Thursday, 28 April 2011

'X' is for ... eXcuse me

I deliberated how to do this; my final post of the A-Z challenge. I’m sorry fellow bloggers, but I have the chance to go away to the mother-in-law’s caravan in Wales today, and after two weeks of kids and Easter Holidays, and ongoing health problems, I need a few days out.

‘Me’ time. I've been likened to a hermit in the past. It's a good job those close to me understand. Hubby is home for the double bank holiday weekend and able to manage the boys, domestic chores, and animals. I shall be tucked away at a quiet caravan park that nestles between the Welsh hills, somewhere between Devil's Bridge and Aberystwyth and has no internet connection or mobile reception. Peace and quiet. Solitude. Most importantly, there's a TV set, squidgy sofa and no interruptions so I may watch the Royal Wedding coverage to my little hearts content without fear of depriving the boys of SpongeBob SquarePants or playing the Wii!

In between waving my Union Jack, I have plenty of time to reflect. Plan. Write. I’ve hardly done anything on my current WIP and time is running away until the deadline for the Romantic Novelist's NWS.

For those who may have been interested in my last three A-Z posts:

X … was going to be for - X rated. Is it just me, but I blush at the mere thought of writing sex scenes? Notoriously difficult to write, I have managed a few saucy lines in my current WIP although I'm not brave enough to share them with you at the moment. I may post them when I return, to see what you think ;)

Y ... was for YOU.

It’s funny how you meet people. I’ve said it many times over the years. A few weeks ago I was lethargic and struggling with confidence, motivation and health problems. Feeling particularly lack lustre, and defunct of mojo, I made my usual visit to the lovely Talli Roland’s blog. She always cheers me up! I saw the A-Z challenge was starting the following day and from somewhere, someone enthusiastic (and a little bonkers) whom I recognised as me in a past life waved madly in the background, and urged, ‘Yes, I can do that!’I dared myself to do a blog every day, to get me back in front of the laptop every day, focusing instead of drifting aimlessly day to day, achieving nothing and increasingly frustrated that my novel was not progressing. Writer’s write. It’s as simple as that. I see that now after meeting all of you; listening to your tips, ideas, work ethic, and receiving your words of support and encouragement have made me feel alive again. Seriously. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did the A-Z challenge.

Thank you to Arlee Bird and all the other hosts for your efforts.

This brings me to...'Z'
'Z' is for … Z end…

It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of 'Z' words. I could think of several, but when I considered that this would be the last blog in the A-Z challenge, nothing made the grade for ‘Z’ - the final letter, the end, the finale - and so seeing the significance, it seems appropriate that’s how I finish.
I got to the end.

I had a little goal when I started to get over 100 followers… and hey, look at me. That’s not really important. What I love about this challenge is that I've met some new and really diverse, versatile, funny, thoughtful, quirky bloggers, and some cyber friends to remain with me as we continue our journey, together, to publication.

So there you are; one post that covers the last three letters of the A-Z post. I may be bending the rules to suit myself but I don’t consider I’ve failed the challenge by posting my last two days in with this post. Looking back to a month ago, I wasn’t sure then I would even get past the first couple of days. Who’d have thought it, eh? You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

I'll be back very soon but in the meantime, think of me, dressed in red, white and blue on Friday. The rain will no doubt be banging down on the roof of the caravan, and sheep bleating away in the distance, drowning out the trumpeting of the Blues and Royal Dragoons. But I’ll be waving my flag madly, and toasting a mug of British tea to you all…

Until another day
Bye for now

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

'W' is for ... writer, and whether I'm one

I don’t suppose I’ll be the only blogger participating in the A-Z challenge that will post ‘W’ for ‘Writer's,' but am the only one who has a slight niggle inside about calling myself a writer?

It's hard to call yourself a writer when you don't have anything published.
If we're going to be precise, I suppose I'm a wannabe writer. I write, that's what writer's do (granted, I might be doing more blogging than writing at the moment - lol) but as a rule, I write every day. In fact,my family will tell you I'm a full time writer and sit at the laptop 24/7. That's not strictly true. I sleep in between. And eat. I just don't get paid for writing, yet, although I can't think of a writer I've met yet, who does it for the money.

I've written a novel. It wasn't good enough so I've re-written it. Three times at the last count. And I've started another. Well, I have the first couple of chapters. Then there are the jotted ramblings, characters, settings for another, I don't know how many, novels.

I can't tell you how frustrating it was when I had my latest flare up and subsequent surgery and couldn't write. There were times when I thought I might go seriously mad! I have to write or I become irritable and grumpy, and bored, and my brain won't shut down when I go to bed.

There’s nothing I prefer to do than write. If I was shipwrecked on a desert island, I'd need my laptop. Me and my best friend.

But then I can never be lonely while I have an internet connection, and the company of all of you lovely people, and most of you, other writers. You're the only people who really 'get' me. We get each other.

Writing is not just about being published. It's about a way of life - living, breathing, and sleeping writing. That's why I was up at 4.30am this morning, typing this. Sometimes, you have to give in to the inspiration for the next blog, or the next few paragraphs of the book.

Whenever I meet anyone and they ask me what I do for a living I rush to tell them that I had to retire because of ill health and I don't work. Sometimes I add quietly that I write, I'm working on my novel. I usually have two responses. 'Oh, I've always wanted to write a novel,' is quite common. I smile inwardly when I hear this, and ponder whether they've ever sat, day after day, night after night, typing, editing, crafting, toiling, all for a few sentences, which if they're still not good enough will be cut anyway.

The other comment I get, fires my belly, and spurs me on.

'Good for you,' they'll say. 'I wish I could write. Let me have a copy when you're published, will you?'

At this point, I'll relay the tale to hubby.

'Well, I'm not a writer, yet,' I say.

'Yes, you are,' he responds, then he rolls his eyes at the dishes stacked up on the kitchen worktop, and turns the oven on to make his own tea...

Until another day
Bye for now

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

'V' is for ...Versatile Blogger

Wow, it’s busy doing this A-Z challenge! But what a lucky blogger I am.
I've been given some awards.
A new blog pal,the vivacious Siv Maria has handed me the Versatile Blogger Award.

I’ve also been awarded the Stylish Blogger award from the vibrant Katie O'Sullivan

And in between, I picked up a tag from a blogger who's always full of vitality, Anita Grace Howard

Thank you to these super talented bloggers for your awards and cyber friendship. Check them out if you don't know them already for some inspiring posts.

At the end of this post are my choices for who I'd like to pass the awards to. I've also shown the rules, although don't feel obliged, or try to kill yourself doing everything if I've picked you. We're all busy people and you'll see that I had to bend the rules slightly, combining the awards and tag or I'd never finish the A-Z challenge, make any progress on my current WIP, and bore you all silly repeat myself - I'd never be able to come up with twenty one points that are interesting enough about me!

So, here goes…

Seven things about me you may, or may not know.

1. When I was a little girl I played for hours alone in my bedroom with my teddies and dolls. My favourite game was libraries and sometimes I would pretend to be a writer, doing book signings. day...

2. I won a competition for poetry when I was ten but haven't written a single word of poetry since.

3. I had music lessons at the Yorkshire Academy of Music in Leeds and achieved Grade 8 recorder, Grade 7 Violin and Grade 6 Piano by the age of fourteen. Despite having the opportunity to stay there and study music, I stopped playing all instruments when I was fifteen and only re-started the piano ten years ago when my hubby bought me one.

4. I was the youngest member of the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra when I joined, aged eleven.

5. I left school when I was sixteen to work in my uncle’s hairdressing business but quickly went off the idea. Having no idea what I wanted to do, I decided to apply for a job in a travel agent's I heard advertised on our local radio station. Little did I know, but over three hundred others also heard the advert and applied, and when I arrived at the interview I had never seen so many people! But I got the job. It was my first lucky break in life.

6. When I was seventeen, I was approached in a pub by a man and woman who asked if I’d ever done any underwear and jeans modelling as I had a very good bottom! They left me their business card and needless to say, thinking they were a pair of weirdo’s, I never rang. But it transpired months later they were from a top modelling agency.

