Come Join Me Over Here!

Hi there!

I'm glad you've come to read my blog, but unfortunately I don't live here any more!

Feel free to trawl through my archives or look up my posts on Scoliosis which will always be at home here, but when you're ready please come and join me at my new home:

See you there!

Catherine Ann x

Monday, 28 October 2013

More About Me...

I notice that I’m gathering a few more likes on my Facebook page, follows on Twitter and views on here, so I’m guessing that a few readers may be new to my blog. I post about myself sometimes, and I have done some personal opinion pieces and facts about myself, but since some of you might not be familiar with those, I decided to do another little “getting to know me” post.

Some of these are common questions found on the internet, and some have been suggested by readers.

None are in any way interesting.

What/who is your icon?
 I don’t really have an icon. When I was younger I once referred to some celebrity as “my idol”, not really knowing what it meant, and my mum actually told me quite seriously that you should never worship someone or try to follow them in any way—you should be your own icon, I suppose. Having said that, I do see so many great qualities in my friends and I aspire to some of those:  I try to have Bambi’s drive and kindness, Crow’s patience and ambition... I could go on.

Have you ever lost a close friend?
I moved to a different country when I was twelve, away from literally all my friends. But I wouldn’t class them as “lost” exactly... I’d love to see them all again someday, and some of us keep in touch.

Lyrics to the song you’re listening to? 
Up with the winds, up with the skies, up with the fears, but you know with you I’m fine... You and me, we’re just fine, one billion invisible lines, out your head and into mine... we’re just fine.

What’s your favourite book? 
Oh God. Seriously? Why this torture? I’m going to quote “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” here, just one that I love: “They are all my favourites. All of them.”

If you had €35 what would you spend it on? Well, since writing that answer... books. Probably CDs, too. Not iTunes. CDs with plastic cases and a little booklet full of squashed-together song lyrics.

Favourite character from a book? 
This might be a little easier. My favourite character is called Mara Bell, from a trilogy called Exodus, Zenith and Aurora buy Julie Bertagna. She was the first character I read about who felt really real to me. She was so flawed and so imperfect but so unfailingly good... I don’t think these books are as popular as they should be, and it’s hard for me to describe all her actions in a few words, but Mara was strong and weak at the same time, confused and lonely, loving and worried... she felt everything a normal girl feels and I felt it with her. This strong, vivid character made it easy to step into her shoes when I read the book and created what I refer to in my head as the “Exodus Test”. When a character is at a pivotal moment, does my stomach flip like it did for Mara so many times? If so, I am reading a remarkable book. This does not happen often and is so, so special when it does.

When did you start baking?
I’ve been baking for as long as I can remember. When I was small, my dad used to put a mixing bowl on the kitchen floor so I could sit and stir the cake batter which was made from his mother’s old recipes. I can’t remember ever not baking.

Do you believe in aliens? 
I don’t think about this all that often, but I probably do. If the universe is so big it would be incredibly narrow-minded of us to think that we’re the only ones here. I feel much the same about religion: it’s narrow-minded to say there definitely is a God as well as to say there definitely isn’t. It’s a personal choice as to what you believe, and if you’re wrong, who cares? Personally, aliens: yes, God: yes, fairies: why not?

Favourite movie? A bunch of us watched “School of Rock” last night, and I’m probably forgetting all other movies before it, but... wow.

What food have you always wanted to try? Snails and frogs’ legs. If they are—or were—so popular in France, they must be good! I’m just so curious to see what the taste and texture are like: I’d  imagine snails are like mushrooms and have been told frogs’ legs are like chicken. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Writing About Writing... My NaNoWriMo Experience...

Have you noticed my “winner” badge on the right of this post? Here’s the story behind it.
When I met Bambi last year, we started exchanging letters and Facebook messages because we live quite a distance apart and both have pretty busy lives. In one letter, she mentioned something called NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. She was thinking of taking part herself and wanted to know if I’d be getting involved. could I not?!

NaNoWriMo is held every year in November. I’m not really sure why it’s still called “National”, since from what I’ve heard, people from every continent take part... but far be it from me to complain. I really admire the team at NaNoWriMo in everything they do, and I’m pretty sure InNoWriMo wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it...

