The Moonlight Dreamers’ Guide to being Free

With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?

Oscar Wilde

 

A major theme in the new Moonlight Dreamers novel, Tell it to the Moon, is the importance of being free.

Free to be your true self.

Free to pursue your dreams.

Free to create a life of happiness and adventure.

But there are so many things that can get in the way of that freedom – the biggest of which is fear.

Fear that you’re not good enough.

Fear that other people will judge you.

Fear that you’ll mess up and create a life of disappointment.

So, to help steer you away from fear, and to celebrate the release of Tell it to the Moon, I’ve created this handy ten step guide to being free. Enjoy!

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ONE: Always remember that YOU are the author of your life story

Don’t become a bit-player in someone else’s life. Create a life where you play the lead role. When facing challenges or indecision ask yourself: If my life were a book or movie and I was writing the script, what would I make my character do right now? What would make for an inspiring and uplifting plot twist? Become the kind of hero that you like to read about.

TWO: Turn your wounds into wisdom

When things go wrong – and they sometimes will, it’s a natural part of life – don’t see yourself as a victim. Learn to see your failures as lessons; it’s way more empowering. In Tell it to the Moon all of the Moonlight Dreamers face major challenges but they eventually find the strength to learn from these challenges and move on. If they’d given up it would have made for a really disappointing book – and the same is true for our lives. Don’t give up. When things go wrong ask yourself: What is the lesson I need to learn here? Learn it … then move on.

THREE: Express yourself freely

Fear can make us close up and close off – a big part of living freely is being able to express yourself freely. For most of Tell it to the Moon Amber suffers from ‘blogger’s block’ – unable to write a thing on her Wilde at Heart blog. It’s only when she gives herself the space to really think about herself and her life that she’s able to write the post ‘Defiantly Different’ and express herself with courage and authenticity. Are you expressing yourself freely? Or are you holding back? Brainstorm a list of all the things you wish you could do or say – either about yourself or about the world. How could you channel your thoughts, hopes and ideas? Be as open-minded as possible, you might be surprised at what comes up.

FOUR: Be Wilde at heart

Oscar Wilde is a major inspiration for the Moonlight Dreamers as someone who lived life on his own terms and dared to dream. He also had the wittiest, wisest take on life. When you’re feeling down or confused use his quotes to inspire you. Here are some of my favourites:

‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’

‘Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.’

‘Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.’

Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.’

For more Oscar inspiration go to moonlightdreamers.com and have a play on the quote generator: What Would Oscar Say?

FIVE: When other people judge you it says way more about them than you

Bullying is an issue in both the Moonlight Dreamers books because I know that it’s an issue in many people’s lives – and one I feel very strongly about. Although it can be the most painful and scary thing in the world to be picked on or ridiculed, one thing I’ve come to realise and that set me free from fear, is that only the deeply insecure and unhappy feel the need to bully. If other people are horrible to you try to remember this. Take solace in your dreams – and the knowledge that one day you will be free from the bully’s spite but they won’t.

SIX: Use your dreams to guide you

Having a dream is like having a north star to guide you. Dreams light up the dark times and give you hope for the future. If your dreams feel too big, far off and unachievable ask yourself: What small step could I take towards achieving my dream today? (With the emphasis on small). If your dream is to write a novel, maybe the small step could be reading a book about writing or practising by writing a short story. By taking regular small steps towards achieving your dreams you build momentum and stop feeling powerless.

SEVEN: Beware of the dream-busters!

A funny (actually not-so-funny) thing happens when you start pursuing your dreams – dream-busters start crawling out of the woodwork. Dream-busters are people who are expert in making you doubt yourself and your dreams; always quick with a passive-aggressive comment or an outright dig. Don’t let them put you off! Their need to knock you down comes from their own regret and insecurity. Don’t allow their insecurity to infect you. Stay focused and strong and feel proud that you’re doing something positive with your life.

