Times Past Challenge: Chinese Spoons And Eating Out

Dressed to impress in my purple and white midi dress my mother had made for me and  patent leather, navy-blue sling back shoes with block heels, I walked into the dimly lit Chinese restaurant, mesmerised by the brightly coloured lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the soft, almost hypnotic music filling the room.

It was the mid 70’s, I was twelve and staying with my dad for the school holidays in Brighton, and he was taking me and my brother out for dinner.  My first time eating out at a restaurant for an evening meal and, as it turned out, the last time with my dad.

I didn’t know what to order, so Dad ordered what he was having: a bowl of crab and sweetcorn soup.  When the waiter placed the small, deep bowl in front of me, I wasn’t sure at first what to make of the strange, thick-looking soup with the white streaks floating amongst the sweetcorn.

Dad urged me to try it, warning me to be careful as it was very hot, a fact borne out by his steamed up glasses. And then I noticed the white, ladle-like Chinese style spoon placed next to my bowl.  I had never seen such a spoon; its shape and also the unusual design on its base fascinated me.

As a tail-end ‘Baby Boomer’ growing up in 60s and 70s southern England,  eating out at a restaurant for an evening meal just wasn’t done.  The cost was out of reach for my parents and even if cost wasn’t a factor, restaurants were not family-friendly.

The only ‘fast food’ we had, and then as a rare treat, was when my mother left me and my brother in the care of my dad for the day when she took her prized Siamese cats to London for a cat show.  Dad always, I say always, got us fish and chips wrapped in newspaper for lunch, which we ate at home with plenty of salt, vinegar, fat pickled onions and lashings of tomato ketchup.

We didn't eat out as kids, but we did enjoy family gatherings, such as this tea party for a cousin. Me on the right. Always the kid with chocolate on my face. Nothing's changed... (c) Sherri Matthews

We didn’t eat out as kids, but we did enjoy family gatherings, such as this tea party for a cousin’s birthday. Me on the right. Always the kid with chocolate on her face. Nothing’s changed…
(c) Sherri Matthews

Pubs, if you were lucky, offered crisps, peanuts and sometimes a cold sausage roll or curled up ham sandwich on dry, white bread spread with margarine.  Pub meals were not the thing and children weren’t allowed inside.  By the time I was old enough to go with my friends, the only meals on offer, at least in the pubs where I hung out in Ipswich, were scampi, chicken or sausages and chips served in red, plastic-weaved baskets.

But when I was seventeen, my Radio Caroline listening boyfriend took me out for a meal for my birthday to a Berni Inn.

These ‘inns’ were all the rage across the country in the 70’s because they offered all and sundry an affordable, three course meal consisting of prawn cocktail, steak with all the trimmings (in Britain this means mushrooms, peas, grilled tomatoes and chips) and Black Forest Gateau.  Also included was a glass of wine and coffee to follow.  Very swish, we thought.

I remember that night for two things: the black maxi dress I wore, thinking how grown up I must have looked, and the horrendous stomach ache I had later on.  I blamed it on the coffee which never did agree with me. It was a great night out other than that.

But it is the memory of a Chinese meal one night in Brighton that endures:  the soup was delicious, the spoons fascinating and the time with my dad priceless.

*******

This post is written in response to a new and intriguing monthly challenge set by memoir writer Irene over at Reflections and Nightmares:

‘I’d like to invite you to join with me in a prompt challenge that will give us social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location. The prompt can be responded to in any form you enjoy – prose, poetry, flash, photographs, sketches or any other form you choose. You may like to use a combination of the two. I will also add a series of questions for those that would like to join in but don’t know where to start.’

Irene will give us her next prompt for February this week, giving me time most generously to squeeze this post in for January’s ‘Eating Out’ prompt (thank you friend!). You can read the other responses to her fascinating challenge here.

*******

Thank you all so very much for your wonderfully encouraging response to my post two weeks ago and for your understanding when I’ve been so lax in posting and visiting your blogs, especially last week.  But this week I’ll do my best to catch up, so get the kettle on and the wine chilling – I’m heading your way, rain, snow or shine!

 

 

 

Posted in Family Life, Family Memoirs, Times Past Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 93 Comments

Blogging And The Three Year Rule

Dear Blogger,

How are you?  It’s been a while since you and I had a proper talk, and this seems like the perfect time.

I saw you walk around the park a few times last week; that’s good news,  you must be feeling a bit better.  I know how walking, especially on a crisp, sunny winter’s morning, lifts your spirits, those endorphins weaving their feel-good magic through the ‘brain fog’ .

You mentioned recently that you’ve seen your robin a lot lately.  Strange isn’t it how we end up talking about robins so much?  I smile even now when I remember how much you agonised about what to write for your first ever blog post three years ago almost to the day, and how it was the sight of your Sweet Robin (as you came to name him) that inspired you.  And that brazen, puffed-up little bird still does.

