Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - the balancing entry

As an accountantant I've always been aware of the debits and credits, the fact that a negative is always balanced by a positive. Recent years, and 2009 in particular, seem to be have been full of negatives, many of which I have chronicled on here.

So I sat down to think about the balancing entries, some of the positives of 2009, and this is what I came up with:

1. I completed my 'accidental' Open University degree with a higher classification than I obtained in my brick uni degree *cough* years ago. On the way I obtained the Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing which, if anything, means even more than the degree. It is proof that I have learnt my craft.

2. I have added around 55,000 words to my novel, despite being unable to write for significant periods due to my health problems. The end is firmly in sight now.

3. I have submitted five pieces of writing during the year, of which two were selected for publication. Not a bad hit rate and I am particularly proud to have had a piece of flash fiction selected for the forthcoming Even More Tonto Short Stories anthology.

4. We have raised Son 1 safely to adulthood.

5. I have renewed contact with some very old friends, including my most longstanding friend who I have known since I was four.

6. I have met up with some of my lovely, encouraging writer friends and my faithful local friends continue to be there, offering day to day company and support.

I can only hope 2010 brings more of the same.

Happy New Year to you all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It had to happen...

Well something had to go wrong, didn't it? But it's an annoyance rather than a catastrophe. Nothing major in the scheme of things.

We got up yesterday to find that our Virgin Media set-top box had died. The usual rebooting methods of retrieval came to nothing. A call to Virgin Media confirmed that the code it was displaying did indeed mean it was terminal. And they couldn't bring another one until Saturday afternoon.

We do still have an aerial so we can receive the basic five channels. The picture on two of these is extremely poor as we live in a reception blackspot, one of the reasons we were early adopters of cable. Because the reception is so bad we probably couldn't get Freeview either, without spending a lot of money on a huge and amplified aerial.

But it's not the end of the world. We actually watched very little TV over the holiday ( apart from the fantastic Lie to Me box set and a few episodes of Bones on Sky). Son 2 has accepted the temporary loss of CBeebies, after all he likes it on in the background but rarely watches. We have DVDs, and laptops to use the BBC iPlayer and its like. Who needs TV?

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's over for another year...

In the end it wasn't a white Christmas, in fact we woke up on Christmas morning to find the very last remnants of the snow had disappeared overnight. But we had a fabulous, very relaxed time. Just the four of us at home, which is how we like it best. It may not be too long before Son 1 is off doing his own thing at Christmas, so these moments need to be treasured.

Thinking about it, one of the reasons I felt so relaxed was that, for once, I didn't have to do almost everything myself. Most of the food and alcohol arrived via Tesco home delivery. I persuaded Hubby to do the wrapping and he hand-delivered the cards and gifts to neighbours and local friends. I took charge of the cooking and, for the first time ever, dinner was ready fifteen minutes before promised.

Son 2, who had been clearly feeling under the weather in the run up to the holiday, had recovered enough to enjoy the day, especially his dinner! For the first time ever we felt that he had some understanding of Christmas, that he actually looked forward to the now familiar festive routines rather than finding them upsetting. He is particularly enjoying a digital photo frame which I had preloaded with family photos and he is gradually exploring the digital camera to go with it.

Christmas was a great success.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wishing you...



...a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Autism and Christmas - part two

After I wrote here about son 2 and our Christmas tree, I was contacted by the lovely folk at The National Autistic Society, who have produced lots of information this year to help parents of autistic children get through the festive season.

There are three short videos and a downloadable hints and tips guide, all of which can be found at the NAS Christmas webpage.

If you have time, do take a look at the video clip below of Sam and his family, which highlights just some of the issues we as parents face at this time of year. Then please visit the NAS website for the other instalments and more information. You might just learn something.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The mysteries of MS

So I knew that for many people MS symptoms increase in heat. Warm weather and even a hot bath can leave an MS sufferer feeling worse. My own symptoms, even prior to diagnosis, have had a pattern of appearing in the summer months.

I was looking forward to the winter and hopefully some good health. I was pleased with my progress. Over the last few weeks I have been getting stronger and stronger, able to increase the distance I walk and not even needing my stick.

Then the snow arrived. Now my legs feel stiff and heavy, my back hurts and even my painkillers aren't providing relief. I can only walk a very short distance. Could this be the MS?

A quick investigation on Google shows that a minority of people with MS are affected by cold weather. It appears I may be one of them. Bugger.

In other news, son 2 is at home, on what should have been his final day of term, as the council has suspended transport. He is not impressed. But I would rather he was here than out on dangerously icy roads. How is it that Scandinavia and even Scotland can deal with snow and ice, while the South East grinds to a halt?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The white stuff

So we have snow again, though not as much as in February.

I don't like snow. It makes me want to huddle up at home and keep my babies (OK, my big thugs) safe with me.

Yesterday I rang the council transport department at 7am to see if son 2's school bus would be running. We need to know early as he can't cope with last minute changes to routine. They hadn't yet decided, so although I knew the school was to be open, I made a snap decision myself and told them he wouldn't be going. This turned out to be a wise move on my part, because as the day progressed it became clear that son 2 was under the weather. No obvious symptoms, but he was very quiet and abnormally lethargic, so I think he must have a slight virus. He was quite happy to stay indoors on his computer and eventually go to bed earlier than usual. Perhaps he was still tired from being a dancer in the school play on Wednesday evening.

It hasn't snowed again overnight and the sun is out, so I'm hoping that the icy pavements will melt. I want to go into town this afternoon for last minute Christmas shopping and with my balance problems, I just don't trust myself on snow and ice!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Words to inspire

Do you remember I recently wrote that I would use this blog for an update of the year, that I would direct friends here instead of writing in Christmas cards?

Well, I changed my mind. Because when I thought about it, the only possible title for the post could be 'Misery Memoir' and I don't want to write one of those. After all, if anyone wants to know what has happened to me and my family in recent times it can all be found somewhere here on the blog. Apart from, that is, a very recent breast cancer scare which I didn't write about at the time because a) it was far too frightening and b) I didn't think anyone would actually believe that yet another thing was possibly going wrong for me.

Last weekend I sat down instead to write a mass Christmas email to old friends who I have neglected for far too long. It was a difficult task and as I drafted and redrafted my words, I tried hard not to sound too much like a victim and attempted to show the many positives as well as the negatives. I don't know how many of the emails will actually reach their target, my contacts book may be well out of date, but I was shaking as I pressed the send button.

I can't deny that we have had four difficult years. At the start of this year I thought we were finally moving on, only to be hit by the events of the last six months which may well have changed our future in ways we don't even yet know. But we are not the only people who have had a hard time, far too many of my friends are in pain for one reason or another this Christmas.

Then this morning I read this beautiful post by fellow Novel Racer Mel, which is just so inspirational.

Bring on 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas - autism style

Son 2, like many people with autism, finds Christmas difficult. There are too many changes to routine, both at school and at home. People insist on altering familiar environments by putting up decorations. Receiving presents is confusing. The only interesting part of Christmas Day is the dinner.

This year, because Hubby is at home, our meagre decorations were put up at the start of December. The little fibre optic tree, purchased a few years ago with son 2 in mind, was installed in the lounge. But as soon as we tried to switch it on, son 2 threw a wobbly and insisted we unplug it. So it stayed dim in the corner while he got used to the idea.

On Sunday evening son 2 finally went over to the tree and plugged it in. Last evening he did the same. At this rate it might even be twinkling for the whole of Christmas Day...

Monday, December 14, 2009

The X Factor final

Right winner.

George Michael.

Crap winner's song.

That is all.


(but I did warm even more to Olly and I'm sure Mr Cowell is laughing all the way to the bank at the success of his PR machine)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The man's still got it...

I first fell in love with Billy Joel's music when I was 17 and bought a copy of his album 'The Stranger' in the only record shop of the small town where I grew up. His music has stayed with me over the years, some of the tracks gaining extra resonance as part of the soundtrack of my life. In the 1980's I saw him live at Wembley and he was every bit as good as I had hoped.

