My school visit – Lessons from Jack Black

There’s a fabulous scene in School of Rock where Jack Black, masquerading as a teacher, gets asked about his methods. Straight-faced he quotes ‘The Greatest Love of All’ lyrics, written by Linda Creed & recorded by Whitney Houston ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’ Anyone who has seen the movie will know Jack’s reasons for teaching are intrinsically selfish at first but ultimately he inspires the kids with his passion for music.

Encouraging creativity in schools is so important. Sometimes I feel it can get a little lost amongst the league tables, the desire for academic excellence, the immense pressure on both teachers and children to produce results that exceed target levels. The younger generation, teenagers in particular, often get a bad press. My sons and their friends are polite, friendly, with a passion for politics and the environment that would put many adults to shame.

School visits are something I am doing more and more of. Not for marketing, my psychological thrillers are entirely unsuitable for children and I never take any to sell, or sign, but to share my experience of life inside and outside of education. I still remember that moment nearly thirty years ago when I sat in front of the careers advisor, palms prickling with nerves, stomach churning as I said out loud the thing I had never dared say before. ‘I want to be a writer.’ I still feel the crushing disappointment when she dismissed my dream with words that hit like bullets. ‘That’s not a career. You can’t earn a living from it. Go and work in an office.’ I often wonder if my school had focused a little more on creativity how different my career path might have been. How, if an author had visited and said ‘Yes, you absolutely can make a living writing. I’m doing it,’ whether I wouldn’t have given up quite so easily.

The last thing I want to do is make it seem is that the children’s dream careers are easily achievable but I want to impart that with hard work, determination and positivity there is nothing you can’t at least try to do and to encourage them to never lose that passion for the things we love, because as adults we often do. The things we enjoyed when we were young, cast as frivolous and time wasting, buried under a mountainous pile of routine, bills and domestic drudgery.

Write, paint, draw, sing, mould with clay. Never lose sight of who you are or what you love. The average life span is 4,000 weeks. Make the most of your precious time.

If just one child during tough times, remembers my visit, recalling how once a disabled mother, with limited education, came to their school and said ‘Yes, you can. Don’t give up,’ they might end up paying it forward one day. Encouragement, kindness and love are free to give and easily shared.

 

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Diamonds & Dust #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Roger Bultot

 

Nothing. I’ve nothing except dust and junk. Mama’s attic virtually bare now. Opening the last box, I’m hit by colour and memories as vibrant as the shimmering material I find myself clutching to my chest, which aches with longing.

‘Do you have to go?’ I’d asked.

‘It’s how we’ll make our fortune.’ Mama kissed my nose as she set off for another long shift, sewing clothes for the ungrateful jewellery maker’s wife.

I lift the dress to the light. It’s heavy. Surely too heavy? The sparkles too bright to be fake?

I remember the headline ‘Missing diamond mystery.’

Perhaps I have something after all.

 

Happy New Year! Tomorrow, Thursday 4th January, at 19.30 GMT I’m live on the Facebook Group Crime Book Club, answering questions about writing, publishing and books as well as discussing my latest novel, The Surrogate. Whether you’re a reader or writer do pop over and join me if you can. You’ll need to join the group first here.

Diamonds & Dust was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 words story challenge inspired by a photo prompt and hosted by Rochelle. You can read the other entries here

50 Happy Things 2018: Bloggers Unite to Flood the Internet with Gratitude

 

Hurrah! It’s one of my favourite times of year again – the annual ‘Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude’ co-ordinated by the fabulous Dawn from Tales from the Motherland. If you haven’t joined in before it’s super easy. Set a timer and write a list of things that you have felt grateful for this past year. Full instructions are below. Here’s mine!

