Jubilant Street Parties!

Isn’t the word “jubilant” a brilliant one? With a meaning all of its own, yet with overtones of others: like “triumphant” – yet somehow not so bossy; like “celebration” – yet with more gravitas; like “jewel” – yet with perhaps even more sparkle. A word not used very often except, perhaps, in the few weeks around Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The Queen has always been a fixture in my life, and like when anything or anyone is always there for you, sometimes you take it, or them, for granted. While watching some Jubilee celebrations on TV, I was struck by one comment an artist made, whilst painting on the Millenium Bridge. He wanted to celebrate the Queen’s contribution to the role of women throughout the Commonwealth. I hadn’t really considered this before, but what a great role model for a woman in power – grace, constancy and determination.
To celebrate Her Majesty’s great achievements over many decades, my neighbours planned a street party, with lots of activities, which everyone nearby could get involved with – or not, as they choose. Only the weather could intervene!
During the planning of this event, what has amazed me is the “jubilant” spirit in my street. We’re the same people who don’t see much of each other usually; we all have the same personalities and skills as we did a few weeks ago when we were unconnected. But somehow this jubilant feeling has spun a thread of diamond-glinting magic between our homes and made us into a community. This same magic has been evident all around the country, in a tide of optimism.
In some ways, the street party itself became secondary to the “jubilant” spirit was created in the first place, and that somehow, we can maintain it.
How can we do that in our street? Well, perhaps in the same way as at home, in our daily lives, at work, or in the country as a whole. By remembering the good times, by remembering what we can and have achieved together, and that we are all amazing – individually, but together even more so.
We can’t have a street party every day, but we can celebrate our group successes and be jubilant a little more often.

Postscript: How it rained on the day of our street party! But we went ahead and held it anyway, just adding “Puddle Splashing” to the list of activities!

The Superpower I Didn’t Want

Invisibility is supposed to be a superpower – just ask The Invisible Man – and anyone would think that developing a superpower would be a Good Thing. Some superheroes take a while to come around to the idea, but they tend to like their powers in the end – maybe because that’s what they are – “powers”, strengths, tools that can be used for good.
My superpower is anything but that though – it’s a negative, a fading out, a nothingness.
I first realised I had become invisible around the time I turned 40. It had been gradually wearing on for some time and, like any self-respecting fledgling superhero, I didn’t realise its strength or how far-reaching it could be. Around that landmark birthday it hit me with full force, like it or not, in one of those everyday transactions in life that turn out to be pivotal moments. Mine was in a shop, and the assistant serving me wasn’t interested – not because they seemed bored, or busy, or stressed by something else, but just because it was like I wasn’t there.
Now without getting actuarial on you, there’s a reasonable statistical chance that I’m only about half way through my life, and I’m not prepared to slip past everyone’s notice for the rest of it! I began thinking about the times when women, in particular, tend to become invisible. It turns out it’s not a new phenomenon.
In the classic novel “Gone with the Wind”, feisty & colourful Scarlett O’Hara bemoans the lack of opportunities to socialise and to dance on becoming first a wife, and then a widow – dressing in black and not being the centre of attention don’t suit her.
My own grandmother trained long and hard to become a teacher in the 1920’s, and disappeared from the classroom as she gave it all up without a qualm to become a wife.
And much more recently, the end of Selina Scott’s news-reading role literally reduced her visibility to the nation as she disappeared from TV screens, reflecting the modern trend for women of a certain age to fade into the background.
All very different factual and fictional examples of how a change in a woman’s life also changes the way people see her…. or don’t see her at all.
Now some people will be happy with the situation, and that’s fine. But what if they aren’t? I got to wondering about the various strategies women use to get themselves noticed, in good ways and bad, in the modern world. Which led me on to wondering what choices, say, a Victorian or Edwardian woman would have had if they wanted to rebel against invisibility.
And that’s one of the themes I’m exploring as I write my book.
More soon.