Interestingly, I found out a thing or two about robins: they are cute but they are territorial and don’t let their feathered-friends push them around.  I had to laugh when you told me about the squabbles at your bird feeder and how there, among the sparrows, blue tits and even a blackbird, stands guard your Sweet Robin, seeing them off, a steely eyed determination in his coal-black eyes.

Hmmmmm….

I read your status update on Facebook this week – one of those ‘Facebook Memories’ thing they like to do – about your trip to London to have photos taken for your first ever article published in Prima magazine.  I remember you telling me about that day when,  as you looked out of your train window,  a beautiful fox, his red fur shimmering in the pale, winter sun, appeared in the middle of a field, stopping in his tracks to watch the train go by.

“It was a sign,” you said, because you have a ‘thing’ about foxes.

But I know that this memory also reminded you of all you HAVEN’T done since then, mainly that you STILL haven’t written your book and it made you feel like crap. Well,  I need to tell you now, that is utter bull.

You hear me on this?  Now, we are good friends, we go back a long way, but it’s time you sat up and listened to me for once, because, frankly, I’m worried about you. This time last year, you wrote ‘Two Years Blogging and Still Standing’.  Well, another year gone and yes, you’re still standing. But now I’m hearing things I don’t like.

I’m hearing that you are struggling so much that you are wondering if you will keep going with your blogging because you are finding it too difficult as well as writing your memoir.  You’re finding it too much with everything life is chucking your way, one bloody thing after the other, you say.

But I don’t get it – look at everything you’ve put into your blog.  Are you seriously thinking of leaving all that behind, now?  Since when were you ever a quitter?  Come on, get a grip! For one thing, you’ve told me over and over how much you would miss your wonderful friends if you ever stopped blogging.

They’re amazing you know, your readers and friends online, and your off-blog friends and  family who never fail to encourage you and stand by you, send you an email or a text or a Facebook message (and share!) a blog post they enjoyed.  You’ve told me many times how much the incredible kindness and generosity of others has restored your faith in humanity.

Remember how you felt when you had 50 followers and you got your first ever blog award?  You couldn’t believe it, that someone from ‘out there’ would find your blog, never mind ‘like’ it and maybe even leave a comment.  And what about your ‘silent’ readers, those you know visit through Google, especially when searching for information about Asperger’s Syndrome?  What about them?

I know how great you felt when you posted your first ever blog post.  You didn’t know about tagging or any of that ‘SEO’ stuff, but who cared?  Yes, you were nervous, but your first ever comment was from that lovely hubby of yours, and your mum and best friend, who were there for you then and are with you still today.

And what about your fantastic kids?  Remember how you felt when they first told you how proud they were of you? Do me a favour will you, when you feel like you’re nothing, that you’ve achieved nothing, always remember this.

Please?

Hubby gave you flowers and a card last Saturday and you had no idea why. “To celebrate your three-year blogging anniversary,” he said.

Beautiful flowers & card from Hubby (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Beautiful flowers & card from Hubby
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

And you hung your head in shame because of all the negativity and stress and pressure you had allowed to steal your joy and sense of accomplishment and you didn’t feel you had much to celebrate, because you’re so overwhelmed and plagued with worries of ‘keeping up’ and of sitting on the sidelines and achieving jack.

Why do you do that? Why can’t you believe in yourself and stop feeling like you’re such a failure all the time?  What’s wrong with you?   You need to change that, and you need to do it now.  Yes, I’m talking to you…

And what about your reasons for blogging in the first place?  Yes, yes, we both know about author platform and all that, and yes, it’s important, but you’ve told me many times that you don’t want to blog for that reason alone. What you’ve always wanted is connection, to know that by sharing stories from your life, past and present, you can reach out to others and let them (and yourself) know, above all else: “We are not alone.”

Your post Asperger’s Syndrome And The Love Of Animals is viewed every single day and has been since you published it in June 2013. It’s your most consistently viewed post, at the top of all your other posts week after week.   You have no idea who most of your visitors are, but now and then somebody leaves a comment and shares with you their struggles, their victories, their story.  I know you are so glad you wrote that post.

Remember your post Jersey: Occupation Liberation Celebration? Someone called Ed Le Gallais found your link on your public Facebook Page, left a wonderful message and shared it with three tourist websites in Jersey, giving you over 6,3oo views and 36 shares.   I know you don’t pay much attention to stats, but this blew you away. You worried that your post wouldn’t do justice to such an emotional and moving celebration. After all, you were just a visitor, you hadn’t lived it.

But a dear man, Robert, shared with you that he had lived in occupied Jersey under five years of Nazi rule, and that he was there, by the Pomme d’Or on May 9th, 1945 when his beautiful, tiny island was liberated by the British. He wrote to thank you for your post.  You couldn’t believe it.  He thanked you?

“No,” you said, “it is I who thanks you, dear Robert.”

And you cry even now thinking of it.