 

  1. My children – I made humans – actual humans! They always make me laugh/smile/my heart swell with pride.
  2. My sister – she’s my hero for many reasons.
  3. My husband – often the one who holds everything together while I write ‘just one more page…’. 
  4. My mum – I wouldn’t be here without her. 
  5. My family – It may be getting smaller but they take up a large space in my heart.
  6. My friends – I value them dearly. 
  7. My puppy – he may currently be chewing his way through EVERYTHING but he lifts my day – always. 
  8. My cat – whoever said cats don’t love has never met our affectionate ball of fur. 
  9. The NHS – it’s helped me literally get back on my feet.
  10. A mattress – a sufferer of chronic pain I value a soft place to lay.
  11. A home – a place I can just be.
  12. My garden – I love the outdoors.
  13. Nature – The world is so beautiful if we just stop and pause.
  14. Mindfulness – my practice enables me to appreciate the here and now.
  15. Food – a luxury I never take for granted.
  16. Words – I adore the English language.
  17. Stories – I’m making a career making stuff up – a dream come true.
  18. Water – we turn on taps and voila – we’re incredibly lucky.
  19. Fresh air – I live near the countryside and it’s lovely to just breathe.
  20. Bloggers – such a supportive community.
  21. Charity – we can all do something.
  22. The animal kingdom – It’s humbling observing them in their natural habitat.
  23. Education – my son is off to uni this year & I’m so excited for his future.
  24. Chocolate – Heavenly.
  25. Readers – I love meeting and hearing from those who read my novels.
  26. My publishers who reach an audience with my books. 
  27. My literary agent who has guided me this past year.
  28. Music – I play piano (badly) and love going to gigs.
  29. Creativity – Art, music, writing – it’s all so inspiring.
  30. A dining table. Nothing makes me happier than sharing a good meal with my family.
  31. My gratitude journal – the last thing I write before I go to sleep.
  32. Kindness – no act is too small.
  33. A smile from a stranger often makes my day.
  34. Literary festivals – a chance to hang out with other writers and readers & I spoke at my first events this year. 
  35. Books – my favourite pastime – always.
  36. Wine – a luxury at the end of the day.
  37. Flowers – Watching bees buzz lazily around the borders.
  38. Colour – makes everything seem a little brighter.
  39. Photos – I still print mine out and stick in an album.
  40. A car – not being too mobile I’d be lost without mine.
  41. Stationery – Nothing cheers me up like a notebook.
  42. Cake – baking is therapeutic.
  43. A hug – human contact has the power to heal.
  44. Medicine – I’m incredibly grateful for the advances we have made.
  45. Random acts of kindness.
  46. Memories – Making new ones every day.
  47. Laughter
  48. Time – the greatest gift of all.
  49. Electricity
  50. Mistakes – I’ve learned & grown & I’ll make them again!

Gratitude is so important. Here you can read how and why I keep a gratitude journal every day.

To join in with ’50 things’ set a timer for 15 minutes. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write things that make you happy, or things you feel grateful for. Don’t think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. If you use the numbered mode and just type what comes to mind, it’s easy. When the timer’s done stop writing; finish whatever sentence you’re on. If you haven’t written 50 things, don’t worry. If you have more than 50 things great; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! Add the photos, links, instructions, etc after you finish the list––the timer doesn’t matter for getting these details down; it applies to the list only. Add your link here.

 

An Unexpected Guest – An Xmas Short Story

 

Again, I drive my spade into the frozen ground. Tiny rockets of pain shoot through my wrists, up into my shoulders. Tears spring to my eyes and I tell myself it’s frustration, pain, anything but this horrible sense of missing you. I drop to my knees, the coldness seeping through my jeans, and I burrow at the earth with my gloved fingers but the mud is as solid as the gold band I still wear on my wedding finger. I look up at the fir tree, branches dusted with snow and my heart aches. We’d brought this tree inside every single Christmas eve; you were big on traditions. Mulled wine warmed on the stove, the house smelling of cinnamon and cloves, as you’d heft the tree into its usual place, standing tall and proud in the dining room. You’d twist lights around its middle – a man’s job – you’d say, and then I’d hang baubles and candy canes. Three tiny felt stockings for the children we’d longed for but were never blessed with. Now you’re gone too. Loneliness wraps itself around me like a second skin. I raise my eyes to the flat, white sky and scream out my frustration, my breath billowing in front of me like a cloud. I wonder if you’re looking down. I like to think you are.

