This Pen

Fountain pen on box lidI got a new pen yesterday – look at it, isn’t it gorgeous?  It perfectly matches the bottle of ink that was patiently waiting for it in the cupboard.

What is it about having a new pen that immediately makes you want to write?  Do you need to see if the ink is the colour you were expecting?  Do you want to know if the pen is well balanced and fits in your hand as if it belongs, or will it make your fingers cramp?  Will the nib be silky smooth across the page or will it scratch and splutter?  I’m certain all those things play their part, but I think there is something else.  Something stronger.  It’s the potential that the pen embodies.

With this pen, you could at last, express your true feelings about your family, your lover, your job, your friend, your life.  With this pen you could write out the detailed plan that will help you resolve all those nagging fears and worries that are constantly at your back.  With this pen you could write your brilliant novel, or epic poem, or incisive work of non-fiction – the jewel like piece of writing that will at last bring your talents to the notice of the publishing world.  Words will drop from the nib of this pen in a perfect flow of erudition that will totally change your life.

And if it doesn’t?  Well, obviously, it was the pen’s fault – not yours.

Hello 2020 – What’s the Plan?

It’s been a long time since I added anything to this blog – 363 days to be precise.  I haven’t read what I wrote last January.  I’m certain it was full of good intentions, resolutions and plans.  I’m equally certain I achieved none of it and I don’t need to remind myself of that.

How was 2019 for you?  My year was full of ups and downs.  The ups were fabulous and – on a good day – I know how fortunate I am.  Unfortunately it feels like I had more downs than ups, and that has cast a cloud over the whole year.  I don’t want to dwell on it, I’d rather look forward.  But that puts me in a bit of a quandry.

I want to be positive about the new year.  It is full of shiny new days, with the prospect of new adventures, of endless possibilities.  The places I could go and the things I could do – maybe I should make a list.  On the other hand, 2020 could be full of tripping hazards and pitfalls, missed opportunities and failure.  Do I really want to set myself up for that.  It’s easy enough to feel disappointed in myself without giving myself a tick list I’ll never match up to.

So, this year I have made a conscious decision NOT to make any resolutions that have firm targets attached.  I’m not going to plan to walk a certain number of steps each day or to lose a particular amount of weight each month.  There will be no word count targets, no forcing myself to write a certain number of times every week, no promises to keep this blog up to date.  All of those things would be nice, but I know how unlikely it is that I would keep them.  Instead I am making just a few, more general, suggestions which I hope will increase the number of ‘ups’ I experience in the next few months.

  1. Try to be kind.  It’s not always easy, but this world needs more kindness and I will try not to add to the noisy, negative and nasty.
  2. Try not to shut myself away.  Not responding to emails, Facebook messages, Tweets, invitations, etc is too easy.  Ignoring people who love me is not kind – not to them and not to me.
  3. Try to do one positive thing each day.  It may be a domestic task that makes our home a more pleasant place to be.  It may be something for my own physical, mental or emotional wellbeing.  It doesn’t have to be big – just something I can look back on at bedtime and think – I did that.

There is one thing I have already started to do which will help me with all three of these suggestions.  On Facebook I found a group called Postcards of Kindness where members of the public write postcards and send them to the residents of residential care homes and dementia groups.  It is not a huge commitment in terms of time, energy, effort or cash but, from the comments I see posted, it makes a huge difference to the people who receive the cards.  Reading and sharing the postcards encourages discussion and combats loneliness.  Many homes use them to make displays – a colourful addition to some rather institutional-looking walls.  Why not give it a go?

I don’t know what you have planned for 2020, but whatever it is, be kind.  Especially, be kind to yourself.  You’re worth it.

What’s the difference?

If you follow me on Twitter (@Kim_A_Howard), you may already know this, but I like to say ‘good morning’ to people when I’m out walking the dogs.  I like to say it to elderly people who may not speak to many other human beings during their day; to small children who might feel anxious about meeting dogs in the park; to people of different ethnicities who may not always be greeted warmly in their daily interactions with others.  I say ‘hello’ to people I know and people I don’t.  I smile and greet the walking world without discrimination.

The reactions I get vary greatly.  Some people are open to the greeting.  They smile and say ‘good morning’ back.  They may make a comment about the weather or the dogs or the day.  Sometimes people respond with a nod and a grunt – not the warmest of replies, but still an acknowledgement.