Remember too how Harper Collins found your blog (and you still have no idea how) and sent you Mary Karr’s book ‘The Art of Memoir’ and asked you to review it? That came out of nowhere, but at just the right time for you, and you still can’t get over it.

None of these things would have happened if you hadn’t started blogging.  Don’t ever forget that.

Think too of all you’ve learnt from other bloggers, not just about writing and publishing, but about other countries and cultures, every day life, and all the ups and downs you’ve shared together, the laughter and fun, and yes, even tears, in so many shared experiences,  All the writing and photography opportunities you’ve both received and given through guest posts, awards, blog hops, challenges, reblogs and competitions.

And who would have thought that one day you would write flash fiction?  Blogging made all this, and so much more, possible.

So don’t you tell me that you can’t keep blogging. Just don’t.

It’s tough when bloggers you’ve known have disappeared, for one reason or another.  Some were friends and now they’ve gone, just like that, and you miss them and all you can do is hope they’re okay.    But blogging takes a lot of commitment and sometimes things change.  Yes, you’re going to have to find a way to keep blogging and get your memoir written, take stock and recalibrate, but try not to panic in the process.

I know it’s bad sometimes, I know that things come along that derail you. I see you on those days when you sit down at your laptop and an hour later you’re still sitting there, unable to type a single word.  I know that panic when it rises like bile in your throat and with every second ticking by, you feel your memoir leaching away from you like ice cream left out too long in the warm.

You freeze; you can’t move; you can’t type.  Another writing day lost.

So. You do. Nothing.

I understand, I really do.  But you will get through this, trust me.

I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough.  I hope I haven’t upset you or said anything out of line.  I get fired up sometimes, when I have someone’s best interests at heart.  I only want to encourage you and say I’m here for you.  And don’t ever forget how far you’ve come.  You might not have achieved some of your goals so far, but you’re on your way, that’s what counts.  But you need to enjoy the journey, otherwise by the time you reach your destination (and you will, you hear me????), you’ll be so knackered, you won’t be able to enjoy anything.

And what’s the point of that?

But wait, one more thing: I realise I haven’t even mentioned the three-year blogging rule.  Funny actually, I don’t know why I even brought this up in the first place; after all, you’re not exactly one for sticking to the rules are you? But there is one rule I sincerely hope you’ll keep.

Here it is, and it’s simple:

Don’t Quit.

Got it?

Hang in there, and I’ll see you soon.

With love from Yourself xxx

Posted in Asperger's Syndrome, Blogging, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 183 Comments

A Field of Sheep For A Happy New Year

Only seven days into 2016, not too late I hope to wish you all a Happy New Year!  I’m a straggler, always it seems…

Bogged down with other, behind-blog ‘stuff’ at the moment and finding it pretty impossible to get moving here, nevertheless, I hope to catch up with you all as soon as I can.  I plan my first, ‘proper’ post next week in which I hope to share my thoughts about three years of blogging.  How did that happen?  I have no idea…

Meanwhile, I don’t have any wise or inspirational or motivational words for the New Year, nor do I have any resolutions.  It’s all I can do to cross one thing off my to-do list each day.  That’s resolution enough for me.

But I can leave you with a photo of some sheep.

There’s a walk hubby and I like to take high above the rolling hills of the Dorset countryside when we want to clear our heads.  The path, after endless rain and wind and short, dark days, looked like this and perfectly describes where I stand just about now ~

Stuck In Mud (c) Sherri Matthews Minterne Magna, Dorset Dec 2015

Stuck In Mud
(c) Sherri Matthews Minterne Magna, Dorset Dec 2015

The view on one side of the path looks like this and describes what I need to do ~

Just Breathe (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Just Breathe
(c) Sherri Matthews Dec 2015

And on the other side are the sheep which make me smile ~

Hope & Expectation (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Hope & Expectation
(c) Sherri Matthews Dec 2015

Intrigued by the lone black sheep and wanting a photo,  I walked up to the fence as close as I could get amongst the brambles, but another sheep, seemingly just as intrigued by us, ambled across the field right up to the fence and stole centre stage.

We stared at one another like this for a few minutes.  I adore her sweet face.  In fact, I almost want to cry just looking at it, because something about her expression reminds me not to give up, to keep hopeful expectation alive in my heart, to press on and keep walking on that muddy path until the sun shines again.  Which it will.

And it means I do have a New Year message to send you after all: May your 2016 be filled with hopeful expectation no matter how much mud you have to wade through to get to your field of sheep.

See you as soon as I can.

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Current Affairs, Nature & Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 168 Comments

The Light Of Christmas

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, then a ha’penny will do;
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God Bless you.

Children sing cheerfully and grown-ups count down the days excitedly as snow falls softly from the skies, twinkling like starlight as it settles prettily, sprinkled like icing sugar upon the hard-frost ground. Good citizens stop to greet one another on the street with a smile and good wishes to you and your family, and God Bless You, so merry and bright.