7. I've always harboured a secret dream to go on 'Stars in Their Eyes' and say, "Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... Karen Carpenter."

So, has that enlightened you?

It was an interesting exercise. What struck me as I wrote my seven things is how we can waste the gifts and talents we are given, and how different life might have been if I'd taken slightly different paths...

I'm sure none of you have ever wasted any of your talents!

Thank you again to my new blog friends for the awards and your cyber friendship. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to a long and happy association through the blogosphere. In the meantime, to find out more about my other bloggers, here are my choices for the awards. I haven't made it particularly easy by combining the awards - some bloggers have one, some have the other. I think I've got them right and cordially invite you to accept the one you don't have yet:

Versatile Blogger Award

Spirit Called, Jenn Johansson, JolenesbeenWriting, Charmaine Clancy, Anne N Kenny, Ali Cross, Luana Krause, Misha, Corner Cupboard, City Views Country Dreams, Josh Hoyt,
Romy Gemmell,

The Stylish Blogger Award

Tara Tyler,
Anita Grace Howard
Carole Anne Carr,
Ally Harris
Helen Leathers

If you wish to accept the awards, it is not compulsory, but there are a few basic guidelines to follow. The rest of the rules, I shall leave with you ;)

- Right click on the award and save picture as.
- Thank and link to the person who gave you the honour in your post. You will see I've also linked the giver on the awards on the right hand side of my blog. If you're on blogger, from your dashboard go into 'design' and 'add a gadget' and add the picture/link.
- Divulge 7 things that your reader may not aready know about you.
- Here's the catch...
For the Versatile Blogger award you should contact 15 bloggers. For the Stylish Blogger award, it's 5 bloggers.
This is the part I shall leave to your discretion ;) because you need to check the recipient doesn't already have it, and contact them to let them know they've received it and explain the rules.

Like Siv, I've spent a few hours doing this, so I share her philosophy. I don't know who made up the awards and their silly rules but I like the idea, even though it is rather time consuming when I have a million other things I should be writing! We're all in the same position so do with the rules as you see fit. I'm sure no-one will mind. As Siv say's, The best kind of award you can receive is one that is sincere and has no strings attached. I love all the blogs I've awarded, and to me, you're all versatile, stylish and simply super bloggers! If you do decide to go ahead, I look forward to catching up with your posts very soon!

Until another day
Bye for now

Monday, 25 April 2011

'U' is for ... Miss Universe

When I was deliberating my posts for the A-Z challenge, I thought about doing ‘W’ for the Miss World pageant, an event I used to love when I was a little girl in the 70’s. Then, while I was researching I came across a story on the BBC website about Shanna Bukhari, a British Muslim who wishes to represent Britain in the Miss Universe contest despite a huge furore and backlash against her involvement.

Shanna has received racist and abusive messages from:
- Muslim groups claiming she is denigrating the name of Islam.
- White supremacists - saying that an Asian cannot represent the UK.
- Women - who range in their condemnation from those who believe beauty pageants are an affront to feminism and she is demeaning all women, to more vocal shouts of, 'Shame on you, and rot in hell!' - an opprobrium from feminists.

The backlash from women’s groups is nothing new. The decline in popularity and subsequent televising of such pageants was as a result of many women finding the competitions degrading. One of the main reasons some Muslims are angry is that Shanna would have to appear in swimwear in one round of the competition. Islam is clear that a woman should dress modestly and it is not thought appropriate for her to parade herself in a bikini, although I understand she intended to wear a one-piece and a sarong.

Shanna has many supporters from Spain, the Middle East, Pakistan, India and China. Most women supporters say she represents not just a role model for Muslim women, but all those who refuse to be cowed by bullies. ‘Good for you, stand up for yourself, and don’t let anyone dictate what you can and can’t do.’ Why shouldn’t Muslims in the UK be allowed to have a western lifestyle? Why can’t she represent Britain when she was born here and is proud to be British?

It’s a complex issue. And I'm not even going to try and pick apart the arguments as apparently she had had death threats and had to hire a private security firm to protect her. But what strikes me is that society has not progressed since my childhood days when I used to watch beauty pageants. This story highlights the state of multiculturalism in modern Britain and the divisions that still exist along with the lack of social integration, and lack of adhesion between white and coloured people.

During last month's semi-final for Britain's Miss Universe, Shanna Bukhari received the most public votes. Britain has never won the title. It is increasingly possible that its first victor might also be its first Muslim representative, and if she wins, I suspect you will be hearing a whole lot more of her name as the arguments and debates rumble on.

There’s my ‘U’ – Miss Universe.

All I really wanted to know was if you ever watched these pageants in the past?

Until another day
Bye for now

Saturday, 23 April 2011

'T' is for ... TIME

Do you ever wish there were twenty five hours in a day, or better still, thirty?

When I worked full time in a demanding role and had a small baby I was far more organised and in control than I am these days, being at home all day.

Some days I get up at 4am in the vain hope I might achieve everything, as if stretching a few extra hours will suddenly turn me into a domestic goddess, worlds best mother, and booker prize author, chef, olympic athlete, etc.
I don't ask for much. Only that as well as my domestic and mummy duties, I can get squeeze out all the other things I like to do - writing, baking, swimming, reading, playing my piano, meeting friends...

It's no surprise I don't quite manage it all. In fact, it's as much as I can do some days to get dinner on the table and the family in clean uniform. It must be true what they say about time going quicker as you get older.

As for doing my nails, putting a face pack on, simply sitting and watching TV, well, I have to prioritise. There’s never enough time to do everything. Something has to give. Am I a good mother? Maybe not, but I'm good enough.

I've learnt to prioritise. I try to focus. Conscious of not wasting a precious minute, I naturally gravitate to doing what’s important to me, and what's essential.

I appreciate a large part of my problem is the debilitating effect Behcets disease can have on my health and well-being, and there are times when I’m really fired up and motivated, and can move mountains. However, never quite everything gets ticked on my ‘things to do’ list.

You might say that you find time to do the things you love. But that can’t be strictly true. I crave to play my piano and bake. I’d love to go swimming every day. I’d like to get on with my non-fiction book idea, perhaps write a short story or two, but I can’t seem to do it all. For now, my biggest priority (as well as completing this A-Z challenge) is finishing my current WIP for the
RNA New Writer’s scheme.

So I’d like to ask you – how do you manage your time? Do you get everything done in the day?

And, if there were such a thing as a twenty-five hour day, what would you do with the extra time?

Until another day
Bye for now

Friday, 22 April 2011

'S' is for ... Simba

Some of you may not have been acquainted with the yellow, hairy member of our family. No, not the husband. Our yellow Labrador, Simba.

Twelve years ago, and after much deliberation we decided we would like to get a black female Labrador. A friend of a friend told us about a farmer friend of theirs whose gorgeous Labrador had just had pups. The next day we went to see them. Somehow the fattest pup, a yellow male 'found' my son. They have been inseparable ever since.
We named the puppy Simba, after the Lion King Disney film (son's favourite film at the time.) Simba is Swahili for Lion and it seemed rather appropriate.
When he was five months old, Simba nearly died after eating slug pellets in the garden. A few months later, he went terribly lame. Despite his pedigree certificate, low hip score and none of his brothers or sisters having it, after expensive investigations, we found he was riddled with arthritis - hip dysplasia, both hips and elbow dysplasia, both elbows.

The vet told us he wouldn't reach three years old and I sometimes wonder with my health problems, whether it was 'meant to be' that Simba ended with us. I know all about the pain of arthritis and living with chronic pain. He's been on medication ever since. We have to limit his food and exercise, he now has cataracts and can only see shadows. He's deaf and can only hear claps and follow hand signals. His breathing alternates between shallow and raspy and deep and laboured - sometimes I think he's having a heart attack
as he can't catch his breath. Yet despite the prognosis, Simba is still with us, even though every winter we say, 'I don't think he'll last another year'...
He has to twist and distort his body to lie comfortably, as you can see.
These days, he spends most of his time asleep. As I type this, he's laying at my feet, snoring like a trombone, his body twitching as he dreams of the rabbits he used to chase...
There you have my 'S' word - 'S' is for Simba, our very special, faithful, wonderful family member.

