It’s too late… #FlashFiction

Photo courtesy of Kelvin M. Knight

‘Bread and water,’ mum had said clipping him around the ear. ‘That’s what you’ll get if you’re caught nicking again and no soft, warm bed.’ She made him return the sweets he’d stuffed into his pockets to the corner shop where he’d muttered apologies he didn’t mean. Later, as he’d picked at too-thick stew and sticky dumplings he wished he’d still got that Mars Bar. He hated mum’s cooking.

***

Mum was wrong. His bed is soft and it’s always warm here. The food is good, no bread and water, but still, right now he’d give anything for home-made stew and dumplings.

 

I’m delighted that in less than 2 weeks since publication The Sister has entered the Top 20 Paperback chart in the UK. Tesco are currently featuring The Sister as part of a ‘Try a new author’ for £2 deal’ so grab yourself a bargain (other supermarkets have their own offers running too). In the run up to publication day my self-doubt set in big time. You can read that post here and my Waterstones launch party was a mixture of emotions, you can read my post on that here

It’s too late was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story photo prompt. Hop over to host Rochelle’s blog to find out how to join in.

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Writing for Joy – How & Why I Keep a Gratitude Journal

 

“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot” Hausa Proverb

Recently I put a post on social media commenting it had taken a long time to fill out my gratitude journal that day, I was feeling so thankful. I received quite a few messages asking how and why I journal gratitude. I wrote this piece about six years ago for a spiritual publication but it’s still relevant now. Gratitude journaling is always something I do every day so I thought I’d share this adapted post here.

In my early, dark days of first acquiring a disability, I didn’t feel I had an awful lot to be thankful for.

It was like I had spent my whole life getting to the point where I had a thriving holistic therapy practice I loved, an amazing social life with great friends, and my beautiful dog, who I would take on daily country walks.

Life was perfect. I had so much to be grateful for, but then it was suddenly snatched away. 

I was left with constant pain, immobility, and three children who I felt I was letting down as I wasn’t able to run around with them. So what did I have to be grateful for, right? The previous ten years had been the best I had ever experienced, and I was naturally appreciative of all I had. After my accident, appreciativeness soon turned to hurt, anger, self-pity, and eventually self-loathing.

I caused myself more pain by resisting the enforced lifestyle change and couldn’t see a purpose in anything. It was at this point I knew I had to make a change.

I’d heard of gratitude journaling and since I love writing, it seemed to be an obvious starting point.

That night I sat with my journal, intending to begin with three things I was grateful for that day. Just three. Piece of cake, right? After an hour, I gently closed the cover on the tear-stained, still blank first page and cried myself to sleep, mentally adding “failure at journaling” to all my other perceived shortcomings.

A couple of days later I decided to try again. Determinedly opening up the book, I quickly wrote my children, my home, and food to eat. Feeling a smug sense of satisfaction, I replaced the pen lid. I was done, right? Objective achieved.

The next day I opened the book and froze. What could I write? The three things from the day before were all I could think of. I couldn’t repeat them, and yet nothing else came to mind.

I laid the incredibly crumpled but virtually blank book down again and rested my head against the window as I watched a robin tentatively sitting on the garden fence, anxiously watching all directions while trying to keep an eye on the birdseed my son had put on the feeding station before school.

For half an hour, this beautiful bird made several trips, came back with friends, and triumphantly cleared all that we had offered.

It dawned on me that while I had been watching, I hadn’t felt sorry for myself once. I had been mindful and in awe of nature and how beautiful it can be.

Excitedly, I reached for my book again. I ripped out the first page and discarded it. Yes, my children, home, and food were things to be grateful for, but I just wrote them for the sake of reaching my goal. I wasn’t really feeling anything at the time I wrote them, and I knew the exercise had been an empty one.

That little tiny bird, with its beautiful red breast had evoked a truly positive emotion, and from that I started to become more and more aware and recognise these precious moments as they occurred, which they generally do if you watch for them each day.

It hasn’t been easy. It is now ten years on, and journaling has become an important part of my life. It has really helped me change my mindset and move forward.

There is joy everywhere, but it can be overshadowed by pain if you allow it. 

When I have a bad day now, I read back over my journal and I remember that life has so much to offer. I still have a lot to be grateful for. Yes, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a life and I love it.

If you want to start a gratitude journal I recommend the following:

  1. Don’t just go through motions. Make a decision to be consciously more grateful.

Don’t reluctantly journal because you think you should. Feel what you write. Believe it.

