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The soap opera that is the British Royal family had a lavish ceremony earlier this month and millions of fans from around the world joined in. Personally, I found little to celebrate in an event that diverted funds from feeding the hungry and that saw the pre-emptive arrests of potential protesters under the kind of law you’d expect of a police state. Nevertheless, I confess I smiled at a couple of rousing anthems I’ve sung several times appearing in their original context, but only slightly.
Instead, I’ve been focused on a milestone in a much more modest House of Windsor: this month, my fictional Ms Windsor becomes a three-book series. The character who first appeared as a seventy-year-old psychiatric patient in Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, then backtracked to an abused young woman in Stolen Summers, finally reaches her centenary as a care home resident in my new novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones.
When the care home manager promises her a mammoth celebration for her hundredth birthday, Matty imagines something regal. If not quite on the scale of the Coronation, she’s inspired by a grandiose ceremony to mark the Queen’s official birthday in June 2019.
Read an extract from Lyrics for the Loved Ones:
Matty is napping in the lounge among the Loved Ones when a baritone bark from inside the television shudders her awake. She could have dropped straight off to sleep again had Oh My Darling not crouched by her chair to hand her a nylon Union Jack on a candy-floss skewer. She blinks at the screen.
Two sky-grey stallions clip-clop a Cinderella coach past ranks of men in pillar-box red jackets and furry hats. Behind them, lines of conker-coloured horses, their riders sporting pointy helmets streaming silver hair. Pay attention, says her mother. You might learn something of consequence.
As the men stomp in formation, Matty sees that some carry bugles and some carry drums. Then, as if by dint of her paying attention, they pay attention to their instruments, and thrash out such a merry melody that Matty would dance a jig if she could rise from her chair unaided. Oh My Darling would help her, were she not so consumed by the spectacle, beaming so widely her gold tooth gleams as she conducts the performers with her flag. Matty follows suit until her arm founders.
Presently, militiamen supplant the musicians. Matty’s flag falls at her feet. They drill like clockwork soldiers, clacking their weapons in unison from shoulder to shoulder and down to the ground. She would not be surprised if, as they about-turned, she spotted a wind-up key protruding from each red-coated rear.
The Loved Ones have been observing quietly, apart from the standard coughs and throat clearings; now one of them harrumphs. “How long does this flimflam go on for?”
“Aren’t you enjoying it, Olive?” says Oh My Darling.
“I’d rather sit through a reception-class nativity,” says the Loved One. “It’s less effort keeping my face straight.”
Matty notices her face is indeed askew: not only her mouth but one eye droops. Yet her pearl earrings and ebony chignon confirm her as Popeye’s Sweetheart, Olive Oyl.
“I’m a sucker for pomp and ceremony,” says Oh My Darling.
The Maharaja concurs: jolly decent of an aristocrat accustomed to cavalcades of elephants and tigers. “It’s our heritage.”
“It’s obscene. A waste of public funds when folk are feeding bairns from food banks.” Olive’s chair whirrs as she wheels away. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Oh My Darling’s gaze pursues her to the door before sweeping the room. “Everyone else happy to watch it? We could have a game of Trivial Pursuit if you prefer.”
Matty racks her brain for something to restore her maid’s bonhomie. As the screen flips to cheering crowds attired for a blustery English summer, she recalls the solitary passenger in the gilded carriage. “That lady is held in high esteem.”
The Maharaja guffaws. “I should bloody well hope so.”
“You might have missed the introduction, my lovely,” says Oh My Darling. “It’s the Queen’s official birthday.”
“Queen Elizabeth?” says Matty. Where is King George? she wonders.
“Who did you expect?” says the Maharaja. “Queen Camilla? Queen Kate?”
Matty bristles. He might be Oriental royalty but a subject of the British Empire has no right to mock. She directs her words to Oh My Darling. “Is she a hundred?” Nothing less could merit such display.
“In another seven years,” says the Maharaja. “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen Trooping the Colour.”
Matty does not deign to reply. She does not even comment on the ridiculous notion of trooping a colour – like a rainbow parade of paint pots. Nor does she quip that an Asiatic has no business patronising her on questions of English idiom. Her brain buzzes with loftier concerns.
The universe beyond her chamber can be draining. The Loved Ones’ babble. Mrs Jefferson’s rules. The meddling of Goodnight Irene. Matty often returns to her quarters with her mind in tatters; only when she’s cloistered with her knick-knacks and chattels can she effect the necessary repairs. Today the blasted television has created the muddle: battlefields mixed up with orchestras; flags and fancy dress and fairy tales; a queen without her king. Yet now, amid the maelstrom, she gathers the ingredients of a brilliant plan.
It is most irregular. Matty brushes her skirt and flexes her toes. Pats the top of her head for good measure. She certainly seems real. Did her mother not advise watching closely? Matty has caught every clue. Olive Oyl’s passion for drama. Her Royal Highness’s birthday pageant. Even the Maharaja was impressed.
Next year, Matty will be a hundred. She will mark it with more than a card from the Queen.
