You only have one mother…..

1597122_10152669845145031_1421512996_oMy mum isn’t well. She is unwell in that way we refer to those who are, officially, really old; ‘well she is 86 dear’; ‘things are just wearing out’; ‘well none of us go on forever’. Diagnosis? Why bother with one? It is ‘old age’ and if we are lucky, perhaps, it comes to us all. So let’s just watch her legs swell up, sense she can’t quite catch her breath, and listen whilst she tells us of something that worries her – over and over again so that very worry is reinforced, and dwelt upon until conspiracy theories take over from reality and there is the inexorable descent into an anxiety state that takes more of her breath, more of herself.

Perhaps she will rally, again. But she has started those sad little conversations that begin ‘don’t be upset when I go dear, I’ve had enough’, and at some point, in the natural order of things, we will lose her, my sister, brother and I.

But I have to admit I am struggling, desperately hoping she will once more be her ‘old self’, flashes of whom we still glimpse as we watch her wolf down dark chocolate, then complain of indigestion, or hear as she describes the behaviour of a friend who is ‘lovely, but…’

My mum dedicated her life to bringing up her family and caring for her husband, our dad, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinsons before any of us,his children, had left primary school. She has been a widow almost as long as she was a wife and has had to deal with what she would describe as a ‘basin full’. She has a strength of character that can be both tender and downright scary, and of her three children I am the one whose ‘buttons’ have been pressed for maximum effect, with emotional consequences for us both. But recently, as her short term memory has deteriorated and her longer term recall become more selective, we have enjoyed some great laughs, and hours of simple fun playing games on the iPad, discussing who are our favourites on Strictly Come Dancing (‘I can’t bear that Katie Derham, with that smile…’) and talking about her family history. No competition, no manipulation, just love.

10862706_10153454611380031_6347351552373342626_oI know in my heart that I am hoping she stays with us not for her sake, but for mine. I am scared – of being ‘top of the tree’, of no longer being, physically,  someone’s daughter, of being cast adrift from that last link with all those memories, of feeling alone (despite having my own lovely family).

We are a lucky human being if we get to our eighties as fit as a flea. Our society desperately denies death whilst worshipping youth, and the elderly are seen as a demographic time bomb, a problem to be solved, a drain on our national finances. Why are we so keen to stay alive, when at the same time we are casting age and experience aside?

Perhaps I am affected by national as well as personal events. The world seems a scary place at the moment. Am I alone in thinking someone has taken the brakes off and our lives and events are spinning out of our control? Mum has been ever present, a safety blanket, the tap root from which much of my life has taken strength. Too much? Possibly. Perhaps I am just afraid to acknowledge myself as an adult…

At some point I have to acknowledge myself as a root from which my own children have branched out and become the lovely folk they are.

I am no longer a child, but I will always be the child of my mother.

Talking Books talks Septimus Heap & writing magic with Angie Sage

Septimus_Heap_-_All_Seven_CoversOn the 28th February I was very lucky to have as my guest on Talking Books Angie Sage, an author who has received global success with her series of fantasy novels, featuring Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son with magical powers. Starting with Magyk and ending with the seventh book, Fyre, we gallop through the adventures of Septimus and his friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is another Harry Potter wizard-alike however. Septimus is funnier, more intelligent and supported by a cast of characters that can keep anyone aged seven to seventy plus interested and amused.

Angie is also a really inspirational and creative writer, and illustrator, who lives in a fifteenth century house in Somerset that exudes its own mystery and magic, including as it does an old mural that purports to be of Henry VIII, but turns out to have something of the devil in it…

So after rather too many ‘umms’ at the beginning (on my part) we had a wonderful chat; the thirty minutes flew by and I wished I had read more of her work before we met. However, Angie agreed to read a passage from one of the books in the series, which as you can hear on the link below, had us all chuckling. There are ghosts, witches, dragons and human interest aplenty. Yes – even wizards can fall in love and as J.K. Rowling discovered, young readers growing up with their characters long to know who has paired up with whom. We talk about this, along with the joys of writing and developing characters and stories over a long series of books, the ‘Harry Potter’ effect and the pitfalls associated with selling film rights to Warner Brothers. Angie is a hugely successful writer, selling in numbers beyond the hopes of most writing fiction today, but that doesn’t mean a writing life is without complications.

Good news for Septimus lovers is the planned trilogy, TodHunter Moon, which takes up the story seven years on. Readers  just can’t get enough of the stories and Angie just doesn’t want to leave the world of Magyk….

