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Reflections

This year has passed by in the blink of an eye – it doesn’t seem long since last New Year’s Eve. I always like to reflect on the year gone by, but I don’t really want to dwell on this one: it has been a nightmare. I wish you could switch the year off and on again at midnight, to reset things and make everything ok, but sadly, it’s just not possible.

I generally try to stay positive but I’m going to struggle to find them for 2017. It began with my in-laws being hospitalised and, a week in, we lost my mother-in-law. That left us to try and get the best possible care for my father-in-law and, let me tell you, it was not easy. There are obstacles thrown in to your path and you suddenly have to become an expert in elderly care. You also have to find the courage to stand your ground and a voice you didn’t think you had! You also have your eyes opened as to the lack of dementia support. Luckily, we fought and got him the best care but, sadly, we lost him last month. It was a release for him but a loss for us – a generation of the family. There’s still a lot to sort out, I’m sure. The Elf Walk was a great way to honour Arthur and I hope we can all do it again in 2018 – it raised valuable funds for The Alzheimer’s Society.

Even our dog had dementia, and we dedicated a lot of time to caring for her. Lots of people will read that and roll their eyes. I feel sorry for those people. We loved our dog like a child (nobody can quantify that) and when her day came, we did what we could to make it as easy as possible for her. It was three months ago and we miss her. She left a hole bigger than her size.

My grandad had a fall down the stairs a few weeks ago and is being cared for in hospital. Well-cared for, thankfully. That left us to care for my grandma as the council is too short-staffed to provide full care. The family is drained but what other option is there? I hate to use the term ‘Tory Britain’, but I detest our current government and I wonder if 2018 will bring our first workhouse (cleverly named, but a workhouse all the same).

Foolishly, despite all of these things going on, I embarked on an MA. What a fool. I’d love to say that all the factors above contributed to my poor feedback but I’m just not engaged in the course. Dare I say that I’m lazy or not clever enough? I want my own voice, rather than that of an educational establishment. I’ll never conform, so I can’t imagine that 2018 will bring me a graduation ceremony. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with saying that I’m not good enough – writing, art, etc. It doesn’t mean that I’ll stop doing those things…

I want to look for some positives for 2018 but I just don’t want to feel the pressure to achieve anything. I think we just need to…’be’…for a while. We’ll do our bit to support others and maybe treat ourselves a little more kindly than we have done but I’m not going to force resolutions upon us this year.

Sorry for the negativity but if you can’t be honest in a blog, what’s the point. If you’ve read this (or even if you’ve just skimmed to the bottom), I wish you the year that you deserve: good health, good fortune, good friends and happiness to you and those you care about. I genuinely hope that 2018 is an improvement on 2017.


Pre-Christmas Catch-up!

Where do I start? On a light note, perhaps? We went to see The Killers in concert in Newcastle and they were incredible. I have wanted to see them live for years so we splashed out on the VIP Package – let me tell you, VIP obviously stood for Very Impulsive Purchase because it certainly didn’t get us any preferential treatment. Yes, we got a decent seat but aside from that, still had to stand in the cold (even though we were led to believe we’d get in early). There was a VIP ‘host’: this host simply passed us our special ‘merch’ – a cheap-looking tote bag, supposedly designed and endorsed by the band, and a VIP pass that didn’t even bear the band’s name. The fact that these items littered the arena seating after the show says it all… We also had our pre-Christmas lunch at the fantastic Blackfriars in Newcastle – if you ever get the chance to eat here, do, it’s a wonderful place: warm ambiance, great service and the food is always delicious.

And then there was the bad stuff. My father-in-law was taken in to hospital at the beginning of November and the family got The Call on the 3rd. We were all around his bedside but he obviously didn’t want to leave until we gave him some peace. He passed away few hours after we left, having been stable all day. It’s been an awful year for loss and it never gets any easier.