All three Matilda Windsor books are on special offer in e-book format this month in honour of
the coronation the Matilda Windsor series. Lyrics for the Loved Ones – launches at a discount; Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is £0.99 / $0.99; and Stolen Summers is currently free. Why not pick up the set?
Check out the Matilda Windsor series page on Amazon:
or get Lyrics for the Loved Ones here:
On a warm July day in 1977, the Queen came to Ipswich for her Silver Jubilee. My friend, Helen, and I, had left school the year before in that long, hot summer of ’76. Now we were stuffed like sardines on Ipswich High Street, waiting hours for a glimpse of her.
The Royal Cavalcade arrived at last. Prince Philip, hands clasped behind his back, came over first. Then came the Queen, resplendent in yellow and her sunshine smile. My Kodak Instamatic at my eye, finger hovering above the button… Snap. The woman in front of me leapt up to wave, giving me a wonderful close-up of her pink, feathery hat, the Queen’s a flash of yellow in the background.
Though one among several warm memories I share with Helen – bonded since flute recital at middle school in Stowmarket at thirteen – I admit I found the Royal Family a bit stuffy, uninspiring. Yes, it was exciting to see the Queen so close, and as close as I ever would again, but I took her for granted. She was always there, all my life.
Up until then, my brief and passing interest in the Royals came by way of an assigned school project for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in Wales. It was 1969, he was twenty-one. I was ten. Beneath various cut-out newspaper and magazine photos which I pasted into a scrapbook, I wrote my summary in blue, felt-tip pen. Like a news reporter. Pens and paper and glue and scrapbooks were some of my favourite things. I look back now to 1969. It was also the year my parents split up, when we left our home in Surrey for Suffolk, a million miles away. Another planet. Yet I vividly recall the sense of empowerment and achievement that project gave me, immersing myself into something creative.
But The Royals? Back then? Not so much.
And then came Princess Diana and everything changed.
Through the divorces and the scandals, and accusations and tragedy to follow, the Queen was a constant presence through seventy years of reign, when bunting and street parties decorated the land for her glorious Platinum jubilee. After two years and counting of a global pandemic, 2022 has not seen the end of it. But it’s also a year to get back out there and live. Though life, as we know, is never without its triumphs and disasters. In early July, the Foo Fighters concert my wonderful family had surprised me with was cancelled. Tragedy struck with the shock death of their drummer, Taylor Hawkins.
We kept our Airbnb reservation in London as planned, not wanting to miss a chance to spend time together. And as it turned out, I ended up going to a Guns ‘n’ Roses gig with my sons, but that’s another story for another time. On Saturday, we took a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. Random, but it’s something we’d always wanted to do.
Almost 1,000 years of that history is retained within the walls and ancient flagstones of Westminster Hall. Plaques inscribed with dates of trials of the likes of Guy Fawkes and Thomas Moore (executed by King Henry VIII) mark the very spot where they took place.
And where, centuries later, the Queen’s father, King George VI, lay in state after his death in 1952.
The tour took us through the House of Commons and House of Lords and back outside, a stunning view of Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben. In the summer sun, it gleamed as clean as I’ve ever seen it and no scaffolding. After what felt like a long time away, this iconic London sighting imbued a measure of hope for recovery for my country.
We returned home on Sunday. On Monday, our government collapsed. Boris was fired. But more importantly to me, The Foo Fighters had announced a tribute concert for Taylor Hawkins. And there I was in London again with my family on September 2nd, watching Dave Grohl play at Wembley to a crowd of 80,000 fans and counting.
On September 5th, we got our new Prime Minister. Two days later, she had her first audience with the Queen in Balmoral. On September 8th, our beloved Queen died.
Our nation entered a period of mourning. I, along with millions, watched as processions and vigils and honour guards marched to our collective, final goodbye to our Dear Lady. There she rested, Lying in State, in Westminster Hall, just as her father and mother had done before her. And for four days and nights, thousands upon thousands filed past, paying their respects.
Thank you for your service, Ma’am.
Our country remains in political and economic crisis, and since starting this article, we have yet another new Prime Minister. But God Bless the Queen, I say. And God Save the King.
My mother remembers watching the Queen’s coronation in 1953. My grandfather purchased the family’s first television set to watch it, inviting all the neighbours. Mum was sixteen. But for everyone younger than 70, we’ve never witnessed such a momentous and historical time such as this.
All those decades ago when I did my school project, the very idea of Mum and I watching the Queen’s state funeral together in 2022 was so far from our thoughts to be impossible to contemplate. It gave me pause when Charles was proclaimed King Charles III on my birthday. He had a long wait.
Today, Mum struggles with cognitive impairment, but she remembers that scrap book of my school-girl write-ups of a young Prince of Wales. She still has it, she’s sure, somewhere in her loft. Apparently, I got a gold star.
Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.
How can writers capture the reality of mental disturbance without perpetuating negative stereotypes such as ‘the madwoman in the attic’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? How do we avoid the other extreme of presenting serious disorder as just another ‘bad hair day’?
I don’t think you’ll find the answer by swotting up on diagnoses and unpronounceable drugs. It’s much more a matter of honing your existing skills of empathy for your characters, however flawed.
