THE MAGIC MOMENTS

I love Christmas.   Absolutely everything about it.   The excitement, presents, turkey and all the trimmings, with obligatory chocolate and the endless disco naps needed to cope with it all.  I love buying presents, always getting a kick out of the look of surprise on the face of the person opening my gift.  I get misty eyed over Christmas tunes particularly “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl and can argue a justifiable case for playing them from 1st December.  I love the tingle of tangible excitement in the air, and the acts of kindness that come easier the closer 25th December comes.  This year, I started the tradition of the mad Christmas jumper, donning my robin with a scarf proudly, only swapping it for an acceptable substitute; a Christmas themed onesie.

In the midst of the celebrations, what mattered to me most were the unexpected special moments.  The look of love between my parents when my Dad opened an unexpected, but mentioned at every opportunity, gift that my Mum promised to hide until the afternoon, only to get over excited and hand it to him five minutes later.  The giggles and smiles of my nephew as he ran through a sea of bubbles from the ‘bubble gun’ Santa brought.  Then there was the moment after dinner, when tea was poured and the quality street tin was opened, that we spoke of the man who wasn’t there.

I think of my Granddad every day

I think of my Granddad every day, always with a smile.  He was a gentleman, with quiet ways.  Always dressed immaculately, he never left home without a cloth handkerchief, his pocket cap ‘bunnet’ and a packet of Weathers Originals.  Since I was a little girl, he affectionately called me ‘cuddles’ in testament to my tactile nature.  He lived for his golf, never missing tee off time and when my Dad wanted to place a commemorative bench at his golf club, we could only place it near the 6th hole, where he got his only hole in one.  He was modest, admitting, when prompted, that he’d won a medal for bravery during World War Two, saying “I lost a lot of friends” only for us to find two medals after he passed away and in my whole life I never once heard him utter a bad word about anyone.

When he left us, four years ago, and people learned he was 89 years old, they said he’d had “good innings” to comfort us.   We soon realised that no matter what age, you’re never ready to lose someone you love.  So, on Christmas Day, when we talked about this quiet man and all of his little idiosyncrasies, for a few brief magic moments he was there in the room with us.  We just couldn’t see him.

He never knew about my writing, and my secret notebook with character names and storylines but I’ve no doubt that he’d be proud of me.  Since I’ve begun storytelling, I’ve always based my characters on two or three people.  Not by plan or design, but mostly by kismet, that brings me into contact with a serendipitous combination of characters I need at that particular time.

Andy Young was too special not to share.

I will write about my Granddad one day and that character will be wholly him. But I couldn’t write about him without celebrating who he was, so I’ll remember him in the best way I know how; in the world of my imagination.  So, when you see his name in one of my stories you’ll know who he was too.  Andy Young was too special not to share.

So, if I could leave you with one parting wish, I would like it to be this; share your magic moments.  I believe that the people we love never truly leave us; but instead take refuge in our hearts and come alive when we remember them.  Celebrate all those you remember and share them in the best way know how through words, poetry, art or song.  He’s here with me now.  I believe it, just like he believed in me.     

LEAP OF FAITH

I walk every day.  It’s a recent habit encouraged by a change of circumstances and one, with hindsight, I wish I’d started sooner.  There’s a simplicity in the open air; in your footfalls falling on a pathway, in fresh, clean air that cleanses your nostrils and a strange comfort in the sharp coldness that awakens your limbs.  So, every morning, come rain, hail or shine, I don the trainers, plug in the earphones and walk.  This first hour of the day brings a clarity I never knew I needed; helping me to see what I’d been too muddled to before.

So a couple of days ago, when the weather turned colder, I didn’t to hesitate to leave the house, only pausing briefly to add a pair of gloves to my itinerary.  It wasn’t until I reached a nearby pathway that I realised something else had arrived overnight; black ice.  Gingerly, circumnavigating the invisible ice swirl pathway, I made the mistake of forgetting how clumsy I am, and got over confident, only to turn the corner, lose my footing and fall headlong into a Looney Tunes cartoon.  You know the one I mean; where Tom chases Jerry around the corner only to fly into the air before falling spectacularly down onto the ground?  That’s exactly what happened, and whilst I picked myself up from the ground and hastily checked for an audience to another clumsy incident, I couldn’t help but laugh, as my inventive life once again merged with my daily activities.

