Sunday, 31 May 2015

YOU CAN'T CHOOSE WHO YOU FALL FOR...

Readers share their stories of discovering that they were different...

Carrie says:
I have been attracted to both boys and girls in the past, but a little more towards girls. I can't fall for someone unless I have a strong emotional bond with them, though, and I stayed quiet for a long time about how I felt because I thought people would reject me for this. In fact, once I began to talk about it it has been fine… people accept me for who I am. I was so glad that both friends and family were totally cool with it. I have fallen for a lot of girls, but I've never been in a relationship with a girl because so far all of the girls I've liked have been straight. That sucks, but I have to deal with it - you can't choose who you fall for, right?

Dizzy says:
I have spent the last few years wondering about myself, but I've come to the conclusion that labels don't really matter so much to me. I like boys, I like girls, I like people who identify as neither boy nor girl. I am attracted to people, but I'm just not interested in anything sexual or romantic which not everyone can understand. People have been assuming I was gay for years because I love mens clothes - they're cheaper, last longer, look better and are far more comfortable than make up, miniskirts and heels. My mum and my sister are fine with this, but one of my grandfathers is old school and I am not ready to tell him yet.

Kaz says:
I am only thirteen and I haven't experienced much, but I am pretty sure that I like girls. I first fell in love with my own homeroom teacher, a woman, which wasn't allowed… but you cannot help your feelings. She was an inspiration to me and she talked to me and seemed to understand everything about me. Other students would make light hearted jokes about how I liked her, but I didn't care. I knew nothing could ever happen of course, and now she has moved away and lives two hours from here. Still, I would like to meet her again one day. I believe that everyone should have someone they love, young or old, boy or girl.You don't get to choose. Love is really special, in my opinion.

Camille says:
I have known I was gay since I was eleven, but had no clue how to handle the knowledge so kept quiet. We moved and I started a new school and I made a new friend, and confided in her about my feelings; I also made the mistake of telling her I liked a girl in our class. Of course, my so-called 'friend' told everyone and school became a nightmare. I began to fake colds and bugs to avoid going to class - I couldn't face it. In the end, my mum got the truth out of me and she went into action straight away. She spoke to the head teacher and told her everything, and I called ChildLine (on 0800 1111), and they were a great help. They arranged a counsellor for me and she really helped me. Now, a year on, I go to school without a worry - and with a smile on my face.

Illustrations by talented reader Kaylee… thank you!

Cathy says:
Thank you to the brave readers who have spoken out so honestly… I hope their stories show that you really can't help who you fall for, and that not being 'straight' does not have to be a big deal. COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

FAYE: THE FRIENDSHIP FLAME!

Reader Faye, aged eleven, has always loved reading… find out how her passion led her to write books of her own!

Faye says:
I have always been drawn to books; whenever Mum told me it was time to go to the library, my heart would flutter at the thought of getting new books! As a child, my favourite thing was to snuggle up and listen to a bedtime story; later I'd read my own books, watching the plots unfurl in front of me. On birthdays or at Christmas, a book would be all I'd ever ask for. This passion led me to discover Cathy Cassidy and her books - Cherry Crush was the first I read. I'd finish them within days and was inspired by the storylines and how they would be threaded together with expert hands. The characters were all believable and relatable. Pretty soon, I was Cathy Cassidy obsessed!

It was from this love of reading - and how books made me feel - that I fell in love with the idea of being a writer. At eight years old I wrote my first book, a non-fiction based on Moshi Monsters! Once it was published I was earning royalties every month which was incredible! I knew that my next project would be a fiction, aimed at teenage girls. In 2012 I started writing a book called The Friendship Flame, first in a series called the Charm Bracelet Girls. It is still in the writing process today. The book follows the story of fourteen year old Kendal whose parents are divorcing. Kendal has been sucked into the 'popular' group, where she is forced to do things she feels uncomfortable with. Only when she meets shy and geeky Clare does she see her 'friends' for who they really are. The book comes from my own experience of seeing my parents split up, and the struggles I've been through trying to fit in.

The Friendship Flame has a word count of 70,000 and has been a rollercoaster of a journey. Having to juggle a social life, homework tasks, 'me' time and writing a book is not easy! There are times when writer's block comes in, too, and you simply cannot get your thoughts down on paper, leading to frustration and self doubt.

Despite this, writing a book has been the most rewarding challenge. It's complex to juggle everything at once, but when the book has been sent off to print and you can actually hold it as a physical object in your hands, your words being read by people all over the world, the feeling of triumph and pride is overwhelming. Writing books can be an addiction, and certainly not a bad one! It's not an easy process but there is light at the end of the tunnel, whether you are eight or eighty. Your dreams are just within reach, and it's up to you to greet all opportunities that come your way with open arms!

Find out more about Faye's books here: www.fayepaige.co

Cathy says:
Wow… I am SO impressed… there is no way I could have written 70,000 words at that age! Could YOU ever write a book? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

ALISON: I GOT INTO A FAIR FEW SCRAPES...

Another in our fab series on growing up in a different decade… we talk to Alison, who was a teen in the 1970s.


Alison says:
Lots of my teen memories focus on school. I was not particularly naughty at that time but I got into a fair few scrapes! Some of them were of my own creation; but not all, promise! One teacher was apparently about 100, so we called her DWU which stood for Death Warmed Up. She must have been a witch as she didn't seem to age a bit in the six years I knew her. The Spit, a fierce Latin teacher, used to stand outside the classroom until someone opened the door for her - there'd be fireworks if nobody did. One PE teacher was awful at discipline and sent us to the deputy for singing during netball; we thought that was a bit feeble - why let someone else have the fun? We'd been doing a great job' it seemed unfair for the others to be deprived of the joy of hearing us. Having been told off by the deputy, we returned to the netball courts and started singing: 'We are very sorry, We won't sing again…' Oddly, she found it less funny than we did. We were sent off again.

