Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Greeting to my followers one and all

I would like to wish all the followers of my blog a very Happy Christmas and a good New Year. Thanks for the follow during this year and I hope you will continue to follow my progress in 2015 on my road to creative publication.

Another magazine article just published a few days ago in Inspire magazine's January edition about my husband, Angus' and sons, Adam and Luke's big bike ride of the year - Lands End to John O' Groats. It and another recent one reviewing a talk I enjoyed at the Romantic Novelist's Conference during the summer, to be uploaded in the next few days. I continue to be able to publish articles but still aspire to move into the creative sphere. Watch this space...

Meanwhile, I would like to leave you with a Christmas story I wrote recently for my writing group which seemed to be fairly well received. It's called the Christmas Angel.

Sarah, we can’t have a fairy at the top of the Christmas tree. A fairy wasn't part of the Christmas story.”
“But I don’t want a fairy, Mummy, I want an angel. They were part of the story.”
“Well, yes they were but then so was this star. It showed the shepherds and wise men where to go to find the baby Jesus.”
“The angel was more important because the angel actually told them that the baby was born.”
“That maybe true, dear but we don’t have an angel. We only have a star. So let’s put a star at the top of our tree, shall we?”
Sarah nodded but she felt sad inside. Mummy seemed to think that angels were a little like fairies and even she couldn't believe in fairies now she was eight years old. But she did believe in angels. Perhaps though she could play an angel in the school play? Greatly cheered by this thought Sarah helped Mummy to finish decorating the tree with a much lighter heart.
“Sarah, would you like to be a shepherd in our school play?” Mrs Brown asked. “I thought you might enjoy it, especially having to wear a robe and head dress.”
“No, I want to be an angel.”
“Oh, I'm sorry dear, Billy is going to play the angel, Gabriel, because Gabriel was a boy.”
“How do we know he was a boy and that there weren't others anyway? The songs all talk about the sky being full of angels singing.”
“It’s just a story, Sarah,” said Mrs Brown. “We don’t know if there really were any.”
Sarah was shocked. How could Mrs Brown say that? Of course there were angels both then and now and she was determined to prove the grown-ups wrong. After all the songs told about the angels singing – ‘Glory to the new-born King’ and one of her favourite songs, ‘It came upon a midnight clear’ said that the world should ‘give back the song which now the angels sing’ – .The world seemed to Sarah not just to have taken the angels song but also the angels themselves.
That night Sarah knelt down by her bedside and asked God to show her an angel this Christmas so that she would know they were real.
The star remained on the top of their Christmas tree but close to the performance of the play, Billy Jones became ill. Sarah knew his part of by heart. He had quite a few lines to say both to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a baby and then to the shepherds and the wise men telling them where the baby was. The shepherds didn't have any lines in the play.
“Now that Billy’s ill, would you like to play the angel Gabriel, Sarah?” asked Mrs Brown. “You seem to know his lines as well as him.”
“But I thought you said that Gabriel had to be a boy, Mrs Brown?”
“As you clearly pointed out, Sarah, we can’t be sure so I don’t think it would really matter if you want to do the part. I can easily replace a shepherd.”
Sarah nodded happily. It seemed that God had partly answered her prayer anyway. She could be an angel. But she still needed to see one.
Then their elderly neighbour, Mrs Jenkins fell on the ice and broke her arm just a week before Christmas. She was going to stay with her daughter and family over the Christmas period but not for a few days yet. Mummy sent Sarah round to ask Mrs Jenkins if there was any shopping they could do for her just to see her through until the time when her daughter came for her and Mrs Jenkins was very grateful to Sarah and her Mum.
“You are an angel,” she said when Sarah brought her the bag of shopping. “Yes, I'm the angel Gabriel in our school play,” said Sarah, and Mrs Jenkins laughed. Sarah didn't know why.
The school play was a great success and Mummy and Daddy brought Mrs Jenkins as well as Sarah’s little brother Paul. Everyone clapped and clapped and Sarah felt she was soaring in the heights like an angel.
As it got closer and closer to Christmas, Sarah kept reminding God of her prayer to see a real angel. She still hadn't managed to see one and it was Christmas Eve tomorrow. Perhaps they didn't exist after all?
On Christmas Eve Mummy asked Sarah if she would like to come with her and collect the turkey and all the other goodies from the shop, as she was now a big girl and could help her. Paul was going to stay at home with Daddy. Sarah felt so proud that she could now be a helper to Mummy.
There was so much to do and everywhere was so busy they didn't see the bus coming towards them as they crossed the road, at least, not until the very last minute. Sarah felt rooted to the spot in fear and shut her eyes. The next moment they were pulled backwards on to the safety of the pavement, just in time. Sarah opened her eyes and saw her Mummy turn around to thank the person who had saved them but there was no one there at all.
“Well Sarah,” said Mummy “I think an angel must have saved us. A Christmas angel.” And although Sarah was still shaking, she agreed. “Thank you God for answering my prayer,” she whispered “and though we didn't see an angel, both Mummy and me now know they exist otherwise we wouldn't be here at all this Christmas.”
This Christmas was going to be an especially angelic one, Sarah thought.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Lessons from the masters

Watched the film about Alan Turing at the weekend, 'the Imitation Game' with Benedict Cumberbatch. Great film. What I didn't realise though was just how long it took him and the team to eventually create a successful machine that would break the Enigma Code. It gave me renewed hope.