EIGHT: Find a fellow dreamer

I wanted the Moonlight Dreamers books to be a celebration of friendship because I know first-hand how important good friends are. In the social media age there’s an emphasis on the number of friends you have on your lists but the only friends that really count are real-life friends. One true friend, who values you for you and encourages you to live your best life is worth way more than hundreds of online acquaintances. Be open-minded too – sometimes the richest friendships form between the most unlikely people eg; Maali and Rose.

NINE: Be your own best friend

That being said, our friends can’t be there for us 24/7 and sometimes you might find yourself without a true friend. It’s so important that in these times – and at all times – you are your own best friend. It can be all too easy to be hard on yourself and beat yourself up for your so-called shortcomings or imperfections. Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself internally. Ask yourself if you’d talk to a friend in this way. By supporting yourself you strengthen and empower yourself and free yourself from self-doubt and fear.

TEN: Never give up

One of the Moonlight Dreamers’ rules is that they never give up. You will have times when you want to give up – we all do. During those times, allow yourself to feel sad but then pick yourself back up and keep on going. My dad, who is Irish and full of wisdom just like Sky’s dad Liam, always likes to remind me that ‘this too shall pass whenever things get tough. And it’s true. Life is always moving and changing – even when it feels as if everything’s stuck. So, remind yourself that the hard times never last forever, get refocused on your dreams and keep moving forwards, in true Moonlight Dreamers style.

Tell it to the Moon is out now!

Amazing and inspirational. Pocket Full of Pages

This fantastic series addresses the essence of true courage; to fight for what you believe in; to follow your own path in life, and to be true to yourself.” Kids’ Book Review

An amazing and really inspiring young adult novel.” My Peacock Books

A heartwarming, stunning and unique novel. It really did make my heart happy.” Teen Book Hoots

Find out more and order a copy here.

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What to do When Your Dream Bubble Bursts

Recently, my son and I went on a mini road-trip adventure in America.

My son is football-mad (soccer-mad for US readers) and has been following the fortunes of an American team called Sporting Kansas City for several years.

Sporting Kansas City are known for having some of the most devout fans in all of America and their ‘Cauldron’ stand is legendary.

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So while we were in the States we got on a bus to Kansas and went along to a game.

The Cauldron was everything the YouTube videos had promised it would be. The atmosphere was electric and the sound of the crowd deafening.

Several guys had stationed themselves at the front of the terrace, next to the pitch but facing the fans.

One pounded on a bass drum and one played a trombone. One was covered in tattoos and led the chanting and another wore a huge white feather headdress and danced around.

They proceeded to whip us all into a frenzy, like some very alternative cheerleaders.

It was hugely entertaining hearing British football songs with an American twist. ‘Vindaloo’ became ‘Barbecue’ and the opposition fans (from Philadelphia) were treated to a rousing chorus of, ‘You can stick your Philly cheesesteaks up your arse!

And whaddya know, as soon as we took our places on the stand – expecting to meet local Kansans – we got talking to a guy from Essex!

He’d been living in the States for a few years and was with a group of friends who supported SKC.

Much banter and hilarity ensued as the beer and margaritas flowed and the songs got louder and louder.

At one point my son suggested to Essex Guy that he should start a chorus of, ‘You dirty Northern b*****ds,’ a song which routinely gets chanted in UK football stadiums (with Northern substituted for Southern depending on the geography).

Essex Guy immediately agreed and began to chant.

He chanted and chanted … but no-one else joined in.

What had seemed like a great idea started to become a little embarrassing.

But Essex Guy was undeterred.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I’ll have a word with the guys at the front and get them to start it.’

Off he disappeared into the crowd, heading for the alternative cheerleaders.

We waited and waited but the chant never came.

Some twenty minutes later Essex Guy reappeared holding a huge plastic recycling container.

‘I couldn’t get them to sing it,’ he told us, ‘but don’t worry, I’ve got this.’

He then turned the plastic container upside down and began hollering into it like it was a megaphone.

