About Me

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On the bright side of the road
Lover of words. Usually found with a book or a pen in my hand.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

#12DaysOfFiction2017 Day 1

Dorothy tossed the seed out onto the frosty grass.

‘You’ll attract rats,’ he used to grouch. She’d think to herself and smile: the biggest one’s indoors. I can handle the small ones out here.

She filled up the feeders with peanuts and seeds – she loved to watch the sparrows and blue tits but the ground scattering was for the woodpigeons. She’d made a Christmas wreath for the birds from pine cones rolled in lard and seed and she hung it on a branch of the bare tree. She was glad he wasn’t out here to see it. She could imagine how he would laugh at her.

Dorothy made a cup of tea and sat in her armchair overlooking the garden. It was a hive of activity. She remembered how Brian would sit in the chair next to her and how they would share a packet of custard creams. He’d been wild in his younger days but as he’d aged he’d become more sensitive, needy almost. It was worth the waiting. The later years she would cherish forever. Her kids said she saw him through rose-coloured glasses, but isn’t that what love is all about?
Image courtesy of Spoonflower

She looked out to the garden. It hadn’t taken long, small birds were flocking to the wreath and even forming a queue, waiting on the leafless branches. Even the woodpigeons were in on the action, pecking around in the grass where seed had fallen. They were pigeons, she was sure, and yet, one stood out. It was slimmer and regal-like. It seemed to have war paint striped along its face, although it didn’t look very angry. Was it wishful thinking, or could it really be a partridge? A partridge foraging beneath her pear tree? Dorothy closed her eyes, crossed her fingers and wished.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Twelve Days of Fiction

This year I'm taking part in Vicente Ruiz's Twelve Days of Fiction. Vicente has been writing a short story a day from 14th to 25th December for several years and this year he's asked other writers to join him. My Twitter friend Alva (@Alva1206) alerted me to the idea and, thinking it would be fun, I've started jotting and mind-twirling - a great antidote to the stresses of the season!

Image courtesy of PJ O'Dwyer

The idea is that you write a stand alone story, or instalments of a longer piece, each day from this Thursday until Christmas Day. The length, genre, way you publish it, are all up to you. You could do stories in tweets, or publish longer ones on your website. All that Vincente asks is that you use the hashtag #12DaysOfFiction2017 - easy peasy!

For further information, check out Vicente's website, here or find him on Twitter: @VicenteLRuiz

I'm very much looking forward to reading all the stories. Happy writing!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

In the festive spirit

We're having snow today (as is much of the UK) and with no reason to go outside I've been able to enjoy it completely. I'm home alone but I didn't let that stop me. I switched the Christmas tree lights on and put on some festive music and sat drinking tea watching the big, soft flakes fall and settle. All was quiet - no birds in the garden and the dog fast asleep. Afraid it would start melting, I wrapped up and went outside early to build the obligatory snowman. I could hear children in nearby gardens laughing and playing and I cleared away the bird table and bird bath and once refreshed, I soon had visitors.

I was reminded of our time in Pennsylvania and how we got snow every year. How I'd bundle the children up and they'd wade outside to make angels in the snow. The skies would be a deep, deep blue and the air so cold - how could we not go outside?

It was a shame to spoil the pristine white that blanketed the lawn but how could I resist? The snow was very powdery and not very good for moulding, but at least it meant that I didn't get soaking wet while I worked on my scene: a lady walking her dog who spots a mouse heading for his mouse-hole to munch on a piece of cheese. I'd wanted to add a cat but, hey, that was beyond my artistic abilities!

When the children were small, we were content to make snowmen - and there was always an abundance of snow so our creations would be tall. It was fun looking up and down the street at the other snowmen and the Christmas lights twinkling. The children are all grown-up now, but I'm glad for our time in Pennsylvania and the happy times we had there.

So now I'm back inside, working on some memoir writing and Christmas flash fiction. The radio is on and I'm by the tree, looking at the snow still coming down. I can see my little snow scene through the French doors and birds are busy eating their seed and drinking from the bird bath.

It's been a lovely day but I'll be glad when the family appear and tell me all about their day and the house will be buzzing with excitement. Somehow, snow is magical, no matter your age.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Standing in the square at Bart's
It's in the small hours it gets you. The worry. There are so many things to worry about. I try to put them aside, allow a slot of time each day for worry (as I've been taught by my counsellor) but sometimes it breaks free, disturbs my sleep and makes me want to cry - from worry or exhaustion, I'm not sure which.

My room for the week
There are so many things to worry about. I spent most of last week at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London as Lovely Daughter's having some tests. The kindly ward manager allowed me to stay in a visitors' room on the ward which saved the commute (the first day took an hour-and-a-half to drive but the following day it took three-and-a-half hours by public transport!). It was a strange week - time seemed to run at a different speed. Being on the ward, strange noises punctuated my sleep and the nights dragged on. As my room had no windows, I couldn't sense when dawn arrived and I felt disorientated and relieved to leave it behind for the bright light of the ward.

