Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My Life in 2010 – Footprints, Open University and Writing

It’s that time of year when things come to a close and we reflect and consider. Self-indulgent perhaps. Necessary though. I think. Especially for self-conscious, insecure and worried individuals like me. 

The year started badly. My mum died on 22nd January 2010. I don’t need to explain further, other than it was all complicated by the fact she lived in Turkey and all that goes with repatriation etc. This will be the first Christmas without her. In truth, since I was 17 we had not spent many Christmas together but to not hear her voice on the end of the phone will be hard this year.

But then came the positives. I don’t intend to dwell on the bad. 

Two days after my mum’s death, OFSTED walked into my children’s nursery in Hartlepool, unexpectedly, like they do. My sister was on bereavement leave and so was I, at my home in Scotland, preparing to cancel my business trip to the nursery and instead, go to Turkey. That aside, we managed to achieve an overall GOOD in our inspection. Marvellous!

Then in May we were shortlisted for the Hartlepool business awards. What an achievement. We didn’t win but to come in the top three for the categories of Best Small Business and Best Training Organisation was brilliant!

In June we were awarded GOLD in Investors in People. A huge achievement. Less than 2% of businesses hold this award.  

And then, when the accountant called us in to discuss our accounts, we found out we had made a good profit and had cumulatively turned over our first million pounds! Not that it went into my pocket of course, especially being a not-for-profit organisation (everything goes back into the business) but overall, since incorporation in January 2005 we’ve done all of this. We have gone from 12 staff to 36, had many improvements, own two vehicles and are the best nursery in town! 

Not bad for woman with no business experience when I set up the company and took over an ailing bankrupt business. Of course, I couldn’t do this without the great team that we have at Footprints Day Nursery. A HUGE thank you to them all. 

Then last week I received the news that I had passed my Certificate in Working Together for Children (level 6 England/level 10 Scotland) but not only that, I had finally completed my Open University BA(hons) degree with a FIRST CLASS pass! I started my first OU course in 2002 and it’s been hard work but so, so worth it. Beyond my dreams. I’ll be there, standing proud in a blue and yellow sash & gown in May next year with the best of them : )

On the writing front, I’ve had a number of things published this year: the dark, tortured type of stories that I favour, a children’s story and even a piece of Erotica due for publication in March 2011.

I entered/submitted to 169 markets. 

I have 21 awaiting results. 

I’ve had 24 pieces of writing accepted, which includes 4x 1st places, 1x 2nd, 2x 3rd and lots more shortlisted and accepted to be published. My work has appeared in a number of anthologies and various websites.  In total I have won £340 pounds which is more than I paid to enter the competitions. I have had hits with some smaller comps/markets and also some better known ones. I target markets such as Global Short Story, JBWB, Words with Jam, Yellow Room and more. I enter the Write Invite competition every week that I can, at 5.30pm on a Saturday – I urge you to do the same -  http://www.write-invite.com/write-on-site.php
However, is it worth it? I read a blog today by the very credible and noteworthy Writer’s Beware. http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2010/12/some-tips-on-evaluating-literary.html

I ask you to read the last question Is it worth it? That’s what I now have to decide. Is it worth entering these competitions if they mean nothing? Am I wasting my time? I can’t do ‘literary’ and I can’t win the Bridport or Fish or Bristol Short Story Prize. What I can do is write like me. And if that’s not good enough, then I’m not good enough. But at least I had fun trying. 

I completed NaNoWriMo this year. That means I wrote fifty thousand words of a novel in November. A good achievement. I now have to finish the rest and edit for all my life is worth. Then try to find an agent. Then try to get published. I can only dream for now.

So – I’ve skipped over the bad, missed out the toils and troubles, and those ‘mustn’t be spoken of’ things in marriage that only couples who have stayed together any length of time have going on, and to speak of them would mean d-i-v-o-r-c-e.      

And when I tell you next year that I’m useless, can’t do it, not worth it, remind me of all of this. Not bad for woman living alone in flat at 17 in a terribly abusive relationship, living on a £25 a week youth opportunity scheme and no family for miles. 

So why do I still think I’m not worth it?

Raise a glass with me and take a look at this for a laugh http://www.dancingsantacard.com/en/?santa=79978&source=FBshare

I wish you a very merry Christmas and great New Year 2011. 



Sunday, 28 November 2010

NaNoWriMo and other things

Well, I've done it. I actually done it! I've completed fifty thousand words of my novel.

For those that don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month.You sign up and try to write 50k by 30th November. Well, I did it. On 26th November. I wasn't sure if it was possible. I know others that have done it, more than once, but I wasn't sure I could. But as it turned out, it was the easy bit. I cut down my facebook, twitter and scrabble time. I neglected the housework. The kids. The husband. But seriously, I just refocused my attention to my work in progress and I found that I wasn't stuck for words, just time. If I had more minutes, I am sure I could have written more words.

The problem I have now, is how to finish the thing. 50k might sound impressive, but I am sure I have another 50k at least to write to reach The End. And then comes the task of editing. And believe me, I need a good edit. A very good edit. I have written many words. Some are good, some bad and very many are ugly and redundant. That's the hard part. Reading and re-reading and chopping and killing my darlings.

But I've had great fun. I've decimated a nemesis, crucified a bully and jailed a horrible person, all in the name of characterisation. I've discredited a few others too. I'm not a vengeful person but I love it, the power of writing.

