Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Honourable Mention

I enjoy entering writing contests. I like the discipline of a deadline, the germ of an idea that is sparked when given a theme. I enter a few each year, not with any intention of winning but just to stretch my writing muscles and to get some feedback.

So imagine my joy when I entered The Write Practice Winter Writing Contest and got an Honourable Mention!

Thrilled isn't the word, I was gobsmacked. There is no prize, they go to the winner and two runners up, but I do get my story published in Short Fiction Break on December 27th. http://shortfictionbreak.com/

I have been trying to submit more work lately, not something that I find easy but something that I know I must do if I am to progress and improve as a writer. Sending my babies out into the big, wide world on their own is scary but so far no-one has died! I now need to get working on my first draft manuscript in order to have it ready for the world. I am a little shaky on the process to get closer to publication but I think in the New Year I will start putting out feelers and see if I can make some useful connections.

In the meantime I'm going to bask a little in the Honourable Mention light.
So proud, so happy, so surprised. Do drop by and read it on December 27th, any comments gratefully received. And somebody peel me off the ceiling ... 

Plotting versus Pantsing

I spend far too much time wool gathering rather than actually writing and something that has been occupying my mind recently is whether I should plan my next project or just sit down and write in my usual pantser fashion.

The reason I have been thinking about this is that in the past month I completed my first draft of a manuscript which is now relaxing quietly on my hard drive. I started this manuscript during last year's NaNoWriMo and it was a tiny idea which I began to write and it grew like Topsy. There was no real planning, just a vague idea and a couple of characters. I really enjoyed writing this way, it's the way I have always written so feels natural. The problem is that at times I literally lost the plot! The thing took off in unexpected directions and I now know that part of the re-writing and editing process will be to find a thread that runs through it and follow that thread rather than wandering off on branch lines.

So here is the issue. I now want to begin another manuscript. I have a vague idea, just as I had a year ago. I have my characters, familiar ones from the first manuscript and I have an idea of the journey I want them to take. so do I plan or do I fly?

Pros and Cons
Planning:
  • I will know where I am going and where I want to end up.
  • However I'm not very good at making a coherent plan and tend to abandon it at some stage as too prescriptive.
  • It's not the way I naturally write so always feels false to me.
Pantsing:
  • It feels natural and I know how to do it.
  • I get lost down side roads and up interesting trees!
  • There is little cohesion in a long manuscript.
  • I wonder if it leaves me with a huge editing job because there is no continuity.
So here I am, sitting at the laptop, wondering how to start. This is a familiar place for me over the years. But it is mid December, I may ponder some more over the festive period and see where I end up.  Maybe there is a combination that I can find, some compromise that will let me plan and fly free at the same time. Or maybe I just embrace the inner pantser and go with the flow. Who knows. Certainly not me at the moment!



Monday, 23 October 2017

#MeToo - Why is it important?

The #MeToo thing has been sweeping the internet recently; women standing up and declaring that they have suffered sexual assault or harassment and that the time has come to say 'enough is enough, no more suffering in silence'. And I know that many women have found it hard to stand up and join in. I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post and even harder about whether to press 'publish' and send it out into the world. I guess I decided that if this was important to so many women then I couldn't stand on the sidelines and remain silent.

Like almost every woman I know I have experienced sexual harassment to some degree, less so now I'm older but that's not the point here. From the older brother of a friend who thought it was ok to get us to lift our skirts and drop our knickers to the man on the bus who thought it was ok to run his hand up my thigh; from the work colleague who thought he could just reach out and grab a breast to the cold caller who thought he could call me 'love' or 'darling'. We've all known what it was like to be objectified, to be grabbed against our will, to be made to feel dirty.

I grew up in the 70s and as they say times were different then. Casual racism and sexism were facts of everyday life. Try going upstairs on the bus in a mini skirt and listen to the comments. But there was more subtle harassment going on and it didn't always come from the boys. 'You'll never get a boyfriend if you won't let them touch you', 'You'll never keep a boyfriend if you won't let him cop a feel', 'If you won't let him grope you he'll think you're frigid/a lesbian/a feminist'. All things my girlfriends told me as I was growing up. No wonder the boys thought they could do as they pleased with their hands!