YOU DIRTY NORTHERN B*****DS!

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It was hilarious … but still no-one joined in.

And then a security guard appeared and demanded he give the recycling container back.

No way! You’ll never stop me!’ Essex Guy cried before disappearing off into the crowd again, with one last defiant chant.

This memory from my holiday popped into my mind recently when I was thinking about the dreams we have that don’t come true.

Although it’s a comical example, I think it makes for a great analogy.

You have a dream – in this case to share a funny football chant.

You get all excited imagining your dream coming true – in this case, an entire football stand singing your chant and being hugely entertained.

You pluck up the courage to take action – in this case, starting the singing on your own.

And then it all goes wrong – in this case, no-one joins in.

What seemed like a good idea starts becoming a little awkward and embarrassing.

Maybe you hang on in there and try a different approach – like using a recycling container as a megaphone.

But even taking a bolder step doesn’t work – the dream still doesn’t get realised, people still don’t join in.

It can be enough to make you want to curl up in a corner and never have a dream again.

I’ve felt like this at various points in my writing career.

I’ve had a dream about writing a book that will become a best-seller and inspire hundreds of thousands of people with its message.

So I’ve written the book and it’s been published – but then it doesn’t sell many copies.

Or it doesn’t sell enough copies to be deemed a commercial success.

This is the reality for most authors.

Last year I was advised that unless I got a celebrity to endorse my novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, UK retailers wouldn’t stock it in bulk, if at all.

I didn’t get a celebrity to endorse it and so the retailers didn’t stock it in bulk.

I’ve had exactly the same thing with its sequel, Tell it to the Moon.

Despite the fact that the books have got great reviews it’s not enough for most retailers in the UK to really get behind them.

It can be so crushing to invest so much hope and time and effort into a dream, only to be met with disappointment and frustration when it doesn’t come true.

There have been several times over the past few years when I’ve thought about giving up on my writing dream for good. Particularly after the whole ‘celebrity endorsement’ rigmarole.

But I won’t.

Because I’d rather keep believing and keep trying and keep daring to dream than give up and do f*** all with my life.

And anyway, writing is my passion. Always has been, always will be.

While I was writing this blog post I got the following comment from someone on Instagram:

Your book Moonlight Dreamers changed my life and made me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.’

Reading it brought tears to my eyes and re-inspired me.

So what if UK retailers won’t stock my book in bulk because I haven’t got a celebrity endorsement?

Something I’ve written has made a total stranger feel like she can do anything she puts her mind to … and who knows where that might lead.

Which brings me back to my Essex Guy analogy.

OK, so his chant didn’t sweep across the stadium, causing much hilarity to thousands of fans.

But it did cause much hilarity to me and my son – and hopefully you reading this too.

It did provide us with a holiday highlight we’ll never forget.

I’ll also never forget his irrepressible humour and spirit.

That’s how I want to be in life – taking chances, working hard to make things happen (on my own merit), never giving up no matter what.

If you don’t like ‘the rules’ find your own way of breaking them.

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

Even when a dream doesn’t come true the way you’d hoped there’s always a silver lining.

You always will have achieved something.

You will always have a reason to feel proud – because you aren’t one of life’s quitters, you’re a dreamer and a doer.

And in the end, it’s far better to have dreamed and lost than never to have dreamed at all.

If you need more inspiration on not giving up on a dream play this song. And keep on keeping on.


5 Steps to Rediscovering the True You

Let me ask you a question: have you ever faked it to fit in?

On your social media or in real life, have you ever pretended to be something you’re not?

Has this faking instantly made you feel a little shoddy – or a lot unworthy – but you just couldn’t help yourself; the pressure to do so was too immense?

I think there’s way too much pressure on us these days to be something that we’re not.

Pressure from the internet and press, pressure from our peers and social media, to be air-brushed, highly edited versions of ourselves.

But we’re chasing a perfection that’s impossible to achieve.

