Reading outside the “Zone”

Let’s face it, we all have a reading “zone”. This might be one genre, it might be more. But usually adults don’t read picture books aimed at children (unless they have young kids) and vice versa.

Sometimes it does us good to read outside the “zone” and read something that we don’t usually read. This was suggested to me when I started my A Level in English. I then picked a book at random off of Amazon (it ended up being Bookends by Jane Green).

As a trainee English teacher, it’s important that I have a broad knowledge of literature, as well as being aware of what the students are reading. (It also gives me an excuse to read and watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was on offer on Amazon kindle, and the title seemed intriguing. I figured it was worth a shot. I sat and ploughed through it.

It was good fun, with the protagonist’s fanfic placed at the start of every chapter. In some ways it’s just a coming-of-age story from the point of view of a young woman, but it also captures the influence of series such as Harry Potter (Simon Snow seems inspired by Harry Potter) upon people’s lives. Cath is just a normal American teenager who has gone off to college, with the main focus of her life being her Fanfic.

It was definitely worth the money, even though it didn’t really do anything “new”, but I doubt that those who would find Fangirl in their “zone” would mind too much. As for someone who is reading out of their “zone” it seems like a book that teens would read, and does give an insight into how important the world of fanfic is to some people.

Write faster: How I increased my writing speed.

Over the course of NaNoWriMo 2015, my daily word count fluctuated between 0 and approximately 20,000. That’s a huge difference. Over the past two months, I’ve reflected on how I worked throughout NaNoWriMo and have a few of conclusions on why my word count fluctuated so much, and how I can increase my daily word count further. Here’s how I managed to write faster:

1.) Planning is key.

On the days where I had extensively planned what I was going to write, I wrote more. This culminated in my final sprint where I wrote just over 14,000 words. At this point in my NaNoWriMo journey, I had spent a couple of hours planning out each scene. The extent of this planning ranged from a couple of sentences of what was to happen in the scene (sometimes I had a few pieces of dialogue that I wanted to use), to a list of bullet points and various sentences. This made it much easier to write – I was able to have the plan open on one screen and the novel open on the other. Every so often I would look across at the plan and check what I was going to write.

Having the plan also allowed me to write in a non-continuous way. As I had been trying to upload my daily additions on here, I had been writing in a chronological way – IE: From the start of the novel to the end. The extensive plan (and the looming deadline) pushed me to write different sections of the novel – when one scene was getting difficult, I could move to another scene. This did lead to a problem. When the deadline came, I had huge sections of the novel written, but the middle was missing. This has prolonged my uploading of the rest of the novel (N-Day readers… it will return soon!) while I juggle my PGCE, other writing, and the rest of the novel.

I have a number of writing ideas that I am pursuing, and have begun to create extensive outlines so that I can write more, and faster.

2.) Set timers.

On that final day, I kept setting 1 hour timers and seeing how many words I could write in that time. Once the hour was up, I would take a very brief break before trying again. Each time I would try and beat my previous score. A small element of competition – even if it is with yourself – can help to increase your writing speed.

3.) Music. Get some good music.

That final day I searched for, and found, a huge Spotify playlist of Soundtracks. Some of these soundtracks were from films, some from video games, and some were specially made songs for film trailers (look up Two Steps from Hell). The playlist was extremely long and meant that I could click play and forget about it. I chose Soundtracks because they can be fast paced and they can create a really strong atmosphere – I’m sure that some of the songs I was listening to probably influenced the scenes I was writing.

While I like to write to Soundtracks, I think that fast-paced music would work well. Just as there are plenty of running CDs made to make you run faster, I think that fast-paced music – or at least emotive – music will help you write faster.


One of my aims for 2016 was to write 1,000 words a day. I think that I can easily surpass this and write a lot more. Let’s find out.

Any techniques you use to write faster? Let me know in the comments!

For Christmas I got… a warm welcome to my PP2

Christmas is over, the New Year has begun. As has my PP2 placement.

For the next three weeks, I’m spending two days a week on placement and two in Faculty. So what did I get up to this week?

Monday and Tuesday were devoted to studying Macbeth and how to teach Shakespeare. This was good fun, and we had a drama specialist come in on the Tuesday to give us more practical teaching/drama activities to use. These were good fun. Like last time, some of the warm-ups will be useful games to play with my Cub Pack.