Despite my protestations, my sister’s coming for Christmas dinner this year. We’re going to have roast beef the way we always had growing up. Dad was a butcher and always insisted on something ‘with a bit of blood in it.’ You’d been horrified. ‘It must be turkey. It’s traditional.’ I still feel fragile. Raw. It’s too soon for snapping crackers and flaming puddings, carols about peace and goodwill to all men, but ‘it is the season for families,’ my sister insisted. She’s bringing Sophie my niece. ‘It will be odd without Dan at the table.’ She had said. Grief shimmering in her eyes. She adored you, as did Sophie and you were so good with her. Every visit I got a glimpse of the father you could have been and a painful lump rose in my chest.

Sometimes I’d pretend Sophie was ours. She had the same colouring as you. You’d stretch in front of the open fire, her cradled in your lap, reading stories about big bad wolves and too-hot porridge, heads bent, blonde hair glimmering as the flames crackled and hissed. She could almost have been ours I thought as I toasted pink marshmallows brown. Almost.

Except she isn’t ours.

She is yours though.

I still remember the heart wrenching pain when you’d told me you were leaving me for my sister. I still remember the weight of the iron in my hand. The sizzle as it hit your face. The sickening crack as your head hit the flagstone floor. I do hope the blood doesn’t stain.

I’d told everyone you’d run off with your secretary. I almost felt sorry for my poor sister as I watched confusion, disappointment, anger slide across her perfect, perfect face. She believed me. Why wouldn’t she? After all I’m not the liar here.

I sit back on my heels. It’s no good. I can’t indent the earth at all, let alone dig a hole big enough to bury you in. No matter. I’ve a batch of pastry resting in the fridge and mince pies were traditionally made of meat weren’t they? You’d appreciate the tradition. I’ll get dad’s old mincer out of the garage.

You’ll be joining us at the dinner table after all, darling.

 

Thanks so much for reading, reviewing and recommending my books this year. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. See you next year. Louise x

 

 

‘An Unexpected Guest’ recently appeared on Portobello Book Blogs 12 Days of Christmas feature. You can hop over and read the other short stories from various writers here.

FREE books up for grabs (each comes with an adventure)…

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
Henry Miller – The Books In My Life (1969)

Books and adventure are two things in life I adore so I’m super excited to have combined the two by opening a BookCrossing account.

BookCrossing is the act of giving a book a unique identity so, as the book is passed from reader to reader, it can be tracked. There are currently a staggering 1,834,453 BookCrossers and 12,253,261 books travelling throughout 132 countries. The BookCrossing community has been active since 2001 and is free to join and take part.

BookCrossing’s online archival and tracking system allows members to connect with other readers and follow their books through tagging and tracking their individual books by marking them with BCIDs (BookCrossing Identity Numbers). Each BCID is unique to each book – once it’s registered on the site, the book can then be followed and journaled forever. BookCrossing is free to join and free to play. So don’t be ‘shelf’ish with your books – read and release!

I’ll be using BookCrossing to give away signed copies of The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate, as well as passing on books I’ve bought and read.  You can follow my account here to see what I’m up to.

The first book I’ll be giving away this week is a signed copy of The Gift and a limited edition bookmark and next year I’ll be popping a book in my bag regularly when I go out so I can distribute books both inside and outside my home county.

As well as giving, I’m also hoping to track a few down and read outside my usual genres.

Do join in!

Can you visualise your way onto the bestsellers list?

 

Recently, I blogged about my passion for positivity and how I use vision boards to help create a life I love (you can read that post here) and keep a gratitude journal which makes me feel all warm and squishy inside every day when I realise just how lucky I am (you can read that post here).

Last week I had lunch with fellow author Darren O’Sullivan, whose Harper Collins debut Our Little Secret was a smash hit this summer, so much so his digital only deal has now been expanded to include paperbacks.

Darren was telling me about his long struggle to finish, and publish his novel and how his career only took off once he changed his mindset. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to discuss this properly so I am delighted to welcome Darren onto my YouTube channel today where we chat further about our belief that our thoughts really can shape our world.

