Friday, 19 February 2010

Everything I know about skiing I learned from James Bond

I’ve just got back from Norway after a week working on a project about Edvard Munch, the guy who painted The Scream.

I’ve been working with Dr. Steffen Kr├╝ger on an article which brings together Munch, cartoons and modern architecture. When I wasn’t wandering around museums or trying to find the right words at Steffen’s desk, I had a bit of free time and decided to try cross-country skiing.

Now, I used to be a mountain-boarder and I’ve tried snowboarding and sandboarding too. (Sandboarding down giant dunes might be the best thing ever). But I’ve never, ever, in my life, been on skis before.

Everything I ever learned about skiing came from the James Bond films – especially the one where he skis off the edge of a cliff.

I didn’t quite make it into James Bond’s league. I think I fell over eight hundred times in eight kilometres. (He only fell once, plus it was deliberate and he had a parachute).

(This was a particularly good fall).

 The whole thing was great fun, but seriously embarrassing.

I was being taught to ski by a woman who once got told that she skied like a penguin.
She was cool, though, and penguins are too, so really it’s all my fault. Also, she’s an illustrator who I’m planning a new children’s book with, so I’m not about to complain about her ski teaching!

When I wasn’t falling on my face or writing about art at midnight, I also put in a short entry for Hilobrow’s ‘Golden Age Superhumans’ micro-fiction competition. It’s about 200 words, and probably only funny for grown-ups old enough to remember Simon and Garfunkel…You can find it here.

There are photos of my ski shame – they will be on this site soon.
The sad truth is I can’t wait to get back on the skis when I get the chance.
Perhaps this will result in a comedy video. I will share it if it happens.
Until then, keep reading!

With love from Norway’s fourth most popular comedy skier,

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Yoga with Sharon Alderson

This week I´m beginning a new occasional feature on this site: interviews with teachers about their practice. I hope to bring you interviews with teachers working in schools, universities and other institutions around the world, alongside the usual books and adventures.

First up is Worcestershire yoga teacher Sharon Alderson. Yoga might seem a world away from books and adventures, but writers spent so much time in their own heads that it´s always a smart idea to stretch out once in a while!

-How did you come to practice yoga?
My personal path to yoga was due to a constant pain in my shoulder. I was diagnosed as a “freak of nature” by one physiotherapist who could not understand why her methods were not curing me. I went to India on holiday, where I came across a man on the beach wearing practising these strange and beautiful postures. I watched him from my sun lounger in wonder. Finally he sat cross-legged facing towards the sea. The look of peace on his face was wonderful. It was then that I decided that I would like to try yoga!

I got home and rang my local sports centre to find out about Yoga. After I went to my first class, I felt calm and at ease. Yoga really did start to change me that night and it has continued to change me completely. I am calmer; I know why my body aches and what I need to do to ease it.

-How did you make the transition to becoming a yoga teacher?
Dean my wonderful teacher left the area and offered the class to me and another student at the class. We decided that we would do a week each in the end. It was a real learning curve and made me realise how little I actually knew. So I decided to take the plunge and enrol on a teacher training course with the Devon School of Yoga. I am still teaching that class 5 years later and I know a lot more now!! However, with Yoga you never stop learning. Good for me and my active mind!! My fellow student who started the class with me is also now a qualified teacher but decided to let me take the class on fully.

-What school of yoga do you practice?
Basically I teach Hatha Yoga, but I have a very eclectic approach to my teaching. Really I am a magpie who steals material from any source that I can! But I do feel that this is a creative way to teach because my students get a broad base to build on and I try to keep the classes as varied as I can. I have been to classes in the past where you know exactly what is going to happen next, week after week.

-What do you feel are the benefits of yoga?
Yoga is an ancient system of promoting well-being in both the body and mind. I find that most people come to value the sense of well-being that Yoga produces in their life. The individual will start to notice an enhancement in their health and clarity of mind. Therefore, they will start to notice their body more and will eventually take control of their own life and health. With regular practise they will learn to tap into their energy reserves when needed and know instinctively when not to waste energy either physically or emotionally.

This is very important in the stressful, fast-paced lifestyle that is led by many people today. Often we become overworked and tired, sometimes making us depressed and lethargic. This is why yoga as a system of personal growth and development to balance the body, mind and spirit is essential. Yoga is powerful enough to free the body from all of these symptoms of stress.

Yoga also affords us the time to work at our own pace and to know our own personal limitations. Yoga can be used in almost every aspect of life. Society is demanding and yoga offers something for everyone. It is like a tool box which can be reached into to find what you need for that moment in time.

-How does yoga philosophy inform your practice?
The philosophy of yoga plays an enormous role in how I practise and is an enormous subject in its own right. The key text for the actual practise of Hatha and Raja Yoga is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

These set out the eight-fold path to achieve enlightenment. Five stages are related to the body and mind and three to the spirit. The first two stages are Yama (right conduct) and Niyama (observances), which suggest ways to conduct your self both physically and mentally to set you on the right path for the later stages.

The more you practise you do come to realise that all of the stages overlap.  However, with regard to actual physical practise there are probably three elements that I would pick out as particularly relevant. They are Ahimsa (non-harm), Satya (truth) and Svadhyaya (self-study). If you can make these relevant in everything that you do then you will have a practise that will see you well.
-What does the future hold for you as a yoga teacher?
I have been extremely lucky in building up my business this past year! I continue to teach my three regular classes, and have taken over two established classes from another local teacher, which I am pleased to say has been a roaring success.

