Lily goes to Rainbow Bridge

It’s been just four weeks since I had to make the dreadful decision to have Lily put to sleep.

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It’s always hard saying goodbye to your pets; they are very much-loved members of the family, after all. However, we all know that there comes a time when they look up at you in such a way and there’s a pleading expression in their eyes. That was exactly what happened and the second I spotted it, I just knew that she was suffering and I couldn’t allow it to happen any longer.
She was a very brave little girl, right up to the very end. I made the decision to have the vet come out to my home and perform the procedure. It meant less stress for her by not having to transport her to a surgery. She was sat on the duvet in my spare room and I stroked her and told her I loved her. As I held her in my arms, she slipped away peacefully, taking an enormous part of my heart with her.

Going ‘over the Rainbow Bridge‘ might be a phrase you’ve heard with regards to the death of a pet. It is believed by many that our pets wait for us at the foot of the bridge until our time comes, and then weLily2 cross the bridge together to go to heaven. The idea comes from Norse legend in which the bridge, known as Bifrost, connects earth with the home of the gods, Asgard. A beautiful interpretation of the ideology can be read here.

It’s an idea which brings great comfort at a time of sorrow for grieving owners. I know many of you will have felt this heartbreak at one time or another too, so my heart goes out to you for your loss.

The vet arranged for a private cremation, so I could keep a small casket with her ashes. It sits in my writing room, on the shelf where she used to sit when she watched me write. I think she would like that. It’s a warm place and she always liked to be near me.

So, this is a very empty and soulless house now, and it’s really hard not having her arrive at the door to greet me when I come home from work. However, this is only a temporary measure, for a have a couple of kittens coming to me after Christmas. I always swore I’d never be without a cat in my life, so it made sense to start looking, and the local rescue centre had a number of kittens arrive a few weeks ago. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for photos and news after they have arrived home.

Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones, I wish you a peaceful a prosperous New Year for 2016.

Liz

xxx

 

To Kill A Mockingbird – Is it still relevant today?

I was absolutely thrilled when someone suggested we read this for my local bookclub last month.

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Having just read the sequel a few months ago, I was very much looking forward to getting into this one again. I say ‘again’ – we actually read this at school, and I remembered that I had really enjoyed it.

I have re-read a number of books from childhood recently. Regular readers may remember my post about the Lord of the Flies and how being an adult can change our perspective on a story. I did wonder if a second reading of Harper Lee’s classic tale would have a similar effect.

There were lots of things about the story which I had completely forgotten. The touching sub-plot of Boo Radley and his affection for Jem and Scout springs to mind.

I remember as a child there was a house in our street which looked a bit neglected compared to the others. It desperately needed a lick of paint and a tidy up of the garden, and that probably would have done it. But to us children it was the topic of much gossip, as was the older guy who lived there, apparently alone. We used to make up stories about how he had murdered all the other children in the neighbourhood, and we used to wonder which of us would be next. (Jeez, I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about that!)

I had also forgotten the court verdict after the infamous trial, although looking at the story as a whole, it almost doesn’t matter.

So, I arrived at bookclub last month full of lots of things to say. Inevitably, most of us thought exactly the same thing: this story is most definitely as relevant today as it ever has been.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** For those of you who have NOT read the sequel, please do not read beyond this point!

I came across this great article from the Huffington Post which discusses what we really think of Atticus Finch (a literary hero so great that his first name is a popular baby name for white males in the US). Especially when we learn that he does not quite deserve the pedestal upon which we have perched him for such a long time.

Consider too the recent uprisings in the US, including KKK rallies and the figures relating to civilian killings of members of the African American population by white police officers. This is very sobering reading and tells us that racism is, in fact, alive and well in certain areas of the United States. Shame on them.

All Night At The Coffin Works: How do you stay up all night to write?

I had very mixed feelings about this event, I’ll be honest.

It seemed like a good idea, back in the summer when I bought the tickets. The nights were warm and stretched out way beyond teatime. Now, it was early October and, while not exactly cold, it was darker and Halloween was approaching with some determination.

Imposing door front. It was now or never!
Imposing door front. It was now or never!