But there is a more sinister side to all this. If men grow up thinking they can do whatever they want to with a woman's body then it comes as no surprise that some men don't develop a filter. They don't hear 'No' they hear 'Try harder/be firmer/force it'. For many years I heard stories from girlfriends of the times they'd had to fight off the unwanted attentions of a man, sometimes with little success. I've had many tearful conversations with girlfriends who ended up having sex with a man just to get rid of him. How terrible does that sound?

And some men take things further. I have been assaulted by a man who took no notice when I said 'No'. For years I thought it was my fault: I had fancied him, flirted with him, found myself alone with him. So it was my fault for putting myself in that position, wasn't it? No! It has taken me many years to know that, to know that it was his fault not mine, to know that I was a victim not a co-conspirator of some sort.

Of course it's all about power. The power men feel they have over women. That a woman's voice is less important, that a woman's body is not truly her own, that woman just need 'persuading' when they say 'No'. That is why it is so good to hear women across the world taking power back, saying that although these things have happened to us it's not ok and it's not cool and we won't be silent anymore.

Because that's how it all thrives, in our silence and passivity. We warn each other about the office letch, the man you never stay in a room alone with, the octopus at the office party, the dirty old man with wandering hands. We need to shout out, to confront the men who make us feel uncomfortable with their attentions, to tell the world that it's not ok and we won't stay silent anymore.

So I say these things have happened to me, they were not ok and I stand with all the women who are posting #MeToo. Together we may be able to save other women from feeling silenced and passive and powerless. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review - Making Winter by Emma Mitchell

'Banish winter blues and embrace the frosty months by cosying up with Emma Mitchell's nature-inspired collection of crafts'

As someone who has followed Emma on Twitter for a few years I know how passionate she is about crafts, making and the life affirming benefits to be gleaned from doing something soothing and productive like crochet or baking. She is a successful crafter, running workshops to promote the joys of making. So I cheered when she said she was writing a book. I knew it would be beautiful and witty, like the lady herself, and I was not disappointed.

This is so much more than just a craft book. There are yummy recipes which are destined to become firm family favourites, there are things to do with twigs and twine so there is an unashamed crafty element to the book. But what Emma does so beautifully is invite you through her words to pull up a chair, sip a warming cuppa and relax into winter. A Fenland hyyge if you like with added cake and doggy cuddles.

The illustrations are beautiful. Emma has photographed the area where she lives and its beauty is breath-taking. Lots of pictures of the crafts being done aid her clear and often witty instructions. However the real joy is the simple, stunning line drawings by Emma, who is truly talented and gifted with a pen or a brush.

The crafts and recipes are really tempting - I am looking forward to making the Chelsea buns and the streusel cake - so there should be something to tempt most folk. My only issue is the lack of knitting projects. As a non crochet person I was longing to knit some of the creations so would have liked similar patterns for the knitter. But I know Emma is all about the hook and yarn so I will forgive her.

So if you fancy popping out for a ramble and picking some leaves and twigs you could do worse than grab a copy of Emma's book and find ways to transform your finds into lovely home decorations. As Emma says, you may even 'replace the feel-good brain chemicals that may falter during these dingier months'. And that must be a good thing.



Saturday, 7 October 2017

For Paula

Passing ships, some light, some dark
Drift across the ocean of experience.
Some brush against us so subtly, so softly,
Hardly rippling the glassy surface.
Others barge past, pushing us aside,
Demanding the right of way.

We meet so many people on our journey
Through life, over the years.
Many we meet briefly and forget,
Some stay with us for years
And others only for a heartbeat.
Our loved ones, our companions, our friends.

Paula was a carnival of colour arriving over the horizon
One weekend in springtime.
She lit the room like a sunflower,
All colour and laughter and light.
A rainbow warrior woman grabbing life by the hand,
Shaking the tree of experience until all the fruit fell.

Lovely Paula.
You taught me to believe, to smile, to enjoy,
To celebrate each moment of each day.
You saw a spark, a talent in me
Which I was pushing down, hiding, denying.
Thank you for the words, the encouragement,
The love which shone through.
Thank you and goodnight
Beautiful, wonderful, gentle Paula.
 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Prompt 156 - Should

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

She should concentrate on her maths lesson,
But those handsome boys would run up and down
Outside the window playing football.
If only she could tear her eyes away.

She should get home in time for tea as she was told,
But it would be such fun to play just one more game
Of hid and seek in the sunshine with friends.
If only she could remember to be good.

She should take a coat in case it got cold,
But her outfit was so stunning she wanted
The world to admire it as she walked into town.
If only she could stop shivering she'd look oh so cool.

