Friday, September 28, 2007

Autism blogs

Autism plays a large part in our lives, yet I have never wanted this blog to be mainly about it. Of course the subject does come up from time, but as you know I do guard my children's privacy in many respects and I want my readers to see that there is more to my existence than son 2's autism. Son 2 is a happy, healthy, much-loved boy who lives life to the full on his own terms. End of story.

In any case, there are many bloggers out there who write about life with autism far more eloquently than me. I recently discovered Mother of Shrek, a blog in which Casdok writes honestly and movingly about her autistic son. If you have any interest in autism then do take a look, this has quickly become one of my daily must-reads.

The novel I am writing will also have autism as one of its central themes. Definitely a case of writing about what you know, though I have to say that it is fictional, NOT my personal story! There is a sneak peek here and I have even written a little more today, until I became bogged down in one chapter...

Three notable things:

1. Ripe apples are falling from the tree in our garden.

2. I managed to write another couple of hundred words. My motivation is increasing, even though the creativity was somewhat lacking today.

3. I put the central heating on this afternoon, as son 1 and I both felt cold. I never put it on in September!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Life changing decisions

OK, the title is a bit over-dramatic. But there has been a lot of soul-searching amongst some members of the Novel Racers group recently. Including me.

So, in the last three days I have made some decisions to try to simplify my life. On Tuesday, at the committee meeting, I told my colleagues that I intend to stand down as treasurer of the voluntary group in November. I am happy to stay involved, but I want the time I give to be on my own terms, rather than dictated by others which it has been in recent years. After all, it is unpaid voluntary work, it shouldn't require so much input.

Today I have just cancelled my gym membership. Not because I don't like going, but my gym is a 15-20 minute drive from home and a visit there for a yoga class or swim, plus a coffee and a browse around the adjoining shops easily takes the best part of half a day. For cost reasons I only had off-peak membership, but couldn't get there at all in school holidays. Even going twice a week in term-time, the fee was barely cost effective and right now I don't think I have time to go that often. I need to be around to taxi son 1 to appointments and of course, Iwant to study and write. I'm not Superwoman.

So, I've freed up more time to write. I won't give up yoga entirely, as it does help my bad back. I will try to do it seriously at home and later perhaps look around for a suitable more local class. I've been doing it long enough to practice safely at home, I think. In the eighteen months since son 1 became very ill, I have got out of the habit of doing organised exercise anyway. I can walk. I can use our new crosstrainer if I feel like it. I might even join the low-key exercise club my friend attends, which is just down the road. Life moves on.

Anyway, if you will excuse me, I am off to Amazon to order some yoga DVDs...

Three notable things:

1. Making pressure-reducing decisions to allow myself more time to write and study.

2. Reading almost half of 'The End of the Affair' while son 1 was in an appointment this morning.

3. Feeling very sad watching the current events in Burma, yet so glad that the internet is enabling the world to see the sort of atrocities which are perpetrated to suppress free speech there.

Image by

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The gossip

Both Crystal Jigsaw and Jan have asked what my friend and I gossiped about yesterday. You may not be surprised to hear that it was mostly about our kids. We barely touched on her recent exotic holiday or other aspects of our lives.

In fact much of it was not so much gossiping as bitching. About school. The school which let son 1 down so badly and is failing her son too. About how the climate of bullying starts right at the very top there. About the need to make formal complaints.

She also talked about the girls. Girls we have known since the beginning of primary school yet now, at 15, can barely recognise. She told me how her underage son comes home and tells her how sexually available they make themselves to the boys. Son 1 is still at the stage of prefering to mix with other boys, having adventures on bikes rather than hanging around in town. He finds the 'gobby' girls scary and to be honest, so do I sometimes, though in a different way.

I hadn't intended to blog about this. However, not only was I asked, but on opening the paper today I found this article, which I think says a lot about what it is to be a teenage girl today.

I'm just so glad I don't have girls to worry about.

Three notable things:

1. I had my eyes tested today and ordered some new glasses. I fear I may have made an expensive mistake. Ho hum.

2. I'm going out tonight, though it is only a boring committee meeting, with nothing stronger than coffee to drink as we will all be driving.

3. I'm enjoying having no work or study to do for a few weeks.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Stormy weather

I woke up this morning to the sound of the wind howling outside and the sight of our mutant giant pear tree swaying alarmingly in the onslaught. It was not long before the rain started, so I searched for son 2's waterproof jacket and put it by the door. He moved it and put his cotton summer jacket there. We were still arguing the toss when the school bus arrived, but in the end I let him have his own way, as the TV weather forecast had seemed much better for later in the day and so it has been. Some battles are just not worth fighting.

