My Characters (and art and stories)

I’ve mentioned before about stories in my head, and my characters, and I thought maybe I’d explain what I mean by all this since I’m guessing it’s not something everyone does? Unless it is, in which case cool – tell me about your stories and characters!

Basically, as far back as I can remember, I have role-played using an internal monologue. I reckon it’s something kids do all the time, I just never grew out of it! Maybe it came from having something of a solitary childhood – not that I was physically lonely; I had two brothers and plenty of friends and loads of cousins; but I took myself away from all that quite regularly and have always enjoyed my own company. Be it climbing a tree by myself at the bottom of the garden and pretending I was a squirrel, or cycling for ages by myself just to feel the joy of escapism and go and sit by myself on a windy spot and draw what I found there with a cheap sketchpad and a few old pencils. It was during these isolated times I really got into my internal story-telling. I’d invent characters whom I would pretend to be. Often they were animals, or anthropomorphic animals, or vaguely humanoid. Story-telling using these characters became something I would do occupy my time; when I was cycling, being driven, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, laying in the bath… but I’d also seek out the opportunity to create stories. I’d role-play that I was an otter diving for treasure when I was at the swimming pool, when my friends and brothers were happily playing on the inflatables. I’d start daydreaming in school assemblies, or during my break-times, or anytime my brain wasn’t specifically engaged with another task.

I started drawing my characters from the age of about 10 I guess. I’d give them names and details, decide what their hair was like, what food they ate, what they wore, who their family was. The stories got more involved and longer. There was ongoing plot for many of them. By the time I was in secondary school there was full-on world creation. I’d started writing some stories, created fables and religions and climate and terrain. I’d collected half a dozen or more separate characters in their own timelines and worlds. They didn’t interact; each one had a separate ongoing adventure. Often the adventure was really simple; character goes to school, character comes home, character eats dinner, character does homework and goes to bed. But the whole time I was pretending I was someone Not Me. I was doing all those things as a sentient cat, or a ghost girl, or an aquatic girl disguised as a normal human.

It was, and still is, wonderful meditation. The time I do my stories most is the 20 minutes or so before I fall asleep. I imagine I’m in a cave bed, or under the sea, or on an airship. The small sounds I can hear all add to my story. That’s not the hot water tank, it’s an engine rumbling below me. The wind is actually blowing snow through the mountains outside my door. Birdsong belongs to the tropical menagerie in the tall swaying trees that border the palace.

And the characters that I have now are different to the ones I had as a kid. They’re older, more experienced. They have families and relationships. They still have adventures, but sometimes the adventures are wilder and more dangerous than a day at school. Sometimes their adventures just involve foraging for food for their family, or travelling to a new place, but often they involve shipwreck or isolation or mountain climbing or trips on the back of a huge dragon. Some of the characters have been with me since I was 10, some are new. Very rarely a new one pops on the scene, and sometimes they stay but often they don’t last. It all depends how much my brain wants to engage with them.

As you can imagine, they pretty much have a life of their own. I don’t think of them in terms of ownership; they are friends, and they are a part of me. A lot of what has happened to them is very personal, sometimes because it reflects something that has happened in the real world, or because the event in question has had a big impact on the character themselves.

I would LOVE to get their stories down on paper. In a perfect world I’d make a graphic novel, because drawing them is something I dream of doing. But as you can imagine having such a long relationship with someone who doesn’t really exist means it’s very hard to properly do justice to a story or a picture on paper. I’d get the details wrong, or the story wouldn’t come across correctly, or it would just not be ‘right’ in some way. I guess this is how all artists feel – trying to do justice to the picture in your head, and learning to accept that it might not be perfect and that’s okay. Or letting go of the ideal and allowing the final product to be different and accepting that as part of the character’s growth and development. I have started trying to draw my characters a bit more – I’m re-learning to draw digitally, trying to remember how humans work (years ago I drew a lot as part of an art exchange community, but I haven’t done anything seriously for probably 6 or more years). I’m very cagey about showing off my art, especially since I’m very self-critical and aware there are a lot of faults with what I’m drawing as I re-learn anatomy, movement, digital art, colour, lighting, etc etc. I’ll have to let go of that fear, as well! The fear of showing off my work. Maybe when I finally start being proud of what I’m drawing…

Maybe one day I’ll write their tales down. If not to publish, then just to immortalise. I would be good to know that their lives and their adventures – however short – can keep going.

lara ruto

The start of a sketch I’m trying to do. You can see how much trouble I have getting faces to look right. I’ll keep trying and improving but it can be a bit of a slog! These guys deserve to be drawn properly.

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Muuummy, muuummy, muuummy…

Ahh, the song of the evening! Also read: “Daaaddy, daaaddy, daaaaady!” Sometimes, “MummyDaddyMummyDaddy”. Imagine a comic nee-naw ambulance noise – it has the same tone and pitch as that.

