In the Face of Adversity

I usually enjoy writing an end of year blog post, but I found it difficult this year.

The last twelve months have been some of the most stressful, trying times of my life for reasons I can’t really share on my blog. (Although I am directly affected by the problem, it isn’t mine to discuss publicly). I will just say that ‘it’ has had a terrible impact and has soured almost every part of the year, which is partly why writing this felt difficult – because it seems dishonest to talk about all the good things whilst avoiding the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Regardless of the elephant, I have still managed to put myself out there and attempt to live my best life. And that is something worth sharing.

My 2019 calendar was filled with things to look forward to and enjoy, so despite the pitfalls that I can’t discuss, I still hold a real sense of accomplishment when thinking about the last twelve months.

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I have been to Paris, completed an escape room, seen three shows at the theatre, attended two weddings, visited Bournemouth for an evening out, enjoyed FOUR nostalgia-rich concerts and a local music festival, attended an LDUK conference with one the world’s top Lyme-treating physicians and the day after that conference I drove back into London to meet friends for lunch – that’s two trips to London in one weekend! Something I would never have done last year.

I had an absolute blast at London Film and Comic Con in July, and there was an abundance of time spent with family and friends throughout the year. We welcomed Rupert to the family in May and I cannot imagine my life without this cheeky and loving poochon pup.

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I spent a week in New Hampshire, which was both wonderful and a real test of strength… 💪

Other travel mishaps include an attempt to visit Prague, but I guess that trip just wasn’t meant to be.

My last big outing of the year was to Winter Wonderland with Royan and we managed to have a really great day out even if we did accidently walk the long way round to Hyde Park and then have zero sleep at a very expensive hotel!

So what else did I get up to?

I stepped down from managing LDUK’s public Facebook page, freeing up some much needed headspace and spare time. I finally swapped my car for an automatic to lessen the strain on my sciatica, and I completed a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for OCD which reared its ugly head towards the end of 2018. I live with it daily of course, but sometimes it flares up and takes over. I’m pleased to say the CBT worked and the OCD is firmly back in its place. I own it, it does not own me.

If you’re in the Bucks area and struggling with mental health I highly recommend self-referring through Healthy Minds.

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I managed another term of choir, doing something good for my physical and mental health that I really enjoy. I wasn’t able to keep up with the last term of the year, but I do plan on going back in January.

I’ve spent countless hours reading, and watching film and TV. I signed up for a writer’s magazine subscription and I had a heavy edit of my novel-in-progress. I signed up to the Curable app to help manage symptoms and have found the science really interesting to listen to. If the idea that the mind can heal the body intrigues you then I recommend taking a look at the Curable app.

I made lots of progress at work and have never felt so professionally fulfilled.

On top of my normal duties, I have also taken on the role of leading the company’s Corporate and Social Responsibility Team which amongst other things, means planning lots of fundraising initiatives and organising activities for staff to take part in.

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The aforementioned elephant was the reason behind several health setbacks, and when coupled with the loss of Royan’s granddad in May and his dad in November, we’ve understandably had our work cut out for us. We have a handle on it now though and with a bit of luck, 2020 will be a smoother ride. We won’t be getting married next year as was the original plan, and we won’t be moving house anytime soon, but we can now address the elephant with the correct support and work out a way to move forward.

With everything going on, it’s not surprising that I wasn’t able to keep up with the gym, choir or actually writing my novel.

But that’s all in the plan for 2020.

Keeping active whilst living with the impact of late-stage Lyme disease is no easy feat. It takes a lot of meticulous planning and organising to ensure I’m pacing myself and keeping my head above water. Some things will slide, but prioritising is key. Learning when to say ‘no’ is also key.

I actually consider the fact that I am still managing a 30-hour work week to be a small miracle, so how I have also managed to enjoy so much of my spare time (whilst living with the elephant) is almost unfathomable. Especially when I think about how much time I have also spent in bed barely able to leave the house.

This year has taught me that I am capable of more than I thought.

It has made me believe in myself, it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead and there’s no turning back now.

September Travels

Travelling is stressful at the best of times, but how do you manage when you have a chronic illness? I did everything I could to ensure a smooth experience, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Back in 2006 I went on a big adventure across the pond to work at a summer camp in New Hampshire. It was a transformative experience that helped shape the adult I was becoming and I built several friendships that have stood the test of both time and (mega) distance – shout out to Katie in Australia!

My last trip to Camp was in 2011, a full eight years ago. Since then many a thing has happened, including the worsening of health challenges, and as a result my confidence with travel has taken a blow… so much so that I turned down a trip to New York last April.

But an old friend passed away this year and his memorial was being held at Camp over a weekend in September. It was time for a visit.

Continue reading “September Travels”

What’s with the blog hiatus?

