SURREAL TIMES: Tired Tuesday, the Day After Blue Monday

As we live in surreal times, I decided to call today Tired Tuesday.  It is the day after Blue Monday, the official name for the third Monday of each New Year, which apparently, has been noted as the most depressing day of any year – not just one plagued by a pandemic.  Surprisingly, I felt quite upbeat, as for the first time in 2021,  I felt like I had a wasp up my arse, for the whole day, until I ran out of steam.

I tackled most of the things I’d been putting off for the last three weeks, including mowing the meadow, that used to be my lawn.  Only I didn’t quite finish it.  It was too much like hard labour.  After weeks of monsoon-like weather, it was still oozing moisture and way too long for my electric lawnmower which protested long before I decided I’d had enough.  So, I need to push myself out there to finish it off this morning, before it rains, again.

Unfortunately, pushing myself to get stuff done yesterday, has had a knock-on effect this morning.  I feel completely drained on this Tired Tuesday.  I’ve been feeling exhausted for the last three weeks, and I blame my lethargy on many things.

SURREAL TIMES: Tired Tuesday, the Day After Blue Monday
  1. The build-up to, and the enjoyment of, the weirdest Christmas on record.
  2. The dampened down New Year’s Eve celebrations, although my hangover told me something else, apart from it being time to think about a serious detox programme.
  3. And then Dry January got off to an appalling start. I fell off the wagon after 48 hours.  NOTE TO SELF – it’s best not to watch the depressing 5.00 o’clock PM COVID-19 briefings, and having to look at the state of his hair while he pontificates.
  4. Three weeks of vigorous editing –  although I took a break from it yesterday – is enough to make anybody feel tired. It’s all that concentration, as well as trying, so hard, to stay blinkered from what is going on in the world right now. Still, I feel fortunate to have writing as a passion and a form of escapism during these surreal times, although it’s hard to find a comedic slant.
  5. The fact I have (several) autoimmune diseases.
  6. The mentally draining COVID-19 nightmare we find ourselves living in – generally.
  7. Lack of sleep.  When I do fall asleep I am caught up in a blockbuster nightmare, after several shoot-outs at the not so okay corral recently, it was a bit of a Blair Witch Project last night.  NOTE TO SELF:  You shouldn’t binge-watch  The Haunting of Bly Manor before going to bed as you’ve been doing for the last couple of nights, but there is only one chilling episode left.
Another bad hair day for BJ. Photo Credit: http://www.marieclaire.co.uk

Ah, but I have so many reasons to be cheerful, and I count my blessings for all of them.  I am looking forward to being being vaccinated and ditching my mask, free to create new adventures away from my home and hayfield of a garden.  Yes, I consider myself to be very lucky on this Tired Tuesday, I’m still here to complain about life and the surreal times in which we live because, God knows, too many people have not so lucky.  It is now almost dark and I still haven’t finished mowing the lawn but, in my defence, there are still large bubbles of moisture attached to each blade of grass.  I am knackered and my lawnmower’s still drying off from Blue Monday, but tomorrow is another day, so let’s hope I won’t have to christen it Wet Wednesday.

DEAR DIARY – POSITIVE THOUGHTS AND AFFIRMATIONS FOR 2021

Dear Diary, as 2020 was so goddam bleak, I intend to record only positive thoughts and affirmations this year.

January 2nd 2021

Well, hello, 2021! I took down the tree and the Christmas decorations today because now that you’re here, there no point in hanging around, I want to get on with it. You’ve been a long time coming.  It’s been the longest 365 days of my life because, as I’m sure you’ve heard, your predecessor was a nightmare. So, I’m hoping for good things from you, 2021 – no pressure – I’m sure you will deliver.  Well, you can’t do any worse than your hideous predecessor.

DAY ONE OF DRY JAN

Today is my first official DryJanuary day. Well, I couldn’t have started yesterday because, at the stroke of midnight, we popped the cork on a bottle of fizz to jettison 2020 into oblivion, where it belongs.  Perhaps, I shouldn’t have had a Tia Maria frappé afterwards, to sweeten off, as the combination of alcoholic beverages consumed both before and after midnight, rendered me completely useless for the whole of New Year’s Day.   That’s all behind me now,  detox here I come!  Today saw me striding across the fields with Cassie the Blog Dog in my new walking boots, and I will be looking forward to a large tomato juice around drinkies time this evening, and for the rest of the month. Erm…

Well, that is the plan for Dry Jan, but if I’m going to stick to it,  I will have to steer clear of reading about Boris’s Brexit Blunderings or watching Hancock’s Half-Hour of painful COVID-19 briefings which, even in small doses, are enough to drive me to jump off the teetotal waggon.

I have quite a few goals on my list which I’ve had to carry over from 2020 because nobody could go anywhere to achieve anything – apart from Dominic Cummings, but he is history now.   Anyway, 2020’s outstanding goals need to come to fruition this year.  My star sign is Aries, and my patience has worn very thin.

GOALS FOR 2021

It’s quite a long list, so I can email it to you which might be easier.  Once you receive them, I would be grateful if you can give me an idea of what the timings are likely to be.  So I can start planning trips, etc.  That would be great, thank you.  In the meantime, here are my top five goals on the aforementioned list that I intend to achieve during your 365 days.

5. Turning into a domestic goddess. I am now packing my new Pinch of Nom cookbooks, and I am planning to turn supper times into a series of culinary delights, rather than just dishing up salads and stews.

4. Travel is high on my agenda, so I hope you won’t keep us caged-up for too much longer after you’ve got the COVID-19 vaccinations flowing, which brings me to number 3.

3. After doing a dry(ish) January and a severely calorie-reduced February and March, my post-Christmas and New Year belly should be beach ready by the end of April for the first, of several, great escapes to Europe.

I will always be a proud European, and I am suffering from chronic withdrawal symptoms, having been deprived of European bonhomie since July 2019.

EU’ve always been the icing on my Black Forest Gateau, the unsalted butter on my croissant, and the creme in my coffee.  So, before I fall apart and bring any negativity into this, here are my top two goals.

2.  Finish The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook by the end of April and,

  1. Find an agent for Just Say It

So, 2021, can you deliver my top five goals?  I do hope so.

As of tomorrow, I will be back in my writing space, crouched over an overheating laptop, blinkered in my quest to achieve my top two goals. À bientôt.

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Things can only get better in 2021!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  In the immortal words of Howard Jones, things can only get better in 2021!

Around 6.p.m. yesterday, I kicked off my jog pants, showered, washed my hair and dolled myself up while mentally preparing to boot out 2020 and celebrate the arrival of 2021.

I took a stroll along the green-carpeted landing from my bedroom to the stairs, looking longingly at the photos and prints, framed and hanging on the walls.  The hibiscus, a watercolour from Barbados, prints from St. Lucia and a  photo of us all embossed on to canvas splashing around in the Arabian sea between picture-perfect coral atolls in The Maldives.  Treasured memories.

We amble downstairs, ready to party.  It is a psychological necessity, but we are not going out on the town.  New Year’s Eve 2020 is spent shuffling between the kitchen and sitting room because we live in strange times.  We cannot go out and celebrate the end of what has been a shit year, but we will celebrate getting rid of it.

My favourite restaurant, Aromas, delivers our meal and it is delicious.  The conversation and the alcohol are flowing; I feel warm and loved.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

After dinner, Jools Holland does his best to keep our spirits high with Tom Jones and Celeste crooning their brilliance to a void where the audience should be.  We love the show anyway, bopping around the sitting room, the rug in front of the fire all rucked up.  At midnight we hug each other and raise a glass of fizz to welcome 2021. F*&% off, 2020.

When all the guests of the Jool’s 2020 Hootenany take their final bow, we are drawn to YouTube to watch the ‘Best Of Jools’ over the years when the TV set was crammed with an enthusiastic audience, and we squeal with delight when we spot a famous face in the crowd.

I love spending time with the people I care about, and whatever situation we find ourselves in, we will always make the best of it, despite expectations of New Year’s Eve 2020 going off like a damp squib, but we are luckier than most in so many ways. Almost 80,000 people in the UK have lost their lives to COVID-19 during 2020.  For their family and friends, there was no sparkle in the fizz last night.