She should stay in and finish writing her essay
But it would be such fun to head into town,
Watch a band and dance with friends.
If only she had more discipline.

She should go to bed early before an early start,
But it would be a shame to miss the end of the film
And never know who the killer was.
If only she wasn't so tired already.

She should listen to her friends advice and say 'no',
But it would be a shame not to go on a date
With the hottest bad lad in the whole town.
If only she had been more street wise and sensible.

She has a few regrets, as she should,
She would never advise you follow her advice,
She could be an angel, if she wished.
So, tell me, should she?



Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

As it's National Poetry Day I thought I'd share a couple of old poems from the 90s that I came across recently. One is a bit silly, one is more serious. Let me know what you think.


Untitled

The first time there are church bells
Ringing in your head.
There's champagne and there's chocolate
And flower on the bed.

He is your only one true love
Your burning heart's desire.
Your passion it will keep you warm
Until you both retire.

The first time there is vodka
It swills around your cup.
You know you'll need another one
To keep your courage up.

He is a guy you know a bit
You met him at a party.
Now after several pints of beer
He doesn't look so hearty.



Walking Where The Goats Walk.

Clinging to the cliff edge
A rock strewn path,
So steep, so hard,
I walk with ginger steps
Like a tightrope walker
With vertigo.

Rocks.
Grey, brown,
Marble white.
First polished smooth
By generations of passing feet.
Then honed razor-sharp
By wind and water
Into spines cutting across the path.

Butterflies.
Palest china blue, softest saffron,
Burnished browns and reds,
Sooty black with red streaked wings;
Always tantalisingly out of reach.

Sea.
A low bass slap
As it pounds against a rocky hollow.
Marine indigestion.
A small tree lined glade,
Cool in the fierce heat.

As I walk the path,
In burning heat,
Sweat sticking my hair to my head,
I hear the faint jangle of goat bells,
High up on the mountainside,
Reminding me
That they tread these paths
So much better than I.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Good Death

I recently heard that the husband of a friend had died and was privileged to read an account she wrote of his last day. It was extremely moving, as befits a writer, and I recalled the lovely things she had said about him when we last met. Their relationship had been long and sometimes stormy, she particularly regretted the time she had been hurtful to him and was happy that she had the time to speak to him about this and apologise.

And now the end had come, as she knew it must. Her words spoke of their love and closeness, the joy of friendship and family and an acceptance of the ending of a life. As I read what she had written I thought 'That sounds like a good death.' An expression I hadn't thought of for many years, in fact I have no idea who I got the idea from at all. It got me thinking about what a 'good death' is and thinking about the various ways that people who I loved have died. Also I confess it had me thinking about my own mortality and what I would consider to be a 'good death.'

My father died suddenly in his bed while my mother, who was disabled, slept in her chair downstairs. This was not a good death for him or for her. Because it was sudden and unexpected none of us had the time to prepare or say goodbye. For weeks after he died I found myself replaying my last conversation with him, desperate to remember if I told him I loved him. Of course, the more I thought about it the more confused my memory became and it all got rather distressing. I know intellectually that my father knew I loved him in the same way that I know he loved me. But the fact that he may have died before I could say it one more time hurt me for the longest time.

My mother was bereft at his death and died herself a few months later. She died in hospital, alone early one Monday morning. Again, not a good death for my sister and myself. The guilt that we both felt at not being with her at the end is still raw and brings tears. I know I told her I loved her but that is still not enough. She was alone and that is not my definition of a good death.

I don't often think about my own death except when I'm planning an extravagant funeral and winding my son up about the music and mourners I expect! Yet I have to be honest that I don't want to die alone in a hospital bed like my mother. When I was diagnosed with cancer I thought about death. Even though I knew I had a very low grade cancer and it would be totally treated with surgery I had moments when I thought 'But what if ...?' The fear of cancer and death was soon pushed aside as the practical matters of undergoing surgery and recovering kicked in. But I did have those thoughts, even if I never got as far as thinking about the specifics.

How many of us do think about our won death when still healthy and relatively youthful? Those are thoughts for another day, another year, another decade ... please God. So reading about the last day of my friend's husband has given me the opportunity to think about how I would like to die eventually. And I'm not trying to be morbid in any way, it has been an interesting experience, an eye opener too. In the Western World we don't talk about death or think about it until someone dies. Then it's too late to do anything about how they died. Death is a fact of life. It's the one experience each and every one of us shares.