I’d like to say these two groups are in the majority but, unfortunately, they aren’t.  Many people look startled, worried or confused when I address them.  Some look downright terrified and others take a huge swerve to keep out of arm’s reach.  It’s as if they think this short, fat woman in late middle-age –  armed with dogs, poo bags and dog treats – is about to launch an unprovoked attack.  It makes me sad, but doesn’t stop me from continuing to make human contact whenever I can.  There are people who I see on a regular basis with whom my tenacity has started to make a difference.  I am gradually chipping away at the reserve and fear of my fellow walkers and some of them now respond to me rather than ducking their heads and turning away.  Result!

So, I gave you that bit of background information so I can ask a question.  What’s the difference between ‘good morning’ and ‘happy new year’?  Why do some people react like ‘good morning’ is a weaponised phrase?  No one has responded in that way when I’ve wished them ‘happy new year’ or, a week ago, ‘merry Christmas’.  Those two phrases have universally been responded to with a smile and a returned wish for my own happiness.

This last two weeks has been positively joyous.  I’ve been met with warmth and friendliness from everyone I’ve greeted.  How long can I reasonably go on wishing everyone a Happy New Year?  I’m not looking forward to going back to ‘good morning’ and ‘hello’.  I wish the seasonal good will would last all year and so I will continue greeting everyone I meet and hope for happy faces.

Good morning to you!

Permission Granted

Figuine of old woman with basketAt 59 years of age, I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I knew what I liked to do, what I liked to eat, where I liked to go and what I liked to wear.  I knew my own taste in music, movies and books – didn’t I?  Well, no.  I still have things to learn about myself.  The thing I’ve learned most recently is that I need to be given permission to do – or not do – certain things.

I’m not talking about my working life.  If I’m in a library or teaching a class and I see something that needs addressing, I just go ahead and do it.  I don’t ask anyone if I’m allowed to and, most of the time, I don’t even ask if there is a correct procedure for getting it done.  If it needs doing, I dive in.  It seems I’m not as dynamic in my personal life.

I first became aware of my need to be told that something is OK for me to do about five years ago.  I was working my way through a book – and I use that term deliberately – and really wasn’t enjoying it.  In fact, I thought it was dreadful.  But I’d started it which, in my head, meant I had made a commitment to it and so I ploughed on.  Ten pages.  Twenty.  When I finally reached thirtieth page I realised that it had taken me two days to get that far.  I looked at the final page number.  Three hundred and how many?  At this rate it as going to take me weeks to finish and I had so many other books I wanted to read.  That was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.  Life is too short to waste on books I’m not enjoying.  (Please note, I don’t say ‘bad’ books.  Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of other people who do.)

In the first fifty-four years of my life I had only given up on a handful of books and usually felt guilty about it.  No more.  I gave myself permission to stop reading a book if, after thirty pages, I wasn’t involved with the story or the character.  I was allowed to say ‘no thank you, not for me’ and move on.  I even created a shelf on my Goodreads account called ‘surrendered’.  There still aren’t many books on that list, but there is something liberating about knowing there could be more.

That was a huge step for me and, for a long time, that was as far as it went.  Every now and then I have felt a little prickle of an idea in the back of my head, but not slowed down for long enough to take it out and look at it.  In the last few weeks, I have.  It is this idea of giving myself permission.  Instead of saying that something might be a good idea, or maybe I should try, I have started to actively give myself permission to do – or not do – things.  I’m sure lots of people have already discovered the power of permission, but it feels very new and quite astonishing to me.

It started because I knew I had to take better control of my life.  I couldn’t carry on sitting around and waiting for it to happen.  I didn’t feel able to engage with my creative writing and not writing was making me feel guilty, so I decided to start keeping a journal.  I’ve tried having a diary in the past and never made it last for longer than a week.  This time I set myself a few goals, including writing in my ‘One Line A Day’ five year diary in the evenings and sitting down to write in a free-form journal in the morning if I had the time.  I also resolved to remove the word ‘fail’ from my vocabulary (at least where it applies to me) and not to beat myself up if there were days when I didn’t achieve all my goals.

The idea of ‘permission’ appeared in my journal less than a week after I started writing in it on a regular basis.  I said I was giving myself permission not to self edit the words I put on paper.  I was already managing to do it in my journals, why not apply the same to my fiction work?  Two days later I was giving myself permission to not give up on something just because it seemed difficult.  On the same page I also gave myself permission to quit something if it was not moving me forward in a positive way.

A few days later I was giving myself permission not to go to a full day conference that I was booked on.  I’d been told I wouldn’t be getting much more work in that field so why waste an unpaid day on something I didn’t particularly want to do?  I gave myself permission to refuse to take on any more work in August because I had already agreed to do fifty percent more than my contract.  These may be decisions that come easily to other people but I have always found it tortuous.

