Thursday, 14 November 2013

Gladitude Week Two!!!

Woooo hooooo It’s week Two!!
It’s odd how you find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for reasons to be miserable or disappointed, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons to be grateful and find joy, you’ll find them.
Lots of them.

Day Eight
Today I’m grateful for TEDtalks!  (‎)
If you haven’t been introduced to the awesome world of TEDtalks, you’re in for a great treat. TED is a non profit organisation originally began with the aim to join communities of Technology, Entertainment & Design (see what they did there?). Since its inception, the scope has broadened to include so much more.
Since developing MS, I am regularly forced to sit down & shut up, to rest, to take it easy. Sometimes it’s really hard to read, and I’m not a fan of daytime TV. TEDtalks are fabulous, informative, entertaining, and VARIED. The speakers are leaders and innovators in science, education, music, art, architecture, personal communications, business…you name it, TED’s got it.

They have a website. They’re on YouTube. On Netflix. Go find them. Go fill your head with wonder.

Day Nine
Today I’m excited that I’m not a Victorian Woman.
This is a weird one, eh? I was thinking today about how they had to dress. All those layers & layers of clothes. Corsets. Tightness. Restrictions. AGONY.  As I write this I am sat in a pair of sweat pants and one of my husband’s old fleece sweatshirts. I could not possibly be in more comfy clothes.

My wedding dress was made in 1901, at the very end of the Victorian Era. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it & bought it on layaway at a vintage clothing shop for $50 a month. It has a waist the size of six year olds thigh. Yes, when I got married at 28, I was that small. I can barely get my wrist in it now…All I can say is it was a beautiful blessing on the day, and I’d never change my choice of dress, but how great is it that the next day I was in a t-shirt and jeans…how great that I had a choice and didn’t have to dress like that every day!

Day Ten
Today I am grateful for dishwashers & washing machines & tumble dryers.
Modern life is filled with many stressful things. I feel really blessed for the appliances that take away most of the stress involved with housework. Seriously. I know I moan a lot about it & in a perfect world I wouldn’t have to do any at all, but it’s not as back breaking and time consuming as it was in my grandmother’s youth. I have free time to write while machines do the bulk of the work for me, and I feel so blessed for that.

Now….If I could find a machine that would pick up the dog poop, my domestic blessings would be complete!

Day 11
Wow. Veterans’ Day.
So many of my family and friends have served in the military, a few are still serving in very dangerous places. I hate the fact that we NEED the Armed Forces to protect us. Hate it that the world is the kind of place where we only feel safe because we are bigger and badder than our perceived enemies. BUT I respect and admire and appreciate so much the men and women all over the world that are willing to undertake such a harrowing job, willing to do a job that scares me silly.
Yes, it is a job. Yes many of them choose that job. But it doesn’t make them any less brave. Doesn’t negate the fact that they put themselves in harm’s way so that WE don’t have to, and for the most part they are paid crap to do it.

Appreciate them, people. Support them. Show them your gratitude.

Day 12
My boys.
When we got to the end of two years of marriage & still had no kids, we went to the doctor. The news was bad. I took every test offered, gave vials and vials of blood, took drugs, had operations. The doctors weren’t hopeful, told me to concentrate on my career.

I used to come home from afternoons in town in hysterics because I’d counted pregnant women, and undeserving women who were screaming at  their kids in the grocery store.

Then a miracle happened. One of the operations worked. 5 years and 3 months after we got married our Jed was born. Three years later we were shocked to find Morgan on his way with no medical intervention.

I am not a natural mother. I am not nurturing and soft hearted. I’m rough & tumble. Screechy. Defensive. Disorganised. Sometimes I get put out about the work involved, I can be a bit selfish. There is absolutely nothing like parenthood to show you just how immature, inept and unprepared you are. It’s the best place to humble you, to knock the spikey edges of pride off your ego. (Try being big headed and prideful when you’re exhausted, five dress sizes bigger than you ever vowed to get,  covered head to toe in vomit, and knee deep in dirty laundry.)

These two boys have taught me more about tolerance, patience, endurance, selflessness…and a million more things I very obviously needed to learn. Things I am still learning on a daily basis. They are funny, witty, creative, generous and amazing. It’s astounding that they’ve turned out so well with me as their mother.

It’s kind of a miracle that they’ve made it so far in one piece. Seriously.

And yep, when they were little, I was occasionally that woman who shouted at my kids in the grocery store. We live and learn…

Day 13
Today I am thankful for Autumn.
It’s been a long time coming to the UK this year. The leaves are setting the roadside ablaze, today the weirdly warm temperatures nosedived. Autumn is a mixed bag for me. I love the colours. Hate the death of summer. Hate the slow inevitable slide into winter. Love Thanksgiving, love stodgy warm comfort foods, nights curled up with a book. Hate waking up to the dark, having it dark again before supper.

But we are all curled up watching a funny film together, we have a warm home, food on the table. And though we are sliding on that soon to be icy slope towards Winter, Winter always limps wetly into Spring and then SUMMER.  Life is good.