I've just found this more recent video of my favourite Billy Joel song on YouTube. It doesn't say when it was recorded, but he can still sing and it still makes me cry.

Friday, December 11, 2009

OMG

Can it really be almost two weeks since I wrote here?

I have no excuse other than that I have been busy with various medical appointments, Christmas shopping ( mostly online, but it still takes time) and catching up with old friends. Oh yes, and I had a horrid cold last weekend and was forced to miss Cally Taylor's book launch party, which was very disappointing.

The medical side has brought all good news. My neurologist is pleased with progress and doesn't want to see me for six months. Indeed my legs have been feeling much stronger in the last week, when I haven't needed to use my stick at all. Other potentially scary issues have been addressed and, all in all, I feel I have had a fairly thorough health MOT over the past six months, though I'm still awaiting some blood test results. I hope it won't take another major scare to make me look after myself properly next time, but I am still debating whether I want to have the swine flu vaccine.

Probably coming up soon: my views on The X Factor final and a summary of the year, because I am too lazy to write letters to go with Christmas cards and will direct friends here instead!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pacing myself

Today I hit the 70% complete mark on my novel. Now for those of you who know how long I've been trying to write it, that may not seem very impressive. But for me it seemed like a huge milestone.

One of the things I have been most concerned about whilst writing was the pacing of the novel. This is the first time I've attempted a piece of work greater than 4000 words. Although I started off with a rough structure...I knew the beginning, the end and the two main turning points in the middle...I have been having to fill in the gaps as I go along. I prefer to work that way rather than having everything planned chapter by chapter, simply because, as the story progresses, the characters themselves can suggest new routes forward. But in some ways it is also scary, as at times I can't see the way and I get blocked for a while. It also leaves me constantly concerned about the pacing of the story, but I suppose we will only be able to judge if that has worked once I reach the end.

I am also having to learn to pace myself in daily life. One of the impacts of my MS is that I can no longer rush around as I used to. I can still walk, often with the aid of a rather pretty walking stick, but I now find that after a day when I have walked a lot I have to have a quiet day at home. Yesterday I walked a lot, but today, when I went into town as I usually do on a Saturday, my legs and even my arms were quite wobbly. It was lucky that I didn't have much shopping to do, as I spent much of the afternoon recovering in Starbucks with a magazine and a dark cherry mocha. I should have known better than to go out two days in a row...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Children in Need



Love, love, love it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just so you know...

...last weekend I finally fell out of love with musical reality TV.

Yes, I'm talking about The X Factor. Now I'm not stupid. I've always known that these programmes are about manipulating the public. Sometimes, of course, the public like to get their own back. Remember Gareth and Will? The first series of Pop Idol produced possibly the most successful reality winner in the UK, but it wasn't the one Simon Cowell wanted.

This year, however, The X Factor has just got nasty. The very personal insults thrown at Danyl by the judges and the press, from week one of the live shows. The whole Jedward phenomenon and the audience heckling of them every week. Simon Cowell's inexplicable actions last weekend.

Sometimes I think the judges (and audiences) forget that many of the contestants are just teenagers. None of them deserve the sort of crap they have been getting. The music business can be tough, but this is a baptism of fire.

Sadly, I bet I'll still watch it on Saturday, though possibly from behind my fingers. What I won't do is vote this year. Not even during the final.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Berlin Wall


Seeing the television picture yesterday of the celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, reminded me of perhaps one of the most scary and foolhardy things I have ever done.

In 1981 I was 21 and studying in Northern Germany, along with two fellow students, as part of my degree. It was getting towards the end of the academic year and although we had done a lot of travelling, we hadn't been to Berlin. Two of us decided we had to go and booked train tickets and beds in the youth hostel (which was often fully booked). At the very last minute my friend caught a nasty virus and couldn't travel but, wanting to seize the moment, I decided to go alone.

We had often seen the fortified border between West and East Germany when travelling by train, but this would be the first time I had crossed it. The train stopped at a dedicated border crossing and heavily armed East German guards got on. They scrutinized passports thoroughly, with no discernible facial expression, then stayed on the train as it crossed the dreary East German countryside without another stop.

On arrival in West Berlin I could have been in London or Paris as I took in the shops, a modern art gallery, and McDonalds. But there was always the spectre of the huge wall, heavily graffitied on the Western side, which divided the city between communism and capitalism. The little museum at Checkpoint Charlie told of the fate of those who had tried to escape from East to West.

On my last day in West Berlin I decided to travel into East Berlin. On my own. Access was via the only underground station on the Eastern side of the wall which was still in use, and once again I had to go through rigorous passport control to be allowed a day visa. A mandatory amount of hard currency had to changed into the East German currency, Ostmarks, and this could not be brought back out of the country.

On finally getting out of the station I was shocked by how drab East Berlin was. Much of the architecture was of modern Soviet design, there were no advertising billboards and I could see no colourful paint. I headed towards the famous television tower and beneath it found a shop. I hoped to spend most of my Ostmarks but could find little to buy except a few dull postcards, because there were few consumer goods on the shelves. I then decided to walk towards the Brandenburg Gate, the big triumphal arch of Berlin which lay right beside the wall itself. But as I walked down Unter den Linden I felt my every move scrutinised by the armed guards patrolling the area. About halfway down the avenue I spotted a tiny bookshop in a side street and thought I could spend some more of my money. But the shop was full of Marxist propaganda rather than the East German literature I had hoped for. I bought a couple of pamphlets and a book of statistics about East German society and fled.

I was too frightened to go any further towards the Brandenburg Gate, so I turned back and headed towards the antiquities museum. On the way I passed soldiers goose-stepping scarily outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Neue Wache, which was then known as a Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism. It seemed that as a lone woman out on the almost empty streets I was very conspicuous and, even though I spoke German, I did not want any entanglement with armed guards.

Once inside the museum I felt a little safer. I spent some more Ostmarks on a guide book but still I had not got rid of all my currency. I was too scared to consider going into a restaurant, even if I could find one. In the end I decided I'd had enough. I walked back towards the underground station and found East German citizens outside, begging very discreetly. I handed my last change to one and dived inside the station, ready to go through the border patrol once again.

Getting back to the West was a huge relief, I have never in my life felt so vulnerable as I did that day. But I'm glad I did it, because I've never been back to Berlin and if I did now I would find a completely different city.

I don't have photos from East Berlin, I was too scared to take my camera in, but this blog shows pictures of the Berlin Wall in 1981, the very year I was there, and is almost exactly as I remember it. It also provides some interesting history so is well worth a read.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Guest post: Cally Taylor


Today I am delighted to host a leg of Cally Taylor's blog tour. Here is her inspirational guest post:

Day 17 of the Virtual Blog Tour for my novel “Heaven Can Wait” and I thought I’d write a guest post for Cathy about writing, reward and motivation.

In an ideal writing world the words flow effortlessly whenever we sit down at our computer/notepad, we’re never short of ideas, everything we write gets glowing feedback/published and our self-confidence grows and grows until our internal writing world is one big, happy bubble we never want to leave.

You can see the problem with that description can’t you?

The word ‘ideal’.

If you’re a writer the chances are you devoured books as a child. In fact, you’ve probably read, and enjoyed, books your whole life. A good writer makes it look easy, it makes us (and the rest of the world) think “I could do that!” Only the reality is very, very different.

I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t, or isn’t, struggling with their self-confidence. My debut novel has just been published and I’m still wracked with self-doubt and insecurities about my writing ability. Will people buy my book? Will they like it? Will they publish horrible, scathing reviews on Amazon? But what if people do like it and they’re disappointed by my second book?

So if getting your novel published isn’t a magical salve for writerly insecurities how on earth do you cope when you’re just starting out? This is what I did...

Back in November 2005 I took part in a ‘flashathon’ for BBC Children in Need. We were sponsored to write a piece of flash fiction every hour for a maximum of twenty-four hours (I think I managed about 16 hours, with a nap after the first eight hours!). After the competition finished all the flashes were critiqued by the group and the ‘top 50’ were passed on to Leaf Books for judging. Leaf Books had very kindly agreed to publish a book of eighteen flashes and donate the proceeds to charity. I was over the moon when one of my efforts was forwarded to them but I was up against some stiff competition, my fiction had previously been rejected by lots of publications, and didn’t think I stood a chance of getting into the final book. I was gobsmacked when I found out that “Tom Brown’s Spaceship” had been selected – it was going in!