In the meantime, I came second in the Slingink Slam round four and whilst waiting for the results of round five, I'm half-way through my round six entry. I've sent out some competition entries and done Write Invite competition every Saturday at 5.30pm - 6pm. And currently, I'm plotting my next chapter - and it involves a reveal. Maybe I'll write that tomorrow. Take my word count up to 55k. Every little bit brings the end closer.

It's also good to do something like NaNo with writing friends on facebook and twitter. The collective encouragement and support is great. So to my colleagues, whether they reach 50K or not, well done. And a great big Thank You.  

And now it's snowing. Heavy. Fast. And laying. Deep. It's warm inside and it's beautiful out. The school will probably be closed tomorrow and I doubt the supply wagon for the Co-op won't dare attempt the drive along the country lanes. We've been for milk, there was no bread, and we have wine. And beer. And a few other bottles of comfort. I don't think I'll risk dancing in the snow but Strictly is on television shortly so that will do.

And if your writing, NaNo or otherwise, good luck!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Paul McKenna, Kidney Stones & A Bit About Writing

Kidneys. A bit of a strange topic you might think.

Three facts that you might not know about me and kidneys.

It is the one of the very few things I cannot stand to eat. I cannot bear the texture, the smell whilst they are cooking, the taste in the mouth. Yuk. Yak. Urgh.

I successfully broke my addiction to chocolate through kidney therapy. Sounds dreadful but read on.
I was an addict. Complete and utter addict. We are taking at least three chocolate bars a day on light day - but generally, five, six or more - sometimes a lot more - every day. Terrible. I hang my head in shame. I needed to break the hold it had on me. What may be surprising is that I cannot bear hot chocolate, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, chocolate ice-cream - it had to be chocolate. Not dark. Not white. But milk chocolate. Galaxy was the best and I adored the luscious fancy chocolates that came from Fortnums and Mason in Piccadilly. When I worked near there, I'd pop in and buy three hand made chocolates for £1.50.

Something had to give and I didn't want it to be my waistline again. A newspaper ran a full week of self-help advice from Paul McKenna. I followed his advice to break an addiction. He used chocolate for an example. The idea was to think of the worst thing to eat. Easy. Kidneys. Then imagine it covered in chocolate. Then close your eyes and do all sorts of finger and thumb rubbing (I can't remember the sequence or script) all the while thinking of kidneys coated in choclate - how it would taste, smell, feel - urrrrrrgh. I felt sick. Remember that feeling. You had to repeat it three times. Maybe it was seven. I don't remember.

I wasn't convinced. Pah. In two days, I'll be back scoffing chocolate, letting it melt in my mouth. I didn't think of it - kidneys or Paul McKenna - for the rest of the day. That night, I realised I hadn't eaten any chocolate. I felt smug. Ha. Done it. I still thought tomorrow might be different. I really did think I'd be back on it.

That was seven/eight years ago. Once in a while, I fancy a little chocolate. I might buy a bar of galaxy. I might eat a twix, or a caramel bar. MMMmmmm. It never tastes of kidneys. It never smells or feels like kidneys. But it satisfies me for another few weeks and I don't think of it again. I might not look like I don't eat chocolate, but I'm happy in the knowledge I've broken the addiction. If only it would work for crisps and alcohol ...

So back to kidneys. On Monday night I lay in bed, thinking up #Poorverbs for twitter, posting them up and laughing with the night-owls making up more and more bizarre variations of proverbs.

if you love someone, set them free, unchain them from the attic, put the knife down ...

if you can tell a book by it's cover why does anyone write them?

Okay - you get it - I'll stop now.

I was chuckling away at the daft things people were posting when I a niggle started in my right hip. It quickly spread down into the groin. I knew that pain. I really hoped it wasn't. A couple of hours later, when it hadn't abated, I knew it was. A damn kidney stone.

I had one ten years ago. Then it had lasted most of the day, with the final hours spent in acute pain until it passed. Not good.
At 8am in the morning I called the doctor who came straight around. Two injections into my rump made me promptly vomit. I spent the day in bed writhing in agony. The doc came back - another two injections which immediately induced more vomiting. I was under threat to be sent to hospital. It's an hour away. I didn't want that.


The next day, the doctor called again. I'd given up and resorted to paracetamol that didn't even take the edge off. I tried to write to take my mind of the pain. I dabbled in twitter and received lots of friendly suppport. Someone said their kidney stone had lasted three days  : (

Yesterday, I went back to the doctor. He gave me a cocktail of pills - antibiotics, anti-spasm drugs, and said as a last resort I could take ibuprofen with paracetamol. I needed to rid myself of the high temperature and drink lots of fluids to flush it out. But because of my stomach problems I shouldn't really take the -ofen drugs. But by heck - they work!

If I keep on top of the tablets and not let them wear off, the pain is bearable. I'm still waiting for it to pass. I have an 'urgent' referral to outpatients which I hope comes soon. The doctor thinks the stone is going up and down the ureter. Don't want to think about that. I don't want to go into hospital either so I'll keep taking the tablets.

And write.

The good thing about this damn kidney stone is that, when I could write, I've managed to knock out 5800 words of my novel. My total word count is now 25k. Might not sound a lot but I feel I'm getting there.

So - it's been a week of pros and cons. I haven't danced at all but I've been keeping watch on Strictly at 6.30pm every night. I haven't done much in the way of housework (no change there) but I've added a lot of wordage. And I did have a little bit of popping chocolate orange last night - one that I'd put away for Christmas - but I ended up giving most of it to my daughters.

So - kidneys - one of the worst things you can possibly eat, they are useful to break an addiction to chocolate, and the pain from a kidney stone is worse than childbirth and with nothing at the end of it. Except, relief.

