Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Back from a hiatus...

I've recently returned from a week away, so apologies for everything going quiet on here. I promised myself that I'd be more organised so I should have arranged some message to let the blogosphere know I was away but that proved to be far more organised than I was being. I blame having to pack and make sure tickets and passports were to hand but that's probably just an excuse. I wasn't organised again so Mea Culpa. 

Today should have been a post about reading and/or writing but I have nothing prepared. I did finish a Sherlock Holmes story and start reading The Iliad while on holiday but have nothing to say about them yet.

As for the writing - well I didn't do any while away but I did do a lot of thinking about writing. I guess this is all part of the process; I've been finding it hard to get inspired lately and have nothing bubbling away at the moment. This has worried me a little; I'm used to having ideas brewing most of the time, even if most of it doesn't amount to anything. Someone suggested some writing  exercises so I think I'll investigate those over the next week. Anything to get me writing again, I miss it so much!

I'm also thinking that I spend too much time faffing about. You know, that pointless muddling along that gets nothing done at all. I'm an expert at it and should it ever become an Olympic sport I'm a dead cert for a medal! This means that time passed and I spend too much of it each week lamenting all the things I meant to do but didn't. Because I was faffing, you see. So I'm trying to think of ways to cut down on the faffing and increase the amount of actual stuff I get done.

So there you are, I'm back and as confused about everything as ever. The break seems to have done me no good at all...  

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Prompt - My Happy Place...

The young man taking the Mindfulness class tells us to imagine a happy place. To imagine ourselves in a special, happy place; somewhere we feel relaxed and content.

In an instant I'm there. In my happy place. It is evening, dark with the curtains drawn. There is the hint of wind and rain behind the curtains but that could be a trick of my imagination.

In the kitchen the dishwasher hums gently as it cleans away the remains of a splendid supper. Warm yellow light pools around the room from side lamps, illuminating an ornament, a picture, some books. On a side table are a plate of chocolate biscuits (Hobnobs for preference), a mug of hot chocolate (cream whipped to a froth on top) and a book (embossed leather cover, gold lettering).

I am wearing cosy pyjamas, a snuggly sweater and fluffy slippers. Curled up next to me is a cat - sometimes black, sometimes marmalade, usually fluffy and grey. I stroke his belly and he rewards me with deep, throaty purrs. I slowly sip my chocolate, nibble a biscuit and sink deeper into my chair.

There is a fire - not roaring, gently crackling and glowing. The warmth makes me and the cat sleepy so I put my book down, close my eyes and surrender to the warmth and cosiness.

Somewhere in the distance I can hear voices. My boys are chatting in another room, sorting out some tech problem, putting the world to rights over a motherboard. Soon they will come into the room and change the atmosphere - the cat will jump off the chair to greet them, they will steal a biscuit and turn the main light on. So I must treasure this brief moment of tranquillity and hold it within my imagination ready to appear again when it is needed.

If the Mindfulness bloke is speaking I don't hear him. I am in my happy place, relaxed and content and in no hurry to leave. I can conjure it up at will, to escape from the world and indulge in this part fantasy, part fact confection. My special happy place.  

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Read and Write - My Writing Process

I've been thinking a lot about why I write and waiting for inspiration for my next piece of writing to strike again. But one thing I haven't really thought about is the process I go through when I write. So here I'll muse for a while about my writing process.

When I was a young child I spent many hours making up and telling stories. I used to skip around the garden telling stories about magic toys, fairies, enchanted woods, princesses, all the things I had been reading about in my Enid Blyton books. I had my favourite skipping routes; one of the best was along a wall behind the ferns. I think I enjoyed the soft ferns brushing against my hands as I skipped along. So I was a storyteller at a young age - literally!

Later I took to writing my stories down. I used standard lined exercise books and the first few pages were neat. But as the story poured out of me my writing got scruffy and I didn't always stay on the lines. The words flowed out and I could hardly keep up, there seemed to be far too many for me to get down on paper.

