herself.

I would absolutely and most definitely recommend this book for all the reasons I have covered above.

You can see the full review live here: https://whatsgoodtodo.com/ivy-and-the-rock-book-by-jess-childs-review/#

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Into The Wild

I went back to my regular exercise class of choice for the first time in almost two years this weekend. It’s called Poundfit and can best be described as over enthusiastically smacking the floor a lot with fancy drumsticks whilst listening to music. It’s great for burning fat, toning your muscles and releasing all those feelings brought about by the impending/repeated loss in life of people that you really love.

In my pre pandemic days, Poundfit was my twice weekly church of choice when it came to letting my emotions out and welcoming my true self back in. Every Sunday and Thursday, as I steadily beat the fear, sorrow and anger out of me, I would feel the endorphins come and take their place, and with them my sanity return too.

Sometimes the music would empower me to approach my life challenges akin to some kind of Amazonian warrior woman, and other times I would have to fight back the tears as I thought about the people we had lost, or how on earth it would ever be possible to live without the ones I was preparing to lose.

So, when I found myself back in that same hall this week, staring at the same wall, beating out that same rhythm, I found myself holding back the tears again. Tears for the outrageous situations we had found ourselves in and for the heartache we had experienced as a family in the time I had been parted from that wall. Tears for how life can be all the same matter of routine, and yet so different in the space of a breath it feels.

In a couple of weeks’ time, we will have spent an entire year trying to live the same old life, carry out the work we have always been assigned to do, and complete the same daily chores we have always had to, but as significantly different people.

It struck me as I pounded out to my favourite wind down track – ‘Into The Wild’ by LP – that routine beyond trauma has the power to both ground you when you need it the most and, at times, to make you want to scream as recklessly as is humanly possible. It brings with it the realisation that life goes on, whether we like it or not.

Some days the ‘routine’ can be hugely welcome and, on others, you wonder how on earth it is even possible that you could still be standing there, in the same old exercise class, beating out the same old rhythms and staring at the same old wall, when so much has gone between.

It has the power to make you feel like a fraud even for trying to live some kind of normal life when you know that suffering and sadness in the world is always only ever a heartbeat away.

Into The Wild is a great song if you haven’t heard it. In many ways, I can’t help but feel like living a parentless life at a relatively young age is what LP is singing about. My favourite lines:  

Are we so lost in the dark of our hearts
That there’s no light of day?
No

How do we not fade away?

Into the wild




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Routine at heart

My kids went back to school this week, my youngest for her first proper full day. I took the rudimentary school uniform picture in front of the blackboard in our kitchen and posted it to our family WhatsApp group. I sent it to their Nanny and the girls’ dad, who had already left for work. I ignored the ache in me which said the first person apart from their dad I would have sent it to, had she not been in here in person, would have been their Grandma.

I put the girls in the car and took them to school. They skipped in together holding hands and I watched them go, proud if a teensy bit heart sore, and set about distracting myself on my first full school day of freedom (I don’t work on Mondays).

I had a meeting at 10am about some Big Issues for Little People related bits and pieces (more to come on that later) and while I was online, a missed call from my other half. He had just called to see how the girls had got on going into school, but it was so much more than that. This isn’t something that used to happen as much when Mum was still here – not through a lack of caring about his daughters but in knowing that any angst or fears I may have had would have most likely been used up on her.

I have become an anxious Mum and wife in the 10 months since Mum died, more anxious than I would like to be – and certainly hope to be in the long run . So, I’m lucky that my other half has worked to understand this, and understand the new me, just as he always has in light of the various significant life changes we have dealt with in our time together.

It got me thinking about how many phases and reincarnations we live through as couples. Nobody really knows what the impact of a bereavement is going to be on the relationship that you rely on the most, and tend to assume, will almost certainly get you through it. Nobody tells you that with every significant loss you effectively become a new person to be understood and loved all over again by those around you.

It also led to the following words, which fell into my mind while my other half was putting our girls to bed one evening, and which I thought I would share as a little update here with you. Because it’s been a while, to be fair!

Routine at heart

Falling in love is easy to do

Because I know how to do it with you

We’ve been at it for years, on and off

(for different reasons and with more to tow)

And the return journey grows even more perilous

Until we make it back again, which we usually do

And I get to love the feelings again, the reasons, the view

Which all those years ago

First led me to you

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Ivy and…the Duchess of York

I almost fell off my chair when the Duchess of York’s office emailed to say she would be reading Ivy and the Rock on her YouTube channel. It was a surreal moment for many reasons, not least because we happened to be staying in London right around the corner from Buckingham Palace at the time (alright, I know she doesn’t actually live there, but still).

It was a glorious secret I managed to keep from just about everyone apart from my husband for the next five days, and one which allowed me a little wry smile to myself as we walked down the Mall, past the Palace and through Hyde Park back to the train station the following day.

The Duchess (well her office, I suppose) has been very complimentary about the story of Ivy and it’s given me a massive boost when it comes to helping Big Issues For Little People continue to grow.

Before then it had been a funny (not ha ha) few months, where the predictable post book launch slump had left me with a hefty dose of fatigue when it came to promoting Ivy, and thinking about how to get her next story off the ground.

