Sunday, 16 October 2016

Looking Glasses and Rabbit Holes

No sooner have we waved goodbye
to dear friends Jill and Martin who’ve been staying with us for a few days than I’m off to Aberystwyth with friend and blogger Preseli Mags to meet up with a group of blogging friends. Jo, Jayne and Jane are here, Mountainear has come down from her small mountain kingdom and Elizabeth has temporarily swapped one set of Welsh hills for another. We’ve ‘known’ each other for almost ten years now since we, and many others, started blogging for a competition in the hope of being picked to write a magazine column. Although none of us won we ended up with a much bigger prize, an enduring online friendship with bloggers across the globe. Today we have a chance to catch up; some of us have met before, others are new faces but those shared virtual glimpses of our lives make conversation easy. There’s lots of laughter, many cups of coffee but also an acknowledgement that real lives - with all the usual trials and tribulations - go on behind the looking glasses of our online personae.

Being a writer sometimes feels like tumbling down a deep, dark rabbit hole whilst holding a small flame and desperately trying to keep it alight. It’s a constant battle against doubt and uncertainty - even when there’s good news. I’m delighted to have written the words to Jake Fitzjones’ beautiful photographs of a stunning Highgate home in this month’s edition of The English Home (November. Issue 141). I’m also thrilled to have been commissioned to write two more features for the magazine, yet as much as I love writing these articles, a freelance writing career is precarious and I’m keenly aware of wanting to do my best for the home owner, the photographer and the magazine. The finished article should appear to be effortless, informative and easy to read, but lots of material has to be gathered and sorted first and all the time the deadline clock keeps ticking. Luckily it’s a challenge I enjoy, for all the tense moments of wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle will ever fit together, and it’s still something of a dream come true to see my name by a feature in a glossy magazine.

All the training for my recent half marathon’s been a useful reminder that goals are achieved one step at a time and I’ve been making slow progress - at last - with fiction. A novella is inching towards completion and I’m 12,000 words into a new novel. Just when I need an incentive to keep going during those times when I feel as if I’m working in the dark, I receive some very welcome news. I’m pleased to say that my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales will be available in paperback from November and, very excitingly, Turning the Tide is one of nine Choc Lit titles being launched by Norwegian publisher, Cappelen Damm AS, as a new mass market series in 2017. And now, it’s back to real life and hard graft!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Running The 'Diff 2016

Some 22,000 runners are taking part in the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon but as I thread my way through the crowd to my starting pen, I feel lonely and a bit daunted. I know
people will be thinking of me, but I won’t be seeing any of my family en route as I don’t feel it’s reasonable to ask them to turn out for such a busy event. In my pen, however, I’m quickly gathered up by a group of blokes who offer Jelly Babies and talk race tactics. The fellow feeling between runners is a real tonic! I start to relax and enjoy the fantastic atmosphere. The race starts at 10 am - later than I would normally run - and it takes seven minutes to get to the start. Then I’m away!

It’s a glorious day in Cardiff; there’s no wind, the sun is shining… and it’s absolutely boiling! By mile 4, I know I’m not going to make the time I set for myself - that sub 2 hours so tantalisingly within reach. It’s just too hot for me and the busy field requires energy-sapping weaving between runners so I just dig in and do the best I can.

The support from the crowds in Cardiff is always brilliant and this year is no exception; every mile of the route is lined with people cheering and lending their encouragement, there are choirs and bands, old folks and babies and I try to ‘high five’ as many children as my energy levels permit. Oh, and I certainly don’t have to worry about being short of Jelly Babies or Haribou sweeties as so many kind spectators are handing them out to weary runners - in fact by the end of the course, the smell of Jelly Babies is rather overwhelming in the heat; all I want is a long cold drink!

I’m running for Pancreatic Cancer UK so I’ve stitched a photo of my dad to the front and back of my race vest. At mile 9, Dad suddenly defies my sewing and flies off my shoulder! Oh no, has he abandoned me? Rose says later he was just lifting the weight off my shoulders which is a lovely thought. Two years ago, when I last ran this race, I was thinking not only of my dad but also of the tiny little spark who became Bee, who my daughter, Lily, was carrying. This year, there’s an equally happy glimmer of the future to contemplate, all being well.