But back to Septimus. I was given a wonderful copy of the last in the series, Fyre, by Angie after the show and I will treasure it. I just wish my children were still of an age to enjoy them. They will have to come back to them with their own children, should they change their minds and have them….

University as a ‘rite of passage’: On becoming an empty-nester

institution_full_545__winchester_CENTRE_hero (1)On Saturday my lovely daughter Evie is starting her first term at the University of Winchester. She only made her mind up to go to Uni at all at the beginning of August, having had a year out to focus on her athletics and train with the GB high jump coach Fuzz Ahmed in Birmingham. Her friends came home after their first years of study, extolling the virtues of the Student Union and her determination to avoid the debt of a student loan went out the window.

Evie & James in 2000
Evie & James in 2000

Both children (and won’t they always be our children?) will now be at University. James lives with his partner is London and all being well is fully fledged and on his way. Now Evie follows – promising to come back in the holidays, but only until she graduates and can find a job ‘anywhere but Taunton’. I don’t blame her, frankly. But I am sorry, and sad. I actually feel, for a little while anyway, that I will be bereft.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am full of pride, along with the usual parental fears about safety and concerns that they both have enough money (because to be honest we haven’t enough to help them much and it is SO expensive). But not only is it a real rite of passage for Evie, it is a significant one for Peter and I too. We are now on our own for the first time in more than 22 years. We can do as we please; we can swing from the chandelier (if our old bones would let us and we had one); we needn’t buy Oreos and Coco Pops any more or smell endless pepperoni pizza on the go. James isn’t here to play World of Warcraft and Evie won’t have ‘Sex and the City’ DVDs on repeat. Neither will now be here to leave towels all over the floor of the bathroom or underwear festering under their beds, at least not in our home. Oh dear….

Winchester student accommodation
Winchester student accommodation

We have never sought to influence either child in their decision, but we are really pleased Evie is following her brother to higher education. I don’t think it is for everyone and I loathe the idea that anyone would value a degree ‘for the sake of it’ over a valuable vocational course. But when you have a son for whom Philosophy is an obsession and a daughter who can jump higher than the top of her mother’s head, the life skills they will learn and opportunities they will have away from home will be invaluable. Winchester Uni has great athletics facilities and a good Law faculty (who would have thought Evie would ever follow my example in anything...)  We have visited the city with her and although I knew it of old, as one of those places forever associated with the poet John Keats and ‘Ode to Autumn’, (there is a wonderful ‘Keats Walk you can do now) I saw it through new eyes – imagining what it would be like to be a student there. Put it this way – I was green with envy and I continue to be so. How different the experience is from ‘my day’. The Polytechnic of Central London was great (it is now the University of Westminster and maybe not so great) but there was no central campus and no ‘student village’.

Lots of parents are packing their offspring off for the first time at the moment. The lists of what to take are so long we know we will forget something. At least we know Evie can cook and do her own washing and is ok-ish with money, but it must be a huge step to take for any young person. The accommodation seems to be lockable rooms in small flats with a shared kitchen – at Winchester all very new and very nice (and apparently compared to Manhattan…) – but surely a challenge if you are shy, have concerns about privacy and personal space or an aversion to washing up. Evie is very gregarious, but is already worried she won’t be ‘clever enough’. She will be, but the workload will be unlike any study she has done before and to be certain you come out with a degree worth its name you can’t just do ‘enough’ any more. You have to stand out. It truly is a stress-filled time, but hugely exciting and full of promise and opportunity. No wonder so many parents ask if they can enrol when they turn up with their offspring to Open Days.

James 2013
James 2013
Evie 2013
Evie 2013

So Saturday will be a day of mixed emotions for us, as for so many other parents this autumn. We have gone through all those ‘first days at nursery’,  ‘first days at primary school’, ‘first days at secondary school’ and would like to encourage all those parents in the blogging community to cling on to those memories and have a thought for those of us who have no more ‘back to school’ shopping trips to negotiate, or assemblies to attend. It will be graduation next – and then they really will be on their way,

Bless them.

