Sledgehammer.

A short reflection on the significance of my newest poem.

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I finished a new poem today. It’s only short, but it has great significance.

The idea for this poem came to me in a moment of reflection while I was thinking back to how broken I was just a year ago. Back then, I would not have been able to write this poem: it would not have been true.

In fact, it’s only since I did some “housekeeping” via the publication of ‘A Poet’s Curse’ at the end of August that I’ve actually begun to feel free of some of those things that were holding me down and tormenting me. I wrote in a post back then that it was a cleansing experience, but I had no idea just how liberating it would turn out to be.

I also wrote in my previous post that writing is, for me, really effective therapy. I’ve used it to resist and fight my own personal demons. I’ve used it to grieve, and to rejoice. And I’ve used it to say any number of things that it might not be appropriate to communicate in any other way.

‘Sledgehammer’ is not even defiance. For me, it’s like a milestone that shows me how far I’ve come.

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My walls may not be perfect— they have, after all, been damaged and repaired. I am, without a doubt, both stronger and harder than I was before. That’s not to say I am insensitive or uncaring: I’m not talking about being hard of heart. I’m referring to the kind of hardness that can not only resist the assault of a sledgehammer, but also remain completely indifferent to and unmoved by it.

As far as I’m concerned, that sledgehammer does not exist.

 

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If you appreciate this poem or the thoughts behind it, please leave a “like” or a comment below, so that this post becomes visible to more people. 

Five Reasons Why I Write.

An author shares five reasons why she writes.

This challenge for writers is circulating on Instagram.  Because it is a very positive thing,  I decided to share mine here, too.

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Five Reasons Why I Write:

1. Compulsion: the words flow and I can’t stop them.

2. Satisfaction: there is immense joy in creating and crafting something meaningful.

3. Encouragement: I write about things that everyone experiences- grief, anger, pain, happiness, challenges, victories — in a way that shows others they are not alone.

4. Self-preservation: delivering justice fictionally carries fewer penalties than actually hurting people.

5. Sanity: It’s the most effective therapy I have ever had.

Bonus Reason: 6. It’s the only way I can explain my browser history.

I’d love to see you follow me and join in this fun challenge on Instagram.

You’re more than welcome to tag me in your post so I am sure to see it.

Also, I hope you feel free to comment and share the reasons why you write.

The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

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The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

Two New History Podcasts!

Today: two new History podcasts for your listening pleasure.

In the past, I’ve written about podcasts that I’ve really enjoyed, such as:

Just from that list, it’s fairly evident that a. I am a massive nerd and b. I enjoy podcasts about nerdy things. You should also be aware that I use “nerd” as a very positive term.

Today, I want to share with you two new history podcasts that you might enjoy.

Stories of the Tudors
This is an interesting and enjoyable series of podcasts about the members of the Tudor dynasty and the stories with which this family have coloured and embellish English history.

The series is written and narrated by historical fiction author Tony Riches. He speaks clearly and has a pleasant voice, both of which are advantages that, it’s fair to say, not all podcasters actually possess. The quality of Riches’ research, knowledge and storytelling is remarkable.

Thus far, I have listened to the first four episodes. Each of these has been dedicated to dedicated telling the story of one of the earlier members of the family, enhanced by an excerpt from the corresponding audiobook of Riches’ excellent novel series.
At this point, it should also be observed that these audiobooks seem to be both extremely well written and very well read.

I would recommend this series for anyone interested in history, and for anyone who takes an interest in biographies. There is no need to have any detailed prior knowledge of the history, as Riches tells the story in a straightforward manner, bringing the characters and events to life and explaining their significance for the listener using everyday English.

The podcast is free of charge and available via the Stories of the Tudors website, or you can simply search for ‘Stories of the Tudors’ in your favourite podcast app.

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The Things That Made England

This new podcast is a lighthearted discussion of different things that have contributed to the English identity. Different episodes discuss things like cricket, the English accent, and 1066. It’s very informative, and often quite surprising in the various gems of knowledge that it delivers. A new episode is released fortnightly, and it’s always interesting to see what topic comes up next.

Presented by David Crowther and Roifield Brown, David is also the presenter of The History of England podcast, while Roifield presents the 10 American Presidents podcast.

As a dedicated listener of The History of England, I’ve tuned into this new podcast from the beginning. Given that it’s less academic and more relaxed in tone, I’ve found this to be a good podcast to listen to in the car on my way home from work.

You can find more details at the website. The podcast is free of charge, and subscription is easy, as it can be searched for and added through your favourite podcast app.

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What A ‘Critical Review’ Really Means.

How to respond to a review that you see as less than ideal.

Ignorance is, for some people, bliss.

However, when that translates into comments in their book reviews, it can also be rather revealing.

I’m not talking about the nasty trolls who leave one-star ratings with hateful comments that demonstrate no evidence of even having read your book. Those are in a class all of their own, and way beyond anything I could logically explain.

I’m talking about the reviewers who buy and read a book, then leave a review that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Consider these examples. In the interests of brevity, I have paraphrased them.

