Telling Tales and Inspiration – Part 1

People often talk about ‘sliding door’ moments to describe pivotal life events that could go one way or the other. (The ‘Sliding Doors’ film is a firm favourite).

It’s also one of the themes in my current writing project and has led me to look back at my own sliding door moments. Over the years there have been a good number and here are a few relating to work choices…

Choosing a doorway

– Becoming a journalist. How many people get to do the work they have always dreamed of? This was a childhood ambition and I chose to ignore a po-faced school careers adviser who suggested that it might be a good idea to take up shorthand and typing to give the ‘option’ of becoming a PA or ‘secretary’ to use the old name. A fine job though not one for me. Instead I took a year out between leaving school and studying for a degree to do an accredited journalism course, while working full time to pay for it. By the way, I never did learn to type properly and still get by with a speedy one handed version.   

Law, notebooks and bylines….

– Local newspaper or specialist national magazine? My first job offer was on the weekly national SWT magazine aimed at social and residential care workers. Alternatively, I could have waited a few months longer to join a large respected local newspaper group as a trainee. In the end I opted for the more specialist route. It was only a six month trial period to start with but after being thrown in at the deep end, it worked out well. A door that led to a varied written journalism career, including feature pieces for a number of UK broadsheet newspapers/ magazines – something I’m still doing decades down the line.

Moving into TV production

 – Stay in print or move into television? Around 5 years into my first journalism job – by which time I had gone from a rookie to senior reporter/feature writer – I spotted a national newspaper advertisement for a TV researcher at Central television. The programme – a network TV slot aimed at older viewers – fitted with my social affairs background. Predictably, there were a huge number of applicants and many already had television production experience. It was a two stage interview which included viewing some of their existing programmes and giving feedback. After watching the given selection of programmes, I liked some a lot more than others. Should I be honest and say this or just be diplomatic about them all?

It had to be the ‘honesty’ door. The comments seemed to go down OK and in the end I got the job. It meant giving up a magazine staff post for a more risky 12 month contract but was the start of a TV production career covering news/current affairs, documentaries and popular factual series, while working alongside some hugely talented people. That early interview call was a good one.

Guest columnist in Bermuda

– A move abroad?  In 2011 my husband Paul, a digital forensic expert, got the chance to go to Bermuda to work with the police service there. Should I stay put or go out there too? Of course I went and in the end we spent over a year in that beautiful part of the world. Although my ‘visitor’ status meant that paid work wasn’t an option, I did write a regular guest column for one of the island newspapers and completed most of my first novel ‘My Bermuda Namesakes’ while there. We made some lifelong friends too and yet another doorway well worth choosing.

So there you have it – a few personal sliding door decisions and I’ve learned along the way to always go with those gut instincts. If something feels right, then just move with it. If not, drop it and have confidence to take that alternative route even if it feels a bit scary. It really can be that straightforward

Here is an inspirational quote from fellow writer Jude Lennon about her own big sliding door decision to leave her teaching career and become a writer. A friend told her ’ Sometimes you have to take the leap of faith and grow your wings on the way down. Just make sure they sparkle!’

Jude has certainly done that. Check out her sparkly work on www.littlelambpublishing.co.uk

FRENCH ROAD TRIP: BONNIE DOG MISHAP AND HOLIDAY READ…

It’s been a while since my last blog post – a busy year! – and having just got back from a 17 day Motorhome trip to France, thought I’d share a few memories of our stay there.

This time we travelled from Folkestone via Eurotunnel and I used my new Irish passport for the first time – so no stamp needed at the check-in!

Stylish passport holder!

Now that we are no longer in the EU, we had to purchase a detailed animal health care travel document for Bonnie dog before setting off – an expensive exercise (it cost just under £170 at our local vets) and only lasts 4 months!. This has to be shown at separate Eurotunnel animal reception centres on both sides of the channel, whereas under the previous pet passport system everything was sorted at the same time and place as our own check-ins/outs.

The Eurotunnel journey was great – smoother than we expected and in just over 30 minutes you pop out in Calais. Enough time for a quick coffee and Bonnie dog was unfazed by the ride. Just in front of us were a group of high end sports cars being driven by a BBC film crew for a shoot in France. Cue a chat about what cars we would have if we won the lottery – mine is a Lexus Convertible by the way.