I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Or maybe, I would.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Writing, Writing, and er - Writing

Today is all about writing so if you've come here looking for chat on Ehlers-Danlos, Footprints Nursery or anything else I ramble on about, they will feature another day.

On Saturday I completed another 12 hour writing marathon along with fellow writers from The Write Idea (link on this page). There were less of us this year but the enthusiasm was strong and thanks to some fantastic prompts by some great authors, the inspiration and words flowed. (Though I did have a short break for Strictly - you know how I love dancing!)

With continued support from my facebook and twitter friends I managed to write 30 individual pieces with a word count of 10.5k. Stef Hall once again thrashed me with her 198923457809 words or so it seemed. She's a writing whizz and as Jon Pinnock called her on twitter 'bonkers!' But she is a great writer.

I wrote about many things, including a man with a temporomandibular joint problem, a girl with her third finger missing, twenty eight pairs of white socks, poisoned pigeons and a little bit of fan fiction about a detective called Rebus. You may have heard of him.

I will try to figure out how to post some of the shorter stories here if anyone would like to read them.

So far, I have raised £190 for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome with promises of more to come.  

Thank you everyone. 

Did I mention Ian Rankin provided lots of quirky prompts and donated £20 to the fund? He's my favourite!

Then on Sunday morning, having been woken at 8am by my darling youngest daughter phoning from a sleepover, I discovered I had won 3rd place in Sentinel Literary Quarterly - publication and £40!

The judge had nice things to say about my story too.
http://www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/slq/4-1-oct2010/competitions/ivor-hartmann.html

And that brings me to NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, starting today, 1st November, with the aim of writing 50k of a novel by the end of the month. Writers from all over the world take part and some even have their novels published. I've always been far too busy to commit to 50k in one month but today I have made a start.

I've posted up 2.5k. The first day is easy. It's like a sugar rush. Ask me around the 15th how I'm doing.

I don't have a particular plan for writing - just as much as I can when I can. Life has a habit of taking over in this house and I can't commit to a certain amount of words on a given day. I might write nothing for a week, especially if it's a working-away-at-the-nursery week. Of which I have one a month. Another day I might churn out five thousand words.

Do I have an Idea? I have two.

Will I complete one? Maybe.

Am I mad? Very probably.

Why do I do this? Because even when I have an inbox and postbox full of rejections, I love to write. I've tried not. It doesn't work. I always creep back and tip-tap on the keyboard again. There's always something I have to say. Maybe I should shut up. It gets me into an awful lot of trouble sometimes. But wouldn't life be boring?

So that's why I like writing marathons, competitions, challenges. It helps to focus what I want to write. That's the theory. For now, anyway. Until I change my mind.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Writing Marathon and Pantomimes

Around about this time of year, for the last five years, I have taken part in a 12 hour writing marathon with an international online group of writers, all in aid of charity.

This year it will take place on Saturday, 30th October. We will start at 2pm GMT to allow for time zones around the world. With people joining in from UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, all over Europe and far and wide, it's difficult to find a 'right' time to suit all but we try.

We have previously raised funds for Children in Need, Alzheimers research, Jeans for Genes, Volunteer Reading Help, and a Cancer charity. It's difficult to collectively raise money around the world for a single cause so this year we are choosing our own special group. I have selected the Ehlers-Danlos Support Group. I guess you know why ; )

Writing marathons are great fun but hard work, especially around eight hours in  - the mind is flagging, the fingers are weak and the urge to collapse is strong. A tot or two usually helps at this stage. Last year I managed to write 33 pieces of poetry/short stories. I hope to improve on that this year - but with a break-off for food and Strictly and having to listen whilst the kids watch Xfactor, I might be struggling!

This year though, to help us through, I have added a special, exciting twist - I have collected prompts for inspiration/ideas from some great writers - Ian Rankin, Katie Fforde, Nicola Morgan, Colette Caddle, Jan Jones, Leigh Russell, Jane Smith, Gillian Philip, Sally Quilford, Nik Perring, Jon Pinnock - and more if I can get them. How inspiring is that? To write to a prompt from a great?

If you fancy joining in - all you have to do is sign up for free membership to the Write Idea forum

http://www.helenwhittaker.net/phpBB2/index.php

and create a just giving page (like mine above) for your chosen charity. It doesn't matter if you can only contribute an hour, three hours, ten hours or less - every little helps. The idea is to write poems/short stories (up to 500 words)/non-fiction - in fact, anything you want. You can start a novel if you wish! It's also a great way to write - it produces some fabulous ideas and work that has gone on to greater things. I've used writathon pieces as background for much longer stories that have gone on to be published.

If you aren't a writer, please consider encouraging me on the day with messages of support and perhaps a donation. I promise to write something just for you!

And whilst I build myself up for Saturday, I really must make some moves on the pantomime I hope to pen for my nursery - The Christmas Footprint - think Cinderella meets the three bears and Father Christmas and the three wise men - or something like that - after I've tackled Mount Vesuvius that is my ironing.

Have a great autumn week everyone.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Matter of Degrees

It's all relative and a matter of degrees. That's today's philosophy anyway.

Yesterday I sat my final exam for my final course for a BA/BSc hons with the Open University.

I started studying with them in 2002 when I was in the police force. I fancied social policy/children's studies as I worked in Child Protection but when I left that field, I decided to change to creative writing. This allowed me to work towards an Open degree so I have ended up with modules comprising of social sciences, counselling, creative writing (fiction/plays/poety) and working with children and families - a mixed bag of courses but all relevent and worthwhile to me.