With no electronic games and limited TV, we spent lots of time outside playing games like hopscotch, tag or very bad cricket. We'd spend hours laughing, chatting or listening to records. My friend Viv went to see one James Hendrix in concert, passing him off as any old musician. Jimi Hendrix was not yet famous… the modern equivalent would be asking your parents if you could go to an evening you believe is all about cooking, because it featured 'red hot chilli peppers…'

I loved to write and kept my jottings in a denim covered folder which I still have. My work included stories, quotes and very bad poetry. Back then we forged friendships, covered each other's backs and held deep loyalties to each other; same as nowadays, really. I'm still in contact with many of my old schoolmates and a great bunch they are. Their lives are very varied; working in the theatre (Caro recently brought Shrek the Musical to London; yup, singing… luckily, not us!) banks, auction houses, or as household and youth management consultants (OK, housewives and mothers.) When we meet up, we fall straight back into school mode and have a brilliant time. By the end of a session with my mates, I'm crying, short of breath, with aching lungs; but that's from laughing. Friendship… it's just as good for my heart as jogging. Honest!

Cathy says:
Alison is now a writer - check out her fab book Eridor by Alison Gardiner! Would YOU have enjoyed growing up in the 1970s? Which bits sound good to you? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

EMILY: THE COLOUR RUN!

Reader Emily found a very unusual and fun way to raise money for her favourite charity… 

Emily says:
Earlier in May I took part in the Cumbria Colour Run which was held at Carlisle Racecourse. My sister and I signed up for it together to raise money for an amazing charity, the Eden valley Hospice. The hospice cares for many people who are terminally ill, from children through to the elderly, throughout Cumbria. The work they do definitely deserves recognition and support, so we decided they would be our chosen charity.

We arrived at the racecourse on the day and had to queue for about half an hour to register for the run. That queue was so long! We finally registered and were each given a white t-shirt (pristine, but not for long!), a pair of sunglasses and a race number. We headed outside, lost in a sea of white t-shirts and colourful sunglasses. We began with a Zumba style warm up… it was fun, but quite difficult with so many people! After the warm up, we were taken to the racecourse to start the Colour Run - and we were away! There was a huge difference between the runners… some were running, some walking, some had pushchairs… and we were all ages, shapes and sizes!

The run was five kilometres or three miles, which was two laps of the racecourse. I was pretty sure we could do that… but of course, this was no ordinary race! At various intervals, there were stations set up where volunteers had to throw bucketfuls of different coloured powder paint at us. The aim was to get as colourful as possible!

It was an amazing day, and I would really recommend taking part in a similar event if you ever get the opportunity. It was so much fun! All in all, a fantastic experience, and a great way to raise money for a very good cause.

Cathy says:
Wow… that's definitely a new twist on a 5k run! It sounds lots of fun… well done Emily! Have YOU ever done anything to raise money for a favourite charity? COMMENT BELOW to tell us what!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

MY FAVOURITE BOOKISH QUOTE…

Readers share their favourite quotes from inspirational writers!

Tessa says:

'If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.'
Roald Dahl

Michaela says:
'Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book...'
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Stephanie says:
'And those that were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.'
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzshe


Abi says:
'Light can be found in the darkest of places, but only if one remembers to turn on the light.'
JK Rowling, Harry Potter

Louise says:
'If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.'
JRR Tolkien

Blue says:
'Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences…'
Sylvia Plath

Laura says:
'I write to find out what I didn't know I knew…'
Robert Frost

Charlotte says:
'Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else.'
JM Barrie

Emily says:
'Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.'
Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Aimee says:
'I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.'
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Daisy says:
'I am not pretty, I am not beautiful, I am as radiant as the sun.'
Suzanne Collins


Cathy says:
Loving these… do YOU have a fave bookish quote that has really stuck in your mind? COMMENT BELOW to share it!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

MAKE QUEEN OF HEARTS JAM TARTS...

Want to know how to make yummy Queen of Hearts jam tarts from scratch? Easy… my trusty helpers will show you how!

You will need:
12 tsp jam (any flavour but red looks fab!)
28g caster sugar
255g plain flour
140g chilled unsalted butter
6 tbsp cold water

To make:
1. Preheat the oven to 190c or gas mark 5.

2. Sieve flour into mixing bowl, chop butter into small pieces and rub into flour until mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

3. Add water one tablespoon at a time, stirring mixture with a blunt knife blade until a firm dough forms.

4. Grease a cupcake tray and cut pastry into rounds using a large pastry/ cookie cutter. Press dough circles gently into cupcake tray.

5. Spoon a little jam (a bit less than you'd think) into the pastry circles. (Too much and it will bubble over!)

6. Use a small, heart shaped pastry/cookie cutter to cut pastry hearts… pop one onto the jam on each tart!

7. Bake at 190c/ gas mark 5 for 12-15 minutes. Yum!

Watch a video of the jam-tart making HERE!

Thanks to Poppy, Helena, Kresten, Emiko & Acer for being jam tart experts… and for helping me 'test' the jam tarts! Are YOU a baking whizz? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 25 May 2015

LAURA: BE PART OF THE SOLUTION, NOT PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Reader Laura has a whole lot of wise words to share on the topic of self-esteem…


Laura says:
Broken. It could mean so many things: broken heart, broken friendship, broken family, broken treasures. Or broken self-esteem. We often see or hear people being 'body baggers' - criticising themselves or someone else's body. Whether it's something simple like, 'That colour totes washes her out…' or something bigger like, 'Ew, I'm so ugly! I hate my nose/ hair/ bum. I wish I looked like a supermodel…'

The thing about self-esteem is that it can be squashed so easily, and it is so hard to build it up again. I could say to all of you reading this, 'It doesn't matter what the people who put you down say, because you're better than them and they're just jealous.' That wouldn't be fair, though, because when you are going through this kind of thing it DOES matter to you what people say. Every circumstance is different. You are probably better than them because you're not the bully (yes, it is bullying) but why they are doing it is hard to know. I could say, 'Don't put yourself down, you're beautiful and you DO look exactly like a supermodel,' but would you believe me? You don't like your legs and you'd like her legs, but you're a horse rider and she's a dancer, so things are different. Instead of saying these negative and hurtful things, the things we read in magazines, let's put a fresh spin on things.

