Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Surprising poetry win!

A couple of weekends ago someone flagged up a flash poetry contest on Facebook. There were some prompts to follow and one of them spoke to me so I powered up the laptop and wrote a little something. Before I could change my mind and come over all 'imposter syndrome' I emailed it off and forgot all about it. Then I got a message to tell me that I had won second prize! How thrilling and most unlike me - the last time I won anything it was a Brew XI bumper party pack at my school raffle and I was too young to drink it (Dad to the rescue!).

Now I have finally got round to popping a blog post up and sharing my poem with you. The prompt was 'The Camera Never Lies' so guess what my title is?



The Camera Never Lies

Black and white, board mounted, 40 years ago,
A face I recognise laughs out at me, a face that was mine, is mine.
Carefree, relaxed, happy, a young girl with her life ahead of her.
I remember that sweater, blue and white flecks, slightly itchy,
A polo neck that I would never dare today, foreshortening my already short neck.
Her eyes sparkle and her laugh is easy, open, filled with joy.

I remember when it was taken, late afternoon in the art studio at college,
A roll of film to use up, young friends messing around.
We posed and gurned for the camera, taking turns to shoot or model,
Unselfconscious as only the young can be.
Someone told me to smile, I did then I grinned and a belly laugh erupted
Caught forever on film.

Cameras scare me now; I hide in the background, make my excuses, run away.
The face I see in pictures now is not a face I like, a face I want to own.
The years sit lightly on me, that much is true, yet I still hate the picture I see.
The face is too faded and grey, too much like my mother; I see her everywhere
In my face these days.

My eyes are ringed with shadows as hers were,
My face is too round and soft as hers was,
My hair frames my face in the same way hers did.
The first hint of downturned wrinkles drip from my mouth,
Again I see her mirrored in my face.
Sometimes I catch a glimpse in the mirror and my breath
Flies from my body as I see my mother frowning back at me.

Where is that youthful laughter? Why is my face so frowny and sad?
If the camera never lies then I will avoid it, shun it, hide from it
Until it does. Until it shows me myself and not my mother’s shade.
Or I can forget the uncomplicated relationship I once had with my face.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Thinking about cancer

I'm going off-piste with this post as it is not to do with my writing. However it's a piece I've been musing about for a few days now so I'll go ahead anyway and see what happens.

On May 18th I was given news which I was not expecting. After a few rounds of tests and biopsies I was told I had cancer. Luckily it was Grade 1 so not aggressive but nevertheless had to be treated urgently by way of a hysterectomy. I hardly had time to process this information before I had a date for surgery and had the procedure on June 6th. I was lucky that I didn't need any chemo or radiotherapy and have been told that there was no sign of the cancer spreading so it has all gone, subject to an appointment with the oncologist later in the year.

My problem is that I feel a bit of a fraud. I hear harrowing stories of people's battle against cancer. I watch medical programmes where people have a difficult time dealing with a cancer diagnosis. And I feel a fraud because my experience was not like theirs. Most of the time I forget that I had the surgery - until I overdo things and then I remember when the ache sets in - and the whole 'cancer' thing seems to have passed me by somewhat.

I mentioned this to my OH the other day and said that I don't feel like I had cancer. His response hit home in a big way. He said 'But you did have cancer.' And it hit me that it was true. Cancer had invaded my body and I had been a cancer sufferer for a brief time. I was lucky, it was caught early and could be treated easily with surgery. But for a time I had indeed had cancer.

I'm not trying to trivialise what I went through. There were some dark thoughts and a few secret tears but for the most part I just 'got on with it'. But I still struggle to think of myself as someone who had cancer. I don't feel like I went through enough to link myself with all those people who fight and struggle and suffer. I feel like a fraud.

All this is rather baffling and complex. I don't know why I feel the need to write about it but I do. I'm also trying not to be too 'romantic' about the whole 'cancer survivor' thing. I curse myself when I start noticing things and rejoicing in them - the smell of a rose, a beetle's iridescent body, a scampering squirrel - but a little part of me thinks that the story could have had a different ending and I need to remind myself every now and then that life is good and there is joy and beauty all around.

So I'll try not to beat myself up too much and to be thankful that things turned out the way they did. But I don't think I'll ever completely lose the feeling of being a fraud when it comes to cancer.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Sometimes this writing lark is bad for my health...

The other day I spent some time plotting out the final parts of my WIP. I congratulated myself on working out how everyone would behave, what actions would move the plot towards its conclusion and how I would round everything off in a way that satisfied me. Major progress and I felt really pleased with myself.

And then I went to bed ...

Would my characters leave me alone to rest? Not a chance! They bothered me and prodded me, unhappy with my plans for them and suggesting ways that I could give them a much better outcome. I struggled to get to sleep and lay in a frustrated heap beneath my duvet cursing my stroppy characters.

I suppose it's my own fault. If I hadn't created such feisty characters then I could have got a full nights sleep. But there was no chance of that once the brain started racing. I spent too much time trying to get these characters to behave themselves but they are determined to do what they want. Some people have said how lucky I am that my characters are driving the narrative. And I do agree, that is making the process of writing this novel so much easier than others I've attempted to write. But I do wish they'd learn to behave when it's bedtime!

And wouldn't you know it, when I sat down to write yesterday they all went AWOL! Nobody to be seen and I struggled to write 500 words. Perhaps they were tired after keeping me awake all night... Who knows? But today I'm going to show them who's boss and we'll get some more plot written. I'm going to give some attention to the characters who were behaving in the wee small hours and let the rest of them have a lie in...

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Woman - a poem

Woman

The tapestry of my life is stitched with many colours.
Bright and vibrant when I was happy,
Muted and muddy when I was sad,
Cool and fresh when I was young,
Deeper and warmer as I grew old.
Sometimes the stitches are small, precise, careful;
These are the times I was learning abut the world
Or about myself.
Sometimes the stitches are wild, chaotic, haphazard;
These are the times I was living life to the full,
No time for finesse or care.

The tapestry of my life is stitched with many relationships.
Daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, writer
All add to the design and are threaded through with love and care.
Some relationships left a pattern that survives,
Stitched with love, laughter, life or loss.
Some relationships left a shadow
As the stitches were unpicked when the relationship ended.
Everyone I ever loved, everyone I ever lost
Has left a pattern on my tapestry,
A reminder of our times together and how they shaped me.

The tapestry of my life is stitched with many emotions.
The happy times when I soared and sang and danced;
The quiet times when I thought and planned and dreamed;
The sad times when I wept and mourned and hurt.
There is a pattern here that shows that time when I was fierce and proud,
Another there when I was angry and distressed,
A third when I was overwhelmed and doubting.

The tapestry of my life has changed and I am still adjusting.
Now there are new stitches, sewn in fear and sadness.
Stitches spelling out cancer. Stitches I hoped never to sew.
Sewn onto my tapestry with a bent and rusty needle,
Thread moistened by the tears I shed.
Soon I will stitch the part of the tapestry with hope following cancer,
The pattern of surviving, of moving through, of being strong.
But now I stare at those new stitches and feel hollow.


Most of this poem came to me in the early hours of this morning during that slow period between sleep and waking. I hope it speaks to some of you.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Guided Meditation - Glade

This is  piece I wrote following a guided meditation from Gilly Smith. It is similar to the Dreamwriting piece I did and it follows another character from my WIP. This is Krista who is the daughter of one of the main protagonists. She is a gardener and plant-whisperer who discovers that she has hidden powers as the story progresses.


Krista strolls in the fading light, brushing her fingers through the tall grasses. She notices a man walking parallel to her with a dog running to and fro. He tips his hat to her as they pass but his face is in shadow. After a few steps she feels there is something familiar about him. She turns her head and gazes at him. The dog scampers off and she can hear him whistling a familiar tune from her childhood.

She gets to the gate and pulls it towards her, the old hinges moan as the warped wood swings to let her into the glade. The scent of flowers is overwhelming and Krista breaths deeply, identifying every scent.

Pinned to a tree is a piece of parchment, fluttering gently in the breeze. Krista pulls it free and reads her name at the top, written in familiar handwriting. A message from her father. Tears spring to her eyes as she remembers the last time she saw him.

Moving slowly she approaches the water and looks down into the shallows. Something shiny catches her eye and she reaches into the cool water. A golden ring, very similar to one her father wore.
Behind her Krista hears a scuffle. She puts the ring on her finger, stands and stares at a beautiful fallow deer standing between the trees. Their eyes lock and Krista smiles. A moment passes and the deer bounds away.

The magic is broken by a distant cry and Krista is reminded that there is conflict and death in The City. Her heart feels heavy within her chest and tears spring again to her eyes. So much pain and loss, so much death and hurt. Will it never end? She wipes her tears away and gazes at the ring. Surely it cannot be her father's? He was still wearing it when she saw him last. She twists it upon her finger and smiles at the memory of him.