I have always been someone who gets spooked easily, and right until the moment the event started, I had some misgivings about whether or not I would ever sleep again.

A coffin works. All night. What the hell was I thinking…?!

We settled in, eyeing each other with wariness. Twenty writers, most of whom had clearly never met each other, snugly fit into the room. I was very glad I had invited a fellow Swanwicker, Lol Barnes, along to join me. At least I would have someone to hold my hand, I thought, if it got spooky later on Like, in the dead of night. If the lights went out. Or something…

First thing’s first though, a tour round the museum.

Well, Newman Brothers’ coffin works didn’t actually make coffins, as it happens. They were essentially a brass foundry, so they produced all the accessories to go with coffins. Brass plaques, plates, crucifixes and handles were stamped and polished before being shipped out to the undertakers, where they would fit them to the coffins, ready for the deceased to be laid to rest.

Example os brass stamping machinery, still in working order.
Example of brass stamping machinery, still in working order.

Our guide, Owen Edmunds, was hugely enthusiastic about the place. Despite the music thumping from a neighbouring nightclub, we could still appreciate the ambience of this strange monument to Birmingham’s industrial heyday.

He showed us first into the stamping room, the presses still functioning after all these years (since 1882 to be precise) and making a dreadful racket as they stamped the thin brass plates into shapes, ready to be nailed onto someone’s coffin.

After the stamping room, we were ushered into the main building to see the warehouse. Here we learned the difference between a coffin as a casket:

Caskets are seen mostly in the US and are rectangular-shaped, exactly the same width at the top and bottom. You’ll see a single long handle fitted down the entire length of the casket which can be used to carry the deceased to their final resting place. A coffin, however, is tapered to fit the size of a human body as it lies facing upwards. Typically, you’ll have several smaller handles running down the side of a coffin which people can use to carry their loved one.

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Unbelievable variety of accoutrements you can have fitted to your coffin these days. Who knew???

The factory also has a sewing room, where ladies carefully stitched the shrouds for the deceased, in a range of colours. You could even have one made in the colours of your favourite football team, if you so desired.

Finally, we arrived in the factory office, left exactly as it was approximately seventeen years ago, as if it had just been abandoned for an untimely fire drill. The late Joyce Green who was the Managing Director at the time, had even left her reading glasses on her desk. (Slightly unnerving!)

I have to say, as a writing event it is definitely the most unusual I have ever attended. The tutors were friendly and gave us plenty of exercises to complete, along with encouragement into the wee small hours and beyond.

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Despite being dog-tired, there was something about the accommodation which didn’t seem appealing…

I was really pleased that I finally got to try my hand at some poetry, something I’ve been rather reluctant to try before. I don’t know whether it was as a result of sleep-deprivation but at 5.30am I even managed to produce some half-decent haiku. Watch out for some more of that to come perhaps…!

Many thanks to the wonderful team at Newman Brothers for letting us come to your fabulous museum.

Siren Spirit Goes Live on Amazon!

It’s so exciting to have my very first novella released and available to buy on Amazon!

I’m thrilled at the way the cover turned out (doffs cap to Andrew Brown at Design4Writers for an amazing job).

Cover design by Design4Writers
Cover design by Design4Writers

I can’t tell you what a fantastic journey it has been to get this far, to have my very own book in my hands.

Yes, I can actually say that because, even though the paperback copy is not yet available to purchase on Amazon, I am holding the proof copy in my hands as we speak. EEK!

Stay tuned to social media for more news on the launch: Facebook and Twitter are your best ways of contacting me.

“But first, this….” Procrastination and How Writers Deal With It (Or Don’t)

This coming weekend is a bank holiday in England and Wales. I’ve taken time off from my full-time job today and tomorrow, with the sole purpose of getting some serious writing done over the break.

I have about six projects on the go at the moment, all at various stages of completion. Some have barely been started, with notes strewn about all over the place, so it’s not like I’m struggling to find things to do.

I woke around 7am this morning, and between then and the six hours until lunch, I have

  • cleaned my car (it was absolutely filthy, it has to be said);
  • been to the shop for breakfast materials (no milk in fridge);
  • made and eaten said breakfast;
  • tidied up the kitchen;
  • cleaned the inside of the dishwasher (OK, I just inserted some device into the machine and set it on the highest programme, but still…);
  • had a bubble bath (by this time, I needed it);
  • put a load of laundry into the washing machine;
  • painted my nails.

