Archive for category Non-writing
Earlier this year I was feeling despondent about my writing. Over the previous three years I’d had the excitement of securing an agent, working with her on two books and then the subsequent deep disappointment when none of her submissions to the big publishers were successful. The whole act of writing seemed a fool’s game: the short story market was shrinking, publishers preferred to invest in well-known names to guarantee book sales and, during lockdown, everyone seemed to have become a writer. I was on the verge of giving up. Then, on social media, I discovered trainee life coach, Elizabeth Scott. I explained that I was at a crossroads in my writing career and didn’t know how to move forward or whether to give up completely. Elizabeth offered me three virtual coaching sessions.
Did the sessions work?
Yes. Elizabeth didn’t offer direct advice on what to do. She didn’t give her opinion on whether I should stop writing and do something more rewarding and less frustrating instead. She didn’t judge whether I was any good at writing.
Instead, she encouraged me to think in a different way. For example, she asked me to draw a circle and put into it the different aspects of my life: work, family, writing, exercise etc. Then she asked what I would like to remove or decrease in that circle and what I wanted to spend more time on. I found that I couldn’t get rid of writing and said that, in a perfect world, I would like to spend more time writing. We talked about NaNoWriMo because in the past that has triggered a burst of enthusiasm for writing. But starting a new novel, after all the disappointments, didn’t appeal. I mentioned the possibility, instead, of drafting one short story a day during November – as long as I had a list of thirty ideas before November 1st. But still I wasn’t sure I wanted to go ahead.
“How will you feel if you don’t take on this challenge?” Elizabeth asked.
“Disappointed in myself for just drifting.”
“How will you feel if you do the challenge?”
“Pleased with myself.”
I had my answer. We agreed that I would begin to find ideas and report back to Elizabeth at our next session. Knowing that I had to report back acted as a great incentive for me and I generated thirty ideas. At the next session I mentioned to Elizabeth that I now needed to find the discipline to force myself to sit down and write these stories.
“‘Discipline’ and ‘force’ are harsh words,” she said. “Try using the word ‘habit’ instead.”
She was right. Saying that I now needed to make writing a habit sounded much more achievable.
Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes, experienced in navigating life’s obstacles, (plus a change in semantics) can send us off with fresh confidence and positivity.
Elizabeth is now a fully qualified life coach, helping people to set and achieve their goals. If there are changes that you’d like to make in your life (writing-related or not), see her website for the offer of a free twenty-minute exploratory chat.
You don’t have the slightest interest in what I, or anyone else, did on their holidays but please bear with me – there is a literary slant to what I have to say, plus it saves me having to write a book, which I did in 2013 and 2021.
This year we drove from the Midlands to Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. En route we stopped for coffee in Sedbergh: England’s Official Book Town. Sedbergh is a small place where many of the independent shops have added the sale of secondhand books to their wares. The big attraction for me was Westwood Books which has a stock of over 70,000 titles – antiquarian, secondhand, and some new books. I was tempted by a copy of The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley which has been strongly recommended by my sister-in-law. But it’s a very thick book and I have a long TBR list, so I resisted the urge.
On arrival in Kirkcudbright we discovered that Dumfries and Galloway has its own literary connections. It was the setting for The 39 Steps by John Buchan and the viaduct in the photo was used in one of the film versions of the story. And Five Red Herrings, a murder mystery by Dorothy L Sayers, is set in Kirkcudbright itself and the 4-part serial is available on YouTube.
What did we actually do on holiday? Walking, a guided tour plus afternoon tea at Buittle Castle (both were excellent), walking, Raymond Briggs retrospective exhibition at Kirkcudbright Art Galleries, walking, Kirkcudbright Annual Tattoo (marching bands and a stunt motor cyclist!), walking and Kirkcudbright Art Tour.
Well done – you made it to the end of my holiday essay!
Finally, you might be interested in this crime writing short story competition. It closes 23rd January 2023 but there’s a reduced early bird entrance fee of only £3 if you enter before 1st December 2022.
Towards the end of 2021 I bought my usual paper calendar and started to jot down the skeleton of my commitments for 2022. In October 2021 I’d started a new part-time job as a library assistant which requires me to work alternate Saturdays. Also in 2021 I became a co-leader of a Shared Reading group – my turn comes around every other Thursday.
