I’m a writer and I ask myself the “what would happen if?” question a lot.
That question is part of my toolkit when I’m starting a new novel. It’s the question that encourages me to try different paths for my stories.
I’ve never asked myself the question so much as I have in the dark hours of the night during the past couple of weeks. The story that’s unravelling on the news every day still seems unbelievable to me. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.
My “what would happen if?” questions range from scary world wide problems involving whole continents not being able ride out the virus to equally scary personal fears as I try to assess which of my family and friends might be healthy enough to withstand an encounter with this unknown enemy.
Some of you may know that isolation and not knowing whether I’ll survive or not is not new to me. In the past, I’ve had two bouts of cancer treatment. The day after my daughter’s wedding, I was hospitalised with sepsis when my immune system was weakened by chemotherapy and couldn’t cope with hugs of congratulations. However, this battle just involved me. I didn’t have to worry about my grandchildren, my family and a husband with an “underlying condition”.
Right now, my brain is on danger alert for everyone and it’s exhausting. So many of my writer friends are saying that they are locked down and, although it’s an ideal time to escape into their writing projects, they can’t. I’m sure that’s because all of our “what would happen if?”questions are now about our own world, the survival of Mother Earth and how it will change in future.
I don’t know how you are coping but I’ll share my strategy. I’m trying to structure when and how often I listen to news, I’m trying to ration how long I’m anxious before distracting myself because worry changes nothing and I’m trying to enjoy the pleasures that are still present in this wonderful world every day.
There are good stories as well as bad coming out of this crisis – brave key workers, community spirit, hilarious dark humour and less pollution.
Today I’m in Spain on day 17 of lock down and I’m sitting at my laptop writing this blog. I’m healthy and able to write and that makes me feel blessed.
My motto is to stay safe, be kind and enjoy everything I can. What’s yours?
I’ve been house hunting and it has really brought home to me how much some buildings have a real ‘air’ or ‘atmosphere’ about them.
Atmosphere. It’s not something you can tick off your list like a garage or measure like a garden but, forget the missing tiles or jungle of weeds, I think the ‘feel’ of a home is THE most important thing to consider before moving in.
I love to read a book where the home is part of the setting and atmosphere of the story. At the moment, I’m on holiday and I’m reading ‘The Family Upstairs’ by Lisa Jewell. I haven’t finished yet but the old house that Libby has inherited really adds atmosphere to this compelling tale.
My latest novel, ‘The Barn of Buried Dreams’ is set in a converted barn full of happy family memories but dreams have been buried there along with a lot of real life and emotional clutter until Erin and Heather turn their lives around. I love that barn set in the Northumbrian village of Dunleith! What a pity it isn’t up for sale!
I admire how the cover designer transferred these pics into the barn on the cover.
My house hunt has meant renting for a couple of months and there is a cosy, warm, happy feeling place we have found but it’s temporary with only our basic possessions around so it feels like ‘playing house’. I’m really looking forward to putting down roots in our new home in the New Year.
We have found a gem of a bungalow close to the sea that is large enough to have the family and has a study with French doors that open onto the small garden at the back. A large family dining kitchen was a must and an en suite was a bonus but the study and the peaceful atmosphere are what sold it to me. (I must add that the shed and plenty of off road parking sold it to Himself.)
We all have different priorities don’t we? My dream house won’t be yours and thank goodness for our differences. I wonder what would be on your wish list….shed or study?
I used to be a daydreamer and did not like planning too far ahead. As Robbie Burns said – “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Why waste time planning? I was happy to go with the flow of life and see where it took me.
This approach served me quite well because I had a successful career in education and was happy with my laid back life.
A turning point came when this daydreamer came to earth with a thud. Cancer doesn’t care about whether you’re a drifting dreamer or a planner and when I found out I had to live with cancer and its treatments my dreams were crushed.
There was a lot I wanted to do and, most of all, I wanted to write but I might not have the time.