  1. Don’t set yourself a minimum number of things to write per day.

In my experience, there are days I can’t fill a page, and that’s perfectly okay. On balance, there are days I can fill multiple pages. Don’t put yourself under pressure to stick to the same amount each day. Be flexible and don’t take the joy away by being too regimented.

  1. Don’t wait for the right time.

I try to integrate this into my bedtime routine, but if I have a joyful experience, I often write it down straight away. This reinforces the positivity felt and ensures I don’t forget anything.

  1. Elaborating on why you are grateful allows you to really explore your feelings.

If, like me, you intend on flicking back through your journal, make it clear why you are grateful for the items you add. For example: For the first entry, I put “my children.” On day two, I wrote, “my children for putting on a sock puppet show after school and making me laugh.” That triggers so many memories each time I read it and always makes me smile.

  1. Focus on people rather than things.

As much as I love my iPod, it can never give me the same warm, fuzzy, loved feeling my partner instils by making me a surprise breakfast in bed.

  1. Don’t rush; savour every word.

Don’t see this as another chore to get through. The fact that you can make a list of things that make you feel grateful should make you feel, umm, well, grateful!

  1. Include surprises.

Unexpected events often elicit a greater emotional response. They’re also wonderful to look back on when you feel that life is mundane and the same old routine all the time.

  1. Keep the negative out.

If you want to keep a diary to record how you feel, this can be constructive, but leave your gratitude journal as a purely positive only exercise.

  1. Mix it up. Don’t put same thing every day.

Expand your awareness. The more you do this, the more you’ll start to really appreciate what a gift life is. The world is beautiful. Learn to really experience it.

  1. Be creative.

Who says a gratitude journal has to be full of lists? Mine contains everything from concert tickets to photos and restaurant receipts. Have some fun with it.

  1. Give it a fair chance.

Some experts say it takes, on average, twenty-one days for a new habit to form. Don’t give up or dismiss it as not working before then. Commit to just three weeks and then see how you feel. What have you got to lose?

I would love to hear how you get on.

My new book deal!!

 

I’m delighted to share news of my new book deal! (And you can read the official Bookseller announcement here).

Bookouture have been such an amazing publisher and I’m thrilled to be writing another psychological thriller for them due to be published in Autumn 2018. The digital and audio versions of this new book will published by Bookouture but the paperback version is in the safe hands of Sphere (Little, Brown) who will also be republishing my first three novels, The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate making them available in bookshops and supermarkets for the very first time!

The paperback publication day for The Sister is today – hurrah – and The Gift will be released on 16th December, with The Surrogate hitting the retailers next year (although it will be available on line from 27th September 2017).

Exciting times ahead!

Sponge Cake & Self Doubt – The day before publication…

Today I’m distracted, unable to settle. I’ve opened and closed my wip, started and abandoned a short story. The puppy has trailed me as I’ve paced our overgrown garden, the cat rolling his eyes as I’ve stalked the places he thinks of as his own. I’m edgy, excited, easily distracted. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas, except it isn’t. It’s better.

Tomorrow is the paperback publication day of my debut, The Sister and even with a pile of paperbacks sitting on my desk and less than twelve hours to go I still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

This morning I’ve collected the bookmarks for my Waterstones launch tomorrow night, resisted the urge to dive into my cake and bought enough wine to fill the boot of my car. Each time I’ve been out I’ve darted into Asda and stood staring blankly at the books for so long an assistant came to check if I was ok and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that tomorrow, nestled amongst the other titles, my story will sit. It doesn’t seem real.

It’s been a long road to publication, and after signing with the digital phenomenon that is Bookouture I never dreamed that a year on I’d also have a contract with Sphere (Little, Brown). After all those no’s finally two yes’s.

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I feel so emotional today. So thankful that even when it seemed utterly impossible anyone would take me on I never gave up writing and submitting. Tomorrow in-between two radio interviews, I’m planning to visit WH Smiths, Waterstones and the supermarkets to reassure myself it’s really there. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I see Grace and Charlie’s story on a shelf although there’s still a part of me, a larger part than I’d like, that is half-expecting a last minute ‘sorry we’ve read the book again and changed our minds’ email. I’m not sure when this self-doubt will go, if it ever will, but in the meantime I’m watching the clock and waiting. Endlessly waiting. And for now, still resisting the cake.