A TIME FOR CHANGE

We face uncertain times ahead.  Unable to make any long-term plans until we have been vaccinated.  In the short term, there is little to look forward to. For me, a Dry January, while we sit back and watch the Brexit car crash unfold.

I was born in Yorkshire but, these days I’m not so proud to be British.  My Grandmother was Greek, so I’m seriously thinking about claiming Greek citizenship as, for forty-seven years, my heart and soul has felt a part of the  EU community.  If I decide to go down that route, I wonder if Greece would take me as one of their own after the country of my birth abandoned the EU ship?

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Things can only get better.

DARE TO DREAM – LIFE BEYOND COVID-19

I dare to dream about life beyond COVID-19, even unconsciously.   During the early hours of this morning, I dreamt, very vividly, about moving house.  We were looking in 2020, but it wasn’t the ideal year to find your dream home.  We didn’t see anything our hearts would want to call home sweet home, but in my dream, we’d not only found it, but we were moving in.

LIFE BEYOND COVID-19

As we cautiously juggle our priorities for 2021, I rejoiced when I heard the announcement made by Sir Simon Stevens – the head honcho of the NHS, that all the over-50’s will have had their COVID-19 vaccination by late Spring 2021.

‘Late Spring,’ I thought. ’That would be about the end of April,’ I naively thought but, before I started Conga-ing around the house to Gloria Estefan thinking the butt end of April marked the end of Spring, I thought I better check.  According to the  Gov.UK’s Met Office, Spring 2021 officially ends on 21st June, so another six months to go creeping around 2021 wearing masks and rose-coloured spectacles.

We’ve been living under the COVID-19 cloud for the best part of a year, so what difference will six more months make?  Looking on the bright side, given these predictions, we should be back to normal by Christmas 2021.  Hurrah!  Ah, but there is B Brexit to worry about as well here in the UK, the land of self-induced isolation.

Since COVID-19 reared it spikey little nucleic acid and protein head, I have dared to dream about how sweet life will be after we’ve all had the long-awaited shot in the arm.  I said the other day I would be storming out of the blocks into 2021, but I think it will be a more gingerly approach, getting as much done as we can before we get jabbed.

NEWS FLASH!
COVID-19: Margaret Keenan, the first patient to get Pfizer vaccine, receives her second jab.
What heartwarming news – GO MARGARET! 
Dare to Dream

During the last twelve months, my goals, ambitions and ideals have changed.  If I didn’t already know, the things that matter the most in life are not material.  No one gives a toss how big your house is or how successful you are; it is what you feel in your heart that’s important. The essence of life is sharing it with the people you love.

I dare to dream that we will find a place where our hearts can call home.

I dare to dream about spending time with the people I care about, without being 2 meters apart.

I dare to dream about going out for a meal, or to the theatre – how I’ve missed the smell of the greasepaint – and listening to Little Black Dress cook up a storm in the Blue Note Bar with other live music lovers.

I dare to dream about a change of scene – I used to write poetry, just as well I gave it up.

I dare to dream about soaking up the sunshine somewhere with the gentle lapping of the sea in my ears, inhaling the exhilarating, briny COVID-19-free air.  Joy.

Be patient, stay safe, the good times will roll again and, although it’s impossible to calculate precisely when, in the meantime, please stay optimistic about what the future holds and dream about your plans that will come to fruition when things get back to normal in 2021 and beyond.

For now, I’m off to Conga around the house, with Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine.

WRITING AS A COPING MECHANISM

Writing, for me, has always been a coping mechanism. When I was seven, I reached for a pen and paper and started writing poetry. I carried on writing in one capacity or another throughout my life. It has always helped me cope when life has pelted me with rotten eggs. I believe writing is a therapeutic process. Everybody needs an outlet for their emotions. Some people run, some use a punchbag, I write.

At the start of the first UK Lockdown, I was working on two novel manuscripts. As with most of my writing, both have humour at their core. I was enjoying every minute of the creative process when, suddenly, trying to write in a comedic vein felt inappropriate, as well as impossible.

Like everyone else, I was in a state of shock, consumed by the surreal horror going on around me. I couldn’t focus on anything other than the devastating effect COVID-19 was having around the world.

Fortunately, my writing to cope mechanism clocked in. I started writing a dismal, but therapeutic, blog, Life Under the Cloud – The COVID-19 Diaries, releasing the thoughts and images backing up in my head.

Ten months on, after enjoying a degree of normality for a few fleeting weeks, nothing much has changed. We are all laying low again, our daily lives curbed by the threat of contracting COVID-19. Our daily lives ruled by dreary Governmental briefings. There is only one piece of news that we are patiently waiting for – when it’s our turn to have the vaccine. Without this live-preserving serum, we cannot make a hint of a plan for 2021.  

My home town, usually the vibrant, beating heart within the finance industry, is a sad reflection of its former self, apart from the essential workforce going about their business as usual. Hospitality venues long-since closed, and non-essential shops having put up ‘we are closed’ signs again on Christmas Eve.  

HOME TOWN GHOST TOWN

I imagine walking down the usually buzzing main shopping street, with the theme from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly ringing in my ears. The only other sound is my boots connecting with the pavement as I walk. It is only me and tumbleweed. It’s a sad fact, and I don’t mean to be flippant, although the reference to tumbleweed is artistic licence. I never thought I would live through a global pandemic. Let’s hope I do; it’s not over yet. The threat of succumbing to COVID-19 is constant, especially now three different variants of the virus have been identified, but I am reliably informed that viruses always mutate. I wish this one wouldn’t!

THE UK’S DISMAL COVID-19 TALLY AT THE TIME OF WRITING

On 29th January 2020, the first two patients in the UK tested positive for COVID-19.  Today, 28th December 2020, 256,220  people have tested positive in the UK, and a heart-wrenching 79,349 people have lost their lives after testing positive for COVID-19.

To all the scientists worldwide who have worked tirelessly under intense pressure to produce a vaccine – we salute you. Your life-saving vaccine will need to be mass-produced on a global scale and in double-quick time. Without the vaccine, our lives can never get back to normal. Those carefree, halcyon days when we were able to mingle, hug and kiss all the people we care about.

As enter 2021 with a degree of trepidation, writing will see me through the surreal COVID-19 crisis we all find ourselves in.

My Top 5 New Year Writing Resolutions to Become a Better Writer

In the fuggy aftermath of a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas Day when, for a few hours, we successfully managed to banish all thoughts of the craziness going on around us, my blurry waking thoughts centred around my top 5 New Year Writing Resolutions.  Look out 2021, here I come!

  1. I will come out of the 31st December 2020 starting blocks with the bit between my teeth, fuelled with inspiration.  2020 has been a pretty good right off for us all.  None of us will be sad to leave it in our wake.
  2. I will get Just Say It into print. I had a ‘near-miss’ in 2020.  No more ‘near-misses’ in 2021!
  3. I will finish writing  The Secret Lives of The Doyenne of Didsbrook, am tantalisingly close to revealing whodunnit.
  4. I will write with more of an edge.  Think I’ve, probably, nailed quirky.
  5. I will read more! I will make time to devour other people’s words of wisdom.

Two years ago, I blogged about Jean E. Pendziwol and her book, Seven Ways To Become A Better Writer, and her message is clear.

“There is an alarming trend among young, aspiring authors who have little desire or inclination to read. Reading is the foundation of writing.  You cannot cook without eating.  You cannot live without breathing.  And you cannot write without reading.”

Well, I think we all know that I am not young, but I am aspiring and, the more fixated I become about getting into print, I should be allowing myself more time to read.

Jean’s 7 top tips to becoming a better writer are:

Sound advice.

I have a leaning Tower of Pizza of stacked books, which I have put aside to read but think I might start the 2021 reading extravaganza with one the two books I have received as 2020 Christmas presents, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

 

2021 is the time to get jiggy with it.

In a Bah Humbug State of Mind

I started off December 2020 in a bah humbug state of mind.  Now, here we are on Christmas Eve and my mental state hasn’t improved.  Two days ago, I rearranged the sitting room and forgot I’m not in my prime anymore, when I swung a heavy, high-backed chair from one side of the room to another and, my back gave way—what a time to self-incapacitate.