In short, I have procrastinated.

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Courtesy of TheFreeDictionary.com

Now I have covered this topic here before, but this is not an affliction which resolves itself overnight. One has to work hard to overcome this particular bane.

Friends on Facebook have provided a selection of responses. Writers in particular though, seem to be bothered by this condition more than most, and have responded more than everyone else too.

“Amateur! Come back when your hair’s in cornrows,” said one friend. She’s a talented screenwriter (and Master Procrastinator, clearly).

But the procrastination sufferer does not need this kind of idea placing into their head. I am now seriously considering taking a couple of hours out to plait my hair, having surfed the web to discover that cornrows are far too difficult to do on my own. That killed another half an hour, mind you.

I need to know that I’m not alone here. I want to hear your procrastination techniques, large and small. Nothing is too crazy here. Feel free to spill all. I’m a nice, kind person and you’re guaranteed a virtual hug at the end.

In the meantime, I’m off to bake some muffins, or something…

 

Psychedelica: The Adult Colouring Phenomenon

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IMG_0873There are strange goings-on in living rooms all over the world. Colouring books are being completed. Under normal circumstances, this might not sound so unusual. But these books don’t belong to the pre-schoolers. It’s their parents who are picking up the crayons.

Forget yoga and meditation (although they do have their place). The new way to relax from your working week is to grab some pencils, pens or crayons, and get colouring.

It’s even thought to help counter mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

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The pictures in this book are all completed by my own fair hands, and from one such book: Being in the Now by Luscious Books.

I love this book because rather than just the pictures, there are wise words of wisdom, giving us handy life tips at the same time. Zen therapy, you might say.

It’s become the perfect way for me to wind down after work and get into the right frame of mind for accessing my creative brain and writing.

The paper isn’t very thick with these books, unlike those of Johanna Basford, so there is only one image per sheet. However, this allows you to carefully cut out each page and hang it on a wall, if you’d like to. Neat, huh?

I believe I may well do that. Just as soon as I’ve finished this little blue bit…

See here and here for more articles on this topic!

The Social Media Labyrinth

There’s no getting around it these days. If you want to be a successful author, you must have an online presence and this must include the use of social media, at least to some extent. I would recommend a Facebook Page (as distinct from your personal profile) and a Twitter account as the bare minimum.
The reason is very simple: readers expect it.
The days of an author being able to hide behind the security blanket of the publisher are long gone. Even those authors who are lucky enough to have a publishing deal are still expected to engage directly with their readership.
So, the question is no longer “Should I be using social media?” but “How the hell do I find the time to do all the social media engagement required?”
To resolve this issue, I used to use Hootsuite. Once a week, I would painstakingly trawl the internet looking for ideas and content to create a .csv file and upload it into the application. After a few attempts and subsequent corrections, eventually it would upload. This whole procedure would take me approximately two hours, to write 7 days’ worth of tweets at 6 tweets per day. Facebook was another task altogether.
Well, it didn’t take long for me to see the flaws with Hootsuite. For one thing, you can’t bulk schedule posts with images. Images are critical to reader engagement on Twitter, so I knew I was already at a disadvantage. Also, once a tweet has been posted, it is binned, never to be seen again. This meant I would have to repeat this laborious task every week. I began to dread Sunday afternoons.
[Exit Hootsuite, stage left]
Well, folks, I am very proud to say I have found all the answers I need in this cute little fellow:
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Cephalopod frenzy?
Now, I should point out here that I have a full-time job (as well as being a writer), therefore I probably have some more disposable income than some of you may do. However, I do consider this a very worthwhile $49 per month, and I’m all about value for money.
The system works very simply. Having signed up and linked your social media accounts, the next step is to create your categories. You might have one for writing tips, for example, and another for inspirational quotations. I have one for cat pictures too. (Sorry!)
After you have a couple of categories, you need to start adding content to grow your library. The Edgar library is really like a proper library of data. Once an item is saved, it remains in this repository for ever.
Edgar will then recycle these posts for you, over and over again, according to the schedule you give him. Now, let’s take Twitter. Apparently, the life of a tweet is just 24 minutes. Facebook, however, is much longer. Personally, I post 6 tweets a day (sometimes a few ad hoc), and a Facebook post just once.
Because I’m no longer under the pressure of doing a whole week’s worth in one go, I can now get ideas for content whenever I get a few spare moments. I have got into the habit of saving pictures and links I like whenever I’m on Facebook, with a view to following them up at a later date.
For me, Edgar is not free, but is very much about freedom, and in the 20-30 hours I spend a week on my writing business, I’m up for as much freedom as I can get my hands on. I’d highly recommend this to anyone for whom managing your social media feels like a burden. You’ll get some control back in your life and, ultimately, more time for writing!