I'd always wanted to study for a degree. I was brought up believing I had the skill and ability to do so. I'd wanted to be teacher and hoped to be the first in our family to go to university. When I was seventeen my parents moved to East Anglia which meant I had to either leave school and go with them and get a job or leave school and stay in Hartlepool and get a job. I couldn't continue with my A levels as all schools/sixth form in Norwich did different syllabses and if I stayed in the North, I couldn't fund myself to stay at school. So I stayed, found a job and moved into a seafront flat over on the Headland of Hartlepool. It wasn't a good time.

I turned my life around and moved to London in 1985 to join the Metropolitan Police. But I still didn't have that degree.

My clever little sister went off to uni and I was so proud when she earned her degree in psychology (with maths/statistics as components - told you she was clever!).

At thirty six, with three children 6,5, and 3, working full time in a demanding job and a husband who worked shifts, I started my first OU course. I knew it would be tough. I knew I would falter at times and wish I'd never bothered. I knew that when I'd finished, it would all be worth it.

Yesterday, 11th October 2010, I sat my final exam on my final course to complete my degree.

They've already offered me a choice of either a BA or BSc and said I can accept it now but given my grade of pass after the results on 17th December. I think I might wait - wouldn't want to attempt fate. Besides, I'm still trying to work which is better - BA or BSc. But you know what? It doesn't really matter. I've now got that damn elusive degree.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

To write or not to write – that is the question

For a few weeks now I’ve had an intruder bouncing around in my head. Like an unwelcome visitor, it wouldn’t leave. 

So today, I’ve decided to firmly push it out of the door. 

I’m fortunate that after twenty five years in the workplace, I can now work from home. Sometimes I have to work away from home, in bursts of three, four, five days, sometimes but not often, a week or more. Call it a perk of being the boss. Call it foolish, running a business from three hundred miles away. Call it what you will, but it works for me, the family and so far, the business and everyone connected with it.  

Like most people who want, who need to, write, I go through phases of self-doubt. It's recurring and I'm sure many people who write will agree. Is it worth it? Where will it lead? Am I wasting my time? Nothing new in that. I read an author’s comment recently and she said that people should realise writing is mainly a hobby and should stay a hobby. To try to make it more is wrong and foolish. So how do you know if you should just keep it as a hobby? How do you know if have anything worth publishing? How do you know if it’s worth continuing with that novel? Should I just do it as a hobby? Is that all I’m really doing?

I look at people who have made it. I listen to radio programmes. I read articles. I read autobiographical pieces on them. Many have a background somewhere in publishing/journalism or have family who have been in the business or they have parents who are successful writers. They have connections, knowledge of where to send things, the right people to approach, an insight into how it works. To say they haven’t had the influence, as they often do, is wrong. They might not have had a leg up and they might have done it all anonymously, but just like my ‘condition’ – it’s in the genes. It’s inherent. That’s a great advantage whether they admit it or not. What about the rest of us? What hope for a working class girl who had to leave school at 17 unable to finish A levels due to family circumstances? I’m not that clever, I haven’t a PHD, I don’t come from a literary home; I’m nothing special at all. 

Then there is my lack of self-confidence and self-belief. A strict father. An abusive boyfriend. A punishing career. Does nothing for the self-esteem. Or does it? Worthy of a thesis, that debate. 

I have a supportive husband and family but like all families, tensions arise from time to time. The husband and kids complain that I have my head stuck into a computer every time they want me, that I’ve always got a work-in-progress on the go, that I turn everything into a plot and I use them with ease in a story. Sometimes they are resentful but I remind them of the times when I worked shifts, had a heavy caseload and the kids had to go to breakfast club, after-school and holiday club. Not no more. 

Family spats I can deal with but when it comes on top of other stresses, like it did a few weeks ago, I stop. Pause. Think. 

I went away to work for a few days and tried to discuss it with a good friend. I had an idea of changing my life, leaving the business to run without me by giving others more responsibility. I’d go and get a job. A proper job. In the real world.

She said, yes, I should. It’s no good sitting at the computer all day, not getting dressed, not meeting people, being stuck inside on my own, surrounded by a cluttered, dusty house. It would be good for my soul. She said. It would improve me. She said. 

I protested a little and said, ‘But I want to write.’

She raised her eyes and gave me a sympathetic smile. ‘But you’ve been doing that for two years now. Time to get real. Writing doesn’t pay the bills. It’s pie in the sky.’ I knew she thought it was my little fantasy. I wasn’t a writer, just a wannabe. A wannabe amongst thousands of other wannabes.

Hmm. 

So I applied for a job. It was a well-paid position and I fulfilled all the desirable and essential criteria. It meant working up and down and around Scotland, lots of travel, lots of responsibility. My friend was eager for me to apply. ‘It’ll be good for you, get you out of the house, improve your self-image, getting dressed up everyday.’

I was shortlisted.  

I had an interview. 

I didn’t get the job. 

The feedback was good, they liked me, but the person they had selected had a bit more experience in a particular area. 

I cried. With relief. 

I hadn’t wanted the job. I’d bowed to pressure and felt that I should. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing what other people thought I should. 

When we moved to Scotland in 2008, it was with the idea that I remain involved in our business, travel back from time to time, finish off my degree and write. We’ve been here two years now. I travel back from time to time to do my business stuff. I work from home doing various emails, letters, memos rotas, applications, etc. In the past two years I have completed five Open University courses.  In October I sit my final exam and I will have my degree, BA(hons). 

