Tag Archives: #MondayBlog

Fancy a good book with that coffee and cake?…..

Last weekend a message dropped into my FB Author Page inviting me to take part in a “Donated by the Author” community book exchange offered by an independently run coffee shop.

As an indie author, I was instantly intrigued. Well, who can afford to dismiss opportunities to get their book in the hands of a reader?

Over the next day or so I exchanged messages with the owner, took a trip to the local post office and by Monday a copy of Ellen was winging it’s way to join in the exchange programme.

Two things I love are reading and coffee so the thought that these could be combined in a one stop shop was music to my ears!

So, where is this wonderful haven? It’s The Gingerbread Tea House in Widnes, Cheshire, England.

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Being of a curious nature I wanted to know more about and also to show my support for this venture.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce coffee shop owner and aspiring author, Nicola Duty.

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for me, Nicola. So, can you tell me a bit about the history of The Gingerbread Tea House? (I love the name)

NWhen my kids were little I always used to love baking with them. One of their favourite things to make were Gingerbread. 

When I decided to leave teaching and open my own business, The Gingerbread Tea House seemed fitting for our family business. 

I opened the cafe a little over two years ago. Partly because my husband and I were fed up of being unable to find quality food when out and about. I wanted to offer quality food prepared fresh to order, that’s what we do! It’s difficult at times, especially when it’s busy and I have lots of different orders at the same time, but I love it. 

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What inspired you to offer a book exchange to your customers?

NI’ve always had a passion for reading myself. I love the way you can escape into another world, how you can engage with the characters and be taken on a journey along with them. 

When I was teaching I found that far too many students had no interest in books or reading. The quality of students work suffered as a result. I felt that it was important to do something to help. I had a little space so I decided to use it to start the book exchange. 

Do you cater for children’s books as well as adult books?

NWe have books for readers of all ages, including children.

Tell me about the Donated By An Author piece? Do they just go into the “library” to be swapped around?

NThe “Donated by the Author” section of the book exchange is new, but the expectation is that books will be taken away just like any other book. I have asked authors donating books to make a note on the inside cover stating that they donated the book to us and asking the reader to pass the book on once they’ve finished with it. That could mean returning it to the book exchange or passing it on to a friend or relative. The idea is to get people reading and also get the authors noticed. For authors donating books I create a Facebook post including an image of their book and a profile. 

(Oops…. I might not have added that commentary inside the copy of Ellen I popped in the post. Sorry!)

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You mention in the bio on Facebook that you’re also a writer. What genres do you write?

NI’m more of an aspiring writer. I used to write plays for the kids in my street when I was growing up. In adulthood I’ve tried my hand a few times, but work and commitments and various distractions I never actually finished anything. I am near the end of a project at now. It needs editing and tidying up, but it’s almost there and I feel quite proud of it. 

As for genre, I’d say it’s kind of a mystery.  I already have the idea for my next book, but I don’t want to start it until I’ve finished this one. 

Have you published anything or do you have a blog to share your work ( As an aside, if you have any short stories or poems you’d like me to share via my blog I’d be happy to lend my support. I’ve done the same for a few folk who are just starting out.)

NI haven’t published anything to date, but “Chasing Butterflies” should be finished later this year. 

Hmm… butterflies…another of my favourite things. Consider me intrigued, Nicola!

Who are your favourite authors? Slightly cruel question, I know.

NOh so many! Jane Austin, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King, I was obsessed with Dean Koontz for a while too. 

Which authors are proving to be the most popular in the Gingerbread Tea House?

N-To be honest it’s difficult to tell which authors are most popular. The books normally come and go while I’m busy in the kitchen! John Grisham seems to be fairly popular. 

Would you consider running a book club in the café where your customers could meet once a month to talk about a particular book? (Just a thought)

NI actually tried to start a writers’ group at the cafe, but sadly those interested couldn’t all come at the same time. It may be something that we look at in the future. 

What’s the most rewarding aspect of running The Gingerbread Tea House?

 NMost of my customers are regulars and many have become friends. Making people smile and providing good quality food is the most rewarding aspect by far.

Now, for a bit of fun, can you tell me:-

1 your favourite food?

NA juicy, rare fillet steak with chunky chips, Asparagus, oven baked mushrooms and tomatoes.

