My Perfect Insta Life

I woke up like this, honest!

Hands up if, like me, you’re guilty of leading a double life?  If you use social media (and I’m particularly looking at you, Instagram) then you probably do.  I have two lives: my everyday life in all its unfiltered and imperfect glory and the life I lead online, otherwise known as my shiny, highly polished Instagram life.

“But your life looks so exciting” commented a friend recently, one who sees a lot more of me online than she does In Real Life.  No, my Instagram life is glamorous and fun, my real life far from so.  This lady is a successful novelist and I am in total awe of her but she will tell you that the life of a writer is neither particularly lucrative nor glossy and involves mostly thankless work, as opposed to the common perception of book launches, TV interviews and long wine-fuelled lunches with agents.  Things are rarely what they seem.   And don’t get me started on travelling for work, another very misunderstood activity.

Many of us use smoke and mirrors online and I too am guilty of carefully curating my social media life, honing and filtering it to give an illusion of near perfection.  So why do it? Well, the simple answer is nobody really wants, or needs, to see the depressing detail of my life – or anyone else’s.  Long, cold waits on a train platform, my un-made up face, the pain I struggle with at the end of every working day, picking up after the dog in the pouring rain, an overflowing laundry basket.  Need I go on?

Take my recent holiday.   The pictures are fabulous: breathtaking beaches and scenery, amazing food, exotic cocktails and all pictures of me in full make-up (complete with false eyelashes) and dressed up for a formal night on the cruise.  The truth behind the illusion was persistent food poisoning, heavily delayed flights, frequent domestics, rain and seasickness.  Most of the time I looked so rough I forbade any photos being taken whatsoever and I always have a three-day rule on holiday: it is at least day four before I am ready to appear in any form of picture.

Yes, I would love to live my shiny online life.   Wouldn’t we all?  Partners are charming and attentive, dogs and children well-behaved, houses stylishly decorated and weekends are one long round of fun and socialising with friends over perfectly cooked and presented food.   But the modern day voyeurism into others’ lives is addictive and the pressure to keep up pretences huge.

It is so important to keep a check on reality and realise that this is not real life.  Real life is peppered with disappointment, struggles and exhaustion as we try to keep everything going and pay the bills.   I would highly recommend reading the excellent My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella.  Unlike the heroine’s, though, all the pictures on my Instagram and Facebook account are actually mine and true, albeit often filtered.  Discontent with one’s own life complete with badly behaved dog, very average house and boring weekend full of chores has to be kept firmly in check.    And always remember: never compare your fly on the wall documentary with the edited show reel of someone else’s life.






Hold on tight to your dreams …

Over Easter we visited friends in Cornwall who have recently realised their dream of moving to the beach after years of commuting into London and working two jobs each. We had a wonderful long weekend of food, laughing, drinks in the pub and long walks on the beach with all our dogs.  When husband and I returned home I felt restless for weeks afterwards and couldn’t pinpoint why.  We don’t hanker after living by the coast and, gorgeous as their beachside bungalow is, we love our house and are happy in our town.  Then it dawned on me suddenly: I have lost sight of my dreams, allowing myself to get so bogged down in the daily quagmire of work, health issues, never-ending house renovations and the minutiae of life that I have forgotten what I dreamed of.

Some dreams are huge.  My great-grandmother dreamed of visiting Paris, quite an ambition for a working class woman in the mid-20th century.  She never went but always clung to that hope.  And big dreams can come true.  In January 2009 a friend of mine brought her ten year old daughter to a lunch to celebrate my engagement. The little girl told us that when she grew up she wanted to be a famous YouTube star.  We all smiled indulgently but now in 2017 she is indeed that social media star with millions of followers and an agent in LA.  She had that flame of ambition burning inside of her and just wouldn’t give up on her dreams.  Another good friend has a son who always wanted to be a top music producer.  Now I hear his music everywhere, all the time; you will definitely have heard it too.  Again, he stuck with his dreams and dared to make them a reality.  And my friends in Cornwall too dreamed of a house by the sea with their dogs and worked and worked towards it – and now they have their wonderful life – and we have a fantastic holiday home!