Along with the discomfort of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, I found my planning mojo. I had to plan to make the most of good days and prepare for the bad. As the treatment progressed relentlessly, running through my mind was the hope that I’d get as well as I could. Until then, I’d plan my novels and map out that writing journey I wanted to make.
A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Dreams and wishes were given a backbone by my plans. When I felt better, I’d learn the craft of novel writing, I’d learn to use social media and I’d learn about the publishing world. My plan was to be a published author and I’d succeed by taking steady steps to make a life long dream come true.
“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I can’t argue with Mrs R because I found this was true. My dreams had shape and, by planning, I made time for them.
“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ~ Alan Lakein
(Time management guru)
Friends often comment on how I’m less laid back nowadays and my time management is better. Once you face the truth that time can run out on you when you’re not expecting it, it’s easy to plan. So what if Robbie Burns is right and a few go awry? I’ve found that some of them will hit the spot.
Today, I’m a published author of the two novels you can see below, I use social media to keep in touch with readers and other writers and I plan to keep on writing for a long time to come.
Pinch me! July was such a fantastic writing month. The month just kept on getting better and there wasn’t a single grey writing cloud to spoil it. How often does that happen?
I was away for two weekends so I’ve been too busy playing catch up to write and reflect on it all until now.
First of all, we had The Romantic Novelists’ Conference in Lancaster.
This was a weekend of interesting talks, meeting old friends and making new and the joy of kitchen parties where everyone talked about books and writing and the joy (OK and struggle) of writing.
I particularly enjoyed Jo Baker’s talk on revisiting the past. She has written an alternative story about Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters, ‘Longbourne’. Her talk caught my interest because my third book is set in the past and, at the moment, I’m enjoying novels set in other eras.
I went along to see my friend, Lynda Stacey, in action on the ‘Dangerous Romance’ panel. Lynda was one of four writers who blend romance with suspense and the panel talked about how and why they did it. Not one of them was the same so it made for an interesting discussion. I’ve written about this session in detail for ‘Romance Matters’ so, if you’re in the RNA, look out for it in the Autumn edition.
The next weekend was Harrogate Crime Festival.
I don’t write crime but I’m an avid reader so, as a fan and as a friend of some crime writers, I tagged along and had my first taste of their annual highlight. A murder mystery dinner at Mel Sherrat’s table with my pals Lynda Stacey and Rachel Dove and a charming pair from an accountancy who were sponsoring one of the events made this an unforgettable night of fun, detectiving and laughs.
James Patterson stopped writing (was it his millionth book?) to open Saturday’s events and he was entertaining. I listened to talks and discussions involving Jo Nesbo and Lisa Jewell, two of my favourites, chatted to Rachel Abbott, a really successful self publisher, and so many others but I don’t want to be a name dropper!
I returned from both conferences with new friends, new links to publishing and new ideas so, as you can imagine, it has been a busy old time since then.
Come August, I didrecharge my batteries in France with the family. My cousin followed her dream and bought a fabulous place in St Estephe so we are all ‘obliged’ to do our bit and visit at least once a year to see what they are growing and enjoy the lakes and countryside around there.
I’ve appreciated this sunny spell of life because I’ve had my share of storm clouds and I’m always looking for them coming over the horizon.
How was your summer? All highs like mine or a few lows too?
A reply on Facebook this week made me sit up and think. “Chrissie Bradshaw never ever feel like you have to justify your life, you bloody earned it and why not, I say? x” Thank you to that Romantic Novelist FB friend who made me question a few things like –
Why do I feel apologetic for being part of a generation that had free uni education ? Why apologise for my luck in getting onto the housing ladder in my twenties? Why am I quiet about building up a good pension when others have to work for longer? Why am I reticent about taking a few holidays every year and spending three winter months abroad to get on with my writing? Why do I feel I’m partly to blame for being part of the Brexit generation that is spoiling our country’s future?
I know I have had some lucky breaks but hang on!