Then it was an easy exit from the terminal onto the road for our first stop-over, the lovely Saint Valery Sur Somme. We stayed two nights at the Le Walric site which is on the edge of the main town but well worth the half hour walk to the river promenade area with its shops, market stalls and restaurants.

Saint Valery Sur Somme – river promenade

Next up was a three night stay at Fresnay Sur Sarthe near Le Mans, before heading to our main destination – Ile de Re just across from La Rochelle on the west coast. It was a hot journey as the temperatures had started to climb over 30 degrees – unheard of in that region for mid June. This was followed by another three days of scorching weather when the temperature inside the Motor Home hit a jaw-dropping 40 degrees one afternoon.

Ile De Re harbour

Thankfully we have an awning and we even clipped Bonnie dog’s coat (we took some battery clippers along just in case they might be needed!), to help keep her cool. Walking anywhere during the daytime was out of the question – just moving brought us out in a sweat – so we were restricted in what we could do for the first few days there.

By day 5 things were starting to cool back down, so we were able to explore the backstreets and the stunning church. Ile de Re harbour area is beautiful and just a 10 minute walk from the site where we were staying.

Then the unexpected happened – what do they say about animals and children?

Paul and Bonnie dog chilling outside the MoHo

I was stepping out of the motor home with Bonnie dog on her lead, when she lurched forwards and landed awkwardly on the ground below. It was our last evening in Ile de Re so a planned stroll by the harbour was abandoned and we realised we’d have to get her checked over by a vet.

That was done on our return trip to Saint Valery Sur Somme and hats off to Helena, the manager of Le Walric site, who dropped us off to the local vet in her car. We then made our own way to a bigger practice 10 miles up the road for the more detailed examination involving an Xray, pain relief injection and some anti inflammatory tablets.

On the plus side we were rewarded by some stunning rural scenery which we didn’t fully appreciate until the journey back from the vets, relieved that it was nothing more than a leg sprain. Phew.

Tequila sunrise cocktail at the Celtic Bar Tabac in Fresnay Sur Sarthe

Overall , despite the unseasonable heatwave and Bonnie’s mishap, it was a great road trip and we’ll certainly be heading back there. On the way home to Cornwall we stopped for one night at the South Lytchett Manor site near Poole in Dorset – a perfect spot to break up the long journey back. It has been voted the 2021 UK AA site of the year and you can see why, though we didn’t get to try out the quaintly named St Peter’s Finger pub down the road – Bonnie dog was still only allowed short walks. Again we’ll be heading back to put that right!

My reading for this trip included Jude Lennon’s debut novel ‘Kintsugi’ which is a family story involving secrets and lies across the generations. It is a strong first novel – the author has already written a number children’s books and a collection of short stories. The story shifts deftly from the present day to the past after the main character, Eve, receives an unexpected bundle of letters uncovering disturbing details about her family history. Using a television analogy, think ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with a smattering of ‘The Repair Shop’! If you like family sagas (with a twist) this is one to read. https://littlelambpublishing.co.uk/product/kintsugi/

Juggling time, Bonnie dog update and giftbox…

As my friend often says, ‘time is elastic’. You can stretch it out to fit your priorities and he hates it when people say ‘I haven’t got the time’.

His response: ‘Well go and make it!’

To some extent he is right – you can often pack more into a day if you really want to – but then you also have the option of saying no, especially if you need down time and rest.

Having juggled a number of projects over the past few years, managing time has become more of a priority. My own advice is never to put more than three significant things per day on your mental or written ‘to-do’ list.

My kitchen clock!!

What – only three? Already I can hear the protests that nothing would get done if you focussed so narrowly .

The key is that little word ‘significant’. Of course we have any number of smaller tasks to get through in a day, but only a few can be considered important. By priortising the significant stuff – and strictly limiting this to no more than three things – you are homing in on what really matters. The rest can be fitted in, pushed forward, or even deleted altogether.

