Category Archives: reading and literacy

Story Sundays

From this week onwards I’ll be putting out something I call ‘Story Sundays’. Every Sunday I will release one chapter of ‘Marcus’ (my new horror book for over 12s) and one chapter of ‘The Ogres’ (for children aged 5 years and up). These releases will continue for the next eight weeks.

Here’s a bit about each of the books so you can decide if you’d like a new chapter delivered to your e-mail inbox every Sunday:

Marcus

Wish you could be a kid forever? The reality is more grim than Peter Pan would have us believe. In this serialised book you’ll meet Marcus; a popular ten year old kid who knows the best games.

Marcus is hiding a secret. One dry November afternoon his friend James finds a second world war photograph bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marcus. The ‘boy’s’ deception is about to unravel.

However, for those investigating Marcus’ secret, their curiosity could be their undoing.

Set within the backdrop of the small Scottish town of Crieff during the 1990s, this is a story about guilt, lies, and sacrifice.

To subscribe to this serialised book simply click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: following this linkYou can now read live chapters by .

The Ogres

The ‘Bigger-Folk’, as they call themselves, have lived under a hill for thousands of years. They know nothing about the hu-mans when they re-emerge into the world.

With the help of two human brothers they learn quickly that marshmallows are delicious, cars are easily torn apart, and people get a shock when you sit in a fire for a heat (The bigger-folk are fire-proof).

In human culture the ‘Bigger-folk’ have had many names; ogres, trolls, giants, orcs. They’ve had a bad rap. All the same, their brains don’t function too well in the ‘cold’ up here on the surface. The brothers are about to find out exactly how clumsy, how destructive, but also how caring these creatures can be.

If you would like to get a new chapter of ‘The Bigger Folk’ in your inbox every Sunday please click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: You can now catch up with the latest chapters by following this link.

Thank You

I’ve been writing for a few years now. My first two books ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ are both available for kindle or in paperback editions (Just click the links).

The only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that people read my work and enjoy it. I’d like to thank you today for stopping by the site and (hopefully) for signing up for the new books.

This is a new concept for me. I’ve never serialised before and I really hope you’ll enjoy it.

If you have any issues with sign-up, or with the e-mails themselves please don’t hesitate to contact me.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

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Books are bad for you!

The primary criticism we hear about technological entertainment is that it is ‘anti-social’. I’ve also heard people insist that it makes people ‘less creative’.

When it comes to parenting advice it’s hard to ignore the growing idea that ‘Technology is BAD!’.

We seem to have a very different view when it comes to reading. It’s not a screen, it’s a ‘traditional’ form of entertainment, and it has a well-recognised link to creative and critical thought. All good, wholesome stuff, surely?

I’m not going to trawl the data running pros against cons. Instead I’ll share a very odd encounter I had with my wife’s grandmother. It was a few months ago and both my sons were fully absorbed in activities on separate hand-held devices. I felt the familiar squeamish sense that most modern parents probably feel; my children were ignoring guests in favour of their tech!

I was about to take their devises away when their great-grandmother looked at them with a smile: “It’s just lovely to see them like that.”

“Books are bad for you.”

It threw me into a sharp mental u-turn. She explained that as a child she was often criticised for her love of reading as it was ‘anti-social’. For some it was even seen as a waste of time, many told her that she should be doing something more ‘productive’. In short, she was told ‘Books are bad for you’. She looked at my sons’ use of tech as being equally beneficial to her childhood reading.

Penguin books began in 1935 and with the help of Woolworths, it pushed the notion of mass-market paperbacks into the public consciousness. It’s hard to speculate what the overall opinion of this new influx of books would have been even decades later but I imagine it would still be quite a new thing to see children in all walks of life sitting reading.

Computer games have been around since the seventies but the hand-held game didn’t appear in the mass market until I was a child (the late 80s early 90s). Even then it was only my ‘rich’ friends who had one. They were still a luxury and by no means ubiquitous.

Since then hand-held devices have grown cheaper and more accessible. Their capacities have grown more diverse as well, as they come to serve an increasingly social and educational role (Gameboys didn’t let you chat to your friends after dinner, and to the best of my knowledge Mario never helped any of my friends with their homework). This sort of tech has a lot going for it.