Brighton At Christmas 2015 (1) Edited

Stop right there and slam on the breaks (ooops – been there, done that).  If this is what your run-up to Christmas is like, then I say, like the song, God Bless You, but mine is nothing like it.

For starters, never mind a goose, I’ve yet to make the mad dash to a certain supermarket this weekend to find the freshest, plumpest, free-range turkey I can grab find before they are sold out by noon.

And this is as unnerving as it is unnatural: forget the snow, what we have here in these tropical climes of south-west England are daffodils.  Yes, hundreds of them blooming in all their spring glory along verges as far as the eye can see.  This looks beautiful – in March.  But in early December? It’s wrong and I’m worried…

For some, it’s all a bit too much ~

Brighton At Christmas 2015 (4)

And as for people greeting one another happily, I’m all for wishing anyone a ‘Happy Christmas’, but if the postman knocks on my door (note: I didn’t say ‘knocks me up’) at the crack of dawn once more,  he can forget about getting any hint of a tip on Boxing Day.

Ahh…but I jest.  I love Christmas, I really do.  What keeps me going is that in all the craziness, I know that by Christmas Eve, what hasn’t been bought, wrapped, baked, decorated, signed, delivered, collected and thrown in the freezer is no longer my concern.

So long as by then I have my family gathered and a glass of bubbly in hand, then I’m happy and more than a little grateful.  What better gift can be bought?  None, absolutely none.

Maisy would agree ~

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

As would Eddie, I’m sure (so long as he has plenty of treats) ~

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

But I know this isn’t how it turns out for a lot of people; I know that Christmas can be a dark and lonely time for some.  I’ve had my share of ‘bad’ Christmases, and I know how lonely it can be when your family is thousands of miles away, but I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless at any time, and especially at Christmas.

It’s comforting and humbling to know that charities like Crisis At Christmas exist, which, with a small donation, give so much to so many.

Whether it is the light of human kindness or that of the pale, winter’s sun warming up a stone wall in a church yard, a message of hope and beauty prevails:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

And whether the soft glow of candlelight flickering against the honey-coloured stone of a tiny village church at an evening carol service or the twinkling lights adorning the tallest of Christmas trees in an Abbey, their light shines for peace and calm.

Sherborne Abbey Dec 2014 (18)

A few days ago, already dark by four in the afternoon and traipsing back to my car loaded down with shopping bags containing exciting things like one or two presents and loo roll, bleach and foil (because what would Christmas be without plenty of foil?), it was the pretty street lights that cheered me and reminded of the reason for my manic and repeated trawls into town, which, at the best of times, I dislike.  Putting it mildy.

Last year,  I visited a Christmas Tree Festival and did so again last weekend.  The call of Christmas trees bedecked in shimmering fairy lights beckoned, and I was glad to snap a photo which also happened to include a bench or two for Jude for her December Bench Series challenge ~

Cheap Street Church, Sherborne, Dorset (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Cheap Street Church, Sherborne, Dorset (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Although this bench at Forde Abbey is more unusual and thought I’d add it in for good measure ~

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Each tree at the festival bears decorations hand-made by local community groups with donations from visitors going to a chosen charity, which this year is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).  Countless souls have been rescued by the many volunteers in the RNLI who brave the wild seas surrounding these British Isles; more than a few have tragically lost their lives in return.

One look inside this delightful little church at Christmas time makes any dark day shine a little brighter ~

Christmas Tree Festival Sherborne 2015 (11) Edited

Speaking of Christmas trees, having discovered that they, as well as pumpkins, grow at the Pumpkin Farm , I returned with hubby and Aspie D to collect ours, freshly cut, a couple of weeks ago.

Things looked a bit different this time, all the pumpkins long gone, the seasons transitioning one to another ~

Christmas Tree Farm Nov 2015 (14)

But just behind the now empty patch, rows and rows of beautiful Christmas trees, ready and waiting for eager families to take home and decorate.  For every tree cut down, six more are planted ~

Here’s hubby tagging ours back in November ~

Christmas Tree Farm Nov 2015 (3)

And here it is now, all dressed up ~

Christmas Tree

For as long as I can remember, we’ve always put a star on top of our tree, and this year, I’m sharing this photo as part of Hugh’s Charity Christmas Tree Topper Challenge for which he hopes to raise £250 for The Dogs Trust.

This is my last post for 2015, but I’ll be hovering for the next couple of days and then I’ll disappear until January. Meanwhile, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a New Year bringing hope, joy and peace.

A time to celebrate, a time to look up into the skies for a shining star that tells the story of the true Light of Christmas.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Happy Christmas and see you in 2016!  Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Bench Photos, Christmas, Family Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 109 Comments

Dreaming of a yellow teapot and awaking to publication day #urban fantasy

This time last year, I was both humbled and thrilled when dear friend Sarah Potter invited me to write a short story as a guest post. As a mostly non-fiction writer, I was way out of my comfort zone, but the encouragement she gave me, and still does, is something I will never forget.

