Kindness is contagious – Be a carrier #NationalKindnessDay

When my boys were small we would start each day sitting at around the kitchen table and over breakfast we would each list 3 things we were grateful for. We also kept a notebook and after school we would discuss as a family ways in which we had been kind and jot them down. On days where they were feeling low, too much homework, squabbles with friends, lost PE kits, we would read back through the book and would feel uplifted. Of course true acts of kindness aren’t contrived, and shouldn’t be carried out in the hope of ‘getting something back.’ But after a while of consciously practicing kindness and gratitude it becomes second nature and my children have grown to be compassionate, appreciative and positive.

Never underestimate the transformation a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s day. When was the last time you smiled at a stranger? Let someone go in the queue in front of you? Praised good service?

Studies have shown people who mindfully practice kindness and gratitude have improved mental and physical health, stronger immune systems, reduced stress and depression, are happier and cope better with difficult situations.

In honour of National Kindness Day, The Diana Award are inviting people to carry out a random act of kindness today and share it on their website. Will you take part?

 

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me. 

F**K You Cancer – A tribute to my beautiful friend

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The world has lost a bright light and I have lost my beautiful friend Sara, and already I miss her enormously. Cancer is something that is often spoken about in hushed tones, almost as though if you don’t say the word aloud it can’t touch you but it can. It does. It will. Is there anyone who hasn’t had a friend, a family member brush against this disease? Sometimes it seems not, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to understand. It doesn’t make it easier to bear.

It’s hard to know what to feel right now. What to do. Who to be. And so I write. Sitting at my desk. A framed quote from Sara hangs on my wall. Something she sent to cheer me up a few months ago. Even with her life drawing to a close she thought of others. She thought of me. It always makes me laugh when I read it. Today it makes me cry and I know that she would hate that.

Next to her quote I have a corkboard packed full of photos of my family and my heart aches as I think of the children she will never now have. The places she will never see. And yet I have never quite known anyone as surrounded by love as she was. Enriching the lives of everybody she met. Always looking on the bright side. Never losing hope. A fighter til the end.

For the past seven years Sara has made me laugh and despite her circumstances that didn’t change. Until very recently we’d still Skype, laughing as we remembered times past, mutual friends and perhaps remembering the most important lesson of all.

“The world’s so beautiful.” Sara said and since then, no matter how busy I am, I make sure I look for the beauty in every day.

It’s been such a privilege to know you.

Goodbye gorgeous girl.

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Fancy a mentor? I’m now open for applications via The WoMentoring Project

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I always wanted to be a writer, but never had the opportunity to go to university, and every time I read a book I loved I would Google the author, reading interviews, and often they would say they had completed a degree in creative writing, or similar courses.

Later in life, I started looking into courses, but an accident left me with a disability, my business folded, and with three children to support I wasn’t able, physically or financially, to follow my dream.

When I first heard about The WoMentoring Project, a scheme offering free mentoring to up and coming female talent who otherwise might not be in a position to progress with their writing, I was hugely excited. Looking through the list of mentors I noticed Louise Walters, and having recently read her book Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, which I loved, I decided to apply. I was delighted when she accepted my application, and although the mentoring only took place for a few weeks, throughout that time my writing and my confidence flourished. You can read about mine and Louise’s first meeting here, and our follow-up meeting here.

It has now been 2 1/2 years since I was mentored, and during that time I have signed a 3 book deal, published my first two novels – The Sister and The Gift – both of which reached No.1 on Amazon UK, and Canada. I have sold over 750,000 books, and my stories have been sold to over 15 territories for translation. In 2016 I was nominated for The Goodreads Debut Author of the Year Award.

I owe a huge amount to the project, in particular Louise Walters. My time with her gave me a good grounding on how to structure a novel, and how a story should flow, and I really believe if it weren’t for the opportunity, my first novel would not have been of a high enough standard to be published and I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I am eternally grateful.

I am thrilled Kerry Hudson, the founder of this amazing project, has again accepted my application, but this time I am returning as a mentor. Paying it forward is something I strongly believe in and I feel privileged to now be in a position to give back.

If you are a female writer and feel you would benefit from mentoring, you can apply to me via the project. To see if we are a good fit you can read more about what I’m looking for here, and if you are writing outside my genre there are lots of other mentors available.