1. Don't put yourself down. It causes havoc with your emotional health, so instead, when you're hating (say) your legs, a/ be happy you have working legs and b/ go and exercise, not to be 'skinnier' but to build up strong, healthy legs. This tip works for most parts of your body - arms, hips, belly etc. But if it's your eye colour or something else that can't be changed, then I say suck it up. Learn to love, or at least accept, the things that can't be changed.

2. Don't use 'body bagging' words like fat, ugly, etc. They ruin your self-esteem (and that of others).

3. Never, ever bully someone about how they look. Don't like her clothes but would kill for her eyes? Make sure you tell her you love the colour. It will a/ boost her self-esteem and b/ karma, karma, karma to you!

4. If you see someone being a 'body bagger', step onto the victim's side. Say, 'Hey, come hang out with me, I wanted to ask you something about (whatever)…' This saves the victim from being bullied and it's not confrontational so it won't antagonise the bullies. Being more assertive would of course be the right thing but could get you into trouble… go gently, and instead tell a teacher about what's happening. Ask to stay anonymous if the bullies get pulled up.


5. Don't compare yourself to super-famous people - a/ they have personal trainers and money and all the time in the world, yadda, yadda, yadda which is a long way from the real world, and b/ they probably haven't eaten a French fry for 100 years because their trainer has them on an all-lettuce-leaf eating plan to be a size zero. Instead, find healthy and inspiring role models from your own community.

6. Don't diet. There's a difference between a healthy lifestyle and a diet. Eat when you're hungry, eat 'treat' food sometimes and exercise. Exercise is best when it's a/ with your buds or b/ when you're doing something you L.O.V.E.

Don't be a 'body bagger' to yourself or anyone else - and help to set up a world free of broken self-esteem. Let's be part of the solution, not part of the problem!

Pic posed by model Caitlin.

Cathy says:
I LOVE Laura's feature… spot on. Are you ready to start being a little kinder - to yourself, and to others? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

AMANDA TODD'S STORY: CYBER BULLYING KILLS

Reader Rebecca tells the tragic story of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who was driven to suicide by relentless cyber-bullying…

Rebecca says:
The story of Amanda Todd made a big impression on me… it shows just how much damage bullying can do, and how dangerous the internet can be. Amanda was just eleven when she began to discover the world of the internet. Her parents had divorced and Amanda did not have many friends - she was shy, awkward and naive. The internet seemed like an easier way to make friends, and Amanda asked her mum if she could get a web cam, but was refused. Her dad, however, said yes, and so she began to upload videos of herself singing - she had an amazing voice. Her online friends gave her exactly what she wanted… attention.

After a while, one friend online asked Amanda to 'flash' and though she refused he spent a year trying to persuade her. Eventually, she did and the picture was spread around the internet and sent to her classmates, too. The police turned up at her door and Amanda's mum was very shocked. At school, she was teased and bullied because of the picture and she ended up moving house and moving school, but her mistake followed her when a fake Facebook account appeared with her topless picture as the profile image. She was afraid and reported this to the police many times, but they just told her to remove herself from all social media sites. The cyber-bully tried to blackmail her and again her image was sent around the internet.

Another move and another school promised a new start, but she could not escape the past. The bully continued to harass and blackmail her and her new classmates turned against her. She attempted suicide, but survived. Six months on Amanda made a really sad video of her story, asking viewers to stop the bullying… but a month after this, she sadly killed herself. After her death, the video went viral… and Amanda's message that cyber-bullying could do real harm was taken on. The police got involved again and eventually, a thirty-five year old man was arrested and charged.

Never do anything on the internet without your parents' permission, and if you have a new online friend make sure they are real, and who they say they are. It goes without saying, never send anyone pictures or do anything on web cam that you would not want others to see. ALWAYS be cautious on the internet; Amanda's story is sad proof that cyber-bullying can kill.

Cathy says:
Rebecca's hard-hitting report highlights a very tragic story. Cyber-bullying can kill, so be ultra-careful online and don't hesitate to report anyone who threatens, abuses or tries to blackmail you. Have YOU ever got into trouble online? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

MARY: WAITING FOR FORTUNE COOKIE!

Reader Mary can't wait for the last book in the Chocolate Box Girls series…

Mary says:
I wish Cathy Cassidy would write a bit faster! I started secondary school last year and I was so excited to explore the library, which was supposed to have a massive fiction section. I was so disappointed to find they only had two CC books, Scarlett and Marshmallow Skye, both of which I had read many times before. To be fair, I have read almost every CC book already, including all of the Chocolate Box Girls series. I downloaded SWEET HONEY on my Kindle just hours after it came out, and I cannot wait for the last one in the series, FORTUNE COOKIE.  I'm sure it will be just as amazing as the other books… but could it be about a Chocolate Box BOY? ;o)

The plot twist at the end of SWEET HONEY was perfect - plus the identity of the cyber-bully kept me guessing right through the book. I read the whole thing in three hours straight - I'm a pretty fast reader - and when I finished, I started all over again! I had a sneaking feeling all along that Honey was a scared, anxious girl who had built a protective wall around herself… well, Cathy Cassidy knocked that wall down expertly in SWEET HONEY.

I have recommended Cathy's books to lots of people, including my brother, and he loves them too - it's not just girls! I have also read the 'other halves' to the CBG stories, the e-book shorts - Hopes & Dreams, Bittersweet, Moon & Stars, Chocolates & Flowers, Snowflakes & Wishes... they are just as well written as the main books. And now it's just a couple of months until FORTUNE COOKIE is released on June 4th… I CANNOT WAIT!

Cathy says:
I love Mary's enthusiasm - how cool? My readers are the BEST people in the world… they make all the hard work worthwhile. Are YOU looking forward to FORTUNE COOKIE? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

WENDY: I WAS VERY FICKLE...

Another in our regular series about growing up in a different decade… we talk to Wendy, who was a teenager in the 1970s!