Even the gaming itself has come to offer more depth, with more demands on critical thought, and on creative energies. Should we be so quick to condemn these glowing rectangles that now permeate our lives?

Where’s the harm?

There’s clear evidence that the actual light generated by screens can have a detrimental effect on sleep patterns, but at the end of the day doesn’t all artificial light? Gaming is also known to increase serotonin levels to a degree that can trigger addictive behaviours. This isn’t good and I’m sure I see a degree of this in my own children, but the same jittery, manic effect can be achieved with a big bag of sweets sneaked in by Granny.

I’m not going to say screens are perfect (and as an author I obviously have a vested interest in getting people to read books) but I can’t help but wonder if we’re vilifying the tech rather than turning the lens on ourselves as parents.

At the end of the day my own interest in my facebook/twitter feed, my blog reader stats, or even my work e-mails, will have its own (fairly large) part to play in any detrimental technological experiences that my children have.

It’s not the zombie in their game that will do them the most harm, it’s the zombie on the couch beside them. He doesn’t demand ‘brains’ but instead insists ‘I can’t just now, I have to answer this e-mail’. It is here that technology does the most harm to a child’s development, and the solution is blindingly simple (though it will make most of us uncomfortable to admit it).

Does my out-of-hours attention to my e-mails etc. mean my kids will grow up thinking that they should never have ‘down-time’? Does my own interest in social media make it look like ‘likes’, ‘followers’, and ‘shares’ are of equal importance to real-world feedback? Tech isn’t to blame for this, it’s me. Tech isn’t bad, books aren’t bad, it’s the lack of family engagement and shared interests that does the most harm.

I’m off to read with my kids now. If you’d like to do the same feel free to grab a copy of my book Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame, a fantastical family adventure with were-polar-bears, magical fairgrounds, odd little men who kick heads first and ask questions later, and (of course) a world hidden just behind our own; a world called Fey.

As always, thanks for reading, if you have anything you’d like to share about this post feel free to pop something in the comments section below or over on my facebook or twitter profiles (and yes I do see the irony, given what I’ve just said about screens and social media).

All the best, John

The One Day One Book Challenge

Do you always wish you had more time to read? Do you wish your kids would find reading more enjoyable? Either way you may benefit from a one day one book challenge.

Here are the basics.

  • Commit: Set aside 6 to 8 hours within one single day for reading.
  • No distractions. I recommend a Sunday or a day during the holidays. I will be doing mine of Christmas Eve, which in Iceland is called ‘Jolabokaflod’ or “The Christmas Book Flood”, where people give each other books as presents and you spend the rest of the day reading. Seems a good time to go for it. (You can add the event to your Google Calendar now)
  • Don’t go crazy: Pick a book that you can realistically finish at a normal reading pace (Standard middle-grade fiction length would work well for a family reading aloud together, otherwise an individual, or group of individual readers, should get through a novel-length book in the same amount of time). May I recommend ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (if you haven’t already read it)
  • Share the Load: If reading aloud, be open to sharing the load. Invite friends/family young and old to read what they can out aloud too.
  • Keep it Fresh: The book must be new to everyone involved. (Again, may I recommend ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ or even ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ if you’ve already read the first book 😉 )
  • This aint ‘fight club’ (OPTIONAL): Tell everyone. Share your progress and experiences on Twitter or Facebook with #onedayonebook

How do you know this is doable?

I’m not claiming extensive knowledge so use your own judgement. Here’s where I got my numbers from.

I read to my kids at a rate of about thirty to forty pages an hour (we get through an average chapter in about half and hour). I figure I could keep this up in one individual day for four to six non-continuous hours (I’ll need breaks). This should let us get up to two-hundred and forty pages read in one day (once we count in breaks for tea, food, fresh air etc.).

With this rate in mind we’ll be avoiding Harry Potter (both because of length but also because most of the family have read all the Harry Potter Books already). As much as I love them, most of the books in the series are very long and probably aren’t suitable for this challenge. If you have a few ready volunteers though you could always give it a go (just watch you don’t lose your voice).