2 your favourite holiday destination?

NI love holidays. I like to try to visit different places. I love Barcelona and Paris, but I also love Portugal.

3 your favourite song or band/artist (if that’s easier)?

NMy favourite song of all time is Creep by Radiohead. It was out when I was in my late teens. As a bit of a misfit it seemed to suit me perfectly. 

I also like Oasis, The Arctic Monkeys, Hudson Taylor, Kodeline and Jake Bugg. 

Thanks, Nicola. I wish you all the best with this venture and many hours of happy reading!

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I’d love to see this community book exchange in coffee shops take off across the country. It’s a quick and easy way to connect readers and the “Donated by the Author” is a great incentive for authors to connect with their readers.

Here’s a sample of the submissions received so far-

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Now, I think it’s time to get the kettle on then sit back and chill with a good book, don’t you?

 

If you want to learn more about The Gingerbread Tea House, check them out on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/TheGingerbreadTeaHouse/

 

A Literary Companion….

“Handle a book as a bee does a flower,

Extract its sweetness

but do not damage it”

John Muir

 

Do kindles count?

 

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Watch him for yourself : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2nolCjARQQ

 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the book being read is “The People In The Trees” by Hanya Yanagihara (available on Amazon)

 

 

Social Media and the Voyage of Self-Discovery

Like many other writers and bloggers when the creative juices fail to flow smoothly, I find the internet is a great place to procrastinate.
I’m sure many of us who should be putting our precious time to good use can be found lurking within social media apps like Facebook.
Perhaps we even try to convince ourselves its actually research.
I’ll confess to meandering through Facebook on the odd occasion… coughs … ok .. regular basis.
I’ll also confess to playing some of the “self-discovery” games to be found on there.
You know the one s- “5 signs you are keeper based on your profile picture,” “What will you look like at 70 based on your profile picture.”
These entertain me.
My personal Facebook profile picture for the past few years has always been a photo of my Converse clad feet. What on earth can you determine from that?

FB game profile

Quite a lot apparently!
Here’s some recent discoveries……

Some of these are scarily accurate! I’ll let you work out which ones 😉

 

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This one was reassuring though 😊

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Enough procrastination- I’ve a book to finish writing!

19 Crimes…. and a glass or two of wine

I’ve been asked on numerous occasions where I find my story ideas and what inspires my blog posts. I always answer that it’s a little bit of everything- song lyrics, a place I’ve visited, an event, a name, etc….

Well, this week’s blog is inspired by the glass of wine I enjoyed with dinner on Sunday. Well, the label on the bottle to be more precise. (No, I didn’t drink the whole bottle before you ask!)

For weeks while I’ve been doing the weekly supermarket shop a particular bottle of Australian Chardonnay has been catching my eye. However, at full price, it was a little over my preferred budget. This week it was on special. Still a little over my price but I thought “What the hell!” and picked up two bottles. (I’m a bit weird that way as I’ll always buy bottles of wine in pairs.)

What had attracted my attention? The label on the front of the bottle and the name 19 Crimes.

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Over dinner on Sunday,  initially conversation wasn’t really holding my attention  (sorry, guys) and I turned the wine bottle, that was sitting in front of me on the table, around to read the label on the reverse.

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Intriguing…..what were the 19 Crimes?

This sparked an entirely different dinner conversation after a little emergency “Googling.”

So, were there really 19 Crimes that led to convicts being transported to Australia?

Yes! And between 1768 and 1868  thousands were in fact transported to Australian.

The 19 Crimes were:

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Once dinner was over and a second glass of wine had been poured, I sat down at my desk to do a little more digging into this subject.

Don’t panic! You’re not about to get a lengthy history lesson…… only a short one.

The first eleven convict ships set sail from England in 1787. They arrived at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788 where the first European community on the continent was established….and so Sydney, NSW was born.

the hougoumont

Over the next forty some years several other penal colonies were established as more convicts arrived. The most famous of these was Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1803.

Port Arthur Penal Colony Tasmania

Penal transportation peaked in the 1830’s. However opposition to this practice grew throughout the 1840’s. Transportation to Van Diemen’s Land ended in 1853 when the last convict ship, the St Vincent, arrived from England.

