Friday, 3 July 2015

DARCEY: WEIRD? IT'S A COMPLIMENT!

Reader Darcey writes about friendship, confidence and daring to be different…


Darcey says:
Where should I start? Let's begin with a question… are you different? Take a look in the mirror and then at the person beside you… what do you see? Whatever it is, I can tell you that you are not the same. Have you ever lain down on the grass on a summer's day and looked up at the clouds? I have. Someone once told me that each cloud has a story to tell; each one is different, just like you and me.

When I look in the mirror I am not always sure what I see, but I know I am not the same as anyone else. That's a fact. I used to put on a mask, try to blend in. I hung out with people who didn't really know me and just fell for the bubbly exterior. Then, when I felt I had to live up to their expectations and be the class clown, they called me names like 'weird' and 'strange' in a jokey sort of way. I laughed it off and it became normal, but when they were upset about something they would use the names more angrily and that would hurt. Rather than fitting in, I felt like I was on the edge. Then we got a new teacher who made us think harder about what was happening; others too were feeling left out, and when we stood up for ourselves we found that we didn't really need to be part of a big group. Now we do what we like.

Be yourself. You will make stronger friendships as people like you for who you are and not who they want you to be. We have a smaller group now… the numbers change as we are free to come and go as we please. We are all different, but that doesn't stop us from being the best of friends! If anyone calls me 'weird' now I take it as a compliment… who wants to be the same as everyone else? I'd rather be strange than a shadow of another person. One person's 'strange' is another one's 'unique!'

Artwork by reader Aine - fantastic stuff!

Cathy says:
I love Darcey's attitude and outlook and totally agree… are YOU true to yourself or do you strive to blend in with the crowd? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A MESSAGE TO MY THIRTEEN YEAR OLD SELF...

More words of wisdom from happy and successful adults to their thirteen year old selves… some are sad, some funny, some just… wow.

You are not responsible for the behaviour of anyone else, no matter who they are, how they are related to you or how old they might be. You are only responsible for your own behaviour.
Lal, research worker

Don't worry when people say 'these are the best years of your life.' It's a lie. These are the hardest, craziest, most mixed-up years of your life, nut there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Always be true to yourself, even if it means going against the grain and being the odd one out. Nurture your individuality - it will make you a more interesting person in the long run.
Cheryl, manager, journalist, mum

I think I was much more sure of myself at thirteen years old than I am now. I thought I could change the world, and sadly with age I have had to accept that I can only 'do my bit.' I do try to, with all my might, but I wish I could get some of that passion, determination and risk-taking attitude back. Maybe the message would be, 'Don't let life change you!'
Steph, trainee doctor; runs an animal rescue

Don't join 'MySpace' - that way you won't meet the guy who makes your life hell for a whole year.
Mystic, author

Don't eat out of date sausages! That was SUCH a waste of a weekend…
Ben, bookstore manager

Your life may not be the one you counted on, but don't let go of those ideals because cynicism and apathy corrode everything and leave a bitter taste. Disappointment will feel powerful and sometimes the pain will seem hard to bear, but keep faith with life and people. Forgive everything and everyone, including yourself.
Sue, author

There's a huge world beyond this town. You won't always be alone.
Jen, author & illustrator

Being shy doesn't mean you are less important than the loud ones. Quietness is a power: it means you are an observer, a listener, a writer.
Olivia, teacher & author

Grab opportunities and just go for it. Don't worry about whether you can do it or if you'll be a success or a failure because even if it's the latter, it's still a learning experience you can use in the future. Believe in yourself - believe that you can achieve what you want to, that you have the capabilities to be more than you are right now and you don't need anybody's permission to do this but your own. Oh… and don't worry about the frizzy hair. The world will invent products capable of dealing with it!
Barbara, librarian and campaigner

Cathy says:
I love these messages. From the funny to the heartbreaking, they make me think and make me remember how very hard it was to be thirteen. Which message chimes the most with YOU? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

THE PERFECT PET...

Readers share their hopes and dreams for the perfect pet… what animal would YOU choose?

Mandy says:
I've already got my perfect pet - my hairless dog, Betty! That's her on the right...

Nicola says:
I've always wanted a snake - but my mum is not a fan!

Scarlett says:
I'd love my own swan… I just love seeing them flap their wings as they have such a wide wingspan. Sadly, they all belong to the Queen, so it will never happen! I'd also love an Asian elephant, but that;s unlikely too, for obvious reasons. I DO have two rabbits, though, and I love them!