When I went to uni, I didn’t travel abroad or take a gap year. My uni digs were basic and we didn’t even have TV. I worked every holiday to pay off an overdraft. My starter home was furnished with family cast offs and the mortgage meant we didn’t take a holiday. I worked and brought up my daughter and holidays were few. I’ve earned the free time I have now and I still work. To misquote Bette Davis, “Writing is not for cissies!” As for Brexit, we can only blame a few senseless politicians who stood behind David Cameron and plotted such a daft referendum that has divided and damaged the country I have thoughtful intelligent friends on both sides of Brexit and nobody could have envisaged such a political muck up
As from today, I’m going to try my hardest to stop the apologies -especially that one where I say I’m JUST a women’s fiction writer.
Does anyone else feel like they’re always about to say sorry?
The funny thing is, many people who should be apologising about uni grants, housing, pensions and Brexit wouldn’t dream of saying sorry.
Sometimes, I wish I had a crystal ball so I could see what lies ahead. I could be prepared for the wonderful day when I get my exciting multi book deal with a publisher by having a couple of novels at the ready.
What would you like to know about your own future?
It would be such a relief and joy to know that a personal dream is eventually going to happen wouldn’t it?
Or would it?
When I was accepted into college, it took away the need to achieve high ‘A’ levels and I did a bit of coasting because my place was a sure thing.
What if the crystal ball showed no deal? I’ll never stop writing but would I lose confidence and stop trying so hard to improve?
Perhaps we should all heed the words of the author Vera Nazarian who said,
‘Not knowing is the greatest life motivator. So enjoy, endure, survive each moment as it comes to you in its proper sequence, a surprise.’
My latest novel, ‘The Barn of Buried Dreams’, opens with a surprise for Erin, the main character. She is faced with changes she couldn’t foresee. Erin returns home to care for her sick mother leaving her fiancé and London theatre life for a while.
Here is a taster.
Erin had never understood how anyone could be totally surprised by their pregnancy.
She stared at the stick in her hand in utter disbelief. Two stark lines…the test couldn’t be clearer. How had this happened? Well, she knew how, of course she did, but what were the odds? Wow.
Bloody wow. She bit her knuckle and checked the tiny screen again. Wasn’t she supposed to be doing a happy dance? Maybe. When she got over the shock. It was such bad timing. This was meant to happen in the future, very far into some fuzzy future, when it would be a thrilling moment with Damien doing the test with her. They had a wedding to plan and their careers to establish before this bit of the story.
Erin felt guilty immediately. How could she feel that way? She had created a new life with the man she loved and here she was thinking it was inconvenient. She hoped the tiny being that was beginning to grow inside her couldn’t hear her thoughts.
Her life hadn’t been her own this year and now it looked like it wouldn’t be ever again. She’d spent years working hard to get where she was but now her stage career was drifting away like an unattended beachball, bright and enticing but moving further and further out of her reach. Would it come back to her on another tide or crash on the rocks?
‘Erin, our programme will be starting soon.’
‘Just coming, Mum.’ She placed the confirmation of her future on the bathroom window sillhurried downstairs to make a pot of tea before Happy Valley started.
Mum was soon engrossed in the episode, making comments about the murder case and cursing human traffickers. ‘Sergeant Cawood won’t let them get away with this trafficking scam, will she, Erin?’
Erin tried to keep up but her mind churned away at her own inner drama. When would she tell Damien? She’d have to tell him first, even before she told her mother. What would they do about a wedding? Rush into a small ceremony before or wait until after? They would both just have to get used to the idea of parenthood. There was never a perfect time to have a baby but she was twenty-seven and they had talked about starting a family, one day, so they’d just have to put their wedding plans on hold and become a family sooner than they thought.
‘Erin?’ the credits were rolling and her mother was studying her closely.
‘Yes, Mum. What is it?’
Liz Douglaseaned forward in her chair, her pale face showing how easily she tired. ‘You haven’t followed that episode at all and your mind seems far away. Is everything OK?’
‘Everything’s fine.’ Erin managed a smile.
‘Are you sure?’ Mum could be a mind reader at times.
‘I was just thinking about Damien coming at the weekend and wondering how to keep him entertained. You know how quiet he thinks it is around here.’
