Crumbs. Or, the writer as lover…

Crumbs. Where to start?


Really, I should have written this post about a month ago when I was in the thick of writing a children’s chapter book, but of course work and family (and illness) kept me pretty busy, and every spare moment was taken up by actually writing the book rather than blogging about writing the book.


But anyway… my memory’s not that bad; I can still remember that glorious feeling of being in the thick of building a literary world. As I consider myself to be more of an evening/night person I wrote for about an hour after midnight (and in spare moments during the day – such as during my kids’ weekly swimming lessons). Although I was already tired by the end of the day, I still really looked forward to my hour’s writing when I knew it would be just me, the laptop and my imaginary world. I gave myself a rough goal – to write about 500 words (a chapter) a night, and incredibly, I managed it. The book (a gift for my daughter’s 8th birthday) has been read by the said daughter (and her father who did really well with the different voices of the characters), and I’m currently processing the fact that they both enjoyed the book, although they found some bits confusing/unsatisfactory. My husband gave me more detailed feedback later on (he’s a brilliant editor) and so I’m now thinking about how to edit the book in light of their comments.


But it’s that wonderful feeling that I want this post to be about, not how the story is going. It’s just that it’s probably only writers who can understand that amazing feeling of being in the middle of creating a world in their head and then capturing it in words that make it onto paper (or a Word document). This feeling is akin to being in love. Or as Matt Weiner (creator of Mad Men) says of writing: It’s like having a mistress (!) It’s that wonderful feeling that catches you off-guard during the day, and makes you swell with joy. I’m writing something! I’ve got my own secret world in my head. And it’s mine, all mine! It’s the kind of feeling that makes you smile to yourself when you’re mired in chores and dealing with the everyday boring stuff like paying bills, making food, sorting out sibling arguments, loading the dishwasher, persuading my youngest to wear some shoes when leaving the house, doing the laundry etc. etc.


Unfortunately, I’m a little out of love at the moment — being in the no-(wo)man zone of having to decide on whether to go back and finish editing my first novel or edit my children’s chapter book or continue with the YA novel which has been sitting dormant for a while…


I don’t like this ‘out of love’ stage very much. And I miss my midnight hour of writing. I just don’t think that editing a whole novel will be effective when I’m already bleary-eyed. That time is fine for writing new stuff, but not really for the task of editing. And I’m pretty sure that the midnight writing hour didn’t help with warding off illness… So I’m considering shifting my body clock and getting up early to write. That’s how much I want to be ‘in love’ again!


Fairy cake by Marija Smits

Fairy cake by Marija Smits

Art-wise, I haven’t been able to do much. Midnight is not great for painting or drawing, but I have been able to paint a little bit alongside the kids during the day. At the moment we’re all in love with drawing/painting cakes, and so of course we’ve been busy baking, although the crumbs left behind by two messy children after actually eating the cakes drives me slightly bonkers! And there we go, we’re back to crumbs… ;-)


Many thanks to Maddy at and Chrissie at for coming up with this brilliant linky :-)

Writing Bubble

The Art of Faerie

Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival

This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’.

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

When Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales was published I remember reading snippets of arguments/discussions online as to whether there should have been illustrations within it.

In an interview, Philip Pullman stated:

“I don’t think illustrations tell the right kind of story or add the right kind of atmosphere.

Illustrators typically turn them (the characters) into people – I don’t think they are people, I think they’re masks.

There’s no psychology in a fairytale. You don’t need to go into people’s back stories and talk about motives. Looking at other people’s adaptations, I realised what I’d like is a very swift telling that doesn’t clutter it up with description.”

Well… being a big fan of Women Who Run With The Wolves I think there’s a strong case for there being a huge amount of psychology in a fairy tale – but I guess that what Philip Pullman means is that, in general, the characters of fairy tales are stereotypes. They need to be pretty ‘flat’ so that the pacing of the story isn’t hindered by time spent exploring the character’s history or thoughts or feelings. They merely act so that the story can rattle along and impart its truths to us. Important things like:

Forests can be dangerous places if you’re in them all alone.

Never trust a stranger who is that little bit too interested in you.

Trust in your own gut instinct.

Another reason, I think, that the characters have little depth to them is so that we, as a reader, can add our own personalities to them. We give the characters our own feelings and thoughts and histories… and if we’re lucky, and not constantly immersed in the saccharine sweet reinterpretations of some of the tales, we can take away powerful emotional truths and find comfort therein.