Basically, the challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days throughout November. It’s a huge challenge, but it can be broken up into semi-manageable chunks of  1,666 words a day. This is just a guideline though—if you want to try and pull it off in five days or whatever, then be my guest! The website gives you a load of help to track your progress: you can enter your word count each day and it shows your progress on a graph so you can see yourself climbing toward your target!

All you have to do to be classified a “winner” is to write the 50,000 words. You enter them in to NaNo’s official word counter when you’re done and boom! Win! It doesn’t matter what you write about, how much of your novel you get done, or even if it makes any sense! Sometimes I think that you can be judged by quantity, not quality. Writing is a learning process for everyone and there really is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. The more you write, the more you improve. The novel I worked on is nowhere near finished, but I did manage to write those 50,000 words. Even if none of them make it into the final draft, I got to know my characters so well and the plot made some dramatic changes.

Honestly, when you’re sitting there wondering why nothing in your novel will work out, wondering if you’ll  ever get it finished, there’s only one way to solve that: sit down and write. That’s what NaNoWriMo encourages you to do: when something isn’t working, you really don’t have a choice in November but to plough through with the story anyway. Once you come out the other end you might have an answer—or at least you’ll have learned what not to do.

I can’t say it’s the best idea in the world to put yourself under pressure, but I always do that anyway. November last year I had copious amounts of studying and I was playing Donna in a school production of Mamma Mia! But I still found time almost every day to write. It just goes to show what you can do. I don’t think I’ll take part this year due to my exams, but the thing about NaNoWriMo is that even if you don’t get your 50,000 words done (I almost didn’t!), it still opens a lot of doors. Every single word you write will be of benefit in some way—especially when you’re not worrying about editing every second. The website also has lots of other features, like tips and advice as well as forums where you can chat to other writers about problems or experiences—and you can pick any username and don’t include many personal details, so you don’t need to worry about “stranger danger”!

Go to to find out more about taking part! I’ll post a few of my own tips and tricks for November very soon! 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Writing About Writing

 I suppose it goes without saying that I am a writer—after all, I’m writing this incredibly late post, aren’t I? I’ve even mentioned my love of writing fiction in a few posts, like “Excuses, Love and an Essay onDreams” and last week’s “Keeping a Diary”, but it’s not something I tend to bring up a lot as until fairly recently I didn’t see myself as a “real writer.”

Over the past while I’ve been a little bit brave and showed bits and pieces of my work to Bambi, Phoenix, Wolf and Crow, as well as another friend I still have to give a nickname. Bambi’s the one I’d show almost anything because I know she understands and she’d never judge me. Not that any of the others would either—it’s just difficult for me, like showing people a very private part of myself (I’ll do the jokes, thank you). I’ve never showed anyone the work I’m proudest of because it all seems to personal somehow. I’m going off on a bit of a philosophical tangent here: If a story is never heard, is it still a story? I don’t know. I do know that there’s a time when every story is ready, though, and some take a little longer than others. There are some characters I feel more protective over, some I’m still unsure of and some I’m determined to describe just right in case they get mad and fly at me with a pickaxe.

I’m trying to become a bit more confident with my writing though. There was a time when I would literally cover up anything I was writing if someone came into the room. It’s not that I was ashamed exactly. It’s not like I was doing anything wrong. It was a bit more like, “this is my private world, and you can’t come in until I’ve made it presentable.” I can be a fairly private person sometimes, so I suppose I like to have things I keep to myself. Then I met Bambi who i bet felt sort of the same, started this blog, and was told by people directly and indirectly that there is no shame at all in calling yourself a writer. So I did. I started showing people my work, but I was still a little afraid of their feedback.

Feedback can be a pretty scary thing, because everyone has different views and opinions. When I was much younger, someone saw some of my work and seemed to like it, but the next week they told me about another girl: “Her writing is way better than anything you could ever come up with.”

I don’t know why I let this affect me so much, but I did. I didn’t write again for such a long time, but one day I opened up an old computer file, started reading over something, and remembered how much joy in my life comes from writing my little, often meaningless, stories. I’d been so silly to let a throwaway remark get in the way of that happiness! It made me realise that honestly, I’ll always be a writer. It doesn’t matter what job I do or how often I get to write (damn you leaving cert!), I can’t imagine my life without making up stories. I bet everyone does it sometimes. I can’t imagine not being able to imagine.