Kirsty says:
I've wanted a Shetland pony for years, ever since I was little… I adore them!

Georgina says:
A husky! I really hope I will get one in the future!

Caoillinn says:
A unicorn. (Well, you did ask…)

Violet says:
I'd like some sort of reptile - maybe a python - but it's not looking likely! I'd like another kitten at some point, a female, a grey or a tabby. Although all cats are cute, really! I'd call her Elsa…

Louise says:
I've always wanted a horse - I used to have riding lessons a lot before I fell and broke my arm. I've always dreamed of having a grey Irish draught mare, called Cygnet…

Natalie says:
I would really love a dolphin. Kind of impossible, but I can dream!

Isabelle says:
A dolphin for me too… but of course that wouldn't happen unless he/she could live in a saltwater pool or some kind of sea lagoon! Failing that, I'd love to have hamsters again. We had two but they died… more would be amazing. They're great pets, and we still have the cages!

Kiera says: 
I'd like a quokka! It's a wallaby, about the size of a domestic cat, and has a short face, round ears and tree climbing ability. It always appears to be smiling! They are usually found in a place called Rottnest Island near Perth, Australia.

Sheila says:
Another cat, or two, or three! I love my pet rat, but I do miss having cats!

Bethanie says:
I'd love a horse. I have promised myself that one day I'll have one, even if it's not until I'm forty! We currently have two rabbits and once we're more settled I'd love a cat and maybe an Alsatian dog. My boyfriend would really like a python, too!

Cathy says:
You want to know my dream pet? A llama, obviously. Or a donkey. And more lurchers, cats and rabbits. Maybe a few ducks. A parrot.  Oh, OK, I'll have an animal rescue! What's YOUR dream pet? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

RED ALERT: STARTING YOUR PERIODS

We asked readers to share their experiences of starting their first period…

Molly says:
I started quite young and I wasn't prepared. I had stayed over at my aunt's house and I was really worried when I realised what had happened, but my cousin was a year older than me and she explained what to do. It's not ideal to be caught unawares so my advice would be to read up on it, or talk to your mum or sister, so you know what to expect.

Hazel says:
I was quite an early starter at eleven, but my Mom was very good and had prepared me well, making sure I had pads and telling me everything I needed to know well over a year before I actually started. I also read Usbourne's Facts of Life: Growing Up book by Susan Meredith, which was very informative. I now keep a calendar to track my periods and that helps to know when to expect it.

Amy says:
I'm twelve and I had my first period just eight days ago. I was at school and I had a pad with me, but I didn't know how to do it so made a mess of it. I told a friend who took me to the medical room, and they gave me some pads and booklets. I didn't have any spare pant though and was feeling awkward, so Mum picked me up early and that evening we went through all of it, and I felt loads better. I think I will be able to take it in my stride next time around.

Rebecca says:
I started quite late, at fifteen, and I really wanted it to happen. It sounds crazy, but all my friends had started and I was feeling anxious and abnormal. Of course, I was absolutely normal really - you can start at any age from eight to eighteen, we are all different. My advice is to start with pads, as they are easier… and don't worry if your periods are irregular to start with, that's quite normal too!

Chloe says:
That first period can be a bit of a shock, it can make you feel panicked, but as time goes on you just accept it. It's just Mother Nature!

Iona says:
My first period started at a music festival when I was thirteen - we were away for the weekend and sleeping in a tent! Not what I would have planned. I told my mum and she managed to get some pads from one of the festival shops, but it did spoil things a bit… festival toilets are horrible at the best of times, so just imagine having to use them at a time like that. And I was worried people would know… my festival friends… but I don't think anyone did. Not a great start, but after that things have been much easier!

Ella says:
I was ten, and I started on holiday. I was so upset, I wasn't ready in any way and felt too young for that sort of thing. I also felt like the holiday was ruined as after that I couldn't swim because the pad would have come to bits. I am fourteen now and I am used to it all, but being an early starter was hard; I didn't want my friends to know as I felt embarrassed but they found out and I felt like a freak. I think my anger about it lasted a year or two, though… it just seemed so unfair. Now I wonder what the fuss was about, but I think I just felt too young at ten and I was in denial.