The Christmas tree may be up and looking gorgeous. All presents are wrapped – apart from the ones I haven’t got and can’t do anything about now, but walking around like the living dead is not useful when Christmas meals need to be cooked, and the constant rounds of clearing up are about to begin.

But, hey, you have to look on the bright side of anything positive in 2020.  Things have improved this morning, yesterday I needed help putting my knickers on.

A #thankyou to #everyone who has #liked and #followed www.tessabarrie.com in #2020. It’s not been the #bestofyears for any of us.   #HappyChristmas to you all and may #2021 see you #acieve all the #hopesanddreams you had for yourselves in #2020!

Creating Characters – Jack Wilde from Just Say It

Creating Characters – Jack Wilde from Just Say It

Jack is the love of my protagonist, Lisa Grant’s, life.  He always has been, but they split up when Lisa was twenty-two after Jack proposed. Lisa had panicked, turning him down for a multitude of reasons. Too young, fear of commitment, terrified of going through the ‘momopause’ and turning in to her mother.  Instead of talking it through with Lisa, Jack walked away, leaving her alone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.  Eighteen years later,  and in the throws of getting back together, Jack has another hissy fit after misinterpreting an intimate moment between Lisa her ex, Rory, and flounces off back home to New York.

Going the Wrong Way

Jack was holding the neck of an empty miniature bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin between his thumb and forefinger, tapping it against the tray table in front of him. He was in a foul mood, questioning his reasoning for going back to New York. The woman sitting next to him was trying to read and cleared her throat, glowering at his tray table. He stopped tapping, shrugged and said, ‘I’m very sorry… I was miles away.’

BLAME IT ON THE MOTHER
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – Goodreads.

She nodded curtly and went back to her book. Jack glanced at the cover, Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me, and Elizabeth flashed into his mind. The bloody woman had a great deal to answer for. He felt sure Lisa would have married him years ago if it hadn’t been for Elizabeth. Her twisted obsession with finding Lisa a husband, when she was incapable of being faithful to either of hers, poisoned Lisa’s views on marriage. It wasn’t too surprising Lisa crossed marriage off her list of lifetime goals from a very early age.

He squeezed his eyes tightly together, recalling the painful memory from eighteen years ago, as he stomped off down the Champs de Mars after Lisa turned down his marriage proposal.  Walking away was not something he was proud of.  In retrospect, he had behaved like an overgrown schoolboy whose conker had been annihilated. Jumping into the first taxi he saw and commanding the driver to ‘Take me to Charles de Gaulle airport, tout suite!’  The word immature flashed through his mind.

Once back in London, the blurry recall of rocking around on a barstool at the Flying Horse in the Tottenham Court Road, with Brenda Stark all over him, and his alcohol-fuddled brain fuelling the words, ‘Brenda, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.’  Words that made him cringe. It was a blatant albeit drunken, lie, as well as being the most ridiculous statement he’d ever made in his entire adult life.

The following morning, disorientated, and with the hangover from Hell, he struggled to open his eyes, reaching out his arms expecting Lisa’s sylph-like image to emerge from the bathroom. Instead, the outline of a much fuller figure, with a mane of red, pre-Raphaelite hair, approached him on the bed. Her lips overwhelmed him, as he found himself smothered in a bright auburn thicket.

It was the most dismal morning of his life, which turned into 6,570 dreary mornings after she told him she was pregnant, and, as Will had done before him, he did the right thing.  So why, after eighteen years of married misery in New York City, was he going back there? If he thought it was because his children wanted to see him, he was deluding himself, because they didn’t, Brenda had turned them against him.  The divorce was finalised, she had screwed him for everything he had,  and was still screwing Barnaby Ziff, which she had been doing, long before the divorce. Workwise, he had cleared his desk and, although he had been offered the role of CEO in the London office, he wasn’t sure he wanted it.

LOVELORN PUPPY

He had spent the last few weeks trailing around the world like some lovelorn puppy wondering if his first, and only love, still had feelings for him. After watching the millennium sunrise with Lisa in Portugal, he felt sure that she did. Nothing about her had changed. She was still the person he had loved with all his heart. Her confident exterior still betrayed a degree of vulnerability lurking beneath the surface, which she always tried to hide with her sense of humour. Eighteen years on, his feelings hadn’t changed.  All he had ever wanted to do was to wake up next to Lisa.

He had only spent a few days in the Algarve, but he had fallen in love with the country and had allowed himself to fantasise about living there. Thanks to the magic of Google, he had earmarked a property in need of renovation just off  N125, which would be perfect not only as a home but for hosting writers retreats, which he knew Lisa was planning to do, and he could be a great help to her.  The outbuildings had already been converted into self-catering units; there was a pool, and it was in spitting distance of Playa do Trafal, Lisa’s favourite beach. He had even started drawing parallels between himself and Will. Marrying someone he didn’t love because she was pregnant, before creating a new life with the love of his life in Portugal after the divorce. But, unlike Will, he had lost his nerve at the hint of a little competition. He swilled his gin and tonic. He wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

From his window seat, he watched as the 747 gobbled up the miles in cruise mode, every second taking him further away from Lisa, the only person he had ever wanted to be with, so why was he doing it? Because he felt she’d ignored him after they returned to Gloucestershire, and then he’d seen her with her arms around Rory’s neck.  Now on his second gin and tonic, it didn’t seem such a big deal.  She hadn’t been ignoring him; she’d been frantically sorting everything out in the wake of Arthur’s death, which included kissing and hugging everybody who offered sympathy.

As a young man, he enjoyed staying at Silkwoods with Lisa, and fondly remembered all the evenings they had spent with Arthur, soaking up his wit and wisdom. What would Arthur have said to him now?  He would have probably thrown a Moliere quote at him. Hearts are often broken; when words are left unspoken and followed it up with, ‘Have the courage of your convictions, man! Tell her how you feel!’ But he couldn’t get the image of Lisa draped around that philandering photographer out of his head.

The sound of giggling made Jack lookup. A man and woman were walking up the aisle, his hands all over her like an octopus. Jack tut-tutted disapprovingly. They were old enough to know better. The lean, dishevelled figure in a crumpled, cream, linen suit looked very familiar. The recognition was reciprocated as Rory raised an arm in his direction.

‘Bloody Rory, what the hell is he doing here with his arms wrapped around a brunette?’

WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU’VE GOT IT WRONG

He closed his eyes as the enormity of his misconception sank in. His stomach lurched, and his intestines reeled from what felt like a Lennox Lewis punch in the solar plexus.

‘Jack! You are the very last person I expected to see up here. I thought you and Lisa would be tucked up in your cosy little love nest by now. Did her proposal scare you off so much you felt the need to escape?’

‘Her what?’

‘Her proposal! When I said goodbye to her the other day, she said she wanted to ask you to be with her for the rest of her life, as her soul-mate and lover, you know rather than her lawfully wedded husband.  You will remember how bloke-ish her views on marriage are. This is the gorgeous Célia by the way. We are off on the first leg of our round-the-world trip. I will be taking stunning photographs of the world at large, and Célia here will be writing deliciously seductive pieces to accompany them. All funded by Focal Point, would you believe?’

‘Pleased to meet you, Jack,’ Célia purred, but he wasn’t listening; he was staring out of the window. Bailing out at 38,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean was not an option.

‘He’s not normally rude, Célia. He’s just realised what a tosser he is. Am I right, Jack?’

Rory persevered, raising his voice, which made the woman sitting next to Jack shift in her seat, glowering from Rory to Jack.

‘If your facial expressions are telling me anything, mate, I think you just might have made the biggest mistake of your life. Jack? Are you listening to me?’

Jack was still staring out of the window, so the woman sitting next to him elbowed him in the ribs.

‘Oh, for goodness sake! Listen to what he has to say, then I can get on with my book,’ then nodded to Rory to continue.

‘Lisa needs you. She always has. She’s always loved you, Jack. I might have caused a distraction, for a while, when she thought she would never get you back, but it’s you she wants to spend the rest of her life with. She told me. She said the biggest mistake she’d ever made was saying no, to you.’