I have no idea if anyone else has tried this, or whether this is a ‘thing’ already. If it is and you can point me in the right direction I’ll be sure to credit the right people here.

Go forth and Read

All I have left to say is I hope you decide to join in. There’s no specific date fixed for this but it would be great to hear how people get on via Twitter. If you decide to join in on Christmas Eve with me I guess we’ll all be in on it together (which is always good at that time of year).

Please also feel free to pop in any suggestions you have for suitable books (also using #onedayonebook).

I hope you enjoy your day of reading,

All the best, John

 

P.S During my own search, I did come across an event called ‘One Book One Day’. During the course of this event a whole school chooses to read a single title throughout the school day. Staff and pupils are all reading the same thing which should lead to discussions about the book as they go. This sounds like a great idea, just think how good it is when you meet someone reading the same thing as you at the same time and then multiply that by a whole school. Definitely one for teachers to think about. You can find out more information here.

P.P.S: Also hastag readabookaday https://twitter.com/hashtag/readabookaday?src=hash

Your fears and mine

You wake to see the shadow in the doorway. Unmoving, its silhouette breaks the illusion of safety. Your home no longer belongs to you. 

You shift position and realise the thing at the door was simply a trick of the light. The shadow of an object so mundane it makes you laugh (a jacket, a bag, something hung on the door handle).

You pull the covers back over your head and enjoy the warmth. Snuggled tight, you try to enjoy your silliness, to laugh off the fear. 

But the fear won’t go easily and the memory of that spector in your doorway plagues you. Hiding in the fringes of your vision and at the edge of your dreams. It will not be an easy night.

I’m writing a horror book and it’s given me a new found respect for R L Stine. Stine is the author of the infamous ‘Goosebumps’ series of children’s horror books (among many other titles) and he is very good at what he does.

There appears to be a tightrope to walk when writing horror for children. It wobbles between thrills and frights, and a true sense of horror. I walked the tightrope for the first eight chapters and then I fell in.

This new book is not for kids.

The difference became apparent when a main character takes in the reality of what they’ve done. That depth of responsibility, the reality of remorse somehow made things grow a lot more ‘adult’.

This made me wonder if there is a fundamental difference in what can terrify a child and an adult. We will overlap in the basic self-preservation fears, those that make us run from the monstrous (we all want to stay safe after all). However, do adults find a different kind of horror in recognising the monstrous in themselves?

Is the deep end of horror found in the place in our brain where our own monster lives? I’d love to hear what you think so please leave your own ideas in the comments section below.

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Free Author talks for schools

free book talks author scotland perthshire john bray jack reusen

I recently passed my driving test (at the tender age of thirty-five). The surest motivation in the weeks leading up to it was school book talks. I’ve ran school talks before but I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to get to the talk on foot, by bus, or on more than one occasion I managed to wangle a lift from a teacher (thanks Mr Scoogle!).

Now I’m fully mobile. I can get to the most remote little primary school in the middle of nowhere if I’m asked to. It’s a wildly freeing feeling and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

I’m aiming to have a new batch of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (book 1) printed up over the next few weeks and then I’ll be all set for book talks wherever the call is issued (within reason). For this reason my schedule will mean that the first talks will take place some time in October.

I’m based in Perthshire (Scotland) and I don’t charge for book talks but I do fund them by selling copies of the Jack Reusen books at the talks themselves. I can set up a pre-order option for teachers so that pickup and signing etc. is as smooth as possible.

However, I’m also happy to turn up on the day with a batch of books. That said, pre-order ensures that I have enough books on hand at the talk (I can also pre-sign books to help reduce wait time after the talk is finished).

Talks can be themed around the methodology of writing, book production, story-telling, research, or I can simply talk about the books (this allows me to cater to classes from primary 3 and upwards). I’m also happy to discuss a more regular visit schedule for things like writing or book making workshops (though I may have to charge a small fee for these to cover travel, and resources, etc.)