It was this pressure that led me to write my non-fiction book, True Face.

I wanted it to be an antidote to the perfection police; a rallying call to ‘imperfectionists’ everywhere.

True Face has just been published in America and to celebrate I thought I’d create this handy five-step guide to rediscovering the true you.

Take some time when you won’t be interrupted and complete the exercises below…

STEP ONE: FIND A TRUE YOU PICTURE

Search through your old photos for a picture of yourself looking happy and carefree; a picture that hasn’t been carefully filtered or posed. A picture where you are unguarded and at ease. Take some time to study the photo for signs of your true self.

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This is my TRUE YOU picture. I picked it because it reminded me of how I used to be before I cared so much about what others thought of me. How I would spend hours outside, having adventures with my friends or in my imagination. It reminded me of how happy I feel when I’m in nature. And how free I used to feel, swinging high into the air, or when I was playing in the woods just behind me.

STEP TWO: WHAT DID THE TRUE YOU LOVE TO DO?

Next, I want you to take a trip back in time to when you were a young kid and think about all the things you loved to do. It could be that if, like me, you chose a childhood pic for the previous step, it will remind you of some of those things. Take some more time to delve back into your memories.

What did you love to play? Where did you love to go? Who did you love to be with? What did you dream of being when you grew up?

Use these questions to search for clues. Then ask yourself, which of these things you still love to do – or would love to do? Our passions are often planted inside of us early on, but sometimes we can lose sight of them as we get older and life gets in the way. Make a list of all the childhood passions that still light you up. These are all indicators of the real you.

STEP THREE: TAKE OFF YOUR MASK

I called my book True Face because so often fear can cause us to hide behind masks. In order to take off our masks we have to confront our fears. What does your inner voice of fear like to tell you? How does it hold you back? Take some time to compile a list of your fears when it comes to showing your true self. Fears that you aren’t good enough or clever enough or attractive enough or rich enough or enough enough. Know that you aren’t alone in having these fears. Everyone has them. The key is to learn how to ignore them. When you’ve written your list, go through and challenge each of them.

Ask yourself: is this absolutely, categorically true?

Then ask yourself what you would say to your best friend if she or he came to you saying the same thing about themselves ie; ‘I’m not good enough’. Decide to become your own best friend and reassure yourself in a similar way. By challenging your self doubts and fears it becomes a lot easier to take down your mask.

STEP FOUR: DISCOVER YOUR STAR QUALITIES

This next exercise is a great way to boost your confidence and remind yourself who you truly are and what you’re capable of. Write a list of ten things that you’re proud of achieving. These could be anything from academic or work achievements to something more personal, like being proud of being a good friend or family member or being proud of getting through a really tough time.

When you’ve written your list, make another list of all the qualities you needed in order to achieve each thing. So, if you’re proud of passing an exam the qualities you needed could include, intelligence, determination, discipline, creativity. Or if you’re proud of surviving being bullied the qualities could be bravery, courage, strength, hope. Once you’ve gone through all ten things study your new list. These are your star qualities – a reminder to have belief in yourself. Your true self.

STEP FIVE: CREATE A VISION FOR THE TRUE YOU

Once you’ve rediscovered the true you use your findings to create a vision for your future. How can you use the clues you’ve excavated to discover your true calling? How can you set some goals and build a life that feels more authentic and in keeping with what’s truly important to you? How can you play to your strengths and overcome your weaknesses? Use your photo and the exercises to guide you. And above all, enjoy the freedom authenticity brings you!

All of the exercises above are taken from my book True Face, which is out in America now.

An important and inspirational book. The Bookseller

Inspiring, empowering and ultimately freeing. An incredibly important book.” Once upon a Bookcase

“A brilliant concept … I felt like a more confident, honest version of myself after I’d finished.” Teen Book Hoots

“Curham is a lovely writer who can make the obvious seem fresh and the negative manageable.” The Debrief

American readers, find out more and order a copy here.