Living Like You’re At The Seaside

In an ideal world, I’d like to write in my favourite seaside cafe. I can imagine the words flowing from fingertips to laptop, while soothing waves and endless sky inspire me. Perhaps I’d become enough of a regular to get a favourite table. Maybe an unspoken rappport with a waitress would mean I‘d get endless coffee refills without a fresh order. And the occasional pastry would come in handy. There, I feel sure, I’d write long and beautiful fiction.
But there are a few problems with the picture in my head.
Like that cafe is half an hour’s drive and another half hour’s walk away from me right now. I don’t have my own laptop. And when I go there, it’s usually for a ten minute pit stop with my lovely family in between beach scrambles – probably even more rewarding, but not the same.
Although it’s sometimes tempting, I’m not going to wait until that perfect seaside scenario can be fulfilled, before I start writing. So why do I want to be there in particular? There’s nothing concrete there that I can’t have at home – it’s just a great backdrop. I guess I want to be there so I feel in the right mood to get creative. And moods are what we all carry around with us – perhaps the only things we can truly control in our lives. So here are my tips for creating your own seaside feeling:
1. Find some “me” time, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, and dedicate it to what you want to do. Stick to it. Like the advert says, “You’re worth it”!
2. Use that precious time wisely, in a way that rewards you. If you want to fritter it away vaguely surfing, that’s fine, but don’t regret it afterwards. How would you work differently if you had only 10 minutes? Or a whole 5 hours?
3. Make your soundtrack. It might be literally, with wave music like in a health spa. Or it might be useful to try something a bit heavier to drown out traffic noise if that distracts you. (The neighbours might prefer you use headphones!) Whatever works for you.
4. Learn to take a shortcut to that creative mood. You might need to use tools like these to practise getting there, but the more you do, the easier it will become. That creative space is yours alone, and it’s in your head somewhere; you just have to find it!
5. Begin! After I had spent some weeks researching, planning, and researching some more, I began to suspect I was putting off starting to write, in case I couldn’t do it. There’s only one way to find out. My hubby gave me some good advice: “Just sit down and start.” And he was right…

Beginning my writing journey…and why do you want to know?

I remember the frustration of not being able to unlock words. One of my earliest memories is of trying to read, and I was very aware of the magic and secrets the letters on the page seemed to hold, if only you could understand how. Once I began to get the hang of it, the next thing I wanted was to write one of those stories.
As I got older, I started actually living life, which got in the way of wanting to write. Then one day my lovely husband dreamed a dream, and wrote his down, and is now a published author, which makes me very proud. It took nearly five years from idea to publication, which started me wondering when a book’s life starts. I came to the conclusion that it’s when the idea begins inside its author’s head, and that there’s a long journey between that moment and the time when the book gets put into print (or an ebook’s virtual ink!) and begins its life out in the real world, where people can actually read it.
So what made me decide to write my own book? Well, after one particularly painful proof reading session, my husband (the author!) said, “Why don’t you write a book?” The answer was that I didn’t know what to write about. Then one day, whilst minding my own business fiddling about in the kitchen, I asked myself, “If you had to write a book today, what would it be about?” And suddenly I knew!
So my journey began, and my new hobby started, and here I am!
But it’s not easy, or quick, and there have been a few unexpected turns along the way already. I’ll tell you an example. I found a precious half hour to write, settled in a crowded coffee shop with a drink and a beautiful notebook and began. Not five minutes later, a lovely older lady asked to share my table because there were no other seats, and we began to chat. I thought about shushing her and getting on with the task in hand, but our talk was so unusually easy between strangers that I decided to change course for the rest of my half hour, because I might learn something. I don’t regret that decision one bit, but things like that mean it could be a long time before I get to finish my book, so I want to record how I’m getting there in the meantime!
In this blog I’ll share some of the amazing things I’ve found out in my research, the thoughts that occur to me along the way, and the tips that have worked for me and helped me write. Maybe they will be of interest, or work for you, whether writing is your thing, or whether you’re on a different path…