The Distance Between Us

Greetings, dear friends! Behind the scenes, I have been working furiously on the last of the memoir revisions. And they are done! More on this shortly. Meanwhile, it’s time again for Memoir Across The Pond with Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. A personal reflection on 9/11, twenty years on. Keep safe, keep well, dear ones. Sherri ❤

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Twenty years ago this Friday, I went out for a meal to celebrate my birthday with my family. My eighteen year old had graduated from high school that spring and was looking forward to starting college. My two other children had just started their new school year in 4th and 7th Grade.

We enjoyed a light-hearted and happy evening together.

The next morning the phone rang early. My default was oh no. A thud of dread. When you live in California and your relatives are in England, that ring at that hour will do that.

It was my mother-in-law calling from Los Angeles, panic high her voice.

‘Have you heard the news?’

‘No…’

‘Put CNN on, a plane’s crashed into the World Trade Centre.’

A what?Where? I’m not a morning person. Her words jumbled around my foggy brain.

It was a school morning, but with time…

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Shut Away Breaking Free

Greeting, dear friends, and a long, dark stretch this has been. This interminable separation from my children. Where are our friends and visitors? Are we… okay? We are safe and well but loss takes many forms. Anxiety is real, sorrow lies deep, the toll is great. But we are here and we are grateful. Thank you, special ones, let’s keep those fires burning. The right kind ❤

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

California is hot. Sun-blazing, earth-baking, dry-dusty hot. I came there from England and I didn’t know what hit me. I held my breath from May to November until the rains came.

Except they didn’t.

‘When will the hills turn green?’ I naively asked my neighbour a few months after moving there in 1986.

‘Around November time,’ she replied, neither one of us knowing a seven year drought lay ahead.

I had moaned about the rain back home. Now I longed for it. Was it true it never rains in California? I started believing it so. Decades hence, how I wish now I could send over our rain.

But at the time, the novelty of being able to plan a barbeque or a picnic without worrying about a cloud burst felt almost decadent.

As a girl, I went camping with my family, once or twice. Long before “glamping” was a thing…

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The Words We Know

I’m thrilled to introduce Memoir Across the Pond, my new column at Carrot Ranch. A huge thank you for following my previous Unsung Heroes column through the travails and challenges of 2020. And to Charli Mills for the opportunity. Writing stories from my Californian past to life today in England connects me to you with universal themes of love, loss and home. The ebb and flow from shore to shore in themes that bind us. The Words We Know is a light-hearted take. Hope you’ll join me!

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

In recent discussion with my husband about decorating our kitchen, I asked if we had enough paint for the base boards. Base boards? For the life of me, I couldn’t think what we call them here in England. Skirting boards. Yes, that’s what I meant.

This August will mark eighteen years since I left California. Eighteen years and it still won’t be as long as the time I lived there. I am British born and bred, but I left in my twenties and lived in America until my mid-forties. Those years shaped me into who I am today. They shaped my American/British children. And our heritage is richer for it.

My family is a blended mix of traditions and learning. My eldest son taught me what Thanksgiving meant when I volunteered in his first grade classroom. My middle boy taught me the story of Johnny Appleseed planting apple trees. My…

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Fiction Memoir and Identity Guest Post with Author Anne Goodwin

Today, I am delighted to once again welcome author Anne Goodwin to the Summerhouse. Since her last visit, Anne has published two novels and a small story collection. Her background as a former professional psychologist brings a depth to her novels I find fascinating. Specifically, the exploration of identity.

My drive in writing memoir feeds my compulsion to seek and find. The constant call to that elusive, “what lies beneath”. The approach differs greatly between memoir and fiction. Or does it? Memoirists write true stories about real people, primarilly oneself. But how much of “self” do novelists put into their fictional characters. If any?

To mark the launch of her debut novel, Sugar and Snails five years ago (yes, five!), Anne addressed this subject in her thought-provoking guest post. I am excited to repost it here, along with exciting news of her free e-book offer below.

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.

And now for that promised offer!

Shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize, Sugar and Snails is a powerful
and inspiring read. Throughout February, Anne is offering it free to subscribers of her newsletter.

Click here to sign up and get your free e-book copy of Sugar and Snails.

OFFER CLOSES 28 FEBRUARY

At fifteen, she made a life-changing decision.
Thirty years on, it’s time to make another.

When Diana escaped her misfit childhood, she thought she’d chosen the easier path. But the past lingers on, etched beneath her skin, and life won’t be worth living if her secret gets out.