I haven't written any more over the weekend , although I have been doing some thinking and planning of possible scenes. Today I had to go to the dentist this morning and although I had every intention of writing after lunch, in the end the lure of coffee and gossip at a friend's house was just too much.

Three notable things:

1. No fillings needed at the dentist!

2. Son 2 got kicked when he managed to get himself in the way of a playground fight today. His teacher thought he might have a nasty bruise by the time he got home, but I can't see one. He's probably been lucky.

3. Hearing some interesting gossip this afternoon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back on track

Thank you to everyone who left messages of encouragement on my last post. They spurred me on to write again. Only 500 words or so, but it is a start.

The other good news is that I finished my accountancy work this afternoon. So from now on I will have more time to devote to the novel and I will do my best to work on it every day. I seem to have got some motivation back, thanks to my lovely blog readers and the Novel Racers. Long may it continue.

Three notable things:

1. Hubby returned from Brussels with a box of ridiculously expensive but totally delicious Belgian chocolates.No Kipling bag though!

2. I am really please about how well my work assignment went...finished on time, with no major stress or panics. Just how work should be.

3. The scarf I am knitting is almost half complete. I will be starting the second ball of yarn soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Novel introspection

Although I haven't updated my wordcounter, I did write a little more of my novel last weekend. The problem was that I also chopped out some of what I'd previously written, so there was probably no net gain.

I was thinking about my lack of progress. Part of it has been not having time this year and also not being mentally in a very good place, a situation which hopefully should start to improve as of next week. I have no choice but to write during the day, when son 2 is at school, but of course I also have other things to do in those few short hours.

But I think my way of writing is also impeding me. I started this novel soon after completing a creative writing course where I was working on short pieces. The sort of writing where every word matters. I have found it difficult to change my way of working to just plough ahead with a 'shitty first draft' and keep going back and editing my first three chapters. Its not as if I don't know where the story is going...the plot outline is very clear in my mind, although there will be many dots to join on the way.

Does anyone have tips as to how I can get myself to look at the bigger picture and actually make faster progress?

Three notable things:

1. I managed to escape into town this morning to buy the new speakers for son 2's computer and some more paper for the printer. Yet another new coffee shop has just opened!

2. Son 1 has been invited out for a sleepover on Friday. I hope he won't get too anxious or forget to take his meds.

3. Work went surprisingly well again today...just two more days work to do on these accounts ( and possibly part of the weekend if needed.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A bit of fun

I've been far too serious on here recently. That's what happens when you don't get out enough...

So, for today, here is a little distraction. I expect you have all seen this little quiz elsewhere in the blogosphere, but I was very happy with my result, as I loved the Anne of Green Gables books. What do you think?

You're Anne of Green Gables!

by L.M. Montgomery

Bright, chipper, vivid, but with the emotional fortitude of cottage
cheese, you make quite an impression on everyone you meet. You're impulsive, rash,
honest, and probably don't have a great relationship with your parents. People hurt
your feelings constantly, but your brazen honestly doesn't exactly treat others with
kid gloves. Ultimately, though, you win the hearts and minds of everyone that matters.
You spell your name with an E and you want everyone to know about it.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

If you haven't already done so, why not have a go?

Three notable things:

1. We don't have any savings in Northern Rock!

2. Son 2 has just broken the speakers on his computer. A shopping trip is needed tomorrow!

3. Work is going surprisingly well. How can that be?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mind, body, spirit

I really do believe that mental and physical health are much more closely interlinked than was once recognised. We have seen undisputed evidence of that here in our own family.

So I was interested in this article about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and how it is now proven to benefit some physical conditions as well as psychological ones. Son 1 has been receiving CBT for some time now and it is certainly working for him, improving both mental and socially crippling physical symptoms.

So I was a little surprised to read that some sufferers of ME/CFS do not accept that CBT might be helpful. To be honest I don't know enough about ME/CFS to have an educated opinion myself, and I would certainly not want to offend anyone who has the condition, but I do believe it is a very real illness and would therefore have thought that CBT might be worth a try. After all it is unlikely to do any harm and it does apparently help some sufferers. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies provides a very accessible introduction to the subject.

The OU course I have just finished was all about taking a holistic approach to that case concentrating on mental health but the principles apply equally to physical symptoms. The holistic model recognises that people have many needs, including physical, social and spiritual, all of which should be taken into consideration in a perfect care or treatment plan. Idealistic? Maybe. But surely the way to go if at all possible.