If you would like me to visit your class (or other children’s group, club, or organisation) to talk about writing and stories please get in touch using the form below. I look forward to hearing from you. All the best, John

Why are Jack Reusen books so short?

harry potter page 1A long long time ago (actually it was only three years back) I tried to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest son. It was a few weeks after his seventh birthday and he was on holiday from school. I thought that at last he was ready to sit down and enjoy one of the best children’s fantasy series ever written. He wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed it but his attention started lagging in the middle of each chapter. I tried to keep my reading as animated as possible but we still ended up stopping in the middle of some chapters. We would take a break, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes until the next day. For the most part it seemed to work. However, with each break he seemed to forget more details about the book.

At their heart Harry Potter books are mystery books in a fantasy setting. There are clues to remember and puzzles to solve throughout. Forgetting details in these sorts of books takes a lot of the oomph out of them.

I would be asked things like ‘Who’s Ron?’ ‘Why can’t Harry just do magic straight away?’ or possibly the most telling ‘Why does he live with his Aunt and Uncle?’ (asked when Harry has his first Hogwarts Christmas). It was clear he was forgetting more than he was remembering and at around chapter six or seven I could see that almost everything was going over his head.

We put Harry Potter away, to come back to when he was a bit older. All the same, the experience of trying to retain his interest lodged in my mind.

This sensation came back to me when November of 2014 rolled in. The nights grew long, and I discovered a new way to write. NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) fell into my lap. They said something like ‘you have a book inside you waiting to get out’ and I realised that there really was.

Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame became something that I needed to write; something fantastical, exciting, relatable, and importantly, a book that could (hopefully) maintain the interest of an energetic seven-year-old like my son.

There are lots of books for seven-year-olds. Incredible, exciting, sometimes hillarious books, but I felt like I could write something a bit different. I wanted an element of the seriousness of ‘older’ fantasy books, and a slight taste of the danger and thrills that come with that.

From my own experience I realised that I could hold my son’s attention for about ten minutes, so (estimating a reading speed of about 250 words per minute) I worked out that my chapters needed to be no more than 2,500 words long.

I also wanted to make sure the story could be read all the way through in a relatively small space of time so I limited my chapter count to be sure that the whole book could be read in around a fortnight (at a rate of one or two chapters per night).

When I released the first book in the Jack Reusen series I began to hear that other families were having exactly the experience I’d hoped they would. (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that some parents were sneakily reading ahead to see what happened next). These responses were brilliant, then, around a month after release, I heard something that changed the way I looked at the books.

At the time I worked in a local toy shop. One of our regular customers came in specifically to thank me for writing the book. I hadn’t been thanked for the book before.

It turned out that she had been trying to get her nine year old son to read chapter books for years. Nothing caught his interest. Then she gave him ‘…the Fey Flame‘ and apparently he read the whole thing in just a few nights. I was taken aback and told her how happy I was that he had enjoyed the book so much.

That boy wasn’t the last to say something similar about the Jack Reusen books. The shorter length seems to have made it easier for a lot of children to enjoy. Now that I know I’m helping kids get into reading I can’t bring myself to change the formula.

The original idea was to give families something that they could enjoy together, but a fantastic side-effect seems to be getting more reluctant readers caught up in a book. I love reading and the idea that someone might miss out on the enjoyment of it is disheartening. If writing short chapters and short books helps get a few more kids enjoying reading then I’ll write as many of these books as I can.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your own favourite short/quick reads in the comments below. All the best, John

The Yuletide Theives (a pressie for Crieff Primary)

Jack Reusen John Bray Crieff Primary summer king jenny copland grace russell

Last year I launched a book that is a little different to the other stories set in Jack’s world. It’s about making friends in new places and learning to enjoy new things, but most of all it’s about saving people’s Christmas presents (and even Christmas dinners) from being stolen by a ten eyed monster.
The whole story is the result of a character designing competition I held in Crieff in the summer of 2015. Three winning designs were selected and the story was created to give those characters a home.

Since all three of the winners were pupils at Crieff Primary School I decided to set aside all profits from sales of this book to the school.

If you’d like a wee Christmas story to read in the run up to the big day (and fancy supporting a great wee school) you can get your copy by clicking this link. I hope you enjoy it, please let me know what you think.

All the best, John