I was so delighted that something I’d written had been published I called my closest friends and invited them round for a champagne celebration in December. My friends all bought a copy of the book (all proceeds to charity) and asked me to sign them! I felt like a superstar! To me the tiny little yellow book I held in my hands was huge! I didn’t care that I didn’t receive a penny for that story – I was thrilled that I’d written something an editor thought was good enough to make it into print. Maybe, just maybe, it meant I wasn’t a terrible writer.



I went out and bought myself a clear plastic folder and put a copy of the book in it. The folder was huge and the book rattled around but that was okay, it gave me something to aim for – I’d fill the folder with more published stories.

A month later Aesthetica magazine contacted me to let me know that they’d accepted my flash “Odd Socks”. There was no payment but when the magazine was published and I was sent a complimentary that went in the folder too.



I continued to write, I continued to receive rejections, I continued to receive stinging critiques of my stories that made me wonder whether or not I was good enough to be a writer, but I kept that folder close at hand. Two pieces of flash fiction published, I couldn’t be that bad. Maybe, I wondered, if I could get my work published, I could get paid for it too.

In February 2006 I was! It was a piece of flash fiction again – and I won £30 in a small online competition. I held that cheque in my hands for a long time. I couldn’t believe someone had actually paid me for something that, essentially, I’d made up! It would have been easy to chuck the cheque in the bank for it to be instantly gobbled up by some bill or other that needed paying. But I didn’t do that – in my eyes being paid for a piece of writing was a pretty damned momentous occasion in my writing career and I wanted to buy something I could hold in my hands, something that I could look at and think, my writing bought that.

I went on ebay and bought this silver bracelet. I still wear it. And I still remember.



I also kept the email I’d been sent, informing me that I’d won the competition. I put that in the folder too. I continued to push myself. I’d been published in print and I’d been paid for my writing but everything I’d had success with was flash fiction. Could I do the same with short stories? I started entering them into competitions. Lot and lots of rejections followed and I didn’t even make the long list. In April 2006 I almost fell off my chair when I received a phone call from the Bank Street Writers competition to say that my story “Under the Waves” had won. £100! I couldn’t believe it. I continued to set myself goals – to get a story published on X ezine, to have a story published in Y magazine, to place in Z competition. Some of my goals I hit, some I didn’t, some I knew I’d never hit (like placing in the Bridport Prize!) but I kept on trying. My folder full of published stories got fatter and fatter and I had to buy a second one, but I still kept them close at hand to reassure me during inevitable dips in self-confidence.



When I sat down to write “Heaven Can Wait” I felt daunted. Most of my stories were about 2,000 words long – how the hell was I going to manage 80-100,000? I’d have to reward myself somehow. I plucked a figure for my first draft – 90,000 words – out of the air and decided to reward myself with a paperweight for every third of the novel that I managed to write. It sounds silly now – buying myself a paperweight for 30,000 words – but I’d attempted a novel twice before and hadn’t finished either of them. I needed all the motivation I could get!

The first third of the novel came and went, then the second, then the third. Finally my novel was finished and the three paperweights, lined up in the window with the sun glinting off them, was a daily reminder of what I’d achieved. I had no idea, back then, if my novel would ever get published but I was damned proud of myself for doing what so many people talk about but don’t do, actually finishing a novel.



When I got my book deal I rewarded myself again. I’m not married and don’t have a lovely sparkly ring on my finger to signify that special moment in my life so why not buy myself something pretty to represent a different kind of special moment? I went back on ebay and bought a white gold ring, studded with teeny, tiny diamonds. I wear it on the third finger of my right hand.

Why does she keep buying herself things, you might be asking. Isn’t seeing her novel on the shelves reward enough? God yes! But I got my book deal a year ago and a big part of me didn’t believe it was real. I thought it might be snatched away from me at any second. The ring couldn’t be!

So what now? How do I deal with writerly wobbles now I’ve had a novel published? Mostly I do what I’ve always done – grit my teeth and write my way through them – but I’m still collecting things to make me feel better on ‘I can’t do this’ days. I’ve got an email folder where I keep ‘good news’ – emails from my agent, my publisher, feedback from people who’ve read my novel, and I’ve got a copy of all the magazines that have reviewed my novel or featured an interview with me.



Set yourself goals and reward and motivate yourself but more than anything else, keep believing, keep dreaming and keep writing. If you’re a writer you’ve got no choice.

Cally Taylor is the author of “Heaven Can Wait”, a supernatural romantic-comedy about a woman who dies the night before her wedding, refuses to go to heaven and returns to earth to try and return to earth so she can be reunited with her fiancĂ© Dan.

www.callytaylor.co.uk
http://writing-about-writing.blogspot.com
www.twitter.com/callytaylor

Friday, October 30, 2009

Heads up


On Sunday I will be hosting a leg of the very lovely Cally Taylor's blog tour.

If you haven't already read her debut novel, Heaven Can Wait, then I suggest you get down to the shops now. I don't often read chick lit nowadays, and I've never before read supernatural chick lit, but I devoured this book in two days. It's a beautifully written, light read which made me both laugh and cry and has an ending I didn't see coming. I'm now looking forward to Cally's second book...

Monday, October 19, 2009

X Factor update

This week I was loving Jamie. I always judge my favourite performances by whether I seek them out on the internet to view again and this was the only one.



I felt desperately sorry for Rachel, I don't think she has been given decent songs or much TV coverage. I hope that will be remedied for next week because actually she is a good singer who doesn't deserve to be in the bottom two so early.

The twins, well what can be said? They shouldn't still be there, yet they will probably survive until somewhere in the middle of the series because they make us laugh. Not in a good way.

PS. Whitney. Wardrobe fail and was she on the same as Robbie last week? Eek.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hateful journalism

I never was particularly a fan of Boyzone. Like Louis Walsh's other band Westlife, they were wallpaper music to me. Never offensive, I liked a few of their songs, I even knew the names of at least some of the band members, but that was as far as it went. So when I heard of the sudden death last weekend of Stephen Gately I was sad, not so much because Stephen Gately himself had great meaning to me but because any death at the age of 33 is a tragedy.

So I was disgusted on Friday to be led, via lovely Twitter friend Keris, to the most odious piece of journalism I think I have ever read, written by Jan Moir in The Daily Mail. I was not the only person to feel disgusted by this piece of gutter journalism. Over 1000 complaints were made to the Press Complaints Commission (including mine). The PCC website crashed. At some point during the day the Mail changed the title of the piece from the original wording 'There was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death' and advertising on the web page was removed, presumably at the request of the advertisers who included Marks and Spencer.

So what was it about this piece which offended so much? Well it was clearly homophobic (though Jan Moir, in a subsequent statement full of self delusion has denied this). It was inaccurate. Yes, apparently healthy young men can just die suddenly, it is medically recognised as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and such heart problems apparently ran in Gateley's family. It gratuously brought in the recent death (by suicide) of another young gay man who had been in the public eye but whose passing had nothing to do with Gately. The whole piece intruded on the dignified grief of family and friends and was even published the day before Stephen Gately's funeral.

I've been thinking a lot about journalism recently, because I am considering dipping my toe into the water of that area of writing. I know that writing for a paper or magazine is not as straightforward as it might look and opinion journalism must be particularly difficult. The challenge to find, on a weekly basis, something that will grab the attention of the public and sell papers, without offending a large minority must be difficult. But this piece managed to offend in so many ways and this was recognised by so many people. It is even being reported today that a complaint has been made to the Metropolitan Police.

We do, of course have free speech in this country, but the flip side of that is that those who express strong opinions in such a public fashion must be able to take the consequences of others also expressing their views by putting in formal complaints. This was no organised internet campaign, as Jan Moir suggests, but the result of a large number of people who were offended by her column taking action and discussing the issue online. The result of free speech in the digital age.