 

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Why I was SO grateful to go back to school – My visit to Northants Uni

Recently I received an email from the University of Northampton asking if I’d be willing to go in and be interviewed by the media/journalism degree students to talk about writing and following your dreams. I felt a pang of excitement and instantly my first thought wasn’t what I could offer them, but what I could learn from them.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I’m from a generation of girls who weren’t often encouraged to go to University, and we were sometimes actively discouraged. The 80’s may all have been about bold make-up, big hair and shoulder pads, and although women nailed power dressing (I really NEVER nailed power dressing btw) the advice I got from my careers advisor was still to become a secretary. Regular hours, steady pay, and I’d always be home in time to make my future family’s dinner.

During my visit I was struck by the sense of purpose in the University, the determination in the air. Yes, I’m sure there are parties, drinking too much and those who don’t appreciate what an incredible opportunity it affords them being there, not just education wise but in terms of personal growth and life experience, but the students I had the pleasure of meeting had something I was sadly lacking as a teenager. Confidence. The belief they could work within the field of their chosen careers. A quiet determination to succeed that has taken me over 40 years to cultivate myself.

It was a real privilege to visit and I came away feeling inspired and hopeful. You hear so many negative things about our younger generation it was a pleasure to spend time in the company of creative, ambitious, young adults who I have no doubt can do anything they set their mind to.

 

 

 

50 Happy Things 2016: Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude

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When Dawn Landau invited me to take part in a gratitude blog party last year I didn’t need any encouragement to say yes, and I can’t believe the year has flown by and it’s time to do it again. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for years now and it really has transformed the way I think. It can be hard some days of course to find something to be grateful for – life has a habit of knocking us down – but once we start feeling grateful, it’s like rolling a giant snowball. That warm fuzzy feeling gets bigger and bigger until it becomes part of our automatic thinking. For tips to start your own gratitude journal read this. To join in with the blog party following the instructions at the bottom of the page.

  1. Water – I never cease to feel humbled when I turn the tap on and fresh water runs.
  1. My children – No matter how bad things seem, they always make me smile.
  1. My husband – A great support, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s stepped up and fed everyone when I wanted to write ‘just one more page.’
  1. Bed – I have a bad back and it’s lovely to sleep in comfort; so many don’t.
  1. Healthcare – Say what you will about the NHS I feel fortunate to have received the healthcare I have.
  1. Clothes – Clothes for luxury, for fashion – how lucky am I?
  1. Food – I do love to eat. I can’t imagine feeling hungry everyday.
  1. Climate – The UK weather is unpredictable but it allows me to grow fruit and vegetables.
  1. Electricity – Making life easier in so many ways.
  1. Books – Whether for learning or pure escapism I always support my local bookstore and library.
  1. Mistakes I’ve made and leant from – there have been many.
  1. Inventors – It blows me away to think how hard life would be without so many of the things we take for granted.
  1. Scientists – Those who work tirelessly to cure diseases and make the world a better place.
  1. Volunteers – It warms me to hear stories of volunteers, whether close to home or abroad.
  1. Kindness – A simple act of kindness really changes my day – I pay it forward when I can.
  2. Sun – As well as sustaining life, doesn’t it make you feel good to see the sunshine?
  1. Friends – Always ready to listen.
  1. Finding a publisher to take a chance on a new author and realising my dream of becoming published.
  1. Mindfulness – Learning this really did change my life. So grateful to my mentor.
  1. A garden – I love to be outside.
  1. Light – Reading by candlelight wouldn’t be fun – I’d probably set light to my book!
  1. A large dining table to seat my family around.
  1. Time – It’s a luxury and I carve out some for myself everyday. 10 minutes at least of doing something just for me.
  1. Car – I’d feel so isolated if I couldn’t drive.
  1. Music – Live gigs, cds, vinyl – I love it all.
  1. Piano – I love to play even though my neighbours probably have their fingers in their ears.
  1. Postal service – I’m just as likely to write a friend a letter rather than an email and receiving one back is warming.
  1. Photos – So lovely to look back on – how did my children grow so quick?
  1. Laughter – An essential part of my day.
  1. Movies – Pure escapism.
  1. Memories – Thinking of something that makes me smile.
  1. Nature – I adore the countryside. The space. The air. The stillness.
  1. My cat – He comes home every 30 minutes for a cuddle before going out again.
  1. Money – I don’t have a lot, but I’m fortunate to get by.
  1. A smile – As well as making others happy it gives a real good feeling to work those facial muscles.
  1. A home – A place to hang my hat.
  1. My dog – My spaniel is ridiculously happy – all the time.
  1. All the incredible book bloggers, reviewers and readers I have met this year, both on-line and off-line and other authors for offering their support.
  1. Education – I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have in the UK, the qualifications my son has gained this year.
  1. My debut novel, The Sister, reaching No.1 both in the UK chart and internationally was incredible!
  1. Medicine – Diseases that would have killed us can now be treated – amazing.
  1. My recently released second novel, The Gift for receiving phenomenal reviews.
  1. Wildlife – I’m animal crazy. Love to feed the birds.
  1. Colour – It just makes you feel, doesn’t it?
  1. A kitchen – A place to cook, to hang out and to nourish.
  1. A hug – Nothing seems quite so bad afterwards.
  1. Shoes – When I think of those trekking for miles barefoot for food and water…
  1. Hope – ‘It’ll be ok in the end, if it isn’t ok, it isn’t the end.’
  1. Doing something I love for a living.
  1. Love – Where would we be without it?