Small numbers continued to be transported to a colony in Western Australia but on 10 January 1868 the last convict ship, The Hougoumont, docked. (pictured above)

In total 806 ships had transported approximately 164 000 convicts to the continent over a period of eighty years. Around 24 000 of these were women, some of whom had deliberately committed petty crimes in order to be transported to join their husbands. Records show that 70% of those transported were from England and Wales, 24% from Ireland, 5% from Scotland and the remaining 1% a mix of convicts from the British colonies in India, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the Caribbean.

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Some of those transported went to lead successful new lives in Australia. Some notable convicts were:

James Blackburn, famous for his contribution to Australian architecture and civil engineering

Daniel Connor who was sentenced to seven years transportation for sheep stealing went on to become one of the largest landowners in central Perth by the 1890’s.

Francis Greenway became a famous Australian architect.

Laurence Hynes Halloran founded the Sydney Grammar School.

Henry Savery is noted as being Australia’s first novelist and author of Quintus Servinton

 

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One female convict stands out. Mary Wade was the youngest convict transported to Australia aged only 11 years old. She went on to have 21 children and at the time of her death had over 300 living descendants!

 

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Twenty one children!!!!

That thought calls for another glass of wine! 😉

 

some images sourced via Google – credits to the owners

Gotta Love The Beach In Winter….

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Anyone that follows my blog or has read the Silver Lake series knows I love the beach.

There is nothing like the feeling of sand under your feet to soothe the soul. It’s my quiet place. My happy place. My thinking place. My sanctuary….

Even in winter….no make that especially in winter….it holds a special kind of magic.

Would you believe me if I said the photo above had been shot in January? No? Well it was – the 1st of January to be precise.

In winter the beach tends to be virtually deserted. OK, it tends to be damn cold too! It’s Scotland – it can be damn cold in summer! On several occasions I’ve timed my visits just right and managed to secure the whole beach to myself for a few precious minutes.

Selfish I know but, in those few stolen moments, it’s MY space.

Space to daydream. Space to think things through (or over think them as I have a tendency to do). Space to seek creative inspiration. Space to reminisce. Space to shed private tears. Space to breathe. Space to recharge the batteries.

Without fail, I leave every time feeling calmer and more grounded. Maybe it’s the water themed name or the Cancerian birth sign but my soul is most definitely tied to the beach.

Where’s your happy place?

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A Gift From New Orleans……

New Orleans with its vampire and voodoo associations has fascinated me for a long time. After all, who could resist Louis and Lestat?
New Orleans, among many other destinations, is on my bucket list to visit at some point (Lottery win required first!)
A friend, however, was lucky enough to spend a few days there last month and I asked her if she would mind picking something up for me. She drew me a quizzical look when she heard my request but promised to see what she could do.
She returned to work after her trip and presented me with a small package, neatly wrapped in two pages from an old New Orleans phone directory.
I opened it carefully and instantly fell in love with the contents. Something that highly amused her!
So, what had I asked for?
A protective voodoo fetish/doll.
Here he is. Isn’t he cute?

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There’s a common misconception that voodoo is all about black magic, sticking pins in effigies or dolls and wishing harm on your enemies.
Louisiana voodoo has a different heritage altogether.
It dates back to the early part of the 18th Century. Between 1719-1731, the majority of the slaves brought to the French Colonial city of New Orleans were Fon people from West Africa. (The area is modern day Benin). They brought with them their spiritual beliefs and traditional knowledge of medicinal herbs, potions, charms and amulets. This ancient knowledge was used primarily for healing and for protection, although it could be used for darker purposes. These protective, healing practices became the core elements of Louisiana voodoo. (Haitian voodoo adopted a darker more sinister route.)
In Southern Louisiana, the sense of family was strong and efforts were made to keep members of the same family together within the slave community. This familial bond helped to ensure that their cultural heritage, religion, beliefs and practices were preserved and passed on. Under the French Code, and with influence from the Catholic church, the sale of children under that age of fourteen away from their family was prohibited. This goodwill towards the slave community helped to form strong bonds of solidarity.
The practice of Louisiana voodoo was accepted and the wearing of charms and amulets for healing and protection was not an unusual sight among the citizens of New Orleans.
In 1792 there was a revolution in Haiti. It was reportedly started by slaves who had supposedly been possessed by a deity during a vodou ritual (different from voodoo.)
Life became difficult for the voodoo practitioners in Louisiana as a result. The French Colonists in Southern Louisiana became aggressive towards the previously accepted voodoo rituals and practices. The Louisiana slaves, however, to their credit, did not fight back and peacefully continued to use their voodoo beliefs for healing and protection and to maintain connections with their loved ones.
Gradually voodoo became re-accepted into day to day life.
With the introduction of the US Embassy Act of 1808, the importation of all African slaves to the USA was ended. Around this time, within the slave communities, voodoo kings and queens began to emerge as prominent figures.
The most famous of these was THE voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.