The Sociological Spectre of Apathy

This is going to be one of those blog posts which asks more questions than it answers, so please bear with me. I like to prompt debate about things which matter to me; this is one of them.

books1I have a friend I’ve known for half my life. I don’t see him very often and when we do meet up, like many friends, the conversation revolves around work, family and mutual friends.

Recently, he happened to mention that his eleven year-old son hadn’t performed as well in school exams as he had expected, and my friend was concerned about this.

Now, his son goes to a fee-paying school. Both parents work – his wife runs a lucrative domicilary care business and he is a company director in another firm as well. This is not a family that is short of resources in the slightest.

“I bet I know one reason why,” I said, and shot him a knowing look. “When was the last time he read a book for pleasure?”

“Oh, I dunno,” came the reply. “Reading’s not his thing really.”

…not his thing…

I shivered.

Sadly, I fear that my friend’s son is not alone. I hear this much more often than I would like to, and it fills me with dismay.

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Studies have shown (click here to read more) that those who read fiction are more inclined to be quick to empathise with others and especially when this reading skill is developed in younger children. It teaches them to detect and understand how certain actions affect the feelings of other people.

We all know how a good story allows you to feel what the characters feel. How many of us have laughed and cried, felt the glow of romantic love or the despair of grief, when reading a story? This is the power of a good author. My favourite books are those which have taken me on an emotional roller-coaster. I want to be reaching for the tissues when I read, I want to be moved.

But for children like my friend’s son, brought up with no books in the house other than his mother’s nursing textbooks, what does this do a child’s emotional development?

Not having my own children, it may be inappropriate of me to comment upon the upbringing of other people’s offspring. But, actually, I think there’s a wider issue here.

If children don’t learn to empathise, what sort of people do they turn out to be? Isn’t that sort of the definition of a sociopath? And, are we convinced that enough emphasis is put upon reading books for pleasure, both in schools and at home?

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As a little girl, my mum used to take me to the local library. In the middle of the children’s area I remember seeing an enormous wooden box, full of brightly-coloured books for young children. (It probably wasn’t all that big, but I was only a toddler at the time!)

Mum tells me, even now, that I would have favourites that I kept asking for, week in, week out. The poor woman must have been bored to tears having to read the same books over and over! But, I am eternally grateful to her for bestowing upon me the greatest gift in the world. For, in teaching me to love literature, she taught me how to escape this world and travel to far-flung places, to have adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

I flew with dragons; I fought demons and befriended angels; I toppled evil tyrants and replaced them on the thrones of lands far, far away; and, I fell in love, over and over and over, with characters who possessed magical abilities, and yet, ultimately, very human traits.

My life would have been immeasurably different without books. Certainly, I doubt I would ever have become a writer. In my opinion, it’s shameful that there are children growing up in our society without being shown the door into this enchanting world of books.

So, I would welcome your comments here. What are your experiences of teaching your own or other people’s children to read? Is it really that important, or am I just banging on about something which is none of my business, being childfree?

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Review: From Cornwall to the Andes, Barbara Webb

I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction but I was drawn to this book, partly due to the striking painting on the cover (which I later found out is the author’s own work), and partly because of its acutely personal nature.

“How brave!” I thought. “What great courage this lady must have to share such a private and emotional journey in such a public way.”