The routine goes like this:

Dinner, teeth, story, PJs, bed. Find water bottles, settle kids into their bunk bed, say goodnight, go downstairs, wait. Whatever you do, DON’T SIT DOWN AND GET COMFY. Not just yet. Wait, and listen. Sure enough, in a minute or so…

“Muuuummy. Muuuuuuummy. Mummy Mummy Mummy.” It’s not shouted or screamed, it’s musical and persistant. If I don’t respond in a ‘reasonable’ time then the key change happens and it gets higher by a few tones, and slightly crescendo.

I nip back upstairs. “What is it, sweetheart?”

“I can’t find Cat Cat”

“Here she is, under your arm”

“Thank you! Goodnight Mummy”

Back downstairs. Back to waiting and listening. Again. NO SITTING DOWN.

“Muuuummy, muuuummy, muuummy”

Back upstairs, slightly more heavily this time.

“It’s not really that important, but… I love you. And I need the toilet”

“That’s okay – let’s go to the toilet”

Toilet trip complete.

“Goodnight, and try not to call me unless it’s important”



Back upstairs, feet deliberately treading loudly on the steps this time.

“What is it now?” (still in a nice voice you understand, but teeth gritted)

“Umm. The curtain is open a little bit and Molly just moved and my duvet is crumpled and my water is empty and I’m scared if I have a bad dream”

Sort the things out. Firmly kiss goodnight again, hoping it’s the last time. Back downstairs, wait a moment before sitting down on the sofa, putting on an episode of Masterchef and making a cup of tea / G&T (depending on how the evening has gone so far).

“Muuuummy. Muuummy. Muuummy. Muuummmy… Daaaaady. Mummy Daddy Mummy Daddy Muuuuummy Daaaaaaddy”


This is probably 4/5 bedtimes. Sometimes the call just happens once or twice. Sometimes it’s one child, sometimes both. Sometimes they both keep calling repeatedly until I almost lose the plot. I just want to read some Harry Potter, kiss goodnight, head downstairs and know I have my evening (what is left of it) to flump, or tidy, or sew, or exercise or whatever it is I’m trying to achieve. Usually that’s an episode of a cookery programme or Game of Thrones and a cup of tea. I shouldn’t complain – before I know it they’ll be staying out far too late with their friends and I will miss the days of tucking them in at night and reading them stories and repeatedly adjusting duvets / teddies / water bottles.

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This, Too, Shall Pass

It’s one of those phrases synonymous with parenthood: This, too, shall pass. It’s reassuring to know that every baby has teething pain. Every toddler throws tantrums. Every child goes through periods of refusing to sleep, or only eating yellow food, or not letting go of your leg at the nursery drop-off. It’s a phase; ride it out. It will be gone before you know it.

It’s not quite so simple when they get older. The ‘phases’ are less predictable: when children are babies you can pretty much predict periods of unsettled behaviour to the day – the six week growth spurt, the 6 month sleep regression. The older they get the less obvious the cause of the disturbance can be, yet you know your toddler is going to stop being clingy just as soon as they figure out whatever is bothering them. So you wait, patiently (gritting your teeth and drinking wine as and when needed), as they cling vice-like to your legs while you try to cajole them into joining in with the nursery group.

Older children, it appears, still go through ‘phases’. M went through a phase of answering back and refusing to accept responsibility for her actions, even if she just accidentally trod on her sister’s feet, it was never her fault! E just put her feet in the way! And Mummy’s bag was there so how could she be expected to watch where her feet were going all the time? You get the picture…

E has ‘phases’. Or possibly habits. Nail-biting, chewing things (coats, teddies, muslins), and, recently, needing the toilet all the time. Not ALL all the time, just at certain times of the day. She will go every time we sit down for dinner, without fail. She will suddenly have to go just as we are about the leave the house for school. She will go about three times as we are getting ready for bed. But the rest of the day she is fine – not at school, nor drama class, nor swimming lessons, nor at home on the weekend. It’s purely habit, and I roll my eyes and smile through gritted teeth and say “Yes of course you can go to the toilet” while muttering “just be quick we needed to have left the house five minutes ago…”

This, too, shall pass.

Sure enough, this morning she didn’t ask to go just as we were leaving for school. I won’t say anything to her – it’s not a ‘bad thing’ to have to pee, after all, or a ‘good thing’ to hold it in. But I did a little inside happy dance to thing that this habit may be ebbing now.

Just the nail-biting and chewing to stop now…

(NOTE: naturally we did consider whether there might be a medical reason behind the habit, but the pattern of it suggests not.)

