Monday 30 April 2012

Wild and free...

I have worked sixteen hour days for the past fortnight.  Minimum.  I have eaten at my desk (when I’ve remembered to) and fallen asleep over the keyboard (yes, when I woke up my nose was indented with the letter B and the screen was flashing ominously). One night I even dreamed I got through a whole shedload of stuff and woke feeling a profound sense of satisfaction – until I realised, with sinking heart, that it had all been emailed and filed in the land of sleep. 
And what do I have to show for all this effort?  Not a whole lot, truth be told. A few ‘maybes’; a couple of ‘possiblys’; quite a lot more ‘no thank yous’ but mainly... silence. 

Never mind. You carry on, right?  You don’t give up. And all the time you’re putting on a brave face, smiling and laughing and pretending everything is hunky-dory.  But by heck sometimes it’s hard to keep one’s spirits up. And, I’ll be honest, I think I may be running out of steam.  Which is why I can’t wait for Friday. 

Come Friday I am waving my credit card at the train station and taking myself up to London.  My bestest friend Jane (she of chicken-eating spider fame) is off to Southwold for her own version of escape. ‘Do you want to come?’ she said, a while back. ‘I’d love to,’ I said. ‘But, could I borrow your flat instead?’  ‘Of course you can,’ she said.  The way she does.
Cos, see, I had people I needed to meet in London in May.  But, the way these things go, the best-laid plans go astray and the right people will be in the wrong places.  You have to laugh, right? 

Ben Barnett
Still. I shall go nonetheless.  I am hoping to meet up with my old editor from HarperCollins and I'm going to be reviewing some luscious treatments.  So I get to experience the Kundalini massage at Gielly Green which uses products from the divine ila-spa range.  And I also get to meet Ben Barnett who comes highly recommended by Nicola Hughes. Ben does what he calls ‘three dimensional bodywork’ using a hydrotherm massage bed.  As he works on you he also takes you on a guided visualisation.  ‘Think of two words that capture how you want to feel,’ he said in his email.  Eh what?  ‘You know, energised, peaceful, positive, that kind of thing...’

Um. How do I want to feel?  In two words.  Just two words?  That stopped me in my tracks.

And the negatives flooded in.  It’s easy to know what I don’t want. I’m fed up of feeling tired, overstretched, underappreciated, washed up, old, broke, misunderstood, sad, angry, frustrated, bored. Okay so that's a bit melodramatic but I really would like to stop feeling like I’m banging my head against the proverbial brick wall again and again and again. I'd love not to feel the need to pander to delicate egos all the time. I’m sick of walking on eggshells.  I’m fed up to the back teeth of people making promises they have no intention of keeping. And I am really really really tired of being cold.

But that’s no good for Ben, is it?  Yet the positives just sounded too floaty, too wishy washy.  Energized – yeah great, but for what?  Serene? I’m not a freaking lake. 
What did you use? I asked Nicola. ‘Proud and peaceful,’ she snapped back instantly. Nicola is always so certain, so sure. Peaceful? Nah, I’m bored of peaceful. Proud? Nah, I don’t really have any self-esteem issues that would warrant that.

So… what then? Rich? Sounds greedy.  I don’t need rich anyhow, just solvent would be nice. But that makes me sound like glue.  Abundant?  Vegetation springs to mind.

And then a whole pile of music crashed through my head.  Images from the third book in my series of novels accompanied them. Wide open roads. Deserts. An open-top car with music blaring out.   
There you go, said my subconscious.  There you go.  Two words for you, my lovely.  Wild and Free.  Wild and Free.  

Wednesday 25 April 2012

How do you stop children smoking?

Alluring? Not when the wrinkles hit!

I don’t believe in telling people what to do, how to live their lives, what to do with their minds and bodies.  I can’t abide the nanny state.  Yet I confess that, when it comes to smoking, I find myself squirming in a hypocritical fashion because – yeah - I’m pretty censorious about smoking.  It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out why. My father died of lung cancer. I watched him die in a hospice. It wasn’t pretty.  He was 52. I was ten. 
Yet, y’know, that didn’t stop me smoking when I was a teenager.  Why? Because I thought it was cool. 

While I figure that if adults want to wreck their bodies and give themselves fag faces, not to mention stinky breath (see, toldya I was censorious) then that’s up to them (providing they don’t blow their smoke in my lungs).  But when it comes to children, that’s something quite different.  Hence this blog post.

Today Cancer Research UK are launching a campaign called The Answer is Plain, asking for all branding to be removed from tobacco packaging. 

It may sound a bit petty in the scheme of things but branding and marketing are powerful tools.  We respond to visual stimuli at a subconscious level.  The researchers showed first cereal boxes and then cigarette packets to a group of six to 11 year olds.  These are a few of their comments (to the cigarettes, not the cereal).