Wendy says:
My teens went by in a flash! It seemed like one minute I was practising drawing palomino horses galloping across the open plains… the next I was obsessed with fashion, music and dreams of the future! As a young teen I was still hooked on a TV show called The White Horses which had the most amazing theme tune: 'When the day is done, we'll race to meet the dawn… on white horses, snowy-white horses, let me ride away…' I pictured myself bareback on a beach riding a wild white horse… until the dream was broken by a boy with the most beautiful brown eyes and a denim baker-boy cap, singing about Puppy Love! I switched overnight from fantasising about horses to mooning around on my bedroom floor reading Jackie magazine and finding out everything I could about my pin-up dream boy, Donny Osmond!

I was very fickle, though, because just two months later I had a new crush. I was lying on the grass outside, my little transistor radio pressed up to my ear, listening to my favourite DJ. It was a hot summer's day and the bees were buzzing around the raspberry bushes in my parents' garden. I remember I was wearing a pair of denim cut-offs, a lime-green bell-sleeved t-shirt with Tweetie Pie on it, long purple, pink and white Mary Quant socks and Gola trainers. I even had a little crocheted hat my friend had made me. Then I heard the words… 'It's a god-awful small affair, to the girl with the mousey hair…' all sung in a reedy thin London accent so alien and so unlike the gentle sing-song lilt of the East Coast Scottish voices I was familiar with. The voice took me to a place full of excitement and mystery, so far removed from the little summer garden, from my life. David Bowie… sigh. My mind was transfixed by the wonders of what the future might be… and I knew that this was just the start of it all!

Cathy says:
I love this… like Wendy, I adored the TV show White Horses and fell in love with Donny Osmond and then David Bowie! Wendy is still a fashionista… these days she is a brilliant fashion journalist! Would YOU have enjoyed growing up in the 70s? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

GRACE DARLING: A NATION'S HERO...

In another of our occasional series on famous young women from history, we look at Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper's daughter whose heroism made her famous in the 19th century…

Grace Darling was born in 1815 in Bamburgh, Northumberland, the seventh of nine children. Her father ran the lighthouse on Brownsman Island, one of the Farne Islands, and at just a few weeks old Grace was taken to live there, in the small cottage attached to the lighthouse. In 1826, the family moved to the newly constructed lighthouse on Longstone Island. They lived mostly in a large room on the ground floor of the lighthouse, warmed by a wood stove, with bedrooms above and the light at the very top.

In the early hours of September 1838, when she was twenty-two years old, Grace looked from her bedroom window near the top of the lighthouse and saw a ship, the paddle steamer Forfarshire, wrecked and sinking on a nearby rocky island. The weather seemed too rough for the lifeboat to make the journey from the mainland, so Grace and her father took a rowing boat slowly out to the wreck, approaching it from the lee side. They rescued four men and one surviving woman who had lost her two young children in the disaster. They rowed back to the lighthouse and Grace stayed to look after the survivors while her father and some of the rescued men rowed back out to save four more shipwreck survivors. Out of 62 passengers aboard the Forfarshire, only another nine had managed to escape, rescued by a passing sloop in the night. The lifeboat from the mainland, when it finally arrived,  found only bodies; the weather was by this point so bad that the lifeboat and its crew were forced to remain at the lighthouse for three days.

When news of Grace's part in the rescue became known, her bravery made her the nation's hero. Donations totalling £700 were raised for her, including £50 from Queen Victoria. Portrait painters came to the island to paint her picture and hundreds of gifts, letters and proposals of marriage flooded in for her. Grace's story had a sad and untimely ending. Just a few years later, she fell ill during a trip to the mainland and died soon after of tuberculosis, aged just twenty-six. Poets such as Wordsworth and Swinburne immortalised her story, novelists fictionalised her life and painters turned her heroic rescue into art. The girl who spotted a shipwreck and helped to save people from the wreckage became the nation's hero, and her story is still told today.

Cathy says:
I learned the story of Grace Darling as a child at school, and her bravery has stayed with me over the years. Did YOU know the story of her heroic rescue? Do you think YOU could be as brave in the same situation? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

LARA: I'M TURNING INTO HONEY!

Another in our regular problem page series… reader Lara asks Honey Tanberry for tips on handling her  moods! Will YOU agree with Honey's advice?

Lara says:
I am scared that being a teenager is turning me into a drama queen… well, a bit like you, Honey. No, I am not off the rails and I do well at school, but at home it's a different story. Whenever I speak to anyone in my family I just get angry and annoyed. I know this is nobody's fault but my own, but if you could give me some tips for how to bite my tongue and not say anything bad, that would be brilliant.

Honey says:
C'mon… who wouldn't want to be like me? Seriously?

Well, OK… maybe not. My short fuse and quick temper has got me into trouble more times than I can say, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Like you, I seemed to have less tolerance for my family… at one point, when I was in my early to mid teens, just about everything my mum said drove me nuts, and my sisters really bugged me too. As for Paddy and Cherry… well, let's not go there. I think I was feeling pretty angry after Dad left, but I think hormones and that whole growing-up thing played a part too. Those up-and-down moods really are a natural part of growing up. You might not think it, but I am quite a sensitive person. I feel things very strongly, and sometimes, especially when I was younger, I didn't know what to do with those feelings and they'd just kind of erupt and cause all kinds of trouble.

The thing is, letting off steam may help you and me, but those harsh words hurt other people, people we love. In the end, trying to see things from the other person's viewpoint helped me to keep things in perspective; the things that were upsetting me genuinely weren't intended to. I guess I realised that not everything was about me. I learned to take a deep breath, step back and count to ten… and chill a little. I still get irritated, but these days I'll go for a run or a swim, or paint a picture, or play my music really loud until I feel better. I've also learned to say sorry when I know I'm in the wrong… never easy, but who says life is easy anyhow? Find your own ways to calm down and practice walking away from the situations that wind you up. Growing up is hard enough without making your home life into a battlefield… trust me, that's one lesson I've learned the hard way.