Paling in comparison, my MA isn’t going well, either. It’s not what I expected (poetry-heavy and very little input from tutors). I just had my first round of feedback for the first module and it wasn’t good (I know there was a lot going on with Amber and Arthur passing away but I can’t say I’ve given it the attention I should have). Essentially, I don’t know how I’ve dared claim to be a writer for the past decade – I have issues with structure, my poetry is rubbish (I agree) and so on. I must admit, it’s making me regret my decision. I wanted to learn how to write properly and, although I accept the criticism, there are no pointers as to where I went wrong. Not one of my better decisions…

Back on a higher note. We were honoured to take part in the first ever Elf Walk in Newcastle (The Alzheimer’s Society) and we participated in memory of Arthur and Amber, who both suffered from Dementia. Our team (me, my husband, two nieces and my sister-in-law) raised around £500. It was a 5km walk, which sounded impossible (or improbable) but we took it slowly – there was a woman, walking alone, on two crutches – inspirational! Check out the ITV and BBC local news websites and look out for me among the sea of elves. It’s like Where’s Wally (Where’s Holly?)

That’s all for now. Going to try and come back more often.


Overload!

I’m feeling a bit overloaded at the moment. Doing an MA in half the time is, as most people would expect, doubly demanding but it feels almost impossible. I’m wondering if I have the creativity in me to do the course justice. Life is regularly trying to get in the way and the hectic schedule leaves no room for M.E. crashes and general seasonal exhaustion. I’m hanging on by my fingertips at the moment and don’t think I’ll resign up to the additional Creative Writing classes next year – it’s too much. Oh, and the reading is intense too: reading about writing is hard when you know you should be writing! Temporarily giving in to a sinus headache and risking being the dunce of the class. Nap time!


Review: Impractical Jokers Live!

It’s been an ‘annus horribilis’ this year and we had very little to make us smile. However, my sister introduced us to a programme that I should have hated, on paper. I’m really not a fan of practical jokes at all, as I don’t like people being made to look foolish just so someone else can get a cheap laugh. The difference with this programme was that the group of four friends (who’d known each other for decades) tricked and embarrassed each other. I didn’t expect to be amused. I didn’t anticipate laughing out loud but, in our deep, dark days, we howled like idiots. Laughter really was the best medicine. We heard that they were touring so decided that, even though funds were short, it would do us good to get out Ticketmaster struck again: fourth row tickets in the basket, Ticketmaster glitches – no tickets. Second time a similar issue and third time was the charm. Not only were we going to see ‘The Tenderloins’ but our friends were going too. The ‘horrible anus’ struck again and our poor friend ended up practically bedbound and is awaiting back surgery as I type. We all felt guilty for going without her. Really guilty.

Security for shows is tight now. The queue to be screened snaked around the arena but better to be safe than sorry. It took us about half an hour to get in but we were so glad they postponed the start as the warm-up act was absolutely hilarious. He was an American comedian called Steve Byrne and his act revolved around audience participation…and those that did participate were great sports. The atmosphere was improved further when the whole arena sang along to Mr Brightside by The Killers (my favourite song). Steve shook my hand as I perched, on one bum cheek, almost in the aisle, as I tried to see around the high-haired gentleman in front of me. ‘Hi, I’m Steve!’ – I wavered on one buttock as I stretched to meet his handshake.

After a short intermission, Sal, Q, Joe and Murr came out to thunderous applause. I didn’t know how the show would work on stage but it did. It was a mixture of anecdotes, sketches, jokes, audience embarrassment (involving an iPhone and the sentence ‘I tested positive’), unseen footage from their show and basically, lots of warmth and good-natured mocking! We rarely stopped laughing (my cheeks began to ache) and the time flew. It was worth every penny and I am still disappointed that there was no ‘meet and greet’ option. The guys seemed really down to earth (Q wandered on to the stage with a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in his hand) and it would have been fun to meet them.

I know this really wasn’t a proper review but I don’t want to give too much away, in case you ever get a chance to see the show. It’s really not my type of thing…but I’ve seen every single episode of Impractical Jokers many times and laughed each time. It’s rare in life to get a little time when you get a few hours to set aside your worries and just laugh. I recommend it.


Week Three already.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my tendency to procrastinate get in the way of my MA, considering that I’m also doing a local writing class. However, life didn’t get the memo and decided to throw in its own spanners. Broken boiler, leaky bath and, worst of all, we lost our beautiful dog, Amber, who will forever be the ‘A’ in Holly A Harvey. I’m not going to lie: it’s been tough to concentrate; tough to focus on anything, really, but I kept my promise to stay on top of my coursework (albeit by the skin of my teeth, last week).