I developed a serious stationery addiction later in life and I always have at least 10 notebooks dotted around. Some have notes and fledgling stories in them; others are pure and virginal, too good to write in yet. They are waiting for an important story or idea, the sort that demands a nice new notebook!

More and more I sit at my laptop and tap out my stories. This is OK most of the time but as my mind works faster than I can type I sometimes get tangled up and need to stop to unjumble what I've written. I enjoy the editing process as I don't have to cross out what I've written - that always feels sad, as if I'm rejecting the ideas and words. Writing can become that personal, can't it? I also like the fact that I don't have to type up what I've written in order to share it with my writing friends, even if it's not something I've written specifically for the blog. I can copy and paste things from my hard drive and share it in an instant, getting feedback that improves my writing.

I often feel guilty about all the half finished, barely started pieces of writing that litter my notebooks and hard drive. It feels like I've abandoned old friends and not thought about them for too long.  But I find it hard to go back to them. They belong to the past and I can't seem to detach myself from the time they were written; I struggle to look at them with fresh eyes. Maybe this is a skill that I need to learn...

I don't have a time when I find it easiest to write, I can write first thing in the morning, after lunch or at night. I think I need to schedule a regular time to write as this will improve the discipline of writing for me - I can be very haphazard in the approach to my writing. So I intend to set aside some regular time to write, maybe just an hour a day and see what happens. With NaNoWriMo coming up soon I need to establish this habit soon to give me the best chance of succeeding this November. 

So that's how it works for me. It's not perfect and it needs work but then being a writer is all about perfecting your craft.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Saturday Style - Hair Matters!

So I finally got round to making and appointment and getting a hair cut. It was well overdue; I'm so bad at scheduling these things that it's only when my hair is drooping in my eyes and as flat as the proverbial pancake that I do something about it.

Here's the evidence of how bad it got

Yet again a dreadful picture taken in the cloakroom mirror!

So there was a sense of urgency about getting something done before my holiday. Also I always enjoy the ritual of having my hair done - having someone wash my hair is wonderful and always makes me feel spoiled.

I wanted something different as well. This is always a traumatic moment for me - having made the decision to change my hairstyle I then need to decide what I want done that's different. I usually leave it up to my long-suffering hairstylist Gill to suggest something. She's very good at interpreting what I want without any clear instructions from me - this time I said 'I want it zhuzhed up', make of that what you will! So I sat back and allowed her to do her magic and tidy up the mess I'd cultivated on my head over the past few months.

And this is where I am now...

I apologise for the silly face but I was trying to instruct my son on the art of taking a flattering picture. Plus I hate having my picture taken so I'm always really self conscious. I need to find a pose and an expression that makes me look less as if I'm a raving loony!

So a good tidy up and some of the heaviness taken away and I'm happy with it. And the new, edgy look I was going for? Maybe next time, when I've thought about it a bit more...

Friday, 11 September 2015

Word of the Week - Reflection

This week I've been doing a fair bit of reflection.

I've been struggling to find any inspiration with my writing. This has happened before but it's still disheartening when it happens. I know that if I obsess about it things won't get any better but that doesn't stop me fretting.

So I've been using the time to reflect on a few things - such as why do I write? It's a complex thing at the best of times but I think the main reason is that I have so many stories inside me that I want to get out. That seems to be at odds with the rubbish writers block I have at the moment but I know that once I get my writing mojo back lots of stories will flow. Some will never see the light of day, stuffed away in notebooks not to be read by anyone; some will be shared on this blog; and some will ferment for a while until they are mature.

So excuse me a little navel gazing but my Muse needed a week off. She'll be back, refreshed and tanned, and then I'll feel more like a writer again.

The Prompt - Change

I'm not good at change. I like things to stay the way they have always been. Routine is important - Monday is shopping and washing day; ironing on Tuesday; Wednesday is a gym day - you get the picture.