Day 14
WRITERS GROUP!!! Yess yessssss yes, I am so grateful for my Writers Group.
Three years ago this month, I got brave and jumped on a train on a nasty cold night after work and went into the heart of Manchester, by myself, to meet a bunch of complete strangers in a pub at Picadilly. They were the riff raff that made up that years NaNoWriMo group from Manchester. Everyone who knew me was shocked. The Husband called me about 20x to make sure I hadn’t encountered any axe murderers along the way. I quickly stopped shaking in my boots & had a grand time. AND best of all, I met a local friend who agreed with me that we ought to start a local writers group after we finished beating ourselves up over our NaNoNovels…

We did it. It was scary. We fell lucky on so many levels. And I’ve made some uplifting, inspiring, lifelong friends along the way. We’ve all written our fingers off, participated in local council arts programmes, run workshops, laughed our heads off and had a blast.

And I am so blessed to know each and every one of them.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Do you have a BAD attitude or a GLAD attitude???

You have two feet and one mouth. Dance more. Moan less.

Welcome to November. Welcome to falling leaves, wet sloppy weather, plunging temperatures. Some people’s idea of sheer heaven.

Remember that when you’re freezing your outer & inner & nether regions to bits….remember that to some people this is BLISS. Also remember that as yucky as November is, it’s NOT February.

Even though I’m an ex-pat, even though I’ve lived in the land of spotted dick and dodgy coalition governments for 22 years, I still revere Thanksgiving as my favourite childhood holiday (after my own birthday of course!). Starting today, in honour of all things turkey & family & comforting, I am doing a daily gratitude blog to remind myself and anyone who cares to join in, that there are MILLIONS of things to be grateful for.

I am grateful for TECHNOLOGY!
1.      I have Multiple Sclerosis & find it really hard to hand write more than 30 or so words before it becomes painful and illegible.
2.      My family & many friends live in the USA, I live in the UK…skype, Facebook, e-mail….total Godsends. Total.
3.      I am a writer (no duh!) and the process is so much quicker/cheaper/easier now that submissions & researching & networking are widely available online!!
4.      Diagnosis and care of my MS has leapt into the stratosphere with technological advances.
5.      Downloading music online..***sigh*** …YouTube …yay!! and and and…you get it.
6.      Kindle. I am a reading addict & have a verrrrrrry small house. I still prefer hard copy, but what a blessing.
7.      Paperless society??? Well, not quite. Still, it’s getting better all the time.

Are you grateful for technology? Why?

I am grateful for TEACHERS!

1.      I love to read. Love to read. LOVE to read. I learned HOW in school. I learned the WHY in school & at the feet of my dad.
2.      History & other cultures are fascinating & I learned to love them in AP European History in year 12. My teacher was a dapper little man called Mr Gullo who used to be a Jesuit Priest & spoke several languages. He would put his shiny little shoes on the desk and read PRAVDA to us when we were 17 yrs old. He opened my eyes to a world outside of my tiny, tiny rural upstate NY town.
3.      Ted Spooner was my English Teacher when I was 14. One day he shut all the blinds, turned out all the lights, and crawled under a thick blanket. Then he proceeded to read Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope. It made me shiver, made me feel claustrophobic, made me want to cry. But more importantly, it made me WANT TO BE A WRITER. That's a great teacher.(does anyone have any idea where he is btw?)
4.      My children go to a great high school. The teachers are positive, fun, engaging. They make me wish I could do it all again and go to THAT school.
5.      I have a few family members and friends that are teachers. Think about your kids on their WORST DAY. WORST, WORST, WORST day. Multiply that by at least 20 kids. Every day. Interspersed by pockets of willingness, engaged brains, delightful imagination. Just enough to make it worthwhile. Now halve your pay. Halve your resources. Multiply your hours by half or a third. Go.

Be grateful for teachers!!!

I’m grateful for BOOKS!

1.      I literally could not tell you how much I love to read. In an alternate universe I spend all day & night reading & writing.  Getting lost in the worlds created by someone else’s imagination is such a great pleasure. Being enlightened to new cultures and histories wakes up your brains, your heart, your empathy.
2.      Reading teaches us to think, builds new neural pathways in our brains, makes us wonder:  WHAT IF? HOW’S THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? WHAT WOULD I DO IF THAT WAS ME? HOW WOULD I DO IT DIFFERENTLY? WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH THOSE PEOPLE? Or even better: WOW! HOW BLOODY COOL WERE THOSE PEOPLE? All those thoughts are the beginnings of something called CRITICAL THINKING. It’s needed in all areas of life, allows us to evaluate and assess events and information and informs our ability to make decisions. And you thought you were just reading about vampires…or spies….or real life famous shipwrecks (look up,  her upcoming book about Victorian shipwrecks off the Scottish coast will astound you. I have learned so much, honestly it opened my eyes to matters of history covering class differences, sexism, health & safety…loads of things!!)

3.      This year I have discovered two authors that have become fast  favourites: Patrick Ness and Erin Morgenstern. I read Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go & its follow ups, The Ask and The Answer & Monsters of Men early this year. I have badgered just about everyone I know to read them and the rest of his catalog. The books are thoughtful, powerful, the best of YA writing. I kind of love him quite a bit. Then,  just a few months ago my friend Zoe, who is the absolute best judge of books to share, loaned me The Night Circus. I’ve read hundreds of books, people, several of them debuts. Erin Morgenstern’s first book blew me away completely. Her command of language is lyrical, to say the least. The book is magical, layered with lush descriptions, mysterious characters, beautiful mystical settings. I could read it over and over again. You should read it at least once. I almost cried when I contacted her on Twitter and was informed that it would be ages before I could expect anything more. But she has a pretty awesome blog as well…

 READ people. PLEASE read, it will make so much of your life better. I promise.