“It makes you feel like you’re in a wonderland of happiness.”
“The pictures actually look quite nice. Ice cubes and mint.”
“It reminds me of a Ferrari.”
“Is that the Royal Sign?”
“Yeah. Pink, Pink, Pink”.

Even saying "Smoking kills" doesn't put people off!

While I don’t think Cancer Research UK are saying the manufacturers are directly appealing to children per se, the tobacco companies are certainly putting out products designed to be alluring to teenagers.  And the cynic in me says that the tobacco companies probably don’t remotely mind that the seeds of desire are set early.
The charity is pretty clear that we can’t stop people choosing to smoke.  Their director of tobacco control simply says: ‘We need to give young people one less reason to start smoking.’

Will a plain pack work?  To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced.  When I was a kid, cigarette packaging wasn’t terribly sophisticated yet I still thought it was cool.  So far James thinks smoking is ‘pretty disgusting’ and I just pray he continues to think that way.  He sees his grandfather (Adrian’s father) barely able to walk, hooked up to an oxygen mask because of emphysema and that, coupled with his love of sport, seems to be an effective deterrent so far. Will it last?  God, I hope so.

However, I was asked if I’d put up this video on my blog and so – here it is.  Watch it and see what you reckon.  If you want to spread the word, sign the petition or whatever – well, I don’t see it can harm – and if it stops even a handful of children from wrecking their lungs, then that’s a win as far as I’m concerned. 

Who cares if the Exmoor Gym shuts?

On May 1st the Exmoor Gym in Dulverton will stand empty.  The treadmills won’t be running. Nobody will be using the weights. The staff will be out of work. Cobwebs will start to form over the equipment - for absolutely NO good reason.

With less than a week to go before the doors are locked, most of our members are devastated about the closure – some have even been in tears.

But really, it’s just a little local gym, right?  In the scheme of things, who cares? 
1610 Ltd (formerly Somerset Leisure) who manage the facility clearly don’t.  The town and district councillors have tried talking to them. The church has tried talking to them.  The Save Exmoor gym group has tried.  The press has tried. 

Our MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, is now firmly on side and has called 1610’s attitude ‘outrageous.’  What nobody can understand is why the charity (yes, unbelievably they are a registered charity) is ignoring pleas to keep the much-loved gym open and why it is also refusing point blank to discuss handing over control to a committed group of people who have the will and expertise to run it.  1610, it seems, continue to put profit above community.

But the people of Exmoor care. They care a lot.  They care because they are using the gym for rehab, for getting fit, for staying healthy, for keeping in touch, for feeling part of something, however small.  They are real people - not just statistics.

Rob, Jane and Charlie Day. Photo (c) Dawn-Marie Williams 
Let me introduce you to the Day family - Rob, Jane and Charlie.  Rob is 42 and he is fighting cancer. He is the most incredibly upbeat, positive guy you could meet - and he needs the gym to help keep him fit while he undergoes treatment for that bastard disease.  It's not exactly a bed of roses for Jane and Charlie either - but the gym and the support of the people there help - a little. 

They're not the only real people who're suffering here.  Let me introduce you to a few more people who care... A few more people whom 1610 is ignoring. Real people, not statistics. 

Alex Kelly cares:  “I am eleven years old and live in Winsford.  I go to the gym after school with my friends. The gym is very important to me and I think that this is really unfair.”

Pam Gascoyne cares: I am 68 and have never had a regular exercise programme before joining the gym. I am starting to feel great and wish I'd started sooner. I cannot understand this 'closure'. My next nearest gym facility is in Tiverton a long ride some 25 miles over the moor.”

Jan Potts cares:  “I have recently undergone physio rehabilitation therapy. Having just reached the stage where I can attend the gym I return to find that 1610 do not recognise the value of the facility or its exceptionally talented staff and want to close it down.”

Jackie Kelly cares:  “The gym has made a huge difference not only to myself, but also my family. The positive effects on our health, emotional and physical, have been tremendous. 1610 clearly aren't committed to the health or well being of this rural community.” 

Teresa Williams cares: “I want to rejoin in May, so that I can become fitter and stronger, physically and mentally. But 1610 have decided to close. How much more do we need to protest, plead, shout before 1610 take notice?” 

Karen Jarmarkier cares:  “I joined the Exmoor Gym last November following a knee injury. At the time I was in desperate need of exercise and a serious mental boosting. The positive effects on my mental health, eating habits and knee stability have been immense. Living in such a rural community, it is very easy to drift into isolation and hide away. I am so, so disappointed. So sad.”

But we will continue fighting.  And, if 1610 refuse to keep the gym open, we will just have to open our own, won't we?  :-) 

Thursday 19 April 2012

Conversations with God as a teabag

‘Only he who knows the destination knows the way,’ the teabag told me solemnly.  