My epic fall reminded me of how I felt at the beginnings of my trilogy.  Recent submissions have led me to read over my manuscripts.  Immersing myself once more with the characters, places and world I conceived without rhyme or reason.  Now on the cusp of embarking on my next trilogy I find myself asking if I could do it again.  My physical fall, with the bruises to prove it, reminded me of the leap of faith I took when I began writing the story.  I had no synopsis; choosing instead to trust my characters would take me where I needed to go.  A faith that has been paid has been a thousand fold.

the euphoric high of that gigantic leap into the air as you launch into the unknown.

The emotions are the same; the euphoric high of that gigantic leap into the air as you launch into the unknown and the sharp bite of the low; as you crunch into the ground.  But sometimes, without realising, you need to fall to understand you’re strong enough to get back up again.  Trust your characters to keep speaking to you; encouraging you as their conduit, to tell their story.  Even once you finish, they won’t stop.  Rose, one of my protagonists, literally stood over me; belligerent and indignant, when I thought for a second of giving up.  Instead, insisting that I keep on sending her out to share her with the world.

take your leap of faith.

So if I could leave you with one parting wish, I would like it to be this; take your leap of faith.  Trust your instincts as you jump into the darkness to illuminate the story that you’re meant to write.  I’m about to jump again and it’s scary and as exciting as hell.   Who was I kidding thinking I could never give this amazing life up even for a second?  My creations will never leave me or the home I’ve made for them.  So, are you ready to take your leap of faith?  I am.  Here we go.  I’ll see you on the flip side.

PERSPECTIVE

Life’s unexpected events collide when you least expect it.  For me, 2013, has been a year of rehab.  A series of rollercoaster events that has taught me never to take anything for granted.  For in that moment when you think you one part of your life is bolted down and secure, it flies off into the air, leaving you staring wistfully after it, wondering how you got where you are in the first place.

listen as the words increase into a crescendo. 

I do what I always do in these situations; press my reset button and listen as the words increase into a crescendo.  Thundering through my head like a stampede of elephants demanding escape onto the nearest page.  Reinforcing my belief that writing is all the therapy I will ever need.

When writing my fantasy series, I happily lived in the world I created.  Immersing myself in my safe place with the characters and places I vividly imagined.   Never anticipating that my belief in the magic; in what you can’t see is just as real as what you can, would offer me a helping hand when I needed it most.

For there is magic in the invisible; in simple kind gestures that you never knew you needed; but squeeze your heart when you realise you are the lucky recipient.  Like the neighbour who stops and offers to help with that stubborn car bonnet.  Like the friends who text you every day just to say hello and make you smile.  Like the brother who teases a smile when you think you have none left.  Like the nephews who remind you that life for laughing and running – very fast.  Like the Aunt and Uncle who offer a glass of wine and a hug.  Like the Mum and Dad who accept you for who you are and provide chocolate when you are in danger of forgetting.

In this week where the unexpected became the norm, my Dad returned from a working trip in Eastern Africa.  His arrival followed two weeks of fractured calls home where he would describe a beautiful hotel surrounded by an empty land.  My Dad, the kind-hearted soul he is, arrived home with half a suitcase; having given away most of his clothes and shoes to the workers he met on his trip.  When asked he only said; “they have nothing and we have everything.”  Describing the ravaged clothes, bare feet and the stalls that sell empty plastic bottles; an item I naively considered worthless.  The small derelict shacks that hold families of eight and the barren land that does not yield enough food or water to feed them all.

So, this week, I leave you with no parting wish, but instead ask you to witness a lesson in perspective.  For in receiving the invisible; the magic.  I realise I am richer and luckier than I ever imagined or appreciated.  Look around for your magic.  It’s out there.  Then smile and say thank you.  I just did.