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How to foist your interests onto your children

You know one of the great things about kids? They’re malleable. And they love everything. You’re into sports? Great, so is your kid! You like heavy metal music? So does your kid! Computer games? Hiking? Cross-dressing? Yup. In fact, as long as it’s legal and safe(ish) you will probably find your child is naturally drawn to what interests you. I guess they see you enjoying something and imitate that behaviour. Whatever the psychology of it is, children seem to enjoy pretty much all pastimes and even more so ones they can partake in with their parents. Embrace it! It’s a way to get more out of what you like doing AND some quality family time at the same time.

Where this has worked so far…

Singing. I sing: always have done so (well there was a brief interlude when I was at university and was more interested in going to gigs, drinking cider and black and learning Microbiology but other than that I’ve always been involved in some kind of choir / performance group). So therefore my kids of course enjoy not just singing, but drama and theatre in general. They go to a drama group every week and they come out exhausted but beaming. Then on the drive home we listen to the music they have been learning and talk about musical theatre and generally geek out about the whole thing. It’s glorious!

Geeky board games. Both husband and I are ex-Dungeons and Dragons players. I’d play it now but don’t have that kind of leisure time really anymore. But there’s something wonderful about a good strategic board game – Carcasonne, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Mysterium, Tales of Arabian Nights… we have a good collection but they are mostly quite advanced for little ones. So there are some we play that M and E can be involved in; there are countless board games and role play games that are either designed for younger players, or are simple enough for them to ‘get’. I have recently starting playing a storytelling game called Amazing Tales which is a very simple role play game and the girls adore it! It tests my ability to make up a story on the fly, too – but children are very tolerant of a lack of cohesive plot and don’t complain if all the ends don’t tie up nicely as long as the adventurers have a good time and beat the baddies.

Computer Games. Older kids do not need much encouragement to play computer games, let’s be honest, but at least at 5 and 8 years we can have a say over what they are playing and we’re frequently all playing Super Mario Brothers or Mario Kart or Minecraft together without too many arguments. The girls even discovered my old Sega Megadrive collection recently and were delighted to watch me navigate old Sonic the Hedgehog levels! They refused to play though – apparently computer games were “too difficult in the olden days”.

Running. Well, actually no. I tried this one but apparently going for a run is not fun. Not unless it’s ‘to the park’ or ‘to an ice cream van’. Can’t win them all!

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Learning to Read

E is in Reception year. She is learning to read and write. She knows most of the basic phonics (that’s letter sounds, to those not currently dealing with early years and primary education) and can sound out simple words. She can write her own name but usually misses out half the letters (not helped by most grown-ups spelling her name wrong – it’s not that’s unusual, is it?).

The thing is, E is not particularly interested in these activities. She is not motivated by the desire to learn and improve. She IS motivated with material rewards, but only to a certain extent. Practicing the reading and writing is, quite frankly, boring and frustrating. There doesn’t seem to be a single time of the day when it’s a Good Time to do the required reading homework – she’s always tired, bored, hungry or distracted.

The homework routine usually goes like this:

Biff had a red cup. It was full. Chip had a blue cup.

“Eleanor, can you read the first word to me please?”

“Buh ih fuh fuh – Biff!” (she knows it’s Biff because she’s seen the picture)

“Very good! What about the next word?”

“Ih suh – is. Biff is”

“No, that’s not the word. Look here – what’s the first letter?”


“No, look at it, don’t guess. You know this one”


“Nearly – look, it’s a tall letter. What does it say?”

“Huh! Huh ih suh – his”

“Not quite. Look. Huh – what’s the next letter?”

“I’m bored. My tummy hurts. Can I get a smiley face now?”

“No – you need to read some more. Look, Biff huh…”

“Aa suh. Has”

And so it goes on. Every word is guessed until she happens to get it right. A 12 page book can take us three days to read, a few pages at a time. I’m calm and cajoling, and a smiley face on the chart is given for every good bit of reading. But Oh My God it’s like pulling teeth at times! Writing is similar, but she doesn’t need to practice that at home yet thank goodness.

At some point I know the reading will Click (just like it did with learning the letters early on in Reception) and she’ll be sounding out confidently. I cannot wait for that!

But then I see her doing other work, and she’s so motivated to do it nicely! Her counting and adding is great. Her colouring is neat and considered. She loves sorting things, and her imagination is brilliant!

It’s funny having two very different girls. How did they end up with such different personalities and learning styles I wonder?


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Snow days

About once every 6 or 7 years we get decent snow. Snow that’s thick, and lasting, and suitable for all the usual fun-filled activities that snow has to offer. Last week was that time! We had two days of good snow, and as per the usual the schools were shut and I was allowed to work from home.

In between checking and sending emails, powerpoint presentations and other dull, grown-up stuff we tried to fit in some fun (wet and cold) activities. After all, M could be a teenager before she sees snow like that again! We weren’t going to miss it.