Rachael says:
Don't panic if your friends have started and you haven't. It will come when it's ready - just be patient! I was a late starter and all my friends had started and I hadn't. I worried constantly that there was something wrong with me. There wasn't, and I started when my body was ready! A word of advice - don't believe everything people say. Some girls exaggerate, making out that periods are excruciating, but everyone is different… some have cramps and some have no pain at all.

Cathy says:
Lots of good advice! Thanks to all who have shared their experiences. COMMENT BELOW to have your say, too...

Sunday, 28 June 2015

I WAS CYBER-BULLIED...

Readers who've been bullied online share their stories…
Olivia says:
In the spring of 2013 I was bullied anonymously online on a website called ask.fm. I was told a lot of awful things… that I was fat, disgusting, a whale, ugly, worthless, a freak. The bullies told me I deserved to get cancer and that I should kill myself. I was even told that the Boston Marathon bombing was my fault, which obviously didn't even make sense. I was made to feel like my life was completely worthless by these bullies, and to this day I don't know who it was. It was clear they would say anything to upset me, and eventually I learned to stop reacting. I deactivated my ask.fm account and asked for help to overcome the troubles I was facing as a result of the all the bullying. I am suffering from an illness called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of this, but I am doing OK and I have discovered that telling someone is ALWAYS the right thing to do, and that nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent.

Natalie says:
I have been cyber-bullied and it was awful. I was tormented and the person told me false stuff about myself which I believed at the time. In the end, I was starving myself and locking myself in my room, refusing to come out. The bullying stopped when I realised I had to stand up for myself. I threatened the bully that I would report them and he/she got scared and deleted their account. I still don't know who was behind it, and I don't suppose I ever will.

Anna says:
I was cyber-bullied by so-called friends. It went on for months and I had no idea they were behind it - the same girls who were giving me support and sympathy at school had made a fake account just to make my life a misery. To this day I have no idea what I did to deserve it. I found out when they turned on me and told me I couldn't take a joke and that I WAS a joke, and pathetic, and a lot of even worse things than that. I was so shocked I couldn't go into school after that, and luckily I was able to transfer but I have never been able to tell my parents exactly what had happened. I don't think I will ever trust anybody again, not properly.

Jess says:
I'm not sure, but I think you might class this as cyber-bullying? A while ago I became friends with a guy on a music page I posted on a lot. He seemed really nice to begin with, but gradually I began to see that he wasn't appropriate. Eventually he began to ask me for revealing photographs and at that point I blocked him and ignored the messages. I didn't tell anyone to start with as I felt embarrassed, but we had a school assembly about something similar and so I felt able to tell my friends. I was glad I did, because it lifted a weight off my shoulders.

Many thanks to reader Kira for modelling for our photo.

Cathy says:
Thanks to Olivia, Natalie, Anna and Jess for sharing their stories. Do YOU feel safe online, or have you been targeted by cyber bullies too? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more...


Saturday, 27 June 2015

MANDA: WHICH SISTER WOULD I BE?

Reader Manda can't decide which of the Chocolate Box Girls sisters she is the most like - she can identify with them all!

Manda says:
I love the Chocolate Box Girls series but I don't really have a favourite sister - I feel I can relate to them all in some way, connect to their characters and how they feel. I think I am some kind of weird hybrid!

I'll start with Coco… she reminds me of a much younger me! I'm usually very girly, but I do have a tomboyish side and enjoy taking risks. I love horses and I'm passionate about all animals and the environment, and though I'm no longer as adventurous as I was at Coco's age, that part of me is still in there somewhere! She's definitely more outgoing and outspoken than me and I admire that about her. I find her passion and optimism very inspirational, and partly because of her I have been trying to regain some of that old drive and optimism because there are quite enough cynics in the world, thank you very much! In some ways Coco reminds me of Roald Dahl's Matilda in that she sees injustice and wrong in the world and tries to put it right, simple as that. I also fully agree that animals are way better company than people! Although I don't quite share Coco's indifference to boys and like boys as friends, at seventeen I still haven't got to the point where I see boys in a romantic way!