What were my dreams?  Sometimes I struggle to recall them.  Well, like most people I want the basics of good health for myself and my loved ones, a roof over my head and a life free of financial worries where I can easily pay the bills.  But assuming those first world essentials are satisfied, what then?  Not a huge lottery win as I have seen at work what billions can do to a person: they end up in court suing each other.  But enough money to not have to constantly fret (oh, and to turn left on entering a plane too!) My 45 years have taught me that material things do not ultimately bring happiness.  (Although my Tiffany sunglasses are the exception)  I never had the popular dreams of marriage and children or a particular career or owning my own house but I had dreams of travel and adventure and becoming a bestselling author.

Dreams change with time to become a moving target.  Right the way through university I wanted to join the Army Intelligence Corps until I failed my interview and, once again, I had to reassess what I wanted.  Deflated, I never really had any career dreams after that.   I achieved a lifelong ambition in 2009 when I finally saw my work in print (and then went on to be published again and again) culminating in the publishing of my ebook in 2011.  I then wanted a bestselling novel but now that seems less important and I am not sure I could handle the bad reviews and rejection. Next, I wanted to build a craft emporium and turn my passion into a career but realised that in doing that, all the fun and joy of creating would be sucked from it.   I need to find new dreams because what is life without dreams?  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: my husband pictured having a relaxing bath in a lovely new bathroom in our house, a dream that got him through weeks of noise, dust and disruption while it was being created.   I always wanted to have a dog and now I am a dog owner of a lovely whippety mash-up rescue.   I have a vague idea that I would like our house to be featured in an interiors magazine once it is finished and husband mentioned he wanted to go to the Isle of Man TT, so new dreams are forming but I need newer and bigger dreams too.

So dare to dream, let your dreams scare you and, as the song goes: hold on tight to your dreams.


Don’t feed the trolls!

I can’t be the only one who has noticed how judgmental people are these days. And what better forum than online where one can hide behind a screen?  In Britain we wouldn’t berate a complete stranger in the street for their views on Brexit, parenting skills or choice of clothes but on social media it is open season to sit as judge and jury on anyone and anything.

A few days ago I watched two enormous altercations unfold on Facebook, the first in a whippet forum where a dog owner’s  innocent question about raw food versus dry suddenly turned into a really nasty slanging match. It seemed every man (and his dog) was an expert veterinary nutritionist, and insults and personal remarks were being flung around freely.  At the same time on a local group for my town a lady posted a query about some roadworks and bang!  Three men got into a highly charged and vicious online fight where accusations of bad driving skills quickly escalated into penis size speculation.  It seems many of us have regressed to playground style name-calling.

I have been on the receiving end of similar attacks by trolls on the TripAdvisor travel forum where the downright spite aimed at me after I posted an innocent travel question reduced me to tears and I have never been back.  And a couple of weeks ago on Twitter I was piggy in the middle when two very large animal welfare organisations began trading accusations and barbs through my Twitter account after I tweeted both of them to ask the question why, as they both love dogs, they couldn’t work together at Crufts.  I watched astonished, feeling like a referee in a boxing match whilst feeling sad that two powerful organisations couldn’t put politics and differences aside.

So why is it OK to judge and criticise others so harshly online?  When did this become the norm and why does it so often happen without those doing the judging and trolling knowing the full facts?   Why do we think we are experts on everything and therefore entitled to sit in judgment on our fellow human beings? In real life, as opposed to our often highly edited cyber life, we are all just trying to do the best we can.  I don’t get it right all the time but on the whole I try to be a good wife, daughter, neighbour, friend, citizen and consumer with respect for those around me.  (Unless I have PMT in which case stand back everyone!)

On social media I try to just scroll on and accept that people have different views without judging or straying into the murky world of trolling.  But some of the frankly vile and hateful comments I see posted are astonishing, aimed at those who are just going about their lives peacefully and legally.   A friend of mine who is a fan of a particular clothing designer commented recently that she felt very sad about some of the vitriol and scorn posted on the designer’s Facebook page.  If you don’t like the clothes, unfollow the page.  Why be so downright nasty for the sake of it?  I have also noticed many of the women’s magazines have accounts on social media where they will post a picture of a celebrity or an outfit and ask for comments which to me only seems to open the floodgates of caustic remarks and spite. Why encourage us to judge each other so harshly?  As women we should be empowering each other which is a reason why I love celebrities such as Katie Piper and Lorraine Kelly who encourage positivity.