I know that change is a part of life. Whether I want it or not. People leave your life who are important to you. Relationships change and evolve. We aren't the same people as we used to be.

Some changes are good. Getting married was a huge change for me. I became part of a couple, I became a wife. A new role to get used to and a new name - good changes. Becoming a mother was a wonderful if bewildering change.  It brought fearful responsibilities and a fierce, protective love. It was a good if sometimes scary change.

Some changes are sad. Losing both of my parents within a few months was a change which I struggled with. There was no one to turn to anymore who would be searingly honest with me. The people who loved and raised me had gone and with them went all their memories of my childhood. I was an orphan in every sense of the word and the only person who could understand was my sister. We navigated the change together and there were tears and laughter in equal measure.

As I get older I am physically changing. Wrinkles, grey hair, aching bones - I hate all these but am trying to embrace them as part of the change of life. There is also 'The Change' as it is quaintly called - that has it's own challenges and most of them I can live without! But I have no choice - my body is changing whether I like it or not.

Change is part of the human condition and much as I hate it, I have to go with the flow. I will try to see the positives in these changes and embrace them. Maybe some good will come of these changes - if only I can let go of the routine a little.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Thought for Thursday - Compassion

Over the past few weeks we have been bombarded by images of human suffering. Pictures of dead children, families on the edge of despair, bombed out communities. Seemingly endless television reports about a tide of humanity escaping from conflict, poverty, prejudice and oppression. It has been hard to watch and listen and has left many of us feeling helpless.

Compassion for our fellow humans is something that I always assumed most people felt. After all, there but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. But it seems that I was wrong. Not everyone has felt compassionate towards the people on our screens. Some countries have tried to stop them entering their territory; others have herded them on to trains like cattle and rushed them across the border to become someone else's problem. People who have fled the unimaginable are turned away, left to fend for themselves, abandoned by our so-called civilised society.

I have no idea what the answer is. I have no idea what any country should do about this crisis. I have no idea what I should do, or even if there is anything one woman in England can do. But I do think we should be dealing with these people with compassion. We should be trying, however hard it is, to put ourselves in their place. I can't imagine how desperate they must feel to attempt a journey across the Mediterranean in a tiny dinghy; I can't imagine dragging my child across deserts and borders to escape persecution; I can't imagine being so scared for my life that I would allow myself and my family to be loaded into a truck to be smuggled into a foreign country. But I do know that I would do almost anything to protect those I love and that is what the people we see on our TV screens and read about in our newspapers are doing.

What makes me angry about this situation is the way some societies are failing these people. Most Middle Eastern states have done nothing to help. They aren't allowing refugees to settle in their countries, they aren't even allowing their citizens to adopt Syrian orphans. How can they turn their backs on their fellow Arabs, their fellow Muslims, their fellow human beings?

I have stayed away from the social media chatter about this subject. I'm still struggling to decide how I feel about the possibility of the RAF bombing targets in Syria; I'm still trying to make my mind up about how the United Kingdom should respond to the refugees camping at Calais; I'm still trying to decide what I think the EU and UN should be doing about the biggest movement of humanity since World War 2.  These are big questions to think about and in my opinion too big and personal to be condensed into 140 characters.

I am worried that the saturation coverage is leading to compassion fatigue, in the same way that it did in the early 1990s about the famine in Ethiopia. I hope a solution is found soon and all the people who are currently trying to find a safe place to live are welcomed into a community and allowed to live peaceful, productive, happy lives with their families. I also hope that the countries they are fleeing from return to peace and no-one else feels the need to risk their lives escaping across continents. Let's all open our hearts to the refugees and treat them with dignity and compassion wherever they end up.   

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Read and Write - Inspiration

I'm linking up with Maddy at www.writingbubble.co.uk  to review where I'm at with my writing at the moment. It won't be pleasant but it may help to sort out some stuff in my head.