It is a system that works for me, while balancing time on written journalism features, a long term project, a new role in broadcast mentoring, being an adviser to the board of Coast FM radio and writing books.

Oh – not forgetting the Motor Home travel and Bonnie dog’s ‘Pets As Therapy’ care home visiting role. Both of these have been put on hold by Covid restrictions but are now starting up again in earnest. As I write this we have just got back from a short MoHo stop-over at Lizard Point – only a few miles from where we live but it’s great to have the freedom to hit the road again.

Lately, it is the creative writing that has taken a bit of a back-seat but that is about to change big time in the coming year. (Have some exciting news to report on this soon!).

When people ask ‘How do you fit it all in?’, the simple answer is that I don’t – sometimes life gets in the way with unexpected challenges thrown into the mix. Time is a valuable currency and has to be used wisely. It also has to include that all-important ‘me time’ which needs to be factored in with the same discipline as all those other things.

Overall though, this simple method really does work – give it try and see how it goes.

Bonnie dog has made her first return PAT dog visit to our local care home following the Covid lockdowns and restrictions. During the intervening 19 months, we have posted a few on-line updates for the residents – all created by Bonnie herself of course! – but it didn’t make up for being there physically.

Paul and Bonnie in matching yellow outfits!

Of course visiting isn’t the same now with lateral flow and temperature checks, wearing masks and being restricted to one designated area of the home. Still, it all went well, with the care staff enjoying it as much as the residents. We’ve seen first hand just how much happiness a PAT dog can bring and her regular appearances have been missed – it was heartwarming to see everyone smiling after such a long absence.

Another bit of Bonnie news to share – she is also a calendar girl with her photo featuring on this year’s British Cockapoo Society calendar in aid of Hearing Dogs. My friend Russ managed to grab a rare shot of her looking straight to camera!

Bonnie’s Calendar appearance!

Now for a cheeky bit of promotion given that it is coming up to Christmas. We all know what valuable work carers do across the board – whether in the care related professions or within voluntary groups and families. xButterflyBoxesx have come up with this lovely bespoke afternoon tea gift-box aimed at carers which includes my book of short stories ‘Shorts and Thoughts’ and all details are on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/903972491/finest-carers-gift-box-for-her-him-thank . Half of all the book proceeds go to the Social Worker’s Benevolent Trust charity swbt.org and I’m now one of their supporting authors. So if you are looking for a gift idea while helping a charitable cause, then take a look!

Tea time gift box aimed at carers

Road trip, Cornwall on the box and book review…

Has the world of TV gone overboard in its extensive coverage of all things Devon and Cornwall?

Wearing my television production hat, I’ll come back to that question – but first a bit of news about our recent Motor Home road trip, the first long journey away since March 2020.

Although we love living in West Cornwall, it is still good to get a change of scene, especially after these recent extended lockdowns.

The MoHo was in real need of a decent road trip after months sitting on our driveway, while we were keen to see friends and family face-to-face rather than speaking on the phone or chat rooms.

First stop was Porlock in Somerset, followed by trips to the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, Whitby, Keswick and then into Wales – Llanberis, Aberaeron and Cardiff. The whole journey took 15 days and we covered over 1,200 miles. Gulp.

Our favourite stop off? We stayed at some great sites (most of them Club run or affiliated) but the five star one was the Derwentwater site in Keswick.

Derwentwater site Keswick

You could stroll into Keswick town and Derwentwater was just a short walk the other way. The site staff were great, the pitches roomy and the facilities including the shower area, were first class. We couldn’t fault it and the only regret was that we didn’t book for a longer.

As Arnie says, we’ll be back!

Most of the places we visited on the tour were dog friendly with great walks and eating places happy to accomodate pooches. Again, Keswick was right up there for dog friendliness.

Our best meals? Fantastic fishcakes from the Bulls Head pub in Meriden where we met up with a foodie friend. Then a rare takeway, a pizza from Mama Mia in Keswick, delivered to the site piping hot and delicious. It was the night of the Euro Cup Final – we all know how that went! – and it was ironic that so many people were ordering pizzas for the England v Italy big match. But hey ho, it is a food that just lends itself to watching sporting events and easier to share than fish and chips!.