And this seems to be exclusively online.  Opinionated and inflammatory people in the public eye such as Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan are not liked.  (Yes, I know they love to be notorious and it’s their USP and I maintain that if we ignore them they will simply cease to exist!) But I have seen remarks online from the public that make Katie Hopkins seem like a mild-mannered saint.  Would those who post such judgmental remarks actually say them to a stranger if they met them in the street or does hiding behind a screen give a sense of bravado?

Please let’s be kinder to each other.  Modern life is hard enough without us turning on our fellow humans. I think the advice from my mother’s generation is still relevant today:  if you can’t say [or post] something nice, it’s best not to say [or post] anything at all.

And please do look at JK Rowling’s Twitter account to read her wonderful and pithy put-downs to her trolls.  That woman is a national treasure.

Give January a Chance

When I first started writing this blog post it was Blue Monday – officially the most depressing day of the year, scientifically calculated by factoring in the weather, broken resolutions and post Christmas debt. January is also a peak month for death and divorce. (I’m specifically talking about those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, of course. If you’re in the height of your summer now then please stop reading immediately!)

Now we are very nearly into February, so how was January for you? Well, my husband and I had a great time, as we always do in January.  We have our annual holiday over the new year and usually start back at work around the second week of January. This is mainly due to our work schedules but also because there’s something wonderful about stepping off the plane into warm air or being poolside in a bikini when it is minus 5 at home. Who wants to leave the UK in the summer when the weather is hot here?  In January we go out a lot, eat and drink loads – and spend a lot too. We had our UK black tie and diamonds Bond-themed wedding reception in January six weeks after our December Caribbean wedding. Last year we had our housewarming in January. It’s always great to have something to look forward to after Christmas and I never find it a problem to entice people to events in the gloom-filled first few weeks of the year.

I’ve never seen the need for the harsh regimes and self-flagellation that almost seem mandatory for a UK January.  It helps that each brand new year is heralded by my New Year’s Day birthday and this year I enjoyed a double celebration with a good friend who shares the same birthday. I love the idea of new beginnings: the writer in me likens it to starting a gorgeous new notebook blank with possibilities. It’s definitely not the time to deny yourself or diet or detox like mad when comfort food is the order of the day.

And there’s so much to look forward to.  The nights are slowly getting lighter, spring is round the corner, the sales are on, great new series are starting on the telly and it’s time to start thinking about a new job or a house move or an exciting new project. Every year, I truly believe that this is the year I’m going to finally finish my ‘work in progress’ novel.  Ok, the weather sucks but there’s nothing like a dog walk on those beautiful crisp brilliant days. (The flip side, there’s nothing like a wet excitable dog on a freezing foggy day either!)

I guess that it is all a matter of perspective. I’m of the view that life is what you make it and that applies to January. Having said that, I haven’t stepped on the scales yet or received my January credit card bill!

Stop right there! It’s the punctuation police – and you’re nicked.

imagePunctuation is powerful stuff.  True, nobody ever died from a misplaced exclamation mark, but let’s not risk it.  I’m a constant corrector and it drives those non grammar, spelling and punctuation Zealots around me crazy – particularly my husband.  Luckily most of my friends and colleagues are of like mind and nothing lights our collective touchpaper like a greengrocers’ apostrophe or a fiery debate about the Oxford comma. In fact, several of my work colleagues and I once demanded to be moved from a restaurant table right next to a sign announcing the toilet’s.  It wasn’t the toilets themselves that were offensive, only the sign  – a sign that someone had gone to the trouble to paint on the wall, error and all.  Only last week I tweeted Good Morning Britain to point out a faux pas in a news banner that appeared on my TV screen as I prepared for another day of vigorous punctuating and grammar correcting in the day job.  (I didn’t get a reply but I felt slightly superior all day)  It’s a legal judgment in case you’re interested – see pic.  And one thing I do know about is a missing E.