Today I’m grateful for CREATIVITY!

I feel really blessed by my own creativity, but even more by the creativity of others. Art in almost any form. Beautiful architecture makes me weak at the knees. Sculpture, paintings, music, landscape gardening, fashion designs, writing, dance, engineering…it’s all art. It’s all creativity. It lifts me and it lifts others. It inspires me, makes me wonder all sorts of things. How did they think of that? Why did they use that particular form/material/word/colour?  What were they thinking when they created it? What did they think that I would think?

But most of all I love it when I see, hear, touch or read something and I think…OMG I really want to meet this person. I want to learn at their feet. I want to hang out with them. I want to bake banana bread for them. I want to be their friend.  You know why? Because they made me FEEL something.

That’s what creativity is all about.


Ooooh what are we grateful for today? LANGUAGE!

I am a word weirdo….I love the way they sound, the way they feel in my mouth when I say them.
Squish, squelch, pummel.
Amanuensis (no I’m not telling you, look it up)
And on and on and on…..

Try it. Open up a dictionary. Find words you don’t know. Roll them around in your mouth, shout them around the house a few times.
Play with them. Words are soooooo fun. I promise. They are. Go on, try it.
You’ll be glad you did.


Plants, baby. Today I am grooving on the wonder and variety, beauty and usefulness of plants. Plants feed us, they are a feast for our eyes, noses and fingers (have you ever felt a Lamb’s Ear Plant? It’s a weenie little comfort blanket in pale green. When I was a kid I sat on our front lawn gently rubbing it’s leaves between my fingers in unashamed joy). They heal us through our eating of them as well as their medicinal benefits (seriously, eat better and you’ll be shocked what it does for your body.) Plants were here long before pharmaceuticals and they were the way your grannie’s grannie treated her sick animals and her sick children.

This TEDtalk discusses the surprising health benefits of introducing plants into a work environment. In what was deemed a ‘sick building’ due to overall employee health and days off work sick, scientists introduced 3 readily available house plants throughout the space and reaped astonishing results.
If it can do that to an office building, just think about your home, your family’s brains, their health.

Scientific studies will tell you that a daily half an hour walking outside in nature will go a long way to curing depression, in addition to the fact that added oxygen levels improve thought processes, and the exercise will improve your health. The beauty of a stand of woods, spring flowers, your neighbours vegetable garden…all of it is a treat for the eyes and the soul.

Go feed your soul. Breathe some healthy air. Appreciate the free beauty all around you.


Today I’m appreciating Architecture!!!!
It all started with Mrs Nixon’s house when I was growing up. She lived five houses away from us in what I always thought of as the ‘mini-White House’.  Her name wasn’t really Mrs Nixon, but I remember when we used to go trick or treat to her house, on a stand in her hallway there was a picture of her deceased husband shaking hands with Richard Nixon, so that’s how I remember her. Her house had a sweeping porch, white pillars, was set way off the road with Chesnut trees in the yard. Every year my mom had to crawl under our front porch and dig baby chesnut trees out of the ground as we gathered up garbage bags full of conkers in the Fall and threw them under the stairs. I adored her house, at ten years old I coveted it in a major way. I used to dream about the bedrooms, the sweeping stairways, wonder what her back yard looked like.

The house I grew up in had 2 living rooms, a small library, a huge dining room, and beautiful, fluted dark wood pillars separating the wide, open plan doorways.  A carved, fruit and bird laden fireplace surround, bay windows, white hydrangeas all down the side of the porch, lilac bushes lining the drive. It was a gem. I still dream about it even though it was torn down years ago to make way for a parking lot at the doctor’s office.

In Rochester, our nearest city, I nearly bust a vessel seeing the huge beautiful homes on and near East Avenue, The George Eastman House, houses near Harley Allendale school. The Mushroom House at Powder Mill park….I was an addict & spent hours driving around getting lost on purpose just to find another gem.

In college, I wanted to be an architect but had a fatal relationship with math, so I studied Interior Design instead. I went to Chicago and toured every single Frank Lloyd Wright building possible. I drooled. I coveted. Now I look online at his Pennsylvania house, Falling Water repeatedly. In an alternate reality I am an architect, and I’ve built a whole universe full of fantastic houses. Ask me, I’ll let you stay in one if you like.  (take off your shoes first)

Nearly 40 years later, I still feel my pulse race when I see a beautiful building, old architecture or new, I appreciate it all. I fantasize about building my own home someday. The play of light spilling down a stairwell, piercing a canopy of trees just outside the living room window. A little nook where a clever book case is built. An enormous expanse of windows that look out over a storm swept lake. I watch Grand Designs.

I dream.

I’m glad I’m not a cave woman.

