Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happiness is...

Something a bit mellow to share with you, I just thought this was beautiful both visually and in message to end the year with - and hope the new one brings peace, love and happiness to all

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sale away

Over the past few days I have eaten chocolate and cake for breakfast and supper, justified drinking before noon, given and received, and watched more crap television than I usually do in the whole rest of the year. So that was Christmas. Now what? Well in true tradition of the consumer society of course we are usually encouraged by 'them' to spend spend spend some more in the sales. I have never been a big post Christmas saler, the cost and hassle of all that pre-Christmas Day shopping tends to be more than enough for me. Plus if I really really need something (not just want it, lust for it, or panic buy because it's a *bargain* - proper need is my new buying barometer) there's this handy thing called the internet now. Nothing (bar a brand new Mercedes for a fiver, okay everyone has their price) would make me queue up outside a shop.
But having said all that- the one thing I always fall for are lovely luscious notebooks. Many moons ago my favourite bit of going back to school was buying new stationery, going to the local newspaper/book/stationery/toys/random gifts shop in our small town and choosing a new pencil case, pencils, pens, and notebooks. I still can't resist them - smart or snazzy, posh or quirky, oversize or tiny - I love notebooks. These are my latest, bought on a Christmas present shopping outing when I spotted them - already reduced in price - bargains! I couldn't resist getting them for myself and I do have my eye on a nice moleskine which I'm sure is going to come down in price really really soon. But I will use them (eventually), they are practical as well as gorgeous - so they definitely pass the 'I need and not just want' test...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Tree-mendous traditions

It's that time of year, Christmas, one of life's constants appearing on the same day year after year. Except it does of course change as life moves along, family changes, children grow up. As my son's got older I no longer need to leave Rudolph's hoof prints outside, although I do still leave a mince pie and tot of whisky out for Santa but that's really for my benefit - my son is 16 and no longer believes in Santa Claus. He does however still go to the panto with his grandma, insist on a Christmas CD playing in the car from 1 December, come with me to get the tree (always 'the biggest' - I'm sure it's a boy thing) and, once he's left me to do the decorations, he will appear in the living room and grace me with his presence to switch on the lights. Long may it continue!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The blame game

In April Im going on a charity trek to Peru to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I'm now in touch with about a dozen of the other trekkers most of us have signed up solo to do this. Theyre a wonderful sounding bunch of women all doing this to raise money for a cause that will affect us all in one way or another - if you're not directly affected as one in eight now are, you'll undoubtedly know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It's great to get to know the others, not least as we'll be spending time together under extremely challenging and unusual circumstances. It's also fascinating to find out why others are doing it - some of us have had breast cancer diagnosed, others have mums, sisters, aunties, friends affected. One thing it really does bring home is the total unpredictability of this disease, it can affect anyone at all, at any age, and whatever your lifestyle, eating habits and general health. One of the things I did when I was diagnosed, at least initially, was to give myself a hard time questioning whether I had 'done' or 'not done' things that could've caused me to be one of the one in eight who get this. And the answer is - I will never know.

So to see yet another report baldly and badly stating that nearly half of all cancers, including breast cancer, can be prevented by living a 'healthier' lifestyle makes me more than a little cross. Yes of course a healthier lifestyle can help prevent all sorts of things, is good for you, is the best way to live and should be encouraged. But to give a general impression that it's your own fault if you get any cancer is disingenuous and dangerous.  As any oncologist will tell you, cancer is not just one simple disease, it is complex and there are many different types which affect people in many different ways and need different types of treatment. There are other issues not really mentioned in this report such as genetics, environmental factors, chemicals put onto and into food, cosmetics and more, that all could also possibly in some way contribute. Or not.

My disappointment with this report was matched by the fact that on the same day there was news that cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy treatment are going to have to be assessed to see if they 'qualify' for welfare benefits rather than automatically get them. You can read about this here. Anyone who has been through or been close to anyone who has been through chemotherapy can tell you that even if you don't feel ill when you're first diagnosed it can be the treatment itself that can make you ill. Bizarrely cancer treatment can be as life threatening as the illness itself. To suggest that people going through it are some kind of 'benefit scroungers' as this latest move implies borders on something like a Chris Morris spoof story. 