But, but, but…

I have to (in part) disagree with Philip Pullman! Because, for me, the illustrations of some of these tales have absolutely bedded themselves deep in my memory, and I think that the best artists, the best illustrators absolutely DO “tell the right kind of story” and “add the right kind of atmosphere.” (Arthur Rackham surely being one of the best fairy tale illustrators ever.)

Grimms' Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Grimms’ Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Many of the Grimms’ tales are so very well-known and well-loved, and yet who can actually reliably remember and quote from the Grimms’ tales word for word? My point is that the actual words don’t matter so much, (these tales aren’t considered to be great literary works), they are simply ABOUT THE STORY. Stories take root in our minds… as do images.

I still have very fond memories of reading these books as a child. Now, I read them to my children and I’ve noticed that my daughter, in particular, loves the pictures, just as I did.

My old fairy tale books

My old fairy tale books

The pictures within these books really are somehow magical. I particularly love the quirky style of the Russian version of Cinderella. I was clearly so impressed by it as a little girl that I drew my own version of the Russian Cinderella (I found it only the other day still tucked into the book!).

Russian Cinderella

Russian Cinderella

I have always loved art, and I believe that these fairy tale images imparted in me a love of art and fine illustration. They inspired me to draw, to paint… and then of course I became all grown up and started putting up hurdles to creating (although, admittedly I wasn’t particularly encouraged by teachers). I remember walking around Tate Britain with my future husband years ago and being deeply moved by the amazing paintings of faeries and knights and other fantastical beings on show in their special pre-Raphaelite exhibition. I understood that I could never, ever, do anything as good as them. It just wasn’t a possibility.

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Many, many years later though, my children helped me to reawaken my passion for creating with paint and pencil. Being that bit older (and surely, wiser) I realized that I had to put in the time to make my art better. And so I began to put in the time.

One of the best things about learning to draw and paint nowadays is that students of art have the amazing resource that is YouTube. A while ago I was searching for a tutorial on how to paint a face in watercolour and I found something I was blown away by…

The music, by the way, is by the amazing Green Children. I watched this video so often that I asked for their CD ‘Strange Encounter’ for Christmas. It’s now a firm family favourite.

We were all intrigued by the name of the band and my husband discovered that it was from an old English folk tale ‘The Green Children of Woolpit’. It does have a rather sad ending, but it’s maybe something that I may put my own spin on one day…

As I practised my art I realized that some of my paintings had become successful enough to be put “out there” and my ‘Lady Seaweed’ on the front cover of The Forgotten and the Fantastical was one of those more “successful” pictures. As I wrote in the book about my story ‘Lady Seaweed’ or ‘Tristesse’:

“I painted the woman who graces the front cover of this book in one of those subconsciously-driven moments of creativity.”

Basically, I was doodling and having fun while listening to music and there was no pressure to create something perfect. Surely that’s where all art has to start from — the idea of creating as a joyful process.

So nowadays, one of my favourite family activities is listening to The Green Children’s ‘Strange Encounter’ while we either paint or doodle or draw. (I simply ignore the fact that the dishwasher needs unloading!)

A while ago I became a fan of The Green Children on Facebook, and I discovered that they’re working on another album (their third I think) and they posted that they were keeping themselves inspired in the studio by surrounding themselves with beautiful works of art. This was one of those pieces:

Arthur Rackham illustration of 'The Old Woman of the Forest' from the original book of Grimms' fairy tales

Arthur Rackham illustration of ‘The Old Woman of the Forest’ from the Grimms’ fairy tales

And so we have come full circle to the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham, and the power of images (as well as story) to capture our imaginations.


The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:

In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.

‘Wings’ — Rebecca at Growing a Girl Against the Grain shares a poem about her daughter and explains the fairy tale-esque way in which her name was chosen.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.

Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’

‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales.

In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.

‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Things I have done today (and every other day for the past seven years)

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.


Things I have done today: 26th February 2015


  1. Wake and breastfeed my son.


  1. Persuade my sleepy daughter to get dressed and ready for school.


  1. Throw on some clothes over my own pyjamas.


  1. Take my daughter (whilst carrying sleepy son – still in his pyjamas) to school. Cuddles and kisses all round as we wave her off.


  1. Come home and eat some breakfast in the kitchen while helping my son, J to make a big tower from boxes of tea on one of the counters. I pass the boxes back to him when they topple over.