Nowadays, I welcome feedback. Even the bad stuff... especially the bad stuff! At first of course I’ll look at it and think for perhaps a whole five minutes: “Alright, well, I might as well chuck it in. This story is stupid.” But then I look at the feedback and glean every little scrap I can from it: because as I said, I do love my characters so dearly. They’re always there for me and I often give them a rough time... so I owe it to them to tell their story properly and beautifully.

For the next few weeks, I’ll finally get round to some of those studying posts I promised way back when, but I’m also going to be writing a lot about writing. I’m fortunate enough to know a few fellow writers, so with their help I’d like to explore different genres and styles, writing methods, and the reasons people write. I might even ask them to tell their own story.

If you’re a writer, even if you don’t think you’re a “real” one, why don’t you get in touch? 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Keeping a Diary

This post doesn’t actually come under the theme of school or anything I’ve been discussing... I suppose it’s to do with stress-busting which is important for school days, but in reality I just really fancied writing about keeping a diary.

I’ve always had problems with keeping a diary, but for some reason it’s always been part of my life. No matter how many crumpled notebooks I’d find under my bed three months after leaving them there, no matter how many times I’d start fresh and waste a whole pretty diary with two days’ worth of copious notes on what the weather was like, what I ate for breakfast—why does nothing interesting happen when you have time to write about it?—and goodness knows what else before never even looking at it again.

 I suppose it’s something a lot of us feel is necessary: I must improve my lifestyle and this will help. We all feel this way about exercise and healthy eating (more on my ongoing battle later: I recently purchased a skipping rope), perhaps making an effort on our hair etc for school (that was fun while it lasted, on both the first and second days...) But I’ve realised recently: why put pressure on myself to keep a diary? Why put any unnecessary pressure on myself when I have The Leaving Cert *shudder* next year? I don’t really know why I find it necessary to keep diaries, but I always do and recently I’ve found a pressure-free way of keeping one so I get all the benefit with none of the bother. Before I tell you all about that, however, I want to write a bit about The Ghosts of Diaries Past...

I’ve had so many diaries, for as long as I can remember. When I lived at my old house, I would decorate whole folders with cut-out pieces of newspaper spelling out my name and write about all my friends and family, what I did at school... these were largely positive. Maybe occasionally I’d have had a fight with my best friend or I’d worry about being fat—even at age 5—or I’d be mad at my parents for reasons which I’m sure were perfectly reasonable at the time. But for the most part, I’d write about how lovely my life was, how many friends I had, even try to make my five-to-eight-year-old self sound cool.

After I moved, about a year later in my second year of secondary school I began to write another diary which, looking back, I’m fairly impressed by. Not by the subject matter or style, but by the sheer copiousness of my updates. Reading back, I suppose it’s because I needed it. I describe being both physically and verbally bullied, how I didn’t feel like I had any friends... as I read it I want to yell at the girl in the book: “Tell ‘em to stop... speak up, dammit!” At the same time I’m thinking, gosh, I’d forgotten things were that bad... I suppose I thought writing about my problems was the only way to solve them, and I notice that the more fiction I was writing, the less I was filling in the diary—I had found another outlet. Eventually, the diary stops, at a time when I was making a few more friends...

The next “volume” depicts me trying to change myself and trying to be someone I really wasn’t, so the first time I read over it I felt quite ashamed of myself. Now, though, it almost makes me smile. I read about myself learning and making the silliest of mistakes, but from the place I’m in now it makes me feel so glad I messed up in those stupid ways... because it’s safe to say I learned my lesson and both the diary and my fiction writing helped me to do that.

Right now, especially with my blog, I’m getting quite enough writing done. However there are still some things I feel I want to write about in a diary. But there’s something about writing to nothing, to something nameless which is never going to say anything back, which doesn’t feel beneficial at all... also, what is it about a diary that makes us feel the need to explain everything, as if it’s a stranger? Am I the only one who can’t write about one of my friends without having to explain who he or she is? It’s ridiculous.

My solution is a bit of an odd one, and perhaps it will only work for writers, but in the end I think everyone has an imagination and you’re very welcome to try it no matter who you are. It really works for me.