Strangely, I’m feeling invisible on this course. I’m doing the right things. Commenting on the forums; replying to other people (often just to show that I have read what they have to say) and doing the writing exercises. So why do I feel invisible? My own posts remain unanswered and my efforts with no feedback. Even the poem I so reluctantly submitted didn’t appear in the workspace this week. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good, but it shows that I’m participating. I wonder if other people can see my posts and I’m starting to get a little uneasy. I already felt, after the first week, that my list of books that I read wasn’t up to scratch. I just don’t enjoy the classics (aside from To Kill A Mockingbird). I’m starting to wish I hadn’t travelled down this rabbit hole…


Back again!

Are you wondering where I’ve been? I’m not great at keeping up with Twitter (marginally better with Facebook) but the blog has been quite mischievous and has kept disappearing on me. Hopefully, it’s all sorted now.

So, what have I been up to? Doing some artwork for charity – something I’ve dabbled in for years but never really taken seriously. I’ve done another Creative Writing course (just started term 2) and, the big news, finally enrolled on an MA course! My MA Creative Writing begins on Monday and I’m already wondering if I’m out of my depth because the online stuff seems very complicated. It’s a distance learning course, so I’ll be doing it from the comfort of my chair, and I’m hoping to try and keep my procrastination gene in check. It will be quite full-on, as it’s a two-year course taking place over one year – I’m now, for the first time since I was eighteen, a full-time student. I’m terribly nervous, not knowing what to expect. My imagination tells me that the rest of the course is full of literary genuises (or is in genii?) and I’m a toddler with a crayon in comparison. I hope to use my blog to let you know what it’s like being a full-time student with the challenges that distance learning brings…oh, and being, what they call ‘mature’. That and the pesky M.E. which is still an issue. Perhaps I’ll inspire you to take your education further or perhaps I’ll be a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t procrastinate. My husband wants me to do well and sign up for further study, because we’ve discovered we can get a reduction in council tax if you’re a full time student. Always nice to be motivated!


Ten years! Where did the time go?

Can you believe that, on 26th February 2017, it will be Karma’s 10th anniversary of publication? I was so naive back then and thought that it would be the beginning of something wonderful – and it was, in some way – but not in the way I expected. In 2007, I had a new book, a publisher and lots of enthusiasm. I was excited to be able to participate in Hexham Book Fair (a new even, back then) and that was soon squashed, when I realised that the weren’t involving me: merely letting me sell a book or two (I didn’t, as the publisher didn’t even send any). It made me feel terrible and I haven’t been to the Festival since. I did some interviews (terrifying but fun) and I’d hoped to possibly turn my good fortune in to a career. Sadly, that never happened: the publisher tried to run before walking and went out of business, and my M.E. made it difficult to do anything but write for fun, for an hour or two a week, if I was lucky. On the plus side, I met some brilliant, amazing people and made new friends (something I never thought I’d do at my age, considering I rarely go out). I didn’t think I could let Karma’s big anniversary pass without doing something so, from the 24th-26th, it will be free on Kindle via Amazon (note that you don’t need to have a Kindle to read it as there’s an app). I’ll post the link when it goes live. Perhaps you could spread a little good Karma to those who haven’t read it?


Further Education

It’s been a rough year so far, with the hospitalisation of my father in law and the loss of my mother in law. People often say ‘you couldn’t write it’ – you can, but if you did, few would believe it! Anyhow, little writing has been done but I am committing to improve my skills (hopefully) by signing up for an MA. It doesn’t start until September, so I have a bit of time to myself and I’ve broken out the paints again. I maintain my ‘enthusiasic amateur’ status, much as with my writing. And I procrastinate just as much. Which is exactly what I’m doing now…


New Year’s Eve: time for reflection.