As an adult, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, the city that transformed her life. She’ll lose Simon if she doesn’t join him. She’ll lose herself if she does.

Sugar and Snails charts Diana’s unusual journey, revealing the scars from her fight to be true to herself. A triumphant mid-life coming-of-age story about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

*******

Connect with Anne:

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnJ5pbhSLho&feature=youtu.be

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist.

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

Amazon author page: viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

*******

Thank you for your visit, Anne. I continue to enjoy our lively discussions and always a pleasure hosting you at the Summerhouse.

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The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

Greetings, dear friends. 2021 kicked off in grand (grim) style and here we are. February already. Two hours after I blogged my Christmas post, our plans crashed and burned thanks to imminent lockdown. Two days later, my lovely Mum suffered a stroke. She is recovering so well, thank you again for all your very lovely kind messages.

So…January disappeared and I return somewhat back on track with a reblog from Carrot Ranch announcing a very special contest: The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic. Please do click on the link below for all details and rules of entry.

This contest comes with a donation suggestion of $5. All monies go directly to Sue Vincent and her family. As I said, this is a very special contest for a very special lady. Sue writes and blogs about her recent cancer diagnosis and ongoing treatment through this pandemic. She also writes openly about her concerns as carer for her adult son. Unpaid carers, I can attest, fall through too many cracks.

The contest:

99 word flash fiction (or a poem with 99 syllables) with Sue’s photo as a prompt. It’s live now, closes midnight, Friday, February 19th. Open to all and any help you might give to spread the word.  The grand prize is $100 for the winner and one of Sue’s published books for five runners up. Top winning entries will be published at Carrot Ranch on March 22nd.

Thank you! I’ll be back here at the Summerhouse next week.

Love Sherri x

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

by H.R.R. Gorman

Here at the Carrot Ranch, we take the business of 99-word literary art seriously. Those who participate in the Ranch prompts or yearly Rodeo saddle up to TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) it out and train new Rough Riders as we go. Now, the Ranch is hosting a new event to sharpen minds, welcome new hands, and celebrate one of our own the best way we know how: our first ever Rodeo Classic.

In this Rodeo Classic, we’re here to celebrate a stalwart center of many blogging corners, Sue Vincent. Sue has variously contributed to the community here at the Carrot Ranch, through communication with many other bloggers, and run her own famous #writephoto weekly blog prompt. You can (and should!) follow her on her blogs, The Daily Echo and the shared blog France & Vincent. She has inspired us to become better writers and shown…

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Christmas Lost And Found In America

Born in England, my firstborn son didn’t meet his American grandparents until he was three-years-old. His father, tired of the rain and dismal British economy of the mid 1980s, decided we would have a better life in the land of his birth. And so once more (another story), I left my home, family and friends for America where we would live for seventeen years.

We settled on the central coast of California in the late summer of 1986. Though the grandparents lived some four hours away in Los Angeles, we would see them regularly and always at Christmas.

At the bottom of the holiday and shift rota at the start of his new career, my (ex) husband (EH) got what was left. For many years, he worked “graveyards” before graduating to “swing-shift”. By the time he made the day shift, our “little boy” was in high school. By then, I had Christmas in California all figured out.

But not that first Christmas, far from home.

I got up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in the oven for what would be my first attempt at cooking Christmas lunch. Grandma and Grandpa had driven up from LA the night before, Christmas Eve. EH would have to eat and run to start his shift at 3pm. Not only him, but the grandparents too: Grandma had to work the next day.

No Boxing Day for us in America.

December Skies in England (c) Sherri Matthews

But, determined to make our Christmas as British as possible, I served Brussels Sprouts and a homemade Christmas pudding. The polite refusals by my in-laws assured me they were not the hit I had hoped for. Over the years, my mother-in-law and I would reminicse and laugh about it, but at the time I yearned for my family back in England, never missing them as much as I did that Christmas.

And so everyone left in the afternoon, leaving me and my little boy alone in our first American Christmas. An aching loneliness for us both swept over me. If there had been at least a chill in the air, it would have helped, but the sun shone down from a warm blue sky. Our short-but-sweet Christmas with our new American family had brought fun and joy, but how could it have ended so fast? In my mind, it was far from over.

The weather outside wasn’t frightful but quite delightful and perfect, I realised, for a walk.