‘A night at the Bridge Inn isn’t his idea of fun is it? How about the Red Lion at Alnmouth? That’s livelier.’
She caught Mum’s wicked smile and laughed. ‘Yeah, he’ll have to make do with that, or watch TV. He’s just here for a couple of nights anyway.’
Erin helped her mother up from the chair and across to the single bed that was set up in the corner of the living room. It was good to see her regaining her sense of humour and watch her getting stronger every day. In a month or so, she might be back to normal. Bloody hell, she hoped so. Poor Mum, she was really working at her recovery from a stroke but she was nowhere near to being independent again.
Erin was anxious to get back to London, the sooner she could get back to work, the better. Her agent couldn’t put her forward for auditions when she was tied up here and she missed Damien. Mum came first, though and, until she had made a good recovery, Erin would stay here. Remembering the baby cells that were multiplying minute by minute, she drew in a sharp breath. She would be limited in getting any roles once this baby started to show.
‘What’s startled you, Erin? You look like you’ve seen that Tommy Lee from Happy Valley.’ Mum looked at her curiously as she slipped off her dressing gown and sat on the bed.
Erin shook her head. ‘It’s nothing. I’ve just remembered something I need to do tomorrow.’ The phone rang, freeing Erin from any further questions as she crossed over to pick up the call.
‘Hi it’s me. Is Mum still up?’ It was Heather, Erin’s sister.
‘Yes, she’s right here… Mum, here’s Heather, for you.’ She passed the phone over and took the chance to escape further questioning by slipping into the kitchen to prepare a night time tray with water, a flask of tea, a plate with two shortbreads and her mother’s tablets. Heather would be chatting to Mum about Happy Valleyfor a while; they both loved a crime series.
Bracken barked at the door to go outside. Erin smiled as he sat smartly with his head cocked to one side waiting for her to let him out into the back garden. As she stood in the open doorway and watched the silhouette of the Welsh terrier snuffling in the bushes at the far end of the garden, Erin thought about what Heather would say when she heard her baby news. She was longing to tell her. Heather was already eight months along with her second and would be full of advice, but it was only fair to tell Damien first.
A few more days until he arrived on Friday and, after she had talked to him, she would break the news to Mum and Heather then her friend, Darcy. She just couldn’t imagine Darcy’s response. They had both shared dreams of stage careers and of finding love, but they had never talked babies.
Lying in bed that night, Erin counted backwards to work out just how many weeks pregnant she was. She’d already done this a dozen times since taking the test and the answer didn’t change. She’d run out of pills soon after dashing home to look after Mum in November and hadn’t been too concerned because Damien had a busy filming schedule and was going to see his parents in Kent for Christmas. He wouldn’t be visiting for a while so there was no rush to renew her prescription when their only contact, video call or text, was a hundred per cent conception proof.
Damien had missed her over Christmas and arrived at the door of Magpie’s Rest to surprise her on New Year’s Eve with presents and champagne. She hadn’t expected this extra surprise… she really hadn’t. Just one careless night? Hell, she must be eight weeks pregnant.
She glanced at the time, waiting for Damien to call. Last night, he said if he didn’t get in touch by midnight, it meant he was delayed at the promotion event he had to attend. There was a minute or two to go but she was tired. She decided to ring him.
‘Hi Damien are you still tied up with work?’
‘Erin! Hi babe. Yeah, can’t get away, I’m afraid.’
‘Never mind. It’s not long until the weekend and we can catch up then.’
‘Weekend? Oh…the weekend. Listen, I need to talk to you about that. Look, I can’t chat now, babe, but I’ll call in the morning.’
He wasn’t coming. She knew it. She could tell by the tone in his voice.
Erin doesn’t have a crystal ball but she is predicting that Damien will let her down. What does her future hold?
The Barn of Buried Dreams is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback and a free read, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.
Whenever I pick up a pen or open my lap top, I think about two things. What am I going to write? Who is it for?
A lot of my scribbling is for myself. To-do lists, research notes, my diary and the first drafts of every novel. I’m emptying ideas from my head so I can look at them in the cold light of day.