FAMILY FOLKLORE

Since childhood, the notion of storytelling has completely and utterly fascinated me.  My first memory of my favourite pastime comes from listening to a cassette of fairy tales that my parents had bought for me for Christmas.  Bringing back memories of princess pink bed covers and listening to ‘The Princess and the Pea.’  The words painting vivid pixelated pictures in my head of the Princess trying desperately to sleep on thirteen mattresses.


My foray back to childhood was prompted by thoughts of my next story; piquing an interest in my favourite folklore.  In the midst of the search, I began to think about my own family folklore, rekindling an interest in the stories that have stitched and weaved through the fabric of the lives intertwined with mine.

As a gesture of friendship, he sent her a treasured possession; his gold ruby ring.

There is story about my Nana and the ruby wedding ring.  During World War Two, my Nana had a pen friend from New Zealand, a gentleman named Claude who sustained injury during a campaign.  Although she refused a marriage proposal from Claude, she continued the friendship until she met and married my granddad in 1952.  As a gesture of friendship, he sent her a treasured possession; his gold ruby ring as a wedding gift for the girl he hoped to marry but was never destined to.  My granddad wore that ring until he left us.  Now my Dad wears it, to remember the man we lost and still miss every day and Claude, who died shortly after my grandparents married, is forever remember for his kindness to my family.

Then there is the tale from my Mum’s side of the family centring on my Granddad and his return from Kelty Club on a Saturday night in the 70s.  My Granddad, a loveable rogue of a man, was so intent on saying goodbye to friends that he spun unexpectedly and face planted into the hedge behind him.  Until the wee hours the only sounds that could be heard in the house were the bursts of giggles coming from my Gran as she remembered what happened.


Then there was the time, my Mum, Dad, brother and I were on Stirling High Street and my Dad suddenly stopped walking.  When we turned round to see what the matter he gasped out “Did you see that?” and pointed to a woman walking down the road.  “That was….Gloria Estefan!”  Bemused, we turned around to see a woman with curly red hair getting into a battered old mini.  To this day and with complete justification, we continue to tease my Dad mercilessly about his fan boy moment but he remains adamant that one day in the early 1990s Gloria Estefan was in Stirling – keeping it real.

“That was….Gloria Estefan!”


My exploration of family lore has prompted an interested in fabled and hidden treasure, inspiring a trip to Rosslyn Chapel, made infamous by The Da Vinci Code.  My visit encouraged not just by the musings of Dan Brown, but by the stories of Knights Templar Treasure that is rumoured to be hidden beneath the walls, protected by the intricate carvings dotted around the structure.  My recent musings on storytelling led me to ponder a question.  Where do we the modern storytellers of the digital age sit amongst these legends of lore?  What will my ancestors think of my creative mutterings hundreds of years from now?  I guess that’s one question I’ll never have an answer to.  I still feel the same hope that I do with the readers with me in this time, that somewhere among the twisted sentences and verb formations that a word or a sentence strikes those who need it and helps them become the person they are meant to be.  That’s what I think my job as a Writer is; to add a little splodge of colour to the great creative landscape.   To add a little part of me that will stay within this space and mean something to someone…somewhere.  That’s what happens to me when I see a painting, a photograph, hear a song or read a poem or story.  For a moment while my eyes adjust to the colours and my mind takes in the words; I am transported on a journey manifested by the person who created it.  It’s invisible, untouchable and pure unfathomable magic.


So, if I could leave you with one parting wish, I would like it to be this; tell your fable.  When I open the cover of a new book, I feel a frisson of excitement as my eyes hungrily scan the words unread and yet to be realised within my imagination.  The 6-year old hiding within me does a little victory dance, in celebration of all things creative and my everlasting belief in what you can’t see is just as special as what you can.  We are all living lore.  So, splash paint over your cave wall and share your hopes, dreams and stories.  Leave your imprint to be celebrated and mused over by future generations.  I dare you.