  1. Sit at our art table and begin to draw. J sits beside me and organizes his pencils. He tells me that I should put more colour into my drawing. He draws a picture too and we (mostly) swap compliments!
Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

  1. J then wants his ‘plano’ (a tinny-sounding electronic keyboard). We hunt for the plano (even going into the attic to have a look) but there’s no plano. We phone daddy who is at work. He tells us it may be hidden in the kitchen. We find the plano!


  1. I start to clean the bathroom (it desperately needs doing!). J plays his plano. I hope that this will keep him busy for a bit but it doesn’t. He soon wants to do some baking, and so he goes downstairs. It is quiet as I scrub the inside of the shower and take out gunky bits of goo with a pair of tweezers. Note to self: clean the tweezers before I use them on my eyebrows.


  1. It is too quiet. I ask J what’s going on. ‘Sorry mummy, I made a mess.’ I go downstairs and discover a ‘semolina soup’ in a Tupperware container. There is semolina on the table and the floor. It’s not too bad. I’ve seen worse. We clear up the spilt semolina and my young scientist/chef says he wants to add baked beans to his soup. He gets out a tin and I help him add JUST THE ONE SPOON.


  1. I help J to cook his semolina soup in the microwave. He’s adamant that it’ll be delicious. He eats a spoonful and then says it’s too hot. He goes off to make a ‘shop’ in the lounge. I go back to cleaning the bathroom, and occasionally encourage him to come up and help me.


  1. I try to have a shower, but J says he now wants to play with me. I get all huffy and a bit shouty – I’m feeling grubby and I want that shower! Then I feel bad and help him to build a slide out of beds. I remember to cut myself some slack: Hey, I’m doing all right! Before I enter the shower I see J playing with some blocks. The slide’s already got boring.


  1. Have a shower, get dressed. J goes downstairs while I dress. It goes quiet again. I go downstairs and discover black paint all over the art area desk. A big bouncy ball is sitting in the black paint, dripping with paint. I do my best to clean the desk and J. We then go to the kitchen and cook scrambled eggs and beans. J helps me with cracking the eggs into the frying pan. He even stirs them about with a fork.


  1. We eat our lunch and then J goes off to play by himself. I tell him that I’m taking him to pre-school soon and so I try dressing him. I try but it’s not happening. He says he doesn’t want to go to pre-school and I end up chasing him around the dining table, looping around it about 20 times. I’m puffed out and I realize that we’re evenly matched in this race. I use my mama strength and start to block him in a corner by moving the dining table. He realizes that I’ve got him now, so we talk constructively about how I can help him settle in pre-school.


  1. I give him a quick feed and then we go to pre-school and J is happy. He’s really involved in the counting they’re all doing and although I tell him a few times that I’m going now he doesn’t take any notice of me.


  1. I go home, slightly worried that J may be unsettled when he realizes that I’m no longer there. I make a strong coffee, worry a little more, then focus on the work at hand: answering emails and editing a short story. I’m a little surprised and disappointed at how little I get done in 2 hours.


  1. I pick up J who is happy, but then I ask the careworker how he was, and apparently he was upset for a minute or two when he’d realized I’d gone and he’d forgotten to say goodbye. He was okay soon enough though, she says, but still, I feel bad. I try to mentally give myself a hug (while giving him lots of hugs course!).


  1. We go home (it’s not far) switch on the telly, watch it for 5 minutes and then go back out to school to pick up my daughter.


  1. And then it’s snacks and swimming… When they’re both in the water I get out my note book and write for a tiny bit. Then it’s back to running after my son, whose lesson has finished. He has taken off his swimming trunks and is running into the shower. I get wet as I walk into the public showers in order to persuade him to put his trunks back on. My daughter looks on and giggles. They stay in the shower for as long as they want (well, until all the other kids have gone) and then I manage to grab a big changing room for all three of us and J has a quick feed as I’m getting him dressed.
J and I, photo by Marija Smits

J and I, photo by Marija Smits

  1. Shopping with the kids – always a bit fraught, and then home again, to a bit of social media while they watch telly, and then cooking. My husband comes home, tired and weary, and we eat together, sharing the highlights of our day.


  1. I help J build a machine (gluing and sticking cardboard and then painting) while trying to get a tiny bit more of my drawing done. My daughter, R does her homework with her dad.