But how much does such pedantry still matter in the modern world?  Who really cares if you can’t spell or your grammar is sloppy?  Is knowing that they’re going there in their car important?  (Carrie Bradshaw was gleeful in Sex and the City on discovering that her ex’s new wife didn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.)   Wearing my legal proofreader hat, perfect grammar and punctuation is vital.  As a writer, I maintain that it’s all about presentation and polish and attention to detail.   What about everyday life? I really would have to think twice about using a company whose promotional material offered Removal Quote’s or Decorating Service’s: if you’ve put that little thought into the detail of your advert, what is your end product going to be like?   I’m sure that Daves Removal Service’s (No Job To Small) do a sterling job and they are, after all, in the business of hefting about boxes and not proofreading.  But those errors would grate.

Similarly a journalist friend recently confessed that she disregards any reviews of hotels or restaurants containing dreadful spelling and no punctuation.  I’m just the same: if you, the reviewer don’t care about the quality of your writing then surely our views and tastes cannot possibly be similar?  And I’m not talking about dyslexia here or those for whom English is a second language,  just people who don’t care. How can you not care?

Much as I long to prowl the streets with a large permanent marker pen to correct all those signs and A frames I do try very hard to fight such snobbery.   I know lovely people who don’t think being able to use a semi-colon correctly is at all important and even schools don’t place as much emphasis as they used to on getting grammar and spelling right.  What hope is there for future generations?  Or will the need for perfect punctuation soon be as obsolete as the video player?

So as an experiment I tried to relax my punctuation and grammar a little in texts and instant messages. It was tough but guess what? The world kept turning.  I carried on breathing in and out. Nothing major happened.  Nobody even mentioned it. I even bit my lip – hard – when someone said a friend of theirs ‘should of’ done something.  That took some effort.  But stop off at the stall near work selling ‘Tea’s and Coffee’s’? I’m still working on that.  Continue reading

Writing through the pain: a tribute to a special dog

Writing is cathartic.    Just the act of trying to put feelings into words, whether it’s a letter to an absent mother/the lover you did wrong/your sixteen year old self or simply scribbling down your experience of anger or pain, then just the act of putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — is allegedly healing.

Grief, as perhaps the ultimate intense human emotion, brings with it a bewildering array of guilt, pain, anger and unbearable sadness. Writing can be a good outlet for these varied emotions as feelings flow from the heart, travel down the arm and flow through the fingers.

On 1 June we lost our beloved dog, Dexter. It was unexpected and took a whole month before the rawness of the grief started to dull a little. I tried many times but didn’t feel like writing: it was just too painful to let my feelings run amok.  It was challenging enough keeping my emotions in check in public.  (Thank God for the excuse of hayfever and for large sunglasses!)   But then I read a wonderful piece on a dog blog written a man who had recently said goodbye to his much loved pooch. It was told from the dog’s viewpoint of the last day of his life.  (I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find it again although I believe it went viral, so apologies for the lack of acknowledgement)

So I decided to tell Dexter’s tale of his final journey.  It has taken three weeks to finish as the tears flowed with every word — and sometimes seemed like they would never stop –but I wanted to write a fitting tribute to a very special family member.  I should issue a warning that if you are an animal lover,  you may find this sad.

My Last Day On Earth

Today feels different. I awake with the same fog of pain that I’ve had lately but the human parents are acting strangely.  Human mum lets me out into the garden but I struggle to get down the steps. Everything hurts and my back leg collapses (I only have three legs, but apparently that’s what makes me special).  Mum has to carry me back into the house.  She looks like she’s been crying again but she does get something called hayfever which makes her cry, even when she’s not sad.  Normally the humans are so busy rushing about with their lives, but not today.  They seem sort of still and sad. They keep looking at me and whispering.

I lay on my favourite chair and mum and dad take it in turns to sit with me and stroke my head just where I like it behind my ears.  Then mum gives me a funny tasting treat.  I spit it out and she takes it away and comes back with a piece of cheese.  Swallowing is agony but cheese is the best thing in the world!   After that I feel a bit fuzzy and the pain gets better. I snooze and am woken up by the sound of my food bowl being put on the floor. It’s steak mince! I’ve had a lot of awesome food in the last few days and lots of treats. I can’t manage all of it but it is so tasty. I see my human dad cover the rest up and put it in the fridge and I worry about what’s  going to happen to it.  Normally I guard the fridge just in case but standing hurts me too much.