As I cross the finish line I’m absolutely exhausted - I’ve given it all I have. The wonderful students of Cardiff University who’ve given up their time to volunteer to give out finishers’ goodies are of many nationalities and religions - food for thought in these Brexit times. I express my thanks to the young woman in the hijab who places a medal round my neck and her beautiful face lights up. Then it’s a 20 minute trudge to meet Tom and another 20 minute walk to the car by which time I’ve got nothing left in the tank. At Lily and Russ’s house in Cardiff, Lily runs me a bath and tenderly dresses me afterwards in the first reversal of our roles.

Checking the official results, my time’s slower than I hoped for - 2:14:12 but I’m 50th out of 175 women in my category and 9935 overall which I’m pretty chuffed with. But the best news is that thanks to the generous support of so many kind people, I’ve raised £576 for Pancreatic Cancer UK. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made that happen.

I would also like to thank everyone involved in the wonderful event that was the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon and made it such a memorable day.

PS. It turns out I did have a supporter in the crowd - Lily’s lovely friend Ruth - and I didn’t even hear her shouting! So, sorry, Ruth - you’re a star!

The blessed relief of seeing the finish line!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

One Week to 'GO!'

Well, that’s it! I ran my last long training session this morning and after weeks of hard work I’m counting down the days until the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon on 2 October. I’ve quite literally run up hills and down dales, I’ve run short sharp races across sand and, thanks to the company of my running buddy Helen, the long runs haven’t been quite so lonely. All I can do now is to try to stay as fit as possible and avoid colds and lurgy before race day.

Thanks to the kindness of many supporters, my JustGiving page stands at £486.98 raised for Pancreatic Cancer UK. This LINK will take you to the page on Pancreatic Cancer UK’s website showing the valuable research projects the charity is funding. This LINK takes you to Pancreatic Cancer UK’s tribute wall and explains why this cause is so important to me.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Green Remembered Hats

A quest to find old paperwork finds me sorting through boxes in the loft. Not that many, actually, since I’m not a hoarder and I’d rather look forwards than over my shoulder. I find the documents I’m searching for but also another folder which contains certificates. Leafing through them is quite unsettling as I discover records of achievements for everything from my degree and professional qualifications down to third prize in a miniature garden competition! Who was that girl, I wonder, who skied, swam, typed, quizzed and first-aided her way to success?

Prompted by the imminent arrival of a dear friend, I also recover a box full of our school magazines and lose an afternoon reading them. In a week that’s brought heated debate about Theresa May’s intention to lift the ban on establishing new grammar schools, I remember how liberating, exhilarating even, it felt to be in a place where academic excellence was celebrated and every girl - it was a single sex school - was encouraged to reach her full potential.  

All right for some, you might say, but I wasn’t from a privileged middle class background and I certainly didn’t have private tuition; my dad was a carpenter and joiner and Ma spent most of her working life - when she wasn't raising me and my sister - as a school cook. I remember a withering comment from a neighbour from one of the new ‘posh’ houses up the road that there surely must be some mistake that I had passed the eleven-plus and her son hadn’t. And whilst I was overjoyed at the brave new world opening up for me, I was keenly aware that my parents had to work harder than ever to pay for the long list of uniform requirements and equip me to take up my place.

So yes, I was lucky, and fortunate, too, that my parents encouraged me to go to university in an age where further education for girls was still seen as a ‘waste’. However, it’s not the rights and wrongs of our education system that are foremost in my mind as I read the school magazines, but the names and the faces. Several times I’m moved to tears; I read a funny, engaging account by one pupil of her university interview in one magazine, the next year there’s a poignant obituary to her. Here’s a poem by that gifted all-rounder in the year below me who went on to have a stellar career yet died, aged 44, of a brain tumour. There are fabulous illustrations, wonderful music - yes, one of the magazines contains a vinyl record of music and poetry - reminders of school plays and trips, sporting achievements and speech days. A testimony to the superb teachers who drew out the best in us. How many of those bright girls, I wonder, carried on achieving, how many simply got crushed by life?

Like most people, I’ve had ups and downs along the way, but the seeds of my own career are planted in those school magazines; I rediscover poems, travel pieces, life writing and reviews and remember that I worked as an editorial assistant on two of the editions. I’ll always be grateful that I was encouraged to fly and wish more children could have the same opportunity. Give a girl a pair of wings - or in my case a green hat - and you never know where they’ll take her.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Back to Work

Autumn’s in the air here in west Wales. There’s a heavy dew on the grass in the mornings, leaves are turning and a lower sun casts a slanting light across the landscape. We’re still trying to make the most of what’s left of summer and this week we enjoyed a very happy couple of days with my stepson and his lovely girlfriend in their new home, (you will see from the photos we also had a visit there from Bee who was keen to learn how to play the piano!) but now it's time for some hard work!