And now it’s my turn to encourage her, for after years of harbouring her dream of book publication, I’m absolutely delighted to share with you, dear friends, the news that Sarah’s wish has come true – but only because of months of sheer hard work and learning how to self-publish from scratch, having never ventured down such a path before. I am immensly proud of her.

Desiccation, a young adult, urban fantasy novel, the story of which takes place in the late 60s at an English boarding school, looks to make for an engrossing, hugely entertaining read. What a fabulous cover too!

I’ll post as usual this week before winding down for Christmas, but I had to share Sarah’s fantastic news with you first, and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing her many congratulations on this incredible and exciting accomplishment and every success with her book launch.  Time to get out the bubbly and raise a glass to you, published author Sarah!

Sarah Potter Writes

ebook_image

yellow teapot

Still pinching myself to check that I’m awake, but somehow I’ve managed to achieve publication of my urban fantasy novel Desiccation. It is now available to buy in Kindle or Paperback format at Amazon.

You may ask what a yellow teapot has to do with publication day. Anybody into dream analysis around here? Personally, I think it indicates that writing, editing, formatting, and publishing can take you to the brink of insanity. It also indicates that I watch too much Nordic Noir on television, not that I know if the Scandinavians are into yellow teapots.

In my dream, I was inside a giant yellow teapot manoeuvring it into a parking space outside a golf club. Once I’d parked it, I climbed out of its top (the equivalent of a sunshine roof) and magicked the teapot down to normal size, after which I proceeded into the golf club to search people’s coat…

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Posted in Reblogs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 58 Comments

Book Launch – Tales from the Garden – Fairy stories by Sally Cronin

Once upon a time, Sally Cronin, talented author and friend to many, wrote a fairy story inspired by the statues in her beautiful garden. It was so popular with her readers that other stories followed, and now she’s put them all in a book, ‘Tales from the Garden’. Filled with enchanting fairy tales and photographs from her garden, this is the perfect Christmas present for all ages. Follow the link below to read Sally’s story behind her delightful book…

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Tales From the Garden small- Cover

I am delighted to announce that my latest book Tales from the Garden is now available in Ebook versions with the print copies available shortly.

We will be leaving our house and garden at some point in the future and when we put the house on the market, I realised that it was not only the sunshine that I would miss. I already had many photographs taken over the last sixteen years and I decided to capture as many aspects of the garden as I could to take with us digitally at least.

As I photographed the statues, most far too heavy to take with us, it came to me that some of them had been here at least for 60 years and had seen many changes over that time. Also there was the mystery surrounding the missing dwarves? Just exactly where did they disappear to some nights; when the…

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Guest Post: Author Anne Goodwin

Anne GoodwinToday, I’m delighted and honoured to welcome author Anne Goodwin to the Summerhouse.

I first met Anne over a year ago when I took the plunge – or should I say, the saddle – and rode over to Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch to take a stab at writing 99 Word Flash Fiction.

In that time, Anne has gone on to publish her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, and her journey to publication and kind encouragement has truly inspired me to keep walking (best time for inspiration we both agree) and writing my memoir.

A small few of us memoirists write flash alongside fiction writers at the Ranch, giving rise to some lively, mutually enlightening and fun discussions, with Anne contributing a fascinating psychological perspective which she touches on here.

And on that note, I’ll shut up and hand the reins over to Anne:

Putting the personal into fiction … and taking it out again

A friend emails to say she’s about halfway through my novel, and enjoying it very much. Her husband has read it before her, and he enjoyed it too. But I can’t help chuckling when she says he’s warned her she’ll look at me differently when she’s finished. I know exactly what she means and, like most jokes, it carries more than a grain of truth.

My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a middle-aged woman with an unusual secret, one she’s hung onto for thirty years in fear of friends and colleagues looking at her differently if it ever got out. It’s made her cagey, awkward and prickly; although she has a reasonable life with her own house and a decent job, she’s always holding back. Diana’s story isn’t my story, but I identify with a lot of her struggles.

I write from a love of words and story, as well as a desire to give my own experiences shape. I write because I grew up with a story that somehow couldn’t be told, yet I’ve no desire to produce a memoir. I didn’t give much thought to this until I began interacting with memoirists in the blogosphere. I’ve chewed over the question of what makes the difference, why some of us translate our lives into fiction, while others go for memoir. I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

I suppose I’m driven less to tell my personal story than to transform it into a story that can be told. Maybe memoirists feel a similar motivation; it’s not for me to say. But while I recognise that my fiction is very personal, and can identify parallels in my own life, the foundation is always a story: the interaction between character and plot.

In Sugar and Snails, I’ve created a character with an unusual biography, a woman with a life very different to mine. But in order to enable myself to fully inhabit her mentality, I’ve written her story as if it were mine. She’s me and not me or the me that, in different circumstances, I might have been.