I’d love to hear what you think.

You can find Darren over at Amazon here.

On Twitter here.

And Facebook here.

Novel writing – creating that hook – Author Live Chat

 

On Sunday at 8pm GMT I’ll be over on Facebook doing an Author’s Live Chat for The Fiction Cafe. I’ll be discussing the importance of beginnings and creating that hook when you write. In preparation, I’m sharing the opening of my latest psychological thriller, The Surrogate, today.

Whether you are a writer, or a reader, do come over and join us. It will be lots of fun and I’ll also be giving away signed books.

Later

There is a rising sense of panic; horror hanging in the air like smoke.

‘They’re such a lovely couple. Do you think they’re okay?’ says the woman, but the flurry of emergency service vehicles crammed into the quiet cul-de-sac, the blue and white crime scene tape stretched around the perimeter of the property, indicate things are anything but okay. She wraps her arms around herself as though she is cold, despite this being the warmest May on record for years. Cherry blossom twirls around her ankles like confetti, but there will be no happily ever after for the occupants of this house, the sense of tragedy already seeping into its red bricks.

Her voice shakes as she speaks into the microphone. It is difficult to hear her over the thrum of an engine, the slamming of van doors as a rival news crew clatters a camera into its tripod. He thrusts the microphone closer to her mouth. She hooks her red hair behind her ears; raises her head. Her eyes are bright with tears. TV gold.

‘You don’t expect anything bad… Not here. This is a nice area.’

Disdain slides across the reporter’s face before he rearranges his features into the perfect blend of sympathy and shock. He hadn’t spent three years having drama lessons for nothing.

He tugs the knot in his tie to loosen it a little as he waits for the woman to finish noisily blowing her nose. The heat is insufferable; shadows long under the blazing sun. Body odour exudes from his armpits, fighting against the sweet scent of the freshly cut grass. The smell is cloying, sticking in the back of his throat. He can’t wait to get home and have an ice-cold lager. Put on his shorts like the postman sitting on the edge of the kerb, his head between his knees. He wonders if he is the one who found them. There will be plenty of angry people waiting for their post today. ‘Late Letter Shock!’ is the sort of inane local story he usually gets to cover, but this… this could go national. His big break. He couldn’t get here fast enough when his boss called to say what he thought he’d heard on the police scanner.

He shields his eyes against the sun with one hand as he scouts the area. Across the road, a woman rests against her doorframe, toddler in her arms. He can’t quite read her expression and wonders why she doesn’t come closer like the rest of them. At the edge of the garden, as close as the police will allow, a small crowd is huddled together: friends and neighbours, he expects. The sight of their shocked faces is such a contrast to the neat borders nursing orange marigolds and lilac pansies. He thinks this juxtaposition would make a great shot. The joy of spring tempered by tragedy. New life highlighting the rawness of loss of life. God, he’s good; he really should be an anchor.

There is movement behind him, and he signals to the cameraman to turn around. The camera pans down the path towards the open front door. It’s flanked by an officer standing to attention in front of a silver pot containing a miniature tree. On the step are specks of what looks like blood. His heart lifts at the sight of it. Whatever has happened here is big. Career defining.

Coming out of the house are two sombre paramedics pushing empty trolleys, wheels crunching in the gravel.

The woman beside him clutches his arm, her fingertips pressed hard against his suit jacket. Silly cow will wrinkle the fabric. He fights the urge to shake her free; instead, swallowing down his agitation. He might need to interview her again later.

‘Does this mean they’re okay?’ asks the woman, confusion lining her face.

The trolleys are clattered into the back of the waiting ambulance. The doors slam shut, the blue lights stop flashing and slowly it pulls away.

From behind the immaculately trimmed hedge, hidden from view, he hears the crackle of a walkie-talkie. A low voice. Words drift lazily towards him, along with the buzz of bumblebees and the stifled sound of sobbing.

‘Two bodies. It’s a murder enquiry.’

 

You can find The Surrogate on Amazon here and The Fiction Cafe on Facebook here. See you on Sunday!