There are always questions we are asked as authors. “What do you love most, what do you hate most and do you make lots of money?”
What do I love most about my job? Easy – meeting the kids and doing workshops with them, whether talking about ‘Not littering’ and how we can save our planet or how to protect themselves from bullying to looking at those with disabilities. It’s the energy they give off, it is positively infectious. Second to that is when they receive a book and start reading it straight away or colouring in the pages – I just love it.
Recently I have been out to several schools and here are some pics I can show.
What do I hate? Oh my goodness, the writer’s edit. I absolutely hate it with a passion.
Do we make lots of money? If your name is JK Rowling then yes, if it’s Jann Weeratunga then definitely no ha,ha,ha. But maybe one day.
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”
That famous saying is attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola of the Jesuit Order and also to Aristotle, but I know it from a series of documentaries started in the 60’s (then called 7 UP) that follows a group of British children, from a cross-section of backgrounds, from the age of 7 – 56 years old, looking at their lives every 7 years.
I watched up to 42, though it now continues as a series, however, it’s true meaning only really became apparent to me yesterday. Sort of “Hit me with a wet kipper,” reality, rather than the ‘Yes, it was part of my Sociology Course at Uni,” reality where everything is a theory, but not, if you follow?
In a nutshell, it showed that the environment, surroundings, experiences and education that a child receives in their formative/primary years, shape who they will become in later life – where they are likely to live, who they are likely to marry and the type of job they are likely to get.
And before you all jump and say, but so and so married a prince etc, etc.. I acknowledge there is always the exception to the rule.
Generally, though, it is true to say that where we live and the people we socialise with, are the greatest influences in our lives. If all we see are the streets of Colombo and our parent begging and possibly sleeping on those same streets at night, that too becomes our life and the realm of our experiences.
Why am I talking about this?
As a young Scout Leader in West London, I chose to start a Scout Troop on a municipal/council dump. We were known as the ‘Dump Kids.’ Initially, some kids from very middle-class homes followed me to this area and THAT CHANGED THE LIVES OF ALL THE NEW KIDS WHO JOINED! Why?
Well, their home and school experiences were different from those of the children living on the council estate that fed the area for my future troop as well as the local schools. I remember visiting the home of one parent, she was married, 21 years-old and with 5 kids, yes 5! The floor when I entered was ‘literally’ moving, there were unwashed dishes in the sink and kids with grubby faces. What there wasn’t was a single book, comic or magazine anywhere. I was shocked, the home I had grown up in had books everywhere, as did the homes of the kids who came with me. As I left the tenement (a double storied house on top of a house block) a TV came hurtling down from the upstairs home and smashed onto the pavement near to where I had parked my vehicle. (Needless to say, I parked away from the building and appointed a ‘lookout’ for my vehicle as a work colleague had parked in the same spot, gone off to measure up some roads for repairs and returned to find his car jacked up on bricks and the wheels all removed.)
The kids from better housing had access to books, better schools, field trips to museums, theatres, sporting holidays and trips overseas because their parents could afford them, these keys opened the doors to a much wider variety of experiences to learn and draw from than their ‘Council Estate’ ‘cousins.’
Now I think you may see where I am coming from.
Here, in South Africa, we have classes in government schools with 40-50 learners, few libraries and often no toilets, especially in rural schools. If we do not provide the very basics necessary for a decent education, how can children break away from the social bondage that traps them into a continued world of poverty? How can we aid in the improvement for learners to reach their full capacity, rather than clipping their wings from the start?
We expect our school learners to like and understand Shakespeare, but he speaks a different language to English as a first language speakers, let alone those for whom English is not their first language. Yet, we expect them to be able to write exams with perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation, be able to create fantastic stories. conjure up amazing characters.
I have realised, that if all you have in life is a poor home and school and maybe gang life in that environment and school, then that is all you have to reflect on. This will come out in your language, writing (if you are lucky enough to go to school) and attitude towards those surroundings as well as the rest of the world, your world.
How can we break free of this cycle? Have a child at 7 who becomes an astronaught, scientist, owns his own plumbing company etc. at 42?
We need schools, not with tablets and computers which are being stolen every day (129 Government Schools were broken into across Christmas 2018 in Johannesburg and computers and equipment stolen.) No, schools with small classes and brilliant teachers who can excite the minds of their charges, spark their imaginations, help create their dreams and set them on new and varied pathways for life.
We need libraries, where, not only books can be borrowed (btw every day, hundreds of books are stolen from libraries in South Africa.) but where there is also someone who can teach those who cannot read, or just listen to a those who can show interest and encouragement.
We need social programs that provide experiences other than TV programmes, where learners get to hear, touch, smell and see environments outside their own. (For years I have been advocating for student exchange programmes where at least those in 2nd year Uni can exchange for a year and live in another country.) Scouting does this on a small scale with their ‘Home hospitality’ programmes, where scout gets to stay with a scout from another country, go to school with them, live with them. But it comes with a cost. So too does crime. So do we lock the door after the horse has bolted or lead them to water? Can we afford not to widen the experiences of all children?