Mum has been on the phone a lot lately and she gets upset. She says things like ‘it’s so hard’ and keeps mentioning someone or something called ‘lymphoma’. I’ve also heard everyone talk about the ‘rainbow bridge’.  I’m not sure what it is but we always go under a bridge on the way to visit mum’s mum.  I love it there because there’s always a treat waiting for me and I help her with the gardening too.   Lifting my head is hard and I must have dozed off because when I wake up then mum’s mum is actually here, kissing me on the head and telling me she loves me. She has red eyes too.  I tell her I love her too by licking her face and hope she will give me a treat. She does.

Suddenly I’m being carried to the car by mum and dad. They have a debate about whether to put my harness on and my bed is loaded in too. So it can’t be a walk but maybe I am going to the dogsitter?   Perhaps this place called Lymphoma is where mum and dad are going on holiday, like when they went to somewhere called Sicily last year without me. I sit on dad’s lap while mum drives.  Dad strokes my fur and I spot a dog out of the car window.  I try to woof but a strange sound comes out instead of a bark and my throat is sore.

We are parking at the vets! My favourite receptionist fusses me and she looks sad too.  I lick her hand.  My bed is carried into the vet’s room and I’m allowed to sit in it!  My humans and the vet have a very  serious discussion and dad feeds me some liver treats from the vet’s treat jar.   Everyone keeps saying how sorry they are and then mum and dad are crying hard and mum signs something.  I feel something sharp going into my paw as dad strokes  me. I try to tell him not to cry but I’m feeling sleepy.  A voice is saying I’m a good boy and a cold feeling travels up my leg.

And then suddenly the pain has gone! I leap from my bed  with joy and notice I have all four legs again.  The vet has made me better!  A wonderful bright rainbow light is calling me and I want to run  towards it.  Is this the rainbow bridge?  Why is everyone so sad about it?  I turn to tell mum and dad I am healed now and not to worry but I seem to be floating high above the room.  Four humans are huddling round a small black dog lying in my bed.  The dog is still and mum and dad are weeping. The vet and the nurse are talking about something called a cremation.  Then mum raises her face to the ceiling and through  streaming tears says goodbye and tells me to run free. I try to explain to my humans I am there and I love them but they  ignore me and keep fussing over the black dog in my bed.   That bright light is so enticing  but I feel I need to stay with my humans.

I watch as my humans walk through to the reception area, leaving the little dog curled up sleeping in my bed.  There are more tears.  At least he’s not in pain, says someone. I sit by mum and dad and try to paw at them.  Look,  it doesn’t hurt, I want to say.  I’m free! But there’s still that steak in the fridge.  Who will take my humans on walks and to the vets?  I remember the day I rescued them  and came to live with them. What will they do now?

And then I understand that in order to set me free, they can no longer see me.

I promise my human mum and dad I will always love them and never forget them.   I will wait for them at the rainbow bridge.  And then with my ears flapping joyfully in the warm, sweet breeze I run and run towards the wonderful light.

In memory of Dexter 13 October 2005 – 1 June 2016

Loved by his human pawrents Rebecca and Andy since March 2011


The Devil’s In The Detail …

There I was happily immersed in a Lynda La Plante thriller when DCI Jane Tennison drove down Chancery Lane and turned left onto Fleet Street.  I was so distracted I had to stop reading.  What was the problem?  Well, I have worked on Fleet Street for 20 years and Chancery Lane was, and still is, a one-way street, but going the other way.  This minor inaccuracy, which some would say doesn’t matter in the slightest and most of the population wouldn’t even have spotted, grated on me and diverted from the narrative.  It got me thinking about the importance of accuracy and research, even in fiction.

True, the wrong direction one-way street incident was irrelevant to the plot of the novel.  But as readers, the writer asks us to suspend disbelief and buy totally into their characters, plot and narrative.  It needs to be as ‘real’ as possible (unless, of course, it’s sci-fi, a genre which I know next to nothing about as a writer or a reader and which has its own rules).  As a proofreader accuracy and consistency are king and I am obsessive about both.