I find I am drawn to people who display characteristics such as courage and strength. Webb seemed to be just such a person and so I decided to purchase this little book.

The first thing that is clear is that the author is no shrinking violet. This is a lady who has travelled all over the world, visiting countries and cultures of which most of us can only dream.

Yet not even such experiences can shield us from the very human condition of profound grief when a loved one dies.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, after such a traumatic period in one’s life, to make the decision to commit to paper the journey from her late husband’s diagnosis through his death and into the unknown territory of widowhood.

But the beauty of this story is that there is no wallowing in self-pity amongst the pages. The illness and subsequent deterioration in her husband’s condition is handled with care and tenderness, which many in a similar position will find of great comfort.

Instead, we find a moving tribute to her late husband and a candid reflection of her own despair after his death. How lucky we are that the author found herself and created such a wonderful new life to share with us.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moved me to tears on occasion, but between the pages lie also joy and hope, and this makes it an inspiration for those with a loved one also suffering from terminal illness.

You can find out more about Barbara Webb and her books below:

Website: http://www.cornwall2theandes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cornwall2andes

 

BooksGoSocial Writers’ Conference: Dublin, June 26th-28th 2015

NB: Apologies for the quality of these photos folks. My iPhone does its best, but it also relies on my (un)steady hand…

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Cocktail, retro-style – French 75 at Blanc et Noir, Birmingham Airport

It’s become traditional for me to treat myself to a champagne cocktail at the airport when I fly solo.

If I’m honest, I’ve always liked a bit of the high life. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find the billionaire to go with it but never mind. This is not the time or place for lamentations on the topic of my non-existent love life.

It occurred to me (whilst sipping said cocktail) that I hadn’t packed an umbrella. Yes, that’s right. On a trip to Ireland! Luckily, I didn’t need it. Save for an unwelcome but not inconvenient downpour on the Saturday night, it was remarkably warm and dry all weekend.

I had chosen my courses carefully, based on addressing the one weakness I have found in my writing so far – writing dialogue – and the elephant in the room, my lack of business acumen and, particularly, marketing know-how.

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Saturday morning dawned bright and very early. My apartment in the Smithfield area overlooked the famous Old Jameson Distillery so I decided to take a deliberate walk past on my way to the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Following a cheeky McDonalds breakfast, I arrived at the centre in good time for my first Course, Dialogue in Fiction. It was a wonderful couple of hours spent talking about the importance of good dialogue and how it should be significant to the plot.

It was, however, also the day for Dublin Gay Pride. Not only that – they had organised to congregate right outside the centre in Parnell Square before setting off on their march around the city.

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Rainbow crocodile!

Margaret Murphy, our tutor, performed admirably to be heard above the noise of the pumping dance music. In one particular episode, we were discussing how the use of silence in a conversation can create tension, just as an enormous cheer from outside the window rang through our ears, to much hilarity from the class.

After a brief buffet lunch, Nicola Cassidy and I escaped into the street to join the throng of revellers gathering to see of the Pride Parade. Having been an attendee at Birmingham Pride for many years, it was refreshing to be treated to the Irish version.

The afternoon session was spent listening to the fabulous Catherine Ryan Howard talk about treating our writing as a business venture. This is a skill I need to work on very much, and it requires one to separate emotion from the creativity which is easier said than done.

Dinner on Saturday evening allowed us to socialise with one another, and also to listen to the inspirational Paul O’Brien talk about his dedication to his day job while juggling his passion for writing and a young family.

It was a pleasure to bump into the lovely Krissy V and chat about all things erotic until the wee small hours along with new friends such as John Pitts.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, packed with opportunities to all help each other along the self-publishing journey, and offering guidance, support and a helping hand among the group.

BooksGoSocial founder Laurence O’Bryan has built an empire of readers, eager to get their paws on good quality self-published books, and authors willing to provide such material. If you’re interested in self-publishing your work, these guys are essential. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers, all tuning in for a dose of who’s got what coming out next.

I now have a To-Do list as long as my arm and I’m busy putting it all into practice.

Join the Authors’ Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/?fref=ts

And, while you’re at it, the Readers’ Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialreaders/?fref=ts

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Blimey! The Bard sure did get around…