It was also the run up to me entering a new decade, which this time round somehow felt more monumental than the three times I’d done it before. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why I suppose and, no, it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was going to be in the end and, yes, I was absolutely spoiled rotten (see aforementioned trip to the big smoke). And then, The Duchess of York read the book I WROTE on the internet to thousands of people.

So, in short, I’ve had worse birthdays – even if it does mean I’m officially in my 40s now.

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Pieces of You

I realise I’ve been quiet on here for a while. My heart has maybe been quietened a bit too – not for good, just for now.

I’ve allowed myself to be sad, given myself space and permission not to be voicing my experiences, but simply to experience them instead. It’s been a busy six months without Mum, but it’s only now I’m trying to get used to what that really means.

After losing my Dad, a part of me naively thought I knew what to expect this time around, how to handle it. But I realise now that every time we experience the death of someone close, it will be different to anything we have experienced before.

I understand that grief doesn’t always take you the way you thought it would, because the relationships and the people we are mourning are unique, just as we are and our children too. So for the first time since she left us, just as Ivy does in my book, I’ve been really thinking about what the crater Mum left behind means to me.

This is the poem that came out.

Pieces of You

I put your smile in a plastic bag today, with the crinkles at the corners of your eyes and some of your scarves too.

We sorted through the times we kitchen danced and kept one or two of the best ones, along with a couple of your favourite CDs.

The black bags in the hallway have got all the times you sang my children to sleep and some of the bedtime books you liked to read in them too.

Your home cooking and the meals we shared are in boxes on the draining board, along with your recipe books and 40 years or more of family Christmas dinners.

We found every single one of the Coronation Street episodes that you watched lying underneath your bed, next to the missing remote control.

I’ve kept your favourite lipstick to use until it is gone, and so we had to let your loving kisses go too.

A lady in the village took your linen blouses and expensive shirts for her charity container, and the warmth of your embrace went with them.

A man bought your car for his wife and it wasn’t until he drove it away that I realised, all the times you came when we needed you were still hiding in the boot.

Your wellies are still by the door, but they don’t want to fit anyone else’s feet. The fire is in, but the house is cold. The grass is growing, the roots are not.

The marks that you made have been covered in gloss. The windows have been wiped clean, your fingerprints are gone.

The way that you laughed and the love that you gave. All packed up or thrown away.

We have no choice but to let them go.

Pieces of you.

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Living with loss in lockdown, one year on – thank God for daffodils

It is finally March, almost spring, and my life is one giant daffodil right now. The more I discover, the more there is to love. There’s the obvious ones of course (being Welsh and all that) on the St David’s Day outfits, and the giant foam ones on the heads of home-grown rugby fans nationwide.

There’s the roadside ones and the supermarket ones, the window-sill ones and the wild Sunday walk ones. Even my kids can’t escape the glory of those luminescent, banana-coloured beauties swaying in the sunny breeze – which are ‘just so beautiful Mummy’, according to my five-year-old on our recent weekend stroll.

Teary eyed, I swallowed a golf ball and strode on, endlessly thankful that the optimism and promise of new life the spring brings each year remains intact for another generation. This year, of all years, I needed to feel it too – the greys beginning to green, the mercury ever so slowly beginning to rise, the promise of less night and more day.

Because this month, on March 23rd, it will be a whole year since our first lockdown and ‘new life’ phrases, which have so quickly become commonplace, were introduced. 12 months since alien routines we have swiftly became well accustomed to were first brought in.

Self-isolation. Quarantining. Socially distancing. Shielding.

A whole year of missed diagnoses, of medical treatments being waylaid and delayed, of suicides, of ventilators and of PPE. A year of grieving husbands and wives, of children big and small losing parents, of mourners unable to properly mourn. A year where the dying died alone.

And at the end of it all, thank God, came the inevitability of spring and its many, many daffodils. Kerbside, hillside and tillside, try as I might, I cannot escape their optimism or, indeed, their significance.

Through my little obsession with these yellow beauties I have discovered that a modern-day philosopher once said ‘you normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point in daffodils’, which is just bob on the money for spring 2021 isn’t it? And, of course, we already know Wordsworth found that lying on his couch in pensive mood was best remedied by picturing ‘ten thousand’ of them swaying in the breeze.

And the daffodil is also the symbol of Marie Curie, which I have been in conversation with too recently, and which is asking the UK population to commemorate March 23rd as a National Day of Reflection in recognition of the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives during the pandemic, and all the families who have been bereaved as a result.

The UK end of life charity is calling on everyone to mark the day by reflecting on our collective loss as a nation, supporting those who have been bereaved and, crucially, in hoping for a brighter future.

So I’ll be putting the daffs out again then, of course, for my Mum, for our Ouma, and for the millions of other people who have had to say goodbye to someone they love in the most difficult of circumstances this past year.

This year – this endless, seismic, life-changing year of ‘on and off’ life in lockdown we have all had to, and continue to, endure.

For those who didn’t make it the full 12 months, and whose lives weren’t properly celebrated as a result, certainly the collective recognition of this nation is the least they deserve.