Cathy says:
Honey's answer is very honest - and very helpful, too, I think. What advice would YOU add to help Lara drop the drama queen tendencies? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

ELIZABETH: SCHOOL FOR ONE!

Reader Elizabeth describes what it's like to be home educated… 


Elizabeth says:
I don't go to school; because of some health issues, I left school in Year Eight, and since then I have been home educated. I really like being taught at home because I don't actually have a typical day - every day is different. For example, I don't always learn things at home - we go out and about, to the theatre, museums, once even to see behind the scenes at a restaurant! When we are at home, I don't just learn my usual subjects - we also do lots of cooking and craft. Many home educated students have tutors, but my mum and dad teach me, which I like.

One of the plus points is that I have lots more free time during the day, because with lessons being one on one, we often work through the curriculum faster than if I was at school. This means I get to chill out with my rabbit and my guinea pig between classes! The only thing I miss about school is being able to be with my friends all day, but I have started having friends over to the house so I do get to see them a bit more often. I've joined a dance class and an art club, and that way I get to meet and see new people. I am lucky to have some new friends who are also taught at home - it's fun to meet up with them now and then!

I am in Year Nine now and I still enjoy learning at home. I am going to be joining an online school soon - this is where you log onto your computer and use your webcam to take part in a lesson with other students and a teacher. I'm really looking forward to starting!

Cathy says:
Elizabeth's account is fascinating… would YOU like to be home educated? What would you miss about school? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 18 May 2015

SRISTI: BLOGGING IS FUN!

Reader Sristi, a would-be teen journalist living in Kolkata, tells us what blogging means to her…

Sristi says:
Cathy's fanbase has spread not only all over Europe, but all over the world, and I am living proof of that as I live in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India. Cathy played a vital role in inspiring me to start my blog… I had the idea of posting an interview with her! My other inspiration was renowned and controversial Indian journalist Arnab Goswani, one of the very few men in the media who directly and blatantly exposes scams and dishonesty in politics and in society. Some people hate him for this but I think his show 'The Newshour' is wonderful, he fires the questioning and persistent spirit of journalism in me. Of course, I cannot go around slamming political parties as he does, but my blog is one way I can begin my writing career!

Being a blogger isn't easy. You need to keep on posting regularly and find interesting topics, which is sometimes a challenge! Saying that, blogging is fun as well! Especially for me, as I aspire to be a journalist and I obviously need to begin working on that now! I decided not to stick to one specific genre for my blog, as I want to be versatile, and I don't want blogging to feel too heavy or serious. Blogging for me is having a platform where I can express my views and write about something feel-good!

My first ever post was an interview with Cathy Cassidy, and right now I am writing a series of posts called '2015: The Year of Fests, Practices and Adrenaline,' which is all about what is going now in schools in Kolkata, so it's on everyone's minds and topical. If anyone reading feels that they might like to start a blog, my advice would be to go for it. It's fun, it's interesting and there are no hard and fast rules. As long as what you write does not go against the social interest, this is you chance to speak out and be heard. Start typing, folks!

You can check out Sristi's blog here:
http://yammerhammersblog.blogspot.in/

Cathy says:
I love Sristi's blog and like to catch up with it now and then… it's fascinating to get an insight into life in India. Blogging really can make the world feel like a smaller place! Have you ever blogged? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

JJ: WE GOT CARRIED AWAY...

Reader JJ opens up about what it's like to be caught up in a group bullying situation in this chilling post…

JJ says:
When Sara  started at our school, she seemed nice… pretty and clever and a bit different from the usual. She'd lived in London and her life sounded very cool and interesting. I liked her, but maybe she was fitting in too well because soon the others began to bitch about her, saying she was stuck up and vain. My friend Taz was really put out by Sara - she was jealous, and her snippy little comments began to turn everything sour. She thought Sara was a liar, and the more she went on about it the more it seemed that some of the things Sara was saying didn't add up. I felt sorry for Sara, but I didn't want to lose my friends, so I went along with it.

Soon it was our main pastime, picking on Sara. She withdrew and became a bit of a loner, but Taz was enjoying the hate campaign too much to stop. Sara just took it… she was quiet and never answered back. Her face just sort of closed down and I wondered if she had been bullied before. She acted like a victim, and in a horrible way that made it easier to pick on her. If she had challenged us, maybe we'd have stopped… or maybe not. When Sara stopped coming to school, we went on her Instagram and posted nasty messages, I mean really nasty. I don't like to think of it now, but I was a part of it, even though I knew it was wrong.

It stopped when we were all called to see the Year Head. Sara had told her parents about the bullying and we were all in massive trouble. Our parents were called in and we were pulled off the school exchange to France we'd been due to go on. It's a black mark on my school career I can never wipe clean. Sara never came back to school. She had been bullied before, and Taz was right, a lot of the things she had told us weren't true, but I knew in my heart she'd only lied to try and be accepted. We could have been her friends, and instead we tormented her. We probably destroyed her confidence and hurt her loads. I know that what we did was cruel and I can't believe I went along with it. I will never forgive myself.

All names have been changed.

Awesome illustration by reader Millie - such a powerful message. Thank you!

Cathy says:
It's hard to read JJ's account of bullying from the bully's viewpoint. Do you think JJ could have acted differently? Would YOU have dared to go against your friends? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

YOANA: I LIVE IN BULGARIA!

Reader Yoana tells us all about life in beautiful Bulgaria… 


Yoana says:
I am fourteen years old and I live in a village near the city of Haskovo. We have a two-storey house with a big garden full of trees, flowers, fruit and vegetables. There are some woods nearby where I like to go to read a book. My family is small but happy - I live with my mum, dad, my lovely gran and my awesome, cool (and sometimes annoying!) elder brother.

All of the schools in Bulgaria are mixed, and I study at a foreign language school. It isn't too strict - we have a uniform but it's not obligatory to wear it every day, just on special occasions! My school is famous for students who can speak English, Russian, Spanish, French and German fluently - my favourite subject is English. I have a great teacher who always keeps the whole class laughing!