THE LAST DAY

I guessed how I would feel today; relief and euphoria mixed in with a little sadness.  This is the day I has been either thinking about or planning for a year; hoping reverently that the image in my head would match up with the reality I had instigated.  It ended with a short four-word sentence.  Four words that I have dreaming of writing for a year.  The small sentence does not appear to mean much.  But to me, after three books, 128,000 words and a year of my life; they mean the world.  Telling me that my absolute belief, in the smidgen of a story, its characters and their fates, become so much bigger than I ever imagined.

I wasn’t meant to finish this soon.  A month ago, a sudden desire to finish the story came upon me.  Trusting my instincts and following the wish without rhyme or reason, I gave myself a self-imposed deadline upon which to have the story finished.  In the last week, my characters gathered and shouted as a crowd, chasing me in my dreams, urging me to finish the story as they chased me through woods and mountains into fathomless black water outlined by vivid purple skies.  In finishing the story I fulfilled a secret wish to myself.  My initial ideas for my fairy tale were so random and perplexing that I only had trust and instinct to guide me.  Being relatively new at the writing game, I’m without the years of experience that would point the compass in the right direction.  So when I took my initial chapters to my writing class to gauge opinion, I listened when my experienced writing teacher said three magic words; “finish the story.”  Taking the advice to heart, I kept writing ignoring the temptation to edit the obvious mistakes in composition and grammar obvious on review.

My mood bounced from euphoric to passionate and I have never felt more alive.  

In the last month, as the rush of excitement and consumption with my story increased I felt like I was living a dual existence.  My own life took on a fanatic pace whilst the world of my imagination continued playing in my head, unrelenting, refusing to let go until I typed the very last word.  Despite the conflicting priorities, this time has been amongst the happiest of my life.  My mood bounced from euphoric to passionate and I have never felt more alive.  Even wishing I could invite other people into my head like a tourist guide for the dream like state where my characters existed.  The world you have created so much a part of you its stitched itself onto your soul.  My mood communicated to those around to the point where a lady at my gym who I see about a week commented; “whenever I see you, you are always smiling.”  During the same time, part of me wanted to delay the ending.  Asking why couldn’t stay forever in the world I loved?  So part of me dreaded that last sentence.  Knowing I would cry as I said goodbye to the characters I conceived, loved and have saved me in more ways than I can fathom.  On the last day I lingered for hours over the words on the screen, reluctant to let go but knowing that I must.  For the very moment I stopped typing, the happiness and euphoria ripped through me like a tidal wave and I knew I would forever be addicted to storytelling.

So, what should I do next?  A few months ago, circumstances gave me time to edit Book One of the Trilogy so pending a submission letter and a synopsis it’s ready to go and my well-thumbed copy of the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook is finally being put to use.  Knowing I respond well to a personal challenge, I have given myself another self-imposed deadline.  I must follow my own path.  My desire to find an audience for this story is all consuming and my characters still feature in my nightly visions, refusing to leave until I send off the e-mails and brown envelopes.  Whilst I secretly hope they never completely leave.  Two days later the next story began calling.  Ideas began to spark from pictures, television programmes and random thoughts.  I started writing them down just as I did a few years ago.  I already know the title and the main character have begun to whisper and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

So, if I could leave you with one parting wish, I would like it to be this; finish the story and trust your instincts.  Believe in taking step down the dark unrevealed path.  Your trust and willingness to take a chance will repay your faith.  You are a creator.  It’s your job to share the peeks from the invisible world and share your unique view with the world.  Go for it and trust what your creative soul is telling you.  It will give you a new life you never imagined.  

I promise. 

KINK IN THE MACHINERY

Photographs have always fascinated me.  I could stare at them for hours whether it’s in a newspaper, an art gallery, in a book shop or online.  They remind me of visits to the library with my Dad.  Deep-routed, hazy memories of being around seven years old, sitting in a corner, with a dozen books around me.  I was awestruck, not only by their words but also the coloured pictures, while Dad lingered, waiting patiently for me to finish.