So… Cherry. Cherry may be the sister I relate to  most, although I don't have a problem with telling fact from fiction the way she does! I'm very creative and just about anything that lets that creativity out makes me happy. Like Cherry, I know how it feels to be on the outside. I have moved around a lot in my life so I know what that's like, and I'm not the most outgoing person so I don't make friends easily and it takes me a while to trust. I have some amazing friends who love me as I am, so I'm not complaining, but I've been there! Cherry had to fit into a ready-made family, and I know how it feels to be 'late to the party' as in entering new groups where everyone seems to have known each other for years. Not easy! Cherry's looks set her apart and for me it's my accent - although nobody has ever bullied me for it, I do feel different from everyone else the minute I open my mouth. The feelings are basically the same - at one point I even cried reading CHERRY CRUSH because I connected so strongly. On a last note, I have owned fish too, like Cherry, and can confirm they are way more intelligent and sentient than people give them credit for!

Skye… like Skye, I love dressing up (I don't always do it, but I'd love to!) and while I don't always like EVERYTHING vintage like Skye does, I am always up for giving something unique or different a chance! I love learning about the past… not necessarily history the way it is taught in schools but the people, their lives, feelings, what they wore and how they lived in their time. I like stories set in the past as they can seem like a whole other world. Like Skye, I am not at my happiest in large crowds of people and sometimes like my own space. I certainly wouldn't throw a party and invite lots of virtual strangers, so I can strongly relate to Skye not wanting a huge party for her 13th birthday. Like her, I am very creative and enjoy a good daydream now and again!

Honey… if I'm completely honest, I can't relate to Honey much when it comes to personal experience, but I am drawn to her in the way I'm often drawn to the most lonely/ broken/ misunderstood characters. I'm not like her personality wise - I don't have the heart to be mad at the people I love for too long without reason, or try to make their lives difficult for the sake of it. I do feel sorry for Honey though, and always feel like I want to give her a big hug and stick her back together. She's so in denial, believing her dad still cares when everyone (readers and characters!) can see how futile that belief is. Even though I relate much more to Cherry than Honey, I still cried and felt fiercely protective of Honey when she began to lose Shay because of how sad it was. She didn't really trust anyone but Shay and losing him broke her completely, which pretty much broke my heart too. It was one of the many times I wanted to break the fourth wall and run to the character's side and be their friend forever and protect them from all evil… I can always dream, at least!

Summer… I can easily relate to Summer because of her love for dancing and her determination to work towards reaching her goals. I don't plan on becoming a prima ballerina and love most dance styles equally, but I have loved dancing ever since seeing my first ballet twelve years ago. I've been taking regular classes for five years now. I love constantly challenging myself to see what my body can do, as well as the creative aspect of interpreting the music through movement and expression (a kind of silent acting). I also love performing in front of an audience and the pretty costumes are always a plus! I am not as good at practicing outside of lessons as Summer is, so in a way she inspires me and motivates me to work harder! Like Summer, I am quite girly most of the time and wear a lot of pink, so you could say my usual style is a more casual (possibly somewhat less tasteful!) version of Summer's!

Cathy says:
I LOVE this… like Manda, I can identify with all of the Chocolate Box Girls sisters in one way or another. I love how Manda has channeled that influence and styled herself as each sister for the feature! So cool! Which of the sisters are YOU most like? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 26 June 2015

GYMNASTICS IS SO COOL...

Readers talk about why they love gymnastics… could it be the right activity for YOU too?


Pihla says:
I love gymnastics because I learn new things all the time… I am eleven years old and I train for twelve hours a week. I started going to lessons at the age of six because my best friend was going… it just grew from there. Now we are training four times a week for three hours at a time! There are twelve girls in the group I am part of… it is called Silvergroup. We all compete in competitions and that is often very exciting… and rewarding, too, when your best routine goes really well. I do dream of a career as a gymnast, but then I dream of a career as a writer too! The thing I love best about gymnastics is the joy of it, and the thrill when you are successful. The worst part is when you have to master tricks and moves that scare you… for example, the flyaway was THE thing that frightened me a couple of months ago, but I am OK with it now!

Alexandra says:
I do gymnastics for three hours a week; it is my favourite sport by far! I decided I wanted to do gymnastics when I was eight and very quickly moved up to a higher group. I have won some awards within my club and some in British gymnastics competitions. I focus on floor and vault, but some of my friends do bar and beam. The downsides are the injuries… I often have some kind of injury from gymnastics… my ankle is hurt at the moment. I am waiting for an x-ray to see whether it's a sprain or a hairline fracture. Gymnastics can be tiring, too! None of this makes any difference to me - I won't stop because I just love it. Gymnastics is basically my second home.

Cathy says:
Have you ever tried gymnastics? Have Pihla or Alexandra made you want to give it a try? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!