Yet I’m not entirely sure what people mean when they ask the question, Is it autobiographical? (Or in my case, look at me differently, but don’t dare ask.) I think they’re wondering about the surface issues, the facts of the case, the details that I’m inclined to make up. As a former professional psychologist, and as a writer of literary fiction, I’m more interested in the themes we might discover below the surface, the emotional truth of the novel, so to speak.

Some of the underlying themes of Sugar and Snails are very close to my heart. One of the reasons I’m thanking my therapist is for the help she’s given me both in making sense of my own past and in drawing the line between my fictional alter ego and myself. Yet, three months on from publication, I’m intrigued by how little curiosity there’s been around the possible connections, not just from those who don’t know me so well wondering if I share my character’s secret, but from those who’ve known me for years drawing the deeper parallels.

Of course, there could be whispering in dark corners of which I’m unaware, but I think not. The lack of questioning might stem from the fact that many readers can identify with the underlying themes of my novel, they don’t need to pin them on me. After all, who hasn’t ever felt uncomfortable in their own skin? Ever felt like the ugly duckling and wished you could be transformed into a swan? Traumatic adolescence anyone? Something about you you’d much rather others didn’t know? These themes pop up again and again in life, in novels, and in memoir. Maybe I should stop worrying about why we choose one form of words over the other and focus on readying my next novel to be scrutinised, or not, for the bits that come from the deepest part of me.

*******

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill.

Sugar And Snails Book Cover

Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for May 2017. A former clinical psychologist, she is also the author of over 60 published short stories, a book blogger and speaker on fictional therapists and on transfiction. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

*******

Thank you so much Anne for taking the time to visit the Summerhouse today and for contributing your wonderfully engaging and thought-provoking guest post.   I have your book ready and waiting to read on my Kindle (as with most of us, my TBR list is ever-growing, but I will read every book!) and I wish you every success with your second novel, which, like Sugar and Snails, looks to be an absolute corker.

Posted in Guest Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 88 Comments

Pirate Treasure

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend with green eyes, a mischievous smile and a Triumph motorbike that leaked oil.  On Friday nights he rode his bike through fog and rain and bitter cold along the stretch between Ipswich and the remote village where I lived, so we could spend the evening together.

And there, with mugs of tea and plates of toast and jam, we sat together in the cosy kitchen of my family’s old farmhouse thanks to the coal-lit AGA range (not vogue back then), listening to the radio.

Not very exciting maybe,  but the music we listened to reached us from Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station on a ship anchored somewhere in the North Sea off the Suffolk/Essex coastline, and it was the kind of music we really wanted to hear: rock music from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Hawkwind and our favourite, Radar Love by Golden Earring.

While it never became illegal,  ‘Radio Caroline was founded in 1964 by Ronan O’Rahilly to circumvent the record companies’ control of popular music broadcasting in the United Kingdom and the BBC‘s radio broadcasting monopoly.’ (Credit source: Wikipedia).

Colluding with this piracy late into the night gave us something of a rebellious outlet, and on nights when the wind whipped up a storm, we wondered how it was out at sea for the ship and its modern-day pirates.  Some nights, the airwaves brought nothing but silence from the station, and we hoped they hadn’t sunk or been raided.

Radio Caroline was the best thing going for a couple of broke teenagers with nothing else to do on a Friday night in the 1970s.

Which leads me to Charli’s flash fiction prompt this week, which, wouldn’t you know it, is all about pirates and the reason for my Radio Caroline reminiscing:

‘In 99 words (no more, no less) write a pirate story. It can be about pirates or piracy; modern or of yore. Swashbuckling, parrots and rum can be involved or maybe you’ll invent details beyond standard pirates.

Respond by December 8, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!’

While the 2009 film ‘The Boat That Rocked’ was loosely based on Radio Caroline, it’s another film that captured my thoughts when I wrote my pirate story (in 99 words, no more, no less):

Pirate Treasure

The ring was pretty enough, but she said nothing as Andy slid it on her finger.

Why had she said yes? She didn’t love him; in fact, he bored her.

Every weekend it was the same: fish & chips for lunch and watching Match of the Day with his chain-smoking dad.

She craved adventure and excitement of the kind that only her long-haired, dark-eyed lover could give her, and Andy cried when she broke off their engagement.

Now she was free to seek out her true treasure and sail the wild seas.

If only she could find Johnny Depp.

Posted in Family Memoirs, Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 89 Comments

Of Guns And Flowers And A Car Crash

On Wednesday just before lunchtime, somebody drove across my path in the middle of a roundabout (I had right of way). I barely had time to slam on my brakes before crashing with a sickening thud into the side of her car.  It was like slow motion, I could see it coming and there was absolutely nothing I could do to avoid her.