What is inspiration and where does it come from? More importantly, why isn't it sticking me at the moment? I'm not getting any of those lovely sparks that precede a good story idea. There are too many unfinished ideas, not fully formed and going nowhere in notebooks and on my hard drive. I feel like inspiration will never strike again and I'm doomed to re-hash old stuff until it's so stale even I can't bear to read it.

I've been writing a few things around writing prompts and links but this is less than satisfactory. I want to be stuck by the muse, to have a wonderful idea for a story that has me so absorbed in my writing that I forget to eat. There are a few pieces of a sci-fi type story that I wrote as a result of prompts which I could work on but I'm not sure where it's going or even if I can write sci-fi - it's not a genre I like or read so I don't know why I wrote that proto story. It might evolve into fantasy but I'm still unsure of it.

All this makes me doubt my meagre abilities as a writer. If I truly was a writer then I'd be able to write, to find inspiration, to plough through the 'writer's block' which is what this must be.

So what's the answer? If inspiration won't strike should I try to force it? Is all this navel gazing part of the problem?

All I have are questions; now I need to find some answers.  

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Prompt - Fleeting

The Dancer
Glimpsed through the window of a Central Line tube train,
He leant against the tiled walls of the platform.
Loose and lean, he could only be a dancer.
Casually attired in jeans, t-shirt and a draped sweater,
He oozed confidence.
A froth of dark hair fell across his brow.
He pushed it away from his eyes, which were caramel soft.
He had cheekbones that make women go weak at the knees,
David Gandy sharp, outlining his impossibly handsome face,
With a playful smile on his lips.
I stared at him as the train idled at the station,
Secure in the knowledge that he couldn't see me watching.
I imagined him stretching his long limbs in a dance studio,
Preparing to rehearse his latest movements,
Lifting and twirling some beautiful, slender girl.
A lovely day-dream for a Friday morning as I headed off to visit a friend.
I looked forward to telling her all about the beautiful dancer.
Then his eyes met mine through the slightly grubby window,
A fleeting moment of connection that made my heart lurch.
He grinned at me and I dropped my eyes, a flush warming my cheeks.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Read and Write - Autumn

Today is the first day of autumn. We say farewell to summer and look forward to the cooler days of autumn. Now you may wonder what happened to summer - did we even have one this year? So many people aren't thrilled to see autumn looming on the horizon.

I love autumn. It is my favourite season. I enjoy sunshine and warmth as much as anyone and always look forward to a nice sunny holiday each year. It's the hot and sticky weather that we often get in British summers that I'm not keen on. While a break in the sun where all I have to worry about id making sure I've got enough sunscreen on or what time to order my next beer is fine; having to worry about housework, shopping, whether to open the windows and risk a moth attack - these are not good. Plus air-con makes the heat abroad bearable - always a cool refuge when you need it.

Autumn means that sunshine is warm but not oppressive. It twinkles through the trees and sparkles on the dew in the morning. There are days when you can venture out without a coat and also without sweating. Walks into town are pleasant not exhausting with the heat.

Autumn means that I can get out jumpers, cardigans, scarves, gloves and hats. I love a good knit - there's a new one on the needles at the moment - and you can't beat the feeling of snuggling into a cosy sweater. Woolly tights are fab too - they cover a multitude of sins and no one knows if you've shaved you legs!

Autumn means the return of warming comfort foods like soups and stews. Noting smells as good as a beef stew on the hob as the nights draw in. And there's another advantage of autumn, the early falling darkness. I'm a bit of a nester and I love nothing more than drawing the curtains and shutting out the world. Being able to do that at 4pm is wonderful! Makes me sound really anti-social but it's all part of the cosy, snuggly feel I like in my home.

Autumn also means misty mornings, crunchy fallen leaves, bonfires, conkers, porridge for breakfast, jacket potatoes, cosy slippers, hot chocolate - I could go on and on. I'm not averse to an Indian Summer but I secretly hope that we get cooler, fresher weather and I can start popping a jumper on before heading out.