I am currently on a Yoga Therapy course with Real Yoga based in Ledbury, which will allow me to treat people with specific problems using Yoga techniques, either in small groups or on a one to one basis. I already do some work with people who have MS and I hope to expand this.

I am also hoping to do some half day workshops this year to give people a better grounding of what Yoga actually is and where it comes from. Sometimes in a general class there is not enough time to give this the time it deserves.

I am also moving my original class to Holland House, which is a beautiful retreat with a newly built Yoga studio with under floor heating. (A yogi’s dream!).

-Where can people find out more?
To find out more about my classes I have a web site: or email me at: or call me: 07775 605 630/01386 41431.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Three new stories and newspaper appearance

I've posted three more stories to my account at

These were written to order for friends and fellow teachers over the last couple of months.

In 'Class 3 Under The Sea', Class 3's teacher Mrs Henderson has been kidnapped by the Wicked Witch of the Oceans! With a little magic and the help of Lola the Wonder Dog, they set out on an underwater rescue mission...

In 'The Banana Christmas Adventure', a story for younger children, Mel's dad has bought nothing but bananas to eat for Christmas. It's not looking good until she makes a magic wish...

In 'The Strawberry Christmas Adventure', Katie and Ted have to deal with a sleeping Dad, missing strawberries, a naughty cat, and one seriously stuck Santa...Another adventure for younger children.

After last week's community radio appearance, this week's Stratford-upon-Avon Midweek has a short piece about the recent prize win:

I've also had some interest from artists keen to illustrate some of the stories...more news to follow.

Have a great weekend, tout le monde...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Do you come from a land down under? No, not THAT one.

As some of you will know, I am a sucker for 'paying out' or teasing New Zealanders.

Of course, it's impossible not to love any country that keeps comedy gumboots in its national museum.
Kiwis are sweet and lovely people and it just wouldn't do to let them know that fact.
Therefore it is our duty to tease New Zealanders at every opportunity.

Selwyn Nogood, a Kiwi who appreciates a little national mockery, has just published my little piece 'Heathrow Injection: A Day in the Life of Drake Savage' on his posterous blog.

Drake was born from frequent contacts with some of the many Kiwis who come to London to teach in our schools and sample the Pommie lifestyle.

He will Drake Savage and the Sheep of Reason.

'The Sheep of Reason produces monsters' - Francisco Goya (or Fred Dagg)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Stratford Community Radio Interview

On Friday, I was interviewed by Jacqui Alexander of Stratford Community Radio’s book show, Happily Ever After.

Jacqui’s weekly show provides a forum for writers and book lovers in Stratford-upon-Avon. From SCR’s attic nest, she brings together music, talk and literary news for a town that, despite being Shakespeare's birthplace, doesn’t even have a writers’ group - yet!

Jacqui and I had a chat about the work of Volunteer Reading Help, the UK charity that provides vulnerable children with one-to-one literacy support.

I got involved with VRH while I was working on my doctorate a few years back. I’d recently moved to Kent and was looking for a way to give something to the local community – as well as an excuse to get away from my thesis, my keyboard and my daily three-litre coffee habit.

Anne Loftus, manager of VRH East Kent, delivered the training alongside Lucille Galli-Philips, the Specialist Psychologist for Looked After Children. These were just two of the many unsung heroes who I was privileged to work alongside during my time in primary education.

After my training was complete, I was assigned two 'looked-after children' from the area. They were boys in foster care. In hour-long weekly after-school sessions, we began to get to know one another, play games, chat and read together. The older boy wanted to play Monopoly – which he could thrash me at when he put his mind to it. He was also obsessed with a Warcraft-style online fantasy game, for which we started to research a prepare a how-to guide.

The other child I worked with was younger. He’d just started junior school. Initially he was very resistant to reading books, or even looking at them. I spent the first few sessions gently reminding him not to tear apart the pop-up books which we began with.

Gradually, through puzzles, snap and other card games, and an increasingly thorough examination of the Where’s Wally series, we began to read together and develop a bond of trust. We had a go at being rappers, adapted a Jenga tower with sticky labels so that you had to invent a joke using key words each time you withdrew a brick, covered a classroom floor with a chain of dominoes and invented a Doctor Who adventure.

Eventually I moved to London and the sessions had to come to an end. We each made the other a leaving card. The boy’s one showed him writing a book for me. He had gone from tearing up pages to finding his own words and stories.

Nothing I have done in my life has ever been so worthwhile, or so rewarding. It was my privilege as a Reading Helper to support someone in making this journey, simply by providing an environment of trust and fun where a child could explore the world of storytelling.

Without VRH and the experience it gave me, I would never have become a schoolteacher and might never have started on my children’s stories. Just a small gift of an hour or two a week during school term-times can make such a huge impact on the life of an individual child.

Find out more about how you can get involved here.

New stories up at

I've posted new stories on today.

The Sebastian and Sasha stories are based on tales written as presents for Christmas and birthdays last year. They feature baked beans, flying unicorns and fire engines - healthy ingredients for any adventure.

You can find them here.