Until another day
Bye for now

Thursday, 21 April 2011

'R' is for ...Royalty or Republican, depending on your viewpoint

Millions across the world can’t fail to have noticed that in a week’s time, our future King, William and Kate Middleton - Queen Catherine, as she will be known, are getting married.
Photo - Reuters

For many of us it will be poignant, watching young William go down the aisle with the woman he loves; a middle class girl with no title or aristocratic background.

The marriage of Diana to Charles was about providing an heir to the throne, not about love, but as an impressionable, romantic fourteen year old, I was swept away by Diana’s ‘common touch' and compassion, and her beauty. To me, she was the epitome of a princess - how she went into the church a ‘commoner’ and came out a Princess, and future Queen - or not, as fate decided.

Some republicans believe the House of Windsor will collapse after our current Queen dies, or they certainly wish it. As well as the threat of terrorist attacks, it is understood that in the middle of the celebrations and led by the British group Republic, campaigners from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are coming to London on April 29 to protest against the cost of taxpayers bankrolling European royal families.

There’s a big difference between indifference and activism. For some, disapproval only stretches as far as a complaint about some of the Royal ‘hanger’s-on and I can agree with some points. Plenty has been voiced about Prince Andrew - how worthwhile his role is in view of recent allegations and associations. Other Royals are a waste of time and add nothing to the cause. The perpetual royal scandals haven't helped. Some Royals have become part of the celebrity culture and it has had a damaging effect.

I’ve always loved royalty. Yes, I admit it. Perhaps it’s a side effect of being brought up by my Nan who was a huge royalist, but I think our country is better off for having a Royal family.

When the (then) Princess Elizabeth married Phillip in the forties, she revived our war torn nation, providing a little light relief, a sign of hope, and something to celebrate amidst all the gloom and troubles. And to her credit, our Queen has selflessly served our country ever since. She is a wonderful ambassador.

Is it just me being sentimental and old-fashioned, perhaps naïve in my views; but are things so very different today as they were then?

It’s been a miserable few years. We’re still a nation gripped by unemployment and huge financial hardship after the deepest, darkest recession since the 1930’s. Our troops are still in Afghanistan, we’re under constant threat of terrorism, and then there’s the NHS… I won’t go on. All I wish to illustrate is that life is more depressing and frenetic than it’s ever been. It’s a proven fact that more people today suffer from depression, cancer or other illnesses - possibly as a result of increased stress and lifestyle factors.

Some people claim it's only the press who are foisting the Royal Wedding on us - creating a false impression and positive imagery - when the reality is, many Britons are far less excited and enthusiastic than press coverage suggests. However, I know of people coming from America simply to be in our country, watch it in our TV’s, and be part of the atmosphere.

We say there’s no community spirit. Street parties will be thin on the ground. Is it apathy, lack of funds, the challenges of Health & Safety requirements when organising such events? Here we are with the opportunity to embrace a little piece of history, and join together as a nation. We used to like a good excuse for a knees up!

This wedding will cost millions in pomp and ceremony (and security) but the UK will benefit from a huge increase in visitors, especially to London. The main reason foreigners give for travelling to the UK is because of our history and the Royal Family. Think of all the revenue that gives us, the jobs, and let’s not forget the memorabilia; celebration mugs, plates, etc. Many a pottery in Stoke or Worcester might have been closed by now. Royalty is one of the things that make our Nation special.

And with all the gloom around us, isn’t it nice to have something to cheer about for a change?

There you have my letter 'R' - Royalty or Republican?
Do you care one way or another? Or will I be sitting there, glued to the TV commentary on 29th April, wearing red white and blue and waving the Union Jack flag by myself?

Until another day

Bye for now

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

'Q' is for ... Quiet.


Can you hear that?
Listen, carefully.
Aside from the twittering radio interference garble of swallows, and two buzzards circling, mewing high in the sky...

...Amidst the frantic bleating of a lamb that momentarily loses sight of its mother, and above the deep hum of two tractors a few fields away as they plant potatoes, I can hear…

Oh, no, now there’s no chance…

Hubby’s car roars up the lane amid a cloud of dust. I wait for the crunch of gravel, for him to turn into our courtyard, and the thump, thump sound of music vibrating from the car radio. He slams the front door behind as he comes in and dumps his bags on the hall floor. Black brogues clip clop over the steps, and onto the slate tiles of the kitchen floor. Before he’s even kissed me, he flicks the radio in the kitchen on, plugs it into the extension lead, and brings it outside.

'It’s like a morgue in here. I don’t know how you can stand it this quiet.’

He plants a wet kiss on my cheek and goes through into the living room, grabbing the TV control as he passes the coffee table, and presses the green button to watch the news. I know it’s only a matter of time before tinny 80’s music will blast out of the Ipod speakers in the study.

Hearing him, the boys rush out from the bedroom. The sound of guns shooting and a Sergeant Major barking orders emanate from the X-Box they’ve left on. Before I can tell them to go back and turn it off, they yell to greet their dad and charge outside to bounce on the trampoline. Springs creak, fabric stretches, squeals of laughter peal out, and my young bucks vie for top dog position, wrestling in between their ‘I can bounce highest’ competitions.

Next door’s toddler pokes her pretty, strawberry blond head under the fence. ‘Hiya! Hiya. Hellooo.’ She’s impossible to resist. Her elder brother - who’s only five - bounces his football loudly, hoping to attract the attention of my boys so they'll give him some attention and play.

In the field across the lane, the farmer on his quad bike and his dogs send the ewes and lambs into automatic frantic mode. They give chase, baaing and bleating for the feed and supplements. The neighbours horses and donkeys decide to join the mayhem and hare across the field in pursuit of each other. By the time they have run a few feet, they lose track of who’s chasing who.

My youngest gets bored on the trampoline, finds the football and starts kicking and kneeing ‘keepy uppies.’ Without his younger brother to torment, the eldest loses interest too, and tennis racket in hand starts batting a ball against the house and on the decking. Next doors puppy yaps at our cat and gives chase. On the drive over the other side of the barn, I hear the neighbours pull their bins across the gravel, ready for the morning bin collection.

Hubby comes outside with a beer and sits down. The dog lollops towards him, panting and sneezing in excitement.

‘So how’s your day been?’ Hubby asks.

‘Quiet,' I say, and groan inwardly.

I do love them all. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish they would all go away and leave me in peace.

Am I the only one who feels like this?

Quietness is not only a lack of noise, but it’s a state of mind. No agitation, excitement; with quietness comes calmness and tranquillity, a peaceful contemplation.

Quietness is underestimated and undervalued. Except by me.

For now, I shall have to wait until next week, when the Easter holidays are over. Then I might snatch some quiet time again.

Until another day
Bye for now

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

'P' is for ... Progress and Positivity

I haven't blogged about my progress for a while so when ‘P’ came up, I thought it would be the ideal word.

For anyone new to my blog, nearly five months ago I went through major surgery - total jaw joint replacements (both sides) caused by arthritis, one of the manifestations of my Behcets disease.
Did this really happen to me?

Was it really the 13th October that we drove to the hospital - me taking deep breaths, in, out, puhhhh, blowing away, like I was in labour - trying to calm myself, and not panic, and hubby kept reaching for my hand, covering it with his and crunching it tight as he tried to reassure me. 'It won’t be long now. Soon be over.'

Nearly seven hours of surgery later, and I came round in ITU and was sick, sick, sick - not good when you have two new jaws. Hubby was beside me. I couldn’t see him but I could hear his deep, booming voice. ‘It’s all done – it took six and a half hours. You look incredible. Well done, darling.’

On the one hand it feels as if it was yesterday. On the other, when I see the photos, it might have been ten years ago. When I did my last blog about progress, I think it dawned on me then that it was going to be a long, long road. And it has been.
I will always remember that first glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror after surgery. It wasn’t me. It didn't even look like my eyes. Tiny, tiny eyes filled with pain stared back in horror. Mrs Doubtfire was the first person to spring to mind. My face was an enormous pastry, doughy mixture. My neck, more swollen than when I had mumps.