Marie Laveau

Born in 1801, Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of voodoo and a hairdresser to the wealthy families of the city. Her spiritual gatherings drew huge crowds. In fact, one gathering on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in 1874 attracted a crowd of 12000. Marie Laveau was non-discriminatory in her practices, treating rich and poor alike. Her reputation soon spread far and wide. A practicing Catholic, she actively encouraged her followers to attend mass. It was largely due to her extended sphere of influence that Louisiana voodoo and Catholicism became so closely intertwined.
Upon her death in June 1881, Marie Laveau was interred in a tomb in St Louis Cemetery No. 1. The mausoleum attracted many of her devoted followers who marked an X on the walls as part of a ritual to request the voodoo queen’s support from beyond the grave. This mausoleum was refurbished in 2014 following an act of vandalism and now can only be visited as part of an organised tour. It is no longer possible for voodoo followers to graffiti the tomb.

 

Marie Laveau’s name and her legacy have lived on and are kept alive through songs, TV, films and fiction.
In fact, the voodoo doll I was so kindly gifted came from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, a store in the city’s Bourbon Street.

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Time will tell as to whether he offers me protection or not but for now I need to decide on where to display him. Traditionally these dolls were hung in doorways or hallways.
For some reason, The Big Green Gummi Bear is less than comfortable with him being around……  😉

 

(images sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

Dear…….

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When did you last sit down and write a letter? Write not type. Have you ever sat down and written a letter?

Writing letters, sending messages, keeping in touch….. there are so many different ways to do it.

Sadly, most of the 21st Century methods have lost the personal touch that came with a handwritten letter.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve had “pen friends”, some sourced via my mum’s magazine and some from a list we were given in school. At around the age of nine, I remember sitting down at the kitchen table with my mum’s blue airmail pad of paper, with the lined template slotted in between the thin sheets and writing to a little girl in S Africa. My mum warned me to not to write too much, not to use too many sheets of the flimsy blue paper as postage was expensive.

I’ve long since lost contact with that person but over the years have had several other “pen friends.” I am still in contact with three of them from around the world that I have written to for about thirty years.

But, when did I even last sit down and write a letter to any of them? Honest answer is that I have no idea! We still exchange Christmas and birthday cards but even these are dwindling as the years move on. Normal “catch ups” are now via FB messenger.

The art of letter writing (and I’m excluding business letters and complaint letters here) is dying.

Let’s try an experiment.

Look at your mobile/cell phone and the various apps you have available to you. Excluding actually making a phone call, how many different ways could you get a message to someone? Go on, count them.

I’ve just counted – ten!

Communicating with each other has never been easier! Add in video calling/Skype and the number increases here.

So, do we make full use of this functionality?  Do we make best use of our language skills while messaging others?

That’s a debatable point but, if the content of most of the messages I receive is anything to go by, they are short on words and riddled with emojis and gifs.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these. A lot of them are quite cute or are rather humorous but do they really convey the emotions that you are trying to impart? Can they be mis-interpreted? …….. Most definitely!

Can an emoji really say what you would previously have said in a sentence or two?

Think about it….

Think about it the next time you are about to hit “send” on a message that contains no words at all……   😉

Reflections On A Creative Journey…

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I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on my “creative journey” among other things. This reflection was triggered by a question during a brief interview with a journalist from the local paper. (My first ever face to face interview and I don’t mind admitting I was a nervous wreck). The journalist asked me how long I’d been writing for.