Thus endeth week one! Join me next Friday for week two!!!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Bring on the Slings and Arrows

I’m not one for shouting about my political leanings. I’m an American living in a European country. I can’t vote here because I haven’t given up my US citizenship. I don’t vote in my home country as I have lived here for 22 years and I don’t know enough about what’s going on over there to make an informed decision. Both situations leave me frustrated. BUT I’m a bit annoyed at the minute, a few raw nerves are starting to niggle at me and I need to say something.

I LOVE the National Health Service. 

I love it AS IT IS, warts and all. And the thought of it being mangled and destroyed, at the hands of politicians who are wealthy enough to pay for private health care and don’t care about those who are not, angers me. The fact that they freeze pay in the LOWER ranks of the NHS whilst higher pay grades AND government officials continue to get pay rises, nearly turns me into the Hulk, I get so angry.

It’s by no means perfect, but nothing in life is. I have seen both sides of things, I grew up in a country where public health care was sketchy and largely unavailable. I am the only one of my close friends or childhood family to have moved here. I have a brother living in Pennsylvania who has epilepsy which developed in his adulthood, and who spent years dangerously unwell as he kept running out of money for doctors. Diagnosis was impossibly slow because he got shoved from pillar to post and he kept having to start over again from scratch with new people when his funds ran out. I know people who have cancer and have had to sell their homes to pay for health care.

I have no idea how Obamacare will work, if it will work. But I think that the idea behind it is sound, and necessary. It is closer to our British system of health care than previous models used there. From many outside observers point of view, just across the border, Canada has a successful NHS. I’m sure in Canada, as in the UK, it has its own detractors, but public health care CAN work. It has worked for many years.

I am not a politician or an economist.

I am a person who thinks that we as a people, be we British, American or Swahili, have a God mandated duty of care for other people. We can and should look after the weakest and poorest amongst us, which means equal opportunity for legitimate, timely, affordable healthcare. If that means some of the richest amongst us have to put our hands in our pockets to care for our brothers and sisters, so be it.

We are all so busy looking in mirrors that we can’t see the bigger picture, or the person in the gutter three feet from us. The Me First attitude, the Me, ME, ME! mentality so pervasive in the world as a whole is a cancer of it’s own, eating away at our ability to see the bigger picture, to understand needs outside our own. It’s selfish and ugly.

When I read the first draft of this piece to my ENGLISH husband, he reminded me of the quote inscribed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 
Whatever happened to that attitude?
I repeat, I am not a politician or an economist.

What I am is a person who has seen both sides of the situation; a person who suffers from a currently incurable illness which regularly knocks me on my ass. A person who has been loved and cared for by our FREE health care system. By nurses who are stretched to their limits by budget cuts and staff cuts. I have received care & medication that in REAL TERMS I could never afford on my budget because after years of working full time, my illness now prevents me from working. I am that SPONGER that YOU are paying for.

How’s that sit with you?

I know many people complain that FREE health care means that people who are LAZY and unwilling to work get a free ride. That may be so. But the physical numbers of people that fall into that category are far less than the numbers  of people who are legitimately ill and unable to work, unemployed due to the recession, or on low wages.

From my outside observance, one of the biggest complaints I see about Obamacare is that people don’t want to spend their hard earned money caring for those who can’t afford healthcare.

Grow up people. Any country and  people who refuse to band together in support of the weakest, the less fortunate among them is NOT a country based on love and human kindness.

It is a country that is headed for trouble.  

I love the NHS. And I think Obamacare, once the bugs are worked out, will be a GOOD thing.

Love each other. Put all the energy you direct at complaining to good use. Make things better for EVERYONE not just yourself.

That’s my political rant over.
Bring on the slings and arrows.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

It Takes a Village Full of Kevlar....

It takes an entire village to raise a child, so the saying goes.
I’d amend that to say it takes a village full of Kevlar to raise a teenage boy.

I came to this conclusion last week whilst foraging for blackberries by the river with my mate Gill Hoffs & her gorgeous little boy. ( Our day out came 2 days after I had gone through the most nerve wracking morning of my life, and I was feeling quite reflective.

Last year, during my first year gathering blackberries, I did a few things right, a few things wrong.  I wore long sleeves. GOOD. I didn't wear gloves. BAD. This year, I swapped that around. I wore gloves and saved my manicure (a rare accomplishment for me, nice nails). I forgot long sleeves. My arms looked like cat scratching poles. All weekend, through jam making, smoothie making, freezing punnets for winter treats, my skin stung, puckered, itched and bubbled from contact with nettles and berry thorns.  But….that jam is so divine it was worth every ounce of pain and hassle. I might even go back in a few days and get more berries, heaven knows there’s gallons more there. This time I'll wear long sleeves.

And so to Kevlar. I’m short. My 16yo son calls me a hobbit. The whole time I was in those berry bushes, I just wanted to push in deeper, climb up a bit higher, get every juicy berry I could see. I wanted Kevlar and a stepladder.

As I was wishing for more protection on my arms, I was thinking back to a few days previous. To Thursday. To the day when Mike and I, along with other UK parents of 16 year olds, waited with a clenched fist of dread in our stomachs, for the results of GCSE tests.

