Write: 500 Words

coffee notebook pen writing

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I am a frustrated fiction writer. Not very unusual, most of us feel we have a book inside us. My problem is I know I can write, I just lack “oomph”  to sit down and put my ideas on paper.

Way back in the 1970’s, I won a short story competition run by the local paper. My story was published, Mum cut it out and would show anyone who stood still long enough for her to delve into her cavernous handbag (one of those “organiser” types, with multiple pockets and compartments), she could never find anything in a hurry! She was proud of me, thrilled that I had won and even more thrilled that she finally had school run “bragging rights”.

I would tell people that when I grew up, I was going to be a writer. Adults would nod encouragingly, before telling me that once I was married there wouldn’t be time for writing. Better to train for a “real” job, write as a hobby when the children were in bed. I was rebellious of course, my enthusiasm fuelled by interviews with women writers who despite their growing families would publish beautifully crafted novels and transport me to other worlds. One day, I would be a writer…

I continued to enter (and win) story competitions all through my teens. At university I wrote short sketches and monologues for the University theatre club. Then, work, family, living life got in the way and writing took a back seat to earning a living, putting food on the table, school runs and any number of other excuses. Eventually I fell into feature writing, mostly short pieces for magazines and newspapers. I contributed to several books and began to think the stories I made up in my head would stay there. Characters living their lives in my imagination as I walked or washed dishes.

Last month I published another crochet book, one that I’m rather pleased with. It looks beautiful (thanks to the talents of a wonderful book designer and thoughtful photographer. But, I still don’t consider myself a writer. I am still filled with self doubt and a feeling that one day I shall be discovered as a fraud and the shelf full of books with my name on the cover will be pulped*. When asked, I describe myself as a designer and writer, that seems to sum up what I do. I always underplay the writer part though and I’m never sure why.

This year I have promised myself I shall write more. Perhaps not with publication in mind, but just for pleasure. For the joy of seeing those people that live inside my imagination brought to life in printed words. I’ve set myself a target of 500 words every morning.

Any genre, any subject. Just words on a page…

(519 words)

*Pulping a book is stripping a book of its cover and having the torn book pulped and recycled in the plant. The severed cover is sent back to the publishing house as evidence that the book has been destroyed or discarded or recycled into paper or cardboard products.


The Blackbird Diaries

One of my favourite ways to spend a day off when we’re in Cumbria is wandering along Cockermouth Main St (in fact I often give myself a couple of hours off at lunch time, just to wander, enjoy a decent coffee and peruse the books in the New Bookshop). This is how I found myself sitting in the bookshop cafe on New Years Eve reading page after page of Karen Lloyd’s new book The Blackbird Diaries. I had read Karen’s first book, The Gathering Tide, but I was little out of touch last year, finishing my own book and I had missed the publication of this beautifully written nature diary, chronicling a year in the Cumbrian countryside and a project she became involved in to raise awareness of the plight of British curlews.

I only planned to read the first few pages while I drank my coffee, but an hour later I found myself ordering a second flat white and reading through January, February and half way through March before I finally put the book in my bag and headed home (Full disclosure – I excused myself from the traditional family New Year jigsaw that night and retired to bed, reading page after page). It’s not unusual for me to read a book at one sitting, and if Mr T hadn’t come to bed shortly after midnight and insisted on “Lights out”, I may well have sat until the early hours with this book!

New Years day was filled with family visits, celebrations and a brisk walk and so it wasn’t until a few days later, and back in Cheshire that I was able to sit down and finish The Blackbird Diaries. I’ve since picked it up occasionally, just to read random entries. Comparing my typical day to Karen’s and sharing her delight in the simplicity and beguiling activities of garden birds and wildlife. This entry for 6th March is typical of a scene played out in my on garden:

A feeding frenzy, late afternoon on the feeder outside my study window: chaffinches, blue tits and the by now ubiquitous goldfinches. The window was open and the timbre of irritable bickering and avian arguments filtered inside. I looked up, and there, complete with her black mask and buff-coloured chest: a female bullfinch, She took the sunflower seeds and peered all bright – eyed through the window. Then the frap of small wings and her mate arrived, black headed and grey frock – coated, his chest and round and ruddy as a late September rosehip.