Resting his elbows on the tray table, Jack put his head in his hands as a frustrated groan escaped his lips.

‘You see, Célia, the penny’s finally dropped! He knows what a knob head he’s been.’

‘I saw you two together the other day, and I drew all the wrong conclusions.’

Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing was on 7 February 1996 when it completed the New York to London flight in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
www.britishairways.com

‘Shame on you, Jack, and you a publishing man! Never judge a book by its cover. Isn’t that what they say? Ah, well, good luck, Jack. We were stretching our legs a bit, back here in cattle class. Let’s go back and have more champagne in Club, and drink Focal Point’s health.’ He turned Célia around by her shoulders and leaned over to Jack.

‘We should arrive at JFK in about four hours and, if you have any hope of salvaging this mess, I suggest you get yourself booked on the first flight back to London. Better still, book Concorde, she might just save your life.’

Creating Characters – Edna Fowler Would Be World-Renown Author

Creating Characters.  Edna Fowler is one of my favourite characters from The Doyenne of Didsbrook because every inch of her reminds me of one of Roy Clarke’s wonderful characters, Hyacinth Bucket.  

Edna is a member of both DAWG, the Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group and DADS, the Didsbrook Amateur Dramatic Society.  She is blessed with an unwavering self-belief that she is about to join the ranks of world-renown authors, convinced she is Didsbrook’s answer to J. K. Rowling, hence her rather suspect non-de-plume, E. D. Fowling.

Welcome to Didsbrook, a sleepy market town nestling in the bosom of a conservation area.  It can be reached either by train or by car, but there is only one way in, and one way out.  It is a pastoral dead-end, an idyllic haven, surrounded by rolling, untouched, countryside; one of the last remaining bastions of serenity in England’s green and pleasant land. 

Dulcie Darling and the Wizard’s Cauldron is Edna’s current work-in-progress. Her fourteen-year-old protagonist, Dulcie, is a meddlesome goody-two-shoes.

Blessed with magical powers inherited from her mother, who, quite by accident, ate magic mushrooms when she was pregnant, Dulcie wreaks havoc wherever she goes.

Week by week, members of DAWG have been enchanted by Edna’s jaunty readings of the ‘away with the fairies’ Dulcie as she magically extracts herself from farcical situations.

Edna’s conviction that her work-in-progress will reach the dizzy heights of ‘world best-seller’ is unshakable. She often regales her envisaged scenario to DAWG, the one about rubbing her ample shoulders with her idol, J. K. Rowling.

‘A pen name is my only option. Once ‘Dulcie’ goes into print, my privacy will go to pot, when I become a household name.’

Edna collared me in Hargreaves, Didsbrook’s old-fashioned purveyor of meat after she’d finished her fifteenth rewrite. We were standing at the front of an orderly queue of customers spilling out of the door and onto the pavement. Didsbrookians prefer to pay twice as much to watch Mr Hargreaves hack off their chosen Sunday joint with his cleaver and give the hermetically sealed equivalent from the supermarket down the road the cold shoulder.

Edna has a thunderous thespian voice.  Her enunciation lies somewhere between Queen Elizabeth II of England and Eliza Doolittle, born within the sound of Bow Bells.  Hargreaves is a tiny shop with a sawdust-covered wooden flooring, so it served to amplify her theatrical tones.

Dulcie Darling the goody-two-shoed teenage sleuth – the creation of would-be-world-renown author Edna Fowler in The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook.

‘Of course, once my book is reviewed, and, no doubt, you will be reviewing it too, won’t you, Lucy, dear?’

I manage a feeble smile and nod.  No doubt I will but, I will be hiding behind my pen name, the savage Jane Jones, so I don’t have to leave the country.

I’m not alone with my assessment of Dulcie Darling. Only at last week’s meeting of DAWG, poor Basil committed the deadliest crime a writer’s group member could ever perpetrate.  He fell asleep while Edna was reading Chapter 16, Dulcie Dices with Death.  He could have been listening intently with his eyes closed but, his crime was exposed when he started snoring.  As Dulcie’s monotonous magical monologue drones towards The End, all seven of in the group are in danger of falling asleep.

‘It will be all over the press, the Internet, and goodness knows everywhere else.  I’ll have fans turning up on the doorstep asking me for autographs every five minutes and, although I appreciate attracting thousands of fans to Didsbrook would do wonders for the local economy, as I am sure Mr Hargreaves here would agree…’

Edna paused to look at Mr Hargreaves.  His vacant stare and lazy smile betraying his feelings of not giving a toss, then bore his cleaver down onto an inert carcass, as Edna continued.

‘I know they would mean well, but they would take up far too much of my time whilst I’m writing the sequel.’

God forbid, a sequel!  I know us aspiring writers need to keep the faith, how I wish mine were as strong as Edna’s.

 

Creating Characters – The Gin-Swilling Miss Laverty

the gin-swilling Miss Laverty from just say it

The year is 1963, and Lisa Grant is four-years-old. Her mother, the self-centred Elizabeth, has hatched a plan with two families living down the road from to employ a governess to teach Lisa and the neighbours’ young daughters.  

The governess’s name was Miss Laverty, and the children thought re-christening her Miss Lavatory was hilarious, but they soon stopped laughing after meeting her for the first time.   They knew it was rude to stare, but it was almost impossible not to.  Her eyes, although invariably bloodshot,  had a hypnotic effect on the children, like Kaa in The Jungle Book.  A network of spider veins ran across her face, but, it was impossible to ignore the wart on her left cheek because it twitched when she spoke.

From a four-year-old’s perspective, she must have looked like Methuselah, although she was only in her early sixties.   Her dress sensed smacked of a stereotypical Victorian governess, without the crinoline and wearing shorter frocks, which were all made from a fabric that rustled when she moved. They were all black—the colour of her dismal personality.

Miss Laverty also smelt, very strongly, of lavender water, so the children knew she had arrived in the mornings, as the cloying smell of Lavendula wafted eerily throughout the house.

As a preschool teacher, she was entirely ill-suited, charmless and emotionally lacking. Unfortunately for the children, she wasn’t against using corporal punishment on four-year-olds. The tool Miss Laverty chose to inflict punishment, as well as pain, was a ruler, aggressively slapped on the backs of their tiny hands or thighs. The children were frightened of her, but they were equally terrified to tell an adult that Miss Laverty was making their lives a misery.

Eileen had suspicions about Miss Laverty’s credibility as a governess after noticing little welts on Lisa’s thighs and hands.  When she asked Lisa how she got them, her response was she didn’t know, or couldn’t remember.  All the children were subdued after a morning spent with Miss Laverty, and Eileen often suspected that one or more of them had been crying.  On one of Elizabeth’s rare visits to the family home, Eileen voiced her concerns about Miss Laverty, which Elizabeth dismissed.

‘Don’t be so ridiculous, Eileen! Miss Laverty came to us with excellent references. Anyway, I hardly think smacking a child is such cause for concern. What better way is there to discipline a naughty child?’

‘But, Mrs Grant, they’re only four!  They wouldn’t do anything terrible enough to deserve a smacking.’

‘Enough, Eileen, I’m late for an appointment, and I don’t want to hear any more on the subject.’  Who provided Miss Laverty with glowing references? Only Elizabeth knew.

One hot summer morning, the windows of Lisa’s nursery, which doubled up as a classroom, were flung wide open. The smell of the dusty heat flooded through the window, along with a whiff of karma. Lisa had drifted off, visualising what she and Eileen would be doing after the boring Miss Lavatory had gone. A walk by the river, perhaps?

Miss Laverty’s characteristic drone was reaching acute boredom level. The subject was arithmetic, and she asked the girls which coin they would rather take shopping with them, a penny, or a sixpence.  Lisa had been fantasising about playing Pooh Sticks, looked up at Miss Laverty as the words ‘a penny,’ popped out, along with a subconscious yawn.

‘And why exactly would you choose a penny, Lisa?’

Lisa thought about it for a second before absentmindedly responding, ‘Because it’s bigger!’

