only a stones throw

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I had two big goals for the week of the 4th of July. The first was to buy and install a new scanner, and the second was to land a life-changing, preferably-six-figure-but-I’d-settle-for-five book deal.

My dream for a new scanner was born sometime around mid-June, when I stood by my old trusty scanner’s side for the last time as it took off for that big open warehouse in the sky.

My dream for a book deal was born sometime in the early 90’s, when I spent my afternoons lying face-down in the hallway outside the upstairs bathroom (I loved the smell of carpeting) and imagined overly dramatic plots for my future bestsellers.

More recently, it was re-born last summer while I was working furiously on what I hoped to be the final draft of the book I’d been working on for years. I was so determined that summer. I had…

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Jameo del Agua - Lanzarote Cesar Manriques design and vision he was a visionary of the highest order.

Jameo del Agua – Lanzarote Cesar Manriques design and vision he was a visionary of the highest order.

We are all looking for inspirational figures, icons or role models, people who we either aspire to be or want to emulate. Some of us squeak with excitement at the release of a new JK Rowling book or others gaze into the goal mouth on a Sunday afternoon football pitch thinking he could be Wayne Rooney or David Beckham. Whatever your desires you should always keep an open mind as you never know what you will find around the next corner.

I have just returned from a break with my family in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. Some of you may know it as a popular holiday destination for the British and Germans alike because of its consistent climate being near the equator. It’s a volcanic island, a barren moonscape; quite different from the lush Devon countryside I am used to. A most unlikely place to get any form of inspiration, you would think and so did I.

Manrique metal cactus

Manrique metal cactus

We based ourselves in a quiet little village called Arietta north of the capital city of Arrecife, which has a lovely café right on the beautiful beach where you can sit and watch the waves crash, but I digress as this is not about my holiday. I personally wanted to have a relaxing time beach time, but as we had hired a car for the 9 days of our stay we thought we would explore the little island too.

Our first expedition was to a place called Jameos del Agua, a popular tourist destination with coach loads of German, British and Spanish tourists. With this in mind my prejudiced barrier had dropped down. We got to the entrance paid our fee and walked into what can be only described as a hole in the ground. Before I describe in more detail what I saw it would only be fair to give you the background to this hole in the ground or should I say volcanic bubble. The bubble was created when the main volcano Monte Corona erupted 3000 years ago.

Before its transformation, this hole was used as a dumping ground or landfill site for rubbish. One man saw this hole and many others around Lanzarote as a beautiful possibility. César Manrique was a local artist brought up in Lanzarote although he studied in Madrid and the USA. When he returned in 1966 to an island on the brink of transition through tourism he saw how the other Canary Islands including Tenerife and Gran Canaria had given planning to creating huge high rise developments for hotels and apartment blocks. Manrique became a major influence within planning the future of Lanzarote and he encouraged sympathetic development of tourism.

A hole in the ground filled with rubbish but now is a beautiful garden.

A hole in the ground filled with rubbish but now is a beautiful garden.

Sculptured furniture from the volcanic rock

Sculptured furniture from the volcanic rock

But back to the holes in the ground… from the café, which is built into a volcanic bubble, you descend the spiraling lava steps through some architectural plants until you reach a clear pond inside a cave. In this pond are millions of white dots, which turned out to be a rare species of albino crab! The cave has a natural vent in the ceiling made by the molten lava. You walk along the side of the lake until you reach an area made for entertainment such as theatre or recitals. You ascend the steps and are out into the garden with aqua  pool and many beautiful sculptures and plants (see photo). You take a detour through an inconspicuous side door and you enter a great hall (bubble cave) which has theatre seating carved into the rock and a stage with light well at the end. I was lucky enough to return to see a flamenco guitarist from Madrid play in this hall and the acoustics and ambience were truly memorable.

Manrique didn’t stop there however, he built his own home out of volcanic bubbles creating a truly majestic space. He also carved high in to the top of a volcano creating a café with a view like nothing you would have seen have seen before at Mirador del Rio. He used the materials he had available such as the natural landscape, reused unwanted junk for works of art and thought at all times out of the box.