This year, 2010, I decided to concentrate more on my writing and since January I have sixteen new pieces published. I have won five competitions, and been placed or shortlisted in more. I have been interviewed for Twisted Tongue magazine about my writing and it will soon be published. I have joined twitter and have access to many readers, writers, bona-fide authors, publishers, agents – all people I would never have contact with or access to in everyday life. I converse with many people daily from my little study/office/music room. I am raising my profile. I am writing. I love it. This is what I came here to do. Hobby or not.

So that worm that wheedled its way into my head, gnawing at me to give it all up, has this morning been fed to the birds.

Until the next time... 

Friday, 24 September 2010

Waiting and Anticipation

I have spent today trying to write.

I should have been at my nursery. I really should. I perhaps should have gone on Tuesday but Mr Effie got a call to work this week at the crematorium. It's his relief job and this week, they wanted him. Of course, he had to go. Which means I have to be home. It was a sort of relief. I'd come back from the nursery last Wednesday and was still recovering. Even though I love it, it's full on from 7.30am - bedtime.


I spent yesterday in Perth - at the hospital, shopping, spending time with my son. I was much needed time with him. I hadn't realised. It's easy to miss the signs when they are teenagers. We had a good day. Shopping for clothes for his forthcoming french exchange trip, food shopping, lunch together and just spending time talking or not. Thank you Matthew.

Then yesterday I found out I'd come home with the super secure safe key containing all the money for the nursery work and builder. Hmm. Did I get on the next train South (North) or entrust it to the mail service special delivery?

I sent it special delivery. Coward. Perk of the boss. Whatever. I was worried. Especially when the phone rang at 7.30am this morning. I was up anyway but the last time the phone rang at that time it was bad news. Very bad news.

The nusery fingerprint security system had failed. Nobody could gain entry.

I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say - it all got sorted. Thankfully. Including the tap that a two year old pulled off creating a jetting spout, the fingerprint system, the other mundane problems with having a business miles and miles away. And yes - the key arrived safely, even if the person who housed the safe wasn't in - but that's another story.

So today I ended up writing two stories and half a story. Amazon delivered my long awaited collection of stories by Nik Perring and two books by Caroline Smailes. Oh how I love these writers. I'm halfway through Nik's book and had to put it down. I want to savour it. Delight in each story. If I read it all tonight, the pleasure won't linger. And when I've finished his - I've Caroline's books to enjoy. I have a feeling, if Like Bees to Honey is anything to judge, that I will be enriched by these two books - Black Boxes/ In Search of Adam. I'm looking forward to reading them with anticipation. Anyway, I digress, one of the stories I wrote was for my husband - all about waiting and anticipation and life and bygone years. Maybe, if I show him, he might like it. Perhaps.

One of the other stories was for the Slingink Scribbling Slam round two. If you want to read it, you'll have to wait. In anticipation, I hope. Can't give anything away until it's been judged. The other part written story will live another day, I'm sure.

Tomorrow I'm going to Inverness to meet a writing friend from my creative writing Open University course - she's not on twitter. Perhaps I can convert her? I look forward to the challenge. Anticipation. I'm sure she'll love it once she starts.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Variable Fifth


What do you know about me? Really know? Anything? Much? Little?

I’m a mother, a wife, a businesswoman who owns a children’s nursery, a wannabe writer and an ex-cop. In a nutshell. 

I’m plenty of more things too. I recently had a discussion at my nursery when we were holding interviews. One of the questions we were asking - describe yourself in five words.  We had fun, the staff and I, thinking about all the things we could say. I also posed the question on twitter. My favourite response was from Oscar Windsor – A man of his words – it says a lot about him as a man and also as a writer. I like it. I may even use it myself. Substituting man for woman, of course. 

I thought of five words I would say about me and guess they would fluctuate on any given day. Some are constants though. Everyone I ask came up with the first four, just as I did.  

Integrity –  because yes, I have a lot of that

Committed – maybe I should be!

Passionate –  I throw myself into everything with gusto and a belief 

Sensitive – I cry with the best and the worst of them and take things far too much to heart

 A variable fifth -  funny/sad/loud/large/humorous/chatty/reserved etc


One of the things about me that I haven’t mentioned so far is a person with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. What exactly does that mean? What do you know about it? What do you know about me, with it?
All three of my children have it. My sister has it. My brother has it. His two daughters have it. It’s a genetic condition which means that either my mother or father passed it down to us. It can be caused by an individual quirk of chromosomes/ genes but for all three siblings to have it, it had to have been carried down the line.
My mother is dead but never showed any signs. My father refuses to acknowledge it. Despite the fact that many of our paternal relatives, living and deceased have signs and symptoms, I have given up trying to inform them. It’s up to them. I can’t diagnose people. I can’t make people believe what they don’t wish to. I can’t live their life for them. 

The thing about EDS is that it’s one of those invisible conditions that doesn’t always show. Yes, you know when I’m wearing a splint, using my crutches, wrapped up in bandages, but I wear a smile that masks the pain. Sometimes.  I’ve spent some time with the nurse from the pain clinic. It was a bad day for me, pain-wise. I don’t show you this. I might moan from time to time, I might even complain but generally, you don’t want to hear it. Who would? Sometimes the pain is evident on my face. If you know me well, I might let off steam to you.  With others, I don’t. 

I’m sorry if you’ve heard me moan. I’m sorry if you’re sick of it. I know it sounds like there’s always something wrong – in reality, there is. If you’ve been hearing about it, it’s because it was either a bad time or you were someone I could say these things to. It’s something I have to learn to manage. All I ask of anybody/everybody – look at me and don’t judge. Isn’t that what we all want? I am many things. And just like us all, I’m made up of the sum of my many parts. 