As an author, I try to create books that spark children’s imaginations, characters from different parts of the world with their own unique characteristics, tropical lands, lands of snow and ice, friendships, disabilities, bullying. I base my stories around pirates and birds, the latter, which I have as puppets and take with me on school trips.
I try to visit a wide range of schools, where I chat with the learners about how we (Authors) write, what goes into producing a book from pen to the market place, BUT most importantly that an author is a REAL person. Books don’t just materialise, someone writes them, and that they too can write a story. However, I am, ever conscious that their world restrains them, so the responsibility to write even more exciting stories to spark their imaginations rests with my Author colleagues and myself. We must become their world, create an imaginary world for them to escape to, use our words wisely to increase their virtual world, even if we cannot improve their physical one.
Education, reading, enthusiastic teachers, libraries, school visits, exchange programmes are all keys to better prospects, plus our stories, how we spark their imaginations and the values we portray through our characters.
Give me a child until he is seven, help me change his world and I will show you the man who can become anything he wishes.
Well. We write that’s the easy part. Then we do the writers first edit – not so easy.
Then we collaborate with a whole bunch of people: illustrators, cover artists, proofreaders, editors, printers, and that’s just to get our books into print.
Then the really hard part comes along that takes up 90% of this Indie author’s time – the marketing! So, I decided to stop, stop everything and take a break.
And it worked. I spent the whole Christmas Season with people I wanted to be with, doing things I loved and wanted to do. I relaxed at home with my fur babies and now feel refreshed, and finally keen to get going again. I have a new kid’s book at my fingertips and today started writing again.
What this break taught me is I have decided to concentrate on writing this year and see what comes along – a bit like what I was doing here – watching and waiting to see what came along, the results were both rewarding and awesome – hippos, fishing eagles, rhino, buck, zebra, but most of all peace of mind.
So whatever you decide to do this year play to your strengths and do what makes you happy.
(Thanks for the pics Christy Filen)
To approve a single suggestion, mouse over it and click “✔”
Click the bubble to approve all of its suggestions.
CHRISTMAS – THAT MAGIC BLANKET THAT WRAPS ITSELF ABOUT US, THAT SOMETHING SO INTANGIBLE THAT IT, IS LIKE A FRAGRANCE. IT MAY WEAVE A SPELL OF NOSTALGIA. CHRISTMAS MAY BE A DAY OF FEASTING OR PRAYER, BUT ALWAYS IT WILL BE OF REMEMBRANCE
MY WISH FOR YOU THIS CHRISTMAS IS THAT SANTA BRINGS YOU THE GIFT OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.
A SILENT NIGHT, THE STAR ABOVE, A BLESSING OF HOPE AND CHRISTMAS LOVE, THE PATTER OF REINDEER’S FEET, NOW OUR HOME IS COMPLETE
What is advent and what does it mean? Well, Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas. It literally means ‘Coming’ in Latin. This for Christians, therefore, means the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
So, I have decided to share a tradition from my home. Each year, we take it in turns to write the messages for our advent calendar, which consists of small boxes like houses, hung individually.
This year the task fell to me. It always takes me a bit to get going and I do not claim that all the ideas came from myself, some were inspired by websites, however, once I did get going and into the Christmas Spirit, it became easier.
So, here are the first four days sayings, which I hope you will enjoy:
THIS CHRISTMAS LET HOPE WARM YOUR HEART, LOVE WARM OUR HOME, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT WARM THE WORLD.
THE BEST CHRISTMAS CAKE RECIPE:
1 PACKET OF LAUGHTER,
2 HANDFULS OF HOPE,
A CUP OF SHARING AND
ANOTHER TO COPE,
A SPOON OF MYSTERY AND
A PINCH OF LOVE MIX IN A LARGE POT AND POUR OVER THE ONE YOU LOVE.
WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR – THERE YOU GO, THAT’S YOUR EARWORM FOR THIS YEAR-
FAITH AND HOPE GUIDE US THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, CHRISTMAS BRINGS CERTAINTY AND KNOWLEDGE THAT HE IS HERE.
and an extra one for good measure;
AS CHRISTMAS CAROLS FILL THE AIR AND CHURCH BELLS RING OUT ACROSS THE LAND, WE BOW OUR HEADS IN CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER AS WE AWAIT HIS COMING
Enjoy the build up to this special time of the year folks, and remember always those less fortunate than us.
As an author, I am always being asked about my life, who I am and why I started writing.
Where was I born? I was born in Perivale Maternity Hospital, Ealing in West London. (Sadly this institution which delivered thousands of babies was flattened and re-designated for housing, as births moved into mainstream hospitals.
Mum would recall how it was the coldest Winter last century and dad arrived, as did many excited fathers, to be greeted by the matron who scolded them, made them take off their overcoats and jump up and down until they had warmed themselves up, before allowing them through to wives and newborns.