  1. Then it’s bedtime shenanigans, with books to be read, ‘sneaky’ snacks to be eaten… Sandwiches for tomorrow to be made. Teeth to be brushed over and over…


  1. By 10 p.m. J is finally asleep. I read for a bit, then make my husband and myself a cup of tea (he’s working on his computer) and I spend an hour working.


  1. Another cup of tea and then I write when everyone else is in bed and fast asleep. I lose myself to the world I’m building in my head, and finally go to bed at around 1 a.m. beside my four-year-old son. I feel incredibly grateful to still be able to snuggle up next to him. It won’t be long until he’ll want his own room like his sister (although she does still love to snuggle with her mummy). My mind returns to the book I’m writing and slowly… my thoughts become dreams.


  1. J wakes and stirs. I feed him back to sleep and then doze off myself.


Blue Moon, by Marija Smits

Blue Moon, by Marija Smits (the pretty-much finished version of the drawing I started on the day I wrote about). I think J still thinks there should be more colour in it!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 10 with all the carnival links.)

Alternative Valentine images

I know that some people really hate Saint Valentine’s Day and some people really love it. I have to say that I quite enjoy it – for me, nowadays, it brings a much-needed injection of colour in a month that is often grey weather-wise.

However, I’m really not into most of the commercial Valentine goo out there, and thought it would be fun to share a couple of ‘alternative’ Valentine images in case anyone was in need of a something bit different.

So here goes…

First up we have some very groovy monsters thanks to the artwork print-outs generously shared by Busy Mockingbird. (My kids, aged 4 and 7, really enjoyed colouring in these dudes. We could have given the monsters lollipops to hold – hence the ‘sucka’ bit, but we didn’t have any because we try our best to keep sweets out of our kitchen cupboards. Anyway, the lolly stick was just as much fun to add.)

JB & RB valentine monsters

JB & RB valentine monsters


Then I couldn’t resist drawing some slugs. Why? I don’t know. Just ‘because’! ;-)

Slugs in love, by Marija Smits

Slugs in love, by Marija Smits


And finally, if you like the idea of a more romantic image, but without too much goo, there’s this:

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits


I drew this a couple of days ago, with my little boy beside me, eager to join in. Some paint and paper of his own * just* about kept him distracted for long enough for me to be able to finish this. It was then gifted to my husband, who very rarely gets any artwork from me. I hope it’s a pleasing-to-look-at reminder of how the romantic love between us is the invisible glue that helps to keep this whole crazy family together. :-)

And I was humbled… (my writing epiphany)

The other day I had one of those moments – an epiphany, if you like – where I could actually see where I was along my own personal writing journey. It wasn’t a ‘hooray’ epiphany – more of a slow-hand-clap one – because always in retrospect one can’t help thinking Why didn’t I know this already?

Anyway… the point is that I don’t think of myself as a novice writer. I’ve been writing for most of my life, on and off, and pretty seriously for about the last seven years. Like many an HSP when I go about learning a new skill I do it seriously, which means that I learn from a book and then do the work, methodically, pedantically (and yes, slowly).

When I began seriously writing poetry about five years ago I very quickly came to the realization that I really knew nothing about metre, form, style, rhythm. I had to correct this, so I did some research on books about writing poetry and began the work. Thankfully, I discovered Stephen Fry’s excellent The Ode Less Travelled, so the learning and the ‘work’ – as such – were a pure joy. So poetry-wise… I’m a little more confident of myself.

Yet when it comes to prose I haven’t really done the work. I HAVE been practising though and because I’ve had a few successes and publications I guessed that I could (in the main) ‘do’ article writing and fiction.

So when a short story I’d written a while ago was torn to shreds (okay, I’m exaggerating here, but I’m doing it for dramatic effect) by my editor-pal (okay, he’s not an editor-pal, he’s my very kind husband, but really, he is one of the best editors I know!) I was pretty crestfallen (a sobbing wreck). Again, it’s an HSP thing… I get very upset by criticism (even when I know it’s sound) because I find it difficult to separate my personal worth from the words that I’ve crafted.

But… I’m working on this. And because we *try* our very best to communicate well with each other, everyone in my family knows that it’s okay to have (and show) these feelings of upset… but that afterwards we move on and try to learn from what has happened.

So, here was the epiphany: I have to do the work when it comes to writing fiction. Yes, my story was written a long while ago, so I know I’ve improved since then, but I had edited it only recently, and clearly, none of the story’s faults presented itself to me then.