Feeling as delicate as bone china for weeks after the surgery, there were times when progress stopped, ir it was so painfully slow, it was undeterminable. The pain was brutal. Everything hurt above the neck. Parts of my face wouldn't do what I wanted them to do. I developed a new party piece - I could only lift one eyebrow. The other sat like an overstuffed caterpillar about to fall off a cushion over my eye. My brain played silly buggers with my nerves for months. I couldn't stand noise. For weeks, every small step was progress; a shower, washing my hair, brushing my hair, pulling a top down over my head.

Now I am me. No more Mrs Doubtfire. There has been so much progress, although I still wonder if there will ever be a time when my jaws feel as if they are mine, rather than mechanical.

The most significant progress, is I have no TMJ or jaw pain. I stopped taking morphine months ago, and don't take any pain killers for my jaws.

The scars have healed wonderfully. The two on my neck are still pink, deep and painful - they feel sore and sometimes pull, although it helps when I rub in copious amounts of bio oil. And the ones in my head ache but otherwise, the scars around my hairline and ears are barely visible. I can turn my neck and drive without thinking about it. Sometimes it feels a little sensitive if I wear a scarf as it rubs, but nothing much.

There are tender patches on my head that feel as if been scalped – hair might have been yanked from my head - and it still feels tender, almost bruised on parts of my forehead and eye socket.

I still can’t sleep on right side as it hurts to put my head and ear down. And if I turn on my left, I have to lay with my head angled on the pillow so that my ear sits below the edge or between a gap to cushion it.

Most of the feeling has now returned to my face but all around my hairline, the scars are still numb. The tops of my ears have feeling but the lobes could be pierced without any feeling.

My mouth opening is about 2.5 - 3cm, a huge improvement from the 1cm opening pre-op.

My bite isn’t quite right - it's still tricky to bite spaghetti or salad but that's no big deal in the scheme of things.

I can just about brush the backs of my teeth.

I can eat crusty bread. And sweeties.

When I use my jaws there is always the sound of a quiet rustling, like fabric or newspaper if I tune in to it. They squeak if I eat an apple or anything that makes them work hard. But there is no longer a clunk or click when I talk or yawn.

I can sing, laugh, yawn, and talk. Oh, I can talk! By the end of the day when I'm tired my cheeks ache, as if I've been laughing too much. And I'm not sure whether others can spot it but when I'm tired I also develop a slur or lisp and my words don't come out quite so easily. If I get too excited and want to speak too quickly my brain stops me, like I’ve had a stroke and slows me so I sound like I'm drunk. Or imagine a ventriloquists dummy. Sometimes it feels as if someone has their hand stuffed up my back and is making me speak, forcing the words out, yet all the time, my mouth won't co-ordinate with it and my face feels taut and stiff.

However I look normal. I go to the shops, the bus stop, the school playground, and to people who don't know me, there is nothing untoward except a couple of scars on my neck if you look up close. Strangers would have no idea what I've had done.

I learnt the hard way that with this surgery there would be no day on day improvement. It was no good getting frustrated or trying to push progress. My consultant told me it might take six months to get my jaws working to capacity. It's still only five months. When I see him in a couple of weeks for my check up he'll be delighted with my progress. Looking back at the photos, it's clear how amazing it's been. A lot of that has been my mental attitude but staying positive has not always been easy. TMJ replacement surgery is complex and the recovery is a slow process. Patience is not one of my virtues.

We still don’t know the life expectancy of the jaws and being realistic, it's inevitable I shall have to go through the whole thing another once, twice - maybe three times in my life time. But after eighteen months of the most debilitating, all consuming TMJ pain, I am free of any. And for now, I can't tell you how good that feels.

Until another day
Bye for now

Monday, 18 April 2011

'O' is for ... OLYMPICS

In 2012, The Olympics are coming to London

London has hosted the Olympic Games on two past occasions, in 1908 and 1948.

The planned 2012 Olympics will make London the first city to have hosted the modern Games of three Olympiads. Our family is really looking forward to being part of the history.

A public ballot system is currently allocating 6.6million tickets to UK citizens who want to go and see the events. To make it fair the tickets are not being issued on a first-come, first-served basis and will only be allocated once the window closes on 26 April. Tickets for the Paralympics will go on sale in September.

We’ve made our selections; Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, a football match at Old Trafford. Fingers crossed.

The 2012 Games will give a huge boost to tourism in the UK, especially London with visitors from all over the world wanting to see the games and visit. Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, said: “London 2012 will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the UK to show all we offer."

My earliest memory of an Olympic games was in 1976 when I can vividly recall being enthralled by the Montreal Olympics and watching Brendan Forster run the 10,000 metres. Unfortunately, he only got a bronze medal and it was Britain’s only track and field medal at those Olympics.

I was ten years old then. Next year when the 2012 Olympics come to London, my youngest will be eleven and he might not realise it yet, but he will always remember the year when the Olympics took place in London

So there you have my word for the letter ‘O.’ ‘O’ is for Olympics.

What would your choice of events be? And/or what is your first memory of an Olympic games?

Until another day
Bye for now

Saturday, 16 April 2011

'N' is for ... Namby Pamby

How many of you have heard the phrase, ‘namby-pamby?’
It’s a phrase I love although hopefully no-one could ever accuse me of being namby-pamby!

If someone is considered namby-pamby they would lack character, substance or courage, and be insipid, weak, and indecisive.

Here are a few examples of how it may be used for those who might not be familiar with it:
-‘Gerard couldn’t understand how Sheila could dote over any dog, let alone a ‘namby-pamby’ poodle.’
- ‘Stop being so ruddy namby-pamby and tackle your opponent!’
- 'It wasn't a namby-pamby cat fight, but a brutal affair where hair was ripped from her scalp...'

The phrase ‘Namby-Pamby’came from a derisory term given to the English poet and playwright, Ambrose Philips (1674 - 1749) When he became tutor to George I's grandchildren, the raised position and status rather went to his head and he started writing ingratiating, sentimental poems in praise of children, written in affected, insipid nursery language.

His work was derided by rival poets and playwrights, especially Henry Carey and Alexander Pope. They thought his sentimental, singsong verses were too childish and simple. Around 1725, Carey came up with the rhyming nickname 'Namby-Pamby' (playing on "Ambrose") to parody Philips and created a satirical version to imitate the cloying nursery style. Carey was the first to put the poem, Namby Pamby, into print, around 1725:
All ye poets of the age,
All ye witlings of the stage …
Namby-Pamby is your guide,
Albion's joy, Hibernia's pride.
Namby-Pamby, pilly-piss,
Rhimy-pim'd on Missy Miss
Tartaretta Tartaree
From the navel to the knee;
That her father's gracy grace
Might give him a placy place.

Before long, the term ‘namby-pamby’ began to be used to describe a style of insipidly precious, simple, or sentimental writing and over the years, the connotation widened to more of a general disparagement, and 'namby-pamby' entered the language to refer to anything that was considered weak or indecisive.

Something else you might not know is that 'namby-pamby' was the inspiration for the name of the children's television character, Andy Pandy – a puppet that featured in the Watch With Mother classic series which started on the BBC in the 1950’s. It was one of the first programmes especially for children and I remember loving it when I was a little girl in the late 60’s.

So there you have my ‘N’ word in the A-Z challenge;
‘N’ is for ‘Namby-Pamby

Until another day
Bye for now

Friday, 15 April 2011

'M' is for... Mother's Love

Ok, so I'm cheating slightly today. You might call it a lazy day, although actually I'm trying to be brave (especially with all you writer's out there.) This is my current WIP in progress and other than the A-Z challenge, it's what's taking up every spare minute of my time as I prepare it for the RNA New Writer's Scheme. So I thought I'd share the first chapter of my debut novel with you. It's called, Mother's Love.