At one point in the film the authorities want to destroy Turing's machine and make him redundant having lost confidence in his ability to produce anything and this was one of the greatest mathematical brains ever!

It got me to thinking that if Turing with all his knowledge and ability was doubted then we, as writers must also expect to be doubted at times, rejected and not believed in. But like Turing we must not give up. Even if, as I read this morning, the market is flooded with e-books making it even less likely for the newcomer to self-publish and the established publishers are reluctant to take on new authors, we must persist. Even just to enjoy what we write. We just need to believe in ourselves and our writing. Thank you Neil Ostroff for this post

Nico Rosberg fought hard to win the F1 championship all year only to be beaten in the key race by mechanical failures. How discouraging! But like a gentleman he went to congratulate our British champion, Lewis Hamilton and wish him well. He vows to be back again next year to resume the championship race. Never giving up, believing in yourself and keep on going.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Soldiering on

What happens after rejection? We spend time licking our wounds and feeling sorry for ourselves but it shouldn't end there. A very good writing friend and published author, Clare Blake, has convinced me of that and if that wasn't enough I opened the book she gave me to inspire my writing -'A Novel in a Year' by Louise Doughty, and find similar advice.

"It is very, very hard, but in the early stages you have to soldier on without a pat on the back from anyone" LD

Yes, bad reviews, such as the one I received do hurt but they are always subjective. Although my reader has suggested practical ways to improve my writing which are helpful, it is very clear that she doesn't like my book. But she maybe wrong. People were about J K Rowling's 'Harry Potter' at first. There is hope. I am going to make the necessary changes and continue to write the story because it is a story I want to write.

Encouragement of my writing too has come from having another recipe published and another cheque on the way. You can read my biscuit recipe at Facebook/myfavouriterecipes  and sample my New Zealand 'Afghan Biscuits'. Just a small encouragement for me to keep on writing. Thanks for reading too.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


There's no easy way to face rejection, no easy way to write the word. Even the dictionary describes it as - 'to put aside or send back as not to be used'. And there's the rub. 'not to be used'. After all that hard work the harsh criticism suggests that I just 'start a new novel' But no, I'm not doing that. This novel is based on my first family settlers in New Zealand and has been supported and helped by my family out in New Zealand. I don't wish to let them down. If I stop writing my novel I won't start another but concentrate instead on my journalism which, up to this point, has been relatively successful.

Of course I have met with criticism before, it's not new to any writer but criticism that is so damning that it cannot see anything worthy of saving is very hard to swallow. We can all think of inspiring stories of people that have succeeded despite tremendous odds or of athletes who have been rejected for one set of games only to prove victorious in the next. They didn't give up. I suspect that I won't give up either but will take up my book again sometime in the future but for now I'm going to concentrate on reading and learning from other writers, my journalism and a new part-time job I've just started. Then maybe just maybe I'll start revising the novel...

Monday, 4 August 2014

Two First World War Poets

On this centenary of the First World War, I consider it appropriate to recall two poets of the era, FW Harvey and Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, fondly known as 'Woodbine Willie'.

The first was Gloucestershire's own voice of the period, known locally as the Laureate of Gloucestershire. Widely read and admired as a poet during the years following the Great War, Will Harvey had also written a less well known novel entitled Will Harvey: A Romance. This novel, partly autobiographical and partly fiction was adapted for the stage in Cheltenham by Director, Paul Milton and enjoyed by my husband and myself recently. It retold the story featuring the music of local composers Gustav Holst and Elgar amongst others, as well as singing, dancing and of course some of Harvey's own poetry. It was a truly magical adaptation of his life and awakened my interest in the poet.

Another interesting poet of the same era is Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, affectionately known as 'Woodbine Willie'. Chaplain to the troops in the second half of World War One, he was so named because he loved to talk about his faith to the men, attracting them to listen by handing out 'Woodbine' cigarettes - a contemporary product name.

A Yorkshire man born in Leeds in 1883, he was a down-to-earth plain-speaking man with a heart for the poor. Taking part in all the training and physical exercise of the company of the men he loved, he saw it as his duty to try and cheer their spirits, often whispering some inane remark to them when they were under fire in the trenches in order to raise a smile.