The snapshot in my head is already writing a story

At weekends, I like to go somewhere interesting either in the countryside, near some water or somewhere else unusual.  Our expeditions are always interrupted by me stopping and taking numerous photographs.  To help you understand, for me, taking or looking a photograph has never been that singular simple act.  I have always seen more than what is right in front of me.  The snapshot in my head is already writing a story, playing for me like a film on a cinema screen.  I know where it takes place; the characters; names, description, quirks and the part of the story I want to progress.  Then the first line pops into my head and I’m there; living in the world of my imagination.  I am free.  Standing there, stock still, enchanted by what’s before me and its accompanying soundtrack, I do what comes naturally.  I capture the image.

This photograph was taken on a murky Sunday morning at a country park near our home.   I wasn’t even thinking about my fantasy series at the time.  Instead, I was wondering why I had left my gloves at home that morning.  Then I turned a corner at the loch, and wham, in that moment, I had the start of my next chapter.  I didn’t see the mist falling over the trees or the reflective, clear glass water.  Instead, I saw the breaking dawn on the day of battle.  I saw the fear in my characters eyes and I felt the adrenalin pumping through their veins.  I was so close I could smell the sweat off their bodies and finally, I could see who survived and who didn’t.

That’s what creative people do, whether it’s going for walk, staring into space or enjoying that shot of caffeine.  The creation is always there in the background, forming, settling and anticipating its inception.  It’s alive within you.  You just have to set it free.  So if I could leave you today, with one parting wish, I would like it to be this.  Don’t be afraid to let your imagination go wild.  Drink in what excites your senses and let it inflame your soul.  For that image may turn out to be the spark that lights your passion, giving you the story that will change you forever.

It’s the kink in my machinery and I love it.

INNER GODDESS REVIVAL

This week, I confronted my angst around feedback.  I engaged with the subject, two years ago, on the first night of a creative writing class.  Back then, the thought of reading out my work in front of others was hard enough.  I can still vividly remember the dread and excitement that tumbled through me, at their reaction to the few hundred words I had sweated blood over.  To my surprise, my little story about the dangerous crime boss trapped in the body of a chinchilla, received some laughter and positive comments.  Ironically, given my fear, it’s the reason why I went in the first place.  Initially, I asked family and friends for help.  Unwittingly, placing them in an awkward position of asking them to be critical whilst never, ever hurting my feelings.  Here, I could seek honesty from strangers.  I got what I wanted.  My feedback, thus far, has been varied.  I tend to read out what I think I’ve written and not what is actually typed on the page.  If I make a mistake, it’s always consistent; littered not just on the first page but every page thereafter. 

I learned that feedback is invaluable.  

Despite the belly flutters; I learned that feedback is invaluable.  Every comment is a learning experience.  As the creator, you are too close to your work to remain impartial.  Although, my Inner Critic, loved my tempestuous relationship with feedback, regularly whispering confidence killers into my ear.  One evening, our homework was to write a piece inspired by a place of nature.  The following week, I read out a short story called ‘Water.’  “You should submit that to Glasgow Women’s Library Dragon’s Pen” my tutor said.  So, encouraged by someone with more experience than me, I did just that.  A month later, I got an e-mail confirming that I would not be a finalist but they would like to use an extract of my submission.  I was ecstatic.  Even more so when my tutor explained “You got to the long list.”  The stirrings of confidence blossomed.  Six months later, the story had developed into a fantasy series that I read out every week.  So, when my tutor asked if I intended to submit to a publisher, I was ready to answer the question.  Yes, I wanted to.  The fire in my belly had been lit.  I could do this, if I learned to subdue my Inner Critic.

There is no halfway house in creativity.  Good feedback can foster confidence just as bad can destroy it.  The thought stayed at the back of my mind, jumping into the air frantically, trying to get my attention.  As much as I had gotten comfortable with reading out my work in a high school classroom, I was terrified of feedback I could receive outside.  As a creative person, you want people to like your creations.  Otherwise, why else would you share your work?  Some write for pure pleasure, without thought or desire to do anything with it.  For myself, I seek validation.  I need to find my audience.  How will I ever know unless I am willing to take a chance and put myself out there? 