It’s been no secret to any one in my real life circle of family and friends that raising our 16yo son has been a battle since day one. From a very small age he has been an uncontrollable ball of energy, a screamer of questions, a speeding rocket of dangerous inclinations. When he was 7 we were told he had ADHD. Not great news since I have Multiple Sclerosis, and find many things in life a challenge.

School was a huge trauma. Not that he wasn't good, he was. He saved all his acts of defiance and vandalism for home. At school he was sweet, kind, goofy, charming. But he couldn't sit still, couldn't do quiet work. Couldn't do homework. Couldn't stop distracting everyone else.

In primary school it wasn't too much of a problem as they had a strict rota standardized across all years for English & Maths homework. I always knew what was due and when. High school was a NIGHTMARE. We spent years fighting with him and teachers trying to keep on top of assignments, projects, trips, money due, evening programs. Simple things like remembering his PE kit or food for cookery class were just beyond him. Each time he missed a homework assignment he got a detention. Each time he got a detention, he was grounded. It got to the point that family teased him and pointed to the grass & sky asking him how long it had been since he’d seen them. Girlfriends threatened to dump him because they never spent time together. We despaired because he wasn't stupid. Far from it. He was blindingly intelligent. Just unfocused, dithery, flighty. His grades never reflected how sharp he was. We were frustrated, and so was he.

Then this year, in his last year of school before he heads off to college, he suddenly  GOT IT. He went crazy, astonished us all. When he walked out of the school hall waving his results, when we saw THAT LOOK- that look of personal pride on his face, it was worth all the battle scars. Worth all the tears (his & ours), worth all the screaming and grounding and arguing. All the money spent on tutors. He got brilliant grades that finally were a true reflection of all the cleverness hiding behind his disjointed struggling.

But looking back on it, I still wish I’d been better prepared. I wish I’d had some sort of Kevlar, something to protect me a little from the pain and stress of all the years that had gone before. Something to help me deal with it better. I often worried that in my efforts to help his future, I was permanently damaging our relationship.

Good Jam. Good kids. It takes some effort. But it’s worth every bit of it. Especially when they have that look on their faces. That look that says WOW, finally. I feel like a worthwhile person.

That look that says that they found in themselves what you knew was there all along.


 Yummmm. Want some jam? Too bad, we're not sharing!

The boy with his guitar. He got a Distinction* in Performing Arts, an A in Music.

 The reward for pulling his grade up in math from a fail to a pass? A designer Karl Pilkington t-shirt.
 (Do I know how to score mum points or what?)  (go on. ask me where you can get one, I know you want to! Tom Davies on twitter @1TD)

Thursday, 1 August 2013


So as you will  note, I haven’t blogged for nearly 3 months, although my lovely mate Kevin Bufton stepped in for me in June.

Life got in the way & I had this tick list on my desk…and well… THIS GIRL GOT BUSY!!!

-The back garden is completed. Stoned, benched, planted, beautiful.
-There is now a pole and blinds on my kitchen sliding glass door….we've only lived here 7 years!!!
-I joined the PTA at my kid’s high school, I have the scary job of Secretary.
-I organised and attended a fabulous writers day conference!
-I  lost 7lbs.
-I grew my hair out long, went blonder.
-Had clear outs and sent a million and one bags to the charity shop.
-My oldest son finished high school, receiving awards for Drama & Music. (very proud mum!) We are waiting with baited breath to see his final grades.
-I developed the habit of walking every single day even if it’s only around the block to flop exhausted on the couch. Sometimes it’s MUCH further. It does wonders to clear the mind.
-I learned a little origami, read a few books….and I managed to NOT write for a grand total of 6 weeks.


I learned to LOVE editing! (major hurdle leaped, believe me! Next one is synopsis writing!)

I never made it to my original goal of 4 months of not writing. I realised only a few weeks into it that I couldn't bear it and it took much less time for me to find my writing MOJO again. I ditched the project that was making me so insanely unhappy, worked on editing something that’s been sat completed on my hard drive but ignored for 3 yrs. Then, after I realised I didn't really care too much for that one, I felt ready to tackle the one thing that really needed priority.

The MS that I've had on sub for over a year
This project, which has been a labour of love (in fits & starts) for about 4 years, recently got 2 rejections. Happily for me they were not form rejections, and both came after full requests. The people I subbed to were very generous and gave extremely helpful comments that have guided my edits.

*I can't tell you how long I spent considering this manuscript. (a YEAR all together, actually) I do think you're almost there. I mostly found it a little difficult and jarring with the multiple POV changes throughout the piece. I think you need to work to make these feel a little bit more smooth.

*I think you've got a really lovely idea/world going on here. Surprisingly, the only character I connected with was XXXX and I think the reason comes down to story-craft: The other point of view characters tell us most of the interesting stuff they have to say by way of remembering it, not living it. XXXX's sections, on the other hand, are very much in the present, seeing and interpreting the world around her rather than focusing on delivering backstory. I wonder if it should start with the invasion, or if the timeline doesn't need to change just that the characters should be more in the present, allowing the details of the backstory to filter in much more gradually over the course of the story. I don't have a good answer, but I know that while I liked certain moments, it's not what I'm looking for as a whole.