My PP2 school is a bit different to my PP1 school – especially their use of exercise books and the fact that all students have iPads. I’m really interested in how tech can be used in education and my PP2 placement offers me an opportunity to see what e-learning apps are available and how tech is currently used in education.

I received my teaching timetable and there is a good mix of classes. I’m in the middle of writing my 1b assignment, for which I picked (from a number of titles) to discuss whether it was a mistake to close so many special schools. By chance, I was timetabled to observe a SEN student across the curriculum today, and this gave me a number of extra observations to add to my argument.

Finally, tomorrow we have a conference on Adolescence and Well-Being. For this we were able to pick three different seminars to attend. From the list I chose:

  • Hard to reach groups/Inclusion: Gypsy Roma and Traveller Culture and Education.
  • SEND: Autistic Adolescents Accessing Mainstream.
  • Sexuality: Challenging Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

The first and last are areas in which I have no experience. They will undoubtedly give useful insights which will help me in the future. I do have a bit of experience assisting ASD students and teaching them, but I felt it was worth learning more – the learning journey never ends!

Recent Reading

Thinner – Richard Bachman/Stephen King

While I’ve enjoyed most of King’s books, I don’t rate Thinner as one of his best. This might be because he was writing it under his Bachman alias. I just didn’t really like the “curse” idea.

Holes – Louis Sachar

I actually re-read this a while ago, as I was teaching it to a Year 7 class.  It’s still as good as I remember it, and it was fun to see how the students responded to the novel.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

I read this many years ago. I got a new copy over the Christmas holiday, so that I could re-read it in preparation for teaching it to GCSE students. It’s amazing how much I remembered from my first reading. However, having a greater understanding of the world and of political movements enabled me to develop a far stronger understanding of the novel.

The Dragon Done It – Ed. Eric Flint and Mike Resnick

I’m currently working on a series of fantasy crime novels, and I was interested to see what was already out there – beyond the shelves of urban fantasy a la The Dresden Files. After a bit of searching, I stumbled across this anthology.

While many of the stories feature fantasy elements, many of them seemed to heavily inspired by Raymond Chandler and Co – they were definitely detective fiction. This doesn’t mean that they were bad though – far from it. I enjoyed most of the stories, especially how they carried over tropes from detective fiction and mingled in the fantasy elements. Overall? The anthology adds weight to my idea that there isn’t much crime fiction set in a fantasy world.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

An excellent book that was recently made into a film – I haven’t seen that yet. The book itself is great and manages to capture elements of being a teenager while covering pretty similar ground to The Fault in Our Stars… Except I think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did it better.

SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror

The second anthology of short stories on this update. While the stories were of varying quality (from good to great), they were all good fun and had a few slightly disturbing ideas as well as a lot of monster-killing violence. Probably not suitable for the kids, but a good read nonetheless.

Well hello there, 2016!

So it’s 2016. I’ve decided to kick the year off with my New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. To write 1,000 words of fiction a day.
  2. Update PGCE blog fortnightly. This will turn into an NQT/MEd blog in September 2016.
  3. Self-publish my first novel.
  4. I will have 1,000 blog followers by 31st December 2015.
  5. Publish 5 short stories in paying markets, the majority of which will be at semi-pro level or higher.
  6. Update blog with weekly flash fiction. (This was irregular last year.)
  7. Complete NaNoWriMo.
  8. Read one non-fiction book a month.
  9. Read a collection of poetry a month.
  10. Keep a poetry diary.

I have two fitness goals as well:

  1. Run 5k in 20 minutes.
  2. Run 10k.

Hope you all had a super Christmas and let’s all have a great 2016!

PGCE Diary: Goodbye PP1

So. The term is over. We’re about a third of the way through the course.

It’s been tiring, exhilarating and a little exhausting.

There have been good lessons, and some not so good.

Our time at our PP1 school finished a couple of weeks ago. I finished on a high, with the class teacher impressed with my final double lesson on Larkin’s Mr. Bleaney  for Year 12s.