Until another day

Bye for now


Chapter 1

You reap what you sow. I knew my time would come. I recall the exact moment, on a stifling, hot day in the summer of 1976 as I sat at the kitchen table and watched a fly stick to the yellow Vapona. At the time there was no hesitation in my mind of what I was about to do. But that was a long time ago and it’s wrong what they say about burying the past. It has a habit of finding its way out and I see now I have been sitting at the kitchen table ever since.

Over the years, the more I’ve tried to escape the past - forget the wrongs and put them behind me, hoping they wouldn’t stir - the more they remained, prodding at me every day, every birthday, every Christmas, every time I see and speak to Rebecca. And now, I’m consumed by that sense of fear again, the furtive unrest. The blind unreasoning panic.

All I ever wanted was to protect Rebecca. She was my life. My reason to live again when I thought there was none. I always believed I was doing my best and that anyone faced with the same would have made similar decisions. Then a few months ago, my son, David, sent me a birthday card. Inside the card was a short note asking if he could come and see me, and talk. As my fingers stroked the glitter that highlighted the rose and I re-read his message, I thought of the life I had before that summer in 1976 came along and changed everything, and I wondered, was it worth it? If I had my time again, would I do the same? I knew then it was time to face up to what I’d done.

And I lay here now, oxygen whistling out of the white, plastic moustache positioned underneath my nose, still deliberating how to put it right. Rebecca sits beside me, her long slender fingers – piano fingers I used to call them - absently flicking through a magazine, as she keeps vigil. The sun has bleached her hair a light honey shade and the thick, wavy spirals look as if she’s been riding a motorbike without a helmet. Her sun-kissed skin contrasts against the whiteness of the hospital bedding and walls. Willowy limbs and delicate features belie her strength. She’s stronger than she thinks, and wiser than she knows. I made her so.

Closing my eyes tight, the bright lights of the hospital ward tinge everything orange while my mind wanders as if I’m in a library, flitting across shelves, flicking between books, dipping into pages. Illustrations are my memories, and words, my recollections of the past. Clear, yet disjointed pieces in my mind.

I picture my old council house on the Wybourn estate, Sheffield, surrounded by a four-foot privet hedge. The Wybourn estate was a sprawling mass of matchbox houses with back-to-back gardens but it had heart, our community. People laughed at life and feared nothing. We all looked out for each other. But it was like living in a goldfish bowl, living at the top of the crescent, everybody that walked past gawping in the front room. Net curtains helped give some privacy but the small white window frames didn’t let much light in anyway, never mind that they forever needed washing of the orangey smog which belched out of the steelworks over the years. Thank heavens for the clean air act.

The house had a red brick lower floor, the upper half was grey pebbledash and ‘London’s Pride’ lined each side of the path from the front door to the green painted wooden gate that hung more off than on the hinge and banged whenever there was the slightest breeze.

And there’s Bertie, swamped by the tartan blanket that he could barely stand pressing down on his body, staring pitifully up from our big bed, his face all angles and hollows, and grey. Get the bed warm my love, I won’t be long. My body wills me to sleep, to never wake up but I can’t give in yet. I need to know Rebecca will be alright. I don’t want her to be alone again, like she was that day when I found her…


It was only a short walk round to David and Linda’s two-up two-down terrace on the Maltravers Road. Being only a couple of kids themselves, they were grateful for my help when they had Rebecca. But one day as I let myself into their house and heard her screaming from upstairs, I knew straightaway she was alone.

'Hello, Linda it’s only me.’ I listened for a second, watching the vapour of my breath suspend in the cold air in front of me. ‘Hellooo, is anyone home?’ At first I thought Linda might have fallen asleep or been taken ill. However, in the kitchen, dirty washing up floated in murky, grey water in the sink, scum lapping at the edges. Empty tins and redundant wrappers scattered every surface, and a sour smell emanated from an open, half-empty milk bottle. A stale loaf of bread sat in front of the breadbin next to a tub of Stork, the knife still sticking in it. The front room was the same; old newspapers, unfinished mugs of coffee all over, and a trail of vinyl singles and empty covers led to a new addition on top of the sideboard - a brand new Dansette record player sat - the auto-drop arm suspended mid-air interrupting the stack of vinyl singles, positioned and ready for playing. It must have cost a fortune, and they reckoned they didn’t have any money.

Hearing the baby’s screams become more urgent I ran up the wooden staircase, two at a time, almost tripping at the top, and was incredulous with what greeted me on the landing. One of the bedroom doors had a terry nappy tied around it and had been draped across to an adjacent door, securing it shut to stop the occupant getting out. Not that she could, a one-year-old baby.

‘It’s all right darling, Nan’s coming. I’ll get you out.’ I frantically tore at the knot of white towelling to undo it. ‘Nan’s here, lovey.’ I tried to reassure her through the door. ‘Oh, my God... Jesus Christ...’

My hand went to my mouth, part shock, and part reaction to the stench that hit as I walked into the room. Navy velvet curtains masked whether it was day or night. It made little difference to the baby in the cot on the other side of the room. Except when I pulled the shabby curtains back, she shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun and cried even louder.

'It’s okay, Rebecca, did I frighten you? I’m sorry, darling,’ I tried to console her. It was hard to tell how long she’d been there alone. Judging by the state of the cot, it could have been a couple of days. It was more than a couple of hours. Somehow she’d managed to wriggle free of the rancid nappy and thrown it out of the cot onto the carpet. She wore only a dirty vest. Smears of faeces covered it and her delicate, pasty body. Her little eyes were red and puffed from crying and the effects of ammonia that hung in the air. Slivers of wallpaper she’d peeled off the walls and tried to eat lined the cot. Where she’d picked at the walls the damp of the room had lifted the seams, and the edges of the lime green and brown flowered paper curled up to reveal a sandwich of woodchip and several layers of other garish papers beneath.

Her eyes adjusted to the light and focused, her cries turning into more of a desperate giggle as she recognised me. Her slender arms reached out; a tiny, helpless bird, begging me to pick her up.

‘Oh, you poor lamb. I’m here. Come to Nan.’ Hoisting her into my arms, hot tears sprang in my eyes; a mixture of pity and anger seeing her in this state yet relief that I’d found her. ‘Poor little mite. How could they do this to you, my precious?’ I cried, cradling her in my arms and jigging her on my hip, attempting to pacify her. Precious little girl.

For a moment, I was cradling my daughter, Teresa. The day she died was the day I stopped believing in God. God would never have let her die so young. God would never have brought such misery and grief by taking my precious girl.

‘Come on. Let’s get you out of here.’ I tried to bend, baby still in my arms, to open the chest of drawers and get some clean clothes but I couldn’t manage it. I placed her on the floor but straight away she became hysterical and her arms went up again. ‘It’s all right darling, I’m not going to leave you. Nanny’s just getting your clothes. Here we are…’ I showed her the tunic dress and top. It was horrendous hearing her distress. ‘It’s going to be alright.’ Lifting her over my shoulder, I tried not to get the clean clothes dirty. ‘It’s OK, darling. Hush... shhh... Nan’s here.’ In the bathroom, I wrapped her in a rough towel to try to keep her warm before turning on a tap at the sink. Cold water bit at my fingers so I made downstairs to fill a kettle and heat some water to clean her up. They shouldn’t have had a child, they never wanted her, and David, where on earth was he with all this going on?

Without a second thought, I took Rebecca home with me. Don’t ask why, but I left a note for Linda, telling her where she was. Stupid really. I should have left her to worry herself half to death when she came back and found the baby missing. It was three days later before she turned up at my house, wailing and carrying on. I still don’t know if she’d only just gone home and found the note. She didn’t even ask to see her little girl. Simply handed over two carrier bags and stood there sobbing.

'You can have her, Mam. You can keep her,’ she cried. ‘I can’t cope anymore. And if you don’t want her, put her in a home.’

You might wonder how any mother could do that; give away her child. I wondered the same thing myself many times over the years. Maybe that’s why my search for redemption is fathomless - I’m running out of time, and there’s too much to forgive.