Psychologists perceive mental health difficulties as arising through an interaction between pre-existing psychological and/or biological vulnerabilities and stress. We’re less concerned with classifying symptoms than with identifying what’s happened to a person both recently and in the past. What kinds of vulnerabilities do they carry from childhood and what pressures are they facing in the present to push them over the edge?
This isn’t a million miles away from how writers view our characters. Pre-existing vulnerability equates to backstory; stress is like the inciting incident which pushes the character off their normal track.
Psychologists also search for meaning in what are commonly labelled psychiatric symptoms. We don’t dismiss these as bizarre, but as the best the person can do in their particular circumstances. The mental health problem might be protecting them from something that feels worse. But there might be a better way; the clinical psychologist’s job is to focus on the individual’s unique experience to help them find it.
Again there are parallels with writing fiction. Our characters begin with flaws, blind spots and behaviours that prevent them from getting what they want. We need to delve below the surface to ensure readers are convinced by the character’s strengths and weaknesses. We need to show that, when they change, that makes sense too.
I’ll address this in more detail in an online workshop I’m running with Nottingham Writers’ Studio later this month. I want to empower participants to write about mental health difficulties and emotional stress in a non-stigmatising way. It would be great if some of the Ranchers could join me. Click here for more information.
Meanwhile, if you would like to see how I address mental ill-health in my own fiction, my novella, Stolen Summers, about a young woman admitted to a psychiatric hospital after giving birth to an ‘illegitimate’ child, is available at only $.99 for a time-limited period. Go to books2read.com/StolenSummers
Do you explore mental health issues in your fiction writing? What have been your successes and challenges?
Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.
Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.
An award-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel,Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.
Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
I met my husband in 2001 and soon started telling him about a family saga story I carried in my head. I talked about the details often but concluded I hadn’t figured out how to tie the story together. Finally, in 2013, while listening to live music one evening, the idea appeared, the visions flowed, and I excitedly told him, “I figured out the common denominator for my novel.” He responded, “Then stop talking about it and go write.” Little did he know that’s all I would do and talk about for the next two years. I wanted to write and had my spouse’s backing, but I had no formal training.
During those two years, I joined the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group and Lilac City Rochester Writers. When I mentioned I had no college-level writing experience, people told me it didn’t matter. I beg to differ because it was only then that I started learning about peer critique, head hopping, point of view differences, ellipsis, the various types of editing a manuscript needs, and multiple revisions.
I finished the first draft of my very long novel and thought I was done. Yes, you may laugh, and I’m laughing with you. Talk about being naive, lacking understanding, or being ignorant. I remember giving a trusted writer-friend a dumb look when she asked me who I would have edit it and how much revision was I prepared to do. I had no idea at the time that I wasn’t “done” or that an author could rewrite anything another twenty ways before it sounds the best that it can.
In my Veteran’s group, we write memoir or call it historical fiction if our memory doesn’t recount exact details. When we were working on essays for the first book we self-published, we edited each others’ writing by saying, this doesn’t make sense, or if you switched these two ideas around, it would work better. We corrected punctuation and the use of whom versus who, and that versus who when referring to people. We didn’t change the writing but might have asked for more detail or emotions. We acknowledged what happened to the author and were happy to share the experience in story form.
In Lilac City, we have three peer (fellow member) critique sessions yearly. A member is welcome to submit up to 2500 words per session. Each person who submits agrees to review everyone else’s work. The favored genre or experience of any author is not taken into consideration. Everyone “plays.” It’s been my experience that in this situation, the suggestions given tend to veer to the person doing the critique wanting the author to write the piece the way they would have. The storyteller ignores the fact a piece is plot-driven and pushes for character development. The plot writer generously takes the time to explain how to write an outline so someone can get all the information into a neater package. I have heard comments that a piece was “infantile,” not feasible in real life, too long, uninteresting, or the subject matter was not original. Each reviewer does all types of editing. Personally, I have found the process to do more harm than good because I am not good at letting go of the negative and looking for the positive. Most of us are writers, not trained editors.
I recently backed out of a weekly ZOOM meeting called Inklings where participants read aloud their work and listeners offered suggestions for overall improvement. There were four “regulars” at the event and sometimes a new face or two. I did learn a lot in the beginning. Sometimes I can recognize a POV “problem” now, but I can also hear three of the people’s comments whenever I read any author’s work. I will say out loud to my husband while reading a novel, “This wouldn’t have made it through Inklings.” Charli attended one evening and decided, though she did get good feedback, that she could use those two hours more advantageously if she didn’t participate. I came to feel the same way.
On a different note, it took the Inklings regulars about six months to accept and appreciate 99-word stories. When I started sharing them, the listeners wanted more detail, setting, and senses involved. I kept repeating, “99 words.” They finally got it, and I have to admit, they did help improve a few of my “babies” as we called them. In the end, I heard compliments about how I managed to have a beginning, middle, and ending in so few words. I like praise!