Krista approaches a set of steps, worn into the hillside over centuries. She begins to climb as the last gleams of daylight peep through the clouds. In the distance she can see The City, tall walls surrounding the familiar cobbled streets and tightly packed dwellings. She begins to walk back, twisting and turning the ring on her finger, determined once more to find her father once again. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

What came out of the Dreamwriting session

I'm sharing what I wrote when I did a Dreamwriting session this weekend. We were invited to take one of our characters fro a walk and as we wrote were given prompts to move the writing in different directions. I chose to use Shalea from my WIP, Shalea is a healer, a wise woman and possible a witch. She is my favourite character in the story and is a feisty woman who takes no nonsense from anyone. Here is my description of what happens when she goes for a walk in a forest.


Shalea felt the dampness seep into her shawl as she wandered along the lane. The rain of last night had given the trees a thorough soaking and as the sun rose the mist dripped slowly onto her.
Through the trees she saw a figure walking towards her. A tall, slender man dressed in shades of orange and brown was leaving the forest. His pace slowed slightly as he caught sight of Shalea. Cursing her old eyes for their failing sight, she squinted at him but his features were unfamiliar. Yet something about him reminded her of childhood.

They continued to walk towards each other and Shalea became aware of the smell of resin and wood smoke. She was pulled back to her father’s workshop, standing watching as he carved the beautiful statues that were placed around The City. She breathed deeply and remembered the look of concentration on his face as he tapped gently with a wooden hammer, chiselling the features of whichever hero or citizen he was working on. She was only allowed to watch him work if she could remain still and quiet. Any noise or distraction and he would roar at her to get away home.

Shalea kicked at a pile of damp grass, nearly tripping and saw something shining. Again her eyesight failed her and she stooped down and brushed the blades of grass away. Nestled there was a silver chalice, embossed and chased with interlinking designs. The base was square and heavy, studded with jewels. She picked it up and felt its weight. But she also felt something else. Shalea felt great power tingling her fingers. This was not just a rich man’s trinket; this had been used for magic, for spells, for potions. Only once before had she felt this, many years ago when she was learning her trade. The  she had been permitted to cast a spell using a High Chalice, said once to belong to the founders of The City. The potion she had brewed had been one of the best she had ever made.
Shalea stood up, her old knees cracking and clutched the chalice to her chest. Ahead and to the right she saw a door had materialised. It was a heavy wooden door, iron studded and marked where staffs and fists had pounded on it. She reached out for the simple hinged latch and heard the squeak and click as it opened. The hinges squealed as she pulled the door open and she had to pull very hard to open the door enough to squeeze through.

On the other side was a track snaking off through the forest. A pony and cart stood tethered to a tree. Shalea petted the pony, untied the reins and began to lead it through the forest. If only she had learned how to drive a cart she might have saved her old legs a long walk. The warm breath of the pony tickled her cheek and she found that she was leaning into the animal, enjoying the warmth and companionship. As they walked on Shalea saw the market in the distance, heard the stallholders calling out their wares and she tucked the chalice further into the folds of her clothing, this was one treasure she would not be selling at market.

So, there it is. A little insight into my story. Just a teaser but I'll try to share more soon. Let me know what you think of Shalea and whether you want to hear more about her and her world.

Writing retreat - what happened and what I got out of it

So I've had a few hours and a sleep to think about this past weekend and gather my thoughts about the writing retreat I attended in sleepy, sunny Sussex.

To begin with I must say a huge thank you to everyone who was there. From Gilly and Jed who were superb hosts and wonderful facilitators - the food was wonderful, tea and wine flowed freely and there was never a moment without laughter and good conversation. They have a magical set-up in Sussex and it is impossible to imagine anyone not being inspired there.

Also a big thank you to all the lovely writers who attended - Penny, Katie, Antonia, Carolyn, Paula and Joan - you made it so special.  The support and kindness you all showed to everyone was wonderful. I only wish we could be together every weekend to help each other reach our full potential.

So, what did I personally get from the weekend? I got plenty of writing done which was great. The freedom to concentrate on writing without distractions was liberating and I think I've worked out where my story is going now. There even seems to be an end in sight, something I could not have said on Friday!

I learned some profound lessons about myself too. I was pulled up a few times for being overly negative, a trait I recognise all too well in myself. I made a promise to try not to be so down on myself but as I have 50 years of learning to unlearn that may be a work in progress for a while yet. I also learned that I do have a talent for writing. On the first day I shared my fear of being found out as a fraud who can't really write at all but this weekend has shown me that there is something there and I need to work hard and nurture it. I also learned that sharing my writing isn't always a scary thing so I intend to share a bit more here on my blog in future. In fact I have a post coming later which will do just that, so keep a look out for that.

So I am more happy than I can express that I went along, despite the last minute wobbles that are my trade mark. I am so glad to have made some new writing friends and I look forward to reading their work and sharing more of mine. They have given me the confidence to shout out 'I'm Jo and I'm a writer!'

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Writing retreat - what am I hoping for?

Tomorrow I'm heading off to East Sussex for a weekend writing retreat. Now, once I've given my anxiety monster a good talking to, I'm rather looking forward to it. Admittedly there's the usual guilt about leaving the boys to fend for themselves for a couple of days but I'm sure I'll get over that! So what am I hoping to get from the weekend?

I have only been on one writing retreat before and that was many, many years ago. So I'm not an expert and I don't have anything to compare it to but I am hoping to get some time to write (obviously!) in both a structured way and in a free way. It's one of the banes of my writer's life that sitting down to write comes with a whole bucket full of guilt - should I be spending this time more productively? Am I being selfish sitting and indulging in a bit of writing? I must stress that neither of these are things that anyone has ever said to me but they are things I say to myself each time I start to write. So having a whole weekend dedicated to nothing but writing and thinking and chatting to other writers is a real treat.

I'm also hoping that by sharing experiences, hopes and frustrations with others I will find a way to improve my writing experiences. The structure of the weekend will determine how much I get to look at my writing schedule and habit but I think some time to reflect on this will do me good.

I'm expecting there to be time to share our writing. Now I can be a little shy about doing this. Let's be honest, everyone else's writing sounds much better than mine so I'm often the last to put her hand up when it comes to sharing.  But having the time to get to know people before I have to share should help with my confidence. I know that only by sharing my writing and getting it out into the world will I improve but sometimes that's easier said than done. Maybe the supportive surroundings of other writers will make the process a little less stressful for me.

I'm also looking forward to hearing about everyone's writing journey. We should be a mixed bunch so there will be many experiences to learn about and hopefully tips and contacts as well. Writing can be a solitary pursuit so the chance to hear how other people go about things should be enlightening and perhaps even fun!

Most of all I'm hoping to spend a pleasant weekend with some good company, to do some serious writing and to focus more on what I want to write and what I want to achieve through my writing. So wish me luck as I embark on a voyage of discovery and come back next week to find out how it went and what I learned.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Book Review - Oy Yew by Ana Salote



'Lay low and grow' is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall. The only way to escape their life of drudgery is to reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits, yet Master Jeopardine is determined to feed them little and keep them small. When the Master's methods grow more sinister the waifs must face their doubts. What is kept in the Bone Room? Why is Rook's Parlour locked? A new waif arrives and the fight for survival begins. But this child brings another mystery: who is Oy?


I devoured this in two sittings and was left breathless by the beauty of it. As a young adult I read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and fell in love with the dark world he created. The world of Oy Yew felt very similar to me and I longed to linger there and follow the waifs through the hatches and down to the bottomest basement. Everything that Ana Salote has created feels real and tangible, this is a world that can be imagined and moved through with ease.

The waifs are adorable characters, each with their own personality. Oy is the most mysterious; he seems to be other-worldly compared to the other waifs and I felt that there was still much to learn about him when the book ended - thank heavens for sequels! Alas and Lucinda are the leaders and they organise and protect the waifs as they go about their arduous labours. I loved Gertie and Gritty, sisters who had a lovely relationship and came into their own at the end of the story.

The adults in the story fall into two categories. There are the mean ones like Master Jeopardine and Mrs Rutheday and there are the kind ones like Molly cook. Even in the darkest times there are tender moments between Molly and the waifs when she gives them jam on their bread or finds a little milk for them to share. Because the treatment of the waifs is so cruel and bleak I found these moments especially poignant.

Ana Salote handles the pace of the narrative extremely well. We creep about Duldred Hall with the waifs being quick and silent; we feel the fast passage of time when they are exhausted and get little sleep; and at the end there is an escape scene which rattles along with  such a breathless pace that I was nearly out of breath when I finished reading it.

I am not the target audience for this novel but I was swept away by the story and can hardly wait for the sequel. There is plenty to entrance a child in this book and much to delight an adult. This is a book which I wish I could have written and I salute the talent that created this magical world and these wonderful characters.  I will remember Oy and his friends for a long time.





Monday, 1 May 2017

What I'm Writing meet up

The last day of April. A rendezvous at Kings Cross Station. And lots of fun and laughs.
Yes, I survived the trip to London and met up with a group of wonderful, inspiring, funny writers.