Remember, if you’re feeling a bit rough one day, a bit fluey, a bit under the weather, that’s normal for me. Every day. And it fluctuates in severity and where it strikes. Oh – and that foot dislocation? That knee displacement? That snapped hamstring? That large intestine that’s three times the length it should be? That dislocating jaw that juts out as it’s been put together wrong? That tia/mini-stroke? All those things and many more that I complain about? They are all common in EDS. 

But the biggest thing to remember – I don’t have this because I’m in my 40’s. I don’t have this because I’m overweight. If I was eight stone or eighteen stone, I’d still have it and it would be the same – a variable condition that causes a lot of pain and fatigue and stress and symptoms. I don’t have EDS for any other reason but that it is something I was born with and the older I become, the worse it might get. It’s in the genes.

It could all be a lot worse. I think, my family and I, we are the lucky ones. There are many more worse off than us. So please forgive me if I have the occasional weep.  Don’t feel sorry for me, don’t tell me to pull myself together and please don’t give me sympathy. Just help me to pick myself up, smile and dance with me, if not physically, then emotionally. 

This is my life. That’s all.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Sunday - not a day of rest

Today I am home alone in my sister's house. I have been back in Hartlepool since last Tuesday and will be here until Wednesday. This is the first bit of down time I've had so I thought I'd fill you in on the events of the week.

On Tuesday, I set off for my trip south - a tree lay on the track and the inter-city train couldn't get through. I ended up having to hire a car. The rain lashed down until I passed Newcastle but I arrived safely, if tired and frazzled.

It's been a hectic few days. We've been doing interviews for room-leader positions in the nursery. We had a postive meeting with the accountant and we've been sorting out the kitchen for the refurb that started yesterday. It isn't chaos, it's organised but it is demanding and so far, very hard work.

We went to bingo on Thursday night, me, my sister, my bezzie mate Tracey and another friend. I won! First game, one line. Hurrah! So did five others. I was handed an envelope - £4.17 - which I then split four ways - £1.04 - I left the penny to charity. That's just my sort of luck ;-)

Friday night and I took my sister and two of my oldest friends out to dinner. Old by virtue of the length of time I've known them, not their age. It was 1976 when we first met and have remained friends ever since. It was a great night.

My sister and I attended our OU tutorial yesterday in Durham. I wasn't able to make the one in Edinburgh but my sister's tutor is one I had six years ago so I was happy to tag along. I'm glad I did - lots of useful tips for the exam in October. Gulp.

Last night I watched one of my favourtie programmes - Strictly Come Dancing. Oh how I love the show. Oh how I love the dancing! It inspires me every year. I love it. All of it. The nights drawing in, the rush on a Saturday to settle down ready for the first dance, the build up to Christmas, the development of the dancers, the frocks, the sparkle and sequins, the routines, the laughs, the judges ... oh how I love it! Next year, I think they should have an author - there's plenty of well-known ones that could fit the bill. I can nominate a few. I also think Miranda Hart should be there - she's one of their greatest fans.

Today I am hoping to do my final assignment whilst I have the peace, the quiet and an empty house. Wish me luck!


On the writing front, before I left for work last week, I received my copies of 'Anti-Clockwise', the Slingink Anthology with my 2nd place story, Groundsman. It also contains a few others pieces of mine. I have a spare copy, so if you'd like it, please answer this question -

Which famous author lives near me in Scotland?

Clue : - it was her house that inspired my story 'Groundsman'.

Please post your answer on the comment thread. It's easy to create an account if you don't already have one.

That'll see how many people read my blog ;-)

The prompts for Slingink Slam are out and I couldn't download the pdf but I now have the word doc. I haven't had any time to think about it, never mind write anything. I'm just glad that I have until 23rd to submit something. I'm quite nervous about the sort of thing Nik Perring, the judge, likes. I don't know that I have the confidence now the competition has started. I know I'll do it. I always do. But it's still nerve-wracking.

Anyway, I've rambled on far too long and if you've got this far, well done. I'm off to start work on that pressing assignment. Wish me luck!

Monday, 6 September 2010

6th September - day before I go away

So today dawned - no sleep, terrible pains in knee and leg - finally managed a couple of hours of strained sleep at 8am. Brace/crutches sort of day.


No writing but trying to encourage some writers to join in with the Scribbling Slam on Slingink starting 10th September for 12 wks - submit a story every 2 wks for 6wks. It's great fun and a marvellous way of building up the short stories. Also trying to find some more people for the writing marathon on 30th October. I'm still thinking which charity to write for so please send any suggestions.

I'm off tomorrow to do my proper job of working at Footprints Day Nursery. It's going to be hard to be away from home so long. I wonder how other mothers cope when they work away from home. I did a six week residential course back in 2004 when I was in the police force. The kids were so much younger, in bed earlier, the mother in law came over and I was home on the weekends but this seems very different.

I'll be away until around 17th September (thereabouts, depending) as we are having a lot of refurb work done. (At nursery, not at home, alas.) The kitchen will be totally ripped out. The new plans look fantastic. It'll mean a lot of hard work for everyone, not just the builders, but the staff, the children, the parents ... everyone. We're also having two store rooms converted into sensory rooms and the corrider will have a new suspended ceiling with storage above. It promises to be superb. And I'm sure Mr Cole (Cole Construction) will do us proud once more.

So - it will be a busy time for me. I have a staff meeting tomorrow night, and during the week, meetings with the accountant, bank manager, interviews to hold for the Room Leader posts, a night out with the staff, an OU tutorial and a mountain of work to do - and an essay!