So, using those comments, I have gone crazy editing and have condensed my POV characters down to the views of only 2 separate families, 5 people in total. That’s down from regular contributions of those five plus frequent cameo appearances of an additional 4 characters. By eliminating those four I have lost some commentary I really loved, but kept closer to the story line, weeded out extraneous scenes and a lot of self-indulgence. A work that I thought was so READY has changed and developed. (And hopefully improved!)

In doing all this I discovered something about the book as well. My target audience was wrong. I'd originally restrained myself from including things I felt were important to the story in order to keep it YA friendly. Some of that came back.

In the edits, it also became clear that in losing all that other stuff-Urgh... I had to ADD back 700 words – a whole scene- that I’d cut in order to remain …a bit more delicate.  There goes all my hard work editing OUT things.

- Honestly this word count is starting to fluctuate more than my waistline.

Editing showed me that the book isn’t YA. It’s more brutal. A bit sexier.  A bit more grown up and emotionally difficult.  It fits much better in a fresh classification that’s being bandied around and heralded as the next great thing - NEW ADULT. It’s aimed at the after high school, maybe college attending,  pre mortgage age group and it’s all about firsts in life: First job, first real love, first time moving away from home & being responsible for yourself, first sex (if you want to include that, but you don’t have to). So, NEW ADULT, Sci-fi Dystopian is the jacket this baby will be wearing when I start to show it off to dinner guests (after a few beta readers trash it first).

During this process I have discovered a serious love of EDITING. It scared me at first, but then it soon became a blood bath. It was as if I had a dumpster parked outside my laptop and I was practicing bank shots, chucking words at it left, right and center. I even coined a phrase for the brutality I was treating my MS with:


I am the destroyer of adjectives. The eliminator of repetition. The hacker of overblown prose.

Adding those 700 words back has seriously impacted all that effort,  but…it was needed.  The shaving and scooping isn't done yet.  I'm just hoping it isn't too long before I get to a static place, a rather smaller, more perfect version of what I started out with.

A bit like the same wish I have for my poor waistline.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Happiness & CAKE & Horror, OH MY!

Today I'm pleased to let my writing friend KEVIN BUFTON take the reins on the SPARKLY HAPPINESS PROJECT. Kevin's horror novella CAKE (yep, I said HORROR) was released earlier this  week and he's kindly agreed to blogpost for me.

It wasn't easy. He writes scary, squishy stuff, and well, you know what we're all about on my blog. Happiness. Positivity. 

So I gave him a bit of a challenge, you could say!

Links to the book are below, get one and have a read. You'll be glad you did. Or scared.
Which is just as good.


Hello, and welcome to the fourth stop on my Piece of Cake Blog Tour. I’d like to thank Joanna, for allowing me space on her blog to promote my debut novella, Cake, which was released on Monday.
At each stop along this tour, I have asked my respective hosts to provide me with a theme, on which to pen a few words, my reasoning being that coming up with half a dozen disparate topics, whilst also attempting to whore my book for all it’s worth, was too much like hard work. So, host’s prerogative, I thought.
Which is why I am sat here, in front of my laptop, writing about happiness. That’s right. I’m a horror fan, and horror writer, weaned on Hammer and Universal films since I was four years old, lover of all things macabre and gothic, blood-soaked and terror-filled, and yet I find myself having to give serious consideration to that emotion that is the very antithesis of all that dark goodness…
…or is it?
You see, when I stop to consider what makes me happy – by which I mean that which truly make me happy, not something that staves off the boredom for an hour or so – it becomes increasingly easy to understand why I have made a home for myself in the horror genre.
My wife and our kids are my main source of happiness, and I don’t care if that sounds like a stock response. Individually and as a team they have driven me up the wall, but I love them so much, and the very thought of them makes me smile. As I write these words, they follow a beautiful day spent walking along the Wirral seafront for two and a half hours, just the four of us. My wife, our son and I pointing out the shapes we could see in the clouds overhead, my little daughter dozing contentedly in her pram – what more could a man ask for? Indeed, it occurred to me that if neither of us needed to work for a living, there could be few existences more sublime than being able to do this every day.
That was when it struck me. Once you make your way past the shuffling undead, the eldritch abominations, the flesh-tearing cryptids and the unspeakable sociopaths that fill a great many of my stories, I'm really writing about families. Whether it is the need to protect them, the agony of losing them, or the fear of never seeing them again, family plays a huge part in my writing. They are my greatest joy, and the thought that they might come to harm is the fuel that powers all those dark thoughts that I put down on paper.
On a practical level, they are also what inspire me to write in the first place. The possibility that one day, in the not too distant future, I might be able to support my wife and kids solely through the nightmares I produce for other people is a wonderful incentive, and by far the greatest remedy for writer’s block that I have ever come across.
My other source of happiness is the act of writing itself – creating a world from scratch, where forgotten evils lurk in dark corners, where unspeakable fiends rend flesh and crush bone, and where the dead walk. It is an incomparable feeling. I've never taken hard drugs, but I can’t imagine anything matching the buzz that comes when, halfway through a piece, something just clicks and you realise that – YES – this story is actually going to work!
At the moment, I am writing around my family and my day job; tapping away at my trusty laptop into the wee hours most nights, but it’s not a chore. I don’t find myself dreading the blank page, or fretting over finding the right word for the scene I am attempting to convey. On the contrary, I normally only stop writing because I'm conscious that I have to go to work in the morning. I'm wide awake, and a bundle of creativity, until I close the lid on my computer, and only then will my mind and body take the hint that maybe a few hours’ sleep are in order.
Horror makes me happy. That might seem an odd thing to say, but it’s true. Whether I'm writing it, reading it or watching it, a good horror tale will make me smile, even as it makes me shudder. Horror is a powerful emotion, and, though it’s easy to get it wrong, when you get it right, it can affect you in ways that no other emotion can. Fear is what makes us keep the light on, because we don’t know what’s waiting for us in the dark; terror is what makes us look over our shoulder if we’re walking home alone and notice a sound on the very edge of hearing. It may seem, to some, to be a rather base emotion, and an unsavoury thing from which to derive pleasure, but it is universal to us all.
So, I am happy with my family, I’m happy when I write, and I am happy whilst being horrified. To tie all of this together, I'm happy when something I have written gets read by someone else. It is what makes writers become writers in the first place – telling a story, and having somebody take something from it, is one of the greatest pleasures known to man. Seeing someone reading a copy of your book; reading a review by someone who has enjoyed it (or not – bad reviews are fine too, so long as you learn something from them); having someone e-mail you, or Tweet you to let you know they appreciate what you've done – these are truly life-affirming experiences. After all, a story that sits there with nobody to read it, might as well be used as kindling. Stories are vibrant things that yearn to be read, to be told, and to be passed on to the next willing recipient.
So go ahead – pick up a copy of Cake. Read it, enjoy it, and tell me what you think of it – good or bad. If you like it, let somebody else know either by word of mouth, or by leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