When Charli visited me at the end of August, she explained to the members of Lilac City during a day-long seminar the different types of editors a manuscript should have. A developmental editor, which you can find through an association, looks at the big picture of your book, focusing on the organization of material and structure then recommends revisions based on pleasing the target audience. Next, a line editor addresses the creative content, writing style, and language used at the sentence and paragraph level, which is the “art of writing,” and another set of revisions is needed. Next, a copy editor tidies up the text for conciseness and polishes the information, so it is delivered to the reader clearly. And finally, proofreading is done on the final revision, which should be in the form of a galley copy, so the words can be seen on paper in the chosen printed format. Typos and “old maids” (one word on a page) are easier to spot when in book form.
I’ve done so much editing and “peer” critiquing in the past eight years that I can spot the one typo in a David Baldacci book. Am I a friend or foe to my fellow writers when doing an honest critique? I’m not sure, but I try not to be a “dream stealer” and tell them they have no writing ability, or their writing ability hasn’t improved since I met them.
What experiences have you had with “peer” critiques? Have they been helpful or a hindrance? Do you know how to seek out the correct type of critique “peer?” Share your experiences in the comments. And keep on writing, even if it’s only for yourself.
About the Author:
Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, and lives close to her children and their families.
Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary Community, where she interacts with fellow contributors.
When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.
When writers read we’re not only escaping into an entertaining story, we’re honing our craft. Or we can do, if we pay attention to the scaffolding alongside the finished product. How do we do this? How do we read as writers without turning an activity we’ve loved since childhood into a chore?
Somewhere between a stark star rating and a polished review is the sweet spot where our critical eye and pleasure-seeking tendencies coincide. By considering some of the same elements we’d address in our writing we can progress beyond a simple hit/miss to feed our creative process. Here are a few ideas of how we might do this.
Read anything and everything
We need to become experts on the genre we write in but that’s no excuse to neglect other styles. Authors of literary fiction can learn about pace and plot from thrillers. Science fiction writers can see how to build tension into intimate relationships from reading romance. We can gain as much from books we don’t like as from those we relish, especially if the book we scorn is commercially successful. What makes it popular with readers? Can we apply that to our writing?
Notes in the margin
Simply reading with a pencil in hand or a readiness to use the highlight function on our ereader can help us galvanise our critic. Pick out choice words and phrases, analyse why some work and others fall flat. Notice the inconsistencies and repetitions an editor has failed to rectify. Notice when the text surprises us, what we’d like to emulate and pitfalls we’d want to avoid.
Consider the three act structure
Does the author pull you in from the opening sentence or does it take time for you to connect? How do they keep your attention through the middle section? What stops you putting this book down? Is the ending credible? Predictable? Satisfying? Approaching the end of a novel I am reading, I often ask myself how I would wind it up.
Create a checklist
Draw up your personal checklist of factors that you deem essential to a satisfying story and check the books you read against this list. For example, some might be willing to sacrifice character depth in favour of intriguing world-building or poetic language. Or take one factor, perhaps one you’re currently struggling with, and study how other authors tackle it.
Reviewing is part of literary citizenship but it does take time. I think it’s worth investing that time at least occasionally because transforming your thoughts into a blog post or similar can help you work out what you think. But short reviews, like the 99-word story, are also beneficial in striving to capture the essence of the book.
If these suggestions seem too simplistic, why not take a literature course for a deep dive into how stories work? If they seem too burdensome, then ditch them: the bottom line is to read, read and read some more. I know some authors worry about losing their own authentic voice by reading others’ but I’ve never found that. On the contrary, I often get ideas for my own WIP when I’m sitting comfortably in my reading chair lapping up the words.
What are your tips for reading as a writer? Comment below!
About the author
Anne Goodwin is the author of three novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill. Anne reviews every book she reads and posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal.
Collaborating to write an anthology can be very rewarding. Seeing your name in print one a story in a book is exciting if you’ve never been published before, even if you have. What does a project like this take to accomplish? That depends on who’s doing it, how it’s planned, and who cooperates.
In 2018 my local writing group, Lilac City Rochester Writers, held a short story contest with a specific word count required and deadlines. It was meant to be a money-making project so each entrant paid $8.00 per submission. I believe there was a group of four readers that decided on the winning stories using a point system. Three cash prizes were awarded. Most of the stories submitted were then organized and the group self-published the anthology.
The outcome was that a few people learned how to use Create Space, and the project netted little money for the group but we sure learned a lot. The book can be ordered from Amazon.
In 2019 the man who founded the Rochester Veterans Writing Group (RVWG) was unable to attend because he went back to college and then his work schedule kept him away. He had mentioned wanting to put our writings into an anthology more than once, so I proposed we gather our stories together, and even if we only had a folder of manuscripts, it would be a wonderful gift to give him. One of our guys went further and said he would do all the formatting so we could self-publish a book. “Book” talk started taking away too much time from our regular meeting format so a second monthly gathering was scheduled to work on the project. We worked as a team: voting on the title and its design, order of stories, dedication, and inclusion of bios with photos. We set deadlines that came and went, more than once. Members kept saying they wanted their works included, but they didn’t submit them. It came down to begging for the final submissions, but the project was completed and published in 2020. You can order this book on Amazon also. There are memoir stories from WWII through present-day and also home front experiences.
