Tuesday 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas Eve

Noah last year and his Christmas Tree
Happy Christmas Eve everyone. It is a day I love. The excitement and glory of it all particularly as we share our time with little people who just make it magical. I am so lucky, I know, to live so close to mine. I know lots of people who will be apart from their families over the next few days.

Though it is a beautiful time, it is also a very difficult time for many and for many reasons. For our family there are always echoes of loss. My father died very close to Christmas having been taken ill on Boxing Day - Sally Ballet always blames her husband as both he and my father got very drunk together while her husband was wearing a leopard print thong (Don't ask but rest assured it was over his trousers!). My eldest son has never got over it and hates Christmas with a passion in part  because of it. Wish I could give the magic back to him.

For me when my children were young it was also a joyous time until Christmas lunch when a sadness would start to descend as they would be going to their own father on Boxing Day. For me Christmas ended then and the Christmas decorations would be down just after they left. I have to say though I was always very lucky I know many people who have to have their children in turns at Christmas  when their marriage breaks down. My ex never asked me to do that and I will always be grateful.

I am counting my blessings this morning despite living at the top of a hill and quite open to the elements and despite a lot of noise I am lucky that there has been no damage to our houses (and we still have power a rarity here I can assure you when we have a storm).

But more importantly I am counting those blessings as we were reminded of the fragility of life yesterday when Noah was taken very ill, very suddenly,becoming blue and floppy. Luckily he was at the GPs at the time and was raced into a treatment room where several nurses and the GPs worked on him. His temperature had gone so high and his tonsils were so badly swollen they were impacting on his breathing. How do you explain to a toddler that if he doesn't swallow the antibiotics and painkillers he will spend Christmas in hospital on an IV drip? Thank goodness with the resilience of childhood by the afternoon he was a bit better. But also thanks to the staff of the NHS, many of whom I know (and including members of my family), will be working over Christmas. Thank you all (plus all the other emergency services.)

I hope your Christmas is joyous however you chose to spend it. And I will see you the other side.

In the meantime the a song by the first love of my life....*sigh* A bit of David Essex and Winter's Tale

Friday 20 December 2013

Serendipity - or how a moment in time can change your world.

Andalusian School of Equine Art
It is a strange feeling this morning as when I looked at my phone I noticed the date. 19th December - nothing spectacular about it really except it was the day in 2000 that changed my life.

It was the day that I had surgery that went wrong and meant I could no longer eat. I went through hell in the first year but once they fitted me with a PEG tube (tube into your stomach through which you are fed directly) I started to take control of my life again. It was suggested I might want to just sit in the corner and wait to die (not the exact words but the implication) luckily for me I have a specialist nutrition nurse who didn't believe in that idea either.

As a direct consequence I lost my business and was unable to work but instead I went to the University of Winchester to do a degree in English which happened to have Creative Writing modules. I had no idea what  that decision would mean for me. It changed my life totally. I couldn't have done it though without the support of my children who were all young at the times and never questioned my choice, just stood by me all the way. Thank you C, L & T xx

That surgery on this day so many years ago was serendipitous. I have met some amazing people who have been so inspirational and supportive, many of whom have actually changed my life and taken me in lots of different directions that I could not have expected. I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for them  and their belief in me. Luckily most are still part of my life - you all know who you are.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of writing a paper with a good friend about the early days after the surgery. If you are interested you can read it here

The picture above was taken when on a research trip earlier this week for my latest novel. How lucky am I to be able to undertake research like this? (PS Thank you IC for the Christmas present!) I have been to France in the name of research too. I have been all over the UK and to the US giving academic papers. As well as writing a chapter, with AM, which I am very proud of, on the representation of drugs in children's literature. I am currently working on aforementioned novel and an academic book, which I have been commissioned to write about writing young adult fiction. The world never stands still.

Through my work I was lucky enough to come across IC and that meeting changed my life also. It has been exciting year being involved in Golden Egg Academy and watching so many aspiring authors grow.

None of this could have happened without that moment when the surgery went wrong. Today is a day of celebration for me. Don't get me wrong it hasn't been easy but it is amazing what you can do with support from families and friends who are there to stick the pieces back together.

This picture was a gift by AM and it is entitled 'It's Never Too Late,' by Philip Dunn. This is my mantra and will take me into next year too. See it's never too late but you have to be willing to embrace change and make the most of it.

My world is changing again, my sons have moved out and am finding myself on my own for the first time ever. The labels of life have disappeared but this picture is going to take pride of place in the house as I reclaim it as mine.

I am not going to apologise for this indulgent blog post. I just wanted to say as the picture says...It is never too late...Go on follow your dreams. I did and have never been happier.

I am a great believer in having a sound track to my life. As part of this I have decided that this year in my blog I am going to share music that I see  as part of that sound track. The following piece has played a large part in my life right from when the surgery happened and in many guises including on the day of my PhD viva. This is Kate Rusby's version of  'You Belong To Me'

Sunday 1 December 2013

Do you write gaps into your story?

Mind the gaps or join the dots - you choice
Maria Nikolajeva is writing a fascinating sequences of blogs at the moment and one really caught my attention the other day. She was writing about 'Gaps'.  The idea that reader's anticipate and want to fill in these gaps particularly struck a chord. I particularly liked Aidan Chamber's idea that didactic texts have no gaps. (It is an essay I must find) I felt better about the number of times I have been telling my own students recently to leave clues but don't tell the reader everything. Leave them space to engage with the text.

I have been contemplating this idea for a few days and yesterday I found myself writing a ''gap' in. I only found it when I looked back at what I had written during the day. I had left that space ready for my reader to make their own decisions. I'd left, as Blanchot suggests, questions on the page and it is up to the reader to interpret and answer them in their own way. All based on that cultural moment that I've spoken about before. I realised that the gap I left required some historical knowledge to fill. Is this a problem? I am not sure it is.

I would like to say I had thought far enough ahead to plan this 'gap' but I hadn't. It just happened and was a natural part of the writing process. It was an integral moment in the story, a raised eyebrow and a shifted sheet. As I said I hadn't planned it but I started wondering if an unplanned 'gap' is more effective than a planned 'gap' that is inserted during the editing process. This is something I am going to have to explore more, I am intrigued. When I have made a decision I'll let you know.

Do you deliberately write in gaps?

And here is a bit of my most favourite new man...Josh Ritter and Empty Hearts