Traditional Bulgarian food is plentiful and delicious… there are many dishes to choose from! There's Banitsa, made of pastry leaves, cheese, eggs and milk; shopska salad, made of tomato, cucumber, cheese, onion and green pepper; tarator, a cold soup with yoghurt, minced cucumber and garlic; and my all time favourite salad, Snow White salad, consisting of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and walnuts. There are other dishes too, but these are the ones I like best! We also cook dishes from other countries, like pizza, pasta, Turkish delight, baklava and much more. The traditional Bulgarian dress is called nosia (nosija) and there is a traditional dance, horo. Bulgaria is famous for its high quality rose oil, yoghurt and seaside tourism, and there is some beautiful scenery and landmarks, too.

The most popular sports in Bulgaria are football, tennis and volleyball. Many people play sports, but in my opinion the most common pastime - not just in Bulgaria but in the whole world - is chatting on mobile phones like zombies!

There are many traditions and festivals in Bulgaria. I'll tell you about Baba Marta (Grandma March). On 1st March, all Bulgarians exchange traditional bracelets called martenitsa, made from braided red and white yarn and worn in honour of the first Bulgarian king, Asparuh. After seeing the first stork of the year, people hang the martenitsa onto a blossoming fruit tree.  My hobby is crafting - I love making jewellery, clothes, embroidery, decoupage and much more. I love reading too, but books are very expensive here so the library is my second home!

Cathy says:
Wow… I honestly didn't know anything about Bulgaria, but it sounds amazing! Storks… yarn bracelets… cool veggie food and awesome national dress! It has now gone on my bucket list of places to visit! Would YOU like life in Bulgaria? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

ANNA: I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO BE A TEEN!

Another in our regular series about growing up in a different decade… Anna describes being a teen in the 1980s!


Anna says:
I was so uncool, it hurts for me to think back to the 1980s. My music choices were confined to Abba and Howard Jones and I knew nothing about the mind-blowing music scene that formed the backdrop to so many of my friends' lives at the time. I was baffled by the girls who sported perms or peroxide, spiky hair, and as for the clothes I wore… my daughter can't believe what she has seen when flicking through my old photos. 'You looked more like a forty-five year old then than you do today!' she once howled.
It's true. My style icon (if I can go so far as to say I had one) was Princess Diana. And even in that I was what my kids would call an 'epic fail'. My carefully flicked hair owed more to your average supermarket closed-cup mushroom than it did to the style sported by the People's Princess, and my wardrobe was more middle aged than royal fashionista. with billowing skirts, oversized shirts with the collars turned up, fake pearls and huge belts.

The truth is, I didn't care. I spent most of my time in my room, writing in my diary, reading and dreaming of being a writer. And if I wasn't doing that, I was playing piano or saxophone, working my way through music grades and playing in school bands. Nothing cool there either, though - my favourite music was jazz and swing.

I suppose my past nerdiness hasn't done me much harm; I did go on to become a writer, so I realized my dream. But I do sometimes look at the fun my own teenagers and their friends are having now and think it's a shame I didn't have more fun, especially with fashion. I quite fancy pink hair and piercings. Do you think it's too late to try that out now?

Cathy says:
Great post… Anna Wilson's book Summer's Shadow is well worth a read… you can find more about it here… https://acwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/new-book-out-this-week/ . Would YOU have liked being a teen in the 1980s? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

STRICTLY BALLROOM...

Reader Holly tells us what it's like to do ballroom and latin dancing… very cool!

Holly says:
I study ballroom and Latin-American dancing, and have done for the last five years now. I started lessons when I was about eleven - I started because a friend rang me one evening and asked if I'd go along with her. I was dubious to start with, but went along with it as I thought it might be a fun thing to do together. My friend stopped going quite early on, but by then I was hooked and loving every minute! I've had a few different partners over the last few years, but that's part of the fun.

Before I started dancing, I never even knew about the TV show Strictly, but now it's my weekly fix to get me through the cold winter months in the run up to Christmas! It gives me a chance to watch the footwork and improve my own performance! I love all the different moves and steps in ballroom, as well as the techniques of the different dances that I learn. There's everything from the elegant Waltz to the sassy Samba to the passionate Pasa Doble - I love them all.

The best part for me, by a long stretch, is the competing. For the first four years I was dancing, I took part in local competitions and most of the time I was placed… usually between 1st and 7th… in my category. Those days were loads of fun, as I loved seeing all of the different dresses and the steps that different dance schools have. However, in the last year or so I have been able to progress to championship level and compete on a much larger scale, with people from all over the country attending the events. Exciting!

The most recent championship I attended was in the prestigious Blackpool Winter Gardens. Unfortunately I was not placed, but then the other competitors had had so much more experience than me so I didn't mind! Hopefully, in a couple of years, I will be up to that standard too. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and buzzing with excitement. I sometimes get a little nervous for big competitions, but it's mainly just nerves to get out there and dance! It's so exhilarating to perform… I love every minute. If you know you've practiced, the best thing you can do on the day is just enjoy it and let you feet do the rest!

The dresses and the shoes are definitely a highlight for me. The ballroom dresses are long and flowing and make me feel so elegant; then I can switch into the shorter, more playful latin dresses and that brings out my sassy side ready for the attitude and atmosphere of the latin dances. The shoes, however pretty they may look, always become uncomfortable by the end of a long competition day. For the first two hours they're fine, and after that all I want are my comfy slippers!

For anyone interested in starting, find a club that specialises in the style of dance you are interested in but which isn't overly serious - for example, if they want to pull you out of school to practice and compete, in my opinion that's not good, it's just too much pressure. You need to get a balance between dance and schoolwork! Don't worry if you don't have a friend to start with, as the teacher will pair you up with someone - no excuses! Because they've seen how much I love it, my mum and my little sister also began taking lessons and they love it just as much as I do. The three of us met Robin Windsor from Strictly just last week - that's us all in the picture!