It started long before the summer of 1976, or the time I found Rebecca in the house, back to a time when I had a waist so slim I could span my hands round it. Before Bertie. That’s my only excuse; that it happened before Bertie. Things might have been different if I’d known him then. It was a lifetime ago. A lifetime spent searching for an absolution that will never come. Because the question I keep coming back to is, how can I ask for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive myself?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'L' is for ... the LONDON MARATHON

I’m trying to get as many people as I can behind Jimmy who is running this Sunday, 17 April 2011 in the LONDON MARATHON in memory of my dear friend, Carmen (Woozle) who sadly died on New Year’s Eve, 2009, aged only 42.

Held every spring, this year’s 31st London Marathon, sponsored by Virgin Money, is now one of the biggest running events in the world. It’s hugely, hugely popular and notoriously difficult to get into. In 2010, 160,000 applied for a place and the race saw a record of 35,500 finishers.

What makes the London Marathon so special is the amount of charities it supports. Since it started in 1981, the event has raised over £450 million and holds the Guinness world record as the largest annual fund raising event in the world.

My hubby has run the New York marathon but despite several attempts has so far been unsuccessful to get into the London Marathon. Knowing several people who have run it, we have heard it is very, very special marathon, which is huge fun to run, and you hear of some heart-warming stories of human endeavour and spirit. The crowd and atmosphere carries people around the mainly flat course 26.2 miles around the River Thames, and through the streets of London to the finish in The Mall alongside St. James's Palace.

In last year’s, there were more world records achieved than at any time in the marathon's history. 74 heroic runners took part in 29 official world record attempts, and 18 new Guinness World Records were achieved and featured in the famous book.

Here are just some of the records:
• Most money raised for charity by a marathon runner - £1,841,138
• Most runners linked to complete a marathon - 34 people
• Tallest costume worn while running a marathon - 7.04 metres
• The fastest marathon dressed as a vegetable - 3 hr 09 min 21 sec
• Fastest marathon carrying a 40 lb pack - 4 hr 42 min 44 sec
• Fastest marathon in a fireman's uniform - 4 hr 45 min 16 sec
• Fastest marathon run by a married couple - aggregated time - 5 hr 59 min and 20 sec
• The fastest time run in a Santa outfit is 3:12:27

Just a little additional information for anyone who is interested. The name Marathon came about to commemorate the legend of a Greek soldier Pheidippides who, legend tells us, was a Greek soldier who acted as a messenger. Having fought in the battle of Marathon (490,BC) the legend says that he ran the whole way from there to Marathon proclaiming “We have won” before collapsing and dying. And appropriately the oldest man to complete a 26-mile marathon was a Greek runner - Dimitrion Yordanidis who ran it in Athens, Greece in 1976. At age 98, he finished in 7 hr 33 min.

There’s hope for my hubby yet.

But in the meantime, if anyone can help Jimmy raise the £5,000 he’s aiming for in memory of Carmen, then please - anything, however small, is most welcome.

Good luck Jimmy, the star in my blog for today. Carmen will be up there, looking down and cheering you on with the rest of us.

So there's my 'L' - the LONDON MARATHON

Until another day
Bye for now

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

'K' is for ... KNICKERS

Pants, panties, drawers, briefs, undies, passion killers; call them what you like, but it’s always been knickers for me.

Pants and pantees just don’t have the same ring and Knickers is a very British reference to what any readers in the US and other countries might describe as girls/women’s underwear - an item that preserves modesty and stops a draft from getting where it shouldn’t;)

Knickers usually have an elasticated waist, are made of a light layer of fabric which fits snugly and cover from the waist down to two leg openings. A lined crotch panel covers the genital area. In the British sense of the word, knickers have no legs or in some cases very short ones.

Here are some interesting facts about Knickers you may not know:

- The name knickers came from the long bloomers that used to be women and girls underwear.
- Knickerbockers were full breeches which gathered and banded just below the knee.
- In the US, I think you refer to Knickers/knickerbockers as a type of golfing pants – or Plus fours.
- Wearing no knickers is known as going commando!
- When Emmeline Pankhurst (pioneer of the Women's Suffragette Movement) died she was famously wearing split crotch knickers

- Marks & Spencer is the biggest seller of Knickers in the UK, selling over 50 million pairs of knickers worldwide each year – that’s 137,000 pairs of knickers sold each day.

- The word Knickers has a naughty or playful connotation in the English language. Here are a few typical sayings to make you smile:

- ‘Pah, knickers to you!’ is a way of telling someone that you don’t care about them or their opinion.

- The phrase ‘Don't get your Knickers in a twist!’ is commonly used as a way of telling someone to calm down and not get angry.

- 'Ooer, look at her, Miss Tarty Knickers!’ – might apply to a women who dresses too provocatively or sexy.

- And one of my favourite phrases, best said with my Yorkshire accent is, ‘She’s all fur coat and no knickers!’ In other words she might look rich and glamorous, but she has no class!

There's a huge array of knickers out there; Boyshorts, low rise, bikini, high leg, hi-cut, classic, G-string, V-String, hipsters, French knickers, granny knickers, thong (although why anyone would wear a cheese grater between their legs is beyond me;)...

How do I wear mine?

Or if I’m going out on the town , the bigger the better.

Although not quite as big as these:

So there you have my K word – KNICKERS!
It's a little cheeky but I can't finish the post without asking what type of knickers you wear? ;)

Until another day

Bye for now

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

'J' is for ... Jam and Jerusalem

Our local WI are a lovely bunch, nothing like the formidable old battle-axes of sizeable girth who bicker over who makes the best jam traditionally associated with the Women’s Institute, and not a purple rinse in sight.
Crafts, cooking and healthy eating form an important part of the WI's history. Originally set up in 1915, The Women’s Institute (WI) had two main aims: to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War.

But times are changing. Years ago the WI was the only thing to do but now women work and have active and varied social lives so WI doesn’t have the same appeal.The infamous ‘naked calendar’ and run-ins with the Labour party, efforts to modernise it's image and increase membership, demonstrate the efforts of the increasingly publicity-conscious WI.

People are busy. Life is hectic. There are never enough hours in the day. That’s the only reason I haven’t joined, yet (along with health and other commitments.) It’s inevitable I will join the ranks, one of these days. As the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK it does hugely valuable work on a local level and is a great galvanising force in the community. It pulls people together, gets them to do things and is very pro-active.

The WI has a long association with the hymn, Jerusalem.
The poem, written by William Blake (1757-1827) was later set to music by Sir Hubert Parry and Sir Edward Elgar. During the 1920s, many WI’s started choirs and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes set up a music committee, appointing a Mr Leslie as an advisor. Mr Leslie held a one-day school for village conductors in London in early 1924 and asked his friend, Sir Walford Davies to write an arrangement of Hubert Parry's setting of Jerusalem, for WI choirs. This hymn with its association with the fight for women's suffrage was seen as appropriate for the newly emerging WI movement who were encouraging women to take their part in public life, and fight to improve the conditions of rural life.

The special arrangement for choir and string orchestra was first performed at the Annual General Meeting of NFWI held in the Queen's Hall, London in 1924. Mr Leslie conducted the singing himself and brought a choir from local WIs. It was so successful, it has been sung at the opening of NFWI AGMs to this day. Many WIs also open meetings by singing Jerusalem.

By co-incidence, Jerusalem is a very special hymn to me. My Nan was from Glastonbury, where many incredible myths and legends connect Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimithea.
In the mid/late 1920's, when Nan was a young girl, there were some major renovations to the Town Hall, including a hall added to the rear of the building and once completed.
A grand re-opening ceremony was arranged and twelve boys and girls were selected from St Benedicts school to sing at the opening. Nan was one of them. Her father was so ill with heart disease he had to be helped up the steps by three people. But nothing would have stopped him. Not only was he proud to hear his daughter sing but the whole town wanted to hear the new choral version of ‘Jerusalem’ (or Glastonbury Hymn as it was sometimes known because of the connection William Blake made in the words to Glastonbury and Joseph of Arimithea.)

It was the first time the people of Glastonbury heard the tune when she sang it. And it has only been since she died that I've pieced together the timings and can see how the tale she told me links to the WI choral version.