In my previous post I wrote about how anxiety sometimes stops me from doing things or taking part because I over analyse and over think what might happen. I have in the past ducked out of trips or cancelled doing things because I am overly anxious about what 'might' happen. Meeting new people is a trigger for me - it didn't used to be and that is one of the sad parts of developing anxiety. So yesterday was a worry and I had to face it head on, hence the blog post.

Well needless to say it was all fine. The only wobble was the chaos that is Victoria Station. Some sort of major refit is going on and I found it rather difficult to find where to go and buying a ticket was an event in itself. However, once I'd negotiated that all was well. My heart was slightly in my mouth as I ascended the stairs to meet everyone but the welcome was so warm and friendly that I was soon at my ease and enjoying good wine and good company.

I'm so glad that I overcame my fears and went. Everyone was lovely and we chatted about so much that the time flew by. As I left the world was being put to rights in an impassioned political discussion. It was interesting to hear what everyone was up to in their writing journey and I had a great chat with Becky and Antonia about my WIP which has spurred me on to tackle it with renewed gustso. We also discussed the possibility of going away as a group for a weekend writing retreat and I know if that happens I'll put my hand straight up to join in. As I sat on the coach going home I felt so much love and support that I actually believed that I could do this writing thing and make a success of it. So thanks for that ladies.

I've given a bit of thought to how I value this group since meeting everyone in real life. It's a community that supports and encourages each member. No one judges anyone and each little victory along the way is celebrated. We are all at different places in our writing journey yet we all feel the same about our creative lives. I know I could tell these ladies anything or ask their advice and I would be helped out, supported and shown love and kindness. Now that's priceless these days so thank you all for letting me in and making me feel like a member of the greatest gang ever.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Meeting Facebook friends in real life



Tomorrow is an interesting day.
I am meeting some Facebook friends for lunch in London.

Now there are many things about this which are wonderful. I have been chatting to these lovely ladies for a long time and am really looking forward to getting to know them a little better in real life. I'm sure that we will have loads in common and that the wine and chat will flow. Also judging by the reports from the last meet up there will be many laughs and we could all do with more of those these days.

But... always a but with me. I'm a little apprehensive. I'm worried that they will all be so wonderful and lovely and talented that I'll feel like a fraud. I'll sit there in the corner with nothing to contribute and they'll wonder what I'm doing there. I'm worried that when I meet them they'll discover what little talent I have and it will be awkward and difficult.

Now the grown up, logical part of me knows that this won't happen. We all get on well via Facebook and we have lots in common so a good time will be had by all (even me!) So I'm left wondering why I have to put myself through these mental tortures before events like this. I used to be so confident and meeting new people never bothered me. But now I'm racked with doubts and always consider cancelling going to things because my anxiety kicks in.

This time though I'm not listening to that sad voice that's telling me to cancel and stay at home where it's safe. She still whines away in the background but I'm drowning her out with a raucous chorus of Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves! I want to meet these women and draw inspiration and strength from them. I want to connect with them on a more personal level. I want to hear their voices and laugh with them.

So shut up small voice of doom: I'm going to have a blast in London tomorrow!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Book Review - Limelight by Emily Organ

I have been a fan of Emily's writing since I read Runaway Girl so I was thrilled to win a copy of her latest on Facebook. There was a moment of trepidation when I worried that I wouldn't like it as much as the Runaway Girl Series but I shouldn't have worried. I loved it and was totally captivated by the story and the characters.

I was intrigued by the blurb: London 1883. Actress Lizzie Dixie drowned in the River Thames. So how was she murdered five years later in Highgate Cemetery? Intrepid Fleet Street reporter Penny Green was a friend of Lizzie's and Scotland Yard needs her help. Does Penny unwittingly hold clues to Lizzie's mysterious death? Penny must work with Inspector James Blakely to investigate the worlds of theatre, showmen and politicians to uncover the truth.
Well what's not to love there? A good old fashioned whodunit set in Victorian London with a female protagonist to boot. I was sold. But this is much more than a whodunit. Emily Organ skilfully weaves her way through Victorian London, populating her story with wonderful characters who I really cared about. Her descriptions of the places were so detailed and well researched that I instantly felt myself there, wiping the smut from my glasses along with Penny. Sights, sounds and smells are all evoked to paint a kaleidoscopic picture of Victorian London. The descriptions of the corsets made me smile - how did women function all trussed up like that?

We are immersed in a variety of different worlds, from theatre to circus to politics to the police force and of course journalism. Each world is made real through the inclusion of small yet telling details. For example, as the world of journalism begins to modernise Miss Welton, the editor's secretary, is given a typewriter which she stumbles to use. Strange to think that over the next few decades this machine would revolutionise the workplace, especially for women. Emily Organ is so adept at adding these tiny details which bring the whole scene to life. I shouldn't have been surprised by this as she does it so well in the Runaway Girl Series too.

For me a great story stands or falls on its characters. If I don't feel some emotional investment in them then I struggle to enjoy a book fully. Thankfully there are enough rich, rounded characters here to keep even the pickiest reader happy. I adored Penny's landlady Mrs Garnett waging her war against bicycles in the hallway and unsuitable gentlemen callers; Edgar Fish, a rival journalist with a shockingly paternalistic view of women provided some lovely comic moments; and I was bowled over by the handsome Inspector James Blakely, I so hope he returns in the next book! But the stand out character is of course Penny Green, a modern woman trapped in Victorian corsets. I loved her feistiness, her determination and her bravery. She's a true heroine and keeps the story moving with her investigative skill, thirst for a decent story and dogged determination.

I am so glad that Limelight is only the first of a series starring Penny Green. She is too good a character to lose after only one story and I for one am waiting with baited breath for the next instalment. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Positive Writer Contest

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve To Be Inspired by Positive Writer http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-you-deserve-to-be-inspired/ . This is my entry.

Several years ago I started to feel hollow. Let me explain. I was working as a teacher in a secondary school and had always enjoyed my job. I loved interacting with the students and watching their progress. My colleagues were lovely, supportive people and we had a lot of laughs together. I was beginning to take on some pastoral responsibility and liked helping students with their problems. Then one day a new member of staff started who had seniority over my pastoral area. And that's when my problems began.

He was a bully. He took great pleasure in undermining those over whom he had authority. He belittled your efforts and rejoiced when you failed. Slowly and without my even noticing he eroded my confidence in my ability and sucked all the joy out of my working life. I began to dread Monday morning and my health began to suffer. Eventually I had to stay away from work with anxiety related health problems and it became obvious that I would struggle to stay teaching at that school. Eventually the anxiety, depression and associated problems led to me abandoning teaching all together.

Now I know what you're thinking: isn't this supposed to be inspiring and positive? This just sounds like a load of doom and gloom. Well, in a way that time was filled with doom and gloom. But what I want to share is that there can be a positive outcome from even the darkest time.

I left teaching, which was sad as I loved to teach. But other avenues opened up for me. After many years of procrastinating I embraced the writer within me and am now beginning to submit work and enter writing contests. I have gained a whole new set of friends who write and their friendship and support has lifted me through some tough times. And above all I am happier in my own skin. I took some counselling and discovered things about myself and my past which allowed me to rebuild my confidence. I still have the occasional wobble but I have the tools to deal with it and move forward.

The most positive thing I learned from that experience is that bullies never really win. I went through a difficult time and emerged on the other side happier and more peaceful than I used to be. And the bully? Eventually he was found out and lost his position. I don't celebrate that but it gives me a sense of satisfaction that I rose and he fell.

And that is surely the most positive thing of all.

  

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

What is a 'normal' birth?

Yesterday I was attending a clinic at my local hospital and during the course of the morning I was asked about the birth of my child. The doctor asked me if I had a 'normal' birth or a section. I answered and more questions followed about my health.

It was only when I was on the bus coming home that I realised what she had said. My son's birth was 'normal' rather than a section which implied that any birth that was not vaginal was abnormal. I didn't think about this sooner because I was a little nervous about the procedure I was about to have. But later it struck me how inappropriate a word 'normal was in these circumstances. I imagined myself in the position of a woman who had delivered her child by section and how upsetting it would be to have that child's birth referred to, however obliquely as 'abnormal' or 'not normal'. I'm not trying to paint a negative picture of the doctor, she was kind, gentle and caring, nor of the nursing staff who were there, also kind and caring. I'm just shocked how a casual phrase, said without malice or judgement, could have a negative effect on any woman.

I know we all have our own tale to tell about our children's birth, that some of us had overwhelmingly positive experiences and some had not such good experiences. I have heard and read stories which have been so sad and upsetting that they have reduced me to tears. And yet we all gave birth to the babies we love, who grow into the people we love. Nobody should be made to feel that their experience of birth was less than 'normal'.