I will be going to dance in Southport Floral Hall soon, too, and I can't wait! It's going to be a long day but worth it whether I get placed or not. The long and the short of it is that I just love ballroom dancing - it means the world to me.

Cathy says:
I have two left feet (maybe more, who knows…) but I am LOVING Holly's enthusiasm for dance! Would YOU ever try a ballroom dance class? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

AMANDA: I FEEL TRAPPED...

Reader Amanda has a problem for Summer Tanberry to solve in our weekly agony aunt column…

Amanda says:
I seem to be stuck on a roller-coaster that won't stop for anyone. It started two years ago when I kept wanting to cry and had no idea why; then I stopped talking in school and my 'friends' said that if I didn't start talking again I'd lose them. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't… and sure enough, I lost them. I have new friends now but they often ignore me/leave me out, I suppose because I can't talk a lot. I feel trapped inside my own body, like each time I open my mouth I'm falling deeper and deeper into a pit of sadness. Each lunchtime I hide in the toilets and cry and cry, though if someone comes in I am silent. I don't know why I do this. I have started to self-harm too. I am so lost and I know you will tell me to talk to my mum, but I can't, I really can't. Please help.

Summer says:
I'm so sorry you are feeling this way. It was different for me, but I do understand that sense of feeling lost and so, so sad. I felt a million miles away from all the people who loved me, I could see them but I couldn't reach them… and like you, I had no idea why I felt this way. For me, tackling my eating disorder was not just about learning to eat again but talking about my feelings, digging down into myself and letting things out that were sometimes scary and upsetting. It was therapy, and I think it might help you too… talking to a stranger, someone who understands, is actually much easier than talking to family. Like you, I couldn't talk to anyone close when things went wrong for me, it was as though I had to deny what was happening, hide it… but there a comes a point when you cannot hide anymore. Please talk to a trusted guidance teacher or see your doctor and ask for help. Show them this post; if talking is too difficult, write down the things that you want to say. I can't help wondering if you have stopped speaking because you are afraid of what you might say… that there is something very sad and hurtful at the root of this. It may sound unlikely, but facing the issue, however painful, will feel better than this long period of silent denial that anything is wrong. You can also email ChildLine via their website, or the Samaritans. I don't know you, but I recognise the pain in your original email and I want you to know I care. Please be brave and get some help… and let me know how things go.

Cathy says:
Very good advice from Summer… I agree, Amanda needs outside help and although asking for that will take courage, it is the only way forward. What advice would YOU add? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

INSPIRED? YOU WILL BE...

Readers pick out their favourite inspirational quotes and sayings…

Casey says:
'She turned her can'ts into cans, and her dreams into plans…'

Lesley says:
'You'll never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.'

Laura says:
'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…'

Aine says:
'Winners don't quit and quitters don't win…'

Beth says:
'Life is like a camera… focus on what's important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don't work out, take another shot.'

Fay says:
'Not all those who wander are lost.'

Suzanne says:
'Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.'

Molly says:
'True friends are like stars - you can't always see them, but you know they are always there.'

Sophie says:
'Shoot for the moon - even if you miss, you'll land amongst the stars.'

Chloe says:
'Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.'

Ryley says:
'The moment is now. Not tomorrow or yesterday or someday. Right here. Right now. This is your moment to shine.'

Katie says:
'Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone.'

Cathy says:
There are a few of my favourites here… how about YOU? Share your fave inspiring quotes in a COMMENT BELOW.

Monday, 11 May 2015

GIRL STUFF: HOW TO HANDLE PERIODS

Readers share their advice on how to take periods in your stride…

Sarah says:
Don't be scared to talk to your guardian about anything period-related. If you don't have an older female in the family, talk to any woman that you trust, eg. a family friend. Buy in pads and be prepared for that first period… I had mine ready for about two years before I needed them. Pads are easier to start with. If you get cramps, try paracetamol, a wheat bag (for the microwave) to put on your tummy or a hot water bottle.

Kym says:
It's not as scary as it sounds, honest. Never feel embarrassed to talk about it with a teacher if you're feeling ill or it has come at an awkward time - teachers have periods, too! As a parent myself (yeah, I'm old!) I can say talk to us too, we will buy your hormonal chocolate needs! I once had one start during PE and my teacher didn't want to let me leave the lesson as we were supposed to go to the toilet beforehand. I 'fessed up and told her why I needed to go and she understood and everything was fine.

Deborah says:
Don't worry if your periods aren't regular to start with… it takes a while for the cycle to settle down. If you get stranded in school without pads, ask the school matron, nurse or a female guidance tutor. Trust me, they won't say anything about it.

Nadia says:
Keep a calendar of your cycle so that you know what to expect, and always carry spare pads or tampons. Change them regularly and avoid wearing white!

Eloise says:
Tell your friends! Mood swings come and go - your friends may think you're being mean when really you're just emotional. Plus, don't be shy if you need to ask teachers to be excused to change a pad. They will understand.

Charlotte says:
All girls start at different times so don't compare yourself to others… and don't be scared. We all have our own ways of coping… mine is chocolate, hot water bottle and movies. Don't panic… it's natural!

Holly says:
Trust your gut - if you have a feeling it may start a day or so earlier than it's supposed to, assume that it will. Always keep pads or tampons handy a few days before you think you may need them! Never worry about unwrapping pads or tampons in a public loo… every woman has the same thoughts, but it's something we all have to do. Stretching helps with cramps, so avoid the temptation to curl up - get outside and go for a big walk!

Photograph modelled by fab reader Aisling; photo by reader Niamh. Many thanks!

Cathy says:
All good advice… and things I wish I'd known as a tween! Do YOU have any good advice on coping with periods? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

BULLYING WRECKS LIVES...