I hope and pray that when my time comes, when the time comes for all those I love, that we get good deaths. That we get the chance to say 'I love you', that we get to say what we need to before we depart. And that those who are left behind have nothing but happy memories with no guilt or regret.

With love to Paula and her loved ones.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Book Review - Nondula by Ana Salote

You know that sinking feeling when you open up the sequel to a much loved book? The worry that it won't be as good and will spoil your memories of the first? Fear not! Nondula is as magical as Oy Yew and will transport you back into the wonderful world of Oy and his friends.

The waifs have escaped from Duldred and appear to have found a wonderful home. But all is not as it seems and soon they are battling once again to find peace and happiness. Linnet is fading away and Oy must find a way to save her. He ends up captured by the Felluns and must try to escape; Gritty heads off to rescue him and discovers her own talents; Alas refuses to conform and faces his own battles; Gertie finds her place in the world and a new friend.

The writing is wonderful and a world is conjured up that is both inviting and scary. Ana Salote has a real talent for world building and you can taste, touch and smell everything so vividly - smell is particularly important in Nondula! The characters again shine out from the page and take the reader on a journey through a magical world which involves friendship, courage and self knowledge. I can hardly wait for the final part of the trilogy, even though I will be really sad to say goodbye to these wonderful characters.

Book Review - Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

This is a mammoth book and took me quite a while to read. However I'm glad I persevered as it was both enlightening and interesting. As a long time devotee of Shelley I knew some of the aspects of Mary Shelley's life but I learned more about her as a writer from this biography. Mary Wollstonecraft was a revelation to me and the fact that her reputation had been tarnished until the 1970s came as a real shock.

Both women were formidable intellectuals, writing about women's rights and issues long before it became acceptable to do so. Both fell victim to the moral climate in which they lived and both 'sacrificed' much to be with the men they loved. Those men also did not always treat them well and neither Shelly nor Godwin come out of this book particularly well.

Once I had finished I felt I knew both women and was stunned by the parallels in their lives. I now need to read some of their works, Frankenstein apart, and try to really understand what they were saying about society and its treatment of women in the late 18th early 19th centuries. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, even if it is more of a marathon than a sprint to read.

Book Review - The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

As a long time Agatha Christie fan I was surprised that I hadn't come across this book before. But I'm certainly glad I've finally read it as it is a corking story told at a breathless pace.

Anne Beddingfield is a great heroine and I'm sorry that she only has this one story to star in. She is feisty, impulsive and brave - quite a contrast to Miss Marple who comes later. In fact, although it is probably heresy to say it, I preferred her to Marple!

The story is part detective, part adventure and it races across England and Africa as Anne tries to find out who murdered the man in the brown suit whose death she witnesses at a Tube station. There are some gloriously villainous characters and a dashing hero to give her the, in my opinion, rather soppy happy ending but despite that I loved the story and especially Anne. She'd be such fun to hang out with, if only I could keep up with her!

Book Review - The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I wanted to love this book but didn't quite fall in love with it. The writing and description is wonderful - I felt damp and chilly at times as Cora and William strode around the Essex marshes. The characters are beautifully drawn and engaging. And yet ...

Something didn't grab me and I'm not sure why. I found the ending to be most unsatisfactory - it felt unresolved somehow. I wanted more of the children's story, the magic they conjured up was interesting but never developed.

I think most of all I wanted a happy ending for William and Cora and I didn't feel I got it. But I will look out for more by this author.

Book Review - My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal

Leon loves his mother and brother and doesn't understand why they can't be together. Kit de Waal has created a wonderful set of characters and I was drawn in by Leon's story. At times I wanted to pick him up and cuddle him, he was so vulnerable and broken. The care system is held up to the light and doesn't always make comfortable reading when seen from Leon's point of view.

The book is full of wonderful characters - I wanted to jump on my bike, ride past the traffic lights and hang out at the allotments with Tufty and Mr Devlin; I wanted to sit on Sylvia's settee and watch Blankety Blank; I wanted to hide with Leon when he didn't know which way to turn and the safest place seemed to be in an abandoned shed.

The world of 1981 is written very well - I was just starting out as an adult at that time, getting married and buying our first home - and it reminded me of how diverse and polarised the world could feel in those days.

A great debut novel and a name I will certainly look out for in the future.  