Julia and Charlotte sucked in air through their teeth; they both knew Lisa was wrong.  It was an unfortunate response as, in the pre-decimalization era, one copper penny, although much bigger than a silver sixpence, was worth five times less.

Looking into Miss Laverty’s pulsating bloodshot eyes,  the proverbial penny in Lisa’s head dropped.  Scowling, Miss Laverty stood up, her gnarled face screwed into a tight grimace, making her wart twitch.

Bunching their fingers into podgy little fists, Charlotte and Julia watched in horror as the harridan picked up a ruler in her shaking hand and slapped it down onto the back of Lisa’s hand. They felt her pain. Lisa was trying very hard not to cry as she watched the red mark streak across the back of her hand. She narrowed her eyes, the pièce de résistance of her very best cross look and fixed the witch with her stare.  Taking a deep breath, she put both hands palm down on the table and braced herself.  Miss Laverty lifted the ruler again, a glazed, unhinged look in her eyes, and slapped it down onto Lisa’s other hand. This time Lisa let rip a blood-curdling scream, which reverberated around the house. Enough was enough.

‘Eileeeeeeeeeen!’

All three children jumped up, instinctively reaching out to hold each other’s hands in solidarity as they raced towards the door, screaming Eileen’s name.  Still holding hands with Julia and Charlotte, Lisa turned around.  Drawing herself up to her full three-foot seven inches, she bawled at the red-faced, lavender-smelling, twitching gargoyle.

‘I hate you, Miss Lavatory! And my Daddy says he hates you too!’ she said just as Eileen burst through the door.

Creating Characters – The Fun Part of Writing Fiction

When writing fiction, creating characters has always been the fun part for me.  Getting inside each character’s head and shaping them into credible human beings for others to enjoy, love or hate.

We, the human race, are so diverse, from the way we look, to what makes us tick. We are all deliciously unique, down to our DNA.

People Watching

I have always been a people watcher, and can people watch for hours, especially at airports, although it’s not something I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of during 2020.  In restaurants, I am guilty of allowing my attention to drift and focus on the body language and banter of fellow diners; much to the annoyance of those on my table.

Over the years, I have watched gurgling neonates develop into walking, talking fully-fledged adult human beings while developing their own unique characters.  I filch and absorb unique traits, memorise little idiosyncrasies from every person I meet.  Sorry about that, but I can’t help myself! 

Deliciously Unique

When it comes to creating characters, we have billions of years of reference material to work from. The hard part is slotting them into a credible storyline and working out how they will react and cope in certain situations.

One of my characters likes nothing more than a good w(h)ine.  Trying to please her and making her see the good in what is going on around her, is a challenge.  Fuelled by an unshakable belief that she is never wrong, she is self-righteous to the extreme and doomed to lose everyone around her.

Character Profile – Tessa Barrie

Some people never stop talking; others are timid and shy.  Some are overly conscientious; some are kind, and some can’t make up their mind.  We are all so different, so deliciously unique.

Creating characters comes from the myriad of stored images inside your head, both physical attributes, as well as emotional feeling.

When I was five, I told my mother about what the two people inside my head had got up to that day.   She viewed me with suspicion, thinking her only child was, probably, nuts.  It was a wasted worry because I was having fun, as I still do today, creating characters.

For me, getting inside the head of a fictional character is a character-building process in itself, and I love it.

 

 

 

 

 

Creating Characters – Elizabeth Goldsworthy-Grant, nee Campbell

Elisabeth Goldsworthy-Grant, nee Campbell 

CHARACTER PROFILE – Elizabeth Goldsworthy-Grant.  The twice-married, Elisabeth is Lisa Grant’s mother in Just Say It. She was debutante of the Year for 1958, but her dreams of marrying a cousin of the Queen’s are dashed when she finds out, she is pregnant.  She is someone who most people describe as the most insufferable woman they have ever met. Very different from her daughter, who spends forty years of her life waiting for someone to crawl out of the woodwork to tell her there had been a mix-up in the hospital and she had been switched at birth.
From Just Say It

Elizabeth Campbell’s only ambition, to marry a wealthy man, just when she thinks a sapphire the size of a duck’s egg is about to placed on her finger, her plans go pear-shaped.

JANUARY 1959

‘Deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.’

Oscar Wilde

“The Coming Season”, an 1870 cartoon satirizing the London social “season”, as printed or reprinted in Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Courtesy, Wikipedia.org.

Despite not having found the ideal husband, Elizabeth finished 1958 on a high, having been crowned Debutante of the Year for 1958. The title Elizabeth had envisaged, and believed was an excellent addition to her marriageable material CV.  Now sharing a flat with two other young ladies from the Debutantes House, she continued to pursue Will around London. Initially, he was flattered, then amused when, after only a handful of meetings, she said,

‘I’ve never met anybody quite like you before, Will. I think I’m falling in love with you,’ while batting her Lana Turner eyelashes with hypnotic effect. If she were expecting him to respond by scooping her up in his arms and proclaiming his undying love for her – like Jeremy would have done she was wrong, but she hadn’t expected him to laugh.

‘My goodness me, Elizabeth!  I’ve never met anybody quite like you before either, but you can’t possibly love me, because you barely know me.’

She had been disgruntled at the time, but Elizabeth didn’t give up, the stakes were too high.  After Will made the mistake of inviting Elizabeth back to his flat for a drink after a cocktail party, it presented her with the ideal opportunity to make her move.

He flopped on to the sofa next to her, and she turned toward him and, taking advantage of his inebriated state, she straddled his lap and pinning him down. Covering his mouth with hers, he felt he couldn’t breathe. He was way out of his comfort zone but being pounced on by an eighteen-year-old siren with the sexual appetite of a tigress; resistance was futile. If he’d had any doubts about the morality of his seduction, Elizabeth gave him no time to think about it.  In the foggy waking moments of his hangover the following day, he dismissed what had happened between them for what it was, drunk sex. It would never happen again. He only had a few weeks left in London, and he would make sure he kept a low profile.

He breathed a sigh of relief when the press started reporting sightings of the glamorous Elizabeth Campbell with the dashing young Duke of Grandborough. Photographs of a smiling Elizabeth, handling the Duke’s twelve bore on the grouse moor at his family’s estate in Yorkshire, their arms linked at a highbrow wedding and ‘à deux’ during a romantic candlelight dinner. Will assumed he was safe; now she had a more high-ranking assignation going on. He was wrong. Twenty-four hours before Will left London for good, his heart sank when Elizabeth arrived on his doorstep wearing a pair of pussycat sunglasses.

‘Why, Elizabeth, how lovely to see you! A late-night was it, last night? The sunglasses I mean.  A bit hung-over, are we?’

‘I need to speak to you urgently, Will,’ she pushed past him and slumped on to the sofa. ‘There’s no easy way of telling you this, but I’m pregnant.’ He sat down next to her, putting a reluctant arm around her shoulders.

‘That’s, err, wonderful news Elizabeth. I’m very pleased for you and Jeremy. Or, is it His Lordship? Whichever one it is, I’m sure they are falling over themselves to marry you.’

She pushed him away roughly, snatching the sunglasses away from her face.

‘Jeremy? Grandbo? It was you! You idiot, you’re the one I had that ridiculous one-night stand with! You were all over me like a rampant stallion. There is no question; you are the father. It’s you who needs to marry me!’

Will’s heart accelerated as he pulled away from her.

‘Why me? Why do you automatically assume I’m the father? It’s common knowledge you and Jeremy have been at it for months. And what about the Duke? I assume you’ve slept with him as well. Your reputation goes before you, Elizabeth! I’m going back to Gloucestershire to run the family farm and play polo, not tie myself down with the most insufferable woman in London!’

He stopped his tirade and got up to pour himself a stiff whiskey and, realising he was trembling, knocked it back in one.

‘Damn you, Will!  If we are going to make our marriage work, the least you can do is be civil to me. You’re widely regarded as being exceedingly bright.  So, you should be able to work it out.’

‘Work out what?’ He turned to glower at her, and hissed ‘insufferable as well as insane,’ before slamming his glass down on to the drinks tray and poured himself another one.