My transition was triggered by a random thought; join Twitter.  I had been lurking for a while, looking at other writer’s profiles with a mixture of awe and envy.  Then, one day, I finally did it.  Social media forces you to play well with others in a virtual playground.  I use it as a tool for motivation, tweeting about what I’m planning to achieve.  Twitter is invaluable for connecting with other writers and publishers.  I’ve found it to be lucky.  I had a blog published by Women’s Writers, Women Books after seeing a tweet one Sunday afternoon asking for blog submissions.  A spark lit and I decided to go for it.  I finally understood that if I wanted anyone to like my work, I had to believe in its validity myself.

Even fictional characters need a confidence boost.  EL James’s Anastasia Steele had her own Inner Goddess.  Remember the scene in ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ when she warns the sleek, sophisticated architect to keep her nasty claws away from Christian?  Whilst part of Anastasia feared going to head to head with the other woman, her Inner Goddess revelled in the confidence boost it gave her; mentally running around an arena to the applause of a crowd.  Yes, even Mrs Grey, at a time of emotional angst, needed a cheer squad.

your Inner Critic is banished to a dark corner.

It will happen to you, you will recognise the moment your Inner God or Goddess is alive and well, whilst your Inner Critic is banished to a dark corner.  For myself, I took a leap of faith and clicked the ‘send’ button a few hours ago.  I’m hopeful, choosing to believe that someone out there will find my story as enthralling as I do and be willing to take a chance on it.  In the meantime, I will keep doing what I do best; writing.   So if I could leave you with one parting wish, I would like it to be this; to revive your Inner God or Goddess when you need that extra confidence boost.  After all, it worked out well for Anastasia didn’t it?  Believe in your dreams and be prepared to take a chance on yourself.  

I just did.

FROG IN A BLENDER

I went dancing a few days ago.  The circumstances were unintentional.  I’m currently in the midst of an ‘exercise every day’ mantra and was open minded when I studied my gym timetable.  I usually stick to combat and attack, but in the spirit of being adventurous; I decided to give dancercise a whirl.  The next morning, I was punctual, and had time to indulge in a friendly conversation before the class began.  “It’s like a choreographed dance routine” one of my fellow attendees explained.  That’s when my confidence began to waver.

This reminded me of how I began writing.

I have wanted to write since childhood but lacked the knowledge and confidence to explore it further.  After my bout with PTSD, I decided life was too short not to at least try.  I scoured the internet for days looking for advice.  Finally, stumbling upon a book that every writer should own; ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.  This little gem is just shy of 400 pages; half a memoir and half no-nonsense advice.  It’s so good, I’ve lent my copy to numerous people and despite worn pages, underlined and highlighted sentences, it still takes pride of place on my bookshelf.  The writing is clear and profound; “read a lot, write a lot is the great commandment.”  This sentence singlehandedly moved me from procrastination to action. 

Reading was not an issue.  I’m an avid reader, incapable of leaving the house without my current book or Kindle in transit.  The writing began with awkward baby steps.  I started off with poems and short stories; some okay, some good and some awful.  It didn’t matter, because I learned from every word I wrote.  That if I wanted to realise my dream writing is exactly what I had to do.  Now it’s impossible for me to go a day without it, if I do, my characters get annoyed with me and literally chip away at my head until I pick up a pen and commit to paper.  I still make mistakes, but that’s okay too.  How can you appreciate the successes without acknowledging the journey you made to get there?    A short time later, I joined a creative writing class at a local high school and have never looked back.  For me, it’s about heart and soul.  If you approach a creative art and give it all that you have.  From the determination in your little toe, to the random thoughts in your head, I think you can create magic.  Have pride in your work and your creations, the medium; a short story, a poem or the nucleus of your first novel is secondary; your desire to create more will become essential.  It’s part of who you are.

Just like my dancing, your timing will be off until you feel more confident but once you do.  It becomes your world.  That little idea that your mind gave birth to is now out in the world existing because you wished it so.  That day, I left the dancercise class with a smile on my face knowing, at times, I looked like a frog in a blender, but once I added heart and soul, it no longer mattered because I felt alive.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  In the meantime, I’m going dancing next week.  Might as well give Kimberly a run for her money…