Now, that should have been an easy question to answer but the genuine answer is that I don’t know. I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. As soon as I could string a sentence together, I wanted to write stories. Fact.

This got me thinking (oh, no…. here she goes again….) It got me thinking about the various pieces I’ve shared on here over the past four and a half years.

Something I rarely do is re-blog past articles. The initial challenge I set myself at the end of 2013 was to write at least one blog post per week to get over my fear of letting people read what I write. I’ve risen to that challenge every week since so I think this week I will allow myself a moment of reflection on past blogs. Who knows some of these you may have missed along the way…

 

I might as well start at the beginning.

 I remember being terrified posting this

 https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/deep-breaths-and-begin/

All the fears- could I do this? Would folk laugh at what I wrote? Would anyone read what I wrote? Would I be able to write something new every week?

 

I’ve played games with my blog – the Glad Game-

 https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/what-makes-you-smile/

 

I’ve picked favourites-

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2014/08/

 

I’ve seen some RnR dreams come true…several…but this was the first

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/a-green-triangle-to-paradise-city-dreams-do-come-true/

 

I’ve introduced characters from my book babies. Remember the first time I introduced Jake Power? No? well, it was here.

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/fiction-short-stuff/him/

 

I’ve shared poems

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/poems/private-bubble/

 

I’ve shared confessions

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/cluttered-confessions/

 

I’ve shared beach analogies …. have I mentioned that I love the beach?

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/an-hour-at-the-beach-a-day-keeps-the-blues-away/

 

I’ve written some flash fiction

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/in-the-heart-of-the-book-1000-word-flash-fiction/

 

I’ve written some erotic fiction

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/twisted-silk-a-dark-tale-adult-content/

 

And I’ve shared some serialised short fiction. For some reason, this dark angel had proved to be a popular lady. I first introduced her here:

https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/silently-watching-a-short-story/

 

It’s been a creative journey of experimentation and self- discovery. Along the way, I’ve self-published the first three books in the Silver Lake series and am on the brink of releasing my fourth book baby aka Ellen in a few days.

Have I overcome the fear of letting people read what I write? Not entirely. Some blogs are easier to share than others. Nerves set in big style when the release date of a book baby looms on the horizon. My stomach flutters and somersaults every time I press “publish” on here.

Have I enjoyed the journey so far? YES! Every word of it.

I hope you have too. Thanks for sharing this long and winding journey with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticks And Stones May Break Your Bones…but bullying is NEVER OK.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones
But names will never hurt you.”

 

Sticks and stones photo

I wish I had a pound for every time my Mum or my Wee Gran said that to me while I was growing up. I’d be a very rich girl if I had!
Bullying, for various reasons, has cropped up in several conversations recently. It’s stirred up more than a few ghosts from the past, I can tell you.
The childhood rhyme has played in the background like a soundtrack to my schooldays.
As the summer break draws to a close, if you’re a parent of a child who is being bullied and harassed, or a teacher of a class hiding a bully in its midst, you might want o pause and read the tale my daughter and I are about to share.
I’ll pause for a moment to allow you to reflect before continuing….this is could prove to be a difficult read for some.

