Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Picture book delight

This poem was inspired by a discussion in one of my Facebook groups which was 'What is the most important part of a picture book?'

Picture Book Delight

Characters, story, pictures...
Which is the biz?
What makes a
picture book delight?
Is the message important?
Must it warm the heart?
For me, all have a part to play,
working together in harmony,
creating a sum
greater than the whole,
producing a wonderful,
magical synergy.

Copyright © Helena Harper

What do you think? What is the most important part of a picture book for you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Encapsulates characters and events breathtakingly

Latest review of my ebook Family and More - Enemies or Friends? (due to come out soon as a paperback).

Family and More by Helena Harper is a tribute, a family portrait, a synopsis of life.

"Family and More, a book of poetry by Helena Harper, is like a poetic synopsis of a wartime saga, the life of a family with a backdrop of history, a memoir told in poetic blurbs. The author encapsulates characters and events breathtakingly. There is so much here to think about once one turns the last page. I was left wanting more! More! Though I love poetry, I'm looking forward to the literary (poetic!) novel (or novels!) where Harper could explore the nuances of each and every memory, hook them together, let us see the relationships, the interaction, the settings, one poignant scene at a time."

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Multi-award winning writer and poet

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Does our education system delight both teacher and taught?

With the start of a new school year and parents and children all over the country thinking once more about grades and marks and passing exams, it's a suitable time to consider whether our education system is really delivering what our children and what our society need. My overriding impression after having been a secondary school teacher in the U.K. for the past twenty years is that I've been on a merry-go-round. I've seen things being introduced, then abolished, then introduced again. I've seen more and more exams and tests being introduced and now some of those new exams and tests are being abolished -- and, perhaps, in the future they'll be reintroduced again; who knows? I've had to cut interesting discussions short in class because otherwise I wouldn't have completed the syllabus and been able to do past paper practice with students before the all-important exams. The students have been fixated on getting the highest grades they could because otherwise they wouldn't be able to get into university or do whatever else they wanted to do and would be deemed failures.

The paperwork for teachers has increased substantially because of the increase in the number of examinations and all kinds of other regulations that politicians have seen fit to introduce. Don't politicians just love to interfere with education even though they don't have a clue what teaching actually involves? Expressions of thanks from parents and pupils have grown fewer and fewer whilst complaints have grown ever greater.

The 'aha' moments I've seen in my pupils' faces and the strong bonds I've developed with my colleagues, most of whom are remarkable human beings - intelligent, caring, very hardworking and often showing a much needed sense of humour - have been rewarding. However, the system as it exists at the moment is far from ideal and the longer one is in it, the more aware one becomes of its failings. If teachers could get on with their jobs without interference from politicians; if we could get rid of restrictive syllabuses and fact-based exams that do nothing to promote independent, creative thought; and if we could stress cooperation with others rather than competition, then perhaps – as I say in my book It's a Teacher's Life...! (an amusing, often ironic collection of 'anecdotal' poems relating to the teaching profession) - it will be possible to

'create another
indisputable reality
where education delights
both teacher and taught
and restrictions and syllabuses
are but a long, distant memory.'

My ideal would be an education system where teachers are much more facilitators than instructors. Pupils would be able to choose what they want to study and how they want to study, aided by their teachers, and because they would be learning what they want to learn, there wouldn't be any motivational or behavioural issues. Classes would be much smaller than they are today and prescriptive syllabuses and exams would be a thing of the past. Such a system would produce creative, independent thinking adults, which is what our world desperately needs if it is to find creative solutions to the problems that are facing us today.
What do you think? Do you think that our current education system delights both teacher and taught?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Heaven's Scented Kiss

A poem in memory of an aunt of mine who died recently...

Marie, a name of simple elegance,
like the lady that bore that name,
though her slim, slight build belied
fierce independence, courage and strength,
hiding a will that refused to bow
to norms of conventionality,
helping her to brave life's storms
with resourcefulness and dignity.

Devoted mother,
caring sister,
generous aunt,
freely giving her time
to help the sick and infirm,
informing and enlivening
with gayness of manner
and quickness of tongue.
Taking pleasure creating
culinary delights,
exciting two young nieces
with yawning,
cavernous appetites.
Delighting in nature,
her garden a passion,
feeling at one with plants and trees,
though garden work
as the years go by
is no real friend
to delicate, ageing knees.

Memories of a wonderful companion
for old and young alike,
brighten the eyes and curve the lips
as one sees once more this lady
recounting tales of days gone by
with softish voice and humour wry...
A gentle, kind and wise old soul,
whose days now pass in that garden beyond -
may she find enchantment there,
surrounded by love and peace,
rejoicing in the beautiful flowers
of heaven's scented kiss.

Copyright © Helena Harper

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sunstruck – a novel quite out of the common!

In my second post this month about multi-talented author, blogger and reviewer, Mayra Calvani, I am going to tell you about her novel, Sunstruck.

In the novel twenty-four year old Daniella is an architecture student living with her narcissistic, artist boyfriend in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Abandoned by her father at an early age, Daniella always falls for the wrong type of man. Her most enduring male relationship so far is with her 30-pound Turkish angora cat. Thankfully, Daniella's mother is always there to offer a shoulder.