I couldn’t be bothered to go through the whole calendar and work out the dates of both of these two-weekly engagements. Then, my husband, who was working away during the week and didn’t have sight of the joint paper calendar, began putting dates into his phone so he had them to hand.
That was my light bulb moment! I stepped forth into the convenience of the electronic calendar and wondered why I’d been a dinosaur for so long.
It was easy to download the Calendar app and I discovered it was possible to set up single events for the library job and Shared Reading and then tell the calendar to schedule the events fortnightly going forward. What a time saver!
I discovered it was possible to make my calendar visible to my husband and vice versa – so we can see if there are any clashes with dates.
I discovered it was possible to set up an event and send an email invite to someone else.
If I’m out and someone suggests a date for our next meeting, it’s easy to check the calendar on my phone and see when I’m free – no more waiting until I’m home to look at the joint paper calendar hanging on the wall.
So far I’ve come across only two disadvantages to the electronic calendar. Firstly, I can’t simply glance at the wall as I walk past to see what’s happening over the next week – I have to remember to check my phone (but you can elect to get e-reminders of events in advance). Secondly, I have a vague fear of the servers belonging to the calendar provider crashing and burning – and taking the whole of my life with them. But the same could’ve happened to the paper calendar hanging in my hall.
Like everyone else, my work life has long been governed by an electronic calendar on the office laptop. It’s just taken me a very long time to make my personal life easier by embracing the calendar on my phone!
I’m using Google Calendar but other electronic calendars are available – as I’m sure you know because you’re probably light years ahead of me in your use of them. Please let me know that I’m not the only one who’s taken so long to embrace technology!
Earlier this year I did a 3 day Zoom training course in order to become a volunteer Reader Leader for the charity The Reader.
That training has now come to fruition and my own fortnightly Shared Reading in Sutton Coldfield Group started on Zoom last week. We hope to move to face-to-face meetings in Sutton Coldfield library as soon as restrictions allow (my fingers are tightly crossed!).
The participants in a Shared Reading Group have no homework – all the reading is done aloud during the meeting (as the leader I do have the homework of choosing and preparing the texts). The reading usually comprises a short story and poem and the two texts may share a theme. We take a pause at relevant points in the story and discuss what has been read, hypothesize about what might happen next and pick out any parts of the text which strike a chord with us or that we don’t fully understand. The poem will be read aloud a couple of times before we start to drill down into its possible meaning. It’s not an English Literature lesson (I have no relevant qualifications!) and there are no right or wrong answers: everyone’s opinion is valuable and valid because we all take different things from the text. The things that we take away might educate the way we live our lives.
And participation in the group is free!
For our first meeting we read The Bet by Anton Chekhov as our story. It tells about a bet between two men – if one can live in solitary confinement for fifteen years he will be paid two million dollars by the other. During the reading we discussed who might win the bet, the way the ‘prisoner’ spent his time and what effect the isolation had on him. You’ll have to read the story to discover the outcome of the bet!
We followed this up by reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne and talked about whether we are all valuable to society.
I’m excited to be getting this group started!
There’s more information about how Shared Reading can help depression, loneliness or simply bring like-minded people together on The Reader website. There’s more about the Sutton Coldfield group on the Folio website.
During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:
Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.
What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.
It’s just over a week since Boris Johnson put Britain in lockdown.
We all have our own worries and concerns at the moment: health, finances, job security, separation from loved ones, coping with isolation – the list goes on and on. To get through this period we need to focus on the positive things that are emerging from the current situation:
- An increase in neighbourliness. Many people are looking out for vulnerable neighbours and offering to shop for them. Our street has a What’s App group and the chat last night was how we might organise an outdoor tea party with each of us standing the required social distance apart on our driveways.
- An upturn in people exercising. Many people seem to have taken the single daily exercise outing as mandatory. I’ve never seen so many people walking the streets before (and most make an effort to keep as socially distant as possible). Hopefully, this will become a habit and improve the health of the nation generally.