Lovely Daughter has made good progress and we are hopeful she can come home today or tomorrow. But she had a set-back yesterday - and I wasn't there. I came home for the weekend for a break, to catch up on jobs at home and to leave time for friends and LD's Lovely Boyfriend to visit. LD assures me she's fine and that she is being looked after very well. But I wasn't there.

I am now waiting for the morning ward round when she will be told if she can come home today. If so, I'll drive into London as she is too weak for public transport. If she is to stay in, my overnight bag is packed ready for another stint.

I'm lucky, I've had a couple of days of respite. For LD, this isn't option. It's never an option when you have a chronic illness. And yet she handles each hurdle with patience and grace, she smiles when she's in pain and thinks about others, always.

And so the worry. There are so many things to worry about. LD, Lovely Hubby working away to support us all financially through these rocky times - will he be home for Christmas? We're not sure, it's hanging in the balance and I try not to worry, it's just a day, after all and it's three weeks away yet. I worry about Mum, far away in California and how she will cope with her first 'just another day' without Dad. And my father-in-law, his first 'just another day', too. I worry about Lovely Son: we've had such sadness this year, too much for a young man to cope with.

And yet, in so many ways I am lucky. And this I will try to hang on to. So many people have been so kind: a smile, a touch - it means so much. It helps me to be strong and in return, I reach out to others, hoping that perhaps I may make a small difference to their day. It's kind of infectious this kindness thing.

And so, during the small hours, I don't think I can stop the worry from waking me up, but I shall try to think of the kindnesses and remember how lucky I am.

A view of the square
St Paul's
For now, I'm up early, waiting for the call from LD. I shall go in with a smile and a laugh and be thankful for all the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters and other professionals that are working so hard and are making such a difference. I shall look out, rather than in. And I shall take in the lovely views and be thankful that we are able to come to one of the best hospitals in the world, in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Happy Monday.


Friday, 10 November 2017

The blank page

Thirty-thousand words into my novel and I hit a wall. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, as such, I was just struggling with the creative process. Tapping away at the keyboard works fine for me on shorter pieces – in fact I find it works very well. I type up a rough draft then print it out and make changes in pencil, type up the edits, print, repeat – until I am happy with the final draft.

I think the problem for me is that writing a novel seems like a huge, insurmountable task. As I type I feel as if I should be slotting each piece neatly into the relevant chapter (on my previous attempt at writing a novel I ended up with a manuscript that is in a chaotic order and although I’ve tried to make sense of it a few times, it’s been ‘filed’ in the suitcase under my bed). If I print out pages as I go, I get stuck on the editing process and never seem to move forward. This clearly wasn’t working for me.
Sometimes I like to write by hand using a pencil and a lined notebook. The lines provide a parameter in which to work and using a pencil means I can erase whatever I choose. But I thought I’d try something more daring.
And so, a couple of months ago I bought an A4 plain notebook. No lines, just blank pages, the idea being that I could write freely, without constraints. Now I’ve heard that some people find this intimidating: the pressure to fill those blank pages staring at them. But for me it has been a revelation.
To push me further out of my comfort zone I switched pencil for my favourite fountain pen. I could cross out words or swathes of writing, but I couldn’t actually erase them. I would fill the pages as I wanted – no chapter breaks but curly lines to indicate the end of a scene.
It took me a couple of weeks to get going. I kept looking at the book, afraid to open it, afraid to start. And yet, once I got going I found it stimulating. I pick up the notebook whenever I can and I leave it around the house as a reminder. It’s easy to pick up and put down again. Sometimes I write a whole page and sometimes just a few lines. I’m not thinking about the ‘work’ of writing by firing up my laptop and then being tempted by the internet. Writing longhand doesn’t feel like work, it feels creative. I doodle notes to myself, write brief sketches for scene ideas, and easily flick back to previous scenes. Holding a book in my hands, actually feels like I’m writing a book. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the new characters I’ve discovered and I’m working my way through the story, one inky word at a time.
I’ve already written approximately seven-thousand words. And when I reach the end of my story (and only then) I will begin transcribing it to my laptop, knitting it into the words already there, and hopefully, at the end, I’ll have a much more rounded story that reflects the joy I’ve had in creating it.
I would be really interested to hear how other writers tackle a large project.
Do any of you use pen and paper?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

An inspirational walk

A couple of weeks ago Lovely Son and I joined Ken Titmuss on one of his Old Maps Walks. Ken's bio on twitter states: 'Walk finder and place name enthusiast. Walking tours with old maps of less well known parts of London'.
Now, I love a bit of history, particularly little-known history, and I had high hopes for this walk. And I wasn't disappointed.
That Saturday was supposed to be my 'writing day': a day pencilled in my diary where I feel free to spend the day with only necessary interruptions but my focus still on my words. But I hadn't seen Lovely Son for ages (well, a couple of weeks) and I can always rearrange my diary for family and friends. So I took the train into London with a happy heart.