UK readers, find out more and order a copy here.

 

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The Puddle of Shame Guide to Overcoming Shyness

It was my first time at Brownies and I was kitted out in my crisp new, still badge-less dress.

The meeting was coming to an end and we were all standing in a circle in the school hall, listening to Brown Owl (the Brownie leader) reminding us all to be good girls in the coming week.

I was seven years old and painfully shy.

So painfully shy that I’d been too scared to ask if I could be excused to go to the toilet – even though I’d needed to go for the entire meeting.

A mixture of too much orange squash + chronic nerves = a bladder that was fit to burst.

As I stood there, crossing my legs and clutching my stomach, I was unable to hold on any longer.

I felt something warm trickle down the inside of my leg, saw a puddle begin to form on the polished wooden floor.

The puddle at my feet grew, just like the red hot shame now radiating through my body.

Please, please, just end the meeting, I silently begged. Please, please, let nobody see.

But then the girl standing across the circle from me began to giggle. ‘Look! Look!’ she cried, pointing to my puddle of shame. ‘She’s wet herself!’ (I still hate her.)

Later that night, I remember hearing my parents talking about me in hushed tones.

Why was I wetting myself at the age of seven, my mum wanted to know. Maybe I needed to see a doctor.

But there was nothing wrong with me physically. It was all down to my crippling shyness. I’d simply been too scared to ask if I could go to the toilet.

Thankfully, there was no repeat of The Puddle of Shame and my folks didn’t end up hauling me off to the docs, but I remained tongue-tied-shy until I got to the age of fourteen.

When I got to the age of fourteen five things happened – my parents split up, I suddenly had  way more freedom than I’d ever had before and, while enjoying that freedom, I discovered a passion for music, political activism, drink and drugs.

When I had a drink and smoked a spliff my shyness melted off into the ganja haze.

But of course, the new-found confidence I was feeling wasn’t real.

It was dependant on stimulants; a false high.

I didn’t realise this at the time, I was way too busy enjoying my release from the prison of shy.

I started going clubbing.

I took drugs that made me feel like the Queen of the World let loose on the dance floor.

Until the come down.

Then I felt like shit.

Because nothing had really changed.

Inside, I was still that tongue-tied kid who was too scared to ask if she could go to the toilet.

Only now I was a young woman who was too scared to pursue her dreams – of becoming a writer and travelling the world.

So I settled.

I settled for a crappy job and spent my travel-the-world fund on the deposit for a flat.

It took me a LONG time to find the confidence to overcome my fear and pursue my writing dream.

Even when I got my first book deal I was still painfully shy.

The first time I had to do a public reading was horrendous.

Thankfully, I didn’t wet myself, but I did read the entire chapter without once stopping for breath, or coming out from behind my book to make any form of eye contact with the audience.

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For the first few years of my writing career I dreaded being asked to do any kind of event, knowing that I’d be sick with nerves for days in advance.

But then everything changed.

I’d been booked to give a talk at a literary event and as I was waiting backstage, fear gripping at my stomach, I had the sudden thought: what if there’s someone in the audience who really needs to hear what you’re about to say?

I pictured this one person, really in need and something within me shifted.

I always got so stressed about impressing everyone, making them laugh, making them like me, not making a fool of myself.

My fear made it all about me.

But what if I made it all about them?

And what if I only made it about one of them?

What if I pictured this person, in need of a pep talk?

Someone plagued by doubt or fear, who’d given up daring to dream.

And what if I focused all of my energy and intention on reaching this one person with my words?

I strode out on to the stage feeling calm and focused.

It was no longer all about me and how badly I was about to do.

Now it was all about my audience and I was simply a channel – a way of communicating a message of hope to the one person who might need to hear it.

I’ve never feared giving a talk or doing an event since then.

If I do find myself in a situation where fear starts to gnaw, I quickly remind myself: make it about them and getting the message to them.

I’ve focused on public speaking in this post but you could use this technique to overcome shyness in any situation.