 

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What they wrote: “A mix of Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel… too much like spoiled five-year-olds instead of sixteen-year-olds. Sex on the first day? 2 stars.”
What I thought:
Have you even read Romeo and Juliet? Or watched the movie? Those were Shakespeare’s ideas, not mine.
Oh well. Some people don’t like his writing, either. I’m in good company.

 

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What they wrote:
“I didn’t expect a horror story.”
What I thought:
But it clearly says it’s a horror story! Did you read the product description? Did you check the categories in which it’s listed? Obviously not.
Wait.
Does that mean you “one-clicked” me? Awesome!

 

Facepalm 4

What they wrote: “I don’t read poetry. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it. So I didn’t really understand this book of poetry. But it was OK I guess.”
What I thought:
If you don’t read poetry… and you don’t like poetry… why would you buy a book of poetry?
Wait.
You “one-clicked” me, didn’t you? Alright!

 

Freakin’ A! I have two fans who buy my books, even though they don’t like what I write. Brilliant. Now I just need about a million more and I’ll be set.

To be honest, I actually very rarely read my reviews. Those are there for the benefit of other customers who need to know if they want to read my books (they do) and if they’ll enjoy them (they will).

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I certainly don’t respond to them. That’s like hanging a target on your own back, and can cause far more heartbreak for an author than any review ever might have done.

Of course, the stores like us to get reviews, too. Amazon say it’s to inform other customers, but every Indie author I know thinks it’s so that they have something to feed their algorithm monster in the basement, and so they have something to take away from us when it appears we’re doing a little too well. Thankfully, other stores let us keep the reviews we get.

I don’t worry about the occasional baffling review. Reviewers are so rare that I’m reluctant to complain. Besides, it balances all those lovely shiny five star ones and makes everything look much more realistic. I don’t think any writer can reasonably hope for their work to be loved by everyone.

If your reviews are consistently negative, it’s fair to assume you probably have some work to do. The best way to avoid that happening is to ensure your book is properly proof-read, edited, and has been given a thorough working over by beta readers. You’re not doing yourself any favours by skipping those things. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it properly.

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A critical review here and there doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor that your book is terrible. It just means that your book, like any other author’s book, isn’t to everyone’s taste. And that’s perfectly okay.

The best response is to ask yourself if there’s anything useful you can take from it, make a note, and walk away.

The Trouble With Names.

A teacher confesses her most regular, and possibly most embarrassing, classroom faux pas.

Your Teacher Apologises

The classroom is busy in a studious kind of way. Students are working on the task I have assigned them, and I am making my way around the room, checking in with each student to see if they need any help or clarification. The tone of the room is positive and the level of noise is low.

I know these kids well enough to know some of their hobbies and interests, which ones love reading, which ones are sporty, and which ones are the introverts who would rather work alone than in a group situation. Suffice to say, I know their names.

As I move toward the first girl in the next row, I quietly whisper to myself, “Don’t call her Susie. Don’t call her Susie. It’s Sharon, not Susie.” In the very next nanosecond, I open my mouth and say, “Hi Susie! How are you going with this assignment?”

Everyone in the room has heard me do it – again. A collective sigh, non-verbal but heavily laced with the essence of “Not again!” can be heard. One kid shakes his head at me in an awkward blend of amusement and newly-refreshed disappointment. It’s fair to say that this has probably happened to him before.

Sharon looks at me with an expression that shows she is torn between saying “I’m Sharon!” and rolling her eyes, pretending I didn’t say it, and answering my question.

“I’m so sorry!” I say. “I know you’re Sharon. I don’t know why that happens. It’s certainly not deliberate. It’s just… my brain. It hates me.”

Sharon nods. Unfortunately, she’s heard this enough times to know it’s true. I give her a pathetic, apologetic smile in response, and go back to talking about the assignment.

How can I remember the details of the Industrial Revolution or talk ad nauseum about the literary qualities of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and still get some poor kid’s name wrong at least once a day?

It isn’t even always the same student. Occasionally, my brain/mouth coordination goes rogue, and I’ll call Kate ‘Lily’ or ‘Rose’, just to keep things interesting. Just once. Just to make things interesting, I’m sure.

This is one of the things that keeps me humble as a teacher. In my job, I’m required to talk to people and use their names in the classroom. And that very basic thing is something that, from time to time but far too often for comfort, I struggle to do.

The ironic thing is that I’m actually really good at remembering faces and names, where I met someone and conversations I’ve had with them. I have to remind myself that not everyone does that when I’m tempted to take it personally that someone hasn’t remembered my name, or having met me before.

I just don’t understand how the wrong name can come out of my mouth so often in every day situations.

The only thing I can put it down to is the brain fog I have carried since I contracted a delightful tropical disease called Ross River Fever in 2011, and which is also typical of fibromyalgia, which I have been left with as the legacy of the RRF. I know the fog is particularly meddlesome when I’m tired or my pain levels are high, but even at times when I am doing okay and enjoying otherwise greater clarity, some autonomous impulse to self-destruct in front of others fires off and I find myself apologising for calling Tom either ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’.