Towards the end of 2016 I started my MA at Brunel. Our first module involved writing a short story each week, I shared a few here but didn’t share them all as I was told that if I were to submit one of them for assessment, I could be liable for self-plagiarism! The intense-o-meter then kicked up a few notches at uni and I started a part-time comms job, so there wasn’t much time for writing elsewhere anyway.

In January 2017 I handed in a 5,200 word portfolio and a 1,900 commentary for the Elements of Fiction module, along with a 6,400 word short story/essay for Paths to Publications.

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At the start of May, I submitted a 4,300 word portfolio and a 1,800 word commentary for Feature Writing shortly followed by a 3,300 word synopsis and a 1,100 word critical commentary for Planning a Novel. Factor in the reading, referencing and bibliographies and it’s really no surprise I only wrote one blog post in 2017!

I was made redundant from my job at the end of July, which wasn’t ideal but it did allow for more time to focus on my health, and on writing my dissertation – I handed in the first few chapters of my novel, Hopewell Shadows, at 22,170 words, along with a 4,700 writer’s journal last September.

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So what have been doing in the five months since?

  • Job hunting for the RIGHT role
  • Attempting to kick the Lyme disease into remission
  • Volunteering my digital skills to LDUK
  • A little bit of freelance
  • Baking (making a mess and eating too much sugar)
  • Exercising to improve my health, build stamina and burn off the excess sugar
  • Further developing my relationship with Netflix and Amazon Prime
  • Lots of other things… I made myself so busy that I actually struggled to switch off and genuinely relax.

This week I finally started a new job. It’s four days a week, so my body shouldn’t take too much of a hit and I can still have a weekday to attend health appointments/rest, run errands, and write! Hopefully the new routine will help balance my time, and I’m super excited to get back to my professional life. I’m also super grateful that I feel well enough to do so.

One of the many things I did with my time out was to re-visit my short stories. I’ve given them a major dust-off and edit and have lined them up ready for sharing, so if you’re a fan of creative writing keep a lookout for my upcoming posts.

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Creative writing: what I’ve learnt so far.

This week was the last of term, which means no more Elements of Fiction. I stopped placing my short stories on the blog as I wasn’t sure which two I’d be submitting for coursework- and if your work is found on the Internet after you have submitted it, you can be ‘done’ for self-plagiarising!

So what did this module teach me?
No one is frowned upon for typos and this is important; creative writing isn’t about being meticulous with spelling and grammar. It’s great if you have an eagle eye for errors but these things aren’t as important as a well-told story.

If you are just starting out in the world of creative writing it is far more important to focus on character building and plot development than it is to make sure your apostrophes are in the right place. So don’t let being a perfectionist slow you down. There’s time for that later!

I have learnt the importance of:

  • Crafting characters
  • Good structure and pacing
  • Knowing your theme and how to portray it
  • Using symbolism
  • Being descriptive but unbiased – show, don’t tell
  • Provoking thoughts and emotions in your reader
  • Writing good dialogue

The Elements of Fiction module has allowed me to experiment with these things along with genre and finding my ‘style’. Each week we provide feedback on each other’s work and then use it to improve our next pieces.

If you are a keen writer and lacking good resources for feedback I encourage you to join a writers group – constructive criticism is vital for a writers development.

I’m going to miss writing a weekly short story for this module but next term I’ll be writing a feature article every week for the Feature Writing module. Our Paths to Publication module has also come to an end and will be replaced by Planning a Novel – the big one!

The Little Room (assignment 3)

This week we read two novels with a heavy focus on location which has prompted the following assignment:

  • You are standing on a train platform. There is a board displaying trains. They are all going to different places. Each of those places is somewhere you have been, or lived, somewhere you remember.
  • List these places. And the people associated with them, that you remember. And the incidents.
  • Describe it from overhead, and from on the ground, in summary, across seasons until you reach the moment of time in which the story is set.
  • Asterix half a dozen. Write a page or two in response to each.

I wrote about a young woman called Rose who is visiting her grandmother’s house but has been asked to stay in the ‘creepy’ room that all elderly relatives have!

Continue reading “The Little Room (assignment 3)”

Don’t Forget Me (assignment 2)

If you read my last post you’ll know that I’m studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel. Each week for our Elements of Fiction module we are set a writing assignment.

Below is the brief we were given for week two:

Write a single paragraph that conveys the appearance and essential nature of a character.
Then…
Write a character sketch that includes a present day frame and flashback to five years before the action.  Anywhere between 1000-1200 words.

I wrote a piece of fiction about Jake, a young man with a longstanding health problem who receives a letter from his past self.

Continue reading “Don’t Forget Me (assignment 2)”

Creative Writing: The Novel

As a part of my MA at Brunel University, we are required to produce a piece of creative writing each week for our module, Elements of Fiction.

Our first assignment was to write 1200 words on an open topic that was voiced by two or more characters who were connected to each other within the story. I decided to explore something within the roman-à-clef genre. This is where a story is based on real people or events but with a change of name or location.

Continue reading “Creative Writing: The Novel”