Are you a list maker? I love writing to-do lists. They are wishful thinking and I never ever tick everything off but they help me to get a few things done.
Prepare a curry-tick
water plants – tick
write 2000 words -tick
Do you find some tasks just don’t get ticked off? For me, chores like windows and floors, can carry over for days!
This year, I kept a personal diary for the first year in ages. It started because my sister, Pam, bought me a brilliant ‘Me.You’ diary created by Dawn French.
This is such an inspired book! It’s full of suggestions, musings and blank pages. It is flexible and without dates and I found that I loved writing in it.
Looking through the pages, I see it is stuffed with big ideas, dreams and aspirational quotes that I liked but didn’t always live by. It is also crammed with rants and moans and whinges. A diary is a good place for all those thoughts – a private record of the topsy turvy year I have journeyed through.
Will I be keeping a diary again this year? Oh yes! You see, a lot of my daily writing finds an audience.
My Facebook posts tend to have a glossy filter. Do yours?
My tweets are for a wide audience and any comments n there are positive or, if they are negative, about bigger issues than my own little niggles.
My blog tends to focus on the brighter side of my life. This writing is a ‘true’ picture of my life – I always try to be authentic- but it is an edited version because I try to find the good side or the humour in any struggles.
My novels only go to readers after three or four drafts that have been read and revised by me.
A diary is somewhere to harvest and store happy memories too.
Here is the ‘I Instantly Smile when…’ page.
I love my diary, so private, full of my ideas, dreams, smiles, moans and grumbles and a great way to get rid of those thoughts that stop you from sleeping.
If, like me, you haven’t tried keeping a personal diary for a while, why don’t you give it a try. You don’t need to write every day but it is there when you have something to mull over.
Keeping a diary yea or nay? I’d love to hear from you.
Last month, after launching my book, I sat back and watched the number of books sold grow and the number of reviews increase. I should add slowly because it was great fun but a bit slower than I would want. I knew the reason why – I needed to promote further afield than my blog, my Facebook page, instagram and twitter.
I had to venture out into other people’s social media
My books are not in shops and readers have to go onto Amazon to find them so the only way I can promote ‘The Barn of Buried Dreams’ is by raising awareness that it is out there by using my social media platforms. To attract readers who aren’t already friends, I must venture forth and use other people’s media space by asking them to allow me to blog or asking them to review my book.
This is scary stuff!
It is scary because a blogger can say ‘No, I don’t want you on my site and I don’t want to read your book, either!’ This, for me, is a time when you call in an expert to ask for willing volunteers, create a buzz about your book and to arrange your tour so it goes without a hitch.
My book tour co-ordinator was worth her weight in gold. She sorted out 25 bloggers over 5 days who would give me an advertising platform. Some wanted read and review a printed book, some were happy with an ebook. Some wanted an exclusive interview, others were happy with an extract form the book or a blog from me. However, they all go their blog content via my tour guide and they could join a freebie competition too.
My tour was given this headline. You will see on the banner that this successful tour was run by the excellent, Rachel Gilbey
The bloggers accepted me onto their space and I enjoyed giving interviews, writing a post or revealing an extract from my new book.
I’d like to thank Rachel Gilbey and the bloggers on this poster for their hospitality and thank them for their thoughtful reviews about my writing. If you wander over ‘My Books’ The page shows some of their comments.
My giveaway, which was drawn by rafflecopter, is ready for send off and the lucky winner is Andrea Upton. Her goodies are shown below.
‘You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true.’
Richard Rodgers, South Pacific
I’ve written two novels ‘ A Jarful of Moondreams’ is out now, ‘The Barn of Buried Dreams’ is released in October and I’m part way through my third. Can you see they have a thread running through them? That thread is part of the tapestry of our lives.
You see, my novels are about the struggle and determination that we need to follow our dreams.
We have cherished dreams from childhood and yet more get added when we discover what it is that we yearn to do with our lives. We are great dreamers but we have to turn into doers too!