In a meeting, serving a customer or client, on a date, going out with friends … make it about them.

Instead of fixating on yourself and your supposed flaws, see yourself as a channel – for love, joy, fun, bad jokes, whatever.

Focus on what you can bring to others and you will free yourself from inadequacy and fear.

Trust me on this – I’m living proof.

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My new novel, Tell it to the Moon, is out next week and is all about overcoming fear and daring to dream.

You can find out more and pre-order a copy here.


Be Who You TRULY Are

I was five minutes into a Greyhound Bus journey through America and the driver was welcoming us on board.

If y’all got anything you’d like to say to me, y’all come tell me, I got great ears for listening. But if any of y’all touch me, you’re going straight through that windshield.

He then went on to tell us that, although we could chew gum, we weren’t, under any circumstances, allowed to pop it. And if we ‘got into any trouble‘ while we were on board we were to let him know, so that he could ‘get the police to come meet the bus at the next stop.’

When I’d told people I’d met in America the previous week that I’d be travelling by Greyhound they all reacted in horror. ‘I hope you know how to fight,‘ one guy told me. Another advised me to keep a close watch on my belongings ‘AT ALL TIMES!’

But I wasn’t bothered, I just sat back and drank it all in, as the skyscrapers of Kansas City melted into the flat plains of Missouri and then the lush green mountains of Arkansas.

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At every stop along the way, usually at a remote gas station, more characters would clamber on board, filling my mind with the classic writer’s mantra: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY and HOW?

Where was the spotty teenage boy going, with what looked like all of his worldly goods slung over his shoulder?

What was behind the driver’s decision to tell us we had ten minutes at each stop … but then drive off in five?!

And why were the group of Amish people, who got on just outside of a place named Peculiar, Missouri (true story) riding a bus when they were supposed to travel everywhere by horse and cart?

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As I leaned back in my seat and drank it all in I felt awash with happiness … and then I realised I’d just entered a True Face zone.

True Face is a phrase I coined for my book of the same name, meaning your authentic self.

You enter a True Face zone whenever you do something that allows your true self to come to the fore and shine.

For some people that thing might be running, or baking, or making music or public speaking.

For me, my true self comes alive when I’m travelling.

I love the feeling of expansion and freedom it gives me.

And when that feeling washed over me on the Greyhound Bus, it was like being reunited with an old friend – an old friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

At the start of this year, my life took an unexpected twist into a very difficult time.

And, in an effort to stay on top of things, I completely lost sight of my true self.

Stress does that to you – it picks you up and wrings you out and sends you on to a weird kind of auto-pilot, in which your hopes and dreams and needs and joy are forced to take a back seat.

Maybe you can relate?

Maybe it feels as if you haven’t seen your true self in a long time too.

If so, can I make a suggestion?

Can I suggest that at some point this week you carve out some time for yourself and create a True Face zone of your own?

Go somewhere, do something, or see someone that really lights your true self up.

Lose yourself in the moment.

Let your true self step out of the shadows and shine.

I believe that one of the most important things we can do with our precious lives is make sure we live them authentically.

We mustn’t let our true selves be shrunk by other people’s expectations or our own fear.

We have to be who we truly are.

When I went to America I was expecting to see amazing sights and to eat delicious food and have fun times with family and friends.

The one thing I wasn’t expecting was to be reunited with my free-spirited, true self.

It was the nicest surprise of the trip.

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In a wonderful twist of fate, True Face is being published in the US next month.

Full of real-life anecdotes from myself and others, and packed full of exercises, tips and advice, it will help you let go of fear and allow your true self to shine.

It is already available for US readers to buy on Amazon.com here.

And you can read a recent review of the book here.

(UK readers can get the book here.)


Making Friends with Failure

We need to talk about failure.

Or rather, we need to talk differently about failure.

Failure is something we’re conditioned to dread and not really talk about … and yet failing is an inevitable part of life.