With our dog, Bonnie, a cross Lab/Collie come with us from England, we strolled around our new neighbourhood. Windchimes hung on porches of two-story houses and tinkled cheerfully in the gentle breeze. Most houses, like the one we rented, had living rooms upstairs, some providing a sliver of ocean view and a glimpse of Morro Bay.

Hunting for Shells at Morro Bay (c) Sherri Matthews

We wandered down a few roads keeping to the side with no pavement. My son ambled along at my side, stopping to exam rocks and leaves as small children do and Bonnie padded up ahead, tongue lolling and sniffing everything, as dogs do. A quietness had settled all around, save for the low, distant hum of a fog horn.

I imagined families gathered inside their homes enjoying their festivities as we walked by. My son and I were strangers in a distant land, not knowing any of them. He had yet to start school and make new friends; I had yet to meet their moms and my best friend, build our network. My two other children were not yet born. But we would go on to make lifelong friends and build a rich family life with our own traditions. And, smiling down down at my son, I resolved it would start that Christmas Day.

We returned from our walk, raided our chocolate stash, built my son’s new Lego set and watched Pinocchio, Grandma’s gift and first video on our rented VCR. We read stories from his new books and made hot chocolate with marshmallows. Later, I poured myself a glass of Christmas cheer and lit a fire, though it felt like spring outside.

Together, we found our Christmas in America.

Finding Christmas (c) Sherri Matthews

Nothing worked out as I had planned, but everything happened as it should. Grandma and Grandpa are long gone now and we miss them. Today, I celebrate Christmas with my adult children in England.

One thing I have learned is that nothing stays the same. Life in its great ebb and flow with constant change. Sorrow and joy. Loss and hope. Separation and reunion. This year, so much is uncertain. We miss our loved ones, have too much worry and loneliness. But if we have love we have everything and for me this is the true message of Christmas.

Dear friends, wherever you are, may you find peace and love in your Christmas and hope for better days to come.

Love Sherri x

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Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – Author Spotlight – Life Changing Moments – Shake The Dust Off Your Feet by Sherri Matthews

Today, I am delighted and honoured to guest post at Sally Cronin’s Author Spotlight Life Changing Moments Series with ‘Shake The Dust Off Your Feet’. You never know when you’ll face a life-changing decision, nor who’ll be there to support you when you do. Huge thanks and shout out to Sally for her amazing support of bloggers and authors everywhere, and as always to you, dear friends and readers, thank you ❤

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to Cafe and Bookstore spotlight. I invited writers to share what they consider to be a defining moment in their lives that resulted in a major positive change. The current series ends on October 11th and is booked out with some wonderfully inspiring stories.

Today my guest is Sherri Matthewswho shares the moment she made the decision to give up full time work and start her life as a writer after uprooting from her life in California to Dorset with her family.

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer and photographer who blogs at A View From My Summerhouse. She contributes an Unsung Heroes column at online literary community Carrot Ranch, and is published in a diverse collection of print magazines and anthologies. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years, but today she lives in England’s West Country with her family, two black kitties…

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Welcome To My World

September already and here we are. Greetings once again, dear friends, I hope you enjoyed a good summer, pandemic aside. My plans went awry then revived and I am writing, mending and walking again. Progress! Great to return to Unsung Heroes at Carrot Ranch. My post explores a personal take on lockdown, Asperger’s Syndrome and social anxiety in a different world. As always, keep safe ❤

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

‘Welcome to my World’, so said my youngest, V, when lockdown struck.

Almost six months on, I have a deeper glimpse into V’s world. But this is not a temporary world as for most of us.

For V this shall not pass. Not so much.

V was diagnosed ten years ago at eighteen with Asperger’s Syndrome (a high functioning autistic spectrum disorder – ASD). V struggles with aspects of social communication, such as reading certain social cues. Chronic anxiety, depression and the need to retreat means V is socially avoidant outside the home. Online is where V’s world exists, with friends of many years.

How can you have real friends you’ve never actually met? Such was my worry, before I started blogging. Now I know…we can and we do.  Heck, I met my husband online…but that’s another story.

Lockdown world over means confinement to our home and garden (if fortunate…

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Of Writing, Walking And A Broken Ankle

Walking, as we know, is good for us. A brisk walk a few days a week has always been my go-to form of exercise. Walking helps me. A lot. Especially the kind when I’m stirred up, stressed out and just plain stuck.

For those kind, I plug in my headphones and crank up my iPod. Although I write in silence, I process more to Kurt Cobain and The Foo Fighters than anywhere else.

But not now, because twelve days ago I broke my ankle.