Some selected lines from one of his poems depicting the God he loved, are, I think, especially fine as they paint an extraordinarily vivid picture.

It seemed to me as though 'Is face
Were millions rolled in one;
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
'Twere all men's face yet no man's face,
And a face no man can see, 
And it seemed to say in silent speech, 
Ye did 'em all to Me.

What a nice contrast to discover some very different poets of the period from the ones usually associated with it such as Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brookes. That's not to detract from their importance or style as great poets to admire but it's always nice to find and appreciate new voices with a different take on the period. I look forward to learning and reading much more of both FW Harvey and Woodbine Willie.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

On the Journey Part 3 - Achievement

Well they did it and here are the pictures below to prove the point...

Celebrations are in order after 1002 miles cycled with no further mishaps than a bruised ham string and a grazed knee!

Angus rejoices

Luke rejoices

And finally Adam rejoices

Just look at how strong they have become with all that cycling, amazing isn't it?
Back here at home I felt I had also reached a personal pinnacle of achievement in editing my first full-length novel ready to submit the manuscript to the Romantic Novelists New Writers Scheme - great scheme I have to say. I've bought the envelope, had a preliminary print up and now, after a few minor adjustments, it's practically ready for the off. I only hope that after the reading I might be also able to finally hold my first book over my head and rejoice at the achievement, although I know that just completing over 55,000 words (most ever) is in fact a sort of achievement on its own.

Friday, 13 June 2014

On the Journey part 2

You can make the journey alone - but that's not much fun - or with friends.

Several of our group, myself (back) Chris H (front left) Angus (in the middle perusing his itinerary) Jane P (looking over A's shoulder) and Neil P (hidden) + my youngest son, Luke (front right - oldest son, Adam is the photographer) went down to the Monmouth stop, just inside Wales to cheer the avid cyclists on their way by sharing an evening meal with them and bringing them supplies of home-made cake to keep their energy levels up!

As a writer, you can struggle on alone feeling a little depressed and rejected or you can from time to time meet up in writing groups and workshops. Like the cyclists this can spur us on to keep writing by the mutual support and encouragement. The treats, be they home-made cakes or glasses of wine or bars of chocolate etc. can also be an incentive to keep going. For instances, if we've had a good day of writing for a number of hours and produced some good copy, either adding to a novel, a short story or a poem, a small treat is a good reward to encourage us and spur us on to do the same again. Just like the cyclists.

Like the Land's End to John O' Groat's cycle ride, writing it a challenge. It's not just something you do one day and then do something else the next. As the bike ride challenge, you have to continue, getting up each day and keeping on going whether you want to or not. Hopefully, in both cases it will be worth it in the end for the sense of achievement you'll experience.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

On the journey part 1

On Sunday 8 June my husband and two sons began their 990 bike ride from Land's End to John O' Groats. Now in order to even have a chance of completing such a mammoth challenge they had to practice on and off for months. The same as any sporting event. But it's also the same as writing. While they're away, I have the challenge set me to edit my novel ready to send the manuscript off. But like my family I can't just edit something that I haven't spent time preparing i.e. writing. If I didn't have a product to edit I couldn't edit.

The other thing you face with a big challenge is obstacles - punctures, illness, accidents, bicycle parts failure etc. Writers also face obstacles. Sitting down today for my first full day of editing I am held back by the congestion of a cold. That congestion takes it form in me in severe ear pains. Writer's block becomes ear block. Ouch! But undaunted we have to press on through these challenges by addresses the problems e.g. repairing the bicycle or in my case having an inhalation which has largely dealt with the problem. 

Having been very remiss in writing up my blog for the last two months, you might be hearing rather more from me over the next month as I track my family's progress and relate their adventurers to mine as a writer. I hope you enjoy the journey. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Who's listening to you and watching you?

This suspected 'Banksy' image appeared recently in our town. It's controversial in that it begs the question 'who's listening to you?' and 'what do they know about you?'

On the one hand you could say that the government having some of our details to hand is a matter of public security and one which we all value. But on the other hand, when the latest government department HMRC is thinking of selling our tax details to private companies some of us might think this is a step too far.

This whole current issue of communication v privacy is one that affects us as writers too. We all need Twitter, Google and Facebook etc. and other public forums in order to publicise our image and our various articles, novels, poems etc. in the hope of reaching a wider audience and adding to our following. On the other hand, these social networks have been seen to be extremely damaging at their worst even though helpful and affirming at their best - I guess showing the best and worst of human nature. People have been devastated by comments on the social media networks and in the very worst cases it has even led to them taking their lives. What is the answer? Difficult. I know that my Facebook account is largely only open to friends and acquaintances or known writers. But if you do this what about the very popular Facebook professional page that every writer is encouraged to have? It's a real dilemma and one without an easy answer.