I have been lucky enough to 'meet' on the Internet some wonderful, powerful advocates for celebrating women's experience of birth and child rearing. I think particularly of Elena at http://www.frivolousmama.com/ and Teika at https://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/ . These women are such strong voices for mothers everywhere that I brought them to mind when I realised what had been said and the implications of those words. So I would like to say sorry to all mothers, whatever their birth experiences, for not challenging what the doctor said. I am sorry that I let something so casual yet so potentially hurtful pass by without comment. I will email the hospital and point out what was said and how I feel it was inappropriate. With luck they will address the issue and no other woman will have to decide whether her birth story was 'normal' or not. Because all that matters is that we have a positive birth experience, whatever type of delivery it was. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book Review - The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The premise of this book is simple: an ocean liner sinks and 39 people huddle in a lifeboat waiting to be saved. Through the testimony of Grace Winter we follow their journey and share in their experiences over 3 weeks at sea.

Except that it's not that simple. Grace is an extremely unreliable narrator and we learn to question everything she tells us, both about what happens to her and her fellow passengers in the lifeboat and about her life before she boarded the ship.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is undoubtedly well written and yet there was some spark missing. Many of the characters in the story are fleeting and brief, either dying before we really get to know them or playing a small part so we never get to see them as fully rounded characters. Some of them are not even given names. But I suppose that is part of the unreliable nature of Grace's recollections, some passengers making a greater impression on her than others.

Grace Winter is the central character and I found her a rather cold person. I started off sympathising with her and her situation but as the story unfolded I was struck by how selfish and self-centred she was. Her role as the unreliable narrator also made me question everything she said and I started to dislike her the more the narrative unfolded. There are few likable characters in the novel, even pathetic Mary-Ann who I rather liked starts to become annoying. Mrs Grant and Hannah act as contrasts to the other female characters as they start to take control away from the men in the boat. Strong women like this are usually my favourite types of characters but here I found them to be most unpleasant.

I also felt somewhat unsatisfied by the ending. As I found Grace a difficult character to like I wanted her to pay the price of her actions in the way other characters did. She seemed to get away with things too much for my liking! 

As a story of endurance and survival I liked The Lifeboat. The descriptions of the conditions in the boat, the struggle to survive and the changing nature of the Atlantic Ocean were wonderful and evocative. Something about the ending felt a little rushed as the narrative jumped from 2 weeks in the boat to the rescue after 3 weeks rather abruptly. I understand why this was done but it felt a little clumsy to me.

I certainly enjoyed this debut novel from Charlotte Rogan and will look out for more from her in the future. Definitely worth a read, in my humble opinion.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Joy of the Short Story

I've recently taken part in a couple of writing contests which have involved writing short stories. I didn't win the first one but I received some useful feedback which, if I'm honest is why I entered in the first place. However I had an email from Joe Bunting who runs The Write Practice http://thewritepractice.com/ and one of the contests I entered asking for feedback on the contest. So I filled the survey in and emailed it off.

I had a reply from Joe suggesting, based on my replies, that I thought more about writing short stories rather than tackling a full novel. I read the email, looked at the webpage he linked http://thewritepractice.com/write-short-stories/ and it really got me thinking.

I have got 53,000 words written of a novel which is meandering around and going nowhere fast. I have been struggling to pull it together and keep walking away from it in despair. If I'm brutally honest most days it's sucking the joy out of writing having to do battle with this beast which is running away from me.

So why not do as Joe advises and give the short story a try? It's not like I've got anything to lose.
The 53,000 words will still be there so I'm not wasting anything by trying another form for a while. In fact there is a possibility that some of those words may be re-recyclable into a decent short story. I've got some great characters that I could use and a setting that works so why not?

For the first time in ages I feel positive about my writing so I have decided to use the rest of the time this month to try writing short pieces and see if I can get something which I'm proud of and I can submit out of it. The novel will have to wait.

Maybe short stories are what I am destined to write. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Prompt 146 - Glass

Through a Glass Darkly


I look into the mirror,
What do I see?
Shadows of the woman
I want to be

She shimmers just out of sight,
Peeping over my shoulder.
Very faint and rather slight
A shade, a ghost, a myth.
Hair is glossy, beautiful and bright,
Tumbling around her pale face.
Eyes like diamond glints of light,
Teasingly beautiful and happy.
Behind her there are birds in flight,
She walks in beauty like the night ...

Now I've gone too far,
Caught up in a poetic moment.
So I gaze into the mirror once more
And there she is, the shadow me.
Physically we are the same,
Plain, unremarkable, sharing a face and name.
Yet she is serene, untroubled, content,
Where I am anxious, fretful and filled with doubt.
She clutches a book to her chest and smiles.
My hands are empty, dreams as yet unfulfilled.
She points the way, I must follow.

I look in the mirror,
What do I see?
Shadows of the woman
I want to be.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Book Review - The Forgotten & The Fantastical 3, edited by Teika Bellamy

I am really struggling to know how to review this stunning collection of short stories. Usually with an anthology I like to give a flavour of the collection, pick out a few favourites and comment on them while pointing out writers whose work I will be looking out for in the future.

However that won't work for this collection. Every story spoke to me, touched me in some way and naming a favourite would be like picking a favourite child - it's OK, I only have one so it's no contest!

I have decided to look at each story in turn and write about what I loved about them. I do urge anyone who enjoys good story telling to seek out this collection, it really is wonderful.

The first story is Silence Rose from the Water Like Steam by Poppy O'Neill. This tale is haunting in its simplicity. The idea of not being heard because you have no voice - whether actual or perceived - is so relevant to today when so many feel marginalised or ignored. The joy of finding your voice rings out loud and clear at the end.   This is followed by Midnight Riders by Dan Micklethwaite. I loved his idea of a London Tube driver as a character in Cinderella! Sometimes the peripheral characters are the most interesting and here Dan has breathed life into one of them and told the story from a unique point of view.

Third in the collection is The Web and The Wildwood by Lynden Wade. This is a wonderful re-imagining of The Lady of Shalott, giving a voice to the Lady. There is a darkness in this tale and anyone who has been captivated by the poem will enjoy exploring the back story in a most thought provoking way. Next comes Listening to the Mermaidens by Angi Holden. I loved the sparseness of this story. The mermaidens are seductive and secretive, always just out of reach. The twist at the end took my breath away. The fifth tale is Melissa's Bearskin by Ronne Randall. If I was forced to pick a favourite from the anthology it might be this one. I loved Melissa who thought the best thing in the world was to be a princess. The emerging love story was so warm and tender and I confess to weeping at the ending.

Next is The Narclops by Sophie Sellars. This is such an interesting take on the modern world. The references are subtle yet deftly handled and I really enjoyed stepping out from behind the screen and looking critically at our technology obsessed world. The seventh tale is The Lost Children of Lorenwald by Elizabeth Hopkinson. A sadness runs through this story which I found heartbreaking. It really resonated with me as a mother. But there us also hope and reunion which lifts the tale at the end. The themes of acceptance and the power of love shine through and lighten the mood as the story unfolds. Iron Man by Claire Stephenson comes next. A curious tale and one I had to read twice before writing this review. I struggled to make sense of what was happening at first yet when I read Claire's notes about the story I gained some understanding and re-read her story about transformation. I'm still not sure where my sympathy lies but I'm not likely to forget either character soon.

The next tale is Airless by NJ Ramsden. I found this story both complex and compelling. I was drawn into the memory of Mika and into his story/history. The image of an unknown world with complex issues surrounding human survival is mixed with the suggestion of another world, a world just out of sight populated by strange creatures. Although contained within a sci-fi narrative the story taps into the fairy tales and folklore that are so familiar to us. Although the ending is rather bleak I liked the glimmer of hope contained there. The tenth story is The Daughter with Indigo Eyes by Moira Garland. As a lover of corvids I was in love with this story as soon as the first raven cawed! Annie's strength at a time of turmoil was compelling. She seemed to embody so many tales of women coping in war when the whole fabric of society appears fractured. Her relationship with Cora felt real to me, the difficult relationship that many daughters have with their mothers and how you have to let your children fly in the end.

Flower Face by Ness Owen is a gentle tale which reminded me of summer days, unrequited love and finding ones true place in the world. Blodeuedd is an innocent, made to fulfil the desires and happiness of another with no thought given to her own happiness. The ending is very satisfying, I was pleased that she found her true place in the world and with it contentment. This is followed by Spawned by Clair Wright. While this story made me laugh out loud it also touched on long forgotten feelings - the strangeness of motherhood, the terror of being with a new and yet strange baby, the realisation that I was responsible for this child and the knowledge that a stranger had arrived and changed our lives forever. I was rooting for Ruby and Ricky and again I enjoyed reading about the time after the fairy tale usually ends. A great read.

Bearskin and Bare-skin by Carys Crossen speaks of the power of sisterly love. The bond between Ursula and Bernarda is strong and familiar to me as a sister myself. There is strength and determination in Ursula which propel her throughout the story as she searches for both her sister and her true identity. Crossing the Victoria Line by Marie Gethins is a sad tale. A beautiful, poignant re-telling of Hans Christian Andresen's The Little Match Girl. As the sad story unfolded, sprinkled with telling details fro  our modern world, I felt tears prickle my eyes. Despite this there is a tiny flicker of hope in the kindness of strangers which lifted my spirits a little.