Sadly it's fact not fiction - even sadder is that out of these two news stories today, one got big headlines in pretty much every media outlet - the other was tucked away in some and ignored by many. Guess which was which?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Learning curve

So there goes November in fact here we are now well into December. There goes my first time taking part in National Novel Writing Month - how was it for you?
Well for me my total word count was 22,673 words, not quite halfway to the magical 50,000 words. But that is 22,673 words more than I may have written otherwise. I joined it for a bit of a kick start, a bit of fun and to see if I could do it. I'm not going to say I 'failed' or didn't do it, hey I was in the rebel group from the start due to writing a memoir, and I have learnt such a lot from just having a go.

I discovered surprisingly that the best time for me to get a lot of writing done undisturbed and undistracted is early morning, setting my alarm earlier and having an hour from 6-7am was a great kick start and revelation. But as I also discovered if you have a tendency for insomnia then getting up at 6am is not always feasible especially if you've only got to sleep two hours beforehand.

Of course I have to earn a living too and a couple of unexpected work related trips away also ate into the writing plans. And I found that once I was behind on my self imposed daily targets it was difficult to catch up- the plan B back up plan of whole day(s) dedicated to just writing never happened. I do however now know that I do need a plan, some structure and targets to work with to give some kind of impetus and measure of progress. Just waiting for the muse to strike and words to flow won't work for me.

On the positive side thanks to NaNo:
I have written 22,673 words of a memoir that I want to carry on with
I have been to and enjoyed my first ever writing workshop
I have started this blog
I have been writing other things too including an article published on another website
It's helped me realise what I enjoy and what I'd like to be doing
It's helped me realise that even though I enjoy and like to be writing, distractions are many and discipline is needed!

Would I do it again? Yes, definitely. But not just once a year, I think I'll have my own kind of NaNo every month from now on (here's another 422 words added to December's total!)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Putting it out there

On a previous post It's alright to write I mused on why I don't feel like  a writer - not published, no readers etc - and about the need to feel validated by others. Well I guess if you don't get your writing out there it will never have the opportunity to be read by others, hence my new (and so innovative - haha!) approach which involves writing stuff I want to write and then putting it out there.

So I was rather pleased to see my first article appearing on a great new website and you can read it here
 Wild Birds at Arms Length

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sometimes it's just One Of Those Days

Today has been One of Those Days when Things Go Awry and you end up writing about it with an overdose of capital letters.

After a frantic week including a busy Saturday, today was my one full day at home, a day to run through a pitch for tomorrow and catch up on my writing, as well as prepare for another busy week when I'm all over the place (I mean geographically.. but maybe in other ways too..!) and even relax a little.

The warning signs were there early this morning when firstly my coffee pot broke - and then I found my iPhone not charging properly so it is constantly threatening to conk out. Minor problems yes but amazing how much I rely on these things to help keep everything feeling tickety boo.

Son wanted to buy some new bits for school so I said we'd have a drive to the local shopping centre. We went, shopped, didn't hang about as wanted to get back quickly, but when I started the car smoke started coming out of the bonnet. Now I am no expert but I did guess this wasn't a good thing. This was confirmed by teenage son who then went into a foreign language talking about head gaskets and such like. Result was we spent the afternoon waiting for the AA man, getting towed by the AA man to deposit the car at the garage and then getting a lift home by the AA man. Gawd bless the AA man. By the time I got home I was freezing cold, fed up and all my plans were to pot.

I had a stompy walk with the dog, rang my dad to moan about the car, then gave myself a (metaphorical) slap. Of course sometimes Stuff Happens and it's easy and natural to get cross and crabby when days Don't Go To Plan (not least as I hate overusing capitals!) but That's Life. And tomorrow is of course Another Day. Hopefully with fewer capitals...

Monday, 21 November 2011

The refreshing sound of silence

I am a talker, I love a good chat, love to find out about people and things, ask questions, know what’s going on, discuss and debate… I love to talk.  So you’d think a day sitting in silence would be my worst nightmare – I thought so too until I went on a day’s meditation retreat.

I have now been on a couple, most recently last Saturday which followed two long intense days delivering workshops, and it was something of a relief to be able to switch off and just stop and sit. In silence.