In early 2022, with the loss of our WWII vets in the past two years and the gain of new members, a vote was taken on whether we wanted to put together another book. The result was a unanimous yes. Currently, a different member from last time is working on collecting the personal stories for book 2. To show you our progress I’ll share his recent email.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news ain’t so bad because each of you can help in turning that into good news too.
First, the good news:
I have compiled everything you and I have contributed so far—let me know if I’ve missed anything—into book-like form in one Word file. It comes to about 300 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 pages ( couldn’t for the life of me find a way to make the pages 6 x 9 in my version of Word, but I came close to matching the 6 x 9 formatting of the print on the pages).
I have given it all a pretty good first-time edit, and it should be in reasonable shape. I have not given much thought to the order of the stories nor filled in the Table of Contents. You’ll have to leaf through it yourselves to find what you want.
Now, the bad news:
177 of the 300 pages are occupied by stories from one Charles F. Willard and only 105 pages by everyone else. There is a clear imbalance here that badly needs remediation.
Here is the current story count by person:
Sue – 4, Joe – 3, Vaughn – 4, Suzanne – 1, John – 2, Lee – 5
Cindy – 1, Tim – 1, Dave – 2, Chuck – 28
By the way, in this file, I have included the stories from our 11/7/20 Eulogy to Bob Whelan. Your count includes those, so if you see a “1” after your name, that “1” is your only contribution so far.
I know you have more stories in you than the numbers above depict. Every month at our meetings, you show me that you do. (More bad news is: so do I!) Convert all those stories you have to digital form and send them on to me. This is not a Willard memoir; it is an RVWG collaboration. So please get cracking.
To my fellow editors, Joe, Vaughn Lee, and Sue (Remember? You volunteered. Or was it I who volunteered you?) Please give this a look-see for any glaring issues. Also: Any stories you feel are not appropriate to include? If it’s one of yours, please send a replacement for it. We need content.
I know it is all a big time-consuming job, writing, and editing, so thanks in advance for your collective efforts.
Here’s the file. Happy writing, happy editing.
As you can see, Chuck is nicely requesting, cajoling, and even begging for cooperation. I’m glad there is a 4 after my name.
My suggestion if you want to put together an anthology with a group is to set deadlines and adhere to them. Or perhaps, say if there isn’t enough submitted in a timely manner, the project will be abandoned. It will save the compiler a lot of angst.
And, Chuck, he gave his family, and I as his “adopted” younger sister, a book about more of his experiences while a C-130 pilot in the Air Force for Christmas last year. I cherish it.
Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.
About the Author
Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, close to her children and their families. Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary, where she interacts with fellow contributors. When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.
We all are one, yet so different from each other.
Our present is shaped based on our past, and our choices shape today. Memories keep us company on dull days. They can either choose to make us edgy or excite us.
All individuals have a story to tell. This story could be a laugh-out-loud incident or a tear-jerker one or inspire the listener.
Either way, it’s unique since your emotions are entwined around it.
Why don’t we give ourselves some ‘me-time’ and pen it down?
Aah! the things writing can do!
- Overcoming Trauma
- Discovering your inner self: Dialogues with the Soul
- Journaling into a creative story
We are such intelligent souls that we faced the brunt when life threw lemons at us. Many of us got bruised along the way.
No doubt, we got hit by the lemons, but eventually, we learned to make lemonade out of it and fought our battles.
This applies to going back in memory lane and penning down our journey where we overcame a physical, mental or emotional trauma. Now, our fight could inspire many out there. So, with that mindset, suit up and go back into those dark, grimy lanes, which can make you nauseous. Surprisingly, when you pen down those details, you too will heal from it. Writing has such magical power that it can outlive a magic wand.
“You learn more from failure than from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.” — Unknown.
Discovering your inner self: Dialogues with the Soul
The title was inspired by the poem, A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body by Andrew Marvell. Here the poet describes the conflict between the human body and the human Soul. Each attributes its troubles and sufferings to the other.
Now, I don’t want to highlight the exchange of words between the enslaved Soul versus the bolts of bones.
Instead, let’s ponder the exchange of dialogues between our minds and the intellect when we deal with emotional, mental, or physical pain.
Our mind is known as the pirate, which can cause turbulence within ourselves. Thank heavens’ our intellect takes over and helps with the reasoning for the latter to curb its thoughts.
There must have been junctures in our lives where our intellect has had dialogues with the Soul. The consciousness then signals the body to act accordingly. And those are the turning points in our lives.
“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” — Will Rogers.
Journaling into a creative story
Every story has a sweet and a sour element to it. After all, it’s the life that all humans are living.
You have been brave enough to dig up all your past’s emotional and mental debris. You can either choose to add a fictional character or give it your name.
Give it wings and let it fly.
Life has given us the tools to achieve wellness within and around us; however, it’s up to every individual how they can piece it together.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
About the Author
Ruchira Khanna is an indie author and an energy healer. She draws inspiration from the issues that stalk our minds and she addresses them through her tales of fiction. Her characters undergo a contemplative arc she hopes her readers will, which is why they classify each of her novels as, “one that will make you ponder.”
