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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Sarah Jasmon

Continuing my series of blogs featuring home educating writers, I'm thrilled to welcome author Sarah Louise Jasmon to my blog today. Sarah is the author of The Summer of Secrets, published in 2015. Sarah lives on a canal boat in Manchester, and she home educated all three of her children. We had a chat about the writing-and-home-education-life...

Photo: Marc Melander

What made you decide to home educate your children?

I first heard something about it on Radio 4 when my first baby was a few months old. I thought it sounded like a great idea, but by the time she was of school age, we'd settled in Eastbourne and just went with the flow of applying to the local infant school. Her first school was lovely, treating them all as individuals, but then she moved to junior school. Not so good. This school had been, for a while, the largest junior school in Europe, with six classes in each year. It felt like a factory, squeezing out identical, uniformed children. After a couple of terms, we decided to travel for a while, so de-registered, and never seriously considered school again (my younger two never went). I can still remember being in France at the end of that first summer, looking at the piles of beautiful, brightly coloured shoes in one particular shop and thinking how the shoe shops in England would be full of regulation black. We bought Fuchsia a pair of pink, striped bowling shoes, laughing at how this meant she couldn't go back to school now, because they wouldn't let her wear her shoes. 

What's the best thing about home education? 

Being able to take time to explore and play and follow what each child is interested in at the right pace for them. Plus not having to start the day early. I also really appreciate the fact that we've managed to avoid the worst of peer pressure and the need for the latest whatever item. I think that, as a family, we're closer than most. 

And what's the worst thing?

Everyone has days when everything seems to be going wrong, don't they? When you're a home ed mum, though, you can't blame the school or the teacher: it's all down to you. There are times when it's incredibly challenging to hold your nerve and go with what you feel to be the right thing, especially if you have people doubting you. Both my mum and my mother in law have told me that they had times of being really worried by the idea of home ed, but that the evidence of how the kids were thriving made them realise that it was okay, that we were all doing really well. 

How and when do you find time to write your books?

I had a realisation when I had very small children that it was okay to put my ambitions to one side for a while, because there would be plenty of time to act on them at a later date. I actually started writing properly, however, when my marriage broke down. My youngest was still only six, but it turned out that it  hadn't really been the kids stopping me after all. I ended up with a couple of days a week to write when they were at their dad's, plus odd bits of daytime and evening in between. Now one daughter has left home, the next one is at college, and the youngest is taking his GCSEs. What I try to do is write whilst he's studying. We often end up in the Booth's cafe. It's a great place to work!

Have you included any home educated characters in any of your books?

The Dover children in The Summer of Secrets are home educated, though it's not a major part of the narrative.

What's the one thing you want people to know about home education that they may not already know?

Aside from 'yes, they do have a social life'? It's a LOT of fun. When we were finding out about the ancient Egyptians, we mummified a chicken. And you can make ping pong balls jump on the hot air from a  hairdryer, and make a glass disappear in oil. And that would just be a Monday morning!

How do/did you respond to the (dreaded and inevitable) question, "No school today?" 

Mostly with big smiles and a chorus of, 'We don't go to school!' Though  occasionally I'd pretend it was half term.  

Me and Sarah at a school (of all places!) doing a talk at Banbury Literature Festival in 2015

What are you working on right now?

Novel #2. Nearly there now...

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading Shirley Jackson's Dark Tales and One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis, and I'm listening to Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty.


Many thanks to Sarah for joining me today, it's been an absolute pleasure. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Keris Stainton

Today I'd like to welcome author Keris Stainton to my blog. Keris is the author of several YA novels, including Counting Stars, Lily and the Christmas Wish, and Della Says:OMG! 

Keris is a fellow home educator, and I recently had the great pleasure of reading her e-book Happy Home Ed: More joy, together, every day. 

(Disclosure - I have a bit part in the book, talking about how my family approaches home education) 

Keris kindly agreed to have a chat with me... 

What made you decide to home educate your children? 

Harry was at school until Year 3 and we were mostly happy with it. But then he started wanting to learn stuff that they'd already moved on from at school. I thought it was a shame that when he was actually interested and engaged in something, he had to leave it behind. I thought at the time that full time home ed wasn't appropriate for us, so we tried Flexischool and loved it so much that we decided to give home ed a go. And we've never looked back. With Joe, we never even considered sending him to school.  

What's the best thing about home education?

The freedom. We can get up when we want, do (and wear) what we want. If it's raining or snowing we don't even have to leave the house. Also I love seeing the boys learning. 

...and what's the worst thing? 

I just asked Joe "What's the worst thing about home ed?" He said, without hesitation: "YOU." So the worst thing is probably that we sometimes get on each others nerves. But I think we still have fewer rows than we did over the school run or homework.

How and when do you find time to write your books?  

Ha, well my two are unschooled, so I can just leave them to get on with their stuff while I get on with mine. When it comes to things like editing, for which I need a bit more quiet and concentration, I usually go to a cafe at the weekend while they do something with their dad. 

Have you included any HE characters in any of your books?

Not yet! There's one in the pipeline though.

What's the one thing you want people to know about HE that they may not already know?