I guess there won't be much time for writing, blogging, twitter, or dancing, (esp as my knee is in such a poor state right now) but at least it's all promising. There's so much to look forward to!

Be good and I'll post back when I can. Missing you already.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sunday - catch-up

Didn't blog yesterday - didn't seem to be the sort of day for it, if you know what I mean.

Friday's dinner party went well - very well! The couple duly arrived at 7.30pm - Danish (not dutch!). He's an associate professor in Philosophy, Ethics and Psychology and she's a student. Lovely people and just the sort of conversation Mr Effie likes. Daughter the elder, being the only child at home that evening, joined in and really enjoyed the adult company. Big Al from the Black Watch invited himself too, so dinner spread from 4 to 6 - good job the resident chef always cooks too much!

By 1am I really had to depart - my knee was aching, my belly full, my saturation level satiated and the cross conversation was making my head hurt. It didn't help that all but I smoked (and daughter of course, but she'd gone up around midnight).

Saturday was spent trying to fight off a hangover - unlike the others who had to give in to theirs, having finished drinking at 4am. I've spent the day studying and trying to keep my knee steady. The brace helped but oh, the pain! It was a bit of a non-day - low and unenthusiastic so I ended it by watching a rom-com with both daughters. Patrick Dempsey - need I say more? ;-)


Today dawned cheerier. Might be something to do with a beautiful dream I had - and it's stuck with me. Perhaps, if I close my eyes, I might dream the dream again ... can't possibly tell you what it was though, it will never come true if I do!

I've spent a few hours cramming the last of the reading before tackling my final assignment. Then this afternoon an email plopped into my inbox -

I've WON the Cooldog Short Story competition with a tragic little number called Haemorrhage. £100 plus publication in their e-Mag.

This was a story that started life as a flash in last years writing marathon. Then I made it into a long story for the Whittaker comp, round 2. It wasn't placed in the Bristol short story comp, nor Writer's Village, but obviously it was right for Cooldog!

As my knee is still unstable, I'm not physically dancing but there's a lot of it going on in my head - have a great Sunday! 

Friday, 3 September 2010

Consolidation day

Time to assess and plan ahead for the writing tasks I have lined up.

The Slingink Slam writing competition starts on 10th September - 2 weeks to write a story and submit it, and with 6 rounds, that's 6 stories to be banked for later subbing. Judged by the great Nik Perring, it promises to be a knock-out contest, esp with writers like Jon Pinnock and Stef Hall taking part - never mind the other usual suspects who are a force to be reckoned with. You know who you are! There's places and seats to be filled if anyone fancies joining in.

OU assignment (TMA 06 - last one ever!)  to be sent off by 17th September.    

An online creative writing course re my shortlisting win by Stephanella Law on Creative Identity starts some time soon.

OU exam 11th October.

Writing Marathon 30th October 2pm - 2am (GMT) with The Write Idea.
Any other competition entries/subs I wish to make otherwise - and I'm sure there will be a few.

Hmm. And this is all without including the day job.


Re THE WRITATHON - the idea is to write as many items as you can – flash fiction, short stories, poems, scripts – anything to do with writing. You can partake for the full 12hrs or dip in and out when you can, so no worry about the full 12 - one or two will do! I'm a sucker though - I always do the 12.

We have many writers world-wide taking part in this writing initiative and in the past we have raised money for Alzheimer’s research, Children in Need, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Cancer care charity, Volunteer Reading Help – this year you decide your own charity.

It will work like always – prompts posted throughout the duration and threads for each writer but this year we have decided that instead of targeting one charity, each writer will responsible for creating their own charity/just giving page for a charity of their choice. This way, there is no conflict for international/not-at-home charity fundraisers and people can select a worthy cause close to their own heart/feelings/wishes.
All donations to be notified on the individual’s page (either through the page or through the writer notifying the amount collected away from the internet.) 

We haven’t had an anthology recently for writing created during the writathon but this is something we can consider if there is enough interest. 

So - anyone fancy joining me?


We've some Dutch people coming for dinner this evening. They seem like a nice young couple. Mr Effie met them in the pub and invited them round. He's been cooking all day - he's a marvellous cook, if you didn't know. Why do you think I'm this size? And what can I say? I invite strangers from twitter! All in the cause of an interesting life, if nothing else. Can't complain about being bored.


It's been painful week - making up for all the gadding about I did last week. It catches up - I'm learning.
Jaw feels much better, but I have rearranged the appointment for the dentist. The cold is still a cold. Now the knee is out - painfully - so it's a brace day today. Not much chance of dancing.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Study Day

Not much to report today. Man-flu downgraded to cold.


Just as I was closing down my computer last night, an email clicked into my inbox. My OU assignment was ready for collection. It had been marked and now returned. The fifth of six. If anyone follows me on twitter or is a friend on facebook  - they will know this. 

89%. I nearly fainted! For a third year uni academic course I feel I deserve a pat on the back. So I did a little jig. Not a full on dance, as I was trying to keep my balance and stop myself from fainting. The question?
Critically analyse some of the key factors influencing change within children’s services. What are the implications of these changes for practitioners and the way in which they work with children and their families?
 Anyone wanna give me a job?

So today I've done some more studying as I have the last assignment to submit by 17th September. As I'll be away working hard at my nursery 7th-18th Sept, I need to have it written and sent before I leave. 

House-husband has stolen The Complaints back as he was reading it first. Hope he hurries up. I want to see how it pans out and write a review. 

A friend from Facebook who I met a few years ago, back when we both lived a different life, today posted that she was late in collecting her sons from school. Here's a (true) story that I hope will cheer her up ... 