T/he Salt Child by Rachel Rivett is a short yet sweet story exploring the idea of belonging. I was drawn to its rhythmic quality, the repeated phrase 'if not there, then where?' pulling me along with the Salt Child as she looked for her place in the world. There is a Salt Child in all of us, wandering and searching for where we belong. The descriptions of the places the Salt Child visits are beautiful and evocative. A lovely story.  The penultimate story is The Truth About Tea by Sarah Armstrong. This story spoke to me of lost love and the danger of settling for second best. I was torn between sympathy for Sophie who had lost her true love and tried to compromise and Diane who was protecting her son from making a mistake. s an older woman I empathised with Diane ad it was refreshing o get another perspective on the older woman in fairy tales. Finally there is Girl on a Pied Horse by Sarah Hindmarsh. With echoes of Pandora's Box Sarah weaves a tale of desperate escape, of re-birth from death and of sacrifice. I was willing the girl to escape and the narrative galloped along with all the frenzy of the Pied Horse in the story.

I am aware that this is much longer than my usual reviews but I hope I have given a taste of this wonderful anthology. I must also comment on the beautiful illustrations that precede each story by Emma Howitt and Georgie St Clair, they are stunning and reflect the stories so well. Usually I send books I have finished to my sister but this one is so good she may have to wait until I have read it again - sorry sis!
If you have the chance to I urge you to read this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.      


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Camp NaNo - why do I do this to myself?

So April 1st rolls round and there is much chatter about Camp NaNo. Lots of people signing up and setting goals just like the run up to November. So again I have to decide whether to take part or let it pass me by this time round.

For the first time since I joined in with NaNoWriMo I managed to hit the 50,000 word target and boy, was I chuffed about it! However since then I have neglected the poor manuscript and only manage a few thousand words. Part of the problem is that I didn't plan what I was going to write - I know, I know: fail to plan, plan to fail! So the story was romping along under it's own steam with no idea where it was going. I looked at it again and had no idea how to pull all the threads together and bring it to a satisfactory ending.

And this is where I hope Camp NaNo will help. I've signed up and set a target of 10,000 so I can finish the draft. I feel that the challenge of a NaNo will help me to focus and get the last few thousand words written that will bring this story to its conclusion. Then I can breath a sigh of relief, let it rest and start the re-writing and editing process. I  may even let someone else read it ...

So join me on another NaNo journey and I'll  keep you informed about progress (always assuming there is some ...)

Friday, 24 March 2017

A publication (of sorts ...)

Today I want to share my entry to The Write Practice short story writing competition. The stories of all the entrants have been published here http://shortfictionbreak.com/spring-17/ and the link to my story is here http://shortfictionbreak.com/justice-served/

Please pop over and read my story, leave a comment and, if you like it, feel free to give me your vote in the Reader's Choice award.

Fingers crossed you like it and the judges are kind I their feedback!

Book Review - Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng



This one had me scratching my head. I really wanted to love it but I couldn't. The basis of the story is that Lydia has died and her family are struggling to understand why and how this could have happened to them. The setting is 1970s Ohio and the family are the only Chinese-American family in the town. James wants to fit in, to be American and not stand out; Marilyn wanted to break out and be different to her mother but has ended up just like her; Lydia wants to please her parents but can't keep up with their image of her; Nath wants to be noticed by his parents but knows he can't compete with Lydia for their affections; Hannah wants to observe and keep her family safe.

My problem is that I found the characters rather cold and distant. The narrative switches between the 1950s when James and Marilyn met and the family in the 1970s. We are told the story through the experiences and thoughts of the characters and I think some of my problems stemmed from here. I didn't really feel too much difference between the characters, they were all rather detached, as if observing events rather than taking part in them. I understand that this novel was written as part of a graduate writing programme and I can see the fingerprints of this in the text. One of the joys of writing is the energy that inhabits a story and hopefully flows out when it is read. This book felt as if it had been written and re-written so often that some of the spark was lost.

Having said that I did enjoy the unfolding of the drama/mystery of Lydia's death. Each member of the family uncovers something about her life that shocks them and makes them realise something about themselves. The family threatens to shatter beyond repair and part of the jeopardy of the story is what will happen to the family.

Celeste Ng has written a satisfying first novel and I look forward to reading her second novel when it comes out later this year.   

A to Z of Reading



So Debbie over at www.mychaoticallyeclecticlife.com tagged people to take part in an A - Z of Reading. Well that was too good to be true so I put my hand up and here we are! So sit back and enjoy finding out about my reading life.

A - Author you've read the most number of books from
Either Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy, although I think as I've read all of Hardy's it's probably him.
B - Best sequel ever
I'll go for Lord of the Rings. I loved The Hobbit and was keen to read more about Middle Earth, even though it was a very long read and rather daunting for a teenager!
C - Currently reading
I've just finished a book and have yet to decide what I'll tackle next. Any ideas?
D - Drink of choice while reading
Tea. Isn't everything better with tea?
E - E-Reader or physical book?
Physical book. I love the feel of the pare, the smell of a new book, the weight of it.
F - Fictional character you would have dated in high school.
I'd have chosen Heathcliff - always wanted to date a bad boy!
G - Glad you gave this book a chance
Moby Dick - took ages to get into but I'm glad I stuck with it.
H - Hidden gems
The Bees by Laline Paull - such a wonderful book. I was stunned that a novel about a hive of bees could be so gripping and have me weeping at the end.
I - Important moment in your reading life
The moment when it all clicked and I realised that reading was a joy and a pleasure, not a chore. I was about 8, a real late bloomer.
J - Just finished
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.
K - Kinds of book you won't read
I'm not interested in erotica so have given 50 Shades a miss. I'm also not into any of the self help type books.
L - Longest book you've read
War and Peace. a real slog at times, hard to get into but some fascinating characters.
M - Major book hangover
I'm not sure what this refers to but I sometimes feel sad when a book I've enjoyed comes to an end. Recently I loved reading The Testament of Vida Tremayne by Sarah Vincent and was sad when it ended and I had to say goodbye to some beautifully written strong women characters.
N - Number of bookcases you own
Eight, not counting the space over the bed.
O - One book you've read multiple times
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This is my all time favourite book and never disappoints.
P - Preferred place to read
Sofa, bed, train, coffee shop - is there a bad place to read?
Q - Quotes that inspire you
'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars' Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde
R - Reading regrets
No regrets - I love reading!
S - Series started and not yet finished
The Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R Donaldson. I enjoyed the first three but struggled to get into number 4.
T - Three of your all time favourite books
Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and 1984
U - Unapologetic fangirl for
Dickens. The master of plot and character.
V - Very excited about this release
The third Thomas Cromwell by Hilary Mantel. I loved the first two and can't wait to see how she handles the downfall of this fascinating man.
W - Worst bookish habit
Breaking the spine of paperbacks, drives my sister dotty!
X - X marks the spot: start at the left and pick the 27th book on your shelf
A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller.
Y - Your latest book purchase
The Forgotten and the Fantastical 3 - an anthology of modern takes on fairy tales.
Z - ZZZ snatcher: book that last kept you up late
Sadly I love my sleep too much to give it up, even for the best book!

So there we are, some questions answered and few new ones posed. What answers would you give?


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Tyranny of the Submit Button



I've recently entered a few writing contests - didn't win the first one, didn't expect to but looking forward to the feedback - and I started thinking about how hard it can be to submit my work.

As many of you will know I have had to walk a long and rocky path to calling myself a writer and acknowledging  that I consider myself to be a writer. Sharing my work has been difficult at times, especially anything of any consequence. My WIP remains unseen by any eyes than mine and I can't imagine sharing it, especially with those writers whose opinions I really value. Of course they are exactly the people I should share things with but that's for another day. I pop bits and bobs on this blog but nothing which I consider to be my real writing.

So submitting my work is something that scares me a bit. I bit the bullet and entered the first contest at the beginning of the year. We were set some criteria for a short story and could opt for feedback on the story even if we weren't chosen to progress. I chose to get feedback and have a couple of days to wait until that arrives. I didn't expect to win, I'm just a beginner after all but felt it was time to flap my writing wings a little. The second contest's deadline was yesterday and in a few weeks we will find out how we did and again get some feedback. I'm proud of myself for putting my work out there, it's a step forward and I hope will help me to develop as a writer.

I've also booked a place on a writing retreat later in the year and I know that during that weekend I will have to share my work. And in person, face to face as well! More scary stuff but I'll get through it. So I feel that I'm making progress and that makes me happy.

The submit button is a scary thing though. Every time I go to press it I have doubts. I worry about whether I'm good enough, whether I have any 'right' to put my work out there, whether I am kidding myself. Yet I know that there is no way I can improve, grow as a writer if everything sits on my hard drive or in my notebook. So I'm having to pull on my big girl's pants and just do it. I need to embrace the reality of being a writer and let my stories fly. A question occurs to me: can I call myself a writer if no-one ever reads my work? Don't writers need readers to exist? Just a thought ...

So I'm making a promise to myself. I'm going to look for opportunities to submit my work and to share it. Not just the little blog posts and linkies but the real stuff that I've worked hard on and worried about. I'll put it out there, ask for feedback and make it work for me.