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Blue Sky Tag

I love reading people's Q & A's when they've been tagged by someone but I rarely get the chance to take part. So when I was tagged by Marija Smits over at https://marijasmits.wordpress.com I was thrilled to take part. Naturally I love the answering questions bit but the thinking up questios to ask and deciding who to tag are a bit trickier!
So here goes with the easy bit ...

  1. How are you? (No, really, how are you?)
Today I am feeling well. A little stiff in the hips but generally ok. I am still trying to get my head round what has happened health wise over the last few months but I am nearing acceptance.

2. How do you feel about the season changing from summer to autumn? Do you have a favourite autumnal poem? (If not, simply share a favourite poem.)

I adore autumn! The weather changes to the kind that suits me, cooler and fresher. I wilt in any summer heat! I love the way nature curls up and readies herself for sleep over the winter, I love the dampness, the mists, the low cloud, the gentle rain. Needless to say my favourite autumn poem is To Autumn by John Keats!

3. On the introvert-extrovert and sensitivity continuum where would you put yourself?
I always say I'm an introvert, that I'm shy and retiring. Then folk start laughing and remind me that I'm never afraid to go into a bar on my own, that I'll chat to anyone anywhere and I concede that I may be a closet extrovert.

4. Have you ever been ‘stuck’ in life? Or are you ‘stuck’ (in some way) right now? Any tips for getting unstuck?

This is a difficult question. I have felt stuck at times but have no sure fire way of getting unstuck! However, my recent health problems left me stuck for a time, stuck with unwanted thoughts and uncertainty. So stuck that for a few weeks I read nothing - so unlike me! - and I am only now moving out of that 'stuck' period. So sorry, no wisdom from me today on that one.

5. How do you balance family life, work and creative time? Is ‘time scheduling’ the way forward? Or do you have a more relaxed approach?

I wish I could schedule my time more efficiently. I lay in bed each night planning the tomorrow, then wake up and amble through the day achieving a fraction of what I planned. I'm trying to be more disciplined when it comes to my writing so maybe I will get there one day with the rest of my life.

6. What creative work are you focussing on at the moment?

I am trying to finish the first draft of my novel. I'm finding it difficult because I don't want the story to end, I love my characters too much to say goodbye! I'm also knitting again which is wonderful when watching TV.

7. Are you a one-project-on-the-go person or do you flit between different creative projects?

I flit but nothing gets finished that way!

8. Some of your favourite books…?

This list could go on forever! Classics include Wuthering Heights (my desert island book), Tess of The D'Urbervilles, Persuasion and Bleak House. More recently I adored My Name Is Leon and
The Testament of Vida Tremayne.

9.An inspiring piece of music?

I'm a big fan of Sigur Ros and one of my favourites is Hoppipolla. But as for inspiring...

10. A favourite ice cream flavour? If you don’t like ice cream, here’s another question: tea or coffee? (And how do you take it.)

I'm a sucker for anything salted caramel at the moment but if I could only have one flavour until the end of time I'd pick coffee. And I'm a milk-no-sugar tea girl!

11. A photo of one of your favourite places to create (or the place you mostly end up creating, though it may not be your favourite!).


The clubroom at David Lloyd Oxford! How sad is that?


I tag the following:







Iona Burchill





Here are the rules of the Blue Sky Tag:

  1. Thank the person who has nominated you.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
  4. Tag your 11 nominees.
And here are my 11 questions!

1. What is your favourite animal and why?
2. If you could be in any TV programme which one would you pick?
3. It's cocktail hour, what's your order?
4. Desert Island Disc please.
5. How did you choose your child/children's name(s)?
6. If I could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for? Make one personal rather than all going for world peace...
7. Disney or Pixar?
8. What would you choose for your last meal?
9. Given the choice, would you go into space?
10. What is your favourite period in history and why?
11. Do you have any skills that would help the human race after the Apocalypse?


Hope to read some interesting answers!



The Prompt 155 - Calling

Calling


I hear the calling in the night,
The calling of the owl.
It echoes across the garden
From the woodland down the hill.
The sound gives me security
As I lie in my bed.
Cosy, warm and safe,
Listening to the haunting sound.

I hear the calling in the night,
The calling of the fox.
Echoing through the bushes
Startling, cruel and sad.
The fox's cry is fraught and shrill,
It speaks of loss and pain.
As I lie in my cosy bed
I hope to never hear its like again.

I hear the calling in the night,
the calling of a child.
Echoing through my sleeping mind
Sad and far away.
Calling for someone I know not who,
Calling for love and peace,
Calling me to do I know not what,
Calling in the night.