- The opportunity to learn new skills. In the last week I’ve taken part in three Zoom conferences but I’d never heard of this video conferencing facility until the lockdown started. I’ve also filmed myself, via the laptop, for the first time. This was for the speaker bookings’ website Mirthy who are trying to find a way of continuing to to take speakers to older people during the lockdown. Other people are learning online courses, there are a selection of short, free courses from the Open University.
- Family able to spend more time together. This may be a blessing or a curse depending on the age of the children! With the daily commute gone and school cancelled, there is now the time to spend on bike rides, reading stories, arts and crafts etc. Many youngsters may remember this as a golden time of having their parents’ full attention.
- Time to play. We’ve resurrected a very old Swingball and my mum tells me she’s got out an old boules set.
- Time to stand and stare.
However, we have to remember that none of the above apply to our wonderful key workers across the caring professions, manning supermarkets, delivering goods and keeping our streets safe and clear of rubbish. They are working as normal or even longer hours. Thank you.
Finally, I signed up online to become one of the thousands of NHS volunteers that the government was asking for. Unfortunately I got an email back telling me it had not been possible to verify my identification. So, I may not be who I appear …
Park Runs are held all over the country at 9 am on Saturday mornings. They are free and anyone can take part. All standards of fitness are welcome and at Sutton Park there was a sign ‘Walking Group Meet Here’ – so there was no need to even run. The events are organised and marshalled by volunteers and there is a friendly atmosphere geared towards encouraging everyone to get outside and move more. The only preparation needed before joining a run is online registration. This is a one-off process which generates a unique barcode for each runner. This barcode must be printed, taken to the event and scanned once you’ve crossed the finish line in order to get a time for your run.
At Sutton Park there was a briefing just before the start for first-time runners. The course was described and I had second thoughts when ‘Hill of Doom’, ‘trip hazards’ and a ‘single file wooden bridge with a slat missing’ were mentioned. My aim became to get to the end without falling over.
With my eyes on the ground I successfully negotiated the hazards. The ‘Hill of Doom’ was short and very steep, so I have to admit to walking here. Everything became easier once the course hit tarmac and I became a lot more confident. It was downhill to the finish and to that lovely feeling of having accomplished something.
Park Run results hit the website later the same day. My time was 34:45 and my results emails says, “You finished in 272nd place and were the 78th female out of a field of 398 parkrunners and you came 5th in your age category”. I don’t know how many were in my age category but 5th will do me!
The similarity between writing and running has been pointed out many times before and my Park Run brought it home to me again. Writing and running are both hard work and we don’t always enjoy the actual process – but the ‘high’ produced by having run or having written can’t be beaten!
I’ve run a book group for several years and hearing several different opinions of the same book is always a fascinating experience. A book’s themes often lead to interesting conversations and we usually have a laugh too.
However, recently I’ve discovered an alternative type of group; Shared Reading.
Shared Reading is championed and supported by the charitable organisation The Reader. The charity “builds warm and lively communities by bringing people together and books to life”.
The groups are free to join and open to all. However many of the groups are located in places to help those living with conditions such as dementia, complex mental health issues and chronic pain, as well as those recovering from addiction or feeling lonely.
The groups meet on a weekly basis and all the reading is done out loud during the session, with both the group leader and the participants doing the reading. At appropriate points in the poem, short story or prose extract there will be a pause and the leader will start a conversation about the text. Group members might talk about the impact the words have on them, their interpretation of the text or simply whether they are enjoying it or not. No one is forced to contribute or to read aloud but it’s hoped that the groups’ inclusive atmosphere gives everyone’s voice and opinion a chance to be heard and appreciated.
This week I had the chance to shadow the leader of two Shared Reading groups in north Birmingham; one in a care home for the elderly and another in a community centre. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
The older people looked at two poems: New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge and Moon Compasses by Robert Frost. It was a lovely to hear the positive message they took from the first poem about each new day offering a new beginning. The second poem took more concentration but the description of love at the end pleased them all.
The community centre group were looking at the chapter, ‘Mother’, in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. They had looked at the first half of the chapter the previous week but I was soon brought up to speed. We talked about the chaotic home over which Laurie’s mum presided and her constant hope that one day the husband who’d walked on her would return. The session finished with the poem My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth and us agreeing that even though we are no longer children, it’s still lovely to see things in nature that bring us joy.