What I have to do is this: learn to read more critically as a reader, and really take the time to learn more about creating believable characters, POV, use of tense, flow, plotting etc. I’ve been running on instinct up until now (and it’s served me well enough, I might add) but now is the time to DO THE WORK. Thankfully, the fantastic Emma Darwin has a great list of books about the craft of writing fiction (and because of the aforesaid wonderful husband/editor-pal we already have some of these books – I’ve just not got around to reading them as yet. SILLY ME!)

So, at last, I can see where I am on my writing journey. I thought I was getting closer and closer to the top of my getting-better-at-writing mountain. In fact, I’m pretty much at the foothills and there’s a huge way to go. It’s pretty sobering, this realization, and somewhat upsetting, but you know what, it’s okay. I’m thankful that I’ve at least got to where I am now, having learned lots on the way, and when I get too blue, my wonderful family and very sweet children always cheer me up.

Coming back from my son’s gymnastics class the other day (he’s four and has recently started going to his own ‘big boy class’) my mind was full of “woe is me, my life is so grey at the moment” thoughts, but as I carried him to the car he looked about us and said, ‘Ah… look at the birds in the air, the beautiful trees and smell the fresh, good air. Ah… that’s the life.’ And I couldn’t help but think that here, in my arms, was a great philosopher. And I was humbled. :-)


p.s. since writing this blog post I’ve also had an experienced poet critique some of my poems. Again, it’s been sobering… and it looks as though I’ve got to go back to the poetry drawing board too. And as I’ve just been through a painful tooth extraction (of a molar which had already had root canal work done on it) I’m going to take a little time out from this writing malarkey and just focus on the things that will help me to heal, both physically and spiritually!


Extracted molar by Marija Smits

Extracted molar by Marija Smits


Looking back, looking forward

Okay, so this won’t be a stunningly original post, but I still feel it’s necessary.

I look back at 2014 and words like ‘overwhelming’, ‘upsetting’ and ‘super-busy’ come to mind (all mainly with negative connotations) as I struggled to come to the decision to let go of my involvement with the charity La Leche League and focus all my energies on my family and work. My son started pre-school (a few sessions a week) and that proved a challenge. My daughter’s adjustment to her new school year proved (and still proves) a challenge. Finding time to unwind and chat to my husband at the end of a long, tiring day was challenging too as work and the needs of our children seemed to fill every available moment. Financial burdens weighed down both our shoulders.

Yet words like ‘enriching’, ‘friendship’ and ‘creative’ spring to mind too as I recall the inspiring books I read last year; the wonderful chats I had with my friend Helen and my artistic and literary endeavours which brought fruit (spiritual and financial).

2014 was also the year I got old. I don’t mean this in a vain way – anyone who sees me on a daily basis knows that ‘I dress down’ most days. (My husband and children tease me and affectionately call me a ‘bag lady’. Actually, on reflection, I think that’s a bit offensive to bag ladies who I think are very vintage chic!) What I mean is that I actually took note of the bags under my eyes and deep frown lines. I don’t really have any issue with them, the point is that I noticed that they are now there on a permanent basis. Although, when I smile they (mainly) seem to dissolve…

2014 was the year I started to run an art club at the local school. It was also the year that I received several commissions for illustrations. It was the year I fell in love with Zentangling and felt a deep urge to create with pencil or paint nearly every day. I felt (and still feel) a real sense of gratitude for the fact that some of my art resonates with some people.

Zentangle lady with heart necklace by Marija Smits

Zentangle lady with heart necklace by Marija Smits, inspired by the poem ‘Jet Heart’ by Angela Topping


2014 was the year that I made myself focus more on the positivity of saying ‘no’. To ensure I got a little time to write or paint I had to say ‘no’ to something or someone. I reminded myself that it was a powerful ‘yes’ to myself.

As I look forward into 2015, inevitably, I see much (in the way of challenges) that will continue on from 2014, yet I sincerely do hope that the benefits will journey alongside the challenges bringing sunshine too. And anyway, if there are rough patches to negotiate there will always be Morecambe and Wise…  :-)


Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise


Wishing you all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2015!

The Mentor’s Journey (Interlude)

Having just now come to an end of a period of mentorship I am taking a break. I am in an ‘interlude’.

For the past year I’ve been a mentor to a wonderful woman. The year before that I mentored another remarkable woman. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to write about what being a mentor meant to me, and to share my thoughts on what happens now.