It happened on a day etched forever in my mind.
I had gone back-to-school shopping for my children at J C Penny’s. A small furniture display on the way to the checkout caught my eye.
No. It stopped me short in my tracks.
Heart racing, I rushed over. I ran my hand across the smooth, gleaming surface of the object before me. I had dreamed of this moment for years and years.
It was love at first sight.
I had to have it.
There it was, the dining table of my dreams.
You see, in my then ten years of married life, I had never had my own. I was a British mum of three married to an American. When I emigrated from the UK to California, my mother-in-law loaned us a green, glass-topped cast iron table, a ton in weight and meant for the garden.
A lifetime loan, it turned out: she didn’t want it back.
I covered it with a tablecloth made with blue, floral material and lace edging I purchased from another of my loves: Wal Mart’s fabric section. Pretty enough and a good-sized table, but it had its problems.
Not least of all, when a friend brought her little boy over to play and he bumped his head on the corner. He screamed, blood dripped (as head wounds do) and our friendship, if you can call it that, was never quite the same…
It had to go, but we couldn’t afford a replacement.
That table at J C Penney’s was everything I wanted: light oak and oval with a pedestal and removable centre panel. It had six matching chairs and a matching glass-fronted dresser. And best of all, when I dared glimpse the price tag, I could hardly believe it.
Two words and large letters in red danced before me: On Sale.
I enquired at the counter. They had an interest-free payment plan on offer. Numbers bounced around in my head. We could afford it, just, by my figuring. I had it all worked out and presented my case to my then husband.
‘You should be a lawyer,’ he said.
And so my beloved dining set arrived at our home and reported for duty.
Children’s birthday, tea, and Tupperware parties, baby showers, pancake breakfasts and pot-roast dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the everyday of family life filled its chairs and space for years to come.
It hosted family games, silly and serious, a fair share of debates, good moods and bad and much rib-cracking laughter. Cheers with a raised glass of bubbly or two with those I have loved and always will.
And honouring those forever lost, remembered still.
My table has graced every one of my homes. It came with me to England when I left California many years ago. Sadly, and due to lack of room in one house, it sat in the garage for a few years.
My eldest son brought it out of storage for a brief time for his house share, post-university. It was already a bit rough around the edges by then, I figured a few more knocks wouldn’t hurt.
In fact, the thought of it with him brought me comfort.
My table came home when he moved again, none the worse for wear. Unlike a certain futon and mattress pushed around from son to son, leant to friends and like the bad situation where it landed, better left behind.
And when I moved house again four years ago, my table left the garage for a dining room once again. Thirty-two years since that star-studded day at J C Penney’s in California, and there it sits today in my home in England.
The top part of the dresser has long gone, damaged by its time in storage, but the lower part now belongs in my living room. It keeps candles, wine glasses and Christmas brandy.
Not only food and countless elbows have graced my table. A table is a table, after all. Kitty loves padding across it, especially this time of year. All those Christmas delights just for her, and a quick pose for her trouble.
She will have a wait this year, however. My table is presently loaded up with numerous kitchen parts as we undergo a major renovation.
But that’s the beauty of photos. They don’t show the clutter.
Which leads me to ask: if furniture could talk, what would my table say?
I think to you it would say Happy Holidays.
And to me, I hope, thanks for the good times.
Now let’s make some more.
Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.
With the timing of this post on the last day of November, I have prepared a December Advent Activity Calendar for families (parents and children) to use in the lead-up to Christmas. There is one suggestion for each day until Christmas. In this article, I provide a brief outline of each activity. For those who want more, I have prepared a PDF with additional details for each activity which you can download free by following this link.
1. Put up the Christmas Tree
It is traditional for Christmas trees to be put up and decorated at the beginning of December. In my family, we try to do it on, or as close to, the 1st of December. If you haven’t put your tree up yet, perhaps it’s time to think about it.
I have provided the outline of a Christmas tree which can be cut, coloured and hung on the real Christmas tree. Write the year on it. On the back, write something you wish for yourself, something you wish for others, and something you wish for the world. Hang it on the Christmas tree. If you do the same thing each year, you can reflect on changes in yourself and in the world.
2. Make Paper Chain Decorations
Paper chains are easy to make and add colour to the tree or can be hung around the room.
3. Make a Gift Day
The 3rd of December is Make a Gift Day — perfect timing to remind us that personal handmade gifts are special and to be treasured. Children can make gifts for their parents, siblings, grandparents or friends.
4. Wildlife Conservation Day
The 4th of December is Wildlife Conservation Day. While you may not be able to visit a zoo or wildlife park in person, many are open for virtual visits.
At Explore.org livecamsyou can visit animals in their natural habitat, on farms, and in zoos. You can see dogs, cats, bears, goats, manatees — there are so many different animals and environments to explore. In the PDF, I link to ten more of the many other places also live streaming animals.
5. Play a Board Game
Playing games together as a family helps to bond family relationships. Many different board games are available and adjustments can often be made to suit most numbers and ages of players, and rules can be adapted to suit your purposes. While the main thing is to have fun together, there is a lot of learning going on too.