‘The dates, Will, they don’t add up.  Not with Jeremy anyway, and Grandbo only wants to walk a virgin up the aisle.  He told me to get out when he found out I wasn’t.’ Elizabeth started to sob.  ‘He was about to put his grandmother’s engagement ring on my finger.  It’s a sapphire… the size of a quail’s egg. Oh, Will, I really thought he was going to be the one. Unfortunately, he’s not interested in marrying a woman with a desecrated hymen, let alone one carrying a developing foetus. My life is ruined, and I never wanted children, and it’s all your fault!’

A few eyebrows were raised at the time, their friends describing their courtship as a whirlwind romance. They hardly know each other! Will Grant, of all people? I don’t believe it! As well as the age-old and uncannily correct assumption: shotgun wedding.

They met and barely scratched the surface of getting to know each other, before marrying at Westminster Register Office and taking up residence at Silkwoods together.

 

THE DOYENNE OF DIDSBROOK, MY PRIORITY FOR 2021

Finishing writing The Secret Lives of The Doyenne of Didsbrook, a murder mystery spoof, will be my priority in 2021.  She’s been ignored over the last few months, which I feel bad about, as Just Say It has been getting all my attention, but I’ve been missing her, ‘The Doyenne’, and her secret lives.

LOVING MY CHARACTERS

The Doyenne of Didsbrook former darling of London’s West End turned best-selling author.

‘The Doyenne’, Jocelyn Robertshaw is the most flamboyant out of all my characters to date, which I think is why I love her so much.

I love all my characters, and another favourite is Elizabeth Goldsworthy-Grant.  She is the outrageous mother of my main character in Just Say It, but she’s a bitch. Albeit a bitch you love to hate! In contrast, Jocelyn, although flawed, is a fundamentally good person; after all, everything she did in her life, was for love.

As a murder mystery spoof, The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook has been a joy to write, probably something to do with the fact I wrote the outline of the story before writing it, whereas Just Say It, was an out and out pantser.

EXCERPT

The narrator in this snippet is Lucy, who has been mentored by ‘The Doyenne’ for six years prior to her death, but whodunnit?

‘Every time I come to a meeting of the Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group; I can’t help but think of you. I wish you still hosted our meetings, radiating your inspirational light on the rest of us less talented writing mortals.  If I close my eyes, I imagine you looking down on us, perched on a rose-coloured cloud drinking cosmic Pink Gin, shaken not stirred.

Throughout our lives, we make assumptions about the people around us, and so often, our perspective is blurred.  But, maybe as writers, our illusions about others should be kept for our fictional characters. I read you so wrong. You captivated everybody you met with your enthusiastic wit and wisdom, but my teenage perception of you was stratospherically flawed. The unassailable Doyenne of Didsbrook was the illusion you so successfully created. Underneath the bravado, very few of us knew the real you. That vulnerable fragility which belonged to your other life. Or should I say lives?’

SHORT STORY – KARMA

My mother and I were never close. There has never been an unshakable emotional bond between us. No invisible strand that binds a mother to her child, post umbilical tie. Even as a child, I felt more of an accessory than a daughter. She never tried to cultivate a rapport between us, so I never felt that ache. That overwhelming sense of dread that engulfs you when you think about losing someone you love.

My mother started driving a wedge between us when I was fifteen and able to fend for myself, except financially, of course. She and my father were never short of money. Yet I always felt a tinge of envy when my friends discussed their pocket money because I never received any. I worked in the local supermarket stacking shelves after school, which was where I met my first serious boyfriend, Johnny Riley.

My mother, with all her airs and graces, took an instant dislike to Johnny. She never thought he was good enough for me. She used to peer out from behind her bedroom curtains when he came to take me out and watch us walk down the garden path together. She always denied it, but I knew she was there.

If she bumped into Johnny at home, or when we were out, she would say, just loud enough for him to hear, ‘trailer trash night is it, Ellen? And, to his face, ‘Unfortunately for you, you remind me of that ghastly Sex Pistols chappie, Johnny Whatshisname?’

Johnny dropped out of school before taking O-Levels but, leaving his hometown was never a priority. He was content to get a job at the car factory working alongside his father. He wasn’t like me at all, driven by the incentive to get as far away as I could, as soon as I could support myself. I was bright and determined to excel in both my O and A-Levels.

The fact I was so desperate to get away, and he was not, it was inevitable that our relationship would not have lasted. The reason I stuck with him was to spite my mother, because of her constant verbal Johnny battering. Then, I was faced with no option other than to stay with him. Two weeks after receiving my glowing A-Level results, I found out I was pregnant with Karen, so I married him.

As my hopes and dreams crashed down around me, I felt trapped. We started our married life in my bedroom. The alternative was living in a squat, but with a baby on the way, staying put was the sensible option. Two nineteen-year-olds and a baby living under the same roof as my mother, however, was not. It was never going to work. She detested Johnny and began referring to him as a pariah, a drain on society. As for me, I was the black sheep of the family and, in my mother’s eyes, soiled goods. No daughter of hers.

Johnny, no doubt pushed over the edge by my mother, joined the Merchant Navy. For someone who never wanted to leave his hometown, not with me anyway, I was devastated. Karen and I never saw him for months on end. He wasn’t interested in either of us, the lure of girls in every port became too great, so we divorced. By which time, my mother’s stock phrase was, ‘I told you so’, and it was beginning to grate.

Karen and I moved into a bedsit above Mr Carson’s chip shop in Stanley Street. It was hard at first until Karen went to school. Mrs Carson was a saint and looked after Karen as much as she could, so I could help out in the chippy, and the supermarket two doors down.

I used to look at my single mum friends whose mothers happily stepped in to look after their children while they were working, and I remember thinking how lucky they were. My mum and dad always seemed to be away on holiday, cruising around the Mediterranean or the Baltic. My mother never once offered to look after Karen. So, thank God for Mrs Carson!

I met and married Arthur Coolie, a widower, whose six-year-old daughter, Amy, was in the same class as Karen. He had his own house, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Until I found out, he was an alcoholic. His alcoholism was brought on by his inability to get over the death of his first wife. Even after he married me, I would come home from work to find him slouched over the kitchen table, having drunk a bottle of cheap Scotch.

I saw very little of my mother, but when I did, she took great delight in reminding me, ‘you marry for better or for worse, you know.’ So, I stuck by Arthur, putting up with his physical rages, protecting both Karen and Amy from his flying fists. I had no option other than to face the world with the odd black eye.

I began having health problems in my thirties, blurred vision and difficulty walking. My mother was freewheeling towards sixty without any aches and pains. Even now, careering towards ninety, she is way off using a Zimmer frame.

My mother bought a bungalow after my dad died and moved in with her fifty-five-year-old toyboy, Vincent, who she refers to as her ‘fountain of youth’. She hardly knew him, but she tells the world, ‘he was a Godsend’, helping her come to terms with my father’s death. Loosely translated, being a Godsend meant he took my mother on endless cruises, at her expense. Leaving me to deal with the fallout of my father’s death on her behalf, while struggling to cope with an MS diagnosis, two failed marriages, and two children to support.

After they finished school, Karen and Amy took a year out and worked their way around the world. I adopted a ginger tom, Al, from the local animal shelter to keep me company after alcoholic Arthur absconded with the barmaid from the Cat and Custard Pot. They made the perfect pair, as they were both permanently inebriated but, to their credit, they supported each other through Alcoholics Anonymous. They are still together, so they were meant to be.

Then Al left me too. He wasn’t meant to be. Bored with eating the supermarket food I was feeding him, he moved in with the woman at number 29 who served her cats fish out of a tin.  She didn’t have a problem with Al sneaking the odd pilchard, so it didn’t take him long to get his paws under her table.

Karen and Amy got as far as Australia and decided not to come back.

‘We love you so much, Mum, but there are so many more opportunities for us here. Why don’t you come over too? We can all make a new start together?’ I was tempted, but I’d felt I’d waited so long to make my getaway, I think I had started to believe that I would die in the town I was born in.

My mother had long since stopped saying, so-and-so ‘is not good enough for you.’ Instead, the little gem she would impart was, ‘the chance of you meeting Mr Right at your age and in your state of health is very remote.’ I was only forty-four.