This post is my little maudlin indulgence, so don’t read on if you’re feeling a bit blue (unless misery and company are your thing):

I always look back, on new year’s eve, rather than to the future – I’m not sure why, but it’s something I’ve always done. In my teens, I’d sit and scribble furiously in my diary, and as I got older (before the advent of blogging), I would sit for a few hours, just pondering the year gone by. I’m a little bit fearful of the new year, in case it’s worse (after all, the old don’t get younger and the sick don’t miraculously get well on the strike of twelve) and I’m wary of looking forward to the good things (the weddings, the events, in case I can’t go – M.E. robbed me of the thrill of anticipation many years ago). I sat and filled out my diary and calendar for the forthcoming year and had to stop myself adding a birthday (the friend we lost earlier in the year), an anniversary (the marriage that is over) and the dates related to family that we no longer see.

As I poured through the pages of my 2016 Filofax, I saw the arrival of the three foster dogs we looked after last year. In 2015, I sat here, as now, realising that I felt the need to contribute to society and give back, somehow. I had tried to volunteer before, only to feel I was more hindrance than help, so I had a think and knew that I could do something to help dogs. My dogs were the constant that made me happier, so couldn’t we pay the species back? Sadly, it backfired a little, when I found flaws in the charities’ ways: rules that were too loose and those that were written in stone, where the dogs weren’t necessarily put first. I found, quickly, that you can’t criticise charities. We waved off our first foster, a beautiful, happy puppy: she was being driven 400 miles down the country to a family who had no experience of a pup (but it was a first come, first served basis) even though she’d genuinely been offered a life on a farm up here. We weren’t in the loop as mere fosterers, but found out she’d been returned within days. Who doesn’t know that pups poop occasionally in the house? She went to another home soon after, only to be returned after a week – ‘she has separation anxiety’. Well, who wouldn’t after that. I’m happy to tell you that she is now in an amazing home, but it could have been so different. I resigned after that and moved on to a better-known charity, thinking I could help more where my love lay: Cavaliers.

We were made to feel unwanted by the rescue, due to our location and lack of transport, so that didn’t bode well…until they needed holiday cover for two Cavalier boys. Older, vocal, one of whom had only one eye – they were adorable! I made it my mission to find them a home. Not just any home but one that could make them forget about their years in the puppy farms. I found two amazing families. Amazing. I thought the rescue would be overjoyed but I encountered barrier after barrier. I cried several times, wondering whether they would spend their lives without a forever home. I was hugely frustrated but fought for the boys. Luckily for those dogs, their prospective families fought harder against an unfair system and, happily, they both are rehomed to those amazing people, having the lives they should have always had (and were entitled to). This soured us on being fosterers, somewhat, as despite using our time, money and resources, we certainly weren’t an asset. So, I’m still thinking about what project I can do in 2017…

Each year, I try to learn something interesting, so thought I would try and do more with my writing (actually writing would be a good start). Sadly, I was gently turned down for the one-year PhD at Huddersfield (the gentlest rejection ever, I should imagine) and the OU didn’t seem to think I’d benefit from their MA programme. I am still working on my current novel (I could blame my dodgy shoulder or the M.E., but laziness is a factor). My laptop is still holding out, barely, so I’m hoping I’ll be more focused in 2017 as the characters want their story told!

In know this post is a little miserable, but I also had a lot to be grateful for in 2016: a great family (who help us out a LOT), five beautiful dogs (and we appreciate how lucky we are to still have Amber, in her 15th year), friends who still bother with me (even though I’m not reliable in the slightest), friends who live in my computer (especially those who don’t ask me to share their statuses or click ‘Like’) and the opportunity to get out and about a little ( saw Michael Bolton, James Martin, to name a few, although I still didn’t make it to the seaside – that was a little too far again this year). I became a godparent for the first time, my grandma turned 90, my dad 65 – lots of things to be thankful for.

I’m not going to put pressure on myself to make resolutions (the things that I would like to do cost money and of that, I have none) so we’re just going to try and start cooking more from scratch. Oh and eating more fresh veg and fruit. I don’t think you’re likely to see me doing the Great North Run, but I can maybe make a Thai egg roll from my new cookbook.

So, as I (finally) draw this post to a close, all I wish you in 2017 are the things I’d wish for myself and my family: good health, happiness and £1 more than you need. Best wishes for the forthcoming year. x