For me, being a mentor was a sometimes intense and challenging experience in that it made me think a lot about communication, psychology, societal judgement and what it means to be a mother. Big stuff! It was also incredibly rewarding to see my mentees learning so much, and I learnt a good deal about myself. (It once again confirmed for me my high-sensitivity — I worried a lot about being the best mentor I could be. I worried about getting stuff wrong. I worried about the paperwork details… You get the picture.)

Now that I am no longer a mentor I feel a strange mix of feelings. In some ways I feel relieved (they did it! I did it! Hooray!) and also I feel sad that I won’t be seeing these wonderful women as often as I did before. With many experiences in life there is this same mix of ‘bittersweet’, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any useful examples from film or literature that would give me any insight into the mentor’s journey, and which I could relate to and learn from. What becomes of the mentor? What do they do now?

I could think of many examples of mentor-mentee partnerships (the coupling of Yoda and Luke Skywalker has got to be one of my own personal favourites!) but they tend to focus on the mentee’s journey.

Luke Skywalker and Yoda

Luke Skywalker and Yoda


I thought a little longer… and came up with lots more brilliant mentor-mentee relationships: Frodo and Gandalf, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, Daniel and Mr Miyagi, Jamal Wallace and William Forrester in the film Finding Forrester and Will Hunting and Dr Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting. The scene where Sean (superbly played by Robin Williams) says to Will [about the abuse that he suffered when younger] that ‘it’s not your fault’ over and over again until Will breaks down sobbing has got to be one of my all-time favourite cinematic scenes.

Aside from Gandalf (whose own journey past death/into a higher state of consciousness – I haven’t quite figured that one out! – is witnessed) the focus is on the mentee. At the end of the mentee’s journey (which tends to be the length of the whole film or book) we often see that the mentor has had a life-changing experience – maybe this is the best way to explain what happens to Gandalf – although we don’t get to see what’s in store for them in their new life. We get a tantalizing glimpse that there is a new life ahead of them, although we don’t get to see much of what it looks like.

Then there are the mentee-mentor journeys which go either tragically (or simply horribly) wrong. I’m thinking of Dead Poets’ Society here, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Notes On A Scandal, even Emma by Jane Austen.

Then there are the Sith in Star Wars. How anyone embarking on a mentorship with a Sith (which is basically a mentoring of how to be evil) can think it won’t end up biting them on the bum is a fool. But of course we can’t help but be gripped by how it goes so badly wrong…

Again, these partnerships give fascinating insights into the power (and responsibility) held by the mentor, and how a mentee (and mentor) can be deeply affected by the relationship.

Something I learnt early on from my own mentoring experience is that the mentor and mentee have to be a good fit. I just can’t see how much use can come of a mentee-mentor relationship where both people aren’t attune with each other. (I wanted to use a quote here from Clarissa Pinkola Estes book Women Who Run With The Wolves but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the passage I’m talking about here, please do let me know!)

The word mentor comes from the name of a Greek mythological hero Μέντωρ, Méntōr, who mentored Telemachus. When I thought of the many mentor figures in literature, I could think of more examples of male mentors as oppose to female mentors, but of course being a mentor is not sex-specific. I love how it was actually the goddess Athena, disguised as Mentor, who inspired and counseled Telemachus to go in search of his father Odysseus.

Another interesting facet of being a mentor is that the mentor cannot be tied by blood to their mentee. Their relationship has to exist out of the sphere of the family… It has the potential to be broken (unlike blood ties that irrevocably bind us whether we want them to or not), which, I think, actually gives it its strength.

So… what do I do now? Of course I’m busy with family, work and my own creative pursuits, but a part of me still yearns to ‘give back’ by being a mentor.

I’ve noticed that mentoring schemes are also on the increase. I’ve heard great things from people involved with The WoMentoring Project (for women who write) and think the aims behind the following two organizations are fantastic: The Girls Network (“…a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors from all walks of life. [Their] mission is to raise aspirations and remove the barriers from our girls’ path to success.”) and The Wise Campaign (which aims to get more women into the sciences).

One day, time allowing (!), l may look into these so that I can continue to ‘give back’ by mentoring. Yet for the time being I am in an ‘interlude’. It feels disquieting and yet freeing too. I will await the next act.


p.s. All this referencing to Star Wars reminds me that I’m really looking forward to the next ‘act’ in the Star Wars saga!

p.p.s. Do let me know your own personal mentor-mentee relationships from books and films. I want to know. :-)


Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the inspiring writing prompts.