A recent chick lit novel had a character complaining that her new cottage didn’t have a dishwasher, while two chapters later she was banging crockery into the dishwasher angrily   The same woman left the house at 3am and then, after spending two hours chasing a lost dog, commented that the time was coming up to 3am.  (This was a top ten bestseller from a famous publishing house, by the way!)  Another novel by one of my favourite authors saw a judge in the High Court banging a gavel.  During my 20 years in the legal profession I have never seen a gavel used in the High Court. I think TV judge Robert Rinder might use one for the cameras.

So does carelessness, lazy editing or artistic licence matter in fiction?  Yes, I think so. Careful research adds depth and richness to a story and is never wasted.   Consistency in names and times will be spotted by an eagle-eyed reader.  If your heroine’s mum is called Kathy in chapter two and Karen in chapter ten it will sidetrack from your story as much as a Victorian protagonist named Chardonnay.   Characters should ideally have every detail of their lives and back story plotted in the planning stage, everything from birthday to phobias, to add credibility to them as real people.

TV and movie inaccuracies are often gleefully pounced on by viewers and have had whole programmes devoted to them.  Many production companies hire continuity people to pick up on every last little detail and check it ties in, ie no digital watches in a Regency drama.   Coronation Street gets a tremendous amount of correspondence pointing out that the Rovers Return loos are actually in the Barlow’s house. (Yes, I missed that one but now every time I watch it amuses me – and annoys me a little bit too!)

So what about the equivalent in writing? At worst, inaccuracies could get you sued, particularly in non-fiction.  At best, you might alienate your reader.  So edit, re-edit, check and then check some more.  Then get a second pair of eyes to cross-check.  The devil really is in the detail.  And if anyone does see a judge using a gavel in the High Court, please let me know.




Is giving up good for the soul?

We are nearing the end of Lent and this year I have given up biscuits.  (I fell off the wagon a couple of times at work but I think even Jesus himself, faced with the day I’d had, would have been tempted by an M&S All Butter Shortbread).   I believe self-discipline is good for the soul and so every Lent finds me attempting abstention of some kind.  Diet coke and chocolate were successful; swearing lasted only a morning. Foregoing biscuits has been tougher than I thought: everywhere I go, platefuls of the things are winking at me.    A couple of years ago for a New Year resolution I decided to give up on certain friendships where I just didn’t get back what I was putting in.  Harsh, but wonderfully cathartic.

But what about the things we give up without meaning to?  Last year I joked that I had seemingly given up on my appearance after an unfortunate incident during which a doorstep caller addressed me as ‘Mr Ridgway’.   Often I feel I have given up hope.  I have also unintentionally given up writing .  The excuse that I am in the middle of moving house is now redundant as we have been in our new abode four whole months, but has morphed into every spare moment being spent on house and garden renovation.  Like Carrie Bradshaw cheating on fashion with furniture when she moves into her New York flat with Mr Big, I have been cheating on writing with interior design magazines, colour swatches, mood boards and Pinterest.

This doesn’t sit easy with me because I am of the strong belief that one can always find time for things one really wants to do and it is back to the old problem of self-discipline. Writing is like exercise and the writer needs to keep the creative mind supple with regular use.  At a recent family funeral , my cousin, who read The Ironic Bride with great enthusiasm (and even forced my octogenarian uncle to download it from Amazon) asked what my latest writing project is and I realised that I hadn’t written anything for a long time.  (I could tell you what Dulux’s Colour of the Year is, though,  all about damp and the latest geometric trends in decor).   So whereas a bit of abstention can be good for the soul, drifting into apathy isn’t and I’m keen to get back on track. Now, if I could write about interior design that would be too perfect!

So I am getting back into the saddle and starting to write again.  Just as soon as Easter rolls around and I can eat biscuits again while I write.

Creative hoarding – the cluttered mind of the writer

I have sorely neglected this website since October for several reasons, my primary excuse being that I finally moved house in November.  Not only have I been very pressed for time but my creative juices ran dry and I have felt bereft of inspiration of any kind.  Such is the soul-destroying nature of the English housing market and conveyancing process!