When she announced that she had changed her will and would be leaving everything, including her bungalow, to Vincent, I was devastated. Even if she never found it her heart to love me, I was still her only child.

Maybe it was karma but, shortly after my mother changed her will, I won £20 Million on the National Lottery. It was beggars belief, although my mother has always defied belief, she assumed I would be buying a mansion for us both and her fountain of youth, to live in. She feigned devastation when I told her that sharing a house her again, with or without her bloody toyboy, would be the last thing I would ever want to do! She was incensed.

‘But I need you to look after me in my old age, Ellen.’ She wailed. I had never felt so in control when talking to my mother in my entire life.

‘Ah, but you’ve got your fountain of youth to look after you in your bungalow. I’m emigrating to Australia to be close to my children. I love them both with all my heart, and I cannot bear to be separated from them any longer.’

‘I can’t believe you would do this to your own mother, Ellen. After everything I’ve done for you!’

‘And what exactly would that be, Mother?’ I asked, but for once, she was at a loss for words.

I bought a winery in Victoria, and I now live in what used to be the manager’s cottage, with the manager I inherited when I bought the place. It was an instant attraction, something I had never felt before. He is a man who would lay down his life for me, and I have never felt a greater love.

Karen and Amy moved into the enormous colonial-style house, split it into two and live there with their own families. They’ve got six children between them, at the moment, and I am happy to look after them anytime. They all play a part in making Ellen’s Estate Wines into the successful family business it has become.

I have the wherewithal to support all my family now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I never imagined I would find myself supporting ex-family members as well.  I started receiving begging letters from Johnny, who was struggling to pay maintenance for each of his children in several ports. Arthur also had the gall to write.  Both he, and the tart from the Cat and Custard Pot, had fallen off the waggon again. This time, they both wanted to go rehab.

‘Why should I give them any money?’ I thought. ‘Why should I feel responsible for people who couldn’t give a toss about me?’ But, I am a decent human being, and I have more than enough money to see me out. So why not use it for the greater good? To bring happiness to a child’s face and rehabilitate lives that teeter close to the edge. For total strangers, or for people you used to know, what’s the difference?

My relationship with my mother has changed for the better, now we are 10,000 miles apart. She rings me, occasionally, to thank me for my financial support.

‘Always happy to help.’ I respond, magnanimously.

‘I don’t know what Vincent and I would do without you. God, bless you, Ellen.’

Funny, isn’t it?  She had no problem doing without me for years when I hadn’t got a penny to my name.

Bah Humbug! 6 Things Taking the Shine Off Christmas

Bah humbug! I’m just not feeling it.  Does anybody else feel the same? I thought getting our tree and decorating it while drinking a few glasses of Mulled wine and listening to Michael Bublé’s Christmas full deluxe special edition, might do the trick.  Well, it did, sort of.

SIX REASONS WHY I’M STRUGGLING TO FIND ANY CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

1.  The Potential of a No-deal Bloody Brexit

Graphic by Jon Danzig 2017

It took a pandemic to take our minds off it, and I’ve only very recently vented my frustrations on the subject of  Brexit Madness, so I won’t continue to harp on about the sad #BrexitReality of 2021.  Except, maybe, to say that it is the grossest act of self-harm the once great Britain has ever inflicted upon itself.  

 

2. COVID-19 BUSTING

While still on the subject of that pandemic… COVID-19 you can **** off in 2021.  AstraZeneca and others are out to get you.

Jersey in hospitality circuit breaker

 

 

3.  All Hospitality Venues are Shut

‘Hospitality venues and gyms to close for around a month in a bid to stem surge of Covid cases.’  Jersey Evening Post, 2nd December 2020

My night clubbing, cocktail-swilling days never really started.  I’ve always been more of a sort of smart-casual pub/restaurant-goer myself.  So, I would like to raise a glass to some of my local hostelries and good food providers, that I am missing.  Aromas, Cafe Jac, Gradees, to name but three.  I miss you all.

4.  Last week A literary agent described not taking me on as a ‘Near Miss’

5.  The manuscript I sent for the last writing competition of the year, and one I really wanted to do well in, had my name on it, dhrr…

Basic Rule Number One.  Manuscripts must not show the name or address of the entrant but must include the title.

What a blithering idiot I am!

6.  Everything About 2020 has been a pretty good Surreal Mess, right?

A South Korean child rides a scooter on Feb. 27 in Seoul. Creator: Chung Sung-Jun Credit: Getty Images

Bah humbug! BUT… if you can try to look past the travesty of the Brexit shooting-ourselves- in-the-foot business, we need to take any positives that have come out of 2020, into the New Year.

Once  the COVID-19 busting picks up speed and we are all jabbed we will be able to:

If you, like me, you have made mistakes in 2020, don’t be a blithering idiot again, learn from them, move forward and don’t let any near misses stop you succeeding in 2021.

Merry Christmas to you and, to you too, Mr Bublé.

 

 

ALTERNATIVE THERAPY: Writing to Heal – Article for Jersey Life

I was delighted to be a contributor for Jersey Life‘s December 2020/January 2021 edition.

My brief was to write an article on the benefits of writing for mental health and general well-being, especially in light of COVID-19 and the effects of Lockdown, and I came up with Writing to Heal.

It is a very personal account of how writing helped me cope during the stressful times of my life.

Thank you Jersey Life for giving me the opportunity.

1st January 2021 – The Brexit Madness is almost here

Writing upbeat words for the future is always the plan at the end of the year, but I never seem to get it right.  Last year on 31st December I said, ‘May all your hopes and dreams for 2020 come true.’   This year I should probably say, ‘may all the hopes and dreams you had for yourself in 2020, come true in 2021.’

Roll on the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine that is the positive vibe for 2021.  Once we all receive a shot in the arm and are protected against the nastiness of Coronavirus, we will be free to go about our lives with a degree of normality, but, life in 2021 will still have its challenges.  Beware the Ides of January 2021.

The Scream by Evard Munch, Graphic by Jon Danzig

Blinkering ourselves against the Brexit Madness will be a priority and the day we all hoped would never come will be here all too soon.  Gloomsday cometh.  The grossest act of self-harm inflicted by the United Kingdom.

The day the once-mighty Britannia ceases to rule the waves and casts itself adrift from our biggest trading partner, the EU.

Jon Danzig knew that Brexit was madness in 2018 –  along with half the British population and, it scares me that so many people I thought of as friends, were/are Brexiteers. Do they fully appreciate what leaving the EU means, apart from having to change back to blue passports?  Here are some of the things you need to do before you even think about sallying forth.

1. plan your European trips in advance

If you are like me, planning your long-awaited 2020 summer holiday in Europe will be a priority, but you can forget about bagging yourself any last-minute deals because, travelling in the wake of Brexit and a pandemic, means you need to allow yourself plenty of time to plan your escape from our sheltered UK shores.

Cassie, the Blog Dog, is unhappy about having to have a Rabies shot
2. You’ll stand in a different queue at borders

3. Duty-free shopping will return

4. Moving to the EU? pile on the paperwork

Sigh.

5. New rules for EU citizens living in the UK

Not sure what they will entail and the British Government should bear in mind that 1 million EU citizens living in the UK work for the NHS.

6. There’ll be a new immigration system

7. Trade will be different, inside and outside the UK

At least BJ won’t be buying chlorinated chickens from the US now Trump has been ousted, at least I hope he won’t.

Illustration: Bill Bragg

I mean, really.  Why would you want to make things more difficult for everybody than they already are?  Even if there is some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

I’m was born in Yorkshire, and everything about me is British, apart from my grandmother’s Greek genes.  I have always been proud of my British heritage, and also my Greek genes, but my pride has turned to shame, and I am anxious about what the future has in store.

I took a DNA test a couple of years ago, hoping to find some of my Greek relations.  Then, it was because I adored my Greek grandmother, and I wanted to find out more about her family.  Note to you all… ask your older relatives to tell you more about themselves when you have the chance.  Now, I want to find them because, if they like me, they might adopt me, so that I can become a citizen of Hellas.