Let's hope it makes a difference. But don't hold your breath. One of the leading lights of the PCC is Paul Dacre, none other than the editor of The Daily Mail...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Normalising autism

I've just read this article and found myself nodding in agreement.

Autism is certainly much more acknowledged and much more diagnosed than it used to be, but services haven't kept up. We too will be faced with looking for an adult placement for son 2 in the next couple of years, and even now it is hard to see where he will fit in. He is severely autistic, but not as challenging as many and could be very vulnerable amongst bigger, more physical severely autistic adults. Yet at the same time he is nowhere near able enough to be amongst high functioning autistic people.

I'll stick my head back in the sand for another year and hope that services haven't had all their funding cut by the time I pull it back out again...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

X Factor - Spot the difference

Johnny Bravo



John and Edward

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Serendipity

I never believed that things happen for a reason. But the way life is going at the moment I might just start to change my mind.

It has been another rollercoaster week. Yesterday Hubby's business formally went into voluntary liquidation and on Thursday he had signed on, a soul-destroying experience in itself. Then last evening I received the best possible news, that my flash fiction piece was one of the winners in the Tonto Books short story competition and will be appearing in the forthcoming anthology Even More Tonto Short Stories.

I have to be honest, I almost didn't enter the Tonto competion. I was aware of it, of course, as it was mentioned on many writers' blogs. I had looked at my meagre amount of unsubmitted work, but I knew Tonto like edgy prose and I didn't think that I had anything which could even be knocked into that shape. I was also entering into my first major MS relapse at the time, looking for a diagnosis and feeling pretty shitty, so I decided to pass on the competition. It wasn't until the end of July, when I heard the deadline had actually been extended by a couple of days, that I suddenly changed my mind.

I sat in a coffee shop and wondered if I could conjure a piece of flash fiction from somewhere. I knew a longer piece would not be completed in time, as I was suffering from very bad double vision due to the MS. But what could I write? I scrolled through my MP3 player and suddenly decided to start a series of flash fiction pieces based on old song titles. I listed a few possibilities in my notebook. Then I went home and started to write. Two days later, on the competition closing date, I submitted 500 words to Tonto. I had little hope of success and was feeling rather guilty about paying an entry fee knowing our financial circumstances were about to change (though the fee was only to actually purchase the book, so was entirely justifiable!)

I wonder why that particular piece succeeded? Perhaps it was because I wrote it very quickly and didn't have time to edit to death. Perhaps some extra depth came out of being very ill at the time of writing. But most likely it was just luck, that my piece appealed to the judge in some way and worked well alongside others selected. I'll never know, of course. I guess it is a lesson that we have to learn as writers, that there can be so many almost random reasons for success or rejection. I guess too that is why we need to grow thick skins.

Right now I feel as if the parts of our lives have been thrown up into the air and we are just waiting to see how they will land. It is scary but at the same time exciting, and as the Tonto result shows, anything might happen. Perhaps it is all for an as yet unknown reason.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Photographs

On Saturday I did something I never expected to do. I had my photo taken, at a photographic studio in London.

People who know me understand that I have something of a phobia of the camera. I know I'm not the most photogenic person in the world and I prefer to stay firmly behind the lens. So this outing was not something I would have arranged myself.

Let me take you back many months. I received an email from my sister saying that she'd signed up for a photoshoot session and would I like to go along with her and my niece, the aim being to get a really good group picture to give to our parents for Christmas (don't worry, they won't see this!) Although my first reaction was to panic, it wasn't that hard to persuade me. I then left it to my sister to arrange a date.

Several months passed and no date had been arranged. When we did manage to find some mutually convenient weekends, it was always too late to make a booking, but eventually we got a date sorted in July. And then I became ill. My sister kindly rearranged it for this weekend, the last possible date before she would lose the deposit she'd paid upfront.

So there we were having our make up and hair done and our photos taken in three different outfits. At the end we had a large number of shots to choose from and we narrowed it down to twelve to purchase (the cost prohibited us taking any more). My niece turned out to be wonderfully photogenic, a real natural. My sister fretted about her make up. I thought she looked beautiful, but she doesn't usually wear any so she felt strange. I was just glad to get a few decent shots of myself.

Actually one of my shots is excellent and I'm saving it for now, but it would make a great author photo. Another I have already posted on my website. A third I have cropped from one of the group shots. And most importantly, we have some great pictures for Mum and Dad...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Birthdays

Yesterday we took son 2 to a birthday party. That in itself is a rarity. Son 2 has always hated parties, they are too noisy for him and he can't cope with the change of routine. So since the age of 5 we have just had a low key birthday with cake and candles at home, knowing that his wonderful school have also held a celebration there for his peer group. This is important as son 2 doesn't go to a local school and his classmates come from a wide geographical area.

Anyway, the party yesterday was a swimming party, at a pool son 2 had not visited before. The guests were a mixture of children with a variety of special needs and some young non-disabled siblings. We were really unsure how son 2 would cope, so Hubby and I both went along, Hubby to go in the water with him and me to be on standby watching. But I wasn't needed. Son 2 behaved well, and despite obvious anxiety (he hates the echo of swimming pools) he was persuaded into the water. Although he is a nonswimmer he enjoyed floating around in the shallow end, as he usually does. He even came out of the water immediately when asked, this has not always been the case in the past!

In the party room he sat nicely at the table and ate pizza, albeit with his MP3 player in his ears to block out the sound of chatter. When he had finished eating he announced, in his own nonverbal way, that it was time to go home. But by then the party was winding up anyway and we were able to head for home, feeling proud of our son's success in coping with a new situation. In an environment where he was accepted for exactly what he is, he produced behaviour which would not have been too out of place at a mainstream party.

While we are on the subject of bithdays, Casdok's son has just celebrated his 21st. Please take the time to read her beautiful post reflecting on his coming of age.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tightening the belts...

So the new era of financial abstinence has begun (though you might not believe that after I had been to town yesterday!)

Knowing that this employment situation was about to occur, a few weeks ago I purchased a (discounted) copy of India Knight's The Thrift Book. Now I like India's journalism, often finding myself agreeing with her, and I enjoyed The Thrift Book as expected. But as I read all too often I found myself thinking hey, I already do that. We've always swapped children's clothes with friends, I've been a keen crafter for years and I am far too familiar with eBay, to give just a few examples. Let's face it, India Knight and I move in different circles and most of my friends and I have been thrifty by her standards for years. So not too many savings to be made there.

I'm looking at ways of reducing the food bill. Since I became ill in the summer I have been unable to drive, so started using the Tesco home delivery service. I find it successful because it eliminates most impulse buying, but of course you have to pay for the convenience (though this week's delivery charge was refunded because they were late due to a van breakdown.) Now Hubby will be home we will probably go to the store together and it will be interesting to see if the weekly food cost rises or falls as a result!

I've booked an appointment with a benefits advisor next week, as our situation is complicated by the fact that we have a disabled child and of course my own capacity to work is currently in question. Hubby will be busy with the winding up of the company for the next few weeks, even though his work will be unpaid. As a director it is his responsibility to provide the receiver with all necessary information.

Then we will sit down and look at all our options. I have a lot of voluntary sector experience in an unpaid capacity, but of course that sector is even more cash-strapped than most and job opportunities locally are now rare. I am also investigating how much it would cost me to retrain to get back into some form of accountancy, albeit at a lower level than when I left the profession eighteen years ago. But I do wonder if it is worth the investment, if I won't be able to get a job at the end due to my health, and of course I would much rather be doing something home-based and writing related...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The times they are a-changing

Sorry, I've been a bad and absent blogger again. I will try to do better in future.

I'm sitting here watching the BBC news about the collapse, exactly twelve months ago, of the American bank Lehman Brothers. A collapse which pushed the world into financial meltdown. Over the last few days I've been reading that governments over the world are starting to say that the corner has been turned, that their countries are heading out of recession. It has even been suggested that Gordon Brown will say the same about the UK this week. Whether Britain is heading in the right direction or not, it comes too late for many people who, through no fault of their own, have lost their livelihood.