'Meditation' itself can conjure up all sorts of perceptions, from chanting and chimes, to levitating into some sort of ecstatic state. I’m pleased to say the teacher I've experience of put it as simply ‘just sitting’ (can you see why I like him?!). And anyone can do it of course you don’t have to be a Buddhist, hippy or ‘alternative’ type.

Of course there’s a bit more to it and if you’re interested you can learn lots more about it - and how helpful it can be (I highly recommend the very lovely Happy Buddha whose retreats I’ve been on – he also has a new book out, see

But there is something really beneficial about just sitting in silence.  I'm not quite sure when the world got so noisy - with the invention of the radio, television or the walkman? Or why we all got so used to having so much going on, being so busy and surrounded by so much background noise. When’s the last time you spent even ten minutes in silence? Not plugged into your headphones, or with the radio or tv on in the background, not talking or listening to anyone, not even thinking or worrying about yesterday or tomorrow?

Why not try just switching off for ten minutes today – sit by yourself, in silence, close your eyes and just focus on how you feel right here right now. Go on, give it a go – you never know like me you may surprise yourself and find you even like it!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The sky's the limit

Going for a walk always helps me clear my head, keep things in perspective and remind me that there's a whole wide world out there. It keeps the dog happy too! I love it at the end of the day when I can go out and wind down. I'm lucky that I live right in some fabulous countryside and near an often deserted beach. The thing I like most is the immense, impressive sky, we see the most stunning sunsets, colours and clouds. Of course the sky is everywhere - but in some places I don't think you really notice it. I love our bit of it. I think this pic shows why.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Excuses, excuses

Whether you call them distractions, reasons or excuses there are so many things I can come up that ‘stop’ me from writing including:
  • I’m too busy – there is always other things to be done and when you’ve finished doing them you’re too tired to do anything else
  • I’m doing things for other people – it could be sewing son’s jeans, taking the dog for a walk, ringing a friend in need
  • I have to work – being self employed time is precious and needs to be filled with things I get paid for
  • I need to switch off and relax – I can waste hours watching TV, going online, tweeting or reading the newspaper.

Stephanie Butland who ran the writing workshop last week came up with a great point that, whatever the excuse, we really are making choices. If I do something else instead of writing, I am choosing to do that and not write. It’s a great way of looking at it – I always have a choice. So the next time those excuses crop up, I will instead think I am actually either choosing to write or choosing to do something else instead. It’s up to me.

Of course it’s not just me, or writers, or people not writing who do this! Excuses are made by everyone the world over, in all kind of situations, they can be obvious, elaborate, amusing. These are some of my favourites:
  •  My Aunty Nan, then in her seventies, used to tell my young son that she couldn’t dance, run or ride his scooter because she had ‘a bone in her leg’. It took a good while for him to figure that one out.
  • Delays on trains are a classic of course, one I heard recently was that the train couldn’t start until the driver had found a ‘button’ – not sure if he’d lost one off his jacket or was working out what to press on the dashboard.
  • Sport is another area where excuses seem to crop up all the time, particularly in football – instead of saying we weren’t good enough to win the blame is on the balls being too bouncy or the wrong kind of grass on the pitch.
  • Politicians of all colours have for decades been very adept at carefully crafting excuses. Some of the best from MPs involved in the recent expenses scandal include: 
      • Bill Wiggin "I think people need to realise we are but human"  
      • Ben Chapman "It is clear that I was mislead by the fees office into the arrangement in question"
      • Jack Straw “I was incredibly busy during that period - that is not an excuse, it is just an explanation.”

So... what’s your excuse?

Friday, 11 November 2011

It’s alright to write

I have written things for other people for years – starting off in journalism, then moving into PR. When someone pays you to write for them, whether copy for press releases, marketing materials, web content, newsletters or whatever, they are valuing and validating your professional skills and expertise.
I still write and enjoy writing for other people. It’s what I ‘do’, it’s what I get paid for it, it’s my job.

But when it comes to writing for myself, telling people I’m writing just for me or calling myself a writer – it’s a different matter.   Yesterday I went to my first ever writing workshop with a mix of excitement and trepidation. 