Finding the inner voice that gives me permission to do things – or not do them as the case may be – has been liberating.  I look forward to more discussions with that voice and making more positive decisions about my life.  With permission, of course.

To Boldly Go…

I have been deeply moved by this article from Wil Wheaton.   It does take courage to speak out about our mental health issues – and it shouldn’t.  We wouldn’t be worried to tell someone we’ve strained a muscle or that our hayfever won’t let us leave the house, so why should we be embarrassed to say our brain is affecting our ability to go out or take part in a specific activity.  Sometimes our knees won’t let us go running, sometimes our anxiety does the same thing.  Thank you, Wil, for your hugely comforting speech/article.

 

I’m about to go speak to NAMI Ohio’s statewide conference, Fulfilling the Promise. These are the remarks I prepared for my speech. Before I begin, I want to warn you that this talk touches on many triggering subjects, including self-harm and suicide. 4,484 more words

via My name is Wil Wheaton. I live with chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed. — WIL WHEATON dot NET

Soggy Socks and Surprising Birds

Purple training shoesI can take pleasure in almost any sort of weather – ice, snow, wind, rain, sun, fog – providing I am prepared for it.  They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.  I concur – especially when it comes to footwear.  I detest having wet feet and soggy socks. Unfortunately, I’ve been having a spot of bother in that direction of late.

It started with the snow.   I love taking the dogs out for a tramp through those soft, white drifts.  They absolutely adore jumping and chasing like bat-dog crazy things and they make me laugh out loud at their antics. During the first flurry of snow I pulled out my trusty green not-Hunter wellies and headed for the park.  After a while I realised that my socks were starting to feel a bit chilly and somewhat damp.  When I got home I found a couple of cracks and, with the help of some glue and gaffer tape, sealed the gaps.  By the time our second spell of wintry weather had arrived my poor boots had more gap than seam and were consigned to the bin.  I have been looking for new wellies for some time but have failed to find any that (a) comfortably fit my feet, (b) have room in the leg for my sturdy calves and the legs of my jeans and (c) are at a price I can afford.

Never mind.  There are always my trusty white trainers – my dog-walking footwear of choice for many moons.  Ah – not so trusty any more.  Cracks had started to appear in the places where they bend when I walk and, suddenly, they were having an uncomfortable affect on my poor socks.  Sloshing up the drive I decided that these, too, had come to the end of their working life.

So, last weekend found me on my knees in the bottom of my wardrobe, looking for neglected footwear that could get me through the spell of wet weather being forecasted for the Easter weekend.  I always have a pair of black training shoes to wear for work and was delighted to find a worn and tatty pair hiding under some summer sandals.  Brilliant!  For two dry days they did everything I wanted them to.  The dogs and I were thrilled.  And then it started to rain.  This time, I didn’t even wait to get indoors before ditching the damp footwear.  I ripped them off my feet and chucked them into the wheelie bin, then squelched (my socks) and squealed (me – gravel drives are not the most comfortable things to walk on) to the front door.

Another day, another rummage round the bottom of the wardrobe and – joy of joys – I found the pretty purple trainers you can see at the top of this post.  I hadn’t worn them for years and couldn’t remember why.  It didn’t take me long to find out.  They HURT!  Fortunately, I had plenty of wildlife to distract me from the pain on our walk this morning.  As well as the usual collection of pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds and robins I met a couple of surprising birds – not unusual in wide open spaces, but most unexpected in urban Basingstoke.

The first surprise was a cock pheasant.  When I lived in the countryside they were a common site, but I can’t say I’ve seen one in the middle of town before.  I certainly haven’t witnessed one scratching up the gravel of someone’s drive in its hunt for bugs.

Heron on ridgetiles of house roofThe second bird is one I see frequently – a heron.  We have streams and ponds running through the local parks and an egret and two herons are regular visitors.  I’ve seen them sitting in trees in the streets adjacent to the park – and I have to say that watching a gawky heron trying to land in the spindly upper branches of a eucalyptus tree is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – but to find one perched on the ridge tile of a roof in the middle of a housing estate is not so common.

By the time I got home, the heel of my left foot was totally shredded.  So now I have a dilemma.  Do I give my pretty purple pumps to a charity shop in the hope that someone else’s foot will fit into them more comfortably?  Do I save anyone else from the pain and consign them straight to the bin?  Or do I persevere in the hope that, in time, I’ll be able to break them in.  After all, my socks stayed perfectly dry.