Three notable things:

1. Thanks to Trashionista, I found this interesting feature on writer's rooms at the Guardian website.

2. I am just about to start reading Graham Greene's 'The End of the Affair' as suggested by Susan Hill. I have a feeling I may have read it many years ago, but can't remember anything about it...

3. No word from Hubby in Brussels so I guess he and his friend are already stuck into the beers... I did suggest he brought me back a Kipling handbag, but just got told that I already have far too many bags. It's true. Let's hope he brings some chocolates instead!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Life plans

I must be getting old and cynical. I was reading an article in today's You magazine about how young women probably spend too much time creating life plans and not enough enjoying living, and I found myself nodding in agreement.

I don't think I really believe in life plans anymore. When I was a teenager I thought I had my life all mapped out...A Levels, university, a high-flying career. I wasn't even going to think about settling down or getting married until I was at least 30. I didn't want kids.

So what happened? I met someone at 19 who I thought was 'the One'. I suddenly realised that I really did want a baby, with him. It was a biological revelation. But first we had university to finish and sadly our relationship didn't survive an enforced separation. I went on to train for the career. Before I was even fully qualified I had met the man I would marry. In my twenties. A period of ill health and job changes meant that plans for babies had to be postponed for a while, but I fell pregnant in my very early thirties. I never went back to the lucrative career.

We are not leading the lifestyle now which we had originally envisioned. There is, for example, no holiday home abroad. Both our children have additional needs. But we get on with making the best out of life as it is rather than dwelling on what might have been or trying to look too far into the future. Trying to plan too much can turn people into control freaks and of course control freaks don't tend to cope well when life throws a curve ball.

Which, as we know here, it so often does.

Three notable things:

1. Hubby is, hopefully, en route to Brussels for a short break. That is, if his mate turned up at the station in time for them to get on Eurostar!

2. I've just been looking back at the opening chapters of my novel and there is not as much revision to do as I thought. Can't wait to get going with writing new chapters.

3. I am knitting another scarf, using silk and cashmere yarn in spicy shades of yellow, orange, coral, purple and beige. I think this one will be a present for a friend.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Good buys

A parcel arrived this afternoon containing this and these ( bought by redeeming my Book People points). What a treat!

A fragmented day today, with food shopping and a few other minor chores to be done, as well as work. I am so looking forward to finishing this figure work and getting my head back to the world of writing. With things gradually improving at home I am feeling that the fog, which has stopped me being able to concentrate, is finally lifting from my brain.

Three notable things:

1. My book parcel.

2. Son 1 doing some computer back-ups for me...I am so bad about doing that, except for important writing!

3. Watching the moving eulogy by the husband of Jane Tomlinson on the TV news report of her funeral. A truly inspiring woman.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Results day

My Open University K272 course results were published today. I had actually forgotten they were due by tomorrow!

I scraped a Pass 2 ( sort of 2:1 equivalent) which I am pleased with. Not my best result ever, but to be honest I did well to finish the course at all. It was interesting, yet also quite complex to understand what was wanted when writing the essays, as I suppose it was all quite theoretical and subjective.

Anyway now I can get back to some writing, or at least I can in two weeks time when I have finished my accountancy work...

Three notable things:

1. My exam result.

2. Feeling very proud of son 1, who found the courage to go into his old school yesterday and tell the head of year what he had experienced there, in the hope that she can protect one of his friends from bullying.

3. Yet another visit to the dental hygienist, who said my gums were healthier than last time and asked me what I had done differently. All I could think of was that the battery has run out in my toothbrush...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Journalism and news

I am something of a news and information junkie. If there is nothing much on television I will normally tune into a news or documentary channel rather entertainment.I used to watch Sky News, because I thought they were quicker with breaking news than BBC News 24. But, since we get our digital TV from Virgin Media, we no longer have Sky News due to the dispute. Still, the BBC does not usually disappoint.

Recently there was an incident which affected someone of whom I knew. It was a matter of public interest and was picked up by the BBC, on the News 24 channel at least. The next day I scoured several quality newspapers for updates and found no mention of the story. This may, of course, have been for legal reasons. Which started me thinking about the implications of journalism, about what can and what should be printed or reported. For someone who can write, journalism of any kind might seem like an easy option, but there is so much more to it, so many legal and libel implications. Not just in respect of news, but in any piece where you are giving information and indeed any facts, which should be scrupulously checked for accuracy.