My childhood dream was to own a dog like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. I was also an avid reader and thought that Dodie Smith had the best job in the world. Maybe, some day, I could be a writer with a houseful of pets?
When I eventually got my first pup, in my mid-twenties, she was named after a character in my favourite Dodie Smith novel. I know what you may be thinking, but no, she wasn’t called Pongo or Perdita! Cassie’s name came from ‘I Capture the Castle’. She was my wonder dog.
It took a lot longer to call myself a writer and I’m still working on the ‘successful’ part of the writing dream.
I think following our dreams gives us a zest for living and achieving them is icing on the cake. Hold on to the icing on the cake comparison because it will reappear!
Last month, we travelled to France and spent a week with Pauline and Allan. Pauline loves to grow her own fruit and veg, she loves to cook and sewing gives her real pleasure. How can she possibly be related to me?
Pauline and Allan moved to St. Estephé in France last year and now she is growing strawberries to make jam, picking cherries to make cherry brandy and brushing up on her French. She has a sewing room for making her patchworks. Allan has a workshop in the barn to refurbish furniture and a ride on lawn mower to tame their acres of land.
They have both worked hard throughout their lives, faced tragedies and experienced set backs but they have never given up on their joy of living. Doesn’t it take courage to sell up in England and start life in a new community to follow your dreams? They took the plunge, and I have never seen this pair looking happier.
Another exciting trip was to support my youngest sister who is working to make her business dream come true.
Urban Cakehouse -unique, contemporary, unconventional cakes -started up in her kitchen and she is getting it up and running while working and running a household including three teens, a husband and a dog.
Lisa has a PhD and works within the NHS but has always loved to be creative. Her dreams of being an artist have veered more towards cake and this is where the icing on the cake comes into play. I was so proud to be at her ‘Cake meets Canvas’ exhibition at the Fly tower in Sheffield.
Dreaming is easy but putting a dream into action is damned hard work. Both Pauline and Lisa have to put in the hours and make sacrifices to do what they love while considering their families. It does not always go smoothly and it is risky to follow a dream but they think it is worth it and so do I.
I don’t dig the soil, sew the cushions or bake the cakes; their dreams are my nightmare! I just lounge back on the cushions, eat the cake and listen to the chatter and use it at times to draft the stories of women struggling through day to day challenges and doing their best to make their own cherished dreams come true.
If you’re a doer – take time to dream and if you’re a dreamer – take time to do
‘The years spin by and now the girl is twenty, though her dreams have lost some grandeur coming true. There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty before the last revolving year is through.’
Let me tell you, Spanish villas in Murcia are freezing cold! The heat flies right out of the windows and walls and seeps through the cold tiles and that lovely cool house of summer is an ice box in March.
You may think I was lucky, to spend five weeks in Spain while I was recuperating from my hip operation, but was I? We had lots of sunny days but I discovered that missing the cold February and March weather in the UK had a price.
That price was a lovely, cosy, warm house with unlimited writing time!
I can’t write outdoors in the sunshine. Laptop says ‘no’ with a black screen and I get distracted. Yes, I’ve tried a contraption that shields the screen from the sun but it flaps about in a breeze and I forgot to pack it this trip. I can ‘ dream up’ characters and stories while I’m lying back on a sun lounger though, so all is not lost!
If I’d been at home and hiding indoors from the Beast from the East, my thermostat would be keeping me at a steady warm temperature and I would be cosy whilst looking at fat snowflakes falling outside.
In Casa Margarita, on a sunny day, I watched my husband reading in the sun as I was wearing socks jumper and blanket to try to type a few hundred words. Cold is not conducive to writing. I was so glad to finish and get out into some warmth!
Will I go again? Oh yes. We had a wood burning stove to huddle around at night. We had to sit over it, mind you, or the walls stole the heat and a trip to the kitchen or bathroom was chilly. It meant we cuddled up together too.
Next time, I’ll be prepared. Instead of buying new bikinis, I’ll be buying one of those silly but warm ‘onesies’, packing my old Ugg boots and taking a hot water bottle for when I’m writing. You can’t keep a determined writer down!