March 2018 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell Adjudication

I was absolutely thrilled to be placed third in the most recent Hampshire Writers’ Society competition – and even more thrilled that my good friend, Nancy, received a highly commended.

If you would like to see more examples of my short / flash fiction, click on the ‘Writing’ tab above and choose a title.

Hampshire Writers' Society

Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.

Becky Bagnell adjudicating March 2018 Becky Bagnell announces her adjudication

Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.

Becky’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles

Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P

Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began

Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency

Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host

Competition Winners March 2018 L to R: Linda Welch, Nancy Saunders, Anthony Ridgeway, Scott Goldie and Kim Howard

First Place:Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie

“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the…

View original post 1,747 more words

Giving Thanks for the Good Days

Digital image of snowdropsIt’s easy to let the doubts, the dark days and anxieties live in the front of your head.  Some days they seem so much stronger than the positive things in our lives.  The last three days have been really good and I’ve decided to celebrate them; to actively appreciate them in the hope that, by doing so, I will remember this feeling when the grim comes knocking again.

On Friday I worked two different jobs.  In the morning I led a workshop at a large local library.  The session was entitled Kickstart Your Creative Writing and I had a lovely group of seven learners.  It’s not intended to be a ‘how to’ course, more an opportunity to try different types of writing prompts and talk about creative writing as a process.  To share ideas, get a little inspiration and have fun with writing – something that so many people have had beaten out of them through their work or school lives.  The feedback at the end of the session as very positive and I felt that the learners enjoyed themselves as much as I did.  For me, though, there was an added bonus.  I realised that I actually know a lot about writing.

Now, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  In the four or five years since I started to take my writing seriously I have undertaken a masters course in writing for children, attended dozens of talks by authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents, been part of several writing and critique groups and been involved with several writers festivals.  However, I still think of myself as someone who is a beginner on their writing journey – an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional.  That changed on Friday morning.  Here were people who were at an earlier stage in their writing – most of them didn’t even know what sort of writing the were hoping to do – and they were asking me questions.  They trusted that not only would I give them answers and suggestions, but that they would be good and accurate.  And, for the most part, I found I could do that.  When I didn’t know for sure I was still able to signpost them to organisations, books, magazines and web sites where they could get the help the wanted.

Friday afternoon was the same – but very different.  This time I was working as a library assistant at a smaller library that plays an active role in the life of the local community.  They have run a Chatterbooks club for some time and, when children grew too old for that group, set up something similar for teenage readers.  I spent a very happy hour with some lively children; we talked about books for children and teenagers; I listened to them talk about the idiocy of some of the grownups in their lives; I lead them on some writing adventures using story dice.  In this group I was acknowledged (and tested) as the grownup in charge, but also welcomed as an equal when it came to creating stories and sharing book recommendations.  The time flew by and I can’t wait to work with them again next month.

Saturday was glorious for totally different reasons.  For a start, I woke early.  At the weekend this would normally mean a groggy trip to the loo before either going back to sleep or snuggling down under the duvet with my storybook of the moment.  Yesterday, however, I was wide awake and full of fizz.  The dogs were startled to find themselves in the park before 7:00 am, watching a scarlet sun rise above the trees and smelling the multitude of scents rising into the air as the frosty ground steamed in the early morning light.  We walked for over an hour then came home for our breakfasts.  The dogs and cats ate in the kitchen, but I brought my coffee and marmalade sandwich straight upstairs to the computer and got on with editing my current WIP.  By the time my OH was up I had polished and printed nine chapters and was ready for elevenses.  Having accomplished so much so early I felt justified in idling away the rest of the day, snuggling on the sofa with my family.  A sense of achievement and of contentment should never be underestimated.

The Song from Somewhere Else, Paperback BookSo now you are nearly up to date with my positive few days.  This morning has been just as good.  It started with three out of the four furry family cosying on the bed while I read a few pages of The Song From Somewhere Else by A F Harrold and stunningly illustrated by Levi Pinfold (I’ve not finished it yet, but so far can heartily recommend it).  Then another long, frosty walk with the dogs and straight to the computer on our return.  I have been falling behind my self-imposed writing/task schedule recently.  Today I have done enough to bring me almost up to date.  Just one task to do before I can get back to my WIP.

I have had a happy grin on my face for the past few days and can recommend a cheerful and positive outlook for promoting productivity and a sense of inner peace.  Grasp the good days and hug them close.  The light CAN drive the darkness away.