Our garden has ‘got away’ - so much so that I’ve been afraid to go down to the compost heap because of what might be lurking in the dense undergrowth. We spend a whole day chopping up a fallen tree and clearing the area round the septic tank (nice… actually it doesn’t smell at all which is how it should be!) just in case we have to call for Mr Sh*t , as the very cheerful man who empties the tanks is known round here. We achieve what feels like a lot …. until I look up and see how much more there is to do, but at least I’m not too scared to walk down to the bottom of my own garden now!

With just over a month to go to the Cardiff Half, I’ve been introduced to different routes by my new running buddy, Helen. Unfortunately I almost keel over after 6 miles one morning and Helen sprains her ankle on another, but I’ve also been tackling some absolute beasts of hill climbs so it’s going the right way.

As well as the autumnal feeling outside, there’s a ‘back to school’ feeling in the house. Tom’s begun writing up his PhD thesis so I’m back at my desk too. Another commission, fingers crossed, from The English Home, is in the pipeline - which I’m really looking forwards to as I love writing these features - and, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m also writing fiction again… and enjoying it at last!

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Wendy House by Pauline Barclay

A big welcome to my guest Pauline Barclay who is sharing the news about her latest book, The Wendy House here.  Pauline says her passion is to write about life-changing events and those affected by them and in the her latest novel she shows she's not afraid to tackle the darker side of human nature. 

When Nicola changes overnight from a bright, happy young child into a sullen, rebellious girl, ceasing to show interest in anything or anyone around her, her parents struggle to understand why. As she develops into a difficult, troubled, hostile teenager they put it down to hormones, believing it will pass. Yet Nicola goes from bad to worse and no matter how much her mother tries to reach out to her, it seems she is hell bent on self-destruction. When she leaves home at seventeen, rushing into the arms of a man ten years her senior and quickly becoming pregnant, her despairing mother almost gives up on her. A decade later, the events that stole Nicola’s childhood and changed the course of her life threaten finally to destroy her. She knows if she is to cling on to her sanity she must tell her mother the dreadful secret she has carried all these years, but her fear that she will be met with disbelief, hostility and branded an evil liar drives her to the edge.

A heart-rending story of betrayal, secrets and gripping fear.

Publication Date: Saturday 3rd September 
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Family-Noir 

The Wendy House is available in Kindle for pre-order on all Amazon sites including 

Pauline says...

"I am from Yorkshire, but have lived in several different locations including, Suffolk, Surrey and Holland. Today, I live on one of the beautiful volcanic islands of the Canary Isles with my husband and our two gorgeous rescue doggies.

Years ago I gained a BA (Hons) degree from the Open University, today I spend my time writing fiction. I have five books published, plus a 20 minute short festive story.

My passion is to write about events that happen in life and change everything for those involved as well as those caught up in the maelstrom. I want my characters to sit at your side, steal your attention and sweep you up in their story. Stories that will bring tears to your eyes, have you laughing out loud and sometimes, what they share with you, will stay in your hearts for a very long time. "  

Twitter: @paulinembarclay 
Instagram: @paulinebarclay

Our Summer

Yes, it’s been a while! There’s a limit though to how many times I can blog about sailing, running and spending time with family and friends without boring the collective pants off you. So here’s a glimpse of summer 2016 in pictures instead.

All the hard work Tom and I put in to get the boat back in the water has really repaid us.  We've taken every chance we can to go sailing.  A couple of days spend watching the world go by from Blue Nun feels like a proper holiday.

I've completed all three races in the Poppit Sands Race series - and I'm hoping that all the running on sand will help build up my stamina for the Cardiff Half this October. I'm also pleased to report that my JustGiving Page for Pancreatic Cancer UK now stands at £330 thanks to the kindness of many supporters.

I was delighted to be invited to write another feature to Alexander James’ photographs for the August edition of The English Home and, best of all, we’ve been very lucky to have spent lots of time with family and friends.

Tomorrow, by way of a change, I'm joined by guest blogger Pauline Barclay, who will be revealing the news about her latest novel. Do visit if you can.