I grew up happily in Ealing, went to Wood End Primary School, followed by Woodend Girls school, before someone had the bright idea of changing its name! Then we moved within Ealing to another suburb and I attended North Ealing Primary. In fact, my father and Aunt, Grandmother and Great Aunt had all attended this school, there I blossomed into a long lanky child who was nicknamed ‘Spoon,’ and became a defender of other odd-ball because I was head and shoulders taller than the bullies.
High School consisted of endless happy days. My peers caught up with me height-wise and as an ex-grammar school, (gosh I seemed to be a child whose surrounding formed change of the times,) anyway I loved high school. I played French horn and eventually went to Ealing Tech Saturday Music School, I remember my horn teacher was Lyn Morgan, a Welshman in the air force. the various choirs, orchestras, wind bands and wind ensembles I belonged to became quite good, culminating in two performances at the Albert Hall and one at the Festival Hall – the latter a competition where we came 2nd. I recall my father reading from the Times that had we had a stronger string section we would have come first. I don’t recall we even knew it was a competition, we just thought it was another concert – we performed a lot of concerts!
Anyway, at highschool, I loved sport, but with glasses that never seemed to want to stay on my face I ended up refereeing netball more than playing (actually I was quite good at it and refereed whilst at school for age groups 3 years my senior as well and 3 years my junior.)
But my love of sports and music resulted only in joining dad at the local Wasps rugby matches (I think he had secretly hope for a son first,) though I developed a passion for cricket and rugby that extend even to today.
Life in my late teens through to my early 30’s was filled with Scouting. I devoted countless evenings and weekends to cubs and scout, ending with unarguably the best scout troops in the Greenford District for many years. I had something to prove you see, after ‘uncle Ted’ remarked, “Oh my god it’s a bl**dy woman.” as I entered the Scout HQ. It took less than 3 months for my lads to win their first trophy after I told them about it, and within the year we had won 12/13 trophies which we held for the next 7 years, – that darn swimming trophy always just alluded us, ha, ha, ha.
After marrying and moving to Sri Lanka I was widowed within four years, but determined to give back to a community who had given me so much, so, I remained in the country and helped set up new libraries and English Schools (to develop and promote spoken English.)
Whilst I was still living in Sri Lanka I became an NPO following the Tsunami in 2005. I had been on holiday in the UK visiting my mother, she woke me on the Sunday morning of 23rd December 2005. “Something terrible has happened in Sri Lanka.”
I ran to the lounge to see the results of the Tsunami in my beloved Sri Lanka. I immediately called my nephew Rukshan Jayawardene and asked what I could do? 5 days earlier we had been staying in Yala National Park. I waved to friends as they entered and we left, and that was the last time she saw them, as the wave took their lives. Determined to help, I turned my mother’s lounge and most of her house as well as a neighbour’s double garage into a Tsunami collection point. I had stayed on in the UK for a month after the Tsunami and been helped by mum’s neighbours, golfing acquaintances, sponsors and scout to collect all manner of things needy things for a people who had literally had their homes and lives torn away from them. Everything was packed into a 40ft trailer and sent to Sri Lanka, and then over the next 6 months distributed to the needy in A-bay, with the help of friends foreign and local.
I then spent the next 2 years in Aragum Bay helping villagers where I could. Sewing machine and material to set up small cottage industries. Helping to rebuild a Montessori on higher ground – a place of safety where the children will always run to should another Tsunami ever hit. Providing hundreds of books to set up a new library at the school, and helping to rebuild a small B&B. I chose ‘my Sri Lankanfamily,’ as they were a mixed marriage (Singhalese and Tamil.) and one in war-torn Sri Lanka that no-one else wanted to help.
I dodged mined-lined narrow roads, as I drove between Kandy in the Central Highlands of the Island, and home for nearly 10 years, to Arugam Bay on the Tamil Tiger-held East Coast. Was it dangerous? Yes, probably, but I didn’t think about that at the time. I just did it.
By mid-2006 I was all but burnt out. I had achieved much, helped ‘my family’ build a business that would sustain them into the future, co-rebuild a Montisourri with my friend Tim and help bring books into the village to start a new library. But now it was time to move on.
I spent almost a year in the Middle East (UAE and Bahrain) teaching KG2 graders before moving to South Africa where I started to write, fell in love and remain to this day living in Johannesburg with my four dogs. I believe I have established myself withing the literary Indies community and regularly organise meeting and book fairs for same. But my real passion is taking Polly into schools to talk about bullying, or Toucane to talk about Stranger Danger or Keeping our world clean.
It’s what I have always been good at really – talking to children. My books and puppet are just another way to do this and get the message over. I love my life and what I do and I must be one of the luckiest people I know to be able to follow my passion in this regard.
So, there you have it. A bit about who I am. If you have any questions you would like to ask?
Jann and Polly visited the Angel of the North whilst on holiday this year. It is an impressive structure, it is 20 metres high (65ft) and has a wingspan of 54 metres (almost 175ft). It was commissioned by Gateshead Council to attract tourists to the North and has been seen by 33 million people annually since it’s construction. Makes one feel quite insignificant when you stand at the feet of an angel.