Take that, submit button! I'm coming at you.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Book Review - His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet

I’m not sure how to categorise this book. There is a grisly murder, a trial and a life story yet none of these seem to adequately explain what this book is about. This story is presented as an account of a bloody triple murder in the Scottish Highlands in 1869. The author begins by describing how he came across a document relating to the murders when he was researching his family history. The first part of the book is a transcript of this document which is written by Roderick MacRae, the young man who committed the murders. It is the story of his life and upbringing in a small Highland village and the circumstances that lead him to commit the murders. The cast of characters is small and eccentric – his father is a remote, stoic figure who beats his son and shows no affection to any of his children, even after the death of their mother; his sister who assumes the duties of housekeeper and seems to have a gift of second sight and prophecy; his neighbours including the Murchison’s who are kindly towards him and the Mackenzie’s whose daughter he loves and whose father treats him and his family poorly.
Interspersed in this account is the time Roddy spends in prison awaiting his trial. He converses with his solicitor, Mr Sinclair, who gets him to write the account of his life, and is visited by doctors whose job it is to decide on his sanity. Roddy takes everything in his stride and comes across as a most detached young man.
The next sections of the book concern the medical reports, including the descriptions of the bodies. A lengthy treatise on criminal insanity explains the Victorian attitude to crime and criminal responsibility and this is alluded to again in the next section which covers the trial.
The whole book reads like a series of first hand accounts and historical documents and from this point of view it is fascinating. However, all is not as it seems. This is a work of fiction inspired by several murders of the period, one in Scotland and one in France but there was no triple murder in the area and Roderick MacRae is not an historical figure. From this point of view this book is brilliantly constructed. At no point did I feel as if the documents were anything other than authentic, the phrasing and vocabulary feel right and the attention to historical detail is outstanding, especially with regard to the Victorian attitudes to poverty, mental health and criminal responsibility. These feel odd to a modern reader but are handled with great aplomb by the author.
I was immediately drawn into the story and found the characters engaging and realistic. Although their stories differ, making them unreliable narrators, I enjoyed following their versions of events and spotting the inconsistencies. I found Roddy to be a most sympathetic character, even though some of the things he did were most unsavoury. He is a product of his background and upbringing, has few opportunities in life and is thwarted by circumstances beyond his control. His reactions to these are rather extreme and I wasn’t wholly convinced by his explanation of the murders but then that is the point; these killings seem random and meaningless and yet they tear a community apart.
I read this book in two sittings, pausing only to sleep and I was hooked throughout, desperate to reach the end and find out what happened to Roddy.  I will certainly look out for Graeme MacRae Burnet’s other novel, The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau. If it’s in anyway as good as this one I’m in for a terrific read.    

Friday, 17 March 2017

Writing MoJo March - dealing with a harsh Inner Critic

Today we were tasked with writing to our Inner Mentor about the problems we've experienced with our Inner Critic sabotaging our writing journey. Then we need to write the reply containing all the useful advice they would give to help.

Dear Inner Mentor,

As you know I've struggled to find and/or keep my writing mojo. There have been times when I have found the title 'writer' a difficult one to bear. Writer's seem to be different to me, they write everyday and never have moments when they can't string a sentence together. But writing is all I've ever really wanted to do and the only thing I thing I'm any good at.  
The hardest thing is when I look down at a sheet of paper or a computer screen and nothing comes. When I fight to get something out of my head and onto the screen and it just won't happen. How do I deal with that? It's so hard, it feels so lonely and yet I know it's something all writers have to deal with.
I worry about never being able to finish anything. I'm ok with short stories but longer pieces seem to run out of steam before they get near to completion. I'll never have anything that I can feel proud of at this rate. And don't even get me started on submitting, that's another area that needs attention. It's all about confidence and that is something I'm sadly lacking when it comes to my writing, as well as in general. 
So how do I deal with it? How do I make the leap from hobby writer to professional writer? And what do I do if it never happens? I need your help and sage advice.

Love from
Johanne, the limp writer.



Dear Johanne,

Oh dear, things do sound bad. No wonder you feel limp. But here's the thing: everyone feels that way sometimes. Yes, even big, successful writers like JK Rowling and Val McDirmid. They know how hard it is to sit at a desk and write, to force a story to behave, to create lively characters. It's part of the process of being a writer and every writer has to find their own particular way through. Some of the best advice I've come across is to write everyday, even if it's hard or seems to be poor quality. You can always delete it or scribble it out. But the mere fact that you're writing something can do wonders for your writing mojo.
As for whether you're good enough or not, that's a tricky one. Lack of confidence in your ability isn't uncommon and there's not really a sure fire way of solving that one. Maybe listen to what other writers are telling you about what you write. Fresh eyes usually see your work in an objective way so listen to them when they tell  you you've written a good piece. And remember what they said when you're doubting yourself.
Keep doing what you're doing, don't over analyse everything, write everyday and grab your courage in both hands and submit. The difference between the hobby writer and the professional is that the professional gets their writing out there and the hobby writer keeps their work safely under lock and key So keep writing and enjoy hearing the lovely things people say about your work.
You can do this!

Love from,
The wisest mentor you'll ever have.

Monday, 13 March 2017

#writingmojomarch - Reconnecting and Sharing the Love


It's always daunting when sitting down to write about something or someone I love. I hope that the people in my life who I love know it. I hope that they know how much I appreciate what they do for me and how much they enhance my life. I try to remember to tell them often how much they mean to me, I hope that's enough.

So what can I chose to write about? What brings joy to my life and gets told so far too little?

Over the years several small furry creatures have lived with us and I have loved each of them to the moon and back. I am a sucker for furry ears, a tiny tail and snuffly kisses. I can't imagine my life without cats.
The first cat in my life was called Puss. I was a tiny child, named the cat in my childish fashion. I have no memory of that cat or the next one, Blackie, who was feral and terrified my mother. But the third cat was called Fluff and I loved him so much. He was big, fluffy and black and white. I cuddled that cat on the garden swing and cried into his fur when things felt overwhelming. The smell of warm fur, feeling it tickle my nose and cheek, these memories are very precious to me.

As the years went by a succession of cats came, stole my heart and left. The sadness when one died or we had to have them put to sleep was raw and all encompassing. The size of the hole they left was far bigger than the size of the cat. We have three cats now - Bertie, who was broken and now is daft as a brush; Bonnie, who we adopted with her beautiful brother Clyde, much missed mummy's boy; and Pixie, the sweetest little black cat who loves to nibble fingers and toes and kisses us awake when she wants breakfast. They rule the house and rule my heart.

So to all the cats who shared my home and heart, thank you for the unconditional love you give. Thank you for bringing joy and sunshine to even the bleakest day. Thank you for living in my world for a while and letting me live in yours.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Book Review - The Testament of Vida Tremayne by Sarah Vincent

I was looking for books by independent publishers and I came across this one published by Three Hares Publishing. I was delighted by the quality of the book that arrived, a weighty tome on good quality paper, unlike some of the books I have read by independents which are obviously on smaller budgets.
I was intrigued by the three lines on the back:
A lonely novelist.
A devoted fan.
A journal that speaks of unspeakable things.
My interest was piqued by these sentences so I was keen to begin reading.

What a treat. I haven't read anything else by Sarah Vincent but she is certainly an accomplished writer. She has created three stunning characters in Vida, the novelist; Dory, her estranged daughter; and Rhiannon, a fan of Vida's work. Each of these women is beautifully drawn, well rounded and totally believable.
Vida is a writer who wrote a prize winning novel but little of consequence since. She moved to a cottage in the wilds of Wales, her husband left her and so did her Muse. She is lonely and craves a better relationship with her daughter but doesn't know how to get through to Dory.
Dory is a successful business woman in London who harbours a deep resentment towards her mother who she believes didn't care much fro her when she was a child and 'used' her as a template for a character in her prize winning novel.
Rhiannon is an obsessed fan of Vida's who insinuates her was into Vida's life and home, taking control of every aspect of her life.
When Vida has a break down Dory goes to Wales to be with her mother and is shocked to find Rhiannon living in her mother's home. There follow a series of clashes between Dory and Rhiannon, a changing of the relationship between mother and daughter and some shocking revelations.

The story is told through Dory's narrative as she tries to find out what happened to her mother and what part Rhiannon played in Vida's life. Vida's story is told through a series of journal entries which tell of the gradual unravelling of Vida's life and mind over the preceding months.

The climax to the story is stunning, shocking and the tension of the scene is well conceived and written. There is an element of loose ends being tied up but there is also the possibility that there is more to come, another story to be told.

I haven't read anything this good for a long time and I look forward to more by Sarah Vincent. I also look forward to passing this novel on and hearing what others think of it.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Writing MoJo March Flash Fiction

I've been following a two week online course to re-discover my writing mojo. Yesterday's task was to answer 10 questions about a picture showing a figure. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155042473324898&set=gm.1276880929061498&type=3
I decided to write a piece of flash fiction to answer them and I thought I'd share it on my blog. So here goes!