Neither of us injured thankfully, and yes it could have been worse, but…I’ve had my shiny new car for less than three months…

Poor Car Nov 2015 Edited

As it is, my blogging commitments have gone by the wayside these past couple of weeks for myriad reasons, but frustrating, time-sucking dealings with insurance companies and repair centres have set me back further still.  Please bear with me…

Not all for bad reasons though: one bright spark, or should I say three in the form of cake sparklers, was celebrating my middle son’s birthday in Brighton last weekend.  Eldest Son took this happy photo:

Nicky's Birthday Nov 2015

But then I think this world has gone crazy.  So crazy.

Another tragic shooting, this time in San Bernardino, California. And once again in the aftermath we are left to ask: Why?

I remember the day of the Columbine shootings, images etched on my mind as with a sharp knife.  Eldest Son was sixteen.  He walked home from school as normal, said Hi and headed straight for his room, anxious to check on his pet rat Blue who sadly had a tumour.

His father was home that day and together we sat glued to the television screen watching the live news unfold, of terrified high school students pouring out from their once safe school as police officers with firearms helped usher them away.  Away from their dead and dying friends left inside.

“Blue died,” my son said as he walked back into the living room. I turned away from the TV  and saw a tear slide down his cheek. I got up and walked over to him and hugged him and then looked down at the small, lifeless body of his pet rat resting in the palms of his gentle hands.

“I’m so sorry sweetheart, we’ll find a good place to bury her in the back…”

My son looked up then at the TV, wondering what his father was so engrossed in.  “There’s been a school shooting in Colorado, lots of kids killed,” he said without turning around.

That day on April 20, 1999 changed us forever.  After that, a police officer (already armed), patrolled my son’s high school every day which made me feel somewhat safer.   But a new kind of fear wormed its way into our family’s heart that day, as it did for millions of others.

There had been one or two school shootings before and those were bad enough, horrifying that kids could actually take guns and shoot other kids.  But the Columbine shootings ushered us into a new era, one that filled our collective psyche with trauma and fear for our children’s safety. After all, we asked, if they aren’t safe at school from their peers, where are they safe?

In all the school shootings that have happened since, the question still goes unanswered: what made these young men commit such appalling crimes?  We try to find answers so we blame violent video games; bullying; family break ups; drugs; alcohol; Asperger’s Syndrome; antidepressants; the internet; heavy metal music; black tee-shirts; girl problems. And Marylin Manson.

But what about the sickness that lies at the heart of our society that brings these young people to this murderous point of no return?  How can we cure that?  And how do we stop them from getting hold of weapons that are used for one thing and one thing only: killing people.

9/11 hadn’t happened when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their school heavily armed with their own weapons of mass destruction.  The world is a different place since they had their day and their deaths and that of thirteen others.

It seems now that barely a few weeks or even days go by without news of yet another attack on innocent people in America be it in churches and cinemas, office buildings and Planned Parenthood,  schools and universities.

The aftershocks of 9/11 continue to rumble, exploding into carnage in hot spots throughout the world as recently as Beirut, Turkey and Paris, in street markets and cafes, bars and beaches, not forgetting the thirty British holidaymakers cruelly slaughtered while sunbathing in blissful relaxation on a beach in Tunisia.

My friend Ste J questions a certain silence no matter what our religion or beliefs in his excellent post written just days before the San Bernardino shootings.

The motives behind these attacks might be different, but the end results are the same: untold human suffering thanks to someone else’s final solution.

How do we protect our children from this madness?  What do we tell our loved ones when we are afraid and unable to answer our own questions?   We know there are no guarantees in life.  But we also know that we can’t let this madness destroy us. We fight back one day at a time, one heart at a time, one life at a time and we don’t give up.

And then I watched the video clip below posted by Luanne on her blog and who I thank so much friend for sharing. Made in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, though tragic that it should have been made at all,  it exudes heart-melting tenderness between a father and his son and of the redemptive power of love and trust and promise and innocence. It made me weep:

Maybe it is in this little boy’s smile at the end as he looks up at his father, his worries visibly easing, that helps us draw something hopeful and pure back into our hearts and breathe a little easier knowing that we and our children will make it.  We have to.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Current Affairs, Family Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 107 Comments

A Trio of Cubs, A Telephone Box And The Love Of Reading

For bloggers with cameras, photo opportunities turn up in surprising places, with thoughts of friends never far away.

On Sunday, I took a bracing walk around the grounds of the majestic country home of Forde Abbey in Dorset.  Dating back originally to the mid 1100s as a monastery, it has been privately owned since the 1600s.

