Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Lauralympics and 'Real Life Cluedo'

My daughter Laura turned thirteen a couple of weeks ago and to mark the occasion we had a party-cum-sporting-contest called the Lauralympics. There were five events – Table football, Playstation Dance Mat, Beaker Knockdown, Kerplunk and Quickfire Quiz – with gold, silver and bronze medals being awarded for each event.

A couple of weeks before the party, the guests divided themselves into three teams. Each team was asked to come up with a team name, a team anthem (to be sung by the winning team at each event’s medal ceremony) and a team flag (to be hoisted as the anthem was sung). After some deliberation, the teams decided to call themselves the Teacup Turtles, the Mighty Morphing Unicorns and the Rainbow Poopin’ Rabbits.

We made t-shirts for each team using iron-on transfers, bought some plastic medals, and improvised a winners’ rostrum and a flagpole out of some plastic crates and the handle of a fruit-picker.

Here are some photos of this momentous sporting occasion.

"If you build it, they will come." The competition venue awaits

Each team made their own flag.

The Mighty Morphing Unicorns take on the Teacup Turtles at table football.

The girls had not used a dance mat before, so my wife gave them a tutorial.

My daughter proudly hoists the Rainbow Poopin' Rabbits Flag during a medals ceremony

It's only a matter of time before Kerplunk is included in the real Olympics.

You don't want to get between this girl and her stack of beakers!

Everything to play for in the final Quickfire Quiz event.

The Teacup Turtles

The Mighty Morphing Unicorns

The Rainbow Poopin' Rabbits

Real Life Cluedo

To add some extra fun to the proceedings we played a special Lauralympics version of Real Life Cluedo throughout the party.

Loosely based on the Cluedo board game, Real Life Cluedo is a great game to play if you’re staying with friends or family for a weekend. In the regular version of the game all the players are given three small pieces of paper. Each player writes their name on the first, an object that can be found around the house on the second and a room in the house on the third. Each of the three pieces of paper is folded and put into one of three bowls along with the other players pieces. The contents of the bowls are mixed up and then each player takes a piece of paper from each bowl. If a player draws their own name from the first bowl, they simply put it back and draw another. It doesn’t matter if a player picks out the same object or room that they put into the bowl.

Each player will now have a secret murder mission consisting of the name of another player, an object and a room. To win the game a player has to survive being "murdered", while murdering as many of the other players as possible, starting with the name they've just drawn.

For example, David has picked “Josie”, “Book” and “Kitchen” out of the bowls. David will have "murdered" Josie if she accepts or picks up a book while she’s in the kitchen. Josie must accept or pick up the book of her own accord - David can’t drop it into her lap or force it upon her in any other way. Once Josie has been murdered, she’s out of the game, but she passes on her own murder mission to David. If David completes Josie’s murder mission, he has to carry out the next victim’s mission and so on. If someone murders David, his murderer picks up David’s mission at that time.

If David murders a player who has a mission to murder him, he becomes a survivor and can stop playing. Depending on how the game plays out, a player may be able to murder all of the other players, but the game often results in a draw if two or more survivors succeed in murdering whoever is trying to murder them.

The regular version of the game described above can take days to play out and the Lauralympics only lasted a few hours. So to speed things up, I wrote the murder missions in advance and combined the objects and rooms on one piece of paper, choosing objects that would definitely be found in those rooms. To make it even easier, there was a choice of two rooms for each mission.

The murder missions we used for our simplified version of the game.

This simplified version of the game worked really well. One of the girls went on a killing spree, murdering six other players during the party before being murdered herself in the final half hour and we ended up with two survivors just before the party finished.

Friday, 2 May 2014

What gets me up in the morning

This post was originally published on CREATING FOCUS, the web site of occupational psychologist Sarah Dale. Occupational psychology is concerned with applying the science of psychology to work and this is one of a series of informal guest posts on Sarah's blog in which people from a range of professions talk about what motivates them in their work. You can follow Sarah on twitter on @creatingfocus.

Sadly, I don't have a contraption like this to get me up in the morning; I have to rely on low-tech self-motivation

As a self-employed author who works from home, I’m often asked how I’m able to motivate myself. I’ve been a professional children’s author and pop-up designer for almost twenty years now. I love my work and consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to make a living out of it and this sense of “precarious good fortune” is the main thing that gets me out of bed and sitting at my desk every morning.

I have bad days when the story I’m working on feels clunky and awkward or I run up against what seems like an insurmountable obstacle in the plot. If this goes on for more than a few days, I usually put that story aside and work on something else for a while. Then, when I go back to it, I can often see it from a fresh angle that enables me to resolve the problem.

Pop-up design is different. If I haven’t got a pop-up working properly by the end of the day, my mind usually stays focussed on the problem and I want to keep going back to it until I’ve found a solution. Motivation is rarely an issue with pop-up design and an unproductive day often spurs me to redouble my efforts the following day.

People sometimes assume that once an author has a couple of successful books under their belt, everything they subsequently write is automatically accepted for publication. This may be the case for a few big names, but for many professional authors their tenth book can be as difficult to get published as their first. When I’m not writing, a lot of my time is spent trying to persuade publishers to take my work. Despite this effort, most of the stories I write are never published!

I often joke that being a children’s author is preferable to having a “proper job” but, while I can’t claim to have gone into the profession for anything other than selfish reasons, I think children’s authors can make a real difference to people’s lives. Good children’s literature is essential for the development of children’s literacy and good literacy is the key to wider academic achievement. If one can engage a child’s enthusiasm for literature at an early age, they’ll have a head start for life.

The problem is many young children, particularly boys, can’t find books that appeal to them as much as other children’s media currently do. The picture book industry’s current standards of age-appropriateness are more conservative than those of children’s films, TV and video games and this has resulted in many children coming to regard the former as being a lot less “cool” and appealing than the latter. I believe that this difference in standards is linked to a lack of gender balance in the world of picture books, where female gatekeepers hugely outnumber males. About eighteen months ago I decided to devote some of my time to raising awareness of the issue and set up a site called to try to start a debate. It’s a contentious campaign and – as well as being a reason for me getting up in the morning – it’s also been a reason for me losing sleep in the night.

I’m not a natural campaigner, but in the last few years I’ve found myself taking a more proactive approach to change and, instead of waiting for someone else to highlight an issue or organise something, I’ve become more inclined to do it myself.

Another side project I’ve recently embarked on is, a web directory of children’s authors and illustrators available for free Skype visits to UK schools. Skype visits are a great way for authors to connect with young readers and are already very popular in the US. I’m hoping that will help to make Skype visits equally popular in the UK.

So right now I have no shortage of things that make it worth getting up in the morning – and I haven’t even mentioned my family! Long may it continue.