Publishing books as fundraisers – the pros and cons on ‘Talking Books’

Last week I blew my own trumpet on Talking Books. I chose the theme ‘writing books for charity’ and, of course, Dandelions and Bad Hair Days  (now available on Kindle) comes firmly within that category, raising funds for SANE. However, lots of other people have produced some wonderful work to support particular causes and charities and I thought it would be a good topic to discuss – what was the experience of those who had gone through the process and frankly, was it worth it?

alzheimersMy main guest was Jackie Burgoyne from the ‘All Write Then’ collective, a group that came together after meeting online via the Open University Creative Writing course. Jackie contacted me via the DABHD Facebook page to see if I had any advice to offer. I hope sharing my experience with her was useful and the group have certainly produced a great book – Still Me – which has been written to raise awareness of and funds for The Alzheimer’s Society. I have a copy – it is lovely, with some really heartfelt writing within its pages and I would heartily recommend buying a copy. It was lovely to find out that, quite by chance, the group also chose the dandelion as an image for the front cover.

I also shared the experiences of Esther Clark, whose OU Creative Writing group also pulled together an anthology called At Home With Words (which you can still purchase by clicking on the link and contacting Esther) for Cancer Research UK and mentioned the work of  Lois Chaber, who wrote The Thing Inside My Head for OCD Action and Jackie Tanner, a poet who wrote The Cupcake Queen Bites Back for SWEDA (Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association) a local Eating Disorders Charity.

Although those I spoke to acknowledged frustrations, anxiety and a lot of hard work, everyone found publishing their books very rewarding and worthwhile.

I played a couple of interviews with contributors to DABHD on the show, let the lovely voice of poet David J Beauman work his magic on listeners by reading my own poem Life Force (in DABHD) and then donned the headphones for the first time ever and spoke to Jackie live on the telephone. Hopefully she didn’t find it too scary and we rounded off the show with her request Swing on a Star by Bing Crosby, a great favourite of her mother’s, who remembered the words even in the late stages of her dementia. Very moving.

I do hope you can listen to the show via the link above. There is a lot of my voice (as my sister kindly pointed out), for which apologies but I hope I am getting a little better at this presenting lark. Still a little hesitant and definitely not slick, but it is still early days. Thanks for listening!

‘In relation to’ what? On ‘Talking Books’ and chewing words….

Baby-chewing-bookLots of people have asked me how my new radio show is going and how they might listen to it again or online. That is very good of you, my friends but I thought I ought to listen to it myself first…. What a scary experience!

After a little bit of intro, where I was myself interviewed about the programme and what I hope it will offer, I was lucky enough to have author Beth Webb as my first guest, a storyteller by trade and writer of books for children and young adults (see my previous post). Listening to it again I am very conscious that I a) waffle a bit b) sat further back from the microphone than my guest, who has the mellow tones I want to cultivate and c) giggle quite a lot and say ‘in relation to’ a little too often. It was nerves – those erudite sentences just slipped away from me. I will try and ensure I sound a little more ‘serious’ in future and will also make sure the producer of the day knows of my propensity to forget I have to talk into the mic….

So here is the link. Remember – you can listen to this live online at 10Radio.org every other Friday morning at 11am, repeated following Monday at 6pm. The next show – which will include a discussion about crime writing is on Friday 12th April. Any requests for poems, themes or discussions gratefully received. As are broadcasting tips….

Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself as I have had some really positive feedback. I certainly enjoyed it and that at least, I think, comes across. Fingers crossed people want to hear me enjoying myself every other week for the foreseeable future.

Even if you can’t listen to the whole programme, just catch the first few minutes to hear what I will be up to on the show. I will be asking for your input via Facebook, Twitter and this blog  – so please do let me know who your favourite fictional detectives are; the crime writers you most enjoy and the adaptations for large and small screen that you think work best.

Thanks for listening!

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me

In a few months time a book will be published; an anthology of prose and poetry on the experience of mental health issues. It will have my name on the cover and I will have written some of the pieces the book includes. It will be called ‘Dandelions and Bad Hair Days’, inspired by one of the posts written by writer Viv Tuffnell and all royalties will go to nominated mental health charities. The picture at the top of this post is the original artwork painted and donated as the cover by Ingrid Smejkal. However nervous I might feel, there is much to be proud of in bringing it to publication.

But as I do so, and especially as I have been drafting the acknowledgements, I have been thinking about how it all started. And it started with ‘mummyblogging’.

In fact, this is a great moment to celebrate that fact. This post is written for Jo Middleton over at Slummysinglemummy, the funniest blog about the joys (or otherwise) of single parenting you are likely to find. I am lucky enough to count Jo as a friend and ex-work colleague and it was as we were procrastinating over some fundraising project or other that she explained to me about how her blog was gathering readers, and how it was helping hone her writing skills. I was intrigued. Newly redundant with a lifelong ambition to spend my time tapping away at a keyboard being creative, this seemed an avenue I needed to explore.