Several strange mysteries are threaded through Daniella's everyday life: her ex-husband, Ismael, has just opened an outlandish hotel for animal lovers that has her distraught; Ismael's wife, a rich woman Daniella fondly refers to as "Lady Dracula," has some gruesome ways to keep her skin looking young; Daniella's mother is founding a revolutionary, feminist society called The Praying Mantises; the island's national forest is being depleted of hallucinogenic mushrooms; meanwhile, young girls are disappearing and there's a nut loose, dressed as Zorro, slashing the rear ends of women who wear miniskirts.

Oppressed by all these crazed, eccentric characters, Daniella feels herself falling into an abyss. Then something horrendous happens, making Daniella wake from her stupor and take charge of her life.

Readers can find out more about the novel at

Review of Sunstruck:

“A Fast-Paced, Humorous and Titillating Read. Recommended.”
By Douglas Quinn, Author of Blue Heron Marsh (

First, let me say that third person present (it takes me a chapter or two to get into the rhythm of the writing) and chic lit aren’t my usual reading fare but I liked the premise, so I dove in and was pleasantly surprised.
The characters are quirky and Calvani’s descriptions are wickedly delicious, sometimes irreverent and at all times scrumptiously entertaining. All this talk is making me want to run off to Taco Bell, Ismael’s favorite hangout–or is it McDonald’s or Burger King? Actually it’s all of them. Among other not-so-flattering traits, he’s also a fast food junkie.

Ismael is the disturbed ex-husband of Calvani’s moody and emotional heroine, Daniella. He is married to Lady Dracula, a woman who collects torture devices and gives herself blood facials. And who knows what she hides in a secret room behind the closet. And, there’s more. Calvani also gives us a mutinous Angora cat with its own passport, an anti-feminist, ass-slasher dressed as Zorro, an animal hotel where you can share a room with exotic and sometimes dangerous animals, magical mushrooms that make LSD seem like a sissy drug, Daniella’s mother, who favors retail therapy and coffee enemas, and Daniella’s live-in boyfriend, Tony, a surrealist artist who weaves his way through life in his own bizzaro world of drugs and an obsessive quest for fame.

Amid the chaos of her friends and family, will Daniella find peace and her place in the world? And who is this Zorro imitator, and what is this obsession with making the "Z" slash on the buttocks of girls wearing miniskirts? You may be surprised at the answers.

Prepare yourself for a satirical romp through Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Sunstruck by Mayra Calvani is a fast-paced, humorous and titillating read. Recommended for both chicks and...uh...well, you know, us sensitive type guys.

Sunstruck, parody/satire
Zumaya Publications
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-934841-18-1
eBook formats ISBN: 978-1-934841-19-8
Available from

Author’s website at
Contact the author at mayra.calvani(at)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interview with Mayra Calvani

It's my pleasure today to have as my guest Mayra Calvani, who is a fellow member of the group VBT-Writers on the Move. Mayra is a multi-genre author, reviewer and animal advocate who hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico. A regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine and Suite101, she's a member of SCBWI and Broad Universe. She keeps two blogs, Mayra's Secret Bookcase and The Dark Phantom Review and she has also recently started another, fun blog called Pets and Their Authors, where her golden retriever interviews other authors' pets! She is the author of the novel Sunstruck and is the co-author of the nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

This multi-talented lady also does Spanish translations of children's picture books, is co-editor of Voice in the Dark newsletter, and is the National Latino Books Examiner for


Mayra, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, but I live in Belgium now. I started writing when I was about 12 and have been hooked ever since. Though my favorite genre is the paranormal, I also write children’s picture books, nonfiction, and other categories like horror and satire. When I’m not writing, I love reading, playing the violin, blogging, reviewing, and spending time with my family.

What motivated you to become an author?
The magic of bringing the worlds of my imagination onto the page.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
I was not an avid reader until I was about 11. That’s when I discovered Agatha Christie. By the time I was 14 I had read all of her novels. I had her entire mystery collection in Spanish translation. So I never really read children’s or YA books. I went straight into the adult books at a pretty early age.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
This is a bit funny because my latest novel, Sunstruck, is actually one of the first books I ever wrote—about fifteen years ago. It is a parody/satire and the style is very different from what I write now. I grew up in San Juan with an artist mom and from an early age visited many art shows and went to artist meetings. A quiet child, I mostly observed. My book was influenced by what I saw. Artist circles can be very interesting and quite strange at times!

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Definitely stream-of-consciousness, and I think it shows in the writing. Back then, my inner critic wasn’t as strong, so I wrote more freely. I didn’t say no to any crazy ideas… and it is an unusual, crazy book. People either love it or hate it. One reviewer called it ‘Brilliant’, and another said she had never read another book even remotely like it.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I’m constantly getting new ideas—they attack me like the plague. I can be at a table with dinner guests and getting ideas at the same time. I know, poor guests! If only they knew that sometimes I can’t listen to them, only because those imaginary characters take control of my mind. It’s like being taken hostage. But I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I’m fascinated by moral dilemmas, such as the idea of a higher good, the idea that the end justifies the means. I tackle this in my supernatural thriller, Dark Lullaby. I’m also intrigued and pulled by the concept of vigilantism, the concept of ultimate justice vs. human law. These themes that obsess me have obsessed me since I was very young.

Are you a disciplined writer?
Not as much as I would like to be! I have my ups and downs. I try to be organized, which helps a lot, and manage to accomplish a number of goals each month. This helps me feel I’m progressing and keeps me motivated.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write for yourself—not for the market.

Thank you so much, Mayra, for the interview.
Learn more about Mayra's book, Sunstruck, in my post on Thursday. In the meantime you can catch up with Mayra here

Children's books:

If you have a question for Mayra, please leave a comment.