 

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 15 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2016, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. You may find that if you use numbered mode, and just type what comes to mind, like me you will have enough time for more than 50. When the timer’s done, stop writing. Finish whatever sentence you’re on, but don’t add more. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful!

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste these instructions into your post) 2) Click here. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. (folks have trouble with this, but it’s not that hard. 4)Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 3, 2017. After that date, no blogs can be added. Scan to the bottom of this post to find the inlinkz.

Is being introverted a flaw? A writer’s life

 

Definition of word confidence in dictionary

I’ve always been quite an insular person and growing up people were quick to label me, I was ‘shy’ and ‘withdrawn’ and I became convinced something must be wrong with me. Teachers would shake their head as I became close to tears after being forced onto the school stage to take part in a play, and although I tried as hard as I could during rehearsals it was never good enough – ‘try harder,’ ‘be louder,’ ‘act confident,’ – but I didn’t know how to be anyone except who I was. I wasn’t allowed to perform on the night as I was ‘too quiet’ and I felt ashamed as I was told I needed to be more outgoing; I wouldn’t get anywhere in life if I wasn’t.

At break-times my hands grew clammy as I was instructed to put my book down and pushed towards large groups of children and urged to ‘make friends.’ What nobody asked me was whether I was happy sitting reading, and I was, largely. I was always comfortable with my own company and a story to absorb myself in. I had a small, but very close group of friends to turn to if I wanted to socialise, but sometimes I wanted to be alone. This seemed to make others uncomfortable as though I needed ‘fixing’ and I began to see being introverted as a flaw.

As I grew I found myself apologising A LOT. Sorry for not being an extrovert, for volunteering for things, for pushing myself forward and as people gave me tips to fix a problem I didn’t know I had, my confidence began to ebb away. What was wrong with me?

Today I remain introverted to a degree, I think perhaps many writers are, but it has just struck me how much I have grown this past year. Just five months ago, the day before my debut ‘The Sister‘ was published my excitement was tempered by fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of falling short again. I felt sick with nerves. On launch day my publisher had booked me onto local radio to talk about my book and as my husband drove, I cried for the entire 45 minute journey there, terrified the words would stick in my throat and my tongue would tie itself into knots. Who would want to listen to me?

My second novel, ‘The Gift‘, is published tomorrow and this time around I feel nothing but pure exhilaration. I’ve just taken a call from BBC Radio Northampton confirming I’ll on again tomorrow afternoon and I surprised myself by feeling genuinely excited and I’m sifting through my thoughts as I write to try and uncover why.

I think perhaps being published is a validation of sorts, acceptance if you like, that it’s ok to sit for hours and hours in solitude, to make up stories. To be content with a quiet life.

I’ll always be an introvert but little by little, with each and every word I write, my confidence is growing. The feedback from readers, reviewers and bloggers has been life-changing. People are enjoying my stories. Stories I probably wouldn’t be able to write if I was an extrovert and I think maybe, finally, it’s ok to be just who I am.