Brave readers tell us how childhood bullying has dented their confidence …  

Milly says:
I've been to three different primary schools, and at the second one I was bullied badly - even thinking about it now upsets me. The bully was a girl who pushed me around, strangled me, hit me, called me names and swore at me while the others laughed. She left and I thought the nightmare was over but two older girls took up where she left off, waiting for me after school every day and beating me up. I used to wish I had never been born. At my third primary, I was bullied again and I thought I would never be bully-free. One day I just snapped and hit back, and finally the bully backed off and left me alone. I am at secondary school now and things are fine, but nobody can see how much I am hurting inside or the bruises that have faded but still remain inside me no matter what. The words, more than anything, will stick in my mind forever…

Ro says:
I was bullied for two years in secondary school, by a group of boys who lives on our estate. They seemed to single me out right from day one, although they had been in the other class at my primary and had barely seemed to notice me there. Every day I would get nasty comments, sometimes really disgusting things. They would jostle me as I got on and off the school bus, scrawl things on my school bag and follow me home, jeering and swearing at me. It went on until my older cousin happened to witness it, and he faced the bullies and told them to back off and although they just laughed my cousin told my parents and my mum went down to the school the next day. I was terrified because I thought it would get even worse, but amazingly it stopped. They had been bullying other people too, and my mum wasn't the only one to complain. The relief was huge but I still to this day worry that they might start up again, and I wonder why they picked on me. Did they see something weak and pathetic in me? I suppose I will never know.

Penny says:
For me, the bullying was on-off all the way through school. I used to think there was something about me that made people target me because even when I changed schools or switched classes, I was still bullied. I did speak out in my last school and the teachers tried to help, but it was too late by then because the damage was done. I wouldn't apply to college because I was afraid, and I don't have a job at the moment either as I have a great fear that the same thing will happen. Bullying took all my confidence away and I can't forgive my bullies for that.

Jade says:
It was an ex-best friend who decided to make my life a misery, and it was horrible because it was subtle. She would spread rumours and make up lies and everyone seemed to believe her. I called ChildLine and talked to them, and that helped me get the courage to talk to a guidance teacher. It got very weird then as she made us sit down together and talk, and all kinds of stuff came out about how my bully was angry and jealous of me. In a way that hurt more than the bullying itself. She moved schools last year - not because of this, just that her mum got a new job. I am fine now and I have good friends but I never really trust anybody anymore, because even a friend can turn on you.

Pictures modelled by reader Cat… fab shots, thank you so much!

Cathy says:
These stories are so sad… have you ever had your confidence destroyed because of bullying? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

THE QUEEN OF HEARTS, SHE MADE SOME TARTS...

'We want you to make jam tarts,' Puffin said. 'Ask some friends over, and we'll come and film it…' Ooer. This is what happened…

Cathy says:
Jam tarts? I can make them, easy peasey! So when Puffin asked me to bake up a storm and ask some children over to help, I agreed. They wanted to film the whole bake-off experience and use it as part of the awesome Puffin Virtually Live show they're doing all about ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and LOOKING GLASS GIRL. Oooh!

We had friends staying that week, so their children Emiko and Acer were roped in to help straight away! Another friend came over with  her daughter Poppy and pals Helena and Kresten. Poppy's teen brother also came to help, and ended up becoming the cameraman's assistant and chief sound man! Julia from Puffin arrived, and suddenly everything got a bit serious. We had scripts to learn, and rabbit ears to wear… what? WHAT? Doesn't everybody bake jam tarts dressed as the White Rabbit? No? Well, they should!

The best part about having my kitchen invaded was that I didn't actually have to do any work… I just had to supervise a bit! At one point, I got to chill out with a book and a real live white rabbit (one of my rescue rabbits, Donovan…) for a while. This was possibly a good thing… there was a LOT of shrieking and giggling from the kitchen, and a lot of flour everywhere. Well, we made our pastry from scratch, obviously!

After sitting with my feet up for a while… ahem... I mean, after working hard in the kitchen for a while… I got to test the jam tarts. They were yummy. Acer had been 'testing' the jam as he went along, and he 'accidentally' snaffled the last jam tart too… they really were that good! Not bad at all, considering there were so many people in my kitchen - plus a film crew! If you'd like to see the finished film, it will be shown as part of my Cathy Cassidy Puffin Virtually Live podcast on May 19th at 2pm. Schools can sign up to watch the show live (most of it WILL be live, I'll off to London to the awesome Sadlers Wells theatre to do that bit!) for FREE. Just tell your teacher to click the link and sign up to watch! It's especially perfect for primary schools, so spread the word and make sure YOUR school is part of the fun!

Schools can sign up here to watch the live podcast… http://www.puffinvirtuallylive.co.uk/index.php

Or take a sneaky peek at the jam tart film here!  https://youtu.be/rJ2ZbxHhhZo
Anyone want the jam tart recipe? COMMENT BELOW to let me know… 

Friday, 8 May 2015

VALERIE: BAY CITY ROLLERS, FLARED TROUSERS & A FEATHER CUT...

Another in our regular series of what it's like to grow up in a different decade… Valerie tells us all about being a teen in the 1970s!

Valerie says:
I was a quiet teenager, close to my friends, very loyal and a good listener. I wanted to be a teacher but it seemed I wasn't clever enough to go on to college - and university seemed like a million miles away. I followed my sisters footsteps and moved into clerical work, but I knew there was something more, something better. I returned to my studies, attending night school, and this time my grades were distinctions! I met new friends and this gave me new confidence and a desire to do well, go further in life. Night school led to university and university led to me becoming a qualified school librarian. I now manage a successful school library and I have the pleasure and responsibility of teaching, too!

So what was the 1970s like? So many memories...

Dressing to impress
Saturday job
Bay City Rollers
Osmonds
David Cassidy
Monkey boots
Flared trousers
First disco night out
Hated school uniform
Feather haircut
Jackie magazine
Starsky and Hutch
Mork and Mindy
Keeping a diary
Shorthand - I envied my sister who was learning it!
Pierced ears
Coppertone
Scholls sandals
Autograph book Spirograph
Roller skates
Roll on perfume
Jelly shoes
Taping the Top Twenty from the radio onto a cassette

Cathy says:
I love Valerie's account of being a teen in the 1970s because I remember loads of this, too! Would YOU have liked being a teen in the 1970s? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!