Many people today see Jerusalem as more than a hymn. It is almost our national anthem; as popular at rugby internationals as it is at earnest Labour party conferences; it is universal in its appeal. It’s also more than just the name of a magical place. It represents the British nation itself. And for me, you will see how it is particularly special.

So there you have my ‘J’ - Jam and Jerusalem

Until another day

Bye for now

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Monday, 11 April 2011

'I' is for Ideas and Inspiring

As a writer, my brain often feels a bit like a washing machine, constantly whizzing, humming, buzzing, with new ideas I've found when I watch TV, drive, read the paper, sit in the hairdressers or stand in the queue at the supermarket.
Ideas pop up at the most inopportune moments. On a couple of occasions I had to jot them down on the back of a till receipt or use an eye liner to write key words and consequently, I've learnt to always carry a notepad around and even have one by the side of my bed in case I wake up in the night, suddenly struck by the next novel.

I’ve studied lots on how to generate ideas and overcome writer’s block but personally, I’ve never been short on ideas. My next three novels are imprinted firmly in my mind’s eye with thumbnail sketches of the characters, plot and settings for each. I have a writer’s bin where I keep all ideas, including titles and key phrases for stories or novels as well as any superfluous work I might have edited in the past. A bit like the loft, it’s important never to throw anything away. You never know when it might come in handy.
However, my problem is sometimes I don’t feel inspired to create anything with them. It’s really hard to come up with a piece of quality work or something of value for a blog, article or story line. I need something to inspire me - that trigger from the idea that gets me going, writing something I feel so passionately about, that once I start putting pen to paper and write the first word, it is a catalyst for everything else whirring around in my head, to transpose on to the piece of paper where your pen is yielded; an effortless transition from brain to pen to paper and before you know it, the piece has written itself.

When I’m truly inspired, I find I'm desperate to get that idea punched into the PC, and once I’m on a roll nothing will stop me, not even the internet connection (and Facebook and Blogger ;) I know part of this is tangled around discipline or motivation, and that's another blog altogether, but I’ve found the A – Z challenge has been really good for me -in an inspiring way.

- I’ve discovered that I am inspired and most productive when I’m writing about something that’s important to me. Then, the blogs almost write themselves.
- Despite it being extra workload on top of my existing, I’ve found myself constantly thinking of ideas, jotting things almost brainstorming in desperation, and when I look back over the ideas I’d written down, there are sometimes glimmers of little gems in there.
- It’s been better to brainstorm ideas and write down everything but the key has been doing it RIGHT NOW. There’s no time for procrastinating when I’m trying to blog every day and work on the novel to get it in for the RNA New Writers Scheme. I can always edit afterwards but I’ve needed to DO IT NOW to keep on top of the blogs.
- And finally, and a bit perverse, I’ve found that the pressure of time has also forced me to be creative and that’s been a real eye-opener.
English writer Graham Green attributes much of his success to that simple habit. He forced himself to write at least 500 words daily, whether he felt like it or not.

It’s the lifeblood of a writer to be able to generate ideas and get on with the work and perhaps creative inspiration can strike at any time, but it strikes more often when there is work instead of waiting.

So there's my 'I' - IDEAS and INSPIRING

How do you get ideas and inspire yourself to write?

Until another day
Bye for now

Saturday, 9 April 2011

'H' is for ... Happiness

Are you happy?

What makes you truly happy?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot these days. We’re looking forward to Easter and wishing a Happy Easter to everyone. Every year we’re wished a Happy Birthday, Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. But I’m not entirely sure what happiness is any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy. Some of the time. But living with chronic illness and pain day in day out tends to dull the sparkle from you.

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I was so happy I thought I would burst. Someone I once worked with said I like a breath of fresh air. I wonder if they'd think the same if they could see me now. Being the kind of glass half full type, I try to remain cheery despite spending much of the time being frustrated because my body won't always do what I want it to do. And being a perfectionist doesn’t help. I read an interview with John Cleese a while back. In it he mentioned how being a perfectionist meant he was never completely happy and I understood what he meant by that. When I decided 'H' was for Happiness in the challenge, I asked myself what makes me happy. Not surprisingly, it raised rather a lot of questions;

- Can you ever be truly happy when you live with chronic illness and pain?
- We tend to be happy when we’re in love. But does that mean another person can make you happy, or do you have to do that all by yourself?
- Are we happier when we’re children? And if so, does that mean old folks aren’t happy?
- I look at people worse off than myself and ask what have I got to moan about? I have two wonderful boys, a loving husband, beautiful home, brilliant friends… and much more. Some people are never happy or fulfilled and I don’t intend to turn into one of those.

It’s only human to want to be happy but over the years I’ve learn to accept that on occasions unhappiness is a part of life. What I refuse to do is let it move in forever. Living with chronic illness, it’s unrealistic to expect to be happy every day and here's how I've coped:

- I tell myself pain is there for a reason, like a warning. Nature is very clever when she’s not being a pig. Nature defines we’re not supposed to be happy during physical pain but we can have the strength of endurance and look forward to feeling better. So when I’m in the midst of a flare up, I’m kind to myself and tell myself it won’t last forever. And when I’m feeling better I’ll do such and such.
- I’ve learnt to ‘use’ the good days – along the lines of ‘make hay while the sun shines.’
- Perhaps most significant, I’ve discovered how to embrace my pain and condition – this ‘lodger’ of mine – a kind of making my peace with it. It has taken a long time to reach this point.
- I find happiness in the simple things - listening to the rain, watching the boys bounce on the trampoline, eating Bailey’s ice cream - a bit like those endorphins I mentioned in my ‘E’ is for Exercise Blog, the feel good hormones kick in when we’re working our bodies and endorphins play a big part in feeling good and being happy.
When I went to the Easter service at my son’s school on Thursday, I can’t tell you how happy I felt during and after watching their little beaming faces as they told us the Easter story and singing the Spring Chicken song. It was pure joy.
- After spending time looking inwards, I have found in spite of my health problems there are some things I can do that make me happy. I was devastated when I had to retire aged only 32 but after I left the bank, I tried running a little craft business to fill the gap. Then when my health got the better of that too, I started writing. You have to keep going to find the thing you like (and are able) to do. For me, I found writing is a significant thing besides my family and friends that makes me happy and feel fulfilled.

So if you are struggling to find happiness, perhaps ask yourself sometime; what is the one thing you would really like to do? Often it’s something you have thought about for a long time, perhaps even since you were a child but never thought you could/should do it.

You might find that gives you the fulfilment, joy and happiness you have been looking for.

Happiness, like thoughts, our incentive and creativity are born within, and can only come from somewhere deeply imbedded within each of us. And happiness isn’t a gift we receive from someone else, it’s a present we give ourselves.

I will leave you with this thought; something my Nan was forever telling me when I was a little girl. ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.’ The full version is at the end of the post.

And if all else fails, watch this It can't fail to make you happy!

So until another day
Bye for now

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it's mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life's gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Friday, 8 April 2011

G is for ... Great Writers

I can’t stand doing those Facebook Farmville/Poker games. But a year or two ago, someone sent me a quiz asking me which great writer I might be like. After doing the quiz, I came out as Edgar Allan Poe. The only reason I can surmise his name came up was he was an alcoholic and I’m known for being rather partial to my wine of an evening ;)

It is the consensus that you can teach people to write and I think this is true. In addition you can even teach people to write well enough to sell their work. But can you teach someone to be a great writer? Or will they be great if they practice enough? Is it simply a case that some have it, and some don’t?

I’ve always maintained and I’m under no illusions, I’ll never be a Booker Prize winner. I don’t profess to be a great writer in literary terms. That said, what I love to read is ‘great’ writing. To me that means literary fiction; books like Tess of the D’Urbevilles, The English Patient, Kite Runner, Memoirs of a Geisha, Wuthering Heights; some of the real classics of our time. However I bet if I asked a hundred women who like to read Romantic or Women’s Fiction who they think are great writers, Catherine Cookson, Barbara Taylor Bradford or Maeve Binchy would soon come up.