Okay, don’t look at me funny. You know I have this ‘thing’ about oracles?  Well, my iPod is now full and, while it still constantly surprises me with the relevance of its random choices, I felt the need for a new source.  All hail the teabag oracle.  I’ve developed a taste (okay an addiction) for Yogi Tea’s liquorice and mint tea.  Don’t go ‘eeeugh’ if you haven’t tried it. I know it sounds strange but it’s the perfect combination of warmth and cold, total contrast in a mug. 

Anyhow, Yogi teabags have little quotes attached to them – but you don't know what you're getting until you break open the bag (much like most things in life).  Anyhow, I rather liked the destination message because, well, it makes sense right?  If you don’t know where you’re going, how the heck are you going to end up in the right place? You just wander around in aimless circles. Lost. Except, hmm, I quite like lost. But where has it got me? See, I think I need a bit more focus. Just a bit. Maybe.

And then, later on, when I cracked open another I got:

As long as there is a doubt, you cannot find the way.

Hmm.  I’ve recently read the Conversations with God series of books by Neale Donald Walsch.  I inherited them from my mother who loved them.  But I always crinkled my nose and sneered  – cos I've always been a bit sceptical about channelled stuff on the whole.  But my quasi-guru talked about them in his books so I figured I’d just poke my nose into the first one…cautiously.  And, you know what?  Gobbled it up from start to finish, nodding pretty much all of the way through.  Well I never…Who’d a thought?

And what does it say, in a nutshell?

‘The Laws are very simple.
1.       Thought is creative.
2.       Fear attracts like energy.
3.       Love is all there is.
Love is the ultimate reality.  It is the only. The all. The feeling of love is your experience of God.’

And yes. I do believe all three of those. 

And then it started talking about oracles. Okay, it didn’t use the exact word but still…

‘Watch. Listen. The words to the next song you hear. The information in the next article you read. The story line of the next movie you watch. The chance utterance of the next person you meet. Or the whisper of the next river, the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses your ear…’

Or the conversation of the next cup of tea you drink.  God is a teabag?  Well, of course. *smile* 

And recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the next chapter of my life, pondering directions, musing on destinations, looking for The Way.  And things are starting to become a little clearer.  Maybe. 

It’s a dance, it really is.  The mind alone won’t do it.  You need to be totally congruent at the deepest level in order to manifest change.  Like God the teabag says, ‘As long as there is a doubt, you cannot find the way.’ And those doubts might be subconscious.  Tricksy huh? 

To be continued… 

Tuesday 17 April 2012

9 reasons why authors need a blog

Blogging, eh?  When I started, donkey's years ago and by pure chance, I had no idea how big the whole blogging 'thingy' was. Then I was invited on a trip to Florida, to Disney, and met a bunch of US power-bloggers and my jaw dropped. These people wielded huge power and earned big bucks. We UK bods felt like little kids sucking our lollipops while the grown-ups drank champagne. However, since that trip, my fellow UK bloggers have gone from strength to strength and one of them, the lovely Erica Douglas (who writes an award-winning mummy blog) and is on Twitter as @erica ) has become a total blogging guru.  
Her new book - Blogging: The Essential Guide is just out and so I figured I'd ask her, and co-author Antonia Chitty, just why authors should be blogging. 