We spent the final week back in Faculty, having our PREVENT training – this was rather interesting, as the vulnerable targets for radicalisation weren’t always the most obvious. We also had talks on recruitment and applying for jobs, which seems similar to what other PGCE bloggers have experienced recently on other courses.

In the Faculty week, we also did some work on Brian Friel’s Translations, and how to teach drama texts at A Level. As part of this we did all sorts of drama activities – this was my first time doing drama since Year 9! Some of the more ‘icebreaker’ style activities seem like they’d be great for my Cub pack too, which is a bonus!

Our final Faculty day of 2015 started later than usual. This was so we could hand our second essays in. This was the essay that was based on students’ experiences of reading, as well as our short stories (mine’s here!) In this final session, we chatted about our 4th essay (the 3rd is written over Christmas), before we had our Creative Exchange.

The Creative Exchange was – wow. Some of us did things individually, while others worked in groups. We made origami Christmas trees (again, fab for the Cubs!), were witness to a stellar voice-over of the Genie from Aladdin, magic tricks, songs… There was all sorts. I went with a reading from the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year – it took a while to find a bit that wasn’t too rough to be read aloud and shared – I also gave a brief intro to NaNoWriMo for those who weren’t in the know.

We finished with the exchange of our Secret Santa gifts, then went off to our Christmas meal – scrummy.


Welcome to the Poetry Journal

There’s been a category hiding under “Reading Journals” for several months now. Some of you may have even clicked on it, only to find an empty page – no posts.

So what’s the deal?

After a brief moment of amazement at my somewhat lacking poetry knowledge pre-PGCE, I started to read more poetry – as several previous posts show.

However, I aim to go one step further and write about the poems and anthologies that I read: What poem am I reading? What does it mean to me? How do I feel? Do I like the poem?

Perhaps the journal will inspire creativity in me?

Who knows? Let’s see!

Post NaNo update: The next bit.


“She’s gone.” Mason repeated again. Everybody in the room looked at him, trying to convey as much sorrow as they could, silently.

“She’s gone. What do we do?”

“Her body is gone, but her spirit lives on.”

There was a thud as Mason span and punched the wall, his fist ploughing through the plaster, dust exploding out. He punched again, this time with his other fist, then again with the first fist, striking up a thumping rhythm.

Reilly dropped from the chair upon which he stood and ran across the room. He grabbed Mason’s fists, struggling to hold them.

“Stop.” He said. Mason struggled against him.

“What’s the fucking point?” Mason shouted, wrenching his arms free and pushing Reilly away. Reilly stumbled, feeling someone grab him from behind and push him back up.

“Stop it.” Reilly said.

“Why? First half the fucking country is blown to fucking pieces. Then the cunts continue to kill us with radiation. Can’t they just let us live in fuckin’ peace?”

Mason stormed away. Reilly followed him, waving his hand behind him, calling back to the others, telling them to stay. He was relieved that he didn’t hear any footsteps behind him.

Mason stood in the kitchen, his face red and his head shaking. He grabbed at his necklace and ripped it from his neck, fumbled with the key and plunged it into the store cupboard door’s keyhole. He twisted it and flung the door open. Reilly leapt forward, tried to push him away from the door, but Mason was stronger. He stuck out an arm and pushed Reilly over.

Reilly felt something crack in his arm, but he stood up as quick as he could, ignoring the pain; the adrenaline that pumped through his body helped. He knew that he had probably broken, or at least fractured his right arm; it hung limply against his side and, although he couldn’t feel much pain, he could feel it throbbing as it began to swell.

Mason disappeared into the cupboard, and Reilly heard metal fall to the floor. He swore under his breath and moved closer so that he could see in to the cupboard.

Red shotgun shells rolled on the floor. Mason was crammming them into the shotgun.

“What are you going to do?” Reilly asked. “Loading that won’t help. You can’t hurt anyone. You can’t kill radiation.”

“Oh for fucking hell’s sakes Reilly. Stop going on about not fuckin’ killin’ things. I don’t want to hear it.” Mason swung the shotgun round, pointing the barrel at Reilly. There was a click as he cocked it.

“Say it again and I’ll fucking kill you.” Mason said.

The kitchen door opening distracted them both, and Reilly siezed his chance. He jumped across the room, rugby tackling Mason. Even the adrenaline was not enough to stop the pain that suddenly shot through Reilly’s arm, and he screamed.