Walking for me is a kind of mindfulness. I usually walk in the countryside or by water – both places inspire me, ground me, flood my mind with sweet happiness. And I usually return refreshed and eager to put pen to paper. I wasn’t expecting this from this walk around Borough. And yet, just allowing myself to be guided and to use all my senses charged my imagination.

Ken Titmuss is a lovely, welcoming man who has researched his subject thoroughly. He explains things in a way that draws you in, in a way that makes the history relevant and he brings alive the people and the times of long ago. I immersed myself in the history, pondered over the maps that Ken had provided, stood back and imagined how life used to be, the buildings and the lives that had long gone.
How many times do we just walk around, thinking about the tasks we have to do, not paying attention to our surroundings? We just go from A to B with no thought for the journey.

We met at Southwark Station and two hours later we arrived at Borough Market where I treated Lovely Son to a salt beef sandwich before we went our separate ways.

On the train home I jotted down some ideas for stories that I’d had on the walk. But what I hadn’t expected was for the day to give my book a new twist, some background that will really fire the story. By the time I got home I was itching to explore this new idea. It’s taken a couple of weeks (I’m a very slow writer!) but it’s there, workable. And now I’m weaving a new history into my characters’ lives and somehow they feel more rounded and have greater depth.
It just goes to show that inspiration can be found anywhere. You just have to switch off your busy, focussed mind and open it up to let it wander.
I shall certainly be going on another Old Maps Walk soon – thanks Ken!
You can find Ken Titmuss on Twitter: @oldmapman
and on his blog: londontrails.wordpress.com

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Steaming coffee vs a steaming muck heap

This morning my alarm went off at 5.30am as usual but I continued to dip in and out of sleep....as I had done all night until I suddenly lurched into wakefulness....it was 7.10am and I was late for work!!! Well, by that, I mean late for putting my cheery head on and making sure that Lovely Daughter was awake for her 7am meds. Thankfully she'd already been up, fetched a yoghurt from the fridge and taken her tablets (all 21 of them!). After two days of being on the sofa, today was going to be a good day.

So I hurriedly dressed and we drove to the stables to see LD's Spirit - despite the big fat drops that were falling from the low, grey clouds.

I must say that I wasn't terribly excited about this, but to spend time with Spirit means an awful lot to LD. Don't get me wrong, I love to go for lovely long walks and I love being outside, particularly in the autumn when the air has a chill and the ground is carpeted with red and golden leaves. It's just that I'm not very confident around horses (even after all this time) and I didn't fancy traipsing around in the rain....and mud.

I couldn't help reminiscing that my office day used to start with a steaming mug of coffee and a bit of a chat with colleagues before tackling the day ahead. Dressed in heels and a suit, make-up applied and hair neat, my day would be mapped out and organised: meetings, lunch with colleagues, reports....it was all, how can I put it? Well, clean.

This morning as I gazed at the steaming muck heap and felt the drizzle on my ponytailed hair and raw cheeks, it struck me how much my life has changed. As I gazed at the steaming muck pile, my old life seemed a million miles away. Today I'd just about managed to run a brush through my hair and clean my teeth. There'd been no decision to make about which shoes went best with which suit and I'd simply shrugged into jeans, jumper, a waterproof and hiking boots.

We set off walking (riding Spirit at walking pace around the farm is the most LD can do, although she hankers for cantering and jumps) and before too long my mood lifted. How could it not? Chip chewed on long blades of wet grass, Spirit ambled along taking everything in and LD beamed.

The drizzle eased and I'd like to say the sun came out, all was lovely with the world and we lived happily ever after. Don't be daft - this is real life! But we did have a brisk walk (avoiding clods of mud although Spirit kept pushing me towards the freshly ploughed field) and we arrived home muddy and bedraggled, faces shining with moisture that hot baths, clean clothes and tea soon put right.

I may have been very grumbly this morning and perhaps yearning a little for clean orderliness but I will tell you something. Just to see the smile on LD's face means I wouldn't swap the steaming muck heap for coffee and heels for anything. My life has changed dramatically, old priorities now seem pointless. I can't plan my day ahead: it depends on how LD is feeling and what appointments she has, but I've learned to live in the moment. To grab joy when I can.

And it's not all hiking boots - I like to wear make-up to LD's hospital appointments and I even sometimes dress glamorously around the house - just because I can. Life has definitely changed, but I'm adapting.