At the time of writing our home town of Marazion – in the far West of Cornwall for those not in the know – is rammed with visitors. It always gets busy in the summer months but this year is something else. With few people venturing abroad, staycationers have flocked to this part of the world in their thousands with camp sites and holiday lets full.

Meantime our telly has been awash with programmes about Cornwall with everyone from Rick Stein, Julia Bradbury, Susan Calman, Fern Britton (and more) telling us about their love of the county and showcasing its scenic delights. Next up is Coastal Devon & Cornwall with Michael Portillo on Channel 5. Then there was the G7 Summit back in June with broadcast crews from all over the globe. Although it is great to see Cornwall featured – some of my friends have even made guest appearances! – there is a limit to what can be covered with lots of subject overlaps.

Fishing — tick.

Former tin mines – tick.

Landscape artists and writers. Tick again.

Oh and those great sweeping majestic shots of beaches, villages and craggy hillside walks. A mega tick here.

Not forgetting the celebrity chefs and artisan products.

To be fair, Simon Reeves did a brilliant programme looking at the other side of Cornwall – including the the foodbanks and poverty – but it is the scenic, touristy, escapist Cornwall that ticks all those television boxes.

As I know only too well from my experience as a television producer, commissioning editors are often risk averse. Stick a celebrity in a beautiful location with lots of artful drone shots and what can go wrong?

Overkilling a subject, that’s what.

Yes, you can have too much of a good thing and my guess is that the crews will head further afield next year – let’s face it, the viewers have already had more their their fill of the same visuals and the inevitable ‘jam or cream first?’ debate.

Having said this, my recommended book. ‘A View From A Cab’ is one that does feature Cornwall – from the point of view of writer and recently retired Cornish bus driver, Gray Lightfoot.

Squeezing through Mousehole village!

He grew up in Lancashire but his ancestors are from Cornwall – in fact he is the first of his family to be born outside the county in over 350 years. After training as a teacher, (as well as working as a postman), Gray and his wife moved to the far west when the time felt right. As a child he used to holiday in Cornwall with his grandmother and once stayed for a full 6 weeks with an aunt while his mother was recovering from an operation. It was during this extended stay that he had fantasies of becoming a Cornish bus driver – a dream that became a reality several decades down the line.

‘A View From A Cab’ is a mix of prose and poetry with lots of anecdotes, both funny and poignant, about being a bus driver in this part of the world. There are the challenges – reversing down narrow lanes in a double decker open top bus – along with the stunning views from his ‘cab’ and the chance to eavesdrop on those passenger conversations.

Far from getting in the way of his writing, Gray says that bus driving has helped – there is time to think on the less challenging and more familiar routes – and he has now decided to give up the day job to spend more time on those written projects.

I read the book while preparing to interview Gray for a radio programme. It is delightful, well written and observed, showing his love for this remote part of the country and its people.

When we recorded the radio chat, it occurred to me that following some Cornish bus drivers at the height of the summer season would make a great documentary or drama. A sort of Cornish ‘On The Buses’! (If you don’t know that old 1970s sit-com, just Google it).

Oh Lordy – and after everything I’ve just written about this part of the country being everywhere on the box?

Perhaps a few years further down the line then..

Details of ‘A View From A Cab’ book available on Amazon.

Indie writers, MoHo trips and a gift with a difference…

‘What extactly is an indie author?’ a friend asked when I told her I was taking part in the recent #indieauthorweekuk, a series of events aimed at independent writers.

Trust me, it is a question I’ve also asked myself especially when faced with the uphill task of marketing and getting your books ‘out there’ in an already crowded market.

Actually the answer is simple. A so-called ‘indie’ author is one who publishes directly to a platform – the big one being Amazon but there are a growing number of other players – rather than doing it through a traditional publisher. A bit like those indie musicians who go directly to YouTube, Spotify etc.

Right from the outset, I wanted to learn about the book publishing process from start to finish. Not just the main writing bit but commissioning a cover, creating a book ‘blurb’, formatting, bringing in test readers, proof reading, marketing – the learning curve goes on. Note that word ‘commissioning’ because not all of those elements are done by me. However, I am involved actively in all of these stages and have been gaining knowledge along the way.