I was bullied for six years in school (roughly 1979-1985 if you need a timeframe for reference here). To this day, I have no idea what triggered it but I can recall the first incident as clearly as if it happened yesterday.
It was a wet afternoon interval in school. I was in Primary 5. As a class, we had been painting pictures. I genuinely don’t recall saying or doing anything to trigger this but suddenly a few of the kids in the class were round my desk commenting on my poor artwork. (I never was much use at art and never claimed to be any good at painting.) There was a nasty, hurtful edge to their taunts. My desk was in front of the classroom door. The door to the corridor was open. I bolted!
I ran down the stairs, from the first floor to the basement, to seek refuge in the girls’ toilets. Twenty plus kids from the class followed me- boys and girls. I made it safely into a cubicle near the end of the row and locked the door. Safe. Wrong! All the kids, boys and girls, came charging into the toilets screaming and yelling, hammering on the door, trying to climb over the door and partition walls, trying to squeeze under the door and partition walls. I was absolutely terrified. The bell rang and, gradually, they all retreated. I stayed where I was until all was quiet then returned to my classroom. The teacher asked where I’d been and, when I told her what had happened, she didn’t believe me, suggesting I was lying. Suddenly, I was the one in trouble. I returned to my seat feeling twenty plus smug pairs of eyes watching me.
It all spiralled rapidly downhill from there.
I’m not going to go into this blow for blow (Yes, this went beyond name calling on a semi-regular basis for years)
I was ostracised. Outcast. I was nine years old.
If I arrived at school with something new, shoes or a bag or a coat, I was laughed at and ridiculed. My coat or blazer would regularly disappear from its allotted space in the cloakroom, only to turn up stuffed under a sink or behind a radiator, usually having been kicked about by muddy feet first.
The heavy metal band Iron Maiden with their skeleton mascot Eddie were just coming to the fore and one of the boys, who liked the band, nicknamed me “Beast” after the creature in the song “Number of the Beast”. That nickname stuck for years…. for ever. Kids, sometimes kids I didn’t even know, would grab me by the hair and haul at my clothing to determine if I had “666” tattooed at the back of my neck. Funnily enough, I don’t. Maybe that experience has contributed to the fact that I have no ink on me whatsoever, despite having two designs that in my heart I would love to have discretely tattooed.
The few friends I had in the class vanished into the crowd.
Lunchtimes and intervals became endlessly long, lonely periods of time to be endured instead of enjoyed. I retreated into myself. I kept myself to myself, finding a quiet corner to hide and read my book in peace, losing myself in the words on the pages to escape from the reality I was living.
By the time I reached Primary 7, things were no better. It was in Primary 7 that I remember physically striking back for the first time. I was reading the book My Friend Flicka. Several of the girls were taunting me about it and I was doing my level best to ignore them. Eventually, one, who thought she was being smart, was standing in front of me flicking the book up into my face, chanting “My friend fucka me and I enjoyed it.” I snapped. I slapped her. Slapped her hard.
For a short while, the bullies backed off.
All the while, my mother and grandmother thought they were reassuring me with that old childhood rhyme. They weren’t. My mum had tried approaching the school’s headmaster about the bullying but that only served to make matters worse. One of the kids in my class saw her in the school and told the others. The bullying became even more vicious and hurtful as a result.
My mum and grandmother changed tack as the time approached for me to start high school. Almost daily during the summer holidays, they attempted to convince me that moving to a bigger school meant more opportunity to make nice, new friends. I just listened to them, knowing in my heart that they were wrong.
My primary school classmates found a new bigger, rougher, tougher audience in high school and, for roughly three years, things were worse than ever. Now, it was the boys more than the girls who were my daily tormentors. There were parts of the school I dreaded passing through.
Things hit an all time low one Tuesday afternoon in my second year. Again, it was during an afternoon break when it happened. I was standing quietly minding my own business outside my English class when a boy in my year from a different class came towards me and, without a word, drew his fist and punched me in the face. I felt my nose break. Apparently, I was supposed to have passed comment on his girlfriend’s new haircut. I hadn’t seen the girl and certainly wasn’t aware that she had changed her hairstyle. Why would I even care? I barely knew her. Sitting through that English lesson, trying to staunch the bleeding and trying not to cry was one of the lowest points I can recall.
Eventually, by the time we were all fourteen or fifteen, the bullies grew bored and moved on. I continued to keep myself to myself for most of the time. I’d hide at lunchbreaks, usually in the assembly hall, and write as my means of coping with my reality.
It was all too late though. The mental and emotional damage had been done and those scars run far deeper than any of the physical ones.
I left school in 1988.
Several years after I left school, one of the worst of the bullies reared his ugly head again. I was walking on my own from the branch of the bank where I was working into the town centre to catch the bus home. Along the way, I passed several pubs and as I approached one of these, The Green Oak, a group of drunk young men stumbled out in front of me. Among them was one of the bullies. He recognised me, even in his drunken state and started yelling, “I know you. We called you the Beast in school!” Before I had time to react, they had surrounded me and were all chanting “Beast! Beast! Beast!” At that moment, the bus I was rushing to catch came down the road. Fortunately, the driver recognised me, stopped the bus in the middle of the road and yelled at me to” get on.” I’ve never been so relieved to get on a bus in my life. In those few terrifying moments, I’d gone from a 22-year-old young woman to a frightened 12-year-old in my head.
2010 marked the year that my class turned 40 and a school reunion was arranged. It was the last event I wanted to go to but I reasoned that by going, I might finally put some of the ghosts to bed and get some closure. Two friends, who felt similarly uneasy about it, suggested we go to together. Safety in numbers and all that. The event was arranged via Facebook and, as the guest list grew, so did my nerves. When I saw one name in particular, the worst of the original bullies, appear, I almost changed my mind about attending. Even on the evening of the event itself, I was in two minds about going. I was feeling physically sick with nerves as I left the house. The reunion was held in the local rugby club and was all going well until that person arrived. A group of us were already seated at a round table with a drink when she walked in with her friends. She was all “huggy/kissy” with the people round the table until she saw me. As I looked at her, I realised she had stopped in her tracks and was looking at me with the same childish hatred from 30 years before. I looked away and she moved off. Even, after all these years…..oh, well, I guess leopards don’t change their spots.
I will never attend another school reunion.
That one long look from her opened up all the old wounds.
Sticks and stone may break your bones, but bones mend. Words scar your soul forever.
On reflection, while the years of abuse that I endured seemed never ending at the time, I was lucky.
I was lucky this all happened pre-internet, pre-mobile phones, pre-social media, pre- group chats.
At least when I went home from school, the bullies couldn’t reach me, unless they phoned the house or turned up at the door.
There is little escape from 21st Century bullying. It’s a 24/7 affair with little or no respite.