Timing was everything. I didn’t want to venture out with two children if it was still snowing and windy because they’d be cold and miserable in no time. But wait for the weather to improve and it might be too late – snow doesn’t hang around round these parts!

Day 1 we stayed inside, heating on full blast, PJs and dressing gowns and Lego and Disney films. It was cold and stormy and icy but not much snow yet.

Day 2 was The Day. More snow overnight, winds dying down, forecast for temperatures to rise and bring some rain so if we were going out it was now or never! So out we went, kids in snow suits and waterproof gloves and wellies, taking in turns to be pulled on the sled I had bought, optimistically, from a charity shop two years ago (£1! Bargain!). We hiked the slippery 1km to Ludgershall Castle. Roads were not very car-friendly and lots of vehicles had got stuck, it transpired, on the back road towards Marlborough. The council were driving supplies up in 4x4s to help stranded drivers, and lots of locals were helping out too – lovely to see community spirit!

The castle was bustling with people. It’s surrounded by lots of small hills of varying steepness so perfect for sledging and there’s a slope to suit all ages and levels of daring. M had first got, choosing a long but gentle slope and whooping the whole way down. E then had a turn, followed by me. The girls insisted I try ‘the big slope’ and pushed me down a significantly longer, steeper slope before I could argue. I stayed on – just! It was tremendous fun.

Then E wanted to try The Big Slope like I had and promptly fell on her face. Well, that was the end of sledging. She was cold and soggy and tired and hurt and we basically turned tail and came straight back. M was a bit miffed and managed to fit in about 5 more turned while I sorted out her little sister. She would happily have stayed sledging until her fingers turned blue I think!

The walk home was hard work – I pulled both girls on the sled most of the way as they were tired, which was a good workout especially up the hills! I was grateful for my universal snow spikes which fitted over my wellies. A very good Lidl purchase!

Home was hot chocolate and more movies, and not moving from under the blanket. M and I later built a snowman in the garden, and E stabbed it with sticks to see if it would fall down.

We kept the bird feeders topped up and saw lots of new birds in the garden, including a pair of Fieldfares which I don’t think I’ve seen before.

A lovely couple of days! All that remains now is a very small patch of snow where the snowman once stood. Everything else melted away as quickly as it came.

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A little update

Recently, randomly, I started reading my blog again. It’s been a loooong time since I wrote a post and I missed it! I decided I’d start it up again with no strings, no conditions, no promises – just enjoy the writing process for what it is.

 When I last blogged I had one girl just starting school, and another a toddler (nearly pre-schooler) in nursery. I worked part time. E was at the peak pretty much of toddler awfulness and we had just had what we now refer to as ‘That Christmas’. The one which turned E into a Gremlin, and me into a sobbing wreck.

 Fast forward two years and I have two girls at school. M is 7 and is bright, academic, determined, at times silly and moody and polite and potty-mouthed. She is obsessed with Pokemon, loves singing and is still fairly pink-n-girly but with a feminist streak and strong morals. I am proud of her frequently.

 E is 4, nearly 5 and funny, emotional, spirited, stubborn and delightful. She’s at her best removed from her big sister’s presence when she is charming to be around. She loves animals and nature, being outside, is a natural runner and finds everything fascinating. I am proud of her frequently, though she couldn’t be much more different from her big sister!

 In the past two years we have fully weaned E (she announced she would wean before she turned 4 – she did one better and decided ‘no more mummy milk’ early in January 2017 aged 3 ¾). E has been at school for one full term and loves it; she dislikes reading practice but loves learning. She doesn’t take the same pride in her achievements as M does so we will need to find a different way to engage with and encourage her! She still does not sleep easily, and frequently takes an hour or more to fall asleep at night and is often tired in the morning; I have decided she has a teenager’s biological clock and just wants to be a night owl. M has become a fast and confident reader and will take long books to bed at night to read to herself. She can swim 50 meters and is learning to dive. Both girls do Junior Parkrun occasionally and though not particularly fast, they will run most of the 2km distance and love it (especially when there are brownies at the end of the race!). I am running when I can and have completed two half marathons and am thinking about a full. I am neither fast nor skinny but I can run distance comfortably and enjoy the sensation of pushing my body to its limits. Thanks to a (very expensive) physiotherapist I can run without ankle support for the first time in years! I have lifelong orthotic inserts though. We lost our beloved pet, Miles Cat, and bought two guinea pigs which are small, noisy, and less affectionate than a cat but also pretty effortless to look after and the girls adore them. I still work part time and still agonise over work-life balance. There’s always too much to do at work, too much to do at home, and not enough time for the kids but such is the lot of the working parent!

 So: life update done, I will blog more in good time.

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