In the PDF, I have provided a board for playing Ladders and Chimneys, an innovation on Snakes and Ladders. To play, all you need to add is a dice and a button or token for each player.
6. Hour of Coding
The Hour of Coding is a great way to become more computer literate as a family. Many activities are available on the website, available for all different ages and levels of experience. They take you through a coding activity step by step. Children can do it independently or have fun doing it together as a family.
Jacqui Murray at Ask a Tech Teacher also has some great suggestions for the Hour of Code.
7. Read a Christmas Story
Reading together is another great bonding activity for families and has many benefits for children. In the hectic lead up to Christmas, it is important to ensure there is still time for a story or ten, every single day.
Of course, not all stories you read need to be Christmas themed, and it is important to allow children to choose which books they would like you to read for them too.
8. Explore the Local Environment
Spend time outdoors, experiencing what your local environment has to offer. Be in the present moment, be mindful, experience, wonder and enjoy.
Discuss what can be observed with each of the senses, for example what you can hear, smell and touch as well as see.
Whether in an urban, rural or natural space, there is always much to observe.
In the PDF, I include a template for writing a poem about the sounds you hear.
9. Take a Deck of Cards
There are many fun games you can play with a deck of cards. I’m sure you have a few favourites of your own.
Here are a few suggestions, to remind you of games you may not have thought of in a while:
- Strip Jack Naked
- Happy Families
- Old Maid
- Go Fish
In the PDF, I provide a set of cards you can cut to play Memory.
10. Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day provides a good opportunity to take some time out from Christmas preparations to think of others who may not have the same advantages as you.
Children may like to consider actions they can take to ensure they don’t hinder the rights of others, for example to be treated fairly, to be safe, or to play and have fun.
Who needs an excuse to indulge in a little gingerbread from time to time? Christmas is a perfect time to make and decorate some gingerbread cookies for Christmas.
At the very least you could read or tell the story of The Gingerbread Man.
12. Prepare Christmas Treats
Children love to be in the kitchen cooking with a parent or grandparent, especially when they may get to be the taste-testers.
It doesn’t really matter what recipe you follow, there is always something for the children to learn, for example:
- Social skills
- Literacy skills
- Social Studies
13. Invite Friends Over
It is always fun to have friends visit at Christmas time.
Any of the activities suggested for families are great when friends are included too, especially playing games.
It is also good to have some special Christmas treats to share to make the day more festive.
In the PDF, I have provided a recipe for one of my favourite treats to make when friends are dropping over — pinwheel sandwiches. They can be made a few days in advance and kept refrigerated until needed.
14. Christmas Lights
In many neighbourhoods, people create amazing displays of lights and other decorations for Christmas.
Going for a walk or a drive to view the beautiful displays always helps build the anticipation and excitement for Christmas.
15. Tidy Room — Sort Toys/Books
With Christmas just 10 days away, now would be a good time for children to tidy their rooms in preparation for the big event and the new toys which may be added to their collection.
16. Sing Christmas Carols
Christmas carols are fun to sing. You don’t have to go door-to-door and sing for the neighbours. You can sing together as a family right in your own home.
Even if none of you are musical and no one plays an instrument, you can find plenty of carols to sing along with on the internet or radio.
There are some carols that I just can’t help but join in with. What are your favourites?
17. Quiet Christmas Activities
Sometimes, the lead up to Christmas can be rather hectic. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time out to relax or do quiet things to refresh and rejuvenate.
18. Prepare and/or Check Lists
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to prepare and check your lists of last-minute things that need to be done or prepared before the big day.
19. Play ‘I Spy on the Christmas Tree’.
I Spy is always a fun game to play with children. It can be played anywhere, indoors or outdoors, at any time. But Christmas is the only time it can be played using the Christmas tree.
Charades is a fun game to play with family and friends. It requires no equipment and can be played with any number of people (well, perhaps more than four).
21. Have a Treasure Hunt
Treasure hunts are always a lot of fun. They don’t always need to lead to a prize but may involve looking for a toy or a book that is already owned.
22. Let’s Get Physical
Getting physical should not be something children need a reminder to do, but sometimes a little nudge can be required. There are many different ways of putting activity into the day. What are some of your family’s favourite ways of getting physical?
23. Track Santa’s Journey
Make sure you can access the NORAD Tracks Santa website so you can watch where Santa is travelling around the world On Christmas Eve.
Actually, you don’t need to wait until Christmas Eve. The website has lots of activities that can be accessed from 1 December.
Jolabokaflod is a great Christmas tradition from Iceland. The word translates to ‘Christmas Book Flood’ in English.
In Iceland, books are popular Christmas gifts and, when they are opened on Christmas Eve, everyone immediately reads the books they have received. That’s a tradition I could certainly go for. (Thanks to Anne Goodwin of annethology for the reminder of this wonderful tradition.)
25. Enjoy Christmas Day!
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it. Stay safe and well.
If you are still short of ideas, check out these other suggestions, all available free on readilearn (my website of teaching resources for the first three years of school). Some of them were written as part of this series of Learning at Home articles and presented as PDFs on readilearn for ease of access.