I’ve always loved making up stories and when I was very young I had the most vivid imaginary friend that you could ever... well, imagine. But since I was about twelve, writing’s become more and more central in my life and I now have a huge and varied stock of characters to dig out whenever I choose. They each have very different qualities and opinions, and since I know everything about them I’ve decided they know me inside out, too. So whenever I have something to write about: a strong opinion I’m worried nobody would understand, or something personal that’s bothering me... I can choose a character to write to. I tell them all about it and I can almost imagine what they’d say to me. It’s a great way to de-stress and unwind, get all my thoughts down on paper, without the worry of “oh the diary doesn’t care” or “oh the diary won’t understand” or “what good will writing about it do?”

Since I started writing for an actual audience—hi there—I find I get so much more out of it. It’s the same with this little book Crow gave me: a book to fill in when you can’t sleep. You write about your thoughts before you fall asleep, your weirdest dreams, things you need to do... I’ve decided that once I fill it in, I’m going to give it back to Crow to read. It’s a wonderful feeling when you write something and think: “this will get a laugh” or “this is going to be interesting.”

Writing is a really personal thing and you never have to show anyone what you write unless you feel comfortable and ready... but I’ve found  just writing to someone makes it seem more real, more worthwhile... even if that someone is a figment of your imagination.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Surrounded by Awesome... Shauna's Boom Books!

I’m always of the opinion that not enough is done in schools to make learning enjoyable. Particularly in Secondary School, everything is exam-driven and nobody seems to consider that pupils should like their lessons. Also, whose idea was it that opening a book and saying “learn that” was an effective teaching method?

...But that’s a whole other rant. Someone who’s actually decided to make a difference, rather than moaning like I do, is Shauna Bannon Ward who has created her own series of books for children aged 5-12 (though they look pretty cool from a 17-year-old point of view, too!) aimed at making learning fun.
As I mentioned before, I went to the Tullamore show last month and while I loved the food stalls of course, the stall for “Shauna’s Boom Books” really caught my eye! It must have caught lots of other eyes as well, as when I got in touch with Shauna about this blog post, she told me that she totally sold out of Boom Books on that day!

I should probably explain what they are before I go any further... Boom Books are a series, but before this came The Boom Book.

When Shauna tuned into an episode of Ellen one day, she watched a scientist do some experiments live on the show and it really sparked her interest. I think it was really astute of Shauna to spot her gap in the market here: she realised that in Primary schools, science isn’t as important as the core subjects like English, Irish and Maths, but of course this changes when pupils move up to secondary school, and science is an equal part of the Junior Cert (In my school we were allowed to drop it after first year, but this is a hugely limiting thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend it). Shauna thought that is children became interested in science from primary school age, the transition to secondary school science would be that much easier and they would have a greater interest in the subject.

Thus the Boom Book was born. Shauna compiled some fun science experiments kids can try at home and she’s also included reading sections and fun activities to fill in like crosswords and word searches. She markets the book as fun and educational books that teach children that science can be exciting.” After her initial success in the Offaly Student Enterprise Awards, Shauna created a second volume of “The Science Boom Book” and is currently working on a Geography book! She has also displayed an interest in creating books for autistic children and tells me that she really wants to be an author one day... me too, Shauna!

Boom Books retail at €4.00 and can be purchased via their very own website. Shauna also travels to various primary schools to give presentations about her Boom Books. She demonstrates a range of her experiments to pupils from Junior Infants to 6th Class. I think this is a really good method of marketing!

Something I ask all my “awesomes”, as they shall henceforth be known, is how they feel they’ve developed as a person throughout their experience—in this case, since Shauna started creating the books. Shauna’s gained lots of confidence talking in front of large crowds when she showcases her experiments. She’s also learned all about working under pressure and meeting deadlines... which doesn’t exactly sound fun, but is an important skill all the same.

Something else Shauna said really impressed me—it’s a quote from her website. She feels that “We can create more interest in these subjects by showing children there’s more to learning than sitting down and reading and writing notes but by getting up and exploring the subject first hand.”  I don’t know if she’s interested in becoming a teacher, but I love this refreshing approach. Not only do Shauna’s Boom Books show the hard work and initiative of a girl who’s just 14 years old—yes, that’s all—they also represent a new outlook on education, one that the old-fashioned system here in Ireland seems to neglect.

Best of luck, Shauna, and I really hope schools take a leaf out of your boom books! (If you’ll pardon the pun...)