Organised by New Writing North it was run by Stephanie Butland – who is a Writer. Stephanie has a very popular blog and a book of the same name published.  Stephanie is also a de Bono trainer, a very lovely lady and she bakes brilliant cakes.  The group was a friendly mix of interesting people and the workshop was, for me, really useful, inspiring, and in no way intimidating!  It got me thinking about and articulating all sorts of issues to do with writing (and some to do with not writing).

Thinking more about my misconceptions about why I can’t/don’t/ shouldn’t call myself a writer, it's because, for me, Writers:
  • write like they breathe– all the time, the words just flow, they can’t help it, it’s natural and easy for them to do 
  • are published – they have books with their name on sitting on shelves, agents and publishers impatient to get the next one out and avid readers hanging on every word 
  • who blog are read by hundreds of people, receive scores of positive comments and are just about to get that book deal based on their blog, or are blogging about their soon to be published novel 
  • all live in Sheds (luxury ones with carpets and log burners), speak in Shakespearian sonnets and wear velveteen waistcoats with ruffle sleeved shirts.

Okay – maybe not quite that last one - but I do tend to imagine that Writers are a particular clique that I don’t belong to, enjoying a party I haven’t been invited to.

With Stephanie and my fellow workshopees we explored issues like this and a whole load more such as sharing your work with others, finding time and giving yourself permission to write. Points that gave me real food for thought included:
  • the observation that someone who likes cycling will comfortably call themselves a ‘cyclist’ without needing to win the Tour de France and quite happily spend a lot of time (and money) doing their thing just because they love to do.
  • If you’re uncomfortable saying you’re a writer (which can get a usual response of ‘so what book have you have published’) and you blog, call yourself a blogger. Blogging is now well established and widely recognised as a writing form, (hey, you can even win awards!)
  • Don't just sit waiting for it to happen, set yourself a goal, targets, a plan, know how many words you want to do in a day/ week/ month, put time in your diary to make it happen.
  • Choose to get on with it – don’t just talk about it, give yourself limiting beliefs or excuses why you can’t/ shouldn’t/ wouldn’t – because of course the one thing you must do if you’re a writer, of any sort, is write!  And it is, actually, alright to write.

So, here I am… writing. Not sure if that makes me a Writer – but it feels right!

And, thanks also to Stephanie for pointing out this advice from Kingsley Amis,
'The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair’. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Happy Days

Day 4 and I'm still rather pleased I'm doing this year's NaMo. Up to 4,523 on the wordage stakes now and although not quite at the 2,000 per day I am aiming for I am not going to beat myself up. Instead focusing on the positives.... so far I have found:
  • It is actually (so far) pleasurable waking up and having a whole hour in the silence and darkness of the early morning to just write without any distractions at all
  • once I am in the 'zone' I do totally lose myself and am finding to my surprise that the words are flowing out and I can manage 1,000 in an undisturbed hour
  • I have managed (again, so far) to switch off from editing mode, ignore the urge of the virtual red pen and just get the words out
  • I find I'm thinking about and planning in my head what I'm going to write next which helps when it comes to picking up the keyboard (and as I seem to have spent quite a lot of time on buses this week helps pass the time constructively too)
  • I am pleased, in a kind not a smug way, with myself for showing to me not anyone else that I can do this.
Days 1- 4 = Happy Days :-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

One is the magic number

Today is the day of many firsts. It is the first of November, it is the first day of National Novel Writing Month (see, I have written the first 1,095 (so far - more to do tonight!) of my NaMo book, it is the first time I have taken part, and here is my first blog.

I've sometimes thought about starting a personal blog but 'not sure what to write', 'wouldn't do it often enough' 'might not be very interesting' and all those other little excuses that are so easy to make and more difficult shake .

So, deciding that 1.11.11 is a good day to start lots of firsts - here it is. This blog is set up to give me somewhere to come and chart the inevitable ups and downs of the NaMo experience, let off some steam, have a virtual scream, but I'm sure it will become full of musings and mutterings about Life and Stuff.   

And there, that's my first post done.  If anyone is actually looking at this, I will make the blog look more pretty and interesting as I go along - it's going to grow organically (or rather when I get to grips with it!)

I must go - I have a word count to increase.