Is it just a matter of opinion? Is the accolade of greatness given depending on the amount of books sold? Is it the length of the book? Or is it the poetry of the prose?

In the last poll for The Book magazine, Harry Potter author JK Rowling was named the greatest living British writer, receiving nearly three times as many votes as second-place author, fantasy writer Terry Pratchett and previous Booker Prize winners Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro followed. Nick Hornby, Jonathan Coe, Philip Pullman and Muriel Spark made it into the top twenty.
So what exactly makes a great writer?

There are a huge variety of stories on the shelves but what makes the jump into the league of Hemingway, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, or Doris Lessing, for instance. What makes ‘Gone With the Wind’ a better love story than ‘An Affair to Remember’ or ‘Breakfast at Tiffany's?’

Trying to get a definitive list of our Greatest Writer’s, or even a leading group of contenders, is a hazardous undertaking. At worst it is harmless fun, and at best it might provoke us to consider what constitutes great writing, whether a canon has any validity, and who determines what work survives.

I’m no literary critic so I can’t speak with great authority. But to me, a great writer has the ability to connect, as if we are the only reader in the world. When I think about some of the best novels I’ve read, what jumps is that they are so effortless, they don’t read like writing. Great writing is a combination of things, but how the writer engages me and the distinctiveness of their voice is what sets them apart - that tone, essence, and breath-taking choice of words paragraph after paragraph, page after page, is what does it for me. The likes of Pinter, Stoppard and Lessing have changed the literary weather. Their work endures the years.

I guess ultimately posterity decides who the truly great writers are.

So what do you think about what makes a great writer? And who’s your favourite?

Until another day

Bye for now

Thursday, 7 April 2011

'F' is for ... FRIENDSHIP

Throughout my life, I've encountered many, many people, some of whom I found a special connection and became friends with. Hubby says I gather friends like flowers. I like that analogy. They are all little flowers.

Over the years my friendships have evolved like the stages in my life. Friends have come and gone with changes of school, new jobs and house moves, some fading along with the memories. My children found me friends – mum’s I was in hospital with when I gave birth. Mum’s from the school gates. Their best friend’s mums. The bus stop mums. Mum’s from when I went to mum’s and toddlers groups. Other friends I’ve gathered have come from my many trips into hospital. A couple of friends were from when I did my little craft business. I’ve made friends with several people in our village. A few years ago, I joined the Purplecoo online community and I have forged some wonderful friendships with several of them. Then there are the people I’ve met in the last few years; mainly aspiring writers from writers courses – My Arvon friends, My Caerleon friends, my Blogging Friends.

I recently found my best friend from school through Facebook. It was nearly thirty years since we had been in touch and yet despite that, when I found her and we started communicating, it was as if it were just yesterday that I last saw her. Back then, we used to sneak off just away from the centre of our village to privacy of the rear of the primary school and church where there was a track through to some woods, and we would sit by a gate on a stone, sharing a cigarette and coughing together while we discussed our latest crushes or what we were going to wear to youth club the following week.

It turned out she had looked for me many times over the years. We both pledged when we found each other we would never lose touch again. Health permitting, I’d love to get over to Leeds this year to meet her and for us to spend a weekend reminiscing and giggling like silly schoolgirls again.

Some of my friends remain constant. They are my true friends. What I mean by that is I know they will be a friend for life, even if we are separated by years or miles apart. I have a handful of my dearest true friends. They care about me as much as I care about them. They really are the best friends anyone could ask for irrespective of whether I have known them ten, twenty or thirty years.

My closest friends are as different as a tin of Quality Street. One is groomed and gorgeous, (looks a bit like Julia Roberts,) constantly on the go, highly strung, analyses everything, but is practical, pragmatic and superb in a crisis. One is a tea and sympathy kind of friend, wonderful listener, serious and thoughtful. One is dippy and charming, reminds me of a red-setter how she can be all over the place. One is timid and quiet but the most selfless person you can imagine, and kind and reliable. One is ever so slightly self-absorbed but great fun and totally solid. I could guarantee if I rang her in the middle of the night, she would come to me like a shot... See what I mean about a mixed bag?

We need different friends for different things. We lean on them, or look to them for light relief, dependent on our own mood and situation. I know I can depend on them all, as they depend on me. We may not speak every day (or every week for that matter) but when we do, it will be as if we were never apart. We can be ourselves, be unguarded and open, and show our vulnerability. We are in good hands when we are in each other’s company. They love us the way we are, faults and all. We understand each other. We trust each other. Implicitly.

At this point, I'd also like to mention my friend Carmen, (I met her on Purplecoo originally.) Sadly she is no longer with us. She died on New Years Eve 2010, aged just 42. Her support, enthusiasm and zest for life will never leave me. I miss her very much.
Her darling husband Jimmy is running the London Marathon next week so if you can help even in a small way, please click on her photo to sponsor him and help him raise £5,000.

Despite all my personal problems and health problems, my true friends have stayed with me. We have laughed and cried together as we have been together through good and bad times. We are all there for each other whenever we need someone. For some of us our children have now become friends. Hopefully they too will have friends for life.

I tell my eldest son who has been with his first girlfriend for nearly a year, don’t forget your friends. As well as a romantic relationship, your friends are the most important people you will have. You never know when you might need them. But it has to be a two way thing. If you give lots of kisses and hugs. You will get many back in return. We might be lucky enough to have family we can talk to and depend on, but our friends are always there for advice, comfort and inspiration.

So there's my word for today. 'F' is for Friendship.

Until another day
Bye for now


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'E' is for ... EXERCISE

Exercise is a four letter word, isn’t it?
Well, some forms of exercise are ;)

- L-e-a-p, j-u-m-p, lift, flex… :)

Sound too energetic? How about swim? Or walk.

We all know that exercise increases fitness levels and helps you lose weight. But did you know for many chronic pain sufferers, exercise can improve mood, give a general feeling of well-being and actually help control pain levels?

The reason for this is Neurotransmitters, remarkable bodily control and functioning mechanisms. One of these neurotransmitters is endorphins - powerful hormone-like substances produced in the brain that function as the body’s own natural feel good chemicals and painkillers. And scientists have discovered that during physical activities - including sex -but exercise in particular, the body releases endorphins which can produce feelings of euphoria and a general state of well-being so powerful, it can actually mask pain to the same extent as morphine can.

In addition, exercise releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine which work together to make you feel good, and it decreases stress hormones such as cortisol.

The problem I’ve had recently and alluded to in recent posts, is that I’ve lost my mojo and I need motivation to exercise. I won’t beat myself up that I’ve let it slide recently because I had a good excuse having major surgery. But it's time to get back in the saddle, so to speak.

This A-Z challenge has given me a bit of a buzz again for the first time in months. Positive thinking and laughter provoke the production of endorphins, the same as taking a walk during a sunny day or meeting an artistic person does. And I can see it’s the endorphins, my natural feel-good hormones that are kicking in. The challenge has got me focused and motivated, writing again EVERY day, and with the encouragement and support I’ve received from fellow bloggers, it’s really spurred me on. THANK YOU.

I believe in exercise and the power of endorphins. Exercise has kept me out of hospital for the last ten years. And it helped me tremendously last year while I waited for surgery. TMJ pain was the most incredible pain, like no other pain I've ever suffered. And I’m sure one of the reasons I coped so well and have recovered from major surgery so quickly was because of my level of fitness and the positive outlook.

My next step is to get exercising again. It can't be a marathon, or a run at all for that matter. I can’t do anything high impact - it must be strictly non-weight bearing or it causes flare-ups - and I can’t push myself too hard or too fast for the same reasons. I can’t afford to mask pain so I will listen to my body. I know from experience that all it takes to promote those endorphins is moderate amounts of exercise to get effects.

Swimming and cycling are my thing, and Yoga is perfect as it reduces tension and stress and focuses on stretching, breathing, and motion that release negative emotions in the body.

So, there you have it – my‘E’ is for Exercise... and Endorphins.

Until another day
Bye for now