I'm Elise the Human Cannonball and today has been a difficult day. The sky above is clear and blue with fluffy clouds rippling across the sky like the newly stroked fur of a kitten. Warm air caresses my skin, raising the fine hairs along my arm, leaving the skin soft and fragrant.
A sweetness clings to my lips reminding me of the coffee I have just finished. Light and frothy it satisfied a need in me this morning. In the distance I can hear metallic scraping and banging as the boys erect the circus ready for tonight's show. The bolts and chains sing in the morning air, a musical accompaniment to the hard work and sweat of the workers.
The smell of gunpowder clings to me. As a Human Cannonball I am used to the smell but this morning it is more intense. It tickles my nose and my eyes water slightly at the acrid smell with its metallic, chemical aroma. It hangs around me, a harsh and constant reminder of what happened last night.
Last night I kissed Agnes the trapeze artiste and my best friend. We were slumped on the couch, tipsy and bitching about the men in our lives. The wine warmed my blood and I felt emboldened. I kissed her gently, pulled back and then she blinked and leaned in to kiss me back. But things aren't as simple as all that. You see, I was born a man. Agnes doesn't know this and I don't know how to tell her. I'm not gay, I just find it easier to live in the circus as a woman. I love the sexy costume and I can camp up a great act. The circus owners are happy and I thought my secret was safe.
Last night the lion tamer cornered me. He is suspicious pf me, follows me around and appears suddenly to catch me out. He hissed that he had found out that I was a man, he knew I had spun a web of lies to my family about my marriage and successful career as a curate. And he was going to use that information. I would have to sweat about how and when.
So I packed gunpowder under his caravan last night, lit the fuse and watched as he was blown to oblivion. He'll never tell what he knows, he'll never spill my secret. And the beautiful Human Cannonball will continue to fly.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Book Review - The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis


Like many of you I only knew Janet Ellis as a Blue Peter presenter. So I had slight reservations about her first novel; no reason why I should feel that way but it's sometimes hard to imagine people in a sphere other than the one we're used to.

However I'm pleased to say that Janet Ellis has scored a hit with this novel. I really enjoyed it and will certainly look out for her second. It was refreshing to read a novel set in the Georgian period, a part of history that I particularly love. Victorian London is very familiar to us through he work of Dickens but it made a change to step into a different London. And what a place it was; mud and filth in the streets, gangs of marauding children, smoke and poverty. Janet Ellis evokes place through all the senses and really sets a convincing scene. At times I could almost taste the food on the table and smell Simeon Onions.

The characters are interesting but not likable. Usually this is enough to put me off a book but in this case they were so well rounded that I was interested in what happened to them despite their flaws. Anne Jacobbs is the protagonist and she's a complex character, a young girl trapped in an oppressive household, realising that she has no control over her destiny. She meets Fub, the butcher's boy and they form an unlikely relationship. But Fub knows that there is no future for them despite the girlish plans of Anne. Her solution to the problem is shocking and seems out of character for a young girl. Anne is damaged goods though, scarred by the memory of her little brother's death and the abuse she suffers at the hands of the men in her life. So it is no surprise when she acts against the norms of her time - or any other come to that.

I am slightly concerned by the ending. I guess the fact that it is open ended bothers me - I prefer people to get their just desserts at the end of a story or at least for the loose ends to be tied up. However I can see that there is scope for a sequel which would be an interesting read. All in all I enjoyed reading The Butcher's Hook, was drawn into the lives of the characters and their world and will look out for more from Janet Ellis. 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

World Book Day - Wuthering Heights Book Review




This is my original copy of Wuthering Heights bought many years ago for 5p from a charity shop. It is showing it's age now but it has been read more times than I can remember. Wuthering Heights is one of the few books that I have read multiple times and it's my Desert Island Discs book choice - how sad is it that I've thought about what I'd chose if I went on Desert Island Discs?

I first read Wuthering Heights as a teenager. It immediately struck a chord with the romantic within me and I fell in love with Heathcliff, the brooding 'hero' at the heart of the story. I thought he was exactly the sort of chap I would like in my life - tall, dark, handsome and masterful. Just the thought of him was enough to make me flutter in the way I imagined Catherine did in the novel. I must have been a painful teenager, lots of angst and silent longing! I had visions of myself mooning at my bedroom window while my own Heathcliff rushed across Birmingham to rescue me form the boredom and normality of my everyday life. Needless to say that never happened!

As I grew older and hopefully wiser I realised that Heathcliff wasn't what I wanted at all. He is a bully, plain and simple. Catherine falls heavily for him but because of the pressure of family and society she rejects Heathcliff. This seems to trigger something in him and he turns into a terrible character. He has few redeeming qualities; he is cruel to his family, taunting them, beating them and treating them with contempt.

Catherine is an interesting character. She is drawn to Heathcliff on an almost animalistic level; she cannot resist him, even though she knows she shouldn't love him. She rejects him to marry a more suitable man and sets in motion the misery and despair of the second part of the novel. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine is in many ways the ultimate Romantic relationship. They are drawn together despite both knowing that they can never be together according to the conventions of the day.

Aside from the compelling characters the setting of Wuthering Heights is a real draw for me. The bleak and wild setting of Yorkshire acts as a vibrant backdrop for the tempestuous relationships of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The wild moors, the savage weather act as catalysts for many of the most memorable moments in the novel.

I have never watched a film or TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights. I cannot bear the thought of losing my own versions of Catherine and Heathcliff. In my imagination they are rounded and fully formed and if I ever watched someone else's version of them then I might be disappointed. This is the only novel that I have felt this way about; I have other favourites which have been made into films which I have watched and enjoyed. I am quite precious about Wuthering Heights - it has been with me for many years and I am sure that I'll read it several times more before I shuffle off. In fact, maybe it should be my next read ...

I've re-vamped this post in honour of world Book Day. Hope some new eyes see it and enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Prompt - Snow



I feel the chill fingers of another winter's day skittering across my face. The sky is heavy and leaden, promising snow to come. It hardly ever snows here so it's always an event. I hurry to the shops, buy things that we need for the next few days. Always good to be prepared, that's what my Mum always says. So I trudge home with bread, milk and cheese, a biting wind cutting into my face, forcing me to gulp down icy air.

The sky lowers towards me, heavy with it's burden of snow. Soon it will begin. As a child I loved a snowy day. There seemed to be more of them back then, or is that just nostalgia talking? But I remember walking home from school in the snow, Mum struggling to push my sister's pram through the drifts. The excitement of running a mittened hand along the tops of garden walls and watching the snow tumble on to the pavement.  The fun of making a snowman, or sliding down a hill on a square of cardboard, or snowball fights with friends at playtime. Then the weight of soggy mittens, freezing toes, cold cheeks and noses.

But now I look at the snow filled skies and see only inconvenience, missed work days and disrupted lives. Adulthood brings responsibility and that leads into a loss of fun and wonder. I know that our lives will be disrupted by the snow and this makes me cross. I hate it being cold, I hate the roads being closed, I hate the wet clinging clothing and the snow trampled everywhere.

The first flakes begin to fall. Silent and soft, they catch in my hair and on my eyelashes. The view of the road ahead begins to blur as the flurry quickens and suddenly the world takes on a soft focus.

Later when the snow has settled the world has rounded, softened under a white blanket. The harsh edges are gone and I like this world where everything is mellow and cushioned. A smile spreads across my face and I grab my coat, hat and phone. I stand in the garden and photograph the sleeping world, blanketed with snow and transformed. Then I lie down and make a snow angel, shivering when I stand up and noticing the weight of my coat wit snow stuck to the back. Another photo then I race inside, peeling my layers off and pulling a sweater from the cupboard to put on. In a few minutes I am warming my hands around a mug of hot chocolate and emailing the snowy pictures to my friends. Tomorrow may be a snow day and if it is I will let my inner child out again to play.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Writing Retreats


I've recently signed up for a weekend writing retreat later this year and I have to confess that I'm really looking forward to it. Partly because I'll get to meet one of my writing pals, partly because it's a lovely weekend away to relax. But of course the main reason is to do some quality (?) writing and get some support and advice.

I have been on a writing retreat once before, many years ago, and it was wonderful.  The chance to spend time chatting about writing without having to keep an eye on the clock; the opportunity to read the work of other writers; the chance to share my writing in a supportive space; the chance to sit and muse, to write, to daydream with no guilt. These are the things that I am looking forward to.

I think being a writer can be a lonely pursuit. You sit at a desk with a cooling cup of tea and write. No-one can get inside your head and help you. You are alone with your thoughts and imagination. No matter how much you chat to fellow writers or attend writing groups and readings, at some stage it is just you and the page/screen. So the opportunity to spend some time with other writers is a welcome one in my book.