The recent media circus around the family of Madeleine McCann has reinforced my worries. Of course her parents courted the media in the early days and so cannot really complain now that they are becoming targets of the press. But, without making any presumptions of innocence or guilt, it reminds me uncomfortably of a book I read many years ago for my degree: The Lost Honour of Katerina Blum by Heinrich Boll. (For those who know German, Boll should have an Umlaut, but I don't think I can type that and somehow Boell doesn't look right at all!)

You probably won't have read the book or seen the film based upon it, which actually came out in 1975. But in the current political climate post 9/11, the underlying themes of the press destroying the life of a potentially innocent person, who has briefly associated with a criminal/terrorist, seem just as relevant today as they did then.

Three notable things:

1. I reached my work target for the day.

2. I sat though a meeting this morning and realised the chairperson had taken on board the contents of an email I sent last week, even though I had received no reply.

3. I completed the first exercise for Susan Hill's course.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Susan Hill's writing course...

...has started!

An interesting first exercise looking at opening sentences will keep me busy this afternoon. Luckily, due to my shopaholic tendencies and serious charity shop habit, I have plenty of books in the house to peruse.

I am really looking forward to following this no pressure course, because I find I learn something new from every book on writing I read or course I take. Yet I also like the idea that Susan Hill is going to encourage her students to break the 'rules', because I, too, don't believe that writing is all about rules as such. What is taught on creative writing courses should be just guidance, not a recipe for creating books 'by numbers'.

For me, probably the best part about taking the Open University writing courses has been the interaction with other students and being able to receive constructive criticism. Of course you don't actually have to take a formal course to get that...just find a writer's group you feel comfortable with, whether in person or online, but above all find a group of people who will look at your work objectively and not just tell you what you want to hear. In some ways a formal course does add some objectivity and academic rigour to a process which is in so many ways subjective. But learning from longstanding, very successful authors must be one of the best ways to learn.

Three notable things:

1. Son 1 and I have just made a pact for the sake of his health. He will give up fizzy drinks if I give up chocolate. How am I going to survive?

2. I didn't get as much work done as I had hoped on Friday, but I'm not in a panic. Not yet, anyway.

3. I am becoming a BBC News 24 whore. More about that later.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dietary interventions

Modified diets have been an important and often controversial topic of conversation amongst parents of children with autism or ADHD for a long time. Now a study has actually come out and said what parents have known for a long time, namely that children's behaviour is affected by food additives in drinks and confectionary.

Of course it is not just additives that can alter behaviour. Some people are affected by gluten in wheat products and casein in milk products. Then of course there is also the caffeine in cola. Son 1's anxiety is noticably increased if he drinks Pepsi or Coke, both of which he loves and is finding hard to give up ( caffeine-free Coke apparently not being the same!)

Special diets don't work for all children. We tried a gluten-free/casein-free diet on son 2 and it had no effect. We eventually gave up because it was also hard to stick to it rigidly without putting the whole family on the diet, which would have been unfair to son 1. But I do personally know autistic children who have benefitted significantly from such a diet, so it must always be worth a try, as are fish oil and multi-vitamin supplements to remedy any potential deficits.

In any case reducing or cutting out the additives in children's diets is just common sense and can only benefit all.

Three notable things:

1. The woodpecker was on our fruit trees again today.

2. I hope he survived the attentions of two beautiful cats, one black and one ginger, who have strolled across our grass at different times today. We don't get that many cats coming through and these two were both gorgeous.

3. More work got done. More stress means less success but I feel quite relaxed about it at the moment.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sense of style

I've always envied women who are effortlessly stylish. For some it seems to come so naturally, but I am definitely not one of them.

I think my personal sense of style has always been a little boyish. We were brought up by a religious mother with a total disinterest in fashion and beauty, and as a result both my sister and I tend towards the practical rather than the pretty.

As a student I started to develop a little of my own style, using quirky accessories which stood out, but also experimenting with items of sexier clothing which horrified my mother. However, on entering a staid profession my workwear had to be business (skirt) suits, and as a woman fighting to progress in what was essentially a man's world, I made little concession to feminine fripperies other than make-up and a little jewellery.

I'll gloss over my early years as a parent, when I wore leggings (first time round) for far longer than I should have, simply because they were easy care and easy wear. I was overwhelmed by parenthood and we were short of money, well that is my excuse anyway. I prefered to concentrate my efforts on nice clothes for my babies.