(first published in Write On, 2008  based on real life events 2001) 

 
In Loco-Parentis

                                                                                                                                                   
It was with something of a swagger that the better half and I went into town. Our young boy had just started his first day at school. His big sister was already there and his little one had been  deposited at nursery. It felt good.

The first week is quite traumatic for new starters, so they  say, and the school ask parents to collect the children at lunch time, to take them home for a snack and bring them back again for the afternoon session. Experience told me that it would be difficult to return them back to school for the afternoon once they'd been home. Oh well, the school is the boss and teachers are almighty. They know best.

            Having taken the week off work to complete my motherly duties, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some kid-free time with my husband. He had to go to work for a late shift, but we still had a couple of rare hours to be together. We did a bit of shopping and even held hands in style of lovers.

            Glancing across to one of the many travel agents in our town, I saw a bargain advertised in the window. The fluorescent orange star glared at me, a holiday in Costa Blanca - two weeks for a family of five. It must be fate, I thought, as ‘bargains’ are often just for four. It was the home of my mother-in-law and the accommodation was a new plush hotel with fancy flamingos painted on the walls. The perfect thing!  I nudged my counterpart and he agreed to come inside and have a look. 

            In less than a minute we were seated across a table facing a well made up local girl with a vast knowledge of prices and locations. She tap-tapped on the computer keyboard and brought up the details. I hugged myself in delight, fantasising about an autumn holiday. We would be away for our eldest daughters’ birthday and mine too. It couldn’t be better with a marvellous price and good timing, right over the school half term holidays. What a deal! We paid the money, on the credit card of course, and smiled at each other, proud of our purchase.  We left the shop, linking arms.

            Strolling along happy and content, I looked at my watch. “It’s only twelve thirty, plenty of time before you’ve got to go to work.”

            ‘Great, shall we see if can get some cheap sun lotion for the kids? They’ll have to be covered, even in October.’

            ‘Yeah. Oh, I can’t wait. In less than six weeks ...’ I dreamt on.

            Smug, we wandered arm in arm around the shopping centre, oblivious to worries and woes from home. I didn’t just feel good, I felt fantastic.

            Then it hit me, like an instant thunderbolt crashing down on my uncovered head. The fastest time-travel thought from a sunny Spanish beach spiralled back into the UK. I jolted, pulling my husband back as he walked on, oblivious.

            I screamed. I panicked.  ‘Look at the time! We’ve forgotten him!’

            ‘NO! Flippen’ eck!’ he cursed, only not so polite.

            Neither of us had run so fast or so hard in our life. Batman and Robin had nothing on us. Stares from the other shoppers didn’t register. They probably thought my husband was a mugger, or we were thieves. I didn’t know, I didn’t care.

            The school was three and a half miles from town, and I don’t encourage speeding, but at sixty miles an hour I was telling him to go faster.

            ‘Poor kid, fancy forgetting him.’  I was frantic, wringing my hands, leaning forward in my seat, urging us forth.

            He concentrated on his driving, silent, grim faced and staring hard.
           
            I willed everything from our path. ‘They’ll think I’m a bad mother!’ I bemoaned. ‘What will they say? Please, hurry up. Go faster.’ I pedalled like Wilma from the Flintstones.  I hadn’t thought to take a mobile with us. We were only going to be an hour. I imagined his little face, streaked with tears, distraught, left by his Mummy and Daddy.

            We screeched to a jerky stop outside the school gates where cars are not allowed to stop. I flew out, not bothering to slam the door behind me.

            The look on his face when we collected him at twelve forty-five – well. I hang my head. And he only had fifteen minutes left of his lunch break. I can’t forgive myself. Dejected and forgotten, I matched him with a look of pure guilt.  Dad had stayed in the car of course. The teacher? Well, let’s just say they still remind me of my days at school. I’m surprised I never received a detention.

            ‘It’s ok Mummy. They gave me a biscuit.’  He forgave us.

            If only I could forgive myself. I was there at eleven thirty for the rest of the week. 





Wednesday, 1 September 2010

First Day of September

I like September. I like all the autumn months. My favourite time of year. I wasn't so keen on today, when the mists hung low enough to obliterate the mountains at the back of our house but I could forgive the damp and the drizzle. I like September.

Last night I was amazed at the power of Twitter. A fellow eds-er in USA told the world she was going to the dentist. I commiserated, told her about my day. Within in a very short time, I had contact from this lady's dentist (who is also on twitter), a photograph of a mouth support/splint and a concoction for pain-relief whilst in the chair. If you didn't know, many people with EDS and other connective tissue disorders are resistant to local anaesthetics and often react poorly to generals too. This is becoming more recognised and a study is currently taking place at Addenbrokes hospital. I eagerly await the results.

This morning, I spoke to my dentist. He wasn't so keen on the dental block as he said it's one size and can't be adapted for each patient's requirement. Hmm. I see that. As for the pain relief, he said he tried that last time. Hmm. It didn't work either.

Nevertheless, I still find the power of Twitter to be amazing.

On the writing front, I haven't much to report. Husband read my latest story - based on truths - disappointed that he'd been relegated to a third-lackey walk-on bit part. I told him that what he did say was poignant, significant and less was often more. Not sure he was convinced.
 
It hasn't been a productive day. I must have man-flu. I've not felt as bad as this for a very long time. And the jaw still aches, and the feet, and every other muscle, tendon, joint. As I say, it must be man-flu, for isn't that the worst thing possible?

I haven't danced, but it doesn't really matter. Today is the first day of September.