As a mother, one of the hardest things to watch and handle as a parent, has been seeing history repeat itself for my Baby Girl.
She’s agreed to tell her tale for this blog for the first time, so, in her own words-

“Through my life, my mum has told me about her school experiences, now I’m going to tell you mine.
“School years are the best years of your life” – absolutely bloody not!
So, let’s start from the beginning of high school. In first year, I was no longer “cool” enough for my primary school friends so I had to find a new friend group. I managed that and, as far as I can remember, the rest of first year was enjoyable (apart from getting glasses)
Second year things started to go belly up. This was the year I discovered how imaginative people can be. I can’t remember how it all began but a very hurtful story was invented by someone ( I still don’t know who) and it spread like wildfire around the school. At first people shouted names and comments at me in the social area. Then I lost all the friends I had just made the year before because nobody wanted to be seen to associate with me. One day I couldn’t face another day of it at school so pretended to be sick to stay home. Peace and quiet – or so I thought. By 4 o’clock the messages started arriving. My favourite message was from a boy I had never spoken to saying “Have you killed yourself yet?”
At 12 years old, I remember sitting on the bathroom floor with a bottle of toilet cleaner in my hand trying to grow the balls to drink it.
This was the first time I wanted to commit suicide. This was just the start.
From then on, I was extremely self-conscious. For the next few years I worked to lose as much weight as possible with the hope of disappearing. I became so weak it got to the point I struggled to stand without help. This simply led to more taunting. I was now “a bag of bones” and “a starving African child”. As you can assume, this led to more self-loathing and concerning behaviour.
At this point, I had new friends and I was in that group until one girl decided she didn’t like me and turned everyone against me. Of course, there were a lot of nasty messages sent. I will admit, I responded with my own unhelpful messages, fuelled by pain and anger.
In fifth year, I found yet another group of friends who were outcasts like myself. The comments from classmates had continued from second year but in my last year I found a new way to cope. I started to suffer from health problems, for which I was prescribed 30/500 co-codamol pills. After a few weeks, I no longer needed them but continued to take 8 a day for 11 weeks just to get through school. Being in a constant dazed medicated state made it a lot easier to ignore the comments.
So, to summarise my school experience, it was filled with: people making abusive comments, receiving horrendous Facebook messages, self-hatred and self-harming behaviours. But, at the end of the day, I can say I made it out alive.
Now, at the age of 18, I have considered suicide at least once per day every day. I have been prescribed strong anti-depressants and am open to the community mental health team. I have nightmares most nights, some about events from school.
But, I have 3 amazing friends and a family who love and support me.
Upon reflection, I am glad this happened to me instead of someone else, because the thought of another person going through it is unbearable. But the sad fact is, this happens to hundreds of thousands of kids every single day.”