As long as we dream and strive and try to move forwards in our lives we are sometimes going to fail.

So, it makes sense to me to try to reframe failure in a more positive way – as a stepping stone rather than a dead end.

A while ago, I wrote an article on the subject for The Guardian. You can read it here.

Off the back of that article, I was invited to give a talk on overcoming failure at the BBC.

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With Ros Atile, Head of Development at CBeebies

As part of that talk I shared the following 6 steps for dealing with failure positively. 

If you’ve recently failed at something – personally, professionally or creatively – I hope they help you move forward…

Step One

When failure happens, allow yourself to feel sad. Don’t try and block your negative feelings. Acknowledge what happened and that you feel like crap. Throw yourself a pity party.

Step Two

But know when to leave the pity party. Don’t be that annoying guest who stays too long. Don’t wallow in your sadness or anger or fear. Don’t let your failure come to define you. Make the conscious decision to let go and move on.

Step Three

Let go and move on by turning your so-called failure into a positive. Turn it into a positive by asking yourself the question: What is the lesson here? Or, How is what has happened also for the good?

Step Four

Another great question to help you move on is: What does this failure now leave me free to achieve? For example, when I was dropped by my first publisher – a devastating failure for me at the time – it left me free to take my career in a brand new direction and start writing for young adults. This in turn, led to some of my greatest career successes.

Step Five

Let go of the old failure and refocus your attention on a fresh new dream. See this dream as a light at the end of the tunnel, something to aim for to lead you out of the dark.

Step Six

When you’re still reeling from a failure it can be hard to start working towards a new dream. Counteract any inner doubts or fears by adopting a one-a-day strategy. Set yourself the simple task of doing one thing a day towards achieving your new dream, no matter how small. The one-a-day way will build momentum and soon lead you to fresh adventure.

And finally…

It’s not failure that plots our path in life but how we react when things go wrong.

Don’t let your failures imprison or define you, let them educate you and motivate you to move on.


Be Proud of Where You Come From

‘How come I never get invited round to your house for tea?’ my friend Jane asked one day as we embarked upon another epic game of French skipping in the school playground.

It was a question the ten-year-old me had been dreading. I’d been round to Jane’s house many times. It was beautiful and huge and so different from mine it was like visiting an enchanted palace. There was a swimming pool in the back garden and a kitten-soft, leather three-piece suite in the living room and a phone on the wall in the kitchen (back then, having more than one phone in your house was a very big deal and having one mounted to the wall was the height of extravagance). They even had an entire store room devoted to food. Jane’s parents travelled a lot and they always brought back exotic edibles from their adventures. Delicate, wafer-thin biscuits from Belgium, brightly packaged breakfast cereals from America and squeezy candy in tubes from France. All of this overseas food was stored in a small room next to the kitchen – a room Jane and I would raid regularly for midnight feasts.

In contrast, my terraced house was small and two-adults-plus-four-kids-messy and, even worse to ten-year-old me, it was on a council estate (think the projects, US readers).

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The council estate I lived on was called James Bedford Close. I never did find out who James Bedford was but I’m not sure he’d have been all that happy with this tribute to him.

Although the estate was pristine and cheery when it was first built and we moved in – with playgrounds for the kids and brightly painted front doors (ours was canary yellow) and even had it’s own on-site caretaker – things soon went downhill.

The flats on the estate became a dumping ground for troubled people, the caretaker was axed and the brightly painted doors began to chip and peel.

Our childhood games reflected the changes. As well as playing hide and seek and knock down ginger we also started playing ‘spot the junkie’ – spying through the grimy windows of the local druggies’ flats. It was terrifying and exciting in equal measure. You got bonus points every time you spotted a prone body sprawled amongst the carnage inside.

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One family on the estate owned four dogs, named Tyson, Rocky, Rambo and Teddy, who they let roam free, day and night, providing a regular source of terror throughout my childhood and teenage years. My dad became my lifelong hero when he kicked Teddy after it went for me on the way to Brownies one night. Such bravery!