The shotgun blast was deafening in the tiny cupboard. Reilly thought he had been shot. His body certainly hurt enough, and was covered in enough blood. But when he rolled away, he saw that the shotgun had caught Mason. He had fallen on top of it, his head propped up on the barrel; the rest of his skull was plastered across the ceiling of the cupboard. Blood and brain matter dripped from the ceiling.

Ears ringing, Reilly threw up, vomit splattering across the wall and Mason’s body.

There was another scream in the kitchen, and Reilly tuned his head, still vomiting, and saw that Martha was standing in the kitchen, her hands covering her face.

“Help.” Reilly said and passed out.

He awoke to find himself in bed, his clothes changed and the blood and grey brain washed from his body. His ears still ached, and his arm really hurt. He lifted his head and looked down at his arm. It had been splinted with a bit of wood. The table next to his bed was covered in what appeared to be half of the house’s medical cabinet.

His voice was hoarse when he called out. There was a chorus of rapid footsteps up the stairs. Kiera and Martha burst into the room.

“Tell me Mason’s still alive.” He said.

Both of them shook their head. “He died.”

Reilly burst into tears, his body shaking.

“It wasn’t your fault Reilly. It was an accident. He did it himself.”

Reilly wiped his eyes with his left hand. “What have you told the others.”

“Most of them believe that it was an accident, others think that Mason shot himself and hurt you. A few think that you shot him on purpose, but everybody else is arguing with those few, telling them that you wouldn’t kill a fly, let alone Mason.” Martha said.

Kiera sat next the bed and laid her hand on Reilly’s shoulder. “They want you to come down when you can. It’ll be good for you to speak to them. They need a leader now that Mason and Maureen have gone.”

Reilly nodded. “Have you buried them yet?”

Martha shook her head. “No, we’ve dug a grave, and put them in a coffin. We were waiting for you to wake up. We thought that you might want to say something.”

The pair of them helped Reilly out of bed. He was okay to walk on his own by the time that they reached the bedroom door.

“How long was I out?” He asked as they walked down the stairs.

“Just over a day.” Kiera said.

They reached the ground floor without seeing anyone. Martha took him through to the living room and he sat down on the same chair that he had been standing on when Mason had come into the room. The fist holes were still in the walls; he hoped that the kitchen had been cleared of blood.

It took a while for all of the residents to gather in the living room; they waited for the sentries to be called in. It was deemed that the issue was important enough that the risk could be taken. The sentries stood near the door, their shotguns hanging over their shoulders. While people arrived, none of them spoke to Reilly, standing far away from him, until the room begun to become full and they had no choice but to stand closer to him.

This time Reilly didn’t stand.

“I know why you are here. I know what you want to hear: the truth. The truth is, I don’t know exactly which of us caused Mason’s death, but I do know that it was an accident. I did not intend for him to die when I entered the kitchen. Far from it. I tried to take the shotgun from him, and in the scuffle it was fired. It was one blast, and that one blast proved fatal. I am sorry that it happened, and I hope that you believe what I am saying. I know there are multiple rumours going round, but I can only prove two of them wrong: Mason did not try to kill me, although he did threaten to do so. I did not intentionally kill Mason either. Please, trust me and take my word for it. Arguing will not do us any good. Let us not remember Mason how he was earlier, let us remember him for the man he truly was: A man who brought us together and cared for us all.”

Reilly stopped speaking and looked at the people assembled before him.  They stood in silence, watching and seemingly waiting for him to continue.

“That is all.” He said.

The sentries left first, in silence, returning to their posts. The others left in small groups, twos and threes. Again, all in silence. Eventually only Kiera and Martha remained, along with Reilly.

“You did good.” Martha said.

“I don’t think some of them believed me.” Reilly said.

“Of course, but hopefully they will keep those feelings to themselves, or they will argue with the others and have their opinions changed.” Martha said.

“I hope so. Otherwise this could be the end of us.” Reilly said.

What I’m reading: Gavin, Larkin, and more

The reading journal has been a little neglected of late. It’s time for an update.

