One terrified writer, one HUGE literary festival, one big mistake?

 

Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak at several events, some big, some small, but all have one thing in common – I’ve said no. I think I can pinpoint exactly when and why my phobia of public speaking started, but knowing that, understanding that, hasn’t made it any easier to cope with. On the occasions I’ve tried, I’ve ended up in such a state I’ve not been able to sleep or eat in the weeks preceding and have been physically sick and unable to talk on the day. Shaking, dry mouth, fainting, you name it, I’ve suffered with it.

Althorp Literary Festival is in its 14th year and when an email dropped into my inbox I assumed it was asking me to buy tickets as I’ve attended most years as a guest. Instead, it was an invitation to take part in a panel event. I felt equally honoured and disappointed. There’s no way I could possibly take part, or could I?

Unusually, I didn’t rattle off a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ straight away. Althorp is a very dear place to me. I grew up 10 minutes down the road and have many happy childhood memories of our Sunday afternoon drives through the beautiful grounds after a roast lunch, my parents in the front of the car, me playing eye-spy in the back with my sister, ending with tea and cake and the more I let the memory cover me like a blanket, the more it grew – the urge to say yes. My fingers hovered over the keyboard before I quickly punched out an acceptance. And then I cried. And then I set about finding a solution, painfully aware I wouldn’t just be representing myself but also the festival, both my publishers and my agent. No pressure then. My google research resulted in me booking a course of hypnotherapy. I genuinely enjoyed every second of my talk and I’ve since signed up for various events and I honestly can’t wait. Next week I’ll be interviewing my hypnotherapist, Carmen, and she’ll share her thoughts on why public speaking is such a common phobia and give her tips on giving a great performance and I’ll be talking about the things that worked for me.

Today though I want to share my memories of what was an amazing weekend.

On arrival I was escorted to the Green Room, the library. The sight of all those books was instantly calming, admittedly so was the sight of the gin…

It felt so surreal at first and I had to remind myself to focus and pay attention to the other panellists as initially I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m on a stage at Althorp! How did this possibly happen to me?’

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There were books everywhere and at my first official signing I had a touch of anxiety I’d scratch the beautiful desk. I didn’t, and chatting to readers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

Umm there’s always one, lowering the tone, photographing the food. That would be me…

The grounds are absolutely stunning.

And no festival would be complete without a champagne bus. thankfully the sun shone and it became open top. 

I met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and made some new, and whether I’m invited back as a speaker or not, I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in putting together such an amazing festival and leaving me with memories I shall always treasure.

 

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The writing I’m most proud of – #MentalHealth

Recently I was asked in an interview if I have a piece of writing I’m really proud of and I didn’t have to fumble around for an answer.

I’m massively proud of my three novels, of course, but writing the Mindfulness course for Teamwork Trust was such a privilege and a real heart and soul project for me. It’s no secret that my mobility was severely impaired after an accident which resulted in clinical depression. Learning Mindfulness and later, after years of practice, subsequently completing my Mindfulness teacher training was really my salvation. Learning the tools to enable me to take charge of my own mental health was invaluable and something I feel passionate about passing on.

Budget cuts are rife, many mental health services disappearing. Charities such as Teamwork Trust go some way towards bridging the void that has been left. It frightens me to think where some service users would be without access to counselling and wellbeing programmes. During my time teaching this course (now expertly delivered by Tim Elliston Holistics) I heard stories which were harrowing and heart-warming; triumph over tragedy.

It was a privilege to attend a charity event last Friday and celebrate with them their success in securing Local Sustainability Funding, the only organisation in Northamptonshire to do so. It was inspiring and impressive hearing how they will implement this funding to continue to run and enhance their programmes for vulnerable adults.

Teamwork are always seeking volunteers. If you’ve a small (or large) amount of time to spare each month you really could make a huge difference in supporting vulnerable people in achieving their goals. Alternatively there’s lots of opportunities for donating or fundraising if you fancy a skydive or running a marathon?

Mental health services are vital. Please pay if forward if you can, when you can. You never know when you or your loved ones might be the one in need.

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.

 

Embracing Change # Mindfulness

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‘The only thing we can rely on in life is change.’

I like to think I’m spontaneous, open to new experiences, adventures, but at the same time, I like my routine. Structure. My little bit of normality.

My life has altered enormously over the past few years and more change is steamrollering towards me. My best friend is moving to Wales on Monday, my son leaving home, exciting things happening career wise. A real mixed bag.  Emotions are heightened. There’s a sense of waiting. Waiting until things settle. Longing for the stillness. The quietness that comes when you know where you are; feet planted on the floor. But that quietness only comes through acceptance of present circumstances. Things are what they are, not necessarily what we want them to be; and that’s not always a bad thing. How often has something happened and we’ve thought it the end of the world at the time, only to feel relief later as we look back?

I often tell the story of the Farmer and the Horse in my Mindfulness classes. A little reminder to hang-fire with judgements. Things aren’t always what they seem.

And so I wait.

And I choose to believe the fluttering I feel in my stomach is excitement, not anxiety. That my future will be bright, because ultimately we get to choose how we feel and today, I choose to be happy. How about you?

 

The Farmer and the Horse (origin unknown)

 A farmer had one old horse that he used for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbours heard about it, they sympathised with the old man over his bad luck. “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 A week later, the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone agreed that this was very bad luck. Not the farmer, who replied, “Bad Luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

 Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and forced every able-bodied young man to go fight in a bloody war. When they saw that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they let him stay. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 And on it goes….