March 6th, The Blackbird Diaries by Karen Lloyd

It’s easy to think of this as just another nature diary, but there is so much more to this book than the simplicity of stepping outside and seeing nature. There is a love of the fells, an understanding of the landscape and a real appreciation of the challenges faced by some of our native species. The book closes with the aftermath of the floods of 2015 and the devastation caused by extreme weather events across Cumbria. Reading the descriptions of closed roads, watery drives and sudden flashes of delight (the brief observation of red kites) I was transported back to those weeks of rain and loss; of damage reports from friends cut off by blocked roads and sudden glimpses of winter visitors blown off course.

This is a book I would probably never have found online. But, because the New Bookshop offers a variety of titles, a healthy mix of the eclectic and the mainstream I can always find something that would otherwise have escaped me. “Real”, independent bookshops, like yarn stores are becoming rarer every year and I treasure the ones that are local to me. I rarely come out empty handed and often not with the book I intended to buy. The fact that the New Bookshop is a ten minute walk from home, serves great coffee (and cake) is a bonus and Mr T and I take full advantage of it, no visit home is complete until we’ve visited, stocked up on books and treated ourselves to a cuppa.

So, although this meant to be a review of a book I really enjoyed and thoroughly recommend; it’s also a small way of saying thank you to the staff at the New Bookshop who sustain my need for great reads and always greet us with a smile …

…You don’t get that on Amazon!

Seek the Simplicity

Sometimes life can be so overwhelming. We need reminding that self care is vital. We need to take time out to remind our selves that we should be nurtured and cared for. If we can’t do that for ourselves how can we expect others to treat us with tenderness and compassion when there are dark days? If we always appear strong and “together”, how will our friends and family know that like the graceful swan, we are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat?

I worry. I worry  about things I cannot change, I worry about the things I can change, but don’t. I worry all the time.  I fret about doing too much, about not doing enough and sometimes I worry about doing nothing at all. I don’t share the worries, the moments of uncertainty or the days when I feel like a fraud, that  my lack of writing or crochet  skills will be “discovered” and I will need to find a “proper” job again!

On days like this,  everything crumbles. My Lupus flares up, I lose the ability to settle to work, the “to do” list becomes overwhelming and I have to stop. Today is one of those days.  There are a couple of new books in the early stages, a possibility of some consultancy work and our holiday to plan. My desk is a chaotic mess of hand written notes, half finished crochet samples, maps of France and ferry timetables. My week has become over complicated and I cannot focus.

So today I sought out simplicity. I took a mug of coffee into my garden, I wrapped myself in a crochet blanket and I watched the birds, bees, and spiders. The birds only seem to worry about a lack of access to the bird feeder. They squabble and bicker as the queues build up (so many fledglings to feed), the pigeons jostle for best pickings dropped by the sparrows and blue tits.  The bees just make constant journeys between chives, comfrey and their hives. They do this on repeat, humming gently. Wasps and flies do “their thing”. The robin sits on the floor beside me, he’s more used to following me through the veg patch as I uncover grubs. He and Mrs robin have hungry mouths to feed, so he only hangs around long enough to give me a scowl of disapproval. He likes me busy and occupied.

Everything in the garden seems to have purpose, while today I have none. The emails are going unanswered, shopping lists ignored. There is a parcel waiting to go to the Post Office (another commission off to be approved by a client) and a letter to a lovely friend that needs to be written.  I have phone calls to make and a greenhouse to water. But, everything can wait. Today is about doing one thing at a time, and first there is coffee.

I like my coffee made slowly, brewed in a percolator. I can hear it bubbling and gurgling through the open window. Usually, I would use this time to wash dishes, sort laundry or make a valiant attempt to tidy. Instead I am sitting in the sun, watching small creatures and listening to birdsong. I refuse to feel guilty that I am not multi tasking. If Mr T were to read this, he would nod sagely and tell me he adopted this approach a long time ago. He spends a lot of time sitting still (reading, thinking, planning). He doesn’t worry about “stuff”. He takes what life gives him and makes the best of it. I could learn a lot from Mr T. He knows the restorative power of being idle!