On Friday Hubby and his business partner will shut up their company for good, forced out of business by events out of their control. They operate in a construction industry heavily hit by the bursting of the property bubble and the work has disappeared to the extent that the company is no longer solvent enough to trade legally. As I was also employed for a few hours a week we will lose all our household income and, given our ages and my health issues, future employment prospects do not look rosy.

Now this may be a great opportunity to do something we will enjoy more and for me to get more help in my role as a carer, but it will also be a huge challenge. I need to start making some proper money from my writing rather than giving it away, for publishing credits and experience, as I have up to now. But I'm not sure how to go about this, how to get my foot on the ladder.

Ideas on a postcard please.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

September comes...

The new month begins and school is back tomorrow. It's been a strange holiday as I've not been able to do much due to my MS relapse, which thankfully seems now to have almost resolved. Inspired by his brother, son 2 decided to listen to his mp3 player for the first time ever, which has been a godsend. It's not an iPod but a cheap kids' player I got on eBay, a tiny capacity but seemingly sturdy, which is very important.

I've spent the last two days working. Due to my bad back I should only sit at my desk for short periods of time and by the end of yesterday I was in a lot pain. I've no idea whether the back pain which affects my mobility is part of the MS, but I've decided I must get back to doing yoga regularly, as that used to help a lot.

When I had a gym membership I used to do hatha yoga classes twice a week, with a lovely teacher whose gentle approach was suitable for all. I had to give up my gym membership when I became unable to get there due to family illness and sadly now I can't afford to rejoin. In the past I've bought yoga dvds but found it difficult to practice when it is necessary to look at the screen and so I lazily let my yoga slip. A bad mistake, I fear.

But now I think I've found the answer, yoga mp3s from Yoga2hear, which are also available via Audible. The narrator, Sue Fuller sounds very like my old teacher and the beginner classes I've sampled so far seem to use a similar gentle approach. I'm going to get a few more over the coming months and then I should have enough for a varied home yoga practice. I hope my back appreciates it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nick Hornby and autism

There is an interesting piece about Nick Hornby in The Times today, along with an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Juliet Naked. You can read it here.

I have a lot of time for Nick Hornby. Not just for his writing, which is good and accessible, but also for his quiet championing of services for children with autism. Nick and his ex-wife set up a very specialist school in London for children with autism. Whilst the specific teaching approach used at TreeHouse school is not the one we chose for son 2, I do know other parents who use it successfully and indeed have children at the school.

Nick Hornby doesn't often speak or write specifically about his autistic son, but when he does, as in this interview in 2000, it is always moving. I'm currently writing a novel about living with autism and I can only aspire to express the tangled emotions as successfully as Nick Hornby.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mummy blogging

Despite the strapline of this blog, I have never really intended it to be a 'mummy blog', so I was interested to read this article about mummy blogging and why people do it.

Parenting is, of course, a huge part of my life and that is why I do write about my family from time to time, but on the whole what gets on to this blog is a fairly sanitised version. I think long and hard about what I want to expose to the world, but even so there are probably a few posts which I would remove from the blog should my readership ever rise substantially.

My real reason for creating this blog was to chart my own progress in moving away from being 'just a mum' and finding myself again. The sense of losing your own individuality is one experienced by many parents, especially parents of disabled children who are perhaps unable to work because their lives have been taken over by educational provisions, behavioural issues and medical appointments. It is a challenge which at some point, needs to be addressed for the parents' own sanity and for me writing has filled the gap and hopefully set me off in a new direction.

I've 'met' lots of lovely people through this blog, both writers and parents of disabled children. But that has been a happy coincidence, I didn't set the blog up to find parenting or special needs advice as I have plenty of friends just up the road who regularly offer coffee and support. Nor did I set up the blog to encourage parenting advertisers or freebies...I have had offers but have always turned them down.

I've been asked why I don't post pictures of my children online, either here or in a 'private' forum. There is a simple answer. Both my boys are, in their own ways, quite vulnerable and it is my job, as a parent to protect them. Now that is not to say there aren't pictures of them online. Son 1, like every teenager, uses social media, but there he is control of his own images. We have on occasion given permission for a charity to use unnamed pictures of Son 2, both in print and online, because we know they will be used with integrity. Having in the past been the subject of online nastiness, even from people who should be supportive, I don't want to expose my children's identities. I may be paranoid, but we are quite a private family in many ways.

So if you are looking for a true mummy blog, there are many bloggers out there covering both special needs and regular parenting with a depth and humour you won't find here. My kids will continue to pop up on the blog but I'm starting to wonder if it is time to change my strapline...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The X Factor...

...is back. I'm so excited! Four good contestants tonight and how cute and good is Danyl?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Here, there and everywhere

First of all thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post. They are much appreciated and it is good to be back. But now I'm about to disappear again for a few days, as tomorrow I'm off to the seaside for some internet-free rest and relaxation. I'll be staying with my parents and am taking son 1 with me to act as escort and porter.

While I'm there I will be doing a lot of thinking about my writing. Not about my current novel, I do know where that is going even if progress is slow. It is novel 2 which is now unexpectedly on my mind, as yesterday the characters for a new story started to introduce themselves. The second novel is clearly not going to be what I had originally intended to write and it will require some considerable research. But the main characters are here, solidly lodging themselves in my head, and now I just need to let them lead me towards the plot...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Bad times, good times

The bad news first.

A week ago I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable condition with an uncertain progression and prognosis. It wasn't a surprise. I have been feeling 'not quite right' for maybe eight years, have had various tests, with minor symptoms being attributed to stress or the side effects of drugs. All of this seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, I have no complaints about my medical treatment. But this time I had tingling in my face, my GP suspected MS, was honest enough to say so and refer me on. That was at the end of June.

After a more recent week-long convoluted story involving two hospital A&E departments and an MRI scanner, my consultant neurologist broke the news. I was just thankful it wasn't a brain tumour, which was the other possibility. At the moment I have severe double vision, because the muscles in my eyes are not working together. I can't drive, I'm walking with a stick, feeling very weak and wobbly, and I need patched glasses just to function. I know this is just a bad relapse, part and parcel of MS. I am already better than I was, it should all improve further with time.

But all this was forgotten yesterday when my Open University results came out. I got the grade I had hoped for in my Advanced Creative Writing course, not a distinction but the next best thing. As a result I am now the proud owner of a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing, as well as an Open Degree with 2.1 Honours ( due to the eclectic mix of courses I have studied I can take this as either a BA or BSc. I think I will go for the BSc, despite the strong creative writing content, as I already have a BA!)

There is a wonderful symmetry here. I initially joined the OU ten years ago to study one course in Health and Social Care, in order to better understand the systems we would be fighting because of son 2's autism. I had no intention of going on to do another degree, but due to my kids' special needs over the last four years I found myself stuck at home with a need for distraction from a lot of stress. I went back to the OU and found a new direction and validation with the OU creative writing courses, making a dream into a reality. I have learned so many practical writing skills, I have been published and I will continue writing, not just as a means of one day hopefully perhaps making a little pocket money, but above all to enjoy a 'career' which can fit around not only my role as a carer but now also my own future health needs.

I hope the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Will You

I'd forgotten all about this song, but I heard it recently and remembered how much I loved it. Memories came flooding back.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sometimes...

...such as when you find the downstairs shower room and adjoining laundry room flooded with sewage at 8.30 on a Saturday evening, it is useful to be married to a man who owns a drainage company.

A man who, although not a drain tech himself, does understand how the drains work and keeps a set of drainage rods in the boot of his car. A man who, with the help of Son 1, is prepared to persevere with rodding until the solid blockage at the base of the soil stack finally clears itself in a rush of backed up water.

A second round of cleaning and disinfecting continues today, after we finished just before midnight. The flood water even got into the base of my huge ironing pile and a mound of clothes I was sorting for the charity shop, so there is a lot of washing to do.