In November, the public can wander around the beautiful gardens free of charge ~

Forde Abbey Nov 2015 (7) Edited

I thought of Hugh when I took the photo below thinking how much he would like this door, as every Thursday he takes part in Norm’s Thursday Door Challenge.  I love doors and windows and probably drive hubby mad when I keep stopping to take photos ~

Forde Abbey Nov 2015 (3) Door Edited

There is a bird hide on one side of the lake, made of beech, now in its natural autumnal glory ~

Forde Abbey Nov 2015 (15) Edited

I was in for a surprise when I went inside and found this rustic bench. Perfect for Jude and her Bench Photo Challenge I immediately thought. November’s theme is a bench with a message/plaque or autumn.  Hopefully I can get away with the ‘message’  even though is isn’t actually on the bench ~

Forde Abbey Nov 2015 (10) Edited

A different kind of ‘beech house’ warning ~

Forde Abbey Nov 2015 (11)

During a recent trip to Exmoor Zoo, a delightful family owned and award-winning zoo dedicated to extensive conservation, this gorgeous trio of cubs had me mesmerised.  I hoped to get a photo of them looking the same way, just in time for the prompt for the Weekly Photo Challenge as it turned out ~

The cubs had something far more interesting than me to keep them amused ~

Exmoor Zoo Oct 2015 (86) Edited

But after a quick shift around, I became more hopeful ~

Exmoor Zoo Oct 2015 (95) Edited

And then at last, they granted me this pose ~

Exmoor Zoo Oct 2015 (94) 2 Edited

This is the third successful litter of Nicco and Fu, all with three cubs, all boys until now; one of these beauties is a girl.

Thank goodness for my mobile phone camera the day we drove through a quiet village and came across this telephone box.  Once a familiar sight on every street corner in the Britain I grew up in, the few left now stand empty and abandoned.  But not this one.

‘Stop the car!’, I yelled politely asked hubby.

Telephone Box Library (1) Edited

Because you see, this telephone box is filled with books, donated by villagers to encourage reading in the name of one of their own who tragically lost his life too young ~

Telephone Box Library (2) Edited

What a beautiful gesture.

And speaking of books, lovely Julie of An Unexpected Life Chosen nominated me to answer a few questions for a Reading Habit blog hop. Thank you so much Julie for thinking of me…and for your wonderful patience (it’s only July since she asked… *hangs head in shame*…).

I find it impossible to know who to nominate, and I know there are many of you who read avidly.  So I nominate any and all, looking forward to reading your answers should you join in.

The questions are in bold, my answers in italics:

READING HABIT

You have 20,000 books on your TBR. How in the world do you decide what to read next?  I would ask Eldest Son for his recommendation; he is always saying ‘Mom, you would really like this book…’ And he’s right.

You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you quit or commit? Quit. No question about it.  If I lose interest I can’t keep reading, no matter how hard I try. Reading should be a pleasure, not a slog.

The end of the year is coming and you’re so close yet so far away on your GoodReads challenge. Do you quit or commit?  I’ve never done a GoodReads challenge, but if I was so close yet so far on anything, I would keep going as best I could.

The covers of a series you love DO. NOT. MATCH. How do you cope?  I never judge a book by its cover, literally.  I admire the good ones, yes, but it’s the story inside that counts for me. 

Everyone and their mother loves a book you really don’t like. Who do you bond with over shared feelings? I don’t give much thought to what’s popular or not, sticking to what I like, which includes a lot of True Crime, which I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  I’ve read every one of Ann Rule’s  books (she sadly died in July this year) thanks to my dear friend in California introducing me to her years ago.

You’re reading a book and you’re about to start crying in public. How do you deal?  I’m weird, I don’t read in public as I can’t concentrate.  Even when travelling, I prefer to zone out, watch the world go by. But I always carry a pack of tissues with me, for lots of reasons…

A sequel of a book you loved just came out, but you’ve forgotten a lot from the prior novel. Will you re-read the book? Skip the sequel? Try to find a summary on GoodReads? Cry in frustration?   I would read the sequel and hope it would jog my memory…

You don’t want ANYONE borrowing your books. How do you politely tell people “nope” when they ask? I’ve lent paperbacks happily, not worrying about getting them back. We can all be forgetful at times.   But a special book?  That’s a bit like asking to borrow your granny’s vintage porcelain tea service. Awkward…

You’ve picked up and put- down five different books in the past month. How do you get over the reading slump?  I only read one book at a time, but my cure to getting over any slump is to keep writing.

There are so many new books coming out that you are dying to read! How many do you actually buy?  Lately, I’ve bought a few (Kindle) recommended and written by blogging friends, but I’m slow to get to them while focusing on writing my memoir. 

After you’ve bought a new book you want to get to, how long does it sit on your shelf until you actually read it? I love the idea of knowing it’s there, ready and waiting, that I can pick it up anytime I want to.  I like to savour the wait, something special to look forward to later…

*************

I would like to wish my dear American friends a very Happy Thanksgiving.  It’s a celebration I embraced with my family when I lived in California, and I miss it.  But this weekend is my ‘Thanksgiving Baby’ middle son’s birthday, so I’ll be taking some time out to prepare for a family celebration.  I’ll be hanging around blogland for the next couple of days to catch up with you all, and then will be back next week.

Happy, safe travels to all, near and far, and see you soon!

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Bench Photos, Blog Hops, Books & Reading, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 76 Comments