I've always been drawn to the Arvon courses and have heard good things about them. The only downside is that they are rather on the expensive side but I guess for a week away and professional guidance they're not outlandish. However I have yet to be able to justify the expense - maybe when Hollywood takes up an option on my first best seller, eh? So I have high hopes for my weekend away stretching my writing muscles and I'm hoping to come away with some new ideas and directions and some new writing to keep my busy. Who knows, I may even get the first draft of the novel finished/polished!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Book Review - The Mirror by Deborah A Stansil

I was sent a copy of this book by the author for review on my blog. It is the first thing by Deborah I have read so I have no idea if this is her usual genre.

This is the story of Amy, Scott and their daughter Lilly. An antique mirror brings terror and heartbreak to the family and there is a chilling supernatural element which I especially enjoyed. I found the story slow to get going and was rather frustrated by what I felt was too much build up to the action of the story. However, once the action began it was a stunning story. The tragic backstory to Amy's possessiveness around Lilly was truly heart-breaking and really well written. There was real tension in the scene with Amy's ex and a shocking conclusion to that encounter that had me gasping. The character of Martin, Amy's ex, is a classic sociopath/psychopath and although he appears only briefly his influence ripples through the whole novel.

I really enjoyed the supernatural element to the story. The contrasting reactions of Scott and Amy to what is happening to their daughter really rang true; Scott's scepticism was understandable; Amy's worry about her child felt true and the way her thoughts swirled around her head was extremely well written. I felt that the growing tension between Scott and Amy was well observed and felt accurate. Their relationship is tested in a way that I thought rang true.

I felt that the ending tied everything together. I wasn't totally convinced by it but it did pull all the threads together and conclude the story in a satisfactory fashion. There is scope for a sequel if Deborah wanted to write it and I for one would be interested in reading it. I will certainly look out for other books by this author. She writes interesting and believable characters and it was a pleasure to spend some time with them.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

How do I rescue my novel?



In November I enjoyed a month of NaNoWriMo and reached my 50,000 word target. I was sailing away towards completing a first draft of a novel for the first time and could hardly contain my excitement. So what went wrong?

Sitting quietly on my hard drive is the novel. It's hardly progressed since December 1st and I'm worried that I'm falling out of love with it. Part of the problem is that I'm a pantser at heart and I just went with the flow. While this gave me a win at NaNo it hasn't helped at all with the subsequent writing. As I had no plan I don't know where the story is going. I have lots of threads meandering along but I don't know how I'm going to pull them all together.

Is it possible to do retrospective planning? Can I rescue this story from the fog?

I don't want to give up on this story. There is so much about it that I love, the characters are among the best I've written and I genuinely believe that there is a good story here. But... it's a bit lost at the moment and I'm feeling, well I'm not sure how I'm feeling about it actually.

Perhaps all I need is to pull up my Big Girl Pants and write the darn thing. After all isn't a first draft just a chance to tell the story? The fashioning and polishing happens in the edit so I'm told.

So what to do. Yet another dilemma for me on my journey as a writer.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Book Review - Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh



Published in 1930 this novel satirises the world of the Bright Young Things, a group of 1920s socialites known for their outrageous parties and behaviour. They epitomised the Jazz Age in London and the Roaring Twenties vibe that followed World War 1.

This is the first novel by Evelyn Waugh I have read. I enjoyed watching Brideshead Revisited but to my shame I never got round to reading the book. So I wasn't sure what to expect from Vile Bodies. It was like a waspish Jeeves and Wooster at times and I loved it.

This is the story of Adam Fenwick-Symes love of and pursuit of Nina Blount. They are part of the bohemian set that parties around London, lurching from one financial crisis to another. They seem resigned to the fact that they will marry but lack of funds always stops them. There is a sometimes bewildering cast of characters. The older generation are Edwardians who lived through World War 1 and adhere to the old standards. They watch with despair the younger generation who live for parties and pleasure, rushing around the country, living beyond their means and filling the gossip columns.

There were echoes of recent times in Vile Bodies. At one point Adam becomes a gossip columnist and to pep things up when he runs out of things to write he invents people and events to fill his column. Readers believe in these people and they take on lives of their own so he has to send his creations abroad. This reminded me of the fake news/alternative facts that have been swilling around the media recently. An opportune time to read this novel I think.

 Not all the characters are sympathetic and some of them seem to flit in and out and leave little impression. I enjoyed reading about the exploits of Agatha Runcible who is struggling with her sexuality and who embraces the lifestyle of the bohemian set to its ultimate and tragic end. Lottie Crump is divine, running a hotel for misfits who have nowhere else to go. She is both clueless and savvy at the same time - she understands her clientele and allows them to be who they are, no questions asked.

The novel turns from a romantic romp through fashionable society into a bleak view of the future. Waugh predicts that there will be another war and this will bring about the end of the Bright Young Things and their like. The novel ends with Adam, the Major and a prostitute sitting in a car in the heart of a battle - two worlds colliding in the most brutal way imaginable. I enjoyed this first encounter with Evelyn Waugh very much and will certainly read some more in the future.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Omen of Seven





In a clearing The Seven waited. The moon was rising and soon it would be time for the conclave. Prodigy paced around the circle, wearing a path through the grass. She was impatient to begin. As the eldest it was her role to start and end the conclave. She had the power to overrule any one of The Seven and she had used her power only once in her long life. She wrapped her cloak more closely around her thin frame and ran her fingers through her greying hair. Auspice sat on a three legged stool and stared glassy eyed before him. It was many years since his sight had been taken from him and he had finally accepted his blindness after many years of anger and bitterness. He now saw the wisdom that had been granted him when his vision was lost. The ropey veins stood out on his arthritic hands and he rubbed them together against the cold.

Sign lounged against a tree with his arms folded, observing The Seven. He was bored and wished this evening was over soon. There were things he needed to attend to and he had no time to waste hanging around in this ancient wood with the others. He scowled at the others with contempt in his ice cold blue eyes. These were not the powerful mages he had expected when joining The Seven and he had little time for any of them.

In the centre of the clearing stood Portent rubbing her swollen belly. She felt serene and calm despite the bad vibes pouring from Sign. She smiled at him and he turned away. He was an angry soul and Portent sighed. There had been a time when they had been close but he had withdrawn into the company of thieves and vagabonds. She hoped that they might be close again soon but even the impending birth of her child had failed to touch his cold heart. The child quickened and she rubbed more slowly, calming the life within her and singing to it. Augury drew close to her and took her hand. He felt her pulse and stroked along the length of her fingers. He smiled and nodded at Portent. The healer within him tapped into the life force of her child and told him that all was well, the child was strong. He closed his kindly hazel eyes and listened to the life-force of Portent’s daughter. This one was strong and Augury could feel the old magic surging through the child.  

Presage sat cross legged on the ground plucking and weaving flowers into a braid.  She hummed an ancient tune and watched as her fingers twisted the stems into a plait and saw it grow. When it was the right length she twisted the ends together and formed a circlet. She rose effortlessly and placed the garland on Auspice’s head. He smiled and reached for her hand. Presage held his hand and lifted it to her lips. The old man smiled and pulled her hand to his cheek, savouring the cool smooth flesh against his wrinkled skin. Presage tossed her golden curls and threw her head back to stare at the rising moon. She felt great peace in this place, a sense of well-being despite the sneering of Sign.

‘We are only six, ‘ said Prodigy. ‘We cannot begin until we are seven and the moon is nearing its zenith. We must begin soon or lose the perfect time for another year. Where can he be?’

Sign snorted and strode across the circle to join her.

‘If I have wasted my time here I will not come again next year. Many plans were cancelled so I could be here and my time is precious, even if yours is not.’

‘Heaven forbid you should miss a chance to make another soul’s life unhappy!’

Sign turned towards Auspice and scowled at the old man.

‘Please, think of the child,’ whispered Portent. ‘She deserves peace and good will, not negative thoughts and words.’

A chill wind blew through the clearing and ruffled the robes of The Seven.  The moon shone brightly through a gap in the clouds and a hooded figure walked slowly from between the trees.

‘Welcome to conclave. Make yourself known.’ Prodigy spread her arms and all eyes turned to the hooded figure. Auspice leaned forward and listened to the breathing and the rustling of the robe. The figure stood tall and still.

Augury shivered as the temperature dropped. The figure dropped the hood from his head. A gentle face, shaved head like a monk and a smile. Augury moved towards him, circled and nodded.

‘A gentle soul, well worthy to join The Seven. Welcome!’

One by one the others approached and examined the stranger. Presage guided Auspice and the old man ran his hands lightly over his features. He also nodded. Prodigy was the last to face him and he raised his eyes to meet hers. They looked deeply into each others eyes and eventually Prodigy nodded too.

‘We are seven and may begin. The moon has risen, the time has come. Join us.’

They stood in a circle, joined hands and waited. In the distance a wolf howled and a bell tolled. Prodigy dropped the hands she held and raised hers to the moon.

‘We welcome the seventh, to take the place of Foretoken. Share your name with us and become one of The Seven.’

‘My name is Omen. I join The Seven with joy, with humility and with gratitude. Accept me, make use of my gifts.’

They began to walk slowly widdershins and chanted.

‘Welcome to The Seven! Welcome Omen of Seven!’

The conclave of The Seven had begun.