We blame it on Son 2, who likes to throw things down the toilets and flush quickly, before we can even see what went down. The blockage could well have contained cardboard, broken DVDs, teaspoons and chunks of soap and it caused the water from his bath upstairs to overflow through the downstairs toilet and shower, as it had nowhere else to go.

I'm just thankful it didn't all happen a day or two earlier when Hubby was away in Europe!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Breaking the silence

Sorry about my recent absence here. Over the last two weeks I have spent far too much time in the doctor's waiting room and the dentist's chair, culminating in a dreaded root canal treatment this week.

As a result I am way behind with my work (the sort that pays) and, with a deadline looming and a summer holiday approaching, I'm having to keep my head down and try to catch up.

Normal service (whatever that is) will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How not to react to a review

As writers we all get stung by criticism of our work, whether it is published or just writing submitted on a course or at a writers' group.

But American author Alice Hoffman took her dismay a step too far when she launched an angry tirade against a newspaper reviewer on Twitter and worse still, published the reviewer's personal contact details, enciting her fans to attack her too.

The excellent How Publishing Really Works blog has a great summary of the whole fiasco and its ramifications here.

[For the record Alice Hoffman is a writer I feel I should like, but when I borrowed a couple of her books from the library some years ago I gave up on them. I hope she won't attack me for that...]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Novel Racers and wet feet

Yesterday I travelled to Birmingham for the latest Novel Racers' meet up. It's not a difficult journey from here, but did involve a bus and two trains so I planned it carefully in advance and took the risk of booking my tickets early, to get a good price. On the morning I left home far earlier than I needed to, so as to avoid any possibility of missing my connection at Watford Junction. The journey went completely to plan and I finally arrived in Birmingham at 11.45 for a 12.30 meet.

That was when I discovered that Google Maps are not accurate. But despite the dubious directions we all eventually found the pub and took over a corner furnished with sofas. It was lovely to see everyone...most I had already met at a meet in London last year, but I had the pleasure of meeting DK, Rachel and Ellie for the first time. There was lots of chat, about writing, of course but about many other things too. It was so incredibly humid, that I kept turning round to look outside to see if it was raining. Eventually we heard a spectacular clap of thunder and the heavens opened.

All too soon it was time for me to wander back to the station in the now light rain. Once again my train was running on time and we sped south, eventually hitting black clouds and torrential rain not far north of Watford. When I had to alight the rain was lighter again, but due to flash flooding the underpass used to move from one platform to the other was inches deep in water, the station staff fighting a losing battle with brooms and buckets. Everyone had no choice but to tiptoe through it.

My connection was standing almost ready to go and by the time I got off again the rain was light. I had about a fifteen minute wait for my bus, all the time praying the storm would hold off until I reached home, and it did.

Despite my eventual wet feet I had a most enjoyable day!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The death of two icons

Let me take you back to your youth. Back to the time when our heroes were allowed to be normal sized people with slightly chubby faces and curves.

First there was Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as she was then known) in Charlie's Angels. A pin-up for the boys and a sassy role model for us girls, her hair was copied by millions. The Angels led us to believe that girls really could do anything, at a time when we were trying to escape the dull domesticity experienced by our mothers.



Then there was Michael Jackson, whose personal journey led him from the legendary familial Motown pop group to become the creator of some of the best and most purchased pop records ever made.



Let's hope that in time Michael Jackson will be primarily remembered for his musical and showmanship achievements, rather than the the excesses and weirdness of the 'Wacko Jacko' years, with all their dark undertones.

And I also hope that Farrah Fawcett will not be forgotten, despite being pushed from all the news bulletins by the death of an even bigger star on the same day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In the last week...

I have reached, and gone past the half way mark in my novel. That felt like a huge achievement, as I have been writing this novel on and off for two and a half years!

I have decided I am not a fast writer. I never have been able to do the fast and furious 'shitty first draft'. Instead I think a lot about each section and edit lightly as I am writing. I am hoping that this means that subsequent edits will be quicker and easier, but we will see.

I have also been thinking a lot about where my novel might fall in the market. I don't write chick lit, I simply can't do the comedy. It's certainly not literary fiction either, though I suppose it may end up falling into the Richard and Judy book club 'lit-lite' category of commercial fiction. I would be quite pleased if it does.

But after giving all this a lot of thought I decided just to think about some of the authors I particularly like for various reasons and who influence me: Anita Shreve, Maggie O'Farrell, Kate Atkinson, Sue Miller, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult. I guess that gives you an idea of where my book is (hopefully) going...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Communicating without words

Long term readers of this blog will know that Son 2, who is severely autistic, is nonverbal. He primarily uses a combination of symbols and a few Makaton signs to communicate in a very limited fashion, usually to ask for things.

Over half term Son 2 discovered that a musical video which he used to love has been uploaded to YouTube. Now we have had many copies of this particular film over the years in both videotape and DVD format. He has eventually destroyed each one and, although it may still be available, I am not going to buy it again. So the discovery was bliss for him.

Early on Monday morning I wrote a note in his home-school book about what he'd done over half term. I explained all about his YouTube discovery (which incidentally he made himself).

Today I got a note back. When they had a class discussion about what the children had done over half term, son 2 repeatedly showed his keyworker the symbols for video and computer.

I'm so proud of him.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The best laid plans...

I thought I had the first part of this week organised. I would write today. Tomorrow I would go to a meeting followed by a supermarket trip. On Wednesday I would be teaching in Central London.

Well I had good intentions of writing today. Indeed I opened the Word document of my novel this morning. But I was too tired to focus on it. Today was my first free day after a two week half term and it's not until I finish a school holiday that it becomes physically and mentally apparent just how full-on that time caring has been This time we have also had the added bonus of daily 5am starts. I normally give myself a day or two off once Son 2 returns to school and today I found I really needed that. So I closed down Word and just played around on Twitter and Facebook instead. I also managed to colour my hair, which was desperately needed, so the day wasn't entirely wasted.

The meeting tomorrow has just been cancelled, because it is Carers Week and a lot of the other attendees are going to an event for carers. I'm not actually going to the event and will still have to do the supermarket shop, but perhaps I'll fit in some writing too.

The teaching on Wednesday is in the balance due to a proposed tube strike. I won't know until tomorrow evening if I am going or not, though obviously I will need to do the preparation and make sure I have suitable clean smart clothes.

Then on Thursday I'll be plunging into my accountancy work. The work I actually get paid to do. Despite the various changes of plan it is still going to be a busy week...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Say it in jewellery

I just love that Hazel Blears was wearing this brooch yesterday.
The lady has a sense of humour.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Britain's Got Talent...my verdict

I have to confess that this year was the first that I have watched Britain's Got Talent. I watched the first episode and like so many others, I got sucked into the Susan Boyle story and continued watching.

Now I'm quite cynical and I understand how this sort of programme works. The emphasis on back stories to arouse sympathy, the judicious editing, the hyping up of the 'chosen ones' are integral to any Simon Cowell vehicle. And we, as the audience, like to turn things on their head with our vote.

Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad Diversity won. I didn't actually vote, but if I had it would have been for them. They were fantastic on the night and over the series came up with three polished, witty performances. What's more, they all seem like nice, educated lads who can overturn prejudices about street culture and I hope they have a great future ahead of them.

But I felt exceptionally uncomfortable about the semi-finals and final. I felt I was being manipulated. I didn't like seeing young children in distress on live TV. And I didn't like seeing what the media has done to Susan Boyle.

Whilst I realise that nobody could have predicted the YouTube, Facebook and Twitter phenomena, the production team must have known that she had learning difficulties. It is possible that her intellectual and emotional functioning level is not much higher than that of the distraught 10 and 11 year olds who left the stage in tears. Along with learning difficulties often come mental health issues such as anger, anxiety and depression, caused by trying to cope with a world which is incomprehensibly not black and white. Somebody should have understood this and put expert support in place.

Hopefully whilst in The Priory, Susan will be helped to come to terms with what has happened to her over the last couple of months. Then I hope she will be nurtured and allowed to develop without being made into a freak show. If nothing else she deserves that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It can't be half term again?

Well yes it is. Two weeks of it.