Now, with coffee poured and the mid morning sun casting shadows over the garden I feel less agitated. Does it really matter that I took a couple of hours off to do nothing? The world around me has continued. No-one has noticed I didn’t reply to their email or “like” their Facebook post.  I drink coffee, watch birds and my head clears. I shall take the sourdough starter out of the fridge and make a loaf (it will be ready for breakfast tomorrow). I shall make lunch then take a walk and post my parcel. One thing at a time. Ticks against menial tasks on the “to do” list.

Tomorrow I shall add another task: Seek the simplicity.

One day at a time, one simple task, one achievement, one small win…




Sorry / Not Sorry


Romantic notion of me sitting at my desk composing erudite blog posts

Thank you to everyone who responded to my post on living with Lupus, especially those of you who shared their stories with honesty,  I swear, if we were “firing on all cylinders” we could conquer the world! It appears that when you write candidly about what life throws at you,  it has a noticeable affect on your “stats”. My Instagram follower count plummeted, which is fine, I follow / unfollow all the time. Interestingly, the number of subscribers to my blog went up. When I asked a few friends why they thought this had happened their answers surprised me. It seems some people don’t “get” that social media in general can represent a skewed version of reality. My willingness to be open about my life behind the photo wasn’t the reason they followed me in the first place. Most people wanted pretty photos of yarn or perhaps the garden. Instagram is our escape from the mundane maybe?


The fact is, Instagram is not most people’s reality. It’s the version of ourselves we want to project to the world. And if it’s heavily curated, edited and planned weeks in advance that’s OK. No-one’s life is perfect. That Instagram Influencer you follow (along with 500,000 others) with the sigh inducing feed full of immaculate flat lays and beautifully shot light casting shadows on her impossibly  white kitchen probably spent her morning wiping baby sick off her iphone, persuading a reluctant toddler to put on his shoes and go to playgroup. Or maybe, just maybe she managed to put on eyeliner and mascara while a nine year old screamed how life is unfair because both parents are united in their refusal to buy him a pet chinchilla (that one happened to a friend of mine very recently). You’re too busy drooling over that photo she just posted of a sheepskin draped chair in which she sits drinking coffee from a hand thrown mug, wearing head to toe Boden to care.

In the same way  we dress, apply make up and put on a public face for the world, our social media (and especially the image driven Instagram) performs the same function. If we’re honest, we know it’s all smoke and mirrors. Few of us “just happen” to catch that perfect photo of our toddler walking towards the morning light.


Looking at my own instagram feed I’ve noticed I created my own, slightly skewed version of reality and slowly I want to change that. In the Instagram world I am constantly creative, I bake cakes, visit interesting places and come up with fabulous new designs on a regular basis. Until now, I have rarely opened up about the personal stuff. Perhaps I was worried people would think I was weak or boring? In my usual roundabout way, I’m trying to say I’m sorry if my candour about living with chronic illness made some of you feel uncomfortable or left you wanting to send me a “virtual hug”.

I’m not sorry for admitting life can be crappy. Most off all I’m not sorry that you’ll still be subjected to slightly out of focus pictures on Instagram on an almost daily basis. In my imperfect world they’re sharply in focus, beautifully composed images of life in leafy Cheshire.

Whatever your reality, embrace it. Own it.

Be “not sorry” for your imperfections…



So, You Want to be a Writer?

s9cc2skysjm-green-chameleonWhenever I tell people I’m a writer the most common response is “I’ve always wanted to be writer, but I don’t know how”.  I have always been compelled to write, I never really stopped to think about the how. The first story I remember writing was science fiction. I was 7 years old and a babysitter had left behind a Marvel comic. I was fascinated by a picture book for grown ups  and wrote story after story about the figures sketched in its pages. In my teens I found my niche writing features and after the local paper published my first piece when I was 15 I was determined that’s what I would do for a living, it didn’t become my full time job until my 40’s, but it’s simmered along while l I did other jobs that paid the bills and put food on the table.  I still long to write a novel and there is a character inside me who insists his story should be told, but I’m not ready to give him a life of his own yet. For now, I walk briskly in the forest as his fictional life evolves in my head.