How could I invite my friend Jane from her enchanted palace, with its wall-mounted phones and rooms devoted to food into this world?

The answer was, I couldn’t and I didn’t. I was too embarrassed.

So I came up with ever more elaborate excuses as to why she couldn’t come round. ‘My dad has lots of work to do.’ ‘My mum isn’t very well.’ ‘I’m being punished for not feeding the goldfish. My parents ended up being over-worked and sick and punishing me for most of my childhood.

Fast forward to a few years ago and I’m at a lunch with a group of publishing folk. 

In my experience, publishing folk are very nice folk but they’re also very white and middle class folk and I’ve yet to meet one who grew up on a council estate.

At some point during our lunch the conversation turned to council estates and more specifically, the type of people who live on them.

The conversation became patronising and sneery and ‘ho-ho-ho aren’t working class people so frightfully gross‘.

I felt a rage in my belly, ‘fuck you’ thought-bubbles over my head.

These privately educated, privileged people had no idea of the hardships endured by those living on a council estate. To them, the poor were just peasants, there to be mocked over a nice glass of prosecco.

They knew nothing about the decent, hard-working people who live on estates. The people who are forced to live in the bleakest of conditions, often in property that ought to be condemned.

They knew nothing about the stress this can cause.

They knew nothing about what it’s like to be so poor you have to choose between feeding your kids or yourself.

They knew nothing about the way poverty and powerlessness can sap your will and kill your dreams. But I did.

One night, when I was about sixteen, a local gang set fire to a car outside my bedroom window. It was to prove a turning point for me.

I’d spent the previous two years skiving off school, drinking and taking drugs. I’d begun giving up hope that things could get better.

But as I watched that car burn, I realised I had a choice: I either carried on down that path and ended up condemned to an eternity of living in fear … or I worked my butt off to get to university so I’d be able to leave.

The next two years were like the training montage in a Rocky movie. I stopped drinking and getting stoned and started studying and running, all the while listening to a soundtrack of angry rock music and hip-hop to motivate me.

I made it to uni … and two years later I dropped out of uni as I couldn’t stand being so in debt.

But something inside of me had shifted. I believed in the power of dreams. I had proof of the power of determination and grit.

I kept working and dreaming until I’d achieved my dream of becoming a writer … and ended up at the publishing lunch.

And when the publishing folk at that lunch started mocking the people who live on council estates I didn’t feel embarrassed, like I did back when I was a kid, I felt proud.

Proud that no silver spoon or private education or networking or nepotism had bought me a place at that table – hard graft and dreams had.

And so I told them in no uncertain terms that they were talking crap. That most people who live on council estates are decent and hard-working and have just been dealt a worse hand in life than them.

I told them that I grew up on an estate and I was proud of that fact.

I told them that they ought to think more before they sneered and mocked.

And then there was silence – of the tumbleweed kind.

I went home that day feeling really upset. I liked everyone at that table – it was just their incorrect preconceived ideas that I hated. What if they didn’t want to work with me any more? What if, having worked so hard to get a place at their table, they turned their backs on me?

But that night I got an email from one of the woman present at the lunch, apologising profusely. ‘My parents didn’t bring me up to talk like that,’ she told me. ‘They would have been ashamed to hear what I said. I’ll never talk like that again.’

As I read her words I cried – and I learned another important lesson: we should always be proud of where we come from … and never be afraid to voice that pride.

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Last week, I went back to James Bedford Close.

I walked through the flats where we used to play ‘spot the junkie’.

I saw the ghost of my childhood past clambering over the remnants of the climbing frames.

I looked up at the bedroom window I used to gaze from and dream of better.

And I felt incredibly grateful.

Grateful for the start in life growing up on a council estate gave me.

Grateful for the street-smarts and the savvy and the endless adventures.

Grateful for the lesson that anything is possible with the right amount of grit and the determination to dream.