Much of my (fiction) reading has been related to my PGCE studies. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve been reading:

  • Coram Boy, Jamila Gavin
  • A Girl in Winter, Philip Larkin
  • American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  • Divergent, Veronica Roth
  • Ghosts In Shanghai, Julian Sedgwick
  • The Circle, Dave Eggers

What I’ve got recently that I still need to read:

  • The Children Act, Ian McEwan
  • Boo, Neil Smith
  • Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
  • Thinner, Richard Bachman/Stephen King

I’m bound to get some more books that I’ll be teaching after Christmas – I’ll be (hopefully) finding out what these books are on Wednesday, as I have my induction day at my PP2 school.

Let’s take a look, one by one, of what I read in November:

Coram Boy

I had to read this as part of my course, so that we could practise our medium-term planning skills. We were also treated to a visit by the author – Jamila Gavin. A few pages into the novel, I realised that I had actually read it many years before, but could barely remember it.

Then I remembered why I could barely remember it.

While the premise of the novel and its narrative are brilliant, I found Gavin’s writing hard to read. At times the sentence structure seemed too complicated, and some of the words used didn’t seem to fit correctly with their context; it seemed as though another (or a different) editor should have had a look over the work. That criticism (which might be misplaced as the novel did win a few awards) aside, the novel is good: interesting characters, super premise, enthralling story which was, at times, harrowing and disturbing.

Meeting Gavin was an interesting experience. It was really insightful to talk to an author about the processes behind their writing – where the idea came from, their other influences etc. You can read a more detailed account of her visit here – written by a fellow PGCE student.

We were also fortunate enough that there was a performance of the play version happening at the Amateur Dramatic Club in Cambridge – so we went to see that. Again, it was interesting to see how a text can be transformed for the stage.

A Girl in Winter

I had a bit of a “Larkin” November. I read a lot of his poetry, taught and discussed several of his poems, and learnt a lot about his life. It was helpful, when teaching his poetry, to have lived in Hull; very close to where he had lived.

A Girl in Winter is one of Larkin’s two novels (the other being Jill – still in the post), and A Girl in Winter is the first that I have read. It’s different to his poetry, but the novel is definitely “Larkinesque”, and it is clear that he is the author.

For many years, Larkin was the librarian at the Brynmor Jones library at the University of Hull… I’ve spent many hours in that library. Although it looks rather different now (thanks to a mega-million pound refurb), some of the details that Larkin describes about the fictional library’s entrance conjure up images of the entrance to the Brynmor Jones library in my mind.

The novel itself is nothing ground-breaking. A tale of love-lost and found, it’s interesting and fun but not astonishingly amazing.

As to whether reading it adds much to his poetry, I’m not sure. While I’ve read The Whitsun Weddings thoroughly, I’ve only had a cursory look at much of his other poetry (I do own the complete works), so perhaps a more detailed reading might illuminate further links.

American Psycho

I gave up. I managed about 40 pages of this before I decided that I’d had enough. The crazy attention to minuscule details got a bit too annoying and just made it hard to read – I don’t need to know the make of every individual piece of clothing that someone wears. Just throwing in a couple of names is enough to tell me that they’re loaded.

Bit disappointed, as I had heard great things about the novel and I know that it’s probably really good.

Perhaps I’ll come back to it in the future.


A victim of being binge-read. Although I’m not sure that victim is the correct word there. If anything, it shows that the book was engaging enough for me to read it in one sitting.

A fun read, but at times too similar to The Hunger Games… fits well into the current dystopic YA trend.

Ghosts in Shanghai

Sedgwick visited my previous school while I was there, and gave a number of speeches to the students – I was lucky enough to watch one of them and get a signed copy.

Interestingly, Ghosts in Shanghai is written in the present tense. I’m not sure why, but this always seems harder to write and to read and seems, therefore, an usual choice for a children’s book.

Mixing in various bits of Pinyin adds to the vivid descriptions to create a sense of verisimilitude.

A fun book, if a little confusing occasionally.

The Circle

I loved this. A satire on the dangers of allowing a fictitious company to have all our information. The fictitious company is clearly a blend of Facebook and Google, and the novel shows that while many of their programs have helpful applications, there is something sinister going on in the background.

I just didn’t get the bit with all the animals. I sorta skim read that bit. It’s a shame as the rest of the novel was pretty great.