In addition to these, there are many other suggestions for parents in the Classroom Management — For Parents collection on readilearn.
There is also a new 30-page Christmas Activity Book which is available for just A$3.50 (that’s about $2.50 in the US.)
That’s it for now. Have fun!
Till next time, Norah
Allow me to introduce you to Richard and Adrian. You may have already met them; then again, you may not, but did you know that they helped me get out of a writing hole?
I’m not talking about a physical hole I fell into while looking down at the screen on my phone, but a mental hole I hadn’t realised was there. I think many authors and writers fall into this hole, sometimes without knowing. However, Richard and Adrian helped me realise something was missing in my writing world.
You may ask two questions if you’ve reached this far reading this post.
- Who are Richard and Adrian?
- What the heck is Hugh talking about?
Allow me to answer both questions. I’m referring to the lack of LGBTQ characters in my writing.
Where are all the LGBTQ characters?
I feel pretty shocked about it. As a gay man, you’d think my writing would have many LGBTQ characters, wouldn’t you? Yet when I look back, I see hardly any sign of them.
Where are they? Are they all hiding in the closet? And by closet, I mean the way some people refer to when somebody hasn’t told anyone about their sexual orientation.
Maybe it’s because I’m reading the wrong blog posts or books or not following bloggers who write about LGBTQ subjects, but my email box and WordPress Reader are LGBTQ scarce.
Where I have noticed an increase of LGBTQ characters is on television and in movies
Soap operas especially seem to have exploded with LGBTQ characters. I also recently read that James Bond’ movies made over 40 years ago had hidden gay characters. ‘Hidden’ gay characters? Why are they hidden? Are they still in the closet?
I guess it was all to do with the sign of the times back then, but I do recall various open gay characters on television shows in the 1970s. And, strangely enough, I don’t remember there being much outrage about them. Most people welcomed them with open arms, yet as a young gay man, I was still terrified of ‘coming out‘ of the closet because of the consequences I may face.
The day Richard and Adrian came into my life
Although I’ve had a light sprinkling of gay characters in my writing, they were what I call ‘one-offs.’ They appear in one story or piece of flash fiction, and that’s it. Then, on June 18th 2021, Charli published the following 99-word flash fiction challenge prompt –
June 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a solstice. What is the era and setting? Use the solstice as a celebration, metaphor, or talking point. Go where the prompt leads!
I wrote and published ‘Edge Of Summer‘, which featured two gay characters, Richard and Adrian. The story went down well with readers and received lots of lovely comments. Some readers had already fallen in love with these two guys.
A week later, Richard and Adrian appeared again in the 99-word flash fiction challenge, only this time, Charli’s prompt had led me to kill Richard off. Perhaps I didn’t like Richard as much as Adrian? But if I had killed off Richard, surely that meant the end of Adrian too?
Richard and Adrian – are two short-lived characters. Or so I thought!
At least they’d had more than one outing on my blog and at the Carrot Ranch. I was surprised when Charli’s following prompt inspired me to write about Richard and Adrian again.
Had I bought Richard back to life? No. Well, yes, but I had a good reason for doing so.
The boys took a break during the rest of the summer. But come September, they were back in my mind. They’ve now appeared in over twelve pieces of flash fiction. Not only do readers seem to still like and love them, but we’re beginning to build up a picture of their whole lives.
I feel as if I’m in the process of writing my first LGBTQ novel
The 99-word flash fiction prompts mean the life stories of Richard and Adrian are not in any particular order. One week we could witness the beginning of their lives, and the following week we could find ourselves towards the end. But that doesn’t seem to matter to those following their journey.
It wasn’t long before I realised how fond I was of Richard and Adrian. Now, not only have I grown to love these two gay characters, but I realise how they have helped me write more about LGBTQ life than I’ve ever done before.
You know how much I like a twist, yes?
If you’ve read any of my fiction, you’ll know that I love adding twists to my stories. Imagine then, to my surprise, when I noticed that one of my true-story blog posts about gay life started taking off again one year after I first published it on my blog.
I created Richard and Adrian in June 2021. Bought them back to my blog in September 2021, and they’ve been featured on my blog for most weeks since then.
I still can’t fathom why this particular post is suddenly getting lots of attention again. Something inside me wants it to be a real-life twist and tell you it’s to do with Richard and Adrian. Have they come to life and sent traffic to my true story blog post, or are they doing it from within the fictitious world they live in?
All I can say is thank you, Richard and Adrian. You came into my life and the lives of my readers, have helped me out of a writing hole and are allowing me to share your life stories with everyone. Are you the reasons behind the surge in views on one of my blog posts about gay life?
Have you ever had fictitious characters come to life or help you with your writing? I’d love to know about them. Leave the details in the comments section.
If you missed my previous Diversity With A Twist posts, here they are.
Are the stories we tell based on our previous lives?
Do words ever play tricks on you? This is how I overcome the critics who told me I’d never become a writer.
Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.
Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.
Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and while walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.
Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.
His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”
Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.
A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.
Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.