These groups are a million miles away from a school English Literature lesson. They are all about personal interpretations of the texts and how they make us feel.
All the Shared Reading group leaders are volunteers and have been specially trained for the task. I’m contemplating putting myself forward.
A podcast is a digital audio file which can be downloaded from the internet and listened to on a variety of devices such as a laptop, smartphone etc. It’s rare to find a one-off podcast, they are usually made available in a series. Podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast.
This week I was the subject of a podcast which will form part of a series about agile workers, produced by the co-working organisation Dispace. An agile worker can work where, when and how they choose.
I’d never thought of myself as agile until Dispace invited me to be part of their project. For three days a week I’m employed by a multi-national IT company – which definitely isn’t agile; even though I’m home-based I work set hours and can’t take my laptop out in order to work from a coffee shop or wherever else I might choose. Into the remaining two days I fit my writing, occasional public speaking and anything else that comes my way; this is agile. Lucinda from Dispace was interested in these agile strands and how they fit alongside my ‘proper’ job.
The podcast recording took place at 1000 Trades in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The microphone and camera (yes, it was filmed as well!) were all set up when I arrived. Lucinda had just finished an interview with Dan Braithwaite, a workplace trainer. Amongst other things, he goes into offices to help workers minimise the potential physical problems of sitting at a desk all day. Perhaps something that us writers could benefit from!
We started straightaway with Lucinda asking me about the different strings to my bow. She’d done her homework by reading Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners and we talked about Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club and public speaking in general. We went on to discuss why I write psychological thrillers, how to promote books, how I see the future of work, how I structure my week and my ‘writing’ days, plus lots more. The time went quickly, the space-age microphone (pictured) and the camera were hardly noticeable and the whole thing felt like a chat with someone who was very interested in me! By the end I realised that, for at least part of my week, I am an agile worker. The only question I stumbled on was: Where can people find out more about you? In the same way that I can never remember my mobile number, I couldn’t remember the website address of this blog. Hopefully that will be edited from the final take!
Conclusion: I enjoyed my first podcast experience and when the final edited version is ready I’ll share it here.
A defibrillator has been installed in my area and I went to a session run by Community Heartbeat on how to use it. A patient’s survival rate following a cardiac arrest is much improved by the use of a defibrillator rather than just CPR (from around 7% to 28% if I remember correctly) so it’s great that increasing numbers of these machines are appearing in public spaces.
The important takeaways from the session were:
- Unless you hit them over the head with it, you can’t hurt anyone with a defibrillator – the machines are programmed to only deliver a shock when/if one is needed.
- A defibrillator applies a current of electricity to the heart to stop it and thus allow it to reconfigure automatically. Our instructor said it was a little bit like rebooting a laptop when the screen has locked up.
- The defibrillator gives audible instructions on what you are required to do.
- When you dial 999 you will be told where the nearest defibrillator is and the code number to access it
- If the nearest defibrillator is too far away and you are alone, you will be talked through performing CPR only. If you are not alone, one person will start CPR whilst the other fetches the defibrillator.
- When the defibrillator arrives, one person should continue with CPR while the other sets everything up.
- There are scissors and a razor in the defibrillator pack. This allows you to cut the patient’s clothing (including the bra on a woman) in order to bare the chest. The razor is for shaving a square of skin on a hairy chest. The pads through which the shock is delivered won’t stick to very hairy skin.
- CPR must be continued in between allowing the defibrillator to monitor and possibly shock the patient. Give 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute followed by two breaths. You will need to press hard with two hands on an adult patient and you may break one of their ribs. I would prefer someone to break my rib but save my life rather than leave me to die with ribs intact.
- The defibrillator will tell you when to stop touching the patient so that the machine can monitor the heart.
- Do not stop CPR when you see the ambulance. The paramedics will always say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.” This is because they need a minute to set up and therefore need you to keep going just a little longer.
- You may or may not find out what eventually happens to the patient. Do not be disheartened if he dies. It does not mean you did anything wrong – look again at the survival percentages at the top of this post.
Every life is precious and deserves saving. Don’t walk by on the other side because you’re afraid of getting involved.