These are the things that make me happy, and it is my honest wish that my writing will become one of yours.

CAKE is available here:

Paperback (UK):

Paperback (US):

Kindle (UK):

Kindle (US):

Sunday, 5 May 2013


So…It’s the fifth day of The Sparkly Happiness Project.

How’s your week been?
For me, it’s been a week of opposites.

Great days full of huge strides. Jobs done galore. Attitude happy. No sweary words out of my less than ladylike lips. Husband choosing to exercise (we’ve been after him for health reasons for quite a while)

Grumpy days. (for instance this afternoon I went off on a verbal bender and lost it big time with my family. Not so successful a day. Luckily it’s still EARLY days.)

BUT: One of my overriding feelings this week has been one of gratitude.

If you are miserable, stop looking inward, start looking outward. EVERYTHING, and I literally mean everything, is relative.

Yep. There are people whose homes feature on Cribs. They have six cars, holiday abroad constantly,  their clothes closets are bigger than my whole house. People who have more money than sense or taste and couldn’t you just put that to better use than they do?….blah BLAH blah.

There are also children who dig pieces of plastic out of shit infested dumps in India for 12 hours a day, barefoot with no gloves on, just to make enough money to live in a one room shack with a dirt floor and their 17 brothers and sisters sharing the same bed in shifts.

My health isn’t great and it limits me in unpredictable ways. That probably fits some of you as well. But I know several people (more than I care to admit) who have cancer. They are DYING, some of them quite young. What right do I have to complain when I am so blessed?

If most of our waking thoughts are WHY ME? POOR ME? THE WORLD OWES ME XYZ (fill in as you like)…I will guarantee that only one thing will come out of it:

Most of you reading this will be nowhere close to either end of the spectrum. You will be blessed with enough to meet your needs, even if you only manage monthly with one thin dime left over and not much fun between pay days. Some of you will have much more.

But think about it. In all honesty, most of us spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t really care about. Many of our stressors are of our own making.

One of the biggest challenges of our generation is to learn how to become
Life could be much simpler, our problems halved, if we worried more about what we DO to IMPROVE the lives of others (and NOT necessarily in material matters), and LESS about what we HAVE.

I’m not suggesting in any way that it’s wrong to strive to improve yourself or your lot, in educational & financial terms, because this whole project is about becoming more fulfilled on a personal level. But it’s how we define personal  fulfilment and what we do to achieve that that matters most. 

Right now is the OLDEST you have ever been, and the YOUNGEST you will ever be.

What are you spending your time and energy and life on? Getting  or giving?

William James said:
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.


Stop looking in the mirror and under the microscope, examining every little minute reason you have to be unhappy. Start looking out at the world and thinking about all the positive ripples you could make in the lives of others around you. Start with the people under your roof, in your neighbourhood, start anywhere.


It is my goal to perform one OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE act of service for another person each week. I want this to cover my 4 month project, but I can guarantee something.
It’s just as easy to develop GOOD HABITS as it is bad ones. All it takes is dedication. If you put the same amount of time into it, it’s yours. I expect that at the end of the 4 months I might be addicted to the warm fuzzy feeling that performing service for others can bring.

What are you dedicating your energy to?

Who’s with me? If you need some inspiration, watch the film PAY IT FORWARD. Bring tissues.

So, go forth, multiply.
good works!!!!!…I meant MULTIPLY GOOD WORKS!

now get outta here. go make someone smile.
you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013



(are any of you joining me??? C’mon you know you want to!)