Finally, with both boys in school, I started to develop what I think is my real style. I abandoned utilitarian plain cotton t-shirts for pretty patterned tops, which can be worn with jeans by day or tailored trousers for smarter occasions. I accepted the fact that I am never going to be a skirt person, but developed once again a love for unusual accessories. I learnt to spend more on classic items and less on what might be termed fashion. I even found a brand of jeans which generally fits me quite well, not easy when you are short but also a larger lady. I'm still not a girly dresser, but I hope I have finally found something of a balance between practicality, comfort and femininity. I have come to terms with my size and learnt to work with it, rather than against it for the sake of fashion.

At last I actually like my style and for now I am sticking with it.

Three notable things:

1. Son 1 is singing and whistling around the house for the first time in a couple of years.

2. I managed to do a Tesco shop and some successful work today.

3. Tesco is currently selling chart paperbacks at two for £7. I must resist!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labelling women's fiction

Yes, I know we have had this debate before.

In the early days of this blog I wrote a post about how I didn't read chick lit, or rather I thought I didn't, but then I realised that in fact a number of books I had enjoyed were actually packaged as chick lit. My post provoked a flurry of comments ( very exciting when you are a new blogger!) and aroused some strong feelings.

I still have trouble with the term chick lit. For a start I am not a chick, I am far too old! Even when I was young enough, I think I would have felt insulted if anyone called me a chick...somehow it seems to demean the depth of women's experiences in their twenties and thirties. But I do know that chick lit provokes a lot of controversy, both pro and con. In order to learn more about the chick lit phenomenon, I have become a regular reader of Trashionista, which reviews chick lit and related matters from both sides of the Atlantic. I have to admit it has led me to some interesting books, especially through their non-chick lit More on Monday slot.

Anyway, I recently read an interesting debate on a forum about the labelling of fiction and thanks to Carenza, I found this piece by Dorothy Koomson. To be honest I have never read any of Dorothy's books, but I will now look out for them as the latest two, certainly, sound like novels I might enjoy. But it is interesting that she doesn't want her work to be labelled as chick lit and indeed the covers appear to indicate that they are perhaps aimed more towards readers of Jodi Picoult than of, say, Sophie Kinsella. That interests me because I think Picoult market will also be the one to which my own fledgling novel is likely to appeal.

I like Dorothy's input into the labelling debate, even though I am not sure whether heart lit is actually that much better as a term than chick lit! Why can't publishers just call such books something like contemporary women's fiction and use covers which appeal to women of all ages? I suspect a number of decent books may have been done a disservice by pastel-coloured, cartoon bedecked covers and a whole audience for other women's fiction lost because they only look for chick lit style covers.

So when some people in the trade are quoted as saying chick lit is dead, I don't think it necessarily means that the genre itself is dead, but that it perhaps needs to be repackaged to appeal to a wider audience who may have been put off by the name and the covers.

Three notable things:

1. School started back today. The house has been blissfully quiet.

2. I have finished my scarf. Just need to sew the ends in now. I am pleased with it...I know there is at least one 'deliberate' mistake in the pattern, but hey, nothing handmade is perfect!

3. I managed to get some work done, despite being called out to taxi son 1 to and from an appointment... 'It's too hot to cycle, Mum!'

Monday, September 03, 2007

Welcome, September!

I was glad to see the end of August. It had been a strange month, not just because my usual routines were disrupted by the school holidays, but also because it was a month of extreme highs and lows.

On the home front things have generally been pretty good over the summer. But I have learnt over the years never to become complacent when things seem to be going well. True to form, more than once during the month I received bad news which, although not affecting me directly, was enough to make me stop in my tracks and re-evaluate the possible future.

On Saturday afternoon I wandered around town in need of something to cheer me up. Browsing in Waterstone's, I spotted new paperbacks by two of my favourite authors on the 'three for two' offer tables. Having picked up Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood and The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro, I needed to choose a third book. I was drawn to Over by Margaret Forster but in the end plumped for The Story of You by Julie Myerson. I paid by cash, so Hubby won't see them on the credit card, and sneaked them into the house later, hidden in a large bag of clothes bought for son 1.

Another guilty secret, yet a healthier treat than a family-sized bar of chocolate and they succeeded in lifting what had been a despondent mood!

Three notable things:

1. Son 1 has been on a high and achieved a lot over the last week.

2. Last day of the school holiday today!

3. Being contacted via Facebook by someone I hadn't 'spoken' to for ages and finding we actually have a local friend in common and I never knew!