I have booked two playscheme days this week, but there are no playschemes next week, as everyone else will be back to school. One of the down sides of having a child in a specialist independent school.

So the only respite I can get next week are short windows of time when Son 2 can be cared for while I attend the parent support coffee mornings. I shall of course do that, as I will be craving adult conversation!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Help save Salt Publishing

You have probably all seen this elsewhere, but I thought it worth posting again, as a reminder of how we can all help out a struggling indie publisher.

Salt publish beautifully produced, quality books, specialising in collections of poetry and short stories, for which there are all too few outlets.

Chris Hamilton-Emery, who runs Salt with his wife Jen, explains the predicament in which they have found themselves here on his Salt Confidential blog.

What can we all do to help? Well, in the words of Chris:

Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

You can visit Salt's website here.

I've bought two and spread the word. How about you?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Your project has been received...

I logged into my Open University homepage this morning to find this message awaiting me. So now there is nothing I can do except wait for the result in August. It's slightly scary to think that both a diploma and an honours degree depend upon it.

I'm worried that I wrote my project story too quickly, the words flowing for once, unlike the novel, which since writing 1000 words on Sunday has ground to a halt. I've only added another 200 words or so. It's like drawing blood from a stone except that would actually be more productive.

In my defense I did have a meeting yesterday. Well actually it was cancelled, but that threw my day into disarray. Then today I had to go to a leaving party at our special needs parent support group, for someone who is emigrating. Couldn't miss it, could I?

Now what excuse will I be able to find tomorrow?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Going quiet

Still here and all is fine. But I am somewhat distracted at present.

There is the small matter of the OU Advanced Creative Writing course to complete in the next 10 days or so. Then there are some goings on around some work I do. I'm not directly involved, but it is constantly in my thoughts. And there is a novel waiting to be written...

So don't be surprised if I don't post for a couple of weeks.

I will be back very soon.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Handbags, gladrags and laptops

It's been a strange week. On Monday evening my trusty laptop died, resolutely refusing to turn back on at all. Now that wasn't entirely a surprise, as it was old, slow, very noisy and starting to overheat. But I had hoped that it would hang on for at least another month to allow me to finish the OU course, then research and buy a new one at leisure.

Of course that was not to be and with deadlines looming, I needed a laptop fast. A quick search around the internet identified a strong possibility in John Lewis so I decided to dash down to Oxford Street on Tuesday morning. I also needed to get a new watch battery, as my watch had stopped on Monday too. Although Hubby had promised to take it to the cheap jeweller near his office, he had left for work without it.

So after quick and easy tube journey into London, my first stop in Oxford Street was for the battery. I knew there was a watch repair bar in Debenhams so I headed there. The cost was about twice as much as Hubby would have paid, but it included a voucher for a free coffee while waiting. Furthermore, the repair bar was right beside the handbag department and I never need an excuse to look at lovely bags.

Battery sorted, I headed down the road to BHS in search of a new pair of jeans, as their Petite range is a good length for me. I got what I wanted and a top which our local branch had not had in stock in my size, so I was very pleased.

Then finally to John Lewis, where I found that the Toshiba Satellite laptop I had researched did indeed seem to be the best available option within my budget and being John Lewis, they throw in a two year warranty. So computer duly purchased, I set off for home.

It has taken me several days to get everything up and running. It's my first time using Vista and Office 2007, so there were some annoying incompatabilities with old software and hardware I use. But I hope it is just about set up now. At least I had obsessively backed up my old files, so I don't think I've lost anything important and it is wonderful to type on a responsive keyboard again.

The clothes, however, were a less successful fit and will be returned to my local BHS store tomorrow. Hubby and the bank manager will be relieved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Apprentice

Well, after yesterday's Budget we all know for certain that this country is in a huge financial mess. And then we watch wannabe future leaders of industry on reality TV and all becomes clear...

Pants Man?! Bright green cereal packaging they didn't even get round to designing? And to top it all, a self-combusting team with two apparent passengers and not the slightest spark of creativity amongst any of the members.

It's difficult to pick potential finalists this year. Debra is manipulative, Ben too pushy and Philip a bulldozing bully. The there's Lorraine, who seems like a fish out of water. I'm quite liking Kate, she did well yesterday.

But at the end of the day The Apprentice is compulsive viewing, one of the few programmes we all watch together in this house...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day tripping

Yesterday I travelled into central London to have lunch with the lovely Helen, who is my hard-working co-editor at bookersatz. We had only met in person once before, very briefly, so it was great to have a long leisurely meal on a sunny terrace in Islington, chatting about lots of writerly things and life in general. Sadly I had to leave all too soon in order to get home for the school bus, but I hope we'll be able to do it again in the not too distant future.

Today I spent much nearer to home, catching up on the phone and then over coffee with local friends I hadn't seen during the school holidays.

So tomorrow, in order not to have a guilt trip, I will have to get on with my writing. My novel and final OU assignment ( a 4000 word story plus commentary) await me...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Substance over style

I was tidying up last Saturday and half watching Britain's got Talent at the same time, when this stopped me in my tracks.

In an age where everyone seems obsessed by appearance and designer goods, it was lovely to see someone turn prejudices upside down and inside out. Susan Boyle has made the news, rocked America and at the time of writing has over 12 million hits on YouTube.

It is too early to predict whether she will win the series but she is already a star and the pound signs were almost visible in Simon Cowell's eyes as he listened. Yes, of course she would benefit from a little makeover, but as an unemployed person she won't have been able to afford to pamper herself in the past. What really counts is that she has personality and huge talent, unlike most of the bland celebrities we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

It made me think about my own friends who, like me, are mostly very ordinary. I realised that the ones I get on with best and to whom I would entrust my children and my life, are those slightly older friends from a 'make-do and mend' generation, who have no interest in fashion fads and can run their households on a tight budget, within their financial means. They might not have designer homes and wardrobes, but they are selfless and freely give their time and energy to help others. They are the ones who have stuck by us during a few very difficult years when others disappeared. One in particular has literally been a lifesaver.

It may be a generational thing, but give me substance over style any day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon antics

There appears to be something nasty going on at Amazon.

If you haven't already picked up on this via Facebook or Twitter, then Anne's article will explain the apparent censorship far better than I can.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Read, read, read

How Publishing Really Works is a blog I always enjoy for its perceptive views on writing and the publishing industry.

Today's post on the importance of reading is spot on. Whilst I do think writing can be taught, at least to an extent, reading widely and in more than one genre is also critical to both new and experienced writers. A taught course or even a how-to book will inevitably reflect the personal views and style of the teacher. However, a depth of reading will introduce writers to a huge array of styles and subject matter, which can improve their own work as they discover what works for them as a reader.

So get books for free in the library, buy them cheaply in a charity shop. Experiment with books you would never normally choose. If you don't like them by all means give up, but not before you've worked out what you don't like. It can only improve your own work.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Don't forget autism


Today is World Autism Awareness Day.

Of course there are lots of other things happening in the UK. The G20 Summit and the accompanying protests in Central London are considered far more newsworthy, so there is perhaps only a slim chance of seeing a representative of The National Autistic Society on TV or radio today.

But the world financial situation will impact on autism. There are already far too few services for people on the autistic spectrum, particularly adults and those of all ages at the more able end of the spectrum. The hugely increasing national debt resulting from bailing out the banks will inevitably lead to a further squeezing of funding for public services and some existing schemes are likely to suffer or be lost altogether. Many services are run by charities who are also suffering in the current economic climate.

The current rate of diagnosis is around one child in a hundred, but as no comprehensive records have been kept nobody actually seems to know how many people in this country have autism. It's a demographic time bomb of vulnerable people needing help and support and it is difficult to see where the money for that help is going to come from.

Don't forget people with autism today.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Word counts

I've just updated the word count for my novel and am amazed to find I have now written 31%, that's nearly a third of it completed! I don't update the counter daily or even weekly, but perhaps I should, it's a great motivator.

If I add the words I'm writing on my novel to those written for my OU course, then it doesn't look too unproductive. We are in the finishing straight of the course now and I'm looking forward to being able to concentrate on the novel and perhaps even eventually write some shorter pieces to submit to print or online magazines.