Windows from the cafe allow for a beautiful panaromic viewInside the cafe at MiradorCésar Manrique was a visionary and an early environmentalist. He used his intelligence to make sure his beloved Lanzarote was not ripped apart by corruption and greed following the new tourism trend and he made sure it remained traditionally beautiful. He has left many pure drops of genius around the island in the things he created.

The beautiful panoramic view from the cafe

I benefited from his legacy when sitting around our bungalow pool. I was able to see the volcanic shores of Lanzarote without the obligatory 4 storey tourist complex blocking my view thanks to Manrique.

Now back at home, I am looking at things in a completely different light having seen the ability of one man’s vision to make the most of his environment and resources. A dark shadowed hole in the corner of our garden will be developed into a wonderful shrine to Manrique. Maybe you could walk around your community and see a wasteland or square of unused grass, you could draw up and idea to make it beautiful and approach the council (or just be a guerilla gardener) – either way BE INSPIRED to see things how they could be and not just how they are!

Words are everything

With Chris Evans’ 2013 500 words competition www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/500words/2012/ for children just about to start it’s made me turn my attention this month to words and in particular inspiring the younger generation.

When you are writing a novel and you work in the area of graphic design and copywriting words are always going to feature highly in your life. How they look, how they sound, what they mean and convey feeds your family after all.

In our house words are everything and everywhere.

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My youngest child (4yrs) is just learning to read his first words at school. He has words stuck up in the hallway, tricky ones that cannot be sounded out. They are typed onto four flashcards and he has to touch each word and say it in a robot voice as he goes in and out the front door each day. Robots are his thing. In this way he is remembering the words. We have built a story around the words forming a four word passcode that allows him membership to the special robot club. The club is currently awarding correct passcodes with leftover chocolate coins from Christmas in a handy nook behind the door. It’s so important children get a good foundation in reading and writing and there’s no reason at all (except sheer laziness) that it can’t be fun.

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For fun practising writing the alphabet try using an app on your iPad/tablet with finger or pencil. My son loves …(5 star review won award) where you are guided through forming the letters, hear a letter sound and pick the right letter and then read the phonetic short word. You get coins and virtual badges as rewards and it feels like a game to him.  For young children http://www.nurturestore.co.uk/a-z-how-to-write Your child will not even notice they are learning whilst doing these great activities – perfect for rainy weekends or holidays when you have time on your hands.

My older daughter Imogen (9yrs) loves reading and storytelling with a passion. Her room is full of books and having saved up herself she has just bought her own vintage writing desk. Both children have their own little creation stations where they have constantly got on hand everything they need to get busy as soon as the mood strikes them. It can be great fun setting these areas up with your child’s help. Imogen’s has a Harry Potter theme and Wilfred’s has lots of recycled junk that he rescues to make his robot models.

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From an early age we spent hours curled up on the sofa reading to her and even now when she is more than capable of reading alone we still love to share a book, get lost in another world together for days at a time. She writes and illustrates her own quirky stories and it gives her so much pleasure. The company letterbox sell a gift pack that allows your child to write and illustrate a story and then send it off included in the original price to have it printed in a book format for them to keep and treasure – perfect for budding authors! www.letterbox.co.uk/write-your-own-book

For engaging older children and showing them how much fun they can have dreaming up scenes and inventing strange characters the BBC is a great starting place. The 500 words competition has a downloadable pdf for parents and teachers alike with ideas to get kids going even if they don’t want to enter the competition itself. There are also some short podcasts from famous children’s writers such as David Walliams, Lauren Child, Jacqueline Wilson and the actor Daniel Radcliffe with concise advice and tips on how to write good stories.

Whatever the age or stage of your child the most important thing to remember is the process should be fun and absorbing.

It should never be about the end result for a child. Below are some great resources I have come across recently.

  • http://www.kidpub.com On this site kids can upload their stories and poems and get feedback from other children. They can read what others their age have written too. You can get your book published and for sale on Amazon through this company!

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