You don't have to be a teacher and you don't have to teach. Children are learning all the time.

How do you respond to the (dreaded and inevitable) question, "No school today?"

I used to worry about this before because I thought people would be rude and perhaps report us to the authorities. But I find that people are usually very interested. Which is annoying it itself, because I end up explaining what we do and why over and over. (This is a good thing, I know, but it does get a bit boring.) The boys used to stare at me when someone asked that question. Now Joe will usually say "We don't go to school..." and then Harry will say "We never learn anything!" just to wind me up. 

Finally, what are you reading right now? 

We've just started reading a proof of The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue. It's her first children's book and it's about a big, wild, home ed family. We're loving it so far.  


Many thanks to Keris for taking the time to talk about her home-education-and-writing life.  

Keris's website is at keris-stainton.com

She can also be found on Twitter @Keris, where she will often post pictures of Harry Styles!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Ross Mountney

I'm honoured to be today's stop on writer Ross Mountney's blog tour. Ross is, like me, an author and a home educator (although Ross's kids are now grown up!), and it was fascinating to chat with her. She has written several books about home education, including A Home Education Notebook, A Funny Kind of Education, and her two picture books, Who's Not in School and The Wrong Adventure. Ross was also a regular contributor to the Education Otherwise newsletter, with her column The Diary of a Home Education Nobody.

Ross and I had a chat, and I asked her about her books, her writing, and her home educating life.

What made you decide to home educate your own children? 

The short answer; their increasing unhappiness and dread of learning after they started school when they’d been so interested in everything before. The longer answer is that I’d already taught in schools and witnessed first hand how children’s needs were neglected; I’d witnessed bright children failing and the fault laid wrongly at their door, children whose personality was such that the classroom didn’t work for them, and damaging relationships (some with the adults concerned) that can exist in a school climate. I also thought that education was more than box ticking, which it has become in the system. However, I put all this aside in consideration of the fact I might be wrong. Witnessing the decline of the girls’ happiness, health and capacity to learn persuaded me that there must be a better way. There is!

What is the single best thing about home educating?

The potential for unlimited learning within a happy and respectful environment that the individual can have charge of.

And what is the worst?

In the end, you have to let go of it and allow them to do it themselves, which they do. But this is a difficult aspect of parenting, even without home ed in the equation, that sneaks up on you before you’re ready!

A question I'm often asked: How on earth do you find the time to write?!

I was always a passionate writer – I guess I just like gabbing on! So I originally did it for recreation, snatching moments before the little ones were awake, borrowing time when my mum babysat (you can read about that in A Funny Kind of Education) and being disciplined with time, which I thought was a good example for the children. I also believed that it was important as a family to respect each others’ space and time and we talked about that a lot. 

Today in publishing there is a lot of talk about "diversity", yet there are very few books that feature home educated characters. Why do you think this is?

I don’t think that home education had really permeated into people’s consciousness as a serious way of educating before now. Where it has, it has been treated with both suspicion and, often, derision. People are a lot more open now, so time for change!

How difficult was it to write your picture books about Harry, the hero of Who's Not in School and The Wrong Adventure? For instance, were you conscious that the books should avoid "preachiness"? 

I’m so glad you bring ‘preachiness’ up as it suggests they’re not – big relief! In all of my books I was desperate to avoid that – there’s nothing I hate more. So it’s been a conscious part of my writing through all my books. Who’s Not In School came to me quite easily as I wanted to illustrate home ed family life and make up a story way of doing that that was more likely to be read. More importantly I also wanted kids to be able to read about a character that learnt the way they did. With The Wrong Adventure I wanted to show how every youngster has a natural desire to learn and that’s what leads Harry into trouble, not the desire to be naughty which some see it as. Memories of my two youngsters provided all the scenarios – although they’ll probably deny that!

The books are beautifully illustrated. Was it important to you that the illustrator of the Harry books should be a home educated person? Was that a deliberate decision or was James Robinson's work already known to you or Jane (your publisher)

We were so lucky to find James and his beautiful way with illustration. The publisher put out a shout for an illustrator and he responded – it was never a requirement that they should be a home educator themselves. Although this made their vision much closer to reality than it might otherwise have been. If you haven’t lived home ed, you really have no true picture of what it’s like. He did the job even better than we hoped.

Have you had any joy in getting your picture books into libraries? Libraries stock plenty of Starting School type of books... I wonder how open they are to a very different concept!?

The ones I’ve heard about have been open to the books. I’ve donated a couple and I know others have, and readers have requested them with some success. So here’s hoping the word gradually spreads.

Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 

At the moment I'm reading Grayson Perry's 'Playing to the Gallery'. I tend to read as much non-fiction as novels and find inspiring ideas about education buried in the most surprising places! His opening questions about what is art? - equally apply to education! Really made me think and prompted a future blog post on the question, as my reading often does.


Ross's books are fun and informative, and if you are a home educator, you're considering home education, or you are just interested in the idea, her books are a fantastic starting point. Do check out Ross's publisher Birds Nest Books for more information.

Ross's website can be found at Ross Mountney's Notebook

Big thanks to Ross for being my guest today!