I think I’m going to have to just start telling my classes at the beginning of each year or semester that it’s likely to happen, it’s not intentional, and I apologise in advance. It’s either that, or resort to calling everyone “Hey You” or just never using their names, neither of which is a terribly professional option, either.

 

10 Authors Who Have Inspired Me.

These authors have left their fingerprints on my life… and on my writing.

A couple of friends on Facebook tagged me in this challenge last night:

For those authors out there, list 10 other authors/individuals who’ve made an impression on you or who have helped influence your writing in some manner.

This is the sort of tag challenge I enjoy, because it gives me an opportunity to acknowledge some of the influences who have helped me to become the writer that I am today.

I’m a total bookworm, and I know I’ve read many, many magnificent books in my time. They’ve all contributed to my imagination, my understanding of the world, and the wellspring of ideas that flow through my brain and into my words.

The ten I’ve listed here are authors whose work I have consciously aspired to honour in my own writing, either stylistically or in the themes and ideas I regularly explore.

None of the names on this list will surprise anyone who knows me. Those who have read my work probably won’t be too surprised either – not because I have copied them, but because of the “trace evidence” in various poems or stories I have written.

This list is presented in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly rank them. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

Emily Bronte

L.M. Montgomery

Charles Dickens

Mary Shelley

Edgar Allan Poe

Alfred Noyes

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

William Shakespeare

A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

Harper Lee

I’d love to know…

Are any of these authors a favourite of yours?

Who has inspired you?

Whose books have you loved reading?

 

One Door I Won’t Slam Shut.

A reflection on the experience of being completely, utterly rejected.

In the course of my life, I’ve had – as we all have – friendships and relationships that have faltered, grown distant and faded away.

A couple of times, I have had someone say to me that they never want to talk to me again. Once, and only once, it has been my decision to completely shut off contact. On those three occasions, I have had no difficulty slamming that door and leaving it that way. Nobody does a door slam like an INFJ, after all.

Last night, I read the equivalent of those words again. “Nice knowing you. I won’t ever talk to you again.”

It’s different this time. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could slam that door.

What I really want to do is reach through that door, grab her and pull her back through it. I want to hug her, and see for myself that she’s okay, and tell her I love her. And I can’t do any of those things.

I’m locked in by her decision. She’s 16 and has asserted her independence and her right to do whatever she wants. Check mate.

As with many of the decisions she has made lately, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. I do hope that she will come to understand exactly what it is she has asked for – sooner rather than later – and decide that it’s not what she wants at all. In all honesty, I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.

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I am not her mother, but as her “other mother”, I have lived with her and loved her as my own since she was nine years old. Any influence I may have had over her or her decisions in the past is well and truly a thing of the past. She is quite obviously able and free to decide who she wants to have in her life. What she doesn’t realise is that my care and concern for her do not shut off simply because she wills it, as though it were some kind of emotional tap. She doesn’t get to decide that the time we spent together means nothing. And she cannot stop me, or the rest of her family, from loving her, missing her, or worrying about her.

Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. It really, really hurts. Even so, I know that my hurt is nothing like what her mother is experiencing— it’s a mere fraction of that.

Today has been an emotionally messy day in a succession of similarly messy and fraught weeks. I know we will get through this somehow. I have to keep telling myself that.

Like everything else life has thrown at me, I will face this head on. Maybe I can’t change anything, but I will not let this drag me down and defeat me.

Expect more poetry, though. It’s the only therapy I can afford.

Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home from Melbourne…

Just one of those unexpected things that make great memories.

My friend and colleague Kath and I went to the city yesterday for a professional development seminar.

As it finished late in the afternoon, we decided to break the 230km trip home with dinner. We stopped at a place we both enjoy, and had a great burger and fries, and some brilliant onion rings.

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Leaving the restaurant, we waited at the lights outside to cross the street. That little red man stayed red for ages, and we must have stood there for at least five minutes waiting for the lights to change. As it turns out, we’re not such law-abiding citizens as all that: it was cold, so in the end we just crossed because there was nobody around. We were expecting the lights to change when we were half-way across, but they didn’t.

I made jokes about him being a very angry red man who was no longer doing anything for anyone.

Kath made jokes about the next car to come along sitting at the lights, which by then would have changed, and the driver shaking their fist at waiting for a red light when there was nobody wanting to cross the street.

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Our levity changed direction a little when we got to the car, and found that the car parked behind us had been parked really badly, which has been a pet peeve of mine lately, because I know you actually have to learn to park a car properly to get your licence. Having snapped a photo for posterity, and possibly for Instagram, we got into the car and pulled into the street for the drive home. There was no traffic to merge with – just us, so that was easy.

As we approached that very same set of traffic lights, they were still green. And right before we got there, they changed.

We sat in the car waiting for that red light for another five minutes. And we laughed and we laughed, because we’re English teachers, and we understand irony.