Now, I’ll let you into a secret. Writing is easy, you just pick up a pen and get on with it. Writing something other people want to read, now that’s the hard bit! I used to be a teacher, then a teacher trainer. I’ve taught everyone, from three year olds to pensioners and the same advice is relevant to all of you. Practice, practice, practice. Like riding a bike or learning the piano, writing is a skill that rewards effort. Here’s my top three tips to being a better writer, follow these and you can only get better (and if that’s prompted a D:Ream earworm click here and sing along).


Number One: Write. Write every day. Keep a journal, write a diary, hand write a letter to an old friend. Make up a story about the couple sitting in front of you on the bus, pen a poem. Don’t worry about the spelling, the grammar or  the syntax, just type or scribble down the words. Do this every day and soon you’ll discover a style, your “voice”. You’ll find it easier to write that first sentence, If you really struggle,  there are websites with writing prompts to get you started. Make time every day to write something. Even if you can only manage ten minutes, you’ll find the discipline of daily writing soon becomes something you look forward to. Start a blog, write a daily Facebook update (my lovely friend Archies Diaries started that way and became an Amazon best seller!), make a list of far away friends and family and write them a letter. Plan your novel and give yourself a word or page target for every day. Full disclosure – some of best writing happens in my head on my daily walk and never makes it to paper – I need to learn to take my own advice.


Number Two: Read. Read “all” the time. Honestly, being a great reader will make you a better writer. Widen your horizons, whether you borrow library books, read online or pick up your books second hand it doesn’t matter. Reading improves your vocabulary, teaches you about plot development and structure. It widens your world. If you worry about grammar, spelling or the conventions of writing then you need to read more, you’ll soon notice how great writers break the “rules”. Think about your favourite writers, study how they structure their work, what makes it so appealing to you. It’s never good form to copy another writer’s work, but being inspired by a story you’ve read and using it as  a spring board for your own work is perfectly acceptable. After I read Freya North’s The Turning Point I was so devastated by the ending that I had to write myself an alternative future for the heroine, Frankie and her children. Not because Freya North had done a bad job – the complete opposite – in three days of binge reading  I had lived and breathed with her heroine and reaching the final page  was too painful, I wasn’t ready to let her go. *

Number Three: Ignore the rules. If you spend your days stressing that your spelling is abysmal or your grammar and punctuation let you down, stop worrying. Get the words on the page and everything else can be dealt with later. Run your work through a spell checker, find a friend who will proof read and edit (don’t choose one who gets carried away with the red pen. It can be soul destroying to have your work returned with hundreds of minor corrections). If you really believe you have produced a piece of work fit to show an editor, find yourself a professional proof reader or technical editor  who will lick your work into shape (for a small fee of course). There will be days when you have nothing to say, or times when you reach a block (believe me that exists), after my last book I lost my “mojo” for several months. All I could write were hasty postcards and a few short paragraphs for patient editors who understood and gave me time to recover. My design work stalled completely. Samples were made and ready to post, but I just couldn’t type the words needed into the pattern template.

Of course, most of this advice is just stating the obvious, you knew all this already. Perhaps you’ve just been waiting for someone to give you permission to write. In which case, close this tab. Open a word document;  call it “My Writing” and type your first sentence. I look forward to an invitation to read your first blog post, attend your book launch or just get a letter, written by hand.

Go write x

*You should note that the Turning Point is the most beautifully crafted novel and it’s only if you read it that you’ll understand my sens of losse when I finished reading.

Photo Credits:

Green Chameleon for Unsplash

Parker Byrd for Unsplash

Aaron Burden for Unsplash






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