9 reasons why authors need a blog

If you are an aspiring author or have books already published, are you blogging yet? Antonia Chitty and Erica Douglas, authors of Blogging: The Essential Guide share 9 reasons why every author should be blogging regularly.
  1. A blog is a great outlet for ideas. Antonia says, “I started a blog after one of my first books, Family Friendly Working, came out and it has been one of the best things I’ve done. It gave me a place to add in all the extra information I found after the book was completed. If you’re like me, once you develop an interest in a topic you keep on wanting to write about it and the blog was ideal for that.”  Erica says, “Blogging doesn’t have to be difficult, blog posts need only tackle one topic or idea and the usual length is around 300-500 words”
  2. A blog will build your followers. Once you have started adding lots of great content to your blog, along similar themes to your books, you’ll find you attract blog readers. People who love your blog are likely to love your books too, so write about it when you have a new title out.  Erica says “A blog is a great platform to not only build a fan base but from which to sell your books too”
  3. A blog can kickstart your creativity. If you are a follower of Julia Cameron’s 'Artist's Way' you’ll know the benefits of writing Daily Pages as a warm up. Writing a short blog article can act as a way to get your mind going before you start on the main work of writing the next part of your book.
  4. A blog can help you build a relationship with your readers. People who visit your blog site will be able to leave comments, telling you about what they like about your latest book or blog post. Listen and learn and this will provide useful guidance for your next book. Reply to comments and you can start to build a better relationship with your readers.  Erica says, “If you’ve always wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how, blogging can kick start the habit of writing.”
  5. Blog articles can turn into book content. If you have an idea that you want to write about, but it doesn’t fit into your current book, blog it! When the time comes to pitch your next book proposal, look through your blog for themes as you will find plenty of inspiration. Some authors have created books entirely based on blog articles.
  6. A blog allows you to contact people in a new way. Once you have started your blog, make sure you have a way for people to input their email to get blog updates from you. Feedburner is a simple way to do this, and it means that readers will be notified by email or in your RSS feed when you post. Put a strong call to action like ‘New book out for you to buy now’ in your post title, and people will know about your book launch before they even visit your blog.
  7. Blog readers will become book buyers. Alongside your Feedburner link, you can also sign up to an email service provider. Embed an email sign up box in the sidebar of your blog and you can now get in touch with people directly with news and updates about your books. People who receive this sort of email are 167% more likely to buy than other people.
  8. Make money while you blog. Antonia says, “I don’t know about you, but I find there can be a big gap between receiving the advance for the book and the time when royalties start to come in. I have found, since starting Family Friendly Working, that my blog can be a great source of income. I have advertising subscriptions and will run the occasional sponsored post, which smooths my income out considerably.”
  9. A blog can get you a book deal. Yes, only a few people (!) find that a publisher stumbles across their website and gets in touch offering them a deal BUT many more new authors will be able to use their blog as a showcase for their writing and give potential publishers proof that they have the skills and commitment to come up with a great book. If you have yet to get a book deal, use your blog as a showcase for your work and network online to draw the right people in as readers.  Erica says, “I never thought I’d end up being a published author but my blog has helped me build credibility and I’ve gone on to write two books, both of which will be published this year.  The power of blogging!”

Me again.  Now I wonder why there are just nine? Is nine a magic blogging number? It's a mystery.

Thanks for this, guys. Now, of course, all I need to do is follow your sage advice and stop mainlining the jelly tots. 

Seriously though, the book is really great - it's got everything you need to start blogging and there are some nifty tips for old timers too.  It's clear, concise and beautifully presented. It's not padding and waffle - it cuts to the chase and tells you just the important stuff.  Oh, and I'm quoted in it!  But don't let that put you off.  :-) 

Monday 16 April 2012

Ah the hell with it...and gallstones.

Long time, no blog. I’ve been keeping a low profile, right?  Except today I seem to have managed to get pictures of myself in, not one but two papers.  Which is unfortunate.  To put it mildly.
Really though, I have to laugh.  Out loud, in a very unladylike cackling manner.  Because there’s nothing like the press to bring you down to size.  I mean…why?  Why the hell did I spend several hours expunging every unflattering photograph from my Facebook page when the Daily Mail merrily prints a pic of me looking like the wicked witch of the West that will be seen by around 4 million people?  Huh?  Someone up there is laughing his/her/its head off at me – cos of course God has a mean sense of humour. 
Talking of mean,  I mean…why didn’t the photographer have the heart to tell me that grape really isn’t ‘my’ colour and that pouchy pockets on a blouse isn’t a great look on the well-endowed and that what I thought were nice jeans look like jodhpurs?  And that skinny jeans really should be tucked into boots, not dragged over them. Men, huh?   

‘I look seriously crap,’ I said, mournfully, showing the page to the girls in the Tantivy cafĂ©.  There was a long pause.
‘Nah, it’s not that bad,’ said lovely Rose.  Then looked again. ‘Though it does look like you’re wearing a nightie. Who told you that blouse was a good idea?’
‘But, hey, there’s a nice one of you in the Western Daily Press,’ she said, smiling encouragingly.
What?  Shit, shit, shit, shit.

Our campaign to save the Exmoor gym continues and now the press are getting very interested in why a not-for-profit organisation is shutting a gym which was founded via initiatives from the NHS and local government.  So another photographer pitched up and yup, sure enough, there I am, all gleaming white legs and mad woman eyes, charging across the Dulverton bridge.   
Why am I telling you this?  Because, frankly, I’ve gone beyond.  I have not one shred of dignity left, not after selling my gallstones to the highest bidder. I mean, what's left? A piece on my ingrown toenails?  
The one they didn't use! 

Of course, if you felt so inclined, you could comment on the Daily Mail piece, telling them what a wonderful writer I am and how much you’d love to see me paid a big fat fee to write on a regular basis (about my wild and wanton life, of course – not my squalid gallstones; and no, the ingrown toenails were a joke).  Or, about a whole series on how I changed my entire life in a year (not just my shape) - cos they cut out all the interesting bits.

Then again, you could comment on the gym story, expressing your disbelief at the callous way in which a small but vital little gym is facing closure in the year of the Olympics. 
Or not. J
Now I and my gallstones shall take ourselves off into a corner and binge-eat chocolate by way of waving two fingers at the world.

 Pics (c) Richard Lappus. Not to be reproduced without permission.