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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


Nanowrimo…at last!

I finally felt that I was in a writing frame of mind, despite my dodgy shoulder, and I’ve reached the first Nanowrimo milestone of 5,000 words. The good (but difficult) part of Nanowrimo is that you aren’t supposed to edit, just write – I struggle with that as I can’t even send a text, tweet or email without editing it several times. Also, I feel the need to research everything I write, so end up finding myself on the internet, off on weird tangents (today I was looking at very expensive houses for sale in the region). That too is against the rules of Nanowrimo. I’ve also discovered that I work better with a playlist or musical accompaniment – music can transform your mood. If my characters feel unloved or unattractive, I can just play the music from my teenage years and I’m right back in the moment! I’m currently listening to ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’ – make of that what you will, with regard to the character’s frame of mind. I hope my yearn to write continues at the same pace tomorrow and I might just catch up to those writers who started on 1st November.


The Apprentice

I’m trying to vary my posts a little from purely book-related offerings, so here are my views about ‘The Apprentice’. The views are all my own…since I’m the only person in the house who can tolerate watching it.

My main problem with the show is that I always feel that, given an hour or two, I could complete a lot of the tasks that they are given. I cringe when there is in-fighting in the group, which adds to the suspicion that the contestants are chosen for their abrasiveness or their conflicting personalities, rather than being the cream of UK entrepreneurs. The project leaders are set up for failure, as in a normal work environment, you have to be a team player and, while you might not respect or agree with your boss, you have to respect the chain of command or you would be disciplined – there’s none of that on the show.

I admire anyone who does things like this to get themselves forward in life, but often wonder if they stop to think what they look like to the public, when they stab their co-workers in the back. Perhaps they’re successful in business because they don’t actually care – I know that I’d be out in week one!


A week of downs and ups!

It’s been a busy week.

Sadly, around a fortnight ago, we lost a family friend – a friend of my mam’s, initially, but she’d been around my whole life and was practically family. Aside from that, she was just a wonderful, kind, generous, funny lady and she always supported my writing. So, on Friday we attended her funeral and it was just like her:understated, unfussy and classy. In stark contrast, on Sunday, I was given the honour of being my friend’s daughter’s godmother – it was a lovely, cheerful service and the baby behaved incredibly well.

Aside from the family events, we had tickets to see a show on Wednesday – Navi, King of Pop. My husband was a huge fan of Michael Jackson and we had tickets to the ill-fated shows that never were, at The O2, so he likes to see the tribute acts. As copycats go, Navi was very good and his singing was excellent. It was a bonus to see Michael Jackson’s tour guitarist, Jennifer Batten, but the overall production values were little more than those you’d see at a decent school play. I was dazzled a few times by, what looked like, car headlights on the stage, which would flash intermittently. I think we’d been spoiled by seeing Thriller Live a few years ago. Sadly, just as my favourite song came on, I felt a bit rough and we had to head for the taxi. I don’t think I can blame the food we had earlier in the day. We don’t go out much so like to try somewhere new when we’re in town. This time, we tried Hei Hei on Dean Street..It was just opening when we got there at 5pm, so we had private dining for the most part of our meal. It’s quite a small restaurant and we opted for the set menu (£8.95 for two courses, which were cooked to order). I wasn’t feeling too adventurous so stuck to wan ton and szechuan beef. Hubby was tempted by something porky, accompanied with ‘black fungus’ – it looked delicious. I’m sure we’ll return.

 


Save Our Library!

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Today was my first ever protest, complete with placards. As I get older, I realise how important it is to stand up for things that you believe in, rather than expecting other people to do it. If everyone waited for someone else to make a difference, nothing would ever get done.

Libraries are all around us…or are they? Many are under threat due to ‘cutbacks’ and are seemingly easy targets because everyone has access to the internet or buys books on Amazon. But do they? There are many people who rely on the library such as the elderly or those seeking jobs. People go there for many reasons and it is often those people who don’t have a voice, when facilities like this are threatened.

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When I was young and first suffered from M.E., there was no internet. There was no TV in my bedroom. What there was, was a library opposite my doctor’s surgery, and a trailer library that visited my village. When I had books, I could forget about everything bad and transport myself to a world where children went off on adventures and solved mysteries. They had picnics and drank ‘lashings of ginger beer’. There was magic and mayhem and it all happened within the pages of a book. I borrowed a lot of books. It didn’t cost a thing. Not only did it pass the time, but I learned things and I didn’t feel lonely when I was absorbed in a book. Surely, future generations deserve the same access to books that we had.

Had I not read such a wealth of material, I doubt that I would have written a single book, let alone a third novel, so I feel very sad that the council could even contemplate closing this valuable service, in the name of cutbacks. Books are the building blocks of knowledge and what kind of society limits access to only those who can afford to pay?

So, this is why I protested. We stood as long as we each could manage: the very elderly lady, the parents, their children, the readers, the writer, the community. Hopefully, we spoke for those without voices and we have made it clear that we value our library and it should remain as a source of knowledge for years to come.
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Prize-winning artist!

Well, third prize, but still…

I’ve always found art very relaxing and have recently started doing some painting. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of (despite doing A-level Art) but I’ve done a few animal portraits lately, just to see if I could still wield a brush. It’s a great procrastination tool, when I’m not in a writing frame of mind. At the weekend, I entered a local scene at the Village Show and managed to get third place. My prize was £2…and I was delighted because it’s more than I make from selling a book!

The nice thing about it is that the paintings and photos, if not collected, are auctioned off and the proceeds go to charity. I’d love to think that it made at least double figures! I would add a photo but I’m not sure how to do it, as WordPress has changed a fair bit since I used it regularly.