Continue reading “Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me”

What’s in a name? Warnings from our family history…..

Prompted by a short discussion on Twitter with the fabulous @oldpostcards and @CountryBook about the first names our ancestors were given (‘saddled with’ in many cases) I went back through my tree to find patterns or traditional names handed  down through generations. It is something most sensible family historians do early on in their research I expect, but I hadn’t previously done more than note the obvious (there are so many Georges, Ediths, Alfreds and Mays in my family that it causes me endless confusion when explaining relationships.)

Now this blog has the potential to cause offence, for which I have to apologise in advance. It was just too tempting to take this one step further and think about those names common 100 years ago that are coming back into fashion, and those that I hope to goodness will be preserved in aspic never to be resurrected and loaded upon any small person born in the 21st century.

Continue reading “What’s in a name? Warnings from our family history…..”

S.I.S.N.M – the wonderful Nic Elgey on why you need suffer in silence no more…

Editor’s note: Today is the first anniversary of the creation of a very special group founded by a special woman. I first became aware of Suffer in Silence No More via a friend on Facebook who knew about my guest posts and it quickly became obvious why the group has been such a success, supporting hundreds of people who feel isolated; living as they do with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

In March the group celebrated the launch of a dedicated website at www. sisnm.co.uk. It is well worth a visit for all sorts of useful and supportive information. Anyway, it is not for me to tell the story – step forward Nic Elgey, Founder.

My Name is Nic Elgey and I am a part-time retail sales assistant. But I am also manager and founder of S.I.S.N.M (Suffer In Silence No More) a peer support online group for Mental Health sufferers. It was always a dream of mine to help others and create something that would make a difference and I am going to tell you the story of how all of this unfolded.

Born on March 18th 1981 I live at home with my wonderful mum and dad in Nottinghamshire. I have lived here for the whole 31 years of my life. Some may say still living at home at my age is strange, but they don’t understand my illness makes it this way. To keep me safe if I feel down, feel like I want to cut (because sometimes I really do) there is always someone there to stop it from happening, to talk me round. I also have a sister I am very close to and a best friend Kristine Long, who is my absolute rock. Continue reading “S.I.S.N.M – the wonderful Nic Elgey on why you need suffer in silence no more…”

Autophobia or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love my Ego

Editor’s note: As we go into the second year of mental health guest posts here on No wriggling I am grateful for a contribution  from the other side of the world. Deb is well-known in the genealogy community and has a great blog of her own over at A Pocket Full of Family Memories. Describing herself as a Mum, writer and part time diva she is working on a number of writing projects and tweets as @Debs_Dwelling and @RelicsofBeccles. My thanks to Deb for her honest description of how she is coming to terms with depression and anxiety rooted in childhood and how counselling and research into her family history helped her find inner strength and identity.

To say that I suffer depression sounds alien to me. The dictionary defines suffering thus:

  1. To feel pain or distress
  2. To tolerate or endure pain, evil, injury or death
  3. To appear at a disadvantage.

What I find interesting about the first two definitions is that suffering sounds like it could be a good thing. It’s normal and okay to suffer, to feel, to tolerate or endure. However, my past experience with suffering was definitely the third definition. I didn’t know any other definition until much later in life.

To my mind, suffering implied that I may not ever recover, that I was destined to be at a disadvantage forever.

A popular Australian seventies band sang “Ego is not a Dirty Word” and this couldn’t be further from the truth when it came to my upbringing. I was fed on a daily diet of humility and modesty from birth, where depression was a very dirty word. Depression ran rife in my extended family and yet, before I sought help, nobody discussed it or dealt with it. It was swept under the carpet alongside the failed marriages, frequent job or house changes, and ill health, including the interminable “c” word (whisper it with me now: cancer).

Continue reading “Autophobia or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love my Ego”

A very merry NoWriggling Christmas!!

A John Keats Christmas by Amanda White

This time last year I wrote a post wishing all those good enough to give No more wriggling out of writing their time a very merry Christmas, celebrating the fact that I had been blogging for a whole five months. As I am away over new year now I had a little review of 2011 and twelve months further on I am, remarkably, still at it and my blog has come a long way. Lots more people pay a visit and the list of topics I cover has widened. It has been a good year and a huge ‘thank you’ to you all for your comments and interest.

Continue reading “A very merry NoWriggling Christmas!!”