The sheer amount of physical stuff we had to move between old dwelling and new made me think about hoarding.  We’ve all seen the extreme hoarding shows on TV and interestingly I actually know a couple of hoarders who are unable to use whole rooms in their homes due to clutter, one of whom has to walk sideways through the mountains of piled up papers and magazines in his flat’s usable rooms.   Hoarding has deep emotional roots and I can highly recommend the wonderful and insightful book by Lisa Jewell, The House We Grew Up In, which takes a painful look at the effect of hoarding on a whole family.

But as writers, do we emotionally hoard?  Are our minds as cluttered as the hoarder’s home where nothing is thrown away in case it can somehow be used in a future piece or novel?  Although I like my physical house to be organised and ordered and very clean and tidy — and my husband leans towards minimalism — I fear that rather than the tastefully furnished spacious and modern loft apartment, my brain actually resembles a very overstuffed and sprawling ramshackle house where broken items are not discarded in case they can be mended one day and each room is piled from floor to ceiling with possessions the owner couldn’t quite bring herself to throw out.   Snippets of overheard conversations, things I’ve read, characters in films: they are all whirring round my brain ready to be used some time in the future.

Is this the sign of a creative mind: chaotic and bursting full with ideas, some only embryonic, some reasonably well-developed, never resting, always alert?   Is it good for a writer to see the value of something old that can be dusted off and restored for future use?  I have tried mindfulness – see previous blog – but I just cannot get on with it as random thoughts and ideas pop into my brain when I am trying to concentrate on something else.   The same is true for meditation: emptying my mind proves impossible.  Although isn’t writing the ultimate mindfulness activity?

I try to write ideas down in notebooks so they are not lost and in the hope that by transferring them onto physical paper, it will free up brain space to let in other things.  I even tried to have a break from writing while I was moving and couldn’t face the blank page, but the need to force those words out could not be shifted.  I have heard it said that as a writer you write because you simply have to.

So surely emotional  minimalism is  anathema to the writer:  we need our cupboards to be stuffed full of colour and chaos.


Writing – the ultimate mindfulness activity?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with absolutely no internet access, you’ll have noticed that everyone is talking about mindfulness.  Living in and appreciating the moment seems a simple concept but in this busy and technology driven era, multi-tasking is such second nature that it takes real effort to retrain our brains to be in the here and now.  (As I type this I also have one eye on Midsomer Murders, am fussing the dog and trying to drink a smoothie to get up to my five a day).

Adult colouring books, themselves a form of mindfulness –  or ‘art therapy’ as it is also called – have topped the Amazon bestseller list for months now.  I’m a huge fan although I do my colouring while watching the telly so I’m not sure if that counts!

A friend is even taking a degree in mindfulness and she loves it. It’s not just psychobabble: living in the here and now and really appreciating everything we are experiencing with all our five senses has enormous health benefits.  I decided to give it a try a few months ago to counteract all the stress of trying to move house.

As a Type A personality, I find concentrating on one thing impossible.  My mind is forever racing with a never ending to-do list, imaginary scenarios about what might or might not happen and then flashing back to the past  So giving mindfulness a go and trying to lose myself in the moment is proving very challenging.  Like most skills, it takes practice.

It might just be I’ve already found my mindfulness activity.  We all have a ‘flow’activity where time becomes suspended and we are totally lost and absorbed in our own world. For some it is a sport, gardening or baking: for me, it is writing.  Once I stop my displacement/distraction activities and cease making excuses as to why I can’t write, and actually put bum to seat and fingers to keyboard, hours can go by as I become lost in the world of words I have created.  This new world becomes my reality, a reality rich and bright in detail with wonderful three-dimensional characters.  If the real world intrudes (the phone ringing, the dog wanting to be let out) I’m always jolted back to reality with a shock, rather like waking suddenly from a vivid dream.

If your passion is writing then you will know exactly what I mean.   But everyone should have a ‘flow’ activity where they can switch off from the distractions of the life and really appreciate the moment.  And I can highly recommend the colouring books!