Certainly the decision to go the ‘indie’ route wasn’t made as a result of any rejection. To date I have never approached a traditional publisher or agent about my fictional work, despite having past dealings with some top publishers about factual books.

More writers, (including some who have already gone the traditional publishing route), are opting for independent publishing because of the creative freedom it gives, the ability to get their work out more quickly and to keep a larger share of any royalties. Nobody is saying it is easy – trust me it isn’t! – but there is a satisfaction in being able to say ‘this is down to me’ and to involve the people of your own choosing.

Indie authors are growing more savvy and realising that strength comes from a sense of community. Which brings me back to the #indieauthorweekuk annual event. Linked to a regular networking group, this was set up 4 years ago by Sue Miller, founder of #Team Author UK, which provides Assisted Publishing services to independent authors. Sue was looking for bespoke indie author festivals/events and because she couldn’t find any, she created one.

This year I did a series of Q&As with five authors, (Jude Lennon, Amanda Davey, Lesley Rawlinson, Chris Turnbull and Su Echo Falls S’ari aka Rose English). It was great to learn about their work and to share it across social media. Their individual writing journeys were fascinating and different – we have all vowed to keep in touch and try to meet up when things return to normality.

Jude Lennon and I also did a recorded chat about short stories. Aside from a few virtual sound gremlins – we are all getting used to those aren’t we? – it was good fun and I hope we might have encouraged a few people to take the short fiction writing plunge.

Talking all things short stories!

During our short story chat, Jude and I discussed our love of heading off in our respective mobile ‘homes’ – in Jude’s case that is a vintage VW Camper Van and mine is a Motor Home. It is a great chance to escape, chill out and to catch up on reading. Short stories are good to dip into but whatever you chose, road trips and reading go hand in hand.

Recently yours truly, my husband and our dog Bonnie, took two mini breaks in our MoHo – the first was an overnight stay at the Cosawes site in Ponsanooth (mid Cornwall) and the second was at Tollgate Farm in the seaside town of Perranporth, where we stayed for two nights. Both were great places with good sized pitches and brilliant dog walks.

Neither are far from where we live but it was a chance to give the MoHo a much needed run out and to get a change of scene after months of lockdown.

On both occasions we struck lucky with the weather and at Ponsanooth we walked to the ‘Stag Hunt’ pub ( a bit of an uphill trot getting there but less onerous on the way back!). It was our first experience of eating out since January’s lockdown and the meal didn’t disappoint. The staff were friendly and the pub decor was reassuringly traditional – the local Treen’s beer was also good according to my other half who knows about these things!

On our first day in Perranporth, the sun came out big time and the beach was packed but the following day it was much quieter. After a decent walk – there are several local routes to choose from – we had lunch in the ‘Watering Hole’ restaurant/bar right on the beach. It took a while getting to grips with the pesky QR electronic ordering system (!) but our drinks and food arrived quickly – again the staff were delightful. Even managed to buy a couple of pairs of jaunty flip-flops which scream out ‘summer has arrived’!

Flip flops posing on our balcony!

Our next MoHo trip will be a two week tour of places ‘up country’ as they say here in Cornwall, including Somerset, the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, the Lake District and then into Wales. After months of going nowhere, we can’t wait

This is usually my cue to recommend a book but this time I’m going to give a mention to the fabulous butterflyboxes people who combine their love of books with special gift boxes. I stumbled upon them when I was looking for a family present with a bit of a difference and have since ordered several boxes. Having decided to donate half of all the proceeds from my short story book, ‘Shorts and Thoughts’, to the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust Charity swbt.org – which gives help to frontline social workers experiencing hardship – I contacted butterflyboxes to see if we could do a special tie-in gift box for carers and those in the wider caring professions.

The answer was a yes!

This is the latest version of the box which includes a selection of teas, coffee, biscuits and of course the short stories book. Here is the link: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/903972491/ and they do a variety of other boxes which are well worth looking at.

Gift box aimed at carers. Photo x.butterfyboxes.x

That’s it for now – Slainte!