In preparation for today I have done a little soul scratching and self-analysis. I have shortened the lists of things that are driving me crazy about life, myself & the universe, and the list of things that make me happy. And I have a game plan for the next four months.

We’ll have to have a suck it and see approach, I guess. None of this is guaranteed to soak up this festering pit of gloom in my stomach, but as stated in last blog…I AM A PROACTIVE person, so here’s to a gallon of proactive with my slice of cake.

Things that bring the SMILE factor back:

1.      Being organised. This is a sore point for me as I’m into the red zone when it comes to Adult ADHD, and am about as organised as a troupe of drunken monkeys on a day trip to a disco. Hence constant frustration with myself.

2.      Having fun time with my kids & husband & friends.

3.      Attending church & serving other people.

4.      Being a creative person.

5.      Eating healthy & sleeping enough. Exercising when possible (grr…MS!)

I know that seems a short list, but that is what all the nonsense, noise and bother boils down to in its simplest forms. Everything great usually falls into one or more categories of the above points.

 Things that cause gathering storm clouds:  

1.      Disorganisation, clutter, procrastination.

2.      Kids & adults constantly picking at each other, grumbling over nothing.

3.      Overtiredness and or poor health.

4.      Aggravation with other people’s poor (IMO) choices.

5.      Wasting time.

Again, it all boils down to those things in simplest form.

Some of those things I realise I have no control over…which is an issue that I will be working on.

A few things I have done or am started just in the last week:

1.      Put a sock bag on the door knob in the upstairs hall. We never have enough clean MATED socks. It’s that bad that I have an odd sock basket which I’ve nicknamed the Pit of Eternal Despair. It’s full to the top and seething with snakeloads of unmatched socks. Now all dirty socks (& undies) go straight into this new bag and I don’t have to chase them as much. It’s only been about a week, but so far, successful. Small thing, I know, but small things often fix big stressors.

2.      Made a list of all unfinished jobs in the house that are making me crazy, and figured out which ones I can do without help from taller or stronger people. I will systematically whittle at this list over the summer. Starting with stripping the turf on the only remaining  patch of grass in the back yard, so that my son can wheel barrow bucket loads of decorative Yorkshire stones to cover it and we can put pots and a bench on it! No more mowing.

3.      Organised some service opportunities to get me out of the ME ME ME rut I’ve been in.

4.      Booked the dog groomer for our furball of a Border Collie. (less hair =less housework!)


So, there we have it. Day One. Only 122 days to go!!

Can I go back to bed yet?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sparkly Happiness Project!

I got punched in the face this past week with a rather unpleasant truth: I AM A BITCH.

Let’s clarify: I am a Bitch on STEDS, riding a flaming motorbike from the gates of hell, flinging dollops of steaming poo and bad attitude in my wake.

My mate Keith, father of 7 and a social worker, calls it Releasing the Beast. And boy have I been letting her out of the cage a lot. Giving in to frustration & anger & venting to such an unproductive level that I can’t reign in back in and I just rile up everyone around me. Kind of like Sully seeing himself scaring Boo on Monsters Inc. Only I've had it on a repeating loop for ages. Not a pretty site.

But I can also be sweetness and light & am considered an optimistic person. I have Wikipedia sized volumes detailing the trials and ordeals I've got thru with a smile on my face and an annoyingly cheerful song in my heart. Somewhere, in the last year or so, that got lost, under an avalanche of crap.

Turning 49 a few weeks ago shook me up a bit. (yes my profile picture is OLD- 3yrs to be precise.) I had one of those boringly typical middle aged OMG moments thinking- do I want to wake up and be THIS person on my 50th birthday?

The answer was a resounding NO.
So the question became WHY? What the hell has been going on with me?  Inner conflict and a general festering frustration & unhappiness, that’s what. For a long time now I've had on this shiny pink mask of optimism that’s hidden a toxic pond of procrastination, pointless anger and foot stamping.

NO MORE. I am also usually PROACTIVE. That’s where the feelings of conflict have come in. I've been stuck in avoidance, denial and procrastination. 


So starting May 1st I'm on a mission, embarking on a 

Not sparkly like team Edward at the beach. Or a disco ball, or Lelly Kelly shoes. More like the sparkle of dew on the grass on a peaceful cool spring morning. Birds chirping. Breeze ruffling the new birth of leaves. Serene. Uplifting.

To do this I've made a list of 20 things: ten that make me happy, ten that make me rage.  I’m changing the focus of my time and attention, pulling things back to a more balanced core. And I'm taking a sabbatical from writing until September. I have one commissioned project to do, then it’s quits. In all this hassle and aggro I’ve put myself in a place where I HATE writing…the thing that I love best, one of the things that defines me. You know you’re out of kilter when you hate the thing you love so much.

So 4 months to do what, then? Stop procrastinating a million things that have festered and niggled at the back of my brain. Address some things that need changing in myself. Spend time with hubs & kids. It'll take some work & I'm gonna blog my progress, be accountable to you all. Come along for the ride OR- even better yet, join me in a SPARKLY HAPPINESS PROJECT of your own.

We can be each other’s cheerleaders. I promise not to fling poo.

Look for me here again on MAY 1st, DAY ONE!