Four more weeks before I can walk or drive. I wear this fracture boot day and night and hobble about on crutches. And yes, it happened when I was out walking with my husband in the middle of a field.

I’m thinking, Robocop…with Velcro?

I stopped wearing my Fitbit. What use is a ‘Weekly Report’ that only reminds you of your paltry lack of steps? Well I’ll have you know, Fitbit, you should see me when I navigate the stairs. Surely that counts for something?

What better workout could there be with a broken ankle, than Kitty zooming past me mid-stair in her newly made-up game of Dodge the Crutches?

It’s okay. I see her coming. She sleeps by me every night, long and warm and cuddly and just yesterday, I awoke with her two front paws stretched out on my leg. As if to say get better soon.

Kitty & Cherry Tree July 2020 (c) Sherri Matthews

So I forgive her anything.

But what of other news from the summerhouse?

Lockdown in late March brought a surprise heatwave and an emergence of frenetic bee activity from our bee hotel. We had the delightful privilege of observing these entertaining busy bees until they retired, worn out poor things, in June.

We’ve had Leafcutters in the past, but this year we had mostly Red Mason bees. They are solitary and vitally important as urban pollinators. Much of their habitat has been destroyed; a bee hotel provides nesting and shelter.

The Woodland Trust has some good tips for making one for your garden.

Here’s what I’ve learned: the males emerge first and wait for the females. They mate, the males die and the females get busy building nests and laying their eggs over the next couple of months.

We frequently observed several bees at a time darting in and out of various tubes, busy forming mud seals at the entrance. Sometimes they would work in this position for hours (c) Sherri Matthews

Within each tube, they create different cells separated by little walls of mud.  In each cell, they lay an egg and deposit tiny globes of pollen, brought in attached to their abdomens. This is food for the developing larvae.

For further reading, The Pollinator Garden makes the point that this isn’t so much a ‘bee hotel’ as a permanent home for these bees. I love this stuff!

(c) Sherri Matthews

They seal up each tube with mud. There, over eleven months, the eggs develop into larvae, a dormant pupa stage and then to fully formed bees the following spring.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

These solitary bees have done their work and have gone now. Thank you, bees, for all you do and the joy you bring. I can’t wait to meet the next generation next spring.

The joy of bees aside, these are strange times.

On the memoir front, an opportunity has come my way for ongoing book development as I continue to hone my pitch for my next round of literary agent submissions. It’s work and I’m ready. I’m not giving up!

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled that my non-fiction piece Behind The Mask is featured in This is Lockdown, a beautifully crafted anthology published by by M J Mallon, Author and Poet . It is an honour to feature alonside so many wonderful writers.

Thank you so much, Marje, for all your hard work putting it together. The official book launch is July 20th, but pre-order is available now.

Other writing news, I’m over at Carrot Ranch this week with my Unsung Heroes post,  The Silent Ones Who Change A Life. I would be thrilled if you joined me there.

It saddens me to sign off blogging for a while. With the easing of lockdown, uncertain times lies ahead. Covid-19 has not gone away, vigilance is key.  I am a carer and I need to get well. I miss my boys, I miss the sea, and everyday challenges mount up.

I need to focus and it isn’t easy right now!

My plan, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise (again), is to return energised, walking and raring to go in September.

Until then, I thank you all, dear friends, for your support and readership. I bid you all a happy, healthy summer. And as always, keep safe.

Love Sherri x

 

 

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Stand And Deliver

This week, I have had the honour of writing my first guest post for an ‘Unsung Heroes’ column at Carrot Ranch. Many thanks to all who have left lovely comments there, and to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, for this wonderful opportunity. My post this month features a cheery delivery driver, a customer services manager called Rob, and Adam Ant. There is a point in there somewhere… Keep safe! ❤

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

The title for this post should be ‘Drive and Deliver’. ‘Stand and Deliver’ sounds better, I think.  It also reminds me of the song by Adam Ant, conjuring up a wonderful image of him in his heyday dressed up like a highwayman, all eye-liner, lip gloss and black mask. A good look, I thought. I can’t say I wear much make-up these days. But I do wear a black mask, though not for committing any crime. Then again, if someone coughs near me again at the supermarket, I could be tempted…

The theme of highway robbery ties in nicely with our present crisis and the ‘Unsung Heroes’ story I’m priviliged to share with you today at Carrot Ranch. Thanks for letting me loose, Charli!

The story ends well, thanks not to Adam Ant, but to a man called, Rob.

It began just before lockdown, which in the UK started March…

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