I have no answer to that call,
I have no wisdom to impart.
The call is faint and far away,
I have no answer to that call.
What must I do?
The child is calling, haunting like the owl.
What should I do?
The child is calling, barking like the fox.

I hear the calling in the night,
Calling in the dark.
I close my ears, I turn my head,
And silently I weep.

Monday, 11 September 2017

How Philippa Perry helped me see clearly

As regular readers will know I have struggled to identify as a writer. I was hostage to 'imposter syndrome' for the longest time and belittled my writing when I spoke about it at all.

But I have started to call myself a writer on a more regular basis - not that I get asked all that often - and it has felt good to identify with the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure.

So where does Philippa Perry fit in? Well, I've long been an admirer of Grayson Perry's work and through him I found Philippa on Twitter. Then she fronted a programme on surrealism on TV which was most interesting so I have followed her on Twitter with interest.

Now, a recent post really leaped out at me. Philippa wrote "If the only thing between you and the you, you want to be is will power, you can do it if, rather than TRY to, you DECIDE to." This spoke so loudly to me, this was what I needed to hear and is exactly what I have to do. I need to DECIDE to be a writer. No more trying, just doing.

Now imposter syndrome is a hard habit to break, I know this. But if all that is holding me back is the decision to be a writer then I have to make that decision. I have to live and breath as a writer rather than putting it on the back burner for another day, perhaps when I have more time, or the inspiration strikes. You know the drill.

So I have decided to be the writer I believe I was meant to be. I am going to finish the draft of my novel. I am going to start a new one and then edit the first one. I am going to write something new everyday, even if it's not very good and I bin it the next day. I am going to start submitting my work more regularly rather than saying I will but not following through.

Thank you, Philippa Perry. You have transformed my life in ways you will never know. You have given me the courage to stand up and declare myself a writer once again and I have decided to be the best writer I can possibly be.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Message from the other side?

Last night I had an interesting dream.

I dreamt that I was looking for a new house. I went to an exhibition showcasing new build houses and found just the one I wanted. It was a town house in a little cul-de-sac with a plunge pool and access to a boating lake. I signed on the proverbial dotted line and started to choose paints, curtains and kitchen fittings.

Now several things struck me as odd when I woke up. Firstly I have no desire to move at all. I am more than happy in my messy, chaotic little home and I don't need the stress. Secondly, as a non swimmer and boating loather, why would I need the pool and row boat?

But as the morning wore on I started to wonder if this was a message from my subconscious. Although why she can't be a bit less obtuse I don't know. Maybe it's a message to mentally sort out my shit. To move into a new mind set (house) and embrace some new challenges (boats?!?)

I may be reading far too much into this but it's an interesting idea.

So do I pack all my mental baggage into boxes and move on? Or do I stay where I am, where it's cosy and familiar?

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Thank you for being patient.

It's been a while since I've written anything on here and for that I am sorry. Sorry for me as a writer because it is an indication of how difficult these past few months have been and how that took me by total surprise. After all, I'm one of life's copers. I'm also sorry for you out there in Internet land, popping by every now and then to see if I've written anything new and going away empty handed time after time.

I have found the recovery from my surgery to be a two fold thing. Physically I am well on the mend, only the occasional twinge to remind me that I had the operation. Soon I will have my follow up appointments and I hope to get back to more normal life and get to the gym - my cardio fitness is crap at the moment!

Emotionally? An different beast altogether. I was so sure that the fact my cancer was all removed during the surgery meant that I would have few if any after effects. But sadly that has not been the case. I have felt sad for no reason, low and flat, unable to shake the torpor. Sure signs that I was not functioning well were the lack of interest in reading or writing. I struggled to see the positives in many things, resorting to faking it so as not to upset those around me.

Well now is the time to change all that. As I said, I am seeing the doctors next week and I hope that the news they will give me will shake me out of this mood. I think I need to hear someone say the words before I can bear to believe it. At the moment it's just reassurance from loved ones and friends. I need the white coats to tell me too!

I'm also trying to pamper myself every now and then, just little things like some nice new smellies for the shower. But it all helps so they say and I must confess that stepping out of the shower in a cloud of perfume is good for any girl's soul!

So again, sorry for being so absent. I hope I haven't lost too many readers but I will just have to build up my fan base again!

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 about 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 for 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.