I count my blessings I live in Jersey.  ‘Nearer to France but closer to home.’  Remember that old slogan?  It was how the Channel Islands used to sell our sceptred isle to holidaymakers.  I am not even sure what it’s going to be like popping across to St. Malo post-Brexit.  Will the entente still be cordial?  It wouldn’t stop me, as the draw of living further south has always been there as, in my heart, I consider myself to be more European these days.  C’est la vie.

I wish you all safe travels in 2021.

DARE TO DREAM Travels Beyond COVID-19 Where are you Headed?

Kicking COVID-19 together

At the first opportunity, I will be travelling again, as soon as it’s safe.

I have various autoimmune problems, so I am not taking any chances. I don’t want anything else. Even worse, I could be asymptomatic, and the last thing I would ever want to do is infect someone else.

My Bucket List is typed, on a sheet of A4, in single-line spacing… there is so much to do and so little time.

You name it. I want to do it, see it, touch it and experience it.

LIFE AFTER COVID-19 (or at least, life after the COVID-19 vaccine)

I had plans to organise a friend’s 60th Birthday trip to Borneo in 2021, but I am not sure that will happen now.  I couldn’t go there without witnessing the wonderful work they do at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and I don’t suppose, because of COVID-19, they are super-excited about inviting homo sapiens from far-flung places into the centre.   So maybe, it will be a belated birthday celebration.

Vale de Lobo from Temperus Restaurante Beach Bar 
Lazy, hazy days at Temperus Restaurante Beach Bar = bliss 

As soon as I hit the road, air, or sea, I will be heading for the Temperus Restaurante Beach Bar at Praia do Trafal, in The Algarve, where I have spent some of the happiest times in my life.  I haven’t been since August 2019 and have chronic withdrawal symptoms.

Once we get there, we will be having the longest-awaited celebratory post-COVID-19 lunch, as once more, we are free to travel undaunted.

 

View from Temperus Restaurante Beach Bar at dusk 
Where will you be headed?

 

 

Losing myself in the Indian Ocean – April 2013 = bliss. 

 

ALL PHOTOS USED IN THIS PIECE ARE THE AUTHOR’S OWN, APART FROM THE COVID-19 GRAPHIC, WHICH IS A ROYALTY-FREE VECTOR AT www.dreamtime.com

LAZY READER SYNDROME – My Blind Spot

One of my writer’s group members puts me to shame because she always has two books on the go.  I have spent the last five years trying to master the craft of writing fiction, and there hasn’t there been much reading going on, and it grieves me to say that I can’t remember what the last novel I read was.

Writing my own novel has been my feeble excuse for not reading for far too long.   I was confident in the belief that the amount of reading I have done in the past would get me through.  Wrong!  It is a lame excuse and an insult to those I aspire to be.  How dare I think I can wing my way to getting published without doing copious amounts of reading?

Stephen King’s, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, is the most thumbed-through book in my mini-library, I am always referring to it, so I know only too well…

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write..”

Stephen King

I am a disgrace.

I grew up in the non-digital dark ages, a time when there was nothing more entertaining than a darn good book.  I loved reading with a passion, especially under my bedclothes with a torch after lights out.  I still love books, they surround me, our bookshelves are bursting at the seams, and I keep on buying them, but it seems I have cultivated a bit of a blind spot when it comes to reading novels these days.

I’m a slow reader.  My most prolific reading streak came during a two week holiday in The Maldives when I devoured seven books in fourteen days.  The book I remember best from that holiday was Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra.  Not exactly a holiday read, but a read I will never forget.

My Maldivian reading feat was accomplished before I owned a laptop, iPad or Kindle; all frequent travelling companions these days, not forgetting my iPhone.  Living in digital age has changed the way we read.  Why weigh yourself down with a bunch of books in your luggage, when you can read them on Kindle or listen to them on audiobooks?

It’s not that I don’t read at all these, I do, but not necessarily what I should be reading to master the craft of writing fiction, and not always in the good old-fashioned way.

These days, thanks to the Internet, it is so easy to tap into a plethora of reading resources.  I am constantly quenching my thirst for knowledge browsing the Internet.  As long as we read books it doesn’t really matter how you read them, be it on an electronic device or with the book in your hand, or with my lazy reader syndrome, audio. I don’t suppose anybody would like to give me Audible for Christmas?

For now, it’s bye, bye, lazy reader syndrome.  With one novel finished and one on its way, it’s time to put my laptop down and read.

I hear you Cressida, and I hang my head in shame.

EXCERPT FROM  A WRITER WHO DOESN’T READ by Cressida Downing

I have no problem with people who don’t read… except for those who are writing themselves.  You have no excuse!  If you want to write and get your work read, you need to know about the process of reading, about the excitement and fascination a reader can get out of a book, you need to learn about that connection.

10 reasons why you should read more @ whytoread.com

LIGHTHEARTED HUMOUR FOR BABY BOOMERS

A chick, in my book, is a baby chicken covered in downy, yellow feathers up until the age of  6-weeks.   I’ve always bristled when the term is applied to young women, and I have always subconsciously disassociated myself from Chick lit, believing the genre to be driven by scantily clad, sex-driven female main characters.  I couldn’t have been more wrong and, although I’m not a fan of categories, it’s time to reassess the genre I think I’ve been writing in.

I have just received my first rejection for Just Say It this week.  It’s only my first since revamping the manuscript, so I’m not lying down in a darkened room, yet.

‘I’m afraid I did not feel enthusiastic enough about your work to offer the necessary commitment, so I regret it is not something I could successfully handle.’

There are many things to think about when submitting to a literary agent, and choosing the right one is so important.  It is also a challenge.  I’ve been so focussed on who they represent and what they are currently looking for, that I’ve lost sight of what I’ve been trying to sell them. And, you know what?  I think has the proverbial penny has just dropped.

Chick Lit or Women’s Fiction?

I’ve been pitching Just Say It as Women’s Fiction, which may well is my first mistake.  If I were to liken my MC to any other famous fictional character, it would be Helen Fielding’s, Bridget Jones, which was published under the genre of Chick Lit.

Just Say It,  is without a doubt, Chick Lit.  It is my first novel, and I know I still have much to learn.  So what do I need to do to stimulate more enthusiasm?  What do I have to do to get an agent to love my manuscript and spark their commitment to offering representation? Literary agents have read everything, so they are understandably hard to please.  Pitching Just Say It under the right genre might be a good place to start.

Chick lit or chick literature is genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists”.  The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways. Wikipedia

Between freelance assignments, Lisa started writing a novel called They Always Look at the Mother First. She told Adele that it was ‘a work of fiction’, as well as ‘a satirical trip down therapy lane.’   

‘You’d be writing about your mother then?’ Adele responded. ‘What’s that they say about truth being stranger than fiction? That would be your mother.’

JUST SAY IT © 2020 TESSA BARRIE

So, what audience am I trying to appeal to? Am I delusion in thinking Just Say It would appeal to a younger age group? The story starts in 1957 and finishes in 2002.  One editor suggested that I added a short glossary of the ‘factual aspects’ of the story during the 50s and 60s.  I am a 1950’s baby,  but I still had to research events that happened before I reached adulthood.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE?

So maybe, Just Say It is Chick Lit for the over Fifties?  A trip down memory lane for those of us who were teenagers in the Seventies, which homes in on romantic relationships, female friendships, to women in the workplace, in a humorous and lighthearted way.  In 2018,  Cindy Roesel asked the question –  Never too old to be a chick?  Her conclusion…

‘Right now, while I complete the sequel to my first novel, the goal is to finish the book, so I’m not focused on any of the character’s ages. We are beyond that. At this point, everyone seems to be at their perfect stage of “chickdom” and womanhood.’  Cindy Roesel.

You’re Never Too Old to be a Chick!

After all, us older chicks, are wiser chicks. Right?  Well, we have a larger memory bank to draw from, because we’ve been around for longer and, you know what?   We might even have been a little bit hip, back in the day.

Maybe the novel in the mix, The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook, will be the one to spark an agent’s interest? I’m quite clear about it being a Murder Mystery genre, even if it is a spoof, but it is a heroine-centred narrative.

 

 

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