However, I do know one who can be totally trusted with all knowledge about me. Why? Because I know that he only has my best interests at heart because he made me and loves me. I would encourage you to take a fresh look at Psalm 139 in the Bible - God who knows our every thought, every action, understands and loves us like no one else. Isn't that a comfort on the knowledge super highway?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Not surviving but living and that well.

So many of us are contented with going through our lives and just surviving. I know, I've done it. However I was challenged by attending the funeral of a friend recently. He'd died at the very young age (nowadays) of 57 and yet all of us listening to the tributes were amazed by just how much he had achieved in that relatively short time, more than many of us could have achieved in double that time.

Yes this children's Optometrist made a 'ground-breaking' contribution to his profession, drawing a link between children's behaviour and eye sight problems. He even got two mentions in our local paper. All right, what I mean to say is not all of us are going to be famous or well-known in this world or make 'ground-breaking' contributions to our areas of expertise, but we can all be the best that we can be. By this, I don't mean in comparing ourselves to others but just in being the best that we can be ourselves and using our talents wisely, how many or how few. 

Jesus in changing the water into wine (John 2 v 7-10) made sure that the changed wine wasn't just any old wine but the very best, top quality wine. Let's be the very best in whatever we do Optometry or writing and make sure, if we can, that in doing what we do, we try to make the lives of others around us somewhat better for our having been here on the earth.  

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In all circumstances

When February began I little thought that it's end and into March would face me with one of my biggest challenges to date both as a writer and as a person. One quick, momentary trip and I ended up in one of these :

yes, you've guessed it, I'd broken my arm and my right (write) one at that! Not the greatest thing for a writer who now finds that she has to type left-handed with a one finger jobbie. No, not exactly a speedy way for a novelist to proceed, it's hard enough just answering emails! But after two and a half weeks (broken 20th) I have made some progress and have now advanced to this brace:

which means a little more freedom of movement for my hand and shoulder, so little by little I'm overcoming. But as well as reading plenty (always good for any prospective author), I've also learnt a few salutary lessons -:
  1. Keyboards aren't a great tool for the disabled or one-handed typist!
  2. A good Biblical message - that in all circumstances we should learn to - 'give thanks' (1 Thessalonians 5 v 18) - a good message so that the experience isn't wasted but helps you to learn something from it, even if it's only to type one-handed with a left-hand and not a right-write-hand!

Friday, 31 January 2014

New season, new venue, new name.

Our church has re-launched with a new name! Yes, it's not every day you hear of a church re-launching but ours has done just that.

For years we were called Glenfall Church or Glenfall Fellowship after the school where we originally met. But since September we have been in a new school premises across the other side of town and now having made friends with all the churches in the area it's time to announce our arrival to the world. Not only have we got the new name now of Cheltenham Network Church but we are new type of Anglican church too that is allowed to cross parish/area boundaries and meet the people where they are by building up small networks or groups that anyone can join e.g. a book club group, a fitness group, a volunteers group or some groups for the more spiritually minded like a prayer group. We can incorporate all sorts.

This might all sound quite sensible or logical but to the Church of England it's a big thing. It's also a big thing to the media who know how the church struggles to re-invent itself. After sending a press release to the local radio station, BBC Radio Gloucestershire and then to the local paper, Gloucestershire Echo, suddenly we have a radio interview on the day, last Sunday (26 Jan) and not only a press photographer but also a journalist turning up for the relaunch. 1:37 (Please note this is time sensitive)

Now I am to write a new story for the Church Times, which is a national publication. Lots of publicity for the church which is great. There is a part of me which feels I should get a mention too both on the radio and in the paper for supplying the press release and the information in the first place but I know that's just the self talking and the most important thing is to use our writing to give God the recognition. At least that's what's important to me, so thank you, God.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

New Year, New Hope

New Year's Day racing at Cheltenham

I start the year full of new hope for 2014. Already on the 1 Jan, my husband, Angus and I were able to have a few small wins at the races, then after staying up until after midnight the same day, I was able join the  Romantic Novelists Association's  New Writer's Scheme This has very limited places available but now guarantees that my manuscript for my novel will be read by someone. Then two days later I got an award for all my blood donations even though I wasn't able give blood at the time! Last night I found out that I have won a massage - Mmm, nice.

So all in all I am feeling hopeful about 2014, hopeful for renewing relationships that are important to me and hopeful for my writing. This could be the year of publication, after all some year has to be doesn't it? That would be a reward well worth waiting for but it won't happen without hard work and determination. Just like those horses racing to win in spite of the atrocious conditions or having to stay up until after midnight to claim that precious place in the Romantic Novelist's Association. Winning always comes with a cost.

1 Corinthians 9 v 24 -Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.