I knew my Baby Girl had had a rough time throughout high school. In fact, it started in primary school. I knew about some of the bullying. I knew about some of the Facebook messages because she would screenshot them and send them to me.
There’s a lot though in that story that I never knew until she gave me her story to add to this blog a few days ago. At this point in time, I feel as if I have failed her.
21st century bullying is beyond evil and, selfishly, I’m relieved that it didn’t exist while I was being bullied all those years ago. I don’t believe I have the strength of character to survive it.
There is NO escape from it.
Facebook group chats are the worst vehicle ever for it. Countless times, she would show me message chains where the comments were directed at her. They were beyond vile. They had been sent day and night.
I sat on the local high school’s parent council for seven years so speaking to staff without my daughter’s knowledge was easy but proved to be a complete waste of time. I tried time and again but was always told that the school had no control over online bullying. As far as I witnessed, they had little control over the bullying and harassment going on within the school itself. On the odd occasion, when a teacher would listen, they never acted as bullies have an uncanny knack of being the teachers’ favourites, the “cool” kids.
As a parent, I felt helpless. Utterly helpless.
I failed her.

Neither of us are sharing this with a view to gaining any sympathy.
Neither of us are sharing this to point the finger at the bullies. If they happen to read this and recognise themselves, then I hope they feel at least some remorse for their past actions. Somehow, based on my personal experience of my school reunion, I doubt that they will. I think that’s sad…..tragic.

The reasoning behind speaking up now is that summer’s almost over and kids are going back to school. Bullies will be seeking new vulnerable targets. Some kids will be facing the school year with dread.
For what they are worth, my words of wisdom are:
If you are a parent, be vigilant. Teenagers are experts at hiding things from us.
If you’re a teacher, don’t turn a blind eye and presume that its just kids being kids.
If you’re a target (I hate the word “victim”) stay strong and speak up. Don’t suffer in silence just because its easier. Be yourself. And remember bullies are cowards at heart.
If you’re the bully or you were the bully, I hope you’ve learned something from this and use your time to reflect on the consequences of your actions.
Thank you for listening.

For more information and support on this subject –

https://www.bullying.co.uk/

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/bullying-and-cyberbullying/

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/bullying/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/bullying/

Alphabet Thoughts….

 

letters

 

A thought struck me while I was proofreading and spellchecking Book Baby 4 aka Ellen.

Now, this may be a thought that’s already struck you so apologies if I’m late to the party here.

The thought?

Well, what struck me was what an incredible thing the alphabet is. You take twenty-six wee letters and by rearranging them into various combinations you get words, lots and lots of different words.

The word count for Book Baby 4 is around 106 000 give or take a couple of hundred (still tweaking!). That’s approximately 500 000 letters. That’s a lot of combinations of those wee letters of the alphabet.

And do you know what’s even more incredible? No? Well, that’s the first time that those 500 000 letters have been used in that specific combination, making Book Baby 4 unique.

“She’s lost it this time!” I hear you cry but pause for a moment and think about it. Think about all the great works of fiction, the classics, the award-winning novels, adult fiction, children’s stories….. I could go on but I’m sure you get the hint. Each and every one of them is a unique collection of those twenty-six wee letters combined to make words that are then strung together to make sentences.

Those sentences might be short and simple or long and complex containing may clauses but, at the end of the day, they are a combination of twenty-six wee letters combined to make words that allow authors to tell a story. How incredible is that?

Now, I am not for a second comparing my creative efforts to the literary greats but we all have one thing in common – we each started with a blank page/screen and had the same twenty-six wee letters to play with.

Using those twenty-six wee letters you can create scenes that invoke an emotional response in the person reading the resulting story. You can make people laugh. You can make people cry. You can make people angry. You can make people calm. You can make people happy. How powerful is that?

And, even more incredible, those same twenty-six wee letters can be used to create different languages used around the world. We use the Latin alphabet to write in English. That same alphabet forms the basis for around 6000 languages that  use additional diacritics (those squiggles above and below certain letters) to enhance them.

And to think, each an every one of us from wee me to Shakespeare, to Emily Bronte, to JK Rowling (no, I’m not comparing my ability to theirs)started out the same way – learning how to hold the pen to write our own name.

 

(image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)