Anyway this coming week is an OU week, another assignment due in on Friday. It has been worth it, I am improving my skills all the time and it will be lovely to hopefully come out at the other end with a formal diploma in literature and creative writing as well as another degree. But it will also be nice, just for a while, to be able to write freely on the novel and not within the tight word limit constraints of the academic course.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Science exams

A report has just come out saying that GCSE science exams have been devalued. This comes as no surprise at all. In the last couple of months I have heard the following:

AS Level students in Son 1's old school, a science college no less, having to be sent on a crash course elsewhere to learn the basics of Chemistry that they need to tackle the subject at the higher level.

A university lecturer in a medical related subject saying that even post A level students come up to university with sufficient in depth knowledge and have to take additional classes to bring them up to scratch.

Son 1 hasn't taken science GCSE yet. But I am reliably informed by other parents that were he to sit the new double-weighted Combined Science exam tomorrow, with no preparation, he could easily pass just on general knowledge gleaned over the years from the Discovery Channel.

I'm no scientist, but it's really not good enough, is it?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Mother's Day...

RIP Jade Goody.

I've never been a fan, but no one deserves to die of cancer at the age of 27. And no children should lose their mother at such a tender age, especially not on Mother's Day. In her last days Jade used her 'celebrity' status to provide for their future and no one can blame her for that. She showed an unexpected dignity to put OK Magazine to shame and has left the legacy of an increased awareness of cervical cancer in young women. Hopefully she will be remembered for that and her courage in tackling the illness, rather than some of the less savoury episodes in her life.

To Julie Myerson I would like to say that many teenagers are confused, lazy and have habits we would rather not know about. Some may even have more deep-rooted problems which need appropriate specialist intervention. With the right support, however, even the most troubled can turn their lives around successfully, but the impetus to start this process has to come from them. The path they choose to move forward on may not be the one we would have chosen but it doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

Tough love is not always the best approach, especially with a child who is legally a minor. Washing dirty linen in public is definitely not. It might have been better to wait and fictionalise the experience when it is all less raw. I hope you have a second chance, though if this is correct, it would seem unlikely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Secret

Yes, I know I'm years behind the rest of the world on this.

I was given a copy of the book The Secret a couple of years ago. I had a quick flick through it and realised that it was just the Law of Attraction, as promoted by Oprah Winfrey, Noel Edmonds and many others, packaged up in a glossy pseudo-historic manner to attempt to appeal to fans of The Da Vinci Code. Unconvinced, I put the book away, but for some obscure reason I picked it up again last weekend and read a bit more.

I have no problem with most of The Law of Attraction. It encourages positive thinking, which is a good thing and the foundation of CBT, which is scientifically proven to work. On the whole The Law of Attraction is harmless and little different to the traditional use of prayer, though I am still not convinced that just asking the Universe for something will bring it, unless you put in some personal effort too. After all, the Universe is not going to get my novel published unless I finish writing it first, is it?

The part of The Secret that I really didn't like, however, was the premise that if something bad happens, it does so because you have been thinking about it and negative thoughts attract negative occurences. Now to me that is psychologically dangerous...the truth is that in life bad things often happen to good people for no reason at all, not because they have thought or done anything to attract them. For that reason I do have my doubts about the whole package.

BUT.

Last night Hubby, out of the blue, commented that we hadn't heard from a friend for a very long time. The husband of my old university friend who died of cancer, we care very much about him and his daughters. Remembering that he had sent a new email address and not sure if I had saved it properly, I said I would have a look today and if I couldn't find it I would post a letter to him instead.

This morning I opened our inbox to find an email from that very same friend, apologising for not being in touch for so long.

A coincidence, or the Law of Attraction in action?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Support Red Nose Day


One of my children has been lucky enough to receive help from a project funded by Comic Relief, so I am now even more of a fan of Red Nose Day.

This year why not buy a copy of TwitterTitters, a charity book of funny stories which was organised through Twitter to support Comic Relief. It even contains stories by two of my lovely fellow Novel Racers and blog friends, Calistro and Lane. Why not have a laugh and support a good cause at the same time?

TwitterTitters can be purchased here and we have a great review over on bookersatz.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Literary loss

I was sad when I read this report about the collapse of an archive building in the German city of Cologne and with it, the expected loss of the archives of the writer Heinrich Boll (apologies for lack of the Umlaut but writing his name as Boell just doesn't look right!)

Now this probably won't mean anything to most of my readers. But for me it holds all sorts of memories. Cologne is a city on the Rhine, famous for its cathedral and of course, Eau de Cologne. It is also the city where, when I lived in Germany, I had to change trains on every journey to and from the UK.

Heinrich Boll was a notable post-war German writer. Many of his works chronicled how ordinary Germans coped in the aftermath of the war, in the painful period of rebuilding and trying to come to terms with the past. One of his books was a slim volume called (in English), The Bread of Those Early Years. A simple and moving love story, set in one day, it uses the leitmotif of colour symbolism to great effect. It was part of my German A Level syllabus and made a huge impact on me. I still have a copy, in German, on my book shelf.

Perhaps his most famous book, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, chronicled how the tabloid press can destroy lives, by stirring false suspicions in a time of paranoia about terrorism. Writtten in 1974, its subject matter could equally be relevant today. I studied that book, and the film adaptation, on my degree course.

Although Boll was perhaps never significantly well known in the UK, he was hugely influential in his own country and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. The probable loss of all his private papers and unpublished work is a tragedy.

I feel a need to revisit his books soon. I wonder if my German is up to it?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Coffee mornings

Oh dear, another week has passed with no blog post. I've been busy catching up after the half term and there was really nothing to say.

I may have forgotten to tell you that I finished the OU Introduction to Counselling course a few weeks ago. The official results will be out later this month but, as there was no exam element, I already know I will have passed.

It was an interesting course and parts of it will be very relevant to my voluntary work at the support group coffee mornings I have helped run for many years. Although we are all volunteers, we represent a major national charity and therefore we have to be as professional as possible. The listening skills learned on a counselling course, even a largely academic distance learning course as mine was, are invaluable. It is not rocket science, these are just the basic communication skills that many of us will have been taught as part of employment over the years, but a refresher is always timely.

We don't pretend to be trained counsellors, we are not. In any case, our branch can also offer a proper counselling service with a professional counsellor for those who need it. But we have to be able to listen to parents who are often distraught after receiving a diagnosis of autism for their child. We have to be able to offer practical information without seeming patronising. We have to forget that we have answered the same questions so many times in the past and not lose patience. We have to remember not to keep bringing the conversation back to our own child. We have to make our members, especially newcomers, feel welcome and to do so we have to gently discourage cliques and attention hogging.

It can be hard to support others when you are going through difficult times yourself. The experience in our small team is that at any particular time at least one of us will be dealing with some sort of family crisis or transition. At these times we may step back and let others cover to allow a breathing space. But because we believe we offer a valuable service, most of us return. I took last year off and just attended the meetings to receive support myself, but I'm back doing more this year.

If I can help just one other parent, it is worth the effort.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Following on ...

...from yesterday, I like this article by Libby Purves.

School was back today, after a week of half term and three staff training days. So how did I arrange to spend the day? Attending a National Autistic Society branch committee meeting this morning and giving a talk to parents of newly diagnosed children this evening!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Brightening a sad day

Today has been a sad one in the world of special needs and I would like to send my condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their beautiful son Ivan. The loss of a child is something no parent should have to bear and as someone said on an internet forum today, we will all be hugging our children a little closer tonight.

But the day has been brightened a little by receiving this Best Blog Thinker award from Sue Guiney. Thanks Sue!



Now it is my turn to pass it on. As my blog is about both special needs and writing I would like to pass it on to bloggers representing both areas. So firstly I give it to Casdok at Mother of Shrek, for probably the best blog on autism I have read. Secondly I would like to give it to Graeme K. Talboys at grumblog, whose wisdom has influenced my writing over the last couple of years more than he probably realises.